“Abortion distortion” has been a serious problem for decades. And in our post-Dobbs moment, it's grown worse than ever before.

This topic somehow manages to transform conservatives into energetic supporters of the kind of powerful government necessary to protect prenatal children, while at the same time making progressives worship at the altar of government staying out of the lives of autonomous individuals. It has caused reputable academic physicians to describe the four-chambered heart of a six-week old prenatal child with Orwellian euphemisms like "cardiac pole vibrations." It has even pushed Republicans to propose significant social programs...

“Abortion distortion” has been a serious problem for decades. And in our post-Dobbs moment, it’s grown worse than ever before.

This topic somehow manages to transform conservatives into energetic supporters of the kind of powerful government necessary to protect prenatal children, while at the same time making progressives worship at the altar of government staying out of the lives of autonomous individuals. It has caused reputable academic physicians to describe the four-chambered heart of a six-week old prenatal child with Orwellian euphemisms like “cardiac pole vibrations.” It has even pushed Republicans to propose significant social programs to support vulnerable women and families — everything from paid family leave to help with child care.

The distortion is so powerful that otherwise thoughtful people end up saying absolutely outlandish things. Consider, for instance, a recent piece in Reason by Katherine Mangu-Ward that compares laws supporting prenatal justice to, of all things, prohibition.

The piece makes three major claims, all of which, after a moment’s thought, fall apart. Let’s look at each of them.

Laws supporting prenatal justice produce “messy, deadly black markets”

When considering a claim like this, we should look at what’s actually happened in developed countries where prenatal justice is protected. Until recently, Irish law defended prenatal children as legal persons and yet had better health outcomes for women than England, which has broad access to abortion. Chile banned most abortions and saw their maternal health numbers improve. Poland has some of the strictest laws against abortion in all of Europe and they also boast that continent’s lowest rate of maternal mortality.

How did we get the long-standing counter-narrative simply assumed by the Reason article? Bernard Nathanson, a physician who performed thousands of abortions (including on his own wife) and founded NARAL before having a pro-life conversion, admitted that the numbers they put forward of women dying in the US from illegal abortions were “totally false” and that the “overriding concern was to get the [pro-life] laws eliminated.”

Laws supporting prenatal justice will “restrict speech”

The Reason article claims that prohibiting instructions online to obtain an illegal abortion or not allowing referrals to an illegal abortion provider would be “restricting online speech.” While I tend to err on the side of more speech, especially online, surely we require some restrictions — especially when it comes to fomenting violence against the most vulnerable.

Pope Francis has claimed abortion is akin to hiring a hitman. Suppose someone is seeking to kill their wife — say, because she is pregnant and didn’t want to get the abortion her partner demanded. Shouldn’t it be illegal to give instructions about how best to do that online? Shouldn’t it be illegal to provide referrals to the hitman? (Significantly for this analogy, abortion correlates very strongly with intimate partner violence and homicide is the second-leading cause of injury-related deaths of pregnant women in the United States.)

Now, maybe you think Pope Francis is wrong to make that analogy. But then I suspect you could benefit from talking to the nurses who, post-abortion, have to put each and every one of the dismembered baby parts back together to make sure they got everything out. The result of abortion violence is in their faces every day.

Laws supporting prenatal justice will punish women and hurt the poor and minorities the most

Every single piece of pro-life legislation places legal consequences on physicians (like Dr. Kermit Gosnell who is in prison right now for his illegal abortion practices), not women. Indeed, not least because we live in a culture that nudges women into having abortions they don’t want, the pro-life movement has insisted that women are almost always abortion’s second victim. Perhaps this is one reason why virtually all pro-life organizations in the US are led by women.

Significantly, the last several years have shown that it is economically vulnerable people, and especially poor people of color, who are the most anti-abortion. Diabolically, it is the most privileged who are the most aggressive in pushing for more and more abortion “choice.”

There are admittedly a very small minority of abortions that present hard cases involving the mother’s life and health. And pro-life leaders have been caught flat-footed in responding to the utterly predictable post-Dobbs attacks focused on such cases. They should have been ready to show that pro-life OB/GYNs always choose to save the mother’s life when that is what the mother wants. They also should have been ready to argue that laws protecting prenatal justice are among the most common in the world. Indeed, before Dobbs, the United States was one of only seven countries to allow elective abortion beyond 20 weeks.

If not for abortion distortion, our culture would be able see that it is the position of the Democratic Party — abortion understood as a social good for all, available on request without limitation for all nine months of pregnancy, and paid for with pro-life tax dollars — that is totally bananas, even among those who identify as pro-choice.

It is high time the US abortion narrative properly named the true extremists on this issue. Hint: it isn’t those who want commonsense, reasonable laws protecting prenatal justice.