On September 28, 2013 a judge struck down a Texas bill restricting abortion. The judge ruled that parts of the law violate the constitutional rights of women, by placing undue strain on doctors performing abortions. Pro-abortion groups praised the decision as giving private decisions back to women and their doctors. Conservative voices vowed to continue the fight to preserve the unborn life. Then, three days later (on Halloween), an appellate court reinstated most of the parts of the law previously struck down. The two sides, based on the same respective criterion, switched their tunes accordingly.
This is just one small skirmish in the ongoing civic conflict over abortion’s place in American culture, a battle allegedly over fundamental constitutional rights. Regardless of the issues in this bill about health standards, the effect will be to permit or shut down abortion clinics that cannot or refuse to comply. It comes down to whether abortion is advanced or hindered, bringing us to the basic debate over the procedure itself. Those who support abortion argue that women have the right to decide over their own bodies, and thereby choose whether to keep a pregnancy or terminate the fetus before or during birth. Those who are against abortion argue that the fetus in the womb has the right to be protected, that ending the pregnancy is simply murdering an unborn child.
Both argue they have constitutional grounds, but technically that’s not the issue. The United States Constitution was not originally written, nor has it been subsequently amended yet, to describe what the rights are in the case of abortion. It is highly arguable that the Founders, most of them religious, would not be on abortion’s side; but such conjecture, even if true, is not binding upon the current population. For now, the Constitution is not the authority on abortion. Rather it is state law and Supreme Court rulings (as yet the latter has only allowed abortion, not defined it as constitutional or not).
With such ambiguity, it would help to go back to the, not legally binding, yet unspoken father of all our liberties, namely the Declaration of Independence. In Jefferson’s words, it is self-evident “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Immediately, the anti-abortion crowd would think ‘Aha! See we’re right!’ and point out God’s creatorship, scriptures that describe life in the womb, and the obvious glaring right to, well, Life. Yet, the problem is that the other two rights, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness, are equally invoked by the pro-abortion group, since they say abortions are a liberty that is part of making them happy (and you would be ‘anti-woman’ to say otherwise).
What is self-evident, here, is that contrary to the Founders’ rather simple and clear vision of what things are universally considered agreeable and essential, humanity has reached an age (or perhaps has re-entered an age) where things like Life and Liberty cannot be simultaneously sustained, or at least without being revised. Protecting the life of the unborn child means sacrificing the full ‘liberty’ of the mother to end the pregnancy, and protecting her right to do so sacrifices the unborn child. I ignore the abortion advocates’ sophistry that they are not violating life, claiming the fetus isn’t human— every fetus, if un-aborted, will become a human, and if a fetus that the mother wanted to keep terminates before delivery, it is considered a tragic loss (this is why in most cases criminals can be prosecuted for double homicide). There is no way around it: in the case of abortion, if we want to advance both Life and Liberty, we must redefine one or the other, or give up on one of them.
Clearly, we have to decide which of these two Rights is more essential in its current form. Notice the unforeseen implications in choosing undiminished Liberty. If abortion is a right of free society, that purely by a woman’s decision, a potential human being can be considered no longer human (or not human enough to have a voice), isn’t that a few steps away from saying we each have the right to decide whether a human remains human? Some argue this is extenuated by the intimate connection between a mother and fetus, but the option to carry the fetus to term and give it up for adoption counters that abortion is the selfish way out, especially when the high demand by infertile couples could benefit from those millions of abortions. When Life does not need to be sacrificed to absolve women of the inconvenience, when Life is amendable in the name of unrestricted Liberty, what bond keeps us from redefining Life, wherever it is, as an inconvenience to be removed? Justifying abortion in the name of Liberty opens up frightening consequences that make Liberty a very terrifying, rather than freeing, privilege.
It is a deeply ingrained flaw of American culture that we assume for ourselves all kinds of actions as our ‘rights’ without recognizing that Liberty is not an unchecked loosening of all restraint. Likewise, the Pursuit of Happiness is not unrestrained in the balance of preserving Life. The murderer certainly has no right, in our eyes, to spend his life outside jail (in some cases even to live) which means a very unhappy future for him. Yet, the same lack of respect for a class of human beings, who get in the way of our convenience, on the part of abortion is colored as an entitlement to which the law, so restrictive of the criminal, should give consent. We have lost the understanding of what our freedoms mean, of how they were fashioned by constructing the right boundaries, not simply let loose from English domain.
And the damage goes beyond whether abortion is constitutional. If, for the healthcare well-being of women, religious founders of companies must violate their personal beliefs, then every religious individual can thus be forcibly subjected to whatever the public decides is for the common good. If, to advance the civil rights of homosexual couples, pastors of churches or religious wedding photographers are forced, by law, to perform their services for weddings they believe are immoral, where will the invasion of public policy into citizens’ faith end? There are priorities to freedom, and when they shift our true rights become endangered. If Americans do not realize what their true liberties are, that having rights necessitates preventing others’ ‘rights’ to injure the former, then we shall surely lose all the unalienable, God-given freedoms our Founders fought to preserve.