Recently, South Dakota passed a law making it illegal for a woman to obtain an abortion in all instances, except when the abortion is necessary to save the woman's life. The law's passage, a popular event with many people, provides an opportunity to consider the rationale behind the anti-abortion (or "pro-life") movement.

A typical pro-lifer justifies his stance with something like the following argument: "Unborn babies (embryos, fetuses, etc.) are human beings. All human beings have the right not to be murdered. Because abortion is a process whereby one human being ends the life of an unborn baby, it is murder. Thus, abortion violates a basic human right and should be outlawed."

It is difficult to imagine a pro-life argument that is significantly dissimilar to the one detailed above. Indeed, it seems as if the movement loses a great deal (perhaps all) of its credibility if the previous argument proves specious. If pro-lifers admit that unborn babies are not human beings, then they will start to have a very hard time justifying a ban on abortions. Do sub-human parasites have a right to existence that trumps the rights of their carriers to remove them? If it is not a question of prohibiting murder, then does it really make sense to allow childbirth when the parents do not really want children? The reasonable answer to these questions is "pro-choice."

So the pro-lifer must make the case that unborn babies are just as human as babies that have already been born. If he does not argue such a case, then his anti-abortion stance is increasingly difficult to defend. Unfortunately for his cause, the pro-lifer rarely makes this case.

Consider the pro-lifer who believes that women should not be permitted to have abortions unless they have been raped or must receive an abortion in order to live. If the unborn baby is just as human as its mother, then the pro-lifer is really making the unpalatable claim that one group of human beings is more valuable than another group of human beings. In the instance of rape, the pro-lifer is suggesting that the psychological and economic comfort of any member of one group of human beings is more important than the life of any member of another group of human beings. And in the instance in which either the mother's life is preserved or the unborn baby's life is preserved, the pro-lifer is suggesting that the life of any member of one group of human beings is more important than the life of any member of another group of human beings.

Let us take the latter instance, the pro-lifer's assertion (the one already codified, with popular acclaim, in South Dakota) that a woman should be permitted to obtain an abortion if and only if she must have one to save her life. Let us presume there is a case when doctors must decide between delivering a baby at the cost of the mother's life or abortion. Clearly, the pro-lifer would say, "abort the baby and save the mother." He might say "let the mother decide," but the two remarks are substantively equivalent.

Now imagine a similar case (a bit far-fetched, but nonetheless imaginable) in which either a woman must die or a man must die. If anybody suggested that, in such a case, the woman should always die (or that it should be up to the man who lived), he would be sharply censured. Yet this is similar to what the pro-lifer would say, which is that the life of one type of human being (a grown woman) is always more valuable than the life of another type of human being (an unborn child).

It would be ludicrous to suggest that the pro-life movement is driven by people who believe that certain groups of human beings are more worthy of life than other groups of human beings. Pro-lifers are misguided; they are not mediaeval. Moreover, when push comes to shove, pro-lifers do not really believe that unborn children are human beings. Instead, they believe that they are "almost human beings." Should an "almost human being" be afforded the same rights afforded to a human being? This question is worth asking, and is in fact the real question that abortion advocates and opponents ought to be debating.

The pro-life assertion that an unborn baby is a human being, however, is simply rhetoric and should not be taken seriously.

Miles Pope '09 is a member of the Libertarian Club.