If Roe is overturned, Americans will have to answer an essential question

By Ilan Srulovicz, DCNF

What is a human life?

The intense conflict taking place right now over Roe v. Wade demonstrates a key ideological fracture in our country. The fundamental dividing point on this issue is whether a human being, by nature of existing and being conceived, has value, or even a right to life.

The court’s justification in Roe v. Wade attempted to deny the right to life based on the argument based on privacy and viability, the latter being further expanded in Planned Parenthood v Casey. According to these supreme court’s decisions, if a fetus is not yet a person and just a “potential life” and the woman decides to destroy it, then the state does not have a right to infringe on her right as it is a private matter.

Yet science has now proven time and again that standard is inconsistent.

For example, viability, which at the time of the Roe decision was 26 weeks has since improved dramatically. Were those unborn babies aborted in past decades not considered “people” simply because technology hadn’t yet caught up?

To be clear, scientific advances show that there is no biological basis to refer to a fetus merely as a “potential life”. Even some pro-abortion advocates no longer argue that a fetus is just a developing human life. The dispute is whether that life is deemed worthy of living. 

Indeed, the arguments for a denial of a right to life are based on development and dependency/viability — but these positions don’t hold up when questioned, even superficially. We do not kill people because they are currently in an earlier stage of development, such as a baby, and we do not remove people’s right to life because they are dependent on others.

But this attempt to qualify which humans deserve life is ambiguous by intent.

This philosophy to set inconsistent standards for what qualifies as a person has consistently resulted in atrocities throughout history. If the human being does not have a right to life, for just being alive, then any standard set can, and will, be abused.

The need to redefine human value in this way always comes down to a starting position that is malicious by nature. Slavery was a very convenient position for white people wanting free labor, yet if all people were indeed created equally then the justification for slavery fell apart. The same can be said about Hitler’s tactics, who could not have committed his atrocities if the value of a human being was consistent.

In the decades since Roe v. Wade, these arguments around abortion have been largely philosophical and personal for Americans. But if Roe is overturned, the question of whose life ultimately holds value will be returned to the states, and everyday people. Indeed, everyone from the modern-day social justice warrior, to the stay-at-home mom, to the retired grandparent will suddenly have a say in the issue.

Who gets to decide what human life has value? Is the right to life a universal absolute, or is it morally relative? Should we be able to look at a human being and say their life doesn’t matter because 50 years ago they wouldn’t have been able to survive on their own outside the womb?

History has shown what atrocities can result when cultures answer these questions wrongly — if one life can cease to matter then any life can cease to matter. As Americans these questions may soon be upon us, and we would be wise to consider the answers carefully.

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