Bench Memos

Unborn Victims in Pennsylvania

As Mark Levin says, Pennsylvania’s unborn victims of violence act really has to make one wonder about the coherence — and sanity — of our permissive abortion laws. Some twenty-eight or so states have one of these laws. Not all the laws actually state that the unborn are persons, or even that they are human beings with a right not to be killed pretty much the same as everyone else’s right not to be killed. But they sure do seem to imply as much. Kill an unborn human individual and you get prosecuted, and punished,as if you killed anyone else. Unless, of course, you are an abortionist.

People may disagree about whether the unborn are rights bearing entities, about whether they are persons. But no one holds that the answer to the question whether the unborn are persons (or, as good as) depends upon who is asking, or on what the person asking wishes to do to the unborn individual. Everyone supposes that the answer — whatever it is — has to do with something essential about the unborn individual, that the moral status of the unborn — whatever it is — is intrinsic, that it depends upon the kind of entity the unborn is. Again, even those who favor permissive abortion laws will hold that the unborn are not persons because the unborn lack something which is essential to personhood, such as consciousness or feeling or life plans. One reason why this is so is simple enough: consider the consequences if who was a person depended generally upon whether it was useful to others to say so.

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