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Friday, December 02, 2011


Ed Peters

I read the whole thing. Man, are you a good writer.


This is a good essay. Your points are well taken.

If I can hazard to comment without having made an exhaustive inquiry, I believe there is an additional angle that can be taken on this topic, without detracting from that articulated. The personhood amendments are hampered by 1) modern equal protection jurisprudence and 2) its defenders' failure to articulate with force and clarity the limitations of the amendment's ramifications.

By point 1, I refer to the insistence of the judiciary that the equal-protection clause means that all laws do and have to treat everyone exactly the same absent proof of a really good reason to the contrary. That's an idea that most people accept, even if it is jurisprudentially unsound (and even if I have stated it somewhat crudely and its application would not be upheld in this context by a court). The prevalence of this concept makes it easy for abortion advocates to paint the law as a mechanism for absurd results.

On point 2: the fact that the unborn are human persons from the moment of conception does not mean that they should be afforded the same treatment as born persons in every legal context. There are issues of proof regarding injuries they may sustain. There are needless potential complications, like having to call the coroner for early-stage miscarriages. And nobody would insist that a person's age should be measured from conception instead of birth. But the law is certainly capable of dealing with these issues, and it has in the past. Rules existed at common law to address them, while still protecting the unborn child. But advocates of the personhood amendment get beaten with absurd or inconvenient ramifications that are not necessary, because they failed to occupy that space preemptively. Things to remember for next time.


I don't think Catholic theology requires there be no difference between the way the law treats murder and the way it treats abortion. There are all sorts of circumstances where a life is lost and the legal system does not call it murder. The problem comes where the legal system fails to recognize a life has been lost. That is why the question of how long a woman should go to jail for an abortion is besides the point. There can be a balancing of what is a hard situation for a woman on the one hand and the loss of a child's life on the other. If a baby is killed by a mother suffering from post-partum depression that almost always happens. But that is OK because the law recognizes the baby's death as a wrong that needs to be addressed. The mother does not have to go to jail for 25 years as she would for killing an adult.


Excellent, Carl, excellent. This, and the comments, have given me a lot to chew on, and intelligent fodder for discussion with "pro-choice" friends and family. Thank you!

Lauri Friesen

The fundamental error made by pro-lifers is agreeing to the premise that only persons are murdered. I will always resist making the distinction between human being and person, and believe that enshrining in it law will and can only further cripple Western society's understanding of human dignity. I was glad to see the amendment fail in Mississippi, for exactly that reason.

Ed Peters

LF, while I might hold that every human being is a person, I cannot hold that every person is a human being. Not unless I wanna toss out way more in terms of law than I think you realize. So, careful, here.

Lauri Friesen

I understand that there is a distinction between "persons" and "human beings", especially in legal contexts. However, I believe that, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church has it, human life, if not personhood, begins at conception and the right to grow and develop, unhindered, is a right that comes from God and must be respected by all of us, human beings and persons both. Should societies choose to enact laws that restrict this right, they must be limited to doing so for persons who can understand what they risk by choices they make (e.g. death penalty for certain crimes), but we all must resist having others decide which human beings live or die, for no other reason than that they are not "persons."

And, Dr. Peters, I would say that one must also be careful with enshrining a definition of "personhood" in a constitution because it, too, could have very real and myriad impacts on all the laws of the land.

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