Why Personhood Should Not be Granted to a Fetus

The very health of a fetus requires the direct coercion of the mother’s body. The fetus may be life, but it is not always independent life, and for that reason alone, the mother reserves the right to terminate her pregnancy.

I’ll be brief today. You’d have to be living in a cave not to realize that there has been a recent push by various state legislators to grant personhood to a fetus, giving it full legal protection. The problem with this is that if you give rights to a fetus, you’d need to take rights away from the mother. For this reason, alone, the idea of fetal personhood is a horrible idea. Whatever agency that would be given jurisdiction over a fetus would need to have complete control and supervision over the body of the mother. It’s that simple, really.

There are laws protecting a human child from negligent mothers in areas of health, safety, nutrition, physical and mental abuse. When these laws are violated, the child can be removed from the custody of irresponsible parents. This cannot be done with a fetus without controlling the mother’s body. No matter how irresponsibly a pregnant woman behaves, charges cannot be levied against her until her fetus becomes viable, and even then there are complicated issues until the child is actually born.

Abortion Is Not Murder…

While there exists no definitive at what stage of development a fetus becomes viable, the Supreme Court decided in 1973 that the unborn fetus had no constitutional rights until the third trimester. This decision was reached based on scientific data, which revealed a post-birth survival rate of less than ten percent due to undifferentiated respiratory, and central nervous systems. Pre-term birth remains the most common cause of perinatal mortality and it is rare for a baby weighing less than five hundred grams to survive.

In a nutshell, a fetus is life within a life. There is no possibility of distinction or regulation without direct imposition on a woman’s reproductive processes. Because the life of the fetus depends on the life of the mother, decisions regarding the fetus should be the decision of the mother.

Legislating Morality…

With few exceptions, the pro-life argument is theological. The First Amendment implies that legislation should not reflect theological doctrines, including evangelical Christianity. Personal religious convictions toward abortion do not constitute legal opposition to the right to an abortion. Laws should not exist to enforce morality, and history shows the problems that inevitably arise when we attempt to legislate religious morality.

Murder and abortion were in existence before Christianity, and so were laws prohibiting murder. We need laws against murder to regulate behavior and allow civil function of human society. A god is not needed to regulate murder. Society is capable of regulating murder, because if left unregulated, civil society could not exist.

Because a fetus does not have the ability to exist independently from its mother until it reaches viability, it cannot be considered a person with all the rights and responsibilities of someone who has been born. If we were to grant the same rights to a fetus as we do to the born, it would automatically subjugate the rights of the woman, thus giving the fetus greater rights than the woman carrying it. It is illogical, unreasonable and unfair to the mother.


  24 comments for “Why Personhood Should Not be Granted to a Fetus

  1. Aliasalpha
    February 2, 2012 at 7:51 am

    Maybe a way to counter this is by trying to claim disability payments (assuming america has them for unemployed people) for the foetus until it is capable of individual existance, after all not having a functioning respitory system has to be fairly disabling

    That or go for the Bill Hicks route, I think the quote was something like ‘you’re not a person until you’re in my phone book’

  2. bbgunn
    February 2, 2012 at 8:33 am

    If a state declares a fetus a person at conception, couldn’t a mother argue ‘self defense’ if she aborted the fetus for threatening her life? After all, the abortion would be justifiable if she has reason to fear she would be in imminent danger of death or serious injury from the fetus.

  3. Arno
    February 2, 2012 at 8:47 am

    To invoke self-defense, your live doesn’t have to be threatened, other forms of assault suffice. If some guy would walk up to me and stick some tube in me in order to connect our bloodstreams, I ought to have the right to stop him using whatever force necessary, irrespective of whether the procedure threatens my life.

  4. February 2, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I think we also need to attack the idea that the capture and breakdown of a sperm cell by an ovum is anything more than a task an ovum need to do to survive. Which sperm cell is immaterial.

  5. February 2, 2012 at 10:04 am

    In interactions with those who call themselves peo-life, whenever they refer to us a baby killers, I refer to them as women killers and anti-women. I refuse to allow them the appearance of the moral high ground by allowing the the term pro-life to be attached to their cause.

    Their cause harms women and needsa to be labeled as such.

  6. RowanVT
    February 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    I have been wondering… if they grand personhood to a fetus, would not the woman have to be charged if she has a miscarriage?

    • February 2, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Some of the lunatic fringe are pushing for investigations of women who have had miscarriages.

      • ischemgeek
        February 2, 2012 at 2:09 pm

        Not only pushing for – they’ve got it in some jurisdictions. And there’ve been charges. Rennie Gibbs and Bei Bei Shuai are just two examples of hundreds.

  7. February 2, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    They’re trying to pass a personhood bill in Richmond. Beware of the Virginia in your vagina…

  8. Drangsorian
    February 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    This argument is flawed. If the argument is, the woman has conplete control over the fetus because it is not viable without her, the same argument can be used for an infant child. An infant child is absolutely not viable. An infant requires the physical, mental, and emotional resources of its mother, or whomever is its caretaker. To say, then, that the mother has the right to murder that infant for whatever reason would be immoral.
    Spin it any way that you like, the argument still applies. Though the fetus is physically living inside of the woman’s body, it doesn’t mean she can do with it what she pleases. Just because it is inside her doesn’t mean she has full control over it. In the same way that just because I am my mothers DNA, she can choose to kill me whenever she wishes.
    In cases of danger to the mothers life, we have understandings for these. Doctors are the ones providing these procedures so I’m sure they would do everything in their power to do what’s right.
    Women who have miscarriages cannot be charged with murder in the same way that women who’s children have died from SIDS aren’t charged with murder. Unless evidence is brought forth that shows a direct correlation between the death and an action or some negligence from the mother, women need not be worried.

    • ema
      February 2, 2012 at 6:43 pm

      An infant child is absolutely not viable.

      An infant breathes, circulates, excretes, etc., a fetus does not.

    • February 2, 2012 at 7:15 pm

      An infant, having already been born, can be passed off to others for care and feeding.

      A fetus can’t.

    • February 3, 2012 at 12:03 am

      You obviously have no clue what viable means in this context.

      Yes, an infant IS viable without a mother. It can eat, breathe, etc. Viable in this context essentially means that it can survive outside the womb.

      A fetus, up until a certain number of weeks (around 23, I believe) cannot, biologically, live on its own. Its body isn’t developed to the point that it can live in an environment.

      to put it another way- No, neither a fetus or a young child can survive on their own. It’s the same way that neither rat poison nor a deep fried twinkie are good things to eat, and the same way that both someone who doesn’t like to walk and someone with no legs might use a wheelchair. There’s a difference in the reasons why, and differences in scale.

      Saying that killing fetuses is like killing a baby is like saying that eating that twinkie is like eating rat poision, or saying that someone who uses a wheelchair out of laziness might as well not have legs. It’s just stupid.

      alternately, think of a fish and a human. Both need water to survive, just like both a fetus and a child need a caregiver. The difference is that a fish will die within minutes when removed from the water, and a human can travel far away from any water so long as it finds more later. Similarly, a fetus up until a certain age will die soon after leaving the womb, whereas a child doesn’t need constant attention to survive so long as it isn’t entirely abandoned.

    • February 3, 2012 at 8:31 am

      In addition to the previous comments, a baby doesn’t hijack its mother’s body, straining her physically and rewiring her brain. A baby doesn’t directly cause potentially fatal health risks. Read up on exactly what happens to a pregnant woman, and try to say that raising a baby who is independent of your body, whose responsibility you can share or pass off completely, is anything comparable to being forced to endure what is basically a parasite jacking you around for nine months.

    • steve oberski
      February 3, 2012 at 11:02 am

      The argument is that humans have autonomy over their bodies.

      The viability of the fetus has nothing to do with it.

      I personally think you should be forced to donate your kidneys to 2 other people as I happen to think you are not at liberty to do with them as you please and my personal moral calculus informs me that their lives are worth more than yours.

      Or alternatively I think you should be forced to have a fetus implanted in you abdomen through an invasive surgical procedure, be injected with a cocktail of hormones for 3 trimesters and then have it surgically removed at term. This is theoretically possible for the male of our species and I think would be instrumental in changing perceptions on female bodily autonomy should it become common practice and in fact could be considered a metric for how committed to the cause male members of the “pro-life” contingent actually are.

      Now try to muster up sufficient empathy to put yourself in the place of a woman forced to make hard choices about how to allocate her physical resources with respect to bringing a fetus to term and perhaps come to the realization that it’s none of your business and entirely hers as to what choice she makes.

  9. oldebabe
    February 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Very simply, every woman should decide for herself to accept or reject the bodily strain and subsequent responsibility. How can a fetus be more important, i.e. when it depends totally on the surrogate to be nourished and transported until viable? That is a decision only for the potential mother to make for whatever reason she may make it.

  10. February 2, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    It is, of course, a far more complicated set of questions being discussed here than whether the chicken and the egg are the same thing and have equal rights. A very nuanced exploration of this topic can be found in Laura Purdy’s “Reproducing Persons: Issues in Feminist Bioethics” particularly in Chapter 4, “Are Pregnant Women Fetal Containers?” and all of Part II “Abortion and the Right Not to Reproduce”. This book was published in 1996 and is still highly relevant today. There is much that could be drawn on by people wishing to wade into arguing against the so-called pro-lifers.

    • ema
      February 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm

      “Are Pregnant Women Fetal Containers?”

      Yes, yes they are./snark

  11. Mr.Kosta
    February 2, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    [blockquote]Though the fetus is physically living inside of the woman’s body, it doesn’t mean she can do with it what she pleases. Just because it is inside her doesn’t mean she has full control over it.[/blockquote]

    Yes, it DOES mean exactly that.

    [blockquote]In the same way that just because I am my mothers DNA, she can choose to kill me whenever she wishes.[/blockquote]

    Nice strawman you built there. Need help burning it?

    You have social and biological independence from your mother, therefore you are a person. A fetus has none of those things, therefore it is not a person. Not so difficult, huh?

  12. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces
    February 2, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Drangsorian #8:

    An infant requires the physical, mental, and emotional resources of its mother, or whomever is its caretaker.

    (emphasis mine)

    And that’s a crucial difference right there. Of course it’s not capable of living completely independently – but it’s no longer a functional parasite, dependent on the mother’s digestive system for its nutrients and her lungs for its oxygen. You are mistaken; the argument is not flawed as you describe.

  13. San Ban
    February 2, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    “An infant requires the physical, mental, and emotional resources of its mother, or whomever is its caretaker.” You’ve got the difference, right there in front of you! If a woman doesn’t want to care for a child, she can give it up for someone else to care for. A child in danger from its custodial parent can be removed for its own safety. In short, ANYONE or group of people can care for an infant, but only the person in whose body it resides can care for an embryo or fetus. Controlling the fate of the fetus requires controlling absolutely the body in which it resides. The pregnant woman alone has that right.

    “Unless evidence is brought forth that shows a direct correlation between the death and an action or some negligence from the mother, women need not be worried.” And that’s exactly WHY women need to oppose these moves! Think it through, man! Such laws would require very close monitoring indeed of every female human being from menarche to menopause. It would, in effect, turn women (back) into chattel.

  14. February 4, 2012 at 12:33 am

    I think you’re all looking at this the wrong way. Very simply, Shimp v. McFall:

    Our society, contrary to many others, has as its first principle, the respect for the individual, and that society and government exist to protect the individual from being invaded and hurt by another. Many societies adopt a contrary view which has the individual existing to serve the society as a whole. In preserving such a society as we have it is bound to happen that great moral conflicts will arise and will appear harsh in a given instance. In this case, the chancellor is being asked to force one member of society to undergo a medical procedure which would provide that part of that individual’s body would be removed from him and given to another so that the other could live. Morally, this decision rests with the Defendant, and, in the view of the Court, the refusal of the Defendant is morally indefensible. For our law to compel the defendant to submit to an intrusion of his body would change the very concept and principle upon which our society is founded. To do so would defeat the sanctity of the individual, and would impose a rule which would know no limits, and one could not imagine where the line would be drawn. This request is not to be compared with an action at law for damages, but rather is an action in equity before a Chancellor, which, in the ultimate, if granted, would require the submission to the medical procedure. For a society, which respects the rights of one individual, to sink its teeth into the jugular vein or neck of one of its members and suck from it sustenance for another member, is revolting to our hard-wrought concept of jurisprudence. [Forcible] extraction of living body tissue causes revulsion to the judicial mind. Such would raise the specter of the swastika and the inquisition, reminiscent of the horrors this portends.

    It was ruled illegal to violate a man’s bodily integrity in order to force him to save the life of another human being. It is gender-based discrimination (and thus illegal) to ‘legally’ compel women to do so. Whether or not a fetus is ruled to be a person, no one person has the legal right to violate another person’s body against his or her will.

    End of story.

  15. Azuma Hazuki
    February 5, 2012 at 2:02 am

    I would be less upset about this if the “fetuses are people” crowd had any interest, any interest at all, in providing assistance for the fetuses AFTER they’re born. Funny how that works, huh?

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