Before we begin, let's meet David Bascombe.
David lives in Cleveland in a brownstone walk up. He has a dog, a terrier, and likes to play tennis on the weekends. During the week he works as a financial analyst at a small firm. Every Friday he goes to Red Lobster dressed in a worn navy blue jacket that went out of style a decade ago. Every morning he reads the paper back to front, beginning with the sports section. Each time he finishes he sighs, scratches the scar on his chin that he got when he fell off the roof as a boy, finishes his cereal with bits of banana crumbled inside and drives to work in his red Honda Civic. Though he would never admit it to anyone, he enjoys the life he lives.
David is a potential person. That is he may or may not exist.
Why would he not exist? For starters, because you want to kill him.
It's not because you hate him, David is a fairly mild sort of person it would take a lot of effort and energy to hate. You aren't out to kill him out of vengeance or any kind of bloodthirsty feelings. He's simply inconvenient. David is in the way.
Perhaps he's taking up the apartment you desperately want to expand into. Or he's right above you at the office and without him, that promotion and the life you want, would be yours. There are a thousand possible reasons, but what it comes down to is your life would be much better, if he was gone. If he had never existed.
But you're not a violent person. You certainly could never see yourself actually killing someone. Spilling their blood on your shoes. You want David gone. Out of this world. But you certainly don't want to be a murderer, not just because of the law, but because it would weigh on your conscience. Still there has to be a way and there is.
After gathering some crucial information, you step into a time machine (this is the future after all) and travel back in time to the night David was conceived. Before David's father can step inside, you corner him and give him some very bad news. You tell him his wife has been cheating him. With the aid of a little futuristic technology you even provide him with proof.
The fight David's parents have that night will very likely lead to their divorce, at the very least it will insure that David is not conceived that night. As you step back into your time machine which whisks you over to your present time, you know you are returning to a world in which David does not exist.
There may be an adult male living in the world that is named Bascombe, even David, and may have the genetic similarity to David, of one brother to another, but David himself is gone. There is no one driving that red Honda Civic to work every morning or wearing that out of style jacket or reading the paper while scratching his chin. You got rid of that person. You committed the perfect crime.
After all there's no body anywhere. No murder weapon. No blood. As far as the world is concerned, you haven't done anything at all. As far as your conscience is concerned, you certainly struck no fatal blow, you didn't watch the light in David's eyes go out as he died. You just neatly and cleanly insured that he would never be born.
Are you a murderer?
Someone who knew and cared about David might feel that you are. Even random people reading this might agree. After all here was a man who lived his life and even in some small subtle ways, loved, who has been snuffed out. Surely there should be some accountability for that crime.
And yet you can easily answer that, 'where's the crime?' Habeus Corpus, present the body. David never existed, so how could he have been murdered? The very act that annihilated him insured that his murdered could never be held accountable for it. For how can you kill someone who never existed? How can you kill a potential person?
For anyone's who made it this far and is wondering what the point of this little scenario is, it's this. We are all potential people. A particular series of events insured that we were born, grew up, formed a personality and identity and now sit reading these lines of text and the 'Us' that reads them thinks about them through the refraction of that personality.
Like us David was a potential person. Unlike us David no longer exists. His potential has been removed. His potential was, you might say, aborted.
Was killing David murder? Some people might feel that way because we got to know David. Because he had a personality and identity and a life. Or the potential for one. So do most babies who are aborted.
There are no time machines but there are abortion clinics. The process is messier than how David was removed from existence, but the end result is the same. A person who would have existed, no longer does. The odds for a fetus in America coming to term and developing into a full grown human being, are all told pretty good. When the process is interrupted, another David Bascombe dies. Unknown and unmourned, because no one ever knew him or got the chance to know him.
Is it murder? Is killing someone who never had a chance to be born murder? Does it change if you call him a baby instead of a fetus, does it change if he has a name? Does it change if you can see him eating cereal by the window thinking of the weekend.
Murder comes in many forms. Recently there was a case of a dying man flying for a desperately needed liver transplant with time running out. He was bloated with water retention from his liver problems and a United Airlines ticket agent told him he would have to pay for a second ticket if he wanted to fly. He didn't have the money.
Had someone not paid his second fare, he might well have died. He would have died out of sight of the ticket agent. She didn't need to lift a hand or take a single action to kill him. All she had to do was deny him access to the plane. She didn't need to want to kill him either. But he would have been dead anyway, more than arguably murdered.
He goes on living today but many aren't so lucky.
The debates over abortion often get stuck in the same timeworn murky territory, rape, incest, risk to the life of the mother, when does life begin, which trimester. There are no easy answers to these questions. But most abortions aren't done because of rape, incest or risk to the life of the mother. They occur because the pregnancy is inconvenient. Because it will dramatically disrupt life, sometimes wreck it and maybe disastrously so.
The practical arguments over the morality all too often fall into extremes with no shades of grey in between. But the shades are many. Depersonalizing the baby by calling it a fetus or personalizing it by calling it a baby, is one tactic, two viewpoints. Does a developing life have rights? Does a person who is yet to be, have a right to live?
We all became who we are because no one stepped in at a crucial moment and prevented us from coming to be. We are all potential people. We exist because no one stopped us from existing. Looked at from a purely 'Here and Now' standpoint a fetus is nothing more than a collection of cells. Abortion is a rejection of the future, a rejection of the person who will come to be.
A person's journey through life can be expressed as a three dimensional path. The continuity of that journey is the totality of that life. The path extends behind us and ahead of us. There are no easy answers, only the choices we make and there are times in our life when we hold another person's life in our hands.