“Fewer rights than a corpse!” rebutted

Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one:

Bodily autonomy means every person has control over how their body is used. It’s why you can’t be forced to donate organs, even if you’re dead. By saying a fetus has a right to use a woman’s body, you’re making it so that women have less bodily autonomy than a corpse. 

We’ve talked plenty about the bodily autonomy argument in general (see here, here, and also the Equal Rights Institute’s excellent analyses here), but today, I want to focus specifically on the “zinger” above, which you’ll find worded in various ways online and which always concludes with a comparison of pregnant women to corpses.

The “less than a corpse!” argument is easily refuted, for the simple reason that the premise is factually incorrect. Corpses do not have bodily autonomy.

Please note that I developed the idea for this article before the novel coronavirus dominated the news, so I will not be writing about the horrors of cancelled funerals and mass graves which undoubtedly go against the wishes of the deceased and their families. That is much too raw, and in any event, the absence of corpse rights was a reality long before the pandemic. So let’s take a mental time machine back to normal circumstances, with its expectation that your wishes around death will be honored.

It probably goes without saying that if your wishes were to require directly killing another person (“But I really, really want to share my tomb with servants for the afterlife, like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh!”), that is not going to fly. Since the pro-life position is that abortion is a direct killing, the organ-donation-from-corpses argument is already falling flat. But let’s continue anyway.

What happens to a corpse is determined by a living representative. During your lifetime, you can designate any responsible adult to be your representative. Naturally, you’ll want to select someone who shares your values and is willing to take on the task. That person then bears the moral responsibility to carry out your wishes, or if you haven’t stated them, what the person reasonably believes your wishes would have been.

Note, however, that I said moral responsibility. Legally, there is no Corpse Bodily Autonomy Authority looking over your representative’s shoulder to make sure they’re doing what you wanted. If you wanted to be buried, but the representative finds that too expensive, no one is going to stop them from cremating you instead. If you weren’t keen on donating your organs, but your representative signs off on it, you can bet your ass (and every other body part) that a hospital is going to accept those life-saving organs.

And, importantly for the abortion comparison, there are cases where the state can override the wishes of the deceased and the representative in the interest of others’ safety — such as mandatory autopsies for homicides and other suspicious deaths, even over sincerely held religious objections. This recently made the news when the state of Alabama executed Nathaniel Woods, a Muslim death row inmate. Alabama’s treatment of Woods has been criticized on many fronts, from executing him in the first place when he was merely an accomplice and not a direct murderer, to keeping his imam, Yusuf Maisonet, from being present at the execution. And then there’s what happened afterward:

Woods was pronounced dead at about 9 PM, but the injustice didn’t end with his life. It followed him into the grave after he was given an autopsy against his wishes and religious beliefs. Maisonet said that when he received Woods’ body, “he was cut up, with no one bothering to sew the wounds back up.” To the imam, this was “an act … larger than Nathaniel, it was about sending a message of intimidation to anyone who supported him.”

Woods had clearly designated Maisonet to represent his interests in death, but a lot of good it did him.

If you didn’t choose a representative during your lifetime, the state will select one for you by giving the duty to your spouse or, if you are not married, your closest relative. And if you happen to be estranged from your next of kin, things can truly go off the rails:

Jennifer Gable, an Idaho customer service coordinator for Wells Fargo, died suddenly Oct. 9 on the job at age 32. An aneurysm, according to stunned friends.

Just as shocking, they say, when they went to Gable’s funeral in Twin Falls, Idaho, and saw her in an open casket — hair cut short, dressed in a suit and presented as a man.

“I am disgusted,” Stacy Dee Hudson posted on Facebook. “A great and dear friend’s mom went to the funeral today. It was not closed casket. They cut her hair, suit on. How can they bury her as Geoff when she legally changed her name. So very sad. Jen you will be missed and people who know you know that you are at peace.”

Gable was transgender, born Geoffrey, but living the past few years as Jennifer.

To be clear, I’m not saying that what happened to Woods and Gable was right; carrying out their wishes would have harmed no one. What I am saying is that comparing their situations to the situations of people who are prevented from killing their unborn babies is ridiculous. Pro-life laws take away exactly one “right” — the pseudo-right, invented in Roe v. Wade, to kill one’s offspring in the womb. Protecting babies does not, and cannot, reduce women to the legal status of corpses.

An old cemetery in the woods
Photo by Tom Wheatley on Unsplash

“Fewer rights than a corpse!” rebutted

Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one:

Bodily autonomy means every person has control over how their body is used. It’s why you can’t be forced to donate organs, even if you’re dead. By saying a fetus has a right to use a woman’s body, you’re making it so that women have less bodily autonomy than a corpse. 

We’ve talked plenty about the bodily autonomy argument in general (see here, here, and also the Equal Rights Institute’s excellent analyses here), but today, I want to focus specifically on the “zinger” above, which you’ll find worded in various ways online and which always concludes with a comparison of pregnant women to corpses.

The “less than a corpse!” argument is easily refuted, for the simple reason that the premise is factually incorrect. Corpses do not have bodily autonomy.

Please note that I developed the idea for this article before the novel coronavirus dominated the news, so I will not be writing about the horrors of cancelled funerals and mass graves which undoubtedly go against the wishes of the deceased and their families. That is much too raw, and in any event, the absence of corpse rights was a reality long before the pandemic. So let’s take a mental time machine back to normal circumstances, with its expectation that your wishes around death will be honored.

It probably goes without saying that if your wishes were to require directly killing another person (“But I really, really want to share my tomb with servants for the afterlife, like an ancient Egyptian pharaoh!”), that is not going to fly. Since the pro-life position is that abortion is a direct killing, the organ-donation-from-corpses argument is already falling flat. But let’s continue anyway.

What happens to a corpse is determined by a living representative. During your lifetime, you can designate any responsible adult to be your representative. Naturally, you’ll want to select someone who shares your values and is willing to take on the task. That person then bears the moral responsibility to carry out your wishes, or if you haven’t stated them, what the person reasonably believes your wishes would have been.

Note, however, that I said moral responsibility. Legally, there is no Corpse Bodily Autonomy Authority looking over your representative’s shoulder to make sure they’re doing what you wanted. If you wanted to be buried, but the representative finds that too expensive, no one is going to stop them from cremating you instead. If you weren’t keen on donating your organs, but your representative signs off on it, you can bet your ass (and every other body part) that a hospital is going to accept those life-saving organs.

And, importantly for the abortion comparison, there are cases where the state can override the wishes of the deceased and the representative in the interest of others’ safety — such as mandatory autopsies for homicides and other suspicious deaths, even over sincerely held religious objections. This recently made the news when the state of Alabama executed Nathaniel Woods, a Muslim death row inmate. Alabama’s treatment of Woods has been criticized on many fronts, from executing him in the first place when he was merely an accomplice and not a direct murderer, to keeping his imam, Yusuf Maisonet, from being present at the execution. And then there’s what happened afterward:

Woods was pronounced dead at about 9 PM, but the injustice didn’t end with his life. It followed him into the grave after he was given an autopsy against his wishes and religious beliefs. Maisonet said that when he received Woods’ body, “he was cut up, with no one bothering to sew the wounds back up.” To the imam, this was “an act … larger than Nathaniel, it was about sending a message of intimidation to anyone who supported him.”

Woods had clearly designated Maisonet to represent his interests in death, but a lot of good it did him.

If you didn’t choose a representative during your lifetime, the state will select one for you by giving the duty to your spouse or, if you are not married, your closest relative. And if you happen to be estranged from your next of kin, things can truly go off the rails:

Jennifer Gable, an Idaho customer service coordinator for Wells Fargo, died suddenly Oct. 9 on the job at age 32. An aneurysm, according to stunned friends.

Just as shocking, they say, when they went to Gable’s funeral in Twin Falls, Idaho, and saw her in an open casket — hair cut short, dressed in a suit and presented as a man.

“I am disgusted,” Stacy Dee Hudson posted on Facebook. “A great and dear friend’s mom went to the funeral today. It was not closed casket. They cut her hair, suit on. How can they bury her as Geoff when she legally changed her name. So very sad. Jen you will be missed and people who know you know that you are at peace.”

Gable was transgender, born Geoffrey, but living the past few years as Jennifer.

To be clear, I’m not saying that what happened to Woods and Gable was right; carrying out their wishes would have harmed no one. What I am saying is that comparing their situations to the situations of people who are prevented from killing their unborn babies is ridiculous. Pro-life laws take away exactly one “right” — the pseudo-right, invented in Roe v. Wade, to kill one’s offspring in the womb. Protecting babies does not, and cannot, reduce women to the legal status of corpses.

An old cemetery in the woods
Photo by Tom Wheatley on Unsplash

Why Abortions Are Still Wrong and Should be Illegal (Part One)

Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob recently published a book called Thinking Critically About Abortion: Why Most Abortions Aren’t Wrong & Why All Abortions Should Be Legal. The book was designed to teach people on both sides of the aisle, pro-life and pro-choice, how to have better conversations on the topic by pointing out bad arguments, showing why they are bad, and then showing better arguments that should be focused on. The authors then expounded what they believe to be better arguments against abortion and argued against them, then used arguments for abortion and used them to show why they believe most abortions are not wrong and why all of them should be legal. In this article series, I intend to show 1) that the authors’ arguments fail to show why most abortions aren’t wrong and they all should be legal, 2) they fail to interact with some of the best arguments against abortion, and 3) even in the arguments they do give, they present strawman versions of some of the pro-life arguments they examine, and even then they don’t succeed in refuting any of the arguments. Nobis and Grob’s book has been made available to read for free on-line here.



Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob (hereafter NG) have done a service to the abortion debate. I consider any book or article which seeks to advance the discussion on abortion to do a service, but specifically books that help teach critical thinking skills are greatly needed. As such, I commend NG’s desire to want to help people think critically on the issue so we stop hearing the bad arguments and focus primarily on the good ones. Their book is relatively short (being based on an article they wrote together), so it could easily be read in one afternoon.



I want to start out by showing my appreciation to NG for helping elevate the conversation above simple slogans and talking points. It’s an enterprise I wholeheartedly endorse and engage in, myself. However, aside from wanting to elevate the conversation on abortion, NG also attempt to show why most abortions are not wrong and why all abortions should be legal. Their book really starts to come apart here because they don’t provide compelling arguments for their conclusion and they attack a strawman of some pro-life arguments while not looking at some of the strongest pro-life arguments. I am going to attempt to support these claims by going through their book as briefly as I can.

1. Preface



In the preface of NG’s book, they claim their support for abortion rests on less-controversial claims: “adults, children and babies are wrong to kill and wrong to kill, fundamentally, because they, we, are conscious, aware and have feelings.” But this is a seriously controversial claim. Of course, the claim that adults and children are wrong to kill is pretty uncontroversial, but to claim it’s because they are conscious, aware, and have feelings is very controversial. Pro-life people ground a person’s right to life in their biological humanity, personhood, and/or underlying rational nature, and pro-life people are not a small subset of humanity. And considering that many philosophers view infanticide as morally permissible, their claim that babies are wrong to kill may also not be as uncontroversial as they think it is (although it should be).



NG go on to claim that even if fetuses have a right to life, it does not entail they have a right to someone else’s body. In most cases I would probably agree with that. However, I would argue that there are mitigating factors in pregnancy that do grant the fetus the right to use the woman’s body. So I would define “right to life” as a negative right not to be unjustly killed. Abortion would be an unjust killing of the fetus. Unfortunately NG rely on their own understanding of “right to life” in the debate rather than relying on how pro-life people commonly define that term.

2. Introduction and Defining “Abortion”



NG start off the book proper by trying to find some criterion by which we might want to make an act illegal. They claim that it’s not easy to do, but I would disagree with that claim. I think it is easy to do. If we understand that the role of government is to protect the natural rights of its citizens, then that gives us a pretty clear baseline to begin. Now obviously, not every single act may be cut and dry. It obviously takes some philosophical reflection to determine what our natural rights are and what sorts of acts violate those rights. But this makes the question of abortion an easy one, at least as to the legality of abortion. Does abortion violate the natural rights of the unborn? If the answer is yes, then abortion, like murder, ought to be illegal. If the answer is no, then abortion ought to be legal since preventing it would plausibly violate the natural rights of the woman who wishes to procure it. While NG didn’t come to a clear conclusion on the role of government, they are arguing that abortion should be legal because it is not immoral, and the government does not make moral acts illegal (or at least it does not make illegal acts which are not seriously or extremely immoral). That would be a miscarriage of justice.



So I disagree with their conception of government, and I’m also not convinced by their claim that it is a miscarriage of justice to make acts which are generally moral illegal. For example, Thailand and India recently made commercial surrogacy illegal because too many children were conceived and then abandoned by their biological parents. Now I would argue that commercial surrogacy is highly immoral, but even if you think it to be a moral practice, I don’t see how anyone could think Thailand or India to be wrong to outlaw it to protect children from being abandoned. But let’s just say NG are correct about this. I’ll accept those terms for the sake of examining their arguments.



NG continue on by wanting to define the term “abortion.” I agree that it’s always a good thing to start off by defining our terms. They present three definitions:



  1. An abortion is the murder of an unborn baby or child.
  2. An abortion is the intentional termination of a fetus to end a pregnancy.
  3. An abortion is the intentional killing of a fetus to end a pregnancy.



They reject the first two definitions and accept the third as the best.



Definition 1. They reject definition one on the grounds that it is basically question-begging; murder is obviously wrong, so if abortion is murder then it is also obviously wrong. But whether or not abortion is an act of murder is what is up for debate, so calling it murder without arguing for it begs the question at issue. I agree with their assessment here, and so I, too, would reject this first definition as problematic.



However, their discussion about whether or not fetuses count as “babies” or “children” is also problematic, and results in their first real egregious error in the book. They have three basic arguments against fetuses being babies: 1) The beginnings of something are usually not that thing (they use the examples of a pile of lumber and supplies not being a house and fabric, buttons, and thread not being a shirt); 2) If you do a Google image search for “babies” and “children”, and then “fetal development” and “embryonic development”, you’ll see that babies don’t come up for the latter two searches. So clearly they are not the same thing; and 3) If someone says they want a baby, they aren’t saying they want a month-old fetus. All three of these arguments have major problems.



Regarding the “beginnings” argument, it’s true that lumber and the house it builds are not the same thing and that thread and the shirt are not the same things. But here NG are confusing the concepts of active with passive potential. It’s true that the lumber is not the same thing as the house, but this is because that lumber could become anything. It could become a desk or a bookshelf instead of a house. And even if it becomes a house, there is nothing intrinsic in the lumber that causes the lumber to become a house. It requires an outside builder. Living things are not like artifacts. While artifacts (e.g. the house and the shirt) must be acted upon from the outside to become what it will become, living things don’t. A living thing is what it is from the beginning. So a human being is a human being at all stages of its development.



Despite what NG allege, “child” and “baby” are not stages of development. Even if we consider “babies” or “children” to simply be young humans, these encompass several stages of development. Not just the embryo and fetus stage, but also the infant, toddler, adolescent, and teenage (or “young adult”) stages of development. So arguing that things are not what they are from the beginning, aside from being mistaken in the case of living things, is also irrelevant to whether or not fetuses count as children. “Baby” and “child” are emotional terms. An adult is still a baby or child to his parents. When someone refers to a baby or a child, they are simply referring to one’s offspring, and a human fetus is certainly the offspring of the mother and father who contributed genetic material to the embryo that becomes the fetus.



Regarding the “images” argument, no, a two-year-old toddler will not appear at the top of a fetal development chart. In fact, this argument begs the question by assuming that fetuses and embryos are not children (if they are, then babies and children do, in fact, appear at the top of the chart). What NG seems to mean is that infants and toddlers don’t appear at the top of the chart, but why would they? These are later stages in development than the embryo and fetus stages.



Regarding the “I want a baby” argument, this is, in fact, what they are saying. If a woman tells her husband “I want a baby,” unless the couple knows they are infertile, she is not saying “let’s go to the adoption center and adopt a child.” She is telling her husband “I want you to get me pregnant.” So no, she is not saying “I want a month-old fetus” any more than she is saying “I want a two-year-old toddler,” since toddlers eventually grow out of the toddler stage and get older.



So to sum up, I do agree with NG about rejecting this definition of abortion because it relies on emotional appeals, even though I think their view about what “babies” and “children” are is mistaken.



Definition 2. NG reject definition two because of the word “termination”. The word “termination” is not informative so does not work well as a definition of abortion. There is also an issue with calling abortions necessarily “intentional,” but I’ll touch on that more in my examination of the third definition. To their credit, NG reject this definition because the word “termination” simply means to “end it in some way,” which is technically correct as abortion does end the development of the fetus. But it obscures the fact that something is killed in an abortion, which is why there is an ethical debate over it. Not all acts of killing are wrong, so we need to have a discussion over whether or not abortion is an act of wrongful killing or permissible killing. So the definition doesn’t work because “termination” is too vague a term. I agree with their rejection of this definition, also.



Definition 3. The third definition is the one NG likes best because, they say, it is “accurate, informative, and morally-neutral.” I agree that it is informative and morally-neutral, but I take issue with it being called accurate.



To the medical community abortions are not necessarily intentional. That’s why they call miscarriages “spontaneous abortions.” A woman who miscarries obviously did not intend to lose the life of her fetus but nevertheless it prematurely ended. This is why I tend to make distinctions between spontaneous abortions, elective abortions, and therapeutic abortions. I think this is a more specific and accurate way to understand abortions, at least if we’re going to keep in line with the medical community’s understanding of abortion. Now granted, NG did state as a caveat that “spontaneous abortions” are not intentional actions that can be judged morally; they just happen. And this is true, so NG are using “intentional” to indicate that these are abortions specifically caused by the woman and her abortion provider, not accidental cases of embryo or fetus loss. But again, even if this is their intention, it is still not accurate because if miscarriages are a type of abortion (as the medical community considers them), then their definition excludes miscarriages from the set of abortions, which is inaccurate. Plus, as some pro-life people have argued, life-saving abortions are not really abortions at all; they are life-saving medical procedures. This is because they also view abortions as intentional acts (and think the medical community is wrong for considering miscarriages a type of abortion, even spontaneous ones), and since in life-saving abortions the intention is to save the mother’s life, not to kill the embryo or fetus, these life-saving procedures are not actually abortions because the intention is not to kill the fetus to end the pregnancy, it’s to save the mother’s life. However, NG earlier stated that pro-life people even think abortions can be justified sometimes to save the woman’s life if her life is threatened. NG would have to agree that there is no inconsistency here if they insist on using this definition, as life-saving abortions would not count as abortions under their definition, since life-saving abortions are not “the intentional killing of a fetus to end a pregnancy.” The intention is not to kill the fetus to end the pregnancy; it’s to remove the fetus to save the mother’s life, such as using salpingectomy to resolve an ectopic pregnancy, which avoids directly killing the embryo, although the embryo’s death is an unfortunate foreseen consequence of the procedure.


This is why I tend to define abortion as “premature termination of a pregnancy with the result of the fetus’ death.” I think this is a more accurate and informative definition than even NG give, since it covers all the bases. I also think this is what most people tend to have in mind when they actually talk about abortions, even if they’re not quite sure how to articulate it. And this way, if we have a distinction between spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), therapeutic abortion (to save the mother’s life), and elective abortion (a procedure that is not medically indicated to save her life), only elective abortions would be morally problematic. A woman obviously should not be held responsible for a miscarriage beyond her control, nor should a woman be held responsible for a life-saving abortion if her life is in immediate jeopardy. But if her life is not immediately threatened, then having an abortion for any other reason makes her culpable for the act, even if not as culpable as the abortion practitioner who performs the abortion.



In the next part of this series, I’ll respond to NG’s chapter on fetal consciousness and facts of fetal development, and their chapter on bad arguments, if it doesn’t make the article too lengthy.

Why Abortions Are Still Wrong and Should be Illegal (Part One)

Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob recently published a book called Thinking Critically About Abortion: Why Most Abortions Aren’t Wrong & Why All Abortions Should Be Legal. The book was designed to teach people on both sides of the aisle, pro-life and pro-choice, how to have better conversations on the topic by pointing out bad arguments, showing why they are bad, and then showing better arguments that should be focused on. The authors then expounded what they believe to be better arguments against abortion and argued against them, then used arguments for abortion and used them to show why they believe most abortions are not wrong and why all of them should be legal. In this article series, I intend to show 1) that the authors’ arguments fail to show why most abortions aren’t wrong and they all should be legal, 2) they fail to interact with some of the best arguments against abortion, and 3) even in the arguments they do give, they present strawman versions of some of the pro-life arguments they examine, and even then they don’t succeed in refuting any of the arguments. Nobis and Grob’s book has been made available to read for free on-line here.



Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob (hereafter NG) have done a service to the abortion debate. I consider any book or article which seeks to advance the discussion on abortion to do a service, but specifically books that help teach critical thinking skills are greatly needed. As such, I commend NG’s desire to want to help people think critically on the issue so we stop hearing the bad arguments and focus primarily on the good ones. Their book is relatively short (being based on an article they wrote together), so it could easily be read in one afternoon.



I want to start out by showing my appreciation to NG for helping elevate the conversation above simple slogans and talking points. It’s an enterprise I wholeheartedly endorse and engage in, myself. However, aside from wanting to elevate the conversation on abortion, NG also attempt to show why most abortions are not wrong and why all abortions should be legal. Their book really starts to come apart here because they don’t provide compelling arguments for their conclusion and they attack a strawman of some pro-life arguments while not looking at some of the strongest pro-life arguments. I am going to attempt to support these claims by going through their book as briefly as I can.

1. Preface



In the preface of NG’s book, they claim their support for abortion rests on less-controversial claims: “adults, children and babies are wrong to kill and wrong to kill, fundamentally, because they, we, are conscious, aware and have feelings.” But this is a seriously controversial claim. Of course, the claim that adults and children are wrong to kill is pretty uncontroversial, but to claim it’s because they are conscious, aware, and have feelings is very controversial. Pro-life people ground a person’s right to life in their biological humanity, personhood, and/or underlying rational nature, and pro-life people are not a small subset of humanity. And considering that many philosophers view infanticide as morally permissible, their claim that babies are wrong to kill may also not be as uncontroversial as they think it is (although it should be).



NG go on to claim that even if fetuses have a right to life, it does not entail they have a right to someone else’s body. In most cases I would probably agree with that. However, I would argue that there are mitigating factors in pregnancy that do grant the fetus the right to use the woman’s body. So I would define “right to life” as a negative right not to be unjustly killed. Abortion would be an unjust killing of the fetus. Unfortunately NG rely on their own understanding of “right to life” in the debate rather than relying on how pro-life people commonly define that term.

2. Introduction and Defining “Abortion”



NG start off the book proper by trying to find some criterion by which we might want to make an act illegal. They claim that it’s not easy to do, but I would disagree with that claim. I think it is easy to do. If we understand that the role of government is to protect the natural rights of its citizens, then that gives us a pretty clear baseline to begin. Now obviously, not every single act may be cut and dry. It obviously takes some philosophical reflection to determine what our natural rights are and what sorts of acts violate those rights. But this makes the question of abortion an easy one, at least as to the legality of abortion. Does abortion violate the natural rights of the unborn? If the answer is yes, then abortion, like murder, ought to be illegal. If the answer is no, then abortion ought to be legal since preventing it would plausibly violate the natural rights of the woman who wishes to procure it. While NG didn’t come to a clear conclusion on the role of government, they are arguing that abortion should be legal because it is not immoral, and the government does not make moral acts illegal (or at least it does not make illegal acts which are not seriously or extremely immoral). That would be a miscarriage of justice.



So I disagree with their conception of government, and I’m also not convinced by their claim that it is a miscarriage of justice to make acts which are generally moral illegal. For example, Thailand and India recently made commercial surrogacy illegal because too many children were conceived and then abandoned by their biological parents. Now I would argue that commercial surrogacy is highly immoral, but even if you think it to be a moral practice, I don’t see how anyone could think Thailand or India to be wrong to outlaw it to protect children from being abandoned. But let’s just say NG are correct about this. I’ll accept those terms for the sake of examining their arguments.



NG continue on by wanting to define the term “abortion.” I agree that it’s always a good thing to start off by defining our terms. They present three definitions:



  1. An abortion is the murder of an unborn baby or child.
  2. An abortion is the intentional termination of a fetus to end a pregnancy.
  3. An abortion is the intentional killing of a fetus to end a pregnancy.



They reject the first two definitions and accept the third as the best.



Definition 1. They reject definition one on the grounds that it is basically question-begging; murder is obviously wrong, so if abortion is murder then it is also obviously wrong. But whether or not abortion is an act of murder is what is up for debate, so calling it murder without arguing for it begs the question at issue. I agree with their assessment here, and so I, too, would reject this first definition as problematic.



However, their discussion about whether or not fetuses count as “babies” or “children” is also problematic, and results in their first real egregious error in the book. They have three basic arguments against fetuses being babies: 1) The beginnings of something are usually not that thing (they use the examples of a pile of lumber and supplies not being a house and fabric, buttons, and thread not being a shirt); 2) If you do a Google image search for “babies” and “children”, and then “fetal development” and “embryonic development”, you’ll see that babies don’t come up for the latter two searches. So clearly they are not the same thing; and 3) If someone says they want a baby, they aren’t saying they want a month-old fetus. All three of these arguments have major problems.



Regarding the “beginnings” argument, it’s true that lumber and the house it builds are not the same thing and that thread and the shirt are not the same things. But here NG are confusing the concepts of active with passive potential. It’s true that the lumber is not the same thing as the house, but this is because that lumber could become anything. It could become a desk or a bookshelf instead of a house. And even if it becomes a house, there is nothing intrinsic in the lumber that causes the lumber to become a house. It requires an outside builder. Living things are not like artifacts. While artifacts (e.g. the house and the shirt) must be acted upon from the outside to become what it will become, living things don’t. A living thing is what it is from the beginning. So a human being is a human being at all stages of its development.



Despite what NG allege, “child” and “baby” are not stages of development. Even if we consider “babies” or “children” to simply be young humans, these encompass several stages of development. Not just the embryo and fetus stage, but also the infant, toddler, adolescent, and teenage (or “young adult”) stages of development. So arguing that things are not what they are from the beginning, aside from being mistaken in the case of living things, is also irrelevant to whether or not fetuses count as children. “Baby” and “child” are emotional terms. An adult is still a baby or child to his parents. When someone refers to a baby or a child, they are simply referring to one’s offspring, and a human fetus is certainly the offspring of the mother and father who contributed genetic material to the embryo that becomes the fetus.



Regarding the “images” argument, no, a two-year-old toddler will not appear at the top of a fetal development chart. In fact, this argument begs the question by assuming that fetuses and embryos are not children (if they are, then babies and children do, in fact, appear at the top of the chart). What NG seems to mean is that infants and toddlers don’t appear at the top of the chart, but why would they? These are later stages in development than the embryo and fetus stages.



Regarding the “I want a baby” argument, this is, in fact, what they are saying. If a woman tells her husband “I want a baby,” unless the couple knows they are infertile, she is not saying “let’s go to the adoption center and adopt a child.” She is telling her husband “I want you to get me pregnant.” So no, she is not saying “I want a month-old fetus” any more than she is saying “I want a two-year-old toddler,” since toddlers eventually grow out of the toddler stage and get older.



So to sum up, I do agree with NG about rejecting this definition of abortion because it relies on emotional appeals, even though I think their view about what “babies” and “children” are is mistaken.



Definition 2. NG reject definition two because of the word “termination”. The word “termination” is not informative so does not work well as a definition of abortion. There is also an issue with calling abortions necessarily “intentional,” but I’ll touch on that more in my examination of the third definition. To their credit, NG reject this definition because the word “termination” simply means to “end it in some way,” which is technically correct as abortion does end the development of the fetus. But it obscures the fact that something is killed in an abortion, which is why there is an ethical debate over it. Not all acts of killing are wrong, so we need to have a discussion over whether or not abortion is an act of wrongful killing or permissible killing. So the definition doesn’t work because “termination” is too vague a term. I agree with their rejection of this definition, also.



Definition 3. The third definition is the one NG likes best because, they say, it is “accurate, informative, and morally-neutral.” I agree that it is informative and morally-neutral, but I take issue with it being called accurate.



To the medical community abortions are not necessarily intentional. That’s why they call miscarriages “spontaneous abortions.” A woman who miscarries obviously did not intend to lose the life of her fetus but nevertheless it prematurely ended. This is why I tend to make distinctions between spontaneous abortions, elective abortions, and therapeutic abortions. I think this is a more specific and accurate way to understand abortions, at least if we’re going to keep in line with the medical community’s understanding of abortion. Now granted, NG did state as a caveat that “spontaneous abortions” are not intentional actions that can be judged morally; they just happen. And this is true, so NG are using “intentional” to indicate that these are abortions specifically caused by the woman and her abortion provider, not accidental cases of embryo or fetus loss. But again, even if this is their intention, it is still not accurate because if miscarriages are a type of abortion (as the medical community considers them), then their definition excludes miscarriages from the set of abortions, which is inaccurate. Plus, as some pro-life people have argued, life-saving abortions are not really abortions at all; they are life-saving medical procedures. This is because they also view abortions as intentional acts (and think the medical community is wrong for considering miscarriages a type of abortion, even spontaneous ones), and since in life-saving abortions the intention is to save the mother’s life, not to kill the embryo or fetus, these life-saving procedures are not actually abortions because the intention is not to kill the fetus to end the pregnancy, it’s to save the mother’s life. However, NG earlier stated that pro-life people even think abortions can be justified sometimes to save the woman’s life if her life is threatened. NG would have to agree that there is no inconsistency here if they insist on using this definition, as life-saving abortions would not count as abortions under their definition, since life-saving abortions are not “the intentional killing of a fetus to end a pregnancy.” The intention is not to kill the fetus to end the pregnancy; it’s to remove the fetus to save the mother’s life, such as using salpingectomy to resolve an ectopic pregnancy, which avoids directly killing the embryo, although the embryo’s death is an unfortunate foreseen consequence of the procedure.


This is why I tend to define abortion as “premature termination of a pregnancy with the result of the fetus’ death.” I think this is a more accurate and informative definition than even NG give, since it covers all the bases. I also think this is what most people tend to have in mind when they actually talk about abortions, even if they’re not quite sure how to articulate it. And this way, if we have a distinction between spontaneous abortion (miscarriage), therapeutic abortion (to save the mother’s life), and elective abortion (a procedure that is not medically indicated to save her life), only elective abortions would be morally problematic. A woman obviously should not be held responsible for a miscarriage beyond her control, nor should a woman be held responsible for a life-saving abortion if her life is in immediate jeopardy. But if her life is not immediately threatened, then having an abortion for any other reason makes her culpable for the act, even if not as culpable as the abortion practitioner who performs the abortion.



In the next part of this series, I’ll respond to NG’s chapter on fetal consciousness and facts of fetal development, and their chapter on bad arguments, if it doesn’t make the article too lengthy.

Assessing Theories of Pro-Life Motivations

A saying typically attributed to former President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower goes “Never question another man’s motive. His wisdom, yes, but not his motives.”

Unfortunately, it has become commonplace for defenders of abortion to ignore this concept. With the growing toxicity influencing our political discourse every day, bad ideas are given fertile ground to take root in.

One of these bad ideas relates to the motives of pro-life advocates. A number of pro-choice activists have begun calling into question the “real” motives behind pro-life advocacy; namely, claiming that the real desire behind pro-life advocacy is to control women. A variety of accusations based on this concept are routinely made on social media: pro-lifers want to control women’s bodies, control fertility, punish women for having sex, etc.

Accusations are not arguments, and shouldn’t be treated with the same weight as arguments. Unfortunately, they are still represented broadly in mainstream discourse, whether by hashtags such as “reproductive rights” or by The Handmaid’s Tale cosplay clubs. Even more widespread is the assumption made by many pro-choice advocates that any inconsistency on the part of pro-lifers is proof of ulterior motives. For example, the alleged unwillingness of pro-life advocates to care for life after birth is touted as evidence that the real reason people oppose abortion is an underlying desire to control women, in any of the ways stated above. According to this view, defenders of abortion have “discovered” the true goals of the pro-life movement. It’s not about saving babies, it’s about controlling women. Hence the red cloaks and white bonnets.

Setting aside for the moment that this ignores nearly all pro-life discourse on the topic of abortion, the theory that all pro-life activists have wicked intent towards women is just plain silly.

And it’s also something we can test empirically.

To borrow a concept from an earlier Secular Pro-Life piece, let’s pursue a little thought experiment:

Suppose there were a bill on the table that would make it easy for women who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer, but who fear such a diagnosis in the future (due to family history, the BRCA gene, or any other reason), to obtain elective mastectomies on demand. Government budget authorities have confirmed that the proposal is financially sound. This is a law that would not cause a single human death, but that would undoubtedly increase a woman’s control of her own body.

Can you imagine the National Right to Life Committee, Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, and so on lobbying against such a bill? I, for one, cannot. There would be no reason for them to do that. Likewise, I have a hard time picturing pro-life stalwarts in the House of Representatives voting it down multiple times and celebrating its defeat. A woman’s exercise of bodily autonomy by itself doesn’t fuel outrage; it is only when that exercise ends in the death of a human child that the pro-life movement rallies its troops. 

There’s a very good explanation for why you will never see pro-life groups protesting tattoo parlors or breast enlargement clinics. You will never see someone sidewalk counseling outside of plastic surgery facilities. The number of pro-lifers devoting any time to these establishments is zero. The reason is very simple, actually: Pro-lifers really do believe abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being, and thus should be stopped, unlike any other elective surgery.

Let’s look at it another way. Who has been leading the push against embryo destruction for bio-medical research? With few exceptions, it has been the pro-life movement. This casts further doubt on a conspiracy to control women’s sex lives or fertility; destructive embryo research takes place in a laboratory, not in the womb. A woman’s body is irrelevant here. It seems those darn pro-lifers actually do care about the prenatal being, even at that very early age.

One more example, to again borrow from my colleague’s earlier post, why exactly are those silly pro-lifers pushing for a born-alive infant protection law in the first place? (Setting aside the complaints the law isn’t necessary; for a good breakdown of the law, see this report from the Heritage foundation, as well as Hadley Arkes’ Natural Rights and the Right to Choose.)

If the “real motivation” of the pro-life movement is to punish women for having sex or to control their ovaries or uteruses, then why would pro-lifers concern themselves with the lives of children after they have left the womb? Pro-lifers fought to ensure the infanticidal tendencies of Kermit Gosnell have never faded from the public eye. The Born-Alive Bill is one way of ensuring it never happens again. Maybe we actually do care about the lives of babies after all.

To also address the similar claim that pro-lifers only care for fetuses, then stop caring at birth, ask yourself this question: If a bill legalizing infanticide up to, say, six months after birth was proposed, who would be the first to show up to oppose it? The pro-life movement. This isn’t such a stretch, given that a growing number of philosophers have argued that infanticide may not be such a bad thing as we have been led to believe: Peter Singer, Francesca Minerva, Alberto Giubilini, Michael Tooley, and others have all either defended or acknowledged infanticide as amoral or morally acceptable.

These realities highlight just a few of the hurdles one must jump over in order to “prove” that the pro-life movement is one massive conspiracy to control women. It’s an impossible task to begin with.

The notion that the pro-life movement is hiding its desires to control women is juvenile. Critics of the pro-life view need to do better than that. Pro-lifers argue that it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Elective abortion does that. Therefore, elective abortion is wrong.

In other words, our critics must take the time to answer our essential argument, instead of contriving silly conspiracy theories about why people oppose abortion.


[Today’s guest post by Nathan Apodaca is part of our paid blogging program.]

Assessing Theories of Pro-Life Motivations

A saying typically attributed to former President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower goes “Never question another man’s motive. His wisdom, yes, but not his motives.”

Unfortunately, it has become commonplace for defenders of abortion to ignore this concept. With the growing toxicity influencing our political discourse every day, bad ideas are given fertile ground to take root in.

One of these bad ideas relates to the motives of pro-life advocates. A number of pro-choice activists have begun calling into question the “real” motives behind pro-life advocacy; namely, claiming that the real desire behind pro-life advocacy is to control women. A variety of accusations based on this concept are routinely made on social media: pro-lifers want to control women’s bodies, control fertility, punish women for having sex, etc.

Accusations are not arguments, and shouldn’t be treated with the same weight as arguments. Unfortunately, they are still represented broadly in mainstream discourse, whether by hashtags such as “reproductive rights” or by The Handmaid’s Tale cosplay clubs. Even more widespread is the assumption made by many pro-choice advocates that any inconsistency on the part of pro-lifers is proof of ulterior motives. For example, the alleged unwillingness of pro-life advocates to care for life after birth is touted as evidence that the real reason people oppose abortion is an underlying desire to control women, in any of the ways stated above. According to this view, defenders of abortion have “discovered” the true goals of the pro-life movement. It’s not about saving babies, it’s about controlling women. Hence the red cloaks and white bonnets.

Setting aside for the moment that this ignores nearly all pro-life discourse on the topic of abortion, the theory that all pro-life activists have wicked intent towards women is just plain silly.

And it’s also something we can test empirically.

To borrow a concept from an earlier Secular Pro-Life piece, let’s pursue a little thought experiment:

Suppose there were a bill on the table that would make it easy for women who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer, but who fear such a diagnosis in the future (due to family history, the BRCA gene, or any other reason), to obtain elective mastectomies on demand. Government budget authorities have confirmed that the proposal is financially sound. This is a law that would not cause a single human death, but that would undoubtedly increase a woman’s control of her own body.

Can you imagine the National Right to Life Committee, Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, and so on lobbying against such a bill? I, for one, cannot. There would be no reason for them to do that. Likewise, I have a hard time picturing pro-life stalwarts in the House of Representatives voting it down multiple times and celebrating its defeat. A woman’s exercise of bodily autonomy by itself doesn’t fuel outrage; it is only when that exercise ends in the death of a human child that the pro-life movement rallies its troops. 

There’s a very good explanation for why you will never see pro-life groups protesting tattoo parlors or breast enlargement clinics. You will never see someone sidewalk counseling outside of plastic surgery facilities. The number of pro-lifers devoting any time to these establishments is zero. The reason is very simple, actually: Pro-lifers really do believe abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being, and thus should be stopped, unlike any other elective surgery.

Let’s look at it another way. Who has been leading the push against embryo destruction for bio-medical research? With few exceptions, it has been the pro-life movement. This casts further doubt on a conspiracy to control women’s sex lives or fertility; destructive embryo research takes place in a laboratory, not in the womb. A woman’s body is irrelevant here. It seems those darn pro-lifers actually do care about the prenatal being, even at that very early age.

One more example, to again borrow from my colleague’s earlier post, why exactly are those silly pro-lifers pushing for a born-alive infant protection law in the first place? (Setting aside the complaints the law isn’t necessary; for a good breakdown of the law, see this report from the Heritage foundation, as well as Hadley Arkes’ Natural Rights and the Right to Choose.)

If the “real motivation” of the pro-life movement is to punish women for having sex or to control their ovaries or uteruses, then why would pro-lifers concern themselves with the lives of children after they have left the womb? Pro-lifers fought to ensure the infanticidal tendencies of Kermit Gosnell have never faded from the public eye. The Born-Alive Bill is one way of ensuring it never happens again. Maybe we actually do care about the lives of babies after all.

To also address the similar claim that pro-lifers only care for fetuses, then stop caring at birth, ask yourself this question: If a bill legalizing infanticide up to, say, six months after birth was proposed, who would be the first to show up to oppose it? The pro-life movement. This isn’t such a stretch, given that a growing number of philosophers have argued that infanticide may not be such a bad thing as we have been led to believe: Peter Singer, Francesca Minerva, Alberto Giubilini, Michael Tooley, and others have all either defended or acknowledged infanticide as amoral or morally acceptable.

These realities highlight just a few of the hurdles one must jump over in order to “prove” that the pro-life movement is one massive conspiracy to control women. It’s an impossible task to begin with.

The notion that the pro-life movement is hiding its desires to control women is juvenile. Critics of the pro-life view need to do better than that. Pro-lifers argue that it’s wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Elective abortion does that. Therefore, elective abortion is wrong.

In other words, our critics must take the time to answer our essential argument, instead of contriving silly conspiracy theories about why people oppose abortion.


[Today’s guest post by Nathan Apodaca is part of our paid blogging program.]

It’s not about bodily autonomy. Here’s how we know.

We’ve all heard the argument that begins “You must not really care about saving lives because you don’t [fill in the blank with the policy preference du jour]. You’re just about controlling women’s bodies!” And when we’re feeling uncharitable, we can always throw it right back at them: they don’t really care about bodily autonomy, because if they did, they’d promote legalizing raw milk, or allowing minors to get tattoos, or whatever.

But I try to be charitable, so let’s narrow the issues. “The debate about abortion is really a proxy battle in a war on women’s right to control their bodies” is a testable hypothesis. It’s thought experiment time.

Suppose there were a bill on the table that would make it easy for women who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer, but who fear such a diagnosis in the future (due to family history, the BRCA gene, or any other reason), to obtain elective mastectomies on demand. Government budget authorities have confirmed that the proposal is financially sound. This is a law that would not cause a single human death, but that would undoubtedly increase a woman’s control of her own body.

Can you imagine the National Right to Life Committee, Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, and so on lobbying against such a bill? I, for one, cannot. There would be no reason for them to do that. Likewise, I have a hard time picturing pro-life stalwarts in the House of Representatives voting it down multiple times and celebrating its defeat. A woman’s exercise of bodily autonomy by itself doesn’t fuel outrage; it is only when that exercise ends in the death of a human child that the pro-life movement rallies its troops.

Now let’s imagine the inverse: a bill that would save babies’ lives, at no cost to women’s bodily autonomy. Where would pro-choice lobbyists and politicians stand on that?

We don’t have to imagine it. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (H.R. 962) was introduced in the House of Representatives nearly six months ago. The legislation would require doctors to give infants who are born alive after abortion procedures—who are already outside of their mother’s bodies—the same hospital care that their premature, wanted counterparts receive. It would not ban a single abortion.

At the behest of pro-choice groups, House Democrats have blocked a vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act eighty times. That is not a typo. Eighty times.

It’s not about bodily autonomy.

Photo Credit: Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

It’s not about bodily autonomy. Here’s how we know.

We’ve all heard the argument that begins “You must not really care about saving lives because you don’t [fill in the blank with the policy preference du jour]. You’re just about controlling women’s bodies!” And when we’re feeling uncharitable, we can always throw it right back at them: they don’t really care about bodily autonomy, because if they did, they’d promote legalizing raw milk, or allowing minors to get tattoos, or whatever.

But I try to be charitable, so let’s narrow the issues. “The debate about abortion is really a proxy battle in a war on women’s right to control their bodies” is a testable hypothesis. It’s thought experiment time.

Suppose there were a bill on the table that would make it easy for women who have not been diagnosed with breast cancer, but who fear such a diagnosis in the future (due to family history, the BRCA gene, or any other reason), to obtain elective mastectomies on demand. Government budget authorities have confirmed that the proposal is financially sound. This is a law that would not cause a single human death, but that would undoubtedly increase a woman’s control of her own body.

Can you imagine the National Right to Life Committee, Susan B. Anthony List, Americans United for Life, and so on lobbying against such a bill? I, for one, cannot. There would be no reason for them to do that. Likewise, I have a hard time picturing pro-life stalwarts in the House of Representatives voting it down multiple times and celebrating its defeat. A woman’s exercise of bodily autonomy by itself doesn’t fuel outrage; it is only when that exercise ends in the death of a human child that the pro-life movement rallies its troops.

Now let’s imagine the inverse: a bill that would save babies’ lives, at no cost to women’s bodily autonomy. Where would pro-choice lobbyists and politicians stand on that?

We don’t have to imagine it. The Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (H.R. 962) was introduced in the House of Representatives nearly six months ago. The legislation would require doctors to give infants who are born alive after abortion procedures—who are already outside of their mother’s bodies—the same hospital care that their premature, wanted counterparts receive. It would not ban a single abortion.

At the behest of pro-choice groups, House Democrats have blocked a vote on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Act eighty times. That is not a typo. Eighty times.

It’s not about bodily autonomy.

Photo Credit: Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash

Sources for SPL’s “The case against abortion” presentation

Today at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Malcolm Potts will be hosting his bi-annual point/counterpoint-style lecture on abortion for his public health class. This year, Monica Snyder of Secular Pro-Life will be presenting the antiabortion case. We hope to have video of her presentation later–EDIT: you can now watch the full presentation here–but meanwhile here are all of the sources she used to create the presentation, plus some additional reading for anyone interested.

If you’re interested in becoming a bone marrow donor, please go to BeTheMatch.org to join the national bone marrow registry. If you are between the ages of 18 and 44, it costs nothing to join.

Intro

Do bodily rights justify abortion?

The fetus is a human organism.


Biology and Embryology textbooks and relevant quotes:
  • Scott Gilbert, Developmental Biology, 11th Edition. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2016: “Fertilization accomplishes two separate ends: sex (the combining of genes derived from two parents) and reproduction (the generation of a new organism).”
  • T.W. Sadler, Langman’s Medical Embryology, 10th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006:”Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote.”
  • Erich Blechschmidt, Brian Freeman, The Ontogenetic Basis of Human Anatomy: The Biodynamic Approach to Development from Conception to Adulthood, North Atlantic Books, June 2004: “We talk of human development not because a jumble of cells, which is perhaps initially atypical, gradually turns more and more into a human, but rather because the human being develops from a uniquely human cell. There is no state in human development prior to which one could claim that a being exists with not-yet-human individuality. On the basis of anatomical studies, we know today that no developmental phase exists that constitutes a transition from the not-yet-human to the human.” & “In short, a fertilized egg (conceptus) is already a human being.”
  • Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003: “Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon development) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” And “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).”
  • Scott Gilbert, Developmental Biology, 6th Edition. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2001:“When we consider a dog, for instance, we usually picture an adult. But the dog is a “dog” from the moment of fertilization of a dog egg by a dog sperm. It remains a dog even as a senescent dying hound. Therefore, the dog is actually the entire life cycle of the animal, from fertilization through death.”
  • Ronan R. O’Rahilly and Fabiola Müller, Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd Edition, New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001: “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.”
  • Ida G. Dox, B. John Melloni, Gilbert Eisner, The HarperCollins Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 2001: “An Embryo is an organism in the earliest stages of development.”
  • Human Embryology, William J Larsen, 3rd Edition, 2001: “In this text, we begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual.”
  • William J. Larsen, Essentials of Human Embryology. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1998: “Human embryos begin development following the fusion of definitive male and female gametes during fertilization… This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development.”
  • Bruce M. Carlson, Patten’s Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996: “Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.”
  • Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993: “Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression ‘fertilized ovum’ refers to the zygote.”
  • Clark Edward Corliss, Patten’s Human Embryology: Elements of Clinical Development. New York: McGraw Hill, 1976. “It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual.”
  • E.L. Potter and J.M. Craig, Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 3rd edition. Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1975: “Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition.”
  • J.P. Greenhill and E.A. Friedman, Biological Principles and Modern Practice of Obstetrics. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1974: “The term conception refers to the union of the male and female pronuclear elements of procreation from which a new living being develops. It is synonymous with the terms fecundation, impregnation, and fertilization.”
  • Leslie Brainerd Arey, Developmental Anatomy, 7th Edition. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1974: “The formation, maturation and meeting of a male and female sex cell are all preliminary to their actual union into a combined cell, or zygote, which definitely marks the beginning of a new individual. The penetration of the ovum by the spermatozoon, and the coming together and pooling of their respective nuclei, constitutes the process of fertilization.”

Which human organisms are morally relevant?



Abortion and infanticide.
Further Recommended Reading

Relevant Secular Pro-Life blog posts:

Sources for SPL’s “The case against abortion” presentation

Today at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Malcolm Potts will be hosting his bi-annual point/counterpoint-style lecture on abortion for his public health class. This year, Monica Snyder of Secular Pro-Life will be presenting the antiabortion case. We hope to have video of her presentation later–EDIT: you can now watch the full presentation here–but meanwhile here are all of the sources she used to create the presentation, plus some additional reading for anyone interested.

If you’re interested in becoming a bone marrow donor, please go to BeTheMatch.org to join the national bone marrow registry. If you are between the ages of 18 and 44, it costs nothing to join.

Intro

Do bodily rights justify abortion?

The fetus is a human organism.


Biology and Embryology textbooks and relevant quotes:
  • Scott Gilbert, Developmental Biology, 11th Edition. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2016: “Fertilization accomplishes two separate ends: sex (the combining of genes derived from two parents) and reproduction (the generation of a new organism).”
  • T.W. Sadler, Langman’s Medical Embryology, 10th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006:”Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote.”
  • Erich Blechschmidt, Brian Freeman, The Ontogenetic Basis of Human Anatomy: The Biodynamic Approach to Development from Conception to Adulthood, North Atlantic Books, June 2004: “We talk of human development not because a jumble of cells, which is perhaps initially atypical, gradually turns more and more into a human, but rather because the human being develops from a uniquely human cell. There is no state in human development prior to which one could claim that a being exists with not-yet-human individuality. On the basis of anatomical studies, we know today that no developmental phase exists that constitutes a transition from the not-yet-human to the human.” & “In short, a fertilized egg (conceptus) is already a human being.”
  • Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003: “Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon development) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” And “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).”
  • Scott Gilbert, Developmental Biology, 6th Edition. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2001:“When we consider a dog, for instance, we usually picture an adult. But the dog is a “dog” from the moment of fertilization of a dog egg by a dog sperm. It remains a dog even as a senescent dying hound. Therefore, the dog is actually the entire life cycle of the animal, from fertilization through death.”
  • Ronan R. O’Rahilly and Fabiola Müller, Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd Edition, New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001: “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.”
  • Ida G. Dox, B. John Melloni, Gilbert Eisner, The HarperCollins Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 2001: “An Embryo is an organism in the earliest stages of development.”
  • Human Embryology, William J Larsen, 3rd Edition, 2001: “In this text, we begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual.”
  • William J. Larsen, Essentials of Human Embryology. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1998: “Human embryos begin development following the fusion of definitive male and female gametes during fertilization… This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development.”
  • Bruce M. Carlson, Patten’s Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996: “Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)… The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.”
  • Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993: “Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression ‘fertilized ovum’ refers to the zygote.”
  • Clark Edward Corliss, Patten’s Human Embryology: Elements of Clinical Development. New York: McGraw Hill, 1976. “It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual.”
  • E.L. Potter and J.M. Craig, Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 3rd edition. Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1975: “Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition.”
  • J.P. Greenhill and E.A. Friedman, Biological Principles and Modern Practice of Obstetrics. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1974: “The term conception refers to the union of the male and female pronuclear elements of procreation from which a new living being develops. It is synonymous with the terms fecundation, impregnation, and fertilization.”
  • Leslie Brainerd Arey, Developmental Anatomy, 7th Edition. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1974: “The formation, maturation and meeting of a male and female sex cell are all preliminary to their actual union into a combined cell, or zygote, which definitely marks the beginning of a new individual. The penetration of the ovum by the spermatozoon, and the coming together and pooling of their respective nuclei, constitutes the process of fertilization.”

Which human organisms are morally relevant?



Abortion and infanticide.
Further Recommended Reading

Relevant Secular Pro-Life blog posts: