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When it Comes to Pro-Lifers, William Saletan is Stuck on Stupid

John on February 16, 2010 at 11:50 am

Last week he offered one of the most tortured excuses for abortion ever printed on a news site. This week he offers a smoothed out retread of the same argument. The subtitle of his piece is “The pro-life case for pregnancy termination.”

Now that he’s had two bites at the apple, what has Saletan produced? Not much:

Wow. She was ready to sacrifice her life and leave her children motherless to give her fetus a chance at birth. That’s serious commitment. But this isn’t just a story. It’s a message. Looking into the camera, Bob Tebow delivers the closing plea to women contemplating abortion: “Don’t kill your baby.”

Yeah, we call that heroism. When someone dives into a frozen pond to rescue a drowning child who has fallen through the ice, they are risking their life. They may have children who are counting on them to come home. It may be smarter, in some purely utilitarian sense, to stand by and watch the unfortunate child drown. There’s a word for that…


But Saletan doesn’t seem to get that whole heroism concept, at least he pretends not to for the sake of his shaky argument. That would be enough self-induced ignorance for one piece, but at this point Saletan takes a left turn down a dark alley. He notes a couple other stories on a pro-life website. One of those, Pearl’s story, is the story of an infant born with severe facial abnormalities who died shortly after birth. Saletan writes:

It’s a beautiful story. But hold on. Thirty-two weeks is well short of full term. Pregnancy normally lasts about 40 weeks from the last menstrual period, and any baby born before 37 weeks is considered premature. Delivery at 32 weeks is that much worse for the baby. There’s no mention of a medical need to extract Pearl at this point for her own good. Evidently, the doctor induced labor to protect Laura’s health…Pam was willing to die, trusting God to take care of her family. Laura seems to have made a more practical decision. [Emphasis mine.]

Saletan clearly implies that Pearl’s mother decided to worry less about Pearl and more about her own health. He’s not saying she definitely hurt Pearl’s chances, but he’s insinuating that maybe she did.

But hold on…

What Saletan conveniently doesn’t tell his readers is that 32 weeks is considered “moderately premature.” Infants born in a good hospital (like Pearl for instance) have a 95% survival rate according to this Aussie website. (And here’s a chart from a study done in Europe which puts the rate at 98%.) In other words, Pearl’s mom risked her own health to the point that her daughter would have almost certainly survived had she not also had severe abnormalities. Saletan’s suggestion that she got “practical” with Pearl’s chances is a grotesque mischaracterization of the story and the truth.

But wait there’s more…Saletan tries the same argument with the story of Aimee and her daughter Sophie:

Again, it’s a beautiful story. But Sept. 21 to Jan. 22 is an interval of just 17 to 18 weeks. Fifteen weeks plus 17 weeks is 32 weeks. Aimee, like Laura, pushed her baby out well before term to protect her own health. If this was God’s timing, God was speaking through her doctor.

Notice she “pushed her baby out well before term.” But again, 32 weeks would give a healthy baby a 95-98% chance of survival, so this isn’t a case of dooming a baby through self-interest. In fact, Saletan has already noted that the baby had a “fatal” genetic abnormality. How much worse than fatal can it get?

Saletan doesn’t get the concept of heroism. He doesn’t get that having a moderately premature baby is not a death sentence. He feigns shock at the idea that pro-life women are taking calculated risks to give their babies a chance at life. At this point I want to scream…

Well, no duh, Sherlock!

Who ever suggested that being pro-life meant a rigid death sentence for women with dangerous pregnancies? Saletan is really arguing against a position that exists primarily in the feeble imaginations of pro-choice zealots. There isn’t a pro-life group in the country that doesn’t offer a “life of the mother” exception. The idea is not to insist mom die, but to suggest that maybe the baby’s life is worth some risk, even significant risk.

Like jumping into a frozen pond to save a child. Not necessarily the “smart” thing to do, but definitely the right thing and the courageous thing.

This is the big picture Saletan misses. It’s the same one I pointed out last week. Most abortions in this country happen because the mother is unwilling to risk anything, even the inconvenience of a perfectly healthy pregnancy (if the baby is given up for adoption, for instance). This values the unborn child as, essentially, nothing. But rather than look at the 90%+ of abortion cases where the mother risks far too little for her “fetus” chance at life, Saletan prefers to focus his attention like a laser beam on the tiny fraction of cases where he can argue the mother risks too much. Even then, his argument only works if you don’t get why a parent of 3 might jump into a frozen lake to save a drowning child.

The message of the Tebow ad is that life is worth taking a risk for and that heroism, while risky, is sometimes rewarded. Not always, not perfectly, but sometimes. And those cases are cause for celebration. Sometimes you jump into the freezing water and not only survive yourself but save the life of a child. In the case of Pam Tebow the child she saved was her own. That’s a beautiful thing and well worth holding up as an example for others to emulate. William Saletan just can’t seem to grok that some choices are more admirable than others.

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Category: Pro-Life |

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