New “Strict” Abortion Laws — Really?

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Donor Officer

For some children, the new “strict” abortion law in Texas is no protection at all.

Last month Texas Governor Perry signed a bill that banned aborting a child after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The headlines about the law suggested significant changes had happened: “Perry Signs Strict Abortion Regulations into Law;” “Perry Signs Sweeping Abortion Restrictions;” “Texas governor signs sweeping abortion regulations that threaten existence of most clinics

I was happy they made this effort. But the reality is that abortion is still legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy — and more than 98% of abortions are performed before the 20th week. So after such “sweeping regulations” almost all abortions are still legal. And that should be a problem for us.

The Texas law also places additional requirements on the facilities and the abortionists, so at least the mothers are less likely to die or be maimed during the procedures that are killing their children. If it means there are fewer abortion facilities and abortionists because they can’t meet these requirements, then I am willing to call that progress.

Still Not Protected

But there’s one group who continue to have no protection at all: children with “severe fetal abnormalities.” The bill that was signed by Governor Perry specifically states that this law does not apply to these children.

Texas law now states that children can be aborted for any reason up to 20 weeks, but then only because of their severe abnormalities after 20 weeks or for the health of the mother.

And Texas law defines severe fetal abnormality this way:

(a-1) In Subsection (a), a "severe fetal abnormality" means a life threatening physical condition that, in reasonable medical judgment, regardless of the provision of life saving medical treatment, is incompatible with life outside the womb. (Texas Health and Safety Code Section 285.202)

While that sounds like a high standard, the reality is that the term ‘incompatible with life outside the womb’ is very subjective. The examples provided to support the standard are nearly always fatal, such as severe brain malformations. But in practice, we’ve seen all over the world that once this door is open, conditions that are not lethal get slipped into this standard.

This Standard, Really?

And we shouldn’t have this standard anyway. A Christian physician wrote to me on this subject:

There are several uniformly fatal fetal anomalies that have no chance of survival following delivery. None of them are an indication for abortion. . . I have never seen an instance in 21 years of clinical medicine where an abortion would be the procedure of choice. (emphasis added)

Even more disturbing, the fetal abnormality exception has nothing to do with the stated purpose of the Texas law:

The state has a compelling state interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that these children are capable of feeling pain. (Texas House Bill 2 Section 1)

Children with disabilities, even those with severe abnormalities, feel pain.

Why is there no compelling interest to protect their lives for the very same reason?

Why do their physical limitations remove this level of concern?

The conclusion is that even in a “pro-life state,” some children are still considered expendable. Children with disabilities are not protected by the left or the right.

Not Nearly Enough

Our cultural hypocrisy about people with disabilities and their value to the world is clearly exposed. We can’t soothe our consciences simply because only those who will die anyway aren’t protected by this law. Physicians are frequently wrong in these kinds of predictions. And it is unjust to stigmatize and marginalize these children this way.

I understand the argument that says we must “take what we can” in a divided cultural and political environment — the idea that it is good to protect some if we can’t protect them all. From that perspective, I’m glad for the Texas legislature’s bill and what it symbolically means.

But it is not nearly enough.

We have a responsibility to alert the world of what God says about how we treat those with disabilities (Leviticus 19:14). And it starts in the womb.

(@johnpknight) is a Donor Officer at Desiring God. He is married to Dianne, and together they parent their four children: Paul, Hannah, Daniel, and Johnny. Paul lives with multiple disabilities including blindness, autism, cognitive impairments, and a seizure disorder. John writes on disability, the Bible, and the church at The Works of God.