Is the pro-life movement making a mistake supporting the 20-week abortion ban?
October 19, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) — If you support abortion in 99 percent of the cases, should you be considered pro-life or pro-abortion? The answer to this question illustrates why I oppose the 20-week abortion ban as a viable pro-life strategy.
The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, also known as the 20-week abortion ban, recently passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 237-189. Besides the failed one-year defunding of Planned Parenthood — and a Conscience Protection Act that seems to be stalled in the House — it is the mainstream pro-life movement’s only legislative goal for the 115th Congress.
Over two years ago, I wrote an article entitled “Four reasons why I can’t support the 20-week abortion ban and you shouldn’t either.” In that article, I laid out four reasons for my opposition to the 20-week ban based on the text of the bill. First, the legislation made pro-lifers complicit with the crime of abortion by setting out mere “requirements for abortion;” second, it was based on value judgments about the dignity of human life that are contrary to our beliefs as pro-lifers (a human being’s worth is in no way related to his or her ability to feel pain); third, it discriminated against the weakest and most defenseless among us (children conceived in rape and incest are specifically excluded from protection); and finally, the bill justified some abortion as legitimate medical treatment. The current version of the 20-week ban is essentially the same as the one introduced in the previous Congress and therefore all of my concerns with the language of the bill remain the same.
I also mentioned two larger strategic miscalculations made by the supporters of the 20-week ban, which underlie my opposition to the 20-week abortion ban. In this article, I would like to further analyze those two strategic miscalculations.
Strategic Miscalculation #1: This incremental bill is the best legislation that has a chance of passing right now.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a chance. Pro-lifers are not even close to having the votes in the U.S. Senate necessary to pass a bill so modest that it seeks to prohibit less than 1 percent of the total number of abortions. This is evident when we consider that as recently as July the U.S. Senate was not able to muster 50 votes for the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare with its one-year defunding of Planned Parenthood.
Consider also that in the last Congress, when Republicans had two more Senate seats than now and nothing was on the line because President Obama had vowed to veto the bill, 54 senators voted for the 20-week ban, still well short of the 60 votes needed. This new Congress has two fewer Republican senators, one pro-abortion Republican (Sen. Kirk - Illinois) who voted against the bill and one (Sen. Ayotte - New Hampshire) who voted in favor of it. In their place are two solidly pro-abortion Democrats. It also remains to be seen if the three Democrat senators who voted for the bill when they knew President Obama would veto it would dare vote for it now that President Trump has vowed to sign it into law. Most likely, this bill will not get much further than the 45 original co-sponsors it currently has, thus failing to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster and send it to the president.
Honest proponents of the 20-week ban might agree that it has no chance of passing the Senate, but would argue that forcing votes on this bill will separate pro-lifers from pro-aborts, making it easier for pro-lifers to target them in upcoming elections. I believe the clear and convincing evidence in the House of Representatives refutes this theory.
Strategic Miscalculation #2: the 20-week ban will help us root out pro-abort politicians.
The 20-week ban has been introduced in three successive sessions of Congress, the 113th (2013-14), the 114th (2015-2016), and now the 115th (2017-2018). Interestingly, the vote totals have remained very consistent, 228-196 in the 113th, 242-184 in the 114th, and now 237-189 in the 115th Congress. Most of the politicians voted along party lines with only a few going against their party. Of the few Republicans who voted against the bill in past years, not a single one lost in a primary challenge. The same is true of the few Democrats who voted in favor of banning abortions after 20 weeks. Let’s take a closer look.
In the 113th Congress, six Republicans voted against the 20-week abortion ban in the House of Representatives. Two of them, both with strong pro-life records, Rep. Broun and Rep. Woodall of Georgia, voted against the bill because it specifically denied protection for children conceived in rape. The other four Republicans were pro-abortion politicians from relatively liberal districts on the East Coast: Reps. Hanna (New York), Dent (Pennsylvania), Frelinghuysen (New Jersey), and Runyan (New Jersey). Of these four pro-abortion men, only Rep. Runyan was replaced by a politician who went on to vote for the 20-week ban in the 114th Congress, and he was not primaried but simply retired. The other three pro-abortion Republicans won their next election and continued to vote against the 20-week abortion ban.
The political result of the 113th Congress’ 20-week abortion ban upon the composition of the House of Representatives was that two conservative representatives from Georgia were convinced to drop their advocacy for children conceived in rape, and two pro-abortion districts on the East Coast gained legislators willing to vote for the bill.
In the 114th Congress, the story is even more grim. During that legislative cycle, there were four Republican representatives who voted against the 20-week ban. Three of them, Reps. Hanna, Dent, and Frelinghuysen, were hardened pro-aborts who had also voted against the ban in the 113th Congress. Of these, only one, Rep. Hanna, was replaced by someone who in the current year voted for the 20-week ban. It is worthwhile to emphasize that Rep. Hanna was not primaried but was replaced after he retired. The other Republican voting against the ban was Rep. Dold (Illinois), who was subsequently unseated by a pro-abortion Democrat. In total, after the 114th Congress, one pro-abortion Republican would be replaced by a pro-abortion Democrat and another by a nominally pro-life Republican.
Unfortunately, even this small positive effect is cancelled out if we look at the disappearance of nominally pro-life Democrats. In the 113th Congress, there were six Democrats who voted in favor of the 20-week ban, and in the 114th only two Democrats were left who voted in favor of it. The net change in the Democratic Party since the 113th Congress is therefore a -4. If we combine the net positive effect to Republicans (+2) with the net negative to Democrats (-4), we are left with an overall net of - 2 pro-life representatives after six years of attempted legislation.
As we can see from this analysis, there is no positive political impact to the makeup of Congress from the successive attempts to pass a 20-week ban.
It is evident beyond a reasonable doubt that sacrificing the moral high ground has not produced incremental gains but instead has cemented the political status quo. The right to abortion is as strong as it has ever been, and year after year Republicans get elected who promise to fight for the right to life but never actually show up to the fight.
The United States is now going into its third generation of legalized abortion and, clearly, the greatest enemy of the pro-life movement is complacency with the status quo, so why would we choose a strategy that only entrenches the status quo? One possible reason is that in our current decadent culture, maintaining the status quo is the best that we can do, but I don’t think so. The U.S. Congress is more pro-abortion than the average American, therefore pro-lifers can and should demand more from them without fear of being called unrealistic.
Having had 15 years of experience speaking with legislators in Washington, D.C., I can tell you that only a handful of congressmen truly care enough about the evil of abortion to spend any serious political capital on it. Sadly, the 20-week ban is perfect for these weakest of the weak “pro-life” politicians because it doesn’t require them to spend any of their political capital.
To illustrate this, just think of going on the street and asking random people if they support abortion in 99 percent of the cases. Surely, a vast majority of the people would say that they are not 99 percent pro-abortion. And yet this is the standard that we are asking our pro-life legislators to meet in order to receive a pro-life stamp of approval: if you are 1 percent pro-life and 99 percent pro-abortion, you too can wear the pro-life badge during your next election in your conservative district.
While in the short term it might seem wise and prudent to attempt to legislate on a very modest level, two strategic miscalculations give us the opposite of the expected results. Pro-lifers will get no incremental gain by pushing for the 20-week ban for two simple reasons: because it doesn’t have the votes necessary to become law, and because it will only entrench the weakest of the weak “pro-life” legislators by lowering the standard of what is required to be called pro-life to a point even lower than the general population.
The effective result of this strategy is that the evil of abortion will continue to be a legislative non-issue on Capitol Hill and babies will continue to be murdered in the womb. But, hey, at least Republican legislators will continue to receive the votes of pro-lifers.
Washington, we have a problem.