Compromising Our Nation’s Values: Putting Abortion in Perspective

December 28, 2011 07:43
Compromising Our Nation’s Values: Putting Abortion in Perspective

We in America cannot truly expect to advance the cause of justice in our society apart from a steadfast commitment to our nation’s historic values.


By Ken Gerstenmaier at Center for a Just Society


How important is it that we in America remain true to our founding values? What would it mean for our country if we allow these values to be compromised?

Obviously these are important questions that most would agree go to the core of our identity as a nation. Everything our nation stands for is rooted in these foundational principles. We in America cannot truly expect to advance the cause of justice in our society apart from a steadfast commitment to our nation’s historic values.

This is why the practice of slavery was such a defining part of our nation’s history. For a nation that declared liberty to be a fundamental human right held by all, slavery was not only an injustice against blacks, but was also contrary to the very principles upon which our nation was founded. If liberty did not apply to all human beings, then we were not the America we claimed to be.

The discrepancy between our words and deeds on the issue of slavery caused great havoc for our nation. The lesson we should draw from this tragic failure to honor our values is that the well being of our nation is not a given. Unless we take great care to conduct our affairs according to the values we espouse, we run an extremely high risk of putting ourselves at odds with the very principles that are the source of the true greatness of our nation. To whatever extent we fail to honor our values, we diminish that which is unique and uplifting about America.

It is this critical dynamic that we in America are once again testing on the issue of abortion. Once again, we are confronted with an issue of great controversy involving the boundaries of liberty versus the rights of others. Once again, our zeal to be free to make choices solely on the basis of individual liberty has come into conflict with the legality of a practice where the fundamental rights of others are at stake.

The fundamental right at question with abortion is the status of the life of the unborn. This issue alone is at the crux of the divide over the legality of abortion in America. Either abortion is an entirely personal act that does not affect the rights of others, or it is an act that destroys another innocent human life. Either the current legal standing of abortion is a totally benign right of choice that in no way conflicts with our founding values, or it is the legal facilitation of a grave injustice that is completely at odds with our values.

So how does America resolve a conflict that calls into question the earnestness of our nation’s commitment to the sanctity of life? What criteria should be used, after all, to determine the legitimacy of a practice whose sole utility lies in ending the existence of a growing unborn life?

Given the profoundly consequential nature of the act that is being committed, utmost care must be taken to ensure that our nation’s historic commitment to an inalienable right to life is in no way being compromised by the legality of abortion. Affirming one person’s liberty if it infringes on the right to life of another can only be viewed as an equivocation of our nation’s founding values and a travesty of justice. Unless it can be convincingly argued that abortion is not an act that destroys a human life, there simply are no grounds that justify the “right to choose.”

This is the dilemma that we in America face today on the issue of abortion. Unless there is sufficient cause to conclude that abortion causes no harm to another, mere freedom of choice is not a legitimate basis for granting such power. Moreover, this is not a determination that can simply be left to personal discretion – it is a question of fundamental rights, and as such it must be decided before any individual right can be established.

Since the current legal standing of abortion does not rise to this standard, it lacks a sufficient basis to justify its establishment as a right of choice. Absent a compelling argument that abortion satisfies the imperative that a right of conduct must first be deemed harmless in order to justify its standing as a right of liberty, America is taking the distinct risk of compromising its values by condoning a right to abortion.

The challenge we face as Americans in light of the fundamental discrepancy that exists between our current law on abortion and the principles we espouse is twofold. First, we must forthrightly acknowledge the deficiency of elevating liberty over the imperatives of justice as a basis for establishing a right of abortion. And secondly, we must do whatever is necessary to redress this grievous failing in the current conduct of our nation’s affairs. At stake are both the lives of the unborn and the destiny of our nation.

Ken Gerstenmaier is a self-employed senior citizen who, together with his wife, tutors in their home.

The CJS Forum seeks to promote an open exchange of ideas about the relationship between faith, culture, law and public policy. While all the articles are original and written especially for the CJS Forum, they do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for a Just Society.

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