The notion that that which results from the fusion of a man’s sperm cell and a woman’s ovum called a zygote and up to 12 weeks later in development is not a person seems, on the surface, to be a compelling argument for abortion. But appearances can be deceptive and this argument is no better than a red herring or smaller fish because it is biologically erroneous and very defective legally.
From an elementary genus and species standpoint the argument is on life support. The offspring of a particular genus and species cannot but be in essence like the genus and species from which it springs! If a human couple engages in unprotected sex and fertilisation culminates in conception then another human has been conceived.
It is indisputable, scientifically, that life begins at conception, a human life begins and that one-celled zygote is a stage in human development through which we have all passed (just as we have all passed through the foetus, embryo, infancy, adolescent stages of human development). Critical note: we did not emerge eventually from these stages in development but biologically, we were all once a human zygote, a human foetus, a human embryo, a human infant a human adolescent and so on towards adulthood.
At every stage we are all humans, just different in size/shape maybe but humans nonetheless. That’s basic biology!
At no stage of our development would any sensible person think that we were canine or feline or whatever genus/species kind other than human.
I am no lawyer but from my reading of legal literature, lawyers need to probe more deeply the logical link made by the US Supreme Court between proof of the beginning of life and personhood in Roe v. Wade.
. To me, a non-lawyer, the Court blundered somewhat in that it had reputable scientific evidence available to it that life begins at conception. Two 1968 text book quotations should suffice.
- Human Embryology (3rdedition) by Bradley Patten says at p.43: “It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and the resultant mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual.” [emphasis added]
- Dr. Louis Fridhanlerin the medical textbook Biology of Gestation (vol. 1) edited by N.S. Assau, calls fertilization: “that wondrous moment that marks the beginning of life for a new unique individual.” [p. 76 emphasis added]
Yet listen to Justice Blackmun, speaking for the Court in 1973: “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins…”
Additionally, on the legal front. as I pointed out in my Jamaica Observer letter ‘Legal Puzzles concerning Pregnant Women’ (March 19, 2019) there are legal conventions that attribute personhood to the unborn from conception. Even if one indulges the nicety of legal personhood as opposed to personhood in fact there is much to ponder from quasi legal and other legal traditions that speak to the personhood of the unborn.
As Lawyer/Philosopher/ Theologian Prof. John Warwick Montgomery points out: “…in the area of property law Anglo-American jurisprudence has maintained remarkable concern for fetal rights…In that realm of the common law–property rights–where the protections afforded are the most unqualified and absolute (in rem), the fetus has most consistently been given recognition from the moment of conception…” (In his Slaughter of the Innocents, 116)
Montgomery goes on to say that the International and Comparative Law of Human Rights favours the unborn and so too does the non-obligatory Declaration of the Rights of the Child which states in its preamble that the child “requires juridical protection before as well as after birth.” (118) On the same page Montgomery adds that “the American Convention of Human Rights, which entered into force in 1978, declares (Article 4) that “Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law, and, in general, from the moment of conception…”
Raising the issue of personhood concerning a human offspring at any stage of development, given the available biological and legal material, must be seen for what it really is, a smelly red herring and a desperate clutching at a barely visible straw.
Rev. Clinton Chisholm, Academic Dean, Caribbean Graduate School of Theology