Understanding the Right to Life

On the blog Love, Joy, Feminism, Libby Anne denounced the pro-life movement, claiming that its goal is to "control women."  While she listed several reasons for her position, one aspect of her argument displayed a complete misunderstanding about the right to life, and it therefore deserves attention.

Anne insisted that the pro-life movement's opposition to birth control (for the stated reason that it could prevent an already conceived human life from implanting in the uterus) is only a smokescreen, designed to hide the movement's actual goal (controlling women).

Libby Anne's argument draws upon the biological fact that a certain percentage of zygotes die naturally before implantation.  She declared, "You simply can't be against the pill for fear that it will result in flushed out zygotes and yet not concerned at all about the vastly greater number of zygotes flushed out naturally every day.  At least, not if you really truly believe a zygote has the same worth as an infant, toddler, or adult, and not if you're truly motivated solely by a desire to save the lives of these 'unborn babies.'"  She asserts that "the only responsible thing to do is to put every sexually active woman on the pill."  Finally, she concludes that because of its opposition to birth control, including government funding of birth control, and government programs for the poor, including welfare, the "so-called" pro-life movement is not genuine.

First, Anne makes an error about "saving unborn babies."  While saving unborn babies is the "sole motivation" for some pro-lifers, for many -- especially many pro-life conservatives -- the goal is not saving life per se, but rather protecting the right to life.  And defined correctly, the right to life is the right to continuous existence from conception to natural death.  In other words, the right to life is the right not to be killed.

Second, Anne makes an error about "worth."  Applied correctly, a zygote has the same worth as an infant, toddler, and adult; therefore, a zygote has the same right to life.  But the equal worth of a zygote does not create a special right for a zygote to be saved from natural death.

Clearly, the natural death of a zygote is not a violation of the right to life, whereas an induced abortion is a violation of that right.

For many, the right to life is an issue that primarily involves the correct role of government, and specifically the correct interpretation of the Constitution.  Using an originalist approach (which interprets the Constitution's provisions as expressly stated in the text or clearly intended by the framers), the issue is simple.  First, the right to life is unalienable.  Second, the right to life is a negative right -- that is, the right not to be killed, as mentioned above.  (On this point, even liberal constitutional law experts acknowledge the widely held view that "the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties -- rights that restrain the government -- and not a creator of affirmative rights to government services.")  Third, the Constitution neither prevents government restrictions on abortion nor provides women a right to abortion.

Ultimately, there are two alternatives.  Either a nation can protect the right to life for every human being, which is the pro-life position, or a nation can protect the right for some while abandoning others, which is the pro-choice position.  Furthermore, the pro-choice position requires defining rights in terms of age or physical or mental development, which is as arbitrary as defining rights in terms of any other characteristic, such as race or gender.  Indeed, by defining rights in terms of a particular characteristic, the violation or killing of a particular human being (for example, an African during the slavery era, a Jew during the Holocaust, or a developing child during the current Roe v. Wade era) can be justified.

In this light, the goal of protecting the right to life -- the right not to be killed -- shines brightly.

Simply stated, there is a fundamental difference between a nation that prohibits harmful acts, including abortion, and a nation that permits such acts.  A nation can take a stand against an injustice, or a nation can turn a blind eye.  Understanding the difference, pro-life advocates take a stand.