Personhood and Rights

In a comment to my recent post about Amendment 48, which would define a fertilized egg as a person, Jonathan Briggs writes:

Ignoring religion, let’s use biology. It seems to me that we as a species, are wired to have an urge to protect women and children. Men are the expendable protectors of the future generations.

Just ask a group of people if it’s a worse crime to punch a man, a woman, a pregnant woman, or a child.

The responses to that should come out that punching pregnant women and children is a worse crime than punching a man.

That tells us something. It seems that a pregnancy is valued almost equally to an actual child, even in the absence of religion. It’s survival instinct wired by biology. Blaming religion and “evangelicals” for this is absurd.

The fact that we harshly condemn a criminal for harming a pregnant woman in no way implies that a fertilized egg is a person. I see no inherent problem with defining enhanced criminal penalties for harming a woman’s embryo. That’s not what Amendment 48 is about. Amendment 48 is about imposing criminal penalties on the woman (or her doctor) for harming her own fertilized egg. And that is a religiously motivated policy.

An embryo is a potential person, and that does matter very much to the mother who wants and expects to bear the child. A mother-to-be invests a great deal of emotional energy, physical preparation, and planning in her future child. Thus, someone who harms a pregnant woman harms not only the woman’s health, but another dear value to her. Plus, usually it’s possible to tell whether a woman is pregnant, so somebody who intentionally harms a pregnant woman is particularly nasty.

By analogy, if somebody intentionally broke the fingers of virtuoso piano player, we would condemn the perpetrator more harshly than had he simply punched a person in the face. That doesn’t mean that a finger should be defined as a person, even though it is both human and alive.