Tom and Jerry: Defenders of All Things Right and Good

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Developing Babies

Richard Smith blogging in First Things, found a subtle philosophical dinstiction that might explain why defenders of abortion see the pro-life as religious extremism, and why pro-lifers see the pro-choice position as nothing short of murder. The difference is between development and construction. Abortion supporters see fetal development as a constructive process. They see the baby as being built in the womb, the way a home is built. To think of a tiny embryo as a baby is akin to thinking a concrete slab as a house. A house under construction does not become a house until near the end of the construction process. Likewise, the abortion supporter claims, a baby is not baby until near the end of its growth.

However, pro-abortionists make an important philosophical mistake. Babies are not made, they develop. The potential of a full-grown baby exists in the tiny collection of embryonic cells. Smith explains the difference this way,

Suppose we’re back in the pre-digital days and you’ve just taken a fabulous photo, one you know you will prize, with your Polaroid camera. (Say it’s a picture of a jaguar that has now darted back into the jungle, so that the photo is unrepeatable.) You are just starting to let the photo hang out to develop when I grab it and rip its cover off, thus destroying it. What would you think if I responded to your dismay with the assertion: “Hey man, it was still in the brown-smudge stage. Why should you care about brown smudges?” You would find my defense utterly absurd. Just so for pro-lifers, who find dignity in every human individual: To say that killing such a prized being doesn’t count if he or she is still developing in the womb strikes them as outrageously absurd.



  • I didn't read Richard Smith's thoughts in First Things, however, I think its an interesting distinction - the belief that a baby is made/built like a house, rather than developing naturally and without fail into a unique human person. I'm sure that there are people who find the idea that babies are constucted to be plausible, or, maybe they aren't sure exactly when an embryo becomes a person, and so they define themselves as pro-choice, figuring that it is most generous and tolerant to allow individuals to decide for themselves when life begins and who is or is not a "person."
    Although this opinion may account for a portion of pro-choicers, I don't think that it accounts for all. I remember researching abortion for a paper in an ethics class way back in college. The most die-hard pro-abortion opinions that I read basically said: yes its a human life, and yes I'm ending it, and yes, that's my right. I had no answer to this, other than to appeal to the responsibility of the strong to protect the weak.

    There is no way around the conflict of rights that is at the center of the abortion debate: the right of the developing baby to exist vs. the right of the mother and father to "live as they wish." You can argue about whether or not a fetus is a "person" at various stages of development/construction, but no one doubts that ultimately it WILL become a person. It certainly won't become anything else. No one doubts that halting development of a human being is more serious than halting construction of a house.
    The construction vs. development angle is just another way to attack the humanity of the fetus, because if its not human, it has no rights, or fewer rights, than the rest of us. A similar argument was used to defend slavery.

    Maybe the distinction that Mr. Smith is observing is not the difference between the process of development and construction (like a house), but the difference between the way we view the results: as human being who has rights vs. a piece of "property" that has no rights.

    By Blogger Christina, at Sunday, November 05, 2006 11:52:00 PM  

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