Life (and death) goes on in 2020
Life | Pro-abortion advocates didn’t take a break during the pandemic, but neither do pro-life advocates
by Leah Hickman
Posted 12/28/20, 03:06 pm
Despite the growing death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic, abortion and euthanasia advocates continued to advance pro-death agendas in 2020: demanding special treatment for abortion facilities, advancing use of the abortion pill, and pushing for expansion of “assisted dying” laws. Meanwhile, pregnancy centers found ways to continue serving women in need. Pro-lifers saw some silver linings in the Supreme Court despite a disappointing summer ruling and raised alarm bells about COVID-19 vaccines’ distant connections to the abortion industry. Here’s the top news of 2020 on the life beat.
State governments in March and April halted non-essential medical procedures to save medical supplies for COVID-19 patients. Some states carved out exceptions for abortion facilities, but at least 11 others said the elective procedure would not receive special treatment.
The orders put a temporary pause on some abortions. But pro-abortion groups pushed back and brought the cases to court. Judges ultimately blocked most of the orders and, by May, state governments lifted the restrictions, allowing abortions to continue despite the pandemic.
Meanwhile, pro-life pregnancy centers looked for creative ways to continue serving their communities despite stay-at-home orders and staff shortages. Some centers halted all services temporarily, but others just closed their physical doors and turned to curbside pick-up or at-home delivery of diapers and other essential items.
The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) polled 473 affiliate pregnancy centers in an April webinar and found that 42 percent of them reported an increase in patients interested in abortion. By the end of March, the pro-life Human Coalition was taking between 500 and 700 calls a day. Many women mistakenly called to ask about abortion, and staff at the organization noticed the women’s most common concern was that they would be unable financially to support the children they already had due to job loss or other pandemic-related strains.
During the pandemic, abortion proponents internationally found ways to deregulate the abortion pill and normalize delivering the drugs via mail. At the end of March, the United Kingdom greenlighted a nationwide “pills by post” program that allows abortion businesses to send women a packet of abortion pills to their homes after a phone consultation. Before the pandemic, the law required women to get the drugs in person for safety purposes.
By May, leaked emails from the National Health Services showed that more than a dozen women had experienced serious complications and two had died. Police also investigated the case of a baby who died after being reportedly born alive at 28 weeks after his mother took the drugs. The reported cases revealed the shortcomings of the telephone-only consultations, and yet politicians in the U.K. continue to pursue making the pandemic-era changes permanent.
The United States followed the U.K.’s lead just a couple months later. In July, a federal judge ruled that abortion providers could ignore the Food and Drug Administration’s requirement for in-person dispensing of the drug during the pandemic. The Supreme Court declined to reinstate the FDA rules in October, returning the question to the lower court, which later reaffirmed its earlier decision and kept the injunction in place.
In the meantime, U.S.-based online abortion pill startups began sending abortion drugs to women’s homes without an ultrasound or in-person interactions with medical professionals. All it takes is filling out a short medical form online or completing a phone consultation.
Despite the distraction of the pandemic, abortion politics continued as usual with the Supreme Court case June Medical Services v. Gee. In a June decision, the court sided with abortion providers, ruling that laws requiring Louisiana abortionists to have hospital admitting privileges would close facilities and impose an undue burden on women’s abortion access. In his concurring opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts pointed to precedent set by a similar case out of Texas, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.
The result disappointed pro-lifers. A victory for Louisiana would not have overturned Roe v. Wade, but it would have chipped away at it. In the March hearings, pro-lifers had pointed out significant differences between the Texas and Louisiana cases and questioned whether abortion facilities could bring the case on behalf of the women whose health was at stake.
But there was a silver lining: Roberts’ opinion left it up to the states to determine if particular pro-life laws would burden women. In response, a lower court upheld a set of pro-life Arkansas laws, citing the June Medical case. Planned Parenthood dropped a lawsuit against an Indiana law, likely spooked by Roberts’ new standard.
Less than six weeks after the Sept. 18 death of Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the court swore in Trump nominee Amy Coney Barrett. Pro-lifers hope this Catholic mother of seven will solidify a pro-life majority on the court and ultimately pave the way to more encouraging decisions in future abortion cases.
COVID-19 hit the elderly the hardest, with 92 percent of U.S. coronavirus deaths occurring among seniors. Around the globe, nursing home residents suffered from inadequate preparation for the virus. In Belgium, more than half of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths as of July were occurring in nursing homes, and the government provided little assistance and guidance. In the United States, 42 percent of coronavirus deaths were happening in nursing homes by the summer.
Rather than prioritizing this demographic, countries pushed for euthanasia. Hospital networks in Canada received pushback for temporarily halting euthanasia as a non-essential service at the beginning of the pandemic. Canadian news outlets reported cases of elderly people resorting to euthanasia out of loneliness and despair caused by lockdowns.
In the meantime, Canadian lawmakers considered a bill that would allow patients without a terminal diagnosis to receive euthanasia and waive the existing 10-day waiting period. A government report estimated the change would save the Canadian provinces $149 million in healthcare costs in 2021.
As 2020 continued, the Dutch continued to explore the wild west of euthanasia access: Now patients over 75 in the Netherlands can request euthanasia for simply losing the will to live, and lawmakers there are manipulating existing legal loopholes so children can receive euthanasia. In October, New Zealand became the seventh country with legal euthanasia when a majority of New Zealanders voted in favor of the proposed law. Sixteen U.S. states considered euthanasia bills as the pandemic spread.
As pharmaceutical companies announced promising results of their COVID-19 vaccines, pro-lifers raised alarms about the vaccines’ connections to the abortion industry. Data from the Charlotte Lozier Institute show that the AstraZeneca vaccine and at least five others used HEK293—a cell line derived from a baby aborted in the 1970s—to grow the coronavirus and create inactive versions to use in the vaccines. Companies Altimmune and Janssen Research and Development used the PER.C6 cell line, also taken from an aborted baby.
The new mRNA technology used in Moderna’s and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines did not require cells in the design or production stages. Instead, messenger RNA carries the genetic code for the COVID-19 protein to the body’s cells, which then produce coronavirus proteins that prompt an immune response in the body. Pro-lifers hope this new technology will limit the use of aborted baby cell lines in future vaccine development.
But these vaccines also had a connection to the abortion industry. “Even the ones that appear clean at first, oftentimes … several months later they put out a paper and you find out that one of the experiments they used to test their vaccine used HEK293,” said Jonathan Abbamonte, research analyst at the Population Research Institute.
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