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Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2000 / 29 Elul, 5760

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Consumer Reports

Symbolic 'born alive' vote makes sense -- DURING THIS election season when the candidates are battling for the mantle of which one is the more adept actuary or accountant, it's nice to know that some people recognize the importance of symbolic politics.

Witness the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which passed the House of Representatives this week. In a sense, it is nasty and pointless bit of lawmaking. Its sponsor, Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., has forced a whole bunch of politicians to admit that they are opposed to killing babies.

Oh, I'm not using wild inflammatory rhetoric about the unborn or anything like that. I'm not even talking about partial-birth abortion, which Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan has called infanticide. I'm talking about killing actual human infants.

The proposed law - which undoubtedly will die quietly in the Senate - "clarifies" the federal position that babies who accidentally survive abortions are, in fact, human beings. In extremely rare circumstances, babies are accidentally delivered instead of aborted in the course of late-stage pregnancy.

While these babies are probably covered under existing law, Canady wants to be very, very clear that these breathing, living, fully delivered babies are entitled to the rights and privileges accorded any other human being born in the United States.

In other words, it was a set up. Jerrold Nadler a leading pro-choice Democrat in the House, said the legislation was intended solely "to get the pro-choice members to vote against it so (Republican pro-lifers) can slander us and say we are for infanticide."

That's exactly right and the Democrats didn't fall for it. After trying to block the bill for months, when it finally reached the floor it passed overwhelmingly, 380 to 15.

Even though the vote was a symbolic political ploy, that doesn't mean it wasn't worthwhile. The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, the leading pro-choice organization in America, denounced the legislation that even Nadler believes is an anti-infanticide measure.

NARAL says that such a law "would inappropriately inject prosecutors and lawmakers into the medical decision-making process." In other words, NARAL's position is that even though a baby has already been delivered, and is separated from the mother, it can still be aborted (killed) out of concern for the mother's "medical condition." NARAL also says such an unwanted but delivered baby is just a "pre-viable fetus." And how do we define "pre-viable" these days?

Well, the most famous bio-ethicist in America, Princeton's Peter Singer, believes parents should have a one-month window to decide whether they want to keep or destroy unhealthy babies. American University philosophy professor Jeffrey Reiman thinks infants do not "possess in their own right a property that makes it wrong to kill them."

With respected experts like these influencing the public debate, you can see how Canady is eager for more clarification.

Though we constantly hear that the Republican Party is being held hostage to extremist pro-lifers, perhaps the biggest secret in American politics today is that the most influential abortion "extremists" are on the pro-choice side of the debate.

NARAL says the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act is just "another attempt to chip away at Roe vs. Wade." While polls show that most Americans support Roe vs. Wade, people clearly don't understand what that really means.

A majority of Americans, according to numerous polls, including a recent one by the Los Angeles Times, favor banning abortion outright or with the exceptions of rape or incest. Only 10 percent of Americans say that abortion should be legal at any stage of pregnancy.

Absolute certainty is a luxury most of us don't enjoy. Personally, I am often conflicted on some abortion questions, especially involving the first trimester. But with all difficult moral arguments, it makes sense to answer the easy questions first.

Killing babies who are fully delivered seems to be a pretty easy option to take off the table. Hopefully that's what happened with this week's symbolic vote.

To comment on JWR contributor Jonah Goldberg's column click here.


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