Infanticide and the Pater Familias

If every child conceived and then killed by abortion had been allowed to live another year before being murdered, not only would the epidemic of infanticide which already exists be essentially unchanged in its character, the moral stakes would be clear to all, beyond muddlement.  We know better than to kill six month old children.  We know that even in infancy the nature of a person - that he or she is a person - does not change.  To question this seems absurd: am I unable to be identified with myself in college?  In highschool?  As a five year old?  I have pictures, memories, of all those times, and so do many who know me.  Why then can I not reasonably identify with my unborn self?  (I have pictures of that too.)  As a young adult, my rights go unquestioned: but go back far enough in my life, and I have people telling me they mysteriously vanish.

When?  Oh, um... well, definitely sometime before, um... let me get back to you on that one.  I have a partial-birth abortion advocate on line two and my argument feels kind of queasy right now because I don't quite know how to draw a definite line between my much more civilized opinion and whatever he wants.

In short, the denial of the personhood of the unborn person is arbitrary: while cloaked in sometimes valid-seeming babble about viability and the survival (to take the highest the case is put) of the mother*, these serve merely to obscure the issue.  That issue is that a person, a unique human being, is  under certain conditions - which they can not, as a criminal could, be held responsible for - considered liable to the whims of another person in all things, even on the question of life and death.

This is not consistent with the developed theories of natural law morality as put forth either by Christian culture or the Enlightenment, which both insist on the universality of human rights, whether considered God-given and obvious or merely patterns that can be deduced.  As far as I know they are not consistent with any such theories of universal morality.  Whether or not such other constructions provide justifying exceptions is beyond my knowledge; that such exceptions, if they exist, are not logically consistent I am confident.  (And in fact, a double-standard exists legally: while maintaining a bizarre "right" to kill a child outright, various products, most notably alcohol and tobacco, carry warnings against risks to the unborn child.  Obvious morality cannot be brushed so easily out of our consciousness.)

What might serve to justify abortion is an ancient principle long since rejected in theory: we might recognize it best in feudalism or the rights of the pater familias.  In either case, a power of life and death was given up in many cases to a person with some legal responsibility over or for others.  This aspect of feudalism - like many others - is seen as backward and barbaric by most modern commentators, but it is the Roman custom which really draws their ire, as an example of subjugatory patriarchy.

Yet under what other logic can you justify the common refrain, "Leave my body alone!"?  A moralist railing against the capricious whims of the patrician slave-owner or concubine-keeper would be met equally vehemently by an appeal to the custom and to the fact that slave or woman was dependent on him for such well-being as he or she had, and therefore was subservient to him - thus ignoring equally with the abortion advocate the fact that another human is affected by his decisions.

In case you have not yet noticed where I am going with this, let me state my thesis plainly: a justification of abortion can logically only be that of the hypothetical justification of the worst excesses of any other time when some people have power over others by accident of culture or nature.  It is nothing more or less than the justification of power: I have power to do this, therefore I may.

* It is an unfortunate fact that it may sometimes be necessary to take measures to save one person's life, measures by which another person must die.  Where the line lies in medical ethics I am not prepared to dispute, but it is obvious that this is not the situation I am addressing.  Exceptions can be made to a negative: it is very difficult indeed to make exceptions to a positive, as the legal strategists trying to limit abortions bit by bit have found.

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