The true alternative to might over right is reverence for the dignity of each person as a person; because he or she has the being of a person.
The important reality of the dignity of the human person can be seen, and taken seriously, in many ways, especially when that dignity is denied or under attack. Slavery, child abuse, sexual molestation, and rape are among some of the more strong examples. Or if a person with a physical handicap is severely beaten by someone who takes advantage of that handicap.
Another example is the injustice of taking advantage of a person's inability to function as a person, either because he is not now capable of doing so, or no longer capable, or not yet capable. This is perfectly parallel to the injustice of taking advantage of a person's physical inabilities. Persons are persons, they have the dignity of a person, whether they have these abilities or not. To take advantage of a person's inabilities is to affront his dignity. It is an antithesis to the reverence due to his dignity as a person.
Thus we see that dependency through connection to another person has nothing to do with being a person. It has only to do with how the body is sustained.
It is wrong to kill a child in the womb, or a newborn baby, on the grounds that he has not yet reached a sufficient degree of functioning as a person. The same applies to a child with a mental handicap who may never achieve a certain "normal" level of functioning as a person. He has the same human nature, he is equally a person, he has the same dignity as a person fortunate enough to be normal.
As always, it is his being as a person that counts, not his capabilities for functioning as a person. It is the achievement view that constitutes the principal denial of this. In one case (the normal child), it denies his personhood, his dignity, because he has not yet achieved the required level of functioning as a person. In another case (the severely retarded child), it denies his personhood, his dignity, because he will never achieve the required level of functioning.
But who says he must? Nobody has the right to set such standards, and impose them on others, especially at the price of their lives.
The normal person deserves our reverence, our respect for his dignity, not because he is normal, not because of actual or potential achievements in functioning as a person, but simply because he is a person. And the non-normal person is equally a person, and deserves equal reverence.
If you were to become a victim of a disease or accident that left you handicapped or incapacitated, you would want your dignity respected just as before. You would still be yourself, the same person, hence a being with the dignity of a person. Exactly the same applies to the handicapped child, and to the preborn child, who is in many respects similar in his capabilities.
Reverence is the most fundamental response due to another person in his dignity; it is not the whole of it. Love is the fulfillment and the highest form of this response. Each in its own way is an antithesis to using a person as a mere means, as in rape, enslavement, and other ways, and to the attitude of "get rid of it" so often displayed in the context of abortion.
Each is also an antithesis to the achievement view and its odious discrimination between those who have achieved, and therefore count, and those who have not achieved, and therefore don't count, and thus may be destroyed.
The reality of love as the deepest response to another in his dignity manifests itself in the attitude and work of Mother Theresa of Calcutta. The story is told of a man whom she found abandoned in the gutter of a street.
She picked him up, brought him to her home, cared for him in love for the few remaining days (or hours) of his life. He responded by saying, "I have lived like an animal in the street, but I will die like an angel, loved and cared for."
For two millennia in our Western culture, written into our constitutions, specifically protected by our laws, and deeply imprinted into the hearts of all people, there has existed the absolute value of honoring and protecting the right of each human to live.
Never, in modern times except by a small group of physicians in Hitler's Germany or Stalin's Russia has a price tag of economic or social usefulness been placed on an individual human life as the price of its continued existence.
Never, in modern times except by physicians in Hitler's Germany has a certain physical perfection been required as a condition necessary for the continuation of that life. Never since the law of paterfamilias in ancient Rome has a major nation granted to a father or mother total dominion over the life or death of their child. Never, in modern times, has the state granted to one citizen the absolute legal right to have another killed in order to solve their own personal, social or economic problem.
And yet, if this is human life, permissive abortion laws in other nations do all of the above. They represent a complete turn-about, a total rejection of one of the core values of Western man, and an acceptance of a new ethic in which life has only a relative value. No longer will every human have a right to live simply because he or she exists. Man will now be allowed to exist only if he measures up to certain standards of independence, physical perfection, or utilitarian usefulness to others.
This is a momentous change that strikes at the root of Western civilization. It makes no difference to vaguely assume that human life is more human post-born than pre-born. What is critical is to judge it to be, or not to be, human life. By a measure of "more" or "less" human, one can easily and logically justify infanticide and euthanasia. By the measure of economic and/or social usefulness, the ghastly atrocities of Hitlerian mass murders came to be.
Whenever we think of the Nazi genocide where six million men, women, and children died, we unconsciously lay the blame for this terrible crime against humanity on one man: Adolf Hitler. Yet we forget that his success in murdering millions was contingent on the assistance and continued support of millions who went along with his policies. This means that it took millions to murder millions.
Millions who opted to remain silent while those destined to the gas chambers were hauled from all over Europe towards their terrible doom. Hitler depended on this silence. It has been said that most people did not know what was taking place until after the German surrender. This is like saying that people do not know what is going on inside the abortion clinics. Everybody knows that millions are murdered every year before they have a chance to be born. Does anybody care?
Yes, some do, but the majority of people go about their daily routine totally unconcerned that several thousands of abortions are performed on a daily basis around the world.
Sooner or later society will have to answer for its crimes against humanity. The unborn are not "potential human beings," devoid of personhood. They are neither an integral part of the woman carrying them. Every abortion stops a heartbeat and interrupts an active brain. Murder is murder, regardless of the label we use to describe it, be it "pregnancy interruption" or any other seemingly innocuous phrase.
It is getting so hard to deny the humanity of unborn children. Remember when pro-choicers used to call them "blobs of tissue"? Ultrasound pictures have retired that expression, and foetology keeps giving us astounding new information about the mental and physical activities of the child in the womb. It may be just because of all these developments, because the perceived line between the unborn and the newly born has thinned into nonexistence, that the most hardened pro-choicers are tempted to go all the way to infanticide.