Last week I gave a few thoughts on the Abortion Debate between Dr. Mike Adams and Dr. Willie Parker. Drew and I also have been discussing it on the podcast. While I did talk about it in the last article, there’s one point I wanted to return to. Throughout the debate, Parker made very few arguments against Adams and his case. He agreed that abortion takes the life of an innocent human being. However, he clarified his view, that an unborn fetus, though human, is not a person. He claimed that only a person has equal value to the mother, and the unborn do not have that. Considering this is the issue he hinged most of the debate on, I wanted to take a closer look.
What was actually said in the debate? Adams claimed that there is no distinction. If you are a unique human being, you have all the moral weight and human rights that go along with that. He sees personhood as binary, where as soon as a baby is conceived, it is a fully human person with equal value. Parker claimed there was a distinction but left the exact criteria for personhood rather vague. It may have been about viability, the opinions of the mother, or even how the law views you, depending on which part of the debate he was in. But let’s unpack that a little further. Is every human being a “Person?” What are the reasons to prefer Adams binary perspective to Parker’s distinction?
1. Inclusivity and Equality.
Have you ever been excluded for something outside of your control? It’s never a fun time. And yet, this is seen as an acceptable way to view human value. Sure, we hopefully don’t base it on skin color or gender anymore, but we seem to be okay basing it on size, viability, intelligence, etc. We may change what we discriminate on, but the practice does not seem to go away. Maybe you’re okay with that in some capacity. If so, I think you might need to consider whether equality and inclusivity are priorities.
On the flip side, Adams view gives about as inclusive a view as possible. In his view, if you fit the most basic definition of a human being, you get all the rights and dignity that anyone else has. Big, small, weak, or strong, you are no more or less valuable than another. It’s a difficult standard to live up to, but what is the alternative? To say otherwise is to say that some do not measure up, or are in some sense not good enough to be persons.
2. No Room for Dehumanization
While the point was vague, it seemed quite clear that Parker’s view was that personhood comes in degrees. You can be a human being with value, but still be less valuable than another. Ultimately it does not matter which characteristic it is. If you are determining value by an attribute like size or viability, you are opening a dangerous door.
All of this was summed up eloquently by Abraham Lincoln in one of his famous debates on racism and slavery. The message is the same if you replace enslave with kill.
You say A. is white, and B. is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet with a fairer skin than your own. You do not mean color exactly?–You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own. But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you.
Shifting the definition of personhood to exclude someone seems to always end in mass death. It is possible I haven’t looked deep enough, but I can’t think of when it has ever ended well. Nearly every major genocide starts here. The 2nd reason to prefer Adams view of personhood is to prevent this dehumanization. If a human being is the same as a person, it does not matter what stage of life they are in. To murder them would be wrong.
We are left with a philosophical dilemma. If Parker is correct, personhood is a relative and gradual process. On that view, pray nothing ever changes to exclude you from the new definition of personhood. If Adams is correct, every human being, the unborn included, are valuable and should be protected. What’s the downside of that? We can’t keep killing babies as a solution to solve our problems.
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