Julian Sanchez header image 2

photos by Lara Shipley

Language, Take II

February 24th, 2004 · No Comments

I see via Crescat Sententia that a few people have taken my little one-liner squib on the phrase “unborn children” below for an argument and gone out to rebut it. First, it wasn’t really. It was a point about semiotics and the way the phrase either assumes that the fetus is already one kind of child (i.e. it’s a child just like a toddler, only located in the womb) or at the very least has a sort of teleological flavor to it.

Anyway, what a bunch of people appear to have remarked is that there’s a difference between calling a fetus an “unborn child” and calling bricks an “unbuilt house” because bricks won’t “in the natural course of things” become a house. Will points out, correctly enough, that the point could be made tweaking the analogy slightly so as to preserve that aspect. But leave his perfectly good point aside for the moment. Two remain.

(1) Arguing that the fetus “will turn into a child”is a way of acknowledging that the fetus is not, in fact, a child. But the phrase “unborn child” is (as I noted) ambiguous between those readings, and so ought to be rejected even by pro-lifers who agree with this much. Once you make that concession, you’ve got to make some teleological argument about how being-something-that-will-be-a-child is morally relevant. I’ve never seen one that stood up to scrutiny.

(2) Is it really the case that the fetus becomes a child “in the natural course of things”? Seems more accurate to say that it becomes a child if the mother takes a number of actions to sustain and preserve it, including allowing it to continue feeding off her body, herself getting sufficient nutrition, etc. These “if left alone”arguments always seem to leave the mother’s role out of the equation when, of course, if the fetus didn’t require her as a host, there wouldn’t be an “abortion debate”at all.

Anyway, I should know better than to post this—abortion arguments get very tiresome very quickly—guess I’m a glutton for punishment. Or an as-yet-unpunished glutton. Or something.

Tags: Uncategorized