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— Elliot Kaufman is an editorial intern at National Review .
The status of human life between conception and birth is central to the abortion debate. Whilst some form of life is clearly present at conception, whether that form of life should get the full protection of the law as a ‘person’ is disputed. Not all-human tissue is a person as not all living cells are persons. Living cells such as cancer cells for example are not persons. If things like bacteria or plants are considered for example, very few people would argue that they should be protected simply because they are alive.
Thomson's article, by positing a moral justification for abortion even if one grants a fetal right to life, opened up a new avenue in the philosophical debate about the ethics of abortion. Critics of her view have formulated many objections to her argument, and defenders have responded in kind in a back and forth that continues in philosophy journals even now.
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Randall Balmer is the Mandel family professor in the arts and sciences at Dartmouth College. His most recent book is Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter .
In this Alice-in-Wonderland approach, one's choice is not made in light of scientific and moral realities. One's choice is itself the only important reality, overshadowing all matters of fact. But if society operated this way, every killing of a person would be justifiable. The real issue would not be the worth of the person killed, but the free choice of the one doing the killing. If a man doesn't want his wife, he can think of her as a nonperson. If he chooses to kill her, it would not be “moral confusion,” but “choice in action.”