Updated: Oct 3, 2022
Pro-choice advocates rely on the word fetus, and the average person’s general ignorance of the meaning of that word, to diminish the relevance of the unborn human; but in fact, the word fetus means just that – a developing human from usually two months after conception to birth.
The fetal period is simply a stage in human development; “fetus,” like newborn, infant, toddler, child, adolescent, and adult, refers to a stage of human life. There is no possible chance that the human fetus will grow into anything other than a human baby with its own unique human DNA that will never exist again in any other person – ever.
To deny the existence of human life throughout all stages of pregnancy is to deny science. So, over the years, the debate around abortion has shifted from whether or not the fetus is a human life, to whether or not the fetus is a person. And to determine that, we have to determine what makes each of us a person. How do we define “personhood?”
Most definitions of personhood lead to the exclusion of at least one group of people. For example, if personhood is the ability to have conscious thoughts, then comatose people, those with severe cognitive disabilities, or even a patient under general anesthesia may be excluded. But what about the fetus? Studies show that the human fetus actually has quite an active brain and, at birth, is able to recognize her mother’s voice and music she’s heard through the walls of the uterus, has developed preferences for foods that the mother ate frequently, and even cries with an accent or inflection similar to the mother’s speech pattern.
Perhaps the most common argument as to why an unborn baby is not a person is that it relies solely on its mother’s body to survive – a “parasite” – it cannot survive on its own. But in my opinion, this argument discounts perhaps the most beautiful and necessary aspects of the human experience: support, connection, and community. We all need other people – it is why solitary confinement is so inhumane and often leads to complete insanity. Sure, a fetus may be the most dependent form of human life, but left to its own devices, a newborn baby would also not survive for more than a day or two without the help of and contributions from others. A small child and most teenagers are dependent on others for survival too. Each one of us was created by and cared for by others throughout our lives; this commonality is universal. Pregnancy is just the first of several stages of human dependency – a consistent state throughout the human lifespan.
Overall, there seems to be no general consensus on what personhood really is, and maybe there does not have to be. If at any given point in our lives we could lose our personhood while still being alive, perhaps we shouldn’t use it to determine the value of human life. So, who should determine if a life has value, and how is that determined?
Humans seeking to assign value to other humans has led to history’s greatest atrocities. When we are not consistent about the value of every human life, crimes against humanity ensue. War, genocide, classism, eugenics, and racism have all relied on the premise that some humans have more value than others. Just look at Iceland, where Down syndrome has been nearly eradicated through intentional genetic testing and abortion procedures. If the government can pass legislation and enact laws that strip a group of its value, then none of us really have any value at all. Therefore, we must look at all human beings as possessing equal value – value that is innate, that cannot be defined by others. This is the only way to ensure our own protection and the protection of those we love. As people, our emotional sides assign value to other people every day. We often act selfishly, judge others based on appearance, or think to ourselves, “I am better than them.” We all do this. But we must fight this emotional urge to devalue someone else and instead let ethics and morality guide the determination of value.
I understand the emotional argument that pro-choicers make. Admittedly, for an unwanted and early-stage pregnancy, I am doubtful I would feel any immense emotional connection, and it’s absurd to assume all women should feel such a thing. A life that I cannot feel, see, or hear is quite easy to put behind my own goals and desires, especially when that life was unplanned and undesired. This is my emotional line of thinking. But if science tells us an unborn baby is a human life, then my ethical and moral line of thinking tells me that this life has inherent value, and we must do everything we can to honor its existence.
Because a mother’s body is needed to sustain the life of an unborn child, it is crucial that we always work to protect the mother’s health. This means increasing access to healthcare, education, and career support. We must also work to ensure that child-rearing is easier and less costly – expanding child tax credits, implementing federal parental leave, and making childcare universal. It is simply not enough to pass anti-abortion legislation – we should work to achieve a society where abortion is unnecessary or, at the very least, a last resort.
An unborn child may not look, think, or feel like you do, but neither does any newborn baby or anyone else in the world. That unborn child will go on to experience a human life full of joy, tragedy, adventure, boredom, curiosity, and wonder – just like you and I. Through all stages of her life, that unborn child will be dependent on others, a reflection of how she began life – dependent on her mother. Most of us never consider that, whether or not this child is aborted or survives pregnancy, our humanity is certainly tied to that child, as it is tied to everyone else here on earth. We as humans do not have the right to determine the worth or lifespan of other humans. What a world we could cultivate if we all began accepting this as a universal truth.
You can find information on the consistent life ethic here.