We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…
With these words the American colonies declared their foundational understanding of God, man and natural law; God is acknowledged as both Creator and giver of rights to man who is set forth as equal in receiving them. These rights are therefore unalienable-inseparable from each person-and cannot be arbitrarily usurped by other men.
Our Founders knew well the tendency within each of us to encroach upon these rights; in framing the Constitution they sought to limit and define the extent of government, because they understood the role of government was to secure these rights and not to grant them.
Thomas Sowell calls this recognition of our fallen nature the “constrained vision” of man, a belief which conflicts with the “unconstrained vision” of man which sets forth man’s nature as something which can continually improve. Ironically, those holding to the unconstrained vision are inevitably vulnerable to totalitarianism because they rapidly discover their goal of achieving a perfect society is trumped by reality. There is no recognition that any rights are unalienable because all rights must be subject and conform to the notion of perfection set by those in power; this inevitably leads to the abrogation of rights in order to change society by coercion.
The foundational unalienable right is life. However, the beginning of each new life can be greeted with joy or dismay and can take place within the happiest of circumstances or the most tragic. An undesired pregnancy is a reality that forces a choice between these two views at a personal level as an inevitable and binding decision is made by the mother and father regarding the life of the child. In abortion the unalienable right of life is arbitrarily taken from the child.
By endorsing the parents’ authority to decide if the unborn child shall live or die, the right to live is removed as an unalienable right to be secured by the government and instead becomes a right which the government can grant or remove at will. The focus is on the choice of the abortion rather than on the morality of abortion.
The parents also step into a worldview. If they recognize the child has a right to live, they realize, however unwittingly, that this right is not theirs to take. If they will not concede the right of the child to live, they acknowledge there is no right to live and it may be peremptorily stripped at will.
G. K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy uses the analogy of a shipwreck to describe our world. He begins the comparison in the essay, “The Ethics of Elfland,” in which he compares the good we see in the world to Robinson Crusoe’s salvaged items from his shipwreck.
…Crusoe is a man on a small rock with a few comforts just snatched from the sea: the best thing in the book is simply the list of things saved from the wreck.
The greatest of poems is an inventory. Every kitchen tool becomes ideal because Crusoe might have dropped it in the sea…
An undesired pregnancy may occur in circumstances that seem like a wreck at sea. However, the life of the child is something good that can be salvaged. The recognition that his life is unalienable is something good that can be salvaged. If we drop both in the sea, we lose the very tools we need to keep our own boat from foundering. Because by doing so we state our belief that the right to life is alienable, even to our very selves, and that government has the willful authority to grant or annul this right.