Fetal Personhood: It’s Simple

Author Greg Koukl Published on 03/07/2013

What makes a person a person? Does a fetus qualify?

I’m asking for people just to work hard to get some clarity on this issue. It’s not that hard. If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it a dozen times: “This is a difficult issue. It’s a confusing issue. It’s hard to come to a real, proper understanding.” The abortion issue is not a difficult issue. It is not a confusing issue. It is a very simple issue when it comes to the facts themselves. And I’m trying to urge people to have some clarity based on what is true here and what is moral and right; not based on what we want for ourselves. That’s what makes these kind of issues complicated. The truth is self-evident but we don’t like what is true because it makes a moral demand upon us, and that moral demand frequently is uncomfortable and inconveniencing. When we face discomfort and inconvenience, then we want to change the rules; and we try to change the rules by using contorted, disfigured arguments and we claim that it’s a difficult issue. It’s not difficult at all.

I talked with a young lady last night who made the point that she thinks that. She used the illustration of snapshots. If you took a photo of the developing fetus at every stage of development you would see something different; therefore the fetus is a different thing at each different stage of development. Well, that’s an idea, I guess. That’s a way of looking at it but it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It doesn’t mean because you can take a picture of me at six, and ten, and twelve, and twenty-four, and forty-four that I am somehow a different being. I’m the same being talking on this show right now that graduated from Simon Greenleaf University two weeks ago, and graduated from York High School in 1968, even though I don’t look the same as I did back then. I still have my girlish figure, but I look different.

Does that mean I’m a different person? I’m a different being? All these gradualism arguments fail because they don’t have a clear fix on what it means for a thing to be a thing. It sounds like double talk, but it’s not double talk at all. It’s very simple. A thing is itself and not something else, and it remains itself as long as it exists.

I am Greg Koukl. I was Greg Koukl when I was born, and I’ll be Greg Koukl when I die. I am Greg Koukl from beginning to end. I am Greg Koukl the whole time through even though my body changes form. Beings don’t transform into different beings. They are what they are.

When does an acorn become an oak? Well, no one knows for sure. Of course we do! An acorn never becomes an oak. An acorn is an oak. Period. That’s what an acorn is. It’s an oak in immature form. It can become a mature oak tree. But young or old, it’s an oak. This is not a matter of opinion, folks. When we get down to it, acorn doesn’t describe what a thing is, in a sense; it describes the stage of development of that particular thing. It’s kind of like asking what is a teenager? Well, a teenager isn’t a particular thing, like there is a being called teenager. What a teenager is a description of the stage of development of the human being. It is a human at a certain age. An acorn is an oak at a certain age. And a fetus is a human being at a certain age.

Now some people try to get around this by saying, “Okay, I’ll give in. An unborn child is a human being, but it’s not a person.” And I have a very simple Columbo for you in that situation. It’s very, very easy to use. When someone lays this on you, ask them a very fair question: What’s the difference? They will say absolutely nothing. There will be a long, embarrassing silence and don’t you dare open your mouth because what this person has just said is that they are willing to sacrifice the life of a human child because it’s not a person, yet they are not in any position whatsoever to tell you the difference between the two.

It’s kind of like saying why are you killing those children? “Well, it’s because they don’t have a high enough I.Q.” Well, how high of an I.Q. do you have to have to live? “Frankly, I don’t have the faintest idea, but I know these kids are pretty dumb.” What is that? That is exactly what this response implies. Nonpersons shouldn’t be allowed to live. What’s a nonperson? “I don’t know, but they’re not one of them.” If a person is willing to sacrifice the life of a child based on its nonpersonhood, it seems to me they ought to have a fairly clear idea of what personhood actually is. But of course nobody does in a clear fashion. It becomes arbitrary at that point.

The fact is that human beings are persons. They are personal kinds of beings whether they are in an early stage of development or a later stage of development. That’s what a human is and it remains itself from the beginning to end. It’s very simple. It’s not hard. It’s not complex. We’ve known it for ages. This personhood argument is only 10-20 years old, since Roe vs. Wade, Frank Beckwith says. Before then there was never a personhood argument. It was introduced after Roe v. Wade to make the decision to have an abortion a little more palatable. The same thing happened with Dred Scott. He’s not a person, he’s black. He’s not a person, though he’s a human technically; but that’s just a little detail. It’s not significant.

It’s simple, folks.