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The following are excerpts from Exceptions: Abandoning “The Least of These My Brethren” written by Judie Brown and Brian Young, JD. These excerpts outline the key flaws and moral inconsistencies in exceptions to abortion bans for rape, incest, disabilities, and the life and health of the mother.

Judie Brown is president and cofounder of American Life League and a three-time appointee to the Pontifical Academy for Life. Author of 12 books, she has been involved in pro-life work since 1970 and is an articulate spokeswoman for the defense of all innocent human beings, without exceptions.

Brian Young, who passed away in 2018, was an astute attorney, a pro-life American, and a member of the California Bar. He previously served as senior vice president of government affairs for American Life League and was a shining light in our organization. In addition, he worked for Congressman Robert Dornan (CA); the Senate Subcommittee on Aging, Family, and Human Services; the American Legislative Exchange Council; and Citizens for the Republic—President Ronald Reagan’s political action committee.

Why can’t we make exceptions for abortion?

Legislation that explicitly excludes certain classes of babies from protection because of their parentage, physical development, or other reasons clearly eliminates personhood as the basis for securing human rights.

Under a bill that contains exceptions, a baby conceived by rape or incest, who has a physical or mental disability, or whose mother can find a doctor who will say that her health or life will be severely affected by the pregnancy is simply not entitled to equal protection under the law. Such a measure divides people into classes and gives the state legal power to treat those classes differently.

More importantly, if the pro-life movement does not consistently uphold the rights of all preborn children, it has no basis upon which to demand the protection of these children. Children of rape (or any other exception) cannot be treated as nonpersons by the right-to-life movement one year and persons the next. It is simply not logical—and such political maneuvering destroys the moral basis for the pro-life position.

Why can’t we make an exception when the mother is a victim of rape or incest?

A bill to bar public funding except in cases of rape or incest would explicitly deny the rights of personhood to innocent children simply because they were conceived during the commission of criminal acts. The basis for such a measure could no longer be that the state cannot subsidize killing. Its premise now would be that the state may underwrite the taking of whichever innocent lives it wants. Again, exceptions would deny equal protection to state-selected babies.

The preborn child is not responsible for the crime committed upon his mother. If aborted, this child would receive a punishment far greater than anything given to the rapist. The baby would be killed for the sins of his father.

The ordeal of a mother who carries the child of a rapist cannot be minimized. However, the injustice suffered by the rape victim does not diminish the fact that to kill a child is unjust. And the abortion of the child produced by rape does not erase the scars of the violation. The trauma only compounds; where there was one innocent victim, now there are two innocent victims.

With incest, as with rape, justice demands that a child not be punished for the sins of his father; and clearly, the abortion of a child of incest would not take away the anguish, shame, and pain of the woman or girl who is victimized. Further, abortion does not end any form of abuse. In the case of incest, abortion can empower the abuser.

Incest may involve multiple violations that continue unreported for years. Abortion in these cases is more of a convenience, if not a relief, for the man involved, as the “evidence” of his crime is destroyed. After the child is killed, the incest can continue, while the destruction of the young woman’s spirit and soul becomes all the more devastating.

What the victim of incest needs is not abortion, it is intervention—a third party to help.

Why can’t we make an exception when the child might have a disability?

Perhaps the most surprising exception advocated for in “pro-life” legislation is one that would allow the abortion of babies who “would be born with profound and irremediable physical or mental health disabilities.”

Regardless of how one may attempt to argue that this clause, or any other wording of a disability exception, would permit just a few abortions of children with the most severe disabilities (which is, to say the least, highly debatable), one is still left with an inescapable fact: The clause denies rights to persons on the basis of their abilities.

The argument framed by a disability exception, then, becomes: Which children with disabilities will have a right to life? And who gets to decide?

And while pondering which children with disabilities would be considered suitable to live, one sees that additional factors complicate the question: the reliability of prenatal testing, the possibility of misdiagnosis, and the uncertainty of a diagnosis. Then there is the “odds” question. If there is a 70% chance of a child being born with a disability, would the abortion be permitted? How about a 50% chance of a disability? Five%?

The more one delves into the problems raised by a disability exception, the more one realizes its central problem and its inhumanity. There has only been one perfect individual in history. The rest of humanity has disabilities to one extent or another. If the right to life is dependent upon physical or mental stature (or political popularity), many people are in big trouble.

Why can’t we make an exception when the pregnancy threatens the life or health of the mother?

Dr. Roy Heffernan of the medical school of Tufts University stated in 1960: “Anyone who performs a therapeutic abortion is either ignorant of modern medical methods or unwilling to take the time and effort to apply them.” (Thomas J. O’Donnell, “Morals in Medicine,” Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1960, p. 159; as quoted by Hadley Arkes in First Things [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986], p. 398.)

Obstetrician and gynecologist and former abortionist Bernard Nathanson, MD, PC, flatly stated in 1990: “The situation where the mother’s life is at stake were she to continue a pregnancy is no longer a clinical reality. Given the state of modern medicine, we can now manage any pregnant woman with any medical affliction successfully, to the natural conclusion of the pregnancy: the birth of a healthy child.” (Written statement to the Idaho House of Representatives’ State Affairs Committee, February 16, 1990.)

Former abortionist, obstetrician, and gynecologist Anthony Levatino, MD, told a congressional hearing in 2013:

In most such cases, any attempt to perform an abortion “to save the mother’s life” would entail undue and dangerous delay in providing appropriate, truly life-saving care.

Conditions do exist, however, where lifesaving treatment of a mother results in the death of a preborn child. These treatments, though, are legally and morally not considered abortion. . . . because the intent of the procedure is not to intentionally kill the baby. It is to provide the best care possible for the mother without directly attacking the child.

One may ask at this point, “If there are no cases where a woman’s life is threatened by pregnancy, what harm could come from a life-of-the-mother exception?” The harm comes in the creative interpretation abortionists give to such an exception. . . . If every pregnancy is viewed as a threat to a woman’s life, any abortion becomes justifiable under a life-of-the-mother exception.

The problems with [the health] exception are similar to those of the life-of-the-mother exception: The “health” exception is not medically necessary and creates a potentially large loophole.

Judie Brown and Brian Young, Exceptions: Abandoning “The Least of These My Brethren” (Falmouth, VA: American Life League, 2023).