Advancing Human Rights

This week's Newsweek Magazine has an article called Reality Check for 'Roe' which discusses the recent acknowledgement by some pro-abortionists that many in the United States, including women who are procuring abortions, are experiencing moral qualms about the procedure. Moreover, they are coming to understand that as the argument has increasingly become one of morality, they have been losing ground politically. Quoting Frances Kissling, head of Catholics for a Free Choice:

"There is a deep-seated fear that if you address the moral issues (of abortion), you're going to lose," says Kissling. "But we're losing anyway. It's only by addressing the moral issues that we'll get some relief on the political questions."

The article does offer some "hope" for defenders of abortion in the fact there is probably still a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court to defend Roe v. Wade. But this political and legal math misses the underlying point that as morality enters into the debate, the battle over abortion will take a fundamental shift onto the ground of human rights, and once that happens, the war will be over.

This is why I am absolutely convinced that the argument MUST remain focused on the humanity of the pre-born baby. At the same time I am not surprised at the willingness of many (but certainly not all) to continue to live with the moral and cognitive dissonance of killing human beings through abortion. The Newsweek article acknowledges this dissonance by taking note of “baptisms” for the recently killed foetuses, on-site chaplains at abortion facilities, and even the foundation of a post-abortion counselling service by a pro-abortion group. Another testimony to the growing awareness of the fundamental immorality of abortion can be found in a recent editorial written by a pro-abortion student where she says:

"As a proponent of abortion, I want my opponents to remember this: I am not completely confident in my position as pro-choice. I suspect that many college age liberal women are not as steadfast in their pro-choice stance as political rallies and feminist classes would make our demographic out to be. I often consider the fact that many of my friends who were adopted might not be alive had their mothers chosen the route of abortion. I understand too that abortion can be an easy way to get over the mistake of not using birth control, and it scares me that some young women (and certainly men) don’t plan ahead because in the back of their minds they know, if worse comes to worst, abortion is a possibility. I believe that if a pregnant woman is attacked and her baby dies, that criminal should be prosecuted for murder, no matter the age of the fetus. I realize that this is in opposition to my belief that embryos of up to three months should not be considered people in terms of a mother’s right to abortion. I see this hypocrisy, and I shakily defend both of these contradictory beliefs in terms of the right of a woman to privacy. Shakily."

The dissonance of knowing that it is murder for a man to kill a pre-born baby in an attack, but supposedly "alright" if that killing is performed by a doctor at the request of the mother comes through loud and clear. More importantly, it cannot, in my opinion, be sustained over the long term.

Consider the following examples:

  • The humanity of women was never denied throughout the suffragette movement, just their right to have the vote.
  • Most did not deny that blacks were humans even as they were enslaved, and after emancipation denied fundamental rights in the United States.
  • Socially sanctioned racism (like that practiced against Chinese immigrants here in Canada in the early 20th century) did not deny that the Chinese were human.
  • Eugenics was very popular at in the late-19th and early 20th centuries in many countries, and resulted in forced sterilization (or worse) of "undesirables."
In fact, it is this last case that I think most closely resembles the fight we face in opposing abortion. At the turn of the 20th century it was the height of fashion for all the "right" people to support eugenics, or at least to defend the right of others to practice it. Only a few "extremists" and "those Catholics" seemed to oppose, on moral grounds, this form of "progress." And it took decades (plus the Holocaust) to open people’s eyes to the true horror of what they had previously advocated, or at least tolerated and defended as a "right" (namely, the right to murder or sterilize undesirable human beings).

In every case of human rights advancement experienced in the West we have had to pass through the stages of acknowledging the humanity of the oppressed, to a greater education as to what that humanity meant (in terms of granting fundamental and inviolable rights), to decisive social and political action that entrenched those rights permanently. My faith in the ability of this argument to win over the people is rooted in the knowledge that human rights, when properly articulated, eventually triumph in Western democracies. The process is long, and painful, and frustrating, for the advocates and defenders of the weak and helpless, but it has proven triumphant, and will again with the rights of the pre-born. The fears and moral uncertainties expressed by a growing number of abortion defenders shows us that these efforts are taking effect, and should inspire us with hope and optimism. They know that once society as a whole comes to see the pre-born as human beings, the game is up, and they will have lost the war.

Abortion will one day join eugenics, segregation and racism as an unthinkable and indefensible position. That said, I have no illusions about how long this will take. We are probably looking at a minimum of another generation before the political power of the anti-pre-born bigots is broken. Only then will the rights of the pre-born be fully defended by society, and that defence be seen as both natural and the only morally right one.



Layman said…
Thoughtful comments, Nomad.

You are correct, I think, to say that the continued focus on human rights in western civilization will result in the eventual surrender of Roe vs. Wade. This is plausible because rights are being recognized in more and more places; take the animal rights literature, for example. Here, rights are being extended far beyond the human species to barely sentient creatures. And the trend does not seem to be stopping.

A line from The Case for Animal Rights by Tom Regan give us hope. He takes a moment to consider the rights of a fetus and says, "Better, then, to adopt a policy that errs on the side of caution when the recognition of moral rights is at issue. Precisely because it is unclear where we should draw the line between those humans who are, and those who are not, subjects-of-a-life, and in view of our profound ignorance about the comparative mental sophistication of newly born and soon-to-be-born human beings, the rights view would advocate giving infants and viable human fetuses the benefit of the doubt, viewing them as if they are subjects-of-a-life, as if they have basic moral rights, even while conceding that, in viewing them in these ways, we may be giving them more than is their due." (320)
BK said…
Just getting rid of a spam comment.

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