People are asking the wrong questions about abortion.
To determine whether a fetus has rights, the questions we must answer are not “When does life begin?” or “Is a fetus a human being?” Rather, the questions are:
- What are rights?
- Where do they come from?
- How do we know it?
- To whom do rights apply?
If you can answer these questions soundly—with evidence to support your answers—you can know whether a fetus has rights. If you can’t, you can’t. Indeed, if you can’t answer these questions soundly, you can’t know whether anyone has rights.
Rights are moral principles specifying a person’s proper freedom of action in a social context. The right to life, for instance, is the moral prerogative to take all the actions necessary to live as a human being (rather than as a serf, slave, or servant of the state). The right to liberty is the moral prerogative to act in accordance with one’s own judgment, free from coercion by others (including groups and governments). And the right to the pursuit of happiness is the moral prerogative to choose and pursue the goals and values that will fill one’s life with meaning and joy.
Rights do not come from “God.” And that’s a good thing. There is no evidence for the existence of God and thus no reason to believe in him, much less to believe that rights somehow emanate from his will. This is why religions demand that you accept God’s existence on faith—that is, in the absence of evidence to support it. But faith is not a means of knowledge. And to claim that it is a means of knowledge is to claim that just believing something to be true makes it so, which is absurd. (For more on this, see “Reason vs. Mysticism: Truth and Consequences,” TOS, Winter 2021). . . .
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