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Friday, April 11, 2014

On Bodily Rights and Personhood

In my recent debate with Matt Dillahunty, he made a claim that bodily rights arguments "include" arguments from personhood. This apparently means, to him, that he doesn't have to make a case against unborn personhood, it just means that whether or not the unborn are persons because of bodily rights abortion is permissible because no one has the right to use your body against your will. I believe this to be mistaken, and I will explain why bodily rights arguments don't "include" arguments from personhood; in fact, bodily rights arguments assume unborn personhood. This will be my last article written about my recent debate, but I feel that this is an important point to make. The debate is already over, so I'm not trying to score additional points with my articles. Debates are won or lost based on what is argued in the debate. I am here just explaining this topic in greater detail.

The reason that bodily rights arguments don't "include" personhood arguments is simple: if I make a case that the unborn are persons, then arguing bodily rights does not address personhood arguments. Bodily rights is not a defeater to the personhood argument; it doesn't even address it. If I make a case for unborn personhood, and you argue bodily rights, you've completely avoided the argument and the argument goes through. If I make the case that the unborn are persons because they don't differ from adults in any morally relevant way, and it's our inherent capacities, not our presently-exercisable capacities, that ground our personhood, then going to bodily rights arguments does not address these. In order to address my argument from personhood, you must show that the unborn actually do differ from us in morally relevant ways, or that our presently-exercisable capacities, rather than our inherent capacities, are what ground our personhood.

So Matt apparently thinks I was lying when I said he didn't address my arguments, but an honest listen to the debate will exonerate me on this point. He refused to address them because he didn't respond to them. Arguing from bodily rights is not addressing personhood arguments, it is avoiding them. But even Thomson, in her famous essay "A Defense of Abortion," understood this. She wrote, "I propose, then, that we grant that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. How does the argument go from here? Something like this, I take it. Every person has a right to life. So the fetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person's right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother's right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it. So the fetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed."

Thomson then went on to give her famous violinist thought experiment, in an attempt to show that by granting the major premise of the pro-life position, that the unborn are full human persons with a right to life, abortion is still permissible. Bodily rights arguments, again, do not "include" personhood arguments, they assume the personhood of the unborn. If the unborn are not persons, there is no need to argue bodily rights because if the unborn are not persons it is not seriously wrong to kill them. Or if the unborn are a mere part of her body, then abortion would literally be no different than having a tooth pulled or a mole removed. But as I indicated in my last article, several times during our debate, Matt actually assumed the unborn are not persons, which is not an option a proponent of bodily rights has open to them, especially if their debate opponent made a case for the personhood of the unborn.

There are good reasons to consider the unborn to be persons. I also believe there are good reasons to make abortion illegal. But we must take care to be logically consistent in our arguments. Not only did I make a case that the unborn are persons, but I also made a case for why, in light of bodily rights arguments, a discussion of personhood is important. We are all persons from fertilization and because of this, we also have our basic rights from fertilization which includes a right to life.



    1. To be honest, I'm not sure what you're trying to say in your article, and I couldn't really detect an argument in there. Could you amplify on it a bit?