LifeNews Note: The following is an open letter to Princeton University professor Liz Harmon from Lia Mills. Mills is a student pro-life activist who is the founder and director of True Choice.
Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Lia, and I am a young Canadian feminist. I was one of the hundreds of thousands of people who watched your discussion about abortion with James Franco and Eliot Michaelson. I’m writing to you today because your arguments were absolutely astounding, and I felt compelled to respond.
As someone who took Feminist & Gender Studies in university, I like to think that I am well versed in pro-abortion logic. If you have spent any amount of time in feminist academia, you will understand why I hold this perspective: convincing every man, woman, and child to become a mouthpiece for radical pro-abortion rhetoric is one of the most revered goals of modern-day feminism.
So when I first began to listen to you explain your perspective on abortion, I’ll admit that I felt certain I would have heard the argument before. I mean, I once listened to a feminist researcher at my university talk for over an hour about how abortion could miraculously eliminate poverty, end world hunger, and cure all health crises in the Global South. Understandably, after that fascinating presentation, I was convinced I had heard it all.
But you surprised me. Your reasoning around the issue of abortion was more outrageous than any I have heard before. So, after watching the video a couple times, I decided that I needed to offer a response.
As you have likely guessed by now, I am uncompromisingly pro-life. But I am not writing to you in order to defend my pro-life worldview. Rather, I am writing to you because I, like you, believe in the beauty of logic. It is my love of logic and my respect for reason that compels me to write to you today.
Liz, in the video, your argument centers around the issues of moral status and personhood. Now, I don’t want to misrepresent your perspective, so I will quote what you said in the video word for word:
“[W]hat I think is that, actually, among early fetuses, there are two very different kinds of beings. So James, when you were an early fetus, and Eliot, when you were an early fetus, all of us, I think that we already did have moral status then. But we had moral status in virtue of our futures, in virtue of the fact that we were the beginning stages of persons. But some early fetuses will die early in pregnancy, either due to abortion or miscarriage, and in my view, that’s a very different kind of entity; that’s something that doesn’t have a future as a person, and it doesn’t have moral status.”
When James and Eliot challenge you and point out that the future of an early fetus can only be truly known in hindsight, your response is that often there are clear indications as to what that child’s future will be. In the case of a woman who wants to have an abortion, you claim that the early fetus in this scenario will never become a person and is therefore not given moral status. However, in the case of a woman who has the desire to keep and raise her child, the early fetus in this scenario would have a future and would become a person, therefore giving him or her moral status.
Now, Liz, I have a major problem with your reasoning. The first and biggest issue I have is that your pro-abortion argument cannot be classified as reasoning. In fact, it cannot even be classified as reasonable. There is no semblance of logic in this argument you layout before me. If it were to be scrutinized—which it will be—it would fail due to the fact that it is intellectually inconsistent.
The crux of your argument is ultimately that an early fetus’ moral status rests entirely on whether he or she will become a person by nature of having a future. Theoretically, according to the two examples you give, it is possible to determine moral status because we know quite clearly whether the early fetuses in these two scenarios will have a future or not.
The problem, Liz, is that your claim that moral status only exists for those early fetuses who have a future is intrinsically flawed. If your claim is true, why would it only be true for early fetuses? Isn’t that an arbitrary limitation? Wouldn’t it apply to all unborn children, regardless of their age? Of course, if this was true, then you would have to argue that a woman at any stage during her pregnancy could have an abortion, and that such an action would be morally justifiable because the first/second/third-trimester fetus had no future and therefore had no moral status.
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But if that is true, if you want to claim that this argument applies to all fetuses, what about those children who survive abortions? What about those scenarios where a fetus has no foreseeable future, where the abortion has already taken place, and yet, for whatever reason, the child miraculously survives? There are numerous men and women I know—people I have met and spoken with personally—who have survived abortions. A recent report even showed that, over the period of 10 years, in Canada, at least 491 children were born alive after a failed abortion.
What do we say about these children? Were the abortions in these scenarios morally reprehensible because these children went on to have futures and therefore gained moral status? If so, who is held responsible for this tragic attack on human life?
Or will you stick to your argument and say that, because the mothers of these children intended for them to die and therefore did not give them the precious gift of moral status, these men, women, and children are still without moral status and, therefore, any abuse or attack they endure is of no moral consequence?
And couldn’t one then argue that infanticide is morally justifiable so long as the mother chooses not to give moral status to that child by ensuring that the child has no future? And why stop there? What about a two-year old? Or a fifteen-year-old? If a mother chooses to say that her child will no longer have a future, removes his or her moral status, and then murders her child, doesn’t that fit the qualifications you have laid out to determine morality?
And then there is the matter of whether a child’s future (and therefore, a child’s moral status) is defined solely by the mother. What if the father decides not to give his child moral status? Or what if a doctor decides that his patient has no future and refuses to give his patient moral status? If your claim is true in all circumstances and applies to all humans, then how can we say that someone was murdered? If moral status can be given so easily, can’t it also be taken away? If one individual decides that another individual has no future and therefore no longer acknowledges the moral status of that person, doesn’t your argument justify this action as well?
And even if I acknowledge that you have placed restrictions on this claim, using it only in the case of a woman making decisions regarding the future of an early fetus, how can you justify those restrictions? If it is true that moral status is subjectively given based on the will of another person, who has the right to restrict this truth? You might say that this argument should only apply to early fetuses, but who defines whether a fetus is considered “early” or not? And what if someone else disagrees? Who are you to judge when this is acceptable or not?
Ultimately, Liz, even if your arbitrary restrictions could be justified, the entire foundation of your argument is flawed. To suggest that a woman’s will can bestow something as crucial as moral status is absolutely absurd.
Women have neither the right nor the responsibility to regulate personhood. Personhood ultimately rests entirely on humanity—to suggest otherwise is to return to the days of racial discrimination, settler colonialism, and legalized misogyny. And I hope that you and I can both agree that a woman’s desires—whether to keep her child or abort her child—do not change the fact that an unborn child is, according to science, a separate human being.
Liz, I may not be a professor at Princeton University, but I am a lover of logic and a pursuer of truth. For these reasons, I must humbly suggest that you re-evaluate your perspective on abortion.
And if you love logic as I do, you will do so.