Anti-abortion’s religious roots
There is no secular, rational basis on which the law could declare a first-trimester fetus to be a human being. It doesn’t take a degree in medicine to understand that such a fetus is a biological part of the pregnant woman’s body. Though a fetus has the potential to be born as a human being, the realization of that potential depends upon the woman’s continued willingness to nurture the growing fetus in her body up to the moment of birth.
It is religious faith, not scientific reasoning, that asserts the “ensoulment” of a fetus at the moment of conception. As the Catholic Encyclopedia says: “In virtue of the one eternal act of the Will of the Creator, Who is of course ever present at every portion of His creation, the soul of every new human being begins to exist when the cell which generation has provided is ready to receive it as its principle of life.” Based on that kind of dogma, anti-abortion groups seek laws that classify abortion as murder and condemn doctors and pregnant women to criminal punishment.
Fortunately, our Constitution forbids any such establishment of religion. The Supreme Court was right in Roe v. Wade to recognize a woman’s right to abort her fetus (even though many details of that decision and its reasoning invite criticism).
Because religious opponents of abortion cannot offer rational arguments for criminalizing first-trimester abortions, they often target the much rarer, late-term abortions of the type Dr. Tiller performed. Because such fetuses more nearly resemble infants, opponents hope to obscure the fact that the fetus is still part of the mother. Only when and if it is born—that is, when the fetus becomes a child—does it acquire individual rights. (A woman has the legal right to procure such an abortion; whether it is morally right to do so in a particular case is a separate question.)
In her article “Of Living Death,” Ayn Rand discussed at length the nature and implications of the Church’s entrenched hostility to abortion. Her enduringly insightful analysis is available free in audio form here, and in print in The Voice of Reason.