When pro-choice individuals are asked the question of when in a pregnancy a human fetus requires recognition and protection, virtually all would agree that there needs to be a standard. Without such a standard we could wind up on a slippery slope to euthanasia. And I think most moral scholars agree that that would be a very dangerous position for society to assume.
Importantly, most pro-choice individuals would also agree that reasonable people can differ as to how that standard should be drawn. There is no obvious bright line, including conception. After all, eggs and sperm are also human and living. It is up to the social order to create a standard that can be applied clearly and that balances the interests of the pregnant woman versus the interests of a would-be child. Personally, I think the Supreme Court did a good job of balancing those interests in Roe v. Wade in using a standard of viability.
But here's the thing. Abortion foes generally do not admit that reasonable people can differ on the question of where the line should be drawn. Their position generally is that human life begins at conception. Period. Why is that? Why do abortion foes believe that there is a “bright line”?
The fact is that virtually all opposition to early term abortion has a religious foundation. What that means is that the rationale for opposition is not based on an analysis of what would be best for the social order, taking into account all of the competing interests as well as the longer term consequences for that social order. Rather, the rationale is based on reliance on received authority, on a belief that that is what one’s god or one’s religion or one’s religious leaders have determined is right or wrong.
Is that a problem? I would argue that it is in the sense that laws should be based on what is best for the social order, not on what is dictated by religious dogma. And it is where those perspectives diverge that problems arise. The issue of abortion rights is a prime example of that.
© 2015 John M. Phillips