Human Rights or Person Rights (revisited)

Human rights may be contested and violated in many ways around the world but it seems axiomatic in the modern era to affirm “human rights.” In other words we tend to affirm some legally functional if not ethically substantial sense of human rights. The basics therein are thought to be some combination of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and or pursuit of property.

Now there is legal precedent in Roe v. Wade denying preborn humans the recognized status of “person.” With abortion, however, if we are going to parse out which humans have/deserve human rights then we are drawing our ethical conclusions not from humanity–which the child and mother have in common– but instead on some other sense of “personhood.” Fetuses, adults, and toddlers are all human and none of them are more or less human, they are just human beings at their own respective stage of development. Yet their legal personhood is subject to legal redefinition and has been variously expanded and contracted over the years for example with various civil rights legislative actions like the Dred Scott decision, abolition, women’s suffrage, etc. Meanwhile, with all those individuals, their humanity has not changed.

Putting these pieces together, we might say, for the sake of consistency, that the case for keeping abortion legal is only tenuously identified as a human right. One would do well to abandon the term of “human rights” when the relevant distinction is over personhood and not humanity. We might call that position a matter of “personal rights” or “people’s rights” but as long as one class of humans is being killed by another class of humans that would be a human rights violation if anything.

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11 Responses to Human Rights or Person Rights (revisited)

  1. eyeontheuniverse says:

    Rights frequently have built in assumptions, particularly about age:
    “Article 21. (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.”
    This assumes you are born and 13, 16, 18, 21, 35 or whatever age is chosen by the individual state. We don’t have embryos voting and running for office.


    • Agreed. Voting rights are reserved for adults not minors or preborns.


      • eyeontheuniverse says:

        So just as we do not see denying a one year old the right to vote as a human rights violation, terminating an embryo or certain stage feature may not be seen as a violation, depending on the assumptions. To have a right to life you must have….neurons, consciousness, a certain age…it really depends. You also must not be, say, holding a gun to a crowd of children. We make lots of assumptions.


        • Disanalogy. Denying one year old his or her life would be a better analogy since that compares ethical equivalents – – life vs. Life. I don’t think one year old or preborns should be allowed to vote. Voting is a sophisticated right to which one needs to graduate into. All people, generally should be allowed to qualify for it but not if they have a horrific criminal record or have surrendered their citizenship. Voting is a civil right, I. e. a right of citizenship, and not simply a human right as in something that every human has just by right of being human. French citizens do not have a rightful claim to voting rights in the US.


      • eyeontheuniverse says:

        It would be a better analogy, but it doesn’t exist and the point was to use an analogy that exists.

        I pulled that voting/representation right out of the UN charter on human rights. Unless you are declaring a religious origin that’s the main definition of human rights.


        • Infanticide does exist and it points how how arbitrary it is to make it illegal to kill a 1min. old baby versus a child in utero. Dr. Kermit Gosnell was convicted of it and he was also an abortion doctor. One of the reasons he was allowed to keep up the longest serial killing spree in US history was that people were afraid to inspect his clinic and shut him down since they were in a pro-choice friendly political district and to shut down an abortion clinic would have been like burning down a church.


          • A lot of wicked things are protected under the abortion-on-demand policy we currently have. It’s legal to abort on the basis of race, or to preserve ones figure, or because you enjoy killing human babies, or because you believe it will appease the goddess Kali, or because your boyfriend doesn’t like using a condom, or because it’s the wrong gender, or for any reason whatever. Those unjustified cases of killing human beings and even infanticide for botched abortions are currently legal or pending in current legislation. So you have lots of analogies for conventional abortion and they don’t necessarily help the pro-choice case.


        • Plus you still have a bad analogy unless you are saying that voting restrictions are commiserate with the right to life. Voting rights are a civil right but life is a human right. Apples and oranges.


        • Eyeon, I think you are stretching here. You still seem to be conflating civil rights and human rights, especially since you are citing a right that can only be established for citizens yet no single country is behind the UN declarations. The UN isn’t a nation that can offer voting rights for its elections. Its as if you think human rights are identical to civil rights. Sure they can overlap, but they are argued, established, and protected in different ways. The right to life, for example, is a human right such that our declaration of independence identifies it among the big three–“life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.” Those are said to be “self-evident,” “endowed by our creator” and “inalienable.” That means we have them regardless of whether any government recognizes them or not. Civil rights can and should align with human rights, but they include things like “entitlements” and “privileges” that are not strictly or narrowly identified with the basic human rights. When you conflate “voting” and “right to life” you are showing confusion between a broadly unqualified human right (i.e., even prisoners and non-citizens have a right to life) and a highly qualified civil right (i.e., 0-17yr olds, convicted felons, non-citizens, and conscientious abstainers don’t vote).

          Second, nor am I suggesting that all rights extend equally to everyone without practical qualifications such as height requirements for roller coasters, age/maturity requirements for voting, separate bathrooms for men and women, physical discrimination for screencasting different roles, income requirements for mortgage lending, etc. Each of those issues have to be parsed out separately according to a general conviction that “all men are created equal.” Since the distinct human life is created at conception, and only made public at birth, then there is some relevant sense of equality at work even at conception. Practically speaking, however, its almost impossible to enforce many of the public rights or contingent natural rights (like freedom of conscience, freedom of thought, freedom of assembly, etc.) till after birth. And there remain many contexts where “equality” is not simply a blanketing equality of outcomes (i.e., where every human of every age can vote) but rather an equality of access, where everyone has the same access to the opportunities to live, grow, and mature into the civil rights of voting. I’d suggest that even preborn human beings have that right, but till they are mature enough to vote it is a equal right of access, to where they are not obstructed from (eventually) voting but allowed to live and develop to their voting age.

          Third, Human Rights Declarations have to be practical, and not just idealistic. Universal ones need to be general enough and, as much as possible, non-partisan enough to where they can speak for dozens of nations at once. Frankly, the abortion fight is much less popular than, say, anti-sexism fights in Sharia law countries, or abolition causes in the Middle East.

          Next, we need to be careful how we refer to UN Charters, since those are not legally binding documents. They are suggestions, with no legislative force. They have value, and they can be authoritative resources but not as precedents, case-law, or constitutional foundations.

          Depending on which UN charter you are talking about, the charters on human rights tend to focus on addressing current human rights violations among (post-birth) children and adults. For example, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clarifies its target demographic in “Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It would be an argument from silence to interpret that material to mean that pre-born humans have no rights whatsoever. As abortion policy currently stands, the preborn are not just “less” protected by the law, having “less” rights. No, they have virtually no rights whatsoever, even to the point of having no right to life. You and I might agree that it should be criminal for a pregnant woman to partake of deadly prescription drugs or mass quantities of alcohol, failing to inform her doctor of her pregnancy. I suspect that even pro-choicers would consider that behavior unethical if not just cause of prohibitive legal policy.


      • eyeontheuniverse says:

        “Infanticide does exist and it points how how arbitrary it is to make it illegal to kill a 1min. old baby versus a child in utero.”

        The point of the analogies was to show what we recognize as human rights and that we already draw lines. Infanticide is not legal so it would not be relevant to that point. If you want to make a different point that’s fine. But remember that abortion is the term used right from conception, so you first have to tell us at what stage of development of the fetus you are concerned with.

        Again, the voting rights is from the human rights declaration. That makes it a human right. Please specify if you are talking about a specific religious idea of rights.


        • Infanticide is still legal so long as it is incorporated, somehow, into abortion legislation. Now I need to look further into the current standing of the “botched abortion” bills that have been in dispute for years, but the short of is that 400-500 babies are born alive and aborted whether through botched abortions or unusual abortion methods. Infanticide is currently being done, without criminal prosecution, in America and it’s done under the ideological banner of abortion. So you can maintain a stricter analogy without having to talk about the civil right of voting in a multinational charter as if that says something specific about abortion.


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