How Killing Became a "Right"
January 15, 2002

by Joe Sobran

     Nearly three decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court 
ruled that abortion is constitutionally protected. 
Ostensibly libertarian, the ruling was actually one of 
the most tyrannical acts in American history.

     What greater power can the state claim than the 
power to redefine human life itself -- to withdraw 
protection from an entire category of human beings? And 
what greater power could the Federal Government usurp 
than the power of the individual states to protect 
innocent life from violent death?

     The pro-abortion movement has been consistent only 
in its inconsistency. It began by agreeing with its 
opponents that abortion was wrong, but arguing that 
abortion, when banned by law, "happens anyway" and could 
be better regulated -- made "safe" -- if legalized. Of 
course this could be said of any crime: murder, burglary, 
and incest, though banned by law, "happen anyway." Should 
they too be legalized?

     Later the pro-abortion propaganda apparat took a new 
position: that when life begins is a "religious" 
question, beyond the competence of the state to decide. 
Oddly enough, my Darwinian public-school biology teachers 
used to answer the question without consulting their 
Bibles: life began at conception. Frog life, bovine life, 
human life. But in those days nobody had any axes to 
grind, so nobody denied or evaded the obvious. "When does 
life begin?" became a mystery only with the emergence of 
a political interest in killing the unborn.

     Still later, the pro-abortion -- alias "pro-choice" 
-- crowd decided that abortion, far from being a 
necessary evil, was a positive good, which the state 
should not only tolerate but support, encourage, 
subsidize, maximize. Taxpayers should be forced to pay 
for abortions. They should have no more "choice" than the 

     How did the pro-abortion position evolve from the 
necessary evil position to the positive good position? 
Easy. The Court arbitrarily ruled that the U.S. 
Constitution shelters abortion. Did the Court cite any 
passage in the Constitution saying so? No. Did it find 
any evidence that the Framers hoped to protect abortion? 
No. Did it name any justice of the Court, even the most 
liberal, who had ever claimed constitutional protection 
for abortion before 1973? No. It merely discovered, all 
of a sudden, that the abortion laws of all 50 states had 
been violating the Constitution all along, even when 
nobody suspected it.

     This fantastic ruling generated a new debate about 
the "original intent" of the Constitution. Liberals 
argued that "original intent" didn't matter or was 
unknowable anyway. The Constitution didn't have a single 
fixed meaning; it "evolved" over time. Any interpretation 
was bound to be more or less "subjective" -- yet somehow 
the Court's subjective rulings had the binding force of 

     This amounted to saying that the Constitution means 
whatever today's liberal interpreters choose to say it 
means. If that were so, there would be no point in having 
a written constitution, or for that matter any written 
law. We would be defenseless against legal sophistry, 
especially the sophistry of self-aggrandizing power. 
That's the perfect prescription for tyranny, the opposite 
of the rule of law.

     Anti-abortion forces thought they had a winning 
issue when they raised the subject of the agony the 
aborted child may suffer, as rendered visible in films of 
aborted fetuses. The pro-abortion crowd replied -- when 
they didn't just ignore the question -- that nobody 
really knew whether abortion caused pain. But when the 
issue of late-term (or "partial-birth") abortion emerged, 
it transpired that they didn't care at all whether a 
fully developed baby suffered when its skull was crushed 
and evacuated.

     The Court agreed. It had originally made quibbling 
distinctions among first, second, and third trimesters of 
pregnancy, holding that a state might protect a child in 
the third trimester, when it had achieved "viability" and 
was capable of living outside the womb. But now the 
viability pretext was discarded. Killing the unborn was 
constitutionally protected at every stage between 
conception and live birth.

     Right from the start, the pro-abortion movement has 
been defined by shifting arguments, fallacies, evasions, 
lame excuses, and utter bad faith. The Court has not only 
acted as part of that movement, but has been its greatest 
asset, sparing it the need for persuasion by imposing its 
arbitrary will on the entire United States -- and in the 
name of the Constitution it actually despises.


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