By Father John J. Ames
“We the people….” The words echo throughout world and American history as the introduction of a most cherished document, the Constitution of the United States. This document provides a model which nations try to emulate and a cause for which Americans have died. “We the people” … no one even has to go further. The words are so ingrained in our consciousness.
These three words may, in fact, be the most significant words of the entire document. They identify the beneficiaries of what the Constitution guarantees. If one is not included in “We the people” then the glorious rights and freedoms do not apply.
For decades after the Constitution was ratified, African Americans were not included among “We the people.” Blacks could not vote, own property or even marry. The Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision effectively defined that blacks were not human beings, had no rights and could be treated as possessions.
Women too, were not considered full human beings and bore the scars of being excluded from “We the people.” They were barred from colleges, owning property and even from the American Medical Association. With the ratification of the 15th and 19th amendments, the nation officially defined African Americans and women as human beings and worthy of inclusion among “We the people.”
Debates concerning state’s rights and the economic impact of abolishing slavery clouded the central issue. Arguments that maintained that women were “deformed males” or the “inferior sex” distracted people from the core issue. If blacks and women are human beings, they are entitled to the rights and privileges guaranteed in the Constitution.
In 1973, the Supreme Court legalized abortion. The Roe v. Wade decision effectively defined that the unborn are not human and included in “We the people.” Thus they, like blacks and women before, are not entitled to the privileges guaranteed in the Constitution.
Today a number of arguments are raised that obscure the fundamental issue. A woman’s right to her body and the right to privacy are frequently used to justify abortion. The core issue remains.
If the unborn child is human, then she is entitled to all the rights and privileges of being included in “We the people.” This includes the right to life.
Can one issue dominate all others? Black slaves and suffragettes would answer affirmatively. If they are not included in “We the People” then nothing else matters because they would be denied their fundamental human rights.
Isn’t it interesting that among the many challenges that confronted Lincoln, he is remembered by most for one issue: the abolition of slavery. Many issues confront politicians and citizens alike. It is difficult to imagine an issue more critical than determining that the unborn are human and deserving of inclusion in “We the people.”
Exclusion from “We the people” brought African Americans and women considerable persecution, pain and even death. It took a civil war to overturn an unjust Supreme Court decision (supported by President Buchanan) to end slavery. It took courageous people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to raise awareness of the inhuman treatment of women. What will it take for our nation to recognize the need to include the unborn in “We the People” and thus deserving of the right to life?
Father Ames is deputy secretary for catechetical formation for the Archdiocese.