Friday, May 09, 2014

Abortion and beheading

Emily Letts is now infamous for filming her abortion. It was due to an "unplanned pregnancy." It doesn't occur to her that this makes her look too intellectually immature to realize the link between sex and sexual reproduction. You'd think a counselor at an abortion clinic might have figured that out by now. 

In one sense, what she did was logical. If you're going to do wrong, you might as well be proud of it. 

Filming her abortion reminds me of jihadis who film beheadings. The jihadis are proud of what they do. Beheading the infidel is something to celebrate. Something to post on the Internet, like catching a prize salmon. 

Emily Letts  and Muslim terrorists both share the same moral blindness. Evil is something to celebrate. Evil is something to take pride in.

That's because both groups live and move in social circles which affirm their moral depravity. 


  1. In another sense, Letts didn't film her abortion. Rather, she filmed her reaction to her abortion. If she truly wanted to film an abortion, she'd have to include the dilation and curettage (or whatever process was used) to murder the baby. But that likely wouldn't play well on YouTube let alone national TV. At least I would think we'd have less support for abortion if people could actually see what happens to the baby. But abortionists have to somehow sanitize abortion such as filming their abortion in such a way as to make it seem innocuous.

    1. Rocking, I'm sure you're familiar with Bernard Nathanson's "Silent Scream".

      I'm not sure why this doesn't get more visibility.

  2. Letts also strikes me as someone who wants to make a name for herself. An attention seeker.

    Not to mention a total ditz.

    A bad combination if so.

  3. Unfortunately, Letts is a living example of the sort of evil described in Rom 1. She herself did evil. She suppressed her own guilt over her evil. She lends approval to those who would do evil.

  4. RWH, I figured you'd be the guy to ask - do you have any links to medical info or statistics that would demonstrate that a fetus is, in fact, its own being and not a part of the woman's body? It seems silly to ask because it's such a basic objection and it just seems intuitively wrong, but sometimes people are hard to convince.

    1. Hi Unknown,

      Thanks for your question. I'm sure there are better people to ask (e.g. embryologists, physicians like OB/GYNs or neonatologists), but for what it's worth here's what I would say:

      * Medically speaking, "fetus" is the term for the baby starting after the embryonic period (week 8) until birth (9th week to birth). The fetal period marks the differentiation and growth of tissues and organs that were formed during the embryonic period. All the major structures have already been laid down by this point. As such, the developmental changes during the fetal period aren't as dramatic as during the embryonic period. We can and should defend the fetus, of course, but I think more fundamentally we likewise need to defend the embryo (weeks 1 to 8).

      * As for specific resources, almost any standard embryology textbook should do (e.g. The Developing Human). Also websites like this one are helpful. The medical science is pretty clear.

      That said, like in many other things, we need to make sure to distinguish between the scientific facts from the interpretation of these facts even in standard embryology textbooks or websites.

      * I'll second what Smokering said about DNA. And to elaborate a bit more:

      The zygote is a unicellular embryo. It comes into existence with the fusion of the spermatozoon ("sperm") and oocyte ("egg"). This occurs at fertilization. Fertilization begins when a sperm contacts an egg, and it ends when the DNA from the sperm and the DNA from the egg combine at the initial mitotic division of the zygote. Fertilization takes roughly 24 hours.

      As such, the zygote contains the DNA of the sperm and egg combined into a diploid set of chromosomes to form a genetically unique individual. That is, the normal result of fertilization is the zygote contains a novel and unique combination of chromosomes which is distinctly different from either and both parents. No further DNA is needed for the zygote to continue to develop.

      I can say more about this if you have more specific questions.

      * As an aside, the sex of the baby is likewise determined at fertilization - i.e. XX or XY, depending on whether it's an X or Y carrying sperm.

      * After fertilization, the zygote or embryo will further divide into cells that will become more organized, specialized, etc. However, just because the embryo further divides and specializes and so forth isn't to suggest the embryo is some sort of a blueprint to build a baby. Instead the embryo is the baby, the developing baby. Or to put it another way, "personhood" is not a gradual process.

      Related, a key point I'll have to make in passing (given my time constraints) but which certainly needs further detailed discussion is that the embryo is a single self-organized and self-directed unified entity. Actually, it'd be best to consult literature by philosophers and bioethicists like Francis Beckwith, Robert George, and Christopher Kaczor here.

    2. * All this isn't to say the embryo or baby doesn't need the mother to survive. In fact, human babies after birth rely on their mothers to survive. And all of us humans require a particular environment to survive in. Humans can't survive unaided by technology on the surface of the moon or outer space for instance. We can't even survive underwater for an extended period of time without scuba diving gear. We can't even survive on many places on land without certain aids. There are only certain parts of the Earth where humans can survive, and indeed thrive, without the need for supplemental technology or the like. Similarly, the embryo can't survive on its own outside the mother's womb. But this fact wouldn't mean the embryo is simply a part of the mother's body.

      * Lastly, for now, I should note it's at a minimum theoretically possible for a human to come into existence without the sperm and egg combining to form a zygote/embryo. For example, I presume God didn't create Adam or Eve in this manner. Rather, God created Adam as a full-grown adult, and he created Eve from Adam as a full-grown adult too. It's also worthwhile to consider the conception of the Lord Jesus himself in the virgin Mary. Another example is some forms of human cloning.

  5. Unknown: Er, different DNA? Not to mention different blood types in many cases... and in around 50% of pregnancies the baby has that pesky Y chromosome his mother lacks. It's hard to claim that, for instance, an O-positive white female is the same being as an A-positive mixed-race male.

  6. I've read some Reformed thinkers (whom I deeply respect) speak of the "ensoulment" of an individual at a point in time somewhere along the continuum of natural biological development. Conceptually this is somewhat troubling to me, as it seems to crack the door for an undefined period in which the developing child is not truly "human" in the full sense.

    One example I've read is the case of identical twins (or triplets, quadruplets, etc.) which at fertilization share a single unique genetic code biologically and the question is posed, is that zygote one human person or two or three at fertilization? How many souls does that zygote have at fertilization?

    Hence the concept of ensoulment is separated temporally from biological development. It is mysterious to me how God knits together body and soul.

    1. Hi CR,

      "One example I've read is the case of identical twins (or triplets, quadruplets, etc.) which at fertilization share a single unique genetic code biologically and the question is posed, is that zygote one human person or two or three at fertilization? How many souls does that zygote have at fertilization?"

      I know you didn't ask me, but I just thought I'd weigh in if that's okay:

      1. First of all, I should mention the medical scientific aspects mainly for info.

      a. Fertilization isn't a single event as much as it is a series of complex coordinated molecular events.

      b. The zygote is formed when the male and female pronuclei combine during the fertilization process. One of the main results of this combination or fusion is a single diploid set of chromosomes. This combination or fusion occurs after the sperm has already entered the egg.

      c. Twins can be dizygotic ("fraternal") or monozygotic ("identical") twins.

      Dizygotic twins are generally formed from two different eggs fertilized by two different sperm. I presume dizygotic twins are no problem for Christians here. So I'll bypass this.

      Monozygotic twins are formed from a single fertilized egg. Monozygotic twins result from the zygote splitting at various stages of development. The earliest splitting occurs at the two cell stage, which results in two separate zygotes developing. But splitting usually occurs at what's called the early blastocyst stage. Rarely splitting occurs at later stages (e.g. after the formation of the germ disc stage).

      2. Why shouldn't each unique zygote be considered its own unique human being?

      3. It sounds like the questions are meant to move in the direction of the argument that a zygote is not a human being until twinning is not possible.

      At best, although I think it gives away too much, the argument would only apply in cases where twinning occurs. But most babies aren't twins. Thus, why should this argument apply to most babies?

      4. Furthermore, we could say medical science hasn't figured it all out. There's a lot about the twinning process we don't quite understand.

      Given this, why allow abortion if there is such doubt? Wouldn't it be better to remain protective of human life in case it truly is human life?

      Those who support abortion usually argue against the death penalty. One of the arguments is Blackstone's ratio: "It is better to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent person to death."

      Why couldn't Blackstone's ratio, so to speak, apply in our case? It is better to let a thousand zygotes that might not be human beings live than to abort a single zygote that might be a human being?

      5. By way of analogy, just because two flatworms can arise from a single flatworm cut in half doesn't mean the original flatworm wasn't an individual flatworm. This could be similar to the monozygotic twinning zygote, where another zygote splits out of the original zygote. Just because twinning occurs doesn't mean the original zygote was not an individual human being.

      6. What's more, perhaps twinning is itself a form of reproduction (e.g. cloning).

      7. Similarly, say we clone John from a single cell from Adam. Just because John is a clone of Adam doesn't mean either Adam or John aren't individual human beings.

    2. Hi rwh,

      Thanks for the interaction. I'm in favor of being cautiously overprotective of the unborn for many reasons, some of which you touched upon above.

      My broader point is a latent concern about some Reformed thinking, in particular the concept of "ensoulment" and the apparent tendency to separate it conceptually from biological development. 

      In the identical twins or triplets scenario the question posed remains (as it must) medically unanswered (and unanswerable), which is to be expected since it's a theological issue.

      For example God sovereignly knows (from eternity) if a fertilized egg (zygote) will become twins (or triplets, etc.) so He may choose to grant two (or three) souls to the cell, but this is an ad hoc argument that logically implies God may grant no soul to a fertilized cell that He knows will not implant.

      I don't know that this is a terribly important point for which one should develop an apologetic, but there it is nonetheless. 

      I think this is an "in house" dialogue currently, but I could easily envision it being picked up by the liberal pro-choice wing of the (apostate) professing church, or by apostates in general who are in favor of abortion on demand, and are always looking for wedge issues.

    3. I've heard the twinning argument used several times by non-Christian pro-choicers. It's worth working out, because it does come up.

      I tend towards the 'flatworm' argument rockingwithhawking mentioned: just because something can become two does not mean it is not first one. You have (theoretically) the potential to be cloned; that doesn't mean your human individuality is left in question until the cloning process does or does not occur - a sort of Schroedinger's Personhood. You probably *won't* ever be cloned, but if you are, it won't mean your current self is (or was) not an individual.

    4. Hi CR,

      Sorry I've been a bit busy. But thanks for the response.

      Just a quick response if that's okay. I may try to respond in more detail if I have some more time. As a friend tells me, historically, positing an interval between conception and ensoulment is bound up with antiquated embryology. Please see here for example.

    5. The following is from a molecular cell biologist and embryologist named Ronald Dudek in his book High Yield Embryology (2014):

      "Many times in the history of science, certain biological concepts become entrenched and accepted as dogma even though recent evidence comes to light to challenge these concepts. One of these concepts is the process of twinning. Recent evidence calls into question the standard figures used in textbooks on how the process of twinning occurs. In particular, it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the fact that dizygotic twins are sometimes monochorionic. Although we by far do not know or attempt to explain exactly how twinning occurs, it seems that the interesting cell and molecular events involved in twinning occur in the first few cell divisions during first three or four days after fertilization. You are not a twin because the inner cell mass splits. The inner cell mass splits because you are a twin. This evidence warrants a new twinning figure (Figure 2-2) that does not comport with the standard figures but tries to embrace recent evidence although many may call it controversial. Progress in our scientific understanding of twinning will never occur if our concept of the twinning process is overly simplistic and reinforced by standard figures repeated over and over in textbooks. Some published references that speak to this twinning issue include Boklage (2009, 2010), Yoon et al. (2005), Williams et al. (2004), and Hoekstra et al. (2008)."