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|October 9-15, 2008
Back to Letters
Abortion and abolition
by Diana Hsieh and Ari Armstrong
Colorado is ground zero in a national battle over the morality of abortion, and the defenders of abortion rights are ceding ground.
The opponents of abortion declare that every human life is endowed by God with an inalienable right to life. To terminate a pregnancy, whatever the circumstances, is murder.
Republican presidential candidate John McCain seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade, then “end abortion at the state level.” His running mate Sarah Palin says she’s as “pro-life as any candidate can be.” She thinks “abortion [should] only be allowed if the life of the mother is endangered.”
Colorado’s Amendment 48 inaugurates a new strategy for ending abortion. Instead of restricting abortion via piecemeal government controls, the measure would usher in a near-total ban on abortion by defining a fertilized egg as a person with full legal rights in the state constitution.
The opponents of abortion claim the sanction of divine morality, based on the premise that “life begins at conception.” Many anti-abortionists now openly seek to ban not only abortion and most fertility treatments, but also the birth control pill, morning after pill, and IUD because they may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Amendment 48 would help them do that.
Given this all-out assault on reproductive rights, traditional defenders of abortion might be expected to launch a vigorous counter-attack. Instead, they’ve dodged tough questions and conceded basic principles, leaving reproductive rights with a flimsy defense.
When Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was asked when a baby gets “human rights,” he famously declared the question to be “above [his] pay grade.” Yet he will be called on to judge such matters if elected. His running mate Joe Biden accepts the teachings of his Catholic Church: the fertilized egg is a human person. Yet he regards abortion as “a personal and private issue” — as if the state should allow every person to decide for himself whether or not to recognize the rights of others, so long as any killings happen behind closed doors. That’s clearly wrong: if an embryo or fetus is a person, then abortion is murder. If not, then it’s a woman’s right.
In response to the threat posed by Amendment 48, the traditional defenders of abortion rights — such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL — organized a broad coalition to fight the measure. They persuasively argue that Amendment 48 would have disastrous legal consequences for abortion, birth control and in-vitro fertilization.
Yet their oft-repeated slogan of “it simply goes too far” is a whopping concession to their opponents. It implies that abortion, birth control and in-vitro fertilization could be and perhaps ought to be restricted — just not as severely as Amendment 48 would do. Instead of upholding reproductive rights, the slogan implicitly welcomes further incremental controls on abortion.
Just imagine if the abolitionists of the 19th century had attempted to defend the inalienable rights of slaves based on the slogan, “slavery: it simply goes too far.” Imagine Lincoln declaring the morality of slavery to be “above [his] pay grade.” The monstrous evil of slavery would still exist today. The recognition and protection of the rights of slaves required an uncompromising defense of those rights based on the facts of human nature.
Similarly, the recognition and protection of abortion rights requires an uncompromising defense of those rights based on the all-important differences between a fetus and a baby.
Neither an embryo nor a fetus is a human person with a right to life. While still in the womb, it exists as part of the woman, wholly contained within and dependent on her. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as she lives, as an extension of her body. A fetus is only a potential person without a right to life.
That situation changes radically at birth. A baby lives his own life, outside his mother. Although very needy, he maintains his own biological functions. He breathes his own air, digests his own food and moves on his own. He can leave his mother to be cared for by someone else. He has a life of his own that must be protected as a matter of right, just the same as every other person.
During a pregnancy, the only person with rights is the pregnant woman. She has a right to liberty, including a right to use her body as she pleases. So she has every right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy — for any reason. If an abortion will further her own life and happiness, then she ought to pursue that option with a clear conscience.
The growing faith-based opposition to abortion cannot be countered by vague appeals to choice and privacy. Roe v. Wade will be overturned and Amendment 48 (or its like) will be passed without a clear, consistent and positive defense of abortion rights. We must be as principled in our defense of a woman’s right to her own body as were the abolitionists in defending the rights of slaves. Liberty cannot be won by any other means.
Diana Hsieh is the founder of the Coalition for Secular Government. Ari Armstrong is the editor of FreeColorado.com. They co-authored “Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life,” available through SecularGovernment.us.
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