The U.S. Congress this week passed — and sent on to the Senate — a bill to protect unborn children against violence suffered from assaults on the mother. In a rational and decent age, it would not, perhaps be necessary to marshal special arguments in defense of the obvious truth that violence that causes the death of a child is a crime whether or not that child has been born. But, of course, there are those who work tirelessly to keep our age from being either rational or decent, and they are vigorously opposing The Unborn Victims of Violence Act. They object to the bill because it speaks of unborn children as unborn children, rather than as fetuses, and because it accordingly threatens to disturb the web of sophistries and lies that shrouds the real evil of the abortion doctrine.

The bill is important for the same two reasons as is the ongoing campaign to ban partial-birth abortion — to stop a particular evil in a way that also strikes an effective blow in the larger battle. Everyone claims to agree that it is good to make violence against women, which harms or destroys the life within her, a distinct federal crime. I should say, everyone agrees to this as long as the woman has not requested the violence — but leave that aside for the moment. The disagreement begins over the language by which the law will refer to the child in the womb. A pro-abortion substitute measure goes quite far in criminalizing violence that “terminates pregnancy” against the will of the mother, but scrupulously avoids acknowledging that there are two victims in such a crime.

Abortion defenders call The Unborn Victims of Violence Act a strike against “choice,” because it speaks openly of the unborn child as a person. I believe that they are correct. And it may be prudent for defenders of the bill to avoid encouraging opposition by arguing too loudly about its effect on the abortion debate. But it is necessary here to acknowledge, as well as in the case of partial-birth abortion, that we seek this part of justice not only for its own sake, but for the sake as well of the larger good — the restoration of the doctrine of human equality in the American regime which will bring legal abortion to an end.

This law has the potential to be a powerful manifestation to everyone of the perverse and contradictory logic of the abortion doctrine. For it is clear to everyone — hence the pro-abort rage — that the logic of the law extends in principle to every unborn child. Accordingly, the strained restriction of legal protection to the “wanted” child’s personhood reveals the evil reasoning underlying the abortion doctrine: That whether killing an unborn child today in America is a crime or the exercise of a sacred right depends in no way on the nature or intrinsic dignity of the child — or on any unchanging or permanent moral standard — but simply on the arbitrary will of the mother of the child.

Our words, and the words of our laws, reveal our understanding of reality. Our willingness to insist on using the right names for things — and for children — is a sign of our resolve to insist on respect for the truth.

Defenders of the abortion doctrine have been quick to realize that a federal law recognizing that killing an unborn child against the wishes of the mother is murder will be public testimony that some, at least, unborn children are acknowledged to be persons equal in dignity to those of us walking around. Laws protecting “chosen” children draw dramatic attention to the most fundamentally evil aspect of the abortion doctrine. Worse even than the defense of the killing of the innocent unborn is the doctrine that human beings receive their dignity and their rights from the act of choice made by their mother, rather than by the will of the Creator. Seeking to take the place of God is a greater offense than violating His law by killing our neighbor.

The pro-abortion lobby argues openly that the unborn child — wanted or unwanted — is simply a “fetus,” devoid of human nature and dignity. Despite the unanimous conviction of mothers everywhere that the children they lovingly carry are human persons inherently entitled to that maternal love and respect, Planned Parenthood and NARAL are willing to take their stand on the position that even “wanted” children aren’t children until they are born. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act specifically exempts the violence of procured abortion from its provisions, but it would nonetheless codify the opposite of the pro-abortion position that even “wanted” children are not persons until they are born.

Why are they willing to tell living mothers that their children are not persons? Because the alternative is to adopt the yet more irrational, and monstrous, position that human offspring in the womb can change from human person to blob of tissue, and back again, and so on, from moment to moment, simply as the intention of the mother changes. Defenders of abortion seem to sense that America will more readily accept the dehumanization of all unborn children, in defiance of the judgment of loving parents and of all moral decency, than the more manifest absurdity of dividing the unborn into persons and non-persons according to the will of the mother.

But, of course, such division of unborn children into the categories human will imposes on them is actually the essence of the pro-abortion position. The proud claim of the right to decide who is human, and who is not, is the heart of the evil. And the most powerful weapon against it is the truth on which America was founded — it is self-evident that human beings do not have the power to make or unmake the dignity of our fellow man according to our arbitrary will. To be human, rather, is to belong to a community of creatures who are the common recipients of the endowment, made by a will beyond our own, of an equal and unalienable dignity.

Americans have certainly drifted far from this founding truth — but it is not yet clear that we will knowingly and directly choose to deny it. The abortion lobby is, with good reason, not willing to let the question be put so directly to the American people. And the doctrine that whether killing the unborn is a crime or a right depends on the preference of a mere human being takes the abortion lobby uncomfortably close to an open test of its deepest evil principle — that some human beings are as gods, endowed by the mere fact of their current strength and power with the “right” to play the Roman Emperor and turn thumbs up or down on the rest of us.

Defenders of life, and of justice, must strive continually to put this question of principle before the American people — and to refuse to speak in ways that ever suggest acquiescence to the lies of the abortion doctrine. Last week Pat Robertson, commenting on the official Chinese policy of forced abortion, told a national television audience that: “I think that right now they’re doing what they have to do. I don’t agree with forced abortion, but I don’t think the United States needs to interfere with what they’re doing internally.” It is impossible to overstate how destructive it is to the cause of American principle when so called “leaders” of moral conservatism offer such energetic and servile appeasement to the forces of evil.

Speaking the truth is not expensive, and it is not — yet — dangerous in America. At least, it is not dangerous if we still have enough decency not to define danger only in terms of lost trade contracts with the Chinese. Whatever else we do or accomplish, we can at least call the evil of abortion by its real name — impious murder of God’s innocent ones — and refuse to join in the euphemisms and sophistries by which that real name is concealed.

In contrast to Pat Robertson’s pre-emptive moral appeasement, The Unborn Victims of Violence Act is a weapon of truth in defense of the doctrine of human equality on which America was founded. Its congressional sponsors are to be praised for crafting a bill that is so aptly designed to accomplish plain justice simply by acknowledging the truth that violent assaults on pregnant women have two human victims, and that it does so in a way that also invites the country to see the deeper principles at stake. President Bush has wisely promised to sign the bill, recognizing that it represents precisely the kind of prudent defense of the unborn that can play a real role in bringing the mind and heart of America back to a clearer understanding of the choice between good and evil, life and death, that we cannot avoid indefinitely.

The Unborn Victims of Violence Act has the defenders of death squirming, and that itself is a sign that the truth is at work. It passed the House once before, in 1999, but the Senate failed to act. Let us hope, and work, that the bill becomes law this time, and that it is followed by further measures to reawaken, and reestablish, our national commitment to the founding principle of American life — that our rights, and our equality, come from God, not from human choice.

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.