Abortion and Rights, by George Parkin Grant
“Behind the conflict of rights (between the mother and the fetus MH), there is unveiled in the debate about abortion an even more fundamental question about rights themselves. What is it about human beings that makes it proper that we should have any rights at all? Because of this the abortion issue involves all modern societies in basic questions of political principle.
These questions of principle were brought out into the open for Americans, when the Supreme Court of that country made it law that no legislation can be passed which prevents women from receiving abortions during the first six months of pregnancy. In laying down the reasons for that decision, the judges speak as if they were basing it on the supremacy of rights in a democratic society. But to settle the case in terms of rights, the judges say that the mother has all the rights, and that the foetus has none. Because they make this distinction, the very principle of rights is made dubious in the following way. In negating all rights to the foetuses, the court says something negative about what they are, namely that they are such as to warrant no right to continued existence. And because the foetus is of the same species as the mother, we are inevitably turned back onto the fundamental question of principle: what is it about the mother (or any human being) that makes it proper that she should have rights? Because in the laws about abortion one is forced back to the stark comparison between the rights of members of the same species (our own), the foundations of the principles behind rights are unveiled inescapably. What is it about our species that gives us rights beyond those of dogs or cattle?
The legal and political system, which was the noblest achievement of the English-speaking societies, came forth from our long tradition of free institutions and Common Law, which was itself produced and sustained by centuries of Christian belief. Ruthlessness in law and politics was limited by a system of legal and political rights which guarded the individual from the abuses of arbitrary power, both by the state and other individuals. The building of this system has depended on the struggle and courage of many, and was fundamentally founded on the Biblical assumption that human beings are the children of God. For this reason, everybody should be properly protected by carefully defined rights. Those who advocate easy abortions in the name of rights are at the same time unwittingly undermining the very basis of rights. Their complete disregard for the unborn weakens the very idea of rights itself. This weakening does not portend well for the continuing health of our system.” —George Parkin Grant, Technology & Justice 1986
“George Parkin Grant, 1918-1988, has been acknowledged as Canada’s leading political philosopher since the publication of Philosophy in the Mass Age 1959. He was the author of Lament for a Nation, Technology & Empire, and English-Speaking Justice. He taught religion and philosophy at McMaster University and Dalhousie University.” (from the back cover of Technology & Justice)