They started out by denying that the unborn child was alive. "We don't know when life begins," they said. Then science made it very clear when life begins. At fertilization a new individual with a unique set of DNA is formed. That is simple fact. Check any introductory biology text. A fetus grows and develops. Non-living things do not do that. There is no question that the unborn are alive from the moment of conception.
So they updated their argument and said that maybe it was alive, but it wasn't human. It's just a fish or a frog...or maybe just a lump of tissue. Well, science had something to say about that too. The unborn child has human DNA and follows the unique human development sequence. Ultrasounds show that it is definitely a developing individual, not simply an overgrowth of tissue. The unborn child can be shown to be genetically distinct from the mother. No question, science says it is a separate human being.
So, the next argument was that maybe it's a live human, but it's not a person. This is a trickier argument because science cannot answer this one. This is a metaphysical question of value, not scientific fact. To use this trick, they had to differentiate between humans and persons in some way. They use various criteria for the all-important difference, but none of them hold up to scrutiny. The most common argument is that a fetus isn't a person because it isn't self-conscious. Well, we don't really know that, but even if it is true, the same could be said of newborns. There is nothing that happens at birth that changes a baby’s state of consciousness (or anything else, for that matter). On top of that, there are others we consider persons who also lack self-consciousness - those who are in a coma or a vegetative state, for example. Even healthy children and adults are unconscious during sleep or while under anesthesia. Are these not persons when they lack consciousness? Are they not entitled to the protection of the law? Obviously, this argument has fatal flaws.
Actually, there are just 4 differences between an unborn child and other human beings:
- Stage of Development
- Degree of Dependency
None of these form a logical basis for denying personhood. You cannot use any of these criteria to define personhood without serious ethical ramifications because you would be denying personhood to many individuals, not just the unborn.
The last argument, and the one which is perhaps the most sinister, is that an unborn child is indeed a living human person, but that it has no right to live off of its mother. The mother's right to bodily autonomy, they say, is absolute and no child has the right to use his mother's body for shelter or sustenance. They view the child as a parasite, feeding from the mother, and this gives her every right to kill him in their opinion. What a twisted view!
The thing is, a woman's body is designed to bear children and the existence of a child within her womb is not at all like a parasite taking from its host. Further, a woman has a responsibility to her child. A mother cannot refuse to feed her child after he is born. She cannot leave a newborn out in the cold to die. The child has an inalienable right to live. When you create a child, you have the unavoidable responsibility for taking care of that life. Outside the womb, this means you must feed and shelter that child. It means the same thing before birth. The difference is, before birth the options are more limited as to where that care can take place. The unborn child needs the protection of the mother's womb just as babies who have been born need clothing and milk. A mother cannot refuse to meet the needs in the latter case, so why should she be allowed to neglect the needs in the former case? The child's rights have not changed. The mother's responsibility has not changed. Birth changes only the location of the baby - not his status as a human being and not his right to live.