Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Refutation of justifying abortion because of zygote mortality, historic infanticide, and more

Evolutionary biologist Heather Heying's recent argument for abortion makes appeal to zygote survival, historical periods of infanticide, and careers.

Often, arguments for abortion avoid the ultimate question: is that which is in the womb a human life? This article clearly concedes it is, stating that even zygotes "are human, by any usual definition of the term." The argument in this article is not whether the enwombed are "human." Instead, their level of sacredness is called into question. Let's look at the various arguments in the article, starting with this matter of zygotes.

The article says “most human zygotes throughout history never became children” because they were either “miscarried,” had “chromosomal abnormalities” that proved fatal to the zygote, or that “genetic and environmental conditions rendered the zygote non-viable.” The article then concludes of these zygotes:
They are human, by any usual definition of the term, but they cannot survive. This happens to most zygotes that have ever been conceived. This fact leaves me, a biologist, wholly unconvinced by arguments about the sanctity of life.
Before we parse this conclusion, let’s again pause on the point of agreement. Fertilized zygotes “are human.” The article is correct in this regard. From the moment of conception, the nascent life has its own unique DNA, and is the empirical beginning of human life that progresses unto death. Now, let's analyze this main premise.
  • Why should we question the sanctity of life of babies in utero on the grounds that “most zygotes” do not survive? Explanation for this foundational claim is absent. It is merely asserted. Later, we will address the claim that sacredness is attributed to varying stages of physical development.
  • The argument here resembles, but falls short of, a logical three-term syllogism. The argument in syllogistic form is: Most zygotes die, therefore they are not sacred; or: Most Z are D. Therefore no Z are S. Missing is a second (minor) premise, such as a statement about what constitutes sacredness. The argument is logically invalid without even addressing whether the premises are valid.
Ultimately, it's nonsensical to assert life isn't sacred regardless of the frequency of biological malformations. It would not matter if 99% of zygotes didn't survive. No statistical appeals are necessary once we recognize human life is sacred and human life begins at conception.

Keep that in mind when reading these next three bullets, which are not foundational rebuttals to the article's zygote argument. Remember, the statistics are inconsequential to sacredness of life. Where there is human life, the sanctity proper to human life is present. The following thoughts are rather an inspection of zygote mortality statistics.
  • What effect does the pill, which literally siphoned the life out of society beginning in 1960, have on the failure of zygote survival? The FDA's description of the "mechanism of action" of the oral contraceptive Ella admits: "alterations to the endometrium that may affect implantation may also contribute to efficacy." How many zygotes are counted that couldn't implant simply because the mother took an abortifacient pill? How many zygotes were deemed "flawed" because the mother had a virus, consumed too much alcohol, took drugs, used spermicides, had a bacterial infection, or an STD? Should we deny the sacredness of the nascent human on account of external forces? According to the article, which states "environmental conditions rendered the zygote non-viable," the zygote wouldn't even have to be "flawed" to lose sacredness. It only needs to fall victim to some unnamed environmental condition. This would be, of course, a nonsensical index to measure the sacredness of human life, for a baby could be speciously deemed unsacred on account of someone else taking heroin.
  • An examination of embryo mortality rate studies was published in June 2017 by Dr. Gavin E. Jarvis in the Cambridge Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience. He concluded current data is not reliable regarding the mortality of embryos, stating: "natural human embryo mortality is lower than often claimed and widely accepted." (e.g. A multitude of studies have widely disparate statistics, e.g. ranging from 46%-90% mortality for all pregnancies, from zygote to term.) 
  • Consider the following: According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the total "rate of pregnancy loss after implantation" is 31%—much less than half. If one denies the sanctity of life based on "most zygotes" not surviving, wouldn't one have to say life is sacred at the stage in which the gestational survival rate exceeds 50%? And, if not, the appeal to "most zygotes" is moot.

    But, again, the percentages are irrelevant. Life is sacred from conception, because, even as the article concedes, it is a "human" life. We needn't demand a certain stage of gestational development to elapse before we can attribute sacredness to the life. What these statistics demonstrate is that post-implantation abortion would be unacceptable even to someone who arbitrarily wishes to claim a greater-than-50% mortality statistic as the threshold for sanctity of life.
Another phenomenon to which the article appeals to justify abortion is the reality of historical infanticide. Granted, it does not endorse infanticide, at least not for modern cultures. The article states of America: "Society-wide, we have agreed on this much: once they are born, let us not kill our children."

That much is a relief (even though proponents of post-birth infanticide exist in the West, such as the notorious atheist professor Peter Singer). However, the article still appears to use the reality of historical infanticide as justification of abortion as a necessary evil:
There is a long list of behaviors and actions historically available to women who are trying to control their own reproductive lives. Infanticide is on that list. I am not arguing that this is good, but it is true. ... Evolution responds to circumstance. Most zygotes disappear before even making themselves known to their mothers. In many cultures, in which the environment was variable enough that many children were unlikely to make it to adulthood, infanticide has been acceptable. ... Indian and African slave populations in Surinam [used abortifacients] so that they would not bring children into a life of slavery.
And, in the opening paragraph of the article:
Sometimes, though, in the service of the greater good, abortions are necessary.
You see in these related excerpts several ideas. Let's examine them:

One must carefully read this section of the article to grasp exactly why historic infanticide is cited, ultimately, as justification for abortion. Although the article claims it is not arguing that infanticide is "good," it says it has at times in history "been acceptable." This ties into the opening claim that "in the service of the greater good, abortions are necessary." Essentially, this all amounts to arguing that, although abortion is not "good," it is something "necessary" to prevent something bad in the judgement of the mother. The "bad thing" ranges anywhere from the mother's judgement of saving a baby from growing up in slavery to the baby being an obstacle to the mother's career.
This brings us to a segue. Earlier in the article, we see reference to the career factor:
One of my friends escaped an abusive home, became addicted to heroin, and got pregnant very young, before aborting the fetus, getting her act together, and becoming a scientist. That part where she got her act together and became a scientist? Far less likely had she been a teenage mother.
To the devout pro-lifer, this is an atrocious razing of the ears and heart. One could imagine a paraphrase of the conclusion: "That part where the baby grew up to be a scientist? Far less likely since she was killed in utero." But, more to the point, the mother's potential future career is an irrelevant factor when determining the sacredness of the enwombed baby. It is not sensible to justify the killing of one's children on the grounds that one might enjoy a successful career without them. And, a baby is not more or less sacred if her mother eventually becomes a scientist, a seamstress, a homemaker, or whatever. We don't need to wait to find out what the mother's career aspirations are before we can determine if life in the womb is expendable. The life of the enwombed is sacred on its own merit. The mother's career is a diversion.

Scapegoating evolution
Let's return to "evolution." You see how evolution is cited as a scapegoat both for the unwilled death of zygotes and willed infanticide. This is not the first time we've seen evolution speciously cited as some unimpugnably good force to justify something outside its purview (Atheist evolutionary biologist professor Gad Saad erroneously argued that "morality" was strictly a "scientific" phenomenon of evolution). But the problem with such appeals to evolution is at least twofold.
  • First, what constitutes behaviors that are "evolution responding to circumstances"? Zygote mortality? Killing the young? These are the first two notions the article mentions in light of "evolution responding to circumstances." These are both unwilled and willed deaths, which are deemed beneficial for "evolution." But, if these are not "good" but "necessary" evolutionary responses, what other willed and unwilled phenomena is? What about the Black Plague that wiped out a third of Europe? What about the Titanic tragedy? What about 20th century smallpox? What about killing the weak? What about killing the neighboring tribe because one tribe wants the others' more fertile land? What about Aztec temple sacrifices? What about any genocidal regimes in history? What about prolific serial killers? Shall we argue these are all simply "responses of evolution" because afterward there were more resources available per remaining person? Shall we legalize related forms of terminating life on the grounds that "evolution" delivered similar deaths in history? And shall we call each a necessary evil for a greater good? Kind of like a recent movie villain did with the snap of a finger?

    You see the danger in grouping things like zygote mortality, infanticide, evolution's "response," and abortion as an argument for "greater good."
  • Second, let's say one wanted to attribute every action in human history as the work of "evolution." That wouldn't make any of those actions "good." Nor would it make any of those actions "bad," nor even a necessary evil. The study of evolution is in the purview of science. It deals with observable facts. It has no capacity to quantify good or evil. One cannot use evolution as an axiom to say that an action that was the response of "evolution" (if that can even be "observed) is automatically "good." Value judgements must be derived elsewhere.


The article then argues against the notion of a distinct “line” at which sacrosanct life begins. I emphasize sacrosanct because the article has conceded earlier that the fertilized egg is already a “human” life. This section of the article is really a thought exercise about what are acceptable stages of development it’s still okay to terminate that human life. The two most “obvious” lines, conception and birth, are both rejected.
  • First, conception is rejected in the article on the grounds of the main argument, that “most zygotes are not destined to survive.” But, again, it is illogical to deny the sanctity of human life on the grounds that unwilled malfunctions or external factors sometimes interfere with biological processes. 
  • Second, birth is rejected on the grounds that "for most moderns, the idea of abortion at nine months gestation, just before a full-term birth would occur, is a bridge too far." However, this is followed by another appeal to historic infanticide: "given the prevalence of infanticide in human history...this line has not always been considered sacrosanct." Two fallacies of argument are at work here:
    • First, the appeal to "most moderns," is the fallacy of ad populum. Even though the pro-lifer obviously agrees it is wrong to terminate a baby at 9 months (or any stage!), that view is not derived by submitting to "most moderns." Rather, the sanctity of life is intertwined with the value of humanity itself, a value necessarily beyond a human's biological cluster of subatomic particles, but in the human being's inherent participation in the image of the Transcendent. This idea is the foundation for all morality. Morality dissolves when one attempts to reduce humanity to biological functions alone or as a tool, as in the case of determining a human's value based on what effect one thinks that human will have on the determiner's career. 
    • The second fallacy is the appeal to historical "prevalence of infanticide." This is the fallacy of ad antiquitatem, which argues if something was done in history, it must have been correct.
So, if conception and birth are both inadequate "lines" to determine sanctity of life, when is it supposedly no longer okay to end a human life because it became too sacred? The article tosses out more than one suggestion.

One of the article's suggestions is that abortion could be considered acceptable up to the stage when the baby would survive outside of the womb. The viability argument has been refuted in prior articles: e.g. Notre Dame professor's flawed argument for abortion).

The article also posits the average age at which organs are laid down or when "brain development accelerates in utero" as a possible threshold to no longer allow for abortion.
  • But, the article has already conceded that the zygote is "human." Arbitrarily appealing to this or that normative and natural stage of development as an apparent consideration for sacredness is nonsensical. Why should a baby be killable when it is at the correct and normal stage of life development? We're not even talking about an abnormality in development here—which is neither justification to end a human life. These are normal stages of development. A cynic might not be wrong to think such abortion-supporters are merely citing stages arbitrarily in order to accommodate abortion.
  • As well, considering sacredness of life in view of something like level of organ or brain development also suggests that even adults' lives would be "less sacred" if they suffered from some setback of organ or brain development. It also begs the question: What other developmental drawbacks can compromise the sanctity of one's life? Poor vision? Deviated septum? Narcolepsy? 
The article does not actually define any of these considerations as the exact threshold of sanctity of life. Rather, it is ultimately arguing for a nebulous "continuum" for abortion instead of a definite line. From there, the article suggests the following unspecific solution:
If we recognize a trade-off between the positive social impact of keeping abortion available to women, and the problems of providing carte blanche for all abortions up to some very late date, perhaps we should seek a solution that renders barriers to abortion higher the farther along in the pregnancy a woman is, but allows free and easy access early in pregnancy, and so does not sacrifice a woman’s ability to choose her life’s fate.
Many readers were probably already aghast at the phrase "positive social impact of keeping abortion available."

  • To start with the obvious, estimates of over 1.5 billion babies have been killed by abortion in the last 40 years. It remains a vexing reality, the elephant to end all elephants in the room, that the lives of aborted babies are not counted, and often not considered, when the effects of abortion are discussed. The previous quote parrots the common abortion supporters' sole angle: "her life," never the baby's. 
  • Later, the article even claims that "[f]acilitating choices that allow people to live their highest and best lives is consistent with...a pro-choice...position." But, obviously forgotten in that statement is the bloody hemorrhage of lives intentionally lost in the womb. The idea that a supporter of abortion calls for "allowing people to live their highest and best lives" is one heap of irony. The babies aren't given a choice. They are dismembered or pulverized and killed. Only the woman who wants to pursue her science career gets a choice. And none of this even touches on the many statistics that show the psychological and social detriment resulting from abortion.
The article segues here to call anyone who is pro-life and believes the possibility of the death penalty a hypocrite. This is a common claim by abortion supporters and has been rebutted in numerous places (eg. CatholicVote, Jimmy Akin).

The article then attempts to justify abortion by claiming it is morally analogous to fixing a broken leg:
Furthermore, if you play soccer and break a leg doing so, it is not responsible to remain maimed simply because the playing of soccer brought with it the risk of breaking one’s leg. It is, in fact, responsible to have your leg fixed, not merely so that you can live to play soccer again, but so that you can go on to contribute maximally to society, living up to your potential, not just with regard to soccer, but in other regards as well. If you have sex and end up pregnant, it is not responsible to become a parent out of a sense of moral obligation, if you are not ready to do so. Responsible athletic and sexual behavior both involve a reduction, on the front-end, of the chances of undesirable outcomes. Setting a bone is not identical to aborting a fetus, but there is a moral analogy to be made, with regard to how a person should take responsibility for their actions.
There is actually no moral analogy to be made here.
  • Breaking a leg is a medical disorder that needs fixing. Pregnancy is the opposite of that. It is not a medical disorder.1 Pregnancy is the normative, correctly functioning, and proper order of gestation and human life. This analogy is exactly backward. Abortion corresponds to breaking a leg, not fixing it.
  • Also, the notion that it's okay to have an abortion if the mother is "not ready to" "become a parent" is an argument that entirely ignores due regard for the enwombed. The value of the life in the womb is not dependent on the mental "readiness" of the mother. And adoption is an option. The mother's "readiness" is an inexcusable and irrational barometer for determining the worth of enwombed life.
The final section of the article is called "A humane and reasoned response." But, this argument for abortion is neither.
There is a question of which of two lives we, as a society, preferDo we prefer the life of an adult who can make decisions for herself, and who has found herself in an unfortunate position? Or do we prefer the life of her unborn child—a child who has not yet had the opportunity to make decisions for itself, good or bad? ... The implicit moralizing that prefers the fetus to the woman has judged the woman guilty for needing an abortion in the first place.
This is a glaring fallacy of false dichotomy.
  • First, think about this statement: "prefers the fetus to the woman." We are talking about death for the baby. Death. The mother's "punishment"—if one has been conditioned and deluded enough to believe motherhood is a punishment—is a possible career setback or lack of "readiness" to be a mother. She might have to complete her science degree via distance learning. We're not being asked if we "prefer" vanilla or chocolate here. We're not being asked which of the two shall be killed. We're asked if one person's life is as valuable as someone else's ease of getting job.
  • Second, the reason there are pro-life organizations like Ireland's LoveBoth Project is because "the baby or the mother" is a false dichotomy. Love both. 
  • Third, one of the ways we can help women (and men) avoid situations where abortion is seductive is to discourage pre-marital and recreational sex, stop handing out "birth control" to teens, and start teaching that sex is a serious act that could result in another person who otherwise would never exist. Particularly, Western culture fosters promiscuity from entertainment to education. From such attitudes we have record STDs and articles promoting abortion instead of encouraging abstinence for those not "ready" to be a parent. Passing the culture's reckless norms onto babies by killing them in utero is an egregious injustice.
  • Notice the juxtaposition of a mother "who can make decisions for herself" versus the unborn child who cannot "make decisions for itself." The implication here is that, because only the mother is capable of making a choice in this situation, the choice should go to her. Apparently, the logic here is that the baby hasn't actually articulated a desire not to be dismembered or killed by suction machine. So let the mother chose because the baby can't decide yet! This ability-to-choose argument is utterly convoluted, and, much like most arguments for abortion, ignores the dignity of the enwombed human being.
Finally, let's look at one more excerpt from the article:
By preferring the future baby—who will need love and sacrifice, and lots of it—over the adult—who does not need that kind of support—you guarantee that our shared social fabric will be stretched ever thinner.
Consider the following reactions to this quote:
  • First, this assertion is actually a call for less love. Reread the statement to see. It says babies need lots more love than adults—therefore, it's better to kill a baby to save all that love effort. This brings us back to earlier in this blog post where we philosophized as to whether genocide or a massive plague is just evolution performing some good "response to circumstances." According to the this-requires-too-much-love theory, all such loss of life is good because now we can concentrate our "shared social fabric" of love on fewer survivors.
  • Second, according to this quote, a person who requires "lots of" love is expendable. The logical conclusion of such an attitude is to terminate the sick. What about a cancer patient that has a fair chance of recovery with months or years of treatment? What in the too-much-love theory suggests we should expend resources on such a person rather than salvage the "lots of" "social fabric" by killing them as soon as possible? Nothing,
  • Third, if even adults need some degree of love and support, proponents of too-much-love would commit suicide, no? This is not to be provocative. This is to let the trajectory of a claim play out of its own accord. The only thing in the article that suggests killing birthed people is bad is the statement: "Society-wide, we have agreed on this much: once they are born, let us not kill our children." But, not only is there is not full agreement on this matter as shown earlier, but leaving such a matter open to some implied majority has historically given rise in various cultures to cannibalism, human sacrifice, slavery, and more. 

The modern abortion movement is the bloody scandal of our time. All this brings us to an even clearer understanding of the evil of abortion. Neither evolutionary, nor biological, nor career-based arguments for abortion can withstand scrutiny. Each collapses under their own fallacies and self-contradictions. Proponents of life from conception until death should stand strong in these dark times, by being informed, praying and fasting, and continuing to contribute time and resources on behalf of the enwombed innocents, marriage, and stable families.

1In extreme cases where pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, see discussion of incident at Phoenix hospital in 2010—refer to paragraph beginning with "Brown's book is fraught with footnotes..."