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Human Non-Persons?

The history of warfare is, in large measure, the history of new technologies. The machine gun trumps cavalry, the tank trumps the machine gun, and so on. A similar arms race occurs in the rhetoric of the abortion wars. Foes of fetal life once triumphed with the fiction that the contents of the womb were mere tissue. Some compared the developing child to a tadpole, others to an appendix. By their account, abortion was as morally acceptable as an appendectomy.

Champions of life fought back with proofs of human life. Geneticists demonstrated that an individual’s code was complete from conception; this being was humankind, indeed a particular man or woman, from the start. Sonograms and fiber-optic photography took a look inside and shouted, “Baby!”1

Abortionists countered that “viability” and not “humanity” should be the standard, but technology has reduced this claim to shambles and absurdity. As neonatal care advances, fragile life can be sustained earlier and earlier.

Abortion advocates now try the “personhood” ploy: The fetus might be human, but “it” is a human non-person. (Yes, this recalls language that slaveholders and Nazis used to do their worst.) Granted, the word “person” derives from the Latin expression for mask, hence the role one plays in the theater. And a human being afloat in amniotic fluid is not yet up to choosing and playing roles. But neither is a newborn. So if personhood is your criterion, you support infanticide as well as abortion. (Not surprisingly, this does not bother some “pro-choicers.”)

A second group of pro-lifers argues that potential personhood is quite enough for protection. A third group identifies fetuses with adults, arguing that the rationale for opposing homicide covers both: The killer robs the being of “all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted [his or her] future.”2

Some argue that present (as opposed to future) state of mind is the standard, but by this reasoning one could kill a sleeping human with impunity. After all, while unconscious, the victim’s mind can be as blank or as addled as that of a fetus. But, of course, it would be criminal to kill a dozing creature with a conscious future, whether that creature was in bed or in utero. Again, the “personhood” standard fails to excuse abortion.3

Biblical Christians know that the baby in the womb is precious. Their convictions do not rest upon the latest report from academia, the courts, or the pollsters. But pro-abortion ideologues are so inventive, and their latest conceptual weapons can overwhelm the impressionable public. God, however, arms His culture warriors with counter-arguments. It would be nice if the conflict were thus concluded once for all, but the devil, and those who serve him, will never rest until the Judgment. Nevertheless, God’s people are up for the battle as they draw on the weapons He graciously provides to each generation.


See Kairos Journal article, "It's a Baby."


Don Marquis, “Why Abortion is Immoral,” Journal of Philosophy 86, no. 4 (April 1989): 189.


See Kairos Journal article, "The Burden of Proof."