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All the Rights but One
[January 23, 2003]

By S. M. Oliva

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion case which overturned a Texas ban on the procedure. To commemorate that anniversary, the well-known abortion rights group NARAL hosted a public event that included the various declared Democratic candidates for president. To a man, each one supported abortion rights without qualification. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, himself a physician, summed up the evening’s theme with this declaration: “We don't want the government telling us how to practice medicine.”

Governor Dean’s sentiments are laudable, but unfortunately they’re also hypocritical. The Democratic presidential candidates, and indeed most of the organized abortion rights movement, subscribe to an ideology that expressly rejects individual rights in medicine. Indeed, Governor Dean’s own platform is centered on “universal health care,” a euphemism for government-run medicine, where the free market for medical services is abolished and replaced with state rationing. While Dean’s Democratic opponents do not all embrace this radical proposal, all are without exception advocates of government decision-making in medicine to varying degrees. And this ideology is hardly limited to healthcare. From taxes to affirmative action, Democrats ideologically oppose individual rights

So why is abortion the only individual right consistently defended by Democrats? The party is willing to sign away every other fundamental right in the name of the “public interest,” yet abortion rights are sacrosanct. It’s reminiscent of Abraham Lincoln’s statement in defense of his decision to suspend the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War: “To state the question more directly, are all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces lest that one be violated?” In a similar vein, one must ask pro-choice Democrats: are all the rights but one to go unprotected?

This is not a question of whether one supports abortion rights. I support such rights, as does CAC and other Objectivist organizations. But abortion must be understood in proper context. It is a moral right derived from man’s (or in this case woman’s) fundamental right to life. No woman can act upon her right to life without protection of her reproductive liberties, which includes abortion. The fetus is not actual human life, but potential human life. To assign the fetus superior rights over the mother—to give potential more value than actual—is a gross inversion of morality that negates the very “right to life” anti-abortion forces claim to protect.

But at the same time, the right to life does not revolve around the abortion issue. An individual’s right to life integrates many aspects, from the pursuit of voluntary trade to freedom of speech and property rights. Yet the pro-choice movement is rarely concerned with such matters. Indeed, the most prominent feminist and abortion groups are notable for their hostility to many of these rights. These groups routinely advocate the violation of private property rights, through their support of expanded welfare programs, regulation of private businesses, politically correct speech codes, and quotas. Yet all of these acts diminish the ability of the individual to live his or her own life in a manner consistent with their chosen values.

So why, then, does abortion remain the left’s sole indispensable right? The answer is that it’s more coincidence than principle. Put simply, abortion is the only moral right that also fulfills a collectivist interest. By sheer biological design, only women can exercise the right to abortion; therefore, feminists can hijack the individual right to abortion and convert it into a collectivist belief.

Whereas the individualist’s support for abortion derives from valuing man’s right to life, the collectivist's abortion right rests on devaluing the individual. In the feminist pro-choice world, women are victims who are not genuinely responsible for their own choices. Pregnancy and sex are burdens thrust upon women by oppressive men. A woman’s only hope, feminism says, is to embrace the perpetual dependency of the feminist collective. In this sense, abortion is not simply a life decision, but a primary value, a sign that you’ve renounced dependency on men and embraced dependency on the sisterhood.

The emphasis on dependency is bourn out in the typical pro-choice agenda. Not only does feminism demand abortion rights, they also seek extensive government benefits in support of pregnant women and their children: Mandatory paid maternity leave from one’s employer, free health care, taxpayer-financed daycare for children of any age, and so forth. Thus, feminists seek to divorce the right to abortion from the responsibility inherent in the choice. If a woman has an abortion, she is not to be morally judged by others (a question separate from legal judgment); and if she has the child, she cannot be expected to take responsibility for him, because that is the state’s proper function.

The rational supporters of abortion rights—the true “pro-life” movement—needs to stand up and rescue the abortion issue from feminist dogma. So long as the debate remains monopolized by the current pro-choice and anti-abortion factions, essentially two sides of the same collectivist coin, there is little hope for a principled resolution. The fundamental legal question must be resolved, but that can only happen if all sides renounce tribalist philosophy and embrace individualism—and individual rights—as society’s organizing principle.

 

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