Anti-Abortion Argument #1: It’s a Person

This post is part of a series of posts addressing arguments made against abortion. The format here is simple: I list a common argument against abortion and then open the floor for my readers to discuss. Without further ado, here’s today’s argument:

A zygote/embryo/fetus is a person

From the moment of conception, a zygote/embryo/fetus is (a) alive and (b) has its own unique human DNA, and is thus clearly a living, distinct human being. This makes it a person. In the past, people thought zygotes/embryos/fetuses were just blobs of tissue, but the advent of ultrasounds has allowed us to see that this is not the case at all. Things like hearts, brain waves, internal organs, fingernails, and even hair develop at a very early stage. The fetus’ heart starts beating only days after the mother misses her period. Numerous women who intended to have abortions have changed their minds after seeing an image of their fetus.

In addition to its own unique DNA, every zygote/embryo/fetus also has a soul planted in it at conception by God. People in the past thought that the fetus made its first movement at “quickening,” and that that therefore must be the moment when God gave it a soul. Now, however, we know that the zygote/embryo/fetus is active from the moment of its conception and cannot make such a distinction. Conception – not birth, not quickening – is the key moment.

Note that there are two arguments here – one scientific (DNA, etc.) and one religious (soul). Feel free to address either or both.

Also, note that this thread should deal with whether a zygote/embryo/fetus is a “person,” not with what that says about whether a woman should be allowed to abort it.

Please be civil and direct. Remember that I would like the comments section of this post to serve as a resource in the future. You are encouraged to link to articles elsewhere that help address this argument, or to studies or documentation. And don’t be afraid to respond to each other, to play the devil’s advocate, or to simply ask questions.

After a week I will close the comments sections on this post, and will choose the comments I consider clearest and most interesting and add them to the end of the OP (with full credit, of course).

So. Discuss!

———

The comments section on this post is now closed. I am adding some of the comments I found most interesting to the end of this post, and if you find these interesting make sure to read the rest of the comment section as there are many other interesting comments that I do not have room for here. Finally, I’ve also addressed this argument a bit myself in the past.

Jose:

A placenta is made out of living cells and it has the same DNA as the embryo, but the placenta isn’t considered a person. Therefore their own definition of person requires something more than those 2 items.

Petticoat Philosopher:

Arguments of this sort frequently conflate humanity, life and personhood. This is actually particularly true when they take a more secular route and leave aside the “soul” issue. Many people will claim that the idea that embryos and fetuses are not persons has been “disproved by science” due to the identification of complex, differentiated structures in early development, the presence of a unique human genome, and other things that you mentioned.

But this argument is nonsensical, because science does not exist to prove or disprove philosophical concepts such as personhood. What these scientific data show is that the zygote/embryo/fetus is indeed ALIVE and GENETICALLY HUMAN. I know of no pro-choicer that disputes this and it is not necessary for us to do so because it does not follow that because something is alive or genetically human, it is a person. Many things are alive that many or most who oppose abortion have no issue with killing. If you have ever eaten meat, killed a spider or set a mousetrap, sprayed for weeds (or even eaten food that was grown using pesticides and herbicides) you have taken part in, or supported, the destruction of life. Many of the things we do on a daily basis as humans rely on the destruction of SOME sort of life so it is not enough to argue against abortion on the basis that the fetus is alive.

As for the fetus being genetically human, human tumors and cell cultures are also genetically human–AND alive as well, of course. Clearly the mere presence of human DNA does not confer a special moral status and why should it? Why should a human embryo which does not have thoughts, feelings, and experiences etc. be considered to have more moral worth than, say, an elephant which has all those things but lacks human DNA? Why should a non-sentient, genetically human organism be more valued than a sentient, genetically non-human organism? The only argument I can think of is the argument that humans are unique and set apart from other living things because they are specially created in the image of God. However, if you employ this argument, you have obviously backslid into religious arguments, which have no place in policy-making. There is no sound, non-religious argument that human DNA confers innate moral superiority.

The key issue is not life or humanity but personhood and this is not a concept that can be explored by science. It is a philosophical, moral concept that is usually defined by sentience–such things as self-awareness, the presence of feelings, thoughts, experiences, goals, values etc. These tend to be the kinds of things that pro-choicers consider to confer moral significance, although exactly what the definition is is, of course, still debated–in the proper philosophical setting, where it belongs. Therefore arguments that “science disproves” the non-personhood of a fetus suffer from a gross misunderstanding of terms and concepts. Insisting that “life begins at conception (duh),” or that “it has a beating heart” (so does a mouse), or that it has “its own unique DNA” (again, duh) is pointless because none of those things is the real issue.

Jason Dick:

No statement in that argument can be used to distinguish a person from things none of us value. Many things are alive that we don’t care one whit about (e.g. bacteria). And tumors also have their own human DNA, but even if benign not a one of us would have the slightest moral compunction in having one removed from our bodies. House flies have hearts, move, and have rudimentary brains. And hair? Fingernails? Why would those make a fetus a person?

Why not focus on things that actually matter for personhood? Why don’t we ask when a fetus starts thinking of itself as an individual? When it starts to have dreams of its own? When it starts to understand the feelings of those around it?

Because none of these things that we actually value in actual people are present until after birth. And if you’re worried about the fetus suffering, well, I sure hope you’re a vegan, because if you’re not you’re an abject hypocrite, because full-grown cows, pigs, and chickens have vastly more capacity to suffer than a fetus does. This is especially true before the nervous system has developed.

As an aside, the ambiguity of, “a very early stage,” is also very misleading. Many of these things (including the nervous system) don’t really start to develop until after10-12 weeks, and most people who abort do so before then anyway.

Finally, if you think a zygote has a soul, why not define what you mean by that and devise an experiment to test it. Because until you do, I have no reason whatsoever to believe you.

lane:

Just jumping in to address the “unique DNA” argument. There are 3 “case studies” that can be used against this, most of which have been addressed: 1) tumors (unique DNA, not a person), 2) identical twins (non-unique DNA, 2 persons), 3) chimerism (2 unique sets of DNA, 1 person). The third has not been addressed so I will briefly touch on it, because I think it’s good to have in one’s arsenal. :)

Some background: chimerism occurs when two zygotes/blastocysts fuse at a relatively early stage. This results in ONE person containing TWO sets of DNA. This is often benign but can result in some really weird stuff–if an XX zygote/blastocyst fuses with an XY, the person can have mixed genitalia, or if the parents are of different races, the child can literally appear as a patchwork between the two. (Another side note: this has resulted in some pretty ridiculous/convoluted legal situations.)

How I would frame this in a personhood argument: if ensoulment occurs at conception, how can two souls fuse? Does that mean god “knows” and that he only provides a soul for one blastocyst? If that were the case, would it then be just, if it were possible, to remove only one blastocyst and discard it, since the only thing protecting it is this concept of ensoulment? Should a chimera have double the human rights of a regular person–should they get two votes during election time, for example?

Karen: 

Personhood is a legal concept. Only legal “persons” have rights, and if a fetus is a legal person, the fetus has those rights as well. I have never seen anyone on either side fully address what happens to other laws if fetii have legal rights. A legal person can file suit, inherit and bequeath property, and must be protected from negligence. A cause of action – the right and power to file suit over a specific injury – is a type of property that can be bequeathed. So, if personhood attaches at fertilization, the estate of a zygote that failed to implant has the right to sue whomever caused it to be miscarried. In the case at issue, the woman who didn’t know she was pregnant who did any number of activities from breastfeeding her existing infant through vigorous exercise or training up to getting shit-faced drunk or high on speedballs. ALL of those activities can cause early stage miscarriage. Is in criminal negligence, or even simply civil negligence, for a sexually active woman to do anything, since anything might cause early miscarriage? How, precisely, is it possible to give a fetus any kind of personhood that means anything and preserve personhood for women?

Ibis3:

Not only is this a non-starter for the reasons others have outlined above (i.e. that it completely ignores the reasons that we as a society have created the personhood class, that providing evidence that anything has a “soul” is, at best, problematic, that the other criteria (living; human DNA) apply to other things without them magically obtaining personhood, that uniqueness doesn’t grant a way out of this problem because we count twins as two persons, that being human qua Homo sapiens isn’t inherently more valuable than being another species of animal etc.), but it also ignores the logical consequences of the position.

A society that accepted personhood of a foetus would look different than ours does. Have the forced birthers really thought this through? I don’t think so.

Every miscarriage would have to be investigated for any signs of neglect or other contributing factors. Women could be charged with assault or other crimes for things like smoking, drinking alcohol or coffee, or eating poorly.

Biological fathers would have to pay for child support from conception, and would legally be jointly responsible for any medical expenses accrued by the foetus in utero. How would physical custody issues be resolved? Would a woman not be forced to remain in the same area as the biological father/sperm donor so that he could have visitation?

Citizenship laws would have to be overhauled–surely where a person’s personhood began would hold just as much if not more weight than where they were born. So anyone wanting their kids to have citizenship in a certain country could travel there to have sex. And of course, there would be many people who wouldn’t want to have sex on vacation in case any children conceived would end up being Mexican or Dominican or Costa Rican instead of American (substitute appropriate alternative countries, depending on circumstances). Pregnant women would have to get passports for their foetuses before travelling over international borders.

No more IVF or embryo banks, even for, say, couples who know they’re going to be sterile due to a medical procedure–legally that would be forcible confinement (kidnapping/false imprisonment etc) of a person to freeze them and hold them imprisoned in a freezer, let alone all the collateral loss of embryos in IVF procedures (for which the doctors and lab people would have to be charged with homicide).

As soon as conception occurs, the parents could buy life insurance and could collect on miscarriages–I’m sure the insurance companies wouldn’t mind paying out on about 80% of successful conceptions.

Most birth control would be illegal. Not just abortion, but IUDs and the pill too.

And wouldn’t pregnancy itself be against the law? After all, if a woman is pregnant, she’s keeping another person confined and imprisoned without their consent.

butterfly5906:

Conception is not a “moment” but a process that can take hours or days . If “personhood” is a simple black and white/ yes or no question and not a matter of development or shades of grey, then when precisely in this process is a new person created?:

-The egg and sperm membranes fuse (but the nuclei are still separate)

-The egg goes through chemical changes to prevent other sperm from fusing

-The egg finishes meiosis to become haploid and forms a polar body (which doesn’t happen until after the membranes have fused)

-All parts of the sperm except the nucleus dissolve

-The chromosomes from the egg and sperm replicate separately

-Both nuclear membranes dissolve

-Spindles form to bring all of the chromosomes together (approximately 3-4 hours after the membranes fused)

-The cell goes through mitosis ending in 2 cells (repeat many times)

-The embryo implants in the wall (approximately 9 days after the sperm and egg membranes fused)

It’s possible to imagine drugs that could interfere at any stage in this process (if they don’t already exist). Where is the line between “not a person” and “person”?

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Gordon

    Ok, well firstly this is a religious argument plain and simple. The “soul” is a dead give away. So off the bat there is no basis for legislation. But it fails on other grounds too. There is more to being a person than a heartbeat. And the majority of abortions are done at a stage where an accurate photo would *not* be emotive. The dishonesty of ignoring that is staggering.

  • http://noadi.etsy.com Noadi

    It’s a an irrelevant argument for legal restrictions in my opinion. I support a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy at any time (I’m willing to consider requiring an attempt at live birth after the point of viability when practical but not requiring any woman to carry to term). The reason for this is simple: bodily autonomy. Just like we don’t require someone to donate blood or a kidney to keep someone else alive we shouldn’t be requiring a woman to keep a fetus alive by using her blood supply and organs. It’s not about whether the fetus is a person, it’s about whether the woman is. The rights of a fetus should never trump the rights of a fully formed adult whose body is going to suffer from that pregnancy (and while some women have easier pregnancies than others it has a permanent effect on the body regardless).

    Now as an argument to persuade someone against choosing an abortion or to support a woman’s own decision not to abort, I take no stand on that. It’s none of my business why a woman chooses the way she does when it comes to pregnancy as long as their is no coercion used.

    • Attackfish

      “Just like we don’t require someone to donate blood or a kidney to keep someone else alive we shouldn’t be requiring a woman to keep a fetus alive by using her blood supply and organs. ”

      This is my argument too. I believe that fetus is a person, at least after a point, but it’s using the body of another person to live, and no person has the right to do that without consent. If they have consent, if a woman chooses pregnancy, great! If not, abortion is her legitimate choice.

      • Skjaere

        Just playing devil’s advocate on this one: A person needing a blood transfusion or kidney could theoretically find one elsewhere. A fetus cannot find someone else to gestate it. (And suddenly I’m wondering how far away that medical breakthrough is?)

      • Niemand

        A person needing a blood transfusion or kidney could theoretically find one elsewhere

        This is untrue frighteningly often. Even with respect to blood, which should be easy. People qualified to be donors, please donate. Bone marrow too. Bone marrow is easy and low risk (about 3-4 times safer than pregnancy, by very conservative estimates) and you may be literally someone’s only chance at survival. But do not, under any circumstances, support a law that would force someone to become a donor.

      • Nurse Bee

        However, most pregnancies are the result of a choice of the woman to engage in unprotected sex, the baby/fetus did not give it’s consent to be there either….

      • Monimonika

        Nurse Bee,

        However, most pregnancies are the result of a choice of the woman to engage in unprotected sex

        So it’s not really about whether the baby/fetus has any rights, but about if the woman was a slut or not? Hmmm…

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      And it’s biologically incapable of caring if it’s there or not, which cannot be said of the woman, so it all works out…

    • Zme

      What Noadi said. +1 internet for her.

      I cannot imagine argument that would force me to abrogate a person’s right to bodily autonomy.

  • John Moriarty

    Libby, sorry, cannot participate! The argument stated is a religious one, so it cannot get off the blocks as far as many atheists are concerned. secularprolife.org has the purely secular arguments.

    • Gordon

      I wish people would not use the term pro-life, as if we were not all generally in favour of life.

      • Cyn

        We say pro-choice or anti-choice. It’s the anti-choicers who call themselves “pro-life”. I always mentally change that to anti-choice. If they were pro-life, they would have a whole lot more concern for the woman making the choice, and also children after they are born.

  • Falls Apart

    I’d use about half of this argument. To me, it’s irrelevant whether or not a fetus has a soul, or is loved by God, etc. I am emphatically opposed to any legislation based on religious principles.

    My argument is purely this: the fetus has human DNA distinct from that of the parent. Therefore, the fetus is a distinct human being. Arguments about personhood or sentience will not convince me; these always reek of philosophical/spiritual connotations. The only arguments I find relevant are entirely scientific, i.e., if you can prove to me that the fetus (a) has non-human DNA or (b) has the same DNA as the mother, I will support abortion up to the point when the fetus meets both qualifications. However, until then, I will oppose actively killing (rather than passively refusing to help/donate organs) any human, whether that human is in a womb or on a death row.

    That being said, I view reducing abortions as being more important than illegalizing them, so I would focus my efforts on providing comprehensive sex education, availability of birth control, de-stigmatization of single parenthood, etc., etc.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      “The only arguments I find relevant are entirely scientific, i.e., if you can prove to me that the fetus (a) has non-human DNA or (b) has the same DNA as the mother, I will support abortion up to the point when the fetus meets both qualifications.”

      Can you, in turn, prove to ME that a the presence of unique human DNA confers a special moral status upon a zygote, embro or fetus that elevates it above many other living things that you likely have no problem killing? Because merely stating the fact that a POC is genetically unique and genetically human does not imply all that you seem to think it does. Of course, in order to go this route, you’ll have to employ the dread PHILOSOPHY, which you scoff at (although you don’t seem to know what it is, since you conflate it with “spirituality”) but the sooner you realize that this is essentially a philosophical argument and that you’re not going to get through it with science alone, the better.

      • http://politicsproseotherthings.blogspot.com/ Nathaniel

        So unique DNA is the qualifier for legal protection in your view? Does that mean you would have no problem with killing an identical twin, as no unique DNA is lost?

    • Azel

      Using the uniqueness of the fetus’s DNA as the unique qualifier for legal protections is, in my humble opinion, a bad idea. If only because cancerous tumours have an unique DNA, thus, according to that principle, we shouldn’t try to cure cancer (we are destroying something with a unique DNA) and people born from either parthenogenesis or cloning would have no rights (they have the same DNA as their parent). I’m sure that are totally unwanted consequences, but I hope that shows that for moral questions, we’ll need moral arguments. And science is ill-equipped for that kind of arguments: better leave that to specialists, i.e., philosophy.

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      If’s we’re going to get into the active/passive argument, does that mean you’re okay forcing people to ‘passively’ (quotes because I’m not sure how passive I consider pregnancy to be) support someone? While I get the aspect of not being okay with taking an active role (as tortured as that logic sometimes gets–see RCC ideas about contraception and treating ectopic pregnancy), it’s not the same as not donating organs because someone still has to do something, and especially given how unique a situation pregnancy is compared to others examples of supporting someone, saying “I won’t actively kill’ isn’t a morally okay statement to me.

    • Niemand

      I will oppose actively killing (rather than passively refusing to help/donate organs) any human, whether that human is in a womb or on a death row.

      So then you should be fine with techniques that simply cause the zygote, embryo, or fetus to be ejected from the uterus without killing it directly. Hormonal withdrawal and induction of labor, for example, are moderately commonly used techniques that don’t involve killing the embryo, just passively forbidding the use of the uterus to it. For that matter, an intact D and C shouldn’t actually kill the fetus per se, just remove it from the uterus before it is able to survive on its own. Just like disallowing use of one’s bone marrow or kidney.

    • Anat

      Tumor cells have human DNA that is unique and different from the DNA of the human in which the tumor developed. Therefore human tumors are distinct human beings? Heck, cells within a single tumor are genetically heterogenous, so a single human tumor may be a whole clan of distinct human beings. Cutting out tumors is mass murder!!!!!

      • ButchKitties

        If we use DNA as the sole criteria to determine personhood, then Lydia Fairchild (a chimera) is two people, and Abigail and Brittany Hensel (dicephalic conjoined twins) are a single person.

      • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

        It’s not only tumor cells. As we age, the DNA of *all* cells is ultimately mutated due to exposure to ultraviolet light, viruses, DNA replication errors, and exposure to certain chemicals (carcinogens). The changes are typically harmless, as the vast bulk of the human genetic code is effectively non-functional and non-essential. However, each mutation tends to spread and accumulate through the cell population of its corresponding tissue over time, due to ordinary cell division (mitosis). This is one of the key reasons cancer becomes more common with age.

    • Sue Blue

      An embryo inherits its genes from both parents, in differing combinations – but genes are never “mixed”, nor are they “new” or “unique” themselves, unless they are a mutation. About 8% of the human genome is of viral and bacterial origin – i.e., not “human” at all. Over 60% of our genes are identical to those of oak trees, and we share a staggering 99.3% of our genes with chimpanzees. That means that only a tiny percentage of our genes are actually unique to humans in general. Of those “human” genes, only a minute number vary from individual to individual. The DNA used for identification in crime scenes consists of sequences of mitochondrial genes that aren’t crucial for the cell’s survival and are free to vary harmlessly – and mitochondria themselves, the powerhouses of all of our cells, are ancient bacteria living symbiotically within our cells. They are not “human”, but our cells could not function without them.
      Furthermore, new research shows that the tissues of some people contain cells that are not theirs. The DNA is different, sometimes even of the opposite sex. This is called chimerism. These people – and they are not rare – have two completely different genotypes in various body tissues. There are different routes by which these alien cells can be acquired – through the exchange of maternal/fetal blood during pregnancy and birth, and (far creepier in my opinion) by the “absorption” of one embryo by another during a twin pregnancy.
      With these new genetic discoveries, the idea of human and individual “uniqueness” becomes harder and harder to define; and the strange and sometimes shocking facts of embryology turn the whole idea of an “ensouled” human individual existing in the womb from the moment of conception completely upside-down.
      Combining religious and philosophical ideas of “souls” with biology doesn’t work. The question should be not “Is it a person?” based on some idea of the status of a supernatural “soul”, but “Can it suffer?”

    • piny

      But this isn’t an argument, just an assertion: that having unique DNA makes you the equal of a person.

      As so many people have pointed out, there are other situations in which unique DNA does not make you a human being, and wherein unique individuals have identical DNA. I would add the perilous journey to viability, and cloning, which may produce a multitude of genetically redundant humans with individual personalities and lives. If genetic uniqueness is sufficient to provide a right to life, what about all of the unique children that will never exist? Does a woman have the right to limit her fertility, given the number of actuated DNA combinations prevented as a result? Is genetic speciality important per se, given the many terrible possibilities buried in human DNA, of which cancer is only one?

      But you haven’t answered the real question here: a unique fetus is otherwise very different from a unique child. You’re still talking about a blueprint, not a building; a hypothetical, not an actual. A fetus is genetically unique but not yet in possession of a personality or a life–the overwhelming majority of abortions take place before any level of consciousness, let alone independent viability. You’ve asserted that each child is unique and therefore special, but you haven’t explained why a woman is obligated to create each particular child once she has conceived.

    • victoria

      Embryonic stem cells share the same DNA as the embryos they come from. Cancerous tumors have unique DNA that differ from every other cell in the body. Clearly these are not people, and I’ve never heard it said that they are.

      Since many collections of cells with unique DNA are not people, it cannot be said that having unique DNA automatically makes something a person.

  • Andrew G.

    I saw a good refutation to this kind of argument recently, but I can’t find it now.

    The basic issue is that the argument attempts to attach properties to an object based on its membership in a class, even though the properties in question are not part of the reason for assigning membership. “A is an X; X’s have property P; therefore A has property P” looks like sound reasoning, but where P is not part of our criteria for claiming “A is an X”, then we have to expect “X’s have property P” to have exceptions.

    Equally, this can be considered as an equivocation of two similar but not identical classes, “X” and “X’s with property P”. (Is “person” an organism with human DNA, heartbeat, fingernails, etc., or is “person” something to whose life we attach a particular value? To argue that it is both based only on the fact that we use the same label is to try and rewrite reality by changing the dictionary.)

    The LessWrongians have a suggested approach for addressing this kind of argument: identify the problematic label or concept (“person” here) and taboo it; that is, restate the issue without using the term or any of its synonyms. That forces us to address the issue of what, exactly, it is about some individual organisms but not others that causes us to assign value to their lives.

    • EmuSam
      • Andrew G.

        Related to that… the “worst argument” is more about assigning all the emotional baggage of a class to all of its members indiscriminately, which is obviously relevant to the abortion debate because “abortion is murder” is an instance of it; but I don’t think that article was the specific one I had in mind.

        Pretty much all of Eliezer’s “A Human’s Guide To Words” sequence (linked from the related articles) is applicable to this debate, though.

  • http://fidesquaerens.livejournal.com Marta Layton

    Phrasing this in terms of a “soul” does give it a religious connotation, if by soul we mean the Christian/Platonic idea of a separate substance from the cells of the body. Aristotle gives a different meaning of soul that’s possibly still relevant. A soul for Aristotle is the structure that organizes bits of matter into different classes of thing, but it’s not a totally separate thing on top of those bits of matter, it’s just the arrangement that gives said bits their potentiality.

    Leaving that aside… I think the “personhood” issue is a key one. There are two issues here. What do we mean by a person, and am I obligated to care for every person?

    The first question is more complicated than it might seem. People speak of being pro-life, but what they usually mean (being generous here) is pro-human life. Very few anti-abortion activists consider slaughtering even higher mammals to be murder. The trouble is that people use “human” in at least two different senses, and so the argument that “A fetus is a human, killing a human without justification is murder, so killing a fetus without justification is murder” turns on an equivocation. (See Mary Anne Warren, http://bit.ly/jwuhvR .) So the argument doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny.

    Now, I think you can make a good case that we ought to protect all life, in proportion to its ability to achieve whatever is good (however you want to measure that good – capacity to feel pleasure, capacity for rational thought, sentience, whatever). I’d even say that potential has a role here, so that killing a young human child is worse than killing an adult chimpanzee even if they both have the same capacity at that point in time. So one could probably develop a good, non-religious case that it is wrong in a certain situation to kill a fetus. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable labeling that as murder, and I’m not saying I’d want to make it illegal. But I think there are good reasons for being opposed to abortion, at least in general.

    The other question is trickier. Even if I think a fetus has a right to life, does that obligate me to provide it? To give an example, if I discovered squatters in my living room, would I be obligated to let them stay there? Even if circumstances are such that this would mean they would die? (Say, it’s January, their car is broken down, and I live in the middle of nowhere, or some such thing.) You might argue that it’s praiseworthy for me to let them stay and help them, but it seems very odd to say I have an obligation to do that. It seems less odd if it’s my fault their car broke down. This is where you get into issues of rape, failed contraception, and the parent’s responsibility for creating the life. That’s a whole other set of issues, and I only mention it because “X has a right to life” doesn’t always translate into “I have an obligation to preserve X’s life.”

  • jose

    A placenta is made out of living cells and it has the same DNA as the embryo, but the placenta isn’t considered a person. Therefore their own definition of person requires something more than those 2 items.

  • Andrew G.

    A thought experiment to consider:

    A couple conceive a child. Unknown to them, though, a mad philosopher has secretly harvested sperm and ova from the couple, performed an IVF, and implanted the resulting embryo in a surrogate. When the couple’s child is born, the philosopher arranges for it to be secretly exchanged for the child he arranged for. (Also assume that he substituted the results of any medical tests that happened to be performed during pregnancy.)

    Is there any way that the couple would notice the substitution?

    Does that mean that before birth, children are fungible in a way that we would never accept after birth?

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Arguments of this sort frequently conflate humanity, life and personhood. This is actually particularly true when they take a more secular route and leave aside the “soul” issue. Many people will claim that the idea that embryos and fetuses are not persons has been “disproved by science” due to the identification of complex, differentiated structures in early development, the presence of a unique human genome, and other things that you mentioned.

    But this argument is nonsensical, because science does not exist to prove or disprove philosophical concepts such as personhood. What these scientific data show is that the zygote/embryo/fetus is indeed ALIVE and GENETICALLY HUMAN. I know of no pro-choicer that disputes this and it is not necessary for us to do so because it does not follow that because something is alive or genetically human, it is a person. Many things are alive that many or most who oppose abortion have no issue with killing. If you have ever eaten meat, killed a spider or set a mousetrap, sprayed for weeds (or even eaten food that was grown using pesticides and herbicides) you have taken part in, or supported, the destruction of life. Many of the things we do on a daily basis as humans rely on the destruction of SOME sort of life so it is not enough to argue against abortion on the basis that the fetus is alive.

    As for the fetus being genetically human, human tumors and cell cultures are also genetically human–AND alive as well, of course. Clearly the mere presence of human DNA does not confer a special moral status and why should it? Why should a human embryo which does not have thoughts, feelings, and experiences etc. be considered to have more moral worth than, say, an elephant which has all those things but lacks human DNA? Why should a non-sentient, genetically human organism be more valued than a sentient, genetically non-human organism? The only argument I can think of is the argument that humans are unique and set apart from other living things because they are specially created in the image of God. However, if you employ this argument, you have obviously backslid into religious arguments, which have no place in policy-making. There is no sound, non-religious argument that human DNA confers innate moral superiority.

    The key issue is not life or humanity but personhood and this is not a concept that can be explored by science. It is a philosophical, moral concept that is usually defined by sentience–such things as self-awareness, the presence of feelings, thoughts, experiences, goals, values etc. These tend to be the kinds of things that pro-choicers consider to confer moral significance, although exactly what the definition is is, of course, still debated–in the proper philosophical setting, where it belongs. Therefore arguments that “science disproves” the non-personhood of a fetus suffer from a gross misunderstanding of terms and concepts. Insisting that “life begins at conception (duh),” or that “it has a beating heart” (so does a mouse), or that it has “its own unique DNA” (again, duh) is pointless because none of those things is the real issue.

    • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

      As the examples of tumours, tissue cultures, twins, etc, show, I think the only way to parlay “unique human DNA” into “personhood” is to add the fact that, given the proper environment and otherwise left to itself, an embryo will naturally develop into something we have no hesitation about calling a person. But this just reduces to the “potential persons” argument — it is not *now* a person, and we are under no a priori obligation to take into account the moral interests of persons who don’t exist.

  • http://politicsproseotherthings.blogspot.com/ Nathaniel

    Personhood is irrelevant. Adults are considered people, but legally I can kick them out of a house I own even if it means they starve.

    And as shown in this other thread, you cannot force someone to give use of their body, even if it means harm or death to another person.

    http://www.ucs.louisiana.edu/~ras2777/judpol/mcfall.html

    Unless somebody objects to these facts, I’m done here.

  • Jason Dick

    No statement in that argument can be used to distinguish a person from things none of us value. Many things are alive that we don’t care one whit about (e.g. bacteria). And tumors also have their own human DNA, but even if benign not a one of us would have the slightest moral compunction in having one removed from our bodies. House flies have hearts, move, and have rudimentary brains. And hair? Fingernails? Why would those make a fetus a person?

    Why not focus on things that actually matter for personhood? Why don’t we ask when a fetus starts thinking of itself as an individual? When it starts to have dreams of its own? When it starts to understand the feelings of those around it?

    Because none of these things that we actually value in actual people are present until after birth. And if you’re worried about the fetus suffering, well, I sure hope you’re a vegan, because if you’re not you’re an abject hypocrite, because full-grown cows, pigs, and chickens have vastly more capacity to suffer than a fetus does. This is especially true before the nervous system has developed.

    As an aside, the ambiguity of, “a very early stage,” is also very misleading. Many of these things (including the nervous system) don’t really start to develop until after 10-12 weeks, and most people who abort do so before then anyway.

    Finally, if you think a zygote has a soul, why not define what you mean by that and devise an experiment to test it. Because until you do, I have no reason whatsoever to believe you.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      “Many of these things (including the nervous system) don’t really start to develop until after 10-12 weeks, and most people who abort do so before then anyway.”

      YES! This is also the reason that, though I grudgingly accept it for the sake of convenience, it actually irritates me a lot that all the debate seems to be about FETUSES. Very few actual fetuses are aborted because most abortions take place in the embryonic stage–before 10-12 weeks (I think it’s technically week 11 that the fetal stage begins). Referring to aborted “fetuses” makes it sound like abortion takes place much later in the pregnancy than it usually does.

  • Luna Fox

    I would like to add that most (an estimated 60-80%) of fertilized eggs (conceived beings) fail to implant. Thoughts on this?

  • Erp

    A zygote with a soul should give theologians who believe humans get souls at fertilization conniptions for two reasons. One, zygotes can split and create identical twins; do they have one soul or two? Two, in rare cases two fertilized eggs can lead to one individual with two sets of DNA (see chimera); does this individual have two souls or one?

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Very good and interesting point, Erp. I’ve never thought of that but, of course, you are right. Thanks for sharing!

  • TripletMom82

    This is just sad. I don’t see how any mother could be pro-choice. Due to a high risk pregnancy I had about 20 sonograms from 5 weeks to 8 mo. To be able to see your baby, moving around, heart beating, etc.. and still think it is ok to end it’s life, will never make sense to me. Sorry this is not a scientific argument, I am not going to get into that. Only to say, if you really want to give women all the “facts” on abortion, then give them all the facts, not just a few from one view point!!

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      “To be able to see your baby, moving around, heart beating, etc.. and still think it is ok to end it’s life, will never make sense to me.”

      Fine. It doesn’t need to. Do you think people should only legally be allowed to make choices that make sense to you? Not much of an argument.

      And nobody’s concealing or suppressing facts here. Libby’s OP actually contained a great number of facts on embryonic and fetal development that are frequently used by those against abortion in support of their position. But this post was made for the purpose of examining a particular moral debate, not for to simply list off facts without context. If there are any facts that you think are important to this particular debate, by all means, share them and explain why you think they are relevant.

    • Niemand

      I don’t see how any mother could be pro-choice.

      Because I have a daughter.

      • http://amandajustice.blogspot.com Amanda

        This. A thousand times this. And I have only sons, but they may have daughters and this option MUST exist for them. I don’t wish for them to have to use it, but it must be there should the need arise (and far be it from me to define “need” for those future young ladies).

    • Ibis3

      Pro-choice means the state doesn’t get to force you to have an abortion, that’s why. Just because you can’t understand why another person would make a choice different than you have does not give you the right to force your judgement on others.

      (p.s. how about trying to find out why others have chosen differently than you would? Read stories at I’m not sorry. Or watch this documentary about what it was like when abortion was illegal, instead of thinking your experience trumps the experience of others.)

    • Monimonika

      TripletMom82,

      I’m assuming your high risk pregnancy was a success, and I honestly congratulate you. Even if things had not worked out, it’s important that you got to CHOOSE to proceed with the pregnancy that you felt was worth risking your health/life for (assuming you were fully informed about all the possible consequences).

      Yes, it would’ve been extremely tragic if the worst had happened and you had lost your life. However, even that possible (read: not definite) result would not make any of us here wish for a doctor or politician (no matter how good-intentioned) to force you to have a life-saving abortion. If you had been fully informed and there is no issue with mental competence, it was your CHOICE to make.

      You say that pictures of a moving fetus were what moved you and are what you think everyone ought to universally view as endearing. Let’s get this straight. The pictures were of YOUR BABY, the one(or more?) that you felt love for and very much WANTED. You emphasize with pictures of other people’s fetuses, so you mistakenly think those pictures also invoke the same feelings in others. A lot of people will agree with you. Others, not so much, and their reasons will be varied.

      I won’t go into a list of reasons some women choose to abort (you can look that up yourself), but I will mention a law that is based on the SAME EXACT REASONING you have:

      Virginia state Legislature passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion. Because the great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, that means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure, in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. Since a proposed amendment to the bill—a provision that would have had the patient consent to this bodily intrusion or allowed the physician to opt not to do the vaginal ultrasound—failed on 64-34 vote, the law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason.

      Source: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/02/virginia_ultrasound_law_women_who_want_an_abortion_will_be_forcibly_penetrated_for_no_medical_reason.html

      Does this law sound like a good idea to you? Do you honestly think the women FORCED to go through this would look at the resulting pictures in a positive light like you did yours? I’m not sure of your answer, but if I were desperate enough for an abortion that I would endure an unnecessary (painful/unpleasant) medical procedure(*) to get it, the resulting fuzzy pictures are sure as heck not going to convince me to reverse course by that point.

      (*)Let’s call it what it really is: an OBSTACLE. An obstacle meant to punish women seeking abortions with either pain, inconvenience, discomfort, and/or guilt.

    • Nicola

      And I don’t see how any woman who has experienced the intense physical and emotional upheaval of pregnancy could try to force another woman to undergo the same thing. Pro-choice isn’t about encouraging or forcing women to have abortions; it’s about laying out the facts so that women can make the choice suitable for them, whether that’s aborting a healthy pregnancy, carrying a high-risk pregnancy to term, or anything in between.

    • piny

      Forget a forced ultrasound. What if you had been forced into conception? Do you know whether you’d feel the same way about these pictures if the father of your child were also your rapist? What if you didn’t know which of your rapists was the father? What if he beat you and your other children? What if this rapist was also your father? What if you had good reason to doubt your ability to survive a pregnancy? Or, hey, what if you were pregnant and homeless? What if you were incarcerated, and faced the prospect of giving birth in shackles and then immediately losing your child forever? Would that adulterate your joy?

      What if you were a child yourself?

      This is like saying that you don’t understand why any sexual contact is unwanted because you love your husband and therefore love making love with him. There would still be such a thing as rape. Your happiness isn’t a bludgeon to attack other women in their misery. Women–AND YOUNG GIRLS–get pregnant under all kinds of circumstances, many of them less than ideal. And many women dread the thought of bearing a child, for reasons that you should be perfectly able to empathize with even if your own pregnancies were wanted, joyous, and free of catastrophe.

  • John

    @Luna Fox – Yes, human reproduction is messy and fallible, for sure. Even in cases where implantation is successful, the ‘it is a person from conception’ position just generates more sticky questions. If a blastocyst divides and becomes twins, is that one person or two? If two simultaneously-fertilized blastocysts (fraternal twins) fuse into a single chimera (rare, but it does happen), is the baby one person or two? In cases where no brain (or no head!) develops, is the living but insensate creature a person? Are molar pregnancies (where the blastocyst implants, but grows into a tumor instead of a baby) people?

  • John

    @Tripletmom What facts do you think are being left out?

  • lane

    Just jumping in to address the “unique DNA” argument. There are 3 “case studies” that can be used against this, most of which have been addressed: 1) tumors (unique DNA, not a person), 2) identical twins (non-unique DNA, 2 persons), 3) chimerism (2 unique sets of DNA, 1 person). The third has not been addressed so I will briefly touch on it, because I think it’s good to have in one’s arsenal. :)

    Some background: chimerism occurs when two zygotes/blastocysts fuse at a relatively early stage. This results in ONE person containing TWO sets of DNA. This is often benign but can result in some really weird stuff–if an XX zygote/blastocyst fuses with an XY, the person can have mixed genitalia, or if the parents are of different races, the child can literally appear as a patchwork between the two. (Another side note: this has resulted in some pretty ridiculous/convoluted legal situations.)

    How I would frame this in a personhood argument: if ensoulment occurs at conception, how can two souls fuse? Does that mean god “knows” and that he only provides a soul for one blastocyst? If that were the case, would it then be just, if it were possible, to remove only one blastocyst and discard it, since the only thing protecting it is this concept of ensoulment? Should a chimera have double the human rights of a regular person–should they get two votes during election time, for example?

    • lane

      Darn, I see Erp beat me to the punch while I was typing. :P

  • http://catescates.com.au Catherine

    One point that is perhaps worth mentioning is that implanted embryos that are going to become identical twins don’t necessarily split into two distinct embryos immediately – they can do so at any time up to 12 days (after this point, if they split, they will be conjoined twins). Up until this point, you don’t really know if you are going to have one child or two, so I really can’t see any logical way you can call the embryo a person until they have at least passed this stage of development.

    For that matter, a significant number of people carry the DNA of two separate people in their bodies – it’s not uncommon for a pregnancy to start with fraternal twins and have one ‘swallow’ the other. How many souls are present then?

    I am someone who believes in souls, but logically, I just can’t imagine that the soul is present from conception. At some point later in the pregnancy, perhaps (friends of mine who have had multiple children noticed that they behaved differently in the womb in late pregnancy, which suggests some sort of awareness or personality or something beyond pure mechanical function, but perhaps I am romanticising), but not the moment the sperm meets the egg.

    (going back to identical twins, I do wonder how the soul thing works – the notion that identical twins share a soul is clearly false, so at what point does the extra soul turn up? Or is the extra soul there from the start, causing the embryo to split, she wonders, unscientifically!)

    • http://catescates.com.au Catherine

      … and Lane and Erp were obviously typing at the same time as me. Sorry for the repetition!

  • Karen

    Personhood is a legal concept. Only legal “persons” have rights, and if a fetus is a legal person, the fetus has those rights as well. I have never seen anyone on either side fully address what happens to other laws if fetii have legal rights. A legal person can file suit, inherit and bequeath property, and must be protected from negligence. A cause of action – the right and power to file suit over a specific injury – is a type of property that can be bequeathed. So, if personhood attaches at fertilization, the estate of a zygote that failed to implant has the right to sue whomever caused it to be miscarried. In the case at issue, the woman who didn’t know she was pregnant who did any number of activities from breastfeeding her existing infant through vigorous exercise or training up to getting shit-faced drunk or high on speedballs. ALL of those activities can cause early stage miscarriage. Is in criminal negligence, or even simply civil negligence, for a sexually active woman to do anything, since anything might cause early miscarriage? How, precisely, is it possible to give a fetus any kind of personhood that means anything and preserve personhood for women?

    • Zme

      And a legal person can be evicted from a premises if the owner of said premises no longer wishes to tolerate the squatting and vandalism of that “person”.

    • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

      Ah, but women have only been considered legal persons for less than a century, at best, and many religious traditions still don’t consider women to have ownership of their own persons.

      If the fetus is a person–a minor person–who has guardianship? If the mother is found to be an incompetent guardian, does the state assume guardianship? Can the father sue for full custody of a fetus? Could a woman deemed negligent be detained until she gives birth?

      • Karen

        These are exactly the kinds of things that need to be stressed in response to “personhood” initiates. It is not possible for a fertilized zygote to exercise even a tiny fraction of the rights of actual persons, even infants or those with insurmountable cognitive impairments. For one thing, how on Earth does anyone think they can confirm the existence of a zygote that failed to implant? Still, because one may exist, and they are now legal persons, they must be protected from negligence, including Mom’s desire for, oh, coffee or chemotherapy. The Catholic church supports denying pregnant women chemotherapy already, so why not simply deny treatment to all of us between menarche and menopause because we MIGHT be pregnant and chemo drugs will harm the fetus?

      • Anonymouse

        Good point, Bix; if religions believe that a grown woman isn’t really a person, how could they believe a female fetus should have any rights at all?

  • plunderb

    I find the DNA argument supremely unconvincing. Tumors and transplanted organs have human DNA distinct from the DNA of the human bodies that feed them, but are not separate living persons; identical twins do not have unique DNA, but are separate living persons.

    I have grown a small human in my body. During the time she lived inside me, she was not a separate, distinct being (and neither was I). She had no life separate from my life, no breath separate from my breath, no nourishment apart from what I ate. Our hearts beat independently, but my blood was full of her cells (and still is), and her blood was full of mine. In the hours after I delivered her, my veins ran with my own blood, her cells, and the DNA of several different donors whose blood saved my life through critical blood transfusions. How many distinct people?

    The DNA argument sounds good because it sounds simple and scientific. But the lines are not so clear.

  • Gwynnyd

    It seems that it is *science* that is making the anti-choicers push the “it’s a person” date earlier and further towards absurd points. When it wasn’t possible to even tell if a woman was surely pregnant until “at quickening,” then “at quickening” was the standard. As science has pushed the date we can know if conception has occurred earlier, that has become the new rallying cry to the point of forcing women to have probes shoved up their vaginas to see nearly microscopic blobs of cells.

    What next? It is a failure of imagination on the part of the anti-choicers to not follow their reasoning to its end. It is not possible *now* to make person from a random cell – as it was not possible in pre-modern times to know before her next period when conception occurred – but it easily could be some day. When there comes a time when *every* cell that contains human DNA is a potential person, *any* cell separated from a person for any reason *should* have its own “personhood.” If not, why not? If there are no allowable excuses now to stop a cell from developing into a person, why should they be allowed for *any* cell that can become a person?

    Why *should* the protections of “personhood” be limited to gamete cells? If “potential for adulthood” is the standard, once other cells are capable of being gown into a fully-functioning human, given enough science, why would they be less precious to someone who believes that every cell that can be *must* be brought to birth if it is at all possible? If “unique DNA” is the standard, even a cloned person would be different than the original, given trivial-in-expression DNA copy errors that any cell could have – but that god could surely see!

    Do the anti-choicers realize how many cells they callously shed on a regular basis? My heart bleeds – no wait! bleeding wastes thousands of potential souls! – for all the shed skin cells that should have been people if only science were advanced enough to meet god’s standards! I envision a time when the beard cut off in shaving will need to have a ritual burial every day and a mourning period for the loss of the myriad “souls” it represents.

    If not, WHY not? Since it is the current state of science that sets the standard for “personhood” … well… Cells are people, too, my friends, right?

    • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

      Well put. The only element I would add is that it’s not strictly necessary to introduce new technology to show the critical flaw in the potentiality argument. A fertilized embryo is, after all, assembled from pre-existing egg and sperm cells. This implies that drawing a strong distinction at the point of fertilization is essentially arbitrary; the precursor cells also had the potential for development into a human being. Reinforcing this view is the fact that not all fertilized embryos implant, and some spontaneously abort or miscarriage even well after implantation.

      It’s safe to say that any argument which requires treating acorns as oak trees has made a fundamental logical error.

      • Karen

        This is important. My egg cells have only half the genes my somatic cells have. Does that make them “persons?”

    • Niemand

      Adult red blood cells aren’t nucleated, so I suppose they’re not people. So your heart can bleed safely.

      OTOH, consider the intestines. Every day, intestinal lining cells are shed. The body then digests them (like it would any cell sitting in the gut) and the undigested remains end up in the stool. Intestinal lining cells are not only clonable, but probably unusually good candidates for cloning, i.e. they’ve got an unusually good chance of becoming independent humans with just a little technical aid. So, you are not only killing and eating little people every day, you’re flushing the bits you don’t want down the toilet.

      • Anat

        Adult red blood cells aren’t nucleated, so I suppose they’re not people. So your heart can bleed safely.

        White blood cells are nucleated. And the lymphocytes among them have rearranged and somatically mutated DNA, so bleeding kills all these many ‘persons’.

      • Niemand

        Good point! Poor little white blood people! Hang on, that means that prednisone and other immune modulatory drugs are murder! They blatantly off white blood cells on the flimsy excuse that they are anti-self and causing harm to the host. Of course, it’s already a jungle in there, what with anti-idiotype cells and all…

    • Sue Blue

      Also, I would ask the anti-choicers what they think God was thinking when he gave women and men far more germ cells than they can ever use! No woman is ever going to be able to gestate all her ova, and there’s absolutely no way that a man can ensure that every one of the millions of sperm in each ejaculation is saved and used to fertilize an ovum. Think of all that “potential” going to waste. What profligate, unintelligent “design” by God!

  • Chris Buchholz

    There is certainly a grey area when the fetus is close to being born. It does not seem to make sense that one day killing it inside the womb is legal, but the next day outside the womb it is not. But if we think there is a point of viability inside the womb where after that it is a person, but before that it is not, then the best thing we can do for women is to make abortion and the morning after pill and contraception and education as easy to get as possible. The second thing we can do is put more resources into fetal testing to ensure any “defects” or congenital diseases are caught as early as possible. Making abortions harder to get only makes the problem worse and means abortions later in the term, but what we want is to move abortions to earlier in the term, to be safe and sure we are not killing persons.

    Of course the statistics say that no women get elective abortions in the last trimester. So even if we think it is wrong to get an elective abortion that late in the pregnancy, people aren’t getting them, it would be a law in search of a crime. The only women who do elect abortions very late do so when the doctor finds something “wrong” with the fetus. But thanks to genetic testing we are able to find those problems earlier and earlier, so a woman can choose abortion when it is far less developed, which is a better option than having to get an abortion very late.

    For those who believe it’s a person from the moment of conception: there is a big problem when it comes to animal fetuses. People will point out that the human fetus “feels pain” at a certain number of weeks*, but the truth is for that, and every single other level of growth/advancement, almost all animal fetuses will have advanced even more, due to the shorter gestation times and shorter lives. So if a human fetus feeling pain means anything, then it must also mean something for the dog fetus that felt pain several weeks earlier. But we do not think that means anything at all when it comes to the dog, so why do we think it means anything for a human? There are people with CIPA whose pain nerves do not work and never feel pain, yet we think of them as human. So feeling pain has nothing to do with personhood.

    Similarly, other sensations, development of the feet and hands, eyes, etc, almost anything that we can really test or look at, are also exactly the same in animals, and again the animal is often more developed than the human at any stage. And also people born without limbs and other congenital “defects” are still considered persons. So none of those can have anything to do with personhood.

    After thousands of years of philosophy we finally know the mind cannot be separated from the brain. Brain damage changes the very personality and ethics of a human. This is not only a huge problem for religions that believe there is a good and bad afterlife (if a person gets brain damage and contracts acquired sociopathy, are they truly evil and bad and deserve hell? What if they are born with a defective brain as the psycopath is?) but it also is a challenge to those who believe the fetus is a person.

    There is no mind outside of the body, and even if you believe there is a soul, it does not have anything to do with the body. If it did, we’d think miscarriages in the first few weeks are deaths of people, we’d think zygotes that do not implant are deaths of people, we’d think twins share one soul. But we don’t think any of those, not even the churches who think zygotes are human. If it’s frozen in a test tube they do, but when it doesn’t even implant and falls out, they think nothing of it at all. No one cries out to god for all those zygotes.

    The only thing that really separates us from any animal, including other primates, is our brain. So truthfully, the only real test of personhood must be associated with the brain. According to this article, most of the brain development occurs in the third trimester. https://www.dana.org/media/detail.aspx?id=27882 So we need more research, but it seems to me that in the first two trimesters, fetuses have pretty much an animal brain, and are less developed than other primates. Only late do they start to develop the “human” areas of the brain. Therefore, I think that is the only time we can start to consider them persons.

    • Ibis3

      Even human neonates have less brain development than full adults of other species, and yet they are not persons.

    • Anat

      It does not seem to make sense that one day killing it inside the womb is legal, but the next day outside the womb it is not.

      Why not? When it is in the womb it depends on one person for its continued existence, once it is out anyone can care for it. So while in the womb, the owner of the womb gets to decide what to do with the womb’s contents.

      • http://considertheteacosy.wordpress.com Aoife

        I don’t see why this presents a problem anyway. The point of abortion isn’t to kill a fetus/embryo, it is to stop a pregnancy. If a fetus is viable, if it could survive outside of a person’s uterus, then there’s nothing to stop people from just removing it and caring for the resulting baby as they choose to.

  • Ibis3

    Not only is this a non-starter for the reasons others have outlined above (i.e. that it completely ignores the reasons that we as a society have created the personhood class, that providing evidence that anything has a “soul” is, at best, problematic, that the other criteria (living; human DNA) apply to other things without them magically obtaining personhood, that uniqueness doesn’t grant a way out of this problem because we count twins as two persons, that being human qua Homo sapiens isn’t inherently more valuable than being another species of animal etc.), but it also ignores the logical consequences of the position.

    A society that accepted personhood of a foetus would look different than ours does. Have the forced birthers really thought this through? I don’t think so.

    Every miscarriage would have to be investigated for any signs of neglect or other contributing factors. Women could be charged with assault or other crimes for things like smoking, drinking alcohol or coffee, or eating poorly.

    Biological fathers would have to pay for child support from conception, and would legally be jointly responsible for any medical expenses accrued by the foetus in utero. How would physical custody issues be resolved? Would a woman not be forced to remain in the same area as the biological father/sperm donor so that he could have visitation?

    Citizenship laws would have to be overhauled–surely where a person’s personhood began would hold just as much if not more weight than where they were born. So anyone wanting their kids to have citizenship in a certain country could travel there to have sex. And of course, there would be many people who wouldn’t want to have sex on vacation in case any children conceived would end up being Mexican or Dominican or Costa Rican instead of American (substitute appropriate alternative countries, depending on circumstances). Pregnant women would have to get passports for their foetuses before travelling over international borders.

    No more IVF or embryo banks, even for, say, couples who know they’re going to be sterile due to a medical procedure–legally that would be forcible confinement (kidnapping/false imprisonment etc) of a person to freeze them and hold them imprisoned in a freezer, let alone all the collateral loss of embryos in IVF procedures (for which the doctors and lab people would have to be charged with homicide).

    As soon as conception occurs, the parents could buy life insurance and could collect on miscarriages–I’m sure the insurance companies wouldn’t mind paying out on about 80% of successful conceptions.

    Most birth control would be illegal. Not just abortion, but IUDs and the pill too.

    And wouldn’t pregnancy itself be against the law? After all, if a woman is pregnant, she’s keeping another person confined and imprisoned without their consent.

    • ButchKitties

      ZOMG anchor zygotes!

    • Karen

      Breastfeeding would certainly be against the law, because it thins the uterine lining to prevent conception. It’s not a perfect system, but it certainly creates a hostile and dangerous environment for those poor little zygotes.

  • Rilian

    So what if it’s a person? That doesn’t give it the right to use someone else’s body.

    http://spot.colorado.edu/~heathwoo/Phil160,Fall02/thomson.htm

  • Niemand

    One other point re cancer cells and humanity: At least some cancer cells can be transplanted into enucleated eggs and form viable organisms. It’s not been tried with humans as far as I know (I certainly hope it hasn’t), but frogs from frog cancers.

  • Niemand

    In the end, the problem with the “it’s a person because of the unique human DNA” argument is that the argument is both too inclusive and too exclusive. I’m going to list some specific examples of what I mean:
    1. Cancer cells have unique DNA and the ability to form complex structures that are unique from the host/parent. As I referenced above, some even have the possibility of forming complete organisms under some circumstances.
    2. Monozygotic (identical) twins. As eloquently discussed above.
    3. Chimeras. Likewise.
    4. Anencephalic babies. At birth, an anencephalic baby is considered a candidate for organ donation, if the parents agree. Was it a person before birth but no longer is?
    5. Brain dead people have unique human DNA (unless, of course, they are an identical twin). Are they still living people until the last cell dies?
    6. On the other hand, the definition excludes a number of (currently hypothetical) entities that are or would clearly be people: Suppose, for example, I revealed that my nym was a sort of joke because I really am “no one” but really am an advanced AI. Do I pass the Turing test*? If so, am I a person? How would I fit into the fundie schema of person=human DNA? (Just in case someone’s worried…it’s a hypothetical. I’m not an AI. I’m really a non-human alien with human-like intelligence…no, I mean I’m really a non-human animal that can pass the mirror test, perhaps an elephant, chimpanzee or dolphin…hmm…maybe this isn’t really entirely a hypothetical: the last mentioned really do exist after all. And arguments for greater legal protection for them may be made more difficult by a definition of “person” that includes human DNA.)
    7. Finally, if you thought my last example was weird and outside of reality, let me introduce you to something REALLY strange. The hamster egg assay. This is a test for male infertility in which (human) sperm are put in a dish with hamster eggs. If the sperm penetrates the egg, the problem is probably not with that part of the sperm’s function. But what about the zygote thus formed? It has human DNA. Is it a person? Mostly they die as eggs, but sometimes they start dividing. Should they be implanted in a volunteer to give them the best opportunity to live as long as possible? Before you say that that’s silly, they’re clearly not people because of the non-human DNA they harbor, consider retroviruses. HIV aside, most retroviruses are essentially harmless bits of RNA/DNA that integrate into host cells without causing problems. So there’s a good chance that you, whoever you are, have some non-human (retroviral) DNA in you somewhere. Did you stop being a person last time you had a cold?

    *I really did once get accused of being an AI by someone who strongly disagreed with me in an online debate. About abortion, now that I think about it.

    • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

      See also my comment above (currently #19). “Unique human DNA grants personhood” is such a terrible argument that I’m convinced it’s a post-hoc rationalization. Proponents started with the motivated reasoning of needing to believe that an embryo is a person, and then worked backwards to find some attribute by which they could identify something specific that the embryo has which most other living things do not. Unfortunately, they failed introductory biology (or never studied it to begin with).

      Even though the simple counterargument that all human cells ultimately have unique DNA due to mutation devastates this line of reasoning, I don’t expect it to be abandoned. The typical next step in post-hoc rationalization is to insert some other qualifying factor previously thought irrelevant.

  • James C.

    Cancer and twins aside, the DNA thing misses the point. DNA causes personhood. That is not the same thing as personhood itself. We don’t do DNA tests to determine if something is a person. We do a few herustics, like seeing if they move like a person, sound like a person when they speak, look like a person, etc. It’s not rigorously defined; you can’t take a list of traits and conclude a priori that such a being is or is not a person. So when one pretends that personhood is defined as “has Homo sapiens DNA” or whatever, I can’t help but get the feeling that the definition was cherry-picked to support the argument.

    • Anat

      Of course, there are those philosophers who don’t accept that newborns are persons. Various conditions have been promoted as necessary for personhood that only develop months, sometimes several years after birth (depending on whom you ask). Such conditions can be perceiving of oneself as an organism separate from others, behaving in ways that show understanding that one’s actions influence future events, or being able to communicate the idea ‘I don’t want to die!’. For example see When is a Person? by James Park. Another is Peter Singer.

      BTW that a young child might not be a person still does not mean infanticide is permissible. Though some would argue infanticide would be permissible under certain circumstances.

      Personally, since all the tests for personhood such philosophers propose have the potential for false negatives (a child may have reached the milestone but others may have not realized it) I’m willing to consider neonates as persons just to be safe. Before birth personhood of the fetus is irrelevant as its would-be rights are overridden by the rights of the person in whom it resides.

  • Judy L.

    Personhood is a lousy argument because it’s irrelevant. Nothing and nobody has the right to live inside a person’s body without that person’s ongoing consent, and that person has the right to remove things from their own body even if when those things are dependent upon the person for their animate existence. A woman has the right to bodily autonomy and self-determination and those are inalienable rights, which means that she doesn’t and can’t give up her rights by doing things like having sex (sex is not a contract to conceive). Back in my university days I took the position that there’s nothing wrong with granting personhood to fetuses, because that personhood was subsumed within its mother’s personhood, and thus subject to her will. But I think my ‘Nobody has the right to live inside another person’s body even if they are dependent on that person for their survival’ argument is tidier.

    I rather like Bill Maher’s joke that embryos are obviously not being people because you can’t freeze people, thaw them out, and they’ll be just fine. (The extension of this would be an argument that an embryo or fetus achieves or attains personhood when the number and differentiation of cells result in an organism that won’t survive having its water removed and replaced with antifreeze.)

    I must say I find the cognitive dissonance that religious people must experience when they use science-generated evidence to support their faith-based arguments rather amusing. I don’t understand why they feel the need to use science to support and validate their faith-based beliefs and claims. And the cynical part of me thinks that they shouldn’t be allowed to use empirical evidence from scientific inquiry when they reject and denigrate it when it comes to facts like evolution.

    • Judy L.

      Sorry for the poor proofing in my comment above; there are a couple of extra words that didn’t get deleted when I re-phrased sentences. I wish there was an editing option for striking things out after posting. :(

    • Anat

      I don’t understand why they feel the need to use science to support and validate their faith-based beliefs and claims.

      Perhaps some of them realize that a religious argument won’t convince people who do not share their particular faith, nor can be used as basis for secular legislation.

  • murollavan

    From the moment of conception, a zygote/embryo/fetus is (a) alive and (b) has its own unique human DNA, and is thus clearly a living, distinct human being. This makes it a person. In addition to its own unique DNA, every zygote/embryo/fetus also has a soul planted in it at conception by God.

    DNA is necessary for personhood both philosophically and legally, but not a sufficient condition by far.

    In the past, people thought zygotes/embryos/fetuses were just blobs of tissue, but the advent of ultrasounds has allowed us to see that this is not the case at all. Things like hearts, brain waves, internal organs, fingernails, and even hair develop at a very early stage. The fetus’ heart starts beating only days after the mother misses her period.
    None of these assign sentience to even a fetus (ignoring that the majority of abortions occur so early that the development is not even close to this here) or provide us with a reason to believe the fetus has desires, which are required for us to think that a reduction in value has happened. Immoral actions cause a reduction in total value. This is leaving aside the fact that even if some abortions are immoral to a slight degree, the case for making them illegal would still be incredibly weak.

    Numerous women who intended to have abortions have changed their minds after seeing an image of their fetus.
    Irrelevant.

    Similarly, people in the past thought that the fetus made its first movement at “quickening,” and that that therefore must be the moment when God gave it a soul. Now, however, we know that the zygote/embryo/fetus is active from the moment of its conception and cannot make such a distinction. Conception, not birth, not quickening, is the key moment.
    More religious argumentation which can be dismissed on its face.

    • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

      As Niemand pointed out above, DNA is not philosophically required for personhood. The examples of an artifical intelligence and a sentient alien organism were presented.

      Concerning the law, I don’t believe most jurisdictions worldwide directly consider DNA in terms of determining personhood. Certainly from the historical perspective, DNA was not of any importance. After all, no one even knew it existed until 1869 — and the double helix structure wasn’t known until Rosalind Franklin uncovered it in the 1950s.

  • http://www.thedrantherlair.com quietpanther

    Don’t have time to read through all the comments, so apologies in advance if I’m repeating someone else’s arguments.

    1) The placenta, which differentiates from fetal tissue at around the second week of development, is composed of cells that (a) are alive and (b) contain DNA distinct from either parent (the same DNA as the fetus). Does that make the placenta a person?
    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/prenatal-care/PR00112

    2) As many as two-thirds of all pregnancies end in self-termination (miscarriage); most within the first trimester and many in the second. If you believe in God and eternal souls, clearly God is a much greater mass-murderer than all abortion clinics put together. On the other hand, if these “autoabortions” are purely natural processes, perhaps the human body does not consider fetuses (fetii?) at this stage to be human beings requiring the protection of the mother’s body.
    Source: http://www.thedrantherlair.com/2012/04/gods-holocaust/ (information from various sources pulled together in a post on my own blog)

    3) The developing fetus is incapable of conscious thought before around 23 weeks (the beginning of the third trimester). If we consider victims of brain damage to be legally dead when the capability for conscious thought ceases, how can we believe a fetus incapable of conscious thought to be somehow more alive than a fully-developed human with an irrevocably destroyed brain?
    Source (among many others): http://wadebradford.com/blog5/2009/09/14/abortion-and-brainwaves/

    • machintelligence

      The religious would have a stronger case if they held funerals for miscarriages.

  • Erp

    A couple of other thoughts.
    1. Pregnant women can now generally survive caesarian sections but in the days before that was possible a woman in labor who could not deliver (e.g., the head was too large) faced three outcomes. First continue in labor until both the fetus and the mother were dead. Second have the fetus’s skull crushed so the now dead fetus could be delivered and the mother likely to survive. Third, cut the mother open and so have a live baby but a dead mother. Catholic law requires the first (unless it can be determined that one was dead and the other alive in which case do what is necessary to save the one still alive); Orthodox Jewish law required that the mother’s life be saved even if it meant killing the fetus.

    2. I can certainly see justification for severe criminal penalties for killing a fetus without the explicit consent of the mother (or her next-of-kin if she isn’t capable of giving consent or in a medical emergency when the choice is between saving the mother or losing both) though not treating it as severely as murder.

    • Judy L.

      On your point #2: I absolutely agree with you. There should be special criminal penalties (and I think there are in some States) for harming or killing a fetus intentionally or accidentally as the result of harming/killing the pregnant woman (like in a car crash). But I think the best way to approach that would be to define these harms as aggravations of the assault on the pregnant woman, because I don’t like the idea of conferring separate legal status on fetuses. But I think it’s extremely important to recognize the special harm that’s done to a pregnant woman when her fetus, with whom she has a relationship with, is harmed or killed as the result of someone else’s intent or negligence. I wouldn’t support charging someone with two murders if their action resulted in the death of both a woman and her fetus, but there should be some extra charge and punishment for killing a pregnant woman or harming a girl or woman in a way that renders her sterile.

  • ABaker

    This is my theory: To determine when personhood/life begins, look at where it ends. A person is declared medically and legally dead when they are no longer breathing air. Therefore, life begins when they begin breathing air.

  • butterfly5906

    Conception is not a “moment” but a process that can take hours or days . If “personhood” is a simple black and white/ yes or no question and not a matter of development or shades of grey, then when precisely in this process is a new person created?:
    -The egg and sperm membranes fuse (but the nuclei are still separate)
    -The egg goes through chemical changes to prevent other sperm from fusing
    -The egg finishes meiosis to become haploid and forms a polar body (which doesn’t happen until after the membranes have fused)
    -All parts of the sperm except the nucleus dissolve
    -The chromosomes from the egg and sperm replicate separately
    -Both nuclear membranes dissolve
    -Spindles form to bring all of the chromosomes together (approximately 3-4 hours after the membranes fused)
    -The cell goes through mitosis ending in 2 cells (repeat many times)
    -The embryo implants in the wall (approximately 9 days after the sperm and egg membranes fused)

    It’s possible to imagine drugs that could interfere at any stage in this process (if they don’t already exist). Where is the line between “not a person” and “person”?

  • http://badatheist.wordpress.com/ befuddled2

    This is taken from a blog I did about abortion.

    http://badatheist.wordpress.com/2011/05/23/abortion-part-1/

    The pro life movement likes to claim that there is no difference between a fetus and a baby. They are fond of saying that life begins at conception.

    That is true.

    They say that the life of a fetus is as fully human as a new born baby, a teen, a middle aged person, or an old man, that there is no difference between a fetus and any of the other cases.

    That is not true.

    There are two basic differences that the pro life people either overlook or ignore. The first is that a fetus cannot live independently of the mother. The fetus is a physical part of mother, something very different from a newborn baby. Yes, the fetus has separate DNA from the mother but it is the mother’s body that provides the nutrients the fetus needs to live and grow, it is the mother’s body that provides the safe and nurturing environment to the fetus, it is the mother’s body that carries out the waste products – it is the mother’s body and the mother’s body only that provides all that the fetus needs.

    A sister, aunt, or stranger can take just as good if not better care of a newborn baby. However they cannot do the same for a fetus. No matter how much outside help a pregnant woman may receive she is the one by far bearing the greatest impact in regards to health, both physical and emotional(as I can readily attest from the personal experience trying to support Dindy during her two pregnancies). That is why birth is such a clear demarcation point. The baby can be reared by someone else.

    A mother who is unable to care for her baby – for health reasons, financial, emotional, or any other reason can give the baby up for adoption and have someone else take care of it. The fetus cannot be given up in such a manner, which means that any health risks, financial risks or any other issue must be borne by the woman until the fetus develops enough.

    Which brings us to the second difference – Personhood. Is an eight week old fetus a person in the same way that a baby is? Does it have conscious awareness of itself, of its environment? No it does not.

    A fetus has the potential to grow and develop into a human. But every child has the potential to become the President, but does that mean we treat each like the President? To equate a potential and elevate it over an actual person, the mother, is wrong. I believe that this is why the great majority of people when faced with a choice between the life of the mother or the life of the fetus choose the mother. The only question really is where do we draw that line – when does the life of the unborn become as important as the born.

    For myself, I believe that we should recognize that as the fetus grows and develops it is starting to develop to that same point of independent existence as a newborn baby has. Especially as it starts to develop an awareness of its surroundings and an ability to consciously feel pain. That is why I support a sliding scale version of abortion rights.

    During the first trimester it is totally at the discretion of the women. She should be able to have an abortion no questions asked. The second trimester would have more restrictions – emotional and physical well being – and the final trimester an abortion would be performed only if necessary to save the life of the mother. I am open to the exact cutoffs but strongly support this concept.

    As for rights, they apply to individuals. Can a fetus be defined as a full individual given that it is totally dependent of the woman’s body and only that woman’s body? That makes this issue different than that of the elderly or handicapped.

    Given the pro life people’s position that a fetus is just as important and has all the rights as a person already born then it would only be logical to start assigning the fetus lawyers during those times when a decision has to be made on whether the mother dies or the fetus. Currently in those rare occasions it is left up to the mother and her family and doctor – and is usually decided in favor of the mother.

    But if both lives are equal and have the same rights to life then this is not a given. Someone would need to represent the fetus’s rights in a court of law and due process would need to be followed before terminating its life. If this were to ever come about can you imagine the uproar that would follow should a judge or jury decide that the mother should die so that the fetus can live even over the objections of the mother and her family?

    And just for fun, here is a link to a satirical piece I did on what would happen if the pro life movement had their way and defined personhood as starting at conception along with their justification of such by quoting the Bible. It is called, “Save the Sperm! Save the Egg!”

    http://badatheist.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/save-the-sperm-save-the-egg/

    • Anat

      How do you define ‘to save the life of the mother’? see this example. The moment you start imposing legal restrictions you leave women as hostages to politicians.

      • http://badatheist.wordpress.com/ befuddled2

        Oh yeah, definitions are important and you are quite correct that I should be more specific here in my attempt to be broad. For myself I would probably re-phrase this to say that any significant health issues as determined by her and her doctor.

        You might also find my response to Andrew G. below interesting. I have modified and changed my position a bit, and will possibly be changing it more in the future.

    • Andrew G.

      That is why I support a sliding scale version of abortion rights.

      During the first trimester it is totally at the discretion of the women. She should be able to have an abortion no questions asked. The second trimester would have more restrictions – emotional and physical well being – and the final trimester an abortion would be performed only if necessary to save the life of the mother. I am open to the exact cutoffs but strongly support this concept.

      This kind of argument sounds superficially good, but it has two serious problems, one ethical and one practical.

      The ethical argument is that you’re making the woman’s bodily autonomy a secondary consideration after the first trimester. By imposing restrictions, you’re putting physicians’ and politicians’ judgements above those of the patient.

      The practical argument is that this is a continuum from conception to birth with no threshold sufficiently defined to make a defensible Schelling point. (“Viability” is the only candidate, and it’s too subject to weaseling – what proportion of survivors qualifies? do survivors with extreme disabilities count? How many cases does it take to push the threshold back? – to be the basis of a good defense.) Therefore, you’ll see exactly what is happening now in the USA, which is that anti-abortion campaigners will try and force the cutoff dates back progressively, using any and all arguments that they can find whether valid or not, in order to reduce access to abortion.

      The situation in Canada shows us that these kinds of restrictions are not in any respect necessary in practice; so the right thing to do is to abandon them and make birth the cutoff point.

      • http://badatheist.wordpress.com/ befuddled2

        In regards to your ethical argument, I believe that since a fetus has the potential to develop into a person that some sort of restrictions are justified. One of the reasons that the pro-choice side has so much traction, especially compared to other issues such as gay rights, is that there is a bit of truth in their arguments. Not near as much as they would like to make out, but some. I believe earlier someone made the comment about how aborting the fetus just before it is about to be born is legal but afterwards it is not being a somewhat arbitrary line since there is not much difference between the two.

        That truth, at least as I see is, is that the fetus is a life and has the potential to become an independent person. This, to my mind, needs to be taken into account.

        As for the practical, I mentioned two criteria in my post (although I will admit I did not stress them or make them prominent since I was dealing more in generalities than specifics) . These are conscious awareness and feeling pain, both of which happen very late in the pregnancy, usually around the 8th month.

        Let me also state that my three stage idea is flexible (as I mentioned in my post) and I would be willing to seriously consider a two state one based on the idea of conscious awareness and pain. In fact, let me state that I have now changed my position to this.

        Now having said all of this, let me finish this by saying that I was not aware of Canada’s practice and total lack of any legal restrictions on abortion. All of the other countries that I was aware of do have restrictions on abortion.

        I had been going to mention that since most abortions are done within the first trimester and that most of the ones later are done for various medical and health reasons that my outline would not have a great effect on abortion practices.

        However, in reading some about Canada’s abortion rates and numbers I see this still holding true, which means that I can flip the above argument around and say that since most abortions are being done in the first trimester with the rest being done for various medical and health reasons then making laws restricting it is unnecessary. Further it would remove any possible conflicts between a pregnant woman’s rights and the supposed ones of a fetus.

        Haven’t totally made up my mind on this, but am definitely reconsidering and reading some more.
        Thanks

      • Anonymouse

        Befuddled, you think there is a “bit of truth” to the pro-choice argument? You mean, the one that says a woman has the right to control over her own body?!? There’s “a little bit” of truth there? Amazing.

      • Christine

        Hole up a sec here. It’s horribly untrue to say that there are no restrictions on abortion in Canada. The college of physicians and surgeons has limits, and (here is the crucial part) it is a self-regulating profession. This means that violating the standards of the profession is illegal. A lot of people like to spin it as “you can go get an abortion at any point”, but in practice it doesn’t work like that, and it’s a lot simpler to not have to define, in law, all the cases where a late-term abortion is allowed. (There are a lot of issues, and a couple of famous cases where inept medical practitioners killed the baby during birth but because it hadn’t been *fully* born got off relatively easily, but it’s *a* solution.)

        I’m a little touchy about the implication that everything has to be codified in law or it doesn’t count, because that attitude has managed to stifle a lot of innovation, and keep our buildings back several generations of technology.

      • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

        The college of physicians and surgeons has limits…..[etc]

        And that’s probably as it should be — make abortion a purely medical decision. A doctor can legitimately refuse to perform *any* procedure if it presents a significant risk to the patient. Yes, this provides an opening for anti-abortion doctors to make it difficult for women to get abortions. Unfortunate — but still a damn sight better than allowing the politicians to meddle!

      • Christine

        That opening you’re worried about doesn’t really exist (although other provinces may be different). If you’re not willing to do abortions you get a “strong recommendation” from the supervising OB that you not go into obstetrics. (i.e. your supervisor says ‘this isn’t the field for this student, make sure she ends up elsewhere).

      • http://badatheist.wordpress.com/ befuddled2

        Anonymouse – a bit of a typo there. instead of pro-choice I meant to say pro-life. Thank you for pointing this typo out to me.

        And while the pro-choice movement’s claim has just a bit of truth I have always thought the pro-choice movement possesses the vast majority of the truth.

        By the way, I do hope that you figured out from the context that this was a typo and did not think it expressed my real views. i would think that my original post and the context of what i said around this typo should have provided ample evidence of my thoughts.

    • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

      I used to think there was some sensibility to the “sliding scale” model, but now I see it as a meaningless attempt to compromise with irrationality. There’s simply no convincing reason to give rights to a collection of dependent cells that far more sophisticated adult animals do not have. We can talk when gorillas, chimpanzees, dolphins, elephants, crows, parrots, and so forth are granted a “right to life”.

      • http://badatheist.wordpress.com/ befuddled2

        You might like to view my response to Andrew G. above since I seem to be in the process of re-evaluating some of my arguments.

        However, I would say that if rights are dependent on the sophistication of a group of cells, then a case could be made that an adult chimpanzee has more rights than a three year old baby, or that a dog might have more rights than a mentally impaired 3 month old.

  • Appellategirl

    Incidentally, the “sliding scale” of rights proposed by befuddled is pretty much what the Roe v. wade decision set out.

    My position is that “personhood” is a philosophical, legal and moral concept that might make me personally decide I don’t want to abort, but it cannot trump any woman’s right to decide if she wants to undergo pregnancy and childbirth, or not. Person or not, the government should not have the power to force a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will. Period.

    • http://badatheist.wordpress.com/ befuddled2

      First, you might like to review my reply to Andrew G. above. I seem to be in the process of re-evaluating some of my thinking on this issue.

  • http://elliha.blogspot.com Elin

    To me the pregnancy is a process which leads to the embryo becoming a person and a human. I do not think that the mother and the baby can have the same rights until the child is delivered but I still think that the life of the fetus is important if said fetus can survive outside the womb. If the child cannot survive outside the womb the mother is always more important but once the child can survive I do not think it is ethical to allow abortion. I believe that in this case the first alternative must always be to try to save both lives if it is necessary to end a pregnancy. I do think it would be ethical to force a woman to have a c-section if the baby is not doing well so I still think that there are instances late into the pregancy where the mother’s wishes are more important than the child’s (assuming the child wants to live which we cannot know but it is more reasonable to assume it wants to live than it wants to die) but these are simply because a c-section means cutting into the mother’s body and this tips the rights in her favor as I see it.

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      The process of giving birth is where that argument falls down for me. You can’t get the fetus out without acting on the woman’s body, which she has to consent to, so she gets to choose the method by which that happens. Which may or may not involve keeping the fetus alive.

      • ArachneS

        Thank you for this insightful comment. I think this is a very important distinction when so many anti-abortion arguement try to erase the woman from the picture completely.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    Followers of Canadian news will be aware that last week there was (defeated) back-bencher’s motion to strike a Parliamentary Committee to examine the question of when human life begins. Even Prime Minister Harper, an evangelical himself, recommended against the motion — because whatever his personal opinion on the matter, he knows that if he doesn’t keep his conservative religious on a short leash, that if the Conservative Party starts to look too much like a revival meeting, public opinion will turn massively against them and he’ll be out on his ass next election.

    Perversely, I’m almost sorry the motion failed. For one thing, I think it would turn into a huge PR headache for Harper. But for another, if the Committee and its respondents were at all fairly constituted, I think the result would be a massive repudiation of the pro-lifers. One justification given by the proposing MP was “new scientific information” which I imagine would just turn out to be long-known facts about DNA and embryology. So we’d see testimony like the discussion upthread arguing that personhood does not inhere in DNA etc, and I think that the final report would not be to the religious lobby’s liking. Recent hearings on euthanasia came out in favour of some provision for allowing that, and I think the proposed “when life begins” committee would have a similar outcome.

    • Christine

      He got a big enough headache from the motion being put forward, and from the Minister for Women voting in favour of the bill, don’t worry.

  • Pingback: URL

  • Pingback: ninja master system

  • Pingback: Rooms for Rent in Miami

  • Pingback: http://www.angrybirdsgames2.com/category/angry-birds-game

  • Pingback: Scarpe Online Negozio

  • Pingback: lock smith

  • Pingback: city gate forum

  • Pingback: goldstein, bachman and newman divorce attorneys middlesex


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X