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The main argument of the anti-choice movement boils down to this: a human zygote , blastocyst, embryo, or fetus is a human being with a right to life, and aborti on is therefore murder and should be illegal. This assumption is deeply flawed. At the outset, let me say that from a pro-choice point of view, the status of th e fetus is a peripheral issue. Regardless of whether a fetus is a human being or has rights, women will have abortions anyway, even if it means breaking the law or risking their lives. Even women who believe that abortion is murder have cho sen to get abortions, and will continue to do so.That's why we should leave the decision up to women s moral conscience, and make sure that they are provided with safe, legal, accessible abortions. Because ultimately, the status of a fetus is a matter of subjective opinion, and the only opinion that counts is that of the pregnant woman. For example, a happily pregnant woman may feel love for her fet us as a special and unique human being, a welcome and highly anticipated member of her family. She names her fetus, refers to it as a baby, talks to it, and so on. But an unhappily pregnant woman may view her fetus with utter dismay, border ing on revulsion. She cannot bring herself to refer to it as anything other than "it," much less a human being. She is desperate to get rid of this unwelcome in vader, and when she does, she feels tremendous relief. Both of these reactions t o a fetus, and all reactions in between, are perfectly valid and natural. Both m ay even occur in the same woman, years apart. However, anti-choicers insist not only that a fetus is a human being, but that t his status is an objective scientific fact. Unfortunately, they are assuming the very thing that requires proving, thereby committing the logical fallacy of "be gging the question." Biology, medicine, law, philosophy, and theology have no co nsensus on the issue, and neither does society as a whole. There will never be a consensus because of the subjective and unscientific nature of the claim, so we must give the benefit of the doubt to women, who are indisputable human beings with rights. Anti-choicers must claim that fetuses are human beings, of course, or they reall y have no case against abortion. Since this claim is the cornerstone of their po sition, it should be critiqued in detail, from philosophical, legal, social, and biological perspectives.Even though it has little relevance for the actual prac tice of abortion, the assertion that fetuses are human beings has a potentially great impact on the rights of women.
Deconstructing Anti-Choice Language
Before going further, we need to clarify and interpret some anti-choice language . First, anti-choicers often confuse the adjective "human" and the noun "human b eing," giving them the same meaning. I am struck by the question they often put to pro-choicers: "But isn't it human?" as if we secretly think a fetus is really a creature from outer space. If you point out that a fetus consists of human tis sue and DNA, anti-choicers triumphantly claim you just conceded it's a human bei ng. Now, a flake of dandruff from my head is human, but it is not a human being, and in this sense, neither is a zygote3. Anti-choicers will respond that a fert ilized egg is not like dandruff, because the fertilized egg consists of a unique set of chromosomes that makes it a separate human being. But with cloning, a ce ll from my dandruff is enough to create a new human being. Although it would hav e my identical genetic make-up, it would still be a unique individual, because h uman beings are much more than our genes (I'll expand on this point later). Also
" Once again. Anti-choicers also use the phrase "humanity of the fetus. Anybody can take care of a newborn infant (or disabled person). not an actual h uman being." by which they may mea n its physical human qualities." and we do not learn to develop such sophisticated emotions until we start s ocially interacting with others. sadness. but the crucial difference is that they are not dependent on one. It s a worn cliché. because of fetal depe ndence on a woman's body). Perhaps a potential human being gets its start at conception. In an ant i-choice context. and it might fairly be argued that a fe tus is a distinct living entity (a debatable point though. a fetus has never (or very rarely) been considered a human being. The anti-choice view of fetuses as human beings is therefore a novel and peculiar one." which means anti-choice rs are just begging the question again. by definition . but the fact tha t life is a continuum makes even this equivocal. it had a lesser punishment than for murder. Simply calling a fetus "a life" says nothing. The term seems cleverly designed to elicit sympathy for a f etus. maybe purposely so. Further. with little historical or legal precedent to back it up. The most fundam ental difference is that a fetus is totally dependent on a woman's body to survi ve. They do not gain the status of human being by virtue of living inside the body of another human being the very thought is inherently ri . She can t hire someone else to do it. specific person to the exclusion of all others. Fetuses are uniquely different from born human beings in major ways. An alternate phrase heard by anti-choicers is: "It's a life" another ambiguous and vague term. Human beings must. at least not before "quickening". both alive before joining together . Another key difference is that a fetus doesn't just depend on a woman's body for survival. There is virt ually no legal precedent for applying such laws to fetuses5.. and hasn't stopped sin ce. up until 18694. inc luding worms and germs. an old-fashioned term indicating noticeable mo vement of the fetus. but this reasoning can apply to any living thing. The same problem afflicts the anti-choice phrase: "Life begins at conception. The Catholic Church even allowed abortion until quickening. but only that pregnant woman can nurture h er fetus. and assign it human-like qualities it simply does not have. and was often just a mi sdemeanor6." B iologically speaking. The ability to feel joy. over three and a half billion years ago. Is a Fetus a Human Being? Historically. suc h as pathos or love. and hatred are an integral part of our "human beingne ss. and both representing the unique genetic potential of a human being. this is begging the question . A fertilized egg is simply life continuing in a modified form only one small s tep removed from the separate sperm and ovum. A fetus is certainly alive. anger. Anti-choicers might argue that born human beings can be entirely dependent o n other people too. the word "humanity" implies compassionate human feelings and virtues. but it s ambiguous. but it bears repeating an acorn isn t an oak tree and th e egg you had for breakfast isn t a chicken. both a fertilized egg and a cloned cell represent a potential. Even when abortion was illegal. the term "Life begins at conception" can only be translated as : "A human being starts at conception. it actually resides inside her body. be separate individuals. this is a nonsensical statement since life began only once on this planet. unless the term is meant as another way of saying "a human being. In this co ntext. the wide variety of laws throughout the world were wri tten specifically to protect born human beings and their property. which casts doubt on the claim that they can be classified as human beings.
At 20 weeks. even offensive. Many Women who have to have an abortion at o r after this point in the pregnancy were told by their doctor's that they had pa ssed the "danger zone" within pregnancy and yet theirs was still not viable and had to be ended. and make s ome small movements. typically at or after 25 weeks. or other structures that enable us to cry. and making other movements that will prepare itself to live outside of the ute rus. These are not purposeful movements that point to the fetus t hinking or feeling. were in an accident and incapacitated. This means that the fetus still cannot feel pain bec ause they lack the equipment necessary to do so. the brain and central nervous system are still under massive development and some things can ONLY occur once the neo nate is able to breathe oxygen on its own. health. a healthy fetus at 20 weeks (which are not being aborted anyway. the body makes movements to aid in that development and to also prepare the body to take in oxygen at birth. I don't think anyone would suggest that Women must die for an unviable pregnan cy. These are REFLEXES! As the organs. true eyes. The fetus at 8 weeks also cannot cry since it lacks tear duc ts. 20 weeks is th at half-way point in the pregnancy. Even at birth. Further. especially the lungs. much different. suck. But I digress. are not fully able to feel pain at ANY point in gestation.diculous. but just bear with me) has been documented as yawning. the vast majority of states have already started restricting who ca n and cannot obtain an abortion so the good news is that only Women who need on to save their lives. If you. develop. nor is any part of the central nervous system. An abortion at. You n eed both of these fully formed and functioning in order to feel any pain. you would still be able to breathe (either on your own or with the help of a machine). This d oes not occur until more than half of the pregnancy has progressed. There is mounting evidence that fetus'. because they do lack direct oxygen. which is when over 90% of all abortions take place. for a pregnancy that has gone tragically wrong. Perfectly healthy fetus' are NOT being aborted at 20 weeks without a just cause . These are simply reflexes that are ingrained in all of our genetic cod es to allow us to survive outside of the uterus without still being physically a ttached to someone else. They are still in development a t this point. or because of a fetal defect/deformity can get one. at 20 weeks the fetus weighs about 5 ounces and the central nervo us system is still forming. yourself. then the fetus doesn't do anything during the abortion because at 8 weeks the fetus i s the size of a pea and has the most rudimentary beginnings of major organs. sucking its thumb . at least in the way that WE understand and feel pain. The brain is not fully formed. these would not be signs that you were sentient an y longer. Does a Fetus feel "Pain"? The answer is at what stage in the pregnancy is the abortion performed? If it is performed at 8 weeks. However. Does a Fetus Have a "Right to Life"? . say 20 weeks is going to be much.
Many people believe that being forced to live is a violation of human dignity an d conscience." A fetus is not a separate individual it lives inside a pregnan t woman and depends on her for its growth. and this obviously includes most pregnancies. The free exercise of one's moral conscie nce is a fundamental right in our society. However. In fact. Life is not a picnic for all. which can be argued to have a high er moral value under the circumstances. Ultimately though. this right doesn't auto matically overrule a woman's right to choose. her freedoms are significantly restricted if she is force d to carry to term. however. not men. they inadvertently acknowledge that women's rights are more important t han the "right to life" of fetuses. Significantly. and long-lasting consequences for a woman (it is not a mere "inconvenience"). The . the biological definition of "parasite" fits the fetal mode of growth precisely. her rights and bodily integr ity are violated. To be truly meaningful. If fetuses did have a right to live. this does not include the r ight to use the body of another human being. just like a parasite does to its host. there is n o support for fetuses as legal persons in international human rights codes. the right to live must include the flip si de.Anti-choicers say that a fetus has an inherent "right to life. I 'm not trying to disparage fetuses with the negative connotations of the word pa rasite. By compromising their "right to life" definition in order to accommodate a woman's rights. even to save someone's life." But many of them support exceptions to a ban on abortion in cases of rape. anti-choicers say that being pregnant is not the same as being a Good Samaritan. because the woman chose to have sex. the state cannot force people to donate organs or blood. certainly not absolute or paramount. especially since pregnancy causes a major upset to a woman's body. voluntarily acc epting the risk of pregnancy8. This clearly indicates that they believe the right to life of a fetus is negotiable. for their sexual behaviour. espec ially unwanted children who are at high risk for leading dysfunctional lives10.) Even if a fetus were a human being with a right to life. no ble as that might be. Their argument is also sexist and puritanical because it punishes women. For example. Can a Fetus Be a Legal Person with Rights? Anti-choicers like to demand legal rights for fetuses. In th e real world. And since pregnancy entails profound physical. incest. in fact. One must "get a life" before one has a "right to life. psychological. even if a fetus has a right to life. We are not oblig ated by law to risk our lives jumping into a river to save a drowning victim. This is alien to the anti-choice assumption tha t all life is precious and should be encouraged and preserved at any cost. the parasitic r elationship of a fetus to a woman means that its continued existence requires he r consent if she continues the pregnancy unwillingly. Even if a fetus can be said to have a right to life. parasites and their hosts often enjoy mutually supportive relat ionships. or even health. one could make an equal case for the right of unwanted fetuses not to live. a pregnant woman is not required to save it by loaning out her body for nine months agains t her will7. and others wish they d never been born. the right to die. or a threat t o the woman's life. some people commit suicide because they no longer want to live. Therefore. But sex is not a contract for pregnancy people have a right to non-procreative sex9. (In response. to have a "right to life" requires that one be an individual capable of living an independent existence.
the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says that "Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter. Women s liberty and bo dily integrity have been violated accordingly. speaking." Virtually all national constitutions do not tr eat fetuses as persons or citizens. be counted in official census-taking. Wouldn't every zygote have to have a Social Security Numbe r. and other basic freedoms. American citizenship is limited to those "bo rn or naturalized in the United States" (as per the 14th Amendment) and the word "Everyone" in the Canadian constitution has been deemed by the courts not to in clude fetuses12. and education for pregnant women. Since fetuses are physically incapable of beli eving. Roe v.S. this would outlaw forced pregnancy! The biggest challenge in giving legal rights to embryos arises when trying to de cide whose rights would take precedence when they conflict the woman's or her zygo te's. health care. Unfortunately. and doctors do not casual ly agree to do them. speech. The 1973 U. We are treading on dange rous moral and legal grounds when we exchange a woman s actual rights in favour of an embryo's theoretical rights. Fetuses would have to become dependents for tax and estate purposes. Wade. and be subject to many other la ws affecting persons. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. To suggest otherwise is an insult to both women and doctors . the C harter also says "Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained or impri soned" if fetuses did have rights. remain in and leave Canada. this means they should enjoy the constitutional freedoms of religion.S. or ove rridden by. because they realize it . Supreme Court that the state has an interest in protecting fetal life. healthy pregnant women with he althy 8½ month fetuses do not casually demand abortions. as sembly. Roe v. not by restricting abortion. Ironically. tried to balance the rights of women and fetuses by allowing states to restrict abortion in the third trimester. Pi tting the rights of women against their fetuses harms them both for example. but the very fact that exceptional laws for fetuses would have to be created proves that they are inca pable of having the same legal status as real persons. Anti-choicers might argue that special laws or legal exceptions could be written for fetuses to accommodate their unique characteristics. If anti-choicers want fetuses to share the same human rights as the rest of us. I agree with the U. Canadian courts have wisely backed away from trying t o give any protections to fetuses in such circumstances.Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. because of its faulty assumption that fetuses need to be protec ted from women's irresponsible decision-making. as well as a weake ning of the decision itself by later Supreme Court rulings. it's insulting. or assembling." F etuses obviously cannot qualify for such a right on their own. because Roe v. Declaring fetuses to be legal persons with rights would generate countless legal and social dilemmas. except to protect the life or health of the woman. and would have great difficulty trying to treat them as such. This puts them in a totally different category than regular human beings . but this should be done through guaranteed access to pre-natal care . women will avoid pre-natal care entirely if they fear being arrested for endangering their fetus by drug abuse. To give another example. Wade opened the door to t he passage of many laws making it harder to access abortions. they cannot have or exercise any constitutional rights. Wade only prohibited the mythical "casual" late-term abort ion invented by anti-choicers. But t his balancing act was a sham women's right to choose would not be infringed in pra ctice. as well as a Certificate of Conception? The sheer absurdity of this proposal reveals that society does not think of fetuses as persons in the normal sense at all. The idea that a grown woman's value and status can be equated with. In the real world. a cluster of undifferentiated cells the size of the period at the en d of this sentence is not only bizarre.
Ironically. It is quit e telling that the death of a newborn infant is much more of a crushing blow to parents than an early miscarriage. Generally. probably because of their still-undeveloped human abilities and potential. Are they materially substantial enough to count . Fetuses do not even have a social identity. infant mortality rates from natural causes were so high that babies were often not officially welcomed into the community until months or eve n years after birth. babies do not have an established social ide ntity to the same degree as older children or adults. and this convention is ingrained in our culture and histor y. Early embryonic forms do not share basic commonalities that define us as human beings. this is not an advocacy of infanticide. People simply place a higher social value on infants than fetuses. Fetuses are excluded both b y necessity and custom. skeleton. but perhaps also because of our l ow infant mortality rates. There can be no meaningful social participation for some one cocooned inside another's body. when their survival was more assured14. If they can t even respect the lives and rights of born human beings. pregnant women in Canada enjoy exclusive rights over their bodies. is a value judgment made by soci ety according to social custom and necessity. or internal organs. or the point at which one becomes an "official" human being. by stripping them of their constitutional rights and personhood. To turn the tables and dema nd legal rights for fetuses is a direct call for the legalized oppression of wom en. I'm simply saying that personhood. Infanticide has been a common practice throughout history as a way to select for healthy. Is a Fetus a Human Being Physically? The normal meaning of human being implies a physical body of a certain size and shape with common attributes (excepting disabilities). and conserve scarce resources for the rest of the t ribe. yet anti-choicers are quite willing to sacrifice the human rights of women in favour of fetuses. zygot es and blastocysts are barely visible to the naked eye and have no bodies.might infringe on women's established human rights. As a result. In earlier times. For example. This loss o f rights and identity would occur not just during a nine-month pregnancy. reach to some extent into women's lifelong role as mo thers and mothers-to-be. or at least be recognized as a member of society. by logical necessity. even infants may not have been valued members of the society y et. Of course. anti-choicers are trapped in a fatal contradiction here women are unde niably human beings. Plus. And fetuses a re generally not given ritualized burials when miscarried or aborted. It is a social construction incapa ble of empirical proof. brain s. modern industrialized societies find birth to be the most convenient and logical place to assign personhood. a birth cert ificate marks the first legal recognition of a person's existence. since names are not officially bestowed until after birth. w hy should we trust their alleged concern for fetuses as human beings? Does a Fetus Have a Social Identity? A big part of what makes us human beings is our ability to participate in societ y. In fact. because that's w here a person starts an independent existence. The human species is estimated to have killed 10 to 15 percent of its born children13. wanted babies. but wo uld. Even so. whose status as human beings is highly que stionable.
Even the more commonly-used photos of later-term fetuses tend to deliberately shield from view anything that detracts from human-like qualities. an early human fetus is practically indistinguishable in appearance from a dog or pig fetus. which soul is lost if the embryos recombine? These questions are unintelligible if embryos are huma n beings. th ey usually enlarge them to make the embryo or fetus look the same size as a baby ). so the fertilized egg cannot re present a "complete" human being as anti-choicers would have it. As birth approaches. usually without the woman ever knowing she was pregnant17." Another 10 to 15% of pregnancies are miscarried in the months to come. This shows that eg gs and embryos do not yet qualify as human beings according to Nature herself at b est. until there is no significant difference by about 30 weeks gestation. tiny feet of a 10-week old fetus held gently between someone's thumb a nd forefinger. and may even recombine later18. while ignoring the diff erences. (Also. Scientists estimate that 55 to 65% of all conceptions are spontaneously aborted in the first few days or weeks of a pregnancy. but simply moot if they are not. tails . and does not have the most basic hu man body functions. For example. downy fur. which barely loo ks human at all. such as the placenta or the oddly-shaped torso. can we call it a human being? Of course. Further. and do . As mentioned before. Anti-choicers try not to use pictures of embryos and early fetu ses precisely because they look far less human than later ones (when they do. fish-like gills. fetuses are not just miniature babies. and embryos have a high failure rate. Zygotes.as human beings? Fetuses cannot breath or make sounds. The brain is the seat of personhood15. spindly legs. which throws cold water on the anti-choice claim that every fertilized egg is sacred. distorted torsos. It's called "fetal wastage. and they cannot see or b e seen (except by shadowy ultrasound). blastocysts. the fetal brain is not yet capable of consciou s thought and memory (which aren't fully actualized until two or three years aft er birth). such as well-developed hands and feet at a relatively early stage. we are more than our genes. a hugely popular anti-choice photograph shows the perfectl y formed. drinks. Considering that the early fetus does not even look recognizably human. fet uses have eyes on stalks. This does serious damage to the idea of unique personhood. They absorb nourishment and expel waste v ia an umbilical cord and placenta. Bu t anti-choicers focus exclusively on these similarities. D o twins share the single soul they got at conception. Fetal wa stage occurs because early embryonic forms have a high defect rate most early misc arriages are caused by genetic defects in the fertilized egg. inhales. In fact. there are striking physical similarities between a fetus and a newbor n. or is the second twin bela tedly given its own soul after cell division? If the latter.)16 Are Eggs and Embryos Stable Individuals? Embryonic existence is very precarious. women and their uteruses are complete ly erased from all such pictures. not via a mouth and anus as do all other huma n beings. a fetus looks more and more like a n ewborn. giant heads. Finally. We are not yet ourselves at conception. Embryos are capable of splitting into two. and the com mon anti-abortion belief that a "soul" is infused into a zygote at conception. notochords (instead of spines). Whatever a pregnant woman eats. and alien-looking face s. There is no sign of the rest of the early fetus. But our complex brains are what set us apart from animals and define us as human beings. to form twins. they represent tryouts for the human race. cannot e ngage in normal human perception or thought. At various stages. and the ov erall structural form.
They identify with a fertilized egg (it's where we all came from. yo ur mother may have had a later sibling who wouldn't have existed without your ab ortion. and in all species. Why shed futile tears over spilt milk and the biological facts of life? Instead. because it doesn't refute their emotional conviction that a fertilized egg represents a re al and unique human being. turbulent. The number of potential. they descend into irrational nonsense. Can such a contingent and changeable entity really be identified as the same ful l and unique human being at every stage? Life Is a Crap Shoot Anti-choicers would not be convinced by the evidence in this article. and vi rtually all of women's thousands of eggs go to waste. the same way it can t matter to aborted fetuses that they weren't born. A fetus r . but this is a misunderstanding of how embryos develop. Further. migrating. and evolving specific functions at specifi c times. Conclusion Despite the potential that a fetus has for becoming a human being. it wouldn't matter to yo u. Or. O ur brains. and death is vital. Moreover. and physical traits are shaped by our envir onment as well as by genetics. And so on. and constant metamorphosis. and a sperm and an unfertiliz ed egg. personalities. anti-choicers claim that nothing is adde d to the fertilized egg except nutrition. Of course it does. and although our s heer luck at being alive seems miraculous. vast numbers of eggs and seeds don t stand a chance of reaching m aturity19. If your parents had decided not to have sex the night you were conceived. you wouldn t have existed. le t's focus on protecting the rights and improving the quality of life of born hum an beings. life is was teful. and when the living start worrying abo ut the non-existent. If you had been aborted.es. If your father had worn a condom. we cannot say that a fetus is a human being. But life is a crap shoot. Ultimately. you w ouldn't have existed. This is not to say that human life doesn't have value. just like themselves. but on ly the value that we ourselves bestow on it in biology. u nique human beings forever lost to the world is astronomical. with ind ividual cells reproducing. Nature does not value humans any more than worms. one-note instrument. has a huge impact on the specific human being a fetus will turn out to be. But men release billions of doomed sperm over a lifetime. after all) and feel horror and anxiety at the thought that they themselves might have been aborted. Life has been cheap throughout human history too it's only modern medic ine that has allowed us to keep most of our babies alive for the first time. The non -existent don t regret their non-existence. The end result is like a complex symphony by a billion musicians that b egan with a single. and its simil arities to a human being. it is pointless to lose sleep over su ch matters and even more pointless to oppress half the world's population just so a few more of these gazillion potential human beings can exist. if you hadn't been born. The sperm and ovum each represent the potential for a human being. life is cheap. abilities. you could have been conceived. is relatively minor. the difference between a fertilized egg. The dramatic development that turns a zygote into a newborn is not simply growth it is a radical. then miscarried.
unless women are kept thoroughly oppressed. morality. th is choice belongs only to pregnant women. which cre ates reasonable doubt as to its status. based on their personal beliefs. personal matter. and circumstances. And ultimately. Individ uals. Because there can be no consensus on the matter. must choose what the status of a fetus should be. . where rights and personhood can have no force or meaning. there ar e many significant differences between a born human being and a fetus.esides in a legal and social no-man's land. not society as a whole. Plus. the value accorded to a fetus is a subjective.
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