Abortion: Thomas Paine Vs. Edmund Burke

The underpinning of the pro-choice argument relies on the definition of “personhood.”  Under Roe vs. Wade, personhood status is achieved once the fetus (I prefer the term “baby”) is viable, or able to survive outside the womb.  Obviously, to those proponents of abortion, the unborn are not people or persons and, as such, have no rights.  Only once the unborn enters the world do they achieve personhood status and rights.

At first glance, this appears weird since liberals are all about rights.  The number of alleged rights is a never-ending expansion of rights.  For example, they assert a fundamental human right to health care, to a college education, and even WiFi.

The moral/philosophical basis of rights bestowed upon man comes from Thomas Paine in his seminal publication, The Rights of Man.  Ironically, this tome strips rights from the unborn.  The main point of his work was to free man from the oppression of tradition and the belief that the dead had any authority over the living.  Said Paine:

I am contending for the rights of the living, and against their being willed away, and controlled and contracted for, by the manuscript assumed authority of the dead, and Mr. Burke is contending for the authority of the dead over the rights and freedom of the living.

Paine desired to free himself and mankind from the dead-weight of the past.  In this way, the present generation could live a free life unencumbered by the past and the dead.  Here, he took dead aim at Edmund Burke, considered the father of conservatism.  Compare his statement above with that of Burke when speaking about society:

It is a partnership in all science; a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

In essence, you have Burke making a very strong philosophical pro-life argument.  Burke is saying that the dead and the unborn are as much a part of civilization as the present living.  We are not born free and independent, but into a social context laid by our ancestors.  If the dead are believed to be no longer part of civilization, then what obligation have they to future generations?  When the multitude of obligations are shrunk to the present, the result is simply self-indulgence.

Motherhood and its lifelong commitments are the pinnacle of selflessness.  The duties of a mother include much self-sacrifice for the benefit of future generations.  Those sacrifices and those by dead ancestors cannot be forgotten in the present, nor in the future.  Love of children and the desire to nurture them are the most endearing and fundamental characteristics to all humans.

Conversely, in a world where only those living in the present are of value, then living in the present is the only thing that matters.  Hence, the dead and the unborn have no place in this world are are rendered irrelevant.  Once one breaks the connection to our ancestors, our connections to the unborn are likewise weakened.

Paine’s legacy of rights stands head first among today’s liberal.  No one dare think of discriminating based on characteristics of birth such as race, ethnic origin, sex or even sexual orientation, or immigration status.  After all, they are all here in the present despite their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and immigration status.  Paine’s line of thinking helps explain why liberals can, however, discriminate against the unborn when it comes to rights.  Thomas Paine is the basis for this sentiment so prevalent today.  Burke’s  argument explains why the unborn have rights.  Paine, by erasing the dead and the call to erase traditions (since traditions are handed down from the dead), causes the living to erase the unborn and thus to be lacking in rights.

As conservatives, the two most vulnerable and equally important entities- the dead (or tradition) and the unborn- must be protected since they cannot protect themselves.  By keeping our ancestors in the present, it enables the unborn in the present to survive.

The importance of the pro-life movement is one of the paramount obligations of conservatives.  Abortion is the ultimate violation of the most important and most fundamental of human rights- that of life.  It must be fought not just for the innocent unborn, but for that web of obligations upon which any successful society is built.