Tomorrow, May 13, 2015, the United State House of Representatives will bring up HR36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, for a vote. I, as the Executive Director of Life Matters Journal, signed on to two different documents to represent our position as regards this piece of legislation. I signed onto a press release applauding House GOP leadership (despite our non-partisan position) for bringing the bill to a scheduled vote because it brings the issue to light. I also signed a document stating that I oppose any rape and incest exception in abortion restriction legislation, specifically in this 20-week/pain-capable legislation that is coming up for a vote tomorrow. I signed this latter document having been assured that it was a neutral document, that we could still support the bill but with this understanding that we do not support the rape exception; however, something was added in the section of the email in which I found my signature. This latter document I signed has been used to say “DO NOT SUPPORT THE PAIN-CAPABLE UNBORN CHILD PROTECTION ACT!” Using the voices of unequivocally pro-life leaders against their intent (and especially against the clarification that I received of the assurance of document neutrality) is nothing short of disingenuous and utilitarian.
I suppose I've learned my lesson about using my own voice, my own signature, more discerningly in the future. But I come out of all of this knowing that the disagreements that we have about methodology and best practices are iron sharpening iron as long as we maintain respect for the voices and dignity of others in the movement. Stopping the infighting doesn't mean that we never disagree on these sorts of things, it just means that we approach each other with respect and the understanding that in the end, we really do all seek the same goal.
This is all just to explain the backdrop against which I come to speak about this whole topic. Our philosophy at Life Matters Journal is fairly simple: we oppose all acts of aggressive violence, we want to abolish all violence, and create a culture of peace. So we generally support nonviolent actions, education, and legislation to save the lives of human beings. We understand that the different voices in the movement are necessary to making sure we do not become static, that we are always moving towards a more perfect pro-life movement.
We at LMJ also tend to be pragmatic idealists, and we know that as much as we would like to abolish all violence with the quick sweep of the hand, that's not how it works in a culture that is so entrenched in the support of violence. We all come from different but similar perspectives, and we allow that one could support HR36, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, with the very clear understanding that it is not perfect. It is not enough. It cannot be the end of our pro-life work in the federal legislatures, and it definitely doesn't represent the final step in our work. We must go back to save the 1% left behind with rape and incest exceptions – if we don't, we are nothing but disingenuous ourselves, we are discriminatory and we are denying due process to the victims of two acts of violence. I believe that we must do all we can to save as many lives as possible with the tools that we have. Is the rape exception principled? I don't believe so. But is it practical for saving as many lives as possible today? Depending on the legislature, quite possibly.
Let's again make it abundantly clear: abortion – the intentional killing of preborn human beings – is always wrong. No matter if the child is conceived in a consensual sexual act, rape, incest, IVF, IUI, or otherwise, abortion is always a grave act of violence against a defenseless human being. We have so much work to do to ensure a culture of peace and this is my call to the pro-life movement as a whole: if you want to support HR36 as it stands, then by all means, do it. But understand that we cannot forget those who are left out in the exceptions. It's a much stronger bill than I hoped for (especially with the life of the mother “exception” requiring using a form of pregnancy termination that could most likely result in the child's survival and the mother's survival), but HR36 is imperfect and it's not the best we can do. That being said, HR36 does re-humanize many of the preborn: it transfers some sense of our own understanding and experience as human to those preborn human beings. And I do believe that re-humanization of victims of violence will do so much to help the world to embrace peace.
All of this being said, if you believe that there is compelling reason to oppose HR36, that its imperfection in leaving out children conceived in rape cannot be fixed, that the political world has too much invested in consistently leaving out rape-conceived children and you believe they will never go back to save the 1%, then by all means oppose the bill. But understand that it may be a great many years until we can get a perfect piece of legislation through. In the meantime, no matter your perspective on supporting the bill or not, we must continue to hold our politicians to higher standards; to ensure that they are not using the pro-life movement for political gain, but that they stand for the unequivocal principle of life for each and every human being.
How do we go back to save the 1% that have been left behind historically by our allowance of exceptions to save as many as we could at the time? And what's the next step after pain-capable legislation? Because our ability to feel pain is not what makes us human beings, nor our brainwaves, nor our heartbeat, nor how we were conceived. All of these standards are imperfect. But the more children we save, the better; and the more preborn human beings that we can re-humanize, the better. If there's a brainwaves bill or a heartbeat bill, we'll likely stand with those bills too. But all of those will be imperfect compared to the standard which we all seek: the protection of all human beings from the moment of conception til the moment of natural death.
So... what's next?