Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Zero Reasons a Fetus is Absolutely Not a Person [Clinton Wilcox]

Edit: Special thanks to Rich Poupard, a physician on staff with Life Training Institute for reading over my article and providing me with helpful suggestions to improve two of my responses. I have updated the answers to questions seven and eight based on his comments.

A friend posted an article on Addicting Info to my Facebook wall titled 14 Reasons a Fetus is Absolutely Not a Person, written by one Wendy Gittleson (who has obviously never seen the inside of a logic textbook and has no sense of shame). This article will be a bit polemical, mostly because of her undeserved arrogance and the fact that her article doesn't even come close to doing what her headline alleges she is going to do. Seriously. Just take one look through her 14 questions (they are not arguments), and you'll notice one glaring omission: none of these 14 questions offer any sort of argument for why the fetus is not a person. They are merely hypothetical questions one might pose to a proponent of fetal personhood (such as myself), and some of the questions are incredibly dumb. Only one question is actually legitimate. But none of these are arguments that support the proposition "a human fetus is not a person." Ordinarily I'd pay no mind to this article and I would consider it not worth my time to respond to. But it was posted to my Facebook wall and another friend encouraged me to respond because there might be people who are actually taken in by this garbage. And I'll be doing this completely sober. Pray for me.

Gittleson starts off by decrying the fact that conservatives want to "shut down medical care for 4.6 million women" because they want to defund Planned Parenthood. Of course, this is a strawman argument against pro-life people, to say nothing about its being a red herring. If Planned Parenthood didn't kill hundreds of thousands of children every year, we'd probably be leaving them alone. However, bills that go out to defund Planned Parenthood will redirect the money given to them to other healthcare providers for women. No woman need be deprived of healthcare if Planned Parenthood goes under. Of course, what abortion-choice advocates like Gittleson really care about is not healthcare for women but access to abortion. She is using healthcare as a smokescreen.

Next, she engages in a complete non sequitur. She alleges that because conservatives love to make money, if we really believed the fetus was a person "cottage industries" would spring up. She doesn't expand on this so it's difficult to understand what she means here. For some reason, because "cottage industries" aren't springing up, she takes this to mean that conservatives don't really think a fetus is a person. I actually think fetuses are persons because there is good reason to accept them as persons.

So now come Gittleson's questions that allegedly "prove" that fetuses are not full people. Brace yourselves.

14. If a fetus is a person then why don't they issue conception certificates?

One possible reason is because one's conception is notoriously difficult to pinpoint (when reproduction is achieved naturally). This is why when doctors date a pregnancy, they date it from the woman's last menstrual period (LMP). No matter where they go, LMP gives doctors one system that provides a standard convention.

Additionally, this is a societal convention, not based on the status or lack thereof of the fetus. It's also true that pregnancy is a tumultuous time in the life of the unborn human being, and the survival of any given embryo/fetus is not 100% certain (as miscarriages happen, though not likely as often as abortion-choice people think they do). Another reason we issue birth certificates could be because that's when the survival of the human being is much more stable.

To reiterate, this is a societal convention which says nothing about the moral status of the embryo/fetus and either way, society could just as easily have decided to give out conception certificates (based on an approximation of conception date or based on LMP) rather than birth certificates.

13. If a fetus is a person then why do they go to an OB/GYN for medical care instead of a pediatrician?

Because dealing with a fetus requires a different set of skills than dealing with an adolescent. You can't just take the fetus in and say, "here, check her temperature." The fetus is in the woman's body, meaning that it requires a different set of skills (e.g. removing the fetus from the womb if surgery is needed to be performed) and a different set of equipment which requires training (e.g. the ultrasound machine). There's also the fact that OB/GYNs are equipped to help a pregnant woman through pregnancy. The OB/GYN monitors the woman's pregnancy and can refer out to other specialists if something comes up.

12. If a fetus is a person then why can't we claim it on our taxes?

Another societal convention. See number 14.

11. If a fetus is a person then why do we count age starting from birth?

Another societal convention. See number 14. Additionally, some Asian cultures do count your time in the womb and start you out at one year old when you're born. Will you accept that as evidence that the fetus is a person?

10. If a fetus is a person then why is it often kept a secret for the first three months?

Again, for the reason that pregnancy becomes progressively safer as it progresses, so women tend to want to keep it secret in case they lose the embryo. Plus, I've known couples to announce it as soon as they were told. It differs from couple to couple.

9. If a fetus is a person why does "God" kill so many of them?

God doesn't kill any of them. God isn't up in Heaven playing Asteroids with human embryos. Embryos die naturally, just as all human beings die naturally. Some just die sooner rather than later. But conceived embryos have a 100% death rate.

8. If a fetus is a person then why doesn't it eat its own food?

Probably because it doesn't have access to its own food. The womb, her skin, and other internal stuff is in the way.

In fact, there's a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum, in which a woman has severe morning sickness, characterized by severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss, and electrolyte disturbance. This can result in the mother needing to stay in the hospital and be fed intravenously through a technique called Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN). While she is undergoing TPN, the mother cannot eat her own food. She takes in nutrient through an IV. So if Gittleson's criterion for personhood is correct (that one must be able to eat her own food), then while undergoing TPN the pregnant woman is no longer a person. This is clearly an absurd standard to meet for personhood.

7. If a fetus is a person then why does medicine put the life of the mother before that of the fetus?

This is simply incorrect. Medicine doesn't put the mother first. In all contexts outside the abortion context, the life of the fetus is treated with tremendous respect. If the child is wanted, he is always treated as a second patient. This means that certain medical procedures that would be perfectly fine if she wasn't pregnant can't be considered if she is (e.g. if a woman needs a tooth pulled, if she is pregnant the doctor won't put her under because the life of the fetus, the second patient, must be taken into consideration). There are times in which the life of the baby is put ahead of the comfort of the mother.

6. If a fetus is a person then why can't it live outside the womb for several months?

Because it is still developing. For the first nine months the embryo/fetus requires the environment of the uterus because he begins life in the fallopian tube. He has to develop to the point where he can survive outside the womb before he can survive outside the womb. You might as well ask "if astronauts are persons, why can't they survive in the vacuum of space without an EVA suit?" To which I would reply, "go outside and play. You've had enough internet for today."*

5. If a fetus is a person does that mean a pregnant woman is two people? Can she drive in the carpool lane? Can she buy two items when a store advertises "one per customer" sales?

That's three questions. You cheated!

No, a pregnant woman is one person, as one thing cannot be identical to two things (this is basic philosophy). The fetus in her womb is a second person. Again, it's a societal convention that she can't drive in the carpool lane. Society could just as easily allow fetuses to count, if it wanted to. Also, store owners could count fetuses, if they wanted to. It's up to them. Trying to call pregnant women "two persons" as a response to fetal personhood is just metaphysically confused.

4. If a fetus is a person, why would a politician even consider a rape or incest exception?

This is the one legitimate question of the bunch.

You'll have to ask them. I disagree with them on this point. I don't hold an exception for rape or incest because I don't believe killing a human being is an acceptable response to a difficult situation, even one as tragic as rape. As even some abortionists recognize (e.g. Warren Hern in his textbook Abortion Practice), a rape victim just isn't served by the abortion clinic; she needs to be referred for proper counseling. But even so, the fact that some politicians are inconsistent on this point is not an argument that fetuses are not people. At best, it's an argument that politicians are inconsistent.

Not all pro-life people agree on the rape exception. Here's a good article written by Monica Snyder of Secular Pro-Life defending the rape exception, that even pro-life people would do well to read to understand this viewpoint. To provide balance, here's an article I have previously written arguing against the rape exception.

3. If a fetus is a person, why is no one (I shouldn't speak too soon) suggesting the death penalty for women who have abortions?

For a few reasons: 1) Despite what you think about pro-life people, no pro-life person wants to see a post-abortive woman die (there may be some exceptions from extremists, but this is a good generalization about pro-life people). 2) Because abortion is currently, unfortunately, legal, and capital punishment is a penalty for criminals. 3) Not all pro-life people support capital punishment.

2. If a fetus is a person then why is the smallest clothing size "newborn?"

I'm no genius, but I'd wager the fact that they can't wear clothes has something to do with this one.

Also, the smallest clothing size is preemie, not newborn.

1. If a fetus is a person then why aren't adoptions finalized until after the baby is born?

Probably because the baby can't be given to the couple until after the baby is born.

I could have probably teased some of these out more, but I just wanted to give a brief response to each of these questions.

She ends her article by asserting, "...to take away that right to make that decision is to say that not only are fetuses people, their personhood takes precedence over the personhood of the woman and that is indefensible." Of course this says nothing of the sort. The reason we take some choices away from people is because some choices should not be legally permitted. One could just as easily say that by taking the choice to rape a woman away from a man is to say that not only are women people, but their personhood takes precedence over the personhood of the man and that is indefensible. Of course this is absurd reasoning. What it says is that because women are people, we are obligated to respect their rights and their dignity as human beings. I cannot justify an act that would harm or kill someone else, even in the name of bodily autonomy. So if fetuses are people, bodily autonomy cannot be used to justify killing them.

So there you have it. Do you feel pro-choice yet? No? Neither do I. This article is just filled with absurdly poor reasoning, and the fact that someone would write it and share it as a serious attempt at justifying their position shows how badly proper training in logic is needed in our culture.

*There's an obvious difference here in that astronauts are not meant to survive in the vacuum of space but human embryos/fetuses are meant to survive in the world outside the womb once they develop enough. But the soundness of the analogy is in the fact that as embryos/fetuses require a certain environment in which to survive, so do astronauts require a certain environment in which to survive. Appealing to the fact they can't survive in an environment they can't survive in is not a good justification for denying them personhood in that environment.


  1. I think that FaceBook article was pretty bad and I agree, they weren't arguments. That said, I do find problem with a few of your responses.

    >However, bills that go out to defund Planned Parenthood will redirect the money given to them to other healthcare providers for women. No woman need be deprived of healthcare if Planned Parenthood goes under.

    This seems like a naked assertion - what evidence is there that this is actually true? As it is, conservatives want to take away as much healthcare as they can (look at the Republican healthcare bill!). You make this assertion as though it's obvious, but where's the evidence that all the money would go elsewhere?

    >God doesn't kill any of them. God isn't up in Heaven playing Asteroids with human embryos. Embryos die naturally, just as all human beings die naturally. Some just die sooner rather than later. But conceived embryos have a 100% death rate.

    Most Christians believe that God is omniscient and has a plan, which goes directly against your assertions here. What is 'natural' in the face of an omniscient and perfect creator? Are you suggesting that God is either not omniscient or could not create the existence the way he intended it to be?

    Further, you must not believe in the Biblical account of the flood, which killed countless babies and children.

    Perhaps you don't believe in a flood or an omniscient God though, in which case, my apologies for misstating your position.

    1. "This seems like a naked assertion - what evidence is there that this is actually true?"

      In a surprisingly objective article from Mother Jones (of all internet blogs), they outline the most recent bill to defund Planned Parenthood, which would redirect money to other health centers.

      "The bills, from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), would redirect federal funds away from Planned Parenthood to other health care providers."

      Unfortunately, many people seem to fall into a trap of assuming that just because Republicans disagree with Democrats, they hate women, minorities, poor people, etc. That's not the case at all. It's not *patently obvious*, maybe, that the Republicans would funnel the money given to Planned Parnethood to other health clinics, but Republicans aren't monsters just for opposing Planned Parenthood. They don't want to outlaw all health care, they just want to stop the government from stealing money from private citizens to give it to someone else who has no legitimate claim to it.


      I thought I should probably clarify the portion about God, but didn't because I was just trying to keep the responses brief.

      I fully believe in the omniscience, omnipotence, etc., of God. However, God knowing something (his omniscience) does not, ipso facto, mean that God caused that thing. I believe that God has everything in control, in that he can bring good from any bad that happens (e.g. God does not cause a woman to be raped, but God can bring good from the rape, such as a child to bring healing to the rape victim). So simply saying that God is omniscient and has a plan doesn't really say anything at all because God's being omniscient doesn't mean he causes everything to happen.

      I also do believe in the Biblical account of the flood, but that was an act of divine retribution. God has the authority to take life; we don't. Because God takes some people's lives does not, then, justify our taking of a human being's life intentionally. The Biblical flood was caused by God, and God did directly cause the deaths of others in Scripture. It doesn't follow, however, that because God kills *some* people that God kills *all* people.


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