Some of my religious friends who characterize themselves as “conservatives” view this fall’s presidential election as being a referendum on the question of religious liberty and specifically on abortion. I beg to differ with them.
I view the matters about which they are concerned not as being the issue but merely the symptoms of the real issue. That issue is the right of a thoughtful, law abiding individual to make choices for himself or herself, free of government intervention or jurisdiction or coercion.
That statement might lead you to believe that I am what is termed “Pro Choice.” You are wrong.
For the moment, at least, America is still a country whose principles stem from the Judaeo-Christian religious tradition. Since the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution we have now advanced scientifically and science plays an important role in this conversation.
The Jews believe that until a baby takes its first breath on its own outside its mother’s womb it is not a person. Most mainstream Christians believe that the child is a person from the moment of conception. There is an obvious difference of opinion in these two views. Science confirms that, in most cases, these embryos would develop into little healthy human beings after a full term gestation.
Trying to look at this objectively, I would say that science leans more to the orthodox Christian view on this matter. The truth is we don’t know when an embryo is a human – but we do know that letting nature take it’s course will almost inevitably result in the birth of one.
It is our judicial tradition to presume innocence until guilt is proven. Therefore, from the standpoint of American tradition, I prefer the position that we treat the embryo as a human from the earliest seconds of its existence. That is not based on a religious philosophy – merely an American one.
Legally, with Roe v. Wade, we view an embryo as an appendage of the mother who is carrying it. It is simply a body part that, like a hangnail can be clipped and removed. It is something that has no value other than a certain nuisance value. Apparently, we view body parts, in the context of a woman’s right to abort one of hers as a fundamental right belonging to the individual.
But our thinking on this issue is far from consistent.
Consider the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984 which makes it illegal for an individual either to buy, sell or receive a human organ in exchange for money or any other sort of consideration. If body parts are disposable items, why should a man or woman with a healthy kidney not be able to sell one If they choose to do so?
If we regard, as in the case of abortion, the mother’s supreme right to determine what she can do with the body part that is growing inside her, why should a person who is willing to sell an organ not have that right as well? Is a kidney or a cornea so much more worthy of protection than something which will turn into a human being?
One of the arguments on abortion which I frequently encounter is that approximately fifty percent of our society should have no say in this discussion. They are called men. That argument is so intellectually unsound as to be almost ludicrous. It is based on the assumption that men, who never have and never will go through the experience of pregnancy and child-bearing are unqualified to voice an opinion on the matter.
If we follow this sort of “logic”, the only people who would be able to serve on the jury of a person accused of bank robbing would be people convicted themselves of bank robbery. And a serial killer could only get a jury of his peers if we drafted twelve fellow serial killers to be on the panel.
But let’s return to my opening remarks about the real and far more serious problem of which our discussion on abortion is only a symptom – the right of people to make decisions for themselves without government intervention.
If we trivialize life, it will be a natural thing for us to feel comfortable electing people who share our attitude. But what if those people whom we believe share our philosophy have a different and more extreme agenda?
In the civilizations of ancient Greece, Rome and China, female children were considered less desirable than male offspring. On seeing the birth of a female, these children were often set out in the wild either to starve or be eaten by wild animals. The legendary twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus were left to this fate but were ironically nurtured by wolves and grew to manhood.
Today we do not have to wait until birth to bring the embryo to this end. We know the sex and a good deal about its characteristics during the early stages of pregnancy – and there are some, not liking what they see, who make the decision to abort the fetus based on this information.
Some of these decisions which I’m sure are heart-rending for the parents may involve medical conditions – Down or Tourette Syndrome for example. It is neither my role or my goal to pass judgment on these future parents. They have enough of an emotional and moral struggle on their own without me.
But what if that decision is not up to them? What if, despite the fact that they have decided that they will keep and love and rear that child who will be born with Down Syndrome they are told by government that they cannot?
How could our government ever assume such a role? It will justify it’s authority by saying, “Your child will require more care and money than we are willing to pay in support. You will be placing an unnecessary burden on the rest of the taxpayers and therefore, for the common good, we are going to abort the fetus.”
And from there it’s an even smaller step to making that decision based on sex or race or any other physical characteristic which the bureaucracy deems undesirable. If you think this is an impossible scenario please refer to the eugenics programs which Adolph Hitler established in Nazi Germany.
You might think that can’t happen in the United States – and, today you would be correct. But as we willingly allow government to take greater control over our lives, we are well on our way to permitting just such a scenario. In fact, it is the abdication of our personal responsibility which will ensure it. And that is the real issue about which every thinking American should be concerned.
As for me, I’m planning on hanging on to each of my body parts as long as I can.