I’m doing a few posts about some of the arguments for legalized abortion from a pro life view point. I want to really look at them, and try to explain why they are not persuasive for someone who supports making abortion illegal.
Other posts in this series:
Abortion Argument 1: If abortions are illegal, we will have women dying from back alley abortions.
Abortion Argument 2: If you are so Pro Life, why don’t you care about the kids who are born into families who don’t want them?
Abortion Argument 3: It’s my body, my choice! The life of the mother is more important than the potential life of a fetus.
Abortion Argument 4: It’s not really a child. It’s not a human being yet, just a bunch of cells/tissue. It’s not a person.
Frankly, this is the weakest argument for abortion, in my opinion. It is tied to the 3rd argument in this series in that it seeks to strengthen the notion that a woman has control over her body, and anything inside it.
Pro choice advocates will sometimes admit the fetus is “human” but not a human being. The unborn child is human like any part of a body is human, but it isn’t a person yet. They point to historical views of pregnancy, which might not consider a fetus as person before “quickening”, where the baby moves. Of course, with modern medicine, we know much more about the development of the fetus in pregnancy.
They may say that since the child is inside the mother it can’t be defined as a different person from the mother. An article from the Pro Choice Action Network website states (among other things):
Besides the capacity to experience emotions, we generally think of personhood as possessing the qualities of intelligence, self-awareness, and moral responsibility.
Fetuses do not share these characteristics. On a more practical level however, the term “person” is really a legal and social construction. Persons enjoy legal rights and constitutional freedoms, such as the right to assemble, travel, protest, speak, and believe as they wish. Persons have birth certificates and social security numbers. Persons earn income, pay taxes, and vote, or they are registered dependents of those that do. Under this definition, it is an indisputable fact that fetuses are not persons. They are literally incapable of exercising legal personhood in any meaningful way. Although you could call a fetus a “potential person,” a potential person cannot have personhood rights either, in the same way that a 6-year old cannot obtain a driver’s license just because he’s a potential 16-year old. Potential persons have only potential rights, not actual rights.
When I read that the word “poppycock” comes to mind. In this article, the author asserts that pro life (anti-choice) people “beg the question” when they say that it is a scientific fact that the unborn fetus is a human being. But the author makes the exact same mistake here, when arguing that the legal status of an unborn child is defined by the inability to exercise the rights legally given to a person. If you can’t do the things that legal personhood allows you to do, then you can’t be legally a person.
Pro life people know that a fetus is not legally considered a person. We want that law changed. We know that fetuses can’t currently exercise the rights mentioned above. But does that alone mean they are not entitled to them?
If I choose to not write this article and exercise my 1st amendment rights, does that mean my right to do so does not exist? If I am illiterate, do I forfeit my 1st amendment right to write whatever I want simple because I cannot yet write? I have the potential to learn to read and write. Do I still have those legal rights?
Let’s reverse this, and look at end of life care. An poor, elderly man with alzheimer’s. He is on life support. He’s not self aware or capable of moral responsibility. He can’t speak or assemble, or travel. He doesn’t contribute to society, he doesn’t pay taxes, earn income or vote. He can’t do any of the things this author says are necessary to be legally considered a person.
If I walk into the hospital room and inject deadly poison into his arm, ending his life, did I murder a person or not? If so, why? If a person is only legally a person because they can do certain things, not because they have the potential to do them, this this old guy is not a person. According to this argument, the fetus isn’t a person because of its current state. This old man’s current state would mean he is not a person either, under this definition.
The fundamental question is this: What makes a person a person?
Does something happen that changes the fetus to a baby in the process of birth? A child that is one minute old is the exact same as it was right before birth. The baby didn’t change.
From conception that little child has 23 different chromosomes and different DNA, it’s a different being. Sometimes the baby even has a different blood type. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that the unborn child is a part of the mother.
Often the argument of viability comes up… where people say that if a baby cannot live outside the womb it should not be considered murder to kill it. Premature babies are often born without being developed enough to survive outside the womb. Parents put them on machines and hospitals work miracles to keep them alive.
What is the moral difference between a 23 week fetus that is aborted and a 23 week preemie that doctors labor to save? Is it simply that one is wanted and the other isn’t? There is no developmental difference. But one is legally a person and one isn’t. And we should note, the preemie that everyone is trying so hard to keep alive can’t do any of the things on that list any more than the elderly man in the example above.
If someone murders a pregnant women the criminal is sometimes charged with a double homicide. Again, is the only difference whether the child is wanted or not? Is that what makes it a human being?
If you believe that the baby in the womb has the same level of being a newborn infant does, then the argument of viability goes out the window. Whether the child is wanted or not does not impact the fact that the unborn child is a human being. Pro life people will not be persuaded by this argument.
Next up: Abortion Argument 5: If you close down Planned Parenthood/women’s health clinics who do abortion, where will women get health services?