Barack Obama’s So-Called Desire to Reduce Abortions Doesn’t Make Him Pro-Life

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 16, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Barack Obama’s So-Called Desire to Reduce Abortions Doesn’t Make Him Pro-Life

by Frank Beckwith, Ph.D.
February 16, 2009 Note: Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies at Baylor University, where he is also Fellow and Faculty Associate in the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion. He is currently serving on the faculty of the University of Notre Dame as the Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow in Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics & Culture. This article originally appeared at Moral Accountability.

President Barack Obama is unequivocal in his support of "abortion rights."He has opposed laws forbidding the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion, and even voted against Illinois’born alive infant protection act, which protects babies who are born alive after surviving an attempted abortion.

Despite Obama’s record, some pro-life Catholics and Evangelicals supported the president’s candidacy on the grounds that his policies would reduce the number of abortions.

Although my colleague Professor Michael New has provided convincing refutations of the empirical claim (see, for example, this one) made by Obama’s self-identified pro-life supporters, I want to respond to what I believe is the philosophical mistake that lurks behind their argument.

I and other pro-life activists have worked tirelessly over the years to reduce the number of abortions, but a numerical reduction is not our only goal.

The pro-life position is that all members of the human community, including the unborn, have inestimable and equal worth and dignity and thus are entitled to the fundamental protection of the laws.

“Reducing the number of abortions” could occur in a regime of law in which this principle of justice is denied, and that is the regime that President Obama wants to preserve and extend. It is a regime in which the continued existence of the unborn is always at the absolute discretion of others who happen to possess the power to decide to kill them or let them live.

Reducing the number of these discretionary acts of killing simply by trying to pacify and/or accommodate the needs of those who want to procure or encourage abortions only reinforces the idea that the unborn are subhuman creatures whose value depends exclusively on someone else’s wanting them or deciding that they are worthy of being permitted to live.

So, in theory at least, there could be fewer abortions while the culture drifts further away from the pro-life perspective and the law becomes increasingly unjust.

Consider this illustration.

Imagine if someone told you in 19th century America that he was not interested in giving slaves full citizenship, but merely reducing the number of people brought to this country to be slaves. But suppose another person told you that he too wanted to reduce the number of slaves, but proposed to do it by granting them the full citizenship to which they are entitled as a matter of natural justice.

Which of the two is really “against slavery” in a full-orbed principled sense?

The first wants to reduce the number of slaves, but only while retaining a regime of law that treats an entire class of human beings as subhuman property. The second believes that the juridical infrastructure should reflect the moral truth about enslaved people, namely, that they are in fact human beings made in the image of their Maker who by being held in bondage are denied their fundamental rights.

Just as calling for the reduction of the slave population is not the same as believing that slaves are full members of the moral community and are entitled to protection by the state, calling for a reduction in the number of abortions is not the same as calling for the state to reflect in its laws and policies the true inclusiveness of the human family, that it consists of all those who share the same nature regardless of size, level of development, environment or dependency.

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