The latest philosophical notion* to have reached street level is personhood. Virginia's HB 1 declares:
Rights of unborn children. Provides that unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of the Commonwealth, subject only to the laws and constitutions of Virginia and the United States, precedents of the United States Supreme Court, and provisions to the contrary in the statutes of the Commonwealth.Gone are the good old days (of 1972) when Elizabeth Anscombe could write that:
some may doubt (it's a rather academic question, I think, an intensely academic question) the good sense of calling a fertilized ovum a human being.One nice thing about Anscombe's paper is that she makes it clear how fundamentally Christian her position is:
Christianity taught that men ought to be as chaste as pagans thought honest women ought to be; the contraceptive morality teaches that women need to be as little chaste as pagans thought men need be.
And if there is nothing intrinsically wrong with contraceptive intercourse, and if it could become general practice everywhere when there is intercourse but ought to be no begetting, then it's very difficult to see the objection to this [i.e. the pagan, contraceptive] morality, for the ground of objection to fornication and adultery was that sexual intercourse is only right in the sort of set-up that typically provides children with a father and mother to care for them. If you can turn intercourse into something other than the reproductive type of act (I don't mean of course that every act is reproductive any more than every acorn leads to an oak-tree but it's the reproductive type of act) then why, if you can change it, should it be restricted to the married? Restricted, that is, to partners bound in a formal, legal, union whose fundamental purpose is the bringing up of children? For if that is not its fundamental purpose there is no reason why for example "marriage" should have to be between people of opposite sexes.The purpose of HB 1, of course, is to impose a Christian morality on people. Its backers, though certainly lacking Anscombe's intellectual firepower, are to some extent aware of the logic of her argument. They see a clash of value systems and want to go as far as they can toward enforcing theirs on everyone else. It's understandable that a Christian would want everyone to live according to Christian morals. But there are (at least) three problems with this proposal, as I see it.
1. The language of personhood is quasi-technical, philosophical language. It is not the same as Anscombe's talk of "human beginning." It is a legalistic term that does little to help either side in the debate about the ethics of abortion, as Ronald Dworkin and Judith Jarvis Thomson (who I would guess had Anscombe in mind when she wrote her defense of abortion, with its echoing reference to acorns and oak trees) have shown. Arguably the best (non-religious) pro-life argument, that made by Don Marquis, does not involve the question of fetal personhood. There is no good reason to think that talk of personhood will help honest thinking about abortion.
2. The First Amendment. The people who talk up the US Constitution when it suits them cannot in good conscience seek to establish their religion by law.
3. It is un-Christian to try to instill shame in people through humiliation. A companion bill, HB 462, requires all women seeking abortions, for whatever reason (including rape), to undergo an ultrasound. This procedure is presumably intended to make women feel guilty about having an abortion. And that seems incompatible with sincere belief in Matthew 7:1 ("Judge not") and Romans 3:8 (true Christians do not do evil in order to bring about good). "Judge not" is an easy line to trot out, of course, but I think this effort to shame is noticeably less Christian than simply banning abortion would be. That might be tyrannical, but it isn't manipulative exactly.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of abortion, this legislation is philosophically unsound, un-American (insofar as it's good to be American), and un-Christian (if there is such a thing as a good kind of Christianity). It's anti-women, too, of course. But apart from that, just fine.
*I hope it's a legal notion of personhood that's really to blame, but maybe the philosophers can ride to the rescue. Not that I would count on any but a political defense in response to this kind of attack.
This is less obviously relevant but comes to mind because of the lines "Tell me where it all went wrong" and the one about acting like a man who's cross with every woman he's never had: