Saturday, August 09, 2008

What do you say?

Strawmen are easy to beat up.  Problem is, a blackbelt in strawman fighting don't mean beans on the street.

Realizing this, I decided to see what some real arguments for abortion are, and if I could make heads or tails of them.  I did a search of Facebook groups for abortion.

One group had the following posted as their group description:

Pro: Being for; approving something.
Choice: The power, right, or liberty to choose; option.
Pro Choice: The right for all women to decide for themselves. The choice to parent, to give up for adoption, or to terminate. The power for a woman to decide what to do within her own body.

The 12-week fetus experiences pain.
At this stage of the pregnancy, the brain and nervous system are still in a very early stage of development. The beginnings of the brain stem, which includes a rudimentary thalamus and spinal cord, is being formed. Most brain cells are not developed. Without a cerebral cortex (gray matter covering the brain), pain impulses cannot be received or perceived.

A fetus is indistinguishable from any of the rest of us.
A fetus of 12 weeks cannot in any way be compared to a fully formed functioning person. At this stage only rudiments of the organ systems are present. The fetus is unable to sustain life outside the woman's womb; it is incapable of conscious thought; it is incapable of essential breathing. It is instead an in utero fetus with the potential of becoming a child.
Is it appropriate to refer to a fetus as unborn child, with the same right as other human beings?
No. Constitutionally, a fetus has no rights of personhood. Most legal precedent in English law attributes personhood to the live born.

A fetus has brain activity at 40 days/6 weeks.
The absolute earliest brain activity has ever been recorded is at three months; this was evidenced in an experiment conducted by Okamoto and Kirikae, in which very basic brainstem activity was recorded. Axons, dendrites, and synapses, all of which are necessary for higher brain function, are not present until approximately the 24th week. The factoid of brain activity at 40 days comes from a misquotation by Dr. Hamlin in one of his lectures, in which he references the Okamoto and Kirikae experiment and describes the fetuses as being at "some 40 days" of development. This statement is false, as the fetuses were over 90 days old.

I emailed one of the group administrators the following...

Hi, ________!
I was browsing some Facebook groups today and saw this one.  As I read through your group's description, and I had a couple of thoughts.  Please let me know what you think!

You write about a 12-week fetus and whether s/he feels pain.  Is there a reason why you talk about the fetus only at this age?   I think we can both agree that a fetus develops the ability to sense pain at some point in their development, and that abortions are not only carried out on 12-week old fetuses.  Do you think that an abortion should be carried out on a fetus who is able to feel pain?

Also, on the point about a fetus and whether they can be distinguished from their mother, this is what I wondered:

1) In answering this question, you have ignored the fact that every child is genetically distinct from either of the parents, since half of his/her DNA comes from each parent.  Once the nuclei of the sperm and egg have fused (the process called "conception," a genetically distinct cell is formed.  This cell is a unique person.  Based on DNA alone, yes, a fetus is distinguishable from his/her mother.

2) You mention that "The fetus is unable to sustain life outside the woman's womb... it  is incapable of essential breathing."  By this reasoning, an organism cannot be considered to be a real person unless they are functioning autonomously.  Thus, any person who is currently breathing through a respirator is not a person.  And anyone who suffers from severe asthma has episodes where their essential breathing is impaired.  During those episodes, do they somehow become less than a person?

3) To make the claim that a fetus "is incapable of conscious thought," you must show evidence.  Are you arguing that their brain is not developed enough?  How developed does a person's brain have to be before they can think?  Do you have any evidence to back up this claim?

4) Your description states, "It is instead an in utero fetus with the potential of becoming a child."  That's great that you used some medical terms in this sentence, but "fetus" is simply Latin for "offspring."  "Fetus" and "child" are not mutually exclusive, any more than "toddler" and "child" are mutually exclusive.  The term "toddler" simply provides more information on the age of the child.  The same is true for the term fetus.  A fetus does not at some magical point become a child; a fetus is already a child.

After examining the description for your group, I think that you have missed an important question.

Have you ever asked yourself, "What makes a person a person?"

Does it really have anything to do with their ability to breathe with/without assistance?  Does it really have anything to do with their age, or their physical position (in or ex utero?)? 

What makes a person a person?

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.
Thanks, and have a great weekend,

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