Americans Who Oppose Abortion Should Not Be Forced to Pay for It | Opinion

All of society respects the man who cares for the homeless because as a culture we believe no life should be just thrown away. Everyone grieves, prays and works to help those struggling with addiction because we care about human dignity. We all admire the woman who feeds a hungry child or serves as a reading mentor because we universally acknowledge that every person deserves a chance. Why not also celebrate and recognize the potential in every child's life, no matter how small?

The recent national conversation around life has largely ignored the central question: Is a child really a child? The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision did not resolve the question of when life begins. It focused instead on questions addressing the viability of the child, the moment he or she could survive outside the womb. Modern medicine has dramatically advanced so that a baby born at 21 weeks of gestation survived in Texas. In fact, at the earliest moment of conception, each baby has unique DNA, determining hair color, eye color, height and sex. In a few short weeks, that "tissue" in the womb develops a beating heart, and soon after forms 10 fingers and 10 toes. Later, he or she becomes able to hear our voices.

On an airplane headed home recently, I spent the flight listening to the distinct high-pitched sound of a newborn loudly not enjoying the trip. Every person on the plane would be appalled if that child was violently shaken because of her crying. But not long ago, that same child could have been destroyed in the womb, and no one would notice. In fact, some in our society would call her death just a choice. For some reason, we define one child as valuable and the other one as inconvenient or disposable. The only difference between the two children is time.

We know these are painful conversations about heart issues, requiring us to be respectful of one another. Our hearts break for women in our nation who make the difficult decision to have an abortion. We don't believe any mom flippantly makes a decision to abort a child or ever forgets the procedure. Mothers, fathers and children are created in the image of God, have value and deserve to be treated with dignity, kindness and respect. In the painful dialogue, there is often a selfish man refusing to take responsibility and a woman facing an uncertain future alone. But at the center of this argument, there is also a child.

Just over forty years ago, our nation found a few minimum areas of middle ground on this divisive issue by creating the Hyde Amendment and by prohibiting late-term abortions. The Hyde Amendment determined that federal tax dollars should not be used to fund abortions, an agreement that has been renewed every year since 1976. Most states, just like most countries in the world, also do not allow late-term abortions of fully viable children.

But lately, the demands of the pro-choice lobby have changed. Taxpayer-funded abortion is the new demand for abortion advocates. It's not enough to just support the right to abort a child. To prove your real pro-choice credentials, you should demand that those who oppose abortion must be forced to pay for it.

The other pro-choice litmus test is the right to abort a child all the way to their natural birthday, demonstrated in laws debated or passed in New York, Virginia and Illinois. Just a few years ago, we could look at the ultrasound monitor together and all acknowledge that we saw a late-term baby sucking his or her thumb in the womb, but now even that common ground is ignored.

pro-life activist protest
A young girl and pro-life activist marches with a placard in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on January 22, 2015. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty

There was a time in our history when we considered some people only "three-fifths of a man." There was a time when women were not allowed to vote. There was a time when we locked up Japanese Americans in prison camps. There was a time when we sold human beings in the market as property. But decades later, we are appalled that we were so blind to the obvious truth: Human beings are not less than equal because of their color, sex or background. They are valuable because they are human lives, no matter how small, weak or poor. People, especially children, are not property.

Civil rights activists and those in the women's suffrage movement bravely took to the streets decades ago to speak out for those who had no voice or rights. Just like the counterculture youth, the women and men who have marched for decades for life see the value of each child and the need to give them a voice in a society that does not want them seen or heard, ever.

James Lankford has served as a U.S. senator of Oklahoma since 2015 and previously was a U.S. representative for the state's 5th Congressional District. He and Cindy Lankford have two daughters.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.