Another day, another ridiculous “we don’t really know when life begins” hot take, this time from Slate author Elissa Strauss:
But despite the insistence of anti-abortion activists, the notion that life begins at the bright line of conception is at odds with many ethical traditions. In a number of religions, when an embryo or fetus becomes a person remains a mystery, something that occurs not in a single moment but in a series of moments, none necessarily more important than the next. And, for all the anti-abortion side’s embrace of ultrasounds, the medical community tends to agree.
“Many scientists would say they don’t know when life begins. There are a series of landmark moments,” said Arthur Caplan, professor and founding head of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center. “The first is conception, the second is the development of the spine, the third the development of the brain, consciousness, and so on.” That perspective, it turns out, has deep roots. It’s also one that resonates for many pregnant women who experience the embryo’s gradual passage to personhood on a visceral level.
Good grief, people. No one disputes that life means growth, and that growth is a process. The question is when that life, that growth, that process, begins. We keep on growing and experiencing biological milestones until the day we die. What does that have to do with our right to not be killed? Just saying “it’s a process” answers exactly nothing.
There’s a right answer, and it’s that your life began when you formed as a zygote, and the same applies to the lives of every human being you have ever met. The science is absolutely, without a doubt, unequivocally settled on this point. Denying the science of when life begins for political reasons makes it difficult for me to take you seriously when you argue about climate change and evolution. And I say that as someone who accepts climate change and evolution!
Compounding the frustration, Slate has tried to position itself as a beacon of objective truth in the sea of fact-optional chaos that is the Trump administration. It doesn’t matter if you feel like immigrants are dangerous, says Slate; the objective truth of the matter is that they are less likely to commit violent crimes than people born in the United States. We don’t care if President Trump’s wiretapping claims resonate with him, says Slate; there’s no evidence it happened.
But when it comes to abortion, all that objectivity is instantly defenestrated in favor of what “resonates,” what various religious traditions believe (which of course is no way to approach public policy in a secular state), and what “view” might “free us” to cling to “mystery” in the face of plainly obvious facts.
It doesn’t get any “truthier” than this passage:
In the debate over life’s beginnings, the heartbeat is a metaphor, a visceral and potent symbol of life that some can’t help but interpret as proof of life itself. It’s hard to be unmoved by the coursing of blood through an embryo or fetus’ heart, something many women and men now bear witness to in the exam room, with our eyes, ears, and, yes, hearts.
Still, the heartbeat deceives. It renders the grayscale beginnings of life in black and white, in refutation of the fact that this is a mysterious process with many possible ends. Denying this doesn’t just threaten women’s reproductive rights, but also limits the way we think and talk about pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and childbirth. This mystery is what makes it possible for the same woman to choose an abortion and then grieve a miscarriage, or to pray for the survival of the 5-day-old embryo implanted in her womb by a fertility doctor while being at peace with the fact that, if that one makes it, the other half-dozen in the freezer will be destroyed. When we view life as evolving in stages, it frees us to experience all these moments in all their fullness and complexity.
This may shock you, but heartbeats aren’t a “metaphor.” They’re actually a really efficient means for pumping blood through our bodies. People “can’t help but interpret [them] as proof of life itself” because that is exactly what they are. The heartbeat does not deceive.
Your willful blindness would be hilarious… if it didn’t rationalize the deaths of millions of innocent people.