Big News from Alabama Court: unborn child has “inalienable” right to life

By Richard Nelson

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April 24, 2014

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Big news from the Alabama Supreme Court that is likely to have repercussions on how courts move forward on thinking about the sanctity of life:

Children in the womb should have the same legal standing as other children, the Supreme Court of Alabama ruled Friday.

The decision upheld the prior conviction of Sarah Janie Hicks for “the chemical endangerment of her child,” when she exposed her unborn baby to cocaine. The boy, referred to as “JD,” was born testing positive for cocaine.

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According to Justice Tom Parker, who wrote the majority decision, “It is impossible for an unborn child to be a separate and distinct person at a particular point in time in one respect and not to be a separate and distinct person at the same point in time but in another respect. Because an unborn child has an inalienable right to life from its earliest stages of development, it is entitled not only to a life free from the harmful effects of chemicals at all stages of development but also to life itself at all stages of development. Treating an unborn child as a separate and distinct person in only select respects defies logic and our deepest sense of morality.”

The very proposition that the Alabama Supreme Court has made has huge implications for the moral status of the unborn. Because the central argument in the debate over the sanctity of human life is whether the unborn child is legally distinct and therefore deserving of rights apart from his or her mother, the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision to offer the opinion it did strikes a major blow to the argument that would suggest that unborn children do not have rights. If protecting an unborn child impacted by his or her mother’s drug use is ruled “in bounds” for moral and legal protection, we must now work to bring this argument to its fullest conclusion in the debate over abortion: That if a child has rights that protect it from a mother’s druge abuse, shouldn't the unborn child also have rights that protect it from the abortionist’s desire to end its life?

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Director, Commonwealth Policy Center