A New York Times story that gets it largely right about the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

By Dave Andrusko

Mary Spaudling Balch, JD, director, NRLC Department of State Legislation

Mary Spaudling Balch, JD, director, NRLC Department of State Legislation

Last night I read the early online version of the story that appeared in the print edition of the New York Times today: “Theory on Pain Is Driving Rules for Abortions,” by Erik Eckholm. I always try to give The Times its due when they write a more-or-less balanced story, in this case of the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” That these six completely accurate and descriptive words were not used—and the fact that the story starts with a dreadful first paragraph—should not detract us from reading a very useful story. What does Mr. Eckholm get wrong? Several things, which we will address momentarily. What did he get right? Lots, actually.

·   The architect of this law, now on the books in ten states, is Mary Spaulding Balch, JD, NRLC’s director of state legislation. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act draws attention to “the humanity of the unborn child” (as she told Eckholm) in a powerful and very direct manner. The law reminds the public of something it keeps hidden from itself: we take the lives of unborn babies way past the point that a vast majority of Americans feels comfortable with. It raises the question of (and here pro-abortionists gasp) limits. Which leads us to

·   “With these bills, the anti-abortion movement is tapping into a powerful strand in the complex tangle of public opinion on abortion,” Eckholm writes. “Support for legal abortion drops when people are asked about the later stages of pregnancy. In a Gallup poll last December, 61 percent of Americans said abortion should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy, but 27 percent said it should be legal in the second three months, and 14 percent in the final three. Since then, other pollsters have started asking about a 20-week limit — evidence that opponents of abortion have injected the proposed cutoff into the public discourse, said Michael Dimock, the director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.”

Which is why pro-abortionists try to “frame” the issue. The overwhelming number of abortions, they say, are performed in the first trimester (true, but irrelevant to the tens of thousands that aren’t) and “late” abortions are only for tragic circumstances—a pro-abortion talking point that their own literature tells you is otherwise.

·   As Balch said, “Any time we talk about developmental landmarks of the unborn child, anything showing that the unborn child is a member of the human family — that gets the public to take a closer look at abortion.” The public rightly gets deeply upset thinking that pain-capable unborn children will be pulled apart. But note as well that the child has reached a hugely substantive marker: she can experience nightmarish levels of pain when the abortionist cuts into her. To borrow from prior Supreme Court decisions, ought not the state to have a “compelling interest” in what happens to an unborn child capable of pain?

·   All the ingredients came together in Nebraska, which in 2010 was the first state to pass a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. A pro-life legislature, an aggressive and well-organized NRLC affiliate, and the presence of a man who bragged about performing what I once described as “late, late, late” abortions. The studies showing that the unborn could feel pain by the 20th week were introduced and defended. It soon became clear that Nebraska was not interested in becoming the “late abortion capital of the United States.”

Of course, there are problems in Eckholm’s story. He writes as if there is barely any support for the proposition that the unborn can feel pain by the 20th week. Not true. And he allows the pro-abortionists free rein in describing what the United States Supreme Court’s 2007 Gonzales v. Carhart decision could/would mean should the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act reach the High Court. There are a few others, but they are largely quibbles. This is an important story that gives credit where credit is due; helps the reader understand why legislation that makes people appreciate the capacity of the unborn to experience pain is so pivotal; and (pro-abortion bravado to the contrary notwithstanding) why abortion advocates are panicky about the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.