The American Civil Liberties Union once believed in, well, civil liberties. Love or hate the group, the ACLU then represented what its name proclaimed. One of its most principled and controversial stands was supporting the right of Nazis to demonstrate.
Today, in the age of wokedom, hate speech, and safe spaces, freedom of speech is an even more important issue. Yet the ACLU has abandoned the “civil liberties” for which it is named. It has decided that free speech just isn’t that important, especially compared to the many sacred progressive verities that should, indeed, must be forced upon the ignorant and recalcitrant. Religious freedom is a related antediluvian concept, which must be discarded when confronted by any of the many modern “rights” declared by social engineers who have seized control of society’s commanding heights.
And then there is abortion. It presents a tough issue for any liberty-lover. Who can be happy about inviting government to pronounce its judgment on anyone’s pregnancy? Yet abortion is the one freedom issue that is about much more than liberty. Without life in the first instance there is no freedom to defend.
Abortion requires balancing the interests of two people. The fact that one of them has not yet emerged from the womb does not resolve the issue. Once life is created, absent an unexpected interruption, such as abortion, it will naturally develop, leading to birth and beyond. If forced to choose between existing and potential life — e.g., the rare instance when a mother’s life is threatened by the pregnancy — the state can legitimately give the former greater weight. Even then, however, potential life deserves serious respect.
The Keystone State ACLU urged its members “to show your gratitude and support” to abortionists. Indeed, the official hashtag was #CelebrateAbortionProviders.
Bolstering the argument that babies deserve not just consideration but also protection is the fact that pregnancy results from voluntary choice, except in the (thankfully) uncommon case of rape. Irrespective of one’s intentions and precautions, having sex can yield a baby. Saying “oops!” does not eliminate responsibility for the new life. One might argue about what that entails, but abortion is a flight from responsibility rather than an exercise of freedom.
Alas, none of these nuances affect the ACLU’s analysis of abortion. The national organization explained that it “works in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.” It sounds like a statement the Federalist Society might issue, but everything depends on how one interprets “the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”
Needless to say, in the ACLU’s view, “everyone” does not include the unborn. They may be aborted — a euphemism, of course, for killed — for any or no reason. And the organization’s position is not merely a defense, however misguided, against government restrictions on abortion. The group claiming to represent “civil liberties” insists that all Americans, irrespective of moral scruples, must pay for the abortions of others as part of Medicaid and even their private health insurance. The ACLU’s understanding of a “right” to abortion is the right, indeed, obligation, to conscript the entire population to promote abortion.
And the ACLU’s Pennsylvania chapter went even a step further. It signed onto Abortion Provider Appreciation Day, which was March 10. The slogan doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Worse, consider what it celebrates: a profession dedicated to the destruction of unborn life. Even if one believes that it is not the state’s job to interfere with that decision, which ignores the moral value of a unique, developing human being, one need not celebrate that decision and especially those who wield a deadly scalpel. But the Keystone State ACLU urged its members “to show your gratitude and support” to abortionists. Indeed, the official hashtag was #CelebrateAbortionProviders. Celebrate them.
Worse came from the Abortion Care Network, which developed Abortion Provider Appreciation Day. Explained ACN: “In 2017, Abortion Care Network launched #CelebrateAbortionProviders, which has become an annual tradition of celebrating and appreciating abortion care providers through love notes, art, acts of kindness and support, messages of affirmation, a giant love-fest Tweetstorm, and more.”
Love notes? Acts of kindness? A giant love-fest? In the past one would think of such activities to celebrate births. Not deaths.
It turns out that many Americans don’t celebrate abortion, despite ACN’s best efforts. Rep. Andy Levin’s (D-Mich.) resolution expressing the House’s appreciation for abortion providers failed to exit the committee. Even in reliably Democratic Alexandria, a historic suburb of Washington, D.C., the mayor withdrew his grand proclamation marking the day from the city council docket after opponents spoke up.
Reported the Washington Post: “A plan by Alexandria’s mayor to publicly honor the city’s abortion providers at a local government meeting this week was scrapped after drawing criticism from religious leaders and conservative media outlets.” The mayor indicated that “We appreciate those providers for doing the work that they do,” but complained that the subject “was more controversial than a proclamation should be.” Apparently, he never imagined anyone would object to lionizing abortionists. (READ MORE: A Pro-Life Victory in Deep Blue Northern Virginia)
Alexandria’s saga demonstrates the importance of winning the cultural as well as political battle. Abortion activists aren’t satisfied with the Supreme Court magically amending the Constitution to make abortion a constitutional right. They want to normalize the procedure, treat it not just as an unfortunate necessity but a positive good. Those who believe the lives of the unborn have value must press their case even in the face of cultural hostility, against those who rule journalism, education, entertainment, business, and more.
And the pro-life movement must take its arguments to vulnerable women considering getting an abortion. The point is not to demonize but offer alternatives and support. Even if the Supreme Court overturns the constitutional right to an abortion embodied in Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions, abortion will be legal until states legislate otherwise. Many will keep the procedure legal. As a result, all Americans will have legal access to abortion at least in a nearby state. Then persuasion, not coercion, will be key. And that will require pro-life activists to show they care about mothers as well as babies.
The most important civil liberty is the right to life. That is the essential truth that the pro-life movement needs to communicate. If successful, perhaps it could help convince even the ACLU to move back to its roots and away from its position as just another progressive pressure group. In this time of ever-expanding state power, we all would benefit from another powerful advocate for our liberties.
Doug Bandow is a former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan and author ofThe Politics of Plunder: Misgovernment in Washington. A graduate of Stanford Law School, he is a member of the California and Washington, D.C. bars.