Slavery was allowed for so long because slaves were not regarded as persons. Thus a major part of the anti-slavery campaign was to refute this lie, and educate the public as to the full equality of black people. So too today the battle over abortion must also be fought along similar lines. We need to affirm the personhood of the unborn.
A new book by Catholic philosopher Robert Spitzer seeks to do that by utilising only secular reasoning. His Ten Universal Principles (Ignatius, 2011) seeks to make the case for personhood by appealing to philosophical argument, not biblical texts. In a secular culture such an approach is very important indeed.
His third principle is the Principle of Objective Existence. He states that publically verifiable evidence is needed concerning the status of the fetus. He refers to the important work of Dr. Jerome Lejeune who demonstrated that “a single-celled human zygote (even if it is not implanted) has a full human genome.”
He continues, “the presence of a full human genome in a zygote (the initial cell produced when a new organism is formed by sexual reproduction) will ordinarily result in a fully actualized unique human being in the absence of natural or artificial impediments. For this reason, Dr. Lejeune considered a human zygote (implanted or not implanted) to be a human being…. Given this, we can say that if persons are defined as actualisable human beings, then a single-celled zygote would have to be considered a person.”
He then shows that full actualization is quite an arbitrary concept, and not a necessary component of how we define human personhood. Therefore, “we are left with only one nonarbitrary criterion for ‘person’, namely, the presence of a human being; that is, the presence of a full human genome in a human organism, which, in the vast majority of cases, can be expected to become fully actualized.”
Daniel Becker’s new book Personhood (TKS, 2011) also develops this idea of the importance of highlighting personhood. Unlike Spitzer’s book, Becker does not offer us philosophy or ideology, but simply political and educational strategy. He discusses how personhood initiatives have been gaining ground in various US states, and how this can be a key means of ending abortion.
Of course the pro-aborts hate all such talk. They make it as their starting point that the unborn are not persons, but just clumps of cells. They oppose any measure to bring to our attention the fact that a living human being is what we find in the mother’s womb.
Thus they of course detest the ultrasound laws which have been passed in some US states, most recently Texas. The Guttmacher Institute for example has this to say about such laws: “the requirements appear to be a veiled attempt to personify the fetus and dissuade a woman from obtaining an abortion”.
Hey, they got that right. It is all about personhood. Just as the various means used to convince a hardened public several centuries ago that blacks were in fact persons were fiercely resisted and attacked, so too today. Indeed, the secular left cartoonist Garry Trudeau even used one of his ‘Doonesbury’ comics recently to savagely attack the Texas ultrasound law, referring to the procedure as “rape”.
Actually there are eleven US states now that have had some type of ultrasound legislation enacted. Texas is the only one which requires abortion providers to display that image. All the other states have much weaker laws, which basically just allow women that option if they so desire.
Similar sorts of bills are also being brought forward, for example, to allow women to hear their baby’s heartbeat. Consider what Oklahoma is now looking at in this regard: “The Oklahoma state Senate has approved a bill that allows women to know they can hear the heartbeat of their unborn baby before having an abortion — something abortion centers don’t normally let women hear beforehand.
“The Heartbeat Informed Consent Act received a 34-8 vote and now heads to the Oklahoma state House for consideration. The bill originally required the abortion practitioner to play the sonogram of the baby’s heartbeat before the abortion but was amended to have the abortion practitioner tell women they have the option to hear it if they wish before the abortion is done.”
Of course the pro-aborts hate this as well – anything which reminds a mother or the general public that this is indeed a living person deserving of the right to life is something they simply detest. So this really is a war of worldviews. At stake is the very notion of personhood, and the rights of entire groups of people to not have to justify their very existence.
So as we continue to fight for life, we must keep hitting the other camp with the very truths they want so desperately to deny or cover up. We must use every means available to help not just pregnant women but the public at large realise just what it is that is being killed in an abortion. We must expose the dirty little trade secrets of the abortionists.
As President Ronald Reagan said back in 1984: “The real question today is not when human life begins, but, What is the value of human life? The abortionist who reassembles the arms and legs of a tiny baby to make sure all of its parts have been torn from its mother’s body can hardly doubt whether it is a human being. The real question for him and for all of us is whether that tiny human life has a God-given right to be protected by the law – the same right we have.”
Or as Mona Charen wrote in 1992, “The history of morality is the story of broadening, not limiting, our conception of who is a person. Is a slave a person? Our ancestors thought not. Is a woman a person? Not quite the way a man is, people used to think. Is a child a person? Under Roman law, the paterfamilias could kill his offspring with impunity. It is part of the Judeo-Christian, as well as the humanist, tradition to insist that every human being – old or young, sick or well, and yes, wanted or unwanted, is a person.”
We must redouble our efforts to show the humanity and personhood of the unborn and others, despite a culture bent on limiting even further our conception of personhood.