A little more than a week after the March for Life once again drew so many people to our nation’s capital in support of a culture of life that the mainstream media had no choice but to largely ignore it, the Senate considered a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks, the point at which medical science confirms that the unborn child is capable of feeling pain. Unfortunately, the bill did not survive a procedural vote, meeting the same fate as those it wished to protect.
Unsurprisingly, the bill was overwhelmingly opposed by Senate Democrats, with only three supporting the measure. This vote reveals a great irony: the Democrat Party lately has branded itself the “party of science,” claiming, for example, that Republican resistance to measures supposedly aimed at combating global warming is proof that the Grand Old Party is stuck in less-than-grand old ways of thinking. If only these Republicans would heed the words of our experts! It’s science!
Yet when it comes to questions related to the life issues, Democrats suddenly set science aside in favor of a fallacious form of philosophizing. Once the pro-abortion lobby could no longer deny that the unborn child was a living being possessed of unique human DNA, they leaned hard into the goalposts and moved them from “Is it human” or “Is it alive,” both scientific questions with incontrovertible answers that fall squarely in the camp of the pro-life side, to a new question of a different tenor: “Is it a person?” As there is no test or device or method of empirical examination that can determine personhood, the battle has in a sense moved from the ground to the air, from the empirical to the philosophical. This is a move with significant consequences.
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In short, the pro-abortion side now argues that, though the unborn child is scientifically identifiable as human, this human is not yet possessed of that mysterious quality known as personhood, and thus is not possessed of any legal rights. Persons possess rights, the argument goes, because they are able to exercise them in some rudimentary way. Post-natal humans are clearly able to choose some actions and reject others—to cry, grasp, smile, speak, walk, and vote. They are able to rule themselves—they are autonomous—and thus are persons.
Though the argument is ostensibly based on a quality of being, it is in reality rooted in doing: you’re only a person if you are presently capable of doing certain things, those things usually being defined around self-consciousness and volitional acts. Yet when pressed, the purveyors of the personhood argument cannot say in unison when exactly this property of personhood comes to be in the human being. Those who are most transparently seeking to maintain the abortion license through the entirety of pregnancy will say “at the moment of birth,” but this is an arbitrary answer: birth constitutes an event external to the unborn child, a simple change of address, completely divorced from the capacities usually associated with personhood. Unless one wants to argue that birth somehow activates a latent ability (a ridiculous claim), the defender of the personhood paradigm is left to explain why a baby born at 39 weeks gestation is a person while a baby at 40 weeks gestation in utero is not.
Others point to various stages of brain development, but the mere fact that there is no agreement as to the moment of personhood is itself proof that this standard is untenable. The only non-arbitrary argument to be made is that the personhood of a being is coterminous with that being’s existence—that is, that as long as that human being exists, from the moment of conception until the last breath is drawn, that being is by nature a person. This is the only scientifically and philosophically consistent argument to be made.
What is being proposed instead by the pro-abortion lobby is a new category that should chill the bones of all who hear it: the human non-person. It is not difficult to see how quickly and how easily a polity could apply this label to groups of people other than the unborn to exert power over them. All one need do is open a history book. From slavery to warfare to genocides of all kinds, all too often societies have justified their actions toward their fellow man by denying that they were either fellows or men.
We see it in the newspaper today, too. People lacking certain mental capacities, whether by disease, accident, or genetics, are routinely denied the rights and considerations others are afforded. From the Netherlands’ increasingly aggressive euthanasia policies that increasingly feature outright coercion to Iceland’s ghoulish pride in eliminating births of Down’s Syndrome children, Western nations are quickly building a list of human lives it considers insufficiently human.
And Democrats are so eager to protect the euphemism of “women’s reproductive health” that they are willing to sacrifice children who will feel their bodies being mangled until they die. This to keep America in that august company of seven nations that allow unlimited abortion past 20 weeks, including those beacons of virtue, China and North Korea.
The only thing more frightening than this exercise of power over against science and reason is the consequences of the consistent application of this terrible principle. How many more lives will be lost as they start to believe their own arguments and act accordingly?