Commentary: Defending life is a culture war worth fighting

Unborn baby at 20 weeks Credit Steve via Flickr CC BY NC 20 CNA An unborn baby at 20 weeks. | Steve via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

In a radio interview last week, the embattled governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, outlined his support for a controversial state abortion bill. Speaking about the bill, he outlined a "discussion" about the fate of children who survived in-labor abortions, appearing to many to support to a measure that would offer infanticide by another name.
Northam remains in the news for other reasons. But the weight of his comments, and the unexpectedly transparent image they offer of "pro-choice" ambitions, will not disappear from the public agenda.
Scientific fact, not just consensus, has long since established that a new life begins at conception.
That children in the womb are alive is not a matter of scientific dispute. Leaving aside the bedrock argument that each new zygote possesses a unique genetic code, from the earliest weeks of pregnancy demonstrable signs of life in a developing baby are obvious: brain function, heartbeat, functioning nervous system are all detectable at early gestational ages.

Medical advances now mean that children can, and routinely do, survive outside the womb at ever earlier gestational ages. Birth at 26 weeks, less than two-thirds of the way through pregnancy, now comes with a near 80% chance of survival.
In the face of these facts, the pro-abortion argument is no longer about about whether developing unborn children are human beings - if it ever really was - but about which people are "persons," with lives deserving of legal protection.
Personhood was recognized as the essential criterion in the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, in which Justice Blackmun conceded that the argument for legal abortion collapses if the unborn child is a person under law.
Thanks to science, dividing human life from human personhood is the last philosophical refuge of the pro-abortion lobby, and one with even darker implications than denying that unborn life exists  in the first place.

For sure, some rights are qualified by our ability to exercise them. Children do not attain full exercise of their rights, like voting, until a certain age, though this does not mitigate their legal personhood. The founding dogma of our nation includes certain "inalienable rights," the first of which is life.
But if the right to life is not inalienable from conception itself, when then is it acquired?
Popular sentiment, at least among media and cultural elites, now places the right to life as a consequence of birth. But in our medical age, what does that even mean?

The media has no shortage of coverage of babies "born twice" thanks to life-saving prenatal surgery outside the womb: which birth is supposed to confer personhood under law?

If the first, does the baby retain its new rights when it returns to the womb? Most worryingly – can the right to life be lost once attained?
If it is the second, does the child being operated on outside the womb not actually exist in law, and what exactly is different about the second birth - other than the intention of the mother to give birth?
What made Northam's remarks so chilling was the implication that in some circumstances, a newborn baby might be considered a non-person with regards to the right to life, until mother and doctors had finished "discussing" the fact of his live birth. Personhood, it seems, would be conferred only if they reached consensus that the wriggling, squirming, "comfortably" swaddled, inconvenient newborn child should be accomodated.
Northam showed a terrible kind of honesty by implicitly recognizing that it isn't the fact of birth but the intention of the mother to give birth that matters to some. He also demonstrated that for many on the "pro-choice" side of the debate, some children are simply "un-viable," as lives or as persons, in or out of the womb.
In the context of a child already born, as in Northam's example, the argument against life is clear: some people are simply too disabled to be recognized as people.
In Iceland, children with Down syndrome are disappearing as a result of enhanced screening offered by their health service.

The results are often equated to "eliminating" the syndrome, such rhetoric is a chilling illustration of the equation of killing and curing in modern progressive thought: "Only the strong survive" has gone from a brutal evolutionary observation to a policy position.

When Roe was decided 40 years ago, the life and rights of "un-persons" in the womb could be debated in a context that was, literally, out of sight. Today this is no longer possible. Once the discussion leaves the ultrasound screen and the delivery room, it is impossible to hide the attack on life behind the rhetoric of "women's rights."

The march towards a cultural, legal, and moral acceptance of euthanasia has given rise to a new trend of thought, in which the value and the right to life of undisputed persons is assessed by criteria every bit as nebulous and lethal as the "health and welfare" criteria pertaining to abortion.
Examples from the Netherlands and Belgium are stark, with the elderly and infirm literally fleeing the country in fear for their lives. Persons in law they may be, but if they are old enough, sick enough, unconscious enough, they are treated as sufficiently lesser persons, in order to permit the ending of their lives - killing as curing.
Many in the Church are squeamish about being perceived as "culture warriors" or "politicians." But the old perception of a culture war fought on grounds of conservatism vs progressivism is long out of date.

The fight isn't about who is right and who is wrong, it's about who lives and who dies.

In that, no one can be neutral, no voice silent, and no weapon left unused.

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