Abortion and Personhood

Recently, a reader of this blog left a comment. It was in reply to an entry I made on the anniversary of the Roe V Wade abortion case. The comment was short and to the point. Actually, it was an argument. Here it is:

1) It is morally wrong to murder an innocent person.
2) A fetus isn’t necessarily a person.
3) Therefore, abortion isn’t murder nor necessarily morally wrong.

I began to write a reply directly to the author, but because I’ve lately been swamped because of several life-changes (having relocated) I haven’t had much free time to blog. So I thought I’d use my reply as an entry. Here it is:

Thank you very much for your reply. I also appreciate that you stated your disagreement  in the form of an argument. My point of departure from your argument is on your second premise,  “A fetus isn’t necessarily a person.” Here is why I respectfully disagree with your position.

First, you said a fetus isn’t necessarily a person. This I understand as some hesitation on your part. The fetus isn’t necessarily a person…but it might be. If I’m understanding you correctly, then a lack of certainty should warrant a pro-life stance. Here is an example I learned on the issue. Imagine a demolition crew has properly wired a building in order to tear it down.  The foreman asks if the building is clear for the blast about to tear it down. One of the workers says, “I’m not sure.” What would a responsible foreman do? Uncertainty, when it may very well put the life of a human being at risk, calls for caution. So, if we’re not sure if the unborn is a “person” then there’s a serious chance it just might be, and if we kill it, we’ve killed an innocent person with all the rights of any other person.

Secondly, I have difficulty with any position that admits that the unborn may be a human being, but not a human person. Though this is a common distinction that’s heard on many fronts, I don’t believe that it’s a valid one. The value of our life is based on our nature, not our function, i.e. it’s who and what we are that gives us value, not what we can do. The common criteria for distinguishing between a human being and a human person I find arbitrary and self-serving for most pro-abortion advocates. Before I mention these criteria, I want to defend why I made the above statement. All of the common markers for “personhood,”, if consistently applied, would just as much rule out newborn infants, as it would rule out unborn babies.

Here are the common traits people employ to distinguish human beings from human persons;1) Size, 2) Level of dependency, 3) Environment, 4) Development. This is commonly referred to as the SLED test for human personhood. Rather than reinvent the wheel, allow me to point you in the direction of some helpful material that aids in thinking through why these criteria aren’t sufficient.

Here are some additional resources:


Posted on May 21, 2008, in Abortion and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. hi there
    i’m so happy that i found this blog. that post was so cool. thanks again i signed up to this website.
    are you planning to post similar posts?

    • Thanks for the encouraging words. As you click around on the blog, you’ll notice that I have an entire section on abortion with several more posts on the subject and more links.

      PS: I’ve cleaned up the original entry, weeding out the typos and color-coding it in order to make it easier to read.

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