08 November 2011

Prop. 26: The "I don't know if its a person" position.

I have a little girl.  

When I discovered her existence, I was nineteen and right in the middle of a really great Ole Miss football season.  Eli was playing.  
We beat Florida. 
In Gainsville. 

I had declared my philosophy major and College was what College should be.  Lots of brain stretching and lots of fun.  
I was not married. 

It was not a good time for me to have a baby.   

C'est la vie.

I was given a choice - a choice afforded me by our government - to not have the baby.  To opt out of my womb being used as very low rent property.  My uterus is my own, and therefore I didn't have to do anything with it that I didn't want to do.   
I exercised my choice.  And I had the little bugger.  I threw up in the student section during the South Carolina game.  I wasn't the only one, but the other fans' nausea was triggered by something slightly different. 

This person is now beating me at arguments on occasion, reading a lot of great books, singing off key like there is no tomorrow, and crafting her daddy into the insane asylum. She is a true person - her own, and her personage has little to do with me.  

This is a sensitive issue, and there are many people who I love, genuinely respect, and frankly just enjoy a lot, who are on a different side of the issue.  I have dear friends who are actively pro-abortion, and scores of friends who are personally pro-life, but who believe, as I did for a while, that it is a personal decision best left up to women and their doctors.  

Because of that, I've not found myself a public [facebook] activist on the matter.  

But, occasionally, life takes a turn;  all of a sudden,  something that is normally not discussed around the dinner party table is now in the mouths and status updates of the masses.  And, frankly, I want to keep my mouth shut, and not cause conflict.  
But, at this point, I think it might be closer to cowardice rather than peacemaking.   

Many people have written about Proposition 26 over the last couple of weeks.  There are proponents and opponents.  There is mass confusion. 

If you'd like a legal treatment, this is the best I've found.   

If you'd like a very good academic/spiritual overview treating most of the arguments, see my dear friend here.   

If you'd like an argument strictly from Biblical Christianity, this is a good one.   

Despite identifying as a proud feminist, despite having very much experienced a moment of true choice, despite politically identifying half with Ron Paul and half with the pretty far left, I'll load up all of the little buggers and go vote Yes on Proposition 26 today.  

Are we Consequentialists?   

Many who say they agree with the principle of the Proposition are arguing against it from a consequentialist viewpoint.  I believe it's wrong to make moral decisions based on their consequences.  Something is either right or wrong, and then we deal with the consequences.

 We are bound by natural law, no matter how annoying it is.  That means that we don't first ask "What will the consequences of Proposition 26 be?"  We first ask, "Is it right?"  

And make no mistake, Prop. 26 is positing a moral position.  You know, like freedom of speech and the right to due process.   

Now, if you don't believe a fertilized egg is a person, guess what?  You should vote no.  
If you do, however, believe it is a person, you should vote yes. 
We don't yet know what the implications are of the proposed amendment.  We don't know what lawmakers will now choose to say, within this slightly altered constitutional framework, about in vitro fertilization or about certain forms of birth control.  But the fact is, if you decide to vote no based on that, you are using a consequentialist view.  It is either true or not.  There is no room for "true, but we don't like the implications." 

Southerners who fought to hold on to slavery in the mid 1800s viewed the matter not as a question of morality [as would have been right], but a question of consequences. 

Should you traffic human persons? 
"It's irrelevant, because we cannot afford economically to not traffic them.  And ps, they aren't persons, really."
Why?  Because they knew if they allowed for their black slaves to be called persons then they'd have rights - rights that would make life less pleasant and harder for the slave owners.   

So, we mustn't answer the question, "Do we like a world in which we affirm that an embryo is a person?"
We must instead answer the question "Is an embryo a person?"   

The "I don't know if its a person" Position 

This brings me to my second point.  I think there are two reasonable answers to the question.  "Yes" or "We don't know"   

Many answer the question yes, either based on spiritual teaching or on the fact that biological life has begun.
You can also answer with "I don't know." 
I think that's legitimate.  At what point does that thing which makes someone a person begin?   
We tend to think that our children are ours.  But they're not.  While they are our responsibility  for a time, they belong, in a very real sense either to themselves (for the secular humanist) or to their Creator.   

I don't belong to my parents; Ada Bee doesn't belong to me.  I've no right to hurt her, and, again, I'd be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks that I do have that right.  I have no right to hurt her because she's not simply an extension of myself; she's an entity.  

A thing deserving certain things.  She has rights.  The rights of what?  She has the rights of a person.  When did those rights attach?

I don't think anyone looks at a brand new baby and says "Yes, it's biologically alive, but not yet a person."  That little bundle of spit up and confusion is a person - and we, as a society, legislate morality surrounding those people all the time.  
One cannot smother a newborn, right?  Or leave it out in the cold?  
A primary function of government is to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  And little bitty baby people are the most helpless.  There is a reason pedophiles have a hard time in prison.  Even felons, whose moral compasses are oft skewed, know that hurting a child is a special kind of wrong.   

So, it attaches sometime between conception and birth.  An unfertilized egg is not a person.  A screaming infant is very much a person, deserving all the lawful, moral protection that brings.   
Sometime during those 40 glorious, miserable weeks, personhood attaches. 

What should we do with an 'I don't know'?   Well, what do we currently do?  We deal with this all the time.  Society has situations day in and day out where we protect potential persons.  

Firemen run into burning buildings, putting their own lives at risk, to see if there is life there.  Why?  Because we don't know if anyone is in there, but if there is someone there, he or she needs to be saved.  So, we act as if there is a person present, even though we don't know for sure. 

Cities bulldoze condemned buildings.  What do they do first?  They check to make sure there aren't any people in there.  We act as if there is a person there, even though we don't know for sure. 
What would you do with an I don't know?  Would you tell them to bulldoze the building away, just cross your fingers that it's not actually a person in there? 
These are not merely "women's reproductive issues"; if they were merely that, I'd be first in line to preach None of the Government's Business.  Don't tell me how to to take care of my body.  
Instead, these are issues surrounding an entity that you cannot say with surety is not a person.  A person created Imago Dei, I might add, a person who will one day legitimately beat his or her mother at checkers.
If you cannot answer no, you must answer yes.   

Why?  Because we've a duty to protect the potential people in the condemned building.  We have a moral duty to protect the helpless.  If there is potentially a person in a uterus, it is not less deserving of protection just because it is young or because it is in a different person's body.  

This is the rub, right?  "But it's my body!"  Do you remember that old glorious example from ethics conversations?
 You have a right to swing your fist through the air, but that right ends when someone else's face begins?  
Well, you've a right to do with your uterus (and spleen and sinuses) everything you want to do with it (from the government's perspective).  That right becomes limited when it affects the rights of another person. 
[Although, it's worth noting, that when we tell people they cannot use heroine, we are telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodies.  Oh?  Because they might run their car off the road or leave their children motherless?  Yes, I see.  They might affect the rights of another person.]   

Was Ada Bee a person while the youngest Manning was throwing for some ridiculous number of yards against the Gators?   
If you cannot say no, you must act as if she was.  And, if you cannot say Ada Brooks wasn't a person, you cannot say that any embryo is not a person. 
If you can say embryos aren't people, vote no.  

I cannot say they aren't, I cannot affirm the negative, so, to protect the helpless, who are potentially persons, I'll be voting yes on Proposition 26.   


  1. I am glad I know you.

    BTW,for truly evil thoughts on the treatment of newborns,google Peter Singer.

  2. Ann Lowrey: Thanks for your honesty. Very much enjoyed the read. Hope you don't mind that I've shared it with a few of my friends ;)

    Take care. Hope to see ya'll again soon.

    Jenny Kate

  3. I don't know you, but I wish I did :) so very proud to stand with you.

  4. Ann Lowrey,

    First, this is an excellent post. I found it persuasive and moving.

    Second, and as your pastor I simply must say this, you missed an apostrophe. :)

  5. Thank you all!
    I'm sad at the results of yesterday, but proud to know each of you.

    Cherri - you know what's funny? Peter Singer is one of the main reasons I became firmly pro life. His very logical insanely immoral pieces on bioethics helped convince me that the only two logical places to defend life's beginning are conception and self-consciousness. He picks the latter, which means 3 week olds can be throw in the garbage and such. I choose the former.

    Emily - I was very appreciative of your post. I wish more Christians had had a moment to read it prior to voting. It's always refreshing to realize we have so many brothers and sisters we don't yet know. Pax Christi.

    Steven - yeah yeah yeah. All in the name of Pastoring.

    JennyKate: =)