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Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Deciding on what makes something human

Moving right along from the men and feminism debate seamlessly into the abortion debates, we have the pleasure of a back and forth between two bloggers on whether or not a feminist can be pro-life. And since they are both male, we have the added pleasure of examining what two people who cannot possibly know what it's like to have that power to give birth or to have a bunch of members of the opposite sex decide what you can or cannot do with your reproductive abilities orchestrate the debate. I'm not trying to revive the debate over whether or not men can be feminists, but I think that on the subject of pregnancy and what makes something a human, the issue of male power and how men see themselves in relation to women and women's unique ability to give birth is a critical and unspoken issue.

Sheezlebub is putting the smackdown all over both their blogs, reminding the mostly male commenters that are casually kicking around when we should "let" a woman terminate a pregnancy that pregnancy is no walk in the park, it's hard work. When I explain to Hugo, which to his credit he concurs to a degree, that equating a fertilized egg with a child that has died is an insult to nine months of hard work that a woman puts into creating a child, I was also trying to get at that point. They don't call it labor for nothing, folks. In that view, when you force someone to labor against her will, it's slavery.

We pro-choicers know that whether or not something is a real, live human being is an issue of great importance. I don't think that people have a right to kill babies for their convenience, and I would point out that easier access to birth control and abortion would reduce bona fide infantacide by leaps and bounds. So the issue of when a fetus becomes a child is one that should be examined, though not to the exclusion of whether or not the woman carrying it should have her full rights as an autonomous being.

So, when does life begin? To say that it begins at "conception", i.e. when the sperm meets the egg and fertilizes it, is to say that actually begins before a woman is really considered pregnant. As Hugo admits on his blog, a good deal of fertilized eggs do not implant at all; in fact, I've read estimates that put it into the majority. As a culture, we do not actually consider miscarriages and even passed fertilized eggs to be humans worth mourning. We do not have funerals for miscarriages and we don't baptize women's menstrual flow just in case.

Forcing a fertilized egg not to implant isn't even considered an abortion in the medical sense. Conflating the birth control pill and the morning after pill with abortion is a falsehood. But the pro-life side doesn't accept this, because to accept that is to accept two big issues that completely undermine their argument--that abortion is terminating a pregnancy, not killing a baby, and that what makes a pregnancy has more to do with women's bodies than men's bodies. The latter is something that goes by the wayside as everyone argues over whether or not someone who took the morning after pill is a murderous mommy or not.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating--that the pro-lifers define "conception" as what makes a baby is a rhetorical device to reinstate the belief that a baby is made by a man and merely borne by a woman. There are many steps in the process of turning raw material into a baby, but only one is bandied around by pro-lifers as the point that something turns from raw material into a baby, and amazingly enough that step is the only one that involves a man. Anything pre-conception (or, with the morning after pill, pre-intercourse) that prevents bearing a child isn't baby-killing, but anything after a man has planted his seed, if you will, is the moral equivalent of murder. Ejaculation has become the end-all and be-all to pro-lifers of what makes something a baby.

I'm sorry, Hugo, you're a nice guy, but I have to quote you again to make it clear that this attitude is both pervasive and invisible.

Ejaculating inside a woman, with or without protection, is a commitment to raise a child with her. Not willing to do the latter? Don't do the former.

Yes, yes, yes, this is a testament to male responsibility in the pregnancy/abortion/child-rearing debates. But is also just another example of a hyper-focus on the male contribution to baby-making. You have responsibility, but as anyone who is attuned to conservative rhetoric is quite familiar, male responsibility is seen as a byproduct of male control.

All this rhetoric diminishes women's bodies, lives, and experiences. A baby is not just sperm + egg + nine month wait. Women tend to experience the conception as just a beginning of a long process and a lot of work. There isn't a cell in a baby body that didn't come from a woman's feeding it through her own body, and there's not a baby born that wasn't the result of some woman's hard work. To call a fertilized cell a human being is just one more way that women's work has been dismissed throughout history.

523 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your posts on abortion--you put things so well.

I'm highly amused by the fact that Hugo (judging by his blog posts) is Oh! So! Sensitive! to the possible oppressiveness involved in a man merely calling himself a feminist, but seems to think nothing of telling virtually the entire feminist movement that they are wrong on this issue, and even less of telling women that their bodies can be appropriated by the government and the men in their lives.

I'm wary of the argument that having sex with a woman confers responsibility onto a man--because with responsibilities come *rights*. If a man has a responsibility to the zygote, he also has *rights* over it, and recognizing male rights over zygotes leads to such travesties as the Florida law which forces women giving up their babies for adoption to print newspaper ads about it so that the father will know and be able to adopt the kid if he wants.

I go with the attitude that once you ejaculate into a woman, your sperm and whatever it creates is out of your control for the length of time that it exists in a woman's body. After a woman gives birth to the child, you can gain rights over it by caring for it, but biological fatherhood *cannot* be held as equal to biological motherhood.



-Linnet

9/07/2004

 
Blogger Adam said...

Very interesting commentary here.

One reaction to your point. If "a good deal of fertilized eggs do not implant at all", as you say, shouldn't pro-life groups be advocating against having children at all? How can we justify bringing new children into the world if, on average, every birth requires the "death" of at least one innocent life?

9/07/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brava. Good post.

I'd heard and used 'no funerals for miscarriages' but had not heard 'no baptisms of menstrual flow' -- even more evocative...

Medley
http://uncorked.org/medley

9/07/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amanda,
All I can say is "thank you". Your last paragraph really says it all.

spot

9/07/2004

 
Blogger Hugo said...

Amanda, as always, you are charitable even in exasperation. For that, I thank you.

How is my desire as a man to avoid conceiving a child that could be aborted an example of anything other than forthright responsibility? How is the desire to only have sex in the context of a loving and monogamous relationship of mutual support an example of "control"? I don't get that part.

There is no question that when it comes to the work of carrying a child to term, that work is a woman's and a woman's alone (though a helpful partner is no doubt hugely appreciated in most instances). But a child has an equal genetic inheritance from both parents -- just because the woman carries the baby for nine months and the man doesn't doesn't mean that we can throw DNA out the window.

Which pro-lifers do you refer to when you say, Amanda, " a baby is made by a man and merely borne by a woman."? I mean, that was Aristotle's position, but it isn't mine nor is it the position of the contemporary pro-life movement Women and men are biological co-creators, equally important, equally responsible. Men have time and again abandoned their responsibility to love and care for women and children; abortion is one consequence of that abdication of responsibility. (No, I'm not saying male irresponsibility is the sole cause of abortion -- but it sure as heck is one major player).

Still, you're making me think. Look for me on the streets of Austin next month; I'll be the one on a bike trying to keep up with Lance and scratching my head as I try to puzzle all this out...

9/07/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'manda, you are very wise.

I appreciate that Hugo appears to be a reasonable, non-vitriolic participant in this ongoing debate. (I also really really hate that I feel compelled to preface my comments with an affirmation that Hugo is a good guy blah blah blah.)

I don't completely comprehend the idea that each of us *must* align ourselves with an either/or response to abortion. (1) I should believe that even a birth control method that interferes with the implantation of a fertilized egg is *murder*; or (2) I should believe that it's just a clump of cells about which I feel nothing more than I would about, say, a pesky sebaceous cyst. Catastrophic grief or detached indifference - no middle ground.

It's not like that. I had an abortion a long time ago, way back during the "twilight" time before abortion was officially legalized, but the court cases were pending. This was in Michigan. I went to a clinic, I paid cash, I signed an agreement not to discuss anything with any member of any media, and I had the abortion. It was painful, the doctor said a mean thing to me, it was a significant event in my life, and I've never regretted it. I have never considered that my action was murdering my "pre-born" baby. At the same time, I never considered it to be such an easy, unaffecting experience that, from then on, I didn't bother with birth control, and just had abortions instead. No. I don't feel guilty, I don't regret it, it was the right thing to do...and I've never been pregnant again. I made sure of that because I really didn't want to go through an abortion again.

So yeah. I care, very much. But I know it's possible to terminate a pregnancy with regret, but not anguish, and to recall the experience with sadness, but not guilt or grief.

PS: what you said here is really important:

"...that the pro-lifers define "conception" as what makes a baby is a rhetorical device to reinstate the belief that a baby is made by a man and merely borne by a woman..."

I get that men are not disinterested parties. But the plain fact is that they are not "vessels", either. There is no way that pregnancy, abortion, labor, primary care-giving...no way that we can force any of this into some semblance of parity, in terms of our experience. We just have to deal.

9/07/2004

 
Blogger mythago said...

So should Ampersand have quietly asked another, female blogger to discuss Hugo's post, since as a male Ampersand ought to sit int he corner and doesn't have permission to discuss abortion?

9/08/2004

 
Blogger drublood said...

I thought I had heard all that could be said in the abortion debate, but this post is so well articulated.

I do feel compelled, however, to warn you against assuming that women do not mourn miscarriages - even those that happen early on. Women also mourn abortions. I don't believe that necessarily means they are mourning the death of a baby, but that they are mourning.

I just think it's really important in the abortion debate to allow for women to mourn, regardless of the choices they make. I think women can be damaged by the assumption that they must just consider an abortion or a miscarriage "no big deal" in order to not risk the pro-choice arguments.

i hope that makes sense...I have a houseful of kids in the background, and I am a little distracted.

9/08/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never read such a well written, thought provoking missive on this particular issue. You have gently and assuredly reignited the fire within me that led me to Washington on April 25th. Thank you very much for starting my day on a positive note.

AldeaMB

9/08/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wanted to say that I found your last line "To call a fertilized cell a human being is just one more way that women's work has been dismissed throughout history" very powerful and so accurate. I just found your blog a few days ago, and I love reading your comments and opinions!

9/08/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amanda,
Well written. I especially agree with your last paragraph.

spot

9/08/2004

 
Blogger Hugo said...

Amanda, I put up a comment last night -- and it hasn't shown up -- Blogger may be acting up (what else is new?)

Terrific post; thank you for your courtesy even in your exasperation. I'm almost glad my response to you last night was lost, as I have thought differently of things, come the morning. At least, a bit differently. I've got something of a mea culpa up at my place -- and you helped influence it in no small degree.

http://hugoboy.typepad.com

9/08/2004

 
Blogger Hugo said...

Amanda, I put up a comment last night -- and it hasn't shown up -- Blogger may be acting up (what else is new?)

Terrific post; thank you for your courtesy even in your exasperation. I'm almost glad my response to you last night was lost, as I have thought differently of things, come the morning. At least, a bit differently. I've got something of a mea culpa up at my place -- and you helped influence it in no small degree.

http://hugoboy.typepad.com

9/08/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blogger seems to have eaten my last comment.

I'm leery of the "male responsibility" arguments because with responsibilities come *rights*, and it's impossible to give a man rights over a zygote within a woman's body without violating the woman's rights.

I would say that once you've ejaculated into a woman, you lose your control over the sperm and whatever it helps create, as it's within her body. After the baby is born and is no longer within the body, you can care for the baby, but biological fatherhood is in no way equivalent to biological motherhood.

I'm amused that, judging from Hugo's blog, he's Oh! So! Sensitive! about the possible oppressiveness of a man calling himself a feminist and how a pro-feminist man can never determine the course of the feminist movement--and yet he's got no qualms about telling the entire female-led feminist movement that they're wrong about this issue, and still less about allowing a male-dominated society and government to appropriate control of a woman's body.

-Linnet

9/08/2004

 
Blogger lucia said...

Great post!

9/08/2004

 
Blogger wolfa said...

Hugo, when you want to call all birth control except condoms (and surgical solutions) abortifacent, you are removing any hope of choice whatsoever for women (as well as basing your beliefs on sketchy science). The desire to have sex only in some subset of possibilities is not the controlling aspect.

And, frankly, men and women aren't equally important or responsible in a pregnancy. In the sense that you need sperm, they're as important. But the men do not get pregnant. A man can happily drink himself to oblivion nightly for nine months, can easily travel by air, etc.

Amanda, I too would like to say wonderful post.

9/08/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Blogger's back! Thanks for the comments. I'll try to address them...
I wasn't trying to be hard on Amp or Hugo with that comment. I just thought it was funny, in lieu of the fact that we just winded down a "where are the women" debate and that I was just about to let loose on how pro-lifers reduce women's roles and pump up men's with their rhetoric that, that it was a couple of men that inspired the post. I apologize if it seemed nasty.
Hugo, most of us here are probably in or have been in or want to be in egalitarian relationships, but that doesn't change the fact that our entire society still bases male/female sexual relationships on a model of control, and that views on reproductive rights stem from that model.
Pro-lifers are generally involved in a number of conservative social causes that wish to return us to the days when men had ownership rights over women, up to and including taking credit for things she is or does. Of man made and women borne-type thinking would help their cause alot.
Of course miscarriage and abortion can cause grief--or not, to be fair. I've seen all sorts of responses to it in friends and family. Most pro-choice types are quite sympathetic to miscarriage-related grief that I've known. My only point is that everyone accepts that it's not killing a child to miscarry, but some would have you believe it's killing a child to abort.

9/08/2004

 
Blogger Nyarly said...

Wow! This is terrific! How did I not ever find your blog before now??!?

9/08/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Amanda

I wandered here from Mark Shea's blog. You state, "a good deal of fertilized eggs do not implant at all; in fact, I've read estimates that put it into the majority." I have been trying to track down the studies which support that claim. Do you know where I could find those studies?

Thank you,

(Fr) Phil Bloom

see: http://www.geocities.com/seapadre_1999/implantation-embryos.html

9/09/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Sorry, boyo. Not gonna get into a fight over various percentages from different studies. Be it 10% or 90%, the facts don't change--if you believe it's ensouled by a sperm, then God is killing that many babies for whatever reason.

9/09/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not looking for a fight, but am sincerely curious what studies have been actually done on this questions.

Is you argument that "God is killing that many babies for whatever reason" therefore it is OK for us to do the same?

9/09/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amanda, there are four things I'd like to comment on:

First, I completely disagree with you statement that people don't mourn miscarriages. When my wife found out she was pregnant with our first child, we were counsiled by a number of people not to tell our friends that she was pregnant for the first few months because if she was so unlucky as to have a miscarriage (which tend to happen in the first few months), it would be easier to recover from that disaster if it didn't require telling everyone that she had miscarriaged. In addition, every single woman I know who has had a miscarriage, even those who weren't excited about their pregnancies, we extremely distraught when the had the misfortune of having a miscarriage.

Second, the fact that some fertiziled eggs don't implant (and I'm willing to accept your number of 50%) is not inherently an arguement that they aren't indeed babies at their conception. Some infants die from SIDS and I don't think anyone would argue that those babies weren't babies. All people die eventually. Death is not a criteria for the life never having had existed. As it relates to my first comment, I think that if women, particularly those who are trying to have children, knew that an egg had indeed by fertilized but was unable to implant, they would mourn the loss of that fetus. As you rightly pointed out, no one knows, so it is difficult to "mourn" speculatively.

Third, there are those who believe that "Anything pre-conception that prevents bearing a child" while not murder, is indeed immoral. Those would argue that it is exactly the societal trends that have led to the proliferation of the various forms of birth control that have led to the drastic increase in abortion rates.

Finally, I completely agree with you that carrying a baby to term is an extremely difficult ordeal for a woman. I was and am (my wife is 5 months pregnant with our second child) in awe of the strength it takes to be pregnant. I often feel somewhat guilty about my inability to help her with this difficult task. I think we can all agree that the women who choose to be pregnant are extremely brave and deserve our love and heartfelt support.

Ken Crawford

9/09/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

If you looked it up yourself you would realize that it's difficult to pin a number, since there's no good way to know if an egg passed in a normal period was fertilized or not. Estimates, all.
I never said women aren't sad when they miscarry. I said it's not a baby dying. When a baby dies of SIDS, we have a funeral for it. A miscarriage? No. A good number (who knows how many?) of miscarriages are experienced as periods.
And the reason I made the crack about men is just this--men telling me, who is a woman, how women feel about their bodies, because they know one. Has it even occured to anyone that the anguish women feel over a miscarriage might be about more than just a biological reaction to losing a "baby"? Might it be that she, like everyone around her, was getting invested in that pregnancy and the hope around it? Or is that coming too close to suggesting that pregnant women still have brains and feelings and thoughts and hopes that exist outside of the hormones rushing through them?

9/09/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

And, if your argument is "It could be a baby, we don't know," how does that exactly refute my point that we've decided the cut-off point between baby and not is when the man kicks in his "work"? Before they knew that sperm united with egg and actually did think that men planted seeds in women's soil, if you will, they didn't think it was a baby until it started kicking.

9/09/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First off I'd like to say that I enjoy abortion debates that are kept civil like this, and your post was very well-written. But I just disagree with a few points you made.

First is your dismissal of men's opinions on abortion because they don't bear children. Does my wife have a right to decide if my son is circumcised since she's not a man? A fetus is just as much a part of the man as the woman in the sense of DNA. I agree that 9 months of bearing a child is an incredible task for a woman to undertake, but it shouldn't exclude men from the argument.

You assert that “pro-lifers define "conception" as what makes a baby is a rhetorical device to reinstate the belief that a baby is made by a man and merely borne by a woman,” but that argument falls apart when you consider anti-abortionists who are female. Anti-abortionists also believe that if a man slips the woman the morning after pill in her breakfast the next morning, it’s still murder. It doesn’t matter who does it. Conception is the first time that the baby can be distinguished as a separate entity from the mother with separate DNA, and their beliefs are guided by that principle. Just because something happens naturally, like non-implantation or a miscarriage, doesn’t mean humans can do it intentionally. Storms sometimes destroy buildings but that doesn’t give humans the right to vandalize. Funerals and mourning are based on the survivors, not the deceased. Celebrity funerals are much bigger than the average funeral, but not because they are more human, but because people are very attached to them. Pets aren’t human at all but people sometimes give them casual funerals or burials because of their attachment to them. People generally feel no or little attachment to a passed fertilized egg, so they just don’t feel the urge to mourn it extensively.

You can expand Hugo’s comment to both sexes: if you don’t want to raise a child, don’t have sex (assuming the baby is human at conception). If the baby is indeed human, then BOTH parties have a responsibility: the woman to the baby and the man to the woman, and by inference the baby in the woman. But whether or when the fetus becomes human is the most important factor in the abortion debate. After all, if it was somehow proven that life begins at conception, how strong would the argument of forced labor (slavery) be if the woman truly had to kill a human being to be free of that work?

The argument of a soul is abstract and unrealistic. If a fetus gets a soul at conception and therefore is human, what if it splits into twins? The soul can’t split, so which one gets it? I think of the process of a cell becoming a baby like a construction crew building a house. Once they lay the foundation and make the blueprints, would you call it a house? Of course not. If wind knocks it down the day before completion, then the wind knocked a house down. The change comes when the house takes on its most important characteristic, be it the frame or roof or walls, then it can be called a house. With humans, the major thing that separates us from all other living creatures is the capacity to reason, so I believe that a fetus becomes human when it takes on that most important characteristic of a human being: when it has the CAPACITY to reason, or in other words, when it has a reasonably formed brain.

(I am a one-time reader, so reply to my ideas, not me)

9/09/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Up front, sorry for the length. There is a lot to say here.)

Amanda, in regards to your response: "I never said women aren't sad when they miscarry." I disagree. You did say that. More accurately, you said:

"As a culture, we do not actually consider miscarriages and even passed fertilized eggs to be humans worth mourning"

I interpreted that statement to mean we don't mourn. To justify that interpretation, I think that statement can meaning either:
-We don't consider a passed fertilized eggs (miscarraiged fetuses) as human and as such we don't mourn them.
or
-We DO consider passed fertilized eggs (miscarriaged fetuses) as humans, but we don't mourn them anyway.

I don't see any other ways to take that statement. Additionally I assumed, since you are pro-choice, that you meant the first point since you don't consider a fetus a "real, live human being" (which is why it is OK to abort it).

My point was that we do mourn. Contrary to your assertion, some people do have funerals (admittedly not all, but not all old people get funerals either) for their miscarried fetuses. Some religious even have their miscarried fetuses baptized. So my point is we do mourn. We do see that fertilized egg as something important. I would argue, we see that fertilized egg as a baby and that's why we mourn.

In response to the "It could be a baby, we don't know" post, that was not my point. The topic of discussion is, as it always should be when discussion abortion, is when does an egg become a human being? You made a number of arguments as to why it isn't conception and the motivations behind why people believe it is conception. All I was saying in regards to passed eggs is that the fact that they don't implant (or that they "die") is not a reasonble argument. As I said, people die at all different stages of life. I would say that the fertilized egg died a couple days after it was conceived and became alive. As such, the fact that the egg "dies" is not a reasonable argument that it never lived.

It wasn't supposed to be an argument for why life begins at conception. In fact, I made no such argument. I just made my attempt at refuting yours. While I could make that argument, there is only so much room here.

But more importantly Amanda, I'm trying to be charitable in my posts. I'm sure it's obvious from my posts that I'm pro-life. Instead of calling you names I tried to respond, in language that you are comfortable with, what I disagreed with in your arguments. That's healthy discussion for people who disagree. I wasn't saying you're stupid, just that those arguments are the best.

I feel that you're not giving me the same benefit of the doubt.

I care very deeply for the women I know and I don't care to "force" myself upon any woman, particularly not my wife. I don't think I "know" what a woman goes through when she is pregnant, I can only say that what I can see amazes me and gives me pause. I don't think life begins at conception because of some ego driven over valuation of my "work".

Yes, it has occured to me that how women feel about their miscarriages is more than a biological reaction. In fact, I would say it is mostly an emotional (not biological) reaction to that loss of that "hope". That hope is to have a baby. Both women and men get excited (assuming they want the child) about having a baby. They are often excited before they start having sex to try to have a baby and disappointed when the pregnancy test comes back negative. They do this all out of an emotional response to having a baby whether or not a life has been conceived yet. Of course that is the case.

Do you see what I'm saying here? You're not giving men, and it seems me in particular, any credit. You assume our motivations are corrupt. I can't speak for others, but my motivations in this regard are pure. I appreciate what my opinions mean and the impact that it has on women, but the moral importance of the matter makes me unwilling to compromise in this area.

Or maybe put another way, in your post you state "We pro-choicers know that whether or not something is a real, live human being is an issue of great importance. I don't think that people have a right to kill babies for their convenience..."

That says to me that you would, if you believed life began at conception, be against abortion, right? Because if you wouldn't be willing to kill lives for convenience and you believed a fetus was a real, live human being in this hypothetical example, you would HAVE to be against abortion. Would you change you opinion because you knew how much hard work it takes to be pregnant? Of course you wouldn't. You would acknowlege that although it was hard work it was necessary work and that the life that would be saved was more important.

That's not being selfish or pigheaded, that's just honestly believing that life begins at conception. Many woman believe life begins at conception and not because they believe that a man's "work" is important. Similarly many men feel life begins at conception, myself included, and it isn't because of my "work".

I believe that you honestly believe that it isn't murder to have an abortion because you honestly believe that a fetus isn't a "real, live human being". I also believe that your motivations aren't some evil, control driven, corrupt scheme. I believe this even though I can not comprehend how someone could believe life starts some other time than conception. Nevertheless, I give you the credit of being of goodwill. I ask that you give those who honestly disagree with you the same credit and as such frame your arguments with that in mind.

Ken Crawford

9/09/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

C'mon, Ken, life doesn't begin at conception: It began 3.6 billion years ago. Anything since is a mere ephemeral instantiation.

And if you maintain that humanity in any important sense begins at conception, then what part of the soul goes into the placenta, and why aren't we mourning or burying placentas?

Just because you have feelings of responsibility doesn't affect Amada's point that the whole recent life-begins-at-conception ploy is a ploy to leverage male control over a woman and her body and its processes.

The traditional Church position that ensoulment took place at quickening was only relevant for dividing prequickening abortions from postquickening ones -- the former was only a venial sin, the latter, mortal. Don't forget that the most common traditional "method" of birth control was indeed infanticide. Conflation of modern birth-control or even early abortion with infanticide is, to my mind, solecism.

Paul

9/09/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ken: as far as I'm aware, Amanda wasn't personally impugning YOUR motives for believing that life begins at conception, or accusing you of being consciously anti-woman. Rather, she was saying that the widespread *cultural* belief that life begins at conception is due to male dominance and the glorification of the male's role in procreation--that it's due to sexism ingrained in our culture, rather than the bad motives of any particular man.

-Linnet

9/09/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and to the Anon above who said that anti-abortion women disprove Amanda's contention: many women accept patriarchal precepts. It doesn't make the precepts any less patriarchal.

And I would say that the slavery argument works just fine even if the fetus is human. A need does not always equal a claim--a woman's not obligated to sustain an organism, even a human, with her body for nine months, even if it needs her to.

-Linnet

9/09/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Thanks, Linnet. I'm pre-coffee and not up to responding to ye ol' anti-male accusations. I'd just like to point out that if you believe that an egg is a person at conception, I'm not actually stopping you. Don't get an abortion if you don't want one. And I don't doubt that some cultures have mourning ceremonies for miscarriages--Japan, if I remember correctly, has them for abortions, which strikes me as a hell of an argument for the idea that such a ceremony is for loss of potential and not actual. But different religious beliefs are not a good reason to make laws that function in practicality for singling out women for state control over their bodies. Especially since most religions have deliberately excluded women for most of their histories in creating dogma that has mysteriously managed to assert, repeatedly, that men are superior to women.

9/10/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To both Paul and Linnet regarding our patriarchal soceity: I fully expected the "some women are duped by the patriarchs into supporting them" argument. I also fully expected the "just because you're not acting in bad faith doesn't mean the culture isn't" argument as well.

But my point remains. The culture/society is made up of individuals. Whether I'm being blamed or collectively some group is being blamed, a good part of Amanda's argument, in its essence, claims that some entity is acting in bad faith. I just don't think that is the case in the abortion debate. We believe different things about life, but we all agree life is important. That is why it is such a heated debate.

There is no patriarchal/cultural conspiracy to inflate male egos here. There is a sincere belief that life begins at conception by some and a sincere belief by others that life comes much later. We should have that faith in each other's motives. I welcome any theological/ethical/biological/scientific arguments for why life begins later than conception (or even why it is acceptable to terminate life after it has been created if that is your view point (doesn't seem to be Amanda's)). What I don't welcome and will take the time to make lengthy blog entries ;-) to contradict is an argument that claims that the pro-life group is acting in bad faith or are misled by the patriarchal society/culture. It's just not true.

Finally, I think it is important to remember (and I tried to make the point in my last post) that society and our government does take control over our bodies when we feel it is justified. If the fetus is a life, our society should be protecting it, even with the implications of forced work on women. There are tons of examples of this kind of logic in our laws: We aren't allowed to sell our organs. We aren't allowed to, without providing care for them, abandon our already born children. It is illegal to commit suicide (of course you can only enforce the law on failed attempts). People who have mental illnesses can be locked up against their will even when they don't pose a danger to others but for their own safety. Men are forced to pay child support (even though they "worked hard" for their money) for a child they've never seen and would have chose to abort had they been given the option. I think that these are all wise things our government does and there are many other examples.

If one believes that life begins at conception, by Amanda's own admission, it is important. That life should be protected even if it means limiting the "freedoms" and forcing a woman to do nine months of hard work.

This is why it is critically important that we come to concensus on whether a fetus is a human life and I believe both sides should do so while having faith in the motives of the other side.

Ken Crawford

9/10/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

I'm not going to spend anymore time pointing out that enforcing your religious beliefs on my uterus isn't really acceptable. But I will say that I don't think that everyone who is pro-life necessarily sees the "life begins at conception" thing as just a tool. My point is--why exactly is that an appealing belief? And I think it's because it reaffirms the long-standing cultural tradition that men "make" babies and women just birth them. It might do you well to consider the language that is used to describe the whole process, as well as other cultural traditions (naming children after their fathers for one) that support this belief.

9/10/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to beat a dying horse or anything, so I'll make this as short as I can, but Ken: those examples are bad comparisons to pregnancy and childbirth. A man who pays child support gives his *money* to his kid--he doesn't have to sustain the kid with his body. A better analogy would be a man who donates an organ to his kid--which he cannot be forced to do.

-Linnet

9/10/2004

 
Blogger the Logic Monkey said...

I think you all need to read an article by Peter Kreeft entitled "Human Personhood begins at Conception".

http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/abortion/ab0004.html

9/10/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being the terrible person who pointed this post out to Mark Shea, bringing the pro-lifers down upon your blog, I suppose I owe you an explanation of what it was about your post that struck me as strange. It isn't that you're pro-choice and I've this compulsion to argue you out of your position, but that I saw your post as an example of ideology upheld at the expense of facts. I'll try to explain what I mean.

You're obviously an educated feminist, and given that I consider myself a feminist (though I think the jury's out on that one since I consider myself pro-life?) I feel a great amount of sympathy for the way your thinking goes.

"The issue of male power and how men see themselves in relation to women and women's unique ability to give birth is a critical and unspoken issue."

Now, many of your critics would probably think that's meaningless babble, but I completely agree that this is an interesting and important issue to explore.

However, theory needs to take account of the facts. And I don't think your argument here does. Let's review it.

"I've said it before, but it bears repeating--that the pro-lifers define "conception" as what makes a baby is a rhetorical device to reinstate the belief that a baby is made by a man and merely borne by a woman. There are many steps in the process of turning raw material into a baby, but only one is bandied around by pro-lifers as the point that something turns from raw material into a baby, and amazingly enough that step is the only one that involves a man. Anything pre-conception (or, with the morning after pill, pre-intercourse) that prevents bearing a child isn't baby-killing, but anything after a man has planted his seed, if you will, is the moral equivalent of murder. Ejaculation has become the end-all and be-all to pro-lifers of what makes something a baby."

So basically you're saying many people find conception an attractive starting point for life because it reinforces the idea of male power.

And, again, I think this is a reasonable theory. Except... except... that when you come up with a reason why something might be attractive, you should probably look to see if there are other reasons that might be attractive.

And if there other reasons, and those reasons are a lot more clear-cut, to assume that people are attracted to something on account of your favourite theory is intellectually vapourous. It shows that you have already come to a conclusion about the situation before examining facts.

And in this case there is a very simple reason why conception as the beginning of human personhood is attractive to many people. Very simple.

Conception is the beginning of human life.

No, that's not a religious opinion I just put out there. This is basic biology. Conception is the moment when the sperm and the egg unite, creating a new living entity. Before that uniting, that entity does not exist. Afterwards, it does. The new entity has a DNA, separate from either of the man or the woman whose sperm and egg created it. It has 46 chromosomes with 30,000 genes. And if it survives, it will continue growing to be another human person.

Now, that doesn't prove that it is a human person at the moment of conception. Some people would say that it becomes a person when the cerebral cortex develops. But conception is a very neat biological dividing point. Before conception, the entity does not exist. And then it does. Is it any wonder that people would want to make the beginning of human life the beginning of human personhood? There is such an obvious motive to believe this, whether it's true or not. It's easy. It makes sense to the ordinary person.

So to suggest another motive, when a much more clear and compelling motive is on display is, I submit, to throw common sense out the window in the service of ideology.

Eileen

9/10/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Common sense is received wisdom, like it or not. We are so used to thinking about babies belonging to men and pregnancy as something men do to women that we interpret a series of processes in a way that is most flattering to men. I'm not dumb and I know that it takes a man and a woman to make a baby, for goodness sake. I'm just asking that we break out of our 50/50 way of thinking and just realize for a darn moment that a sperm into an egg ain't shit without a womb to grow it in. People who oppose stem cell research so adamantly would be particularly well-advised to think about that fact long and hard. Women don't contribute to baby-making, they make the baby.
It's amusing to me that whatever scientific evidence can best distract from the fact that a baby is made after NINE MONTHS of a woman feeding it with her very body is held up as irrefutable evidence. But frankly I know that arguing with religious people isn't going to work. Religion just adds another layer of stuff that you have to break through to see how our culture reasserts male power on every level--I can imagine that after looking at how the church has coldly taken measures throughout its history to disempower women could be hard on one's faith.

9/10/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eileen,

That human personhood begins at conception may seem obvious to you but it is by no means obvious to everyone. I would certainly not call any single cell, however important, a human person. I know many people agree with you but I think Amanda may be right in thinking that that fact needs some explanation. It simply is not just a matter of common sense.

What begins at conception? Not human life. The egg and the sperm are living human cells. Not self-awareness or thought or sensory perception. Those might be considered signs of personhood but they all begin much later. It is true that a unique combination of genes in a single cell begins at conception. But a unique combination of genes does not mean that the zygote will develop into a single person. It may split in two and develop into two people. It may combine with another zygote so that one person develops with two different gene combinations. Outside the Star Trek universe human people do not join together or split in two. I think most people would feel strange about using the word 'person' to describe an organism that did that.

It is nice to see that you can be polite when you get away from Mark Shea's blog.

Katherine

9/10/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eileen: a fertilized egg cell does not necessarily have 46 chromosomes. It could have 47 chromosomes, as people with Downe's Syndrome and Klinefelter's Syndrome have. It could have 45 chromosomes, as people with Turner's Syndrome have. I think you would agree that those people are human. So why shouldn't sperm cells and egg cells be considered "human life"? They are potential people, after all. They do not have 46 chromosomes, but neither do people with these syndromes.

Furthermore, every cell in the human body possesses 46 chromosomes. If human cloning is ever perfected, as it is likely to be, every cell in the human body will be capable of turning into a full-fledged human being. If this happens, does that mean that every cell in the human body should be given legal rights?

-Linnet

9/10/2004

 
Blogger Amanda said...

The twins thing I find interesting, because it's clear that conception is the point that most religious anti-abortion people consider the moment of ensoulment. Which means, I suppose, that twins do share a soul. ;)
There are a handful of twins out there who do not separate completely--conjoined twins, of course. In some cases we consider conjoined twins to be two separate people and in some we do not. The determining factor on whether or not conjoined twins is two or one person? Whether or not it has two brains or just one. If someone is split from the chest up, that's two people and gets two names. Someone from the waist down is just one person. Just more evidence that usually what we consider a human being is someone who has developed an actual brain.

9/10/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Katherine:
That human personhood begins at conception may seem obvious to you but it is by no means obvious to everyone. I would certainly not call any single cell, however important, a human person. I know many people agree with you but I think Amanda may be right in thinking that that fact needs some explanation. It simply is not just a matter of common sense.*shakes head*

See, this is what I meant about ideology blinding one to common sense.

I never made the argument that human personhood begins at conception.

So, replying that "It doesn't seem obvious to me," is rather pointless, isn't it?

My point, which you still haven't addressed, was that to ascribe a rather foggy motivation when a much clearer one is right there is silly.

I mean, it can't be that people believe personhood begins at conception because life begins at conception, it must be "a rhetorical device to reinstate the belief that a baby is made by a man and merely borne by a woman."

Katherine:
What begins at conception? Not human life. The egg and the sperm are living human cells. Not self-awareness or thought or sensory perception. Those might be considered signs of personhood but they all begin much later. It is true that a unique combination of genes in a single cell begins at conception.*shakes head* This is a very odd use of words. You seem to attach a value to "human life" and then worry that if one says "human life begins at conception" one is making a judgment about personhood.

Now, if this were a political debate, and your opponent was saying "Human life begins at conception" to woo the audience (who would immediately equate human life with human personhood), I could understand your consternation, but this is not a political debate. This is a question of why someone might claim that human personhood begins at conception. In this case, denying that new life, independent of the sperm and egg begins at conception, only to affirm it the next moment ("It is true that a unique combination of genes in a single cell begins at conception") serves no purpose.

I think it bears reminding again, since neither Amanda, Katherine, nor Linnet seemed to take it from my post, that this is not an argument about when human personhood begins.

Linnet wrote:
So why shouldn't sperm cells and egg cells be considered "human life"? You mean, they aren't?

Ah, you mean, why aren't they considered a human person?

Probably because they are not "a unique combination of genes in a single cell," don't you think?

But, as I said above, I'm not arguing that human personhood begins at conception. I'm arguing that there's a perfectly ordinary reason for a person to incline to the view that human personhood begins at conception. And "a unique combination of genes in a single cell" is a very neat starting point, which right or not, people can easily embrace as the beginning of human personhood. As I said before, to call it a "rhetorical device" is intellectually vaporous.

So there's the main issue. Now a few more things that have come up.

Linnet wrote:
A fertilized egg cell does not necessarily have 46 chromosomes. It could have 47 chromosomes, as people with Downe's Syndrome and Klinefelter's Syndrome have. It could have 45 chromosomes, as people with Turner's Syndrome have. I think you would agree that those people are human.*glances at Down's Syndrome baby she's looking after* Can I ask why you brought this up? Does it have anything to do with the argument? 47 or 45 chromosones, "a unique combination of genes begins at conception" as Katherine likes to put it.

Katherine wrote:
It may combine with another zygote so that one person develops with two different gene combinations.I'd like to see your evidence for that. I mean, a person with two different gene combinations.

There is, of course, the observation that in the first days of life, zygotes sometimes recombine into a single zygote. But as, I'm sure you know, it has been argued that this could mean that one zygote absorbs the other other, resulting in the latter's death.

Twins are another interesting phenomenom, especially interesting in studying the possibilities of cloning. I doubt that many people who believe that personhood begins at conception would be much phased by the idea that personhood can also begin at a simulation of conception. The point is that "a unique combination of genes in a single cell" is created.

If you are interested in the pro-life view on twinning, Francis Beckworth has a good summary at http://www.equip.org/free/DH245.htm Go down to "Objection One: Argument from Twinning, Recombination, and Cellular Totipotency" But as I said, I'm not trying to convince you, merely to point out that people generally do have reasons other than a desire to stroke the male ego for their beliefs.

And lastly,
Amanda wrote:
I can imagine that after looking at how the church has coldly taken measures throughout its history to disempower women could be hard on one's faith.How so? This seems to be a common perception from those outside the church but does it have an intellectual basis? Does a Christian worship the church? Does a Christian believe in the guaranteed perfection of church leaders?

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." - Romans 3:23

History for the Christian is record of all people sinning. I don't know why you'd expect us to see it as anything else.

Eileen

9/10/2004

 
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Blogger Amanda said...

Eileen, it became a political debate the very second that people starting saying that their religious belief that a sperm + egg=a human being means that they have a right to send the law into my bed and my doctor's office.

9/11/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eileen, you implied in your last post that sperm and egg cells are human life (which is the attitude held by the scientific community).

But in the post before that, you said: "Conception is the beginning of human life."

That seems to be a contradiction. If sperm cells and egg cells are human life, then human life *does* exist before conception. Furthermore, they are unique cells--each gamete carries different information from every other gamete. So unique human life is formed at the end of the process of meiosis.

I brought up the argument about people with 45 and 47 chromosomes to demonstrate that there is much more to both human life and human personhood than the possession of 46 chromosomes.

-Linnet

9/11/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Eileen, I do understand that your point was that there *are* other reasons besides chauvinism why one would say that human personhood begins at conception. I don't find them convincing, but I understand that they exist.

However, that doesn't take away the possibility that the idea may also be popular because of its emphasis of the male role, which I still find an interesting idea.

-Linnet

9/11/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eileen,

I did understand the point you were making and I was trying to answer it. It seems that I failed to make myself clear.

I will try again. Many people see conception as the point at which a human person comes into existence. That attitude is common not only among religious anti-abortionists but also among secular anti-abortionists. (See www.ravingatheist.com). It even occurs among some pro-choice people. I take it that Amanda thinks that an overwhelming majority of anti-abortionists see conception as obviously the beginning of personhood, the point at which a baby is made. Making a baby means, for them, bringing about conception.

If she is right about that can the attitude of this majority be fully explained by the biological facts? The answer to that is yes, it can, if there is an overwhelming reason in human biology for seeing conception as the beginning of personhood and for seeing a zygote as a baby. If there is no such overwhelming reason then the fact that so many people see conception rather than any other stage of pregnancy as obviously the beginning of personhood does seem to need another explanation and it is not absurd to look for that in the prejudices of modern society. Do you understand what I am saying here? A particular individual who thinks personhood begins at conception may do so simply because she is convinced by the arguments for that position. That does not mean that the arguments can adequately explain the large number of people who hold that view or the certainty with which they hold it.

Now I have given my reasons for thinking that there is no good reason for seeing conception as the beginning of personhood. Human life does not begin at conception. You are simply wrong there. The combination of genes that does begin at conception does not, in my view, mean that the zygote is a person. A single cell is not a baby.

Of course a person who disagrees and who does think that conception is obviously the beginning of personhood and that a zygote should obviously be given full human rights will not look for any explanation for the beliefs of the majority beyond the biological facts. But do you now see that looking for another explanation might make sense and that it is not necessarily ‘hysterical stupidity’?

As for zygotes combining, look for articles on human chimerism. It is rare of course, but it does occur. XX/XY chimerism often causes some form of hermaphroditism. Presumably XX/XX and XY/XY chimerism usually goes undetected.

Katherine

9/11/2004

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was a case of XX/XX chimerism in the news a while back. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/11/13/nivf113.xml&sSheet=/news/2003/11/13/ixhome.html has a short account of it.

-Kim

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11/27/2005

 
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12/08/2005

 
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12/15/2005

 
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12/16/2005

 
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12/17/2005

 
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12/21/2005

 

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