Within many national and state governments, and in international organizations, campaigns underway to strip unborn children of legal protection assert that pre-born humans have no inherent dignity or worth. Supporters of this view would privatize justice to the extent of permitting individuals to determine who lives and who dies, thus harming the common good by smothering the key value on which it rests: human dignity.
Legalizing abortion on demand attacks our very humanness, our identity—that is, ourselves. It is an individualized totalitarianism with strong similarities to the Nazi and Communist murders of millions of people who were deemed “inferior” and “unwanted” obstacles to creating a perfect paradise. Both regimes legalized abortion; today’s pro-abortion movements likewise promote a eugenic agenda.
It is impossible to see how one can honor human values by devaluing human beings. Every human is distinguished from every other kind of living being by a unique inner reality not reducible to matter and not found in other species. This innate uniqueness is the foundation of human rights—every human naturally possesses the same right to continue living as everyone else.
With other rights one can distinguish between possession and exercise, but the right to life does not admit of this distinction. One exercises the right simply in possessing it; the two cannot be divided. If we take away the exercise of someone’s right to life, we kill the right-holder. The most basic social obligation, then, is to respect the lives of others.
Those who made the sacrifices needed to defeat the 20th-century totalitarians did not intend to make a world where the killing of innocent children would be carried out under the banner of freedom. Where rights would be uprooted from their foundation in human dignity and turned into tools to oppress the weak, the small, and the disabled. Allowing the killing of innocents contributes nothing to building a more authentically human civilization.
Liberty is not an individual license to pursue self-interest at the cost of another’s right to continue living. However, this is where we are today. Contemporary hyper-individualism offers death as a way of life. The most severe threat to human dignity and human life in the 21st century is legalized abortion on demand. Legalized euthanasia also has infected a handful of countries, and is likewise promoted by today’s neo-totalitarians. Both practices are lethal sores on the body politic.
While defending the right to life takes place primarily at the domestic level, there is also an international dimension. National states function within communities of juridical equals and of which they are voting members. At both the United Nations and at regional levels, states have ratified documents, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which affirm the right to life of all human beings and the obligation of states to protect this right.
In a just land the lives and dignity of all are protected. The state is not merely a place for individuals to pursue their private self-interest, with an all-powerful Leviathan intervening only to halt conflict and penalize rule-breakers. Instead, a good state ensures justice and encourages and facilitates the practice of charity because these virtues have a close relationship to the common good. Such a state is an active and continuing enterprise of mutual action that inspires people to achieve the good, the true, and the beautiful, for themselves and for others. After all, poems and symphonies and inventions are not created for the sake of the poet, the composer, or the inventor, but for enriching the lives of others.
Justice and Charity for All
Affirmation of human dignity could lead to a more brilliant and more just society. After securing the right to life, we could move more easily and securely toward a greater multidimensional fullness of life for everyone in society. In a post-abortion world, a broad new scope of positive action would become available, and we would likely see multiple initiatives to build a more fully human civilization in all fields of endeavor in which the social virtues—justice and charity—nourish everyday life. This shift of focus and energy could light up our social universe with fresh sunshine.
The multidimensional fullness of life means the integral development of everyone toward excellence in all aspects of human nature—intellectual, aesthetic, moral, spiritual, physical, and social. Achieving this engages the intellectual and moral virtues, and its benefits go beyond the individual because society is not a collection of unconnected individuals—a mere crowd. Its most basic unit—the family—is a community whose essential characteristics are love and fairness, which on the community level, are called charity and justice.
By restoring legal respect for human life—the foundation of justice itself—we can move steadily toward fuller realization of the positive possibilities of our nature, including the formation of a more authentically human civilization. But we must begin by protecting the lives of our smallest and most vulnerable brothers and sisters. There truly is no other way.