Monday, January 16, 2006

The Imperative of the Right to Life

This is Right to Life Month, and around the country battle lines are drawn. On the one side are those who pray, protest and urge politicians and judges to end the immoral practice of abortion in the US. On the other side are those who protest, argue and warn politicians that abortion is a human right and essential to the preservation of US freedoms.

The pro-abortion side has done a good job of relegating the pro-life side to the margins of the political landscape. Their arguments are wrapped in a kind of idealistic notion of human rights that strikes the uncommitted listener as logical and even laudatory. The pro-abortion argument essentially states that human beings have unalienable rights, which include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To prevent a woman from access to abortion is to violate her liberty to make decisions on her own behalf. The classic example of why such liberty must be defended is the woman impregnated through rape; that anti-abortion legislation would require her to carry the child to term strikes many as barbaric as the rape itself. Couple to this an appeal to the right to privacy; any legislation that would proscribe the choice for abortion not only violates the mother's personal liberty it violates her privacy to make such a choice outside the glare of public scruitiny and opinion. A generally conclusive assertion that it is ‘her body’ rounds off the case.

In light of such a tightly asserted argument, pro-life supporters are either cast as religious fanatics, bent on imposing their morality on the nation, or as political zealots determined to mold society to their chosen ideology. Pro-life supporters are therefore dangerous, irrational people whose blind bigotry is constantly in danger of spilling over into acts of wanton violence. Worse, by characterizing pro-life supports as being identifiable with certain political groups they can be challenged with hypocrisy is the political group favors the death penalty. (The fact that a political party may take the pro-life position and hold an inconsistent view towards end of life issues does not necessitate that a pro-life advocate necessarily holds to every position of the party.)

This demonizing of the pro-life movement has been so successful that I challenge anyone to find a major media news outlet that substantially covers the pro-life march on Washington later this month. By ‘substantial’ I mean more than a scant few seconds and quick crowd shot on the evening news. If the event is reported and numbers are mentioned, look for a comparative number to be indicated for pro-abortion counter-protesters or at a separate march. Odds are that if more than thirty seconds are spent mentioning it at all the ‘conservative’ character of the supporters, the ‘fundamentalist’ tone of the arguments made, or the number of politicians of ‘that side’ who were in attendance will feature significantly in the report.

Yet what are the pro-life supporters really about? In the Catholic Church, they are Christians. What does it mean to be Christian if one has neither care nor respect for human life? Pope John Paul the Great produced the ethico-anthropological masterpiece Theology of the Body, which is only now beginning to be recognized as the epochal monument and contribution to human ethical and cultural history that it is. So central to Christianity is the concept of life as a gift and the proto-right in all ethical and political discourse that it is impossible to accurately understand the pro-life movement without reference to it. The impact of Theology of the Body on all ethical debate will continue to grow in the decades to some.

All human beings are created in the image and likeness of God. This means that each human person has a dignity that is at once undeniable, inalienable (for those who smirked at my use of "unalienable" above), and irreducible. The dignity of the human person extends to the body as well as the soul. Consequently, a variety of ‘rights’ are inherent to each human being by virtue of simply being human. In addition, certain moral imperatives are therefore axiomatic and immutable.

Abortion is essentially (in its essence) an immoral act. It does not respect the dignity of the child in the womb. Only sophistry could claim that what is aborted is mere tissue. Science cannot deny that what is conceived in the womb is a human being and nothing else. The undeniable horrors of ‘partial-birth’ abortion does not exhaust the barbarity of all abortions, no matter how sanitarily performed (read: committed) at any stage of the pregnancy. Once we face the reality that what is conceived in the womb is human that child (for no other word indicates thruthfully the being to which we refer) must be recognized as possessing all the rights common to every other human being.

This inherent human dignity defeats all political arguments for abortion, revealing them to rely on sophistry as the only method of circumvention. The liberty of the mother to make choices for her own life cannot extend to a decision to end the life of her child. The child is not "her body". In truth, from the moment of conception the fetus is a separate human being and enjoys the same rights as any other human being. This truth is often obscured by arguments about the ‘viability of the fetus’ as though children are born in a state of maturit and are at birth ability to take care of themselves. Science has shown that even after birth certain organs have not reached their complete development (e.g., the part of the brain that controls circadian rhythms, the skull, etc.). It is noteworthy that in some countries the notion that a child is not fully developed until long after birth has led to perverse arguments to allow the child to be killed up to several years after birth!

To cast the argument in terms of a woman’s right to decide for her body is to reduce the child in the womb to the status of property. Some years back two US senators had a donnybrook on the topic of abortion that hinged on this very facet of the issue. One senator (a white conservative male, if memory serves me) began to compare the argument for a woman’s property rights over the fetus to the South’s view of slaves as property at the time of the US Civil War. This argument was stifled in mid-sentence and vilified by another senator (a black liberal female) who expressed indignation that the senator would dare make such a comparison. Her indication rested solely on the fact that she was a black woman who had ancestors who were slaves. She would not hear the possibility that the same logic once used to enslave people based on something as insignificant as skin color was at work in the pro-abortion campaign.

But note, never addressed the analogy of her colleague; she protested and prevented his attempt to draw the comparison. She did not attempt to counter his arguement. And, of course, the reason was that she couldn’t. His analogy is exactly a propos. Abortion is not an exercise in equal rights for women, it's an act of facism that sees in the womb an opportunity to play god.

At one time, it was considered madness to argue (as did Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae) that a pro-abortion view would necessarily degenerate into acceptance of euthanasia. Indeed, part of the criticism of Pope Paul was his daring to connect contraception with abortion. Not only has this connection been shown valid, but the other consequences he foretold have come to pass in recent decades. Remember, several European governments either have or are ennacting legislation that allows children to be killed up to a certain age. We have already witnessed the sophisticated murder at the hands of medical professionals that once would have been recognized as murder yet is now euphomisically termed "physician assisted suicide."

The utilitarianism that defines the value all things as dependent on their usefulness or convenience has grown to an Orwellian demonic dominance. Indeed, madness has become the measure of modern morality. It is illogical and hypocritical for anyone to claim adherence to the Catholic Church and the Christian Faith while holding the morally indefensible view that abortion is acceptable.

Western Civilization is the product of Christianity – it’s morality, it’s philosophy, it’s anthropology. As Pope Benedict XVI noted recently, if we would be true to that heritage of freedom and defence of human rights that is the boast of Western Civilization it is necessary that we face our views on life with alacrity. If we would be faithful to our democratic ideals, we must "recognize and protect the sanctity of life from the first moment of conception until natural death. It requires us to acknowledge the indispensable role of stable marriage and family life for the good of society. It obliges us to consider carefully the ethical implications of scientific and technological progress, particularly in the field of medical research and genetic engineering. Above all, it directs us towards a proper understanding of human freedom which can never be realized independently of God but only in cooperation with his loving plan for humanity. Tolerance and respect for difference, if they are truly to benefit society, need to be built upon the rock of an authentic understanding of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God and called to a share in his divine life." (Address to the Ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Holy See, 23 December 2005)

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