St. John Paul II and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

All of us in pro-life wish this bill had no exceptions, but some of us realize that an incremental approach like this will save thousands of lives, and for that, we support it.

U.S. Capitol (Pixabay)
U.S. Capitol (Pixabay) (photo: Screenshot)

The pro-life movement is poised to make the greatest progress in protecting children in the womb since Roe vs. Wade. The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to cut in half the time during pregnancy in which abortions are permitted. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would protect babies starting at 20 weeks of development — because of their capacity to feel pain — from the brutality of a late-term abortion.

Some in our movement, however, have seen fit to criticize rather than support the bill. They object to the fact that it has exceptions, including for women who become pregnant through rape or incest. But this is no surprise; in fact, one would be hard pressed to find pro-life legislation that can pass Congress without such exceptions.

All of us in pro-life wish this bill had no exceptions, but some of us realize that an incremental approach like this will save thousands of lives, and for that, we support it. Not saving babies we would be able to save with this law would be unconscionable. And yet I understand those who think passing a bill with these exceptions is likewise unconscionable. People who were conceived in rape, for instance, make a compelling case that their lives matter, and we agree.

What should we do?

What helps me through this dilemma is turning to Evangelium Vitae, Pope Saint John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical that was so prescient, it could have been written today.

In section 73, the Holy Father wrote:

A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects. 

Put another way, a bill without exceptions is going to protect more lives than a bill with exceptions – but only if that bill becomes law! Show me the bill without exceptions that has the votes to pass, and I’ll be the first to support it.

Protecting children from 20 weeks on also will protect their mothers from the very complicated grief that often follows a late-term abortion. Many of the testimonies on the Silent No More Awareness Campaign website were written by women who had later abortions and have ever since regretted that choice.

Sally in California, who had an abortion in her sixth month and had a second abortion, in her first trimester, three years later, wrote about her regret:

Abortion not only takes the life of the unborn child, it also seriously impacts the life of the mother! I can say from my own experience that an important part of me died each time I gave into my own self-centeredness and exerted my ‘right to choose.’ In my ignorance I made choices that are irreversible. As a result I lost a very valuable part of me – my self-respect.

If there had been a law protecting babies past 20 weeks, Sally – who was later told she might never conceive again after the second abortion – would be a mother and maybe even a grandmother today.

Rep. Trent Franks, (R-AR), who introduced the measure in the House, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who followed suit in the Senate, are staunch pro-lifers whom we are proud to work alongside of. Their bills are legitimate and proper attempts to limit the evil of unfettered access to abortion, especially when the child in the womb is developed enough to feel pain.

In fact, we are not only saying that it is “morally legitimate” to support a measure like this. We are saying it is morally obligatory. Why? Precisely because of the personhood of the babies who would be saved by it. In other words, their absolute right to protection as persons requires that we protect them as soon as we are capable of doing so – and in fact, the planets have now aligned to make that possible.

With a pro-life majority in the House and Senate, and a pro-life president in the White House, the United States is perhaps closer to ending abortion than it has been since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. But we are not there yet, and that’s why incremental laws are so important at this time.

We must this support this bill, and right now the most important way we can do that is to make sure each and every one of our senators knows we are expecting them to vote “aye” on the Senate floor. If they don’t, we will be prepared to vote “no” against them in 2018.

Try to imagine it this way: You come upon a raging river where four people are drowning in the current and you can only save one or two. Would you walk away and save no one because you could not save all? I have a hard time imagining anyone choosing that course of action.

Lawmakers who have introduced and support incremental laws like the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act are standing on the banks of this river. It’s important that those of us in pro-life jump in and help them save as many babies as they can.