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Life Is a Civil Right



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Ever since I criticized the president for his position on abortion last week, I have been the target of great condemnation — mostly, but not exclusively, from the left. How dare I compare abortion to slavery, claim the right to life as a civil right, and express my disappointment in the president for his views on these issues?

Those who thought their criticism would silence me obviously haven’t done a Google search. This weekend’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade reminds us of the very wreckage abortion has caused: over 50 million babies dead, based on a decision that holds that certain human life can be taken for any reason or no reason. In America we require a lengthy and litigious process involving dozens of people to take the life of a criminal who has done great harm to society — and at the same time grant one person the absolute right to determine whether an innocent child should be granted the rights of personhood and therefore life.

How can this be, and why was I pilloried for suggesting this is an issue of civil rights? Because our courts have created a distinction between human life, which a fetus unquestionably is from a biological standpoint, since it is both human and alive, and personhood under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution — the very amendment that ended the immoral denial of personhood to blacks.

Over a million lives will be taken this year, and a disproportionate percentage of these children will be black. How is this any less a civil-rights issue than any other issue we tie to civil rights? It is a great irony that so many feel free to wrap their education-reform claims in the language of civil rights but chafe when it comes to the same claims about life. When we point out that our president does not allow the educational choice for poor black children in Washington, D.C., that he provides to his own children, does that make headlines?

But level the same criticism on the much more important issue of life, and you are charged with playing the race card.

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Not so long ago, folding the case for life into the case for civil rights was not so controversial. In 1977, the Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote, “I believe that life is not private, but rather it is public and universal. If one accepts the position that life is private, and therefore you have the right to do with it as you please, one must also accept the conclusion of that logic. That was the premise of slavery.”

In 1983 Pres. Ronald Reagan wrote: “This is not the first time our country has been divided by a Supreme Court decision that denied the value of certain human lives. The Dred Scott decision of 1857 was not overturned in a day, or a year, or even a decade. . . . But the great majority of the American people have not yet made their voices heard, and we cannot expect them to — any more than the public voice arose against slavery — until the issue is clearly framed and presented.”

Why are the law and history of this issue so very important to understand? Because, as I was pointing out in my comments, we have a president today who has wrapped himself in the history and legacy of civil rights. And yet, as a state senator, he was the lone voice in opposition to the Illinois version of a law I wrote to give personhood and thereby legal protection to babies who survive abortions. At the time, he argued that no rights should be given to any child prior to full term lest we impinge on the rights granted by the court under Roe v. Wade.

Then, campaigning for president, he was asked when he thought life began. He said that was “above my pay grade.” So President Obama does not recognize the right to life of a baby even after it is born and, when challenged, follows the example of another presidential candidate, Stephen Douglas, whose attitude toward the question of personhood for blacks was one of “don’t care.”

Let me sum up my case by quoting our very first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. It is this quote that ties together why I think life is a civil-rights issue and why I stake that belief in the self-evident truths of our Declaration of Independence:

In [our Founders'] enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. The erected a beacon to guide their children and their children’s children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began.

— Rick Santorum was a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2007.



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