Random thoughts and views of Tim Young

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Abortion Series on Hold (Sorry)

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I’m placing the abortion series on hold while I collect my thoughts regarding abortion in relation to slavery, particularly in relation to the status of Indians and Africans in the early Americans.  A class I’m taking on African American history has been very insightful in this regard.

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February 11, 2009 at 1:25 pm

Abortion (Part 3): So Human Life Begins When?

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So far we have a pro-choice argument in which the permissibility of abortion is grounded in two conditions:

1. The non-human status of a fetus

2. Relevant circumstances which have been met

There are a couple of ways of responding to this. We could show that either (1) or (2) is false, or we could show that even if true, (1) and (2) taken together do not constitute sufficient grounds for the permissibility of abortion. I’m going to focus my efforts on showing that (1) is false. I will return to (2) at a later point in the series.


The question of when human life begins is an important issue in the abortion debate. So just when does human life begin? Perhaps a better way of putting it is this: At what point does a new human being come into existence? Ultimately I think we have to understand that this is a scientific question. It is not a question that can be answered by theologians, philosophers, lawyers, etc., so in discussing this question we must look at what the scientific literature says. When we do, I think we find that there is a strong scientific consensus that fertilization brings about a new human being. In his article “A Distinct Human Organism” Robert P. George, Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, writes:

…the answer is to be found in the works of modern human embryology and developmental biology. In these texts, we find little or nothing in the way of scientific uncertainty: ‘…human development begins at fertilization…’ write embryologists Keith Moore and T.V. N. Persaud in The Developing Human (7th edition, 2003), the most widely used textbook on human embryology. [1]

Quotes like the one above are pretty much what I find whenever I look into the issue. Randy Alcorn, for example, on page 52 of his book ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments has a collection of quotes found in medical textbooks and scientific reference works regarding the issue of when life begins (emphasis are in original):

Dr. Bradley M. Patten’s textbook, Human Embryology, states, “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”

Dr Keith L. Moore’s text on embryology, referring to the single-cell zygote, says, “The Cell results from Fertilization of an oocyte by a sperm and is the beginning of a human being.” (emphasis his)

Doctors J.P. Greenhill and E.A. Friedman, in their work on biology and obstetrics, state, “The zygote thus formed represents the beginning of a new life.”

Dr. Louis Fridhandler, in the medical textbook Biology of Gestation, refers to fertilization as “that wondrous moment that marks the beginning of life for a new unique individual”

Doctors E. L. Potter and J.M. Craig write in Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, “Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition.”[2]

Princeton University’s website has another collection of textbook quotes which can found at:

Dianne N. Irving in her article “When do human beings begin? “Scientific” myths and Scientific facts” writes:

“…a human being is the immediate product of fertilization. As such he/she is a single-cell embryonic zygote, an organism with 46 chromosomes, the number required of a member of the human species. This human being immediately produces specifically human proteins and enzymes, directs his/her own further growth and development as human, and is a new, genetically unique, newly existing, live human individual.” [3] (emphasis her’s)

Now I am certainly no expert on the subject, but it seems to me that essentially what is taught and understood within the scientific community is that fertilization brings about a new human individual, aka “human life.”

Also, life is understood as a continuum. It starts at conception and continues till death. We give labels to the different stages of development (zygote, fetus, infant, child, teen, adult, etc.), but a human being is present at every point in the continuum. A zygote may not look how we presently look, but he/she looks just as we did when we were at that same stage of development.  George writes:

The adult that is you is the same human being who, at an earlier stage of your life, was an adolescent, and before that a child, an infant, a fetus and an embryo. Even in the embryonic stage, you were a whole, living member of the species Homo sapiens. You were then, as you are now, a distinct and complete — though, of course, immature — human organism.[4]

In any case, I think we can make a strong case for (1) being false. Human life begins at conception. However, is there some way for the pro-choice argument to proceed from here? Is there some sort of response that can be given? Yes. And it is at this point that we get into the real “meat” of the pro-choice position. But more on that next post.

Further reading

When Does Human Life Begin? A Scientific Perspective – White Paper



[1] George, R. P. (2005, November 22). A Distinct Human Organism. Retrieved January 2009, from NPR:

[2] Alcorn, R. (2000). ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments. Multnomah Books.

[3] Irving, D. N. (1999, February ). WHEN DO HUMAN BEINGS BEGIN? “SCIENTIFIC” MYTHS AND SCIENTIFIC FACTS. Retrieved January 2009, from Princeton University:

[4] George, R. P. (2005, November 22). A Distinct Human Organism.

Written by Tim

January 16, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Abortion (part 2): Pro-choice Arguments, Circumstances, and Permissibility

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black_teen_pregnancy3So just what “grounds” the moral permissibility of abortion then? The argument I introduced last post can be summed up as: if x is non-human life, then it is morally permissible to kill x. But as I pointed out last post, there are tons of things that would fit the bill — cats, birds, whales, tigers, spiders, puppies, etc., all of which we wouldn’t consider killing just because of their non-human status. So there’s got to be something more to the abortion case.


Pro-choicers will routinely claim that abortion is only permissible under certain circumstances. So, for example, they may say that when the mother’s pregnancy is the result of rape, abortion is permissible. Also they may say that when the mother is unfit for child rearing abortion is permissible. A poor, pregnant teenaged single parent living in the inner city with two other children she cannot adequately care for, should not be forced to carry a third baby to term. Or, say a child’s future environment is deemed unsuitable. Perhaps the child will likely grow up in an abusive environment or in an environment that will likely lead to a short life of gangs and prison time. In the inner-city where the pregnancy rate among young teens is high, many babies grow up to be gang members, enter prison, or end up at home with fours kids, pregnant and on welfare. Sure adoption is an option, but the pro-choicers’ point is that the mother shouldn’t be forced to carry the baby to term. Especially when doing so will likely cause even more hardships to the woman. And this is true not only of inner-city young women, but also of those from suburban areas. They may not have to worry so much about their kids ending up in gangs and in prison, nevertheless, they do have their fair share of hardships to endure.


The point to glean from all this is that in addition to the fetus’ non-human status, there are also circumstances necessary for grounding the permissibility of abortion. Granted, pro-choicers will disagree on just what circumstances will suffice, nevertheless, circumstances along with the fetus’ non-human status is what is needed to ground the permissibility of abortion. So in answer to the question “What grounds the permissibility of abortion?” we have the following answer:


1. The fetus’ non-human status.

2. Relevant circumstances which have been met.


What can be said in response to this? I’ll examine that next post.

Written by Tim

January 4, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Abortion (Part 1): A Naive Pro-choice Argument

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This series of posts will be dedicated to examining various pro-choice arguments. I’m gonna start from what I view to be the weakest arguments then move on to stronger ones. While I’m certainly no expert on the subject I hope you will be edified by my efforts. Enjoy!

The typical “street-level” pro-choice argument goes something like this:

–1. Fetuses are not human life at conception or in the weeks following.

–2. Therefore it is morally permissible to kill a fetus

The first part of the argument (1) claims that a fetus isn’t human life–it’s more like a ‘clump of cells,’ ‘material,’ ‘a blood clot,’ ‘a part of the woman’s body,’ etc. In any case, whatever “it” is that is developing inside the mother’s body, it ain’t human life according to (1). Probably the biggest benefit of (1) is that it helps ease any emotional guilt associated with killing a fetus. After all, if the doctor is only “killing” a clump of cells then there is no reason to feel guilty– it is not as though the doctor is terminating a REAL human life. And this, I think, leads us naturally to (2): It is morally permissible for us to kill a fetus since it isn’t human life in the first place. Ultimately what we want to know is what “grounds” the moral permissibility of abortion, and according to (2) the reason why it is morally permissible to kill a fetus is just because a fetus isn’t human life.

Now, I think this argument “naïve” for two reasons: Firstly, I think it misses the fact that there is a biological consensus that human life begins at conception [1] but I’ll save much of this discussion for a later post. Needless to say, I don’t think there is any reason for us to wrestle over whether a fetus is human life or not. Secondly—and this is the point I’ll elaborate on—it is clearly a bad argument that has consequences which are very hard to swallow. Suppose, for example, that I get a new puppy and that armed with the naïve pro-choice argument presented above, I decide to make the following argument:

–1. Dogs are not human life at conception, or at any point following conception

–2. Since my puppy is a dog, and since dogs are not human life, it is morally permissible for me to kill her right now.

Clearly there would be something wrong. What right would I have to kill my new found companion? Well, according to the naïve pro-choice argument, the right to kill a fetus comes merely from the (presumed) fact that fetuses are not human life. But by that logic, we have a license to kill ANYTHING that happens to be non-human life—including my new puppy.

But surely something’s amiss here. Our society doesn’t take lightly to people who think they have the right to kill any non-human life. And with good reason too. Most of us intuitively know there is something wrong with the idea of it being permissible to terminate a life just because isn’t human life. Those who don’t share this common intuition are fined, or have their movement restricted to a 10X10 cell. [2] In any case, there is something wrong with the naïve pro-choice argument.

up next: the pro-choice response, and how we can make the pro-choice argument stronger.


[1] It is important to recognize that a biological consensus is not equivalent to a moral consensus. Even if a fetus is considered human life it doesn’t necessarily entail that abortion is morally wrong. This is clear from Judith Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion” which takes for granted that a fetus is human life, Mary Anne Warren’s “On The Moral And Legal Status Of Abotion” where she argues that even if fetuses are human life in a genetic sense, they aren’t human in a moral sense, or from the simple fact that even most pro-lifers think abortion is permissible when the mothers life is in danger.

[2] I do realize that it could be the case that it is permissible to kill non-humans simply because they are non-human life, but I don’t think that is a conclusion that most pro-choicers would accept, and since we are trying to ascertain the pro-choice position, I will simply ignore this as an option.

Written by Tim

January 2, 2009 at 7:39 pm