When do we become a person? Ah! Now that’s a difficult question, and I think that pregnancy is the process of going from a fertilized egg to something that qualifies as a person, and that we can figure out—try to make our best judgments about that. But the fact that we can’t necessarily draw a quick and easy line–like, you know, the day that it pops out of a womb or 10 days before or 20 days before—doesn’t mean that we can’t make a determination that there’s a big difference between Day 2 and Week 38.
Of course there are big differences between Day 2 and Week 38. As Kristine pointed out early in the debate, there are also big differences between newborns and adults. No one is denying big differences. The questions are:
- Which differences apply to the fetus alone among other human beings?
- What makes those differences morally significant?
Well what I said was, first of all, personhood is irrelevant to my issue of bodily rights. My defense of bodily rights takes into account the idea of a person and this is not an issue for that. But what I just said was that even though we can’t make a necessarily distinct moment, that doesn’t mean we’re blind, that doesn’t mean we don’t have any information to consider. We know, roughly, about the development of embryos. PZ can explain it.
“To Us” vs. “By Us”
Pregnancy is an involuntary condition that results from our natural biological drives and interactions, and is often in conflict with our desires, our designs, and our best interests. It’s something that happens to us, not by us.
Matt: “The fact that you happen to die when we deny you the right to use somebody else’s body is not the woman’s fault.”
Kristine: “Well the woman is actually the one who has put that child in a position of dependence on her.”
Audience: “No!” “Not agree!” “No! No!”
This is not actually how it happens, guys.
Audience member: “I was on birth control, I used condoms, I did not want to be pregnant, I did not choose to be pregnant, at all—I guess by having sex I guess I did, but whatever—I didn’t choose to be pregnant. I took every precaution I possibly could. I got pregnant. Then I had an almost nervous breakdown because I did not want to go through that (at that time, I was much younger). And I ended up with a spontaneous abortion.”
Termination vs. Killing
I’ve seen people avoid fetal personhood and the sex/pregnancy connection many times. I’ve seen people avoid the “killing” aspect of abortion by only discussing the restoration of bodily autonomy. (“Nothing to see here, folks!”) But rarely have I seen people specifically assert that abortion isn’t killing. I find that really bizarre, but that’s what Matt seems to think:
Matt: “You can abdicate parental rights, and termination of a pregnancy is one of the ways in which you can abdicate those rights.”
Kristine: “You can abdicate parental rights, but you can’t kill your children. If you abdicate parental rights by saying ‘I’m going to place my child for adoption’ or ‘I’m going to withdraw child support,’ that’s not the same as killing the child.”
Matt: “Right, and neither, really, is abortion. We’re talking about the termination of a pregnancy. It is a fact of nature that this tends to result in the death of the fetus. There are also cases in late term abortions and late term [unclear] deliveries where we actually have a vested interest in the viable fetus.”
I’m interested to learn more about these late-term abortions in which there is a vested interest in the viable fetus. And by “vested interest” I mean an interest in protecting the life of the fetus. There are plenty of premature deliveries in which medical professionals try to protect the life of the fetus, but those aren’t referred to as “abortions.” They’re referred to as childbirth. To me, Matt’s reasoning sounds like an equivocation. If we define “abortion” to include premature delivery and childbirth, then sure, abortion isn’t necessarily killing. I just didn’t realize anyone defined abortion that way.
Kristine: “If there was a situation in which somebody became obligated for a born human being, you would not say ‘Well I’m meeting the responsibility of my obligation by killing them.’ The same way the child…”
Matt: “Yes, because I reject your ignorant strawman of “killing them”...[audience applause] The fact that they die is not necessarily the same as terminating the pregnancy.”
Kristine: “If you’re actively going in there and you’re decapitating, dismembering, and disemboweling them, how is that not an act of killing?”
Matt: “It is, but that’s not the sum total of all abortions, first of all, and second of all, that is depending entirely on your assertion that it is a person with full personal rights.”
As I said, I think bodily autonomy is an important right and a significant argument from the pro-choice side. But maybe it’s not as strong of an argument as I had originally thought. If it were, I’d expect pro-choicers wouldn’t require the mental gymnastics displayed here. As long as you ignore the possibility of fetal personhood, reject the connection between your choices and your circumstances, and, above all, don’t think of abortion as “killing,” I guess the pro-choice stance will actually feel solid.