The Abortion Debate

During the recent budget debate in the South Carolina House of Representatives, a technical change to the abortion coverage provision in the State’s insurance plan erupted into a major debate on the morality of the act itself. Currently, the plan covers the cost of abortions for reasons of incest, rape and where the mother’s life is threatened. Last year, this coverage was used six times.

The appropriations bill contained a provision to prohibit the plan from paying for abortions regardless of the reason. A Democratic-supported amendment was filed by Rep. Bakari Sellers to add the three exceptions back to the plan. A compromise Republican-supported amendment was filed by Rep. Greg Delleney to add coverage for an abortion if the mother’s life was at risk. These two amendments came up for debate Tuesday evening around 8pm. It was assumed by members of both parties that the first amendment would fail and that the second amendment regarding the life of the mother would pass. However, after two hours of Democratic controlled debate that consisted of gender-baiting, old-style civil rights rhetoric and revival style preaching, the Democratic sponsored amendment passed, much to the surprise of everyone. During this initial debate, the only other Republican to rise in support of Rep. Delleney’s amendment was Rep. Wendy Nanney. Due to the caustic nature of the Democrats’ rhetoric, many Republicans were upset and the stage was set to bring the amendments back up for debate. The rematch happened early Thursday morning around 2am.

Abortion, with its emotional and religious overtones, presents a difficulty to those who attempt to debate it in a legislative arena. As evidenced during the hours of debate last week, most of the time devoted by both sides was spent affirming the religious certainty of their positions. Though religious conviction rests at the heart of the pro-life position, it may come as a surprise that pro-choice supporters also use religion to justify their position. The House has several ordained ministers who serve as legislators from the Democratic Party. They all affirm their great hatred of abortion but are supporters of a woman’s “God-given” right to choose. Though they insist that religion justifies their pro-choice stance, we all know that their religious rhetoric is merely a red-herring to confuse the issue.

How then should pro-life legislators broaden the debate to diffuse the religious justification for abortion?  Having indicated to the Speaker that I intended to speak on the subject, I had about an hour to come up with a new rhetorical strategy. As the clock approached 3am, I decided to argue the pro-life position from a purely ethical position without resorting to a personal, religious or emotional appeal. By using this approach, my goal was to use a core part of liberation political theory, which forms the foundation of the Democratic Party platform, to show the hypocrisy of Democratic resistance to the pro-life movement.

Post-modern ethicist, David Couzens Hoy, coined the term “ethical resistance” to define the actions of “powerless” people who resist their lack of legal protection. Though originally applied to women and minority groups, those considered “powerless” have been expanded to include the terminally ill, the aged, the disabled, and the mentally handicapped. I argued that the “powerless” must also include the unborn.  The mere existence and position of the “powerless” creates an ethical obligation upon others to protect them. In reality, their only action is to exist – their inability to resist creates resistance by others. As our knowledge of their condition evolves, ethical resistance increases until they are afforded legal protection. Our history has examples of the tension between a group’s ethical demands upon society and their legal status. The most poignant example of this conflict was slavery. To own a slave was legal but it certainly was not ethical by today’s standards. The evolution from slavery to equal rights was driven by knowledge, with the end result being equal protection under the law.

It was with these words that I spoke about the status of the unborn and the ethical resistance that they offer. I reminded the House that medical knowledge has made it clear that the unborn are human beings and deserve equal protection under the law. However until that day comes, as legislators, we have an ethical responsibility to protect the unborn as members of that group of the powerless. We are their resistance.

The defense of abortion offered by the Democrats was hypocrisy personified. By denying the rights of the unborn, they denied the God that they claim to believe in and denied their support of human rights that forms the very platform of their political party.

At around 6am on Thursday morning, after impassioned speeches from Reps. Greg Delleney, Liston Barfield, Joey Millwood, Garry Smith and myself, the House overturned their previous vote and voted to allow abortions to be covered in the State insurance plan only if the mother’s life is at risk.

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Tommy Stringer