A federal appeals court that upheld a Texas abortion restriction last week also dabbled in pro-life apologetics by raising an ethical question: Why is it illegal to dismember an animal but permissible to tear apart an unborn baby?
The case involved a Texas law (SB8) that bans a second-trimester abortion procedure known as “dilation and evacuation” (D&E), which involves ripping apart an unborn baby, limb by limb in the womb to prevent a live birth. The pro-life community calls it “dismemberment” abortion.
Although a lower court judge struck down the law, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 9-5 ruling, upheld it.
A group of abortion clinics and doctors had sued the State, seeking to have the law overturned.
Judges Jennifer Walker Elrod and Don R. Willett, who co-wrote the majority decision, noted: “It is … illegal to dismember living animals. … The State urges that SB8 would simply extend the same protection to fetuses.”
Judge Priscilla Owens, who voted with the majority in the judgment, made a similar argument in a concurring opinion.
“The State has expressed its interest in prohibiting the dismemberment of a living fetus,” Owens wrote. “This is congruent with the widely accepted principle that dismemberment of living mammals should be prohibited. For example, unwanted dogs, cats, puppies and kittens in shelters must be humanely euthanized under Texas law.”
Owens then quoted Texas saw, which says dogs and cats in the custody of an animal shelter must be euthanized by sodium pentobarbital.
A D&E abortion, Owens said, is “abhorrent.”
The majority opinion had argued that pregnant women who receive D&E abortions “are not being told what is going to happen to the fetus.” For example, a typical form does not tell the patient that “‘the pregnancy tissue will be removed during the procedure’ and does not explain that the fetus’s body parts – arms, legs, ribs, skull, and everything else – will be ripped apart and pulled out piece by piece,” the majority argued.
Owens and Elrod were nominated by President George W. Bush. Willett was nominated by President Donald Trump.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.