Op-ed: Making the pro-life case post-Roe
Note: The following commentary by MCCL's Paul Stark and Diane Paffel Moravec was published on June 25, 2022, in the Star Tribune.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson doesn’t end the abortion debate. It returns it to the American people, who will now decide their own abortion laws. And nothing will immediately change in Minnesota, where a state court ruling continues to require that abortion be legal for any reason.
But the Dobbs decision opens the door to a fresh dialogue over abortion—one that must address fundamental questions about the reality of science, the scope of human rights, and the demands of love. This is a conversation that those of us in the pro-life movement are eager to have.
Our view is grounded in a few core ideas. The first is an empirical fact known through the science of embryology: Human embryos and fetuses are distinct, living members of our species. They are not mere organs, tissues, or cells—they are whole organisms developing themselves through the different stages of human life. Just as each of us was once a teenager and a toddler, so each of us was once a fetus and an embryo.
But how should we treat these young humans? Here’s the second core idea: Human rights don’t belong only to the big, or the wanted, or the strong and independent. They also belong to the small, the rejected, and the powerless and needy. Human rights belong to all human beings.
Suppose, as some defenders of abortion argue, that only individuals with higher mental functions have rights. That criterion could exclude a whole range of human beings—infants, those with advanced dementia, those in temporary comas. Any standard that leaves out unborn humans leaves out other vulnerable humans, too.
It also undermines equality for everyone. After all, people have cognitive capacities to varying degrees. If those abilities confer rights, then some of us have greater rights and some of us have lesser rights. Some people, according to this view, count more than others.
Throughout history, every single effort to divide humanity into those who matter and those who don’t has been an egregious mistake. Why? Because the differences between us don’t determine our value. We matter not because of what we can do, or what we look like, or what others think or feel about us. We matter because of what we are. We matter because we are human beings. This is why everyone counts, and why everyone counts equally.
And it’s why unborn children, as a matter of justice, deserve respect and protection from violence. They are human beings, and human beings have human rights.
Pro-choice advocates raise objections to all this, of course, and those objections warrant serious attention. What about a woman’s right to bodily autonomy? Bodily autonomy is important and has too often been flouted or ignored. But this autonomy is not a right to attack the body of someone else. If unborn humans have rights, then to intentionally kill them through dismemberment or poison is to violate those rights.
Others point to the difficult and unfair circumstances pregnant women often face. But is abortion a good solution? No one thinks similar circumstances would justify the killing or abandonment of a five-year-old child. If unborn humans matter like five-year-olds do, then destroying them isn’t justified either.
These arguments for abortion tend to treat mother and child as isolated individuals competing for scarce resources. They assume that one person’s flourishing comes at the expense of another’s. The reality, however, is that human beings live in community and depend on each other. We flourish together. We flourish when we love one another.
Mother and child are just that—mother and child. And since its beginnings, the pro-life movement has sought to love them both and reject the either/or dichotomy. This both/and love is the third core underpinning of the pro-life view. It’s why, across Minnesota, dozens of pregnancy care centers and other pro-life programs help support and empower pregnant and newly parenting women and their families.
No one should ever be made to feel like her success requires the death of her child. Nor should anyone ever think that the trauma of an abortion experience puts her or him outside the bounds of compassion and healing.
That’s what the pro-life movement believes. Our position is based on science and universal human rights. Above all, though, it is rooted in love.
Paul Stark is communications director and Diane Paffel Moravec is vice president of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.