Last Wednesday, Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith announced that he would be seeking felony charges against an individual accused of killing a fetus. Granted, fetuses are legally terminated in abortion clinics across the country. Every day. Depending on the age of the pregnancy, doctors in white lab coats can suck, pry or poison a fetus out of a mother. Most often, the fetus is then disposed of like medical waste.

Daniel Adams

What makes this case exceptional? When “doctor” becomes “scared teenage boyfriend,” the law suddenly cares what happens to an unborn child — particularly when said abortion is performed via the repeated dull blows of a 22-inch souvenir baseball bat to the mother’s abdomen. The only reason prosecutors learned of the incident was an indiscreet moment on the part of the 16-year-old mother, who, while at a high school leadership conference of all places, divulged details of the event to individuals who alerted the authorities. Police found the dead fetus buried in a backyard.

Apparently the law can see a difference between the legal practice of sucking the unborn child out of the mother with a surgical-grade vacuum and the apparently illegal act of beating it out of the mother with a mini-bat. I, however, cannot — a problematic realization for me as a pro-choice individual. Like millions in this country, I am anti-abortion. But for years the Republicans have polarized this debate, abandoning common-sense abortion reforms and forcing moderates like myself to choose sides. When Clinton was forced to veto the bill that would have ended the disturbing practice because congressional Republicans refused to insert language that would have created exceptions in case of rape, incest or when the mother’s life was in jeopardy, I chose a side.

They want it all or nothing? Fine.

We won the battle. Abortion is legal, and short of a dramatic roster change on the U.S. Supreme Court, will likely remain so. But wrapped up in the political battle, we’ve avoided a necessary confrontation with the devil that we’ve been defending. We have conveniently ignored the disturbing procedures that we defend. Most of all, we overlook the undeniable humanity and human potential of a fetus — qualities that make a fetus undeniably distinct from the other sorts of tissues that find themselves cast aside as medical waste.

Potential does matter.

It matters when a pregnant woman is murdered in California, and we all intuitively feel a little bit of extra grief for her unborn son. It matters when a woman in Kansas is murdered, and her 8-month-old fetus is cut out of the womb and, now apparently worthy of such legal status, “kidnapped” by her murderer. It matters when a scared couple in Michigan decides to abort a pregnancy by hitting the mother repeatedly in the stomach with a toy bat, because, suddenly, killing a fetus is a crime.

Potential does matter.

It’s difficult to justify the idea that we’re to prosecute the boyfriend for doing what doctors do almost routinely every day in abortion clinics nationwide, with practices that are no more or no less grotesque than death via blunt trauma. Then again, it’s hard to justify the idea of letting actions such as these go unpunished. I hope I don’t go too far out on a limb here when I say that beating a fetus to death while inside the mother should never be okay.

There has got to be a middle ground on this issue. Just after Thanksgiving, Newsweek reported the former Democratic Presidential candidate nominee Sen. John Kerry appeared at a closed-door meeting of party loyalists to thank them for their support and field their questions concerning the uncertain future of the Democratic Party. While there, Kerry specifically singled out abortion as critical to the future of the party. He said the party needed to soften its image and its message on abortion. Most importantly, he noted the party needs to convince red America it doesn’t support abortion enthusiastically, but grudgingly.

According to the Newsweek article, there was a gasp in the room. But Kerry is right — we all need to take a big step towards the center on this one. With pro-life Democrats like former Rep. Tim Roemer (Indiana), one of the possible replacements for departing Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe, and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid (Nevada) taking increasingly prominent roles in the party, its entirely possible that a desperate Democratic party might make the first move.

The Republicans would do well to follow — lest this debate continues as an all-or-nothing proposition. What a tragedy that would be.

 

Adams can be reached at dnadams@umich.edu.

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