Much was made of Congress upholding the 2003 partial-birth abortion ban this past April. Pro-life groups applauded, while pro-choice groups ranted that it was chipping away at Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that made abortion legal in the United States.
But, just last week, a story surfaced in the Boston Globe about how doctors are using lethal drugs to kill fetuses in the womb, so the baby is not alive when it's "delivered." Apparently, it's all legal. It allows doctors to circumvent the partial-birth abortion law, or at least the spirit of it, because the intent of the law is to prevent babies being aborted that would otherwise be able to live outside the womb. As the Boston Globe story points out the partial-birth law is written so broadly that the injection procedure sits within legal boundaries.
The report says that in Boston, three major Harvard-affiliated hospitals have responded to the ban by using the injection technique: Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women's, and Beth Israel Deaconess. The injections are the new standard operating procedures for abortions beginning around the 20-weeks' gestation — that's the middle of the fifth month and halfway through full term.
Tom Strode of The Baptist Press wrote that it "may violate the spirit of the 2003 law, but it apparently does not transgress the letter of the ban."
A doctor from a California hospital commented that the procedure is too risky and "the only clear benefit is a legal one to the physician."
It's so odd to be talking about matters of life and death in such a matter-of-fact way. These decisions are filled with emotion and heartache. And, the subject of abortion is especially difficult and touchy. On one hand are the rights of the mother to order her life as she sees fit; and, on the other side is the constitutional right of the unborn baby to have a chance at “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," as designated for "all men created."
I've known women who've had abortions, as well as those who, for religious reasons, decided not to have an abortion. I've seen the great pain that each woman had in her decision. And, I've seen a couple of women who had no pain whatsoever, they were very glad to get rid of the problem.
One woman who had an abortion was a typical college co-ed discovering her sexuality for the first time, not living in her parents' upper middle-class home in the 'burbs. She was very intelligent and very talented. She knew how women got pregnant. But like many of us, she was willing to take risks for a night or two of pleasure. The result was a pregnancy. She had the abortion after painfully mulling over her options. Her future with a child would mean all her career plans would be quite different. A future without a child at that point would mean continuing on course without any problems. A future with having gone through an entire pregnancy then giving a child given up for adoption, would make for a level of emotional despair that no 19- or 20-year-old wants to deal with. So, the choice was made to end the pregnancy at around seven weeks. She said afterward, "It was a boy."
And at that point I knew her life would never be "on course" again. It's not to say she regretted the decision. She has never said that. But, there was an emotional cost that she hadn't expected.
The woman who didn't have the abortion was also a college co-ed. She was practically engaged to her boyfriend at the time, so, of course, having sex seemed normal because they were going to spend the rest of their lives together. But, something changed in him. He began to be abusive, physically, and she knew she needed to leave the relationship permanently, otherwise she wouldn't survive. She wanted no part of him, but she was carrying his child. Her religious beliefs said abortion was not an option, so she gave the baby girl up for adoption. It was the kind of open adoption where the adoptive parents send her pictures of her little girl, who is now 12 years old. The woman knows her baby's name, what she looks like and what she's accomplishing in her life. That has given her considerable joy. But, at the same time, she has continued to struggle with romantic relationships. Women of abusive boyfriends or husbands usually do, since it's a cycle that's hard to break.
But it's odd how our opinions change over the years as we get more information. If you had asked me at 13 years old what my views on abortion were, I would have told you I was staunchly for it. Back then, I couldn't imagine anyone not being for abortion. It was every woman's right. Of course then I had raging hormones and just thought that having a way to end a pregnancy was a great way to avoid the wrath of my parents and avoid any sort of "bad girl" stigma. I was only thinking of what was convenient for me. I hadn't learned to be awed by life, nature or people. Children rarely do look at things except from their own perspective of how something benefits or doesn't benefit them. I would probably say that there are lots of adults who think that way too. The ability to put someone else's needs before your own and to love sacrificially, is what I believe we're on this earth to learn; some learn it faster than others.
I would rarely expect a girl barely entering puberty to understand the larger picture of what her life meant to the people around her. I took for granted that my mother loved me and would do anything for me. I could intellectually understand that "God is love," but deep in my being, it wasn't a reality. There was a chasm between those words and my ability to live as if I believed them.
But something changed for me in my teen years, when I asked my mother how she felt about abortion. I was ready for a debate against an "older" generation woman who didn't understand women's liberation issues. But her answer shocked me. She said she really didn't know. Abortion was never legal during any of her five pregnancies. She related how she always got so deathly sick while pregnant, that when she found out she was pregnant with her last two (my sister and I), she said if abortion had been available, she might have taken that option. "But," she said, “that would have deprived her of the children that have given her the greatest joy.” She said, "I can't imagine my life without my two youngest girls." She says now she's grateful she never had the option to make such a life-altering decision.
Her response hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Legal abortion for my mother could have meant my life would have been snuffed out before it even began. And it wasn't that my mother was single and wanted to wait until she got married. She and my father were married and already had three children, a girl and two boys.
It wouldn't have been a financial decision either. My parents were never close to being rich, and barely would have been considered middle class. But they always provided what we needed, and were always joyfully willing to make whatever sacrifices they could for their children.
The decision would've been purely because of the severity of pain and discomfort during her pregnancies. Was her health at risk? I don't know. (I don't think it was preeclampsia or something life-threatening, but maybe just the most severe morning sickness you can imagine; 40 years ago, pregnant woman were handled a bit differently.) My mother would have had her tubes tied after her third child, but back in those days, they'd only perform the procedure on women who'd had at least five children. I was my mom's fifth child. That's why I'm the baby of the family … and that's why I'm here writing this today.
My mother knows that if abortion had been an option for her, I might not be here. She can't imagine life without me. But then, I can't imagine not being alive. If I weren't here, where would I be? I can't begin to wrap my brain around that scenario. It brings up shades of the classic move "It's A Wonderful Life," where George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, gets to see how his hometown would have looked had he not been born. It's a beautiful story.
But none of us will ever know what life would've been like if we were never born. I can only start imagining. Where would I be? Would I be dead? Does a seven or 10 week old fetus know it's alive? Does it ask all sorts of existential questions we all want to know like, “Who am I?”, “Why am I here?”, and "What is the purpose of life?"
It would be great if the movie "Look Who's Talking" were actually true... that babies talk like a savvy Bruce Willis in their mother's womb. But the reality is, we don't know what babies are thinking in the womb or even if they do think. There's brain activity, there's even pain and reaction to stimuli. They suck their thumbs and move around a lot. We're really limited when it comes to knowing what a baby is actually "thinking."
But let me tell you what changed my mind completely about abortion. I met Dr. Bernard Nathanson; for anyone not in news or active in the abortion debate, you may not know who he is, but you know his work. He was one of the original founders of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL.) He coined the phrase, "A woman's right to choose" and "reproductive rights." He performed more than 60,000 abortions and is now staunchly pro-life.
What changed his mind was seeing for the first time, through the technology of ultrasound, what actually happens to the unborn child during an abortion. You can read more about his thoughts and what he saw in his book, The Hand of God.
My opinion about abortion wasn’t changed by what he said, but from what he did. Here was a man who had been in entrenched in one camp and was thoroughly knowledgeable about the process and the political agenda he helped form. Then, suddenly, he was moved by the tiniest of beings. He'd been transformed by the sight of the most innocent and helpless of humans, the unborn. And his decision changed me.
Even though I've never had an abortion or been pregnant, I have been affected by it — affected by people who have made a decision one way or the other to have or not to have, and by those who never had the option on the table. But what I do know is that humans are just not qualified for making all sorts of life-altering decisions, because we simply don't have all the facts. We can't predict the future, of how things will turn out if we choose door one or door two. But regardless, choose we must. Not because we should, but because we can.
Our legal system is filled with all sorts of contradictions and loopholes. It allows us to operate in the realm of not what is right, but what is legal. It's not always the same. One always trumps the other, and the courts are filled with those cases. And unfortunately, in the litigious society we live in, there are several generations growing up who've never been taught to live by the highest standard possible. What is legal is not always right … but what is right should need no law.
Lauren Green serves as a religion correspondent for the FOX News Channel. Prior to this, Green served as a news anchor for “Fox and Friends,” where she provided daily news updates and covered arts for the network. You can read her complete bio here.