The abortion argument is constantly getting bogged down in legal arguments that don't matter. People who I otherwise respect, such as Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, see the argument in strictly legal terms that tend to ignore the basic morality of the question. It seems that we have gotten so caught up in the propriety of the Roe vs Wade decision that we frequently fail to make the clear moral argument. In posing the argument that I am about to make, the issue - societally and legally speaking - is greatly simplified. The whole kit and kaboodle comes down to one very simple question.
Is an unborn child a person?
That's it. Honestly answer that question, and all the rest logically flows from it. Now, while I know what I believe - that a baby is a baby from the moment of conception - it is not always an easy position to defend. And yet, once that question is answered, all of the "tricky" legal questions are no longer so tricky at all.
Roe was decided on a constitutionally undefined right to privacy. Some folks on our side attack the decision from that point of view: that there isn't a specific right to privacy in the constitution, so the whole thing is bogus. As somebody who loves my freedom, my privacy, and my constitution, I'm not quite on board with that. The constitution is pretty specific about how any power not given to the federal government is left to the states and to the people. So let's take it as a given - even if it isn't - that we have a right to privacy. Doesn't matter. If the unborn child is a person, no right to privacy supersedes the right to life. I can't kill you in my house and get away with it because there was nobody else around in my basement. Private murder is still murder, and still punishable under the law.
Don't let the straw man of "you can't legislate morality" get in your way. That's bumpkis. We can, do, and must legislate morality. What do you think the laws against stealing are, if not morality put into legal code? The idea that abortion is somehow different from all the rest of our laws - every last one of which is codifying morality - is one of the most facile and easily destroyed arguments I've ever heard, and yet I hear it constantly! It's stupid. When you hear somebody say it, tell them so.
When does a baby become a person? Here is where judgement comes into play. Few would argue that a child that is "to term" is a person, President Obama being one of the obvious exceptions since he thinks even newborn babies can be killed! What about a child who is not quite able to live on his own? Perhaps he needs an incubator and intense medical treatment. Is he not a person? The same thing might be asked about someone in intensive care. Does the ventilator and feeding tube make him an un-person? Can we kill him even if he's conscious and will heal? Would we leave an injured soldier to die on the road in Iraq because he "can't live on his own"? Of course not. His survivability without treatment in no way lessens his humanity. Why it should be different for a child, I cannot tell. Oh, but what if the child is so small that consciousness is in doubt? If there's no self-awareness, then it can't be a person, right? Do you remember your first birthday? No? Perhaps you weren't self aware. Do we kill people with Alzheimer's disease? What kind of consciousness and self-awareness do they have? Some perhaps, but it's certainly not complete.
The difference between all of these unborn examples and their adult counterparts is that we can see and know the adults. The difference is in our experience of them, not in the humanity of the people themselves. Perhaps this difference is answered psychologically: we evolved to feel the death of unborn babies less acutely as a defense mechanism because so many are miscarried and lost unwillingly. It makes sense that the loss of a 1st trimester pregnancy doesn't affect us the way the loss of a toddler does because too many people would cease to function. The difference is that we do know the toddler. We do have shared experiences and will feel a greater loss. But that does not make the younger child dispensable.
The final place they get you - the argument that takes it to it's logical conclusion where only "religious zealots" could care - is with the morning after pill. At this stage, a baby is merely a couple of cells bound together. It has no recognizable human form, no organs, and no thoughts. I admit that I myself do not feel the attachment or horror at this stage that I do for babies that are further developed. My gut reaction is different, and I'm tempted to accept it. So is it OK? And if it is, where is the cut off? Do my other arguments not apply here?
They do. The problem is that we cannot prove when a baby becomes a person. When defining personhood, religion and spirituality are necessarily part of the question, and that's where a liberal's rejection of morality becomes so harmful. Birth is a nice, clean-cut place to define personhood legally, but it doesn't really account for the whole truth of the matter and, well, truth matters. Just because the law says that a person is a person on the day that he is born doesn't mean that morally or realistically he is not a person the day before that. At the instant an egg is fertilized, the genetic combination is unique to that person. It is an individual that is distinct from others and will develop specific traits throughout life. It is not an it, but a He or a She. But does she have a soul? I don't know. Being a-religious, I can't even clearly define for you what a soul is, but I know that live exists, and that human life has value.
So babies are people. Nearly everybody - even those who support abortion but choose not to think about it too hard - will agree that a baby is a person at some point before he is born. What people don't want to do, is admit that they don't know when. Everybody wants to pick a time or stage of development where he declares that the baby deserves protection, be it at the start of a heartbeat, full "viability" on his own, or even at birth. If you say viability and you're wrong, every baby with a heartbeat that's killed is a murder. If you say heartbeat, but humanity starts at conception, they every "morning after" pill is an intentional violation of morality, God's will, or "natural law", whichever you choose to recognize.
We cannot be so bold. Admit that you do not know, and you are left with only one option: to err on the side of caution. To err on the side of life. To say that since you cannot show that a child of any certain stage is not a person, you must allow that it may be murder. No killing past conception. We do not shoot randomly into crowds, and we should not allow the abortion of innocent people. Privacy has nothing to do with it.
If you are pro-life already, do not follow this link. The photographs will ruin your whole day. But if you are one of the people who thinks that a baby you don't see can't possibly be a person, then you need to see what abortion is. Go to Priestsforlife.org
"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."