What is being pro-life, really?

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary

You’ve heard the strained logic and strawman argument before from an abortion-rights supporter near you:

“Pro-lifers are not pro-life – they are simply pro-birth. As soon as the baby is born, all their concern for life ends.”

That argument was trumpeted early and often last week at a meeting of the New Orleans City Council, which unanimously approved a resolution “condemning” the state for passing and Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards for signing a Fetal Heartbeat bill that prohibits abortion in Louisiana as soon as the unborn baby’s heartbeat can be, rather inconveniently, detected.

Science tells us a baby’s heart begins to develop as early as 18 days after conception. The baby’s heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks after conception. This is not a tenet of religious belief. It is a biological fact. A fetus with a unique set of DNA, separate and distinct from either the mother or the father, is being formed in the mother’s womb immediately after conception. Without intervention, a human baby will be delivered nine months later.

Since most abortions occur after six weeks, the Fetal Heartbeat bill would place a significant limit on the current unfettered right to abortion.

Let’s get back to the strawman argument. Let’s say it were 100 percent true – and it is not – that pro-lifers are concerned only with the baby in the womb but not with “life after birth.”

Even if that were true, does it then logically follow that we suspend the natural law and end the life of a silent member of the human family because there are those in political power who don’t have a heart for improving early-childhood education or access to child care?

Where is the moral calculus in that equation?

Without the benefit of high-tech ultrasound, the Catholic Church has offered two millennia of wisdom and guidance on what in the last 50 years has become the greatest civil rights issue of our time – more than 61 million beating hearts silenced in the U.S. alone since Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Despite being mocked and discounted for its human weakness and for the sins and crimes of its members, the church is on the right side of history.

There was a lot of talk in the council chambers last week about a woman’s right to choose life or death for her child.

“Let’s start using some common sense,” said Council President Helena Moreno, who authored the resolution with Council Vice President Jason Rogers Williams and Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer. “Let’s stop doubting women. Let’s continue to fight against this government intrusion.”

Williams waxed poetic about every right under the sun – except for the rights of the tiny person hidden from the sun.

“It’s a sad day in this country,” Williams said. “It’s a sad day in New Orleans that this is even being revisited. I’m very proud to stand with the advocates who have been fighting tooth and nail for abortion access in our state.

“Abortion is normal, and forcing the birth of an unwanted pregnancy is immoral and truly dangerous. There are people that I love that have had abortions, and that was their choice to make. … I will not quietly and passively return to the dark time in our history of coat hangers and self-injury.”

Palmer sang the praises of Margaret Sanger, whose American Birth Control League, founded in 1937, later became Planned Parenthood.

“What motivated her was a very clear principle … and it’s a very simple premise – that women will never be equal, unless we control our bodies,” Palmer said. “Very simple and radical at the same time. And it’s just fascinating that in the 21st century, we have to consistently be reminded of this, and we’re facing laws that are born in misogyny and in basically paternalistic attitude toward women and wanting to control them. And that’s really what this is all about.”

Palmer neatly forgot to mention – maybe she just didn’t have the time – that as “radical” as Sanger was about birth control, she consistently and sharply opposed abortion, calling the hundreds of thousands of lost lives each year “a disgrace to civilization.”

A sad day, indeed.

The council heard from a hand-picked panel supporting women’s “reproductive freedom,” and then it took comments from citizens.

Debbie Shinskie, director of the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, candidly described her own childhood. She has worked as an OB-GYN nurse, and she was adopted as an infant.

“My mother conceived me in abject poverty,” Shinskie said, “My father was in prison, shortly thereafter (for) attempted murder against my sister.”

Shinskie said her mother, who already had three children, easily could have gone to a clinic near her home to end her pregnancy, even before the Roe v. Wade decision.

“She said, ‘I have three other children. I have a new life inside of me. I’m going to give this life a chance,’ and she placed me for adoption. I’m very grateful she did that. I do not regret my life.”

Shinskie said she strongly opposed the council’s action because “it is the legitimate interest of a state, the legitimate right of a state to do this. They are looking out for the interests of those of us who had heartbeats at a time when we didn’t have a voice. I could not speak for my life at that time, and I did not have a voice, but I am very grateful that my mother found support and did it.”

Josephite Father David Begany, who serves at Corpus Christi-Epiphany Parish in New Orleans, recounted how his religious community was founded in 1871 to “serve the needs of the freed African-American slaves.”

“In the number of women I’ve counseled who’ve had abortions, I can never say that any one of them has said this is a great thing,” Father Begany said. “In fact, they’ve just said the opposite.”

The council was unmoved. In addition to Moreno, Williams and Palmer, council members Joseph Giarrusso III, Jay Banks, Jared Brossett and Cyndi Nguyen voted to  condemn the state’s actions.

Nguyen shared a personal testimony that when she got pregnant during college, she went to an abortion clinic but decided to keep her child.

“I was able to rely on my family,” she said. “For me, I was able to get a support system from the community that I was living in. … My daughter is now 28 years old. I’m sitting here thinking, ‘What if I aborted Serina?’ Then I would not have an amazing daughter that I have today.”

But Nguyen said not every woman has the same kind of support system. “I will continue to promote pro-life,” Nguyen said. “But we’re in a situation where there is an imbalance. … I do not want another person to tell me what to do with my body as a woman, and that’s how I feel about it.”

Ben Clapper, director of Louisiana Right to Life and New Orleans Right to Life, said someone needs to speak for those with no voice.

“We believe that human rights have to be respected before birth and after birth … from conception to natural death,” Clapper said. “When (the other side) was speaking, there wasn’t a single mention of the rights of the unborn child, as if they simply don’t exist and are not part of this conversation. One day in our nation, we will protect the rights of unborn children, and we will remember conversations like this as a time when we missed that chance to protect their rights – just like our rights are protected.”

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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