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John Skalko, Ph.D: Does abortion violate human rights?

By John Skalko, Ph.D
Guest columnist

It doesn’t take a Ph.D to recognize that recent years have witnessed a proliferation of conflicting rights claims. There’s the right to bear arms, the right to be free of bigotry, the right to free speech, the right to a sex change, the right to religious freedom, the right to abortion, and the right to life. Not all of those rights are compatible, nor are all of them rights. Just because someone makes a rights claim doesn’t mean it truly is a human right. Human rights aren’t dependent upon human will or recognition but are firmly grounded in human nature.

John Skalko, Ph.D
Guest Columnist

Whatever the ontological status of various rights may be, the very first and foundational right is to life. By right to life, I mean the right of all human beings not to be intentionally killed. If your supposed right infringes on the rights of another or harms them, then it is no right at all.

The question, then, for the abortion debate is simple: Does abortion violate a basic human right to life, or does it harm a human being? To answer that question we must examine whether an embryo brought into existence by a human sperm and a human ovum is a human being distinct from the mother and father.

Within 24 hours of fertilization the human sperm and ovum have ceased to exist. Is this new genetically distinct organism a human being? We have four options: either the new zygote is a part of the mother, or it is a tumor, or it is a non-human animal, or it is a new individual human being.

If it were a mere part of the mother’s body, then this would mean that the mother would possess two different sets of DNA and that part of the mother was developing into a second heart, second pair of lungs, genitalia, etc. But that’s absurd. So, the zygote cannot be a mere part of the mother.

Nor can it be a tumor. Tumors naturally develop out of control and tend to harm their host. Zygotes from a human sperm and ovum don’t naturally tend to harm their host; they require nutrition from their host, but generally the mother’s body can manage without any serious physical damage.

Nor can this zygote be a non-human animal. Non-human animals don’t have human DNA fully integrated into nearly every part of their body, nor do they naturally develop into mature adult human beings.

The only logical option left then is that such a zygote is a human being, a distinct human organism, a new individual.

Every intentional killing of an innocent human being or human organism is murder. Since we have already established that the zygote generated by a human sperm and ovum is a human being, it only needs to be established that this zygote is innocent to show that intentionally killing it is murder. But it is impossible for such zygotes to do any morally wrong actions such that they could be considered to be guilty of any crime. All such zygotes must be innocent.

Their intentional killing, then, is wrong. All abortion involves the intentional killing of such individuals either at the zygote stage or at a later stage in natural human development.

There is no right to murder. Calling abortion a right, as is done in much of the press these days, is a misnomer. Call it what it is. It’s murder. We should be talking of fetal rights instead.

John Skalko, Ph.D, a native of the Duluth Diocese, is professor of philosophy at St. John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts.