Unpacking the term ‘reproductive rights’

2 mins read
Opposing sides of abortion issue collide in front of Supreme Court
Opposing sides of the abortion issue collide in front of the Supreme Court building during the March for Life in Washington. (CNS photo/Daniel Sone)

Msgr. Owen F. CampionEven before President Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a new judge for the Supreme Court, every commentary on the nomination process said that abortion will be a major issue in the discussion. Be prepared. A phrase will be heard, “reproductive rights.” When this happens, dissect this phrase, in terms of logic and morality.

No one has doubts as to the meaning of “reproductive.” It is about human procreation.

“Rights” is the compelling word. Place it in the context of the emphasis on abortion. The basic question arises. Does anyone have the “right” to interfere with procreation in such a way that the unborn life deliberately is extinguished?

Pregnancies end naturally, due to physical circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Abortion is the intentional stopping of a developing new life, and abortion on demand is the ability to end a pregnancy, by decision, for a reason held often only by the mother, without question or qualification.

This ability is defended by arguing that the mother has this “right,” hence the term, “reproductive right.”

Is it a mother’s “right”? By extension, do medical professionals have the “right” to end a pregnancy, simply because a mother requests it.

Face facts. Under current American law, this “right” exists. Such has pertained since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 ruled that any woman, personally and privately, can decide to end her pregnancy, and no one legally can cancel or halt her decision.

The civil law, and Supreme Court rulings themselves, bind society, it is true, but they do not necessarily guarantee principles and ethics. Remember, American laws, and court rulings, explicitly protected slavery and enforced limiting the right to vote solely to males. Legal shortsightedness is part of history, as the Supreme Court itself has admitted on occasion. Judges are fallible human beings. Laws are human inventions.

It is altogether proper to peacefully question the wisdom or ethics of any court decision. Americans who object to, or criticize, present laws regarding abortion, aloud and persistently, absolutely are within their roles as citizens. This should be stressed when, in this moment, critics of present policy are denounced for being outrageously “out of place.”

By the same token, Americans who demanded in 1954 that the Supreme Court reverse itself regarding racial separation were not “out of place.”

Now, to the essential, what is a “right”? It is the freedom to decide, and to act, in a manner chosen because of personal deduction. The test, or the consequent restraint, comes when a decision jeopardizes the right of another.

This test is behind much of civilization and certainly of American law. It is our way of life, the heart of the American legal definitions of injury, obligation, liability and relief. It is why law enforcement exists, from the FBI’s investigations of spying by foreign powers to a local patrol officer’s watching a highway for traffic violations. No right is an open check to endanger the rights of others, especially the innocent.

As for abortion, no person, not even the mother, has the right utterly to destroy an essential right of another, surely not life itself.

What about persons convicted of crime? Are their rights curtailed? The operative words are “convicted” and “crime.” By a method studiously invoked as being the most thorough and fairest available under human ingenuity, a person is “convicted,” or found guilty, ultimately of trespassing upon the rights of another. Even at that, the system always, and carefully, respects the rights of the accused.

Penalties, including capital punishment itself, are applied in a process to assure that, in the future, the rights of everyone will be protected, and that a person found to have damaged the rights of another will not repeat the crime.

When the term “reproductive rights” is heard, take it apart. Analyze it.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.

Msgr. Owen F. Campion

Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.