Last year, I attended a Wyoming legislative committee hearing on an abortion bill. The debate had its “red herrings.” But, for a time, the discussion was very good.
At one point, a friend whispered to me, “I tend to agree with the person who speaks last.” He had noticed that, for the moment, debaters from both sides were right.
How so? Because each side was highlighting one of two distinct aspects of human rights; the right to exist and the right to personal autonomy (the right to live according to one’s own values).
Even though both religious and non-religious people support pro-existence laws, some people think such laws are about enshrining religion. This is why they can claim to be personally against abortion, but don’t support abortion restrictive legislation. They believe this is the abortion issue’s “middle-ground.”
The best arguments for autonomy reminded us that no one wants to be forced to live according to the values (or lack of values) of others.
Freedom is fundamental. But both sides can agree that it has limits.
For instance, religious freedom is specifically protected by the Constitution but it is not an absolute freedom. The state could not require church attendance, for example, without violating the First Amendment’s “establishment” clause.
But, whether values are religiously inspired or not isn’t the issue. For example, some people demonstrate by their actions that they have no objection to theft. Other people, both religious and non-religious do object to theft, and may object for different reasons. Regardless of one’s personal view or what informs that view, theft negatively impacts the life and autonomy of others. Therefore, it is outlawed for everyone.
Regardless of what one believes about abortion, or what informs that belief, the question many seem to ignore is, “Does abortion negatively impact the life and autonomy of another human being or not?”
Today, YouTube has ultrasound videos of the preborn, moving, stretching and even yawning. I invite you to watch them. Look with your own eyes and ask, “Are these living, human beings?”
If you answer “no,” then you will perceive the estimated 120 yearly abortions happening within Wyoming’s borders one way.
But if your answer is “yes,” you will believe the same number of Wyomingites lose their right to exist, as well as their right to personal autonomy every year. You will see why “middle-ground” on the issue is an illusion.
Where the “Pro-Autonomy” Movement Falters
No doubt the “pro-autonomy” movement has its own list of grievances to file against its detractors. I will leave such a listing to them. Below, I list problematic areas in the movement’s efforts.
• It defies reason when it acts as if a developing human person doesn’t exist before full term delivery.
Does a child born prematurely “qualify” for human rights? At what point?
Imagine seeing an expecting couple smoking cigarettes together. Would we pretend their decisions were not impacting another?
• It defies science when it compares the preborn to an organ like an appendix.
Our society claims to reject hate speech. Yet, it tolerates unscientific euphemisms like this which are designed to dehumanize. Such speech has led to far more abortions than simple legalization ever could have.
• It claims abortion is a “personal choice,” while, at best, remaining silent as others simultaneously seek to publicly fund abortions.
• It draws the debate down the “exceptions” rabbit hole without ever conceding to a single abortion restriction outside of those “exceptions.”
⦁ It obstructs greater debate by claiming men should have no voice on the matter.
This has been very effective at silencing many men. One would think, however, that if the movement were serious about this claim, it would restrict its own testimony to the voices of only women. But it doesn’t. This inconsistency suggests the “pro-autonomy” movement doesn’t really have a problem with men weighing in on the issue. It just doesn’t like men who challenge its position.
⦁ It undervalues adoption.
• It doesn’t make an honest claim for when life begins. By extension, it refuses to identify the moment we become responsible for protecting human rights. If not from the beginning, then when? And why then?
Is it age of viability? Because given the pace of medical advancements, “viability” seems like an arbitrary, moving target.
Do human rights depend upon location? i.e. outside the womb, and beyond “my body?” Then why oppose legislation like the “Born Alive Abortion Survivor’s Protection Act” which Congress has failed to pass, no less than 50 times?
⦁ It fails to acknowledge that abortion law sets a dangerous human rights’ standard; only those who are “wanted” get government protection. Human rights either belong to everyone, or they are guaranteed to no one.
We must, without exception, do better to help women who find themselves in desperate situations and facing unexpected pregnancies. To turn away a woman in need is unconscionable. But we shouldn’t suggest that the intentional termination of another human being is ever an acceptable solution. How can we speak against violence, if we spend so much time excusing it?
Both sides may forever disagree about the government’s responsibility on this issue. Perhaps both sides can help each other do better at keeping the discussion honest.
Deacon Mike Leman is the Legislative Liaison for the Diocese of Cheyenne.