Will Extreme Cases Inspire Extreme Responses?

 Poland already had one of Europe’s most restrictive laws, passed in 1993 by political and Catholic church leaders. It allowed abortions only in the cases of foetal defects, the risk to the woman’s health and incest or rape. While traditionally conservative, Poland has also been undergoing massive social changes under the influence of EU membership. The protests of the past week have been dominated by young people, who believe that the abortion ruling infringes on their liberties. (Image: Reuters)
Pro-abortion advocates protest Poland’s abortion laws

I am concerned that a couple of extreme cases might inspire extreme responses.

On October 22, Mary McCarthy, who is White, was traveling with her ten-year-old daughter, Moira, who is Black, on Southwest Airlines, flying from Los Angeles to Denver after learning of the death of Mary’s brother. After arriving in Denver, they were approached by the police. Initially, Mary thought they were there to inform her of another death in the family, and she panicked. After questioning, however, she learned that the police had stopped her and Moira because a Southwest Airlines flight attendant became suspicious of Mary being involved in human trafficking and Moira being her victim. The attendant had reported that Mary had asked to switch seats with another passenger so she and Moira could sit together, that the two never spoke during the flight, and that Mary prevented Moira from speaking to the flight staff. So, the police stopped to question them. Mary was indignant. Moira was sobbing. The whole incident was traumatizing. It quickly became evident that there were no grounds for suspicion of human trafficking, and the matter was closed by the police.

Mary, however, is concerned that Moira was so affected by the matter. She clams up whenever the subject is brought up. She has retained an attorney, and denies that she and Moira never spoke to each other during the flight or that she prevented Moira from speaking to the flight staff. She is convinced that they were targeted as a result of racial profiling, and that if she and her daughter had had the same skin color, no one would have given them a second thought. She is demanding an apology from Southwest Airlines, which has initiated an internal investigation.

I truly feel for Mary and Moira. I hope they can move beyond this unfortunate incident and that Moira will heal and not be negatively impacted for long. I can’t speak to the concerns or motives of the flight attendant who alerted the police. Perhaps racial profiling played a role in his or her suspicions. Perhaps he or she saw other things that raised red flags. It’s always disconcerting when suspicions are raised, but good news when those suspicions are found to be unwarranted. Of course, that likely doesn’t make Mary and Moira feel any better about it.

At the same time, I’m concerned that the fact the incident has received so much publicity will discourage employees of airlines and other businesses from reporting concerns about possible human trafficking. Employees of airlines, truckers, healthcare workers, teachers, and those of various other professions that come into contact with children receive training in identifying red flags that might indicate human trafficking. It’s easy to judge the flight attendant’s motives negatively. Still, she raised an alarm, and that was actually a good thing. It’s also a good thing that the alarm was a false alarm. Mary is not a criminal and Moira is safe. But, not all children are safe, and if employees who hear of this episode are even slightly less likely to sound an alarm when suspicions are raised out of fear that they’ll get in trouble, or their company will be sued or even merely be the subject of bad publicity, then that is not a good thing. Here’s hoping my concerns are unwarranted.

National Human Trafficking Hotline: Call 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711)|*Text 233733

A second, more tragic, case comes from Poland.

A 22-year-old woman named Izabela died at a hospital in southern Poland after she became septic related to the death of her unborn child. The child, apparently, had anomalies that were inconsistent with life, and was dying in Izabela’s womb. However, rather than remove the fetus and treating Izabela, her doctors decided to wait until the child died inside the womb at 22 weeks gestation. By this time, it was too late to save Izabela, and she died of sepsis at the end of September.

Pro-abortion activists in Poland insist that Izabela died as a direct result of a new law restricting abortions to only those performed for victims of rape or incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. Now, Izabela’s death is being exploited to demand more liberal abortion laws.

Let’s be clear: Izabela’s tragic death was not due to any laws restricting abortions. She died because her doctors were incompetent and because they unreasonably feared reprisal under the law even though the law allows for abortion in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, which was certainly the case with Izabela. The Catholic Church has long taught that, though doctors may not directly kill an unborn child, it is morally permissible to direct all care toward saving the life of the mother, with the undesired and perhaps even inevitable consequence being the natural death of the child. In this case, the doctors could have and should have delivered Izabela’s child and directed as much life-saving measures toward the child as would be appropriate, while focusing their care on treating Izabela. Delivering the child would in no way be an act of direct aggression toward the child, in no way the cause of the child’s death. The cause of the child’s death would be whatever it was that was killing the child while still in Izabela’s womb. Now, instead of the child dying a natural death and Izabela being treated and alive, both Izabela and her child are dead. Does anyone believe that this was the only moral outcome?

The poor medical judgment of the doctors and their misapplication of the law has resulted in the unnecessary and tragic death of Izabela. This will now be exploited to demand more liberal abortion laws, as we saw in Ireland a few years ago when the poor judgment of doctors resulted in the death of a young mother experiencing a traumatic pregnancy.

Hard cases make bad law. Rare, extreme cases, even those with tragic endings, do not justify the willful destruction of innocent human life. Had Izabela’s doctors acted appropriately, she would be alive today. Their poor judgment does not justify putting a target on the back of every unborn child in Poland.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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