Dear Ms. Rice:
I am a professor of the philosophy of law at Princeton, and someone who enjoyed your fine book Out of Egypt. I have read your endorsement of Senator Clinton and your reasoning as to why you support her despite your pro-life convictions.
I am a former Democrat who left the party because it hardened its heart toward the child in the womb. In the 1990s, I had the honor of working for Governor Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania, the last of the great national pro-life Democratic political leaders. (The governor, you may recall, was denied an opportunity to speak at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because of his pro-life advocacy.) I am the grandson of West Virginia coal miners who, together with my grandmothers, were loyal Democrats. If they were alive today, they would ache, as I ache, to know that the political party they loved has committed itself to the legal protection of the killing of the unborn.
I appreciated the soft voice with which you spoke in expressing your views, and I wish to respond in similarly soft terms. Although I believe you are deeply mistaken in what you are doing and encouraging others to do, I am certain that you are trying to do what is right. That is all any of us can do. Perhaps you are the one who is right, and I am the one who is wrong. I hope, though, that you will consider my reasons.
I will not try to answer all of your points, though all are, I believe, answerable, and if you ask I will be happy to say what I think the answers are. For now, what I hope you will consider is simply this: The child in the womb either is or is not a human being—a member of the human family. If he or she is, then he or she is entitled as a matter of basic justice to the protection of laws and, indeed, to the equal protection of the laws. For a voter or public official to seek to deny to the unborn elementary legal protections against killing that we favor for ourselves and others we regard as worthy is a gross and appalling injustice. There is no way around this. Once one concedes the humanity of the child—as one must in view of the plain facts of human embryogenesis and early-intrauterine development—the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every member of the human family requires the legal protection of the unborn.
Yet today the unborn are denied any legal protection and are slaughtered (there really is no other word for what is going on) at the rate of more than one million per year in our country. The scope and gravity of this injustice surely demands that we make the fight against it central in our own deliberations and actions as citizens. It is true that law cannot prevent all abortions; but unless the law recognizes the humanity and rights of the child in the womb we cannot begin doing what you and I wish to do—namely, end the horror of abortion. Recognizing what abortion is—the killing of an innocent human being—is the first step; and that step cannot be taken while we legally protect abortion and even confer on it (as the Supreme Court did) the status of a constitutional right. Our regime of law, as things stand, speaks loudly, clearly, and falsely. It proclaims that no being who matters—no creature possessing dignity and human rights—is destroyed when we tear off the limbs, burn off the skin, or suck out the brains of a human fetus.
I once had the honor of representing Mother Teresa of Calcutta as counsel of record on an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court of the United States asking for the reversal of Roe v. Wade. (I would be happy to send you a copy, if you like.) Mother made the point that we cannot fight credibly against other social and moral evils, including poverty and violence, while we tolerate mass killing by abortion. In this, it seems to me, she stated with characteristic simplicity a profound truth.
You have endorsed a candidate and a political party that believes that abortion, far from being an injustice, is a fundamental right. They are pledged to oppose any meaningful legal protections of the life of the child in the womb. They have even sought to protect the grisliest of methods of abortion—the “dilation and intact extraction” procedure. In this, they are promoting the greatest injustice and abuse of human rights to be found in our country today. It is this injustice that we should be most dedicated to fighting. If abortion is what you and I say it is—what we know it to be—then the issue must be given priority in our work as citizens. We should certainly not be tying ourselves to those who see it as no injustice at all. If we do that (and let me say this with the softest and humblest of voices), we are implicating ourselves—deeply—in the grave injustice being committed four thousand times per day against the tiniest and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters.
I have imposed on you enough, so let me stop there. I will, however, attach a paper I presented earlier this year addressing the responsibilities of citizens and public officials toward the unborn child. If you read it, I hope you will let me know if you find in it any mistake of fact or error of logic. If my argument is sound, I hope you will prayerfully reconsider the position you have taken.
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence
Director of the James Madison Program in
American Ideals and Institutions