Tomorrow is the United Nations’ International Human Rights Day, which is ostensibly dedicated to “the full enjoyment of all human rights by everyone everywhere.” So what better time for abortionistas to desecrate the concept?
At RH Reality Check, Pathfinder International’s Purnima Mane complains that “there are still those around the world who think that reproductive rights are not human rights,” equating such people with flat-earthers:
For me, it is a simple concept: every person should be able to make decisions about her or his body. I see that in the young women and men Pathfinder International works with every day.
Of course. Everyone deserves the full, unconditional right to decide whether to reproduce, “make decisions about her or his body,” or use whatever (non-abortive) birth control drugs she wishes. Nobody denies that the 17-year-old Indian girl Mane talks about should “have the right to stay in school, delay marriage, and then choose if, when, and how often to have children” and “feel empowered to negotiate condom use with her partner.” No one believes that she should “face death during pregnancy due to lack to maternal health care.”
The problem, of course, is that along with those genuinely noble goals, Mane and her organization sneak in two additional and very different propositions – the right to kill one’s offspring and the right to have someone else provide birth control for you – under the “rights” umbrella (Mane doesn’t mention abortion in her post, but Pathfinder’s website makes clear it’s a part of her definition of “reproductive rights”). This is the rhetorical equivalent of a traveler putting someone else’s bag with her own luggage and then, when the rightful owner dares to notice and call her out, accusing him of trying to steal her stuff.
We have discussed the real meaning of rights ad nauseam, sacrificing the word’s substantive meaning and moral usefulness to make it mere shorthand for an ever-expanding Christmas list of things certain people feel entitled to. So here let’s take the next step and consider how they made the switch. It all traces back to the Progressive movement of the early twentieth century, and it was part of a broader effort to uproot the nation’s allegiance to her founding principles and transform the relationship between the individual and the state.
The Heritage Foundation’s Edward Walton provides a useful overview of leading Progressive academic John Dewey’s work on redefining freedom:
What the Founders called liberty Dewey dismisses as a mere formal freedom, an essentially empty idea. If we are to truly speak of freedom, formal freedom must give way to real, effective freedom.
Effective freedom requires two preconditions: (1) the necessary material means to fulfill one’s desires, and (2) developed mental capabilities allowing one to use foresight and make proper decisions without being subjected to baser desires.
The implications of this redefinition of freedom are momentous. Men and women are no longer free by nature—they must be made free. Freedom, as Dewey wrote in Liberalism and Social Action, is “something to be achieved.” And it requires not only material means but also enlightened decisions.
Hence, to use a contemporary example, the freedom to use the Internet means nothings unless you have access to the Internet and possess the “powers of intelligent self-control” to make intelligent use of it.
Building on his redefinition of freedom, Dewey argues that we must reconstruct society to allow for attainment of effective freedom in “The Future of Liberalism.” Here Dewey embraces “the idea of historic relativity” and translates it into a methodology—a “continuous reconstruction” of vast experiments to socialize individuals, to make them more cooperative. The ultimate aim is “full freedom of the human spirit and of individuality.”
Thomas West elaborates:
In this view, freedom is not a gift of God or nature. It is a product of human making, a gift of the state. Man is a product of his own history, through which he collectively creates himself. He is a social construct. Since human beings are not naturally free, there can be no natural rights or natural law. Therefore, Dewey also writes, “Natural rights and natural liberties exist only in the kingdom of mythological social zoology.”
Since the Progressives held that nature gives man little or nothing and that everything of value to human life is made by man, they concluded that there are no permanent standards of right […]
The Founders’ supposed failure to recognize the crucial role of society led the Progressives to disparage the Founders’ insistence on limited government. The Progressive goal of politics is freedom, now understood as freedom from the limits imposed by nature and necessity. They rejected the Founders’ conception of freedom as useful for self-preservation for the sake of the individual pursuit of happiness. For the Progressives, freedom is redefined as the fulfillment of human capacities, which becomes the primary task of the state.
To this end, Dewey writes, “the state has the responsibility for creating institutions under which individuals can effectively realize the potentialities that are theirs.” So although “it is true that social arrangements, laws, institutions are made for man, rather than that man is made for them,” these laws and institutions “are not means for obtaining something for individuals, not even happiness. They are means of creating individuals…. Individuality in a social and moral sense is something to be wrought out.” “Creating individuals” versus “protecting individuals”: this sums up the difference between the Founders’ and the Progressives’ conception of what government is for.
Here’s a crazy thought: maybe using the occasion to educate people on what real human rights are and why they matter even within the womb is a more faithful way to celebrate International Human Rights Day than trying to promote and romanticize the killing of the world’s tiniest humans?