Absolute Rights – and Wrongs: Is It Really All About the Kids?

Absolute Rights – and Wrongs: Is It Really All About the Kids?
April 15, 2013

David L. Applegate

David Applegate is a Chicago-based trial lawyer and partner at the law firm of Williams Montgomery... (read full bio)

In the wake of the celebrated shootings in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; and the streets of Chicago, both parties have fallen over themselves to act “serious” about the problem of gun violence in this country. By making it harder for citizens lawfully to defend themselves with firearms, Senators assert, they can keep more arms out of the hands of criminals and thereby reduce the murder rate.

The executive branch, of course, is leading the charge. First Lady Michelle Obama dropped into Chicago on last week to “listen” to some of the children who fuel the nation’s apparent anxiety, while the president himself has gobbled gallons of jet fuel at an operating cost to the taxpayers of roughly $179,000 per hour criss-crossing the nation in Air Force One with survivors of those who died at Newtown onboard, shouting campaign-style at every stop that “now is the time” to limit the right to keep and bear arms.

With the Newtown survivors watching in the Senate gallery after having shed tears on the Senate floor, sixteen Republicans, including Utah’s Orrin Hatch and former Club for Growth Chairman Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, joined 52 Democrats in voting 68 to 31 on Thursday to debate a proposed law that would, in part, expand background checks for gun sales and supposedly strengthen mental health and school safety programs.

Given that two Democrats and most Republicans voted against even opening debate and that skeptics like Texas Republican Ted Cruz have warned that it will lead to an undesirable national gun registry, the bill’s passage is far from certain. But even Arizona Republican and former Presidential candidate John McCain admitted that the president’s having Newtown survivors there affected the vote. As evidenced by their presence, the theme of restricting gun rights is to help save children from meeting violent deaths – but only if they aren’t aborted first.

For just up the east coast in Philadelphia, the trial of an abortionist accused of killing seven newborns and a young woman at an abortion clinic so filthy and strewn with body parts that it’s been called a “slaughterhouse” and a “house of horrors” that has been going on for four weeks (as of last Thursday) attracted not one mention on ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, NPR, or PBS, and but one brief mention so far on CNN.

To its credit, The Philadelphia Enquirer has covered the story relentlessly, as have pro-life and religious websites such as LifeNews, and the Associated Press and the Washington Times have given it at least passing attention. But the silence elsewhere is deafening, leading conservative commentators such as Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center to accuse “the pro-abortion liberal media” of being  “determined to hide … from the public” the “horrific excesses of the abortion industry exemplified by [Dr. Kermit] Gosnell and Planned Parenthood … ”  – in other words, a cover-up.

What’s striking to us here at Somewhat Reasonable, however, is not the relative media coverage but the apparent schizophrenia of the public and of liberal elites when it comes to balancing constitutional rights against the safety of “the children.”

Regarding everything from handguns to car seats the public impulse seems to favor less freedom and fewer individual rights, promoting gun licensing, registration, and background checks in the former case and specifying in excruciating detail the precise location and orientation in which a child may sit in his or her own parents’ car based on age, height, and weight in the latter.

When it comes to abortion, however, apparently anything goes: early term, mid-term, late term, even after the baby is delivered alive so long as it hasn’t yet left the delivery room and the mother doesn’t want it. (Never mind the father, who has court-enforced responsibilities but no real rights when it comes to “choice.”)

The political explanation is that the success of the women’s movement in America has elevated the rights of women of child-bearing years over the rights of their children. The economic explanation is that the relative scarcity of children born under an open abortion regime (compared to a more restrictive one) means a higher value of each surviving child, therefore justifying greater protection at greater cost. But people are not actually so coldly calculating as political or economic theory would predict, so something else must be going on – but what?

On the political front, the question is puzzling: Why are absolutists on one issue (abortion, Second Amendment rights) so typically in favor of regulation on the other? It’s a fair guess that most “pro choice” people oppose unrestricted gun ownership rights (i.e., are not “pro choice” when it comes to guns) and that most of those who accept an unrestricted right to keep and bear arms would place at least some limits on abortion, including banning the “partial birth” and “after birth” abortions of which Philadelphia’s Dr. Gosnell is currently accused.

Rational thought and constitutional law (not always the same) both teach that no rights are absolute, so why should one right be restricted while the other is not? In particular, why is a right explicitly mentioned in the Constitution (the right to keep and bear arms) more subject to popular and media attack than a right (to elect an abortion) that only emanates from the penumbra of privacy?

Are Americans really that schizophrenic, or can we no longer distinguish right from wrong? These are questions to ponder as the American calendar approaches “Mother’s Day.”

David L. Applegate

David Applegate is a Chicago-based trial lawyer and partner at the law firm of Williams Montgomery... (read full bio)