Theology blogging mega-star Halden has been responding vigorously to the Tiller killing (1, 2, 3, 4). His argument throughout is that if abortion is murder, then the only way to get out of the bind of being morally obligated to kill abortionists is to be a pacifist. Claiming that such matters need to be handled by a legitimate authority is no defense, because an authority that allows abortion (here conceived as a mass genocide) to go on is ipso facto illegitimate.
The funny thing is that pro-choice women never assassinate right-wing preachers, using the argument that they’re advocating that the government treat women who have become pregnant — even if they’ve taken every rational precaution to prevent it — as baby-making machines that must submit to the needs of the fetus within them even if it means certain death.
We’re asked to decide against abortion because the fetus might be a person and we should err on the side of caution when murder might be at stake — somehow it never enters the equation that we know for sure that the pregnant woman is a person.
Indeed, the question of how we might finally “objectively” decide on the personhood of a fetus never comes up either. (Will someone develop a soul detector?) This is really a case where an uncomfortable truth comes to the fore: who is a “person” is a human decision, determined by social recognition.
Now it would be possible for society as a whole to decide to recognize unborn fetuses as persons, or to decide that at some arbitrary point in the pregnancy they’ve crossed that line. The society that did that would not be “wrong” to do so — indeed, they’d be right by definition. But in my mind, such a move would have perverse and undesirable consequences, consequences that are anticipated by the moral incoherence and often depravity of those who buy into the “abortion is murder” line (and the “pacifist dodge” seems to me to participate in that incoherence).
The decision not to recognize some form of human life as a “person” is a fraught one, and in the past it has often led to horrible oppression and tragedy. Yet this is a case where extending that recognition would absolutely lead to negative “autoimmune”-type effects, in a way that recognizing the full personhood of non-whites or women or those strongly inclined to non-normative sexual expression has not.