Time for another justification for abortion: It’s called the gradualist argument.
There are actually lots of gradualist arguments. Essentially, they assert the following:
At some point during pregnancy, the fetus acquires (something) and should be considered worthy of protection as a human being. Before that time, it can be destroyed.
That something might be one of the following (list not comprehensive):
- Brain functioning
- Sufficiently ‘human-looking’
- Sentience (feeling of pain)
Often, the word ‘personhood’ is used in the argument. This is a term used in the debate to argue that simply being a distinct human being is not sufficient.
I’m going to cover all of these in one go with the following response:
We’ve already established that the developing human fetus is human. That isn’t in question. What’s asserted here is that this developing human ‘doesn’t count’ as a human because it lacks something – insert that something.
It doesn’t count because it does not possess something or it can’t do something.
Think about that for a moment. Think of humans you know who don’t have something or can’t do something. We call these people disabled. They can’t walk or hear or see or leaving aside disability, maybe we even say they’re not conscious – they’re asleep.
What’s wrong with this objection?
Since when does the value of a human being depend on its being able to do something? Some human beings can hardly do anything. Consider a severely disabled person in a hospital bed. Do they not ‘count’ because they’re not in possession of something or they can’t do something? No.
Why do they ‘count?’ Because they are human. That’s it. There isn’t anything else. It isn’t their relationship to other human beings (an argument I heard on the Moral Maze). It is simply that they are human.
Human beings are valuable. We shouldn’t kill small defenseless ones who don’t yet possess certain abilities or characteristics. That’s not a good argument.
Value is something intrinsic, related to the essence of what something is.
Human beings are valuable not due to our possession of certain abilities but because of what we are: human beings. The moment you reduce our value to our capacities, you open the door to denying us worth when some of us don’t have those capacities.
Consider the person lying in hospital in a vegetative state. They’re capable of precisely nothing. They can’t breathe, can’t eat, can’t drink. And yet you know perfectly well that’s a person lying there. They haven’t become a piece of meat and bone, they’re an intrinsically valuable human being.
One final point. All of us were, at one point in time, really, really small. Yup, that was you inside your mum, just a tiny dot. Then you grew and grew and emerged into the world. You were exactly the size you were designed to be at that early stage. Really really small. It’s quite normal when you’re only 6 days old not to feel pain or have a functioning brain. There is no good reason to disqualify you for being exactly what you should be at that stage of your development.
That you couldn’t do much at that size is not a good reason to deny you moral worth.
Next time, why being pro-life isn’t being anti-woman. In fact, it’s quite the reverse.
Thanks for reading.