In every free society—governed by justice and equity—there are no two rights that are more venerated than life and liberty. When these two rights are maintained in their relative balance, that society flourishes. However, when pitted against each other, our “rights” can strangely result in societal confusion and polarization.
Every sphere of our culture is affected by the polarizing and confusing watershed which flows from the debate over elective abortion. The reason is the pro-abortion party has introverted the logical priority of life and liberty.
After 40 years of fierce contest, the best and loudest argument heard from the pro-abortion position is that pro-lifers are against individual rights to freedom of choice and personal liberty. In other words, “To be pro-life,” they insist, “is to be anti-choice, thus anti-liberty.” This, however, is neither an argument nor true. Additionally, such rhetoric destroys true liberty, perverting it into autonomous/libertine freedom—a sacred cow. The pro-life position, correctly understood, alone, promotes the proper equilibrium between life and liberty, which is necessary for a healthy and free human community. Let me explain what I mean.
First, we know intuitively that in a just society, rights aren’t particularized, exclusive of one another; each has its place of priority within a unified hierarchy of other rights. Every civil culture exists by means of each individual in the community surrendering certain of their personal liberties. For example, moving from the country for the conveniences of city life means you’re giving up the liberty of shooting a gun in your back yard, since this would endanger the lives of others. Thus, none of us has the liberty to jeopardize and/or end the life of another innocent member of our community. Hence, the right to life has priority over individual liberty, in a truly free society.
Neither are liberties morally neutral. Perhaps the distinction between bad and criminal decisions would serve well to further illustrate this point. For instance, many believe getting drunk is a bad decision, but all know that getting drunk and driving is a criminal choice. Further, smoking is a bad decision; smoking crack-cocaine is a criminal one. In many cases, exercising one’s sexual liberty can be a bad decision, but doing so on an unwilling other or a child is always and rightly a criminal one; it’s an indecent liberty, as we say. So, when one exercises one’s liberties at the expense of another’s life or liberty, that one’s liberties are immoral and criminal—in a word—indecent.
From the foregoing, two further observations arise. (1) Once the relative rights of life and liberty are correctly understood within the context of a truly free society, it becomes evident that the pro-abortion party has escalated the autonomous, individual liberty of the mother so far as to extinguish the value and logical priority of the more fundamental right to life; namely that of her child’s. Here, then, is the catalyst of the polarity and confusion surrounding elective abortion.
Moreover, (2) the flip-flopping of these two rights was expressed this way in the past: “It’s not about slavery, it’s about states' rights!” Similarly today, “It’s not about life, it’s about women’s rights!” It’s the pro-life position therefore that seeks to preserve the equilibrium of our society’s most cherished rights, keeping liberty civil by insisting it remains subjugated to the higher right to life. This is justice, equity, and a necessary condition of a truly free society.
Secondly, all this begs the question—the only relevant one—“What is in the womb?” How this question is answered determines whether elective abortion is a civil or indecent exercise of liberty.
Justice Blackmun, in authoring the official decision of the infamous Roe v. Wade case, recognized this much, saying, “If the suggestion of personhood [of the unborn] is established, the appellant’s case (i.e., elective abortion), of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life is then guaranteed specifically by the [Fourteenth Amendment]” (Roe, 410 U.S., 157—58). Has the status of the unborn since been established, though? Yes.
Marshaled witnesses are heard from modern embryologies, who unanimously and repeatedly affirm that a genetically distinct, individual human life is present from conception. Additionally, in 1981, after exhaustive testimony from top experts in every relevant field, a bill was passed by the U.S. Senate that declared, “Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginnings of the life of a human being...There is overwhelming agreement on this point” (S-158, 97th Congress, 1st Session 1981, 7).
In conclusion, it’s been seen that the pro-abortionists’ incessant appeals to “choice” and “liberty” lead to indecent rather than civil liberty. Conversely, by recognizing the proper priority of life over liberty, which is necessary for a healthy society, and that the unborn shares human life with the rest of its community, the pro-life case is sound, valid, and tenable. Hence, any system of law claiming justice and equity exists, first, to protect its innocent human lives; the unborn is an innocent, human life from conception, and therefore demands the protection of our legal system, if, that is, we wish to ever claim again the virtues of justice and equity for all.
I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4