The Texas Legislature only meets for 4 months, every other year. Every session, several Bills are introduced that would regulate abortion in our State. Monday night, April 8,the House Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence, chaired by Representative Jeff Leach, heard testimony on HB 896, authored by Representative Tony Tinderholt. HB 896 would change Texas law to treat elective abortion for what it is: the intervention intended to kill a member of the human species. The law would require that abortion be treated the same as a felony murder is treated by Texas law: “entitled to the same rights, powers, and privileges as are secured or granted by the laws of this state to any other human child.”
You can watch the testimony in the House Broadcast Archives.
Those of us who believe in human rights must decide whether laws can legitimately divide humans into two classes: those members if our species who are and those who are not human-enough to possess legal, protected (“inalienable”) human rights.
Yes, the law would create complications in a world that’s become accustomed to the act of elective abortion, “spare” human embryos, fetal research on aborted children, and arbitrary “choice” as to which babies live and which are susceptible (in New York State, for instance) to killing on the day before they become citizens by being born.
However, we know how to deal with those complications, because of lessons we learned in our Nation’s history of slavery and the abolishment of slavery. The lives and livelihoods of slave brokers, slave breeders, and slaveholders were disrupted by declaring slavery illegal in the United States, with penalties.
The (dreadful) Supreme Court Dred Scott decision about the status – the “inferior” humanity – of Black slaves has never been overturned by the Courts. In that 1850 ruling, Chief Justice Roger Taney stated that the Constitution affirmed that black slaves were not only property, but “beings of an inferior order” and that they and their descendents could never be citizens of the United States.
Ultimately, a Civil War and Constitutional Amendments 13, 14, and 15 were necessary to outlaw slavery and allow black persons, including former slaves and their children, to become citizens. The 14th Amendment also protected non-citizens, prohibiting laws which “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
A Constitutional Amendment may be necessary in this case, too, but I don’t think so, because of the way Roe v. Wade was decided.
Roe v. Wade is the Supreme Court decision that declared that there was a “right” to abortion under the Constitution. Justice Blackmun refused to
“. . . resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.
“Man’s knowledge” has developed since 1973. Philosophers and theologians may still argue (as they do about the civil rights and personhood of neonates, the disabled, and the elderly) but the science is clear. Ultrasounds, MRI’s, and in vitro fertilization have all demonstrated when the life of human beings begins. Just ask the newest technician in the in vitro lab.
As a doctor, I deny that elective abortion is healthcare. I certainly deny that the baby in utero is a part of the body of the mother. It’s not logical to say that the embryo, then the fetus, is not the same organism that we call a baby as soon as he or she is born.
If nothing else, we now have evidence in the form of serial ultrasounds (US) and in vivo MRI’s that demonstrate that human life is a continuum that begins at fertilization.
Even 30+ years ago in training, I saw US used to follow an oocyte from just before ovulation, to the developing embryo in the uterus a few days later. We’ve all seen the US of children as they develop.
Just this month, a research article in the journal Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience reported on sex differences in functional connectivity of neural pathways in the brain, demonstrated by functional MRI of babies in utero.
Questions were raised by the Committee members and citizens alike about a possible death penalty for the felony murder of the unborn child, about women who are coerced into having abortions and whether or not the mother would be charged and subject to penalties.
Well, what penalty does the State impose for procurement of a contract to kill? What charges are brought against the mother who smothers her baby at birth?
It’s true that laws in Texas have never punished the mother who has an abortion. Part of that is out of compassion for the mother who is seen as a victim of circumstances. However, the main reason is that most laws regulating abortion have been passed under the legislation regulating medical practioners and technology, rather than as a civil or human rights issue.
In fact, abortion performed by the mother has always been treated as self-harm, like attempted suicide. But that custom was established before modern information about human embryology. It was long before medical abortion utilizing Mifepristone ( RU486) or methotrexate. We all know now that the mother is not killing a part of her body in an abortion and certainly not when she pays a third party to do it.
I believe that invoking the threat of the death penalty is a red herring. Our homicide laws recognize the right to kill in self defense (for the life of the mother) and mitigating circumstances such as mental illness and in cases of force and abuse by a third party, allowing for different degrees of homicide.
We don’t, however, allow euthanasia or eugenics in the case of born disabled children or give the mother the “choice” to kill by poisoning or distruction of the body of a child who becomes unwanted after birth.
Texas declared the child an individual before birth back in 2003, creating a penalty for third parties who cause the death of a child, except in the case of intentional abortion by a doctor or when the mother herself acts. There have been several convictions under the Texas Prenatal Protection Act.
In light of our expanded knowledge about human biology, it’s time for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and declare what Justice Blackmun deferred: life begins at fertilization and all humans possess human rights that should be protected by the State.
Maybe I’m tilting at windmills, but I would like to see Texas defy Roe v Wade and pass HB 896.
I’ve disabled comments on the blog. Please leave your comments on my Facebook page, “Beverly Nuckols.”