According to a 2014 Argentine court ruling, an orangutan is a "non-human person." According to decisions this year in New Zealand and India, rivers can be, in the words of an Indian judge, "living entities having the status of a legal person." And according to American jurisprudence, a corporation is a legal "person," but an unborn baby is not.
All are legal fictions. But the last one – that a human being in the womb is not a person – doesn't just defy reality; it offends the inherent dignity and equality of every human being. It's one thing to extend human rights to nonhumans; it's quite another to deny human rights to humans.
A legal fiction is just that: a made-up "fact" created by courts to protect certain beings or entities. Few really believe that orangutans, rivers or corporations are actual persons, but each of them has been extended human rights by judges. A corporation, for instance, has been declared a legal "person" in order to protect from specified liabilities the actual people who formed it.
Declaring that unborn children are not legal persons is a legal fiction that protects one type of corporation: abortion businesses. In fact, it was created for the specific purpose of permitting unborn children to be killed, thereby creating the billion-dollar death industry we have today.
The courts' dehumanization of the unborn, however, goes much deeper. It is based on the lie that humanity is not one race.
The Supreme Court imposed this legal fiction in 1973 with its Roe v. Wade decision which, along with another abortion decision, Doe v. Bolton, issued the same day, decriminalized abortion for any reason through all nine months of pregnancy in all 50 states.
It was in Roe that Justice Harry Blackmun wrote for the Supreme Court, "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins," and then, for all intents and purposes, resolved that humans don't legally exist before birth, by also declaring, "The word person … does not include the unborn." Blackmun at least had the honesty to admit that should the unborn child be recognized as a person under the Constitution, the case for legal abortion "collapses." So to make abortion "legal," he had to deny physical reality.
And so it began. For more than 40 years we have been told not to believe what our eyes can see, what basic biology teaches and what our hearts know. The legal fiction that an unborn child is not a person has necessitated that one of history's biggest fictions – that some people are more human than others – once again be roused from slumber.
America most infamously suffered under this lie, this fiction, with slavery. Human beings were kidnapped from their homes in Africa, sold as if they were property and treated as if they were animals. In order for this cruelty to be tolerated, people had to believe that others who didn't look like them were somehow lesser beings. It was the only way that the brutal treatment of innocent people could be perpetuated by those who profited from slavery.
After emancipation, African-Americans were freed from bondage, but their rights were still violated. Jim Crow laws, segregation and persecution persisted because racism remained. And racism remained because even though slavery was gone, its basis was still believed – that we are not one race.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. understood this. He called racism "a philosophy based on a contempt for life." He declared it to be "total estrangement. It separates not only bodies, but minds and spirits. Inevitably it descends to inflicting spiritual and physical homicide upon the out-group."
Before one can be a racist, then, one has to believe that one group of people is of lesser value. Inevitably, one must conclude that this "inferior" group should be treated with a separate set of rules. And those rules justify violence against the "others" with pipes, fire hoses and bombs.
Or forceps, curettes and scissors.
The root cause of slavery and abortion is the failure to affirm that all humans are one race. When our pride-filled hearts determine that we are superior, that we are more important than others, unequal and, too often, deadly treatment results.
Since the Supreme Court declared its legal fiction that unborn humans are not "persons," 60 million "non-persons'" hearts have been silenced. This fiction has brought about deep division and isolation. Mothers have been separated from their children and families torn apart. Lately, even Democratic leaders have declared that anyone opposed to abortion must separate themselves from their party.
We will never achieve what King called the Beloved Community, though, if we keep excluding the unborn from that community. We call upon our fellow citizens to draw upon the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and his belief that the American promise of equality has room for everyone and work together to restore full protection to these children.
Please sign on with us to the declaration, "The Beloved Community and the Unborn," and let's affirm again that we are indeed one human race.
Alveda King (@AlvedaCKing) and Frank Pavone (@frfrankpavone) are contributors to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. King is the director of Civil Rights for the Unborn at Priests for Life and the niece of Martin Luther King Jr. Pavone is the national director of Priests for Life.
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