The following is a speech I offer to Sen. Amy Klobuchar as she tries to build on her New Hampshire momentum:
Earlier this week, I reached out to the leadership of the Democrats for Life of America and asked for an opportunity to speak with some of their members here in the beautiful state of [fill in the blank]. And I’m here to ask for your vote — and to explain myself and to tell you that, well, I get it.
I don’t think you hate women.
I don’t think you want women barefoot and pregnant.
I don’t believe you’re motivated by the desire to control women’s sex lives.
I don’t think you’re trying to put your rosaries on my ovaries, or to force your religion on the rest of us.
Most of all, I don’t think that you care about fetuses until birth and no longer.
I understand and acknowledge and applaud the fact that pro-life Democrats support efforts to fight poverty and to help poor women struggling with the cost of childcare for their children, and efforts to fight against discrimination against pregnant women and mothers, so that they don’t need to sacrifice their professional lives. I reject, as you do, the notion that women need to be able to have abortions when they fall unintentionally pregnant, to have successful careers and fulfilling lives. Whenever it appears that this is the case, we need to fight harder to fix the system that makes it appear that this is the only choice they face.
I even acknowledge that there are others in the pro-life community, with whom we disagree on the role of government intervention, who help pregnant women and help the poor in their personal volunteer work or donations.
At the same time, yes, I am pro-choice. And yes, we who are pro-choice use words like “trusting women,” and “controlling our bodies” and some of us become so convinced of the rightness of our politics we say very off-putting things like “the fetus is just a clump of cells” or, worse, a “parasite” or an “invader.”
But I want you to understand that fundamentally, I am pro-choice because I am human.
Like you, I believe that it is wrong to take human life. Like you, I would agree that it’s wrong to take that basic formulation that lies at the core of our moral beliefs and water it down by saying that one sort of person or another isn’t “really human.” It was wrong when defenders of slavery deemed the people who they owned as if property to be “not human.” It was wrong when Nazis declared Jews to be something other than human, urging Germans to get past their sympathy for them by saying that however much they might look like us, they really weren’t, so that those Germans inclined to sympathy should get past it.
But when we speak of the period early in pregnancy, the developing embryo and fetus before a woman has felt the baby kick, before she’s visibly pregnant, sooner in many cases than women know they’re pregnant if they’re not tracking closely, at that point when, let’s face it, the ultrasounds and the photographs and the drawings don’t provoke profound awe but more than a little skepticism — however much we might intellectually know that, from the moment that this life begins to grow, all through its development in the uterus, there is no magical moment at which this entity becomes human, or becomes more human than it wasn’t the minute before — however much this is true, when it’s all said and done, we are human and that makes it all a muddle.
Perhaps it is a moral failing on my part that I don’t have the ability to truly see that early embryo or fetus as worthy of protection when women don’t wish to be pregnant. Perhaps a deeper level of moral clarity would mean I’d be out there at the same rallies as you. But however sympathetic I am with your ideals in general, I can’t see what you see.
I can’t see the goal of preserving human life as outweighing the challenges a women might face who is unintentionally pregnant. And I say that as someone who has been pregnant, who knows what it’s like to give birth. I’ll be honest that there is a limit to our common ground, that I don’t object to abortion, at least in the early months.
At the same time, I do want to speak openly about late-term abortion.
In the first place, of course, that’s a label that has been used with a wide range of definitions — is a late-term abortion one that occurs in the last moments of pregnancy, in the third trimester, in the period after viability, in that period after what was traditionally called quickening, when the baby is developed enough to kick in a way that the mother would feel?
Increasingly often lately, my fellow Democrats and I have shut down all this discussion with the pronouncement that no abortion after this point ever occurs without there being some dire necessity. We point to cases in which ultrasounds revealed the sort of medical conditions which would mean certain death before even a first breath, or a child so disabled as to be unable to ever move or communicate, or to a mother’s life-threatening medical condition requiring ending the pregnancy whether or not the fetus is viable. And those cases do exist.
But we know that not all post-viability abortions are for these dire reasons. In preparing this speech, I asked my staff to verify the accuracy of this talking point. Instead they pointed me to a different set of facts: that, just last [week/month], an Ohio couple was accused of procuring abortion pills to abort a 28-week baby then standing by after the baby died upon being born prematurely, and burying the child in a shoebox. That an article in Teen Vogue back a year ago shared the author’s story of getting an abortion at 28 weeks, not because of a dire fetal anomoly or her own serious health condition, but simply because, due to PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) she didn’t find out she was pregnant until then. Other research reports that women seeking second‐trimester abortions often simply didn’t find out they were pregnant earlier due to obesity or other reasons. Some women seek late abortions because they’ve been abandoned by the child’s father, or because they initially hide the pregnancy but are pressured by family only after they are visibly pregnant.
I get it. I won’t try to hide behind the fiction that the only late abortions are due to dire reasons, and I won’t claim that we need to “trust women” to make the right choice. I acknowledge that it is in the very nature of our criminal justice system that we can’t trust people in cases of potential crimes, because we need to provide protection to those at risk.
And I acknowledge that it’s been a bit misleading to say that I support Roe v. Wade. I support the framework that restricts the availability of abortion to “life or health” circumstances later in pregnancy. But I will acknowledge that I do not support the definition of “health” in the Doe v. Bolton companion decision, a definition that the prolife community quite reasonably points to as so widely defined as to be essentially no restriction at all. I therefore support Roe v. Wade as it is popularly understood, with a definition of “health” that is far more restricted, as most of us presume it to be in the first place.
But here’s another, final, wrinkle to this issue: federalism. There have been attempts to implement nationwide 20 weeknal abortion bans in Congress. The reality is that this is not the job of Congress; the operation of the criminal justice system, and the determination of what is and isn’t criminalized, is a matter for states to decide unless there is an overriding reason for federal intervention.
And there’s a final issue that I know is of concern to the pro-life Democratic community:
Would I implement federal funding for abortion? I am on the record as opposing the Hyde Amendment which prohibits federal abortion funding and, yes, if this were to come to me for a signature, I would sign a repeal. But would I play games, play hardball to get it repealed? No. I would let the legislative process play out.
So that’s my completely honest, fully transparent pitch to you. We can work together. I won’t betray you by promising you more than I can deliver, but I will seek common ground even if it means upsetting absolutists in our party. And I’m asking for your support.
Ghostwriter’s note: would I personally support Klobuchar if she outlined a position such as the above? Maybe, maybe not, but I’d be less horrified at the path the Democrats’ politics has taken. Do I think Klobuchar has any chance of reaching out in this way or believing these opinions? Eh, a slim one, to be sure, but likely more of a chance than some of the others — but, at the same time, to be fair, this may have to do with nothing more than lack of media coverage.
Comments on the image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mcmaster_NICU_infant_6978.jpg; Peter K Burian [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Do you know how hard it is to find a good public domain picture of an unborn baby – ultrasound or otherwise? The ones that are out their are Flickr images which I don’t feel comfortable using even if there is a Creative Commons license attached to using that site. So the preemie baby is my standard picture for these articles.