Students of contemporary American history will recall the national debate in the 1990s over legislative efforts to ban partial-birth abortion. President Bill Clinton twice vetoed a congressional ban on the practice only to have President George W. Bush sign it into law. The national debate over that issue produced a somewhat unexpected result. Pollsters observed a shift in the national understanding of those active in the abortion debate.
More so even than the importance of the particular legislative issue at hand, the nation’s conception of those involved in the abortion debate saw a marked shift. No longer could pro-life supporters be seen as extremists. They were pushing for a modest piece of legislation after all. On the other hand, those who argued that even procedures indistinguishable from infanticide should enjoy legal protection began to be recognized as extremists—on the fridge of public discourse.
Something similar can be observed this week in Rhode Island. After passing both houses of the RI General Assembly and having received the signature of Governor McKee, the “Equality in Abortion Coverage Act” is now the law of the land in Rhode Island. This new law does more than provide public funding for the killing of the unborn. It also will shift opinion among sensible people about who really is on the fringe of this issue in our national debate.
The majority of Americans want some restriction on abortion. Those on the fringe of this debate who will allow for no restriction and in fact demand public funding for these killings show themselves outside mainstream conversation. Pro-life supporters on the other hand, that is, those who recognize the dignity of human life, represent a more reasonable view. We say that everybody is somebody; that every life, at every stage, in every place has a dignity — and in Christ — a destiny beyond our imagining. No one should need a Catholic priest to tell them that it is wrong to kill an unborn child.
Yet, those who value the dignity of every life recognize that not everybody will see this truth right away. For that reason, we are willing to move step by step toward a society that protects the weak. That is to say, pro-life Americans support reasonable and incremental restrictions on abortion. The goal is for every child to be welcomed in life and protected by law. But there is nothing wrong with moving in that direction one step at a time (See Evangelium vitae, no. 73.)
This week’s debate in the R.I. General Assembly has revealed that many of those who support abortion in our state position themselves on the extreme fringe of this issue. The demand for public funding of abortion erodes a national consensus that it is wrong to take the tax dollars of every American and use them to fund the killing of the unborn.
Much like the shift at the end of the twentieth century, those with eyes to see will observe the same here in Rhode Island. Reasonable people recognize you should not use one person’s tax dollars to pay for another person’s abortion . Abortion is a tragedy. Pro-abortion activists who celebrate the killing of the unborn show themselves unreasonable, extreme, and unwilling to compromise. A new day is coming for pro-life Rhode Islanders. We just hope a new day will come soon for those innocent children waiting to be born.
Father Ryan Connors serves as Professor of Moral Theology and Dean of Men at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. He holds a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome.