The Personhood of the Unborn

The pro-abortion side of the abortion debate has won in the past, not because their arguments were logical or well-founded, but because of emotional appeals. They kept telling us that abortion promotes equal rights, that those who oppose abortions are intolerant, and that abortions heal women who have been raped. Meanwhile, they were allowed to get away with arguments like, "the fetus is just a blob of tissue," "the fetus is not a human being," "the fetus is just part of the woman's body," and "life begins at birth." Now, of course, the abortion advocates are admitting the flaws in those arguments. The popular argument today is "yes, the fetus is alive, yes it is an individual, and yes it is a human being, but it is not a person. Therefore, it is both legal and moral to kill a fetus."

The latest argument is no different than the earlier ones. It is logically flawed, and will eventually be abandoned (Heaven help us; the next step is to argue that murder is acceptable in some cases). The unborn child is, without a doubt, a person.

Abortion advocates would like to define a person as "a living being with feelings, awareness, and interactive experience." There are several flaws with this definition. First, and foremost, is the fact that the dictionary defines a person as "a human being." Abortion advocates are actually twisting the original meaning in order to support their cause. This is the first sign that something is wrong.

Upon a closer examination, we will see that the new definition of person is logically incoherent. The new definition relies on functionality as the key factor in determining personhood. However, Peter Kreeft has rightly pointed out that, "whenever personhood is defined functionally, the dividing line between persons and non-persons will be based on a decision by those in power, a decision of will."1

Personhood is not a matter of functionality. If it were, we would run into some very confusing problems. For example:
A person who is asleep, unconscious, or in a coma does not exhibit awareness or interactive experience; does this person cease being a person?

Based solely on functionality, a businessman would cease being a businessman when he leaves his place of work

A newborn child does not exhibit anymore awareness than the child inside the womb; are we free to kill newborn children as well?
Those in favor of the new definition will undoubtedly argue that the person who is asleep, unconscious, or comatose did satisfy the requirements in the past, so they remain persons even in those conditions. However, this line of reasoning fails to observe the fact that the functionality argument has been defeated. As Francis J. Beckwith noted, "human function is a sufficient but not a necessary condition for personhood."2

Conception is the point where a new person is born. A person is the same being from conception on. Otherwise we could not speak of the growth and development and unfolding of that being.3 Functioning develops only gradually, but a person has a sudden beginning. I was once a teenager, once a child, once a baby, and once a fetus. My beginning can be traced back to conception. I did not come from a zygote, I once was a zygote.

Those who object to the pro-abortion definition of personhood are then presented with the argument that members of the Godhead (God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit) are referred to as persons, yet they are not human. Likewise, angelic beings or aliens would likely be referred to as persons, therefore the definitions of "human being" and "person" are not the same. While I would agree that being human and being a person is not the same, I disagree about which is the inclusive term. Not all persons are human beings, but ALL HUMAN BEINGS ARE PERSONS.

In his book, The Moral Question of Abortion, Dr. Stephen Schwarz states with eloquence,
Human designates, in its most significant meaning, a type of being whose nature it is to be a person. A person is a being who has the basic inherent capacity to function as a person, regardless of how developed this capacity is, or whether or not it is blocked, as in severe senility. We respect and value human beings, not because they are a certain biological species, but because they are persons; because it is the nature of a human being to be a person.4
The pro-abortion argument based on personhood is wrong, because it fails to recognize that we are not talking about persons vs. non-persons, but "potential persons" vs. " potentially functioning persons," of which the unborn child is the latter. There is no such thing as a "potential person." You either are a person or you are not. Existence is actual; functioning is potential.

It is wrong, therefore, to kill a child in the womb, or a newborn baby. Abortion is not justified merely because the child has not yet reached a sufficient degree of functioning as a person. The same argument goes for a retarded child who will never achieve a certain "normal" level of functioning as a person. The retarded child has the same human nature as the "normal" child, and is equally a person as well. As we have seen, it is being a person that counts, not having the capabilities for functioning as a person.5


1. Kreeft, Peter. Human Personhood Begins at Conception
2. Beckwith, Francis J. Is an Unborn Child a Person?
3. Kreeft, Peter. Human Personhood Begins at Conception
4. Schwarz, Stephen. The Moral Question of Abortion
5. Ibid.