Thursday, March 18, 2010

Personhood Works, Regulations Don't

This is a more coherent recap & expansion on my earlier blog post on regulations, and why they undermine the Personhood of the unborn child -- "How We Compromise Ourselves."

I do not question the well-meaning intentions of those legislators who support, or even write, compromise legislation which tries to put limits on abortion in circumstances where a total abortion ban is not realistically possible. We can argue later about which is more "politically realistic" (I think Personhood is, still). But the fact that I believe in the good intentions of the pro-life regulators does not mean that I don't care whether they stop pushing regulations -- I do! -- or that I approve of what they're doing -- I don't! -- or that I will always continue to support regulation-minded legislators if they continue to ignore warnings about the unintended consequences of what they do.

I think the main thing “pro-life regulators” need to understand is that, whether or not Personhood is "practical" in a legal sense (which is the main objection of those pro-lifers who oppose the Personhood strategy, including Archbishop Charles Chaput and Clarke Forsythe of AUL), our primary problem as pro-lifers is that we've been making the wrong argument -- one which won't "change peoples' hearts" (which everybody agrees is the goal).

The regulations may teach some people about the Right to Life, but more often (esp. for wishy-washy or "moderate" citizens, who are the ones we need to convince in order to succeed in passing legislation or electing legislators) regulations only suggest a "moderate" solution exists for what they are led to believe is a policy question -- where do you draw the line?

Let me restate that.

Regulations clearly “suggest” to a citizen observer that there’s a policy question, to which there are “extreme” solutions (to right or left) and “moderate” solutions. Typical American citizens being who they are, almost all of the people in this category (i.e. the moderate, middle-of-the-road people who don’t often think about policy issues, but when they do they try to find a middle ground, striving never to seem “extreme”) will seek the middle ground – the moderate way – and won’t see the larger implications of the issue at hand.

The argument pro-lifers need to make -- and Personhood makes this argument 100% of the time, while regulations may succeed in making it only 30% of the time -- is that there is an actual Right to Life which is inalienable as a principle, and may not be violated for any reason. That message comes through with Personhood, and it's making progress.

I’ll restate that too.

Personhood “suggests” to a citizen observer that abortion is most certainly NOT a policy question with a spectrum of possible solutions, but is rather a question of principles. Two principles, as it happens – either pro-life or pro-abortion. When the abortion “question” is posed as a principle, and not as a policy question, Americans are actually more likely to choose life instead of death.

Polls show something like 80-90% of Americans believe “there is a God,” even if most of them may not call themselves Christian or correctly follow the teachings of the true God. Believing in God suggests an absolute moral standard, and when the abortion question is measured against an absolute moral standard, very few Americans want to be caught on the wrong, or immoral, side. Since they’re forced to choose between a principle of “abortion is right and moral” versus “abortion is always wrong” one option stands out as more correct and more moral than the other.

That’s the “practical” reason why pro-lifers must reject regulations and embrace the Personhood strategy. The Personhood strategy accomplishes what we want to accomplish – a changing of hearts and minds in society – whereas regulations are far less effective in accomplishing the change we want.

Our message always gets muddled when we're talking about regulations, because every regulation inherently denies there is a Right to Life (if there were an inalienable, inviolable Right to Life, then there's nothing to regulate!).

Consider this line from the text of Roe v. Wade: "Endnote 54: When Texas urges that a fetus is entitled to Fourteenth Amendment protection as a person, it faces a dilemma. Neither in Texas nor in any other State are all abortions prohibited. Despite broad proscription, an exception always exists. The exception contained in Art. 1196, for an abortion procured or attempted by medical advice for the purpose of saving the life of the mother, is typical. But if the fetus is a person who is not to be deprived of life without due process of law, and if the mother's condition is the sole determinant, does not the Texas exception appear to be out of line with the Amendment's command?"

The US Supreme Court in 1972/73 didn't simply lay a roadmap for pro-lifers by noting that if you establish Personhood in law, you can protect the unborn as Persons. They also highlighted the logical error in the "pro-life with exceptions" mentality.

The key point is this: The Supreme Court logically concluded that because Texas had an exception to their anti-abortion statute*, Texas could not simultaneously argue that an unborn child was a Person under their law, because the two concepts – a regulation vs. a principle – are contradictory. The regulation always denies the principle, so if there exists a regulation, then the principle must not be the law of the land. It’s simple logic.

Ed Hanks

* A note on "life of the mother exceptions": Many pro-lifers get stuck on the “life of the mother” exception, because it’s the most compelling of the “hard cases” exceptions some regulations are meant to address (how many times have we heard politicians recite the line, "I oppose abortion except for rape, incest, and the life of the mother"?). But we need not fall victim even to the life of the mother objection. The Personhood movement cares deeply about the lives of both, mother and child, especially since if the mother dies before the baby comes to term, the child will obviously die too. However, that doesn’t mean we need a “life of the mother exception” in law. Instead, the anti-abortion statute should be absolute. The life of the mother is saved by a doctor trying to save both lives (and thereby “do no harm”), not by a doctor trying to kill one patient in order to save the other. It’s the same concept as separating cojoined twins. The goal should always be to preserve both lives. This is not always possible, because of relative viability, and so sometimes one of the patients dies. The measure of crime or not is intent. If ever the doctor attempts to kill one patient, rather than save him/her, that’s where it becomes homicide.


Barbara Rew said...

Thank you for this most informative article. The Right to Life movement is in dire need of such truth. It is the truth that, when embraced by all who sincerely want to protect life, will stop the senseless killing and set us free at last!

Meredith said...

I agree with you Ed - but I have to say that I think your original article, "How we compromise ourselves" was more helpfully put!

Coloconservative said...

Thank you, Meredith! Over time I've found some people are offended by the more direct approach of "How we compromise ourselves," and so this blog was intended as a way of approaching the concept more broadly. I usually start people with this one. Hopefully once people accept the idea so far as that goes, they will also look at "How we compromise ourselves." You're right -- that article gets into the specifics which really seal the deal. Thanks for taking a look at both!