recent passage of HB1: a
Virginia bill that grants personhood to all human beings from the moment of
conception. As depicted by the media,
the whole personhood notion is just a fabricated excuse to ban abortions. For example:
restrictive anti-abortion bills in years through the Virginia House…” –
abortion on Tuesday by approving “personhood” legislation that grants
individual rights to an embryo from the moment of conception.” – Reuters
to fertilized eggs passed the Virginia House yesterday…” – Florida
isn’t a legitimate issue. It’s just a
tool to attack abortion. This is like
saying that animal rights activists concocted notions of animal suffering out
of thin air just because they really wanted an excuse to protest fur.
against SeaWorld (they argued that orcas are protected under the 13th
Amendment) is a little silly, but I don’t think anyone accuses PETA of
making up the whole idea that whales have rights just to cover a secret hatred
of large aquariums. When Dr.
Sylvia Earle says “I wouldn’t
deliberately eat a grouper any more than I’d eat a cocker spaniel,” the
consensus is that she’s eccentric but sincere.
No one thinks she’s a closeted anti-fishermen bigot. No one thinks she says fish are good-natured,
curious, sensitive, and have personalities just because she secretly wants to
stick it to anglers.
people to understand that PETA does, and that they act out of that sincere
belief. So why is it so hard for people
who think that a fetus is no more a person than a seahorse to grasp that—right
or wrong—that is what pro-life people believe.
Let’s be real clear: Personhood is not an excuse to oppose abortion. It is the reason to oppose abortion.
the stakes are lower when we’re talking about a decision between faux leather
and genuine cowhide. And I don’t want to
let anyone think I’m implying a woman’s right to control her own body is on the
same level as a man’s right to buy genuine snakeskin boots. Laws regulating abortion interfere with the
most personal aspects of a woman’s life, and nothing in the world could
possibly convince me such laws could ever be justified if it weren’t for the
fact that on the other side of the scale is another human life. (About ½ the time that
life is female.)
believes—if you assume our reasoning is just a smoke-screen—then you have to
fill in with something made up. And this
is where we get weird ideas that the pro-life movement is motivated by a
theocratic conspiracy or unvarnished misogyny.
The reality is simpler: The foundation of the pro-life movement is the
proposition that all human lives have
an equal right to life.
this isn’t a theological assertion. The
science is crystal clear and unambiguous: at fertilization / conception a new
human being is created. Don’t take my
word for it. Here are quotes from
is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon)
with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of
their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and
the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum,
known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning,
or primordium, of a human being.”
[Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C.
Decker Inc, 1988, p.2]
development; in a man, from the time of conception to the end of the second
month in the uterus.”
[Dox, Ida G. et al. The Harper Collins Illustrated Medical Dictionary.
New York: Harper Perennial, 1993, p. 146]
a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and
the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new
[Sadler, T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore:
Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]
is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new,
genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed…. The combination of 23
chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote.
Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The
embryo now exists as a genetic unity.”
[O’Rahilly, Ronan and Müller, Fabiola. Human Embryology &
Teratology. 3rd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001, pp. 8.]
decisive…It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life
begins at conception.” – Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth (Harvard
University Medical School)
has come into being. [It] is no longer a matter of taste or opinion…it is
plain experimental evidence. Each individual has a very neat beginning, at
conception.” – Dr. Jerome LeJeune (Professor of Genetics, University of
biological point of view a simple and straightforward matter – the beginning is
conception.” – Dr. Watson A. Bowes (University of Colorado Medical School)
questions. Are all human lives
equal? And, if they are equal, can we
infringe on a woman’s right to bodily autonomy in the name of protecting the
right to life of the unborn human being within her?
implicitly accepting my position. On the
one hand you have Judith Thompson’s famous “A Defense of Abortion” where she
created the well-known thought experiment of a woman who finds herself
mysteriously attached to a concert violinist.
Does she have a moral or legal obligation to keep him alive for 9
months? Camille Paglia goes much farther
than this, stating:
and libertarian, I believe that government must stay completely out of the
sphere of personal choice. Every individual has an absolute right to control
his or her body… Hence I have always frankly admitted that abortion is murder,
the extermination of the powerless by the powerful. Liberals for the most part
have shrunk from facing the ethical consequences of their embrace of abortion,
which results in the annihilation of concrete individuals and not just clumps
of insensate tissue. The state in my view has no authority whatever to
intervene in the biological processes of any woman’s body, which nature has
implanted there before birth and hence before that woman’s entrance into
society and citizenship.
argument that doesn’t require denial of the humanity of the unborn human being:
that a fetus is not alive] is a resort to a convenient fiction that turns an
evidently living being into one that legally is not alive. Instead of accepting
such fictions, we should recognise that the fact that a being is human, and
alive, does not in itself tell us whether it is wrong to take that being’s
infanticide on the basis that “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable
of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons… the life of a
newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.” Philosophy Michael Tooley made a similar case
with his philosophical definition of personhood, stating that a human being “possess[es]
a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a
continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it
is itself such a continuing entity.”
Thus, unborn human beings are not persons. Neither are newborns. There are many ways in which a pro-choice
position can be made without rejecting the scientific humanity of the unborn
human being: either by rejecting the personhood of the unborn or by accepting
it and then stating that the right to life doesn’t trump the right of (born)
women to self-determination.
the pro-life position has to boil down to religious fanaticism or woman-hating. There is no reason not to accept that
pro-life people sincerely view this issue as one of civil rights and then
reject their viewpoint, just as you might reject PETA’s viewpoint. The only thing you cannot do, however, is
pretend to be having an honest discussion about abortion if your first
assumption is that the pro-life movement can’t possibly be serious and honest
when it makes a law based on personhood.