One of the cheap rhetorical tricks that forced birth advocates often use is the idea that somehow “Science” (ya know science, that vast shadowy monolithic structure) supports their crappy arguments and thus lends weight to their assault on women and their rights. One of the easiest tells illustrating the rhetorical, rather than scientific vein of this particular argument, is that idea that we have a definite grasp of when “life” begins. Unsurprisingly, the anti-choice position relies on a gross simplification of what the bio-medical position actually is on when life begins. The irony is very rich as fetus fetishists often assign the label of “anti-science” to pro-choice people arguing against them and their misguided campaign for life.
I’m not really a fan of arguing from authority (This introduction is a perspective from an evolutionary biologist, for the record.), but I swear, if see one more out of context reference to a embryology text during an argument, I will practice immediate defenestration of the offender in question.
This next quoted section is from Blazer S, Zimmer EZ (eds):The Embryo: Scientific Discovery and Medical Ethics. Basel, Karger, 2005, pp 1– 20 (ed. minor formatting changes for effect)
This chapter began with the central ethical question of ‘when does life begin?’ The evolutionary answer to this question makes it devoid of ethical
implications concerning the sojourn from conception to birth (although it has other, profound ethical implications). Instead, the evolutionary and
genetic arguments presented in this chapter indicate that a more meaningful ethical question is:
Where do we place ethical thresholds in the continual process of human
Biology provides no clear defining event to answer this question because diploid human individuality arises gradually during the mitotic phase of our life cycle and not at fertilization. Perhaps there is no single ethical threshold in dealing with the mitotic continuum and the attendant gradual emergence
of functional genotypes and individual traits. Although modern biology does not provide an answer to the above question, knowing what the question should be and what it should not be is the critical first step in any debate. Thus, modern biology, and particularly evolutionary biology and genetics, can play an important role in the ethical debates concerning the passage from conception to birth.
So let the record be set straight that science doesn’t not precisely know when “life” begins and that very possibly it is the wrong question to be asking.