With the post-Roe era in effect, many pundits and pro-abortion advocates keep misleading and misconstruing the very notion of rights. The truth is abortion was never a right and never will be. Many still try to claim that it is a religious right[i], however, there is a great fault with their logic when it comes to the subject of rights themselves. Others try to claim that it is a human right[ii], but again, this suffers from a vast misunderstanding of what is meant by the term “right”.
Sadly, many today seem to equate the idea of rights with desires or wants. So, if someone wants something, like a soda, they believe they have a right to it. This is a rather bleak view of rights in general since any desire then could be a right. This radical autonomy has more to do with anarchy than with freedom. Rather, one must understand that rights derive from moral obligations.
Due to moral obligations, or rather duties, one can see the derivation of rights. So, for example, when one says, “I have the right to my inheritance”, then there is an implied duty that others have the onus to let him have the inheritance. In essence, the right is a moral power that comes from moral duties. Again, when one says “I have the right to my property”, the corresponding duty that applies to all others is that there is a moral obligation that obligates everyone to let him have his property.
Yet again, this can be applied to the most foundational of rights, the right to life. Since there is a moral duty to preserve innocent human life, a moral power comes into existence – the right to life. It is for this reason that abortion is not a right, nor could it ever be a right in any context. Simply put, these rights derive from the moral law and the civil law has the obligation to protect these rights. To contradict this is to act contrary to the very purposes of being human.
The basic idea is that rights come about not because the state grants them or because of desires, but because of ethical responsibilities everyone is obligated to. Simply put, if rights were based upon the idea that the state grants them, then rights are easily taken away. If rights are based on desires, then rights are merely a synonym of the word “desire” and the word “right” loses its moral meaning when essentially the want of anything can become a right.
One should take a look at some of the arguments that were noted at the beginning of this article. The first tries to argue abortion as a “religious right”. The basis of their argument is that abortion is essential to their religious practices and that the taking away of these rights is contrary to the very principle of the right to the freedom of religion. But there are some major problems. Firstly, according to ethical principles, it is morally wrong to kill innocent human life. Secondly, the question becomes does the right to freely practice religion trump the right to life? Common sense certainly tells us no. Why? Because to arbitrarily set limits on the right to life means that there really is no right to life, in other words it is not the true foundational right in which other rights can even exist. The right to life merely becomes something determined by the state at will. And if there is no right to life then how can anyone truly practice their faith freely?
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Furthermore, the scientific fact is life begins at conception, not at some other arbitrary time such as implantation, birth, or when the child takes his/her first breath. At the moment of conception, the zygote (earliest stage embryo) is an organized organism, not just a mere clump of cells. At the moment of human conception, you have a human being with a human nature that is due protection for the mere fact that he/she is human. Especially since this tiny human is at his/her most defenseless. Not only do all other human beings morally owe this newly conceived human being protection from harm, since it is defenseless, it is from this duty that the unborn child derives the moral power of the right to life. This is why it is not only difficult, but downright impossible to call abortion a human right. Humans simply do not have the right to unjustly harm, much less murder, other humans.
Finally, this gets into the discussion of autonomy versus freedom. Again, many confuse the two thinking that freedom means the ability to do whatever one wants. This simply is not true. For example, no one states that one has the freedom to steal. That sort of statement would seem absurd. That is why when people state “abortion is freedom” it is as absurd as saying that people are free to murder whomever they wish. Human nature, since humans are social and rational creatures, is designed to be free, but this does not mean that it is to be without rules or to do whatever one wants. Even the majority opinion of the Dobbs[iii] decision recognizes the difference between ordered and disordered freedom.
Simply put, Roe and Casey were US Supreme Court decisions that were disordered freedom. In essence, they represented something that was not true freedom at all. These decisions caused disorder within a system that is meant to protect true (ordered) freedom and rights. Since abortion is not a right, nor can it ever be a right it simply is not directed to true freedom. Rather it is directed to chaos and the destruction of society (disordered freedom) since it is contrary to human nature and the true good.
In the end it comes to this, abortion is an inherently evil act. It destroys innocent human life which is contrary to human thriving. To think to the contrary is simply to not understand human nature. Thinking abortion is a right is to simply misunderstand the very basis of rights and how they function within human society. When it comes to rights, the purpose of the state is to protect them. The intentional destruction of innocent human life has never been a human good or a human right, nor will it ever be.
[i] Hernandez, Joe, “Some Jewish Groups Blast the End of Roe as a Violation of Their Religious Beliefs”, NPR, June 26, 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/06/26/1107722531/some-jewish-groups-blast-the-end-of-roe-as-a-violation-of-their-religious-belief, retrieved on August .
[ii] Dahle, Alice, “Abortion Rights are Human Rights”, The Gazette, August 15, 2022, https://www.thegazette.com/guest-columnists/abortion-rights-are-human-rights/, retrieved on August 30, 2022.
[iii] Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19-1392, 597 US ___ (2022).
LifeNews Note: Joe Kral, M.A., is the President of the Society of St. Sebastian and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Bioethics in Law & Culture Quarterly.