What Harper Lee and John Donne Can Teach Us About Protecting All Life

July 25, 2019

Almost sixty years ago, Harper Lee taught us that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird because of their innocence. However, more than 600,000 “mockingbirds” are killed each year. These mockingbirds are infants in the womb; infants who are devalued, targeted, and exterminated. Sadly, this is not the first time in American history human life has been devalued.

In 1857, the United States Supreme Court erroneously declared, “[T]he negro race [is]… a separate class of persons… not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the Government…” In the Dred Scot decision, the Supreme Court essentially proclaimed that African Americans were only partially human. Later, with the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the American people rejected this false opinion and recognized the inalienable rights of newly freed slaves. Over one hundred years later, in 1973, the Supreme Court would once again declare a class of people only partially human. However, as with Dred Scot, the American people should discard the tenants of Roe v. Wade and recognize the inherent dignity of infants developing in the womb.

When a life is devalued, it is easy to destroy. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court devalued the life of infants in the womb by saying the state only has an interest in protecting children once they reach “viability” (which is an elastic term that changes with every advancement in neonatal intensive care technology). Roe explained that a child can be protected after viability because, “the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb.” However, the Court failed to explain what meaningful life means. Self-sufficiency? Wealth? Excellent health? Mental capacity? Even outside the womb, no child can survive without being fed, clothed, nurtured, and loved. Having to rely on someone does not devalue your life. Arguing that babies should be aborted simply because they cannot have a “meaningful life” is the same argument slave owners perpetuated.

Slave owners argued that African Americans were inherently inferior and “benefited” from the heinous institution of slavery. Masters contended that no slave could lead a meaningful life absent of slavery. Furthermore, pro-slavery advocates such as Stephen Douglas argued that slave owners had as much right to control their slave’s destiny as if the slave was a pig. Douglas wrongly contended that slaves had the same right, dignity, and freedom as pigs.

Today, children in the womb are labeled an inconvenience, not a person; a burden, not a soul. With the Supreme Court’s endorsement, the right to kill infants in the womb was created. Now, children are torn apart limb from limb through “dilation and evacuation” (D&E) dismemberment abortions. Shockingly, the disdain that some in our society have for life does not cease even when a child enters the world.

If a child survives a late-term abortion procedure, abortionists in some states now have the option to ignore the child gasping for life on the table and deny the struggling infant medical care. (Please join FRC’s End Birth Day Abortion campaign to fight this grave evil.) Abandoning a vulnerable infant is the logical outgrowth of the pro-abortion argument. As ethicist Peter Singer disturbingly explained in his well-known work Practical Ethics:

A week-old baby is not a rational and self-conscious being, and there are many nonhuman animals whose rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel, and so on, exceed that of a human baby a week or a month old. If the fetus does not have the same claim to life as a person, it appears that the newborn baby does not either, and the life of a newborn baby is of less value to it than the life of a pig…

Harkening back to the advocates of slavery, Singer compares infants with pigs. Pro-abortion advocates argue that women should be able to control the destiny of their unborn child as if that baby were a pig. We must reject this modern form of rationalizing slavery and once again recognize the inherent worth and dignity found in each person no matter their race, socio-economic status, or stage of development.

Like the abolitionists of old, we must promote the dignity of all people, realizing that, as poet John Donne observed, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Our hearts should ache for every dismembered, partially born, and abandoned baby whose life was declared meaningless. Pro-life advocates cannot stop proclaiming the truth and fighting for the rights of the vulnerable. As we fight for babies in the womb, let us be encouraged by the truth that one day our Heavenly Father “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

We must protect children in the womb from abortion’s pain and death, remembering that it is a sin to kill the mockingbirds in our midst.

Mary Jayne Caum is a Policy intern at Family Research Council.