The First Unalienable Right

Wednesday, January 22 marked the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

A few days ago, I spoke with my friend on Facebook about abortion. In an impassioned defense of the right of the mother to choose, my friend declared, “Every human being should have the right to decide whatever he or she wants to do with his or her own life.” I found this interesting because it suggested to me that even the fiercest “pro-choice” and “pro-life” defenders may share more values and common ground than initially expected. In fact, it is precisely because of the view my friend expressed that I believe every fetus has the right to be born. After all, an abortion isn’t deciding to do “whatever you want” with just your life, but also the life of another. The right to choose is only possible if one first has the right to live. And choices have bounds. As the old adage goes, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

Now, there are specific instances in which the decision to have an abortion should be legally left to the mother. This is not denying the right to life, but accepting that it sometimes comes in conflict with another’s right to life. For example, when skilled physicians determine the mother’s good health or life are endangered by the pregnancy, the mother is entitled to claim her right to life and sacrifice the life of her unborn child, should she so choose. Victims of rape or incest who have had their agency and dignity stripped away from them should also be allowed to make this toughest of decisions if it is determined that continuing the pregnancy compromises her mental or physical ability to bring the child to term. While others believe that mothers should be allowed to choose if their children are predicted to die either at birth or a short time thereafter, I am disinclined to accept this position, as doctors aren’t perfect and babies who are expected to die can and do beat the odds to live full, happy lives. It seems dangerous to end their lives because we expect them to die anyway.

Having clarified under what circumstances the law should allow a woman to choose to have an abortion, I wish to focus on the tragedy of ‘abortion on demand,’ which I categorize as any abortion unrelated to rape, incest, or the health of the mother. I do this because the vast majority of abortions are performed for reasons other than those we have already discussed and I believe it to be a great crime against humanity.

According to a 2004 study by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing sexual and reproductive health, just 12% of abortions were self-reported to be related to the mother’s health. A fraction, a mere 1%, were due to rape, while a slim 0.5% of abortions were performed on victims of incest. Women often cited more than one reason for their abortion, the most common of which were “Having a baby would dramatically change my life” (74%), “Can’t afford a baby right now” (73%), and “Don’t want to be a single mother or having relationship problems” (48%). These statistics mean that of the 55.7 million abortions performed since 1973 (the year of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade) in the United States, 48.2 million fetuses have been killed in the name of “choice” or “privacy.” I do not mean to marginalize the huge responsibility and financial burden that parenthood engenders. The decision to have a child is huge. But so is the decision to end a life. Taking a human life is not a moral or healthy way to avoid social or financial complications.

Most who justify abortion on demand tend to question one of two things: the fact that a fetus is alive and human, or the belief that as a human being, it is consequently entitled to rights and legal protection inside the womb. I like how obstetrician and former congressman Dr. Ron Paul addressed the first of these questions: “Scientifically, there’s no debate over whether the fetus is alive and human—if not killed, it matures into an adult human being. It is that simple. So the timeline of when we consider a fetus ‘human’ is arbitrary after conception in my mind.” Frankly, with increasingly powerful medical instruments, the belief that a fetus isn’t a living, individual human being seems to be anti-science.

Justice Blackmun, who wrote the Court’s majority opinion on Roe v. Wade, said the following when determining up to what point a woman had a right to an abortion, no questions asked: “You will observe that I have concluded that the end of the first trimester is critical. This is arbitrary, but perhaps any other selected point, such as quickening or viability, is equally arbitrary.”
Jean Kilbourne, a leading expert on the effects of sexualized advertising, said it better than I ever could in a video I watched recently on, though admittedly, she was speaking of a separate tragedy. Referring to the media’s virtual distortion and objectification of women’s bodies, Jean said: “…turning a human being into a thing is almost always the first step toward justifying violence against that person. We see this with racism, we see it with homophobia, we see it with terrorism. It’s always the same process – the person is dehumanized, and violence then becomes inevitable.” The unborn suffer this same degradation, their deaths often being dismissed as the ‘termination of a pregnancy.’

Other “pro-choice” advocates accept that the fetus is alive and human but still insist a woman should have the right, at least up to some point, to kill her unborn child, whatever the reason. But does a woman have the ‘right’ to murder her three-day-old infant because she doesn’t want to be a mother? Because she can’t support it financially? Because she believes it will have a hard life? Because she doesn’t want to be burdened down at work or school? Because she wants to plan her child rearing better? Because the baby is deformed or handicapped? Certainly not. How, then, could she possibly have that right simply because the child is inside the womb? Again, the plights of these women are hardly trivial, but they do not justify murder.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution declares: “…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” The right to life is embedded in our Constitution, and writing one blank check for the abortion of millions completely undermines the “due process of law.” Additionally, to believe a human being magically obtains rights only as it exits the womb is discrimination of the worst kind and an utterly arbitrary application of the concept of natural rights, violating the Amendment’s equal protection clause. How could we assign different rights to someone because of their location or level of physical development? The precedent is terrifying.

The great hypocrisy of the “pro-choice” movement (which tends to reject any regulation whatsoever of abortion) is that it only takes into consideration the choice of the mother. The choice of the fetus, meanwhile, is completely ignored. Considering a person in the US doesn’t even have the right to drink alcohol until he or she is 21, it hardly seems tenable that one have the right to end his or her own life while still in the womb. And while a fetus obviously isn’t capable of making choices or participating in the debate, suggesting that the mother therefore gets to monopolize the choice to abort seems analogous to allowing parents to cast extra votes in presidential elections on behalf of their underage children.

The bottom line is that when it comes to abortion on demand, the right to life trumps the right to choose. Every single time. For without life, there can be no choice. Freedom of choice, like all other rights, is derived from the right to life. I believe, then, that when legislating abortion laws, the child’s right to life should be weighed just as much as the mother’s choice to end it, a position she (unlike the fetus) has the capacity to argue for. In contrast, the “pro-choice” position, in general, maintains that only one person’s choice ever matters in a decision involving two lives.

The darkest irony is that a nation that doesn’t respect life can never truly respect liberty or choice. Is it any wonder that a country that so cavalierly deals with abortion has no qualms with indefinite detention, torture, careless drone strikes, undeclared wars, or warrantless searches? As others have pointed out, it seems abortion is one of the few things many “pro-choice” people think we should be allowed to decide. Thus, in the United States we have the ‘right’ to end a human life for any reason -under, of all things, the right to privacy- but we aren’t allowed to manage our own finances or plan out our own lives without government permission and supervision.

If not legislated carefully, protecting the right to life could potentially cause some serious problems. It could incriminate innocent women who have natural miscarriages. It could create red tape for those women who, as I explained earlier, should, in fact, be allowed to choose. Since government is involved, there will undoubtedly be some bureaucracy and some bad decisions made. But protecting life is the first and foremost reason to institute a government. So while we must be very careful in how we go about ending this great evil, just about any decision in the direction of protecting life would be better than the status quo, which is millions upon millions of legalized murders, sometimes even funded by taxpayers’ dollars.

As always, the specific regulations and enforcement would be most fairly executed and effectively adapted at the local level, but the federal government should add an amendment to the Constitution that clarifies the right to life begins at conception. Leaving the abortion debate completely up to the states is about as ethical or consistent with our founding principles as it was for our ancestors to allow slavery in the South while banning it in the North; the right to live should not be contingent on which part of the United States your mother happens to be in.

As the Founding Fathers boldly proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these [is] Life.”

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