Explain why cells are persons.

Frum links to an NRO ‘Symposium’ compiling pro-lifer responses to the reignited issue of rape and abortion. They only really needed to ask one of them. The argument is the same every time. One example:

People used to value a woman based on who her father or husband was. It is similarly medieval to value a child by the actions of her father. That way of thinking is patriarchal and antifeminist, and it should have passed away with the Dark Ages.


The appeal to compassion for rape and incest victims must be answered with real compassion for both parties in any pregnancy — mother and child.


That is how we should talk about abortion in these most painful of circumstances — as a matter of innocence. Under what circumstances can we take a wholly innocent human life? Does the rapist’s dreadful crime justify dismembering a child?


Being “pro-life” means that you believe a unique, whole, living human person is created at the moment of fertilization. That’s why abortion, regardless of the tragic circumstances of conception, is always wrong; it is the deliberate killing of an innocent pre-born human being.


…an abortion does not undo the rape. It ends the life of an innocent unborn child.

Still, most Americans do not think in purely philosophical terms. Even many who are sympathetic to the pro-life cause simply think it is fair to allow for abortion in the case of rape. The best way for pro-lifers to proceed is to put a human face on the issue.

Emphasis mine throughout.

A six week old embryo. Getty Images.

Only Jennifer Fulwiler recognises the assumption that most people judge to be crucial, but which all of these writers don’t bother to defend once:

When we look at the morality of abortion in cases of sexual assault, for the dignity of both the victim and the unborn child, we must maintain a laser focus on the questionIs the newly conceived life human? There can be no beneficial discussions of this issue without that question at the center.

Her own view unfortunately tars her linguistical framing of the point, but it still stands. I wholeheartedly believe that the disagreement here is deepest not on the moral question of whether it’s permissible to terminate a life, but on the metaphysical question of whether a zygote or foetus is in any meaningful sense a life at all. It is the pro-life conviction in America right now that from conception onwards we’re dealing with a person. That makes them couch the debate in terms of murder. In contrast, it’s predominantly the pro-choice position that what we’re dealing with is cells without the moral status of you and me that renders such language deceptive. (The exception, of course, is Judith Thomson’s view that abortion is permissible even if we’re dealing with a person).

You won’t get anywhere by presuming in your argument the truth of the very premise that causes the dispute. And I trust that, observing the above picture, it is the pro-life camp that is being counter-intuitive here. They need to defend the view that that is a ‘person’, ‘child’, ‘human’.


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