Many of today’s most divisive issues that are eroding the foundations of civilized society grow from one root: loss of respect for the sanctity of life.
It’s not just the push to legalize abortion right up to, and even beyond, the moment of birth (denying medical care to an infant born during a “botched” abortion is unequivocally the murder of a child.) The loss of belief in the sanctity of life is at the root of every social crisis from mass shootings to government-sponsored euthanasia to the surge in violent crime to assuming the lives of people of different races are worth less than your own to trolls on the Internet threatening to kill people with whom they have the slightest political disagreements.
When you can argue that the most innocent of all lives, that of a child in its mother’s womb, is nothing but an expendable inconvenience that can be ripped apart and flushed away without a second thought, then you can turn a blind eye to any horror. But when people have had so many years of mass media indoctrination into a casual disregard for the sanctity of life, how can you reach them and rekindle their humanity? Sadly, short of a miraculous conversion, it’s not something that will happen overnight.
My own pro-life journey took place in the early 1970s shortly after the January 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (since overturned, thank God) was handed down by the United States Supreme Court. Being that I was in my final semester in high school, I don't recall the decision having an immediate impact on me at that particular moment it was handed down. By the time I had finished college, in December 1975, I had begun to understand that the decision was a radical departure from the norms of our culture and law. I started to realize that the implications of it were far greater than simply giving legal status to the practice of elective abortions.
By the late seventies, I had had more time to reflect upon the implications of what happens in a culture when we devalue life. I became increasingly convinced that the issue of the sanctity of human life in our times could well be as defining - if not more so - as the issue of slavery had been in the 1800s. (And again: slavery stems from people believing that one kind of human life is worth less than their own.)
Over the years, I came to believe that this was far more than one of many political issues that needed to be won through legislative and judicial battles. I came to the firm conviction that it was as fundamental a moral issue as any we have, or would face, in our nation. To ultimately get it wrong would lead us down a path to the tragic and dramatic reversal of the idea that we are all created equal. It would replace that noble principle with the view that some people are indeed worth more than others; that worth is determined merely on the whims of other human beings who, without benefit of due process or any checks or balances, could make the decision to end the life of another human being just because that human being became an inconvenience or encumbrance to the one who physically bore the child within her body.
One of the great surprises along the campaign trail in 2008 was the response I received from the audience on Comedy Central's “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” (It’s hard to believe now, but I was also on Stephen Colbert's “The Colbert Report” numerous times, as well as on HBO's “Real Time with Bill Maher,” and more conventional entertainment shows, such as “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Late Night with David Letterman” and “The Tyra Banks Show.” I believe that it is important to get my message to nontraditional audiences in unconventional ways. These are shows that reach people who don't live, eat, and sleep politics, but will often decide the elections.)
By anybody's definition, “The Daily Show” and its host lean solidly to the left and the audience reflects such a view. During the course of my interview, Jon asked me about my pro-life view. I don't think he expected my answer, and I certainly did not expect the response of his audience. I explained that I am pro-life, but that for me pro-life does not mean that we should care about a child only during gestation. I told them that I believe that the life of the unborn is sacred and has value, but that that life does not lose that value once leaving the birth canal. To truly be pro-life means that we should be just as much concerned about the child who is eight years old and living under a bridge or in the back seat of a car, or the life of an elderly person who is eighty years old, terminally ill, and living in a long-term-care facility.
My answer prompted spontaneous applause from his liberal audience. Whether or not they agreed with my position, they at least respected that being pro-life was not limited to being pro-“pre-born.” In fact, our passion for human life needs to be as equal and uniform as we perceive the value and worth of each human being to truly be. It is impossible to claim to be pro-life and have one's compassion end at the moment of birth. Truly being pro-life requires that at every stage of a person's life, regardless of the function of that person, there is a respect and protection of that life.
Most people were once appalled at the suggestion that a child with disabilities is too expensive to care for and should be put to death, like a beloved family pet is put down. But that’s now a popular justification for abortion, even well past the point of viability; that instead of providing therapy, education, and medical assistance for severely disabled children, we should deem their lives as expendable.
The issue and what we should hold as gospel truth is found in those simple words of our Founders: that we are all created equal. Granted, it took our nation 150 years to fully grasp the equality of men and women, and to finally grant women the same right to vote and to hold office. Even more disturbing was the long period before we fully recognized that people of color were just as equal as Caucasians.
This is why I long warned that overturning Roe v. Wade would not automatically restore the culture of life. It returned the issue to the states, where some liberal states have gone insane with laws pushing abortion far beyond the limits most Americans agree with, legalizing abortion right up to the moment of birth. Each state has now staked out its own standard of morality, which is ludicrous. It’s essentially the situation that existed before the Civil War, when some states recognized the obvious moral repugnance of slavery while others tried to justify it, enshrined it into law and even went to war to preserve it.
Surely today, no one would argue the morality of slavery. It’s not just because there was a terrible Civil War, because the attitude underlying slavery survived long after that. But over time, hearts and minds were won over, and people finally came to realize that certain beliefs and practices that used to be widely accepted are simply morally indefensible.
It is my hope and prayer that once the hysteria over the end of Roe v. Wade abates, we will win over hearts and minds, and people will come back to their senses and come to the inescapable conclusion that it is equally irrational to believe that human life can mean something different in each of the fifty states. Each life does have value and worth that transcends anybody’s political viewpoint.
It is my further hope that this issue could become depoliticized and based on the simple principle that dates all the way back to the very birth pains of our nation: that we are all created equal. And the equal value of every human life starts at the moment of our creation.