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.