let's begin by noting that while not all atheists are pro-choice, a sizable majority are. In fact, a recent Gallup poll revealed that those with no religious attachment are the most likely demographic to identify as pro-choice.
“Pro-life advocates say that abortion is wrong because the fetus or embryo has human DNA. However, merely possessing human DNA doesn’t make it wrong to kill something because then it would be wrong to kill gametes (sperm and egg) or tumors that also have human DNA. Instead, it is wrong to directly kill innocent persons.”
“A person is any being who is capable of rational thought and/or self-reflection. Since fetuses and embryos are clearly not persons due to their inability to engage in rational thought, it follows that abortion is not immoral and should remain legal.”
“Yes it’s true that newborn infants cannot engage in rational thought that surpasses higher-order animals like pigs or dogs, which are also not persons. But this only means that newborn infants are not persons. Just as it is not immoral to euthanize a pet because it is unwanted, it is simply not immoral to euthanize an infant that’s unwanted because infants aren’t persons.”
The Worst Pro-Choice Arguments
The following arguments that defend abortion without allowing for infanticide are very bad and pro-choice philosophers know it. Even still, they are common so I’d like to get them out of the way right now.
“Perhaps the most straightforward relation between you and me on the one hand and every human fetus on the other is this: All are living members of the same species, homo sapiens. A human fetus after all is simply a human being at a very early stage in his or her development.”1
“It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens’. Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being . . .”2
“All parties took for granted in the court below that Mary is a live person and a separate person from Jodie . . . in the face of that evidence it would be contrary to common sense and to everyone’s sensibilities to say that Mary is not alive or that there are not two separate persons.”4
So I think I’ve shown that any defense of the claim that unborn humans are not persons will either entail that newborns are not persons, or include non-human animals as persons as well. It seems that there is no consistent way to deny the personhood of embryos and fetuses and affirm the personhood of newborn infants. As Peter Singer says,
- David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2003) 20. I will admit I think that Boonin’s “desire-based” argument against fetal personhood is the best attempt at defining abortion to exclude fetuses, exclude non-human animals and include newborns, but due to the length of this post I have not included it. I am willing to do that in a future post. ↩
- Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 73. And before you link to it, I’m familiar with Ophelia Benson’s post on this quote. Singer goes on to say, “ . . . and the same is true of the most profoundly and irreparably intellectually disabled human being, even of an anencephalic infant – that is, an infant that, as a result of a defect in the formation of the neural tube, has no brain.” But this doesn’t refute my point. Boonin and Singer admit that any human organism, even a dying anencephalic one (or an adult who blew the top of his head off with a shotgun) are human organisms or biological human beings. The question of whether they are persons is a different issue. ↩
- Mary Anne Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion” The Monist, 57, no. 4, 1973. ↩
- In Re A (Children) (Conjoined Twins: Surgical Separation)  Fam 147, Court of Appeal, Ward, Brooke And Robert Walker LJJ, Page 182. PDF) ↩
- Peter Singer and Helen Kuhse,“On Letting Handicapped Infants Die,” in The Right Thing to Do: Basic Readings in Moral Philosophy ed. James Rachels (New York: Random