"Law sharpens the mind by narrowing it." --Edmund Burke
Our governor here in Arkansas now has vetoed not one but two anti-abortion bills that made it past the state legislature this session. One bill sought to protect the unborn starting at the 20th week of pregnancy. The other would go into effect after 12 weeks' gestation if a fetal heartbeat could be detected. Both are now law, passed over the governor's objections.
The Hon. Mike Beebe is ordinarily the most reasonable and agreeable of men -- even if he is a lawyer by trade and a politician by career. And his vetoes made some good points. For the governor has aligned himself with those who have come up with powerful arguments -- legal, economic, and just about every other variety -- against attempting to put limits on abortion.
I say almost every other variety. For the governor overlooked one small point that may explain why our legislators have overridden his now repeated vetoes by overwhelming margins: the inalienable dignity of human life.
That minor detail may be lost in all the learned arguments of constitutional experts and others committed to the most modern, advanced Darwinian concept of humanity as but the latest and highest-evolved of life forms. But to those of us who believe -- yes, preposterous as it may be -- that we are created in His image, that one small point is all-important. And we choose life.
The governor explains that he vetoed these pro-life bills because he has taken a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, a document replete with provisions to protect a wide array of rights great and small, from freedom of religion to due process. Yet he asks us to believe that the Constitution cannot protect the first and most fundamental of human rights, the one that precedes all the others, and without which all the others are meaningless: the right to life. And there are many others learned in the law who agree with him, if for their own purposes.
But this issue is far from closed. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has moved closer and closer over the years to protecting the unborn in a series of decisions recognizing the states' -- and the people's -- interest in protecting the next generation, each time softening the harsh decree that was Roe v. Wade in 1973. Maybe it's because the composition of the court has changed since the 1970s, or maybe it's because even justices of the Supreme Court of the United States have a conscience that can be awakened, however gradually.
My theory is that the court has begun to shift its position because all the steadily accumulating scientific evidence -- sonograms and neonatal research and fetal heartbeats and the like -- confirms what the biology textbooks long have said:
From the moment of conception, a human being is a human being -- not a cat or dog or horse or just a blob nobody will miss. The secret of our development is already locked within the genetic code of a microscopic, single and singular cell. Maybe, just maybe, we are indeed wonderfully and fearfully made.
"Thy life's a miracle," to quote from "King Lear." "Speak yet again." As the Supreme Court continues to do on this subject. Could it be that an Elizabethan playwright knew more about life than our oh-so-advanced sophisticates do today? And just as art can be science in the making, poetry may yet presage law. Thy life's a miracle, governor. Speak yet again.
But abortion is the law, we are incessantly reminded. Yes, and racial segregation was once legal, too, And it was law of the land longer than abortion-on-demand has been, but that does not mean men of conscience ceased to struggle against it, or that all the states made themselves a party to it.
Why should Arkansas -- or any other state -- make itself an accomplice to this sordid war on the unborn? If we cannot stop it, at least let us not join it. Instead, let us do what we can to limit it -- ethically and morally, legally and constitutionally. And if we lose one court battle, that does not mean the war has been lost.
The basest of all reasons not to defend the most innocent and vulnerable, the least among us in this Age of Abortion, is that we cannot afford the court battles. It will cost too much, we are told, to save them. So much for the old idea that life is priceless. Indeed, miraculous.
Our governor's current defense of his vetoes comes disturbingly close to asserting that the Constitution is whatever a majority of the Supreme Court says it is at a given time, as if the court could never see things in a different light. Allow me to pose a simple question about American history that may illuminate the difference between the Constitution and the Supreme Court's interpretation of it: Tell us, governor, who do you think was truer to the letter and spirit -- and vision -- of that Constitution?
Was it the venerable Roger B. Taney, the chief justice who wrote the infamous Dred Scott decision that declared human slavery the law of the land, the whole land, in accordance with his narrow view of the Constitution? That landmark decision saw nothing ironic about the spectacle of the Image of God on the auction block in this land of the free, full of souls praying that God save the United States of America. So tell me, governor, was Chief Justice Taney true to the Constitution in Dred Scott v. Sandford?
Or was it a prairie lawyer named Lincoln who never accepted the precedent or permanence of the Dred Scot decision? Mr. Lincoln read the Constitution as the embodiment of the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence. As in: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Emphasis definitely mine. As one day I hope it will be the governor's, too. Thy life's a miracle, governor. Speak yet again.
To this day there are still those who, like Mr. Lincoln, dream of a land of life and liberty. And there are those killers of the dream like Roger Brooke Taney, whose cramped view of the Constitution is based on neither science nor art. And offers neither hope nor vision nor poetry nor grace. Nor, in the end, life.