Dear Senator Obama:
As an immigrant from Kenya, your father found new hope in America’s noble principles and vast opportunities. The same promise brought my parents here from Egypt when I was still too young to thank them. Now you have inspired my generation with your vision of a country united around the same ideals of liberty and justice, “filled with hope and possibility for all Americans.”
But do you mean it?
As a legislator, you have opposed every effort to protect unborn human life. Shockingly, you even opposed a bill to protect the lives of babies who, having survived an attempted abortion, are born alive. Despite your party’s broad support for legal abortion and its public funding, most Democrats (including Senator Clinton) did not oppose the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act. You, however, opposed it. Your vision of America seems to eliminate “hope and possibility” for a whole class of Americans: the youngest and most vulnerable. You would deny them the most basic protection of justice, the most elementary equality of opportunity: the right to be born.
As a prerequisite for any other right, the right to life is the great civil-rights issue of our time. It is what slavery and segregation were to generations past. Our response to this issue is the measure of our fidelity to a defining American principle: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life.”
You have asked me to vote for you. In turn, may I ask you three simple questions? They are straightforward questions of fact about abortion. They are at the heart of the debate. In fairness, I believe that you owe the people you would lead a good-faith answer to each:
1. The heart whose beating is stilled in every abortion — is it a human heart?
2. The tiny limbs torn by the abortionist’s scalpel — are they human limbs?
3. The blood that flows from the fetus’s veins — is it human blood?
If the stopped heart is a human heart, if the torn limbs are human limbs, if the spilled blood is human blood, can there be any denying that what is killed in an abortion is a human being? In your vision for America, the license to kill that human being is a right. You have worked to protect that “right” at every turn. But can there be a right to deny some human beings life or the equal protection of the law?
Of course, some do deny that every human being has a right to life. They say that size or degree of development or dependence can make a difference. But the same was once said of color. Some say that abortion is a “necessary evil.” But the same was once said of slavery. Some say that prohibiting abortion would only harm women by driving it underground. But to assume so is truly to play the politics of fear. A compassionate society would never accept these false alternatives. A compassionate society would protect both mother and child, coming to the aid of women in need rather than calling violence against their children the answer to their problems.
Can we become a society that does not sacrifice some people to help others? Or is that hope too audacious? You have said that abortion is necessary to protect women’s equality. But surely we can do better. Surely we can build an America where the equality of some is not purchased with the blood of others. Or would that mean too much change from politics as usual?
Can we provide every member of the human family equal protection under the law? Your record as a legislator gives a resounding answer: No, we can’t. That is the answer the Confederacy gave the Union, the answer segregationists gave young children, the answer a complacent bus driver once gave a defiant Rosa Parks. But a different answer brought your father from Kenya so many years ago; a different answer brought my family from Egypt some years later. Now is your chance, Senator Obama, to make good on the spontaneous slogan of your campaign, to adopt the more American and more humane answer to the question of whether we can secure liberty and justice for all: Yes, we can.
– Sherif Girgis of Dover, Del., is a senior philosophy major at Princeton University and a 2008 Rhodes Scholar.