Burial of the dead after the massacre of Wounded Knee (29 December 1890). At least they were buried. Aborted preborn children are thrown into the garbage. [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
For America, abortion is the morally defining issue of this generation just as race was the morally defining issue of the last generation. We have settled, at least at the rhetorical level, the issue of race. No one can stand tall and unassailed in America and declare himself opposed to the full civic liberty, protection and opportunity of black Americans. Racism might persist but it can muster no public applause. Compare that to Al Gore’s triumphalistic proclamation in the first debate that he champions a “woman’s right to choose” as if this is something worthy of our approbation. Yes, in certain cases, some people of conscience might consider abortion a “tragic necessity.”
But only a politician pandering to an extreme coterie within his constituency would applaud the shedding of innocent human blood as an act of heroism or virtue. It’s certainly not progress.
For my part, I continue to believe that America is a progressive and humane nation. Americans are a people who have consistently expanded the circle of our civic community. It’s been a struggle. African-Americans, Jews, Catholics, immigrants and women are finally regarded as persons, fully human, fully citizens and welcomed as members of our society. What perverse notion reverses that historic trend when it considers preborn children? Throughout most of Western civilization, we counted them as members of the family, one of us. Why over the last generation have we written them off and placed them outside the sphere of protection? This is retrogressive.
We took a step back in 1973. Roe v. Wade split America’s soul just like abortion divides the mother’s soul and her baby’s body. Roe most resembles the Dred Scott decision in which the Supreme Court, just prior to the Civil War, decided that a runaway slave did not merit civil liberty and protections. It was a sword that split America. Like the unborn today, Scott had no voice. No consideration as a person. He didn’t have legal standing. He was dismissed.
In a raw act of judicial power, the Supreme Court swept aside almost all state laws protecting the preborn. The people were not given a vote even though, in Michigan, for instance, referenda clearly demonstrated a public willingness to protect the child in the womb. The Supreme Court ignored the popular vote and up until today Americans are deeply ambivalent. The regularly conducted LA Times poll shows that most people regard abortion as form of murder though they also support “a woman’s right to choose.” But to choose what? It may be a sign of maturity to be able to live with ambiguity. It is no virtue to acquiesce in grotesque intellectual inconsistency. The killing of offspring cannot be regarded as a social good.
Perpetrators of violence must always justify the act. Just as in war, the enemy’s personhood must be caricatured and debased before we raise the guillotine, aim the rifle, set the mine. The Viet Cong were called “gooks”. The unborn are called “blobs of tissue”, “parasites in a woman’s body”, “subhuman”, “prehuman”, “nonpersons”. Those who we aim to kill we must first reject as one of us. Rhetorical manipulation always precedes social engineering. It’s time to realize that our social trajectory has gone off course. We’ve deviated from our orbit.
The dignity of the human person is no longer the radiating center of our judicial philosophy. No issue better illustrates how far we’ve wandered than Clinton’s veto of partial birth abortion. In these cases, the difference between treasuring a life and butchering it is about two inches.
For Aristotle, the first political question was “How ought we to live our lives together?” The “together” is critical. Just as in pre-civil war years progressive minds knew that we could not live together half slave and half free so too now we cannot live together half Roe and half Wade. Norma McCorvey, the Roe in Roe v. Wade has herself rejected the decision.
Roe v. Wade arbitrarily declared that preborn children no longer have the most fundamental right; the right to life. Abortion is not just a minor legal accommodation to enhance the liberty of women. It is the extinguishing of one of our own. The Founding Father of this country found it abhorrent.
The founding foremothers of feminism, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, called it “child murder.” It is to our shame and to further human destruction that we would vote for someone who calls it “freedom and liberty.”