Equal treatment under the law is a cornerstone of our government—but one group of humans doesn’t get the same treatment as everyone else.
What does being born change about a child? Speaking strictly scientifically, nothing of consequence. A child minutes before birth is the same as a child minutes after birth: same physical capabilities, same level of development, both highly dependent on others, they even look more or less the same. Both dream, suck their thumbs, respond to mom’s voice, and feel pain.
But when it comes to both federal and state law, the difference between an unborn baby and a born one is huge. For example, how we prosecute cases of wrongful infant death.
Last week, the Washington Post gave an example that breaks my heart for many reasons. Sarah and Travis Mitchell of Oregon were sentenced to six years in prison for criminally negligent homicide because they refused to seek medical care for their premature baby girl, Ginnifer. Born at just 32 weeks, at just 3 pounds 6 ounces, Ginnifer died hours after birth of fully treatable complications. Her twin survived and is now in foster care.
See, her parents are part of a Pentecostal faith-healing sect that teaches members to pray instead of securing modern medical treatment. Clackamas County officials say the Mitchells are the fifth family in their church in nine years to face similar criminal charges for failing to take a sick or injured child to the hospital.
One former member of the church told the Oregonian newspaper that “they have their own graveyard, and it’s just full of children,” children who, by all accounts, would still be alive if their parent had sought the help of doctors.
Now, this story brings up many tough issues. For example, being well-intentioned and sincere—as I’m sure the Mitchells are—is not enough. It cost their baby her life. And there are limits to religious freedom. The government is right, in this case, to intervene so that children do not continue to die.
And we could also talk about how or when or why God heals, sometimes through doctors and other times in ways we would call miraculous.
But there’s another angle to this story that I don’t want to miss—where it happened, and the incredible hypocrisy it reveals. You see, Oregon is the single most pro-abortion state in the country. It has absolutely none of the abortion restrictions on the books elsewhere, like mandatory waiting periods, parental consent laws, or a ban on late-term abortions. In fact, the state legislature is only now considering a very narrow restriction on late third-trimester, sex-selective abortions. So if you want to kill a baby for being the wrong sex, you’ll have to do it early. And to top it all off, last November the governor of Oregon signed a law mandating that insurance companies fully subsidize all abortions, including for illegal immigrants.
Now let me be clear, the Mitchells were rightly prosecuted for allowing their baby girl to die, even though they prayed for her to live. But had they wanted to kill Ginnifer, they could have driven to the nearest abortion clinic an hour before her birth—and get this—the state of Oregon would have paid for it.
This legal doublethink is mind-boggling. It means that a baby just out of the womb has the legal rights of a person and deserves protection and help, but just moments earlier is a non-person whom the state will pay to have killed!
As Scott Klusendorf with the Life Training Institute teaches, there are only four differences between unborn and born babies, which you can remember with an acronym: S.L.E.D.: size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. None of those things are valid reasons to kill an unborn child.
But Oregon will facilitate and subsidize some killing, while prosecuting others. It’s the height of hypocrisy, it’s insane, and it shows what a monstrosity legal abortion really is. If we value a premature baby after birth, we should value that same baby just as highly before birth. Because, in every important sense, it’s the same baby.