Today, I’m going to start off as an intellectual feather-weight and deal with the absurd position that a fetus is a human to get it swiftly out of the way.
I’ve often pondered the “pro-life” anti-choice position and tried to make heads or tails out of it with some insight into reality. It’s very difficult to do since the anti-choice stance is intrinsically dualistic, and based upon religious grounds, rather than argued through evidence. A select few incorporate straw men into their arguments (abortion=eugenics, or so forth), but the dualistic ones have the following premises:
- All humans have souls
- It is a soul which makes humans worth special treatment
- Souls are injected at the time of conception
Therefore: destroying a human fetus, blastula, gastrula, or or zygote is murder.
There are, however, some non-dualistic arguments regarding anti-choice, as I have previously mentioned, but most of these pseudorational arguments are easily seen through as poorly veiled attempts at ad-hoc rationalization, and tend to contain these same premises in a euphemistic form. Those that do not, however, are the “risky behavior” arguments. It is interesting that these are mostly risks of infection (4% is a rather high estimation for this) and damage to future chances of pregnancy. These occur exclusively in surgical abortion procedures. Pharmacologically induced abortions typically have no major side effects. The surgical techniques sometimes (less than 10%) have complications (such as perforated uterine walls, scar tissue development, etc.) which can cause future fertility issues. Arguing that abortion is risky ignores the fact that pregnancy is also risky. The comparative risk between abortion and full-term pregnancy (if you include psychological issues) is about the same; while infection rates are higher for abortion than for childbirth, it does occur in both; perforated uteri are also slightly more frequent in surgical abortion procedures, but does still occur in childbirth (natural and c-section). Psychological trauma is less frequent in abortions than in child birth (4% vs 5.9%) and this difference does seem to be statistically significant (P<0.05). It’s ironic to use the “risk” argument for abortion and not use it against pregnancy in general, for this is how it works best.
Even if we agree that humans have a dualistic nature (euphemisms=special, unique, etc.) AND it is the soul which qualifies a human for special treatment (euphemisms=more intelligent, morally aware, etc.), we are left with the absurd position that millions of “special and morally aware fetuses” die yearly, in the form of environmentally induced miscarriages, non-implanted embryos, and genetic-abnormality-induced terminations, not to mention the math doesn’t make sense. It is ironic to use the idea of “conception” being the magic moment at which a soul gets injected, but a bigger problem is that it’s never explained what one means by “conception.” Is it the moment in which the gametes fuse? Is it the moment in which the embryo implants into the uterine wall (at least in placental mammals)? Where along the evolutionary history of our species did a soul first get injected? I mean, obviously there must have been a “first” when dealing with the existence of contra-causal non-material agency–unless one adds the additional stipulation that souls evolved, too, and that would just make the argument hilarious. Condoms are certainly is not abortion in the “implantation-soul,” nor are most contraceptive pills (including emergency contraceptives-i.e. “morning after pill”–a misnomer, but it’s what most people have heard of it as); the latter only are abortion if you are one of the individuals claiming fertilization is the moment at which a soul gets stuffed into that embryo, in which case, in that small percentage of the time, when an egg is released, will it be fertilized (a smaller number), and of those, nearly all will not implant. As far as the mathematics of souls goes, if fertilization is the moment when a soul appears, do identical twins have the same soul? What about conjoined twins? Want some serious fun, ponder genetic chimeras (where two fertilized eggs produce a single individual).
These dilemmas are precisely what led me away from dualism and religious ideas. It serves as an introduction into my “what does it mean to be ‘human'” series. I began with the abortion notion to get the idea that humans are “special” quickly out of the way (i.e. to remove the soul from the equation) and to demonstrate why it doesn’t work. This is not to say that humans are not unique among animals, and the following will show how we are unique.
The next in this series will be a look into the naturalistic view of what humans actually are and how we got here. I will then delve into Neil Shubin’s “Your Inner Fish” as well as specifics of comparative anatomy excluding human neurology. Following that will be some relatively recent history and discussion of social interactions. Lastly, while I’m not precisely knowledgeable enough about human neurology to discuss get into the details, I will make an honest attempt at such in the final part of this series. This will mainly focus on several regions: Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, the superior frontal gyrus, and cerebellum.