Is it wrong to deliberately kill an innocent person?

By Tom Quiner

I’m bothered by two conversations I’ve had.

One took place years ago at Fridays Restaurant. I can’t remember when. Perhaps the late eighties. Over a festive dinner on a Friday night, politics were the subject. The good Republican with whom I was talking said something to the effect, “we’ve got to move past abortion.” The suggestion was that abortion hurt Republican chances at the ballot box, that we shouldn’t push so hard on that issue if we wanted to win elections.

In other words, this Republican, who ostensibly believed the object in a mother’s womb is an innocent person, who believed that is is wrong to deliberately kill an innocent person, thought this was an issue that should be de-emphasized.

That leads to a conversation I had two days ago with a Democrat who heard the President speak here in Des Moines a few blocks from my house. We sparred about abortion. He asserted smugly that he would never have an abortion, as if that were some kind of position.

I asked if he thought life began at conception. He said yes.

I asked if he thought the object in a mother’s womb was a person. He hedged, but essentially said yes.

I asked if he thought the person in the womb was entitled to human rights. He changed the subject and began talking about genocide in Darfur. I said that is horrible, but that is a different subject. Is the person, whom you have acknowledged resides in the mother’s womb, entitled to human rights?

I guess his answer is no.

Let us consider both positions.

Both the Republican and the Democrat recognized the personhood of the fetus. And yet they didn’t seem to want to view the person as fully human.

If someone began to beat a toddler, either one of the persons above would have immediately sprung to the defense of the little one. But they’re not so willing to spring to the defense of the fetus (little one) in a mother’s womb. This leads us to three possibilities when considering personhood:

1. All human beings are persons and all persons are human beings. They’re the same.

2. Non-human persons exist such as Martians and angels.

3. Some persons are essentially sub-human. Classic examples abound. The Nazis considered Jews to be sub-human. The Supreme Court considered slaves to be only three-fifths human in the Dred Scott decision.

Since I don’t hear many Republicans talking about Martians or many Democrats talking about angels, I suspect the second idea of personhood above is not the issue. It comes down the third idea. To allow someone to deliberately kill an innocent person in the womb, you have to rationalize that the object being killed is somehow merely sub-human. But aren’t we really just talking about a different degree of human development when we talk about the fetus?

As the great philosopher, Peter Kreeft, says it:

“Is a fetus a person? Well, is a teenager a person? Is an adult a person? These words—fetus, teenager, embryo, adult—are nouns that come from adjectives. Embryonic human: embryo. Fetal human: fetus. Infantile human: infant. Childish human: child. Teenaged human: human. These are stages of development. Of what? Of one entity. So what is that entity? Philosophically, it seems that that’s the crucial issue, because most moralists would agree that the first premise is true. If deliberately killing an innocent person isn’t wrong, what is wrong?”

It seems apparent that the object in the womb with human DNA is fully human, fully entitled to human rights from conception. It is embryonic human, as Mr. Kreeft states, but still human.

A cornerstone of legal systems throughout history has been to protect human life, that it is morally wrong to deliberately kill an innocent person.

What I said to my Republican friend so many years ago is that if you allow the deliberate killing of an innocent person, anything is possible. Tens of millions have been killed since then.

Is America a better place today than then?

Is Darfur?