The Democratic Party conceded to the moral quandary of abortion in the 1990s by stating in its platform that the procedure should be “safe, legal and rare.” As it embraced a more radical abortion stance, however, it dropped “rare” from the phrase, and many Democrats came to feel the party was taking them for granted.
When fringe figures restructured abortion into a symbolic debate about women’s autonomy and freedom, they left pro-life party members without a political home as a result of their support for the sanctity of life.
This failure to connect was foreshadowed in 2016, when pro-life Democrats Kristen Day and Charles Camosy expressed their frustrations in a Los Angeles Times Op-Ed, suggesting the party’s increasingly progressive stance “effectively marginalizes the voices of 21 million pro-life Democrats.”
“The party that is supposedly on the side of justice for the vulnerable no longer welcomes those of us who #ChooseBoth,” the pair wrote. “That is, those of us who want the government to protect and support prenatal children and their mothers.”
Two recent pieces of pro-life legislation proposed by Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii could be a step in the right direction when it comes to striking a balance between opposing elements within the party.
In fact, the bills introduced in the House of Representatives this month — HR 8923 and HR 8939 — also could be a starting point for the bipartisan implementation of basic restrictions on abortion.
The text of the first bill says it would amend Title 18 of the U.S. Criminal Code “to ensure a health care practitioner exercises the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion.”
A week after introducing that bill, Gabbard proposed legislation that would prevent abortions from being performed on pre-born children who are capable of feeling pain during the procedure.
This is not the only time Gabbard, a 39-year-old Iraq War veteran, has stood at odds with the rest of her caucus to secure common-sense protections for specific interests.
Also this month, the congresswoman introduced the “Protect Women’s Sports Act,” which would prevent males who identify as female from competing with female athletes and depriving them of scholarship opportunities and awards.
Gabbard’s willingness to depart from her peers has pleased groups like Democrats for Life of America and Pro-Life San Francisco.
DFLA, for its part, created petitions urging Congress to support the legislation, writing on Facebook, “Former Democratic Presidential Candidate Tulsi Gabbard introduced her SECOND Pro-Life bill this week, which would amend Title 18 of the U.S. code to give pain-capable fetuses rights under the law.”
Pro-Life San Francisco similarly celebrated the development, calling the legislation, “fundamental to ensuring justice for UCSF’s most vulnerable victims of fetal organ harvesting, and we are inspired to see them originate from a left-leaning national legislator.”
The group also declared that the “future of California, the Democratic Party, and all of America is pro-life!”
It is worth remembering, however, that according to Vote Smart, Gabbard has a 100 percent pro-choice voting record and has voted against pro-life resolutions similar to the ones being brought to the table by her team.
In a 2019 appearance on the “Rubin Report,” Gabbard told host Dave Rubin that she used to be pro-life but now holds “a more libertarian position on the issue.”
The representative did not shy away from voicing support for “some restrictions” on abortion, suggesting her Democratic colleagues are “going so crazy with pushing how much later the abortion can be.” She went on to say that the party’s “radical” streak had made her “challenge her own beliefs.”
Such explanations have not prevented Gabbard from facing criticism from the left for her recent proposals.
Feminist writer Jill Filipovic tweeted this month that Gabbard’s born-alive bill “criminalizes doctors, vilifies women, and fear-mongers about abortion.” She also called the bill “redundant,” saying there are already legal protections to safeguard infants in the “infinitesimally rare cases they are born after attempted abortions.”
Tulsi Gabbard also introduced a redundant bill that claims to protect infants in the infinitesimally rare cases they are born after attempted abortions (infants are already legally protected) but in fact just criminalizes doctors, vilifies women, and fear-mongers about abortion.
— Jill Filipovic (@JillFilipovic) December 11, 2020
What Filipovic was likely referring to is the Born Alive Infant Protection Act of 2002, which classified born alive children as human beings — but did not specify the level of treatment they’re entitled to or include related provider penalties.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention further points to the need for such legislation: The 11-year study found that 143 babies were left to die after initially surviving a botched abortion. The data suggest this number was an underestimation.
With the full language of Gabbard’s second bill not made public as of Friday, it is not clear where the legislation defines fetal pain, but several recent medical studies suggest a need to examine the issue further.
A March 2017 study published in the biological research journal Cell concluded that preborn humans have an adult-like nervous system as early as the first trimester, while the BMJ Journal of Medical Ethics uncovered just this year that fetal pain may be possible as early as 13 weeks.
While Gabbard’s fetal pain bill might expose the morally objectionable nature of abortion in some scenarios, her proposal still conflates the immorality of abortion with the preborn’s capacity to feel pain.
No matter whether a baby in the womb dies with or without pain, abortion is wrong. The procedure intentionally ends the life of an innocent human being.
The best thing that can be said about these legislative steps is that they represent a promising start. But there is still a long way to go when it comes to validating the human rights of children in the womb.
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