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The Concept of Person in the Law

Digital Commons @ Boston College Law School
Publication Date
  • Abortion
  • Roe V. Wade
  • Personhood
  • Fetus
  • Fourteenth Amendment
  • Constitutional Law
  • Courts
  • Health Law And Policy
  • Law And Society
  • Medical Jurisprudence
  • Women
  • Health Law
  • Law


The focus of the abortion debate in the United States tends to be on whether and at what stage a fetus is a person. I believe this tendency has been unfortunate and counterproductive. Instead of advancing dialogue between opposing sides, such a focus seems to have stunted it, leaving advocates in the sort of “I did not!” – “You did too!” impasse we remember from childhood. Also reminiscent of that childhood scene has been the vain attempt to break the impasse by appeal to a higher authority. Thus, the pro-choice forces hoped they had proved the pro-life forces “wrong” by having had the Supreme Court of the United States decide in Roe v. Wade that a fetus is not a person for purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment. Now the pro-life forces are trying to prove the pro-choice forces “wrong” by passing legislation or a Constitutional Amendment that declares a fetus to be a person after all! I believe that there is a better, more productive way to approach the abortion debate, and that is the way the law has historically approached the concept of person.

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