Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Chicken and The Egg

Every time I think that I really have said everything I could possibly say about the abortion debate (1), I seem to encounter yet another bizarre twist to the arguments presented by the anti-choice side which makes me feel obliged to respond. I don't particularly want to get dragged into it again, but my conscience compels me to speak up on behalf of women and girls, as discussed in the first article of the series. In fact, I wrote the series to examine the various arguments in some depth, write it all down to link for future reference, and not have to repeat myself over and over in the ongoing discussions that I seem to get sucked into despite doing my best to resist. 

The latest "twist," which I learned about from an article by pastor Mark Sandlin, was presented by Ben Carson and Bristol Palin who have recently stated that abortion is the equivalent of slavery.  I've heard this mentioned every once in a while in the past, usually in the context of, "Like slavery, abortion is a terrible moral evil and we must change the law." But Carson and Palin go further; they say that abortion is wrong specifically because it treats the unborn "child" as property which may be disposed of as the "slaveholder" (the woman carrying it inside of her body) sees fit.  It should be noted that according to the biblical standards which Carson and Palin claim to support, children are the property of their fathers.  The Bible also condones selling a daughter as a slave, or to a man who rapes her, or to a legitimate suitor, whose property she then becomes.

In any event, I find this comparison of abortion with slavery quite ironic, because they have it entirely backwards. The policy they promote would make the fetus a slaveholder over the woman, demoting her from person to chattel. Now you could argue that forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term against her will is the “morally right thing to do” (to save the fetus), but there is no way getting around the fact that it is “involuntary servitude.” That leaves us in the awkward position of concluding that while slavery is a moral evil on the part of any born person, it is perfectly acceptable when done by a fetus. 

The anti-choice side tries unconvincingly to skirt this objection by saying that there can be no such thing as an “unwilling” pregnancy, i.e. “involuntary servitude” on the woman’s part, given that pregnancy is a known potential consequence of sex.  They say a woman's "choice" is made every time she voluntarily engages in sex (2) because even if her intent is not to get pregnant and she is using birth control (which could fail), her participation constitutes de facto "agreement" to have a baby.  Or to put it another way, by being sexually active a woman automatically forfeits her right of bodily autonomy and becomes a walking incubator belonging to the spawn of any man who manages to impregnate her with or without her explicit consent.  An informal survey of sexually active women reveals that most of them don't recall signing any such agreement but, again, I have addressed this argument in previous posts.

Pastor Sandlin's article discusses the fact that in the natural course of events, loss of a fertilized ovum due to failure to implant is statistically a much more likely outcome than successful implantation and pregnancy.  Abstinence advocate Palin said her last out-of-wedlock child was a "planned pregnancy," which means that in the process of trying to have that baby, other embryos must have been sacrificed.  So, according to the above-described logic, that a woman is responsible for the natural consequences of sex, by engaging in unprotected sex Palin would be guilty of causing the deaths of those embryos, or "babies" as she and Carson call them.  Now, some readers commenting on Sandlin's article objected that a woman is not responsible for the loss of embryos because "they died of natural causes" and it was unintentional on her part.  But, I think we can't have it both ways.  Either we are responsible for the unintended biological consequences of sexual activity, including pregnancy and spontaneous abortion, or we're not.

Getting back to Palin's comparison with slavery, she argues that abortion is even worse because the slave owners, while racist, supposedly regarded their slaves as "sort of" (maybe 3/5?) human, whereas "abortionists" deny that a fertilized ovum is a human being at all - which, according to Carson and Palin, is a completely shocking and ridiculous notion that goes against science.   They will tell you with a straight face that science "proves" a fertilized ovum is a "human person" for the simple reason that it has unique human DNA. Period. Yes, folks, that's right: All that is required for "personhood" is a microscopic clump of proteins. You don't need consciousness, sentience, or the tiniest flicker of awareness, and even among Christians the idea of a "soul" has become rather passe'.  All you need is genes. (3) 

Now let's take a look at this notion that a fertilized ovum is a full-fledged human person. What if we were to apply the same scientific criterion to another creature, say, a chicken?  (I apologize in advance to my vegetarian readers): 

You go to a restaurant and order fried chicken. The waiter brings you a fried egg. You say, "Excuse me, I ordered fried chicken." The waiter says, "This is fried chicken." "No," you say, "This is a fried egg." The waiter explains in a snippy tone, "This 'egg,' as you call it, is indeed chicken. It is fertile and therefore has the complete genetic material which, were it not for people like you eating them, would have ensured its development into a mature chicken." "But," you say, "It's not a chicken, it's still just an egg." The waiter says, "I assure you, this poultry specimen has pure DNA from the finest Plymouth Rock, with beautiful black and white plumage.  It is a chicken."  "Eggs don't have plumage," you point out.  "Well you can't see the plumage yet, but genetically it is already there.  How dare you criticize this bird because of its size. Just because it is small and undeveloped doesn't make it a non-chicken!" "Well yes," you say, "it kind of does..." The waiter interrupts and says slowly and clearly as if speaking to a small child, "Had it not been harvested at such a young age, it would have grown into a nice, big bird - not a dog, a cat, a monkey, or even a duck - a chicken! What other possible species do you think it could have become?!" "But," you say, "I mean, there are no wings or legs or -"  The waiter heaves a sigh and says in a pained voice, "Very well then," picks up your plate and goes back to the kitchen.

He returns shortly with a new plate holding a fried egg which, remarkably, displays in its center where the yolk would have been, a chicken embryo flayed neatly down the middle, the halves artistically arranged like mirror images.  "There!" the waiter says triumphantly, waving his hand at the plate, "Look at this lovely chicken!  The tiny sharp beak, the developing wings, the tender legs, the perfectly formed little feet.  This is a chicken."  You dubiously inspect the embryonic bird which, while the chef has somehow managed to make it appear halfway appetizing, looks more like a biology lesson than the "fried chicken" you had in mind when you ordered.  "Um," you say, not wanting to be rude, "This is very nice, but I was really hoping for more meat."  Waiter:  "It's just young and tender. What you call 'meat' is the result of aging."  "Look," you say, "I'm really not trying to be argumentative, but in most restaurants 'fried chicken' means literally, um, an already hatched, big chicken."  The waiter replies peevishly, "You didn't specify an adult chicken!  And what difference does it make whether it's hatched or not?  Chicken development is a seamless process from fertilization to full maturity."  Trying to defuse the situation with humor, you suggest, "Well, you know that old saying, 'Don't count your chickens before they're hatched'..."  The waiter, having reached the end of his patience, says, "You ordered chicken.  If you were to take this bird to the lab and have its flesh analyzed, I promise it will reveal chicken DNA and all the same proteins found only in chickens! ergo, it is a chicken. What else could it possibly be?  Are you insane?!"  He rolls his eyes, stomps his foot and walks away in a huff. 

Be honest, are you convinced it is a chicken?  I didn't think so. 

(1) Don't Spread Your Legs, and please see links at the bottom of that article for the full series. 

(2)  But, what if she was NOT a willing participant, i.e. she was a rape victim?  Anti-choice people brush this off by saying such pregnancies account for only 1%, or maybe 30,000 per year, and therefore apparently can be disregarded.  Sometimes they will claim, incredibly, that giving birth to the rapist's baby is "healing" for the woman.  Carson has stated that it makes no difference how the baby was conceived and the victim should be forced to deliver it in any case, because "the offspring of rapists can go on to have useful productive lives in society."  He does not address the effect on the rape victims themselves.

(3) They don't mention to what extent a pregnant woman may be a human person, but presumably to a lesser degree than the fetus which owns her body, although she too has her own unique DNA.

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