Personhood is a more nebulous concept than it probably should be. Throughout history certain groups have defined themselves as persons and defined others as non-persons. Even when a de facto definition has not been in place, people in certain groups have in practice been treated as non-persons–or at least not as full persons. I have been accused of not understanding racism because I am in a privileged class, and that is probably so, but my ancestors at one time were not treated as full persons by their Roman conquerors. In a more recent time period my ancestors were not treated fully as persons by the Puritans of Massachusetts, because they belonged to fringe religious groups. My point is that this issue of personhood is not just a black-white issue, as we Americans tend to make every such issue.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal,” he meant men, not women. Furthermore, he meant white, landowning men. Women, people of color, and really poor people were not really as equal as every other human being in Jefferson’s America.
At times and in places the mentally and physically challenged have not been treated as full persons. I live in a place where children are still sometimes killed if they have a noticeable physical abnormality–out in the rural villages. It is shameful to think that even in America the mentally ill and mentally challenged were mistreated and were experimented on like animals.
More and more, the elderly in America are not treated as persons. They are put away in homes and left to die. We even have localities where it is legal, depending on the circumstances, to help them die, supposedly for their own good. It just so happens that it is convenient for the relatives, too.
Now I turn your attention to the unborn. I remember each of the four times that my wife conceived a child. Only two of the babies were actually born. The first one’s little heart stopped beating at a fairly early stage, and my wife went through a spontaneous abortion. The second one implanted in the fallopian tube. The third one was a textbook case. The fourth one threatened to be born way to early but managed to wait, thanks to medical intervention, until three weeks before her due date.
They were all, as far as we were concerned, our children. We did not go to the ultrasound saying, “I wonder how our fetal tissue is doing” or “Let’s see how that foreign mass in the uterus is coming along.” It was our baby, and not only did we see it that way and talk about it that way but all our friends and relatives did, too. Were we just naive? Were we romanticizing? When I look at my two girls, who are now teenagers, I think not. That little fetus is what they were then, and they certainly are not just blobs of tissue or a foreign mass. (Although they seem to suck money from us the way they used to suck nutrients through the umbilical cord.)
If you think that a cluster of cells is all that is destroyed in abortion, you are seriously ignorant. My wife’s spontaneous abortion occurred at about the same time that many women get surgical abortions, and actually before some do. I assure you that it was not just a little cluster of cells that was expelled. It had had a beating heart and tiny limbs at one time.
Mississippi is going to vote on whether to define a fetus as a person in their state consitution. I hope that they vote to do so. I wish all the other states would do so.
What about you? If you have children, did you think of them as a baby or as a person only after they were fully born? Did you hear their heartbeat and think, “How strange that a little unformed mass would have a heartbeat!” Did you think of it like a tumor that could just as easily be excised as allowed to grow into the child that you have today?
Seriously! Look into the eyes of your child or of somebody else’s child and let it sink in that that fetus in the womb is who they were then, and that most fetuses that are aborted could have become what that child is today.
I have heard people say that an abortion is just like removing a mole. Yet no mole ever developed into a walking, talking person.
I have heard people say that it is a part of the woman’s body. If so, why does there need to be a cord between the two of them?
I have heard people say that it is a foreign invader–as if it is not the product of the woman’s own ovum and her lover’s own sperm. As if it did not get half of its genetic material from her! And as if, supposing she changed her mind after all, it would not grow to be a beautiful child that she would adore and care about.
We human beings have made this terrible error many times–colored people, women, disabled people. Must we keep on making it? Must we declare that since a human being is very, very tiny and still very dependent, it is not worthy of life? That it is not worthy of respect? That it is not really a person?