To the editor,
Josh Merlo raises an important question in the Liberal Column entitled Recurring Conflict of Rights on Jan. 29. He asks how one should settle a conflict between a pregnant mother’s right to bodily integrity and her baby’s right to life. After suggesting that neither right is absolute, he seems to leave the question unanswered. In truth, however, the mother has a right to bodily integrity but not a right to directly kill the baby. The baby’s right to life may not be absolute, that is, there are limits to what others are obliged to do to keep her alive. Still, the baby’s right not to be intentionally killed is absolute — that is, there are no exceptions to it. On the other hand, no one is proposing to attack directly the mother’s bodily integrity. The two rights — to bodily integrity and to life — were described only abstractly. Once one describes the rights more concretely, one sees that the pro-life position — whether one calls it “conservative” or not is irrelevant — is correct to claim there is an absolute right violated by abortion. Both the mother and the baby have the same absolute rights. Both have the absolute right not to be intentionally deprived of intrinsic personal goods. Life is an intrinsic personal good, and it is directly violated by abortion.
The basic moral truth is that each of us should care for and respect the intrinsic goods of every human person. It follows that we never ought to destroy intentionally (or damage or impede) any instance of an intrinsic good of a person — including a person’s very life. A right is the reciprocal of a responsibility or duty. While one’s right to be helped with respect to one’s life is not absolute — since the positive responsibilities others have toward one’s life might be limited by their other responsibilities — one’s right not to be directly killed by others is absolute.
McAleer Professor of Bioethics
Franciscan University of Steubenville
Read Josh Merlo’s article