You're Only a Person If I Say So

Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and host of 'The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge,' radio program.
Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and host of "The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge," radio program. | (Photo: Courtesy of Carmen LaBerge)

We all know ideas have consequences. So, what are the consequences of the idea that human beings define not only moral authority but the moral value of other human beings? Fringe thinking? Think again. These are the ideas being taught at elite U.S. universities to form the thinking of the next generation of America's leaders.

Elizabeth Harman, a professor of philosophy at Princeton University explained the morality of abortion in an interview on "Philosophy Times" with actor James Franco.

In part she said:

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"Among early fetuses, there are two very different kinds of beings."

We have to stop right there and consider this claim. Her differentiation of beings is a statement of ontological reality. Ontology is term philosophers use when they're talking about the nature of being, existence, and reality itself. In Professor Harman's ontology, some people are people when they are in the womb but others are not. And their status is not just a matter of being "early" in terms of fetal development, it is actually 100% dependent upon the judgement of the mother whether or not the person in her womb is a person.

"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."

So, according to Professor Harman, a person only has moral status if the unborn baby has a future as a person. And whether the baby has a future (and thus, moral status and value) is determined by another person — primarily through the mother's decision to carry the baby to term or not.

"So often we do know that if a woman is planning to get an abortion and we know that abortion is available to her, then we know that that fetus is gonna die…In such a case, "it's not something with moral status in my view."

The statement "In my view," is not a throwaway phrase, but the very crux of the matter. The philosophy being espoused here is purely humanistic and based on the belief that the woman is an autonomous being with complete moral authority. Moral authority, then, extends not only over her own body but over the body and life of another smaller, weaker, helpless human being. The rights of the woman are not only paramount, they are sole.

Note the professor is careful not to use the term mother since a pregnant woman is not a mother until and unless, by the philosophy espoused here, she determines that which is conceived within her has a future and therefore moral status and is, therefore, a human baby.

"[I]f we know that a woman is planning to continue her pregnancy, then we have good reason to think that her fetus is something with moral status, something with this future as a person."

The consequences of this philosophy are not limited to the abortion debate, but to the assessment of the moral value of human life itself. What future does a person with a very low IQ have? What future does a person incarcerated for life without the possibility of parole have? What future does a person living in the bondage of sexual slavery or drug addiction have? What future does a quadriplegic have? What future does a person who has outlived their practical usefulness as a productive member of society have?

Professor Harman has been espousing and teaching this moral philosophy of abortion for decades. In 1999 she published a multi-page article in Philosophy and Public Affairs entitled, "Creation Ethics: the moral status of early fetuses and the morality of abortion"

She is not alone. Her fellow Princeton professor of ethics, Peter Singer, not only shares her views but extends them further. Singer's views are well known and although they have continued to evolve toward infanticide, his chapter on "Abortion" in the 1995 The Oxford Companion to Philosophy continues to inform and form the thinking of university students today.

And lest we think this thinking is confined to Princeton, a University of Chicago professor is extending the moral argument made by Harmon and Singer to young children. Yes, a moral philosophy of infanticide.

Ideas have consequences and the consequence of naturalism is a syllogism:

This is all there is. The system is closed. There is no God. We are the supreme being and authority. We are autonomous, so we define what is moral and immoral, good and bad, just and unjust, humane and inhumane. We even define who is and isn't human and how the resources will be allocated to them based on our assessment of their potential contribution now and in the future.

This is the logical consequence of Professor Harman's philosophy, making individuals who believe themselves to be sovereign, the arbiters of life and death. And she has been teaching this philosophy at Princeton for twenty years, which means today's leaders in government, healthcare, education, and a myriad of other fields, were trained to think this way about moral authority and the moral value of life within — and outside — the womb.

Originally posted at

Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, host of "The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge," radio program, and author of Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back Into Every Conversation, to be released September 25th. 

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