Progressives are pro-science, right? From clashes over climate change to school text books, the common refrain from progressives is that we stand on the side of the most credible and advanced scientific evidence. Yet on abortion, we see far too many progressives closing their eyes to the breakthroughs that have occurred through technological innovation in understanding development in the womb.
For those who oppose any further restrictions on abortion, the motives seem clear. The Roe v. Wade decision used trimesters to provide guidance for laws regulating abortion. Restrictions on abortion were not to be permitted until the child was viable—capable of surviving outside the womb—and viability was linked with the third trimester of pregnancy.
But decades later, science tells us a different story. There has been remarkable progress in prenatal science, and given what we know about unborn children at 20 weeks of development, denying their humanity requires ignoring so many characteristics we associate with being human. The child can suck his or her thumb, clench his or her fist, can squint and frown. Some are capable of opening their eyes, while some have fine hair growing on their head. They can hear and respond to touch. They can grimace or smile. And pain receptors are found throughout the body. Even those who favor the viability standard established in Roe should be able to recognize this fact: this is a human being.
And innocent human beings deserve protections from harm. This is why Democrats for Life of America supports the passage of the Pain Capable Child Protection Act, which would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks except in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. This bill would make existing law more closely reflect the scientific facts we have at hand today. In addition, it would more closely align with the desires of the American people, who favor such a ban (NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, July 2013).
Now those who support unrestricted access to abortion up until the child has taken his or her first breath outside of the womb will never support such legislation. But a majority of Americans oppose late term and partial-birth abortions. Many pro-choice Americans oppose abortion when the child is capable of feeling pain. And the average progressive wants public policies to be based on scientific facts not the outdate estimates of a bygone era.
This bill should be supported by all members of the pro-life community, including the over 21 million registered Democrats who identify as pro-life. But it should also find support among progressives, moderates, and pro-choice conservatives who find themselves torn on the issue of abortion—those who support legal abortion, but also favor restrictions. For those who believe that viability is the key moment, this bill is essential for bringing the law in line with existing science.
But placing restrictions on access to abortion can never be enough. We must do more to support pregnant women and their families in this country. For those of us who are pro-life, this is integral to building a genuine culture of life. For those who are pro-choice, this means making sure that no women feel they have no choice but to kill their own child.
It is essential to back the type of legal, economic, and cultural changes that will support pregnant women and ensure that they have access to good paying jobs, healthcare, and quality child care. We must ensure that our society treats every one as a valued member of our society, so that they can build a bright future for themselves and their children.
The debate over abortion will not disappear any time soon. But the Pain Capable Child Protection Act is a piece of legislation that should not divide us on partisan and ideological lines. Without upending Roe v. Wade, the law will bring the standards it establishes up to date and align them with the existing science on prenatal development. It is a bill that all sensible Americans can and should support.
Robert is president of Democrats For Life of America.