Human Beings Begin as Zygotes: Refutations to 8 Common Pro-Choice Arguments

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant
for biological definition purposes. It is not meant to establish or argue any
moral or philosophical points.
 

A zygote is a human being.  
1.  The zygote is an
organism.

Fertilization – the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism – is the culmination of a multitude of intricately regulated cellular processes. [Marcello et al., Fertilization,
ADV. EXP. BIOL. 757:321 (2013)]

This is not a new concept. The zygote has been recognized as an
organism for decades:
“The zygote and early embryo are living human
organisms.
[Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud Before We Are Born –
Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects (W.B. Saunders Company, 1998. Fifth
edition.) Page 500]
“Embryo:
the developing organism from the time of fertilization until
significant differentiation has occurred, when the organism becomes
known as a fetus.
[Cloning Human Beings. Report and
Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Rockville, MD:
GPO, 1997, Appendix-2.]
“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a
critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new,
genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.
[O’Rahilly, Ronan and Muller,
Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York:
Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29.]
“The development of a human begins
with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from
the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise
to a new organism, the zygote.[Sadler,
T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams &
Wilkins 1995, p. 3]
Some pro-choicers imply that the
zygote is in some nebulous “in between phase” – not a gamete but not a human
organism. But biologically, life cycles do not contain such a phase. In humans
(animals), our life
cycle
 goes from diploid organism, which produces haploid gametes,
which combine to form a new diploid organism. The zygote isn’t in an unknown
stage; it’s the same organism as the grown adult, but at an earlier stage of
life.
The Diplontic Life Cycle
2. Every organism is part of
some species, and the human ZEF is part of the human species (Homo sapiens) by
virtue of its human DNA.
A species is defined as

 (2) An individual belonging to a
group of organisms (or the entire group itself) having common characteristics
and (usually) are capable of mating with one another to produce fertile
offspring. 

Please note that “capable of
mating” does not mean at any given instant. For example, newborns are not
capable of mating, but are still organisms of the human species. “Capable
of mating” refers to an organism who should be capable of mating in their
lifetime, barring sterility. And on that note, also keep in mind that there’s a
difference between an individual organism being sterile vs. an organism having
developed genetic changes which render reproduction with his origin species
impossible (speciation).
Every organism is part of some
species. There are no “non-species” organisms. The organism is part
of its parents’ species. For example, two honey-badgers cannot reproduce and
create a frog; their offspring would also be a honey-badger. Furthermore, an
organism can never change its species mid-development (in the middle of its
life). A honey-badger zygote develops into a honey-badger adult; a honey-badger
zygote can’t develop into a frog adult.
One species can develop into
another species over many generations.
This is called speciation. Speciation most often occurs when one species is
split into two or more geographical groups (allopatric speciation). Genetic
changes accumulate over many generations, not within a single lifespan, such
that if the groups ever met again, they would not be able to produce viable
offspring. That’s when you can say “these are now two
different species.”
But we would never say “this
offspring is an organism but has no species membership.”
Human zygotes are human, both
because their parents are human and because they have human DNA. They are not
part of some other species, nor do they lack species membership.
3. An organism that is a member
of the species Homo sapiens is a human being.
There are other
definitions of human being, including “a person, especially as distinguished from
other animals or as representing the human species.” I am only referring to the
biological definition of human being when I
use the term:

1. any individual of the genus
Homo, especially a member of the species Homo sapiens.  

CONCLUSION: Since
the zygote is an organism and a member of the species Homo sapiens, it is a
human organism and therefore biologically a human being.

Below we present some topics that have been brought up as questions or
objections.

Q1. Chimerism
Put simply, a chimera is a
single organism composed of more than one unique DNA type (or antigenic marker
on red blood cells). In animals, this can result from the merging of 2+ zygotes into
one entity (tetragametic), or from twins sharing blood supply in gestation
(“blood chimeras” have more than one blood type). You can be a microchimera if
you received blood from mom early in gestation, if as a mother you received
fetal cells during pregnancy (as most do), or
just from a blood transfusion. You’re even considered a chimera if you received
an organ transplant. Chimerism is usually asymptomatic, but rarely it can
result in things like intersexuality if
it results from absorption of a twin.
The important thing to note is that
a chimera is still one individual human organism. From the britannica article:


Chimera, in genetics,
an organism or tissue that contains at least two
different sets of 
DNA. In dispermic
chimeras, two eggs that have been fertilized by two 
sperm fuse together, producing a
so-called tetragametic individual—an
individual
 originating from four 
gametes, or sex cells.When two zygotes do not undergo fusion but
exchange cells and genetic material during development, two
individuals
, or 
twin chimeras, one or both of whom
contain two genetically distinct cell populations, are produced. 

You may be a chimera and not even
realize it. You may have multiple DNA types due to absorption of some cell
types or an entire other organism — and this doesn’t change the fact that you
are still an individual human organism.
The reason this is brought up as an
objection is because people sometimes think of DNA as some sort of marker of
individuality, and therefore they may see multiple markers of DNA as a sign of
“multiple individuals.” DNA can function as an
individuality marker, but it doesn’t always as is evident in the case of
identical twins. DNA is simply a code of instructions for the body to function
effectively as an organism. That’s it. If it is unique to you, and you only
have one set of DNA — great! If you do not have unique DNA, or you have
multiple unique DNA sets — you’re still a singular human organism. 
Q2. Twinning
This objection usually goes
something like: A zygote can twin, therefore how can you say it’s an individual
human being before the potential twinning stage is over?
This objection is interesting
because by extension, none of us are individual human beings. Why? Well
twinning is essentially the same
thing as cloning
. The main difference is that one happens
“naturally” and the other happens artificially. The point is, if your
DNA can be taken from an epithelial cell on your arm and made into a clone,
would spawning a clone mean you were not an individual human being to begin
with? With advanced technology, we could all conceivably be in the
“twinning” (cloning) phase indefinitely! Yet we’re all still singular
human organisms.
This is basically the backwards
version of chimerism, by the way. Absorbing or spawning organisms
does not change the fact that a single organism is still a single
organism.   



Read more: Monozygotic twinning, Weasley brothers, flatworms, and cow clones.

Q3. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
In vitro
means “outside the body.” IVF is when we use sperm to fertilize an
egg in a laboratory dish instead of a uterine tube (in vivo). The
resulting embryo is then placed into the woman’s uterus to allow implantation
and thus a pregnancy, which is why IVF is considered a type of assisted
reproductive technology (ART).
The pro-life objection to IVF is
that — due to time, cost, and failure rates — companies performing the
procedure will always fertilize more than one embryo at a time. Many will then select
the highest quality
 embryos
to increase chances of a successful pregnancy. This means either
cryopreservation (freezing) of the remaining embryos if the couple wants to pay
for it, or destroying them.
In some countries, including the
US, multiple embryos can be transferred to the woman’s uterus to increase
chances of a successful pregnancy. This can sometimes result in multiple
implantations (twins or more), but this isn’t usually the case, which means the
other embryo will have been miscarried.
It’s worth noting that although
survival rates for IVF are poor, nothing about IVF alters the basic biological
process outlined above: gametes join to form a new human organism. It is merely
accomplished in a laboratory rather than in the womb. People conceived through
IVF are as human as anyone else.
From my perspective, there is
nothing inherently wrong with IVF if it were done on one embryo at a time,
which gives every embryo the best possible chance of life. But this is not standard practice.
Rather, IVF is used to make multiple embryos with the foreknowledge that not
all will be allowed to grow and live their life, and in most cases with the
foreknowledge that some will die.
One objection to this is: But a large percentage of
conceptions die before ever implanting, or soon after. Why is that foreknowledge
ok in natural conception, but suddenly wrong if done in a petri dish? 
In natural conception, couples are
trying their best to give every zygote a chance to live. If a zygote dies
naturally, that is not the preemptive work of the couple creating him/her as it
is in most cases of IVF.  
And while I greatly sympathize with
men and women who have fertility problems but have a great desire to create
their own offspring, the solution is not to treat human organisms as disposable.

Q4. Random Mutations
Through your life, your body
replenishes cells via mitosis. Every time a cell is copied, the replication
machinery — while mostly very accurate — will make mistakes in copying the
template DNA. Not to worry, there is proofreading machinery too. However, even this can
make mistakes. So in the end, there is some non-zero
number of mutations
 that are
incorporated into the new cell which are propagated in that cell line (although
you still have your original batch of stem cells).
What this means is that as you get
older, some portion of your cells will have a specific DNA sequence that is
different than the one you had when you were younger. Some people see DNA as a
unique identifier, like a name, and therefore a change in this identifier might
mean you are not the same individual.
We all change as we grow. I am not
the same person I was when I was 5; I have different memories, experiences,
mindsets, functionality, and slightly different DNA. But guess what? I’m
still the same organism.
While some people may ascribe to the belief that we are not the same
“person” we were yesterday, in a scientific sense we are still the
same organism. An organism goes through changes in its life, but it doesn’t end
its life and begin a new one in the same body.

Q5. Life as a Continuum vs Individual Life

We have written
about this topic before
. The objection goes something like: Human life doesn’t begin at fertilization; it began millions of years
ago.”

The objection confuses the life of an individual human
organism
 with life arising from life (also known as the Law of
Biogenesis
.) The Law of Biogenesis points out that living matter has to
come from other living matter. However you, as an organism, were not the
precursor molecules that eventually formed you, as an organism. For example you
were not sperm and egg. Or an early primate. The precursors that create an
organism are not equivalent to the organism itself.
The fact that all life comes from
preexisting life does not change the fact that an individual organism’s life
has a start and end point. And for human organisms, that starting point is
always as a zygote.

Q6. Hydatidiform Mole
[November 2018 update: in the original version of this section we incorrectly stated that partial moles are never viable. We have sense learned there are rare cases where such humans have survived to infancy.]
hydatidiform mole (1/1000
pregnancies in the US) is an abnormal fertilized egg which implants in the
uterus.
(Q6a) Complete Mole: This
abnormality can occur when one (90%) or even two (10%) sperm combine with
an ovum that has no maternal
DNA
; the sperm then replicates its DNA to create an artificially
“diploid” cell. This results in a mass of abnormal tissue which can
develop into cancer (15-20%) and/or invade the uterine wall (10-15% of all
molar pregnancies will invade if not removed). Complete moles have no embryonic growth; there is only abnormal placental tissue. 
Maureen Condic said it much better than I ever could (the bolded part is most important):

Despite an initial (superficial) similarity to embryos, hydatidiform moles do not start out as embryos and later transform into tumors, they are intrinsically tumors from their initiation. Moreover, they are not frustrated embryos that are “trying” (yet unable) to develop normally. Just as a CD recording of “Twinkle, twinkle little star” is not somehow thwarted in its attempt to play the “Alphabet song” by a deficiency of notes in the fourth measure …, hydatidiform moles are not “blocked” from proceeding along an embryonic path of development by a lack of maternally-imprinted DNA. Rather, hydatidiform moles are manifesting their own inherent properties—the properties of a tumor. Even in the optimal environment for embryonic development (the uterus), hydatidiform moles produce disordered growths, indicating they are not limited by environment, but rather by their own intrinsic nature; a nature that does not rise to the level of an organism…If the necessary structures (molecules, genes etc.) required for development (i.e., an organismal level of organization) do not exist in an entity from the beginning, the entity is intrinsically incapable of being an organism and is therefore not a human being. Such entities are undergoing a cellular process that is fundamentally different from human development and are not human embryos.

(Maurine Condic, “A Biological Definition of the Human Embryo,” Persons, Moral Worth, and Embryos: A Critical Analysis of Pro-Choice Arguments, as quoted by Jay Watts in his article Condic on the Difference Between Embryonic Humans and Hydatidiform Moles, emphasis Condic’s.) 
(Q6b) partial
mole
 on the other hand is when a normal
ovum 
is fertilized by two
sperm or by one sperm that replicates itself, creating a triploidy or
tetraploidy cell. In this case, an embryo/fetus can develop. Rarely is this embryo viable; partial moles usually miscarry and even when they do not the embryo is often overtaken and destroyed by the abnormal placental tissue. However there have been extraordinarily rare cases of triploid human organisms surviving until infancy. These are human organisms with severe and fatal genetic abnormalities.
We have written on molar pregnancies before. Some people use hydatidiform moles as an
example to argue that fertilization is not necessarily the beginning of a human
being, or that because fertilization can result in these moles, then it’s wrong
to say a fertilized egg is a human being.
In one sense, they’re right. They’re correct to say that not all
fertilizations result in human beings. Clearly, some result in complete moles.
Fertilization is a necessary
but not sufficient 
condition
for the formation of a human organism.
However in the vast majority of cases, a fertilized egg is a human
organism (human being). The exception really does prove the rule. As the
previous blog post pointed out, pro-lifers tend to take shortcuts here and say
that fertilization is the beginning of a new human life. Most of the time,
that’s true. Perhaps it would be better to just say “a zygote is a human
being,” or something similar.  



Read more: Hydatidiform moles and molar pregnancies
Q7. Miscarriages
According to the NIH, half of all fertilized eggs die spontaneously, and 15-20%
of pregnancies (post-implantation) will miscarry.
Q7a) People
may cite the high number of miscarriages to imply that abortion is not morally
problematic 
or the zygote is not a human being.
However, there’s a clear distinction between natural death and
intentional killing. Every human being will die. Some die of cancer (natural
death) and some die of gunshot wound (intentional killing). If lots of people
die of cancer, would that make shooting them morally acceptable? No. Just
because people die naturally, whether in old age or pre-implantation, doesn’t
mean it’s acceptable to kill them, whether by gun or by chemical.
If lots of people die naturally of cancer, does that mean they
were not human beings to begin with? Clearly not. Likewise a high rate of
natural death in the preborn does not mean they were not human beings. As
stated above, a zygote is a human being, whether it dies
naturally in a day or in 100 years.
(Q7b) People
may also cite the high number of miscarriages to question why pro-lifers don’t
appear as concerned with the high number of deaths there. 

Why do people speak out
more passionately and perhaps more frequently about shootings than they do
about cancer? Does it mean that people who die naturally, from cancer, don’t
matter? Does it imply that they don’t really care
about people dying in general? Of course not. It makes sense to be more upset
by a human being intentionally killing another human being than it does to be
upset by a natural cause of death. Furthermore, stopping this type of killing
is more likely within our grasp than finding a cure to cancer.
Likewise with abortion: we are far more equipped to stop the
intentional killing of young human beings than we are equipped to stop natural
miscarriages. And it’s understandable that an egregious harm being perpetrated
by an intelligent human being (capable of moral contemplation) is more
upsetting than harm perpetrated by non-moral agents.



Read more: Nearly half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant
Q8. Skin cells are human!
The skin cells on my arm are human, too. Is it murder if I scratch
my arm? Sperm are also human, is masturbation murder? 

This objection conflates “human” the adjective and “human” the noun. Epithelial cells and sperm are human cells, but they are not human organisms. There is a
difference between components that make up an organism (epithelial,
endothelial, renal, pulmonary, hepatic cells, etc) and the organism itself.
Human organisms (human beings) are what pro-lifers are concerned with, which includes
the zygote.  

Human Beings Begin as Zygotes: Refutations to 8 Common Pro-Choice Arguments

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant
for biological definition purposes. It is not meant to establish or argue any
moral or philosophical points.
 

A zygote is a human being.  
1.  The zygote is an
organism.

Fertilization – the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism – is the culmination of a multitude of intricately regulated cellular processes. [Marcello et al., Fertilization,
ADV. EXP. BIOL. 757:321 (2013)]

This is not a new concept. The zygote has been recognized as an
organism for decades:
“The zygote and early embryo are living human
organisms.
[Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud Before We Are Born –
Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects (W.B. Saunders Company, 1998. Fifth
edition.) Page 500]
“Embryo:
the developing organism from the time of fertilization until
significant differentiation has occurred, when the organism becomes
known as a fetus.
[Cloning Human Beings. Report and
Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Rockville, MD:
GPO, 1997, Appendix-2.]
“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a
critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new,
genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.
[O’Rahilly, Ronan and Muller,
Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York:
Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29.]
“The development of a human begins
with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from
the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise
to a new organism, the zygote.[Sadler,
T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams &
Wilkins 1995, p. 3]
Some pro-choicers imply that the
zygote is in some nebulous “in between phase” – not a gamete but not a human
organism. But biologically, life cycles do not contain such a phase. In humans
(animals), our life
cycle
 goes from diploid organism, which produces haploid gametes,
which combine to form a new diploid organism. The zygote isn’t in an unknown
stage; it’s the same organism as the grown adult, but at an earlier stage of
life.
The Diplontic Life Cycle
2. Every organism is part of
some species, and the human ZEF is part of the human species (Homo sapiens) by
virtue of its human DNA.
A species is defined as

 (2) An individual belonging to a
group of organisms (or the entire group itself) having common characteristics
and (usually) are capable of mating with one another to produce fertile
offspring. 

Please note that “capable of
mating” does not mean at any given instant. For example, newborns are not
capable of mating, but are still organisms of the human species. “Capable
of mating” refers to an organism who should be capable of mating in their
lifetime, barring sterility. And on that note, also keep in mind that there’s a
difference between an individual organism being sterile vs. an organism having
developed genetic changes which render reproduction with his origin species
impossible (speciation).
Every organism is part of some
species. There are no “non-species” organisms. The organism is part
of its parents’ species. For example, two honey-badgers cannot reproduce and
create a frog; their offspring would also be a honey-badger. Furthermore, an
organism can never change its species mid-development (in the middle of its
life). A honey-badger zygote develops into a honey-badger adult; a honey-badger
zygote can’t develop into a frog adult.
One species can develop into
another species over many generations.
This is called speciation. Speciation most often occurs when one species is
split into two or more geographical groups (allopatric speciation). Genetic
changes accumulate over many generations, not within a single lifespan, such
that if the groups ever met again, they would not be able to produce viable
offspring. That’s when you can say “these are now two
different species.”
But we would never say “this
offspring is an organism but has no species membership.”
Human zygotes are human, both
because their parents are human and because they have human DNA. They are not
part of some other species, nor do they lack species membership.
3. An organism that is a member
of the species Homo sapiens is a human being.
There are other
definitions of human being, including “a person, especially as distinguished from
other animals or as representing the human species.” I am only referring to the
biological definition of human being when I
use the term:

1. any individual of the genus
Homo, especially a member of the species Homo sapiens.  

CONCLUSION: Since
the zygote is an organism and a member of the species Homo sapiens, it is a
human organism and therefore biologically a human being.

Below we present some topics that have been brought up as questions or
objections.

Q1. Chimerism
Put simply, a chimera is a
single organism composed of more than one unique DNA type (or antigenic marker
on red blood cells). In animals, this can result from the merging of 2+ zygotes into
one entity (tetragametic), or from twins sharing blood supply in gestation
(“blood chimeras” have more than one blood type). You can be a microchimera if
you received blood from mom early in gestation, if as a mother you received
fetal cells during pregnancy (as most do), or
just from a blood transfusion. You’re even considered a chimera if you received
an organ transplant. Chimerism is usually asymptomatic, but rarely it can
result in things like intersexuality if
it results from absorption of a twin.
The important thing to note is that
a chimera is still one individual human organism. From the britannica article:


Chimera, in genetics,
an organism or tissue that contains at least two
different sets of 
DNA. In dispermic
chimeras, two eggs that have been fertilized by two 
sperm fuse together, producing a
so-called tetragametic individual—an
individual
 originating from four 
gametes, or sex cells.When two zygotes do not undergo fusion but
exchange cells and genetic material during development, two
individuals
, or 
twin chimeras, one or both of whom
contain two genetically distinct cell populations, are produced. 

You may be a chimera and not even
realize it. You may have multiple DNA types due to absorption of some cell
types or an entire other organism — and this doesn’t change the fact that you
are still an individual human organism.
The reason this is brought up as an
objection is because people sometimes think of DNA as some sort of marker of
individuality, and therefore they may see multiple markers of DNA as a sign of
“multiple individuals.” DNA can function as an
individuality marker, but it doesn’t always as is evident in the case of
identical twins. DNA is simply a code of instructions for the body to function
effectively as an organism. That’s it. If it is unique to you, and you only
have one set of DNA — great! If you do not have unique DNA, or you have
multiple unique DNA sets — you’re still a singular human organism. 
Q2. Twinning
This objection usually goes
something like: A zygote can twin, therefore how can you say it’s an individual
human being before the potential twinning stage is over?
This objection is interesting
because by extension, none of us are individual human beings. Why? Well
twinning is essentially the same
thing as cloning
. The main difference is that one happens
“naturally” and the other happens artificially. The point is, if your
DNA can be taken from an epithelial cell on your arm and made into a clone,
would spawning a clone mean you were not an individual human being to begin
with? With advanced technology, we could all conceivably be in the
“twinning” (cloning) phase indefinitely! Yet we’re all still singular
human organisms.
This is basically the backwards
version of chimerism, by the way. Absorbing or spawning organisms
does not change the fact that a single organism is still a single
organism.   



Read more: Monozygotic twinning, Weasley brothers, flatworms, and cow clones.

Q3. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)
In vitro
means “outside the body.” IVF is when we use sperm to fertilize an
egg in a laboratory dish instead of a uterine tube (in vivo). The
resulting embryo is then placed into the woman’s uterus to allow implantation
and thus a pregnancy, which is why IVF is considered a type of assisted
reproductive technology (ART).
The pro-life objection to IVF is
that — due to time, cost, and failure rates — companies performing the
procedure will always fertilize more than one embryo at a time. Many will then select
the highest quality
 embryos
to increase chances of a successful pregnancy. This means either
cryopreservation (freezing) of the remaining embryos if the couple wants to pay
for it, or destroying them.
In some countries, including the
US, multiple embryos can be transferred to the woman’s uterus to increase
chances of a successful pregnancy. This can sometimes result in multiple
implantations (twins or more), but this isn’t usually the case, which means the
other embryo will have been miscarried.
It’s worth noting that although
survival rates for IVF are poor, nothing about IVF alters the basic biological
process outlined above: gametes join to form a new human organism. It is merely
accomplished in a laboratory rather than in the womb. People conceived through
IVF are as human as anyone else.
From my perspective, there is
nothing inherently wrong with IVF if it were done on one embryo at a time,
which gives every embryo the best possible chance of life. But this is not standard practice.
Rather, IVF is used to make multiple embryos with the foreknowledge that not
all will be allowed to grow and live their life, and in most cases with the
foreknowledge that some will die.
One objection to this is: But a large percentage of
conceptions die before ever implanting, or soon after. Why is that foreknowledge
ok in natural conception, but suddenly wrong if done in a petri dish? 
In natural conception, couples are
trying their best to give every zygote a chance to live. If a zygote dies
naturally, that is not the preemptive work of the couple creating him/her as it
is in most cases of IVF.  
And while I greatly sympathize with
men and women who have fertility problems but have a great desire to create
their own offspring, the solution is not to treat human organisms as disposable.

Q4. Random Mutations
Through your life, your body
replenishes cells via mitosis. Every time a cell is copied, the replication
machinery — while mostly very accurate — will make mistakes in copying the
template DNA. Not to worry, there is proofreading machinery too. However, even this can
make mistakes. So in the end, there is some non-zero
number of mutations
 that are
incorporated into the new cell which are propagated in that cell line (although
you still have your original batch of stem cells).
What this means is that as you get
older, some portion of your cells will have a specific DNA sequence that is
different than the one you had when you were younger. Some people see DNA as a
unique identifier, like a name, and therefore a change in this identifier might
mean you are not the same individual.
We all change as we grow. I am not
the same person I was when I was 5; I have different memories, experiences,
mindsets, functionality, and slightly different DNA. But guess what? I’m
still the same organism.
While some people may ascribe to the belief that we are not the same
“person” we were yesterday, in a scientific sense we are still the
same organism. An organism goes through changes in its life, but it doesn’t end
its life and begin a new one in the same body.

Q5. Life as a Continuum vs Individual Life

We have written
about this topic before
. The objection goes something like: Human life doesn’t begin at fertilization; it began millions of years
ago.”

The objection confuses the life of an individual human
organism
 with life arising from life (also known as the Law of
Biogenesis
.) The Law of Biogenesis points out that living matter has to
come from other living matter. However you, as an organism, were not the
precursor molecules that eventually formed you, as an organism. For example you
were not sperm and egg. Or an early primate. The precursors that create an
organism are not equivalent to the organism itself.
The fact that all life comes from
preexisting life does not change the fact that an individual organism’s life
has a start and end point. And for human organisms, that starting point is
always as a zygote.

Q6. Hydatidiform Mole
[November 2018 update: in the original version of this section we incorrectly stated that partial moles are never viable. We have sense learned there are rare cases where such humans have survived to infancy.]
hydatidiform mole (1/1000
pregnancies in the US) is an abnormal fertilized egg which implants in the
uterus.
(Q6a) Complete Mole: This
abnormality can occur when one (90%) or even two (10%) sperm combine with
an ovum that has no maternal
DNA
; the sperm then replicates its DNA to create an artificially
“diploid” cell. This results in a mass of abnormal tissue which can
develop into cancer (15-20%) and/or invade the uterine wall (10-15% of all
molar pregnancies will invade if not removed). Complete moles have no embryonic growth; there is only abnormal placental tissue. 
Maureen Condic said it much better than I ever could (the bolded part is most important):

Despite an initial (superficial) similarity to embryos, hydatidiform moles do not start out as embryos and later transform into tumors, they are intrinsically tumors from their initiation. Moreover, they are not frustrated embryos that are “trying” (yet unable) to develop normally. Just as a CD recording of “Twinkle, twinkle little star” is not somehow thwarted in its attempt to play the “Alphabet song” by a deficiency of notes in the fourth measure …, hydatidiform moles are not “blocked” from proceeding along an embryonic path of development by a lack of maternally-imprinted DNA. Rather, hydatidiform moles are manifesting their own inherent properties—the properties of a tumor. Even in the optimal environment for embryonic development (the uterus), hydatidiform moles produce disordered growths, indicating they are not limited by environment, but rather by their own intrinsic nature; a nature that does not rise to the level of an organism…If the necessary structures (molecules, genes etc.) required for development (i.e., an organismal level of organization) do not exist in an entity from the beginning, the entity is intrinsically incapable of being an organism and is therefore not a human being. Such entities are undergoing a cellular process that is fundamentally different from human development and are not human embryos.

(Maurine Condic, “A Biological Definition of the Human Embryo,” Persons, Moral Worth, and Embryos: A Critical Analysis of Pro-Choice Arguments, as quoted by Jay Watts in his article Condic on the Difference Between Embryonic Humans and Hydatidiform Moles, emphasis Condic’s.) 
(Q6b) partial
mole
 on the other hand is when a normal
ovum 
is fertilized by two
sperm or by one sperm that replicates itself, creating a triploidy or
tetraploidy cell. In this case, an embryo/fetus can develop. Rarely is this embryo viable; partial moles usually miscarry and even when they do not the embryo is often overtaken and destroyed by the abnormal placental tissue. However there have been extraordinarily rare cases of triploid human organisms surviving until infancy. These are human organisms with severe and fatal genetic abnormalities.
We have written on molar pregnancies before. Some people use hydatidiform moles as an
example to argue that fertilization is not necessarily the beginning of a human
being, or that because fertilization can result in these moles, then it’s wrong
to say a fertilized egg is a human being.
In one sense, they’re right. They’re correct to say that not all
fertilizations result in human beings. Clearly, some result in complete moles.
Fertilization is a necessary
but not sufficient 
condition
for the formation of a human organism.
However in the vast majority of cases, a fertilized egg is a human
organism (human being). The exception really does prove the rule. As the
previous blog post pointed out, pro-lifers tend to take shortcuts here and say
that fertilization is the beginning of a new human life. Most of the time,
that’s true. Perhaps it would be better to just say “a zygote is a human
being,” or something similar.  



Read more: Hydatidiform moles and molar pregnancies
Q7. Miscarriages
According to the NIH, half of all fertilized eggs die spontaneously, and 15-20%
of pregnancies (post-implantation) will miscarry.
Q7a) People
may cite the high number of miscarriages to imply that abortion is not morally
problematic 
or the zygote is not a human being.
However, there’s a clear distinction between natural death and
intentional killing. Every human being will die. Some die of cancer (natural
death) and some die of gunshot wound (intentional killing). If lots of people
die of cancer, would that make shooting them morally acceptable? No. Just
because people die naturally, whether in old age or pre-implantation, doesn’t
mean it’s acceptable to kill them, whether by gun or by chemical.
If lots of people die naturally of cancer, does that mean they
were not human beings to begin with? Clearly not. Likewise a high rate of
natural death in the preborn does not mean they were not human beings. As
stated above, a zygote is a human being, whether it dies
naturally in a day or in 100 years.
(Q7b) People
may also cite the high number of miscarriages to question why pro-lifers don’t
appear as concerned with the high number of deaths there. 

Why do people speak out
more passionately and perhaps more frequently about shootings than they do
about cancer? Does it mean that people who die naturally, from cancer, don’t
matter? Does it imply that they don’t really care
about people dying in general? Of course not. It makes sense to be more upset
by a human being intentionally killing another human being than it does to be
upset by a natural cause of death. Furthermore, stopping this type of killing
is more likely within our grasp than finding a cure to cancer.
Likewise with abortion: we are far more equipped to stop the
intentional killing of young human beings than we are equipped to stop natural
miscarriages. And it’s understandable that an egregious harm being perpetrated
by an intelligent human being (capable of moral contemplation) is more
upsetting than harm perpetrated by non-moral agents.



Read more: Nearly half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant
Q8. Skin cells are human!
The skin cells on my arm are human, too. Is it murder if I scratch
my arm? Sperm are also human, is masturbation murder? 

This objection conflates “human” the adjective and “human” the noun. Epithelial cells and sperm are human cells, but they are not human organisms. There is a
difference between components that make up an organism (epithelial,
endothelial, renal, pulmonary, hepatic cells, etc) and the organism itself.
Human organisms (human beings) are what pro-lifers are concerned with, which includes
the zygote.  

False Information Alert: EarlyAbortionOptions.com

Top: a “photo” of a 9-week fetus from EarlyAbortionOptions.com (See under “What does the tissue look like?”)

Bottom: a picture from WebMD of an 8-week fetus.

Also Snopes links to BabyCenter for accurate depictions of fetal development. Notice BabyCenter’s photo is basically the exact same picture as WebMD’s.

Fetal Development Facts: At 9 weeks, the fetus is over half an inch (WebMD) to nearly an inch (BabyCenter), which is basically the size of the penny (0.75 inches). But unlike the “photo” from EarlyAbortionOptions.com, the 9-week fetus has fully formed eyes and fused eyelids. There are newly forming ears, nose tip, and “well-formed” arms and legs with visible fingers and toes. The heart has divided into four chambers and beats at about 170bpm, detectable by Doppler. Teeth have started to form. Organs are starting to work. The brain has cerebral hemispheres and measurable brainwaves. Jaw bones and the collar bone begin to harden. Limbs can move, the neck can turn, hiccups begin (also detectable by ultrasound).

One SPL member, Kristin Monahan, called this clinic about the misinformation on their website. According to Kristin, the woman on the phone asked several times if Kristin was trying to get an abortion, and when she said no, the woman simply said the info on their site was accurate and hung up.

At a time when CPCs are being accused of “misleading” women by not endorsing abortion, we would hope the same standard for accuracy would be applied to pro-abortion sites like EarlyAbortionOptions.com, which is clearly misleading women into believing the fetus basically looks like a dust bunny.

Additional Sources:
1. Prenatal Summary – Endowment for Human Development
2. Fetal Development – University of Maryland Medical Center
3. Pregnancy Week by Week – Mayo Clinic

False Information Alert: EarlyAbortionOptions.com

Top: a “photo” of a 9-week fetus from EarlyAbortionOptions.com (See under “What does the tissue look like?”)

Bottom: a picture from WebMD of an 8-week fetus.

Also Snopes links to BabyCenter for accurate depictions of fetal development. Notice BabyCenter’s photo is basically the exact same picture as WebMD’s.

Fetal Development Facts: At 9 weeks, the fetus is over half an inch (WebMD) to nearly an inch (BabyCenter), which is basically the size of the penny (0.75 inches). But unlike the “photo” from EarlyAbortionOptions.com, the 9-week fetus has fully formed eyes and fused eyelids. There are newly forming ears, nose tip, and “well-formed” arms and legs with visible fingers and toes. The heart has divided into four chambers and beats at about 170bpm, detectable by Doppler. Teeth have started to form. Organs are starting to work. The brain has cerebral hemispheres and measurable brainwaves. Jaw bones and the collar bone begin to harden. Limbs can move, the neck can turn, hiccups begin (also detectable by ultrasound).

One SPL member, Kristin Monahan, called this clinic about the misinformation on their website. According to Kristin, the woman on the phone asked several times if Kristin was trying to get an abortion, and when she said no, the woman simply said the info on their site was accurate and hung up.

At a time when CPCs are being accused of “misleading” women by not endorsing abortion, we would hope the same standard for accuracy would be applied to pro-abortion sites like EarlyAbortionOptions.com, which is clearly misleading women into believing the fetus basically looks like a dust bunny.

Additional Sources:
1. Prenatal Summary – Endowment for Human Development
2. Fetal Development – University of Maryland Medical Center
3. Pregnancy Week by Week – Mayo Clinic

More evidence that most late-term abortions are elective

Two months ago I wrote the post “No, most late-term abortions are not medically necessary,” in which I used Guttmacher data to show that at least 75%
of 13+ week abortions are elective (that is, they are not performed due to fetal or maternal health concerns).
I said:

One could argue that the proportion of medically necessary
abortions after 16 weeks would be higher. And it probably would be. However
there’s no indication it would be so high as to constitute even a majority of
late-term abortions, much less “nearly all” late-term abortions.

Apparently since 2012 Arizona has been publishing more detailed information on their late-term abortions than most states provide.
Specifically Arizona has documented reasons for 14-20 week abortions and reasons for 21+
week abortions. The bottom line?
In Arizona, since 2012,
91% of 14-20 week abortions &
80%
of 21+ week abortions 
have been elective.


So at least in Arizona, no, the proportion of medically necessary abortions did not increase later in the pregnancy compared to the data from Guttmacher.  
Similarly I found some Florida data. Unfortunately they lump together 13-24 weeks. They also have some pretty broad definitions of “non-elective.” In addition to life endangering conditions to the mother and serious fetal medical conditions, Florida considers abortions for the following reasons “non-elective””
  • Emotional/psychological health of the mother
  • Incest
  • Rape
  • Physical health of the mother that is not life endangering 
  • Social or economic reasons

Including “economic reasons” in the definition of “non-elective” doesn’t mesh at all with the pro-choice claim that late-term abortions are all medically necessary. But let’s just pretend it does. Even if we include all these reasons in the “non-elective” category, the numbers still don’t support the pro-choice claim.

In Florida, since 2013, 
87% of 13-24 week abortions 
have been elective.   
While this information comes from only two states, the point remains that wherever there is actual data (where states can’t hide behind non-reporting), it’s clear most late-term abortions are not medically necessary. If any pro-choicer has evidence (beyond anecdotes) to suggest otherwise, please bring it forward.

More evidence that most late-term abortions are elective

Two months ago I wrote the post “No, most late-term abortions are not medically necessary,” in which I used Guttmacher data to show that at least 75%
of 13+ week abortions are elective (that is, they are not performed due to fetal or maternal health concerns).
I said:

One could argue that the proportion of medically necessary
abortions after 16 weeks would be higher. And it probably would be. However
there’s no indication it would be so high as to constitute even a majority of
late-term abortions, much less “nearly all” late-term abortions.

Apparently since 2012 Arizona has been publishing more detailed information on their late-term abortions than most states provide.
Specifically Arizona has documented reasons for 14-20 week abortions and reasons for 21+
week abortions. The bottom line?
In Arizona, since 2012,
91% of 14-20 week abortions &
80%
of 21+ week abortions 
have been elective.


So at least in Arizona, no, the proportion of medically necessary abortions did not increase later in the pregnancy compared to the data from Guttmacher.  
Similarly I found some Florida data. Unfortunately they lump together 13-24 weeks. They also have some pretty broad definitions of “non-elective.” In addition to life endangering conditions to the mother and serious fetal medical conditions, Florida considers abortions for the following reasons “non-elective””
  • Emotional/psychological health of the mother
  • Incest
  • Rape
  • Physical health of the mother that is not life endangering 
  • Social or economic reasons

Including “economic reasons” in the definition of “non-elective” doesn’t mesh at all with the pro-choice claim that late-term abortions are all medically necessary. But let’s just pretend it does. Even if we include all these reasons in the “non-elective” category, the numbers still don’t support the pro-choice claim.

In Florida, since 2013, 
87% of 13-24 week abortions 
have been elective.   
While this information comes from only two states, the point remains that wherever there is actual data (where states can’t hide behind non-reporting), it’s clear most late-term abortions are not medically necessary. If any pro-choicer has evidence (beyond anecdotes) to suggest otherwise, please bring it forward.

No, most late-term abortions are not medically necessary.

[Editor’s note: This post was originally published on July 13, 2016 and has recently been updated.]


When it comes to The
Abortion Debate, both sides often try to focus on facets which
make the opposition look worst. For example, pro-lifers like to talk about
late-term abortions. Pro-choicers like to talk about rape
and medically necessary abortions. Both of these are small fractions of all
abortions. Nevertheless, they all warrant thoughtful responses.
It’s not uncommon for
pro-choicers to sincerely believe that most late-term abortions are done for
medically necessary reasons. After all, 97% of pro-choicers and 69% of
pro-lifers support the legal option of abortion when the woman’s life is in
danger. Likewise 96% and 68% support it when “the woman’s physical health
is endangered” (2011 Gallup).
Claiming late-term
abortion is usually done out of medical necessity may help counter the public’s
overwhelming disapproval of the practice: 64% of all US citizens believe
abortion should be illegal in the 2nd trimester, 80% in the third trimester (2013 Gallup). Note that second trimester is week 13 to 26; definitions of
“late term” vary, most I’ve seen include anywhere from 16 to 20 weeks
and onward.
Yet, to the best of our
knowledge, most late-term abortions are not
done for medical reasons.
This 1988
study
 surveyed 399 women
seeking abortion at 16+ weeks. The study found women were obtaining late-term
abortions instead of earlier-term abortions (i.e. reasons for delaying)
because:

  • 71% Woman didn’t
    recognize she was pregnant or misjudged gestation
  • 48% Woman found it hard
    to make arrangements for abortion
  • 33% Woman was afraid to
    tell her partner or parents
  • 24% Woman took time to
    decide to have an abortion
  • 8% Woman waited for her
    relationship to change
  • 8% Someone pressured
    woman not to have abortion
  • 6% Something changed
    after woman became pregnant
  • 6% Woman didn’t know
    timing is important
  • 5% Woman didn’t know she
    could get an abortion
  • 2% A fetal problem was
    diagnosed late in pregnancy
  • 11% Other

But, again, these are reasons for delaying abortion, not necessarily reasons for seeking abortion. This is an important distinction because, for example, a woman may have delayed her abortion because it was hard to make arrangements for it, but she may be getting the abortion due to medical necessity. If we want to know why women getting late-term abortions seek abortion in the first place, we need to look elsewhere. Unfortunately, sources discussing this seem to be very hard to come by.
(If you know of any statistics looking only at late-term abortions and women’s reasons for obtaining abortion in that time-frame — NOT reasons for delaying — please email it to info@secularprolife.org or message us on the Facebook page.)


According a 2004 study by Guttmacher, 1,160
women seeking abortion (not just late-term) gave overall reasons for obtaining
an abortion at all stages (may list more than one):

  • 74%
    Having a baby would dramatically change my life
  • 73% Can’t afford a baby now 
  • 48% Don’t want to be a single mother or having relationship problems
  • 38% Have completed my childbearing
  • 32% Not ready for a(nother) child
  • 25% Don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant
  • 22% Don’t feel mature enough to raise a(nother) child
  • 14% Husband or partner wants woman to have abortion
  • 13% Possible problems affecting the health of the fetus
  • 12% Physical problem with my health
  • 6% Parents want me to have an abortion
  • 1% Woman was victim of rape 
  • <0.5% Became pregnant as a result of incest
The same Guttmacher
study has statistics for later term abortion (13+ weeks gestation, see Table 6). According
to Guttmacher, 21% of women who had abortion at or past 13 weeks were doing so
for fetal health concerns, and 10% for personal health concerns. This would
mean, at most, 31% of these later term abortions were for health reasons. In other words:


At least 69% of 13+ week abortions are not done for fetal or maternal health concerns.
But in fact the percent of elective abortions will be higher than 69% because in some cases the same woman who had personal health
concerns also cited fetal health concerns, meaning there is overlap between
these two groups. 
Furthermore the 69% figure relies on a heavily generous interpretation: it assumes health concerns
always equal medically necessary abortions. As the study explains:

Women who felt that their fetus’s health had
been compromised cited concerns such as a lack of prenatal care, the
risk of birth defects due to advanced maternal age, a history of miscarriages,
maternal cocaine use and fetal exposure to prescription medications. 
Concerns
about personal health included chronic and life-threatening conditions such
as depression, advanced maternal age and toxemia. More
commonly, however, women cited feeling too ill during the
pregnancy 
to work or take care of their children.


A risk—not even a
certainty–of a birth defect could include something as minor as a cleft lip. A risk of cleft lip gets included in the
“medically necessary” category. In other words, many health problems are not serious
enough to warrant the phrase “medically necessary abortion” yet are
still included here. Pro-choicers often use the phrase “medically necessary” to
conjure up images of things like ectopic pregnancies, but the reality is many
of the abortions categorized as “medically necessary” are not nearly so
impactful, much less fatal. 
Examples of common birth defects
Some people say
“late-term” abortion should only include abortions at or after 16 weeks
gestation. I’ve only been able to find reasons for abortions at or after 13
weeks data, which is slightly different. One could argue that the proportion of
medically necessary abortions after 16 weeks would be higher.
And it probably would
be. However there’s no indication it would be so high as to constitute even a
majority of late-term abortions, much less “nearly all” late-term abortions.
The data available suggests that (a) it’s true women seeking late-term
abortions are more likely to be doing it for medical reasons than women seeking
earlier term abortions and (b) it’s also true that most late-term abortions are
not done for medical reasons.
Remember that at 13+
weeks, at most 31% of women were seeking abortion for medical reasons. Let’s be
generous and guess that at 16+ weeks, it’s now 50% of women seeking abortion for medical reasons. According to Guttmacher, about 1,000,000 abortions are done every year, and 4.8% of
those are done at 16+ weeks gestation ( = 48,000 abortions). Even if a full
half of those are for medical reasons (very unlikely), that means 24,000
late-term abortions done annually for non-medical reasons. So: At least 65
late-term abortions are done every day in the U.S. for
non-medical reasons.
 That is worth our attention, and if as many
people are as opposed to late-term abortions as Gallup reveals, then it’s worth everyone’s
attention! 

Follow up: More evidence that most late-term abortions are elective

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Guttmacher finds at least 75% of 13+ week abortions are for non-medical reasons. The 75% figure is for all abortions, not only abortions after 13 weeks. We have corrected the figure for 13+ weeks to the 69% minimum based on the Guttmacher report.

No, most late-term abortions are not medically necessary.

[Editor’s note: This post was originally published on July 13, 2016 and has recently been updated.]


When it comes to The
Abortion Debate, both sides often try to focus on facets which
make the opposition look worst. For example, pro-lifers like to talk about
late-term abortions. Pro-choicers like to talk about rape
and medically necessary abortions. Both of these are small fractions of all
abortions. Nevertheless, they all warrant thoughtful responses.
It’s not uncommon for
pro-choicers to sincerely believe that most late-term abortions are done for
medically necessary reasons. After all, 97% of pro-choicers and 69% of
pro-lifers support the legal option of abortion when the woman’s life is in
danger. Likewise 96% and 68% support it when “the woman’s physical health
is endangered” (2011 Gallup).
Claiming late-term
abortion is usually done out of medical necessity may help counter the public’s
overwhelming disapproval of the practice: 64% of all US citizens believe
abortion should be illegal in the 2nd trimester, 80% in the third trimester (2013 Gallup). Note that second trimester is week 13 to 26; definitions of
“late term” vary, most I’ve seen include anywhere from 16 to 20 weeks
and onward.
Yet, to the best of our
knowledge, most late-term abortions are not
done for medical reasons.
This 1988
study
 surveyed 399 women
seeking abortion at 16+ weeks. The study found women were obtaining late-term
abortions instead of earlier-term abortions (i.e. reasons for delaying)
because:

  • 71% Woman didn’t
    recognize she was pregnant or misjudged gestation
  • 48% Woman found it hard
    to make arrangements for abortion
  • 33% Woman was afraid to
    tell her partner or parents
  • 24% Woman took time to
    decide to have an abortion
  • 8% Woman waited for her
    relationship to change
  • 8% Someone pressured
    woman not to have abortion
  • 6% Something changed
    after woman became pregnant
  • 6% Woman didn’t know
    timing is important
  • 5% Woman didn’t know she
    could get an abortion
  • 2% A fetal problem was
    diagnosed late in pregnancy
  • 11% Other

But, again, these are reasons for delaying abortion, not necessarily reasons for seeking abortion. This is an important distinction because, for example, a woman may have delayed her abortion because it was hard to make arrangements for it, but she may be getting the abortion due to medical necessity. If we want to know why women getting late-term abortions seek abortion in the first place, we need to look elsewhere. Unfortunately, sources discussing this seem to be very hard to come by.
(If you know of any statistics looking only at late-term abortions and women’s reasons for obtaining abortion in that time-frame — NOT reasons for delaying — please email it to info@secularprolife.org or message us on the Facebook page.)


According a 2004 study by Guttmacher, 1,160
women seeking abortion (not just late-term) gave overall reasons for obtaining
an abortion at all stages (may list more than one):

  • 74%
    Having a baby would dramatically change my life
  • 73% Can’t afford a baby now 
  • 48% Don’t want to be a single mother or having relationship problems
  • 38% Have completed my childbearing
  • 32% Not ready for a(nother) child
  • 25% Don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant
  • 22% Don’t feel mature enough to raise a(nother) child
  • 14% Husband or partner wants woman to have abortion
  • 13% Possible problems affecting the health of the fetus
  • 12% Physical problem with my health
  • 6% Parents want me to have an abortion
  • 1% Woman was victim of rape 
  • <0.5% Became pregnant as a result of incest
The same Guttmacher
study has statistics for later term abortion (13+ weeks gestation, see Table 6). According
to Guttmacher, 21% of women who had abortion at or past 13 weeks were doing so
for fetal health concerns, and 10% for personal health concerns. This would
mean, at most, 31% of these later term abortions were for health reasons. In other words:


At least 69% of 13+ week abortions are not done for fetal or maternal health concerns.
But in fact the percent of elective abortions will be higher than 69% because in some cases the same woman who had personal health
concerns also cited fetal health concerns, meaning there is overlap between
these two groups. 
Furthermore the 69% figure relies on a heavily generous interpretation: it assumes health concerns
always equal medically necessary abortions. As the study explains:

Women who felt that their fetus’s health had
been compromised cited concerns such as a lack of prenatal care, the
risk of birth defects due to advanced maternal age, a history of miscarriages,
maternal cocaine use and fetal exposure to prescription medications. 
Concerns
about personal health included chronic and life-threatening conditions such
as depression, advanced maternal age and toxemia. More
commonly, however, women cited feeling too ill during the
pregnancy 
to work or take care of their children.


A risk—not even a
certainty–of a birth defect could include something as minor as a cleft lip. A risk of cleft lip gets included in the
“medically necessary” category. In other words, many health problems are not serious
enough to warrant the phrase “medically necessary abortion” yet are
still included here. Pro-choicers often use the phrase “medically necessary” to
conjure up images of things like ectopic pregnancies, but the reality is many
of the abortions categorized as “medically necessary” are not nearly so
impactful, much less fatal. 
Examples of common birth defects
Some people say
“late-term” abortion should only include abortions at or after 16 weeks
gestation. I’ve only been able to find reasons for abortions at or after 13
weeks data, which is slightly different. One could argue that the proportion of
medically necessary abortions after 16 weeks would be higher.
And it probably would
be. However there’s no indication it would be so high as to constitute even a
majority of late-term abortions, much less “nearly all” late-term abortions.
The data available suggests that (a) it’s true women seeking late-term
abortions are more likely to be doing it for medical reasons than women seeking
earlier term abortions and (b) it’s also true that most late-term abortions are
not done for medical reasons.
Remember that at 13+
weeks, at most 31% of women were seeking abortion for medical reasons. Let’s be
generous and guess that at 16+ weeks, it’s now 50% of women seeking abortion for medical reasons. According to Guttmacher, about 1,000,000 abortions are done every year, and 4.8% of
those are done at 16+ weeks gestation ( = 48,000 abortions). Even if a full
half of those are for medical reasons (very unlikely), that means 24,000
late-term abortions done annually for non-medical reasons. So: At least 65
late-term abortions are done every day in the U.S. for
non-medical reasons.
 That is worth our attention, and if as many
people are as opposed to late-term abortions as Gallup reveals, then it’s worth everyone’s
attention! 

Follow up: More evidence that most late-term abortions are elective

Editor’s note: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Guttmacher finds at least 75% of 13+ week abortions are for non-medical reasons. The 75% figure is for all abortions, not only abortions after 13 weeks. We have corrected the figure for 13+ weeks to the 69% minimum based on the Guttmacher report.

Pro-choicers oppose informed consent. Again.

Texas law mandates that women seeking an abortion must be given an informational pamphlet on abortion and then wait 24 hours before undergoing an abortion procedure. This pamphlet was created in 2003 and is now being updated to reflect more current knowledge of fetal development and the effects of abortion. The new pamphlet was made publicly available by the Texas Department of State Health Services on June 28th.

Before I delve into the controversy, here’s a quick review of the pamphlet. In the introductory page, the writers stress the importance of discussing with your doctor not just the medical risks of abortion but also of giving birth. The pamphlet then gives week-by-week facts about embryonic and fetal development. Next, the writers talk about risks of abortion (death, mental health risks, infertility, etc), the process of obtaining an abortion with emphasis on informed consent, information on support services, and then abortion procedures and their side effects. The last section talks about the risks of giving birth, including common medical risks of pregnancy, risks of birthing, and postpartum problems.

This is already more impartial than most abortion providers. Pro-choicers show their true colors when they fight tooth and nail to prevent facts from being given to abortion-minded women regarding prenatal development, the effects of abortion, and alternatives to abortion. If your worldview requires keeping women in the dark, I have to wonder how you can unironically claim the title of “feminist,” “pro-woman,” or any of the other empowering titles we see pro-choicers crown themselves with.

That is the core of this Texas pamphlet issue.

These 2016 updates (but not the pamphlet itself) are open to public comment until today, Friday, July 29, 2016 (send an email to WRTK@dshs.state.tx.us if you’d like to comment on the new material). Naturally, pro-choice leaders are rallying their followers to send in critical comments. 

Alexa Garcia-Ditta of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas said her organization and other abortion rights groups statewide have teamed up to generate more than 5,000 comments criticizing the latest draft.

Hopefully these are all worthwhile complaints, i.e. against factual inaccuracies. Somehow I doubt it. But allow me to address some complaints I saw in recent news articles.

1. TERMINOLOGY

While I think that calling the pamphlet “state-mandated abortion propaganda” is hyperbolic, I also think they have a point here. The article says:

Among major changes, the new draft uses “your baby” when describing gestation development as early as four weeks, rather than medical terms, such as “fetus.” 

In the previous version, the term “baby” was used more sparingly and accurately. While the term “baby” has been defined as “a very young child” and “an unborn child; a fetus,” and I understand its colloquial use, when you’re writing a pamphlet detailing clinical risks/outcomes it is in bad form to use colloquial language in place of clinical terminology. And I could see how a pro-choicer would see this as deceptive. It’s no better than when pro-choicers insist on using the term “fetus” in a casual conversation. Certain terms are meant for certain modes of communication, and choosing the inappropriate term is a manipulation of language for an agenda. The listener is bound to detect this agenda, causing them to lose trust in the impartiality of the speaker. Why undermine our credibility when the facts are already on our side?

2. LACK OF EXTRANEOUS POLICY

The same article takes issue with the fact that the writers included this…

You have a greater risk of dying from the abortion procedure and having serious complications the further along you are in your pregnancy.

…but did not include the conclusion of the article they cited to support this claim. That conclusion said, “increased access to surgical and nonsurgical abortion services may increase the proportion of abortions performed at lower-risk, early gestational ages and help further decrease deaths.” In other words, the authors of the study pointed out that increased access to abortion could decrease deaths from later-term abortions. For some reason they think this should have been included in the pamphlet. But this seems like a tangential issue (public policy proposals), unrelated to informing women of their current projected risks. I’m sure with birth as well there are risks which could be mitigated by new policies, yet bringing up possible future policies in an informational pamphlet doesn’t make much sense.

3. NO OVERT DEATH RATE COMPARISON

Opponents also complained that this information wasn’t included:

Moreover, a 2012 study found that abortion is “markedly safer than childbirth.” The study found that the risk of death from carrying a pregnancy to term “is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.”

However if you read the pamphlet, the authors give the exact risk of death for various gestational ages and for vaginal and cesarean delivery:

There is one death per every one million abortions for women who are eight weeks pregnant or less, one death per 29,000 abortions for pregnancies at 16 to 20 weeks of gestation, and one death per 11,000 abortions at 21 weeks of gestation and later.

Vaginal Delivery: Possible side effects and risks… Death (very rare — one per 500,000 vaginal deliveries of a live-born infant).

Cesarean Birth: Possible side effects and risks… Death (very rare — one per 45,500 cesarean deliveries of a live-born infant).

I suppose one could complain that the authors said “very rare” only for the birth risks but not for the early-term abortions which are far more rare. One might also complain that risk of death between 8-16 weeks is not given even though this is a pretty common gestational age to obtain an abortion. However, complaining that they did not explicitly compare the rates rings pretty hollow when they clearly provided rates for both abortion and childbirth.

4. BREAST CANCER RISK

Lastly:

Unchanged in the latest version is language saying giving birth, rather than having an abortion, makes women “less likely to develop breast cancer in the future.”

“Research indicates that having an abortion will not provide you this increased protection against breast cancer,” it reads. But the American Cancer Society refutes that on its website, saying “scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer.”

You may notice that these two quotes are not mutually exclusive. In fact both are true. Here is what the pamphlet says about breast cancer in its entirety:

Your pregnancy history affects your chances of getting breast cancer. If you give birth to your baby, you are less likely to develop breast cancer in the future. Research indicates that having an abortion will not provide you this increased protection against breast cancer. In addition, doctors and scientists are actively studying the complex biology of breast cancer to understand whether abortion may affect the risk of breast cancer. If you have a family history of breast cancer or breast disease, ask your doctor how your pregnancy will affect your risk of breast cancer.

Giving birth lowers your chance of breast cancer, so of course if you choose to not give birth you will miss out on that protective effect. That’s all completely true. And that’s how they phrased it. So the quote from the ACS is refuting something nobody claimed. Good job, guys.

Overall this is not a very credible list of complaints. And these are just the ones credible enough to mention in news articles. The pamphlet gives valid and useful information which women would not otherwise receive — certainly not in its entirety since a doctor’s visit is a mere 15-20 minutes. Pamphlets are a great way to close this knowledge gap, especially for patients who don’t have the resources, time, and discerning ability to go find it all themselves. As a pro-lifer I fully support keeping women informed on all these topics, and do not seek to hide or manipulate information. You would think this would be a great common-ground principle to share with pro-choicers, as their name implies. But this pamphlet backlash is a prime example of the fact that it is not.

If you want to submit comments in support of the revisions, you can do so via email to WRTK@dshs.state.tx.us. Today is the deadline. Additional information is available here.

Pro-choicers oppose informed consent. Again.

Texas law mandates that women seeking an abortion must be given an informational pamphlet on abortion and then wait 24 hours before undergoing an abortion procedure. This pamphlet was created in 2003 and is now being updated to reflect more current knowledge of fetal development and the effects of abortion. The new pamphlet was made publicly available by the Texas Department of State Health Services on June 28th.

Before I delve into the controversy, here’s a quick review of the pamphlet. In the introductory page, the writers stress the importance of discussing with your doctor not just the medical risks of abortion but also of giving birth. The pamphlet then gives week-by-week facts about embryonic and fetal development. Next, the writers talk about risks of abortion (death, mental health risks, infertility, etc), the process of obtaining an abortion with emphasis on informed consent, information on support services, and then abortion procedures and their side effects. The last section talks about the risks of giving birth, including common medical risks of pregnancy, risks of birthing, and postpartum problems.

This is already more impartial than most abortion providers. Pro-choicers show their true colors when they fight tooth and nail to prevent facts from being given to abortion-minded women regarding prenatal development, the effects of abortion, and alternatives to abortion. If your worldview requires keeping women in the dark, I have to wonder how you can unironically claim the title of “feminist,” “pro-woman,” or any of the other empowering titles we see pro-choicers crown themselves with.

That is the core of this Texas pamphlet issue.

These 2016 updates (but not the pamphlet itself) are open to public comment until today, Friday, July 29, 2016 (send an email to WRTK@dshs.state.tx.us if you’d like to comment on the new material). Naturally, pro-choice leaders are rallying their followers to send in critical comments. 

Alexa Garcia-Ditta of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas said her organization and other abortion rights groups statewide have teamed up to generate more than 5,000 comments criticizing the latest draft.

Hopefully these are all worthwhile complaints, i.e. against factual inaccuracies. Somehow I doubt it. But allow me to address some complaints I saw in recent news articles.

1. TERMINOLOGY

While I think that calling the pamphlet “state-mandated abortion propaganda” is hyperbolic, I also think they have a point here. The article says:

Among major changes, the new draft uses “your baby” when describing gestation development as early as four weeks, rather than medical terms, such as “fetus.” 

In the previous version, the term “baby” was used more sparingly and accurately. While the term “baby” has been defined as “a very young child” and “an unborn child; a fetus,” and I understand its colloquial use, when you’re writing a pamphlet detailing clinical risks/outcomes it is in bad form to use colloquial language in place of clinical terminology. And I could see how a pro-choicer would see this as deceptive. It’s no better than when pro-choicers insist on using the term “fetus” in a casual conversation. Certain terms are meant for certain modes of communication, and choosing the inappropriate term is a manipulation of language for an agenda. The listener is bound to detect this agenda, causing them to lose trust in the impartiality of the speaker. Why undermine our credibility when the facts are already on our side?

2. LACK OF EXTRANEOUS POLICY

The same article takes issue with the fact that the writers included this…

You have a greater risk of dying from the abortion procedure and having serious complications the further along you are in your pregnancy.

…but did not include the conclusion of the article they cited to support this claim. That conclusion said, “increased access to surgical and nonsurgical abortion services may increase the proportion of abortions performed at lower-risk, early gestational ages and help further decrease deaths.” In other words, the authors of the study pointed out that increased access to abortion could decrease deaths from later-term abortions. For some reason they think this should have been included in the pamphlet. But this seems like a tangential issue (public policy proposals), unrelated to informing women of their current projected risks. I’m sure with birth as well there are risks which could be mitigated by new policies, yet bringing up possible future policies in an informational pamphlet doesn’t make much sense.

3. NO OVERT DEATH RATE COMPARISON

Opponents also complained that this information wasn’t included:

Moreover, a 2012 study found that abortion is “markedly safer than childbirth.” The study found that the risk of death from carrying a pregnancy to term “is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.”

However if you read the pamphlet, the authors give the exact risk of death for various gestational ages and for vaginal and cesarean delivery:

There is one death per every one million abortions for women who are eight weeks pregnant or less, one death per 29,000 abortions for pregnancies at 16 to 20 weeks of gestation, and one death per 11,000 abortions at 21 weeks of gestation and later.

Vaginal Delivery: Possible side effects and risks… Death (very rare — one per 500,000 vaginal deliveries of a live-born infant).

Cesarean Birth: Possible side effects and risks… Death (very rare — one per 45,500 cesarean deliveries of a live-born infant).

I suppose one could complain that the authors said “very rare” only for the birth risks but not for the early-term abortions which are far more rare. One might also complain that risk of death between 8-16 weeks is not given even though this is a pretty common gestational age to obtain an abortion. However, complaining that they did not explicitly compare the rates rings pretty hollow when they clearly provided rates for both abortion and childbirth.

4. BREAST CANCER RISK

Lastly:

Unchanged in the latest version is language saying giving birth, rather than having an abortion, makes women “less likely to develop breast cancer in the future.”

“Research indicates that having an abortion will not provide you this increased protection against breast cancer,” it reads. But the American Cancer Society refutes that on its website, saying “scientific research studies have not found a cause-and-effect relationship between abortion and breast cancer.”

You may notice that these two quotes are not mutually exclusive. In fact both are true. Here is what the pamphlet says about breast cancer in its entirety:

Your pregnancy history affects your chances of getting breast cancer. If you give birth to your baby, you are less likely to develop breast cancer in the future. Research indicates that having an abortion will not provide you this increased protection against breast cancer. In addition, doctors and scientists are actively studying the complex biology of breast cancer to understand whether abortion may affect the risk of breast cancer. If you have a family history of breast cancer or breast disease, ask your doctor how your pregnancy will affect your risk of breast cancer.

Giving birth lowers your chance of breast cancer, so of course if you choose to not give birth you will miss out on that protective effect. That’s all completely true. And that’s how they phrased it. So the quote from the ACS is refuting something nobody claimed. Good job, guys.

Overall this is not a very credible list of complaints. And these are just the ones credible enough to mention in news articles. The pamphlet gives valid and useful information which women would not otherwise receive — certainly not in its entirety since a doctor’s visit is a mere 15-20 minutes. Pamphlets are a great way to close this knowledge gap, especially for patients who don’t have the resources, time, and discerning ability to go find it all themselves. As a pro-lifer I fully support keeping women informed on all these topics, and do not seek to hide or manipulate information. You would think this would be a great common-ground principle to share with pro-choicers, as their name implies. But this pamphlet backlash is a prime example of the fact that it is not.

If you want to submit comments in support of the revisions, you can do so via email to WRTK@dshs.state.tx.us. Today is the deadline. Additional information is available here.