Abortion, Al Gore, and the State
With the first presidential debate having been relegated to the ash heap of history (and none too soon, at that), it is time to take stock of one of the most divisive issues of the campaign: abortion on demand. As expected, Gore solemnly intoned upon his support for "a woman's right to choose," forgetting, of course, that in the English language, the word "choose" requires a direct object. One does not simply "choose," one chooses to do something. And that something is to take an innocent human life.
When I wrote about constitutional rights and the infamous Roe versus Wade decision by the US Supreme Court, a number of libertarians wrote to tell me that I was narrow minded and bigoted. What really riled them was my connection of God to constitutional rights. However, I was merely reflecting the beliefs of those who wrote the US Constitution. If one has a beef on the subject of God and the founders of this nation, one needs to attack the founders, not me, for putting such language in the Declaration of Independence and the Federalist Papers in the first place.
Those things being said, nonetheless, I will deal with abortion on Gore's turf, not mine. In other words, I will attempt to frame this argument in a manner that will also appeal to those who believe that God does not exist, or those like Gore who may profess faith in God, but try not to allow such beliefs to influence him or her.
My first complaint in the abortion debate is the use of the word "choice." As I stated earlier, one must choose to do something, not merely choose. As Nat Hentoff has stated eloquently and often, the choice is whether or not to take a human life. To those who would say that abortion does not end human life, I must ask what life, then, is ended. Human beings give birth to other humans; they do not bear cats, dogs, insects, or plants.
Granted, there has always been debate among people of good will in the question of when life begins. While I do not have the expertise to answer that question outright (like many other Christians, I believe that life begins at conception), I do believe that I stand upon firm ground when I declare that human beings give birth to other human beings.
Thus, when Gore declares that he is for "choice," and that such choice is a basic constitutional right, then he is saying that humans have the right to kill another human for any reason that they may decide is applicable. Now, lawgivers of both modern times and antiquity have recognized the right of a human to kill another person in an act of self-defense. In contrast, Gore says that self-defense does not need to be invoked in order for one person to terminate the life of another.
The law has also recognized the right of people to kill someone in order to satisfy norms of justice. That is why some murderers are put to death. While many libertarians have eloquently argued that capital punishment in its present form constitutes abuse on behalf of the state, for the most part people recognize that a moral and legal case can be made to execute those who commit murder. (I share the concerns of libertarians, especially after observing rogue prosecutors railroad innocent people onto death rows in many states. I am not arguing that our present political classes should be able to put others to death, but rather am pointing out that people have recognized throughout the ages the case that murder may be punishable by death.)
In this present age of the aggrandized state, we forget the carnage wrought upon innocent people by government. While we correctly recoil in horror at the murders of Jews and others by Nazi Germany or the atrocities of a Stalin, Mao, or Pol Pot, Americans also need to look in the mirror. The people of this country have sanctioned their own versions of state-sponsored murder. These include the extermination of the American Indians, the terror firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo in World War II, and our wanton killing of civilians in Vietnam, Iraq, and Serbia. In that last unfortunate land, American bombers laid waste to churches, hospitals, bridges, and marketplaces, all in the name of attacking "military" targets that turned out to have almost no military value.
Following World War II, Americans and their European allies imprisoned or hanged numerous Germans and Japanese who were declared guilty of "war crimes." However, none of the Allies faced similar charges despite the fact that folks on "our side" also committed moral outrages against innocent people. Two generations later, the political classes tell us that we can slaughter the unborn and call it choice. Unborn children are no more human in the eyes of our political masters than the children of Tokyo, Hiroshima, or My Lai.
Besides the callous response of the political classes to the extermination of more than a million lives a year through abortion, I also tire of hearing folks like Al Gore tell us that it is a matter "between a woman and her doctor." This is sophistry at its most devious. Women usually have abortions in clinics, not in the friendly confines of the offices of their personal doctors.
Instead, abortionists travel from clinic to clinic to perform abortions on women they most likely will not see again. That abortions are warm, fuzzy acts of privacy "between a woman and her doctor" is no more the truth than Gore's claim that he invented the Internet. Even though Hollywood depicts the abortionist as a caring and sympathetic character (see "Cider House Rules," for example), the reality is much different, as many women who have had abortions will attest.
In the end, we are treated to yet another 1984 spectacle in which "War is Peace, Slavery is Freedom, and Ignorance is Strength." Choice becomes a buzzword for killing, and the cold, impersonal act of abortion becomes a sanctified, caring act performed by the loving and warm abortionist. If Gore is to endorse these acts of killing, let him be honest about it, and not hide from the truth using language that is deceptive at best and diabolical at worst.
October 5, 2000
William L. Anderson, Ph.D., is assistant professor of economics at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.