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Antiwar, Pro-Life: The March Goes On

by Mary Meehan, The Washington Post, February 8, 1979.

In an interesting response to the recent "March for Life," Kathleen Newland stressed the worldwide trend of fewer restrictions on abortion ("The Abortion Trend," op-ed, Jan. 25). Her statistics apparently were meant to reassure Americans that our country is right to allow abortion for virtually any reason.

It is difficult to understand why a worldwide trend makes something acceptable. Nuclear-bomb proliferation seems to be a worldwide trend. More and more countries now use other weapons that 100 years ago would have been considered barbaric: napalm, cluster bombs and the like. Torture seems to be more widespread, not less, than it was 20 years ago. Is this progress?

Perhaps these trends, together with abortion, simply prove that we are in a new stage of barbarism. Perhaps they are examples of the "technological imperative," the acceptance that what can be done technically will be done or must be done, regardless of ethical consequences. If it is possible to manufacture napalm, we must make it and use it. If it is possible to use sophisticated electric torture to keep the peasants down, we must do it (or show our allies how to do it). If it is possible to abort a five-month-old fetus who is inconvenient to her mother, we must allow it, maybe even finance it.

Kathleen Newland declares, "The international record shows that legal prohibition does not prevent abortion." Of course, it does not prevent all abortions; but it certainly prevents many. The same is true of other laws barring assaults on persons -- laws against rape, assault and battery, murder. Surely no one (at least no feminist) would argue for repeal of the rape laws because they are so often violated.

The key words are "assaults on persons." Is a fetus a person, a human being? A great deal of scientific evidence indicates that it is. I agree with those who say that public policy on abortion should not be decided on religious grounds. And I urge them to consider -- quietly and carefully -- the scientific evidence. And to look at the pictures. It is difficult to view a picture of a fetus and honestly say, "That is not a human being."

It seems to me that the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups are right in viewing abortion as a civil liberties issue -- but wrong in the side they come down on. The right to life, first among the rights listed in our Declaration of Independence, underlies and sustains every other right we have. Without the right to life, the other rights are meaningless, and human society becomes a sort of warfare in which force decides every major issue. There is no equality, because one person's convenience takes precedence over another's life, provided only that the first person has more power. And, as the ACLU says in other contexts, "What can be done to one can be done to all."

In the late 1960s, I marched down Pennsylvania Avenue against the war in Vietnam. The other day I marched down the same route against abortion, accompanied by a friend who had also been active in the antiwar movement. We couldn't help wondering, "Where are all the others? Why did so many of them drop off the route when the war ended? Why do so many now support abortion?" We thought that most people in the antiwar movement shared a conviction that life is a great good, that we should, as some of the peace signs declared, "Celebrate Life!" And where are the liberals? How can so many liberal politicians be against war, against capital punishment and for abortion? How can they be concerned about poverty and neglect and child abuse after birth, yet accept what someone called "the ultimate child abuse" of abortion?

Copyright 1979 The Washington Post