Potential personhood

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"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.




It's funny how you can be aghast at the comparison of abortion to the Holocaust and then compare abortion to the Holocaust yourself a sentence later.

At worst, abortion is (as you have outlined later in your commentary) an act of negligent manslaughter. It is certainly not genocide, by even a long stretch of the consensus or legal definition of the word.

The fundamental problem is that there actually is no answer to the question of whether or not a fetus has personhood. A fetus is incapable of indicating its status to us and we are incapable of reaching a consensus at the present state of philosophical and religious thought.

The answer to this question is so deeply entangled in philosophical quagmires that to try to answer it, right now, is hopeless. What is the nature of individuality? Is there a soul? Is individuality even a valid concept, or are we all part of some giant organic super-consciousness, in which case individual death is as meaningless as the crushing of a single worker ant to the colony? What kind of killing is wrong and what kind of killing is right? Is the use of antimicrobial household products an act of murder? At what point does a soul enter a human and at what point does it leave? What happens after death? What is right and what is wrong? Is the christian bible true, and what of all the other sacred texts past and present if it is? Is consensus the only measure of truth? Will you go to hell if you are, by way of some complicated chain of causality like some real-world Rube Goldberg machine, directly responsible for the death of a 17 year old? Assume you were not aware of all the causal links in this chain. Assume you were, and did it anyway just for the fun of it. Is the semen drying up on a sock beside my bed or under my computer desk a bunch of half humans crustily moving headlong into eternal half-soul limbo? Will Jesus' daddy pee on you and throw you into the lake of fire if your mommy sucks your brains out before you're fully formed? Did the aborted fetus' soul accidentally choose the dim brown light instead of the clear white one?

All we can really do is respect one another. I'm sick of all this hate: right versus left, christianity versus atheism, idiots versus almighty PhD students like myself, ann coulter versus the humans...