Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Pro-Life Rally—35 Years

Brenda Kay Zylstra


February 1, 2008

On January 22, I marched in step with several hundred thousand people from across the nation on the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, ending our journey on the steps of the United States Supreme Court.

Roe is the most divisive Supreme Court decision of all time, as evidenced by the march (considered the most attended annual march in Washington), the profusion of interest groups devoted to both sides, and the continuing presence of the abortion issue in almost every political campaign. Many of the high court’s decisions have been greeted initially with tumult; none has sustained such an impassioned and long-ringing outcry as Roe.

The abortion debate has remained so incendiary because those on both sides allow and even push for it to connote other battles—those between men and women, between church and state, between individual morality and public policy.

In truth, the other conflicts are artful straw men, deeply ingrained yet ultimately irrelevant to the question of life. Deliberation should not be deterred by arguments about a woman’s autonomy, or the existence of a soul, or the so-called right to privacy. Rather, the focus should be on government’s responsibility to protect human life as intrinsically valuable and good, recognizing that life implies humanity, personhood, an individual, from conception to natural death.

In his book, The Clash of Orthodoxies, Robert F. George argues that life is intrinsically, rather than instrumentally, good. That is, you and I are valuable and deserve to live not because of what we can contribute to society and not because any other person finds us valuable, but because life is independently and inviolably good. Any human life, regardless of what he or she contributes to society, deserves equal justice under the law.

Indeed, life is the very first of the inalienable rights proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, and only after firmly securing this right can we begin to talk about any other. Individual autonomy should not be permitted to extend to the point of taking another’s life. In fact, the increasing insistence in our society on individual rights is grounded in the fallacious argument that it is possible to extricate one person from the web of humanity. An unborn child’s dependence on its mother is merely an extreme example of the dependence of every human being on those around him or her. Just because an unborn child is dependent on one particular person—the pregnant mother—for a limited amount of time, it does not follow that during that time the mother should have the right to extinguish the child within. Nor should assertions of privacy for the mother or lack of viability for the unborn be allowed to trump life as such. Simply put, life is good, and that is enough.

Upholding the intrinsic value of unborn life does not mean that government should relinquish or neglect its responsibility to uphold a high quality of life for every child after birth. Nor should we ignore the fact that pregnancy is an especially intrusive condition, unique to women. Just as the unborn child deserves the best possible opportunity to be born, so too does the mother deserve support throughout the pregnancy and while raising the child.

For far too long the pro-choice movement has leveled the charge that pro-life activists care only until birth. But being pro-life demands much more than working to overturn Roe v. Wade. It entails a commitment to counseling and adoption services for pregnant women, providing adequate healthcare from pregnancy onward, and strengthening all manner of support systems from foster care and social work to families and churches, from family-leave policies to educational opportunities.

We know that life is intrinsically good. We must commit ourselves to making it qualitatively good as well.
— Brenda Kay Zylstra
     Senior, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”