We Americans are a warlike people, always ready to take up arms, and the “culture wars” have put us all on high alert. While the urgency surrounding many cultural issues fails to live up to the alarmist rhetoric, abortion is, in fact, an immediate crisis. The fight for the unborn is the good fight. I wonder, however, if we’ve got the true enemy in our sights. There may be a common adversary hiding in plain sight. I believe that adversary is individualism.
How did individualism find its place in American thought? It came to us via liberalism. Liberalism—think liberation, liberty, freedom—was born out of an 18th-century revolutionary movement in France and America that stressed individual liberty and rights. It brought together deist and utilitarian philosophies, and while ushering in countless positive advancements for civilization, it also led the way for a potentially monstrous society of individualism. If God simply set the world in motion (deism) and left sinful man to follow what gives him pleasure (utilitarianism), then society naturally gets built on individual rights—rights that are to be secured at all cost.
In this arrangement, everyone inevitably becomes an intruder.
When rights are ultimate, injustices abound, and citizens make demands of the State. In the case of abortion, both sides claim an injustice.
On the one hand, a woman, aware that parenting is life altering, may fear that her ambitions will be aversely affected, that her ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness might be severely hindered. The innocent child is seen as not just an unwanted presence but as an intruder. The mother feels she has the right to defend her personal interests—after all, she’s an individual first, a mother second.
The fetus, on the other hand, in no way responsible for his or her own intrusion and unable to defend against attack, also claims injustice. The same inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness belongs to the unborn. Termination would be the ultimate intrusion.
A conflict like this will always result in a frustrating stalemate as long as liberalism (from the left and the right) gives birth to individualism. Individualism is the enemy.
Autonomy, being a law unto oneself, is no basis for life together. Community is the only way forward. Society must protect both women and the unborn in a way that doesn’t pit them against each other. The debate cannot center only on individual rights but, instead, must address the duties and responsibilities of, not just the biological parents, but the families, friends, neighbors, churches and social services that can nurture and support them. The burden of pregnancy, especially pregnancy out of wedlock or for women in crisis, should never disproportionally fall on the pregnant mother. She still has a claim on the community, no matter the circumstance of the pregnancy. The community still has (in these cases, often extraordinary) obligations, no matter the circumstance of the pregnancy.
A community that models mutuality and solidarity affirms life in a way that dispels notions of children being intruders to personal pursuits. Life together where families and marriages are valued and where freedom is about stewardship rather than unlimited potential turns fear of intrusion into hospitality. Rather than see a baby as a burden, we see it as a life to be welcomed into community, a responsibility to be shared. Any agenda to end abortion must include a vision for mobilizing community to function as it should.
Creating life is fundamental to human flourishing, but community is equally so. They are both indispensable, and individualism is an enemy to both.