IS ABORTION MURDER?….If fetuses are persons, then destroying a fetus is murder. The logical inference from this belief is that doctors who perform abortions or destroy blastocysts for their stem cells are murderers and ought to be locked up.

Needless to say, even people who are queasy about abortion and stem cell harvesting find this a bit much, which means that the smarter of the anti-abortion folks avoid making this argument because they don’t want people to think they’re loons. However, it’s amusing sometimes to watch them contort themselves into rhetorical pretzels in an effort to justify such a plainly craven position. Here is Ramesh Ponnuru’s effort:

Bush is right not to use the term “murder.” There are two reasons I avoid it myself in this context. First, it is a legal concept with technical definitions, and these are not uniform across jurisdictions. Second, even in ordinary parlance, the term has no stable meaning. Plainly not all homicides are “murders” either as a technical legal matter or in ordinary parlance. To the (very limited) extent that the term has a core meaning in ordinary parlance, it connotes a malicious homicide. Even those of us who oppose certain forms of stem-cell research because they involve what we regard as the unjust taking of human life do not believe these unjust acts to be malicious in motivation.

That’s a nice try, but is Ponnuru seriously trying to pretend that he thinks “murder” is a poor choice of words solely because its definition is too slippery? This doesn’t even rise to the level of decent sophistry. He would dismiss it with the contempt it deserves if a non-fetus were involved.

The “malicious homicide” malarky is equally specious. “Malice” has several definitions, but the legal definition that applies to homicide is “the intention or desire to cause harm to another through an unlawful or wrongful act without justification or excuse.” It’s intent that’s at issue here, not evil motives. And there’s no question that doctors who perform abortions or harvest stem cells have intent aplenty.

If your position is that fetuses are persons and abortion should be outlawed, then intentionally destroying a fetus is murder and should be punished like murder. If your position is that fetuses aren’t persons, then there’s no compelling reason that destroying them should be a crime at all. Fish or cut bait.

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