Roe v Wade at 39: Not a Happy Anniversary

I was fourteen years old and the lovely and ever-gracious Nicole was only a year old when a bare SCOTUS majority announced that it had successfully twisted the U.S. Constitution like a pretzel to find a “right” that, for the nearly two century span of this republic, simply did not exist at the federal level.

In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Roe v. Wade that women, as part of their constitutional right to privacy, can terminate a pregnancy during its first two trimesters. Only during the last trimester, when the fetus can survive outside the womb, would states be permitted to regulate abortion of a healthy pregnancy.

Let the record show that Bulldog is unabashedly Pro-Life and to that effect I offer what I believe is an airtight argument against abortion:

“When does life begin?”

It’s one of the most frequently asked questions in the abortion debate. It’s also the wrong question. Life, as any biologist will tell you, never begins. It always ends, eventually – but it never begins. All living matter comes only from other living matter.

Very well then, let’s rephrase the question.

“When does human life begin?”

Still the wrong question. Human life comes only from pre-existing human life. Living human cells come only from other living human cells.

“When does human life become a human being?”

That is the correct question. The answer lies in the definition of “human being,” which biological science defines as a vertebrate animal organism, classified taxonomically as Homo sapiens.

What, then, is an organism? It is a living, corporeal entity existing and functioning of, by and for itself. It may consist of a single cell, such as an amoeba, or of a group of cells, tissues, and organs achieving titanic size, such as a blue whale.

If an organism can consist of a single cell (such as an amoeba) can we say that a sperm cell from a frog is an organism? No, we cannot. Nor can we make the same statement for a brain cell. These are highly specialized cells and function either as part of a collective whole or for a specific purpose. Isolate a brain cell from its living matrix and it soon dies. Likewise, the sperm cell has only one destiny: to fertilize an ovum or die.

An organism, on the other hand, is self-sufficient. It ingests and metabolizes food; it grows; it is usually capable of locomotion; it is certainly capable of reproduction. Most importantly, it is an independently functioning, living “machine,” so to speak, existing of its own accord.

In order to establish the parameters necessary to define an organism, biologists utilize three criteria: form, function and design. In this case these are morphology (the form of a cell, tissue, organ, or organism); physiology (the function of a cell, tissue, organ, or organism); and genomics (the DNA “blueprint” of a cell, tissue, organ, or organism). Of these three criteria, genomics establishes the identity of an individual organism with the greatest precision.

Every organism has unique genetic code that precisely defines both its individuality and its place in the taxonomy of all living things. We can present the biologist with two apparently identical samples of liver tissue, one from a human and the other from a chimpanzee. After carefully examining the chromosomes in the nuclei of cells taken from each of the tissue samples, the biologist can tell us with absolute certainty which is human and which is simian. Living simian cells come only from other living simian cells. Living human cells come only from other living human cells. A simian cell can never become a human cell and vice versa.

Likewise, every organism has a definite lifecycle: a point in time at which the organism begins its existence as an organism, followed by a period of metabolism, growth, and reproduction, ending at the moment the organism dies.

The human organism – like every other living organism – begins its existence as a single cell. As we have seen above, a sperm cell is not an organism. Neither is an ovum. Yet, when the two unite, they form a zygote. The zygote is a complete – though not completed – living, organized, unique, individual human life form with its own particular morphological and physiological destiny. It contains the entire genetic code sequence of an individual human being (with the informational equivalent of 1,000 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica).

The programming in this genetic code will cause the zygote to divide and differentiate, to form hormones and tissues. In the absence of disease, accident, or incident, this single cell will, in the course of 36 to 39 weeks, become a newborn human. From the time it begins its existence it is never anything but alive (living cells can come only from other living cells) and never anything but human (only human cells come from other human cells). The human zygote is therefore a living, human organism.

But is it a human being?

Most people understand that a frog never becomes an elephant. A frog is a frog. Then again, a tadpole is a tadpole. But is a tadpole a frog? Some folks would argue not: The tadpole has no lungs; it has gills. It has no legs; it has a tail. It looks and acts just like a fish. It can’t be a frog, can it? Well, it depends upon how you define the frog organism.

May we identify an organism as a frog purely on the basis of its physical form? The biologist will say no. Three criteria are necessary for biological identification and morphology is only one of them. Physiology and genomics are the other two.

The biologist will not hesitate to affirm that the tadpole is, indeed, a frog. The living organism we call “frog” (Rana catabiensis) undergoes profound morphological and physiological changes in the course of its lifecycle. Although these changes are radical, the genetic code – the DNA blueprint that defines this particular organism – never changes. He will tell you that a frog is a frog from the instant it first functions as an independent organism, regardless of the form it takes during the course of its development and will be nothing other than a frog when it dies.

An organism is never identified purely on the basis of its morphological or physiological state at any given point in its lifecycle. It would be like declaring the benchmark of life for the butterfly organism is the presence of wings and antennae and then, after examining the caterpillar, pronouncing that, because it has neither wings nor antennae, it is neither living nor a butterfly, despite the fact that it is a living organism with the genome of the butterfly and, if it is not killed before it completes its metamorphosis, will become nothing other than a butterfly.

Nevertheless, many people persist in the belief that an unborn human is not a human being, particularly when discussing the earlier stages of human development in the womb: “But I just don’t feel that it’s human. It doesn’t look or act human. Wouldn’t a better criterion be heartbeat, brain waves, arms, legs, viability outside the womb, etc.?

The list is long and could be extended indefinitely, but all the criteria are vague, arbitrary, or scientifically insupportable. While fetal viability may be a convenient benchmark for consensus politicians, it is irrelevant with regard to the biological humanity of the developing fetus. The intrauterine development of an organism is simply one phase of its living existence, and is immaterial to its biological identity.

The operative word is “feel” and that approach is as old as it is dangerous. Slave owners didn’t “feel” that Negroes were fully human; Nazis didn’t “feel” that Jews were fully human and concocted outrageous pseudo-scientific “proof” that they were sub-human. From time immemorial, man’s inhumanity to man has been rooted in the fact that one particular family, clan, tribe, or nation did not feel that another was truly human, and on countless tragic occasions this was the twisted rationale behind persecutions, slavery, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.

Biological science demonstrates with geometric force that every human being begins his or her existence as a zygote and every living human zygote is a human being at the first stage of development in his or her life. This determination has nothing to do with feeling or emotion and is no more a matter of religion or opinion than 1+1=2 or E=mc2.

Having established that every human being begins his or her existence as a zygote, let us now address two additional questions, first: Are all human beings human persons? and second: Do all human persons have an inalienable right to life?

The answers to these questions are not in the purview of biological science but, rather, philosophy and political science. Generally, “personhood” is a term used in the context of the rights and obligations of human beings, although the concept has been extended to embrace corporations. In this context, a human person is defined as a human being who possesses certain rights and obligations, at once raising a question that lies at the epicenter of the abortion debate:

Is Joe Doakes a human being because he is a human person or is he a human person because he is a human being?

There are two – and only two – possible answers.

A. Joe Doakes is a human being because he is a human person.

In this scenario, the definition of Joe Doakes’ personhood lies apart from his existence as a human being. In the absence of anarchy and solipsism, the only defining source of personhood is the existing political authority which establishes who and what are and are not persons.

Needless to say, the definition and application of personhood is ultimately determined by the prevailing political agenda. If government becomes the source of personhood (and therefore what is and is not human), it logically follows that political power becomes the fountainhead of ALL human rights.

A government with this degree of power is totalitarian, which was precisely the case in Nazi Germany, where Hitler’s Reich said: “You are a human being only if you are a person. We will decide who is and who is not a person. Jews, Gypsies and Slavs are not persons and therefore are not humans.”

It may be argued that the reverse was true, that according to the best scientific minds of time, Jews, Gypsies and Slavs were not humans and therefore not persons. While it is true that hindsight always sees what foresight missed and insight never suspected, the “scientific proof” that might have been offered as a defense was anything but scientific even by the standards of the time. If the Nazis were truly honest they would have said, “We just don’t feel that Jews are human.”

If we accept that personhood is obtained by consent of the state and not from the fact that one is a biological human being, we have made the unalienable right to life (and any other civil right) an empty, meaningless concept.

B. Joe Doakes is a human person because he is a human being.

Now everything changes. Joe Doakes’ personhood and the rights that accompany that status derive exclusively from his humanity. To paraphrase the Declaration of Independence “All human beings are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, among these, life…

An unalienable right is one that is intrinsic to humanity and cannot be ceded to any other individual or authority. From time to time, these rights may be abridged or even deprived through due process of law (e.g., imprisonment for committing a felony or execution for capital crimes). Nevertheless, as natural endowments, they possess a moral authority that imposes upon the state the obligation to respect and uphold them. By his very nature as a human being – whatever his chronological age – Joe Doakes is a person, and no political power on earth can take his personhood away from him.

Biological science tells us that Negro slaves were human beings – even if ignorant bigots said they were not. The Declaration of Independence tells us that, as human beings, they were therefore human persons – even if a feckless 1857 Supreme Court defined them only as personal chattel. The U.S. Constitution tells us that, as human persons, they possessed the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – even if these rights were systematically violated for centuries.

The conclusion is unavoidable: The human fetus is a human being; all human beings are human persons; all human persons possess an inalienable right to life that, according to the U.S. Constitution, may not be deprived without due process of law.

My argument against abortion is based squarely upon biological science and the political principles upon which our republic was founded: it violates the civil rights of the unborn human person and denies that human person his or her unalienable right to life. For these reasons I oppose it.

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