Potential personhood

By Greg Ellis

“I’ve noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born.”

-Ronald Reagan

I¬†was aghast as anyone by our Campus Pro-Life group’s vigorous attack by comparing abortion to the Holocaust. Nevertheless, I was moved by the potency of their argument. In the same fashion as pro-choice proponents justify abortion with no moral compunctions, the Nazis justified the extermination of Jews: by making them non-people.

My stance on this issue is hopefully unique to the reader; I consider myself pro-life without relying on the precarious foundation of religion to support this stance. Nor do I applaud the murder of abortion doctors to show my unwavering commitment to the value and right to life. Too often pro-life advocates are stereotyped as religious fanatics. I believe that a cogent pro-life position can be articulated without bringing those convictions.

The abortion debate must begin with a realization of the fundamental syllogism upon which it depends. First: murder is wrong, the fetus is a person, thus killing it is wrong. Conversely: the fetus is not a person, thus killing it is not murder and abortion is permissible. All arguments on abortion should then primarily be reduced to these premises and one’s stance on abortion should rest solely on one’s decision as to the status of the fetus as a person or not.

Once the debate returns to this there are many pro-life and pro-choice arguments. Viability, potentiality, and the fetus’ capacity are all considerations of its personhood and therefore whether or not it should be afford right to life protections. Whether or not a fetus is a person remains in question, it is an issue whereby there is little moral consensus and one quickly realizes arguments on both sides are strong.

It is apparent that we should side-step the issue of fetus personhood entirely, agreeing that it is too contentious. Given the uncertainty of the fetus’ status, society should act prudently on the side of caution and assume it is. If human life is precious and one’s right to life is inalienable, then on a polemical issue such as the status of a fetus, we should perhaps not permit abortion on the grounds that the probability of the fetus being a person exists and violating that potential personhood is something so abhorrent that we are not willing to risk it.

A favorite amongst the pro-choice movement is the rape exception. That is, if we are fervently pro-life how do we reconcile pregnancies conceived through rape? If we accept the fact that abortion is intrinsically wrong, then a pregnancy occurring as a result of rape shouldn’t alter one’s stance on the reprehensibility of abortion itself. Simply put, two wrongs do not make a right. Conversely, if we hold abortion to be generally wrong similarly to murder however justify murder under certain circumstances such as self-defense or war, we could feasibly allow abortion for victims of rape insofar as it was a form of justifiable killing analogous to killing in self-defense being permissible.

Indeed the legalization of abortion in a society and country such as our own that speaks of the value of life represents one of the working contradictions we have grown far too accustomed to. We speak of freedom of speech as unbreachable and sacrosanct how- ever we sue for defamation, we loathe militarism yet we build up our military and we legalize abortion yet we punish for infanticide.

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