It is often said that defenders of the right to life harm their cause
by passing an absolute moral judgment on their opponents, thus implying
that defenders of
abortion are unqualifiedly evil. We are accused of being close-minded
and dogmatic, and of making mutually respectful discussion impossible.

We paint, it is said, with a brush that is a bit too broad. We are
told that within the Republican Party itself there are many pro-choice
people who consider themselves to be quite moral, and who even agree
that morality is the basis of the party, and that the destruction of the
family is at the heart of many of our national problems. Pro-lifers
are accused of unreasonably treating the pro-choice position of such
people as a sign that their more general moral convictions are not
sincere. We are told that this is counterproductive and uncharitable.

I understand this sentiment. I understand that many people assume
that my own absolute rejection of the abortion doctrine implies an
absolute condemnation of those who defend it, or even those who cannot
find the will or understanding to stand with me to oppose it. And I
agree that it would be a mistake to conclude that all those who accept
abortion take equally immoral stances on every issue. But I
emphatically disagree that the solution is to cooperate in the effort to
put abortion on the back burner. Continuing to raise the issue is
actually a sign of our deep respect and concern not only for the unborn,
but for those who right now reject the pro-life position.

There was once another group of people who got an issue of
fundamental moral importance wrong. They were decent, good, moral
people. They had tremendous moral insight, which I deeply respect.
They came to tremendous conclusions about human life and human nature
which led to the closest thing this earth has yet seen to perfect
political wisdom.

They are called our Founders.

But their wisdom does not entirely negate the fact that a blighted
and unjust institution was tolerated by their actions. As with today’s
defenders of abortion, this acquiescence did not make them entirely evil
men and women. But neither does their great virtue change the fact of
that injustice … or the fact that every human being ultimately was
responsible for struggling against it.

Those who disagree with me on abortion can be perfectly decent, moral
human beings. I will respect their moral conclusions just as I respect
the moral conclusions of the Founders; but I will fight the evil they
tolerate, just as I would have fought the evil tolerated by our
Founders.

If this ruffles some feathers, you’ll just have to excuse me, because
the need to stand for American principle on Declaration issues is the
lesson I draw from the most important events in American history,
including the history of my own ancestors. I will stand or fall with
that lesson, because nothing in our public life is more important than
rejecting the principle that one human being — whether it be a mother
or a slave-owner — has the right to treat another human life as
property.

As anyone who has insisted on raising the issue of the right to life
in the public arena knows, the pressure to keep silent on the issue can
be intense, particularly from political allies who smell victory if we
can just avoid certain uncomfortable topics. This siren song is being
heard again these days, as G. W. Bush signals furiously that he will do
whatever is necessary to avoid “risking” defeat for the party by being
“judgmental” of his fellow citizens.

Bush Republicans are fooling themselves in their insistence that, if
a few pro-life leaders would be silent, the Republican Party would have
clear sailing to victory. It is not a few pro-life leaders who are
keeping this issue on the table, any more than it was Lincoln who kept
the issue of slavery before the nation in the years before the Civil
War. Republicans yearning for comfortable victory can struggle with the
fact all they like, but it is the Declaration of Independence that
burdens this country with the abortion issue. The Declaration is our
burden to carry — and we will carry it to glory, or to perdition, but
we cannot lay it down.

I know that many Americans, many Republicans, wish to do so. But
they should look back at their own history, because they are placing
themselves in the tradition of those who avoided facing up to the need
for racial justice in this century, and of those who avoided the need to
fight the institution of slavery in the 19th century.

The arguments for silence on abortion have been heard before, in
other times and on other issues. The issue, we are told, is divisive.
It will destroy the Union. It will be destructive of peace and civil
order.

In reply to these arguments, the same voice of conscience has sounded
in every generation, telling us that we will either believe in the
principles of the Declaration, and reason consistently from them, or we
will not survive as a free people. This dilemma was set before us by
the Founders, when they penned their Declaration that human beings
self-evidently do not have the right to decide to abuse one another’s
lives — our Founders acknowledged in principle, even as they struggled
with their own practice, that the right to do so has been denied to us
by God, our Creator.

And because the Declaration puts this liberating truth before us as
Americans, defenders of life have the right to demand that those who
insist on dropping the abortion issue confront its words. For although
abortion is called the “pro-choice” issue, there is one choice that its
defenders ultimately cannot make — to ignore the issue. They are
either going to have to refute the argument against abortion or accept
its validity and join their fellow citizens in rejecting abortion as we
have rejected slavery and racial oppression.

They cannot avoid this challenge, because I, with many just and
decent people in this country, will continue to raise it. Even, or
especially, at moments when political success or failure at the polls is
supposedly at stake, we will continue to make the argument from
principle. And we will make a better argument than the defenders of
abortion, because we have the self-evident truth of the principle of
human equality on our side. If our opponents disagree, they are welcome
to join the debate and make their case. We will go before the American
people, who will eventually decide the question in light of the
Declaration principles that still form the conscience of this people.

So my goal is not to establish that certain people are bad. It is to
help retrieve all of us from the misery to which a fundamental
compromise of our deepest moral convictions will lead us. The pro-life
effort is a labor of love not just toward the unborn, but even more
profoundly toward those who are in the grip of the moral confusion and,
yes, evil, of the abortion doctrine.

This is, finally, why we cannot accept counsel of those who claim to
oppose abortion in principle but urge that the most effective course is
to seek practical limits and reductions of abortion short of
prohibition. This view invites us to say to the American people that we
can turn our back on a challenge to our fundamental Declaration
principles, while we try to work at a practical level to reduce an evil
that we can’t even call by its true name. This will not work, among
other reasons, because it is so clear that such proposals lack true
conviction. Our young people especially sense that tentative responses
lack the conviction of real moral confidence. They realize that if a
thing is truly judged bad, their elders will truly want it stopped, that
it is only things partially good that are long tolerated, and that if
something is truly harmful, we will seriously try to discourage it.

In the end, the young people of America — all the people of America
— will draw the lessons our national actions imply. And the lesson of
silent toleration of abortion, even a frowning toleration, is that it is
consistent with human happiness to harden our hearts against our
offspring, to treat that offspring as a dehumanized obstruction, and to
remove it when it gets in our way. This is the lesson we teach by
anything short of a sustained effort to win the argument against
abortion, and end its legal practice. It is a lesson incompatible with
civilized life.

Abortion is wrong in light of our common principles as a people.
Speaking out against abortion is thus primarily the attempt to show its
defenders that they embrace this practice at the expense of things much
dearer to their own hearts, and which they cannot finally even consider
abandoning. Opposing abortion by argument shows precisely the respect
and concern for our opponents that the ruffled-feather crowd don’t
understand, for our argument relies on the presumption that all of our
fellow citizens remain resolved to seek justice, and to live with one
another in charity under God. Allowed to flourish, abortion finally
will undermine this deepest democratic confidence, and it is for this
reason that we must address it or confess that we do not intend to
sustain self-government.

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