By Christine M. FLOWERS
Philadelphia Daily News
I went to Gettysburg last weekend, for an embarrassing first time. I say “embarrassing” because, given the fact that I’ve spent a half century in Pennsylvania you would think I’d have taken the time to visit the most sacred and famous battleground in the entire nation.
I’d urge anyone who has yet to stand on that hallowed ground to make the trip, especially this year as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of both the battle and the Emancipation Proclamation. There is the sense, looking out over the now quiet fields, that while America was born at Valley Forge and Bunker Hill, the crucible of Gettysburg forged its conscience. As Lincoln said in an address that is at least as famous as the battle itself:
“The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.”
Many of those who fought and lost their lives were slaves themselves, or the sons of slaves, eager to reclaim their own destinies at a time when an entire half of the nation was willing to sever the union to keep them in chains. They had the courage to fight for freedom, and they fought alongside of white men who took up that common battle.
It is wonderful when you can fight for your own rights. It is empowering to be the master of your own fate and, even in the face of death, announce to the world “I was here, I mattered.” Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to make that stand, even though their rights are as legitimate according to the universal truths.
This year, in addition to marking the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, we also mark the sad anniversary of a court decision that is in many ways the antithesis of what was announced by Lincoln and guaranteed by the blood and struggle of our soldiers: the dignity of each human life. Forty years ago, seven Supreme Court justices declared that abortion was a “right,” thereby reducing human life to a commodity that could be dissected into sterile, three-month packages and assigned varying levels of importance depending upon the whims and will of another party: the mother.
I had just turned 11 when the court announced Roe v. Wade. The ramifications of what happened on that cold January day in 1973 would not impress me until much later, after I had already accepted the fact that slavery was evil and Gettysburg was the high mark of our national identity.
The idea that the unborn child was also worthy of a similar battle didn’t occur to me until I became old enough to hear in the rhetoric of the pro-choice movement the same callous arrogance that typified the conversation of slave holders. To the abortion rights advocates, who were savvy enough to kidnap the word “choice,” a child is not a child until it is actually born.
Recently, on a radio show I hosted, a woman called in to say that the unborn being in the womb is nothing more than a “parasite,” siphoning life and meaning from its mother. The abortion rights movement has coarsened our conception of humanity, and allowed us to start measuring the value of our brothers and sisters by how much they contribute to our own well-being.
That, I think, is what is truly sinister about the court’s decision in Roe. Not only did those seven justices strip the developing and defenseless human of its inherent dignity, they started us down the road to treating all human life in a utilitarian manner. While we no longer look at people as less human based upon their skin color and origin, we are still engaged in battles that have no defined battlefield but are as critical to our national identity as Gettysburg.
Driving home from Gettysburg, I saw a billboard on the turnpike with this simple phrase from Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” You don’t have to be religious to feel a trembling in your soul before those words. I’d wager many of those who fought at Gettysburg didn’t think of God at the moment that they were charging across that bloody field.
They were fighting for freedom, and dignity. It is a universal goal for all humans, regardless of creed. And the battle continues.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Distributed by MCT Information Services.
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