In order to fully understand the abortion issue, we must learn the information and inform ourselves what happens when one decides to have an abortion. In order to do this, we must ask ourselves simple questions. We will start with everyone’s favorite question, is it alive?
Yes it is. Pro-Choice supporters who claim it isn’t are lying to themselves. Of course, it’s alive. It’s a biological mechanism that converts nutrients and oxygen into energy that causes its cells to divide, multiply, and grow. It’s alive.
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Anti-abortion activists often mistakenly use this fact to support their cause. “Life begins at conception” they claim. And they would be right. The genesis of a new human life begins when the egg with 23 chromosomes joins with sperm with 23 chromosomes and creates a fertilized cell, called a zygote, with 46 chromosomes. The single-cell zygote contains all the DNA necessary to grow into an independent, conscious human being. It is a potential person.
But being alive does not give the zygote full human rights – including the right not to be aborted during its gestation.
A single-cell ameba also covers nutrients and oxygen into biological energy that causes its cells to divide, multiply and grow. It also contains a full set of its own DNA. It shares everything in common with a human zygote except that it is not a potential person. Left to grow, it will always be an ameba – never a human person. It is just as alive as the zygote, but we would never defend its human rights-based solely on that fact.
And neither can the anti-abortionist, which is why we must answer the following questions as well. The next question to be dealt with, is it human?
Yes. Again, Pro-Choice defenders stick their feet into their mouths when they defend abortion by claiming the zygote-embryo-fetus isn’t human. It is human. Its DNA is that of a human. Left to grow, it will become a fully human person.
And again, anti-abortion activists often mistakenly use this fact to support their cause. They are fond of saying, “An acorn is an oak tree in an early stage of development; likewise, the zygote is a human being in an early stage of development.” And they would be right. But having a full set of human DNA does not give the zygote full human rights – including the right not to be aborted during its gestation.
If you don’t believe me, try this: reach up to your head, grab one strand of hair, and yank it out. Look at the base of the hair. That little blob of tissue at the end is a hair follicle. It also contains a full set of human DNA. Granted it’s the same DNA pattern found in every other cell in your body, but in reality, the uniqueness of the DNA is not what makes it a different person. Identical twins share the exact same DNA, and yet we don’t say that one is less human than the other, nor are two twins the exact same person.
It’s not the configuration of the DNA that makes a zygote human; it’s simply that it has human DNA. Your hair follicle shares everything in common with a human zygote except that it is a little bit bigger and it is not a potential person (These days even that’s not an absolute considering our new-found ability to clone humans from existing DNA, even the DNA from a hair follicle. Think about that one.). Your hair follicle is just as human as the zygote, but the Pro-choice would never defend its human rights-based solely on that fact.
And neither can the anti-abortionist, which is why the following question becomes critically important to the abortion debate. Is it a person?
That it is not. It’s merely a potential person.
Webster’s Dictionary lists a person as “being an individual or existing as an indivisible whole; existing as a distinct entity.” Anti-abortionists claim that each newly fertilized zygote is already a new person because its DNA is uniquely different than anyone else’s. In other words, if you’re human, you must be a person.
Of course, we’ve already seen that a simple hair follicle is just as human as a single-cell zygote, and, that unique DNA doesn’t make the difference since two twins are not one person. It’s quite obvious, then, that something else must occur to make one human being different from another. There must be something else that happens to change a DNA-patterned body into a distinct person. (Or in the case of twins, two identically DNA-patterned bodies into two distinct persons.) There is, and most people already know it without realizing it, but they have trouble verbalizing it for one very specific reason.
The defining mark between something that is human and someone who is a person is ‘consciousness.’ It is the self-aware quality of consciousness that makes us uniquely different from others. This self-awareness, this sentient consciousness is also what separates us from every other animal life form on the planet. We think about ourselves. We use language to describe ourselves. We are aware of ourselves as a part of the greater whole.
The problem is that consciousness normally doesn’t occur until months, even years after a baby is born. This creates a moral dilemma for the defender of abortion rights. Indeed, they inherently know what makes a human into a person, but they are also aware such individual personhood doesn’t occur until well after birth. To use personhood as an argument for abortion rights, therefore, also leads to the argument that it should be okay to kill a 3-month-old baby since it hasn’t obtained consciousness either.
Anti-abortionists use this perceived problem in an attempt to prove their point. In a debate, a Pro-Choice defender will rightly state that the difference between a fetus and a full-term human being is that the fetus isn’t a person. The anti-abortion activist, being quite sly, will reply by asking his opponent to define what makes someone into a person. Suddenly the Pro-Choice defender is at a loss for words to describe what he or she knows innately. We know it because we lived it. We know we have no memory of self-awareness before our first birthday, or even before our second. But we also quickly become aware of the “problem” we create if we say a human doesn’t become a person until well after its birth. And we end up saying nothing. The anti-abortionist then takes this inability to verbalize the nature of personhood as proof of their claim that a human is a person at conception.
But they are wrong. Their “logic” is greatly flawed. Just because someone is afraid to speak the truth doesn’t make it any less true.
And in reality, the Pro-Choice defender’s fear is unfounded. They are right, and they can state it without hesitation. A human indeed does not become a full person until consciousness. And consciousness doesn’t occur until well after the birth of the child. But that does not automatically lend credence to the anti-abortionist’s argument that it should, therefore, be acceptable to kill a three-month-old baby because it is not yet a person.
He is still a potential person. And after birth, it is an independent potential person whose existence no longer poses a threat to the physical wellbeing of another.
These facts are the truths of abortion and the Catholic teachings of abortion. The embryo, the fetus, whatever you’d like to call it, is in fact human and is in fact alive. It is not a person though, and that is one of the biggest misconceptions there is. This is especially true in a Pro-Life argument. To be a person, there has to be physical independence and the presence of human rights, both of which a fetus does not have.
The fetus is strongly dependant on the mother until it is born, and when it is born, it has full human rights. Now, that is not to say that they don’t have human rights in the womb, but the mother’s human rights supersede those of the fetus’, because the mother’s rights apply to a physically independent human, and not an embryo.
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