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Rob Schwarzwalder

Opinion

The trouble with ‘persons’

Rob Schwarzwalder

December 14, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A fascinating article in The Public Discourse by political scientist Carson Holloway of The Heritage Foundation makes an irrefutable case that “corporations are people, too.”

Quoting everyone from William Blackstone to Alexander Hamilton, Holloway demonstrates that the idea of “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law” (Chief Justice John Marshall) is not only older than the Republic but essential to the functioning of society.

This has long been embedded in federal law.  Holloway cites Title I of the U.S. Code, which states that “unless the context indicates otherwise” the “words ‘person’ and ‘whoever’ include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”

Both not-for-profit and for-profit entities, from the church down the street to GM, are corporations.  They exist as legal “persons” for purposes of all manner of public conduct, from property ownership to the exercise of their self-designated and legally recognized functions, whether entrepreneurial, charitable, ecclesiastical, etc. 

And as Holloway observes, the Left likes to shrilly proclaim, “corporations aren’t people,” yet the Left likes to tax them like they are, at least if profit is involved.

But controversy over the word “persons” extends well beyond arguments over tax policy. 

Many who deride the idea of legal corporate personality also belittle the personhood of real, tangible human beings in the womb.  Abortion advocate Joyce Arthur asserts, “Despite the potential that a fetus has for becoming a human being, and its similarities to a human being, we cannot say that a fetus is a human being. A fetus resides in a legal and social no-man's land, where rights and personhood can have no force or meaning, unless women are kept thoroughly oppressed.”

This masterpiece of deliberate obfuscation merits deconstruction.  Consider it by phrases:

  • “Potential for becoming a human being” – so, is it a matter of size, of shape, of development?  If so, is someone born without an arm or an underdeveloped liver or Down Syndrome or dwarfism or Marfan’s Syndrome less human than those reading this article? 
  • “Similarities to a human being” – in what ways is the unborn child dissimilar to a human being?  Pray explain, Ms. Arthur.  My German-Dutch-French self looks different than a Mongol herdsman; are he and I not both human – are we not men and brothers, to quote an older, richer source?
  • “We cannot say that a fetus is a human being” – I can, and do.  Explain how, using any objective measurement in science or anthropology, I’m wrong. 
  • “A fetus resides in a legal and social no-man’s land where rights and personhood can have no force or meaning” – no, he/she resides in a womb for nine months (less if born prematurely), and thereafter resides outside the womb.  The only no-man’s land exists as a pathetic moral pretext in the minds and hearts of those who want to take the unborn child’s life.  And if legal ambiguity exists, let’s clarify it such that the unborn child is protected by all necessary laws.  The “no-man’s land” language reeks of a particularly chilling nihilism. 
  • “Unless women are kept thoroughly oppressed” – at last, the kernel of the matter: Abortion-on-demand is a matter of women’s freedom.  The legality and availability of abortion gives women the option of sexual autonomy that, should the exercise of which result in pregnancy, enables them to rid themselves of a profound inconvenience.  Thus, it is vital to the pro-abortion side to dehumanize the unborn child since by doing so abortion becomes just another medical procedure analogous to having a tooth pulled or kidney stone removed.  On the other hand, legal strictures that require a pregnancy to be brought to full term admit to a fundamental, ineluctable truth: The unborn child has intrinsic value independent of the will of her mother and deserves the protection of law.

The unborn child is demonstrably and fully a human person.  As my colleague Cathy Ruse and I quantified a few years ago, “the scientific evidence is quite plain: at the moment of fusion of human sperm and egg, a new entity comes into existence which is distinctly human, alive, and an individual organism - a living, and fully human, being.”

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The necessary and beneficial legal fiction that a corporation is a “person” can be debated ad absurdum.  The personhood of the unborn child cannot.  The science is clear, and the conscience is resolved. 

The baby in the womb, at whatever state of development, is dependent, developing, and utterly vulnerable.  She deserves the unbending shield of the law as much as the protective shield of her mother’s body.  She is weak and at risk and precious to God.  For that reason, it would seem not unwise to obey the ancient but eternal word of God to Asaph:

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless …

Rescue the weak and the needy. (Ps 82: 3-4)

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