Answering Pro-Abortion Arguments: Introduction

Here is the beginning to a new series giving persuasive, reasonable, and rational answers using science and philosophy to objections often raised from pro-abortion advocates. Many assertions are shouted by both sides of the abortion issue without really addressing the crux of the debate: the status of the unborn. Often we hear conclusions that assume the unborn is not a human being. The pro-life advocate needs to confront these blanket statements with an attractive manner butressed with an equipped mind familiar with the discussion at hand.

Where does science stand on the humanity of the unborn? Is there such thing as a "pre-embryo substitute" (clump of cells) rather than a human organism? "The term 'pre-embryo' is not used here for the following reasons: (1) it is ill-defined because it is said to end with the appearance of the primitive streak or to include neurulation; (2) it is inaccurate because purely embryonic cells can already be distinguished after a few days, as can also the embryonic (not pre-embryonic!) disc; (3) it is unjustified because the accepted meaning of the word embryo includes all of the first 8 weeks; (4) it is equivocal because it may convey the erroneous idea that a new human organism is formed at only some considerable time after fertilization; and (5) it was introduced in 1986 'largely for public policy reasons'(Biggers). ... Just as postnatal age begins at birth, prenatal age begins at fertilization."[1.]

In this text, I want to begin the description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual. Simply put, the immediate product of sexual reproduction is a new living human organism, a human being, a human individual, a human embryo. At fertilization a new genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.[2.]

"Sutton and Boveri declared independently in 1902 that the behavior of chromosomes during germ cell formation and fertilization agreed with Mendel's principles of inheritance. In the same year, Garrod reported alcaptonuria as the first example of mendelian inheritance in human beings. Many consider Garrod to be the Father of Medical Genetics. It was soon realized that the zygote contains all the genetic information necessary for directing the development of a new human being. (p. 12) ... Human development is a continuous process that begins when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (or spermatozoon) from a male. (p. 2); ... but the embryo begins to develop as soon as the oocyte is fertilized. (p. 2); ... Zygote: this cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo). (p. 2); ... Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm ... unites with a female gamete or oocyte ... to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual. (p. 18) ... The usual site of fertilization is the ampulla of the uterine tube [fallopian tube], its longest and widest part. If the oocyte is not fertilized here, it slowly passes along the tube to the uterus, where it degenerates and is resorbed. Although fertiization may occur in other parts of the tube, it does not occur in the uterus. ... Human development begins when a oocyte is fertilized. Fertilization ... begins with contact between a sperm and a oocute and ends with the intermingling of maternal and paternal chromosomes ... of the zygote, a unicellular embryo. (p. 34) ... The zygote is genetically unique because half of its chromosomes come from the mother and half from the father. The zygote contains a new combination of chromosomes that is different from that in the cells of either of the parents. This mechanism forms the basis of biparental inheritance and variation of the human species. Meiosis allows independent assortment of maternal and paternal chromosomes among the germ cells. ... The embryo's chromosomes sex is determined at fertilization by the kind of sperm (S or Y) that fertilizes the ovum; hence it is the father rather than the mother whose gamete determines the sex of the embryo. (p. 37)"[3.]

Law of Biogenesis

The nineteenth century scientist, Louis Pasteur is attributed to developing the Law of Biogenesis. This scientific law established two principles . First, life comes from life; it does not come from non-life. Second, everything recreates after its own kind; each being creates after its own kind.

How does this relate to the status of the unborn? Parents reproduce living beings. The question then is, "what kind of being is it?" According to the Law of Biogenesis, it is a human being. To refute this, one ought to show that life can come from non-life. This has never been proved and doesn't accurately fit the way reproduction works.

Clearly, standard fetology and embryology textbooks confirm that after fertilization takes place, a distinct human being exists. In light of this evidence, pro-abortion advocates rely on other appeals to "choice", "women's rights", and "privacy" as the foundation for their arguments. As you will see later on, these appeals do not substantiate the claims being made for their justifications for taking precious and defenseless human life.


1.) O'Rahilly and Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology (New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001): p.88.
2.) O'Rahilly and Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology (New York: Wiley-Liss, 1994): p. 5.
3.) Keith Moore And T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (6th ed. only) (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1998)

Cross-Blogged at Apologia Christi


As a former president of Thunder Bay Right to Life, I like the argument so far. I do have an interesting question. My recollection of the process of fertilization is that it takes 9 hours from the instant the sperm penetrates the outer layer of the egg to the instant all the chromosomes have united.

When in that 9 hour process do you say that a human organism has been formed?
Hello Mr. Sutherland, thank you for your commentary. More importantly, I'm glad we are on the same aisle pertaining to the defense of unborn children.

When in that 9 hour process do you say that a human organism has been formed?

The distinction here is between an epistemological and ontological quandary. Pro-life advocates claim that the zygote is a distinct, living , and whole organism. We don't know (epistemologically) the exact moment during the conception process that the zygote becomes to be any more than the pro-choice advocate knows at what exact point during the pregnancy organized cortical activity and sentience are developed to warrant a right to life. As my colleage Scott Klusendorf writes, "if the pro-life position is refuted by a lack of certitude, so is the pro-abortion one."

While this question raises an important epistemological dilemma, it undermines the pro-lifers strongly supported claim that the zygote is distinct, living, and a whole human being. As shown above, it may be that one cannot, certaintly, know the precise point where a new human being is created during the time the sperm penetrated the ovum and gives rise to the zygote. But how does it follow from this, that zygote X is not indeed a human being? Frank Beckwith calls this reasoning the "fallacy of the beard: Just because I cannot say when stubble ends and a beard begins, does not mean I cannot distinguish between a clean-shaven face and a bearded one."

In short, is the zygote human at the start or finish of the conception process? I don't know. But the moment it starts functioning as a living organism, it is a human zygote.
Anonymous said…
You need to interact with the argument that it doesn't matter that the embryo is technically a biological human.

Any intelligent pro-choice advocate knows that the embryo or fetus is biologically a member of the human species. But what difference does this make? Why should we be concerned about the fate of an entity simply because it belongs to our species, despite having no qualities we would normally associate with personhood, such as rationality, self-knowledge, the holding of desires, intentions, etc.? These are the strong arguments of the pro-choice movement. Some of the most vocal advocates of abortion--such as Peter Singer--would not deny the humanness of the embryo.

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