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The Dignity of Human Life: Challenges and Progress Today

Jeffrey Bruno

Fr. Frank Pavone - published on 09/30/13

Was abortionist Kermit Gosnell crazy, or was he simply following the logic of legal abortion? After all, Roe v. Wade did not claim that the unborn child was not human; it simply declared that, whether human or not, the unborn is not a person under the law. Hence the court taught that some human beings are not necessarily human persons. Controversial "ethicist" Peter Singer said long ago: “[T]he location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make such a crucial moral difference" ("On Letting Handicapped Babies Die"), and that to be consistent, there are "only two possibilities," namely, "oppose abortion, or allow infanticide" (Rethinking Life and Death, p.210).

In March of 2013, a Planned Parenthood lobbyist named Alisa LaPolt Snow testified at a Florida legislative hearing, and was asked this question: "If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?” She responded, "We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician.” (

And about a year earlier, the Journal of Medical Ethics published an article by Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva entitled, "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?" (February 23, 2012). The authors state, “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”

So when the public is horrified that Kermit Gosnell snipped the spinal cords of babies born alive, or when they are horrified that he performed abortions in the final months of pregnancy, they are being horrified not by some anomaly, but by the abortion mindset itself, that simply exalts choice above life.

And here we learn how to begin overcoming that mindset: bring it down from the abstract to the concrete. Show and describe the actual evidence of what abortion does, submit it to the court of public opinion, and bring it into the court of law.

We are seeing progress in this arena.

A law was passed in South Dakota in 2005, and subsequently upheld in federal court, that actually requires the abortionist to tell the woman who comes for an abortion that the procedure destroys a "whole, separate, unique, living human being". Other states have likewise passed or introduced the same legislation. While considering this law, the court concluded that evidence like this, presented by the state, “suggests that the biological sense in which the embryo or fetus is whole, separate, unique and living should be clear in context to a physician, and Planned Parenthood submitted no evidence to oppose that conclusion.”

One of the things that abortion advocates complained about through this process was that the state should not be allowed to force a doctor to convey an ideological message (like pro-life). But the Eighth Circuit court pointed out that there’s a difference between that and requiring the doctor to provide truthful and accurate information about the abortion. The fact that such information may lead the person to choose life over abortion does not, the Court said, make it unconstitutional to require doctors to provide such information.

We also learn a lot from the ban on the partial-birth abortion procedure, passed by the US Congress, signed into law by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court, and passed also on the state level in various places. This law prohibits the procedure in which the very process of delivering the child is used as the instrument of death.

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Practicing Mercy
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