Gloucester Daily Times Debate on Abortion (63), October [29], 1986

“Yes” Keeps Babies’ Rights Alive

(My View invitational column)

(Tom Griffith of Essex is a house painter and a free-lance editor)

In my last column I described a new father’s amazement at how much attention his baby got from total strangers. In this one, I want to discuss a paradox; our society seems to love babies when they’re born, yet dislikes them when they’re not.

How else do you describe a public policy that allows a million and a half unborn children to be destroyed each year? Of course, people don’t dislike their own unborn. Most of us want children, and when they come, we react with a standard mix of joy, worry and protectiveness. Even when they come unbidden, in awful circumstances, it’s hard to entirely suppress the parental instinct.

Yet over the last few years, Americans have developed a schizophrenic attitude toward children. They cherish their own and generally regard abortion as repugnant.

When it’s a matter of other people’s children, however, the issue grows very abstract and complicated. Then flesh-and-blood human beings get mixed up with concepts like “reproductive rights,” “non-discrimination,” “population control.” It’s okay to oppose abortion personally, but to oppose its practice outside your own family is to be intolerant and meddlesome.

This confusion has led to the breakdown of the anti-abortion consensus which shaped laws on the subject for the last 2,000 years. It used to be taken for granted that society had a responsibility to protect unborn human life. The “right to life,” based on the Biblical idea of the sanctity of the individual, was written into the preamble of the Constitution.

Now this assumption has been challenged by a competing :right” that of a woman to choose an abortion. Opposition to abortion is often depicted not as a defense of the unborn but as a trampling of that “new” right.”

But is it “right?” And where did it come from?

The Civil Rights Movement of recent years was one of the brighter achievements of American history, yet it spawned a host of imitators. Group after group presented itself as sharing the oppression experienced by Southern blacks; they too, demanded legal protection of their rights.

Some did legitimately. But others ran into unexpected opposition, since their claims could only be granted at the expense of some other group.

That’s the nature of rights. They’re a finite quality and can’t just be multiplied. When you give someone a right, you have to take away from someone else. The trick of government is to to it equitably.

When Southern blacks were granted full voting rights, Southern whites suffered a relative loss of rights and power. Likewise, slavery was abolished at the expense of the slaveholder’s “right” to own another human being. Yet in both cases, reasonable people saw that justice demanded the shift in rights.

The glory of our democratic system is its success in evening out the legal positions of different groups. Its thrust has been to overcome the state of nature in which “might makes right” and the strong oppress the weak. Yet that thrust has been completely reversed in the case of legalized abortion. Suddenly, one group — women — has been granted the rights that negate the rights of the weakest, most vulnerable segment of society — the unborn.

Worse still, all of us are required not only to tolerate this :right,” but to pay for it, through public funding of abortion. Our tax dollars are currently used to extinguish 8,000 lives a year in Massachusetts.

No one actively dislikes unborn children. Yet in permitting the abortion culture to flourish in this country, we stand guilty of a neglect that amounts to child-hatred.

How much longer will we be paralyzed by assertions of dubious “rights,” closing our eyes and ears to the painful deaths endured by human beings in the womb? I urge all citizens to stand up for the right to life by voting Yes n Proposition 1 this November.