Dear All, I have now closed the comments section of this post. As I said, I knew that we were not going to solve our disagreements today, so that is fine. I do hope that all the writings gave you something to think about. Thank you again for being so charitable toward one another. I will now go back to completely self-centered blogging :)
I tried to write a happy post today, all about my adorable little brother turning twelve. That’s gotten put on the back burner, because my mind has been consumed by another topic. It was fueled by a discussion over at Cecily’s blog, where I tried to explain that the anti-abortion position is not a religious belief.
I used up more space over there than I wanted to, and I was definitely in the minority, so I stopped trying to keep up that argument. But it’s been bubbling in my head all day, and since this blog is my own space, I thought I’d give it a try over here.
People talk a lot about whether or not abortion is wrong. Is that the real issue, though? Lying is wrong, but that doesn’t mean it should be outlawed. In regard to abortion laws, which is what the debate is really about, the question is not whether abortion is wrong, but whether it should be outlawed.
It seems to me that what we all agree on, what the Constitution agrees on, is that we have a fundamental freedom to do as we wish, even if someone else believes it’s morally wrong. And the only time that right to do as we wish can be restricted is when what we want to do infringes on someone else’s rights. Also, I think everyone would agree that there is a hierarchy of rights. For example, if I think I would be happier if I had that nice car of yours, I don’t have a right to take it. Your right to your property is more important than my right to happiness. If I’d be more at peace if you were dead, I don’t have a right to take my gun and shoot you. Your right to life is more important than my right to happiness. And so on.
It’s definitely true that every person has a legal right to control what happens to his or her own body. If you want to get a tattoo, feel free. But you can’t force someone else to get a tattoo – then your right to make yourself happy with tattoos is pre-empted by his right over his body.
The real question with abortion, then, is whether more than one person is involved. If it was conclusively clear that only one person was involved, then no one would care. Sure, go ahead, clean out your uterus. That’s your prerogative. But what if there is another person involved? In choosing that person’s death, a woman is letting her right to do as she wishes take precedence over another person’s right to life. And that doesn’t make sense. If it did, you should be legally allowed to murder someone else if his presence in your life was threatening to disrupt it too much. That is clearly counterintuitive.
Many pro-choice people I meet like to imply that the personhood of a fetus is an article of faith. As in, “If you believe it’s a person, then don’t have an abortion, but don’t try to stop me from having one if I believe it’s not a person.” Well. As I tried to say over at Cecily’s, we cannot assume that personhood, at any point, is a matter of religious faith. Cecily commented (I didn’t check if this is right or not) that Judaism teaches that the soul enters the body at birth. I’m not sure what point she was trying to make, but it got me thinking. If that teaching means it’s okay for Jewish people to have abortions, then what if I start a religion and teach that the soul enters the body at age two? Will it then be okay for my followers to kill their toddlers?
The answer is, clearly, of course not. That’s ridiculous. Cecily’s comment actually pointed toward the truth – that when personhood begins is something that your own religious faith does not define. It is outside of personal belief.
You only have two options here: either you believe that truth exists, or you believe that it doesn’t. If you don’t believe truth exists, than you cannot believe that anything should be outlawed on principle, because principles by definition have to do with truths. For example, if you don’t believe that truth exists, then you can’t believe that rape should be outlawed, because rape is one person infringing on the rights of another. Perhaps you think that rape is infringement, but I might think completely differently, and if there is no truth outside of our opinions, then how do we decide which one of us is right? Without truth, there is no right.
So if you are convinced (intellectually, not as a matter of blind faith) that truth exists, then you are forced to face the question: when does a person become a person? Clearly we cannot let each person decide this for himself, because he could decide that his neighbor doesn’t become a person until, say, age 29, and then he could infringe on her all over the place, take her stuff and beat her up, and then just say that he wasn’t infringing on her rights because he didn’t believe she was a person, and therefore she had no rights.
But we would see the truth, and we would say, clearly she is a person and she has rights, so leave her alone. And give her back her bicycle. Et cetera.
So, for legislative purposes, we can’t let each person decide this for himself. There has to be a guideline: before this point, it’s not a person and doesn’t deserve legal protection; after this point, it is and it does. The US Supreme Court has said that this point is at birth. But what if the Supreme Court is incorrect? (We’ve decided that there is such a thing as truth, remember? So we can have incorrect.)
What is the difference between a fetus and an infant? Some people say viability, that a baby can live on its own, while a fetus is dependent on the mother for life. Well, okay, but many babies are born prematurely and still live. Does that mean that a baby born at 36 weeks does not achieve personhood until four weeks later? Or does a fetus who reaches a certain gestative age deserve protection because he could live outside his mother’s body if he was born immediately? Also, many premature babies live now who wouldn’t have lived a century ago. Does this mean that the age at which a person becomes a person has changed? That it used to be, say, 37 weeks and now it is 28? That does not seem like it could be true.
So what else? I have heard of few real differences between a fetus and an infant, and no metaphysical ones. Sure, a fetus and an infant differ in age and development, but so do a toddler and an adult. No one is arguing, surely, that a toddler does not deserve the same protection that an adult does, simply because he is smaller and dependent on someone else for survival.
Science shows us that new life begins at fertilization. Now, we don’t believe that all life is worthy of the same protection (most of us have no qualms about stepping on an ant) so the real question here is: is that new life a separate person with his own rights? Or not?
If it is a new person, then clearly abortion should be outlawed, because it’s the same thing as murder. If it’s not a new person, then the question is moot. Pro-choicers, if you’re brave enough, listen up! This is the question that I have never gotten a satisfactory answer to, and, as I have tried to show here, it is the fundamental question in the abortion debate: When does personhood begin?
I’d love to see a debate in the comments section of this post. Bear in mind, saying, “I disagree with you,” is not debating. I want an answer to my question. Straight up. Pick a point at which personhood starts, and defend it. And if you don’t step up, I’ll assume you’ve been convinced by me. (Grin.)
I’ll delete all comments that are uncivil, and also all comments that are not arguments. Go to it!