Protecting Our Most Basic Right

After seven long years of war in Iraq, President Barack Obama declared last week: “It’s time to turn the page.” America‘s military role in Iraq is over, our “responsibility has been met,” and our troops are coming home. His was not a message of victory, however, but a message of “progress” — but progress toward the protection of freedom or the advancement of state?

In order to answer that question, one only need look at the emerging social policies of our government, particularly the provision passed by Congress on May 27 allowing privately financed abortions at military hospitals and bases. American servicemen and women are slowly returning home from Iraq, not honored with the banner of victory but saddled with the pursuit of “progress” and secularization. Abortion is not progress but the very denial of the most fundamental liberty: the right to life, which our soldiers heroically continue to shed their blood to defend.

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There is a prevailing indifference in American culture to the foundational nature of the right to life. Archbishop Charles Chaput, in an address to the people of Slovakia last month, suggested that

many Catholics in the United States and Western Europe today simply don’t understand those costs [of liberty from deliberate religious and political persecution]. Nor do they seem to care. As a result, many are indifferent to the process in our countries that social scientists like to call “secularization” — but which, in practice, involves repudiating the Christian roots and soul of our civilization.

To say that we “don’t understand those costs” doesn’t mean that Americans have not fought for our freedom and that of our brothers and sisters across the world — quite the contrary — but that we have not yet experienced on our soil the acute oppression and loss of the liberties we hold dear and fundamental. The Slovakians whom Archbishop Chaput addressed, as he noted, experienced that oppression in a very real way.

But there is still a strong correlation between our situation and the experience of our European brothers and sisters: The secularization of American values and the progress of social policies that deny our very foundations will only lead us into enslavement — enslavement to a tyrannical government on our very soil.


True freedom is not to be confused with freedom from responsibility, but implies a responsibility to our fellow man. Our country was built on this principle: that all may be free to build a just community according to inherent values — values derived from Judeo-Christian principles — and that none be imposed upon us. As Pope John Paul II said, during his visit to the United States in 1995: “Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

And yet our society often takes that for granted. Too often it seems our present generation leans toward complacency and seeks “freedom” in the context of doing what one wills. We have a tendency to stand indifferent while enjoying the benefits of the society that was built by the blood of our ancestors. Edmund Burke noted, “We are mere dwarfs upon the shoulders of giants.” Every good that we enjoy, every building we erect, every truth we uncover is built on the works and discoveries of those who came before us.

The significance here regarding liberty is, of course, that we reap today the benefits of those soldiers and martyrs who shed their blood to secure the liberty that they believed belongs to every man, woman, and child — a freedom that is fundamental to all and precedes state, a freedom that cannot be granted by nor ceded to any institution.

We reap those benefits — but do we continue, in our present culture and policies, to build on the very foundations that support us? Herein lies the problem of indifference and moral relativism. It is a departure from our history, from our foundation.


At the heart of any just society is the fundamental principle that all rights flow from the human person. Similarly, society is imperiled when the right to life is not regarded as an endowment that must be recognized by the state but is viewed as a gift by the state to the person. Without a defense of this “supreme good” of life, out of which flows all other goods, society transforms from a collective body serving and protecting its members to a tyrannical institution existing at the expense of humanity.

In this generation, we need to remember the proud shoulders of our soldiers, past and present, who continue to support us and who have given their all to protect the right to life. We must be faithful to our duty to protect that gift. True patriotism is not regard for the state but for the foundations, creeds, and works of the martyrs and heroes that form a society.

Alasdair MacIntyre saw patriotism as belonging to a moral community. In After Virtue, he writes, “Patriotism is or was a virtue founded on attachment primarily to a political and moral community and only secondarily to the government of that community; but it is characteristically exercised in discharging responsibility to and in such government.” President Ronald Reagan put it even more succinctly: “We are a people with a government, not a government with a people.”

A society that does not recognize the inherent human rights that precede it is nothing more than a tyranny seeking to impose its will upon man, and at the expense of man, for the sake of the majority or the institution itself. This is the heart of the abortion debate. Allowing the state to determine the value of life, and even the ability to live it, awards it the role of dictator. It feeds itself upon our very freedoms, and the soldiers who fight to protect them.


  • Jennifer Kimball

    Jennifer Kimball is the Executive Director of the Culture of Life Foundation, a non-profit policy think tank located in Washington DC which serves as a resource for the facts and science involved in issues surrounding Life, Family, Human Sexuality and Bioethics. Previous to her work with the Culture of Life Foundation she was a Wilbur Fellow of the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal located in Michigan. Jennifer earned a Licentiate in Bioethics from the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum School of Bioethics in Rome with a B.A. from that same institution. Her prior undergraduate studies were in International Administration and Government Policy at the Evergreen State College in Washington State.

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