By Michael Blissenbach ‘15
Forty years ago the United States Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion was a right protected by the Constitution. Since that decision was handed down, 55 million human fetuses have been slaughtered and the abortion debate shows no signs of letting down. While abortion has moral, religious, and legal implications, what this debate boils down to is the question of whether or not a human fetus is a person. If a human fetus is a person, then he/she is entitled to protection under our laws. If an unborn child is not a person, then it is not entitled to such protection.
I argue that the unborn child is indeed a human being from the moment of conception and, thus, a person deserving of protection under our laws. This is evident from what science has shown us about fetal development, and from observing how our society and legal system treats pregnancy.
First, when a human sperm fuses with a human egg, a human zygote is brought into being with its own DNA. A few weeks later, the human zygote becomes a human embryo, with a detectable heartbeat and functional nervous system. Some eight months later, the fully-developed human being emerges from his/her mother’s womb. What is growing and developing inside of a pregnant mother clearly is not a walrus or a turtle or a tumor. Rather, the unborn has all the marks of an infant: human DNA, blood type, fingerprints, functioning organ systems, and gender. All the essential factors for development are there at conception, and what happens over the nine months of gestation is further development and growth.
Several states are beginning to recognize the humanity of the fetus. While partial-birth abortion was banned under the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003, and subsequently upheld in Gonzales v. Carhart, some states have gone further in their efforts to protect life. New requirements in some states mandate that women contemplating abortion undergo an ultrasound, receive information on fetal development, and become educated on alternatives to abortion. Evidence that a human fetus can feel pain during the second trimester prompted Arizona and Kansas to recently ban abortions after 20 weeks.
Our culture already recognizes the humanity of the fetus when a pregnant woman brings the pregnancy to term. An expectant mother looks forward to seeing ultrasound images of her “baby.” Moreover, when a human fetus is stillborn, the family mourns the loss of the fetus as the loss of a child, often including some sort of memorial service and burial. I know this to be true as the older brother of a child who was stillborn. Yet when a pregnancy is unwanted, the human fetus is not treated as a human being, but a “parasite” or “growth” to be disposed of as the expectant mother wishes.
This discrepancy is also found in our nation’s laws concerning pregnancy. When someone murders a pregnant woman, 38 states and the federal government charge the person with a double homicide. Yet when a woman decides to terminate the life of the human fetus growing inside of her, the state doesn’t recognize that fetus as a human being.
Either a human fetus is a human being or it isn’t. To treat a human fetus as a person when the pregnancy is wanted and as a non-person when the pregnancy is not wanted is logically inconsistent. If a human fetus is a human being when the pregnancy is wanted, then it is also a human being when the pregnancy is not wanted.
The Declaration of Independence states that every human being has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Forty years ago the United States Supreme Court took those rights away from a class of human beings based on its stage of development, and it is my hope and prayer that this grave injustice will come to an end in my lifetime.