Abortion

Elective abortion isn't merely a medical decision. It is an act of violence which takes the lives of ~2,500 children a day in the United States alone. Human rights violations affect us all — and abortion is one of the largest human rights violations of our lifetime.

The science

The scientific community is at a consensus: life begins at conception.

At the moment of sperm-egg fusion — i.e. fertilization or conception — what is produced is a genetically distinct, whole, living organism. Because the product of a same-species reproduction is always a differentiated member of that same species, in human reproduction, it is a human organism. Uninterrupted, this human organism will grow from a zygote to an embryo to a fetus to an infant to a toddler to adolescent to an adult to an elder.  At no point in our development do we “become human.” We are human beings from the moment we begin to exist. From Langman's Medical Embryology:

 

"The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote."

From the 2016 edition of The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology:

"Human development begins at fertilization when a sperm fuses with an oocyte to form a single cell, the zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual."

 

Click here for more citations.

The philosophy

“Sure, a fetus might be a human being — but not a person.”

 

Science alone is not enough to determine whether or not abortion should remain legal. The question “When does life begin?” is often posed in relation to the abortion debate, but as we have gone over above, the answer to this question is clear: a human being’s life starts at fertilization. Rather, the question we should be asking is “Which human beings should have human rights?” This question gets at the philosophical concept of “personhood," which generally defines the individuals we recognize as deserving of moral consideration.

There have been a variety of philosophical definitions of personhood over the centuries. Modern pro-choice ideology seeks to exclude certain human beings from personhood based on factors such as size, dependence, and ability level. Pro-life people, on the other hand, often argue that we must expand personhood, eliminating these arbitrary distinctions, to include all human beings, born and unborn. This expansion leads to a definition of personhood that is simply: a person is a living human being.

While we support this definition, we have reservations about working entirely within this framework.

 

Throughout history, the concept of personhood has almost exclusively been used as an excuse to discriminate against whole classes of human beings. While expanding the definition of personhood could prevent further dehumanization and violence, we propose an alternative solution: "personhood” should not be amended — it should be abolished.

We advocate for human rights, not person rights, because the definition of who can or cannot be a person is ultimately a rhetorical debate that ignores scientific facts. If there could ever be a category of “living humans who are not persons,” then personhood at best is a useless attribute. At worst, it is discriminatory and deadly.

bodily autonomy

“My body, my choice” is the rallying cry of the pro-choice movement. What exactly does this mean? We know that a human fetus is not actually a part of pregnant person’s body. Unborn children are distinct human beings.

 

What we've found people usually mean when they say this is that they believe the mother's right to bodily autonomy trumps the child's right to life. Often this stems from a belief that no one should be legally obligated to provide extraordinary care to save another person's life.

 

While this is partially true (we can't be forced to donate life-saving blood or organs, even after we die) the major flaw in this line of thinking is that it assumes that abortion is essentially refusing care, or "letting die." If you refuse to give blood or refuse to become an organ donor, people might die, but it's not your refusal that kills them. If they die, they died because of whatever fatal illness or injury they had. Letting die ≠ intentional killing.

 

Given that elective abortion always involves intentionally starving, poisoning, or dismembering a living human being, it's not accurate to compare it to the mere refusal of care. It is a deliberate form of violence. 

“Your right to swing your fist ends where my face begins.”

 

It is not a violation of bodily autonomy to prohibit the killing of human beings. There is no right to commit violence.

The law

At minimum, the law should protect the right of every human being to live free from violence. Because it kills an innocent human being, elective abortion should never be legal.

 

That said, Rehumanize International advocates for an approach to justice that is restorative rather than retributive. Incarcerating post-abortive women will not build a culture of life. Instead, we promote policies that aim to protect and support both unborn human beings and their parents. After all, in order to effectively eliminate abortion, we must also eliminate the perceived need. It’s imperative that our pro-life work includes dismantling the systems of oppression that drive the demand for abortion, such as poverty, racism, and misogyny.

If you'd like a more detailed explanation of this restorative approach to abortion law, read our latest white paper on the topic.

FOOTNOTES AND FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What about pregnancies resulting from rape?


Firstly — Rehumanize International finds it imperative that we address and work to eliminate rape culture in our society. That means ceaselessly working to expose and prosecute rapists, offering genuine support to people who have been raped, and believing survivors who come forward with their stories. When it comes to addressing the question of abortion in cases of rape, survivors' stories should be at the forefront of the discussion. After all, it's not merely a question of "Should abortion be permissible in these situations?" — but also "How would we be able to help women who've been raped if abortion isn't considered permissible? Would denying abortion not take away any power they have in that situation?" — and people who have experienced that situation firsthand can best answer those questions.
There's a plethora of these types of stories available with a quick Google search, but one in particular is the experience of Rehumanize's Executive Director and founder, Aimee Murphy. Click here to hear her tell her story. Aimee had been pro-choice until that point, and she says that traumatic experience flipped a switch for her. In her words: "In that moment, I knew something else, too: If I was indeed with child, that preborn human life within me would be worthy of the same protections as me. If I were to be killed, we would both be the victims of the same violence. So what right did I have to inflict the same harm that was being threatened against me upon an innocent human being? How much better would I be than the guy if I chose the path of violence to reach my goals in life?" It might be easy to brush off the stories of women who chose life in these situations by saying something along the lines of, "the important thing is that they had a choice." That's an understandable reaction, but ultimately, the debate boils down to the fact that abortion kills a human being. We all want there to be a better solution in those tragic circumstances — but we can't rationalize killing innocent human beings as a solution to rape. All that we can do is support the survivors of rape that we know, share resources to reach those who have yet to speak up about their experiences, and do our part to end rape culture and promote true justice.




What about life-threatening pregnancies?


Cases in which the mother’s life is seriously threatened (say, an ectopic pregnancy) are not considered "elective abortion." In these circumstances the child may need to be removed from the womb (or the fallopian tube) in order to save the mother's life, and consequently they may have a very, very low chance of survival — but the intention is never to kill, and that intention makes all the difference. All efforts should be made to save both mother and child. These tragic situations are not affected by typical abortion laws, which only restrict elective abortion (wherein the end goal is a dead child).




What about miscarriages?


Although the medical term for a miscarriage is "spontaneous abortion," these tragic deaths should never be confused with "elective abortions" (which is what most people mean when they simply say "abortion"). In both instances, a child dies and is expelled from the womb — but one occurs naturally, and the other is unnatural and deliberate. Both are tragic, but natural deaths don't justify intentional killing. Some children die by chance, but none should die by choice.




Citations


Note: the terms "zygote," "embryo," and "fetus" are all references to stages of development — just like the words "infant," "adolescent," and "adult." Calling someone an adult doesn't negate the fact that they are a human being. Similarly, referring to children in the womb by their stage in development doesn't negate their humanity, either. "Human development begins at fertilization when a sperm fuses with an oocyte to form a single cell, the zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual."
[Moore, Persaud, Torchia. The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 10th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier, 2016, p. 11.] "Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)... The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual."
[Carlson, Bruce M. Patten's Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p. 3] "Development of the embryo begins at Stage 1 when a sperm fertilizes an oocyte and together they form a zygote."
[England, Marjorie A. Life Before Birth. 2nd ed. England: Mosby-Wolfe, 1996, p.31]
"Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception).
"Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being."
[Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2]

"Embryo: the developing organism from the time of fertilization until significant differentiation has occurred, when the organism becomes known as a fetus."
[Cloning Human Beings. Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Rockville, MD: GPO, 1997, Appendix-2.]

"Embryo: An organism in the earliest stage of development; in a man, from the time of conception to the end of the second month in the uterus."
[Dox, Ida G. et al. The Harper Collins Illustrated Medical Dictionary. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993, p. 146]

"Embryo: The early developing fertilized egg that is growing into another individual of the species. In man the term 'embryo' is usually restricted to the period of development from fertilization until the end of the eighth week of pregnancy."
[Walters, William and Singer, Peter (eds.). Test-Tube Babies. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 160]

"The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote."
[Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

"Embryo: The developing individual between the union of the germ cells and the completion of the organs which characterize its body when it becomes a separate organism.... At the moment the sperm cell of the human male meets the ovum of the female and the union results in a fertilized ovum (zygote), a new life has begun.... The term embryo covers the several stages of early development from conception to the ninth or tenth week of life."
[Considine, Douglas (ed.). Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia. 5th edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976, p. 943]

"I would say that among most scientists, the word 'embryo' includes the time from after fertilization..."
[Dr. John Eppig, Senior Staff Scientist, Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, Maine) and Member of the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel -- Panel Transcript, February 2, 1994, p. 31]

"The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote."
[Sadler, T.W. Langman's Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]

"The question came up of what is an embryo, when does an embryo exist, when does it occur. I think, as you know, that in development, life is a continuum.... But I think one of the useful definitions that has come out, especially from Germany, has been the stage at which these two nuclei [from sperm and egg] come together and the membranes between the two break down."
[Jonathan Van Blerkom of University of Colorado, expert witness on human embryology before the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel -- Panel Transcript, February 2, 1994, p. 63]

"Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression 'fertilized ovum' refers to the zygote."
[Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993, p. 1]

"The chromosomes of the oocyte and sperm are...respectively enclosed within female and male pronuclei. These pronuclei fuse with each other to produce the single, diploid, 2N nucleus of the fertilized zygote. This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development."
[Larsen, William J. Human Embryology. 2nd edition. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1997, p. 17]

"Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.... The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity."
[O'Rahilly, Ronan and Müller, Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29. This textbook lists "pre-embryo" among "discarded and replaced terms" in modern embryology, describing it as "ill-defined and inaccurate" (p. 12}]




Post-Abortive Resources


National Helpline for Abortion Recovery: 1-866-482-5433 http://afterabortion.org/help-healing/ http://hopeafterabortion.com/





 

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