Elizabeth Manring | Intern
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Echoing through the annals of history, these words still touch a cord in our hearts. When Thomas Jefferson wrote them in 1776, they sparked a revolution, but even then, the “truths,” were called “self-evident.” Today we look back at the founding of our nation and note with disgust that at the time, slaves comprised nearly 60% of the population of South Carolina and that Thomas Jefferson was himself a slave owner. We ask how a people engaged in the buying and selling of human merchandise could espouse such high ideals as the equality of all. Were they hypocrites, or did they really believe it?
Today we might ask the same question. Do we believe that all people are created equal? Do we all possess certain unalienable rights merely by virtue of being human? How can we say yes if an entire class of human beings in the United States has been legally stripped of the right to life? How can we agree with these sentiments when 60,000,000 of the most innocent and vulnerable human beings have been not enslaved, but slaughtered in our midst? Abortion kills innocent human beings, for the fact that the preborn child is human is also an undeniable truth.
In the world of science, there is no doubt about the humanity of the preborn. Dr. Micheline Matthews-Roth of Harvard Medical School said when testifying before Congress, “It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception, when egg and sperm join to form the zygote, and this developing human always is a member of our species in all stages of its life.” It is true that a zygote, an embryo, and a fetus look very different from an adult human. It is also true that a toddler is very different from an adult human. But are these differences essential? Do they warrant the killing of that human being?
Across our lifespan, beginning, as science tells us, at fertilization, we differ in size, level of development, environment, and dependence, but at each stage and at any given moment we are still ourselves. Doubling our birthweight or gaining the “freshman 15” did not change our humanity. Acquiring the ability to speak at two-years-old did not give us more intrinsic value. Environment, whether inside the womb, an incubator, or an office building does not define who we are. Our level of dependence is constantly in flux, but does not greater dependence call for greater protection from the strong?
Between individuals, we vary in each of these areas. We have other non-essential differences such as sex and race but none of these differences justifies dehumanizing or killing any of us. The one characteristic that we have in common throughout life and that crosses every barrier of culture and gender is our human nature. Is it radical to suggest that human beings possess certain unalienable rights merely by virtue of our humanity?
Although people from every time and place recognize that all humans are created equal, vulnerable groups have had to struggle for their rights throughout history. For the sake of convenience, those in authority have used their power to define these human individuals as non-persons. 1854, Virginia Supreme Court: “In the eyes of the law…the slave is not a person.” 1876, British Common Law: “Women are not persons…in matters of rights and privileges.” And now, 1973, Supreme Court of the United States: “The word ‘person’…does not include the unborn.” We see here enshrined in law racism – discrimination based on race, sexism – discrimination based on sex, and ageism – discrimination based on age.
Each generation faces its own human rights injustice. In our society, racism and sexism still exist, but ageism has taken the lead. Every day, in our own cities and neighborhoods, millions of innocent human beings are silently and brutally murdered. And so, for the final time I will ask, do you believe in human equality?