L.A. Times reports that John Kerry reiterated his position on abortion in a recent interview with ABC's Peter Jennings:
"Let me tell you very clearly that being pro-choice is not pro-abortion," he told ABC's Peter Jennings. "And I have very strong feelings that we should talk about abortion in a very realistic way in this country. It is a very complicated, incredibly important moral issue that people have to face."
Thursday, Jennings pressed Kerry about whether he then believed that early-term abortions were murder.
"No, because it's not the form of life that takes personhood in the terms that we have judged it to be in the past," the senator responded.
"It's the beginning of life," Kerry added. "Does life begin? Yes, it begins. Is it at the point where I would say that you apply those [criminal] penalties? The answer is, no, and I believe in choice. I believe in the right to choose, and the government should not involve itself in that choice, beyond where it has in the context of Roe vs. Wade."
Kerry said Thursday that he personally believed that, in the fertilization process, "a human being is first formed and created, and that's when life begins."
"There's a transformation. There's an evolution. Within weeks, you look and see the development of it, but that's not a person yet, and it's certainly not what somebody, in my judgment, ought to have the government of the United States intervening in."
So, having recognized the fact that life begins at conception, and that this life is human, Kerry now falls back on the precarious and morally questionable position that, because unborn human life is not yet "a person," we are entitled to kill it.
A number of Amy Welborn's readers have already responded by critiquing Kerry's muddled thinking and tortured logic on this issue. However, I wanted to refer you to an excellent essay by Dr. Peter Kreeft from Boston University, who thoroughly demolishes Kerry's stance in the essay: "Human Personhood Begins at Conception" (Medical Ethics Policy Monograph Stafford, Virginia: Castello Institute. 1997), in which he notes the novelty of such a position:
Thus the crucial issue is: Are there any human beings who are not persons? If so, killing them might be permissible, like killing warts. But who might these human non-persons be? Jews? Blacks? Slaves? Infidels? Counterrevolutionaries? Others have said so, and justified their genocide, lynching, slavery, jihad, or gulag. But pro-choicers never include these groups as non-persons. Many pro-choicers include severely retarded or handicapped humans, or very old and sick humans, as non-persons, but this is still morally shocking to most people, and many pro-choicers avoid that morally shocking position by including only fetuses as members of this newly invented class of human non-persons, or non-personal humans. I think no one ever conceived of this category before the abortion controversy. It looks very suspiciously like the category was invented to justify the killing, for its only members are the humans we happen to be now killing and want to keep killing and want to justify killing. But the only way we can prove this dark suspicion true is to refute the category. Are there any humans who are not persons?
Kerry's stance is rooted in the philosophical premise called functionalism, which is to say "defining a person by his or her functioning or behavior." Readers can turn to Dr. Kreeft's article for an extended philosophical analysis and refutation of this position. And, for the benefit of those with a shortened attention span, CatholicEducation.Org has produced a condensed version ("A Person's A Person, No Matter How Small"), outlining possible responses for Senator Kerry and like-minded folk:
An embryo is just a bunch of cells. It can't be a person! Yes, but so are you and so am I. The fact is, an embryo will grow into a fetus, which will grow into a baby ... and a toddler ... and a teenager ... and an adult. So it's not just a bunch of cells; it's a human being at the very earliest stages of development.
Okay, it's a separate life, but it still can't be called a person. It will grow into a person, but it's not a person while it's in the womb. So what is it then, an ape? A fish? If it's not a person, how does it become a person?
It becomes a person by acting like a person. People think. Embryos do not. Not all people think all the time. Does this mean that not all people are persons? For example, you don't think when you are in deep sleep. You don't think when you are in a coma. Are you sometimes a non-person? Newborn babies have very limited thinking abilities compared to teenagers. Does this mean that they are not people?
One of Amy Welborn's readers lamented that Peter Jennings didn't press Senator Kerry on at what point, specifically, would he bestow "personhood" on a human life. Perhaps Mr. Jennings had refrained as well on account that both he and Kerry would then have to grapple with the challenge of Dr. Kreeft.
Incidentally, did you know that in 1928 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not 'persons'. As a result, they were not entitled to hold office as Senators. This ruling held until it was overruled by the British Privy Council (thanks to CatholicEducation.Org for the history lesson).
Update!Catholic Light informs us that William Donahue has weighed in on the matter:
"Kerry's dichotomy," Donohue said, "was advanced by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857 in the Dred Scott decision."
"In that ruling, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote that members of 'the Negro race' were 'not regarded as a portion of the people or citizens of the government.' Similarly, he concluded that 'it is too plain for argument, that they have never been regarded as part of the people or citizens of the state."