Sanctity of Human Life Day

By Sean Carroll | January 22, 2006 6:22 pm

Today is the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It is also Blog for Choice Day. It has also, by way of a sharp stick in the eye to those who believe women should be the ones to choose to have abortions or not, been declared National Sanctity of Human Life Day by President Bush. This is from the President’s proclamation.

National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2006
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

Our Nation was founded on the belief that every human being has rights, dignity, and value. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, we underscore our commitment to building a culture of life where all individuals are welcomed in life and protected in law.

America is making great strides in our efforts to protect human life. One of my first actions as President was to sign an order banning the use of taxpayer money on programs that promote abortion overseas. Over the past 5 years, I also have been proud to sign into law the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and a ban on partial-birth abortion. In addition, my Administration continues to fund abstinence and adoption programs and numerous faith-based and community initiatives that support these efforts.

When we seek to advance science and improve our lives, we must always preserve human dignity and remember that human life is a gift from our Creator. We must not sanction the creation of life only to destroy it. America must pursue the tremendous possibilities of medicine and research and at the same time remain an ethical and compassionate society.

It’s funny, but try as I might, I can’t “remember” that my life is a gift from a mythical Creator. And I wish the President would stop trying to enshrine his personal beliefs as national policy.

But the Culture of Life does crack me up. In this week’s New York Review, Garry Wills reviews the latest book by Jimmy Carter, on the hijacking of moral values by conservatives.

Yet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives, tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the “pro-life” movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination, these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance. Carter writes:

Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany…. It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.

The “culture of life” idea traces its origin to the Catholic doctrine that life is a seamless garment, to be respected from conception to grave — but its American incarnation has dropped some of the inconvenient bits, like opposition to the death penalty. As Governor of Texas, Bush presided over a record spree of executions, while ridiculing death row inmates’ pleas for clemency. Wills continues:

Capital punishment is also a pro-death program. It does not protect life. It aligns us with authoritarian regimes: “Ninety percent of all known executions are carried out in just four countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia—and the United States” (emphasis added). Execution does not deter, as many studies have proved. In states that abolished it, Carter writes, capital crimes did not increase:

The homicide rate is at least five times greater in the United States than in any European country, none of which authorizes the death penalty. The Southern states carry out over 80 percent of the executions but have a higher murder rate than any other region. Texas has by far the most executions, but its homicide rate is twice that of Wisconsin, the first state to abolish the death penalty. It is not a matter of geography or ethnicity, as is indicated by similar and adjacent states: the number of capital crimes is higher, respectively, in South Dakota, Connecticut, and Virginia (all with the death sentence) than in the adjacent states of North Dakota, Massachusetts, and West Virginia (without the death penalty).

How can a loving religion or a just state support such a culture of death? Only a self-righteous and punitive fundamentalism, not an ethos of the gospels, can explain this.

On its anniversary, Roe v. Wade is threatened as never before. Perhaps it will have to be eviscerated beyond recognition before the American public will make an effort to preserve abortion rights.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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