It’s our collective duty to stand up against abortion

Wednesday September 17 2008


Whenever I meditate on the Barack Obama story, the following quotation from Jeremiah 1:5 seems to come to life in a rather dramatic way:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

And before you were born I consecrated you;

I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

This is especially so now that many pundits are seeing him as the fulfilment of the dream of a united, equal and peaceful America that the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr dreamt of 45 years ago.

When at the National Democratic Convention he formally became the 2008 presidential candidate for the Democratic Party, his ground-breaking acceptance speech, not only laid out his inspiring vision of a changed and hopeful America, he consciously referred to his delicate origin thus: “Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story – of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas, who weren’t well-off or well-known...”

WHAT BARACK DIDN’T SAY WAS THAT he was a perfect candidate for abortion.

His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, got pregnant as an unmarried teenager, and gave birth to him on August 4, 1961, at age 18, a few months after getting married to Barack Obama Sr on February 2, 1961.

This fact carries immense prophetic import for me: that the nature of our coming into this world is not as important as our being allowed to come into the world.

At a forum to discuss whether or not to legalise abortion on demand (abortion on medical grounds) a woman discussant wondered aloud why men were poking their noses into affairs that purely concern women.

To her the debate should be left to women. Basically what this women was positing was: which one between human solidarity and human sovereignty trumps the other?

The question was a remarkable invitation to investigate the wider subject of humanitarian intervention, a perennial issue in personal, national and international relations today, to express human solidarity with others.

The modern world’s ethical, and sometimes political, imperative to help other people stems from the fact that humanity is agreed largely that human solidarity trumps human sovereignty.

That thinking is what informs the existence of institutions like the UNO, the International Criminal Court and many others organisations, including the many doctrines that celebrate the solidarity of human beings. All peace-keeping and humanitarian efforts are anchored on our sense of solidarity as human beings.

At a more personal level society expects us to intervene in situations on the basis of our solidarity as human beings. And we applaud stories where individuals uphold the right to intervene and support the weak in conflicts purely on humanitarian grounds.

We applaud women and children being rescued from abusive situations. We never condemn strangers who make it their business to breach an abuser’s sovereignty.

That is why the world stands accused for not intervening in Rwanda to stop the genocide. That’s why the world condemned the despotic Burmese military junta for refusing to allow full-scale international humanitarian intervention to help victims of cyclone Nargis.

THAT IS WHY WE AND THE WORLD applauded Kofi Anan’s intervention in Kenya’s crisis. Only dimwits thought that he and those he represented violated our sovereignty by not letting us self-destruct.

Granted that the international forces that intervene around the world usually have their own selfish interests to secure, it is time we acknowledged that unlike in the past when interventions were purely based on strategic worth, there is an emerging trend whereby the principle of solidarity among humans is the main impetus for such action.  

In today’s human rights conscious world, an enlightened conception of personal interest should encompass human solidarity. Human sovereignty is important but it is subservient to human solidarity.

Ultimate authority is lodged, not in the sovereign individual who stands alone above society, but in the community of citizens collectively.

That is why both men and women have a duty to protect unborn babies.

With Obama as the standard bearer, the question of abortion needs a slightly more sober and holistic interrogation; if not for any other reason than the fact the Obama himself was a perfect candidate for an abortion.

And with that, the place of his prophetic success makes him the best argument against abortion.

Mr Omtatah is a playwright and commentator on social issues.