Last week marked the fortieth anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. In the absence of a consensus favoring legal protection of the unborn, what are the alternatives available to us in the short term? In my most recent Capital Commentary piece, I make four suggestions:
First, we always do well to assume that our pro-choice opponents are people of good will who love their families and genuinely care for the welfare of their communities. It will not do for pro-lifers to vilify those on the other side of the issue, a perennial temptation for anyone viewing the struggle in stark apocalyptic terms and focusing on the legislative battle. Those taking a pro-choice position do not hate babies; rather, they see themselves having a heart for vulnerable women in crisis pregnancy situations. We need to build on this sympathy, making a case that it should be extended to the vulnerable child in the womb as well.
Second, those of us who can speak from experience should do so, and in such a way as to open, rather than to close, the lines of communication. Although I personally have no experience with abortion, my wife and I do have experience with an early birth. Our daughter was born fourteen weeks premature nearly a decade and a half ago, weighing in at just over two pounds and spending her first ten and a half weeks in two area hospital neonatal intensive care units. During this difficult time we quickly discovered that our daughter would smile briefly when she was content. It did not take much to convince us that, if she could smile at such a young age, then fetuses, who are more than just inert tissue, must surely smile in the womb. Several years later our suspicions were confirmed by a British study which discovered as much through 3D/4D ultrasound imaging. We were struck by the sheer incongruity between our daughter possessing the legal status of personhood outside the womb, where she should not yet have been, and her lack of such status if she had remained in the womb the full nine months.
Third, as useful as such technology can be to the pro-life cause, we cannot assume that science has proved or will prove the humanity of the fetus, as if science were capable by itself of resolving the controversy to everyone’s satisfaction. Many people on the pro-choice side admit that the fetus is human. Yet this admission is insufficient to move them to the pro-life side. We need, instead, to emphasize the responsibility that new life places on us with respect to nurture and care, a responsibility that we dare not evade by trying to eliminate a life that seems momentarily inconvenient.
Fourth and finally, despite the seemingly intractable differences between pro-life and pro-choice citizens, the ordinary imperatives of day-to-day governance will not go away and will require the cooperation of everyone, whatever their position on abortion, in a variety of other areas. Given this reality, we must all be prepared to collaborate on those issues where agreement is possible, while continuing as best we can to protect the lives of the most vulnerable among us, including the unborn.