A bill in the Iowa senate seeking to prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected drew an ill-informed response last week from the editors of the Des Moines Register.
According to state senator Jason Schulz, a supporter of the bill, “We understand that when a heartbeat stops, somebody passes away. It only makes sense to the broad body of the population in Iowa that when a heartbeat starts, you have a life there, and it should be protected.”
Of course, any unborn child has been a living, whole human being since conception, but this bill is not trying to define who is a human being: it’s just trying to save as many unborn human beings as possible. And since an unborn child’s heart begins to beat a mere eighteen days after conception, this bill would essentially prohibit all abortions—except a few very early ones caused by abortifacient contraceptives.
The editorial staff of the Des Moines Register thinks this “heartbeat bill should expire.” But I think it’s time to pull the plug on their terrible arguments instead:
The unfertilized egg and the sperm are not human beings, certainly. And the fertilized egg? It is potentially a human being—but actually, and for a long time to come, it is part of the mother-to-be’s body. Only when it is old enough to be born, or nearly so, can it be physically separated from the body of the mother—or logically separated. Till then it is living—a living part of the mother’s body. . . . Independent life begins when a fetus is separated from its mother. Until then it is part of her body.
The biological ignorance here is staggering. The unborn child is a part of the mother’s body? So do pregnant women have four arms, four legs, two hearts, two brains, and, half the time, male genitalia?
It’s also bizarre to divide children into the categories of “dependent life” and “independent life.” The Register editorial department has shown that unborn children cannot survive outside the womb, but they’ve failed to show why this justifies killing children by placing them in an environment where they can’t survive.
I’m sure that newspaper editors could not survive a night outside in light clothing during an Iowa blizzard, but that doesn’t give someone the right to force them into such a condition—except by the logic of this editorial.
Children are dependent on their parents not just while in the womb but as newborns, too, and for many years (and sometimes decades) after birth. But no one says that a toddler can be killed because he’s “dependent life.” If anything, an unborn child’s complete dependence on his mother should make him more worthy of protection. We usually consider crimes against children to be especially repugnant because they’re incapable of protecting themselves. In which case, then, the most helpless children should be the ones deserving of the strongest protection of the law.
In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court determined women had a legal right to control their bodies. The decision in Roe v. Wade made clear the right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy under the 14th Amendment. But abortion opponents are not too interested in the constitutional rights of women. They’re mostly focused on fetuses, which leads to bizarre legislation fixated on fetal cardiac activity.
I wonder if the Register would have defended with equal vigor the Supreme Court’s legal sanctioning of slavery (Dred Scott v. Sanford, 1857), racial segregation (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896), or the internment of Japanese citizens (Korematsu v. United States, 1944)? Like opponents of slavery, segregation, and unjust internment, pro-life advocates are indeed “interested” in laws that deny human beings their basic rights—we study them carefully in order to expose their flaws and propose legal remedies to them.
A fetus is not considered its own person. Not for tax purposes. Not for life insurance. Not by the census. Not when you buy an airline or movie ticket. A fetus cannot be taken into foster care. It isn’t eligible for a kid’s meal at a restaurant. A pregnant woman who drinks a glass of wine is not serving alcohol to a minor. Governments issue birth certificates, not fetal heartbeat detection certificates.
This is the absolute worst argument for legal abortion not just in this editorial, but anywhere (with the possible exception of, “Abortion should be legal because you are a man”), I have ever encountered. It basically claims that since the unborn do not qualify for some government and private benefits, they aren’t persons and therefore can be killed.
Is a two-year-old not a person because he doesn’t need a ticket to go to Disneyland? Is an infant of one a mere “clump of cells” because he can fly in an airplane for free if he sits on a parent’s lap? Would it have been okay to execute my children during the few weeks it took for the government to send them their Social Security cards and birth certificates?
Just because the private nature of pregnancy makes it impractical to give certain benefits or legal recognition to unborn children, it doesn’t follow that unborn children are not human beings.
Furthermore, there are instances where the law extends those benefits and recognition. For example, there are fetal homicide laws on the books in thirty-eight states. These laws punish acts that cause the death of an unborn child, whether intended maliciously or through caused by negligence. That means, for instance, that someone who murders a pregnant woman may be charged with two murders; a drunk driver who causes an accident that results in a fetal death may be charged with DUI manslaughter; and so on. Our editorialists seem to have overlooked this point.
Just one week before publishing this editorial, the Des Moines Register published another one defending a “pathway to citizenship” for immigrants who reside in the country illegally. The lack of government recognition for these human beings, they said, is not proof of their non-personhood but an injustice to be remedied. They said, “it is time to bring these immigrants out of the shadows.”
It is time to bring the unborn out of the shadows, too. That is what pro-lifers want, and that is what the unborn deserve, no matter how much some want to keep them in darkness.