Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Book Review: "Pro-Life Kids"

Above: Preview page of Pro-Life Kids. Text reads: "It doesn't matter your size or your age. You have equal value whatever the stage." It is accompanied by cartoon illustrations of many people, forming a line from youngest to oldest.

Pro-Life Kids, written by Bethany Bomberger and illustrated by Ed Koehler, is a rhyming picture book that introduces children to the concept that all humans are people: at every age, no matter where they live, and even before they are born. This concept is conveyed clearly and illustrated beautifully, including children of all races and abilities.

This book is best read aloud by a trusted adult who is prepared to spend a good amount of time on the subject. Although the book's overall tone is upbeat and positive, it is impossible to be honest about abortion without bringing up death. Pro-Life Kids forthrightly describes abortion as taking a baby's life away. It also contains references to other upsetting situations when some humans have not been recognized as persons (slavery and the Holocaust), as well as the successes of the civil rights movement. These topics will likely prompt difficult questions from young children who lack the historical education. The story also assumes a prior knowledge of concepts like adoption and pregnancy care centers, which the reader may need to pause to explain.

The author, a Christian, included one religious passage: "God made you unique. You have no clone. Your fingerprints are yours. Yes, yours alone. He knit you together one cell at a time... with love and attention—a plan so divine." Secular households could modify this page (but I recommend against skipping it entirely, as it contains a lovely fetal illustration).

Pro-Life Kids also contains significant back-page material, including photos and biographies of real pro-life kids, a "Pro-Life Kids Pledge," and kid-friendly action items.

Pro-Life Kids is available for purchase here.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Baby Chris is 35 Weeks Old

Above: Depiction and ultrasound of 35-week-old unborn baby via the Endowment for Human Development

[This is part 36 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

35 weeks after fertilization (37 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 19 ¼ inches long and weighs 6 ¼ pounds—about the size of a bunch of Swiss chard.

If you've ever interacted with a newborn, you've probably done the adorable "grab my finger, oh no the baby's got me I can't escape!" trick. The Endowment for Human Development reports that this grasping reflex has developed by 35 weeks.

For more information on life in the womb, download the free See Baby app!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Confronting the Pro-Choice Stance, Honestly

Above: Pro-life youth demonstrate outside the Supreme Court; in the
background, a sign reads "Keep abortion safe and legal."

Last week, The Atlantic published an article by Caitlin Flanagan entitled "The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate: Why we need to face the best arguments from the other side." I encourage you to read the whole thing. Flanagan, who is pro-choice, did an admirable job of identifying the best arguments on each side of the abortion debate.

For the pro-life side, she gave a heartfelt defense of children in the womb. While there are many other ways to arrive at the pro-life position—such as abortion's harm to mothers, fathers, abortion survivors, people with disabilities, and society at large—I agree that the harm to the unborn child is paramount. And boy, does she write it well. No one can accuse her of failing to understand the opposing position:
What I can’t face about abortion is the reality of it: that these are human beings, the most vulnerable among us, and we have no care for them. How terrible to know that in the space of an hour, a baby could be alive—his heart beating, his kidneys creating the urine that becomes the amniotic fluid of his safe home—and then be dead, his heart stopped, his body soon to be discarded.
For the pro-choice side, she selected the fear of "back-alley" abortion as the strongest argument. This is apparently the argument that most convinces her personally. She tells the tragic stories of three mothers in the 1950's who died after attempting to abort their babies with Lysol (which had a different formula than it does today). She concludes:
Women have been willing to risk death to get an abortion. When we made abortion legal, we decided we weren’t going to let that happen anymore. We were not going to let one more woman arrive at a hospital with her organs rotting inside of her. We accepted that we might lose that growing baby, but we were not also going to lose that woman.
It's the best available argument for abortion. And it's wrong, for at least three reasons.

(1) Roe v. Wade didn't reduce the maternal death rate from illegal abortion. 

Flanagan assumes that making abortion legal made it safer, but doesn't offer any evidence for that assumption beyond a correlation-is-causation argument; since women are no longer showing up in hospitals after surreptitious Lysol abortions, Roe must have been the answer! That's a weak case, and the data just don't back it up.

Whenever I give presentations on college campuses, I share this graph from the National Center for Health Statistics, showing maternal deaths from illegal abortions by year—but with the x-axis, the year, erased.

I then ask a brave audience volunteer to guess where 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade, falls on the graph. Most select a peak, in line with the narrative that Roe v. Wade caused maternal deaths to plummet. Invariably, they guess wrong:

Roe v. Wade isn't even a blip on the graph. Forget "correlation doesn't equal causation"—they don't even have correlation! The real savior of women's lives? Advances in antibiotics.

(2) A lot has changed since the 1950's.

And not just antibiotics. Flanagan herself acknowledges that it "was illegal to advertise contraception nationally until 1977," four years after Roe; today, you can pick up condoms at any corner drugstore, and prescription contraceptives are widely available. Pregnancy discrimination was perfectly legal at the time of Roe; today, it's prohibited by federal law. Women couldn't get credit cards in their own name at the time of Roe; today, it's unquestioned. Marital rape wasn't criminalized in all 50 states until two decades after Roe. And I haven't even mentioned that today, pro-life pregnancy centers outnumber abortion businesses. Using the 1950's to predict a post-Roe future is wildly unrealistic.

(3) Legal abortion is still killing women.  

Tonya Reaves. Jennifer Morbelli. Maria Santiago. Lakisha Wilson. Christin Gilbert. The list goes on. The pro-life movement can tell stories just as tragic as the "back-alley" stories Flanagan shares. The fact that their abortions were legal doesn't make them any less dead.

I appreciate Flanagan's attempt to engage the pro-life position honestly. It's the best article from an abortion supporter I've seen since Shawna Kay Rodenberg's piece in Salon two years ago. I hope Flanagan will keep digging, keep following her conscience, and become the next convert to the pro-life cause.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Baby Chris is 34 Weeks Old

Diagram of a mother and 34-week-old baby in the womb via BabyCenter
[This is part 35 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

34 weeks after fertilization (36 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 18 ¾ inches long and weighs 5 ¾ pounds—about the size of a head of romaine lettuce.

Baby Chris isn't just growing; he or she is also learning. The Endowment for Human Development reports:
Studies suggest that towards the end of prenatal development, the fetus has been developing preferences and tastes based on prenatal experience. For instance, fetuses whose mothers consumed anise, the substance which gives licorice candy its flavor, showed a preference for anise after birth. Newborns without this fetal exposure disliked anise.
The fetus hears numerous sounds before birth, with the mother’s voice and heartbeat dominating other sounds. Studies show that after months of listening to the mother’s voice, the newborn prefers her voice to any other. The newborn also prefers female voices to male voices and familiar lullabies heard before birth to new lullabies after birth. Newborns can distinguish prose passages heard during the last 6 weeks of pregnancy from new passages, providing additional evidence of in utero memory formation and learning.
For more information about prenatal development, check out the free See Baby app!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Book Review: "Sex Ed for Everyone"

Above: A free sample panel from the "Sex Ed for Everyone"
comic by Sophie LaBelle. Click to enlarge.

Sophie LaBelle, best known as the artist behind Assigned Male Comics, recently came out with a new comic book entitled "Sex Ed For Everyone." Featuring many of the same characters as her regular Assigned Male series, "Sex Ed for Everyone" is aimed at teenagers who are dissatisfied with the scope of sex education they are receiving in school.

It's important to note that "Sex Ed for Everyone" is not a substitute for comprehensive sex education. Pregnancy is not covered, so you will not find adorable cartoon depictions of prenatal development (I know, I was disappointed too). There's also not much in the way of contraceptive knowledge or STI prevention, beyond a brief mention of male and female condoms.

But it was clearly never LaBelle's intent to be a one-stop shop for sexual health information. Instead, "Sex Ed for Everyone" is best thought of as a supplement to sex education, particularly on matters of sexual identity, sexual orientation, and gender expression.

Judged on that metric, the book does an admirable job. To give you a sense of its tone, here are a few points I particularly appreciated:
  • "I think it's a shame that we don't hear much about the variety of bodies out there. It's one thing to tell us that the majority of people aren't trans, intersex, or disabled. It's another to tell us that we don't need to learn about them."
  • Speaking about queer teens making the decision not to have sex, one character notes: "The need for belonging might pressure people into situations they don't actually want."
  • And then there's this fantastic dialogue: "I'm scared to get pressured into having sex. When do you know you're ready?" "It's true that it can feel overwhelming, but it's totally OK to take your time. Maybe you'll never 'be ready' and that's also fine."
These messages are especially important for LaBelle's trans and queer audience, because sexual minority youth are actually more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy than their cis, straight peers. That might seem like a paradox, but when you consider the cultural pressure that some lesbians and bisexuals are under to "appear straight," the risk of reluctant sexual intercourse is apparent. In fact, when I was a student at the University of Miami, our pro-life student group hosted a speaker who had been in that very situation — twice. (Her first pregnancy tragically ended in abortion after she received deceptive counseling; for her second, she chose life.)

"Sex Ed for Everyone" is available on Etsy.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Baby Chris is 33 Weeks Old

Above: Image of a 33-week-old baby in the womb. Their hand covers their face. Graphic via the Endowment for Human Development.

[This is part 34 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

33 weeks after fertilization (35 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 18 ¼ inches and weighs 5 ¼ pounds—about the size of a honeydew melon. Baby Chris has doubled in weight compared to just six weeks ago!

Organ development is mostly completed at this point. The Endowment for Human Development reports that "[t]he digestive system further develops as the lower esophageal sphincter, a valve leading to the stomach, begins functioning by 32 weeks. Blood-filtering groups of capillaries called glomeruli have completed their formation in the kidneys."

Learn more about Baby Chris's journey from conception to birth by downloading the free See Baby app!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Tonight: Secular Pro-Life at Seton Hall University

Secular Pro-Life representative Terrisa Bukovinac, who you may also know as the head of Pro-Life San Francisco, will give a presentation tonight at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. The event begins at 8:00 p.m. EST and will take place in the University Center, Main Lounge. There is no charge to attend.

We're excited for this opportunity to educate Catholic university students about the secular reasons to oppose abortion! Lest you worry that we're just preaching to the choir, remember that 48% of American Catholics support legal abortion in spite of the official position of their church. (Besides, 30% of Seton Hall students aren't Catholic.)

Not in the New Jersey area? Not a problem. The lecture will be recorded and we will post video on our social media as soon as it is available. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

What do yesterday's election results mean for unborn babies?

Yesterday's off-year elections were largely seen as a referendum on President Trump, but the short-term consequences for human beings in the womb are substantial.

In Virginia, pro-life advocates sought to win GOP majorities of the House of Delegates and State Senate—with the goal of keeping Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, of infanticide and blackface fame, from doing too much damage. (His term lasts until 2022.) Volunteers from the Susan B. Anthony List, Students for Life Action, and other organizations knocked on tens of thousands of doors. It was not enough. Democrats now outnumber Republicans in both chambers.

In the race to succeed the term-limited Mississippi governor, both major candidates ran on pro-life platforms. Republican Tate Reeves and Democrat Jim Hood have each advanced the legal rights of unborn children in their roles as Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, respectively. Hood courageously defied his party to support life (much like neighboring Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, who runs for re-election on November 16). The natural result was that abortion did not play a significant role in the Mississippi contest. Voters selected Reeves by a margin of 5.8 points. 

Finally, in Kentucky, GOP incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (0% Planned Parenthood rating) faced off against Democratic challenger Andy Beshear (100% Planned Parenthood rating). The result was extremely close: Beshear won by just 5,150 votes. For context, Libertarian candidate John Hicks received 28,426 votes.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Baby Chris is 32 Weeks Old

Above: an unborn baby at 8 months (32 weeks).
Graphic via the Endowment for Human Development

[This is part 33 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

32 weeks after fertilization (34 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 17 ¾ inches long and weighs 4 ¾ pounds—about the size of a cantaloupe.

Lung development is particularly important this week. According to the Endowment for Human Development: "Starting at 32 weeks, true alveoli (al-ve’o-li), or air “pocket” cells, begin forming from alveolar ducts. Development of alveoli continues through birth and until about 8 years of age."

Download the free "See Baby" app for week-by-week prenatal development facts!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Why Abortions Are Still Wrong and Should be Illegal (Part Three)

I recently began a series looking at a new article/book released by pro-choice philosophers Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob (hereafter NG). You can read part one here and part two here. And if you'd like to read the book before you read my responses to it, you can read it for free online here. This next section is quite lengthy, so I'll split it in half.

5. Better Arguments 

Now we get to the portion of NG’s book where they set out to justify the subtitle and show why most abortions are not immoral and why all of them should be legal. I will begin by defending the pro-life arguments they criticize and finish with criticizing the pro-choice arguments they defend.

Pro-Life Argument #1: Fetuses are human. NG begin by attacking an argument that fetuses are human and are, therefore, wrong to kill. NG are right to criticize this argument as easy to find counterexamples to. After all, not everything that is human (in the adjective sense) is wrong to kill. Tumors are human but are not wrong to kill, nor are human cells or tissue in a petri dish. The problem with NG’s rebuttal, though, is that no one actually makes the argument they criticize. Pointing out that fetuses are human is only one step in a cumulative case of showing that fetuses are wrong to kill. Human fetuses and embryos are living, independent organisms of the human species. All of this goes in to show why it is wrong to kill them because fundamentally, a human embryo is no different than the adult that he eventually becomes. So NG have subtly erected a strawman to attack and knocked it down.

Instead, let’s take this argument from Scott Klusendorf’s book The Case for Life, which makes a better, stronger argument against abortion based on the humanity of the fetus:

  • It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. 
  • Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being. 
  • Therefore, 
  • Abortion is wrong. 

This argument better explains why humanity is so important to pro-life advocates and weighs so heavily in their arguments. If it is wrong to kill an innocent human being in uncontroversial cases, such as adults and children, in which even NG have expressed agreement in the preface to their book, then if it turns out that human fetuses and embryos fit the definition of “innocent human being,” it would be wrong to kill them, too. Of course, such a claim needs to be defended but the pro-life advocate will do so. That’s why even the humanity argument is, itself, used in a cumulative case against abortion. That case goes something like this: 1) All human fetuses are human organisms, 2) all human organisms are persons, 3) all persons have fundamental rights such as the right to life, so 4) human fetuses have fundamental rights such as the right to life.

Before moving on, NG try to address the concept of human rights and how they think pro-life people have gotten the concept of “rights” wrong. But all this discussion does is show how NG have fundamentally misunderstood this basic pro-life argument. No, cells in a petri dish don’t have human rights, but that’s because they are not human beings—they are parts of humans, not a full human on their own. My individual parts don’t have rights but I do, as a whole, complete, individual human. So while they are right that simply being biologically human does not grant a thing rights, neither is the pro-life person making this claim. Our rights are “human” rights, but other ways of saying this are “fundamental” rights or even “basic human rights.” This is because the claim is not that we have rights because we are biologically human, but we have rights because our rights inhere in us based on the kind of thing we are. As Patrick Lee argues in his book Abortion and Unborn Human Life, being “human” is not merely a biological category. There is much more that comes with being human, such as our human nature. There are metaphysical realities to being human; our unborn share in our fundamental human nature, so they also have fundamental, basic human rights.

So it’s not our psychological characteristics which are important, as there is much more to the person than our psychology. Our bodies are just as important to us as persons. Our bodies are how we interact with the world around us, and our minds are how we interpret those experiences. Plus, the fact that we are biologically continuous with ourselves throughout our entire lives is certainly significant. So while I do agree in some sense that calling them “human” rights isn’t accurate enough (after all, intelligent extraterrestrials would certainly have rights, as would spiritual beings, if they exist), I don’t agree that we should start calling them “person rights” or “conscious-being rights” because not all conscious beings are rights-bearing entities (and again, NG haven’t exactly defined consciousness for us to know what other kinds of beings would be included or just when, exactly, humans become persons). Dogs, for example, are conscious entities, and while they should be protected, killing a dog, even accidentally, is not the same kind of act as killing a human, even accidentally. Killing the human brings with it stricter punishments than killing the dog. So while I agree with them, I think calling them “fundamental rights” is perfectly fine because that term does show how our rights belong to us: fundamentally. They do not come and go when I gain or cease to have some property. They are always there.

Pro-Life Argument #2: Fetuses are human beings. NG have anticipated much of the response I gave above, since pro-life advocates respond similarly when presented with the charge NG have given. NG’s responses, though, don’t fare much better than their original criticism.

NG begin by reiterating that it’s not always wrong to kill a human being (e.g. you can kill in self-defense). So the question is, what is it about fetuses that makes it wrong to kill them if it is wrong to kill them? NG prefer their depiction of why it is wrong to kill adults and children, because they are conscious and feeling, and if we were in a permanent coma, death wouldn’t make us any worse off. But I already showed in section three why their depiction of the wrongness of killing is inadequate.

They also argue that their depiction shows why it is wrong to kill in a simple, common-sense way. But of course, the pro-life depiction of why it is wrong is also simple and common-sensical. If someone asks me why it's wrong to kill me, my answer will be something like this: “it is wrong to kill me because I am a human being," and if you stop and think about it without any prior philosophical reflection and no prior commitment to the morality of abortion, that may be the conclusion you immediately draw. Where it gets more complex is why it is wrong to kill me because I am a human being, but the same problem arises for their view. It may be simple and common-sensical, to them, to claim it’s wrong to kill me because I have experiences, I can feel, etc., but answering the question of why that makes it wrong to kill me requires more work. And their statements about why rocks, plants, etc., don’t have rights fails for the reason I showed in section three: they are making a simple category error and comparing things (rocks, plants, etc.) with things which are not relevantly like them (human embryos and fetuses).

NG turn to reasons that pro-life people give for why it is wrong to kill human fetuses despite their never having been conscious or having any feeling or awareness. The first supporting argument they look at is that human fetuses develop continually into the adult so it is the same being at all points in its development, which should seem familiar as it is a supporting statement I used in my defense above. However, they reply, this can’t be the explanation since we adults have different physical, cognitive, emotional, and moral characteristics than we had as fetuses (and as children). So even if we were the same being over time, that doesn’t show that fetuses have the same moral rights we do, as rights change over time. NG actually make two errors in reasoning here. First, they confuse the concepts of accidental and essential properties. It’s true that I am now 5’11”, have gotten bigger (and rounder) since I was a fetus, I can now recite the English alphabet, engage in higher levels of thinking, etc. But all of these are accidental properties—they are true things about me but are not what make me, me. I would be the same person, for example, if I grew up speaking German instead of English or if I peaked physically at 5’6” instead of 5’11”. However, the essential property I have now, my human nature, was present in me as a fetus, which means since that essential property never changed, “I” never changed from anything non-human into something human. I was human from the beginning and had my rights from the beginning. In fact, NG even admit they have different characteristics now than they did as children, so they can’t use their argument to show that they are different than they were as fetuses unless they also think they were not the same numerically identical person as children than they are now. That seems to be a bridge too far.

Second, NG make the error of confusing fundamental rights with legal rights. It’s true that some of my rights have changed since I was younger. I can drive a car now and I couldn’t as a fetus. I can vote in Californian and American elections and I couldn’t as a fetus. But these are all legal rights. Legal rights are granted to us by the government and often come to us through maturity. I couldn’t drive or vote as a fetus because I had not reached the proper level of maturity. Fundamental rights are not granted by the government and, therefore, every government is obligated to respect them even if I’m not a citizen. These rights include (but are not limited to) the right to life, the right to freedom, the right to self-defense, etc. These rights do not come and go. The right to life is a fundamental right, so if fundamental rights inhere in us based on what we are, not on what functions we can perform, and if human fetuses and embryos have the same fundamental nature adults do, as pro-life people argue, then human embryos and fetuses have the right to life, even if some of their other rights haven’t yet been granted due to immaturity.

The second argument that NG look at actually follows from my previous response: the argument that human beings have rights essentially and not accidentally. In contrast, NG view rights as accidental to the body but essential to the mind. It doesn’t seem clear, though, how one can be a “conscious being” without also being an “embodied being.” The idea that your mind can have essential rights but your body can’t seems incoherent to me, as both parts of me go in to make up the same human person. If they don’t believe they are identical to the body, then they have some explaining to do about what happens to that fetus they later came to occupy. As Alexander Pruss argued, either that fetus lived or died. But any changes the fetus went through were changes that were within its internal programming to undergo, and things don’t die by undergoing changes that are within their internal programming to undergo. So clearly the fetus didn’t die. So is it still alive? If it is, there are only two possibilities. It is still alive but separate from you or it is still alive but identical to you. If it is still alive but separate from you, this leads to absurdities. It violates a plausible law of physics since two physical objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. It also leads to other absurdities, such as that rape is not a crime against a person but is a mere property crime against one’s body, and that you have never actually kissed your significant other. Since the fetus cannot be dead, and the fetus cannot be alive but separate from you, the fetus must be alive and identical to you (Alexander Pruss, "I Was Once a Fetus: That is Why Abortion is Wrong").

Regarding the claim that rights inhere in us because of the kind of thing we are, rational beings, NG state that the argument seems to be question-begging. It is not, of course. In fact, many books and articles have been written regarding the defense of things like natures and how rights interact with us as human beings. It is, at least, abstract, as NG state, but lots of things are abstract that we take for granted. Rights, themselves, are abstract, so no matter how you account for them, your reasoning will be abstract. NG go on to claim if you define human beings as rational, even though only some human beings are rational while others are not, then why not simply define human beings as non-rational, since some human beings are not rational while others are. After all, why is it that the rational human beings get to define what being human is for all human beings, the ones who are not rational and the ones who are?

This profoundly misses the whole point, though. As I have argued above, fetuses are not “not rational,” like rocks and fish, they are “pre-rational.” Part of being a human being is development—you start out with a single cell (and other parts, such as the zona pellucida), and through development which is self-directed, you develop your body parts: your organs, your blood, your limbs, etc. Humans are on a path of development, which means that fetuses are not simply non-rational humans—they are humans which have the inherent capacity for rationality which just takes time to develop to be able to exercise it. So human embryos and fetuses are every bit the rational animal that human toddlers and adults are, they just don’t have the present means by which to exercise it. So this isn’t a case of rational humans defining what rationality is for all humans, even non-rational ones. It’s to look at human nature and say, “what is it that makes humans uniquely human?” In other words, what is the essence of being human? As the ancient Greeks taught, the way you determine something’s essence is by asking what sets it apart from other similar things. Human beings are animals, but what sets them apart from other animals is that we are rational. So the essence of humanity is to be a rational animal. This means that all human beings qualify as rational animals because under ordinary circumstances, all human beings are on a path to become more and more rational as they develop. This is not simply a path that only some humans are on, it is a path that all humans are on, even though some, tragically through disease, injury, or genetics, fail to become rational and are unable to fully flourish as human beings. This is what it means to say that it is in the nature of humans to be rational.

So then the question becomes, why does that rationality determine our rights? The answer is because with rights come duties. If I expect my right to life be respected, I have a duty to respect the right to life of others. Animals have no such duties because they don’t have the rationality to understand them, and since animals have no such duties, they also have no rights which we are obligated to respect.

So contrary to NG’s claim, this does not mean that rights “trickle down” regressively from our future rational state to our present non-rational state. That would be absurd. What it means is that since human nature entails rationality, and human embryos/fetuses are on a self-directed path of human development which includes eventually developing the ability to be rational, human embryos/fetuses are inherently rational beings who just need time to develop that rationality; and they will, all things being equal.

Also contrary to NG, this does not entail that we must never allow a comatose person to die. We are morally obligated not to kill such a person, but this doesn’t mean that we are always obligated to preserve life when it becomes more harmful to the person than to allow nature to take its course. We must never kill a human being, but if keeping him on life support or otherwise providing care is futile, then it would be more harmful to continue providing that futile care than to simply allow nature to take its course.

Furthermore, the existence of anencephalic fetuses does not refute this idea. Again, letting an anencephalic fetus die is not impermissible (especially since it is not possible at our present level of medical expertise to save him), but to kill him through abortion would be impermissible. This doesn’t show that anencephalic fetuses are a different kind of being than us. Anencephalic fetuses are still human beings who have tragically failed to fully flourish as humans should. To consider them non-human (which is what saying they’re a different “kind” of being than we are is to say) is ableist. A human does not become a non-human just because their disability to too severe.

Pro-Life Argument #3: Fetuses are persons. Here NG address the pro-life argument that the unborn are wrong to kill because they are persons, and persons are wrong to kill. They, of course, disagree with this argument. But what are their reasons for doing so?

Well, first, they say we should think about what it means to be a person and whether we ever cease to be persons. Many people think our personhood ends when you die or go into a permanent coma. And if some religions are right, that there is a life after death, presumably the person would continue on without their body in some sense. This seems to imply that personhood is defined by a “rough and vague set of psychological or mental, rational and emotional characteristics: consciousness, knowledge, memories, and ways of communicating, all psychologically unified by a unique personality.”

Second, they say we should think about the kinds of things we accept as persons and as non-persons: we readily think of ourselves and other adults as being persons and we readily think of fictional characters, like Luke Skywalker, as persons. We generally think of non-conscious entities, like rocks and carrots, as non-persons. Conscious and feeling animals tend to be closer to persons than not. Unconscious, unfeeling fetuses would definitely not be persons, as consciousness sets in later in pregnancy than the first trimester, where most abortions occur.

These are the only arguments leveled against the claim that fetuses are wrong to kill because they are persons, and it should be obvious that these arguments are severely lacking in persuasiveness. The first argument is simply based on what someone believes, and beliefs can be mistaken. I see myself as a person, but I also retroactively see myself as a person when I was a fetus. This is because of my prior belief that fetuses are persons. NG reject this claim and see fetuses as non-persons because of their prior commitment to supporting abortion. So this argument ultimately begs the question.

The second argument, that we should think about the things we accept as persons or non-persons, is question-begging for the same reason. You’ll accept certain things as persons or non-persons based on your prior metaphysical view of personhood. I don’t think conscious or feeling animals are “close” to being persons because I don’t think personhood is something that comes in degrees. You are either a person or you are not a person, and “conscious, feeling” animals don’t make the cut.

NG have not offered any good reasons for accepting their view of personhood, especially when there is good reason to believe personhood is established at fertilization.

Pro-Life Argument #4: Fetuses are potential persons. This is an argument that some have defended in the literature. It is not an argument I defend, as I think the critics of this argument (such as NG, as well as Michael Tooley and Peter Singer) are generally correct. If fetuses are merely potential persons, this does not, then, grant them personhood rights. However, this is not the argument that most pro-life advocates make. The argument is that fetuses are actual persons with great potential, and that potential matters in the consideration of personhood. It is true that fetuses are not yet rational, but they are rational by nature, and since one does not cease to be by undergoing changes that are within one’s internal programming, fetuses are persons now despite not yet being able to exercise their rational capacity since they are the same individual through all the changes they undergo. So I’m not very interested in defending this argument, but this is an important caveat to consider when trying to critique pro-life arguments.

In my next article, I'll look at one last pro-life argument and address the pro-choice arguments NG defend.

[Today's guest post by Clinton Wilcox is part of our paid blogging program.]