Abortion is a tough, tough topic.
That's why I've never written a single column, in all my years as a journalist, directly about abortion. Oh, sure, I've touched on it in passing -- quick lamentations about the pathetic legal reasoning of Roe v. Wade and its embarrassing progeny such as the Casey case; reminders that the public strongly supports social-conservative positions on satellite issues such as partial-birth abortion, parental notice laws, and informed consent; utter opposition to making taxpayers finance abortions even if it violates their deepest beliefs -- but I've always avoided the central issue itself.
The most radically anti-life administration in American history is on the march, trampling over every moral qualm of the pro-life community by forcing taxpayer funding of various abortion-related services here and abroad, weakening (and threatening to eliminate) the rights of conscience of those who do not want to aid abortions, making Catholic hospitals fear they might need to close down rather than abet what they consider to be mortal sins, appointing radically pro-abort officials to high positions, and reversing President Bush's elegant and thoughtful executive order on embryonic stem cell research. All of which should not surprise, considering that our president is so monstrously -- yes, monstrously -- anti-life that he opposed legislation to protect infants born alive after "botched" abortions. There's a more precise term for the actions defended by his Illinois legislative position: murder.
In response to the aggressive anti-life moves by the Obama administration, the Susan B. Anthony List, which is dedicated to electing pro-life women to office, had an utterly smashing success at its big annual fundraising dinner March 12, with tables crowded so closely together in a hotel ballroom that there was barely room to walk. It was one sign that the pro-life community is mobilized and on high alert.
And it's a good thing.
That's what I've never written before. It's what I've always shied away from: directly and unambiguously addressing the issue of abortion itself, square on. I learned long ago that it's almost impossible to have a reasoned conversation about abortion, because feelings are too strong and too raw. So I just avoided it. Avoidance is so easy.
No longer. With an administration that seems determined to push the outer limits by ignoring even the rough national consensus on reasonable restrictions such as parental notice, it's time to say that it's a good thing that groups like the Susan B. Anthony List are fighting back. It's a good thing because -- deep breath -- abortion generally ought to be illegal.
I say this even though my sympathies are, for the most part, with the mothers considering abortions. Passionate pleas for the "poor little baby" can be off-putting. The baby may be able to feel pain, but it doesn't know what's happening. It feels no fear; it doesn't agonize. But mothers do. And mothers who choose abortion can be deeply moral people. A mother can wrestle with her conscience; she can convince herself she just isn't fit for motherhood right then, and can convince herself that it would be positively immoral to bring a baby into the light of day if she (the mother) can't provide the baby with a good quality of life. Granted, some mothers are just selfish: They can't be bothered. But many mothers suffer over their decisions before, during, and after, because they emotionally want the babies but just believe, with their whole hearts, that it is more selfish to have a baby for which they can't provide a stable home than it is to abort the child, the unthinking "fetus," in their wombs. The lines of subjectivity and objectivity, selfishness and selflessness, moral right and moral wrong, are confused and confusing when you are pregnant, alone, pressured, and frightened.
Such circumstances, though, are exactly where law is supposed to step in.
The United States has far too many laws. The law should not be meant for little things. Law should not govern every human interaction. Law should not replace human judgment in most matters of everyday life.
But law is what society must rely on to govern the biggest issues, the ones where clear lines must be drawn -- the issues where society must make choices because to abdicate those choices is to accept anarchy and disorder so rampant that they hinder the freedom of ordinary, innocent people. And the first duty of the law is to protect the life and liberty of the innocent. Where somebody is blameless before the law, he or she has the right to the law's protection. It's that simple. Furthermore, no one person's liberty can properly be bought at the expense of an innocent's life. Without life, there is no liberty; in law, existence must precede essence, because without existence the essence is meaningless.
The law exists to protect those who cannot protect themselves. And the law must, always, err on the side of life. Lost liberty is recoverable; lost life is not.
Let's repeat that: Lost liberty is recoverable; lost life is not, at least not in this earthly realm.
We do not know, nor will we probably ever know, when a human being becomes ensouled. And we do not know when mind begins. Some things are mysteries and ever will be. We do not know when pain becomes truly felt as pain; nor do we know when science will finally throw up its hands (if ever) and say, "Here, this is the point of gestation before which no life can be salvaged outside the womb."
Law, wrote James Madison, is meant to provide for "the defect of better motives." Law steps in to guard against defects of motives, of knowledge, of certainty, and of human nature. To guard against those defects, law must err, must always err, on the side of the most innocent, the most vulnerable, the most voiceless. To err on any other side is to risk an irreversible mistake. And law must err on the side of innocent human life.
We know a "fetus" is a life form, and we know it is, genetically, only human (not gorilla, not wombat, not cabbage). We therefore should know that we have no choice, in a realm where certain mysteries always will rein, other than to protect that human life which is most vulnerable and innocent of all.
Among the awards given by the Susan B. Anthony List last week was one given to young Lia Mills, a seventh grader from Toronto who refused to consider any other topic for a speech contest other than a plea, a well-reasoned plea, to stop abortions. "A person's a person, no matter how small," she said, quoting the famous elephant Horton (who heard a Who).
But that was just her rhetoric. Her reasoning -- available on YouTube -- went thusly: "We must remember that with our rights and our choices come responsibilities, and we can't take someone else's rights away to avoid our responsibilities."
No, we cannot punish the woman who is not in a position to be objective about her "choice." But we can and should use appropriate sanctions to forbid doctors from taking payment for using their forceps and knives to take all choices away from the innocent human life whose voice not even Horton can hear -- but whose heart, whose human heart, just five weeks after conception, can be heard beating, and beating, and beating, with all the wonder and potential that makes every human being a species of miracle.