In a comment on my last post, NotAnAtheist writes:
[As] I see it, there are two options:
1. You can decide that the point at which the rights of the fetus should be considered cannot be based on anything objective, and is merely a point that is decided upon for some legal / logistical / personal / societal convenience. While this is logically valid, it leaves open the question of why not draw the lines other places? We already have articles in medical journals talking about so called “after-birth” abortions, basically saying that the “line” should be pushed back past birth.
This to me, as far as I can see it, is the pro-choice position. Draw the line for purposes of convenience only, and if there are facts supporting your position, great! If not, no worries, just bluster.
2. You can decide that if there are lines to be drawn at all, they should be drawn as safely and as conservatively as possible and be based on the best data possible to avoid killing those who are “enough of” a person to have a right to life. Note that this does not mean that we must draw the line at conception. Nor does this absolutely mandate that one must believe that “before time X all abortions are ok and after X they are wrong.” It is the belief that we should act on the side of caution, and not convenience when deciding when the rights of the child should even be considered (note, I said considered, not necessarily honored).
This, to me is a “nuanced” position, and it is also one that is completely incompatible (as I see it) with the pro choice position.
I can’t help but notice some significant problems with this dichotomy.
Notice first of all that the woman does not seem to exist in either of the options presented—or at least, if she does exist, her rights are irrelevant. That’s significant because how can you draw lines “as safely and conservatively as possible” when you’re not even acknowledging the existence of the person whose rights you are going to violate? The safe and conservative line has to be the one drawn at or before the person’s rights are violated. You can’t do that so long as you refuse to include a consideration of those rights in your list of options.
The second significant problem I see in the dichotomy presented above is that it has things exactly backwards. The pro-choice position is the right position because it is based on the objective facts of human development. We know that, biologically, the individual fertilized egg has none of the qualities of personhood. It has no mind, no thoughts, no emotions, no desires, no memories, no will and no perceptions. None of the biological systems supporting those functions has yet developed. Gestation is a period during which those functions gradually assemble, along with other systems needed for autonomous existence. Some day this will result in the production of a human being, assuming all goes well, but it’s not going to reach that point until much later on, and even then you’re not going to be able to pinpoint the precise moment when this transition occurs.
That said, however, we can still know objectively when it has not yet occurred. Certainly it does not occur before viability, because the absence of viability itself indicates that the development process is not yet complete. And how long will it be before the development process is complete? Why not let nature itself tell us when the fetus is ready to make the transition to independent personhood? The process is complete when the baby is born. Birth is nature’s way of saying, “Ok, it’s ready to go.”
We’re not saying, “Oh, let’s be pro-choice and ignore the facts.” We’re pro-choice because of the objective evidence. We don’t just arbitrarily pick a number out of a hat and say “It takes nine months for a person to develop from a fertilized egg.” That’s an objective observation. It varies somewhat from individual to individual, but we observe that, on average, it takes nine months. And that’s nature making the determination. Not anybody’s opinion. Not anybody’s convenience. Nature itself.
So let’s be conservative and draw the lines as safely as possible for all persons concerned. Once a child is born, nobody has a right to kill them, because they’re a person. A premature baby might not be fully formed yet, biologically speaking, but let’s be safe and conservative and protect their rights too. But prior to birth, nature is telling us the development process is not yet complete, and so the fetus is a pre-person, a person under construction. Anyone insisting that pre-persons must also be protected is doing so not based on anything objective, but is merely doing so for some legal / logistical / personal / societal advantage. This to me, as far as I can see it, is the pro-life position. Draw the line for purposes of political advantage only, and if there were facts supporting your position, great! If not, no worries, just bluster.