The Political Issue Beneath Abortion

By Fr. Frank Pavone Published on November 6, 2016

There are many issues to analyze and consider in every election. However, as important as knowing the issues is understanding how they are related to one another.

Some consider the relationship to be linear and arithmetic. They count up how many issues a candidate is “right” on, and whoever has the higher count wins that person’s vote.

More true to life, however, is to see the various issues in a hierarchical or geometric relationship. Some are foundational; others depend on the foundation. It does not take a lot of thinking to realize that life itself is foundational to all rights and issues. If the government claimed the right to take away your life, it would hardly impress you if it promised you all kinds of other rights. In taking away life, it takes away all other rights and the chance to enjoy them.

A candidate’s position on abortion clearly reflects whether he/she thinks government is the servant of human life or its master. And that has lots of implications beyond abortion.

Would government ever do that? The fact is, it already does, in reference to life still in the womb. Our nation’s policy of abortion, based on Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton, allows abortion for any reason at any time of pregnancy.

Some will argue that the parallel does not apply, because we are not talking about a full human life. A few points must be made in response to this assertion.

It is no longer a secret when and how the life of an individual human being begins. The widely used medical textbook The Developing Human, Clinically Oriented Embryology, 6th Edition, Moore, Persaud, Saunders, 1998, states on page 2 that “The intricate processes by which a baby develops from a single cell are miraculous. … This cell [the zygote] results from the union of an oocyte [egg] and sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. …” On page 18 this theme is repeated: “Human development begins at fertilization.”

Way back in 1991, Judge Michael J. Noonan ruled as follows in a New Jersey case based on a man’s efforts to save his unborn child from being aborted: “… Based upon the undisputed medical testimony by arguably the foremost authority in genetics in the world, I found that human life begins at conception; and that Roe vs. Wade permits a legal execution of that human being.”

But even if, for some reason, one were not to allow the light of modern science to pierce his or her doubt about when life begins, what is one to conclude from that doubt? Suppose you are hunting, and you do not know whether what is moving behind the bush is an animal or a human being. May you shoot? Or do you have to be absolutely sure that it is not a human being?

The Supreme Court, in Roe, did not clear the doubt. Yet it chose to allow the destruction of — well, it didn’t know what.

The Court said, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer. [410 U.S. 113, 160]”

At the same time, the same decision declared, “The word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn.” [410 U.S. 113, 159]

A candidate’s position on abortion, Roe vs. Wade, and “a woman’s right to choose,” is not simply a question of whether a medical procedure will be allowed. It is a question of what kind of government we want.

One type of government recognizes that it only has limited authority, and can never declare that some humans are not “persons” entitled to protection. That’s the idea reflected in the Declaration of Independence, when it speaks of unalienable rights.

The other type is one that says that even though some may be human, government has authority to deprive them of personhood. That’s what Roe vs. Wade said in reference to the unborn. Without denying the humanity of the unborn, it stripped them of the protection of their lives.

A candidate’s position on abortion clearly reflects whether he/she thinks government is the servant of human life or its master. And that has lots of implications beyond abortion.

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