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The Abortion Debate: If Animals Are Persons, Are Carnivores Murderers?

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Animals: Property or Persons? This 6-minute animated video introduces students to the concept of legal personhood, and its potential application to animals.
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A recent article in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) suggested a moral paradigm shift pointedly relevant to the abortion debate currently intensified by the U.S. Supreme Court's striking down the Roe vs. Wade decision.

The piece was authored by Franciscan scholar, Daniel P. Horan, a professor of philosophy, religious studies and theology at St. Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana. It was entitled "We humans need to open our minds to the personhood of nonhuman animals."

It highlighted a burgeoning body of theological and scientific literature holding that nonhuman animals exhibit characteristics that might qualify classifying them as persons.

In the context of today's abortion debate, the article's title raised three questions for me, since the issue of abortion often turns on whether fetuses qualify as human persons before viability outside the womb.

To begin with, I wondered about the scientific evidence for the personhood of nonhuman animals. Is it stronger, weaker, or roughly the same as that for classifying human fetuses as persons?

Secondly, if the evidence for the personhood of nonhuman animals is stronger or the same, wouldn't the logic of the so-called "pro-life" crowd (that "abortion is murder") justify categorizing carnivores as murderers?

And finally, if it did, wouldn't pro-lifers be forced by their logic to become vegetarians? And wouldn't any reluctance to do so expose the wrongheadedness of their position that ending fetal life is homicide?

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is (more...)

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