Townhall: Professors offer differing views on abortion rights

Townhall is a new feature in the opinion section that offers readers the opportunity to respond to a pressing question on campus, in the community, in Washington or across the globe. This week’s Townhall presents two viewpoints on abortion. Adjunct Professor Jennifer Crocker argues that abortion is a constitiutional right, while Dr. Winfield Rose argues that abortion is immoral and of suspect constitutionality. 


Abortion is an immoral act

In 1857, the Supreme Court of the United States decided a case known as Dred Scott v. Sandford. In this case, the high court ruled by seven to two that slaves were property and that Congress could not regulate or prohibit slavery in any of the American states.

Slavery had existed in southern states prior to the adoption of the Constitution and it was generally, though not universally, accepted that slavery was constitutionally protected in those areas.

First, the Louisiana Purchase and then the Mexican War raised the question of expansion into new states. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 and the Compromise of 1850 attempted to deal with the festering issue, but it would not go away.

Stephen A. Douglas then proposed the idea of “popular sovereignty” whereby new states would have the freedom to choose or reject slavery by referendum. This was implemented by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The Dred Scott decision of 1857, only the second time the Supreme Court had declared an act of Congress unconstitutional, then nullified this policy and ruled that neither Congress nor the states could prohibit slavery anywhere in the United States.

Why would anyone oppose this solution to this age-old problem? The highest court in the land, made up of eminent and learned jurists, had determined the law of the land and certainly no one was required to own slaves if he did not want to. Moreover, it enshrined freedom of choice, supposedly a good thing, as the law of the land. But some people did oppose it and one of those people was a lawyer from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln opposed the Dred Scott ruling as well as the Kansas-Nebraska Act because he believed slavery to be morally and ethically wrong. Regardless of how the Supreme Court may have (incorrectly) interpreted the Constitution, Lincoln believed slavery to be a violation of the principles upon which the United States was founded. To him, the primary American founding document was the Declaration of Independence, and its teaching that all people are created by God with “unalienable” rights such as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Lincoln simply did not accept the Southern argument that the property rights of slave owners trumped the liberty and, in some cases, the life right of slaves. Lincoln also correctly thought that slavery corrupted the character of slave owners as well as slaves themselves, and that it was a blemish on our national character. We still suffer from the legacy of this most unfortunate chapter of our history.

The 40th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, January 22, 2013, also decided by seven to two, prompts me to suggest that today we might take a lesson from Abraham Lincoln; that he is commonly regarded as the greatest of all our presidents is not an accident. Roe v. Wade does not require abortion; like Dred Scott v. Sandford, all it does is give the right to choose. What could be wrong with that? What would Lincoln say?

Lincoln truly knew how precious life was because he had lost his mother, his sister and his only true romantic love to early and tragic deaths. Today, with a much larger population and modern medical science, we are much more casual about life. Again, regardless of how the Supreme Court may have (incorrectly) interpreted the Constitution, I believe, and I believe Lincoln would agree, that abortion is a violation of the principles upon which our nation was founded. As the Dred Scott opinion said the property interest of the slave owner trumped the liberty interest of the slave, Roe v. Wade says the liberty interest of the mother trumps the life interest of the unborn. That position is morally and ethically wrong. As slaves were living humans with God-given unalienable natural rights, so are the unborn; the difference is that the aborted unborn are not around to be seen and heard. The natural rights of life, liberty and property are not three equal rights that must be juggled in some kind of balancing test. Life comes first, then liberty and then property.

Simply put, we do not have the right to harm others to benefit ourselves. No rights are absolute. The exaltation of the right to choose is a chimera. We are not allowed the choice to steal our neighbor’s car, to defame his character or to kill his wife, to drive while intoxicated or, increasingly, to smoke in public places. Why? Because it harms other people. Much of what government is about is denying the right to choose; “Obamacare” denies people the right to choose not to have health insurance, for example.

A fundamental hallmark of a civilized society is that it protects its weak and defenseless, and there is nothing weaker and more defenseless than an unborn child.

As with slavery, abortion corrupts the character not only of those who engage in it but also of those who defend it and it is a blemish on our national character. What a society requires, defends, tolerates, sanctions and prohibits goes a long way toward defining it.

Much has been said lately about violence involving the unlawful use of firearms, and the recent shootings are terrible tragedies, indeed. But guns and their availability are not the real problem.

The real problem is the decay of our society as evidenced by, for example, incessant and extreme violence in entertainment media, the removal of ethical symbols from our public places, the decline of the family and by our devaluation of human life through lawful abortion. Morally speaking, there is no difference between killing a child before it is born and after it is born.

People are decisively shaped by the society in which they live. We have sown the wind and we are reaping the whirlwind.

The Dred Scott opinion virtually made the Civil War inevitable. Slavery was ended by this civil war and two constitutional amendments that followed.

Roe v. Wade will not lead to civil war but it has contributed significantly to our current highly contentious political environment and what might be called a culture war.

Though several constitutional amendments have overturned Supreme Court decisions, that will not happen to Roe v. Wade because 13 states dissenting will defeat the proposal. So, where do we go from here?

Where we go from here is that we can support the culture of life at every opportunity, and there are many, one of which is voting in the next election. When those 40 and under vote they should remember that their parents could have lawfully terminated them before they were born.

As someone has said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Written by Winfield Rose, professor of political science.


Abortion is a constitutional right

Abortion is a constitutional right. To prove my point, I will break down the relevant parts of the Fourteenth Amendment.

According to Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment, no state “shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens.”

Separated by a semi-colon, the next clause states that no state may “deprive any person of life, liberty or property.” Syntax and grammar are extremely important here.

The semi-colon means that readers should consider both clauses together.

While they hold separate ideas, the fact that there is a semi-colon and not a period between the clauses shows that they are being held in tension together.

Notice the change in objects between the two. The first clause speaks of “citizens of the United States” while the second clause specifically changes the word to “any person”. What does this mean? Why are these clauses purposefully separated?

This is not a separation about the unborn. This is a separation for the foreign-born.

This clause makes sure that all noncitizens, whether they be refugees, visitors or foreign exchange students, are treated fairly under American law just like citizens.

To make this clause refer to fetuses would be a perversion of its original intent.

Therefore, any state that passes laws to inhibit my access to a medical abortion is violating my constitutional rights.

Carrying an unwanted child to term has the potential to harm my life, my liberty and my property.

Removing my safe legal ability to terminate an unwanted or nonviable pregnancy is a violation of my American freedoms.

Written by Jennifer Crocker, adjunct professor of English.