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On the curious “unborn child” idea and enforcing U.S. Christian morality

On the curious “unborn child” idea and enforcing U.S. Christian morality September 21, 2021

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Caricature of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, an evangelical Christian anti-abortion proponent. She envisions amending her state’s abortion law to be as draconian as Texas’ new statute, which prohibits abortions after only six weeks gestation, even for victims of rape and incest. (DonkeyHotey, Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Religious folks trying to enforce their social views on the rest of us are not above redefining terms in self-serving ways that Merriam-Webster doesn’t (e.g., the curious term “unborn child”).

For instance, take Kristy Noem (please!), our evangelical-Christian, hard-praying governor here in South Dakota (she’s also, apparently, beloved by Donald Trump and a potential U.S. presidential candidate in 2024). Of relevance here, she is entranced by Texas’ recently codified and cruel anti-abortion law (I earlier posted about this law and the Texas governor’s Christianization of it, here.)

More on Gov. Noem’s fascination with the Texas law later in this post, but in the meantime you can watch the video below as she explains at some length her anti-abortion views.

The draconian new Texas statute, Senate Bill 8, is formally titled “Relating to abortion, including abortions after detection of an unborn child’s heartbeat; authorizing a private civil right of action” (aka, “The Texas Heartbeat Act”). [boldface emphasis mine]

In fact, a non-viable 6-week zygote or fetus is not an “unborn child” any more than an egg at the moment of its fertilization by a sperm cell is a “child.” They’re all only very preliminary evolutionary elements on the path to full being, and cannot survive outside the womb.

The new Texas law’s text leads with this head-scratcher caveat:

“The legislature finds that the State of Texas never repealed, either expressly or by implication, the state statutes enacted before the ruling in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), that prohibit and criminalize abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger.”

King’s X, in other words. The Texas Legislature appears to contend that because it’s existing abortion law pre-dates the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, it simply does not have to abide by that court decision. As if.

As you may remember, the nation’s top court ruled (7-2) in Roe that “unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional,” according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, and that Texas’ statutes criminalizing abortion at the time — ironically, Texas abortion laws were at he heart of Roe v. Wade — “in most instances violating a woman’s constitutional right of privacy, which [the Supreme Court] found to be implicit in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (‘…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law’).”

It would be generous to characterize SB 8 as “unduly restrictive.”

The law prohibits all abortions after six weeks of gestation, before most women are even aware they’re pregnant, and, this is the kicker — it does not allow exceptions even for rape or incest victims, only for a “medical emergency” involving the mother. So a woman impregnated by a rapist and suicidal at the prospect of giving birth to a lifetime reminder of that crime is outa luck, apparently.

Forget the reality that the new law robs women of their personal privacy, sovereignty and agency; it is also breathtakingly cruel.

Do Texas legislators actually believe that this law will actually stop abortions, as Gov. Abbott recently opined that he plans to “end rape” in Texas? If they do, they’re seriously deluded. Just as ready would-be rapists are always plentiful in America (as elsewhere), back alleys, unsanitary tools and unscrupulous charlatans will still be widely available for abortions, and broadly used, not to mention horrifying self-abortions.

After Roe v. Wade legalized abortion throughout the U.S. in 1973, the incidence of reported abortions performed nearly doubled through 1980 from pent-up demand, from 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in 1973 to 25 per 1,000 seven years later, according to Gallup Poll data. But then abortions fell to 12.5 per 1,000 by 2013 and continued to fall going forward. In addition, deaths from legal abortion plunged fivefold from 1973-1985 with better medical care after legalization, and continued to plunge thereafter.

A 2017 report in the Washington Post’s The Lily feature points out that while 664,435 U.S. abortions were performed in 2013, only 328,348 — less than half — were performed from 2015 to 2016. Much of the drop was due to a lessening of religious stigma surrounding birth control in America and, thus, wider available of those products and procedures (i.e., condoms, vasectomies, IUDs, “The Pill” and diaphragms) and their wider use by women and men alike.

Which brings me back to Gov. Kristy Noem and her belief that whenever women are pregnant, the developing beings in their wombs should always be considered “unborn children” — a definition of zygotes and fetuses that insists they are already legally deserving of all the exact same rights as born people. They aren’t.

Except that they aren’t because they aren’t yet born.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary only uses the term “child” in connection with its residence in a womb in a colloquial sense — as in a pregnant woman being “with child.” Such a usage doesn’t imply that the zygote or embryo is a child in a formal sense. Merriam-Webster.com defines “child” variously as:

1. a young person who is between infancy and adulthood

2. a recently born person [emphasis mine]

3. a condition or occurrence traceable to a cause [a “child” of poverty]

These definitions share one key trait: they all refer to born, not unborn, persons.

So, in this formal sense, Gov. Noem referring to “unborn children” is a contradiction in terms, as is her creation of an “Unborn Child Advocate” staff position (a campaign promise), which she filled with her general counsel, Mark Miller. The Rapid City (SD) Journal newspaper reported that Miller’s advocacy task is “reviewing South Dakota’s abortion laws at Noem’s direction … in response to the Texas law that outlaws most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy,” and to “to ensure [South Dakota] has the strongest pro-life laws on the books.”

What we are seeing here is the purposeful metastasizing of the awful Texas law by God-touting Christian elected leaders who misrepresent the constitutionally authorized actuality of abortion to make it seem morally criminal in a Christian sense. South Dakota will not be the last state to embrace of SB 8.

This strategy is dishonest, though I doubt anti-abortion proponents, blinded by their sense of divine righteousness, are aware of that.

Under existing law, South Dakota women are prohibited from terminating pregnancies after 22 weeks. And Noem, as is Texas Gov. Abbott, is all-in with not allowing exceptions for rape and incest in any new abortion law.

Meanwhile, as other red states consider reimagining their abortion laws to match Texas’, their elected officials — like Govs. Abbott and Noem — are misdefining the driving issues as Christian morality and “unborn children,” both of which are invented concepts.

We’ll see if the U.S. Supreme Court, after passing on reviewing Texas’ new statute and thus allowing it to become law, will ultimately come to its rational senses and reconfirm the nationwide constitutionality of Roe v. Wade.

Otherwise, I fear, unrequited sperm may become the next protected unborn “person” in the so-called “pro-life” movement.

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