During the question period, one student put up his hand and ventured that the human fetus couldn’t be a person, because at an early stage it looks exactly like a pig fetus. The professor, who was arguing that the human fetus is a person, and therefore had human rights like any other, said sharply…

In 2002 I attended a debate at the University of California, Berekely. It was primarily for the biology students, but the debate was more of a philosophical question: is the fetus a human being? The debate was between a doctor who had performed abortions around the world, and a professor of philosophy from across the Bay.

During the question period, one student put up his hand and ventured that the human fetus couldn’t be a person, because at an early stage it looks exactly like a pig fetus. The professor, who was arguing that the human fetus is a person, and therefore had human rights like any other, said sharply:

“You wouldn’t dream of committing the ‘Fallacy of Appearances,’ would you?”

(Murmurs from the student, who of course didn’t want to commit any fallacies.)

“The ‘Fallacy of Appearances,’” the professor explained to the rest of us, “says that if something looks like something else, it therefore is something else. Well, a human fetus indeed looks like a pig fetus. But it isn’t one. No matter how many human fetuses you observe, you won’t see it grow into a pig. Nor will a pig fetus grow into a human. Human fetuses become humans, and pig fetuses become pigs. They might look the same, but they are different.”

This gave us all something to think about. After all, had any of us really asked ourselves what makes a human being human? Is an unborn baby more worthy of respect than an unborn pig?

Philosophers and scientists still argue about this. I have heard complicated arguments for both sides, and other sides too! There is a lot of abstract reasoning involved, and it is probably all very important in the big scheme of things.

Now, I am not an abstract thinker. As a student, I had to take every abstract idea and make a picture for myself of how that idea fit into the real world. I had to give it concrete, day-to-day, relevance. With the issue of the rights of the unborn, I think in simple, day-to-day terms, which go something like this: I am happy to be alive, despite my average dose of suffering. My own unborn baby seems pretty happy to be alive. Society, on the other hand, seems to say, “This unborn baby isn’t going to be happy if it keeps living. Better to kill it.” And the baby isn’t even given the fighting chance.

But it seems to me everybody deserves this fighting chance, the chance to breathe air, to eat food, to choose love, to make art, to pursue happiness for oneself. This “right to life” is recognized around the world as a fundamental human right.

The United Nations (not the final authority, of course, but a powerful one) put it succinctly in its “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” In Article 3 it states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”

Well put! Only ten words, and individuals around the world, in war-torn, famine-torn, or impoverished countries have enjoyed the motherly sanction of the United Nations.

And does everyone benefit? Article 2 states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

The Universal Declaration of Rights forgets one thing: age. Not everyone is entitled to “the rights set forth in this Declaration.” An unborn baby is unprotected by Law while inside its mother. As soon as it is outside the womb, which could be a matter of seconds, or inches, it mysteriously acquires the rights of other human beings.

This seems odd to me.

Of course, I’m just a new mom, and a simple-minded one at that. But it seems pretty good logic to say, along with the professor at Berkeley, that a human fetus is a human being, because it can’t grow into anything else.

Why can’t we give the unborn baby the same rights as the newborn? After all, we give the newborn the same rights as the child, and the child the same rights as the adult. (With minor exceptions—smoking, for example.)

I would give my baby the fighting chance to live, no matter how much was against us. My baby is going to goof up, make mistakes, and get hurt just as I did. But then, I have no idea of the beautiful, good, and marvelous things he or she will do, or whose life will be touched because I gave my baby that chance.