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Mar 18 2014

The biological species concept is not an anti-choice argument

Oooh, I have annoyed Secular Pro-Life so much. I disagreed with the confusion they sow by equating status as a human being with being members of the species Homo sapiens; the former is a property of an entity, the latter a property of a class. It is highly problematic to freely switch between the two, and it is especially misleading to use a class definition to assign rights and privileges to a subset, particularly when it involves denying the existence of clear distinctions between members of the group. It is also dishonest to declare that the authority of science specifies a sharp, clear boundary line in development, when what science actually says is that there is a continuum, and cannot define the instant when a clump of human cells makes the transition into having “fully equal” human status.

Here’s their complaint:

If PZ could give a commonly accepted definition of "species" that debunked the idea that human organisms–including zygotes, embryos, and fetuses–are part of the human species, he would. If he could give a commonly accepted definition of "organism" that did not include zygotes, he would. But he doesn’t give those definitions. He can’t. Because zygotes are organisms, and human organisms are part of the human species. PZ can do a bunch of hand wavy complaining about how he’s not sure what Kristine means (and try to assert that his alleged lack of understanding equals her dishonesty), but that’s all he’s got. There’s no substance here.

He’s right that there are many ways of thinking about the concept of "species." But Kristine’s perspective doesn’t rely on some obscure, slippery definition. How about a group of organisms having common characteristics and capable of mating with one another to produce fertile offspring? You can find that description on the lying, anti-woman, secretly religious website: Biology Online.

Kristine claims "science defines a fetus as a biological member of our species." PZ tries to brush off Kristine’s perspective as "traditional and colloquial" (as if those attributes, in themselves, make an idea anti-scientific), but in reality Kristine’s assertions rely on a very common–and scientific–species concept: the biological species concept. UC Berkeley’s "Understanding Evolution" website describes the biological species concept as the concept used "for most purposes and for communication with the general public." How dare Kristine fail to define that for someone like PZ–he only has decades of background in developmental biology. That must have been very confusing for him.

That’s exactly what I mean! You cannot cavalierly apply a definition appropriate to populations to individuals. Here’s that definition: “The biological species concept defines a species as members of populations that actually or potentially interbreed in nature”. If you take that literally, then sterile individuals are not members of the human species. No one takes it that literally. Even the site they link to spells out problems with the BSC, and lists a small subset of other species concepts.

Another problem with the BSC is that it doesn’t address development, and this really is a problem in developmental biology. What does “potentially interbreed” mean? Are embryos part of the gene pool? How about menopausal women? Do men with vasectomies lose their ontological status with that little snip? If you’re going to say that embryos have the potential to reproduce, then you can’t deny that sperm and ova also have that potential, and SPL’s distinction that sperm don’t count is invalid. Scientists are also crystal clear in defining human sperm and human ova; does the use of the label imply that sperm therefore have all the rights of a human being?

The biological species concept doesn’t apply to this problem, and it is not only scientifically invalid to try and use it that way, it is offensive. We do not and should not define a person’s status in society by their reproductive potential. We do not measure the broader social and familial relationships of individuals by reducing them to biological abstractions — having the right number of chromosomes, complementary sperm-egg recognition proteins, matching genitalia for efficient intromission and docking. The species problem is a whole different problem from the humanity problem! And when your argument rests on a willful conflation of two completely different issues, you’ve got a credibility problem. And claiming that science decrees a simple clear answer when it actually says the answer is murky and complex and ambiguous on multiple levels means you’ve got an honesty problem.

But yes, please do try to imagine a world where your status as a human being was determined by applying the biological species concept to individuals. Dystopias are fun logical exercises, if not so fun to live through.

103 comments

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  1. 1
    richardelguru

    I still think the only potential secular argument against abortion is that of the Emperor Augustus: basically “we desperately need more people”. He needed it for soldiers, we don’t need it for anything.

  2. 2
    Sastra

    Is someone who is permanently brain dead — kept alive only by machines — still a member of the human species? Yes … but.

    If the argument you’re using keeps you from pulling the plug in this case because “right to life,” then there’s something seriously wrong with it.

  3. 3
    Leo Buzalsky

    He’s right that there are many ways of thinking about the concept of “species.” But Kristine’s perspective doesn’t rely on some obscure, slippery definition.

    Uh…what? Brain. Explode!

    Perhaps she “doesn’t rely on some obscure, slippery definition.” Let’s grant, for the sake of argument that she doesn’t (as well as ignoring the rest of the comment). There’s still a problem here. How is her audience supposed to know what she’s relying on?

    If they have this word they know has a slippery definition, then they need to clarify their definition immediately so as not to confuse their audience.

  4. 4
    robertbaden

    Isn’t it a flaw to use just human beings to define species as they are trying? Some unfertilized ova/eggs can develop into adult members of their species, although I’ve never heard of any sperm able to do that.

  5. 5
    Anri

    Sastra @2:

    TV Trope
    Dude, She’s Like in a Coma.
    So long as the criteria is reproductive potential…

    . . .

    Generally:
    I’m a member of the human species.
    I get to use your kidneys!
    No?
    Well, then, now you understand.

  6. 6
    Gregory in Seattle

    “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

  7. 7
    doublereed

    Anyone who bothers to think about that argument for two seconds realizes that it’s stupid and nonsensical.

    They’re just doing more intellectually dishonest BS. Which I guess is to be expected, considering that’s what pro-life is.

  8. 8
    A Masked Avenger

    I would go further and suggest that personhood is itself a red herring here. Yes, we can argue that fetuses aren’t persons–but if we attempt to make it rigorous, we will either (1) end up with a circular argument (persons are non-fetuses, therefore fetuses are non-persons), or (2) define personhood too exclusively (anencephalic infants? Alzheimer’s patients? People in persistent vegetative states? etc., etc.).

    It seems to me that the key point here is that a woman cannot be forced to serve as an incubator, period. Suppose a doctor had a patient with no kidneys, and couldn’t get access to dialysis; suppose a woman (or you) woke up to find this patient hooked up to you, using your kidneys for survival. Grant that the patient is adult, lucid, intelligent, and pleading for his or her life. The fact remains that you cannot be forced to serve as this person’s living dialysis machine, and you can insist that the connection be terminated, even if the patient dies as a result. The person has exactly as much right as you to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and ice cream on Thursdays–but no person has the right to use you as a life-support system against your will.

    So I don’t see the problem granting, for the sake of argument, that the fetus has the same rights as anyone else; it simply doesn’t follow that a woman can be forced to incubate one against her will[*].

    [*] There is one consequence of this argument worth mentioning, though. You can detach the kidney patient, even if he dies–but you can’t shoot him in the head in order to get rid of him. If you treat a fetus and an anencephalic infant the same, then it would follow that a woman can terminate a pregnancy at any time–even though the fetus will die–but that she cannot simply kill a viable fetus. I.e., it would follow that viable fetuses should be extracted alive when this is practical, poses no extra health risks to the woman, etc., at which point the woman can decide whether to keep it or give it up.

  9. 9
    Menyambal

    I can’t give milk, so I am not a mammal.

    I can’t interbreed with PZ, so we aren’t of the same species.

    My nephew, born with a serious gene defect, could never have bred, so he wasn’t human. Hey, we could have aborted him after all! Good to know.

  10. 10
    borax

    Hurm…So every time a sperm meets an ovum a new human life is formed. This means that every time a woman ovulates without a pregnancy half a human dies. Every time a man ejaculates a genocide occurs. It may seem glib, but that is how I view this argument. Someone else can link to Monty Pythons “Every Sperm is Sacred” now.

  11. 11
    xaverius

    Heard many times from secular that the zygote pro-lifes that the zygote matters because it has its own new DNA.

    Still trying to get one to answer me about why no one seems to care about the millions that die then in natural abortions in miscarriages. They should be calling for medical investigation to save them too! It’s almost as if it only mattered when it was a woman making choices.

  12. 12
    azhael

    “If PZ could give a commonly accepted definition of “species” that debunked the idea that human organisms–including zygotes, embryos, and fetuses–are part of the human species, he would. If he could give a commonly accepted definition of “organism” that did not include zygotes, he would”

    Wow, the dishonesty. If we go ahead and consider zygotes as organisms, ok, so are lettuces. Human fetuses are human and therefore part of the human species, yes, so are my toe nails. If i cut off my finger, is it not an organism (by that weird definition) and is it not human? But does it have rights? And does it have exclusive, special rights that even i don´t have?

  13. 13
    sawells

    Pro-life arguments in a nutshell: “Zygotes are people. Women, not so much”.

  14. 14
    borax

    @13 sawells, best summery ever of the so-called pro-life view point.

  15. 15
    robinjohnson

    richardelguru, #1:

    I still think the only potential secular argument against abortion is that of the Emperor Augustus: basically “we desperately need more people”

    Do we know that abortion reduces population? Plenty of women have abortions and later choose to have children, and they’d be less likely to make that choice if they already had children. I can see this gets muddied in a society where accidental pregnancies equal children, but it’s not clear-cut.

    It’s also really hard to think of a situation in which we desperately need more people and are able to wait 18-odd years for them.

  16. 16
    ashleybell

    But there’s the larger point. Even if she WAS right, how does it trump a women’s right to bodily autonomy. THAT’S why her argument is a red herring

  17. 17
    Gwynnyd

    It’s like they are saying, “I insist this is a secular argument, but it’s true” … because Jesus! Am I the only one who hears the unstated “…. because JESUS” behind those arguments?

  18. 18
    vaiyt

    Comment #13 sums it up.

    This argument is not about whether fetuses are people, because that does NOT entail giving rights to fetuses that no born human being has, over the personhood of women.

  19. 19
    sheikh mahandi

    According to the logic of the SPL, it seems that having had the snip I am no longer human, and my wife having been similarly operated on is also not human, get on to the GOP right away! Two non-humans are raising a human child !
    There is only one answer to abortion rights – Trust Women !

  20. 20
    Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm

    I’m really not a fan of even engaging in these fetal personhood discussions because, as others have pointed out it’s a red herring. Abortion is a black and white bodily autonomy issue. Entertaining the personhood argument is like conceding that women are people only if fetuses aren’t.

    It’s the same reason I’m not cool with placing too much importance on the question of biological/genetic causes of homosexuality. It implicitly makes the concession that homosexuality is only OK if you can’t help it.

  21. 21
    hexidecima

    excellent piece. to me, it seems that anti-choice people must always decide that the woman is less than anything else that they worship, be it gods or whatever.

    long ago I and my husband decided that we weren’t interested in having progeny. and this makes us less than human to these twits because we dare disagree with them.

  22. 22
    leftwingfox

    It’s not like the idea of increasing rights is only applied to the fetus, either. Children have very limited rights, with guardians substituting their consent for the child’s. They are also restricted from a variety of activities (driving, voting, drinking, sex) which are granted gradually. For example, when I grew up in Alberta, you could get a learner’s permit at 14, a moped/motorcycle or probationary license at 16, and a full license or commercial training license at 18.

    There’s nothing unique about the fetus having even less rights than a child, or a child having less rights than an adult. Given that they are completely dependant on the body of the woman to survive, I see no reason why the fetus should have ANY rights, let alone greater rights than people.

  23. 23
    Rowan vet-tech

    Interesting. Based on that definition, nearly every colubrid species in north america is actually the same species. All the rat snakes can, and readily do, produce integrades.

    Rat snakes, king snakes, bull snakes, gopher snakes, and milk snakes can all interbreed and produce fertile offspring.

  24. 24
    mikehuben

    The biological species concept doesn’t usually consider the alternation of generations between haploid (gametes) and diploid. Probably because of multicellular animal bias. In ferns, for example, there are alternating multicellular haploid and diploid generations and they are both considered organisms of the same biological species. So obviously, our haploid generations are just as much a part of the human species as the diploid generations. That means sperm and eggs are just as much human organisms as zygotes or adults.

  25. 25
    anteprepro

    Every Zygote is Sacred.

  26. 26
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Apart from the fact that I would hate being on the same continent as those people, I would also hate playing an RPF with them, because I can vividly imagine the rules lawyering they would engage in.

  27. 27
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Another question: What on earth are bees then?

  28. 28
    anteprepro

    Next up for The Fetus Rights Movement:

    -Fetal Voting
    -Fetal Consent to Sex
    -Fetal Right to enter Contracts
    -Fetal Driver’s Licenses
    -Fetal Purchase of Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Firearms
    -Fetal Retirement and Social Security
    -The First Fetus President

    Because species! Because ageism bad!

  29. 29
    anteprepro

    In the Thunderdome, we mentioned this gem we found in the comments of that article. Enjoy folks

    See, comments like this are why when I say that the pro-abortion side is rooted in bigotry against all non-adults, I’m not kidding.

  30. 30
    A Masked Avenger

    Another question: What on earth are bees then?

    That’s easy. The entire hive, except the drones, is a superorganism.

  31. 31
    barfy
  32. 32
    A Masked Avenger

    Because species! Because ageism bad!

    I don’t like ageism. But I’m also a parent. Children start out helpless, pass through a stage of diminished capacity, and if they’re lucky reach adulthood. A toddler, like someone with a mental impairment, needs to be taken care of, and it’s simply not possible to give them full autonomy unless you want them to die. But I’ve always done my darndest to respect the autonomy of my child as fully as possible, within the limits of his capacity.

    Just as I did with my nursing-home patients with dementia, or my head-trauma patients, or as I would have done if I were a carer for people with intellectual disabilities.

  33. 33
    chigau (違う)

    barfy
    Weren’t you banned?

  34. 34
    robertbaden

    Seven of Mine @ 20.

    I’ve seen the arguments that anti-abortionists make really inflict undeserved guilt on people. While counter arguments may not convert them, they might help their victims.

  35. 35
    A Masked Avenger

    Masked Avenger, when he advanced an additional Libertarian argument equating the fetal grunge to a person with a life and death need for a hook-up to a functioning autonomous-kidney-controller…and extolling the Libertarian cry “I have a right to be a jerk if I want to! Die!”

    Uh, wut? Choosing not to be used as a living dialysis machine is “being a jerk” and killing people? What universe do you live in? It must be amazing–full of people who selflessly allow themselves to be used as medical equipment, foodstuffs, fertilizer, whatever? Because jerk?

    PZ IS arguing a libertarian viewpoint. Recognize.

    So what? If an argument is sound, it doesn’t matter if it happens to be endorsed by white-supremacist misogynist Nazi cannibals who torture puppies.

  36. 36
    anteprepro

    Oh noes not a libertarian viewpoint!

    It’s a libertarian viewpoint in the same way that any call for a law or regulation is a totalitarian viewpoint. Case by case basis. Nuance. Logic. Ethics. Learn something, you clueless fuck.

  37. 37
    leftwingfox

    Barfy: So, to be clear when you say:

    The fetus DESERVES our deep emotional connection – and especially that of the potential mother, because we are SOCIAL beings where kinship and proximity relationships count for something…and THAT is science.

    Two scenarios:
    1) Fetus is the product of rape. Fetus is not responsible for the actions of the father, mother is not responsible for being forced into the position. Does the rights of the fetus trump the rights of the woman?

    2) Your sexually abusive parent needs a bone marrow transplant to live. Should you be forced to donate it? Why not, if they DESERVE our deep emotional connection based on kinship?

    And no, “bodily autonomy” is not a “libertarian” position, any more than “thou shalt not kill” is a “Christian” position. You can’t pull a single belief shared by a dozen political philosophies and say it ONLY belongs to that one you don’t like.

  38. 38
    gmcard

    Oh, we’re using to ability to mate and produce fertile offspring to define species and to assign rights to members of those species? Cool. ‘Cause I’m pretty sure zygotes can’t mate. So, by their own logic, not only is abortion fine, we can put down anyone who hasn’t hit puberty.

    Or maybe dictionary arguments aren’t helpful in resolving complex issues.

  39. 39
    atheistblog

    Science is to Understand Nature, that means us humans as well. But it is ridiculous to say we should live our life by scientific nomenclature, it is kind of like saying science should replace ethics.
    It is called Sam Harris Effect. BS.

  40. 40
    PZ Myers

    Yes, barfy was banned long ago…how they slipped out of the filter file like this is a bit mysterious, but now fixed.

  41. 41
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Barfy:

    The fetus DESERVES our deep emotional connection – and especially that of the potential mother, because we are SOCIAL beings where kinship and proximity relationships count for something…and THAT is science.

    Sorry Barfy, you fail science. Science says the fetus is a parasite impinging the bodily autonomy of woman. Your drivel is semi-religious bullshit/wishful unthinking.

  42. 42
    PZ Myers

    No, it doesn’t. A fetus is not the same as a parasite, except under the broadest possible definition of “an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense.” We generally recognize, though, that offspring provide a tremendous evolutionary benefit to the organisms that produce them, so we make a distinction.

    Using the word “deserves”, though, is moving out of the bounds of science.

  43. 43
    sawells

    @42: to me this makes it natural to say that a wanted pregnancy is potential offspring; an unwanted one is a vampiric parasite. The woman is the one whose body is being fed upon in either case, she gets to make the call.

  44. 44
    John Horstman

    @barfy #31: Libertarians oppose drug laws, therefore anyone opposing drug laws is a libertarian. Communists drink water, therefore anyone who drinks water is a communist. Adolph Hitler was a vegetarian, therefore all vegetarians are Adolph Hitler.

    You are either hopelessly ignorant of the most basic logic or a disingenuous fuck, therefore GTFO.

  45. 45
    atheistblog

    barfy @31

    The tragedy that is every abortion is not just that of the potential mother, it is also that of the potential of the fetus. No matter how PZ or ilk would like to dehumanize the fetus, its human characteristics and potential will ALWAYS have a deep emotional component for those of us that aren’t sociopaths. I consider that emotional component part of my make-up and essential to my personhood and identity…
    So…
    PZ wants to play the “I’m offended” card. Please, stop it. You just sound silly.
    The fetus DESERVES our deep emotional connection – and especially that of the potential mother, because we are SOCIAL beings where kinship and proximity relationships count for something…and THAT is science.

    What if the potential mother doesn’t have any emotional connection whatsoever ? What would you describe that potential mother ? Obviously you gonna dehumanize a living being.
    The Libertarian argument you accusing of PZ, it is actually you are the one arguing about, you want to define a non being as full grown conscious being, and demanding it has all the rights, individual liberty.
    That is what Libertarian argument, not that only woman has right to have say on her reproductive right.
    Why on the earth only jebus cultural people argue against the abortion while rest of the world is not ? Are you gonna say only jebus people are the high moral people ? You gotta big big balls.

    You Libertarian sucks. You try to mangle ethics in the name of science, and spewing all sort of BS, its now should called Libertarian cum Sam Harris Syndrome.

  46. 46
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Choosing not to be used as a living dialysis machine is “being a jerk” and killing people? What universe do you live in? It must be amazing–full of people who selflessly allow themselves to be used as medical equipment, foodstuffs

    Do you realize that what you’re describing is basically pregnancy?

  47. 47
    Inaji

    If you take that literally, then sterile individuals are not members of the human species.

    How about menopausal women?

    I’m batting two for two here. Well, I guess it’s good to know I definitely don’t qualify as human to the anti-lifers.

  48. 48
    Jacob Schmidt

    PZ

    A fetus is not the same as a parasite, except under the broadest possible definition of “an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense.”

    Uh… that’s exactly what people mean by “parasite,” though I’ve taken to using “parasitic” instead, just to avoid pointless pedantry from anti-abortion people. Though this has failed me, when an someone argued that anything parasitic must be a literal parasite, and since foetuses are not literal parasites, they can’t be parasitic. I settled for mocking their understanding of suffixes; at that point, there’s not much else I can do.

  49. 49
    witlesschum

    The “potential!” argument made by the, I hope, dissembling folks (because if they’re serious about this shit, egad) from secular prolife works just as well for criminalizing the use of contraception as it does for criminalizing abortion. Presumably my folks could have had more than two children, but chose not to presumably through the use of contraception. Oh, my potential brothers and sisters who I could have played army with! Indeed, anyone got an unoccupied uterus right now? Tragic, sociopathetic waste of potential. It doesn’t take very long with taking their position to its logical conclusion to get somewhere too radically anti-woman and anti-human rights for the Catholic Church!

    I agree with everyone that the fetal personhood thing is a huge rabbit hole filled with bullshit because first they’d have to establish a person’s right to gestate within another person.

  50. 50
    Inaji

    The fetus DESERVES our deep emotional connection – and especially that of the potential mother, because we are SOCIAL beings where kinship and proximity relationships count for something…

    Oh tra la la la, let’s go imbibe some unicorn farts, the world is wonderful, and nothing bad ever happens! Again, an idiotic sentiment which utterly ignores the amount of neglected and abused children in the world. A sentiment which utterly ignores the fact that not all people automagically want to be parents. A sentiment which places The Fetus of Magick on high, to the expense of living people – those people who are living on this planet and not afraid of reality.

  51. 51
    atheistblog

    @barfy #31:

    Libertarians are the one who argue Corporations are people my friend and give them unquestionable human rights, Libertarians are the one who argue fetus are full human being and take away all the rights of full human being Mother her reproductive rights, my friend.
    So basically Libertarians are the one who gives rights to anything related to money, church, but not women.

  52. 52
    magicthighs

    anteprepro @29 Yes, that was a response to me pointing out that their provided definition excluded, among others, zygotes. I believe that same poster called me ageist because their provided definition would exclude children.
    In another setting I’d find it amusing, but I find it infuriating. I refuse to believe that someone can be that stupid, so the only other option is that they’re simply not arguing in good faith.

  53. 53
    Marcus Ranum

    PZ writes:
    We generally recognize, though, that offspring provide a tremendous evolutionary benefit to the organisms that produce them, so we make a distinction.

    So it’s an endosymbiont?

  54. 54
    A Masked Avenger

    Giliell, #46:

    Do you realize that what you’re describing is basically pregnancy?

    Yes, I do. In #8 I explicitly made the analogy, and said that nobody should be forced to serve against their will as a life-support system. According to Barfy, anyone who chooses not to do so, ever, is a libertarian and a jerk.

  55. 55
    markr1957

    I never knew my vasectomy could be so … de-humanizing ;-)

  56. 56
    magicthighs

    Another gem in the comment section there:

    Say a drunk driver caused a crash and your son or daughter -if you had one- needed their kidney to survive. In principle because they caused the dependency they owe the kidney.

  57. 57
    Desert Son, OM

    From barfy at banned:

    because we are SOCIAL beings where kinship and proximity relationships count for something

    Yes, we are social beings where kinship and proximity relationships count for something. And because we are social beings where kinship and proximity relationships count for something why no consideration for the autonomy of women? Why no kinship and proximity with them? In all of the forced-birth posturing the emphasis—over and over—completely disregards the input, experience, intelligence, identity, capability, health, welfare, perspective, rights, context, responsibility, and autonomy of women. The forced-birth position is fundamentally against kinship and proximity relationships, you jackass!

    Stop with the “fetus is the ultimate expression of existence” nonsense, please. Seriously. Not only is it inaccurate, it’s genuinely harmful because it shifts attention away from the reality of women and their experiences, because it tries to deny the agency and integrity of women. It’s a bait-and-switch. It’s a confidence scam intentionally designed to harm half of the human population. Stop it.

    Still learning,

    Robert

  58. 58
    PZ Myers

    #48, Jacob Schmidt:

    Sorry, no. Biologists don’t call progeny parasites, even if they are leeching off of mommy for long periods of time. They may have parasitic attributes, but the word really doesn’t fit.

  59. 59
    cuervocuero

    @56.

    In principle, that’s an eye for an eye and opens the door to deciding organ harvesting from prisoners in general is a moral good because they MUST.HAVE caused societal harm to be incarcerated and owe bodily parts in recompense.

    I’d call it punishment torture as well, but perhaps there’s an argument to be made that it’s ok to chop off the hands of thieves if done by surgeons under anaesthetic. Not so bad as a death penalty under anaesthetic after all. And forced into body-engrossing (as in totally pouring all biological systems into it) pregnancy under legal threat of punishment if not letting “Nature” “take its course” is ever so much more temporary punishment for naughty behaviour than having limbs severed or being stoned to death. And there’s a puppy at the end of it, so winwin!

    Let’s have the principled intellectual debate!!

  60. 60
    Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened

    barfy @31

    The tragedy that is every abortion is not just that of the potential mother, it is also that of the potential of the fetus. No matter how PZ or ilk would like to dehumanize the fetus, its human characteristics and potential will ALWAYS have a deep emotional component for those of us that aren’t sociopaths.

    If I remember rightly, barfy was a libertarian; which makes him accusing others of sociopathy deliciously ironic.

  61. 61
    Bronze Dog

    I’m generally pro-choice and pro-contraception so that women can make their choice before they have a fetus develop into any thick portions of the fuzzy line of personhood. If everything worked as it should, personhood wouldn’t become an issue.

    That said, I still think the woman’s bodily autonomy carries more weight, regardless of fetal development. If someone else’s right to live consistently overrode other people’s right to bodily autonomy, I’d start to worry about prospects like compulsory organ donation. The annoying part when I think about it is that the argument isn’t applied in other contexts, aside from simple things like hygiene and vaccination that typically don’t have any great associated burden on par with pregnancy. With that inconsistency in mind, is it any surprise that being “pro-life” has an enormous overlap with being bigoted against women?

  62. 62
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    I have yet to hear an anti-choice argument* that doesn’t boil down to FETUSES ARE MACICAL! They’re human, so the fuck what? Why do they get special rights that no other human receives?

    *Okay, there are the rare anti-choicers that will straight up say that women need to “take responsibility” for their actions (pregnancy, child birth, and in most cases, raising the resultant child). But that always gets mixed up with the MAGICAL FETUSES! argument, anyway.

  63. 63
    hjhornbeck

    ashleybell @16:

    Even if she WAS right, how does it trump a women’s right to bodily autonomy. THAT’S why her argument is a red herring

    Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm @20:

    Abortion is a black and white bodily autonomy issue. Entertaining the personhood argument is like conceding that women are people only if fetuses aren’t.

    It’s worse than that. I’ve covered it for another anti-choice group, but the same observation applies equally well to this one.

    Secular Pro-Life knows about the bodily integrity argument, and even admit that it’s the strongest pro-choice argument out there. They know that person-hood does not defeat bodily integrity. And yet, what’s their main argument?

    Person-hood. As I put it about that other group:

    She knows the argument, but she doesn’t want you to know it. Even they know they don’t have a philosophic argument on their side, but if they shout loud enough it doesn’t matter. They can still win by counting on the general public to be ignorant of the philosophy, to be won over by their slick and confident presentation.

    This isn’t about philosophy. This is about countering a well-funded, manipulative religious attack against basic human rights. And through either ignorance or indifference, Dave Silverman, Hemant Metha, and Massimo Pigliucci have been helping them.

  64. 64
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    And, honestly, I’m glad that fetuses are human. I’d hate to give birth to a velociraptor or something.

  65. 65
    Rey Fox

    See, there are secular arguments against abortion! Instead of saying each zygote has a soul, they say each zygote fulfills the BSC!

    Frankly, I find the soul argument more compelling.

  66. 66
    jd142

    So that means a homo erectus would not be a human being? How about homo heidelbergensis or Homo neanderthalensis? If a Neanderthal wanted to abort her baby, that would be fine with them since it wouldn’t be a human being?

  67. 67
    Jacob Schmidt

    PZ

    Sorry, no. Biologists don’t call progeny parasites, even if they are leeching off of mommy for long periods of time.

    There’s some confusion somewhere. Look:

    A fetus is not the same as a parasite, except under the broadest possible definition of ‘an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense.’

    Per your own words, a feotus is a parasite, but only under that extremely broad definition. I freely admit that a feotus does not fit the biological definition.

  68. 68
    SallyStrange

    I really wish aliens would invade, just so I could watch these people run around in a tizzy. It’s not human, it requires three parental donors and a non-sentient host to reproduce… YET IT IS A PERSON!

    That, or AIs. Throwing away your iPad? How dare you abort that potential person??

    I’ll take what I can get.

  69. 69
    anuran

    You need to stop using terms like ‘zygote’ and ‘embryo’. The oppress the pre-born

  70. 70
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    According to that argument above, when I had my fallopian tubes tied off with those cute little titanium clips (got to see them before the surgery, they were shiny), I stopped being a human, and am now a non-human holding ovaries full of humans hostage!

    I think I saw that on the X-Files once. I shall now await the arrival of Agent Scully, because that would be nice.

  71. 71
    Rich Woods

    @HappiestSadist #70:

    Mostly nice.

  72. 72
    gog

    @HappiestSadist #79:

    That procedure has a failure rate. You’ve only been demoted one rank to “potential person,” rather than two ranks to “non-person.”

  73. 73
    gog

    By the way, in the ranking system of anti-choice crowd (which I was using) if you happen to get pregnant in spite of your sterilization procedure, you then become a human non-person.

  74. 74
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    I’d still get a Scully, and probably not get shot because unlike most, I would not be trying to eat her.

    gog @ #72, 73: I’m not cis, so I think that would carry me over to non-person. Non-binary counts for extra-alien, I think.

  75. 75
    cuervocuero

    @64. Baby born with dentition and breastfeeding. Not as different as you might think, apparently. Also too, hunting calls. How can anything so small make so many larger creatures cringe in terror.

  76. 76
    ragdish

    I think we can all agree that secular anti-choice arguments are truly not based on science. I daresay that most likely they base their morals on emotional reactions grounded in folk psychology. And unfortunately they deny a woman’s reproductive freedom.

    To further elaborate, most atheists (at least most that I know) do not regard a human being as an advanced bipedal carbon based neural network that is a product of billions of years of organic evolution via natural selection. We simply don’t view each other that way on a day to day basis. Indeed all that we attribute to mind is falsely separated from the scientific truth that it is the result of the complex electrochemical interactions among myriads of neurons.

    Similarly, even though a blastocyst is really just a clump of undifferentiated cells that is far less specialized than the human appendix, no one would bat an eye in having an appendix removed. There is no scientific reason to value an undifferentiated clump of cells as equal to an advanced bipedal neural network that is the mother.

    But when I saw the ultrasound showing the embryo at 10 weeks I did not view it as a clump of cells. Irrationally and filled with emotion, I called it “my child”. And yes, I cried with my spouse when those clump of cells miscarried. But also, I will always uphold this moral:

    “Her body, her choice”

    That too is not based on science. And all those secular anti-choicers shouldn’t pretend to base their morality on science either.

    PS-I also squirm at the thought of drinking apple juice out of a sterile urinal. I get nauseous eating noodles that exactly resemble earthworms but taste like spaghetti. I cringe at eating a medium-rare t-bone on a plate surrounded by dead but totally sterile cockroaches. Indeed I should probably be more concerned about any potential E coli in the not so medium-rare t-bone. Yet our minds don’t think that way when the plate is surrounded by harmless dead and sterile insects. Even if the insects were made of plastic but looked like the real deal, it wouldn’t make a difference. There is no scientific reason justification for me or anyone to feel this way. But I digress……

  77. 77
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    CC @ 75:
    Why would I be breastfeeding a reptile? ;)

    (DarkToddler had her first two teeth before she was 4 months old and weaned at 13 months. Trust me, I know exactly how much it sucks to be bitten while nursing.)

  78. 78
    Al Dente

    Alexandra (née Audley) #64

    I’d hate to give birth to a velociraptor or something.

    That’s the trouble with today’s yoof, they lack any sense of adventure.

  79. 79
    loopyj

    Gah! Why do people waste their time twisting themselves up in all these pointless arguments? Grant every argument against aborting fetuses: They are human beings regardless of their developmental stage, they’re even persons. But all persons have the right to bodily autonomy and no person has the right to live inside another person without that bigger person’s ongoing consent. Seriously, how many times does this have to be said before people get that a fetus lives inside a woman’s body, and it’s that woman’s choice to do whatever she wants with the stuff that’s inside her body. The only argument against this position is that pregnant women, and potentially pregnant women, do not have the right to bodily autonomy, that their bodies are the collective property of the state being held in trust for all present and future fetuses who have the right to live inside women’s bodies and be gestated to term.

  80. 80
    gog

    @HappiestSadist #74

    You’re out of this world!

  81. 81
    lostintime

    @PZ

    …what science actually says is that there is a continuum, and cannot define the instant when a clump of human cells makes the transition into having “fully equal” human status.

    Although you stress the importance of there being no sharp boundary line in development, you evade the issue by saying that the attainment of ‘fully equal human status’ marks the transition when a being has a right to life. By mentioning ‘human status’ at all though (as opposed to non-human status?) you’re conflating personhood with being human, and these are different concepts.

    does the use of the label imply that sperm therefore have all the rights of a human being?

    Both of these quotes talk about development, but conclude by asserting that a human being has rights, whereas a non-human being doesn’t. Rather than trying to categorize a subset of biologically human entities as ‘being human’ compared to all the rest, why not abandon this inevitably confusing approach and just concede that fetuses are human – but they lack personhood, and so they have no right to life.

    To preempt criticism, I completely agree that the right to choose and bodily autonomy is essential, so even if you had such a meaningless definition of personhood as to include fetuses then this would be a moot point. But sadly we live in a world where it does matter – women are dying because there’s a persistent belief that all humans have a right to life. We have to call bullshit on that, but challenging the definition of human plays into their hands because you fight needless semantic battles – we should just say definitively that the sanctity of human life position is ridiculous, and being human isn’t what’s relevant.

  82. 82
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    There is one consequence of this argument worth mentioning, though. You can detach the kidney patient, even if he dies–but you can’t shoot him in the head in order to get rid of him. If you treat a fetus and an anencephalic infant the same, then it would follow that a woman can terminate a pregnancy at any time–even though the fetus will die–but that she cannot simply kill a viable fetus. I.e., it would follow that viable fetuses should be extracted alive when this is practical, poses no extra health risks to the woman, etc., at which point the woman can decide whether to keep it or give it up.

    This is not universally accepted. In addition to the general right to bodily autonomy, and the specific “Right to Have Something Living In Your Uterus That You Don’t Want There Removed,” which obviously applies only to people who have uteruses (the overwhelming majority of whom identify as women), there is also asserted by some parties something like a “Right To Never Have to Choose Between Taking A Parental Role and Abandoning/Giving Up/Dealing With The Existence Of a Living Child To Whom You Are Not Taking an Active Parental Role,” which extends far beyond the bodily autonomy rights described above and has no logical intrinsic dependence on uteruses, but still applies only to people who have them because SHUT UP.

  83. 83
    ChasCPeterson

    “The biological species concept defines a species as members of populations that actually or potentially interbreed in nature”. If you take that literally, then sterile individuals are not members of the human species.

    I know this probably counts as an “abortion thread” but I am making a completely biological comment: that is NOT the biological species concept. I see that Berkeley’s Evolution 101 uses that wording, but they’re (subtly, but importantly) wrong, too.
    Here it is in the exact words of more authoritative authorities (source):

    Biological species concept: Species are groups of actually or potentially interbreeding natural populations, which are reproductively isolated from other such groups (Mayr, 1940).
    Biological species concept: A species is a reproductive community of populations (reproductively isolated from others) that occupies a specific niche in nature (Mayr, 1982).
    Biological species concept: Species are the members in aggregate of a group of populations that breed or potentially interbreed with each other under natural conditions (Futuyma, 1986)

    point being, it is not meant to, and therefore does not imply to individual organisms.

  84. 84
    jste

    @Chas:

    point being, it is not meant to, and therefore does not imply to individual organisms.

    You did read PZ’s post, didn’t you? Because that was kind of the whole point, so all you’re really doing is quibbling about definitions. And since the quotein PZ’s post specifically mentioned Berkeley’s definition, surely that would mean, since PZ was replying to that quote, that he did use the correct definition, yes? What did I miss?

  85. 85
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    You did read PZ’s post, didn’t you? Because that was kind of the whole point, so all you’re really doing is quibbling about definitions. And since the quotein PZ’s post specifically mentioned Berkeley’s definition, surely that would mean, since PZ was replying to that quote, that he did use the correct definition, yes? What did I miss?

    Is Chas possibly posting in support of PZ’s general position, albeit in a slightly pedantic fashion?

    I mean, stranger things have happened.

  86. 86
    ChasCPeterson

    Because that was kind of the whole point

    no, it really wasn’t.

  87. 87
    loopyj

    @82: A woman’s right to do with her body (and all of its contents) isn’t merely the right to removing parts of it she doesn’t want. So long as her fetus is inside of her, she’s allowed to destroy it, or consent to it being destroyed, and no one else has the right to remove it for the purpose of keeping it alive except in cases where a woman’s life is at risk and she isn’t conscious to give consent or if she’s dead or dying and the only way to save the viable fetus is to remove it from her body (and in the rare cases where the spouse or next-of-kin of a brain-dead woman pregnant with a not-yet-viable fetus want to keep her body alive on life support so that the pregnancy can continue until the infant is developed enough to remove it).

  88. 88
    Ing

    Well Chas it’s entirely understandable that you couldn’t possibly give up a single solitary chance to show off that big brain of yours

  89. 89
    Alexandra (née Audley)

    Chas:
    Weren’t you warned against trolling abortion threads?

    /whompwhomp

  90. 90
    Daz: Experiencing A Slight Gravitas Shortfall

    Monitor Note:

    Chas

    You were were asked to stay off abortion threads.

  91. 91
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    @82: A woman’s right to do with her body (and all of its contents) isn’t merely the right to removing parts of it she doesn’t want. So long as her fetus is inside of her, she’s allowed to destroy it, or consent to it being destroyed, and no one else has the right to remove it for the purpose of keeping it alive except in cases where a woman’s life is at risk and she isn’t conscious to give consent or if she’s dead or dying and the only way to save the viable fetus is to remove it from her body

    Unless the fetus is asserted to actually be a part of her body, I don’t see how this follows from bodily autonomy. It looks like special pleading.

  92. 92
    ck

    The problem is that the “is a human” fight is being used as a proxy for “is a legal person”. Concede the former, and they’ll use your concession for the latter.

    But, it really does always come back down to bodily autonomy. I mean, I can call the police to remove someone from my house if I don’t want them there and they refuse to leave, and that’s just merely property. There are a few restrictions on who I may get forcefully removed from the house, but very few. So, to say that a woman may not remove an unwanted tenant in their own body is plain ridiculous, since property rights are no where near as essential, yet would be left with stronger protection under the law.

    Then again, bodily autonomy isn’t respected that well anyway. Force feeding in prisons is yet another good example of this critical right being ignored.

  93. 93
    Nick Gotts

    So obviously, our haploid generations are just as much a part of the human species as the diploid generations. That means sperm and eggs are just as much human organisms as zygotes or adults. – mikehuben@24

    Exactly; and to deny it is an insult to that vast majority of individual members of Homo sapiens who are thus casually tossed aside – as indeed they so often are!

  94. 94
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    I said it before, I’ll say it again:
    If I ever become pregnant again, the fetus can keep the uterus. It would rid me of two problems in one.

    Also, the point of “how you remove the fetus” is pretty mood.
    Let’s say all abortions were carried out by inducing a miscarriage/labour. We make sure the body of the woman simply rejects all those things that are not actually part of her body: Fetus, water, placenta…
    So, then there are other methods that have the same result but adifferent method. A safer one, one that is easier, less stresful or painful for the woman.
    What argument beyond “but I want to control her medical treatment and make her suffer!!!” is there to prohibit a woman from having access to one method but not the other?

    Another part is, of course, the deep contempt for women as a group and the utter lack of trust in their humanity. Because apparently the horrible 8.5 month abortion of a healthy fetus to a healthy woman who insists on getting the fetus already cut up for a barbecue doesn’t happen in countries without restrictions, but obviously everybody and their dog needs to discuss how we have to stop women from doing so should they be finally granted full bodily autonomy.

  95. 95
    saganite

    “How about a group of organisms having common characteristics and capable of mating with one another to produce fertile offspring?”

    But… human zygotes cannot mate with one another and produce fertile offspring… they need to develop into people first and reach sexual maturity to do that. So if we applied it that strictly, zygotes wouldn’t qualify as members of the human species, either.

    Just like PZ said there: “If you take that literally, then sterile individuals are not members of the human species. No one takes it that literally.”

    Lastly, that’s really the main point: “We do not and should not define a person’s status in society by their reproductive potential.” It raises all sorts of alarms in my head when humanity is suddenly about reproduction. What about sterile people (partially circumventible)? What about homosexuals (partially circumventible)? Are people who churn out a lot of children better, more human, than people who don’t? And so on and so on.

  96. 96
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    My usual position is that it would be nice if a pregnant woman wanted to continue her pregnancy if it was feasible, but it’s not up to us to compel her by law. That would be requiring her to risk her life, since pregnancy & childbirth are currently — according to the World Health Organization — thirteen times more likely to kill than an early legal abortion. Men & women who voluntarily risk their lives for the benefit of others, such as firefighters, are honored but not compelled.

    I’ve been saying for thirty years that it doesn’t matter if the fetus is a person because people don’t have the right to use other people as life support. I am truly glad to see that argument finally taking off in the abortion debate.

  97. 97
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Desert Son, OM, (Hi!) at 57 wrote,

    Stop with the “fetus is the ultimate expression of existence” nonsense, please. Seriously. Not only is it inaccurate, it’s genuinely harmful because it shifts attention away from the reality of women and their experiences, because it tries to deny the agency and integrity of women. It’s a bait-and-switch. It’s a confidence scam intentionally designed to harm half of the human population.

    Bingo! And if you ever doubt it, consider how miscarriages are treated. No one expects people to mourn a miscarriage or, God forbid, a late period, as if a five-year-old child had died.

  98. 98
    praestans

    PeeZed, looks like a can of worms with a swor..uhmm Scalpel of Damocles impending over it…

    “Tampering with embryos is tampering with human souls” says J Rees-Mogg

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jacobreesmogg/100264639/tampering-with-embryos-is-tampering-with-human-souls/

    Thomas Aquinas wrote in his “Summa Theologica” that “the soul is in the embryo”. This means that tampering with embryos is tampering with human souls.

    Markita Lynda
    “No one expects….” expectations? If a baby’s born still, they are mourned. why mourn for an adult, rationally speaking?

  99. 99
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    This means that tampering with embryos is tampering with human souls.

    Why should atheists care what religious idjits think? Until you properly evidence there is a soul, it is meaningless argument, as assertion does not equal evidence.

  100. 100
    anteprepro

    prasetans

    Thomas Aquinas wrote in his “Summa Theologica” that “the soul is in the embryo”. This means that tampering with embryos is tampering with human souls

    If you think we give two shits about what Aquinas has to say about much of anything….you ain’t too bright.

  101. 101
    Amphiox

    Considerations for real actual women will always outweigh consideration for imaginary souls.

  102. 102
    ChasCPeterson

    Thank you for the informative Monitor Note.

  103. 103
    chigau (違う)

    Have a nice day, Chas.

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