Letter: The (im)morality of the Texas abortion law

Below is a Letter to the Editor from this week's Shelton Herald. If you'd like to have a letter to the editor run next week, email letters to brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com

Below is a Letter to the Editor from this week's Shelton Herald. If you'd like to have a letter to the editor run next week, email letters to brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com

Contributed photo

To the Editor:

On May 19, 2021, the Texas Heartbeat Act, a de facto ban on most abortions in Texas, was signed into law. It quickly went into effect on Sept. 1, 2021, after the Supreme Court denied an emergency action to block the bill. At the heart of the law lies the moral claim that abortion is morally wrong. However, this claim that abortion is morally wrong relies upon a flawed conception of what it means to be a person and is a mistake that I hope Shelton residents are not eager to support.

The most common reason people assert that abortion is wrong is that it unjustly ends the life of an innocent human being. This argument relies on a few main premises: an embryo / fetus is a human being, a fetus is innocent, and killing an innocent human is unjust. Most of the abortion debate focuses on whether the fetus is human as the fulcrum of the legitimacy of abortion, but it’s the last premise that should receive more focus. It begs the question of well, why is killing an innocent human being unjust?

The common answer one might receive when asking that question is that the killing of an innocent human being is unjust because you are taking the life of someone who caused no harm and life is precious. Except, are humans not taking the lives of other organisms regularly? Humans stomp ants, bash spiders with shoes, and butcher cows for their meat. Replace those animals with something human and suddenly the moral calculus shifts. Justifications flow forth about the value of human life in comparison to the value of those animals. This act of justifying the difference between humans and animals lies in the concept of personhood - the idea that a certain group, called people, have certain qualities that make them more worthy of moral considerations than other biological entities that we share this planet with. Without personhood as a justification, humans must either cease any activity that ends the life of any creature that cause no threat to life or wallow in the shallow moral hypocrisy of unreasonably placing the inherent value of one species over the value of another. The person who would mindlessly butcher any alien species that exhibits the same characteristics of humanity for daring to not also be a member of the species homo sapiens is truly a pitiful one.

For those that would rather be morally consistent, one must consider the key differences between animals and humans. The differences are plentiful and certainly still up for debate, but some of the most distinguishing ones that separate humans from being base animals are the capacity to utilize rationality or logic, consciousness, self-consciousness, and to act as moral agents. There remains a problem though, one that has not escaped the attention of philosophers. In a problem that has come to be called the problem of marginal cases, it is apparent that members of homo sapiens may not fall under many definitions of personhood - thus would not be considered persons. Infants, fetuses, severely cognitively disabled individuals, the senile, and other such cases. Like animals, they instead act on instinct and are incapable of acting as rational, conscious, moral agents. The only separation they have from animals is the attribute of being a member of the species homo sapiens. An attribute that has already been shown to be lacking any special moral consideration.

The idea of treating certain homo sapiens like animals can be disturbing. However, it is essential to note that achieving the status of personhood does not mean you are exempt from direct moral consideration of non-persons. A person should still not indiscriminately harm a non-person. The key difference between moral considerations of persons and non-persons is that the moral considerations of persons must come before the moral considerations of non-persons. For example, the right to life of a deer must come after the right to life of a person. The right to life of a parasite must come after the right of bodily autonomy of a person. The right to life of a fetus must come after the right of bodily autonomy of a person. Again, aside from moral considerations that pit the rights of persons against the rights of non-persons, non-persons should still be treated morally to the extent that it is possible to do so. So no, infanticide is still not permissible simply because an infant would be considered a non-person.

This brings us back to Texas. The lack of critical thinking and rationality by the Texas legislature has caused them to legislate based upon a faulty moral premise applied at their convenience. The consequences have been the unjust persecution of women who would seek to maintain their right of bodily autonomy. It relies upon the people, including the people of Shelton, to prevent this miscarriage of justice from spreading throughout the country. Next time you hear a politician pontificating about the immorality of abortion and their desire to criminalize a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, consider this and vote accordingly.

Alex Widomski