When I teach pro-life apologetics, I usually explain that there are two primary disagreements between the pro-life side and the pro-choice side and then a bunch of distracting arguments that are about other issues that do not address abortion ethics. Most pro-life people are familiar with the first primary disagreement. These are pro-choice arguments that deny the personhood of the unborn child. In other words, they say that the human embryo doesn’t have the same equal rights as people. These arguments about personhood definitions largely dominate the philosophical literature on abortion. People argue about what constitutes a person and then explain how the human embryo does or does not qualify. Notice that this is a philosophical question, not a scientific one. Science tells us what is killed during abortion: an embryo or fetus that is living, whole, and human. Philosophy tells us whether or not that human embryo’s life is valuable.
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The second disagreement in the abortion debate is centered around bodily rights; in other words, the slogan that we have all heard before: “My body, my choice.” This argument is different from the first disagreement about personhood because rather than denying that abortion kills a person, it addresses whether or not the killing can be justified by the woman’s right to her own bodily autonomy. In this article, I am going to make an argument which only addresses the first philosophical disagreement about whether or not the life of a human embryo is valuable and deserves the same protection from violence as you and I. For more information about understanding and responding to the second disagreement see this archive of all our videos and articles on the subject.
Do You Believe in Equal Rights?
Before I make a claim about the moral status of a human embryo, I want to first talk about rights more generally. I think that rights should be given to all people equally. This is going to be really important to my argument so if you don’t believe in equality or you don’t think equality is fundamentally important, then that’s one reason we will disagree, but I have found most people I talk with about this subject agree that equal rights are super important. I think when whenever a group of people’s rights are not being protected then serious injustice is taking place. For this topic, I will be focusing on people’s right to life.
Let’s call anyone who has a right to life a member of the “Equal Right to Life Community.” Let’s imagine that all those people are in a big room together. If you’re not someone or something with an equal right to life, then you can’t get into the room because you don’t belong in that community. Another way to talk about this community is to say that everyone in the room is a person who has serious moral status. Those terms are often used interchangeably when we talk about this kind of question.
Who Do You Think Deserves Equal Rights?
Who is in the room and who is left outside? I am going to look at some obvious examples to give you a better idea of how I think about the community and I want you to consider if you agree with my sorting process or not and why. I think it is obvious that you who are reading this right now and I are both in the community. Humans of every race, ethnicity, and gender are in the community. People in wheelchairs are in the community. Gay people, straight people, poor people, rich people, religious people, and atheists all have the same right to life. Olympic athletes are in the community and so are those who can’t run a mile in under 15 minutes. Both educated and illiterate people are in the community. I think the most intelligent among us and those with developmental delays should have an equal right to life. I think those celebrating their 100th birthday, teenagers, toddlers, and newborn babies are all in the community. I even think Canadians are in the community. All of these people have an equal right to life and should be protected from violence equally, despite the many differences they have, whether in intellect, physical abilities, or an aspect of their identity.