The Pre-Persons: Philip K. Dick’s pro-life short story

Past the grove of cypress trees Walter — he had been playing king of the mountain — saw the white truck, and he knew it for what it was. He thought, That’s the abortion truck. Come to take some kid in for a postpartum down at the abortion place. And he thought, Maybe my folks called it. For me.

These are the opening lines of Philip K. Dick’s amazingly pro-life short story, “The Pre-Persons.” He wrote it in 1974, a year after the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, to contest the Court’s new and arbitrary definition of personhood. Until I read Nancy Pearcey’s excellent new book, Love Thy Body, I had never ran across or even heard of this short story.

Philip K. Dick is perhaps most well-known for his science fiction novels that have been adapted for films: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which the movie “Blade Runner” was based on; Minority Report, also a well-known movie by the same name; and most recently, Man in the High Castle, which Netflix is in the process of serializing across multiple seasons. But as much as Dick has been lauded for his other fiction, “The Pre-Persons” certainly won him no awards or film adaptations.

This short story is highly controversial because in it, Dick presses to its logical conclusion the arbitrary definition of “personhood” that was devised by the Supreme Court in Roe and subsequently adopted by abortion advocates. But in Dick’s story “The Pre-Persons,” instead of abortions being legal merely in the womb, Congress has legalized “postpartum” abortions at increasingly liberal intervals beyond a baby’s birth. Now, “personhood” is defined as the ability to do higher math. The law estimates this ability to arrive around the age of 12. Therefore, according to the law, at 12 you are finally human.

“The Pre-Persons” is short enough for one sitting, and I highly recommend it to you (caution: it contains coarse and offensive language)—if for no other reason than because it represents a pro-life argument from a world of culture-makers that is almost universally progressive, and thus radically pro-abortion. You can read it online here.

Here is one more excerpt where a character in “The Pre-Persons” is reflecting on the absurdity of abortion logic:

The whole mistake of the pro-abortion people from the start, he said to himself, was the arbitrary line they drew. An embryo is not entitled to American Constitutional rights and can be killed, legally, by a doctor. But a fetus was a “person,” with rights, at least for a while; and then the proabortion crowd decided that even a seven-month fetus was not “human” and could be killed, legally, by a licensed doctor. And, one day, a newborn baby – – it is a vegetable; it can’t focus its eyes, it understands nothing, nor talks. . . the pro-abortion lobby argued in court, and won, with their contention that a newborn baby was only a fetus expelled by accident or organic processes from the womb. But, even then, where was the line to be drawn finally? When the baby smiled its first smile? When it spoke its first word or reached for its initial time for a toy it enjoyed? The legal line was relentlessly pushed back and back. And now the most savage and arbitrary definition of all: when it could perform “higher math.” That made the ancient Greeks, of Plato’s time, nonhumans, since arithmetic was unknown to them, only geometry; and algebra was an Arab invention, much later in history. Arbitrary.

Arbitrary indeed. If only the world were as honest as Stanley Fish was when confronted with the pro-life, science-based position presented by Princeton Professor Robert P. George (see below), perhaps we could finally overcome the irreconcilable claims of Roe against the self-evident truths declared at our nation’s founding, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

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