Thursday, April 12, 2012

Personhood Bill--New Developments

As reported on the Daily Show, there have been some new developments relating to Oklahoma's so-called "Personhood Bill," which I've talked about before on this blog. Check out the report here:


  1. The report is witty and I must admit to giggling a few times myself, but I have issues with the comparison they're trying to make between abortion and contraception, or between a sperm cell and an embryo. At what moment a member of the human species becomes a person in a full sense or what rights it should have at different stages in its development are tricky questions, but I would say that an embryo or a fetus, unlike a sperm-cell or an egg-cell on their own, is a person under development. That is, at conception the process towards personhood has begun. Aborting the process is therefore arguably destructive of personal life.

    This does not mean that abortion is always the bigger of two evils or that anyone other than the mother has a right to decide whether or not to go throught with the pregnancy, but in any case it is not the same as contraception. Comparing the two seems to trivialize the issue, kind of like comparing the polemic statements of Robert Kennedy to those of Limbaugh trivialized the indecency of the latter. The discussion should be guided by a reverence for human life in general and the voices of those women struggling with unwanted pregnancies or with the condemnation of others or feelings of guilt and regret after completing an abortion. Their experiences tell us that there are deep existential questions involved in this choice.

    This is by the way not a defence of the "personhood-bill", but a reminder that the issue is not as simple as The Daily Show makes it seem.

  2. Saldakordos,

    I agree that simply equating contraception with pregnancy termination after conception is far too simple. There is an important change that occurs at conception, insofar as, after conception, we have a single organism that is developing rapidly in a certain direction--a trajectory of development that at its culmination (assuming nothing goes wrong or interferes with this development) results in what all of us would agree is a person.

    Nevertheless, the proposed amendment and the Daily Show piece above does highlight important issues that are too often summarily dismissed. In fact, the contraception amendment was never meant to pass, but simply to call attention to certain issues with the personhood bill. The fact is that there are issues of bodily self-determination in play here that have great moral weight. IF a fertilized egg is a person, then these weighty moral claims to personal liberty clash with the weighty moral claims of a dependent person--and we have a moral dilemma. The claim to bodily self-determination thus faces a potentially profound constraint in the face of a counter-claim. To simply decree by legislative fiat that this counter-claim exists is therefore not a trivial thing.

    Insofar as the contraception amendment (and the Daily Show report) aimed to simply call attention to THIS fact, it was not simply a case of trivialing what's at stake in the abortion debate. I agree that one could read the amendment (and comedic report) as asserting that the fertilized egg is just like a sperm cell--and to make such an identification cavalierly is to make the same sort of error that we find being made in the Personhood Bill, only in reverse. But maybe what's going on here is an effort to call attention to the original mistake BY making it in reverse--which isn't quite the same.