Abortion, and the Undermining of Democracy

Chief Photographer’s Mate (CPHoM) Robert F. Sargent,
Into the Jaws of Death (1944)

Today, we commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the storming of the beaches of Normandy by Allied soldiers in World War II. There, the forces of democracy helped bravely battle back the forces of tyranny and oppression. As such, it seems a fitting occasion to highlight an enormous, invisible threat to democracy today: abortion.

Soldiers fight for all sorts of reasons: for homeland, for principle, for survival, for their brother soldiers. But one reason so many men fought the Axis powers was because they believed the Declaration of Independence when it said,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

This principle is at the heart of the pro-life movement: a recognition that all men are created equal, and have certain God-given rights, including the right to life. There are two important aspects of this claim:

  1. These rights belong to us by virtue of our existence as human beings. We don’t earn them. It doesn’t matter how old we are (whether, for example, we’re grown adults, or small children, or unborn), or how developed we are. Everyone, of all ages and all stages of cognitive and physical development, possesses these rights innately.
  2. These rights are unalienable, because they don’t come from the State. If the State were the highest authority, it would be left to decide who does and doesn’t get to have the right to life, or to liberty, or to the pursuit of happiness. But that’s not the case. Precisely because the Founders recognized that these rights come from the Creator, the State’s not allowed to touch them. A government that seeks to wipe out the right to life of an entire class of people is a government that’s overstepped its authority and must be resisted. That’s what the Allies were doing at Normandy. It’s what pro-lifers are doing on the sidewalks in front of our nation’s abortion clinics.
Consider the alternative. When asked “When does a human being become human?” Ana Sandoval, Communications and Operations Director at Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California responded, “That varies from person to person – religion to religion.” Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s president, said: “I don’t think its really relevant to the conversation. But for me, I’m a mother of three children. For me, life began when I delivered them” 

Biologically, all of this is nonsense, of course. We are entitled to our own opinions, but we’re not entitled to our own facts, where biology becomes whatever we want it to be. If the unborn child in the womb weren’t alive, it couldn’t grow and develop in the first place.

Both Sandoval and Richards are trying to wave away that pesky bit about the unborn child being alive by (a) claiming it’s subjective (your child is alive if you want them to be alive!), (b) claiming it’s a religious issue (you say that killing a child in the womb is ending its life, but that’s just your religion!), and (c) claiming it’s irrelevant (stop asking inconvenient questions!). Laid bare, these arguments aren’t just wrong, they’re bizarre. If a man strangles his infant, we don’t say, “Oh, that baby must not have been alive to the dad.” Or “maybe in his religion, life begins at age five.” Or “whether the infant was alive or not is irrelevant to this conversation.” Those positions, in any other context, would be regarded as insane and barbaric.

Here’s what’s going on, at heart. Those who favor legal abortion, if they’ve thought deeply about the issue, generally hold to something like this: an unborn child possesses either no rights, or a radically reduced set of rights, because these children are not developed enough. 
But if that’s the case – if human dignity turns on how physically or cognitively developed we are – we should at least have the decency to formally reject the whole bit about all men being made equal. Because this position puts the right to life on a sliding scale of human development. Logically, it entails that if I’m stronger or smarter than you, I’m worth more than you are. It’s a profound repudiation of the basic principle of democratic society, that all men are created equal.

It’s also a repudiation that certain human rights are inalienable: if embryos don’t deserve rights because they aren’t conscious, that’s bad news for those who are sleeping or comatose. If they don’t deserve rights because their little bodies are made up of fewer cells than their parents’ bodies, that’s bad news for short people and skinny people. If they don’t deserve rights because they can’t feel pain early on, that’s trouble for quadriplegics, the comatose, and those suffering from certain malfunctions in their pain sensors.

In other words, none of us are safe: at any moment, we could suffer some sort of accident inhibiting our physical or mental functions: by the abortion rights reasoning, we might have just lost our right to life.

Look, there’s no question: an embryo at an early stage of development doesn’t look or act much like we’re used to a human being acting. They’re really tiny, cognitively immature, and mentally and physically incapable of doing most of the things that you and I can do. But guess what? That’s true of infants and toddlers as well, particularly for those of us who are usually in the company of adults. It’s also a good description of many handicapped and developmentally disabled people.

Ultimately, the pro-life movement flows naturally from a belief in universal human dignity – that all of us, regardless of age, sex, race, religion, developmental status, etc. – have certain human rights that the rest of us are honor-bound to respect, and that these human rights are beyond the scope of what the State has the ability to monkey with. The argument for abortion affirms a very different set of values, in which the strong get to exercise their “liberty” at the expense of the weak, and can even snuff out the lives of the weak, when the weak are inconvenient.

Needless to say, such a belief system is fundamentally incompatible with American democracy, or any of the values that so many of our fighting men gave their lives for on the beaches of Normandy seven decades ago. Either we really buy the self-evidence truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” or we don’t. But we can’t have it both ways.


  1. Joe, i think that sex selection killing has to be the most blatant example of your point. When the ‘ mother’ says the little girl is a blob of disposable goo but when its a boy its magically not a blob of tissue but a worthy member of humanity– that has got to be unpacked by the prodeath side.

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