When author Mark Childress penned “Crazy in Alabama,” he wasn’t just whistling Dixie.
“I haven’t been quoted this much since Roy Moore,” Childress recently told me, referring to this week’s coverage of Alabama’s passage of a law banning abortion in nearly all circumstances. Moore, of course, was a candidate for Senate from Alabama who lost a 2017 race after accusations surfaced of past inappropriate sexual conduct with underage girls.
So, is Alabama really crazy? Is Georgia, which recently passed a “heartbeat bill” banning abortion after the baby’s heartbeat can be detected, usually at around six weeks? (Neither law has taken effect, and both will surely be challenged in court.) Lest I be chastened for daring to humanize an embryo, let me state for the record that the correct term for “heartbeat” is “fetal pole cardiac activity,” because at six weeks, said embryo doesn’t have a cardiovascular system and, therefore, no fully formed beating heart.
The question of craziness, meanwhile, depends upon one’s definition of crazy. Is Alabama crazier than New York, where some protections for babies “born” alive during an abortion were recently eliminated, making it easier to end their life if desired by the abortion-seeker?
Is Alabama crazier than Virginia, where Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam seemed to support infanticide back in January when commenting on a proposed bill that would relax some of the state’s abortion restrictions? In a radio interview, he said that in cases where a mother goes into labor with a late-term fetus that has “severe deformities . . . there may be a fetus that’s not viable . . . the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
Trying to clarify after the inevitable firestorm, Northam’s office later said that the “discussion” would be regarding medical prognosis and treatment, not ending the life of the newborn. For a physician, Northam seems challenged to express himself medically. And consider this: Although only about 1.4 percent of abortions occur at or after 21 weeks, the Guttmacher Institute’s data suggests that “most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” Just to be clear.
The crucial aspect of both the New York law and Virginia’s proposed law (which has been tabled, for now) is that they reduce medical oversight of late-term abortions. In both cases, only one doctor would be involved in deciding on and performing a late-term abortion, eliminating additional physicians who can tend to a baby that survives an abortion. New York previously had required two doctors in the room; Virginia required that three doctors certify that continuing the pregnancy would likely cause the patient’s death or that it would “substantially and irremediably impair” her mental or physical health. Thus, a single doctor could decide that a woman’s perhaps fleeting state would be sufficient to end a baby’s potentially viable life.
Some Americans may find these adjustments acceptable, though they are surely few. More important is to understand that the extremism of what New York did — and Virginia attempted to do — invited the extremism of Alabama, Georgia and other pro-life states.
Nevertheless, pro-life legislative efforts haven’t been for naught. Fence-sitters may now see more clearly on which side to plant their feet. In a 2016 Pew Research Center poll, 69 percent of Americans opposed overturning Roe v. Wade . But most people are comfortable with limitations. We can quibble over where those limits should be, but nothing will ever please everyone. Where insight fails, facts are often helpful: Biologically, life begins at conception. Full stop. A fetus is not part of a woman’s body except as is umbilically necessary to sustain its life. Otherwise, it is a free-floating human being with its own unique DNA. If left to develop according to nature’s course, the little tadpole would become a fully formed human baby and, barring unforeseen circumstances, grow up to become a regular reader of this column.
It is ironic, meanwhile, that as pro-life activists radicalize their agenda, abortion rates are in steady decline. Likewise, pro-choicers are radicalizing their agenda as birthrates are no longer sufficient to replace the current population. Whatever transpires in the legal realm, I’ll always wonder how acceptance of destroying the pre-born has affected our humanity. And how many among the more than 60 million Americans aborted since 1973 were destined to shape a better world.
I know. Crazy.