The “exception”-al Pain-Capable Act

visitthecapitol.gov photo
visitthecapitol.gov photo

I just sent an email to my Member of Congress, asking him to support a piece of legislation that will probably come up in Washington late this afternoon: the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, H.R. 36, restricting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It’s as flawed a life-issue bill as I’ll see this year in either Washington or Concord. Still, I hope it passes. And I definitely want to see who-votes-how. [Update, 5:45 p.m.: the measure passed, 242-184.]

In the absence of a clean up-or-down vote on late-term abortion, this bill is the next best thing. Don’t go looking in this bill for an affirmation of a right to life from conception to natural death; it ain’t there. This bill proposes restrictions on mid- and late-term abortions, not a ban. It doesn’t confer “personhood” and it doesn’t even apply to preborn children in the first half of pregnancy. It may or may not be good news to you that the bill poses no threat to Roe v. Wade. And still, I asked my congressman to vote Yea.

Dr. Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life, speaking as a no-holds-barred supporter of the legislation:

“Limiting abortion at 5 months of pregnancy, as an unborn child becomes able to live outside the womb and as the abortion procedure becomes even more dangerous for women, is a commonsense law long overdue….[I]t deals directly with the ugly reality of abortion, which hurts both mother and child who are exposed to an industry willing to harm people for profit.”

Not so coincidentally, today is the second anniversary of the conviction of noted Philadelphia butcher Kermit Gosnell. Supporters of Pain-Capable see passage as a fitting way to mark the date. Earlier this year, the bill was scheduled for a vote on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, before it was sidetracked. (Nurse Jill Stanek has done all she can to make House Speaker John Boehner bring back the bill. Bound4Life has an interesting interview with her on the subject.)

A good – nay, great – provision in the bill: it calls on anyone terminating a post-20-week pregnancy to do so in a manner which “in reasonable medical judgment provides the best opportunity for the unborn child to survive,” consistent with the safety of the mother. No snipping, doctors.

And then there are a couple of sticky points that won’t go away.

Finer minds than mine came up with the title, which acknowledges how squeamish many people are about “terminating” a post-20-week preborn child who “reacts to stimuli that would be recognized as painful if applied to an adult human.” That’s from the text of the bill, in the Findings section. Great. Imposing pain except for therapeutic purposes (can I pop that dislocated shoulder back into place for you?) is to be avoided. The danger comes when that leads to the conclusion that anesthetizing the intended victim would be some kind of solution. Would that make abortion more palatable? How about anesthetizing people being subjected to forced sterilization or euthanasia? Would that make the procedures somehow all right, as long as no one feels pain? No. I recognize of course that the bill’s sponsors have no intention of going down that road.

There is also … wait for it … a rape-and-incest exception. The hashtag for the Twitterfest on this bill is #theyfeelpain. I almost want to counter with #theyfeelpaintoobutnevermind. The redoubtable Abby Johnson is simply using #NoExceptions.

Still, I’ve supported policies with such exceptions before, notably the Hyde Amendment. Did you realize that Hyde only restricts the use of federal Health and Human Services funds for abortion in certain government programs? Other federal funds are unaffected. Did you know that it’s not automatic, but has to be renewed each budget cycle? That it has those exceptions I mentioned? And still, I support it and I even want to see it expanded to cover more federal departments.

I’ve asked Congressman Guinta to support H.R. 36. He knows I’m watching.  How about you?

 

More on Pain-Capable: why the rape/incest exception?

Note: The U.S. House voted late today to pass H.R. 1797, 228-196. Reps. Shea-Porter and Kuster (D-NH) voted Nay.

Those of us supporting H.R. 1797, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, are being called to task today by pro-life allies as the debate and vote are pending in Washington. Rebecca Kiessling (see my post about her here) and Abby Johnson, champions if there ever were champions, are turning their formidable fire on the likes of me for supporting a bill with exceptions.

First, I have to acknowledge that I hadn’t been aware of the exception when I wrote yesterday’s post. The copy of the bill I read had no mention of a rape/incest exception, although the usual life-of-the-mother clause is in there. Kiessling in a stinging commentary today reports that the rape/incest exception was added to the bill four days ago. She is unmoved by arguments that we need bills that will save at least some babies. “I would love to see an example where there was a law with a rape exception and someone went back to save the 1 and the rape exception was removed from the law,” she says.

Johnson posted this on her Facebook page today:

“Curious how some of you will answer this. If there was a bill proposed that only banned abortions for white people, but allowed them for everyone else, would you support it? If you are of the mindset ‘well, we save as many as we can’ mentality, then this type of bill would be right up your alley, correct?
My thinking is that this type of bill would be appalling for prolifers. People would be standing against it. But yet, when babies conceived in rape are dehumanized in this way, we continue to allow it and justify why it is okay?”

I disagree with Johnson that a comparison with race is at all relevant to H.R. 1797’s provisions. In fact, if it “dehumanizes” the children conceived in rape, it also “dehumanizes” the children who are at less than twenty weeks’ gestation and any children whose ability to feel pain has somehow not been documented. Remember, this is “pain-capable” legislation. It doesn’t humanize or dehumanize anyone. Like viability,”pain” is a subjective and slippery concept.

Even in the face of so much subjectivity, and in the face of disagreement with women whom I respect highly, I have still asked Carol Shea-Porter to support H.R. 1797, even as I slap my forehead over the people who added the exception to the bill.

Our current Chief Executive has threatened to veto the bill if it gets to his desk (which it won’t, thanks to Harry Reid and the pro-abortion Senate majority). The presence or absence of a rape exception did not play into his decision. Putting one in there seems pointless as a consensus-building tactic.

Kiessling has a point: rape exceptions tend to persist. She notes that the Hyde Amendment has kept that exception for years. I agree with her that it’s time to remove the exception. This does not mean I’ll refuse to support an appropriations bill that has a Hyde Amendment, on the grounds of the Amendment’s exceptions. I realize that this leaves me with a scarlet “C” on my forehead, “c” for “compromiser,” visible only to certain pro-lifers under certain conditions. After thirty years of activism, I don’t fold up when I hear that word, any more than I fold up when I’m called “anti-choice.” Let’s just get today’s work done, and that work is getting a vote in Congress on H.R. 1797.

Two “exceptions,” including a New Hampshire neighbor

Rebecca Kiessling
Rebecca Kiessling

Through fate or coincidence or just one of God’s little nudges, I encountered two women last week who have good reason to take it personally when someone claims to be pro-life “except in cases of rape or incest.” One of them has a documented history of taking on “exceptions” candidates, and in the case of Rick Perry, changing his mind.

Both women were born to mothers who had been raped. The mothers chose life, under challenging circumstances. Their daughters, Darlene Pawlik of Raymond, New Hampshire and Rebecca Kiessling of Michigan, are now active in pro-life ministry. After I had scheduled an interview with Darlene for this blog, an opportunity to speak to Rebecca the same day came up, courtesy of former state senator Jim Luther.  I can take a hint.

Darlene is past president of New Hampshire Right to Life, which is how I first heard of her. Last January, I missed an opportunity to hear her when she spoke in Concord to a pro-life group about her experiences. It was through the publicity for that speech that I heard about the circumstances of her conception. I asked her this week how she was moved to go public. She responded, “Martin Luther King [Jr.] said that no one is saved unless all are saved. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.'” She communicated via her Facebook page, beginning by thanking her mom for being brave enough to have her. “Mom was a little nervous” about the public revelation.

Darlene met Rebecca in early 2012 after Rebecca found her on Facebook, and then met her in person at the national March for Life in Washington, DC. Darlene’s pro-life work started long before that, though. “I did little things when [her kids] were young. Probably started around 1992.” In ’96, “I jumped in with both feet.” She is a nurse and a homeschooling mom. Before serving as NHRTL’s president, she helped to lead NHRTL’s Educational Trust.

Darlene was blunt about a history of violence in earlier generations of her family, including her mother’s rape.  She has written a book called Testimony: the Dark Side of Christianity to let people know “you don’t have to be in the dark.” A friend told her “you can’t go public.” She couldn’t agree. “I said stop. No more secrets. I am the ‘exception.’

Rebecca Kiessling echoed those words when she called in as a guest on Jim Luther’s radio show the other day. “I am one of the exceptions. My mom backed out of abortion because it was illegal.” Today, her mother is “very thankful that we were both spared this horror.” Rebecca now represents Personhood USA, which “recogniz[es] all human beings as persons who are ‘created in the image of God’ from the beginning of their biological development, without exceptions.”

She promotes the “personhood pledge” for candidates for public office. In 2012, several leading Republican candidates for President signed the pledge. Rick Perry didn’t, at first. Rebecca got to him. She made her case, face-to-face. To his credit, he couldn’t look her in the eye and say she shouldn’t have been born. He signed.

She’s quick to say she isn’t the one who broke the barriers for children conceived in rape. She points to Julie Makimaa as a trailblazer, and she recommends the book Makimaa wrote in collaboration with David ReardonVictims and Victors.

While Darlene is a nurse, Rebecca is an attorney. Which came first: pro-life or law school? After years of hearing her father say “you should be a lawyer!” as she bested him in arguments, she listened to him. While at law school, an experience with an abusive partner “turned my heart toward family law.” Once she became a practicing attorney in the mid-1990s, she worked with women being coerced into abortions. That rang a bell. “I had no idea how to start pro-life work.” Working with women one-on-one, one thing led to another. She now makes about 75 public speeches a year in defense of personhood, putting a face on the “exceptions.” She and Darlene both cite a statistic from the Centers for Disease Control indicating that about 23,000 pregnancies annually in the United States are reportedly the result of rape or incest. That represents a lot of abused women and children at risk.

While no-exceptions is a tough sell, Rebecca herself takes a gentle tone, with help from a big smile and an almost little-girl voice. “We need to speak words of life and value. Even pro-lifers need to be careful in the way they communicate. We want to change hearts and minds.”

So how can we build bridges? Rebecca speaks without hesitation. “Point out that rape and incest exceptions benefit the perpetrator. Abortion hides evidence of his crime. Protect a woman from rape and abortion, not from a baby. A baby brings healing. Also, I ask what you do to help survivors of rape. Some women [under state law] have to fight their rapist for custody of the baby.” She is a strong promoter for ministry to post-abortive women such as Rachel’s Vineyard.

Her toughest crowds? University students. She says that when she speaks on campuses, her talks are often promoted with a Feminists for Life poster with her face on it, and the legend, “Did I deserve the death penalty?” The posters are sometimes defaced with the word “YES” scrawled across them.

And she keeps coming back anyway.

For Darlene and Rebecca, this is personal. Neither had an easy road. Now, both are committed to changing hearts. Every exception has a face. These women won’t let us forget that.

I am indebted to Jim Luther for inviting me to participate in his interview with Rebecca Kiessling. Jim’s show, “The Intersection,” is aired on WSMN-AM 1590 in Nashua NH Thursdays at 9:07 a.m.