Forty years after Roe v. Wade, abortion remains one of the most divisive social issues in America today. Pro-choice advocates uphold the right of the mother to do with her body as she wishes; Pro-life advocates declare the fetus is an innocent human being and therefore has a right to live. Each side proclaims its superiority and no resolution has been found because neither side wants to compromise on what it considers to be a fundamental matter.
Is there an absolute “right” and “wrong” in the situation? Can the rights of the mother vs. the rights of the fetus be reconciled? Is there a solution which could be politically and spiritually acceptable to both sides—and Constitutionally sound? I think the answer to both questions is “yes,” so I offer these thoughts in the interest of resolving the conflict.
The first step is to understand that each side is legitimately basing its position on a sacred principle enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and reflecting an enlightened understanding of the nature of God. The Declaration states the theory of freedom in America. “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.”
Although Jefferson wrote “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” the phrase was modified from the tripartite concept of the right to life, liberty and property which had been enunciated in England a century earlier by political philosopher John Locke. By the time of our War for Independence, that three-part concept was accepted by colonial Americans as fundamental to society. Our nation’s Founders were thoroughly familiar with it and embraced it. It is clearly stated in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. The rights to life, liberty and private property continue to be fundamental for American society.
The Pro-Choice Case
To our Founders, the concept of private property as an individual right did not mean only territory, possessions and other forms of wealth. The ultimate property one could own was oneself. “Property” is derived, etymologically speaking, from the Latin propius, meaning “own.” That which is owned is one’s body and one’s life. In the view of our Founders, to own oneself was to be a free and sovereign man or woman, not a slave or indentured servant. To be free and sovereign was to stand beyond the authority and power of nobility to do as they wished with the bodies and lives of their peasants, serfs and slaves, including punishment, cruel torture and even death. Freedom from the dictates of an arbitrary ruler who violated one’s autonomy and property, including body and mind, was the Declaration’s stated purpose of the separation from Britain. Self-ownership is fundamental to the American theory of government and society.
It is therefore absolutely fundamental to America that a person may not be violated in his or her body or mind. To force a woman to bear an unwanted child violates the principle of American government that a person has the right to his or her own body, and to conduct it as he or she wishes up to such point as that conduct violates the right of another person. At that point, law intervenes to proscribe or prohibit such further conduct or behavior to protect the other person’s right. Thus, it would seem a simple matter: abortion should not be prohibited. (“Keep your hands off my body!”)
But it is not that simple.
(To be continued)