Here’s how I see it.
Life and personhood, while not being mutually exclusive, are not, by necessity, the same thing. And this is not a mere semantic argument. The implications transcend mere denotation and intrude into the arena of Constitutional protection and by extension, the supremacy of the Federal government over State and local principalities.
As a consequence, when we say that life begins at conception, we must be careful not to imply that personhood begins or exists at an embryonic level. This would simply be both biologically and philosophically nonsensical. Nor can we assert that personhood precedes cognition, accordingly ruling out viability as evidence of personhood, if we assume that some level of perceptible awareness be manifestly present. This does not, however, have any functional or ethical bearing upon the sanctity of life.
If we hold that life is sacred, than that sanctity itself functions as a transcendental moral and a basically proper human right. Yet the Constitution was written for the protection of human beings of the personal variety. And this is where the dilemma of abortion enters the fray.
In Roe vs. Wade, we find the Supreme Court asserting the rights of persons, life ex vitro as commanding deference rather than en vitro. Life at conception was judged to have little to no claim to Constitutional safe harbor as it did not pass the requirements of the protected class; persons. And this is where the distinction between life and personhood becomes both essential and problematic. Problematic because of the popular and ideological conflation of the two and essential because it is the only way to produce clarity and civility in the full contact sport of personal rights. And it is only within the framework of life vs. personhood that one may be a conscientious objector to abortion without being accusatory or judgmental. It also reveals one of the great paradoxes of humanity; that we assign different levels of value to different stages of life, as well, being a profound commentary upon the present state of civilization, that procreation is no longer held as an imperative, teleological aspect of the destiny of the species but rather as a positive liberty to indulged or denied according to whim and conscience.
As things stand, abortion, or rather, the right to have an abortion performed, is constitutionally granted and guaranteed. And regardless of personal convictions, I find the end runs through state constitutional amendments and the manipulation of social programs and benefits funding for ideological gains in lieu of due process at the federal level to be reprehensible and inexcusable. It sets a terrible precedent and path for our democracy, sowing the seeds of discontent and an unbridgeable social divide.
And we have already begun to see the fruit of the broken dialecticalism of the American political and social experiment. The 2012 election highlighted the balkanization of the American landscape, with the urban pitted against the suburban, the environmentally conscious versus the stupid, the polyarchy against the peasants, those for equal rights opposing the crypto-racists. The list could could probably continue ad infinitum, but I’ll stop there. We must tread very carefully when insisting upon and defending positive liberties that, although not clearly spelled out in the constitution, nevertheless are present germinally.
I’m sure that by now, many have picked up the fact that I do indeed oppose abortion, but in a very precise way. I hold life to be sacred, a sanctity that doesn’t require the presence of personhood, gender nor viability. Do I oppose abortion in all instances, in all circumstances? Certainly not! That sort of block headed, blunt edged ethical inquisitors rack is simply the product simpletons or the sinister and in my own existential journey would have cost my wife her life.
Women who have abortions are not guilty of murder, that’s an accusatory condemnation born out of confusion and ignorance, whether willful or incidental is irrelevant, between life and personhood on biological, etymological and philosophical grounds, Abortion is a choice like any other and yet unlike any other, and we mustn’t underestimate the gravitas of the situation. It cannot be approached or taken lightly, but it is also a decision that I cannot make for another. It is an intensely personal choice that has become an ideological enfilade with women at the center, suffering the slings and arrows of political opportunism by both those who see it as an issue of empowerment and freedom and those who see it as symbolic of both individual and national damnation. And it has to stop.
This nation is greater than the sum of its parts, irreducibly so, I have come to believe. Yet, in this struggle that has too often become nothing more than expressions of will to power, we are plucking the gears from the mechanism of our democracy and we can hear it breaking. And frankly, we cannot afford to lose anymore parts.