I have shared the story of my first son’s life and death inside me, and I have an entire journal about him. I was just catching up on facebook when a link caught my eye: Georgia Lawmaker Compares Women to Cows and Pigs. I knew it would be enraging, because I cannot imagine how it wouldn’t be. But I also assumed it would be an eye-roller. You know, oh, sure, now we’re just cattle, can’t wait to see this on The Daily Show. But it wasn’t. This one hit so personally that I actually lost my breath.
In a debate over Georgia House Bill 954, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks even if the baby is not expected to live, England recalled the time he had spent with livestock.
“Life gives us many experiences,” he explained. “I’ve had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive — delivering pigs, dead and alive. … It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it.”
Here’s the thing about that. Farm animals? Are not people. This should be obvious, but this isn’t the first time I’ve heard it argued that all birth is exactly the same, human or animal, so I’ll just put that aside for another time. But the bill isn’t about birth, which is where this metaphor doesn’t actually hold up.
Because, Rep. Terry England, you don’t perform diagnostic ultrasound, amniocentesis, CVS and more on farm animals. Thus, in addition to a much higher number of stillborn farm animals, you will also have the births of living animals with terrible birth defects. Animals that are unable to breathe, are in obvious pain, or are so deformed that life would be misery. Animals that it would be considered cruel to keep alive. What did you do on that farm when you encountered them? I mean, I’m sure you included them in your sorrow, but I’m also sure you killed them. Because it was merciful.
There are many reasons late-term abortion happen, the rarest of which is the mother “changing her mind.” One reason is poor prenatal diagnosis. There is a limit to how much this livestock comparison will hold up (because, again, people aren’t cows or pigs), because there are far more complex and elaborate diagnoses for humans. But simply – the babies that are aborted for poor prenatal diagnosis are far more akin to the animals that are put out of their misery after they are born. Except we, being more than pigs, can make that merciful choice sooner and end (or even prevent) that child’s suffering. And we, being more than cows, take the agony that would have been our child’s life into our own hearts.
I assume that, at times, you encountered animals that were already pregnant but would die if it continued. When that happens, the animal is generally immediately spayed – although I admit I don’t know if this is the same for livestock. It is common with cats and dogs, and although it’s a matter of some ethical debate, so is raising pigs and cows. The babies aborted after 20 weeks due to their mother’s health are far more than a litter of stray kittens. Sometimes we, being more than dogs, decide to risk our health to keep the baby in the first place but are unable to survive long enough. Sometimes we, being more than cats, have to face losing an otherwise healthy child.
When the cows and pigs didn’t make it, the animals didn’t have their hearts broken. And be honest, neither did you. But you know who’s hearts do break? Parents who chose late-term abortion. We cry. We grieve. We ache. As anti-choice rhetoric loves to point out, we are the parents of dead children. We know. Many of us have held our children, saved locks of hair or hand or footprints, have named them and had funerals for them. They aren’t aborted fetuses. They are our babies and we love them.
There is a truly vicious addition to banning all abortion after twenty weeks (or any of the assorted other arbitrary points in pregnancy in other, similar bills). There are many terrible problems that can’t be diagnosed or don’t occur until later in pregnancy, the vast majority that are completely irrelevant to any other animal. You are in effect sentencing women to the death penalty. Which you should already know, since, you know, Rick Santorum’s wife had a lifesaving late-term abortion. (And yes, I realize that this particular bill includes a few exemptions to save the mother. However, given how many similar bills and amendments are out there, I think this is absolutely relevant.) But that’s not the only thing this repulsive legislature does. This bill legally mandates that babies be tortured. I realize that sounds like hyperbole, but it isn’t. Because the babies that were aborted under these circumstances would, in many cases, be in constant pain that they had no ability to comprehend or process, with no hope of recovery. Literally. Slowly suffocating over minutes. Subjected to surgery after surgery that will never save the, that only postpones the inevitable and extends the child’s pain. Children that live past babyhood unable to play, or learn, or have hope of ever being independent. Things that are far beyond any barnyard metaphor.
And, the master stroke – this bill is called the “Fetal Pain” bill. Because the fetus could feel a little pain in the moments before it’s death. And you know what? That might be true. The fetus might feel pain for a few moments. The literal alternative is often an entire life of pain. If those few minutes of pain are so morally objectionable, why is it morally defensible to force that same child to live in pain – for far longer than an abortion could ever take. As I have written previously, the procedure (and thus, Isaac’s pain) was over in minutes. The pain of losing him remains, but that is mine to bear. Not his.
And yes, I am absolutely supportive of women and families that choose not to abort in the face of terrible diagnoses! That too is a place where we are more than animals – we can make choices. Animals do not ponder the ethics of infanticide. Animals do not have the advanced mental or physical abilities to deal with catastrophic birth defects and so on. We made the choice that was right for our family and our son. These are not situations that have a better or painless choice. While it is true that I do not live in Georgia and so am not directly affected by this bill, others just like it are everywhere. And those mothers in other states who will someday walk in the same shoes are worth fighting for. Grieving parents should not be compared to farm animals. And you, Mr. England (and you too, Mr. Santorum!) should know better.