I hate to start this argument again, But…

On the topic of aborticide, a reader writes in and comments:

“I think the real question is whether or not the fetus is human? Personhood is one of those vague qualifications that proves too much, imo. What is the difference between a person and a human?”

With all due respect, I regard that question as not the question at all.

It is not a legal question. Until just recently, the law held abortion to be illegal, and the overturning of those laws were not based on legal precedent. 

It is not a biological question. What defines a homo sapiens to a biologist is genetic material, i.e. descent. There is no question that even a single-celled organism is living, and that, if it comes from a bisexual race, it has a mother and a father. The word ’embryo’ refers to the stage of development of an organism of a species: for example, an unborn fox kit passed through an embryo stage of development. No biologist would argue that an unborn fox was not a member of the species “fox”.

It is absurd to classify an unborn homo sapiens and “not a member of any species” on the grounds of a lack of observable phenotype characteristics. No biologist classifies a bald man as ‘not a mammal’ on the grounds that he does not suckle his young, being a male, and is not hairy, being bald.

It is not a moral question. No one makes caring for a diseased or underdeveloped loved one dependent on that loved one’s ability to pass an IQ test or show some form specifically human behavior.  If your husband has a stroke, and loses the human capacity for reasoning in his cortex, he becomes your dependent; he does not become your property or your livestock. When he dies, you still call a mortician, not a butcher.

So what it the question of personhood?

Personhood is an excuse. If one wishes to work one’s will upon the weak and helpless, one first removes their humanity in thought. Call the Jews sons of Pigs. Call the Negroes sub-human. Call the worthless old folk bread gobblers or vegetables. Called the unborn any name by what they are: human offspring. Babies.

Tell me honestly. If I said I had a mare who was carrying a foal in her womb, do you think anyone (anyone not deliberately arguing about abortion) could correct my language, and tell me my mare cannot be carrying a foal, because an embryo is not a member of the species ‘horse’?

Does anyone talk that way? Does anyone say a horse is not a horse just because it is still in the womb?

Let us take this hypothetical one step further. Suppose I were an faithful Hindu, forbidden by my laws to eat beef. Could I eat the veal from an unborn calf on the grounds that he was not a cow, not a member of the species, cattle? Suppose I were an observant Jew, forbidden by my laws to eat pork. Could I eat the bacon from an unborn piglet on the grounds that he was not a swine, not a member of the species, pig?

Would anyone be persuaded by the beef-eating Hindu or the pork-eating Jew if their diet consisted only of animals taken half a second before birth from their mother’s wombs?

Let us take the hypothetical one step further. Suppose I live in a country where unborn homo sapiens are not considered human. Suppose my laws forbid the eating of human flesh, on the ground that it is cannibalism. I go to an abortionist, find a baby who is only halfway out of the womb, coming out feet first. The abortionist drives a pair of scissors into the babies fragile skull, and suctions out this brains. I take the rest of the flesh home and cook it up for a meat sandwich. Michael Valentine Smith and Hannibal Lector come by and eat with me. A little tiny perfectly formed baby hand sticks out of one side of my sandwich as I wolf it down.

Is my action legally not an act of cannibalism, on the grounds that what I ate was not a human?