The American-Statesman in President Bush's former capital city of Austin included this paragraph in a roundup of the Aug. 5 news: "BUSH SIGNS FETUS STATUS LAW. President Bush signed a bill that declares a fetus that survives an abortion procedure a person under federal law."
That description would be laughable if it were not so sad. Pro-life readers-or any readers with some sense of logic-would need great self-control to avoid seizing a Statesman copy editor or writer by the lapels and then crying out, "The creature protected by that newly signed Born Alive Infants Protection Act could not possibly be a fetus. The abortion procedure has expelled him from the womb. He is born. He's a person. What else could he be?"
But some judges could not grasp that elementary fact, and some doctors and nurses sadly have left born-alive survivors of abortion to die in cold steel pans. Ironically, the reluctance to come to grips with reality made passage of the act possible: Democrats agreed not to oppose the bill and Republicans agreed not to give speeches about it. Democrats did not want to alienate their virulent pro-abortion backers when a high-profile discussion of just-born life turned to an examination of the same life several minutes earlier, but they also did not want to go on the record for infanticide.
For a time it seemed that President Bush might sign the bill into law without comment. He came through on Aug. 5, though, saying, "Today, through sonograms and other technology, we can see clearly that unborn children are members of the human family.... They reflect our image and are created in God's own image. The Born Alive Infants Protection Act is a step toward the day when every child is welcomed in life and protected in law. It is a step toward the day when the promises of the Declaration of Independence will apply to everyone, not just those with the voice and power to defend their rights."
The president also thanked individuals who had made the act possible, including Hadley Arkes, an Amherst and Princeton professor who began promoting the idea at pro-life meetings a dozen years ago and never gave up on it. He spoke then and has continued speaking about the "animating principle" behind what Congress (even if through a silent scream) has enshrined in law: "The child marked for an abortion is recognized now as an entity that comes within the protection of the law."
Mr. Arkes's opus was at first politely but unenthusiastically received by pro-life leaders who thought in larger terms about constitutional amendments banning abortion. His Jewish intellectual style also was unusual in a coalition of somber evangelicals and Catholics: With a mischievous glint in his eyes he would pepper his talks with humorous, Damon Runyonesque remarks, and then arch his eyebrows like Groucho Marx.
That content and style have now won the day and paved the way for bigger efforts. Unsurprisingly, none of the nation's news pages (judging by a Lexis-Nexis check) mentioned Hadley Arkes the day after President Bush signed Hadley's bill into law, and most were like Austin's newspaper in almost entirely ignoring the development. But future historians should notice, and some abortion survivors certainly will.