What Kind of Right to Life?


The most egregious abuse of human rights in America is the practice of abortion. Ironically, many so-called civil rights groups support the practice. Be that as it may, I think the subject has been under America’s skin for more than 35 years now.

Oddly, we don’t talk about it much. Many of us have been conditioned by the media to think it is somehow “too controversial.” I hope to dispel some of the controversy and encourage reasonable conversation about the topic of abortion. What follows is a conversation starter on the subject of abortion which will allow us to sustain a conversation with those who may hold an opposing view. It seems that Sarah Palin’s rise to the VP nomination has many people talking about abortion. Having both a teenage daughter pregnant and a child with Down syndrome, Mrs. Palin has given folks a reason to be talking about abortion. Each day for the next few days, I will post a new conversation angle for speaking about abortion. I hope it helps you to speak more comfortably.

The most common objection you will hear is that it is woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. After all, isn’t it the woman’s body? Well, it’s her choice. Now, there is much to say here—including asking some questions about what it would mean for a woman’s body to have male organs, extra feet, and another heart. But leaving that discussion behind for later, we need to get right at the heart of the matter of choice.

Saying that the woman has a right to choose is a true statement; you need not bristle at such a statement. In America today, the woman does have a right to choose. But I wonder what exactly we mean when we say that? I wonder how clear the thinking is concerning what this means. What kind of right are we speaking about?

Is this a divine right? In other words, is the person arguing that God has given a divine right to all women for all time to be free to choose whether or not they abort their babies? I really don’t think people are making this argument. If so, I would immediately ask on what authority are they speaking this way on behalf of God. I might also point out that many others disagree strongly on this point. The majority of evangelical Christians, for instance, are convinced that Scripture teaches that abortion is sinful. And they would say God opposes abortion. Such was the teaching of the early church, too. When folks say it is the woman’s right, they are meaning something other than a God-given right to abortion.

Perhaps, they mean something more akin to constitutional rights. This is much more likely. Yet, I would then ask them to show me where one gets the notion from the Constitution that women have a constitutional right to abortion. Of course, such notions are not contained in the constitution. The closest thing to a right to abortion found in the constitution is a liberal re-reading of the Constitution to include a perceived “right to privacy.” The right to privacy was hatched by Louis Brandeis around the turn of the 20th Century. After 7 decades, it found its way into law when the Supreme Court determined that the inherent right to privacy included the right for a woman to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. There is no constitutional right to abortion. The constitutional right to privacy is debated and somewhat mysterious. Does a private citizen in his own home have the right to privately manufacture and personally use crystal meth? Furthermore, is terminating a pregnancy actually a “private” affair? Doctors, fathers, grandparents and others (not to mention society at large) are affected, aren’t they?

A third type of right (and I think this is the proper type for classifying abortion) is simply a legal right. Yes, it is true in America today that women have a legal right to abortion. This fact, however, does not settle the question any more than saying the laws against illegal drug use have solved the drug problem. Laws are reflective of a people and of a value system those people hold. Pro-choice people tend to value sexual freedom. Pro-life people are saying value human life first. Laws provide an ordering around a value system; they are not the fixed points by which morality is determined. They tend to be derivative; they are derived from (a) what people value and (b) what problems need to be corrected. So, for example, we might value both freedom and human life, but, when a problem is identified, we may have to craft a law to correct abuse of one form or another. If it were shown, for instance, that wearing a helmet would save human life, then we might re-enact laws which say motorcycle riders must wear helmets, even though it would be a loss of freedom for them.

When it comes to abortion, there is a similar conflict between the two values of freedom and life. The fact is, of course, that women have the legal right to abortion, but should that be the case? Is it possible that those laws ought to be changed in favor of life, even if it means losing freedom? After all, laws become outdated. You have probably all read some of these laws. For instance, there is a law that makes it illegal to carry an ice cream cone in your pocket. Now, before you think one would be insane to carry an ice cream cone in his pocket, realize that the law was made to prevent folks from luring horses away from their owners. If a horse just “followed” you home, you wouldn’t be accused of stealing it. There were some smart folks who put food items in their pockets to get horses to follow them. Hence arose the laws against such practices. Those laws are now obsolete and irrelevant.

Some suggest that abortion law is likewise out of step with the facts on the ground. When Roe v. Wade happened 35 years ago, we did not have ultrasound technology. Now, we have 3D ultrasound, and it has become glaringly obvious that we are not talking about a glob of tissue; rather, we are talking about a baby. Doctors have also performed surgeries on babies in the womb to correct medical issues with the living babies before they are born. How many of you have seen the pictures of the little baby grabbing the doctor’s scalpel while surgery was being performed? (If you haven’t seen the picture, click here). The facts are clear, and they have corrected a medical misdiagnosis made in the Roe v. Wade decision.

While it is true that women have a legal right to terminate the life of a baby in the womb, the question still needs to be answered, “Should they?”

What do you think?

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