Civil Discourse Now

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"Irrefutable scientific fact" human life begins at conception, as Rep Jacob asserts? No, no and no.

5/18 (tomorrow), 9 pm: “Mouthwash,” John Schmitz’s FB podcast, features a debate between me and Indiana State Rep John Jacob on women’s reproductive rights. Among inflammatory bits on Rep Jacob’s campaign website is something meant to lay all doubt to rest.

Rep Jacob says: “It is an irrefutable scientific fact that human life begins at conception.” We need to define key words. 1) “conception”: “The union of the sperm and the ovum. Synonymous with fertilization.” Medinet; 2) “irrefutable”: “cannot be refuted or disproved.” Random House Webster’s, 2d ed., 2001, p. 1009. On this, as on other matters, Rep Jacob is wrong.

In “When Does Personhood Begin?” Swarthmore Biology Professor Scott Gilbert said “there is no consensus among scientists as when personhood begins....[T]he notion of fertilization is a rather weak statement ... the same genetic material [can] form twins and triplets.”

Prof Gilbert points out scientists assert several places where personhood begins: “fertilization, gastrulation, EEG pattern, and the perinatal period.” Rep Jacob’s “irrefutable scientific fact” is none of the three. Things get worse for Rep Jacob if we grant him his premises.

If we grant 1) human life begins at conception and 2) it is the divine will of the Jehovah of the old testament that everything happens, then 3) the 70% of human embryos lost, especially in the first weeks after fertilization are killed for no reason.

Cambridge Prof Garvin Jarvis notes it “is widely accepted that natural human embryo mortality is high, particularly during the first weeks after fertilisation.” The 70% is greater than the sum of all births and abortions (30%).

To quote Prof Gilbert: “As one fertilization researcher says, ‘Fertilization does not occur in a moment of passion. It occurs five days later at the laundromat.’” Human reproduction, or for that matter basic science, is far more complex than Rep Jacob understands.

We do not live in a theocracy. Whether people with views such as those espoused by Rep Jacob are a minority even amongst those who hold a particular faith is irrelevant. This fringe has been able to leverage power. So we should look at their hypocrisy.

Frankly I’m surprised that Rep Jacob holds such heretical views. “Abortion” never is mentioned in either of the testaments, but neither of the testaments recognizes “personhood” so early in the process of human reproduction. No wonder, given that 70% figure.

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Comment by pogden297 on May 18, 2021 at 1:58pm

Some say conception is the beginning of life.  I say fertilization and implantation in the womb is the beginning of life as that's when life actually starts developing.  It would take an enormous act of intellectual dishonesty to claim that an 8 1/2 month old fetus is not human life.    Yet many on the pro-choice side insist that until that unborn baby is outside the womb it's not life.   That's utterly absurd.  It's not that much more absurd to draw the line of when life begins at viability - the ability of the unborn baby to live, albeit with assistance, outside the womb.    Clearly the developing fetus is fully developed several weeks before viability.

Abortion though isn't about when life begins, it's about when that life is deserving of legal protection.  Because abortion involves a developing human being inside another human being, it's not irrational to employ a balancing test in determining when the woman's bodily integrity outweighs the fetal life growing insider her and vice versa. It's rational to believe that a woman's interest wins out at one month in pregnancy, but at four months the fetus is so well-developed that its interest in life probably is such that it outweighs the woman's interest in bodily integrity.

The eventual logical weighing of these interests was subverted by the Court in Roe when it established that a woman had a constitutional right to abortion on demand for the first six months of the pregnancy.  The Planned Parenthood v. Case case cut back on that slightly by replacing six months with viability, which was maybe 1/2 month shorter.  There is no logic in viability though - it was a policy decision made by unelected Supreme Court justices, certainly not something that could be "found" in the Constitution.

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