Saturday, November 08, 2008

Rhetorical Abortion

found this simple yet solid post on abortion. definitely worth electronic space:

Embryo, Fetus, Baby ... Have we missed a possibility?
(re-posted from
18 oct 2008, 20.15

Governor Palin is definitely re-energizing the Right to Life movement with her courage and decency in having her son Trig, so I wanted to revisit a few of the terms in which the current debate has been argued and show where I think we have made some mistakes that have given too much ground to the Abortion Rights folks.

The Abortion Rights movement systematically refers to what is growing in the mother's womb as an embryo or a fetus, depending on the stage of development. Actually, as far as it goes, that is correct, by which I mean those are the suitable scientific terms to refer to those stages of development. It has long been noted that the point of using the scientific terms "embryo" and "fetus" is to argue that what is being aborted is not a baby, since "baby" is the next stage of development after embryo and fetus.

This is why I think the Right to Life movement has made something of a tactical mistake in referring to what is growing in the womb as a "baby" -- while of course we all know what is meant here and besides that I agree with the general point behind using the word "baby", please hear me out as to why I think it was a tactical mistake to argue only in those terms and what we might do to communicate our point more effectively.

When we call what is growing in the womb a "baby", not only does that invite the argument over birth status and stage of development, but it also unintentionally concedes the ground that if something is not yet a "baby" then it can have no right to life. From there, all that the Abortion Rights supporters have to do is maintain their stage-specific terminology about human development. An "embryo" is not a "fetus" is not a "baby", even though those three stages of life lie in an obvious developmental sequence. The fact that people go on having abortions and arguing for their legality and acceptability should demonstrate to us that people have taught themselves to base their thoughts on "human" status solely on the stage of development or birth status; the fact that a fetus is not a baby is all they need to know to hold onto their beliefs that aborting this fetus is morally neutral.

Do you remember a few months ago all the furor over a legendary creature called a "chupacabra"? This animal was said to prey on farm animals. Scientists had insisted that a chupacabra is a coyote with a severe case of mange. Those who had seen them insisted it could not possibly be a coyote. Recently a woman found a dead chupacabra; DNA samples were sent off for testing. DNA test says: coyote. Badly diseased, not easily recognized as a coyote, understandable why someone would take it for something besides a coyote, but still a coyote.

Remember the recent people who claimed to have found a dead Sasquatch? That one was settled out by DNA tests too. Fraudulent.

Do you know what you get if you run a DNA test on an embryo, a fetus, and a baby? Human, I expect, and I would be very shocked to hear anyone even try to maintain otherwise. Too easy to take samples to labs and have the matter settled once and for all. I mean, you could hardly screen for Down Syndrome in utero if you didn't know where in the human DNA sequence to look for the genetic problem, could you? In the case of a human pregnancy, "embryo" is an early stage in human development. "Fetus" is a later stage in human development. "Baby" is, in Abortion Rights terms, a still later stage in human development. What cannot be so easily escaped at this point is that we are talking about an early stage in human development: the developing human being is not fully developed but is fully human. The Abortion Rights supporters have long confused the two issues, equating "human" with a certain developmental stage. This is the ground on which they are, factually, simply wrong. We have some options in bringing this to light. We could factually call that which is aborted:

* human life in the early stages of development
* the embryonic (or fetal) stage of human development
* developing humans at the embryonic (or fetal) stage.

Here we will bring home the entirety of our point, what is occurring during a pregnancy is that a human life is growing through different stages of development. The life that is ended is not fully developed, but it has been fully human all along.

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