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Sunday, August 21, 2005

Conservative Belief, Abortion, and the Role of Government

A few days ago, I heard a question regarding conservative belief and abortion. The question was to the effect that if conservatives believe in limited government, if conservatives believe in the individual's right to live life without government interference, then how can a conservative be opposed to an individual's right to choose for herself whether or not to have an abortion?

This question fails to recognize two very important points: first, when conservatives advocate the rights of the individual, they mean all individuals, and second, the conservative belief in limited government includes a belief in the purpose of government as defined in The Declaration of Independence.

The relevant passage from The Declaration is the following:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, …

When we analyze this passage, we see that Thomas Jefferson, his co-authors, and all the signers of this document believed that all humans (all men) have certain rights that are not to be taken away (certain unalienable Rights), and that these have been given to us by God (endowed by their Creator). The writers specifically identify three of these rights - the right to life, the right to liberty, and the right to pursue happiness - and imply that there are additional rights not specifically named (that among these rights are).

It is not by accident that Jefferson and the other authors chose these particular rights to specifically identify. Without these three, it would be pointless to even consider any other rights.

Happiness, for example, means different things to different people, but however an individual defines happiness, this passage recognizes the God-given right of the individual to pursue that happiness. Without this right, it would be meaningless to talk about the right to seek companionship, raise a family, work towards career fulfillment, or anything else that an individual might define as happiness.

Before an individual can pursue happiness, however, he or she must be free. Therefore, the right to liberty must be recognized before one can consider a right to pursue happiness.

Finally, it is no accident that the right to life is listed first. Without life, one obviously cannot be free, cannot pursue happiness, and cannot enjoy any other right to which we might think him or her entitled.

After specifically identifying these three basic rights, Jefferson and the other authors and signers establish the purpose of government. That purpose is, according to The Declaration of Independence, to guard and protect these rights (to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men). Based on this statement, we see that to guard and protect the individual's right to life is the very essence of government.

For conservatives to champion the rights of the individual is nothing new. The Republican Party was founded in the 1850's by joining together factions of already existing parties. These factions were united as a party dedicated to preventing the spread of slavery into the Western territories; thus the Republican Party was founded on the principle of securing for African-Americans the right to liberty. Should the conservatives of the day have simply stood aside and said that each individual territory or state should have the right to decide for itself whether or not to legalize slavery? Of course not! To do so would have been to fail to protect the rights of the individual.

The first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, is thought to have said, "The purpose of government is to do for people what they cannot do at all or do so well for themselves." Whether or not Lincoln actually ever verbalized those words, it is certainly true that American slaves could not secure for themselves the right to liberty. It was well within the proper role of government to secure this right for the slave, even though advocates of slavery charged that by doing so, the government was interfering with the individual's right to choose to own slaves.

Today, the unborn are entirely unable to secure for themselves the right to life. Conservatives believe that it is well within the proper role of government to secure this right for the unborn, even though advocates of abortion rights charge that by doing so, the government is interfering with the individual's right to choose to have an abortion.

Conservatives have long opposed big government and will continue to do so. However, conservatives have also long championed the basic rights of the individual, and nothing is more basic than the right to life.


Blogger Malott said...

I suppose if the constitution spoke of a right to "convenience" and freedom from "moral responsibility" the pro-choice crowd would have a better argument.

9:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very interesting for me to read the blog. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything connected to them. I would like to read more on that blog soon.

Best wishes

7:27 AM  
Blogger Thomas W said...

That's rubbish. Sorry, but completely true.

For the Founders to posit a right for the unborn, at a time when women were treated substantially as property & no rights were extended to slaves, is nonsense.

You are leading with *your* ideas, and putting up some weak pretence at scholarship to try & support them.

Sorry, but I don't believe the Founders approve of that.

12:08 AM  
Blogger Bryan Alexander said...

Thomas, did you even read my post? Nowhere did I suggest that the Founders posited a right for the unborn. I have simply discussed the conservative principle of protecting the rights of the individual and have shown that this principle is consistent with the basic philosophy outlined in The Declaration of Independence. That philosophy, while certainly not perfected in practice, either by the Founders or by modern America, is the basic philosophy on which our country was founded. By using that philosophy as a guide, our country has righted many of the wrongs committed through the unequal treatment of African-Americans and of women, the two groups you have mentioned. I can only hope and pray that one day this country will also right the horrific injustices committed against the most vulnerable group of all and extend the full protection of the law to the unborn.

11:29 AM  

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