Sunday, September 30, 2007

Neutrality is impossible

Francis Beckwith's book, Defending Life, is reviewed in the next [Oct. 8] issue of National Review [the full review is here].

One of the many difficulties in addressing abortion as a public policy issue has always been simply getting the antagonists to actually hear the arguments. Those who are committed to the "pro-choice" position simply refuse to believe that those of us who are appalled by abortion could possibly be motivated by anything other than a bigoted, patriarchal, sectarian desire to impose religious dogmas or moral opinions on a woman at a very vulnerable and difficult point in her life.

But the first question has always been a factual, and then legal, question, not an emotional or religious one. Is the fetus a human being, and, if so, does it deserve the same legal protection under the Constitution and the law to which a "person" is entitled?
Beckwith begins by defusing the “don’t impose your morality” slogan. Everyone, he argues, recognizes the absurdity of being “personally opposed” to murder but refusing to “impose” that view on others. State neutrality is impossible; either the law recognizes the unborn as persons and protects them, or it does not and permits the killing of them. That the fetus is a person with rights is no more religious a claim than the assertion that the fetus is not. Our task is to determine which claim is true.

But Americans’ ability to decide this question was usurped by the Supreme Court’s Roe decision, which — together with its companion case Doe v. Bolton — provided a constitutional right to abortion for practically any reason throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy. Roe allowed states to protect the fetus in the third trimester, but mandated exceptions for the life and health of the mother; Bolton defined health broadly to include “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological,” and so on. Justice Harry Blackmun said that the Court “need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.” But it did: Life doesn’t begin in a way that merits protection until after birth. ....
Beckwith apparently addresses at length various arguments attempting to distinguish life before birth from life after in such a way as to justify a legal and moral distinction between the two. Those arguments often turn on a definition of "human" that requires certain mental capacities, that is, human parentage isn't enough, to that must be added, for instance, "self-awareness."
Beckwith rejects these arguments because they rest on a faulty understanding of the human person, undermine human equality, and produce morally repugnant conclusions. For starters, when adults are asleep, unconscious, or temporarily comatose, they lack the immediate capacity to perform any rational acts. So do newborn babies until several months after birth. Do they therefore lack the right to life? Also, if human value depends upon certain capacities that human beings possess in varying degrees, there is no reason that fundamental rights shouldn’t also vary, thus destroying equality. As Beckwith notes, “some adult human beings are more or less rational and more or less self-aware” than others. Should those at the high end be treated better than those at the low end?
The book appears to be a good introduction to the anti-abortion case for those willing to deal with the real arguments.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:57 PM

    Thnaks for this book tip. I will proably purchase it. I am dealing with a familly who are in stuggle They have a daugther who is pregnant but in the baby's development is said to have no brain. SHe must carry the baby to term. The Physicans are saying the child will only live about six weeks passed birth.


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