Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Abortion Yet Again: Stewart, Huckabee, & When Life Begins (14 Nov. 2012)

Okay, when Jon Stewart f*cks up on a basic point, it's time to review. In an interview portion on The Daily Show on gay marriage, Mike Huckabee shifted the discussion to the abortion debate and to the science of how life begins at conception, and Stewart allowed him to get away with it (The Daily Show 12 Nov. 2012).

No, gentlemen, life doesn't begin at conception. Life doesn't begin at all. It began. If the Bible is right, life began some 6000 years ago (it's year 5773 in the Jewish calendar). If recent estimates in the life sciences are correct, life on Earth began well over three billion years ago. And since then life has been passed on, each species reproducing after its kind, strictly according to the Bible, with variation and selection according to Darwin.  Plus other scientific complications but, as a practical matter, no "spontaneous generation."

Human sperm are alive; human eggs are alive. The product of the joining of egg and sperm — a fertilized egg, a zygote — is alive. Monozygotic siblings ("identical" twins and such) as a complicating case, each zygote is a potential unique human animal.

The abortion question is on the status of a zygote and its various stages through embryo, fetus, and finally a human baby.

'Cause, people, very few of us can say "All life is sacred" and not be a bleeding hypocrite.

For various reasons — including my killing a fair number of mammals in my work as a lab technician — I don't eat mammal meat. But I did kill those animals in labs; I cheerfully eat fish and fowl and crustaceans;  and I have killed bacteria by the billions. For that matter, I also eat carrots, and unless you are a really strict Vegan, you do too, do all such killing and/or eating.

And as healthy mammals we kill huge numbers of bacteria and viruses by our immune responses. And most of us squash cockroaches.

So, please, no bullsh*t about the sacredness of life.

If you like — and I insist that we do — we can make a huge leap of faith and say that human life is special and in some sense sacred and that we shouldn't kill people unless we really, really have to. That puts me with the Catholic Church against the death penalty and (sometimes contrary to the Church) against most wars. And that makes me, like most Americans, not too fond of abortion and nervous about late-term abortions.

This is something we can argue.

Still, I just can't see a single-cell organism like a zygote as a human being, even if it is a human zygote. Potential human, yeah, but only potential. Ditto for blastomeres and other early stages of embryonic development: until the organism has more complexity than, say, a mosquito, I'm not concerned about killing it. At all.

If you see humans as primarily souls and souls to be saved and see "ensoulment" taking place at conception and an aborted embryo a soul in an unbaptized body going to hell — then you should feel differently. And we can argue some more, vigorously argue. Second trimester? I'd keep the State out of it — and third trimester we can have some serious fights.

But we are not arguing about life or when life begins; we are arguing about personhood. Personhood and status under the law, including the status of — the rights of — fully-born women.


Abortion is a difficult enough issue without starting off stupid. (And if you tell me, "Gee, by 'life' I only include human life," I'll tell you that that's really arrogant and that arrogance on that kind of scale is really stupid.)

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