WASHINGTON — The successful shepherding of the Reproductive Health Act by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, which expanded abortion into the third trimester, has ignited the efforts of pro-abortion state legislators around the United States to strip away all protections won for unborn children and mothers since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
“This legislation is evil, pure and simple,” said Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann, the chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, in a statement referring to New York’s law and the similar bills proposed in other states. “It shocks the conscience to see such evil legislation greeted with raucous cheers and standing ovations. Most grieving to our Lord of Life is that those who advocate for abortion put their eternal souls in jeopardy.”
The bill to eliminate practically all restrictions on abortion up to the moment of birth exploded in Virginia after Republicans circulated a video showing state Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, explaining that her bill would allow a woman in labor to opt to abort her child.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s decision to interpret Tran’s comments on the legislation to a local radio station only further inflamed charges that Democrats were pushing “infanticide.”
Northam alleged that a 40-week abortion would only be done in cases of “severe deformities” or in the case of “a fetus that’s nonviable.”
“If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen: The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. 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,” he said. Northam himself is now fighting to complete a full term as governor after a 1984 yearbook photo was made public showing an individual, allegedly Northam, wearing blackface next to a person in Ku Klux Klan robes.
In his Feb. 5 State of the Union address, President Donald Trump referenced “the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days,” noting that “lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth” and also “the case of the governor of Virginia, where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.”
“To defend the dignity of every person, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb,” the president continued.
Olivia Gans Turner, the president of the Virginia Society for the Protection of Human Life, told the Register that Northam — who is a pediatric neurologist and opponent of legal protections for infants born alive from abortion — knows that normally in third-trimester abortion the unborn baby would either be killed in utero by poison, such as saline or digitalis, and then delivered dead, or the baby would be delivered with the doctor “pulling the baby apart piece and piece” in a dilation-and-extraction procedure.
She added there is no way for Northam to make sense of Tran’s comments: Giving birth to a baby, with the intention of preventing reasonable interventions to save the baby’s life, or taking direct steps to effect the baby’s death, is rightly called “infanticide.”
Turner said what parents need in cases where a child cannot survive outside the womb is “perinatal hospice” — an option Northam did not discuss — which would help parents prepare for this moment in the midst of their grief and give their babies any religious rites and an opportunity to say goodbye before the children pass away naturally.
Turner said a version of Tran’s repeal bill has been in the pipeline for the past four years, after pro-life lawmakers strengthened Virginia’s abortion regulations. But New York’s legislation, Turner said, has “created a climate” for legislators in Virginia and other states to move ahead on Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America’s agenda to remove all legal obstacles to abortion throughout nine months under the guise of health care.
Turner said this kind of legislation can now happen in any state.
“This effort to strip away all pro-life laws has been in development a long time,” Turner said. “But New York struck a match.”
Abortion supporters also recognize Cuomo’s success in New York has catalyzed a legislative push nationally to advance abortion.
Andrea Miller, the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post that New York adds “powerful momentum to efforts to protect abortion rights and expand access in every state where it is possible.”
She said, “States such as Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico and Wisconsin are among the states that could be up next.”
Abortion Movement’s Objectives
Surveys show a majority of Americans oppose on-demand abortion without regulation.
A Marist Poll released in January, for example, showed 51% of Americans support legal abortion in the first trimester, when about 90% of abortions occur. However, 48% of Americans favor restricting abortion even further to situations of rape, incest, jeopardy to the life of the mother or no circumstances. And only 15% of Americans believe abortion should be available on demand for all nine months of pregnancy.
Steven Aden, the chief legal officer and general counsel at Americans United for Life, told the Register that abortion advocates are “rightfully concerned” that President Trump will succeed in appointing a majority that would overturn Roe v. Wade and return abortion law to the states. Consequently, they are moving to secure a post-Roe settlement in which some states have abortion on demand while others greatly restrict or ban abortion.
“What we’re seeing is a coordinated plan pro-abortion forces have had in place for a long time, but haven’t been able to politically implement until now,” Aden said.
The proposed bills show the “extreme nature” of the abortion movement, he said. “It used to be ‘abortion: safe, legal and rare,’ and now it’s ‘abortion: anytime, anywhere, for any reason and paid for by taxpayer dollars.’”
Aden said, in practical terms, he did not believe these laws would greatly move the numbers on abortion. Third-trimester abortions are far rarer relative to first-trimester abortion. New York, he said, has one of the highest abortion rates in the country, but has seen its abortion rate drop the past few years.
“I don’t think these political maneuvers will change the fact that Americans are turning away in vast numbers from abortion on demand,” he said.
Aden said he has seen “a huge demand for pro-life legislation in a majority of states in the country.”
Lawmakers in a number of states are pushing 20-week bans and even introducing 15-week bans to curb second- and third-trimester abortions. Another form of anti-abortion legislation gaining steam are “heartbeat bills,” which would significantly reduce the number of legal abortions (as much as 60%) by banning abortion in the first trimester once a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Lawmakers are putting heartbeat bills forward in Ohio, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri and Mississippi, anticipating they will provoke a direct confrontation with Roe v. Wade.
Flexible Strategy Needed
Serrin Foster, the president of Feminists for Life, told the Register that pro-life action, both now and in a possible post-Roe era, needs to adopt a flexible strategy that engages private and public initiatives to build a life-affirming culture and guard it with life-affirming laws.
In fact, President Trump immediately preceded his own condemnation of late-term abortion in his State of the Union remarks by pointedly declaring that he was “proud to be the first president to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave, so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child.”
Foster said the “push factors” behind abortion are well-known, such as the “feminization of poverty.” According to statistics from the pro-abortion-rights Guttmacher Institute, low-income women account for 75% of abortions (with half of them earning at or less than the federal poverty level), 86% of women were unmarried, and 62% had a religious affiliation. Foster said regional solutions tailored to the needs of people in urban, suburban and rural communities have to be pursued.
“There are no one-size-fits-all solutions,” Foster said. Making advancements within the workplace and university system to make circumstances supportive of parenting infants and small children would help resolve some of the unique challenges that lower-income women face. But other things need to be done, like bringing dads back into the family picture and forming loving families.
She said, “We have to think what it is that we can accomplish now.”
Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff writer.