Analysis

What Senator Karen Berg got wrong in her now-viral critique of pro-life laws

A video of Sen. Karen Berg criticizing Senate Bill 321 in Kentucky, which seeks to ban the killing of preborn children after 15-weeks gestation, recently went viral. In it, the senator had much to say in opposition to the bill. Still, many of her comments sadly misrepresented the pro-life position and the motivation behind passing legislation that protects preborn children. 

The Humanity of the Preborn

Berg began by pointing to her medical expertise, citing her career as a diagnostic radiologist to demonstrate why she is qualified to speak on fetal development. However, it appears Senator Berg is not a biologist.

“For you to sit here and say that at 15 weeks, a fetus has a functional heart, a four-chamber heart that can survive on its own, is fallacious. That is not true. There is no viability,” Berg said. But this statement is convoluted and needs to be unpacked.

A human embryo has a heartbeat between 16 and 22 days after fertilization, which means a heart is present. In addition, as the Endowment for Human Development notes, “By 6 weeks, the heart is pumping the embryo’s own blood to his or her brain and body. All four chambers of the heart are present and more than 1 million heartbeats have occurred. The head, as well as the chest and abdominal cavities have formed and the beginnings of the arms and legs are easily seen. (emphasis added)”

The definition of viability as presented in current abortion law is the ability to survive outside the womb, which is currently thought to be at 24 weeks — but premature infants have survived as young as 21 weeks. 

In addition, a child in the womb is viable in his or her natural environment for that stage of development. For example, a human being in space without oxygen would not be viable since he would not be in his natural environment. This, of course, would not make the human being in space without oxygen any less human — and neither does an inability to survive outside his natural environment (the womb) make a 15-week preborn child any less human.

The standard medical text, “Human Embryology and Teratology” states, “Although human life is a continuous process, fertilization [also called conception] is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed” (p.8). All human beings at all stages of development are worthy of protection. 

Preborn human beings have the same value as everyone else, regardless of development or degree of dependency. These differences do not make it justifiable to kill them, and, indeed, if pro-lifers are right that abortion ends the life of an innocent human being, then society should not tolerate such an action. 

Bodily Autonomy and Back-Alley Abortions

“This bill is a medical sham. It does not follow medicine; it does not even purport to listen to medicine,” Berg said. “And for each and every one of my colleagues to be so willing to cast an aye vote when what you are doing is putting your finger, putting your knee, putting a gun to women’s heads, you are killing women because abortion will continue.” 

“Women will continue to have advocacy over their own body, whether or not you make it legal,” she continued. 

This point must be made clear: Pro-lifers do not want women to die from legal or illegal abortions. The fact that some women may still have abortions if it is outlawed is not a reason to hold the law hostage and make it safer to kill an innocent human being.

Medicine seeks to heal; abortion’s intent is to kill a human being in order to end a pregnancy. Deliberate killing is not medicine — it is homicide.

Former Planned Parenthood Director Mary S. Calderone noted in a 1960 article in the American Journal of Public Health, licensed physicians committed most illegal abortions, and the fatality rate was low. The founder of NARAL, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, even admitted years ago that his organization fabricated statistics about the number of women who died from illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade

The issue of bodily autonomy appears to be a crucial one for Berg, as she also mentioned it in a statement to the Lexington Herald Leader when discussing the now-viral video.

“That is without question what I think we need to be doing — we need to get voices of people affected by this,” she said. “If you don’t believe in abortion, don’t have one, I will support your right to have that child and raise it, but that doesn’t mean you can force your decision on other women. They have advocacy over their own body.”

Abortion is a conflict of rights issue, and classifying the pro-life view as a matter of personal preference is a tragic misunderstanding of what people who oppose abortion believe. 

While the right to bodily autonomy is important, it does not trump another human being’s right to life. If it did, then it would be rather difficult to come up with a consistent definition for equal rights that includes certain people at varying stages of development but excludes the preborn.

Abortion Is Not a Remedy for Societal Issues

“I really apologize to the people of Kentucky that we are spending this much time and this much energy when we have families in poverty,” Berg said. “We have single women heading households in poverty at a higher rate than any other group in the state. And you all are not addressing that. You are making it worse.”

But abortion does not address the problem of poverty at all. If a mother feels she needs to kill her child because she can’t afford to raise him or her, that’s a sign society has failed women and their families. The circumstances surrounding someone’s birth, including poverty or potential poverty, should not determine whether or not they have a right to be born.

We cannot end poverty by eliminating the poor.

While it’s true that some pregnant women may be in a challenging situation where they feel unable to raise a child, this does not mean society should condone the killing of the innocent. The pro-life movement has worked for years to connect women with the resources they need to feel empowered and carry their pregnancies to term. Let’s support women instead of allowing the violence of abortion to continue.

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