The debate over abortion, interrupted by a Supreme Court decision almost half a century ago, is finally beginning anew. And it will not go away until some sort of a national consensus is achieved. Some are attempting to achieve this consensus by articulating reasoning based on science and enumerated rights in the Constitution. A quick review of videos on the Internet confirms that others have not moved beyond yelling, bullying and outright violence. Since we know the latter will not result in consensus, let’s look at the science and enumerated rights.
The science is clear. The fetus is a human being. The standard medical text “Human Embryology and Teratology” states, “Although human life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed.” The textbook “The Developing Human” states, “Human life begins at fertilization.” I could add 40 more references.
Abortion-rights author David Boonin in his book “A Defense of Abortion” acknowledges, “A human fetus after all is simply a human being at a very early stage of development.”
So, if the consensus is to be based on science and morality, the decision is simple. Taking an innocent human life is immoral. There is no justification. A child is not responsible for the circumstances for her conception, so rape, incest, poverty and being unwanted are not grounds for taking a human life. Likewise, mental illness or physical deformities are not justification for killing a human being.
But Roe v. Wade was not based on morality. Justice (Harry) Blackmun claimed to base it on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. This created a sticky situation since the 14th Amendment explicitly states, “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Justice Blackmun acknowledged this in Roe v. Wade when he wrote: “The (state of Texas) argue(s) that the fetus is a ‘person’ within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, (Jane Roe’s) case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.”
This – the question of personhood – is the core issue to be resolved in this debate over abortion. All other issues are used by one side or the other to distract from the central question. Based on the words of the author of the Roe v Wade decision, if the fetus is a person, then the fetus is protected in all circumstances by the 14th Amendment.
So, the question we need to resolve and reach a consensus on is actually very simple: We know a fetus is a human being, the question is: Are all human beings persons? And if not a person, what would this human being be?
History gives us some possible answers. In the infamous Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court found a human being – a slave – to be property. During much of the early history of our country, owing to their non-person status, Native Americans were almost exterminated. But on issues of human rights, history says Americans eventually get it right. If we can agree that all humans are persons, we can resolve this divisive issue and finally bring protection to the last unprotected group – the unborn.