Katherine Ranck: In the Abortion Debate, Whose Rights Take Precedence: the Mother’s or the Child’s?

Previously, we discussed that the abortion debate boils down to a question of, “Who gets rights?” The Pro-Life side asserts the fundamental right to life for all; the Pro-Abortion side claims that a woman (person’s) right to bodily autonomy is greater that a fetus’s (“non-person’s”) right to life.) We noted that the issue of personhood must first be decided and demonstrated that the pre-born human is just as deserving of personhood as humans who have already been born.

This now leads us to our second question, whose rights take precedence?

If we acknowledge that both the unborn and born are persons, and I have argued that we should, then we must acknowledge that both of them have intrinsic human rights by nature of their existence. What are these human rights?

Many throughout the course of history have acknowledged and discussed what these human rights are and should be. While the idea that there is a right and wrong way for humans to act and treat other humans goes back as far as ancient times many of these are based in a person’s civic status rather than by nature their personhood and humanity. The Code of Hammurabi (c. 1792 B.C.) is filled with different laws depending on the status of the individuals involved and included many cruel and inhuman punishments. Punishments were also given by class. Harsher punishments were given for crimes against a freeman than for crimes committed against slaves. If a freeman struck another freeman, he had only to pay a fine. Whereas if a slave struck a freeman, his ear was to be cut off. If a freeman struck a man of higher class than him, he was to receive a public lashing. As we saw previously, only citizens in ancient Rome had rights. In the early republic of Rome, the father, as the head of the family, had sole autocratic power over his wife and children. Up until the 1st century A.D., the father had the right of capital punishment over his children. The power of life and death over his slaves continued until even later in the empire’s history.

It was not until the enlightenment period that the idea of human rights for all became prevalent. At the time, this was known as Natural Law. John Locke, one of the most influential political philosophers of the time wrote, “The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

The United Nations was formed in 1945 after the atrocities of World War II and in 1948 issued the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Preamble of this declaration recognizes “the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” (Emphasis mine). The rights protected by this declaration, among many others, include the right to life, the right to freedom, protection against torture or cruel punishment, protection from discrimination, and the right to be recognized everywhere as a person. As members of the human race, the unborn deserve these same rights and protections. The final article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” Abortion is an act “aimed at the destruction of . . . the rights and freedoms” of the preborn child. The right to life, the right not to be discriminated against based on their size, development, location, or dependency, the right not to be tortured, and the right to personhood.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Katherine Ranck