By John Klar
Mike Faher’s February 6, 2019, VTDigger piece “Abortion bill backers and foes crowd Statehouse” represented both sides of the debate over H.57, but did not address a key issue: the centrality to the debate of third-trimester abortions. The article also neglected to mention that opponents of this bill dramatically outnumbered supporters, as I witnessed firsthand. I was struck at how much was revealed by the repeated avoidance by those who testified in support of this bill of the issue of third-trimester abortions. The issue is not of one group imposing their religious views on others, but of how our supposedly civilized society defines human life. I both back and oppose H.57: I oppose it because it is repugnant that Vermont strives to expand Roe v. Wade to “shield” unrestricted late-term abortions; I support it because in its extremeness it presents a perfect case for the Kavanaugh/Gorsuch Supreme Court to acknowledge the personhood of unborn children.
In Mr. Faher’s report is a quote by Margaret Moulton: “What possibly could go through the minds of those who think that they have the right to legislate what I or any woman chooses if we are impregnated?” This “framing” of the issue ignores any point at which a fetus is a baby that merits protection, even minutes prior to delivery. One woman testified that “only” 1.4% of abortions in Vermont are third-trimester. To reframe the question: “What possibly could go through the minds of those who think it’s OK that 1.4% of babies are dismembered while quite sentient and viable?”
An international perspective: 29 countries outlaw abortion entirely, with no exception even to save the woman’s life; 39 countries outlaw abortions at any developmental stage except to save the mother’s life. Of the seven countries that permit abortions beyond 20 weeks into the gestational period, the Netherlands permits late-term procedures only in cases of “physical or mental suffering” of the mother; Vietnam only permits abortions to 22 weeks; Singapore up to 24 weeks, or later only to save the mother’s life or mental health. North Korea permits abortions only “up to the seventh month of pregnancy” (womenonwaves.org).
This leaves Canada (which apparently sends most of its third-term abortion patients to the United States), China, and the United States. Of course, China imposes forced abortion on women who exceed their allowable quota of children, and isn’t exactly a moral example — consider the case of Feng Jianmei, who on June 2, 2012, was forced to abort her child at seven months’ gestation.
Now, “what possibly could go through the minds” of those who, all over the world, ban the horrific third-term “procedures” which Vermont seeks now to ensconce in black-letter law? Abortion is legal in Russia only up to the 12th week as an elective procedure, then it is restricted. France permits elective abortions up to the 12th week also, but requires mandatory “pre-abortion counseling” and a subsequent seven-day waiting period. What could go through their minds, possibly?
Only 14 percent of Americans believe third-trimester abortions should be legal; 60 percent favor a 20-week ban; 70 percent (per Gallup 2018) think second-trimester abortions should be “generally illegal.” Forty-three states ban abortions at some point prior to delivery. Roe v Wade held that states may limit abortion after fetal viability. And in June 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation which would have federally outlawed abortions after 20 weeks (with exceptions) but it was not taken up by the Senate. This reveals that something is going through most human minds the world over, with the exception in America of a mere seven states that permit abortions up until birth for any reason.
Alabama enacted a statute (Alabama Code section 3A-6-1(3)) which, in the context of a criminal homicide or assault, defines “person” to mean “a human being, including an unborn child in utero, at any stage of development, regardless of viability.” H.57 proposes language which is a near reverse of Alabama’s, specifically denying any legal recognition of personhood up to the very moment of delivery. This is barbaric, and well beyond the scope of anything contemplated by the Roe Court — it even conflicts with Roe’s recognition that at some point states held a “compelling interest” to protect that fetus.
Alabama has recognized wrongful death actions for pre-born children. In Mack v. Carmack (2011), “Baby Mack” was killed in a car accident at 12 weeks’ gestation, and the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that he was a person regardless even of viability. And in the very recent case of Jessie Livell Phillips v. State of Alabama, also from the Alabama Supreme Court, the defendant’s death sentence was confirmed for the murder of his wife and their 8-weeks’ gestation child, “Baby Doe.”
The ideal case to displace Roe in favor of the rights to personhood of the unborn is not a first-trimester but a third-trimester fetus/child. Vermont already protects men who kill babies in the womb from murder charges because it does not define the unborn as human: now it wants to set that in legislative stone. Vermont already permits third-trimester abortions for any reason whatsoever, right up to the moment of delivery: H.57 seeks to “protect” something so awful that it is illegal almost the world over. That is the case that will so easily enable this new Supreme Court to finally declare the rights of these children who cannot speak for themselves. H.57 could not be a better-crafted chip on our nation’s shoulder than if a lawyer drafted it so that it would be the arrow that swiftly flew before the SCOTUS. A class action lawsuit on behalf of all these babies is greatly strengthened by a statute that so utterly attacks their very existence or recognition, like so many Rohingya, Jews, Uighur, or “Untouchables.” Vermont could be first and lead the world in infanticide, and first to void much of Roe. Maybe it will be “Baby Ethan Allen v. TJ Donovan.”
Each Vermont legislator who sponsored, or crafted, H.57 has thereby specifically endorsed third-trimester abortions. Shall our Vermont Legislature fully endorse these existing practices, now that public awareness is irrevocably stirred? H.57 safeguards the torture and murder of babies who are near full term. Withdrawing H.57 does so equally. Perhaps many in the world are thinking that we should “build a wall,” around Vermont, to keep the barbarians in.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield.