Roe v. Wade was decided a year after I was born, so I grew up with parents who had the freedom to teach me the sanctity of life not for fear of legal consequences should I ever decide to have one, but because they firmly believed it was the right thing to do in compliance with their Catholic faith. They grew up with enough humility and religious conviction to fear damnation, but also with enough compassion and intelligence to know that all life is sacred. To this day I still follow those beliefs and teach my daughter the same. Her moral edification by her father and me is a direct result of the fact we are free to teach her what we truly believe, not because we are compelled to for fear of imprisonment or damnation. I teach her also that women have had to fight—and continue to fight—for fundamental freedoms we already possess by law. I teach her that all women must be allowed the right to not only teach (or not teach) their children the sanctity of life at all its stages, but also to make decisions regarding her own body based on what she is taught, not by what an out of touch politician (whose only concern is attaining power) forces her to do. We teach her to value her life first with the hope that she will never be faced with making such a difficult decision. Just because it’s a difficult one it should not be assumed she’ll be too inept to make it. And heaven forbid a pregnancy occurs against her will, but if it does she will have a strong support network to help her make what is ultimately her decision, regardless of what she decides. To add to her mental anguish a possibility she may be forced to then give birth as a result of such a violent act because someone in 2012 just wanted to get elected is purely vile. I look at her now, at 12, and wonder what her world is going to be like at 20, 30, 60 years of age. I ache knowing the basic right to her body rests in the hands of charismatic, power hungry politicians salivating for votes. We won’t have the right taken away; more likely we will merely give it up of our own volition by choosing to vote incorrectly. And if we forfeit the basic fundamental right to our own bodies, surely they will find something else to take away, otherwise they have no platform on which to run. That’s what politics seems to be in this election anyway, right? Platforms are established on the idea someone must lose a right to choose something personal, whether it’s to terminate a pregnancy or to marry the person he or she loves. The feigned collective anger and outrage exhibited by conservative legislators as a direct result of another individual’s personal choice is baffling, to say the least. This should infuriate every intelligent voting person—pandering politicians who take delight in preying on and attempting to manipulate our emotions in order to get elected.
Years ago I worked as a substitute teacher at the 11th Street Alternative School here in Bowling Green—it was the last stop for students before expulsion. I taught a girl who had been molested by her step father; I talked to her and knew her as much as she would allow, which was hardly at all. She was not a trouble maker. She was not loud or attention seeking. She did her best to hide in a class room of disturbed, angry students. At 14, she had already dropped out of life; her stay at the school was due to excessive truancy at her home school. She was in a bad place no matter where she was. What was already happening to her against her will was bad enough and yet many who will never know her or girls like her are adamant about adding more anguish to a girl already pushed over the edge. Why are so many so eager to value life inside the womb, but degrade it and abuse it once the child is born? I doubt many equated the sanctity of life and this child; funny how we forget to do so when the act becomes too bothersome or difficult.
Parents must teach their children and teachers must educate their students to value themselves and others, as well as to value life at all ages. Give them the tools, but allow them to decide. We are further isolated as individuals if we give away our ability to make moral decisions based on our own intelligence and personal discussions and replace it with forms of legislated “morality” that result in not only dependency on government to ineffectively run our lives, but that also threaten our very freedom if we disobey those laws. I find it ironic there are many who believe that is acceptable to criticize those receiving government assistance in any form—whether it’s student loans, a G.I. Bill, housing, food, unemployment benefits, social security, or health care—as being “dependent” on the government. It is the hypocrite who criticizes said recipients, but depends on that same government to make basic personal decisions regarding one’s health or body. Many Conservatives believe that those collecting any form of benefits results in the recipients being unable to ever be self-sufficient, but wouldn’t a government shackled with the responsibility of making my personal and moral decisions lead me to in essence, “forget” how to even make personal decisions? Would I not then be rendered incapable? Conservatives who believe those receiving any sort of aid or benefits are too unmotivated to be anything but dependent on the state, are in turn, too inept to make a moral decision on their own. Dependency exists in both instances, just in different forms. If you give up the right to choose, you automatically give up your right to teach your own children; to instill in them the tools they require to function in life and to make decisions that are best for them. Forfeiting my right to teach is just as dire as giving up my right to choose.
A weak argument exists if we apply the same logic of instilling the sanctity of life to hopefully prohibit one from terminating a pregnancy to that of murder probably needs to be addressed. First of all, it’s not the same because there exists too many who believe a fetus does not share the same rights as an individual outside the womb. To argue viability of a fetus or “when life occurs” is pointless and will only result in an argument reduced to insults ending in someone being compared to Hitler. And while we teach our children to respect one another, we really don’t have to come right out and tell them not to murder someone; it’s an innate understanding that we just don’t murder for the hell of it. Rarely do we make a conscious decision not to commit murder, weighing the pros and cons and relying on something our parents taught us along the way. (Although I may feel less strongly about this on any given day at my job; sometimes it is a conscious effort). We are all in agreement that murder out of malice or the random killing of one or more individuals is and should be punishable by law. Abortion and euthanasia are the gray areas; the areas where there exists only about 1000 factors that must be considered both morally and within the scope of the abilities of those burdened with the responsibility of making the decision. For some who believe in the absolute sanctity of life as I do, the decision is not a difficult one, but for others it may be. Like I said before, difficulty in making a decision should not hold us exempt from the responsibility of doing so, as the decisions of abortion or euthanasia are rarely made out of malice or without discussion and thought. We live in a world of instant gratification and the insatiable desire to be happy every minute of the day (rather than be content, which is quite different than being happy. Happiness is a mood and regardless of how fleeting it can be, we make vain attempts at being so constantly. Contentment is more a way of life, a choice). Having to make the hard decisions may leave us feeling “unhappy” and rather than work through unhappiness, we want to avoid it. Many want to avoid making their own decisions in order to avoid being unhappy for any period of time, but in doing so, we also lose the ability to choose contentment.
The death penalty, which is legal in 33 states with over half of Americans in support of it in cases of murder, is another one of those “gray areas.” This does beg the question: If the right to terminate a pregnancy should remain with the individual, should the decision to administer the death penalty be left to victim’s families? 43 executions were performed in 2011, all by lethal injection; if the decision were left up to the victims’ families as to whether a murderer should die, would there have been more? It might be easy to assume that yes, there would be if over half the population supports the death penalty. But that percentage is also relying on a jury to decide. Rarely if ever are the victims’ families consulted on the decision of life imprisonment or the death penalty. It is possible that there would be even fewer sentenced with capital punishment if the difficult decision had to be made by the family of the victim(s).
Roe v. Wade sparked a debate in 1973 that has pitted politician against politician and has severed more than one friendship, but what it did besides give women the right to choose and learn from their mistakes was that it gave women the freedom, opportunity, and responsibility to teach our girls to value their bodies and instill in them the tools to make the correct decision on their own—the correct decision for themselves. Women must be trusted to make that decision for themselves (sounds odd to even have to say that) if she is alone or privately with her family and allowed the ramifications of making the wrong decisions, regardless of what those decisions are. In short, we must be allowed to fail and succeed based on what we are taught at home, from parents, churches, or teachers–not through fear and intimidation of a detached and controlling government. And although I am pro-life, I shudder at even the idea, no matter how remote, of living in a world where a woman no longer has the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Because what follows may be worse.