There are moments of clarity in all of our lives, and hopefully you experience such a thing more than just once. On Wednesday afternoon, driving to my home in Raleigh, North Carolina I was listening to a recap of the week's news on the radio. What I heard was that a lawmaker in Virginia had brought forward a bill to expand abortion access and remove restrictions on the procedure currently in place in the state. The reporter said "you'd expect this sort of legislation in New York or California, but it seems out of character for a state like Virginia."
My fingers tightened around the steering wheel.
Audio played of Kathy Tran, a delegate from Fairfax County, explaining the substance of the Repeal Act to her colleagues on the floor. I don't know what about this moment or this bill drew out such a strong reaction from me. After all, the state of New York just passed a very similar measure only a week ago and I went on with my day.
My vision blurred and stomach tightened. Something was wrong and could feel the most subtle shockwaves going up my arms to my neck. Discomfort. Rapid breathing.
I got through the next stop light and pulled over the car. Turned it off and just sat there for a few minutes, focused on my breath. I have never experienced such a thing. It was clarity. The realization of a lie.
If you're reading this, you likely know the backstory. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam recently joined WTOP radio in Washington D.C. and was asked about the abortion bill dubbed the Repeal Act, which had been causing a stir in the state for the better part of a week. One of his answers was:
If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that's what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.
The bill, sponsored by Delegate Kathy Tran of Fairfax County, would allow women to get abortions up until the point of birth — if their physical or mental health are considered at risk. To put a fine point on it, Tran was questioned about her bill earlier this week and expressed that it offered "no limits" on when the abortion could be carried out, including when the the mother is dilating and about to give birth. It reduces the number of doctors required to approve termination from three to one, and it lowers the bar significantly for the severity of the health risk. Now we are talking about the impairment of mental health in addition to the mother's physical health. What does that even mean?
Well, vaguery is the point. Something I didn't see coming in the abortion debate, but pro-lifers probably saw a million miles back, was that this was always headed toward the realm of the subjective. The first time I had the slightest thought that the case for abortion might expand to having virtually no boundaries, was when the discourse on college campuses began to blend mental and physical harm into a single thing. It's strange, but an op-ed in the
New York Times in 2017 titled When Is Speech Violence? was actually my first hint. The piece described the science behind stress, and how challenges to the nervous system in the form of hurtful or abusive speech can cause long-lasting physical harm. I remember thinking to myself about the talking point "in cases of physical harm to the mother…" and then moved on with my day.
On the question of abortion, I've failed the test each time that I can think of, for a litany of reasons that boil down to cowardice.
I believe in God. I believe God tests us daily in our lives. On the question of abortion, I've failed the test each time that I can think of, for a litany of reasons that boil down to cowardice. My wife and I are the proud parents of an 8-year old girl. She's the light of our lives and brilliant — and I will likely never forgive myself for how I reacted when my college girlfriend, now wife, came forward as pregnant. I was a 20 year old "pro-life", Republican, fair-weather Christian and she was my liberal girlfriend who didn't see the world my way on just about anything. My thought process then was, obviously she will "handle it" and this will go away. So with my head down, I asked her if that was her plan, and it most definitely was not. The idea quite offended her, and she left.
I failed the biggest test of my young life. I like to think I made it right by subsequently stepping up and forming the family I now have and cherish. It took a lot of work on both our parts. But after that, my view on abortion changed to match my previous failure. I decided I was pro-choice, because how I could I champion the right to life when I turned away from it in my moment of being tested? This new view shielded me from another layer of shame, that of hypocrisy. Gradually, other pressing issues led me away from being conservative to being a libertarian, an identification I still hold and believe to be correct. Abortion is still very much in debate in libertarian circles and has been for quite some time. Whereas it is settled for conservatives and progressives, I found comfort in the hand-wringing and uncertainty of libertarians on the question.
In order to detach myself from the outcome of America's abortion debate, I had to assume three things. First, that there was sincerity in the argument that the survival of the mother was of utmost concern to the pro-choice crowd. Second, that the valid debate over when life begins wouldn't be allowed by courts to extend past the time of birth. Third, that while late-term abortions are generally rare and unpopular, the legality of the practice was not going to extend beyond the most progressive corners of America.
The quick rise and fall of the Repeal Act in Virginia unravels all these things I taught myself to believe about the abortion debate. That it had boundaries, that it was about people trying to defend life in exceptional circumstances — both on the side of advocacy for the unborn and the women carrying them. It's simply not true, and I see that now. The radicalized left in 2019 supported by a new wave of true believers who consider physical and mental harm to be entirely subjective concepts, is not going to stop expanding the religion of "choice". Governor Northam made it clear in his admission that the fates of children could be decided on after the fact of their birth. This wasn't a slip-up or miscommunication, it was the mask slipping on an ideology of death that has been mainstreamed. I just didn't have the courage and clarity to confront it.
You could say I may have just had a panic attack. I would say it was given to me — and thank God for it.
Sitting on the side road with the keys in the ignition, I wondered if this is what being convicted by God feels like. I've prayed for countless years for the spirit to move me in the way it moves some members of my family when all I've ever felt in my faith is silence.
You could say I may have just had a panic attack. I would say it was given to me — and thank God for it. Kathy Tran and Ralph Northam revealed that the sidelines are no longer where I belong. My hope for moderation and wisdom from public officials has not stopped the worst ideas on abortion from being realized and spread. Eventually, more state legislatures will be faced with similar bills that blur the lines of what defines harm. David French wrote in the National Review that the onset of anxiety, depression, fear of postpartum will soon be tried as reasons for young life to be terminated — and he is right.
I'm joining the movement to defend the sanctity of life. If you've been on the sidelines too, I hope you'll join me.