WikiHow Argues for Abortion…And Fails Hard (Part 2)

The website wikiHow calls itself “an online wiki-style community consisting of an extensive database of how-to guides.” Last month, the folks there wrote a guide on how to argue for abortion. In it, they tried to provide methods of debunking the pro-life position. Well, they failed.

Hard.

In my previous article, I addressed the first method the writers recommended using (“Arguing Ethical Issues”), and now I’m moving on to the second.

Method #2: Debating Nuances of Life

The unborn child is at the heart of the abortion debate, which is why the wikiHow writers tried to poke holes in the idea that human life begins at fertilization. If you have even a basic understanding of biology, then you can probably guess how well that went.

Supporting point #1: Ask them to consider the following question.

They suggest asking, “[I]f we cannot decide at what point life actually begins, then can we decide at what point life ends?” Next, they recommend discussing “the concept of brain death, and how doctors pronounce a patient dead when the brain stops sending pulse signals to the body.” Lastly, they tell abortion advocates to note that since “a fetus’ brain begins sending signals eight weeks into pregnancy,” then “shouldn’t life begin when the brain starts?”

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We’ll take this question seriously, even though biologists universally agree that a new life begins at fertilization.

First off, the term “brain dead” only came into use five decades ago, and it describes someone who exhibits an “irreversible cessation of all clinical and physiologic functions of the brain.” Interestingly, a number of those diagnosed as being brain dead have actually gone on to recover.

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People deemed brain dead continue to have beating hearts, and some have even appeared to resume breathing, which means they wouldn’t have been considered dead through out most of human history. So why do the wikiHow authors not say life begins when a heartbeat does? Probably because it can be heard on a vaginal ultrasound as early as five and a half weeks–before many women even realize they’re pregnant.

A better question is this: If you really don’t know when life begins, then should’n’t your err on the side of caution and not risk killing a human being?

Supporting point #2: Point out identical twins if they insist life begins at fertilization.

The idea here is that because embryos can twin, it shows that life doesn’t begin at fertilization. After all, if life begins at fertilization, then where did the second twin come from? This argument (if you can call it that) deserves only a short reply.

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First, no one is really sure how twins arise. It could be that one twin “buds off” in a sort of asexual reproduction. Or as physician Edwin Hui argues, the twins could simply both have been conceived at fertilization and are actually two individuals in ‘latent’ form. [1]

But regardless of how a twin comes into being, it still can't happen unless a sibling already exists. For a twin to form, an original, living embryo must already exist, and that only happens when a sperm and egg meet. While it may be true that life is sometimes created after fertilization, this doesn't change the fact that fertilization creates a life.

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As an aside, the writers call the embryo a “clump of cells” that can “split off” and form another embryo. This makes the metaphysical fallacy of confusing what someone is with what they are made of. An embryo looks like a clump of cells at this stage of development, but each one is a genetically unique individual.

Supporting point #3: Ask what they think about cloning if they insist that life begins at fertilization.

Yes, it is true that a sheep has been successfully cloned and it may just be a matter of time until human cloning becomes a reality. But just as with twins, the existence of a clone wouldn't prove that fertilization doesn’t create a human life.

A clone is essentially just a twin who is conceived at a much later time. Conception still happens, even if technically not a fertilization. It honestly sounds as if the wikiHow authors got their ideas about cloning from a sci-fi movie: you just walk into a machine and it zaps a new you into existence. Suffice to say, that’s not what happens in the real world.

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The scientific term for cloning is Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, and how it works is the nucleus of the donor’s egg is removed and the nucleus from the donor’s somatic cell (soma is the Greek word for “body”) is inserted. Then, an electric shock is given to the ovum to stimulate conception. The ovum is still conceived, just not with a sperm cell. Using a donor’s somatic cell instead of a donor’s sperm cell is the reason the clone is a genetic match to the original, not simply a child of the original, as would be the case if the ovum was fertilized with a sperm instead of a somatic cell nucleus. At any rate, conception still occurs, and cloning doesn't change the reality that life begins at fertilization.

Supporting point #4: Point out that people are willing to kill similarly-sized organisms without calling it a sin.

Of the five supporting points, this is probably the worst. The argument here is simply that people will exterminate mosquitoes, spiders, and cockroaches without a second thought despite them often merely being an annoyance. The authors then point out that a fetus can cause a woman almost nine months of suffering, so why is his or her life sacred?

Here the writers show how clueless they are about this whole debate. The argument against abortion is that it is wrong to intentionally an kill innocent human being. Cockroaches are not human.

If you’re religious, then you believe that human beings have value because we’re made in God’s image. And if you aren't, chances are that you still believe people have a right not to be arbitrarily killed; it really is as simple as that.

If a woman wanted to kill her toddler because he or she was inconvenient, we would rightly see that as an act of murder. The fact that farmers regularly kill similarly sized nuisance animals like foxes and coyotes wouldn't be seen as a defense, because what matters isn't the child's size--it's their humanity.

Supporting point #5: Remember that the precise beginning of life is not the point -- bodily autonomy is.

And that point is simply wrong. If we’re talking about a human being with human rights, then bodily autonomy does not justify harming that human being.

Even if you accept the premise that deadly force is acceptable to stop an aggressor from inflicting bodily harm, a fetus isn't an aggressor. In the overwhelming majority of cases, a fetus only came to be present in the woman as the direct and foreseeable result of choices that she made. The fact that she helped to create this life also created a duty to provide care, not a right to commit violence.

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Finally, the writers claim the pro-life movement "does nothing" about miscarriages. Obviously, that's a lie: pro-lifers operate pregnancy centers--places where women can find material support and information about maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Further, a coalition of pro-life groups created the website GetYourCare.org. It features an interactive map that can help a woman find her nearest federally qualified health center.

But even if this were true, it would still be irrelevant, because pointing out how some lives are ended by miscarriage doesn't change the fact that others are ended through abortion. This is just a red herring, and a lazy one at that.

That's about all they've got when it comes to addressing the issue of life, and as you can see, it isn't much. In my next article, I’ll tackle the third method they advocate: Arguing Practical Issues.

[1] Edwin C. Hui, At the Beginning of Life: Dilemmas in Theological Bioethics, (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2002), p. 70.

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