Fetuses and "women's health"

I’m deeply disturbed that most atheists, when confronted with the pro-life argument, talk about human hair or saliva as if it is even in the same ballpark of significance as a fetus. Any preschooler could understand that there is a seminal moment during fertilization in which a person’s entire genetic makeup is determined (their unique “code,” if you will) and they are officially a growing human—we call it “conception.” Any respectable person of common intelligence, provided with the scientific facts, would conclude that none of us were any more or less fundamentally human beings in the seconds after we were conceived than we are as adults. The current state of political correctness in this country has unfortunately censored the very high number of people who simply cannot bring themselves to support abortion under any circumstance, because they realize that to consider the situation surrounding a person’s conception the only determining factor of that person’s worth is placing the mental or emotional well-being of a mother over an unborn child’s entire life. The only situation in which it could be acceptable and not narcissistic is if a medical professional absolutely guarantees that the mother will die if she does not abort her child—which, as we all know, almost never happens.

Why do no atheists take the moral and logical point of view about human life? Has the liberal climate spread THAT far? People would start calling the worst crimes imaginable “women’s health” if people were stupid enough.

A man is aggressively hitting on a woman at a bar and making her feel uncomfortable. It is raising her blood pressure and might give her a heart attack, so shooting him in the face to ensure he never talks to her again is absolutely acceptable. It’s about her health.

Arguing in support of women murdering anyone who takes her out of her comfort zone is in the same logical plane of arguing in support of abortion for the sake of her “health.”

I’ve tackled the two most important aspects of abortion: Whether or not there is a genetic difference between a day-old fetus and a 20-year-old adult, and whether or not it is narcissistic to consider a woman’s mental or emotional well-being more important than an unborn human’s entire life. Counters to both my conclusions are welcome.

Posted: July 14th 2012

Mike the Infidel www

“I’ve tackled the two most important aspects of abortion: Whether or not there is a genetic difference between a day-old fetus and a 20-year-old adult, and whether or not it is narcissistic to consider a woman’s mental or emotional well-being more important than an unborn human’s entire life. Counters to both my conclusions are welcome.”

The counter is very simple. Let’s say that a woman’s 20-year-old son needed to be surgically attached to her 24/7 to keep him alive. Would you say that a woman who doesn’t wish to remain attached is immoral? If not, then you should have the same response to an unborn human who needs to be surgically attached to its mother 24/7 to keep it alive. If so, then you’re basically saying that a mother is morally required to donate the use of her organs to her offspring at any point in their lives.

Whether the unborn child is a human being or not is ultimately irrelevant. Just as you can’t force a mother to provide her organs to give life support to a born child, you can’t force a mother to provide her organs to give life support to an unborn child. The woman’s right to bodily autonomy trumps the child’s right to life.

By the way, your example of a man increasing a woman’s blood pressure by hitting on her is utterly unrelated and silly. The man does not rely upon the use of the woman’s organs for his survival.

Posted: September 9th 2012

See all questions answered by Mike the Infidel

flagellant www

Embryos and foetuses are not viable until very late in a pregnancy and, if an embryo or foetus is ‘born’ early, it will not survive. Indeed, it will be ‘born’ dead; further, many pregnancies end with spontaneous natural abortions, at various stages of gestation. This is nature’s way of dealing with imperfect fertilized eggs. Such spontaneous abortion may take place without the mother even knowing that she is pregnant. So, for you to equate embryos and foetuses with humans is not valid. A human is an independently viable being. A fertilized egg is only a potential human. You should really get it out of your head that a foetus is a human just because it may become a person one day.

Sometimes, the fertilized egg may not implant in the uterus; it may end up in a fallopian tube, an ovary, or elsewhere in the abdomen. (I have deliberately mentioned ectopic pregnancies because these will almost certainly kill the mother unless the growth is removed.) Or it may be flushed away down the toilet, unrecognized.

However, imperfect foetuses do not always spontaneously abort. Numerous birth defects – such as anencephaly – occur and it is neither in the mother’s nor in the baby’s interest that such pregnancies should go to term. Then there is the matter of conceptions due to rape and/or incest. In such cases, humane societies provide terminations immediately.

I know many women who have had abortions and I support this right wholeheartedly. You say that ‘The current state of political correctness in this country has unfortunately censored the very high number of people who simply cannot bring themselves to support abortion under any circumstance.’ As in so many statements in your diatribe, you are wrong: those opposing abortion have too much influence, in far too many countries. For example, scarcely a day goes by without some US state introducing legislation further restricting abortion rights.

If some women – and men, come to that – for whatever reason, oppose abortion, then that is fine: no-one is forcing them to have abortions themselves. But it is wrong for them to affect the availability of pregnancy termination to others. And it sounds to me as though you are looking for some justification for your opposition to other people – not you yourself – having ready access to abortion. If you oppose abortion, then don’t have one, but don’t argue against the right of other people to choose.

You clearly do not appreciate the nuances of abortion. The science is clear and it is at odds with everything you argue. However, when it comes to policy, even more important is a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body. It isn’t a matter for self-appointed moralists.

Posted: July 17th 2012

See all questions answered by flagellant


It is my experience that when you disagree with somebody, comparing them to preschoolers and questioning their intelligence is not a very effective way to start a conversation.

As for your “conclusions”, here is what I think:

First off, I do not think abortion is a great thing. I would like to see as few abortions as possible. The proven best (ie backed up by scientific study) way of doing this is through effective sex education, and I would expect that anybody who wanted to reduce the number of abortions would agree to do this. Alas, they tend to be as much anti-sex as anti-abortion (though apparently it is okay to have unmarried sex as long as you get married afterwards). I understand why they believe this way, but it doesn’t prevent me from thinking that they are very, very misguided. But the anti-abortion movement isn’t about reducing abortions, it’s a political movement, so I guess that is to be expected.

As for your arguments, well, I don’t think much of them. At conception we are one cell, and while that cell may have the potential to become a human, it is not yet a human. It has some rights, but not the rights of a human. As the pregnancy progresses, it will get more rights, until when it is born it will have the rights of a human infant.

The question becomes, “at what point do the rights of the embryo/fetus outweigh the rights of the mother?”

Contrary to your assertion, the answer to this is not obvious. Both the egg and sperm have human DNA, and they have the potential to lead to a human birth, if things go correctly. Fertilization does not change this; there is still only the potential for a human birth, and in fact a large number of fertilized eggs do not lead to live births.

I do, however, think that it is clear that an embryo is not a human. It may become a human, but it isn’t one yet. And therefore I think it’s up to the woman to decide whether she wishes to continue the pregnancy, a pregnancy that has very real emotional, financial, and medical (complications due to pregnancy is the #8 killer of women 25-34 in the US) downsides. If she thinks that it’s best to abort, than I would much rather have that happen than have a neglected child.

And what about child abnormalities? By your standard, a Anancephalic child will have to be born and then die on it’s own (most die during birth or within an hour of being born).

Of what possible use is that to anybody? At least the anancephalic babies likely feel no pain (though their parents obviously feel tremendous pain) – there are other birth defects that are quite painful for the baby.

But apparently that doesn’t matter to you. Which leads me to wonder which one of us is really the moral one.

Posted: July 16th 2012

See all questions answered by Eric_PK

Galen Rose www

The anti-abortionists get incredibly bent out of shape about something that just doesn’t care. A fetus has no consciousness, so it just doesn’t care – about anything. If a fetus of a few weeks old is aborted, it doesn’t care. It doesn’t miss anything because it never had anything to miss or to lose. You can argue that it loses the life that it might have had, but you’re the one concerned about that, the fetus isn’t concerned about it at all.

You might ask, what if I had been aborted, wouldn’t that have been a tragedy? I would never have had the life I have lived. The simple answer is, I wouldn’t care. I would never have known that I had no life, so I wouldn’t have missed anything. I would never have known that I even existed, so I would never have known that there was anything to lose or to miss. In short, if I had been aborted, I wouldn’t have cared (without consciousness), so it wouldn’t have mattered a bit.

The world will carry on quite well without me, I’m sure, after I die. I daresay it would have carried on quite well had I never been born.

You might ask, but what if that fetus would have grown into an Einstein or a Mozart? So? Should we abort them all because one might grow into a Hitler, who was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions?

Posted: July 15th 2012

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brian thomson www

From the way you talk about “this country” and assume everyone knows what you mean, and the way you try to use “liberal” as a insult, I will presume that you are an American, more specifically a self-identified “Conservative”. I have some news for you: there are other parts of the world in which views such as yours carry no weight at all. I presume you would dismiss the world outside America as “broken” much as Ayn Rand did, but we don’t care. There are many problems in the world today, many of them caused by the good ol’ USA – such as the wars in the Middle East and the financial crisis – so you can drop your “American Exceptionalism” is, like, totally bogus, dude.

It’s difficult to counter your argument because you haven’t actually made a coherent one. Plenty of assertions, but they have nothing but your emotions behind them. As already pointed out, uniqueness is not inherently special or valuable, any more than being American is: a one-line command on my computer can produce a number (a UUID) that is more “unique” than any person on this planet.

The argument that a fertilised zygote is a person is what I understand as “vitalist” i.e. the notion that there is some “spark of life” that comes in to play to make it a “person”. Comforting and self-assuring as this argument might be, there is no scientific evidence to back it up. Nor is there ever likely to be, since it’s an appeal to the “supernatural”, a realm “beyond” science.

Even as an adult, if you want to be “special”, you have to work at it, with the support of communities and societies which we create. It doesn’t just “happen”: billions of people on this planet were born, lived, and died without being “special” in any sense you would recognise. They died young, or at the hands of murderous criminals or despots, and their gods (whom you claim cares about the health of the unborn) said and did nothing to help the living. Some of them shared your exact beliefs, and it made no difference. If your life, or mine, is more than “nasty, brutish, and short”, it’s no thanks to a god: yours, or anyone else’s.

Posted: July 15th 2012

See all questions answered by brian thomson

George Locke

Both women and fetuses have moral value, but fetuses have much less because a fetus is not a person: it has no memories, hopes, projects, fears, etc. The fetus is not on equal footing with the mother. Her rights count more because she’s a person and the fetus isn’t.

As to your particular arguments:

If genetic uniqueness had any moral weight, then mutated cancer cells would be worth more than healthy, un-mutated cells, but that’s nonsense. A unique genome in itself is irrelevant to moral considerations. I’ve seen this point raised many times but always without scrutiny, as though it were obvious. It is not obvious; on the contrary, I can see no sense in it. Why should a unique genome convey moral value?

As for the “unborn human’s entire life”, well, that’s something a fetus might get in the future, conditions permitting, or not. If I keep you from getting something you might later acquire, that’s hardly the same thing as robbing you of something you now possess. After all, you might get the something, or you might not without my having any part in the matter. Stopping someone from actualizing a potential is not ethically equivalent to outright theft, just as using a condom is not murder.

When you consider the fact that a fetus is unconscious and has no conception of what it has to lose (or anything else), your case pretty much falls apart.

I urge you to consider what qualities give humans moral value and to what extent fetuses have those qualities.

Posted: July 15th 2012

See all questions answered by George Locke

bitbutter www

The cell newly formed after fertilization is called a Zygote. Five days later the Zygote has transformed into another structure, a ball of cells known as a blastocyst. As Sam Harris points out:

A 3-day-old human embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. There are, for the sake of comparison, more than 100,000 cells in the brain of a fly.

Brain activity begins at around the 6th week. Nine weeks after fertilization, the fetus stage begins.

You quickly get into difficulties if you want to use genetic identity as the basis for recognising or denying rights to groups of cells (including very large groups, such as human adults). If your advocacy for Zygote rights depends on genetic identity and the potential of this structure to become a fully developed human, then if you’re to be consistent, you have to accord the same rights to human skin cells too, which, with the help of modern technology can develop into human adults. I doubt that most people, including theists, would be willing to do that.

Posted: July 14th 2012

See all questions answered by bitbutter


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