On Sunday morning’s “Meet the Press,” presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expressed a very unique, contradictory stance on abortion. Coupled with Donald Trump’s most recent comments on abortion, neither front-runner for either political party seems to grasp the moral, legal, or ethical issues surrounding what is still one of the most contested topics of our time. It’s baffling, if not altogether discouraging. Yet Hillary’s comments may contain a shred of hope for unborn babies.
Clinton is radically pro-abortion and has often expressed support for Planned Parenthood and the like. This is not news. But Sunday while on “Meet the Press” with moderator Chuck Todd, she made her opinion clear differently than before. Todd asked Clinton, “When or if does an unborn child have constitutional rights?” She replied:
Well, under our laws currently, that is not something that exists. The unborn person doesn’t have constitutional rights. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t do everything we possibly can in the vast majority of instances to, you know, help a mother who is carrying a child and wants to make sure that child will be healthy, to have appropriate medical support. It doesn’t mean that you don’t do everything possible to try to fulfill your obligations. But it does not include sacrificing the woman’s right to make decisions.
Immediately this statement was reported and tweeted, and for good reason. Clinton’s wording, however unintentional, is significant.
Remember the Personhood Debate
While for decades the superficial, public policy argument for abortion has been that “women should have the right to choose,” the fundamental ethical issue surrounding abortion is about personhood. If the baby is not a person, some argue women can do whatever they choose with their bodies, including to any object growing inside. If that object is a person, however, he should inherently possess the same set of rights as his mother and thus she does not get to sentence that person to death. This is why Planned Parenthood and the like repeatedly refer to any unborn baby as a “fetus,” for it sounds scientific and is conveniently psychologically distancing.
Except science has disproven this over and over. As I wrote in this publication several months ago, quoting an OB-GYN resident struggling with abortion training: “Is there not a more profound difference between 10 and 20 weeks than between 20 and 30? If my first task as a physician is to do no harm, how can I justify harming a fetus? […] As someone who entered obstetrics and gynecology because of the opportunities to empower women, I find myself feeling guilty that I cannot get over what increasingly seems to be a theoretical suspicion that life as seen on a two-dimensional ultrasound scan represents actual life.”
In her interview, Clinton consciously or not (it’s unclear) referred to the baby as “an unborn person” then went onto to say, in the same breath, that such a person “does not have rights.” Hold up: Either the baby is a blob with zero rights, or the baby is a person with rights. One cannot have both in any morally sound, intellectually honest universe.
If the person is a person, no matter how small, and thus has rights, regardless of location (i,e. womb) should not it retain constitutional rights, the same as everyone else? In that case, wouldn’t we as a moral society err on the side of securing said unborn baby life? This really shouldn’t be all that controversial. Since 41 states have laws restricting post-viability abortion, it stands to reason.
Trump and Clinton Are Deeply Disappointing
I wouldn’t be surprised if Clinton, like Trump, walks back her comments a little. Either way, both her and Trump’s statements display an alarming lack of understanding of the issue and, worse, lack of consistency and coherency.
Sure, hypothetical legal questions about abortion are difficult. Of course, legal questions about personhood are challenging. But if a candidate is seeking to lead this country as president, he or she must understand the core issues Americans care about, and stay coherent and consistent on the topic. This doesn’t mean Trump couldn’t over time prove he has legitimately decided to go from being pro-choice to pro-life, or that even Clinton, in all her indignant pro-choice candor, couldn’t determine a baby is a “person” and grapple with the issue of these people’s constitutional rights.
But if that’s the case, they need to take those statements one step further and support policy that reflects those things. If a candidate wants to be taken seriously, he or she cannot make arbitrary statements about significant policy and political matters, especially one like this that evokes such emotion, without expecting either significant criticism or demands to clarify.
That we are four decades beyond Roe v. Wade and still undecided on the personhood, legality and morality of abortion shows there is still hope for the ones among us with no voice. We have not become indifferent. That is why we must continue to press politicians and shape policy to defend the defenseless and honor the rights of every person, no matter how small.