In a recent ruling the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that the unborn are not human beings.
The Supreme Court of Hawaii has ruled that unborn children are not "human beings," and therefore women cannot be prosecuted for causing the death of babies by harmful behavior during their pregancies.
The unanimous decision overturns the manslaughter conviction of 32-year-old Tayshea Aiwohi, who was found guilty in connection with the death of her newborn son by smoking crystal methamphetamine shortly before his birth.
This ruling cuts to the heart of the debate over abortion in as clear a fashion as is possible. Are the unborn human? Are they people? Back in December 2004 William L. Saunders, Jr. wrote an article on Embryology: Inconvenient Facts in which he quotes numerous medical text books and doctors. The conclusion is unanimous:
Every human being begins as a single-cell zygote, grows through the embryonic stage, then the fetal stage, is born and develops through infancy, through childhood, and through adulthood, until death. Each human being is genetically the same human being at every stage, despite changes in his or her appearance.
Embryologists are united on this point. Consider the following statements from standard textbooks: “Human development begins at fertilization.... This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual” (Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud); “Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote).... The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual” (Bruce M. Carlson); “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.... The embryo now exists as a genetic unity” (Ronan O’Rahilly and Faiola Muller).
So medical science tells us that the embryo is human. The justices of the court in Hawaii disagree, but normally we take the view that a scientist, when speaking within his field of expertise is right, and the layman, no matter how educated in another field, is probably wrong, or at least ignorant of the facts.
What the justices have done is rendered a legal and political opinion. The unborn are unworthy of protection, and can be treated differently, from other human beings because the law does not recognize them as persons. This is certainly true of the legal climate in much of the Western World where abortion is widely available and legal. But the fact remains that this legal and political opinion is rooted in a prejudice against the rights of a type of human being, namely those that have not yet left their mother's womb. Down through history we have had to travel this path many times. Previously it has been over the personhood of African slaves, and later emancipated, but politically and economically unequal African-Americans. And at the start of the last century it was over the rights of women as persons, and also of children. In each case the law recognized these groups of individuals as possible, or actual property, of other human beings. In some cases it even found formulas to count them as less than full persons (black slaves for example were, for the purpose of the census, counted as 3/5 of a person). Today we look back on these episodes of mistreatment of our fellow human beings with puzzlement, shame, and even disgust.
One can only hope that in the not too distant future we will have a similar reaction to this period in our history when millions of our fellow human beings were treated as non-persons, and the courts rose to say that they were not even human, and that their mothers (and doctors) had the right to abuse and even kill them in any manner they so chose.