[Note: A summary follows this essay.]
The author and philosopher of Objectivism, Ayn Rand, was a champion of capitalism and a staunch advocate for the principle of individual rights. Yet, unlike most of today’s conservatives and Tea Party supporters, Ayn Rand supported the right of a woman to abortion. (She was “pro-choice.”) This post will argue that Rand was right about abortion, and that any conservative who wants to be reasonable in his or her advocacy of human rights should advocate for the right to abort a pregnancy.
Should it be illegal to slaughter cattle for meat? Do the emotions of sympathy that some activists have for animals mean that cattle have rights, and thereby mean that killing cattle for food should be illegal? If someone shows you a picture of a freshly slaughtered cow, and you say “Oh, how awful,” does that mean the cow’s killer should be given a jail term?
No, sympathetic emotions and graphic pictures are not enough to establish that animals have rights, the violation of which should be punished by the government. So it is with human beings, fetuses, embryos and human kidneys. Our emotional reactions are not enough to establish that any of these entities have rights. We must look at what the entity is and identify facts about it to establish whether or not it has rights that should be protected by the government. If, instead of going through this process, I claimed that Zeus told me through my emotions that trees have a right to life, you would have good reason to say that I was being irrational.
If a doctor performs surgery on you, will he find a body part called a “right to life”? If someone analyzes your DNA, will he find a gene that encodes for human rights? Obviously not.
Does a right to life serve as a physical barrier to harm? If you tell a ravening tiger or a Nazi soldier that you have a right to life, will that stop him from killing you? No?
What about the Bible? Are rights violations the criteria by which Christ separates the righteous from the wicked? That’s not what I remember Jesus saying about salvation. What about the Old Testament? Do rights come from the Commandments? Well, the Israelites practice slavery and participate in a tremendous amount of non-defensive killing, with the Old-Testament God’s approval, after the Commandments are given. (See: Ex. 32:27-29, Lev. 24:10-23, 1 Sam. 15:2-11, Jos. 6:1-21.) Further, Yahweh’s laws for the Israelites violate the US Founding Fathers’ notion of individual rights in countless ways. (No freedom of religious speech; no right to a fair trial, etc.) In the New Testament, Jesus, Paul and Peter encourage followers not to defend their rights against others, or exercise their personal property rights. (See: Mt. 5:38-42, Mt. 16:23-25, Mt. 19:21, Acts 2:42-45, 1 Cor. 4:10-13, 1 Pet. 2:18-25.)
In fact, the “rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” on which the US was founded are not mentioned once in the entire Bible. What then are “rights” and where do they come from?