Catholics denying that foetuses are people? There’s a reason for that

One thing everyone knows about the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world is that they are very hot on the sin of abortion, and asserting the humanity of unborn foetuses. Which is why it’s caused something of a stir that they’re now arguing in a case going through the courts that the unborn aren’t really people at all.

Foetus

Personhood subject to legal advice

It’s hard to resist the comical and cynical vision of the church fighting aggressively to protect the unborn, right up to the point where they realise that if everyone agreed with them, it might cost them money. I imagine a priest getting a message from the lawyers in the middle of his sermon, and instantly denying everything he’s been saying. It’s a funny image. But while I have little love for Rome, I don’t think it’s entirely fair.

The church’s legal defence is naturally based on the law as it stands and the prevailing culture; the state is the arbiter of the legal rights and wrongs of different cases, and the church can lose out when their view of personhood differs. They would be expected to pay out if the state found them culpable for something the church finds acceptable, so why should they be expected to ignore the possibilities of a difference of opinion that may favour the church in this case? Is this difference just a one-way street?

Maybe that doesn’t convince you, but the argument that unborn foetuses aren’t people (for want of better terminology) is only one of several that they’re making in their defence of the case. Any decent legal team will be sure to raise any arguments that have a chance of winning the case, even if they’re fairly speculative, as I believe this one is.

Unfortunately for Catholics, “church employs professional legal team” isn’t nearly as grabbing a headline as “church defends case by denying own doctrine”, and it’s possible to cast this as the church denying that a foetus is a person when it becomes inconvenient, which sounds uncomfortably like their own criticism of mothers who have abortions.

It looks to me that the way they’re handling this case is good legal practice, but very bad PR management.

Photo by jessicafm, used under Creative Commons Generic Attribution License 2.0

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

3 responses to “Catholics denying that foetuses are people? There’s a reason for that”

  1. jonnyscaramanga says :

    It’s important to be fair, as you’re being here. But still:

    hy·poc·ri·sy (h-pkr-s)
    n. pl. hy·poc·ri·sies
    1. The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.
    2. An act or instance of such falseness.

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      As long as we loudly condemn all lawyers as hypocrites, I’m fine with that. But it’s not clear to what extent the church is involved in determining their legal strategy, and at what level of seniority.

  2. jj says :

    You’re were close to a decent explanation, but still didn’t articulate it very well. The Church isn’t denying the fetus was a person. The Church was saying that since lawmakers didn’t listen to them in the beginning, and instead chose to define personhood at birth instead of conception (like the Church has been saying all along), then by that very law the Church cannot be sued for wrongful death. In other words, this is the Church pointing out the blatant hypocrisy in the “other” approach – the one that denies personhood in order to allow abortion, but then claims personhood when it comes to suing hospitals over wrongful death. In still other words, the Church is saying, “oh so NOW you want to claim personhood. Well, maybe you should have listened to us in the beginning because by YOUR laws, which YOU are using to sue us, YOU don’t consider this fetus a person. YOUR loss.”

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