Observations from this week’s hearings, part 1: post-viability restriction

{Edited to correct an error in  my notes and to respect the privacy of a member of the public. I regret the errors.]

Eugenics is back, as if it ever left, and free speech is just too dangerous to take seriously. That’s what a less optimistic soul than I might have concluded after sitting in on this week’s New Hampshire House Judiciary hearings on bills to limit post-viability abortions and to repeal the buffer zone law.

First up was the post-viability bill. I’ll address the buffer zone repeal bill in a separate post.

Rep. Keith Murphy is leading a large group of co-sponsors in trying to prevent abortions of preborn children capable of life outside the womb. With his bill, he has bent over backwards to find common ground between people who recognize the right to life from conception and people who defend abortion up until birth.

Provider, woman, child: striking a balance of interests

HB 578 says that once a woman’s preborn child reaches 21 weeks’ gestation, the physician for the abortion-minded woman must determine whether or not the child is viable. The physician, the medical professional, more than likely the abortionist, makes the determination of viability.

Think about that: the abortion provider would get to decide on viability. And still, the New Hampshire Medical Society sent a lobbyist – a retired OB/GYN – to object to the bill. Dr. Barry Smith said, “The New Hampshire Medical Society does not take a position on abortion, but we do take a position on interference with the practice of medicine.” Dr. Smith was also representing the New Hampshire section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

I’ve heard from Dr. Smith and the Medical Society before at hearings on life-issue bills. For a group that takes no position on abortion, it sure is consistent in its opposition to regulation of the procedure.  Dr. Smith said that HB 578 was based on “bad science that would harm New Hampshire women.”

The bill includes an exception for procedures necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or to prevent substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.

Finally, the bill provides that if the viable child survives the abortion procedure, the child shall receive care.

So woman, child, and provider each get consideration in the bill.

Legal considerations: no new ground here

Rep. Murphy in his opening statement said that the bill as written is consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Planned Parenthood v. Danforth decision, which was handed down in 1976. This is hardly cutting-edge legislation, except in a place like New Hampshire where abortion providers enjoy political protection.

I can see that HB 578 is also consistent with Roe v. Wade itself, in which seven black-robed sages declared that states could assert an interest in “potential” life later in pregnancy.

“If not viability, when?”

Rep. Murphy showed the committee photographs of children born prematurely, ranging from 21 weeks’ gestation to 26 weeks, and where he could find them he added photos of those same children later in their lives.

Surely, he told his colleagues, you agree these children deserved care. To abort children at the same gestational age “strikes me as brutal and inhumane.”

He pointed out that any claims that post-viability abortions don’t happen here are not supported by hard evidence, since New Hampshire has no abortion statistics reporting law. How can we know that such abortions aren’t occurring?

He asked a rhetorical question that no Judiciary member was willing to challenge directly. “If not viability, when? Do you support abortion until birth?”

Opponents lean on eugenics

Well, yes, there is support for abortion until birth. The fear of disability permeated the room as one opponent of HB 578 after another testified against the bill. Gentle and clinical terms floated in the air: Tragic anomalies, said Dr. Smith.  Tragic circumstances, said Devon Chaffee of ACLU-NH.  Severe congenital abnormalities, said another Dr. Smith (J.J. Smith of the New Hampshire Public Health Association).  Lethal abnormalities, said Renee Novello, M.D., a Lebanon OB/GYN and abortion provider. (I’m not giving away any secrets there; she was candid about the scope of her practice.)

One phrase was unuttered yet deafening: better dead than disabled. 

(Forgive this brief digression: I confess that I take that personally. I have a medical condition which is easily treated now, but was considered a much more serious problem more than a half-century ago. In view of the mid-20th-century treatments for my “anomaly,” I’m glad I went undiagnosed until I reached adulthood.)

Does the bill call for extraordinary measures to care for a child with severe problems who survives attempted abortion? Here is the language of the bill (emphasis added):

No physician shall perform or induce an abortion upon a woman when it has been determined that the unborn child is viable unless there is in attendance a physician other than the physician performing or inducing the abortion who shall take control of and provide immediate medical care for a child born as a result of the abortion. During the performance of the abortion, the physician performing it, and subsequent to the abortion, the physician required to be in attendance, shall take all reasonable steps in keeping with good medical practice, consistent with the procedure used, to preserve the life or health of the viable unborn child; provided that it does not pose an increased risk to the life of the woman or does not pose an increased risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the woman.

Reasonable steps, good medical practice, with the determination of viability in the first place made by a physician and not a legislator. “Extraordinary” is nowhere in there.

One physician, to his credit, testified in favor of the bill. He did so after hearing several of the tragic-anomaly speakers. He said if early preemies get care – he did not say “extraordinary” care – they can survive. This was Richard Johnson, MD, a New Hampshire surgeon. He tossed a respectful bridge across the chasm separating advocates of the bill from opponents by acknowledging that Dr. Barry Smith had been his mentor and had delivered one of his children. “We disagree on the bill.”

Susan Clifton  testified about her grandchild born with Trisomy 14. No one had to tell her about the challenges facing families birthing and caring for children with disabilities, even lethal ones. Even so, she was there to support HB 578. Abortion for imperfection was apparently more than she could swallow.

Sister Mary Rose Reddy of Rochester kept her testimony brief and to the point. “Disabilities don’t make a child unfit to live. Abortion is a travesty.”

Vote not yet scheduled

There were so many speakers that the next hearing, buffer zone repeal, was pushed back by 45 minutes. Judiciary is chaired this year by Rep. Joe Hagan (R-Chester), who was considerate of everyone in the standing-room-only crowd while keeping his eye on the clock.

The date for a committee vote on HB 578 has not yet been set. It will go to the full House, where an ought-to-pass motion on a similar bill last year (HB 1625) lost by three votes, 148-151.

If HB 578 fails, New Hampshire will continue to be one of the only places in the world where preborn children may be “terminated” at any point in pregnancy. It will continue to be a place where there is no duty to care for children who survive attempted abortion.

Don’t tell me about a “pro-life” party. Let’s see how this bill fares. Let’s see if House leadership takes a position on it. Can a majority of representatives agree that viable children deserve protection? Is this a common-ground bill? If it isn’t, can there be such a thing?

Objections to post-Gosnell laws include fear of losing access to eugenic abortion

“Second-trimester abortions must remain legal because, until a child is viable outside the womb, these decisions belong with the mother….We made sure our son was not born only to suffer. He died in a warm and loving place, inside me….My little boy partially dissolved into me, and I like to think his soul is in his sister.” — Judy NiCastro, “My Abortion at 23 Weeks,” New York Times, 6/20/13

“The Nicastros felt it would be a nightmare to hear their son gasping for air and in pain, so they did what they thought was the responsible thing—they let a doctor inject poison into the baby’s heart and kill him.” — Matthew Hennessey, First Things, 7/2/13

If I can have my child “dissolved” into me for a fetal anomaly, am I entitled to have him “dissolved” after birth if he later develops a severe medical condition? No, of course. But is that because of respect for life, or because “dissolution” out in the open is in bad taste? I’m beginning to wonder what the results would be if someone ran a poll about that.

The older I get, the less patience I have with eugenic abortion. I cannot accept it. It’s another paving stone on the path that has led since 1973 to tens of millions of abortions in the United States. One decision at a time, one choice at a time, one fetal anomaly after another, and here we are.

No one knows exactly how many children were selected for abortion by their heartbroken parents and “compassionate” physicians on the grounds of congenital deformities.  My own state doesn’t keep track. I think it’s worth knowing, without personally identifying information, what kinds of anomalies are driving parents to choose abortion. I should say “mothers,” not “parents.” For all the nonsense about between-a-woman-and-her-family-and-her-trusted-health-care-provider, the right to abortion under Roe v. Wade belongs 100% to the mother.

Ms. NiCastro in her Times article (linked above) wrote why she didn’t postpone her abortion until the third trimester, when her sick unborn son’s twin was less likely to be damaged unintentionally: because abortion in her state was illegal after 24 weeks, according to her doctor. That settled the matter. She does not mention if her doctor was willing to refer her to a physician who openly and legally performs later-term abortions in other states – Leroy Carhart, for instance. The laws in some states permit abortion until birth. New Hampshire’s one of them, and the Division of Public Health doesn’t want to know if anyone’s actually doing late-term abortions here. No stats are collected.

The NiCastros were in a devastating situation, to be sure. NiCastro speaks of “expelling” the fetus. That’s giving “birth” to a dead child. Truly devastating. How much more devastating would it have been if the pregnancy had been farther along? The baby would have been just as dead, but much harder to write off as having “partially dissolved into me.” (The twin survived, thanks be to God, and the NiCastros are overjoyed to have her, according to the Times essay.)

NiCastro wrote her account after the Gosnell trial. One of the things that trial got into the public record is that there is nothing pretty or delicate about post-20-week abortions. “Dissolving” doesn’t play a role. Recent laws and bills seeking to bar post-20-week abortions are basically Gosnell-prevention laws. That worries NiCastro, and so she’s doing what every woman concerned about abortion should be doing: telling her story.

Eugenic abortion, one of the twentieth century’s most ghastly ideas, is back with a vengeance. It’s in the hands of mothers, not people in white coats, so I’m supposed to accept it as a means of alleviating suffering, and — worse yet — a means of assuring women’s autonomy. As when I hear every other argument in favor of mercy killing, something nags at me: whose suffering are we talking about here? My loved one’s, or my own?

And what am I supposed to do with a loved one who develops a terrible condition after birth? Granted, Roe gives me no autonomy over keeping my life free of disabled family members (or keeping them free of me). In Roe’s shadow, though, I wonder how many of us see people with chronic medical problems and think it sure would have been better if he’d never been born.

I was diagnosed with a seizure disorder at age 30, with no prior family or personal history of such a condition. It’s a life-changing diagnosis. Even so, I have been seizure-free for a couple of decades now with appropriate medication. Treatment modalities have come a long way since the days when people with epilepsy were institutionalized and subject to sterilization so they wouldn’t reproduce others like them. Given what was understood about epilepsy when I was born half a century ago, would some white-coated professional back then have recommended writing me off, if prenatal diagnosis had been available? (Now that would have gotten Mom’s Irish up.)

I have a friend whose son has autism. My friend supports autism research but has no use for the best-known autism charity. I asked him why, and he told me the outfit is way too fond of prenatal diagnosis, which he fears will lead to a “search-and-destroy” mission. That phenomenon is already manifesting itself with Down’s Syndrome, where some reports indicate that 90% of children diagnosed prenatally with the condition are aborted. 

Are these hard cases? Sure. Was the NiCastro family faced with a terrible situation? Yes. But what makes these hard cases?

One of Roe’s dirty little secrets is that in this country, the definition of a hard-case pregnancy lies with only one person: the mother. A physician — or any other health care provider — can counsel until she’s blue in the face, but the only person who can legally make the call about aborting for fetal anomalies is the mother.

Mothers might be more likely to choose life in those situations if they were assured of adequate support and resources from the community. But a community with fewer people with disabilities won’t consider such support to be a priority. And so the vicious circle stays vicious. Organizations like CareNet that do offer practical help (with support from many individual people) face outright opposition from abortion advocates, in fact. I saw that for myself in 2012 when the New Hampshire House passed a resolution in praise of pregnancy care centers, over the vociferous objections of New Hampshire’s abortion providers.

Go figure.

NiCastro has the guts to come out and tell her story. I hope families who have welcomed children with anomalies will tell their stories as well. Knowing that the child one is carrying will have a permanent medical issue is heartbreaking. Choosing life anyway is story that needs telling. Give the New York Times something new to publish. Give me a guest post. Failing to tell the life-affirming stories will keep eugenic abortion going.