The right to life as the foundation of all rights

Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King

This article is an abridged version of a speech delivered at the annual dinner of the Pro-Life Campaign in Dublin in 2023

75 years ago, in 1948, as the world emerged from the horrors of the Holocaust and the second of two World Wars, enlightened leaders crafted two hugely important international documents, the Convention on the Crime of Genocide and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King

Photo: Dr. Alveda Celeste King

Its 30 articles include the right to asylum, freedom from torture, free speech and the right to education. It includes civil and political rights, liberty and privacy. But foundational is Article 3 which adamantly proclaims that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person”. Everyone has the right to life.

That momentous Declaration states that it had its origins in “barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.”Its opening preamble emphasises inalienable rights and human dignity.

In the UK, I serve on Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights.

It is necessary to be clear that it is illogical when a concern for rights isn’t re-enforced by a concern for duties – especially duties owed to the weakest and voiceless. In this article I want to remain focused on that lack of consistency and the meaningless cant and humbug which ignores the right from which all others flow – the right to life itself.

In 1968, as a schoolboy, shocked by the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, I got involved in politics. Last week, I re-read Dr. King’s famous iconic, inspiring, speech I Have a Dream” delivered on August 28th 1963 during a march on Washington. And in a commentary on that speech who better than the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Alveda Celeste King, to challenge this startling inconsistency in the vocabulary of human rights?

Alveda King is a woman who has changed her mind. She had two abortions and describes the consequences for mother and child, believing abortion leads to the death of one person and to the defeat of another: believing both lives matter.

In Westminster, at a meeting which I chaired for Dr. King, she highlighted the startling inconsistency in the vocabulary of human rights telling us that if her uncle were alive today he would be a leader of the pro-life movement.

Alveda King is a woman who has changed her mind. She had two abortions and describes the consequences for mother and child, believing abortion leads to the death of one person and to the defeat of another: believing both lives matter.

Last week, commemorating her uncle’s iconic speech, she said “Sometimes people think it’s easier to help me kill my child than it is to help me…. There has to be a better human way to serve humanity than killing.” We need millions of people to see that too and to change their minds as Dr.King has done.

How much easier it would have been for Dr. King to remain quiet in order not to risk the taboos of our cancel culture. Her statement that she could remain silent no more echoes the words of two remarkable people executed by the Nazis: Edith Stein who insisted that “those who remain silent are responsible” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who said that “not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act.”

I have lost count of the number of times angry people have shouted the slogan “my body, my choice” or “my right to choose” at me. We should take those slogans head on.

“My right to choose” puts “me”, “my”, “I” at the heart of the slogan – not “you” or “your” needs: it demands rights but says nothing about duties. And it elevates choice to the status of a religious dogma with no consideration for the consequences.

Imagine if I were to use that same slogan to defend the insatiable consumption of the world’s resources – how would the Green Movement respond? Imagine if I used it to justify some act of cruelty against an animal – how would animal rights activists respond?  Imagine if I used it to justify appalling discrimination against a disabled person or a person of colour or of a different sexual orientation – and, rightly, the protests would not be far behind.

Recall the 1948 condemnation of “barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.”

Before anyone justifies an abortion they should be required to gaze into the diaphanous, translucent beauty of the womb and in awe contemplate the extraordinary humanity of these tiny new members of the human race; then watch, with the full force of Irish and British law, the pain and suffering we permit.

Embrace the supreme human rights issue!

I have two other points to make.

One concerns the impact that legalising abortion has had on society. The other concerns where industrialised abortion leads.

Malcolm Muggeridge once said that it had only taken a generation for “a crime against humanity to be regarded as an act of medical compassion”.

Abortion dramatically changes the nature of medicine, with the discarding of the injunction of the ancient Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. It compromises medics and penalises those who refuse to collaborate. Think of the two Scottish midwives who lost their jobs after refusing to be complicit in abortion. It changes the relationships between parents – and no doubt suits those men who find it convenient to push a woman into the hands of the abortionist. And it robs us of children whose gifts are sorely needed at a time when the decline in the birth rate is becoming a ticking time bomb in our lives. It makes us a crueller and less compassionate society: a child becomes a threat rather than a blessing.

Abortion revolves around ideology and money. We have created a system which generates millions of pounds for individual abortionists and their clinics where, in a monumental conflict of interest, we allow them also to act as the counsellors and referral agents.

My other point concerns the elastic law of endless extension: what happens once you discard the belief that the right to life is the foundational right?

In Ireland abortions have been nearly 30,000 abortions since the law was changed – one abortion for every seven babies born – and we know that a government review is riddled with calls for even more extreme provisions, effectively calls for full decriminalisation throughout the nine months of pregnancy. In 1967 Britain was told that abortion would only be used in extreme circumstances. It was a lie then, and it is a lie now. In the UK one in four pregnancies now ends in abortion: 200,000 every year. There have now been 10 million abortions – one every 2.5 minutes. Some, in the case of disability, have been right up to and even during birth. As many as 90 per cent of Down Syndrome babies are now aborted. And it has also led to sex selective abortions – where little girls have been targeted in acts of gendercide.

The UK exported this under the label of reproductive rights. The result? In Communist China, through programmes funded in part by the UK, there are now 30 million more men than women because of gender abortions. And it will lose between 600 and 700 million people by the end of the century, half of its current population – with significant geopolitical implications. But at its heart is the belief that children are a problem rather than a blessing. Where were the political activists when we were campaigning against the CCP’s one child policy? The political parties – all of them – were aiding and abetting it.

Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Author: Lord Alton of Liverpool

Published: 19th October 2023

Posted in:

© Catholic Social Thought 2020