August 1, 2004
Don’t look for Michael Moore to spoof John Kerry, the Democrats’ presidential nominee, about his position on abortion. Certainly, there is nothing funny about the subject, but the seriousness of a subject hasn’t inhibited the Loony Left from ridiculing President George W. Bush.
In an interview with ABC’s Peter Jennings, Kerry tried to justify how he can support abortion rights even though he believes that human life begins at conception. Jennings asked: “If you believe life begins at conception, is even a first trimester abortion murder?” Kerry answered: “No, because it’s not the form of life that takes personhood in the terms that we have judged it to be in the past.”
And we’re to believe that Bush is the only presidential candidate who mangles language and logic?
But Kerry wasn’t finished. “It’s the beginning of life,” he said. “Does life begin? Yes, it begins. Is it at a point where I would say that you apply those [criminal] penalties? The answer is no, and I believe in choice.” For Kerry, “a human being is first formed and created [at fertilization], and that’s when life begins. There’s a transformation. There’s an evolution. Within weeks, you look and see the development of it, but that’s not a person yet….”
Another convention speaker, Ron Reagan, disagreed with Kerry and with his father, Ronald Reagan, about when life begins. An embryo, according to Ron Reagan, isn’t human life because it doesn’t breathe or have toes. During his presidency, Ronald Reagan issued a proclamation declaring that life begins at conception and that the personhood of the human embryo is entitled to protection.
Ron Reagan accepted the Democrats’ invitation knowing that it was extended only because he disagrees with his father on social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. A loyal son isn’t obligated to share his father’s opinions, but he would have declined such an invitation.
The difference between Kerry and Ron Reagan over the meaning of human life and personhood isn’t a mere semantic disagreement. This lack of moral clarity is dangerous. It undermines our foundational respect for human life.
If what Kerry acknowledges to be human life isn’t entitled to protection from conception, when precisely should protection begin? When we choose to label it a person? By what standard? When it grows toes?
Kerry’s circular reasoning provides an inadequate guide to protecting human life. His distinction between what is to be protected and what is not is arbitrary. He is all too willing to subordinate his own religious belief to what he thinks others consider personhood.
The treatment of human life at the Democratic convention puts us on a slippery slope. Once we accept the proposition that human life can be taken to save or improve the life of another, where do we draw the line? If we allow human life or personhood to be defined based upon compassion or any other emotion, we can draw the line anywhere we want.
History is replete with examples of how mistreatment of humans is rationalized by defining them as somehow less than human. They may be alive, but not entitled to full protection. Slavery, the extermination of Jews and the sterilization of mentally retarded persons were all justified in this way.
The debate over when life is entitled to protection will be a prominent issue in the 2004 elections. It may be just as prominent in the 2005 campaigns in Virginia.
Mr. McSweeney practices law in the City of Richmond where he was born in 1943. In January 2009, he convened a meeting of more than 200 Virginians, which led to the formation of Restore the Founders’ Vision, a non-profit civic education initiative. He has four adult children. He resides with his wife, Wendy, in Powhatan County, Virginia.