Developing personhood

Power and personhood are central to the debate on abortion rights.

by Ronald Dixon

Several states are in the process of enacting harsh restrictions on the reproductive rights of women. In fact, North Dakota recently passed a law that outlaws abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detectable, at about the sixth week.

I am adamantly against Republican attempts to circumvent the constitutionally mandated rights that women have to control their own reproductive health; however, I believe that pro-choice and feminist activists are losing the debate.

We can see this with the argument that women should have authority over their bodies and not be forced to bear a fetus. Although this is a perfectly legitimate claim, when it is challenged by the point that “abortion is murder,” the killing of an “innocent child” is always going to rhetorically trump the women’s rights argument.

As a society, we deem murder as the premeditated killing of innocent people. We must deconstruct the phrases “innocent” and “people” in order to disprove the conservative argument that abortion is murder.

“People” implies that the fetus is a person, but they lack an adequate amount of self-awareness, cognition, perception, self-consciousness and other fundamental factors that make someone a person. Unfortunately, though, “baby” and “fetus” are often used interchangeably, which perplexes the abortion debate.

“Innocent” implies that the fetus is not doing any harm. Although a fetus did not choose to be in its position, because it is hampering the living functions of the woman, preventing her engagement in several activities and sapping nutrients out of her, the fetus is, by definition, not innocent.

Thus, we return to the question of whether abortion is murder. Conservatives often use this argument, whereby labeling the fetus as a person. This false identification of the fetus is commonplace both on the left and the right.

Ultimately, the debate comes down to where power is going. Whether it is the mother or the “child” — sometimes as a literal surrogate for the father — this new North Dakota law further questions what we label as a “person.”