Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro spoke at the University of California Berkeley Thursday evening in a heightened security atmosphere due to protestors. Shapiro took questions at one point and had an interesting exchange on abortion with a self-described “left-leaning” student who wanted to know why Shapiro thinks a first trimester fetus has “moral value.”
“A first trimester fetus has moral value because whether you consider it a potential human life or a full-on human life, it has more value than just a cluster of cells,” Shapiro explained. “If left to its natural processes, it will grow into a baby.”
He then emphasized that the “real question” is “where do you draw the line?”
“Are you going to draw the line at the heartbeat?” he asked, “because it’s very hard to draw the line at the heartbeat, there are people who are adults who are alive because of a pacemaker.”
“Are you going to do it based on brain function? OK, well what about people who are in a coma,” he added, “should we just kill them?”
“Any time you draw any line other than the inception of the child you end up drawing a false line that can also be applied to people who are adults so either human life has intrinsic value or it doesn’t,” he said.
“I believe that sentience is what gives something moral value not necessarily being a human alone,” the student replied.
“If you are in a coma from which you may awake, can I stab you?” Shapiro asked.
“Well, then, uh, no,” the student said, “but that’s still potential sentience.”
“I agree it is potential sentience. You know what else is potential sentience? Being a fetus,” Shapiro replied.
“If I’m in a coma and I’m not like doing anything to anyone, I’m not causing any issues in the world whereas an unwanted child may or may not be a burden to people,” the student argued.
“I don’t believe that you being a burden on somebody is justification for them killing you, as a general rule,” Shapiro replied.
Debates over the “moral value” or status of unborn children and when life begins have been common, as the central belief of the pro-life movement is that human life begins at conception. Those in favor of abortion tend to believe that life begins either at birth or some late, undefined stage in the pregnancy.
Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards tends to avoid this question, claiming once in an interview that the question is not “relevant to the conversation” of abortion.
“For you, when does life start? When does a human being become a human being?” she was asked by Jorge Ramos.
“This is a question that I think will be debated through the centuries,” Richards said.
“But for you, what's that point?” Ramos followed up.
"It is not something that I feel like is really part of this conversation,” she said. “I think every woman needs to make her own decision.”
"But why would it be so controversial for you to say when do you think life starts?" Ramos continued.
"I don't know that it's controversial. I don't know that it's really relevant to the conversation," Richards said.
“I'm the mother of three children,” she finally said. “For me, life began when I delivered them.”
Actor James Franco recently interviewed a Princeton professor who argued that unborn children have “moral status” in virtue of their futures, arguing "if we know that a woman is planning to continue her pregnancy, then we have good reason to think that her fetus is something with moral status, something with this future as a person."