The New Abortion Debate | Opinion

The expected confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett will drastically change the balance of the Supreme Court. That's an explosive new factor in the abortion debate. But it's not the only one. The abortion debate has changed in several dramatic ways since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion throughout the United States in 1973.

Roe continues to be the law of the land, enshrining a "constitutional right" to abortion that can, oddly enough, be found nowhere in the Constitution. Thus Roe, if it is overturned, will require no constitutional rewrite. A right that is absent in the text will simply henceforth cease to exist as a matter of law. That would be a huge change.

But, to my mind, a welcome one. The basic logic of Roe has been destroyed by modern technology. Roe depended on the concept of "viability," the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb. Roe said a woman's right to an abortion was absolute prior to viability, but could be restricted after viability in circumstances where the mother's life and health were endangered.

Yet viability is not what it used to be. In 1973, "viability" referred to a specific point in the pregnancy and was presumed to be the same for all women. Today viability has moved up. In fact, being born prematurely has become quite common—twins, for example, are almost always born early, and triplets even earlier. In fact, babies today can spend the entire "third trimester" outside the womb.

Viability is now understood to be a shifting spectrum, with some deliveries occurring earlier than others. And then there is the almost-certain prospect that medical advances will move viability even earlier.

Medical technology has changed the abortion debate in other ways too. It has literally shown us what's inside the womb. What at the time of Roe was considered "potential life" can now, thanks to the remarkable images of modern ultrasounds, be visibly seen as moving human life.

Even into the first trimester, as early as five weeks, we can listen to the baby's heartbeat with our own ears. The baby's heart pumps its own blood, not the mother's. You can see the baby's head and the shape of its face. Not only that, but it releases the same hormones that we do, like cortisol, when it is under duress. All of these signs show clearly the humanity of this life. We can continue to call this a "cluster of cells" but to the eye, and also to the rational mind, what we see is a very little human. This human has its own body parts and even its own heartbeat.

march for life
Pro-life advocates hold signs as they stand in front of the US Supreme Court while participating in the 47th annual March For Life in Washington, D.C. Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty

One might expect both parties in the abortion debate to acknowledge these simple facts. Yet the Democratic Party—the party of abortion—has only become more radically pro-abortion. At one time, Democrats were the party of choice. They treated abortion as a necessary evil, a choice that must regrettably be made in unusual circumstances, but not one to be encouraged or celebrated. This was the era in which Bill Clinton advocated for making abortion "safe, legal and rare."

That language has completely disappeared from today's Democratic Party, which is more accurately described not as "pro-choice" but "pro-abortion." New York governor Andrew Cuomo lit up the Freedom Tower pink to celebrate the fact that his state now allows women to get ninth-month abortions without a medical reason. Democrats now say "abortion is health care." All of the most prominent Democratic politicians today are radically pro-abortion. They support not only third-trimester abortions, but federal funding for them.

That's another big change. For decades there was a bipartisan view in this country that people who morally abhor abortion should not be compelled, through the federal tax system, to pay for other people's abortions. Joe Biden once backed the Hyde Amendment, which reflects this bipartisan view. But now he's changed, and wants to force all Americans, including pro-life voters and clergy, to pay for other people's abortions. That's a big shift.

Another big change, a very recent one, concerns the relationship of abortion to the Black Lives Matter movement. Suddenly, it seems to have dawned on some activists that Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a notorious racist and eugenicist. Pro-life advocates have said this about Sanger for decades, but have been largely ignored by Planned Parenthood, which continued issuing literature glorifying its founder.

Recently, however, the New York chapter of Planned Parenthood acknowledged Sanger's well-documented racist views, which include references to poor Blacks and their offspring as "human weeds." This leading chapter of the organization has agreed to take down the Margaret Sanger sign outside their office. The bigger problem, of course, is that Planned Parenthood continues to operate in the Sanger mode, locating many of its facilities in poor and minority neighborhoods. So the racist, eugenic tradition continues, in the modus operandi of the organization if not in its explicit rhetoric. I have no doubt Planned Parenthood will have to answer for this—if not to us pro-lifers, at least to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Finally, there is a new generation of young people—specifically young women—who refuse to buy into the moral and rhetorical denials of the feminist movement. We refuse to spout the nonsense that the fetus is a "cluster of cells" when we know that there is a huge difference between, say, a toe and a distinct human being who might be dependent on its mother but has its own organs, including ten toes of its own. We are tired of all the lies.

The momentum is heading in the pro-life direction. And if Roe is overturned, we will have a new set of laws that will help to foster a new culture of life. Even after years of losing in the courts, the pro-life movement is energized, ready to fight and ready to win. We are looking forward with excitement to a new and better future for America.

Danielle D'Souza Gill is the author of THE CHOICE: The Abortion Divide in America, published October 6, 2020 by Center Street.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.