The paramount right to life is vested in each human being from the

moment of fertilization without regard to age, health, or conditions

of dependency.


The position that a fetus at any point in a pregnancy, beginning at conception, is a full human person bearing the panoply of rights available to all persons under the Constitution broaches no compromise. It is not a position based on "scientific evidence," but rests crucially on religious, philosophical, and moral premises. Stated in the absolutist terms in which "right-to-lifers" almost invariably couch it, that doctrine has the conse­quence that every abortion, under any circumstances, is murder, the fetus being regarded in all instances as not merely human but also uniquely "innocent," or, in the more theologically correct formulation, "helpless." Thus, abortion can be nothing other than a wanton form of human killing: "When the mask is lifted from the liberty of abortion, it is seen that the liberty consists in a freedom to knife, poison, starve, or choke a human being differing only in his or her degree of helplessness from the one who kills and the judge whose decree makes the killing possible."18

Emotionally charged rhetoric such as this is aimed at reclaiming the terms of moral judgment and righteousness from what are seen as the individualistic, libertarian values of the last two decades. More than a battle to save fetal lives, more even than a battle over the limits of legiti­mate sexuality, the antiabortion movement must be understood as the battle for moral hegemony and control over popular consciousness accompa­nying a right-wing economic and political resurgence. One surmises that it is not so much the act of abortion that "right-to-lifers" and the Catholic church hierarchy are worried about as it is the legitimation and visibility of abortion and the "permissive" sexual morality they seem to uphold. As Blanche Cook observes with regard to homosexuality, it is not the committing of sin but its politicization and public display that are the threat.19 Abortions, like gay bars, can stay in back alleys. Three constitu­tive elements in this struggle over morality need to be sorted out if we are to understand the emotional power and ethical fallacies in "right- to-life" ideology: religious symbolism, biological reductionism, and mater­nal revivalism.