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Planned Parenthood on "personhood", Round II

By Scott Tibbs, May 18, 2005

There's quite an active comment section on my column regarding Planned Parenthood's take on personhood. Allow me to respond to some of the points made there.

While banning abortion would restrict the "reproductive choices" available to women, it is not a violation of civil liberties to remove those choices. No one has the right to harm another human being, unless that harm is in self-defense.

From a libertarian perspective, the right to life is the most important right we have. If we do not have an inalienable right to life, then free speech, freedom of assembly, and all of our other Constitutionally protected rights are worthless.

While it is true that a woman has the right to do with her body as she wishes, the unborn child is not her body. Instead, the unborn child is a separate entity. At fertilization, a completely new DNA code is formed. The embryo has all the building blocks of life, and all that is added from the point of fertilization onward is nutrition. Any "medical" procedure that results in the intentional, willful killing of this life is an infringement on the basic right to life of the unborn child.

So where does life begin? Medically, the new life begins with the formation of the embryo. With nutrition, shelter and time, the embryo will develop through the various stages of life. At what point should we give the protection of the law to that new being? The embryonic stage is the most logical point. Any point after that is arbitrary. If you use viability, for example, where do you place viability? Medical science has moved viability earlier in the pregnancy than it was a century ago.

Some would say that my position is "extreme". In terms of where most of the American people fall on this question, my position is extreme, just as Planned Parenthood's position is extreme. (I would point out that the position of the Catholic Church on what point we should protect life is similar to mine.) The question, though, is not whether a point of view is "extreme" as it relates to where it falls from the middle, but whether that position is right. People who wanted to abolish slavery in 1800 were considered "extreme", but they were right.

Greg Travis asks a few questions with regard to where protecting life from fertilization onward would lead. Allow me to address a few of those.

  • It would not be useful to treat miscarriages as a potential homicide, absent strong evidence that the miscarriage was intentional. Because a huge number of pregnancies are, for whatever reason, aborted by the mother's body naturally, such investigations would ultimately amount to putting nature on trial.
  • A clone would be a person, and a cloned embryo would have all the rights an embryo created naturally would have.
  • Even if modern science got to the point where any living cell could be used to make a clone, cutting your fingernails would not be an abortion. The cells that merit protection would be human embryos created via cloning, not the fingernail used to create the clone.

I do not believe artificial forms of birth control (condoms, etc.) should be prohibited by law. So long as a form of artificial birth control does not result in the destruction of a newly-formed human embryo, I do not believe government should prohibit it. Different religions (such as the Catholic Church) may prohibit followers from using those methods, but this is not something government should be involved in.