The Inescapably Religious Nature of the Personhood Debate

The science has been settled for some time, actually, and though there are those who respond to pro-life logic with accusations of theocracy and the always reliable reference to A Handmaid’s Tale, the facts remain. In fertilization, chromosomes of the sperm fuse with those of the ovum. That new genotype reveals complete DNA distinct from the mother, which continues to dictate the development of the totipotent organism, clearly a new life. The zygote is life in its simplest form, but it continues to grow and develop. Considering the genetic constitution and epigenetic structure, it is the totality of a new human being.

Unfortunately, sharing this science does little to dissuade the secular pro-choicer, even as they accuse the other side of being irrational zealots. Once in a while you do get a reluctant acceptance of the simple biological reality, but then they rely on arguments of bodily autonomy, or, and this is the crux of what I am examining today…


Because the subject (unborn/fetus/embryo/baby/whathaveyou) fulfills all the biological characteristics of life, (cellular structure, reproduction, metabolism, homeostasis, heredity, response to stimuli, growth and development, and adaptation), and because it can only ever be human (as opposed to a fish or a paramecium), it really is bad form to say this is anything other than a living human being. Therefore, as the abortion advocate is loathe to let little things like facts, logic, and decency ruin a heinous position, he must then find a way to deny that human rights come intrinsically with being human. Hence, we have to hear such head-scratchers like “It’s human and alive, but it’s not a person with rights”, which leaves us wondering what the difference between a human and a person is.

“Do you think a human being will ever beat a person at chess?”

Always very telling when pro-choicers use a term like “personhood”. The biological facts are simple, cut and dry. That is clearly a new life at fertilization, distinct from the mother, and innately human in nature. When the more honest ones begrudgingly cocede this science, they fall back on a nebulous designation of “personhood”. They’ll say, “it’s alive, it’s human, but it’s not a person”. Yet what does this mean? Personhood in this sense is not a scientific designation. It cannot be quantified, measured, or even proven to exist in purely scientific terms using objective means. Thus, while accusing us of being zealots theocrats, the secular abortionist must either (A.) Admit a special quality distinct to human beings that is above the corporel. Might as well call it a soul. Or (B), postulate at some point post-conception the fetus undergoes a fundamental shift, intangible and ethereal, which science has no ways of measuring. Ironically, A. would be more favorable to the pro-choice position, but it relies on the medieval alchemic gobblygook of “ensoulment”. You like to claim Christians are favoring faith over science in this debate, but to suppose personhood occurs some point after the corporeal organism is formed is a religious argument.. When you talk about a human fetus who is not a person, you might as well call it a homunculus.

“Yes, it’s alive. Yes, it’s human. But it’s not a *person*. It’s a homunculus. Aristotle understood ensoulment to occur 40 day
s after conception for male fetuses and 90 days for female. As it says in The Book of Destiny ‘The constituents of one of you are collected for forty days in his mother’s womb in the form of blood, after which it becomes a clot of blood in another period of forty days. Then it becomes a lump of flesh and forty days later Allah sends His angel to it with instructions concerning four things, so the angel writes down his livelihood, his death, his deeds, his fortune and misfortune.’ The problem with pro-life arguments is that they are based in nothing but religion.”

Alright, that was a fun little straw man, but you get where I’m going. Pro-choicers don’t actually subscribe to this ensoulment nonsense, at least not consciously, and would rather tell you that human rights come with autonomy, sentience, and/or self-awareness. Yet even leaving aside the fact that the transcendent quality of sentience cannot be objectively detected or measured, they must realize, in the context of the abortion debate specifically, that those standards of human rights apply to humans even they would spare, such as very late term fetuses, newborns, and comatose. Sentience is not granted in the birth canal, and few but Singer would say killing the newborn, who is hardly self-aware and can’t be said to be autonomous in any practical sense, is morally permissible. That’s right, Peter Singer, everyone’s favorite Australian bio-ethicist/apologist for raping the mentally disabled, is honest when it comes to biology. He concedes that the subject is a human being, something to which he attaches no moral significance. Points for consistency, because Singer also advocates for infanticide, up to a year after birth. Why not? By the questionable standards of ascribing human rights with human consciousness rather than human biology, why not kill a baby?

What then? The notion of “choice” puts the ball in the mother’s court, and it follows then that the worth of a human being is determined by his importance to other human beings. Yet this is regressive and problematic. Don’t we find value and even emotional attachment to subjects which are inarguable non-human?

“Many of you are feeling bad for this lamp.”

The question of human rights is a moral and philosophical debate, and it remains hotly debated. The implications, taken to their logical conclusion, of many of the pro-choice standards are frightening as well as inconsistent. Without religion in the equation, without considering ensoulment (or “acquiring personhood”, which, let’s be honest, amounts to the same thing), it is far safer, consistent, less worrisome, and more ethical to accept the simple fact that human rights, whatever they are, are automatically ascribed to a human being when a human being begins. And that, my friends, is settled science.

About the author: brianzblogger