Ethics & Public Policy Center

‘How Much Is a Human Life Worth?’

Published in National Review Online on May 7, 2020

In mid March, as the U.S. began to confront the coronavirus outbreak, New York governor Andrew Cuomo announced a statewide lockdown. “I want to be able to say to the people of New York, ‘I did everything we could do,’” he said. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”

House speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a similar rationale for an extended shutdown in April: “To say ‘People will die, so be it’ instead of a science & testing-based path to reopening the economy is deeply frivolous & wrong. Every life is precious. Each death is heartbreaking — for a family & for a community. This is something we are all in together.”

Just yesterday, Joe Biden expressed the same sentiment. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: No one is expendable. No life is worth losing to add one more point to the Dow,” the presumptive Democratic nominee tweeted.

Defending her harsh lockdown policies in Michigan, Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer wrote in the New York Times that her actions were aimed at protecting public health: “. . . we will never know precisely how many lives were saved as a result.”

Earlier this week, Cuomo doubled down on his rhetoric as he argued against reopening the economy, asking at a news conference, “How much is a human life worth? . . . To me, I say the cost of a human life, a human life is priceless.”

It has been good to hear these and other politicians, on both sides of the aisle, affirm the value of life and place such an emphasis on crafting policy that attempts to recognize its dignity. It has been reassuring, too, to witness the willingness of Americans to temporarily sacrifice a great deal of freedom, and in many cases their livelihoods, to reduce the risk to the most vulnerable.

It is difficult, though, to take these politicians seriously when they and their party intensely oppose offering protection of any kind to human life in the womb — and when supporters of abortion rights have capitalized on the COVID-19 crisis to push their preferred abortion policies.

As much as Democrats might wish otherwise, abortion isn’t a routine health-care procedure to remove an unwanted clump of cells or an inhuman parasite from a woman. Abortion intentionally kills a genetically distinct, living human being — that woman’s son or daughter. The small size of a fetus makes her no less valuable than the adult men and women dying of COVID-19. Her location inside her mother renders her no less unique, no less human, and no less worthy of life.

Yet instead of responding to abortion the way they’ve responded to the pandemic, pursuing every possible means of saving as many lives as they can, Democratic politicians have carved out a space to allow abortion to carry on despite the health risks.

In Michigan, Whitmer deemed elective abortion “essential,” even as she limited most medical procedures as part of the state’s coronavirus response. “A woman’s health care, her whole future, her ability to decide if and when she starts a family is not an election,” Whitmer said. “It is a fundamental to her life. It is life-sustaining, and it’s something that government should not be getting in the middle of.”

Several other states have designated abortion “essential,” even as they place strict limits on most health-care procedures in order to curb the spread of disease and conserve medical supplies.

In Virginia, Democratic governor Ralph Northam outlined his response to the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes, tweeting, “We will continue to do everything possible to help the Virginians living and working in these facilities. These are our parents and grandparents, and we have an obligation to protect them.”

The same day, he signed into law the Reproductive Health Protection Act, allowing non-physicians to perform abortions, removing parental-consent requirements for minors seeking an abortion, and removing standard informed-consent procedures.

Meanwhile, advocates of unlimited elective abortion have used the pandemic to demand that the FDA loosen safety regulations and allow women to obtain at-home abortions without physician supervision, posing health risks to them and placing a greater strain on limited medical resources. In states that have included elective abortion among non-essential procedures, pro-abortion groups have filed lawsuit after lawsuit, fighting for their ability to continue profiting from abortion despite the crisis.

To comply with the stay-at-home order in Pennsylvania, Planned Parenthood closed every clinic save those that perform abortions. In Colorado, the president of the local Planned Parenthood affiliate described the number of abortions performed at her clinics as “pretty extraordinary,” citing an increase in women traveling from out of state.

As health-care professionals around the country work tirelessly to save lives from the coronavirus, abortion advocates fight to continue intentionally taking them.

How much is a human life worth?

To Cuomo, it appears to be worth something only when it is located outside the birth canal. Last January, the governor enacted one of the most radical abortion laws in the country. It permitted abortion for any reason up to 24 weeks, after fetal viability, and made it easier to obtain an abortion until birth.

He signed the bill in a ceremony on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Later that evening, he instructed New York City to illuminate the spire of Freedom Tower in pink to celebrate this expansion of the right to kill the unwanted unborn.

“How much is a human life worth?” Cuomo asks. Far more than he and his fellow Democrats think it is.

Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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