This is a Public Domain Document. Its content may be freely copied and used for any purpose, but the reason it was written is to be a general source for a wide variety of biological information relevant to the Overall Abortion Debate. A number of arguments presented in that Debate are based on incomplete or even faulty data, which needs to be corrected.
We begin with the word “entity”. One dictionary definition is, “anything that has real existence”. Thus it can refer to either animate things (an insect is an entity) or inanimate things (a rock is an entity), and is especially useful when it is difficult to say if something is animate or not –even when in the midst of accomplishing something– like a virus interacting with cellular DNA. Animate or not, the virus definitely qualifies as an entity. Then there is the fact that living things are often called “organisms”, but the definition of that word can exclude things like, say, a bacterial “colony” in a petri dish. Each bacterium in the colony is an organism, but the colony itself is not –yet it is still an entity. Therefore we shall be using the word “entity” quite often in this document.
Two more types of entities are sperm and ova. Both normally contain genetic programming, DNA, instructing them to attempt to accomplish certain things. This programming is independent of anything else; the sex act does not cause that programming to exist; it merely enables the sperm-program to start running (while ovulation enables the ovum-program to start running). Of the two entities, sperm are widely known to be quite active, with respect to their genetic instructions. Nevertheless, the ovum is not just a passive “target”; it is also an active participant in the fertilization process. It is quite possible for an ovum to reject all its suitors, and thus fail to become fertilized. We only need to look at different species, defined by their inability to interbreed, for evidence that just because some sperm happen to meet an ovum, that does not mean the ovum will be fertilized. (Even when members of the same species are involved, we can watch attempted in-vitro fertilizations fail sometimes.) In humans about 15% of couples are Naturally infertile, from a decently-longish list of possible reasons why. We should count ovum-actively-rejects-sperm as a possible reason for infertility, without it necessarily being a probable reason.
In the Overall Abortion Debate, there is a conundrum about the word “responsibility”. If a wanted fertilization fails to happen, those independent entities, sperm and ovum, are very often –and rightly so!– considered to be responsible for failing to function as desired. So why is it, when an unwanted fertilization happens, those independent entities, sperm and ovum, are not considered to be responsible for successfully functioning as undesired? That is, why assign all the responsibility to the sex-participants, when other and independently-acting entities are also involved? Perhaps those who would do that responsibility-assignment need to think about another Fact, which is, for anyone who creates something that others didn’t pay to have done (art, book, music, gadget, even a mad scientist creating life in a laboratory), there is always an associated right to destroy it. Thus in neither situation is there a valid argument against abortion here, based on “responsibility”. One either has the right to abort based on “you caused the pregnancy”, or one has the right to abort based on “the pregnancy was inflicted upon you”.
Furthermore, there is an additional Biological Fact that tends to be overlooked: In humans, unlike most other animals, the primary purpose of sex is “pair bonding“, not reproduction. That’s because reproduction is useless if the offspring are so helpless they can’t survive without lots of help, and that help doesn’t get provided by both parents. Now consider that it takes time for a pair-bond to become something both participants can rely on –but pregnancy can happen as a result of the very first sex act (assuming, of course, that the intermediary independent entities function as most people expect). What makes the pregnancy so important that the parents must accept it even when they aren’t ready for the job –and how can anyone expect them to do the job well, if they aren’t ready? Nature is full of cases in which the initial offspring die from inadequate care, but later offspring receive plenty. So long as the species survives, the deaths don’t seem to matter in the least.
Next, it is a fact that when people don’t know the truth about something, they tend to speculate and guess. As a specific example, the phenomenon called “life” is so obviously different from things like rocks that it was imagined that living things were somehow fundamentally different. It took a long time to discover that the same rules that explain the chemistry and properties of rocks also explain the chemistry and properties of living things. The guess called “vitalism“, the notion that some sort of mystical “life force” is associated with living things, has been thoroughly disproved. In the Overall Abortion Debate, some people invoke that exact mysticism in their opposition to abortion. They can be ignored, the way members of the Flat Earth Society can be ignored. The facts are quite straightforward, that living cells are entirely chemical and mechanical in their operation, that those things are well-understood –and they can even be manipulated in predictable ways, simply because we do have excellent understanding of what goes on inside cells.
A sort of “social” comparison of sperm and ovum is now in order. Both contain a roughly equal amount of DNA. However, DNA all-by-itself is useless, and a sperm, the smallest human cell, is just a delivery device for DNA. Biological machinery is necessary to “translate” those genetic instructions into accomplishing something, such as making a particular protein. That biological machinery is provided by the ovum. Also, the ovum, the largest of all human cells, is stuffed full of “food”, raw material that can be used for constructing proteins and other things, in accordance with the instructions encoded by DNA. We can analogize the overall situation here by considering a man and a woman buying a set of blueprints together, for building a boat –but then only the woman provides everything else needed to actually construct the boat, including workshop and tools and raw materials, which might cost many thousands of times more than just the blueprints. On what basis can anyone say the man has contributed equally to the overall project?
After fertilization occurs and a “zygote” has been conceived, we now need to focus on it as being a new “independent entity”. The sex act does not force it to do whatever it does next –which, typically, is to begin dividing (the first step to becoming a “morula”). Just like sperm and ovum, the zygote is simply and blindly following pre-programmed genetic instructions. If the instructions are flawed in any of a rather large variety of ways, the zygote will fail to survive. It might even fail to begin dividing.
In the Overall Abortion Debate, the phrase “human life” is often employed, mostly by abortion opponents who want people to think that, somehow, human life is inherently more important than other types of life. That is just Stupid Prejudice, of course; if a large asteroid impacts the Earth next year and makes humanity extinct, the planet will get along just fine without us, exactly like it has gotten-along just fine without the giant dinosaurs, for tens of millions of years. Meanwhile, some of those who wish to keep abortion legal try to deny that a zygote can qualify as “human life”. That is just Stupid Fact-Denial, of course; human-ness is determined by DNA, pure and simple (if the DNA of a zygote was perhaps 2% different, we might be talking about “chimpanzee life”, not “human life”). Stupid Fact-Denial is in no sense better than Stupid Prejudice, when it comes to the Overall Abortion Debate. What both sides seem to be failing to take into consideration are two very important and relevant things. First is another Biological Fact, that humans are animals. And second is a Social Fact, that the U.S. Constitution uses the word “person” throughout, and doesn’t use the word “human” even once. More on the triple topics of “human life” and “animals” and “persons” will be presented later in this document.
All living cells that possess “nuclear” DNA have certain things in common. For one, they are actively following instructions coded into their DNA. If we compared a zygote to, say, a muscle cell, we would see that both contain “mitochondria” that process certain chemical compounds to produce more-energetic chemical compounds (see “ATP“), which in turn are used to accomplish other things. The muscle cell seldom needs to divide, although at least two things are known to trigger it –tissue injury that needs to be repaired, and environmental stresses such that by bulking-up muscle tissue, an animal can become better-adapted to that environment. (Those two triggers may even be related, if the environmental stresses cause minor amounts of tissue damage.) Anyway, abortion opponents want people to think that just because a zygote (or each morula cell) focuses all its energy on dividing, it is somehow “more alive”, and more deserving to stay alive, than the muscle cell. They are basically lying to themselves and others, about Biological Fact! Do remember that if the DNA associated with the cell-division process contains a significant defect, the cell might die instead of divide, and Nature won’t care in the slightest.
The next relevant biological fact relates to the Fallopian tube, which connects the ovary to the womb. The key fact here is, no matter what a zygote or morula has the potential to do, it cannot do it without significant active external help. The Fallopian tube, for example, contains cilia that actively push the zygote or morula toward the womb. (The cilia will also push an unfertilized ovum toward the womb; they don’t discriminate.) Should the cilia fail to function correctly (one possible result of catching a sexually transmitted disease like gonorrhea), a “tubal” type of “ectopic” pregnancy can result, which is generally fatal for a woman, unless an abortion is done.
It can now be noted that just because it is natural for a zygote or morula to receive some active external help in fulfilling its potential, that does not mean it must receive help. On the contrary! Nature is quite willing to kill that organism (see the data about “menstruation” and “fetal resorption” later in this document). Nevertheless, abortion opponents commit the logical fallacy of “cherry-picking” only the biological data that tends to support their case, while ignoring the equally-valid data that refutes their case. Tsk, tsk! The only piece of biological data that can fully support an anti-abortion law is a piece of data that simply doesn’t exist in this day-and-age (the last time humanity’s birth rate dropped so low that the species was threatened with extinction was after the supervolcano Mount Toba erupted).
Another way of looking at the “help” situation is to put more focus on the word “potential”. That is, to say “help must be provided” is equivalent to saying, “here is a potential that must be fulfilled”. But the mere claim is worthless without Objective evidence! Suppose an abortion opponent was to stand at the top of a long staircase, and contemplate the potential to fall down the stairs and break the neck. On what basis must one particular potential be fulfilled, while another should be avoided? Subjective Opinion? What makes the Subjective Opinion of the abortion opponent Objectively superior to the opinion of a woman who seeks an abortion? Consider that the woman may be paying attention to significant Objective data (including biological data) that the abortion opponent cherry-ignores, such as a list of things associated with human overpopulation: Global Warming, Deforestation, Overfishing, Aquifer Depletion, Hourly Species Extinctions, Farmland Encroachment by Cities, Topsoil Losses, Algae Blooms, and vast amounts of Toxic Waste being dumped into the environment as a side-effect of Mass Production? Then there is the fact that we have proof humanity is not immune to a “Malthusian Catastrophe“. Island Earth is just a bigger island than Easter Island, which only means it takes longer to become so overpopulated that the global culture will collapse (and during which event the majority of the human species will die). Insisting that more mouths-to-feed must be born only increases the probability-of-occurrence of a Malthusian Catastrophe, and does nothing to reduce that probability. So, to repeat, what makes the Subjective Opinion of an abortion opponent Objectively superior to the opinion of a woman who seeks an abortion?
The next items of biological data relate to “stem cell research“. The growth of a large multi-cellular human organism from a zygote is partly related to something already mentioned, “tissue repair” –or described differently, “injury regeneration”. It is well known that some animals, badly injured, can completely re-grow/replace lost sections of themselves. Humans can become physically injured in a large variety of ways, many of which result in permanent physical handicaps. If humans could regenerate as thoroughly as other animals, it would be an extremely useful tool in our overall collection of medical procedures.
However, in the process of discovering just how major-degree regeneration happens in various animals, a controversy has arisen, which turns out to be related to the Overall Abortion Debate, and therefore a description of it is suitable for inclusion in this document. Basically, the more extensive the injury that one desires to be regenerated-like-new, the more one needs stem cells to get that repair-job done. The problem is that stem cells can be capable of doing more than just injury repair –the zygote is actually a stem cell. Therefore, to the extent someone thinks that a living human zygote is deserving of special treatment, perhaps even “human rights“, to use a stem cell in medicine could constitute a violation of what it deserves to experience.
Nevertheless, the controversy can be resolved, by paying attention to additional Biological Facts. First is that stem cells can exist with different levels of capability. A “pluripotent” stem cell might be able to reconstruct a lost arm, for example, but it can’t do more than that. To construct an entire animal body requires a “totipotent” stem cell (and a zygote is exactly that, of course). Second is that ordinary DNA-containing cells can be induced to become stem cells, even totipotent stem cells. This takes us right back to the previously-mentioned notion that “potential must be helped/fulfilled”, and gives us a rationale to conclude that the notion is nonsensical. The key is the fact that the word “potential” does not include any hint about magnitude of potential. Well, an average human body consists of perhaps 30 trillion cells that have DNA, all of which have the potential to be induced to become totipotent stem cells. If an abortion opponent insists that help must be provided to fulfill the potential of “human life”, then it logically follows that the abortion opponent should be dissected into 30 trillion cells, the first step of fulfilling their potential! OR the insistence must be withdrawn, because the claim is simply nonsensical (and also technically infeasible at this time; there do not exist 30 trillion women available to act as host-mothers).
Third, there is that word “animal”, previously mentioned in association with the phrase “human life” and the word “person”. A zygote is certainly an animal organism, and so is a stem cell. If someone wants to claim that a living human zygote or stem cell somehow qualifies as more than only an animal organism (such as a “person” deserving of special treatment and legal rights), the claimant needs to provide some Objective Evidence in support of the claim. That’s because the claim qualifies as a “positive” claim, and the Burden of Proof always falls upon those who make positive claims. So far, though, no one making that particular claim has been able to offer any truly Objective evidence in support of the notion that a zygote or stem cell is more than just a zygote or stem cell, and deserving of potential-fulfillment –while we do have a rationale indicating the notion is nonsensical (see previous paragraph). We even have more than one rationale (to be presented later) for concluding that “human life” and “person” are two distinctly different concepts.
As previously mentioned, a zygote typically begins dividing while being transported by cilia in the Fallopian tube toward the womb. It takes a few stages of cell-division before it qualifies as a morula, and the process takes a few days of time, as well. And it also takes a few days for the Fallopian tube to do its transportation job. This actually can lead to one of the failure modes for a pregnancy. When ovulation releases an ovum into the Fallopian tube, there is no wait-for-fertilization, before transport of the ovum toward the womb begins. Suppose the ovum is halfway to the womb before it gets fertilized? What happens in that case is that, during the few days needed for the morula to develop, the entity will reach the womb and have time to completely exit the womb, after which it will die. As previously mentioned regarding such things, Nature doesn’t care in the slightest –any human valuation of the doomed entity is purely Subjective, not Objective. (But the fix is simple; someone who wants to be pregnant simply needs to ensure that sperm are already present when ovulation occurs —sperm can survive inside a woman for a few days after sex.)
The ovum has a kind of “shell” known as the “zona pellucida“. When the initial food-supply of the ovum has been used up (allowing a few days of cell-divisions), the morula cannot survive without obtaining additional resources. It must crack open the shell and escape. Sometimes it fails (and dies, of course). When it succeeds, it becomes a “blastocyst”, a mostly formless mass of cells (while before it was constrained to a generally spherical form by the zona pellucida). As the linked article explains, however, sometimes it breaks apart into separate pieces while escaping the shell. The result of that is, most often, “identical twins” (but of course identical triplets and quadruplets are possible, too) –because each piece separately qualifies as a blastocyst, and all the cells still qualify as “totipotent stem cells”.
For another way of looking at the possibilities here, start by noting that the norm is 5 cell-divisions before the morula cracks the zona pellucida. Assuming every cell divides each time, the maximum total number of escaping cells is 32. If this is divided exactly in half, two blastocysts would each have 16 cells, and quite-identical twins would result. Fairly often, though, the split isn’t even, say 17 & 15 cells, or even 18 & 14 cells, leading to genetically identical twins that are not completely physically identical –one is typically larger and may be considered “dominant“. It logically follows that the more pieces the morula splits into while escaping the zona pellucida, the fewer cells each piece can have. What is the minimum number of cells that a blastocyst must have, in order to accomplish the next stage of its genetic program (described a little further down)? At this time the answer may be “4” —here is a case of identical septuplets being born— and 32 cells divided 7 ways, distributed as evenly as possible, means that while 4 of the septuplets could have started with 5 cells each, the other 3 only had 4 cells each. On that basis we could predict that identical octuplets are theoretically possible….
After a blastocyst emerges from the zona pellucida, it qualifies as yet-another independent entity, in-between the sex act and pregnancy –the sex act does not force it to follow its genetic programming, which gives it the task of seeking nutrients to support cell-division and actual growth. (The morula did not grow in size; every cell got smaller as divisions occurred inside the zona pellucida.) When a uterus happens to be available, the blastocyst will attempt to implant itself into the wall of the uterus. Success is not guaranteed, however. For one thing, the uterus has a protective coating of mucus (protection against bacterial infection) called the “endometrium“. If the mucus coating is too thick (or, logically, if the blastocyst contains too-few cells), it won’t be able to penetrate that coating to reach true uterine tissue, and it will die like a trapped bacterium (and again Nature won’t care in the slightest). We might note one other thing about a blastocyst, and that is, it perfectly fits the description “a mass of tissue“, often used by supporters of abortion rights, although that description is not technically accurate for later stages of a pregnancy.
About the same time the blastocyst begins its attempt to reach true uterine tissue, a certain grouping of genes, known as the “homeobox” or “hox” genes, begins to take charge. They basically instruct the totipotent cells of the blastocyst to begin to specialize (starting by becoming merely pluripotent). With respect to the possible-minimum-of-4-cells needed by the blastocyst, we could imagine a kind of “division of labor” as follows: One cell will start becoming the placenta, another will become the amniotic sac, another will become the embryo/fetus inside that sac, and the fourth will become the umbilical cord. But that speculation depends a lot on how quickly/slowly resources can be obtained from the uterus. For example, if all the cells initially focus on placental development, they all start receiving nutrients. One division later, the number of cells has doubled, and the new cells could be tasked with forming the amniotic sac, etc. Here is a link to what we know –but keep in mind this does not describe any situation in which the barest minimum of blastocyst cells are involved.
The next Biological Fact is a zinger that can significantly affect what was just presented. Basically, totipotent stem cells are what we might call “sociable”. Consider two bacterial cells that collide –if they have the space, they will eventually go separate ways, because for them there is no great benefit associated with staying stuck together. But if two groups of blastocyst cells bump into each other, they are quite willing to form a larger group! There is an advantage in having more cells available, when cell-specialization begins. One can now imagine a morula breaking into three parts while exiting the zona pellucida, but the three parts, instead of going separate ways to become identical triplets, just happen to get back together as one mass of cells that eventually becomes just one human body. It certainly happens once in a while, because we have evidence for it, a consequence of the hox genes. During their separation it is possible for each blastocyst to separately activate its hox genes. When the blastocysts get back together, the instructions from three sources of “build the body this way!” data start to conflict with each other. As a result, babies can be born with extra legs or arms or internal organs or even heads. They are often not viable, or they need significant surgery. (While we just focused on triplets, “conjoined twins” are rather more common.) Nature doesn’t care, of course. To Nature, every life-form is just an experiment.
There is more. “Fraternal” twins originate as two separate ovum-fertilizations, and are not genetically identical. Nevertheless, the ova are fertilized at roughly the same time, and the resulting blastocysts encounter the uterus at roughly the same time, each seeking to implant in the uterine wall to acquire nutrients. But if these two blastocysts happen to run into each other first, they are still willing to combine as a larger group of cells! Furthermore, because their separate fertilizations usually happen at slightly different times, it is possible that only one of the initially-separate blastocysts will have activated its hox genes, when they merge. That means there are no conflicting body-building instructions, and a quite ordinary-looking baby can be the final result –and it can be difficult to discover that such a baby actually originated as two separate conceptions. But not always is it difficult!
In the Overall Abortion Debate, the existence of chimeras makes something of a chink in the generic claim that if some living organism happens to be human, it must also be a person. After all, chimeras have two complete sets of human DNA –does that mean we should count each of them as two persons? And the situation regarding conjoined twins can widen that chink –note that Abigail and Brittany Hensel have a single reasonably-ordinary-looking female human body, and just one set of human DNA –but they most certainly are two persons! Why? Because there are two minds associated with that body!
We can also think again about modern medical regeneration research, and imagine scenarios about what things might be like after the technology has been perfected. Suppose an abortion opponent suffered an accident in which the head was literally separated from the body –but rescuers arrive in time (death doesn’t happen instantly with decapitation). Since it is a current fact that we have the medical technology to keep a brain-dead body alive, it logically follows that if the head was cut off, we could still keep the body alive. Very probably we could alternatively keep a decapitated head alive –remember the assumption here is that rescuers arrive in time. So that’s what we can do today. In the future, when regeneration technology is perfected….
Now note that dictionaries, the source of the typical definition of “person” used by an abortion opponent, were created by humans for human purposes, and include Human Prejudices, just as they could include, through Authoritarian Fiat, “newspeak“. To understand that the abortion opponent’s dictionary defintion of “person” is indeed Prejudiced, one need only think about the huge huge Universe, in which any and all hypothetical non-human intelligent beings would be denied person status by that human-dictionary definition! Well, according to the abortion opponent, the living human body is associated with personhood (after all, a zygote or morula or blastocyst is only a living body, with no mind at all), and therefore the rescuers should focus on saving the abortion opponent’s headless body, keeping it alive until it can be put into a “regeneration vat“, so it can grow a new head –and the irrelevant-to-personhood original head can be discarded, right? OR, perhaps the abortion opponent should throw out the worthless/Prejudiced notion that “human life” equals “person”, and embrace the Supported-By-Data Alternative that persons are actually minds (and more supporting data will be presented later), not bodies (which means the head, not the body, should be saved, and kept alive until it could be put into the regeneration vat). Bodies are mere animals!
The next piece of biological data concerns the fact that just because a blastocyst may have implanted into the uterine wall, that doesn’t mean it will stay implanted. For example, the drug known as “RU-486” can be taken to deliberately force the detachment of the blastocyst (or developing embryo) from the uterus. It can also prevent implantation in the first place. Nor has that been the only thing in History that can do that –in ancient Greek and Roman times, the plant “silphium” was apparently so popular for ending pregnancies that it couldn’t grow fast enough to keep up with the demand, and became extinct. We may immediately see a correlation between the preceding and something previously mentioned, about “active external help”. When the blastocyst starts specializing its cells, some of them forming the placenta, there is a goal of encouraging the woman’s body to provide help/nutrients. The overall “finished” placenta will consist of fetal cells on one side, maternal cells on the other side, and a mixture of the two cell-types in-between. The creation of that “maternal side” of the placenta qualifies as “active external help” –and any woman who ever used silphium or RU-486 to terminate a pregnancy was basically refusing to continue providing active external help, to the mindless unborn human animal non-person organism inside her uterus.
After a blastocyst implants into a womb, it is probably more-correct-than-otherwise to now refer to that entity as an “embryo”. Note that in this document we will be using that term to reference the overall organism (which includes the placenta and the amniotic sac and the umbilical cord), and not just the part that eventually becomes the fetus. So, with that in mind, the next biological hurdle is “menstruation” –which, as described in the link, is actually something that relatively few mammals do. The rationale for menstruation may have something to do with various ways a placenta can fail to work properly. A badly-functioning placenta can threaten the mother’s life –but if her body could get rid of the embryo, she would survive to try for another pregnancy later. Menstruation is therefore a way to “test” the embryo –if it can’t produce the correct hormones to prevent the next menstrual cycle, it will be doomed. And Nature still doesn’t care in the least about Prejudiced human opinions on the subject.
Speaking of Prejudice, it actually has a couple of biological origins! First, it is well known that when two animals of the same predator species compete for territory, the victor drives away, but does not kill, the loser. However, for different species of predators competing for territory, the victor is quite willing to kill the loser. There is an obvious explanation for a member of some species Prejudicially favoring its own kind over others —in general, the more living members of a species, the better the chances of species-survival. (But there are limits, a Malthusian Catastrophe awaits any species that overpopulates too much.)
The second biological origin of Prejudice relates to the “reproductive strategy” of a species. In general, the fewer the offspring that some member of some species has, the more effort goes into protecting them. A member of species that has a vast number of offspring may even die shortly afterward, giving the offspring no care whatsoever. Humans, of course, generally have only one offspring at a time –and do indeed generally put significant effort into protecting them. We can view most abortion opponents as “operating under the influence” of that Biological drive, and are not using their minds to recognize the fact that the world is overpopulated with humans, which means we-as-a-species can afford to mostly ignore that particular Biological drive in the current era. Indeed, the data is such (look at the “today” birth and death numbers here) that even if every woman who wanted an abortion got one easily, the numbers of women who want to carry pregnancies to term will still suffice to keep increasing the global human population.
There is another aspect of “reproductive strategy” that is relevant to the overall topic of Biology and the Abortion Debate. That’s because one common anti-abortion argument involves “the kind of entity” –some kinds of animals are able to become persons, and others are not. It is then claimed that because human zygotes (and later stages of development) are that “kind of entity”, that is why they should be protected from abortion. However, the argument has at least three major flaws. First, regarding the linked article on “K-strategy” and “R-strategy” reproduction, just imagine that somewhere in the Universe is a species as intelligent as humans that reproduces using R-strategy (humans are K-strategists). The notion is not entirely far-fetched; here on Earth the octopus is one of the smartest animals in the ocean, able to recognize itself in a mirror and solve puzzles like opening a never-before-seen screw-top jar –and it is an R-strategist. Well, if there should happen to exist somewhere a species of R-strategist persons, the problem is that it is literally physically impossible for all the offspring of every member of an R-strategist species to be helped to survive, as if they were K-strategist offspring (just imagine YOU and all your neighbors each having 1000 offspring at once, for all of which you must provide food, clothing, shelter…!), even though every single one of those offspring would qualify as exctly the “kind of entity” that an abortion opponent claims deserves protection.
The second major flaw in the “kind of entity” argument is that it assumes every single offspring has no flaws in its DNA, such that none would fail to eventually qualify as persons. Yet the Facts are, about 50% of human zygotes fail to either implant in a uterus, or stay implanted (thus qualifying as a “confirmed pregnancy”) –and about 15% of confirmed pregnancies eventually miscarry or lead to “stillbirths”. It would be Stupid to think that giving them legal protection from abortion will prevent about 65% of all human zygotes from dying, anyway, as a result of fatally flawed DNA. Furthermore, there is another aspect to the assumption described at the start of this paragraph, and that is the notion that the acquisition of personhood is an inevitable result of purely biological development –except it isn’t. That is, while a caterpillar is the “kind of entity” that could inevitably become a moth or butterfly (if it survives), a human is not actually the kind of entity that inevitably becomes a person. The details about that will be presented later.
The third major flaw in the “kind of entity” argument is that it confuses Potential with Actual –the Overall Abortion Debate is the only situation where it is claimed that something that has Potential (for possessing the mind of a person) must be treated like something else that Actually exists (a genuine mind/person). For example, would you try to drive your car across a canyon that only has a Potential bridge, instead of an Actual bridge? Would you like to be taxed as if you had won a million-dollar lottery, simply because you have the Potential to win it? Or consider future technological developments in the realm of Artificial Intelligence —we have every reason to think that one day we will be able to build a computing system that qualifies in every way as a fully-independently-intelligent entity, like an ordinary human adult. Suppose in that future you bought a somewhat-ordinary personal computer that had the Potential to be upgraded to become a True Artificial Intelligence Machine –should you therefore grant that initial computer the rights and protections associated with personhood? Per the “kind of entity” argument of an abortion opponent, you should! And how about your Potential, maybe a few centuries from now, to become a corpse –should you be embalmed and buried right now, because the Potential should be treated like the Actual? The “kind of entity” argument is nothing more than a plausible-sounding excuse to blather utter nonsense!
Moving along the course of development of “human life”, the next Biological Fact brings us to a major dilemma for abortion opponents. When its DNA is defective in a particular way, the blastocyst that has implanted into a uterus might become a “hydatidform mole” instead of an embryo. Well, many abortion opponents have claimed something to the effect that “from the moment of conception onward, every single human life deserves to be protected”. NOPE, because a hydatidiform mole perfectly qualifies as “human life”, and yet it must die (as certainly as most of the offspring of an intelligent R-strategist species must die). If it doesn’t happen to die by itself, it can cause “trophoblastic disease” and threaten the life of the pregnant woman. One consequence of the dilemma is that some abortion opponents strive to “prove” that a hydatidiform mole isn’t human –but they are simply lying to themselves, in the same way of any pro-choicer who denies a zygote can qualify as human. Human-ness is defined by DNA, and the DNA of a hydatidiform mole inside a human always originates from human sources (while a hydatidiform mole inside a rabbit will have rabbit DNA that originates from rabbit sources, of course –and so on for other mammalian species). The Facts are: hydatidiform moles exist; in humans they absolutely qualify exactly as much as genetically distinct “human life” from the moment of ovum-fertilization as any other human zygote; they must die; and not even abortion opponents try to claim they qualify as persons. Those Facts basically destroy the generic claim of abortion opponents that “human life” always/automatically equals “person” (deserving rights/protections). The existence of hydatidiform moles proves that “human life” can equal “mere animal” –and opens the way to consider what other forms of human life also qualify only as mere animals.
Now for some more Biological Facts about the placenta. As mentioned earlier, it needs to generate one or more specific hormones to do things like stop the next menstruation cycle of the uterus, prevent “alien tissue rejection“, and so on. We shall focus on just hormones here, “progesterone” and “oxytocin“.
First, progesterone is sometimes called the “feel-good hormone“, and it is actually addictive. When a pregnancy ends (regardless if by birth or miscarriage or abortion), the placenta’s production of progesterone stops. When the supply of an addictive drug ends, “withdrawal symptoms” happen –and in the case of progesterone, the withdrawal symptoms often include “post-partum depression” (although that may not be the only cause of PPD).
Second, oxytocin is strongly associated with certain social interactions. It can even be part of a “positive feedback” system, and thereby affect/increase an initial psychological state associated with low-level production of the hormone. During pregnancy it promotes bonding of a mammalian mother and her offspring –oxytocin is the reason you don’t get between a mamma-bear and her cubs! But it is also the reason why a woman who, early in a pregnancy decides to give up her future newborn for adoption, changes her mind at birth and decides to keep it.
So, in a nutshell, what the unborn human animal organism does is, using its placenta it infuses the woman’s body with drugs that act to make her like being pregnant, and want to take care of it. So, imagine a drug designed to make someone like being ravaged by “flesh-eating bacteria“, and consider The Law Of The Jungle, that Nature allows anything that works. For example, we don’t have to imagine that the saliva of a vampire bat contains an anti-coagulant, so the victim keeps bleeding as long as the bat keeps licking the incision it made. We don’t have to imagine that some trees need forest fires to destroy lots of greenery in order to successfully reproduce. Abortion opponents often ignorantly blather about the “helplessness” of an unborn human, but here we have evidence that it is using biochemistry in a might-makes-right sort of way, to make its mother its defender. On what basis does it make sense to say an unborn human animal must be allowed to exercise might-makes-right over the free choice of an adult human person, via addictive and mind-altering drugs? It would make equal “sense” to claim date-rape drugs are OK!
In addition to generating hormones, it is well-known that the primary purpose of the placenta is to obtain nutrients and oxygen from the woman’s body, and to also dump the unborn human’s toxic biowastes into her body (which latter thing can Logically be associated with the illness called “morning sickness”). Biologically, the DNA-programmed actions of the unborn human animal organism are quite equivalent to the actions of a “parasite“, and, in the Overall Abortion Debate, the comparison is frequently made. Nevertheless, an unborn human animal organism is not exactly the same thing as a parasite, mostly because it is the same species as its hostess (and here is a more-extreme situation), but another reason why was revealed in the previous paragraph –due to infusing its hostess with addictive and mind-altering drugs, an unborn human animal organism is technically worse than a parasite! This brings us to another thing that abortion opponents typically/ignorantly claim about unborn humans, calling them “innocent” –when in fact those animal organisms are exactly as guilty of doing the things just described as abortion opponents themselves are guilty of breathing. And any attempted defense of those actions of the unborn, on the basis of “they don’t understand what they are doing” just underscores the point that the unborn are mere animals, not persons deserving of such a defense. Remember, we seek to exterminate true parasites even though they also have no understanding of what they are doing, and are less offensive in their actions than the unborn!
The next relevant Biological Fact is something that abortion opponents love to crow about. Some fetal stem cells are able to enter the mother’s body, survive for years, and assist her health in various ways. However, as usual, the abortion opponents have only looked at part of the relevant data. When modern stem-cell research finishes perfecting ways to convert an ordinary cell into a stem cell —despite the opposition of abortion opponents!– these cells will work better than fetal cells at assisting someone’s health –because they will be a pefect DNA match, instead of only being a partial match. Also, those perfected techniques will work as well for men as for women. Finally, consider a woman who doesn’t want to be pregnant, because she wants to devote significant life-span to something other than motherhood. If she gains 5 years of lifespan by carrying a pregnancy to term, but then is expected to use up to 18 for mothering, that is not a fair trade for one who would have preferred to use 13 years for something else! Therefore the “benefits” associated with banning abortion are outweighed by other factors, just as all other arguments of abortion opponents are made nonsensical by factors they fail to take into account.
The next Biological Fact doesn’t have any particular association with the Overall Abortion Debate, but it is still something related to the growth/development of an unborn human animal organism, inside the uterus. Where/what is the dividing line between “embryo” and “fetus”? Most people know it is fuzzily located at best, but what is the rationale for deciding the organism is on one side of the line, or the other? One answer can be found in this link; the crucial word is “organogensis“. It was previously mentioned that a blastocyst consists entirely of totitpotent stem cells, but after it implants into the womb, the cells begin to specialize into “pluripotent” stem-cell types. This is why we can say that the embryo stage begins then. Well, as the embryo grows, more and more cell-differentiations occur, yielding a great variety of specific cell types, such as muscle cells, bone cells, and cells of major organs like the heart, brain, nervous system, circulatory system, lungs, liver, and digestive tract, and more-minor organs like the eyes, ears, tongue, endocrine glands, etc. Every organ has its genesis during the embryo stage. Only after all the organs have begun development, that is when the fetal stage may be considered to have begun –and according to the first link, we can normally expect that to have happened after the 9th week following conception.
Sometimes a developing unborn human animal organism faces another hurdle, mentioned in the first link in the previous paragraph, and known as “fetal resorption” –although an embryo (search for the word in that page), prior to the fetal stage, can also be killed this way. The phenomenon is alternatively called “vanishing twin syndrome“. It is a bit more common for a twin to vanish, than for an entire pregnancy to end in this fashion –we will be focusing on a specific variation on a general theme here. The general theme starts with the death of the unborn mammal, which might be caused by any of several different things, after which its tissues, including the placenta, are absorbed into the mother’s body. (Think of the uterus as “working backward”!) The particular variation on that theme starts with environmental conditions that might cause the death of the embryo or fetus. Basically, if food-resources are scarce, a pregnant mammal, which had been investing resources in offsrping, can “take back” the investment. The simplest way to look at the situation is, the mother’s body identifies the environmental situation as one not suited for properly raising offspring –so why should she waste biological resources on offspring that will almost certainly die after birth? –and she pragmatically kills/resorbs it, to wait for a better opportunity later, to have offspring. This can now be compared to any pregnant woman who identifies her environmental situation as one not suited for properly raising offspring –so why should she be required to waste biological (and plenty other!) resources on offspring? Seeking an abortion is thus simple pragmatism; she can easily wait for a better opportunity later, to have offspring. (And remember that humans have a large number of years available for reproduction.)
Toward the end of a pregnancy, the word “viable” often begins to be applied to an unborn human animal organism. It is well-known that the unborn do not all develop at exactly the same rate, so some are able to be born prematurely (compared to the norm), and survive. Noting that some (rather few, overall) abortions are sought very late in a pregnancy, an abortion opponent will typically spout words to the effect that “The fetus could be viable! Why not induce birth instead of doing an abortion?” Besides an obvious ulterior motive (see next paragraph), we can show that the abortion opponent is spouting nonsense by imagining that at this point, ‘N’ weeks before the normal delivery date, we induce birth in all pregnancies. The ones that are viable will live, and the ones that aren’t, won’t. The net result is that more will die from being non-viable, than would have died from late-term abortion! The “normal” gestation period is “normal” for a reason!
In today’s technological world there is another aspect to the overall viability issue. We have tools such as “incubators“, which can significantly enhance the chances of survival of a prematurely-born infant. But there is also a genuine “slippery slope” which needs to be mentioned, and it is related to Existing Law. The Law grants legal-person status to all newborn humans, regardless of whether or not they are born prematurely. So, an abortion opponent suggesting that birth be induced, instead of doing an abortion, is attempting to take advantage of the fact that the newborn would be protected under the Law. This protection has tended to be extended to require technical assistance for aiding the survival of preemies. Before getting to the slippery slope, though, there is a Question to consider, “Who should pay for the technical assistance given to a preemie?” Logically, if the birth was wanted by the parents, the parents should pay. But what if it was unwanted, except by abortion opponents? Perhaps they should be required to pay for what they want! After all, a woman seeking (and willing to pay for) a late-term abortion will know that it will cost a lot less than the post-natal medical care of a preemie! (Also, keep in mind the things about “responsibility” presented earlier.)
As our technology improves, so also does the definition of “technically assisted viability“. This is the genuine slippery slope mentioned above, because artificial wombs are being seriously researched, and as soon as they are perfected, it will be possible to say that a just-fertilized ovum is probably viable. Simply equate the removal of a zygote from the Fallopian tube –or, better, the escaping of a blastocyst from the uterus after RU-486 was used to prevent womb-implantation– with “induced birth”, and now you are talking about a human organism that has legal-person status, and associated deserving-ness of technical assistance for survival! (But as Questioned above, who is going to pay for it?) Perhaps we need a reminder that “probably viable” is not the same thing as “certainly viable” –if about half of conceptions naturally fail to lead to implantations into a natural uterus, why should we expect things to be very different just because we would be employing an artificial womb?
And there is an extra factor to consider, which is the exact availability of appropriate technical assistance. Not every pregnancy-associated medical center is equipped to detect and save a blastocyst escaping the uterus, for example –and it will certainly be a while before all centers are equipped with artificial wombs. Another thing was carefully phrased two paragraphs ago, regarding the protection for legal persons to tend to require technical assistance. The Fact is, assignment of legal personhood is not quite the same thing as recognition of natural personhood –corporations often have legal-person status, yet are frequently allowed to go out of business (die). There is as yet no actual mandate that preemies receive technical assistance; it is generally left up to the doctors and parents to decide (with the doctors being given greater Authority in the matter –a possible mistake if a doctor’s financial self-interest interferes with an Objective assessment of the situation). So, look again at things presented earlier about “help” and “potential“.
In talking about the normal end of a pregnancy term, abortion opponents often ask, “what is the difference between an about-to-be-born human and a just-born human?” We will assume the umbilical cord has been cut, in pointing out that at least part of the Answer to that Question was presented earlier in this document. The unborn human steals nutrients from another human, dumps toxic biowastes into another human, and infuses addictive and mind-altering drugs into another human. After the umbilical cord is cut, it no longer does any of those things. Its entire “modus operandi” for survival changes utterly. It can no longer take anything except breaths of air –which is a new thing, since the lungs were “off line” until birth occurred. It can only survive by receiving gifts, such as the gift of being carried to a milk-filled teat, since it is physically incapable of going there by itself. Its digestive tract also comes “on line” for the first time, and its immune system now begins to be challenged by the Environment (its body is no longer protected by the amniotic sac). Birth marks a turning point full of major differences in the life of almost every mammal; it actually has nothing to do with a phrase mentioned previously, “natural personhood”. As for legal personhood, it is difficult to find a simpler and more obvious dividing line, than birth (ignoring all issues about “viability” covered earlier).
Another thing that begins to occur after birth, albeit fairly slowly, is related to the digestive-tract and immune-system things just mentioned. Within a few years after birth, any healthy human organism is actually an entire “ecology” of organisms working together. Bacterial cells in the human body are about 10 times as numerous as human cells –and most of them are “symbiotic“, the human body can’t survive without them. However, the process of acquiring all those symbiotic bacteria is slow, and somewhat risky –it is possible that a decent percentage of prior-century child-mortality rates could be linked to the encountering of dangerous bacteria before helpful bacteria had been incorporated into the system. Nowadays we can artificially boost the immune system with vaccines, but in the future you can bet this will be part of a larger plan to help youngsters acquire disease-fighting symbiotic bacteria as early as safely possible after birth.
The next relevant Biological Fact is about brain development after birth. While a great deal of that development is generic and pre-programmed by DNA, some of it is specialized, and only happens as a result of various stimulations. And some types of brain development may require a combination of genetics and stimulation. The particular thing receiving focus here is the brain’s ability to process abstractions. Many ordinary animals can do a limited amount of abstraction-processing. For example, when you train a dog to do tricks, the dog learns to associate certain abstract things (words) with certain concrete actions (like rolling over). Most humans can do rather more than that, however. We can associate abstractions with other abstractions, and manipulate them in creative ways –language is impossible without that. It has been learned that if a human does not encounter certain relevant stimulations during the very early years after birth, the brain will fail to grow the extra processing power needed to manipulate abstractions creatively. The result is known as a “feral child“. And if the relevant stimulations remain un-experienced, eventually it will become impossible for the brain to grow that processing power.
We should now think of the preceding in terms of the overall history of the human species. Logically, there once was a time when no human (or hominim) received any abstraction-related stimulation. The species consisted entirely of “clever animals”. But because they were clever, they were able to discover and invent things (like how to control fire). We may assume that because most animals have some ability to process abstractions, those early humans were able to invent a few, to make it easier to pass their knowledge onto the next generation. It doesn’t mean they had language, though; a common understanding that certain words refer to certain things is not the same as having a language.
However, the generations passed and more things were discovered or invented. We can easily see a long-term trend here, regarding the passing-on of knowledge to offspring. The paleontological/archaeological evidence suggests that about 50-70 thousand years ago, the total quantity of knowledge being given to youngsters triggered the extra abstraction-processing brain development mentioned above. That is when humans began manipulating abstractions creatively, thereby inventing language and early art-forms (including music). We may describe this extra brain development as an “adaptation to the environment“. Other types of adaptation are well known, and also depend on the early environment. For example, someone raised at high altitude will tend to have a larger lung capacity and higher red-blood-cell count, than if that same human had been raised at sea-level. And here is a rather unusual physical adaptation, even if it strongly relates to our primate ancestry.
Nowadays the human cultural environment is so rich in mental stimulations that it is very rare for a child to fail to encounter adequate stimulation (and thereby end up “feral”). We can even measure typical rates at which children become able to process abstractions. But there is a primary point here: we are talking about “Nurture”, not “Nature”! The default natural state of a human is to be no more than just a clever animal; that extra brain growth only happens in response to adequate mental stimulation. And, since that brain development is crucial with respect to allowing humans to set themselves above other animals, declaring themselves to be “persons”, it logically follows that whenever abortion opponents assume/claim that personhood is an “innate” or “inherent” characteristic of humanity, they are totally wrong.
The preceding reiterates a point made earlier in this document, that persons are minds not bodies. But yet-one-more piece of supporting evidence can be presented, regarding well-developed humans. Occasionally one suffers an accident so traumatic that the brain dies. Thanks to modern medical technology, the body can be kept alive almost indefinitely. The Law, however, does not require that it be done –why? The answer is simple: The Law recognizes that when the brain dies, so does the person. That means the Law does not associate “human life” with personhood; it fully understands that persons are minds, not bodies –and a functioning brain is essential for the mind to exist. Thus the Law has opened the way to a future in which humanity can get along with True Artificial Intelligences and alien visitors from the stars –for any entities that have minds equivalent to human minds, their bodies are entirely irrelevant to their personhood. The Law has even taken steps toward recognizing that right here on Earth may exist, right now, some non-humans that may qualify as persons. All of which means that abortion opponents need to stop their worthless blathering about “human life” and personhood!