Friday, October 17, 2008

Abortion and the "Right to Privacy"

On Wednesday night, I attended an event held by Illinois Young Republicans for McCain. They all gathered together in a bar just southeast of DePaul University. I rarely go to bars, unless there's a particularly good band I want to hear (and I haven't done that in quite a few years). On the rare occasions when I do go to a bar, I order non-alcoholic drinks (which are almost invariably overpriced at such places). On Wednesday night, I had a glass of cola, which cost $2. The fellow Republicans I invited to join me at my table were also kind enough to share a few small pieces of their pizza with me.

Like most of the folks there that night, I was really there to watch the third presidential debate, not to eat or drink. There were a lot of big screen TV sets positioned around the bar, and there was a good sound system, so there wasn't a bad seat in the house.

Regarding the debate, I was particularly interested in whether or not the candidates and the moderator would address issues pertaining to the right to life. John McCain didn't disappoint me, inasmuch as he addressed those issues directly, although he wasn't as eloquent when discussing those issues as I might have preferred.

I later visited a web page and obtained the entire transcript for the debate in order to review the transcript for myself. I suspected that I was going to want to quote from it in one or more of my blog posts.

Here's the part of the transcript which I want to discuss in this blog post. It's a quote from Barack Obama:
I am somebody who believes that Roe versus Wade was rightly decided. I think that abortion is a very difficult issue and it is a moral issue and one that I think good people on both sides can disagree on.

But what ultimately I believe is that women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers, are in the best position to make this decision. And I think that the Constitution has a right to privacy in it that shouldn't be subject to state referendum, any more than our First Amendment rights are subject to state referendum, any more than many of the other rights that we have should be subject to popular vote.

There are a number of aspects of that brief quote which could and should be addressed. Let's start with the idea that abortion is "a moral issue" on which "good people on both sides" can disagree.

Describing abortion as a moral issue is certainly accurate, on one level, but it can also be misleading, because such a description lends itself to claims by liberals such as Obama that pro-life people are trying to "force their morality" onto others who don't share their beliefs. The trouble with that simplistic characterization is that there are times when morality and public policies do, and should, intersect. In fact, many of the policies which liberal politicians and their allies seek to impose on the general populace stem directly from those folks' views pertaining to morality. They are not at all averse to imposing their moral views on others when it suits their purposes to do so, so it's hypocritical for them to criticize religious conservatives for doing the same thing.

The slavery issue which dominated the 19th century was a profoundly moral issue. But it was not a sectarian issue, or even an exclusively Christian issue. It was no accident that the most ardent opponents of slavery were zealous religious believers, but one didn't need to be a believer in God or Christ in order to perceive that slavery contradicted the fundamental premises on which the nation had been founded. One merely needed to be a person who believed that our nation ought to enact and enforce policies and laws which were consistent with those premises.

Unlike Barack Obama, I believe that the abortion issue falls into that same category. Again, I believe that it's no accident that strong believers in Christ are disproportionately likely to favor the pro-life point of view. But I don't think that one needs to be a Christian in order to see that abortion constitutes the taking of a human life, or to see that we have a moral and ethical obligation to protect all human beings from those who would seek to deprive them of life for reasons unrelated to self-protection or the need to uphold the principles of reciprocity and justice. In a previous blog post, I talked about how Bernard Nathanson, a former abortionist who once identified himself as an atheistic Jew, had been persuaded to reverse his position on that subject after being confronted with the scientific evidence in favor of the view that unborn children were human beings, not the "blobs of tissue" they'd been called by people in favor of legal abortion.

Do "good" people disagree on the abortion issue, as Barack Obama believes? That depends on how one defines the term "good," now doesn't it! I personally think it is disingenuous to describe anyone as "good" when he or she defends a practice which has already taken the lives of tens of millions of innocent human beings.

(Of course, the Bible also makes it clear that no one is "good" or "righteous," in the sense that God defines those terms, apart from the saving grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. But that's another topic. I understand that it would be political suicide for a politician to come right out and state that Christians or Old Testament saints who preceded Christ are the only people who could be legitimately described as good, even though that is what the scriptures teach and what millions of Christians believe.)

In any event, let's move on to the argument Obama makes in the second paragraph quoted above. He argues, essentially, that the "right to privacy" cited by the Supreme Court is comparable to the rights enumerated in the First Amendment. This, of course, is nonsense.

The "right to privacy" is found nowhere in the Constitution or any of its many amendments. When Roe v. Wade was written, the assertion that such a right existed was derived from a fairly recent previous case known as Griswold v. The State of Connecticut. Griswold was the first time in the history of American jurisprudence that such a right had been claimed to exist. In order to make that claim, they had to use the obscure term "penumbra" in order to describe that alleged right. A lot of people couldn't define that term if their lives depended on it. What does it mean? Here's how the American Heritage dictionary defines the term "penumbra" in relation to jurisprudence:

An area in which something exists to a lesser or uncertain degree: "The First Amendment has a penumbra where privacy is protected from governmental intrusion" (Joseph A. Califano, Jr.)
Even if there is a Constitutional right to privacy at all (and the fact that a "penumbra" is defined with the phrase "uncertain degree" makes it clear that that's a questionable contention), it should be clear that it exists to a "lesser" degree than the rights which are explicitly described and listed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In other words, Barack Obama's claim that our First Amendment rights are comparable to the "right to privacy" is proof of his ignorance of the meaning of the term which was originally used by the Supreme Court to support the argument that a constitutional right to privacy existed. In Griswold, the court freely admitted that a general "right to privacy" could not be found in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution, but it was argued that the "right to privacy" was based on "emanations" from those documents.

When the Supreme Court decided that a "right to privacy" existed during the course of the Roe v Wade trial, it based that conclusion on a different argument; namely, that the "right to privacy" was located in the "due process" clause of the Constitution.

In my opinion, the tortured logic which was used in order to arrive at such a conclusion did not in any way support the contention that the right to due process ought to have any bearing on whether or not a woman could kill her unborn child.

The idea that taking an unborn child's life deprives the unborn child of due process seems to have eluded the minds of the justices who voted in favor of legal abortion on that fateful day in 1973. In the years subsequent to Roe v Wade, it has been admitted by a number of people who believe that abortion should remain legal that the argumentation used by Harry Blackmun when he wrote the majority opinion in Roe was shoddy at best. But Barack Obama doesn't think so. He thinks that Roe v Wade was "rightly decided". His view of the Constitution is that it's a "living" document, which basically means that he thinks that activist judges should be able to impose their own personal agendas on the Constitution, and that they should be free to interpret the Constitution in whatever way is most expedient in terms of achieving the social results they deem desirable.

One of the ironies about the effect of Griswold and Roe is that both decisions were based primarily on a belief in a right to privacy. Yet, the social consequence of those decisions has been that sex has never been less private than it is today. Who would have imagined, prior to those fateful decisions, that people living in 2008 would be able to go to a public library, open their e-mail or visit a publicly accessible website, and view explicit videos of total strangers having sex with one another (or even, in some particularly revolting cases, with animals), in full view of anyone else who happens to be walking by at the time?

In Griswold, the reason cited for the need for a right to privacy was that they didn't want to allow the police to search "the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms". That's rather ironic, since the term "sacred" has strong religious connotations --- yet, the people which have cited Griswold in defense of the "right to privacy" are the people most likely to argue that nothing is truly sacred (or to argue, at the bare minimum, that people's religious convictions have no place in the public square), and to act as if that's the case.

Even if one believes that there is a constitutional right to privacy, it still doesn't follow that the right to privacy is a supreme right to which all other rights --- including the fundamental right to be protected from murder --- ought to be subordinate.

If a man wants to force his child to commit incest in the privacy of that family's home, the fact that the deed took place behind closed doors will not, and should not, protect that man from prosecution for having committed a heinous crime. One could cite numerous other examples to demonstrate that there legitimate legal limits to the alleged right to privacy, just as there are legitimate legal limits to the Constitutional right to free speech (as indicated by our laws which forbid libel).

The primary issue, then, is not whether or not there's a constitutional "right to privacy"; rather, the issue is whether or not the existence of such a right can legitimately be used to justify a public policy of looking the other way while millions of innocent human beings are killed in the name of deceptive euphemisms such as "choice" and "reproductive freedom".

Regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court was correct in arguing that there was a constitutional right to privacy, I believe that such a right, if it exists, ought to be subordinate to the unborn child's right to life, since the right to life is the most fundamental right of all, without which all other human rights lose all meaning.

From what I've seen, John McCain agrees, as does his running mate, Sarah Palin. That's why they will be getting my vote.

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