Are Prolifers Exaggerating the Reach of New York’s Reproductive Health Act?

After we posted the link to my recent blog about New York’s Reproductive Health Act on Facebook, an EPM board member and one of our staff had exchanges with commenters claiming we were sharing false information and exaggerating the law’s effects.

We always respond to people’s genuine questions, but I rarely defend myself to critics, knowing it seldom makes a difference when their minds are already made up. But when lives of unborn children are at stake, I and our staff believe in going the extra mile to speak up for them.

I really appreciated Kathy’s and Stephanie’s responses, but unfortunately very few people read them since they were buried under other comments. I wanted to share them in this blog so many more readers would see them. They’re important, as the same statements are being commonly made, and you may have conversations with those who simply don’t understand abortion-related laws and how courts have routinely interpreted the meaning of ”health” to be not only physical but also mental, emotional, and financial.  

Can you find articles in national newspapers and magazines denying that the New York law effectively permits abortion at any time? Of course. There are countless such articles. In contrast, here is one of several that disagree with those articles, and I believe, far more accurately understands the law and its language in light of the history of abortion laws and how they’re interpreted by the courts. (As Joe Carter points out in this article, the New York law simply reinforces how the existing laws are already interpreted in terms of allowing abortion up to the time of birth.)

This is an unusually long blog, but for those confused by the debate, and seeking to understand the issues, and how to respond to those who see it differently, I think it’s worthwhile. I should add that I have certainly seen prolifers overstate and misstate things—just as I’ve seen prochoice people do the same. That’s a given. The question is, in THIS case, what is true and what isn’t? I hope this dialogue is helpful to you.

One commenter wrote:

Mr. Alcorn is presenting as fact lies that he knows are untrue. Kind of calls into question all his books, doesn’t it? “This means a baby can be aborted any time before birth, for any reason.” This is plainly a calculated lie.

EPM board member Kathy Norquist wrote in response to this comment,

Perhaps you missed this in the article:

The New York bill mentions abortion in cases where “a woman’s life or health is at risk.” Greg Gilbert writes, “In abortion discussions, ‘health [of the mother]’ always includes everything. Physical health, mental health, financial health, social health. It’s anything you want it to be.”

He’s right—and in fact, in an adjoining case to Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton, health was defined to embrace almost any consideration. Abortions were legal “in the light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age—relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.”

So it is not a lie, calculated or otherwise. There is nothing in the new bill that would prevent the killing of a baby at any stage because of how mother’s health can be defined. And there is no protection for the baby if it is “accidentally” born alive either. It can legally be left to die. And there are doctors who do late term abortions at any stage. These are the facts, sadly.

This person’s response was, “I am sorry you believe this fairy tale.” I certainly wish this were a fairy tale. But having dealt with abortion clinics, abortion doctors, and many women who have had abortions, I can tell you that without a doubt, this is true. The fairy tales are believed by people who deny what those of us who know the abortion business, and the women, know to be true.

Another commenter simply wrote, “False,” then linked to a video and article which claims prolifers have exaggerated the law’s reach and it in fact “does not allow for unrestricted abortion up through the normal term of pregnancy.”

Our staff member Stephanie Anderson wrote this in response:

Randy addressed this issue in the blog. Abortion for a woman’s health can and is frequently interpreted broadly and it would be untrue to say it’s not. The blog quoted Doe v. Bolton, which said abortions were legal “in the light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age—relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” It can refer to all kinds of considerations, not just ones where the woman’s life is literally in danger. Even in those cases, third-trimester abortion is not necessary, though delivery certainly might be.

The commenter replied:

As I understand it, the part of the law that states that a woman may terminate a pregnancy after 24 weeks ‘if the health of the mother is at stake’ is the part of the law that has always been there. The only thing that was added to this section is an additional qualification of ‘if the baby isn't viable’. Statistically, a late term abortion is very, very rare. Less than 1.5%. And it is irresponsible to suggest that suddenly there is going to be thousands of women with healthy babies in their 8th month lining up for abortions for any reason.

IF he wants to talk about the “broad interpretation of health” then he needs to do some research and bring actual statistics into the post. Does this happen? How often does this happen? How are doctors broadly interpreting “health”. What are the actual statistics of late term abortions, and why are mothers choosing this? This would be a far more responsible way to approach this issue. Stating that the law allows for women to abort after 24 weeks “if necessary to preserve the mothers health or if the fetus isn't viable” (which is how the actual law is worded), telling people that “health” can be interpreted broadly but leaving out that this has always been the case, and then implying that “This means a baby can be aborted any time before birth, for any reason” is inflammatory, dangerous and divisive, as clearly evidenced by the comments on this post.

Our work as Christians is not to debate the evil things all those “other people” are doing in society. It’s to get our hands dirty. Volunteer in the community, meet people who are different than us, listen to their stories, meet their needs; love them. I think Jesus is grieved watching his church spew lies and misinformation into the world, causing judgement and condemnation towards people. Articles like this are actively hindering the people Randy encourages us to “pray for” from ever wanting to enter a church or get to know anything about Jesus. Which is exactly why Jesus went into a rage and overturned all those tables in the temple. They were hindering people from being able to worship. I believe there was another story about a millstone as well...

Stephanie replied:

You mention that statistically, late term abortions make up less than 1.5% of all abortions. So in 2017 approximately 882,000 abortions (see this table) were performed in the U.S. That means that approximately 13,230 late term abortions were performed in 2017. Please take the time to listen to this short explanation by an OB/GYN who explains the procedure of a late-term abortion. This barbaric procedure is happening thousands of times every year!

Regarding statistics for how often abortion is performed for a woman’s health, you’re asking for data that simply doesn’t exist. Yes, we have what the New York law says on paper—“if necessary to preserve the mother’s health” —but we also can see, from other states with similar laws (including Oregon), how it actually plays out in practicality. It means that in New York, a woman can now request an abortion after 24 weeks for almost any reason. (Will out of state women now come to New York to have abortions after 24 weeks? That already happens in Oregon.) 

We know that abortions that are truly necessary to save a woman’s life are extremely rare. (This doctor who has delivered thousands of babies says third-trimester abortions are never necessary to save a woman's life, though delivery certainly might be.) We also know that abortions in the case of rape or incest are also, statistically, rare. (The Guttmacher Institute conducted a write-in survey of 1,160 women in 2004 and found 1.5 percent of abortions were reported as due to rape or incest. See this article.) 

So what are the reasons for the remaining abortions? The Guttmacher Institute [affiliated with Planned Parenthood] says this: “The three most common reasons—each cited by three-fourths of patients—were concern for or responsibility to other individuals; the inability to afford raising a child; and the belief that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents. Half said they did not want to be a single parent or were having problems with their husband or partner.”

Those reasons could all broadly be interpreted [and in fact often have been] as related to a woman’s mental, financial and/or social health. What abortion doctor is going to tell a woman requesting an abortion for those reasons, “No, I won’t perform one. Those issues don’t relate to your health”? As shown by the Doe v. Bolton ruling, those issues can ALL be interpreted as related to it. So what the New York law effectively does is say that abortion after 24 weeks is now legal in any case as long as it can be said it pertains to a woman’s health. 

Scripture tells us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” It’s not “inflammatory, dangerous and divisive” to warn women about the harm of abortion, and to speak to the dangers for our society when our culture embraces abortion. The law DOES expand abortion (otherwise, those who are pro-choice in New York wouldn’t be celebrating!) and so the prolife response and concern is merited. If speaking the truth in love hinders someone from coming to Jesus then they aren’t interested in knowing the real Jesus but a caricature of Him. You only truly love someone when you tell them the truth. Jesus was the perfect balance of grace and truth. Abortion hurts women and kills babies. And that’s the truth. And we need to share that truth in the spirit of love and grace.

And yes, there ARE many people out there “getting their hands dirty” and ministering to these mothers. Here’s one such group in New York. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do both: speak out publicly against abortion, and minister to women in need at the same time. And that’s exactly what many prolifers are doing.

The commenter replied:

So if, by your own admission, the statistics for how often “health” is interpreted more broadly than you’d like, don’t exist, how then is it honest or truthful to claim that the law is being abused? And how can you claim that these sorts of posts are ‘speaking the truth in love’? The context of that phrase was spoken by Paul to the Church as an encouragement for them to build unity within the church. As far as I know, the bible never commands Christians to force our beliefs or morality on anyone outside the church. So how can this be interpreted as loving to anyone outside the church, even if it is truth (which is questionable)?

Stephanie replied:

It is truthful to say that the law will be used in this way and more babies will be killed because that’s exactly the point of why it was passed and that’s exactly why it’s written in such a way to ensure there are NO restrictions on abortion in New York. This is from Desiring God:

The only restriction in the law is written to ensure that there are no restrictions whatsoever. It decrees that abortion may be performed “within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or at any time when necessary to protect a patient’s life or health” (Art 25-A).

This restriction mirrors that of the original Supreme Court decisions of 1973. Roe v Wade allowed restrictions to abortion (the threshold of viability being generally thought to be 23–24 weeks at that time) except when necessary to protect the life and health of the mother.

The companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, handed down with Roe, defined the health of the mother so broadly that it effectively removed the restrictions set in place by Roe. In Doe, the court ruled, “The medical judgment [for a late-term abortion] may be exercised in the light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.”

In RHA, by leaving the “health” of the mother undefined and broadly understood, NY lawmakers made abortion legal for any reason or no reason, at any point during the pregnancy and paid for with tax-payer funds. Our opponents see it this way, too. They cheered,

“Free abortion on demand! We can do it, yes, we can!”

In triumph, Cuomo ordered one World Trade Center to be lit up in pink.

The defenders of the RHA assure us that no woman would undergo late-term abortion unless something terrible and life-threatening was involved. Such a thing is “extremely rare,” it is said. Not true. New York’s own abortion statistics for 2016 reports 1,763 abortions were performed at 20 weeks gestation or later. Even if true, how does killing the infant born alive during an attempted abortion effectively save the mother’s life? In truth, there is no medical condition in late-term pregnancy in which abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother.

Stephanie again. And no, It’s not forcing our morality on anyone to speak up for human life and say it is wrong to kill innocent human beings, and to warn women of the heartache and pain that abortion brings. (Jackie Hill Perry shows us an example of that here.) True love acts in others’ ultimate best interests, and doesn’t just say what they want to hear, even though it may not sound “loving” to say that abortion kills children and harms women.

As far as forcing our beliefs on others, this is not just about our own personal religious beliefs (though certainly God’s Word should inform our beliefs). This is about a violation of human rights and speaking out for life. Randy writes in ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments, “The abortion issue is really a human life issue, a civil rights issue. It is not simply a religious issue, any more than the rights of Jews and blacks is simply a religious issue. Though most governments are secular, there is hardly a nation in the world where abortion was legal prior to World War II. You do not need to be a Christian, nor to subscribe to any religion, to believe that the unborn are children and that it should not be legal to kill them.”

The person replied:

There is no point in continuing to respond in this thread, because we are just going around in a frustrating circle. We clearly disagree with each other. I grew up on Randy’s books and other pro life rhetoric. I believed it for years. I still consider myself to be personally pro life, but I have learned the truth about the sordid history of the movement and I can see how the whole issue is used to manipulate voters into voting into office horrible people just because they are pro life. So I cannot in good faith or with any integrity stand with or for the blatant manipulation. You are free to disagree with me, as you clearly do, but if you’re interested in learning more about the history of the pro life movement, NPR has a great series on it.

Randy again: I’ll add a few final thoughts. One of the commenters referenced Christ’s words about a millstone, and said talking about abortion could cause us to violate what Jesus said. Here’s that verse: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2). I’m struck by the sheer deception-based irony. Instead of being used to encourage  people to be careful not to make little ones (including His young disciples) stumble/be hurt, which is Jesus’ intent, it is misused here to villainize those who are standing up for little ones to...what? KEEP THEM from being horribly hurt. And by extension, this could apply not only to the children harmed by abortion, but also to the women who are fed the lies and harmed by abortion.

We shouldn’t be surprised that the issue of abortion is surrounded by both outright and subtle lies of all varieties. Jesus said of the devil, “He was a murderer from the beginning.... When he lies he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). It is no accident that Jesus speaks about Satan’s murders and his lies in the same breath. Lies are the wheels that turn every holocaust. To pull off his murders, Satan tells us eloquent and persuasive lies. He masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), calling right wrong and wrong right, making people think they are taking the moral high ground even as they defend something unspeakably immoral.

No doubt about it: the abortion battle is being fought in the realm of thoughts and ideas, and even Christians are frequently taken in by the devil’s lies. That’s why Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Photo credit: governorandrewcuomo on Flickr

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries