Is Masturbation Mass Murder?

As a conservative Christian, this is a topic that used to embarrass me. Five years ago I never would have even considered writing an article on this topic, but ever since becoming a pro-life advocate, it was a topic that I’ve had to become comfortable with. Mostly because this is an argument that just doesn’t seem to go away.

There are good pro-choice arguments. There are also really lame arguments. This one falls under the latter category. It’s probably made as much for the shock value as it is to argue against pro-life people. Like the silly acorn argument, this argument is not a serious objection to the pro-life position. In fact, it’s a strawman against it. Not only does this objection reveal an ignorance of basic science on the part of the pro-choice person who uses it, it also reveals an ignorance of philosophy. As Scott Klusendorf says, this argument makes the elementary mistake of confusing parts with wholes.


The sperm/egg cell (spermatozoon/ovum)

I’ve decided to begin this article with a basic embryology lesson. I’m not an embryologist, but this is basic information that anyone should know. So I don’t presume to speak as an expert, but this information will become important when I reach the philosophy section of this article.

The egg and sperm cells are individual cells produced by the mother and father’s bodies, respectively. They are called haploid cells, each cell containing 23 chromosomes. When the two combine and the fertilization process begins, each contributes their 23 chromosomes and form a diploid cell, a zygote, which contains 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46 (a combination of the chromosomes from the sperm and the egg). The sperm cell is a product of the father, containing genetic information that will be contributed to the new zygote, and the egg cell is a product of the mother, containing genetic information that will be contributed to the new zygote. Although the fusion of the sperm and the egg develop into a zygote, the sperm and the egg technically cease to exist at fertilization. They lose their identity as a sperm and egg and become a brand new human individual. If left alone, the sperm and the egg will eventually die.

The zygote

We all began life as a human zygote. Embryologist Keith L. Moore, in his textbook The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition (Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. p. 16), states: “Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm 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.” A human zygote begins as a single diploid cell, but as with all living things, her cells soon start to divide and she grows, developing along the path of human development into a more mature version of herself. If left alone, she will continue to grow and develop as all human beings do.


Law of Identity

There is a fundamental law of philosophy, a First Principle, called the Law of Identity. Aristotle wrote of the Law of Identity as follows: “Again, if ‘man’ has one meaning, let this be ‘two-footed animal’, by having one meaning I understand this — if ‘man’ means ‘X’, then if A is a man ‘X’ will be what ‘being a man’ means for him” (Metaphysics, Book IV, Part 4). J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae (Body and Soul, InterVaristy Press Acadmic, Downer’s Grove, Il., 2000, p. 56) explain it this way: “Everything is identical to itself and thus shares all properties in common with itself. If we can find one thing true (or possibly true) of x not true (or possibly not true) of y or vice versa, then x is not identical to y.”

A property is just an attribute, characteristic, or quality of a thing (ibid., p. 51). There are different kinds of properties, but that is unimportant for this article. Take a particular property I have, being Caucasian. The Law of Identity states that if I, Clinton Wilcox, am Caucasian, then if Clinton Wilcox is the same person as Suzanne DeMarco’s oldest living son, then Suzanne DeMarco’s oldest living son is Caucasian (I have adapted the previous example from Moreland and Rae’s book, Body and Soul).

Put simply, if there is something true of x (say, a given sperm) and y (say, the zygote that will result from the fertilization), then the sperm and the zygote cannot be the same entity. There is at least one thing true of the zygote that is not true of the sperm, which is the property of having 46 chromosomes. A sperm only has 23, whereas the single-celled zygote has 46, so they cannot be the same entity (and there are other differences, as well).

Pro-choice philosopher David Benatar (Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2006, p.134) also finds the following problem with this argument: “Prior to conception there is only a sperm and an ovum. As these are both necessary for bringing somebody into existence, but because they are distinct entities prior to conception, they cannot be identical with the being that will be brought into existence. Two cannot be identical with one. Thus we cannot speak of a new organism as having come into existence prior to conception. Put another way, each one of us was once a zygote, but none of us was ever a sperm or an (unfertilized) ovum.” Anyone who makes this argument not only defies science, but pro-choice philosophers, as well.

Parts vs. Wholes

As mentioned above, Scott Klusendorf makes the observation that this argument commits a very elementary mistake of confusing parts with wholes. The sperm and egg are parts of the parent organism, the mother and father that conceive the new human being. They are produced by the parent organism for a very specific purpose, procreation.

Conversely, the new human organism that results from fertilization is her own unique individual, with her own functional parts that work toward the good of the whole organism, even from the single-cell stage.

So in no sense of the word are unborn human beings and sperm or eggs comparable. This is just another silly pro-choice argument that is not likely to die but is easy to rebut. If we could do away with the bad arguments and stick to the good ones, there would be many more productive conversations on the issue.

“No Uterus, No Opinion”

Tell that to these guys.
First, it makes no sense to
tell people who believe human rights are being violated to mind their own
business.  (See also: “Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one.”)
Second, views on abortion show no correlation to gender.  Even if we could forever silence men on the
topic, the abortion debate would remain intractable.
Third, it’s insulting (and
not at all feminist) to suggest that men are incapable of considering the
moral, legal, and practical aspects of abortion.  More generally, it’s insulting to suggest
thoughtful people of any gender, race, sexuality, etc., are incapable of
considering situations that don’t directly affect them.  How many men fought for votes for womenHow many white people spoke out against slavery?  How many straight people fight for gay marriage today? 
Such people aren’t just mindless minions manipulated by the relevant
interest group; they are conscientious humans capable of empathy.
Finally, and most importantly,
abortion does affect men.  While abortion’s serious physical effects are
absent, reproductive decisions (abortion, adoption, childbirth, etc.) have
significant financial, social, and psychological consequences for men.  This is true whether the man is pro-life,
pro-choice, or ambivalent.  
This is not
to say abortion affects men as much as women.  It is to say abortion affects men enough that
they have an interest in the abortion debate. 

Don’t like abortion?

So it’s pretty ridiculous how many times I’ve heard this:

If you want to understand a pro-lifer’s perspective, take any argument about abortion and substitute “fetus” with “3-year-old.”  Try this with me:
“If you don’t like killing 3-year-olds, then don’t kill any.  But don’t try to impose your beliefs on me!”
See what happens there?  
The fetus is a human being, and pro-lifer’s consider the fetus worthy of human rights/protection.  The “don’t like one, don’t get one” sound bite ignores this fundamental pro-life belief. It makes no sense to tell people who believe human rights are being violated to mind their own business.
(From Zazzle.)

Abortion and the Death Penalty

I am against the death penalty.  Inspired largely by the work of the Innocence Project, I believe our system is too fallible to justly implement the death penalty.  I’m certainly not alone in my stance; there are many people against both abortion and capital punishment.

That being said, I can understand how a person could work to end abortion without trying to end the death penalty.  Yes, both practices kill a human being; that is their similarity.  Now, can you think of any differences?
Capital punishment is far less frequent.  Approximately 50 million abortions were performed in the United States from 1973-2008.  In contrast, from 1977-2008, 1,234 inmates were executed.  In other words, abortions occur (roughly) 36,000 times more often than death row executions.  Even those who feel abortion and capital punishment are equally wrong may understandably devote more energy to the more pressing issue of abortion.
Capital punishment requires due process. Before being sentenced to death, the accused is given the opportunity to defend his or her case. We have a carefully established system meant to fairly determine whether a person is guilty of a crime and, if so, whether that guilt forfeits his or her life. Imagine the outrage if people could be sentenced to death without any accusations, any evidence, or any defense.  The fetus has no defense before death; the fetus’s life is subject to the mother’s will alone.
Capital punishment is designed for the guilty.  Many pro-lifers believe taking an innocent human life is wrong; capital punishment is meant to fall outside this realm.  At least in theory, all those on death row have committed heinous crimes. In contrast, the fetus cannot be said to be guilty of anything, seeing as a fetus never has the opportunity to make a decision.
Over the past several decades in the US, abortion has taken tens of millions of defenseless and innocent human lives.  Capital punishment has taken less than 2000 previously defended and presumably guilty human lives.  People weighing diverging factors will often come to diverging conclusions.  I see no hypocrisy in this.

Eggs, acorns and silkworms: Refuting pro-choice propaganda

Leadership board member Michelle Z. shared this image, noting that it’s been circulating on Tumblr.
These analogies only work if you avoid those pesky “difficult concepts” from science: concepts like fertilization, species classification, and biological development.

Let’s start with the egg. They’re right: it isn’t a chicken, because it hasn’t been fertilized. Hens lay eggs whether or not they’ve conceived; this means that farmers can avoid chicken reproduction by simply keeping the roosters separate from the hens, without hurting egg production. The eggs sold in supermarkets are almost always unfertilized. What you’re eating is the stuff that would have nourished the chick before hatching, had a chick been conceived. (As our dear friend Phil puts it, “Eggs are chicken period. Have fun erasing that mental image.”)

If you were to break open an egg that was fertilized, you’d reveal something rather unfamiliar to your breakfast table:See the beak and the tiny little bird foot? Chicken. Very young chicken, but still chicken.

Let’s move on to the acorn. “An acorn is not a tree” is one of the oldest, easiest-to-refute, unoriginal, nonsense pro-choice statements in the book. It relies on a simple linguistic confusion. The word “tree” can be used in two subtly different ways. One use is to designate species: oak trees, pine trees, etc. Another meaning designates the adult stage of the plant, as in “I planted a sapling last August, and now it’s a tree.” An acorn is not an adult tree. It IS a member of its species: oak, pine, or whatever the case may be. Likewise, unborn children are human, but they are not adults (and obviously, pro-lifers have never claimed that they are).

The silkworm example is just ridiculous. Of course a part of the raw materials used to make a dress is not a dress. But embryos and fetuses are not “raw materials” for making people. The raw materials are the nutrients that we ingest– prenatally through the umbilical cord, in infancy through breast milk or formula, and so on. We don’t “come from” unborn children; we once were unborn children.

This brings us to the final image. It appears that this image depicts a moment just before fertilization; the sperm hasn’t yet gone in to mingle its DNA with the egg’s DNA. So, ironically enough, the pro-choicers are actually right about this– just not for the reasons they think.

But let’s pretend that it were really an image of the moment of fertilization. Human fertilization (also known as conception) creates new members of the human species. Newly conceived human beings are of course not adults yet, but neither are they mere raw materials. They are simply young, and look exactly how they are supposed to at this stage of their lives. At conception, they possess all the genetic information that will guide them through the prenatal period, infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. Every person, including you, can trace back his or her existence as an individual to this event.

Pro-lifers are at a disadvantage here. In general, people tend to prefer simplistic ideas to ones that take more time to explain, even if the latter has science on its side. The abortion movement has made very good use of misleading images and language. It’s up to us to improve public understanding, one person at a time. Please share this post with your friends.

Click to enlarge. Also see on FB here.


In my experience one of the most frequently debated subjects within the abortion debate is the accuracy of the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” labels. Instead of arguing about issues that really matter–the definition of personhood, the effects of restricting abortion–people bicker about the technicality of labels. I’d like to get this out of the way.
Some insist you cannot be “pro-life” if you support military interventions, the death penalty, eating meat or killing mosquitoes. If you support any institution or action that involves killing anything, it is hypocritical to call yourself “pro-life”.

By that reasoning I suppose if you support any institution or action that restricts choices, it is hypocritical to call yourself “pro-choice.” Thus you cannot be “pro-choice” if you support the existence of police stations, prisons or Child Protective Services. Against the choice to beat children? Then you’re not really pro-choice. Apparently.
And so people suggest allegedly more accurate titles: anti-life, anti-choice, pro-abortion, anti-abortion, etc. Here’s the problem:

Pro-choice people don’t want everyone to die. Very few of them are serial killers. They don’t have a widespread problem of suicide. I know it sounds ludicrous for me to point these things out, but being “anti-all-life” is what “anti-life” (or even worse, “pro-death”) implies. Even if you argued that “anti-life” implies specifically “anti-fetal-life”, consider that plenty of pro-choice people have children of their own. In fact, about 61% of abortions are obtained by women who have one or more children.

And of course pro-life people don’t want to take away all choices. Shockingly, pro-life people make hundreds of choices every day. You can argue that this isn’t about “anti-all-choice” but rather “anti-reproductive-choice.” Yet pro-lifers aren’t fighting the choices to have sex, practice abstinence, have your own children, adopt, put children up for adoption, etc. And while admittedly the pro-life movement is divided on contraception, there are pro-lifers, including many here at SPL, who are pro-contraception. The only choice pro-lifers are consistently against is the choice to kill an unborn child.

(See more SPL stickers here.)

Some people view abortion as a way to combat environmental problems. Some see it as an act of mercy. Some people have even gone so far as to call abortion the ultimate motherly act. In these cases, people believe abortion is not just a necessary evil but a social good. Here the term “pro-abortion” is appropriate.
Yet there are many people who are politically pro-choice but “personally pro-life.” They defend the right to have an abortion not because they think abortion itself is good, but because they believe the ability to get an abortion is necessary to preserve women’s fundamental rights. There are plenty of pro-choice people who would not get an abortion or want their partners to get an abortion, but who feel compelled to defend the choice to get an abortion. Here the term “pro-abortion” does not fit.

Personally I feel this term is fairly accurate. However please note the majority of the pro-life movement recognizes the right to an abortion when the mother’s life is endangered or when the pregnancy is a result of rape. Furthermore, the idea behind the pro-life movement goes beyond saying abortion specifically is wrong to saying all non-defensive taking of human life is wrong. (Yes, there are those that believe the death penalty and some military interventions are defensive. That’s a separate discussion.) “Anti-abortion” doesn’t quite cover the scope of what we’re trying to say.
In the end, not one of these labels is entirely correct. The reality is that the abortion situation involves a combination of factors that make broad labels difficult to apply. We could start using labels like “Anti-non-defensive-killing” or “Pro-the-choice-to-abort” and thus perhaps avoid petty quibbling over rhetoric. Or we could just call each side by their preferred-yet-not-wholly-accurate name, and move on.

Bunnies and Misogyny

[This is the second post in a series on the pro-life movement and misogyny. Additional posts can be found here:
Logical Reasoning and Misogyny
Control and Misogyny]

An analogy:

A fatal disease is spreading among a population. An ointment is being developed that will likely cure the disease, but every few ounces of the ointment must be secreted by killing 10,000 bunnies. You personally don’t have the disease, and you oppose the ointment on moral grounds because of the bunny killing.

After awhile, public outrage at bunny killing culminates in the ointment being banned. Research continues, and a few years later a vaccine is discovered. However the vaccine only gives white people immunity. Minorities are still afflicted with the disease.

If you continue to hold the same position you already held—that killing 10,000 bunnies just to secure a few ounces of ointment is immoral—are you now a racist?

Clearly not. Race is incidental to the larger moral question, even though the issue only affects one race. Some people will oppose the ointment because they are racists, but as was discussed in Logical Reasoning and Misogyny, this is not evidence that anyone who opposes the ointment must be racist.

The same line of thinking can be applied to the pro-life movement in terms of the sexes. Gender is incidental to the moral question of whether fetal life is worthy of legal protection, even though pregnancy only affects one gender. If men could get pregnant, such a question would still remain, and pro-lifers would still hold that our society should value and care for fetal life.