The most common problem with ‘pro-life’ arguments is that they are not consistently applied and are never taken to their logical conclusion. Thus, people regurgitating them do not really give a thought to what would happen if we were to really implement their ideas as laws and policy. The worst offender in this respect is the way-too-often repeated maxim that “life and rights start at conception”.
It goes something like this: At fertilisation, new, unique, human DNA is created, and it is a starting process of a new life. It is considered a human being from that very moment, and some even go as far as to say that this product of conception is a person in his/her own right. Unique human DNA, in this respect, is what makes a person and what gives full rights of a human being to the embryo. If it is a new, unique person it should have equal rights as any other, and therefore both the woman carrying the embryo and the embryo itself should be treated equally.
This teaching is often presented as undeniable scientific truth and is, through no coincidence, perfectly aligned with the teachings of the Catholic Church. For instance, this is how the argument was formulated by the Church in 2008 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Dignitas Personae: “The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognised, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life.”
The vast majority of all fertilised eggs never result in a viable pregnancy- Aleksandar Dimitrijevic
At first glance, it might sound consistent and a reasonable stand to take. But is it? And what would it mean if we were to apply this teaching to real-life situations consistently and without exception?
Let us start with facts. The human reproductive system is, at best, unreliable. The vast majority of all fertilised eggs never result in a viable pregnancy. Anything between 40 to 60 per cent of all fertilised eggs never make it to implantation.
If you add natural miscarriages that happen at some point of pregnancy, that proportion of wasted embryos rises to roughly 75 per cent.
This is what it means in real life: every day there are around 360,000 live births. If for every fertilised egg that develops to a live birth there are four that do not, that means that every day there are more than 1.4 million ‘human beings’ who do not make it. Yearly, it means that women’s bodies reject and expel more than half a billion unique human DNAs or ‘human beings’ if we are to follow the argument.
Now imagine if we were to take this to its logical conclusion and introduce laws forcing us as a society to treat these discarded and dead products of conception the way we treat a deceased human being. Every used menstrual product of a sexually-active woman potentially contains one of these “persons from conception”. If we introduce laws where unique human DNA must be treated as a person, how should we treat the disposal of menstrual products? Should we organise burials? Wakes? Remembrance days?
I am being facetious here of course, but it is only to make this point: the bottom line is that unique human DNA in nature is expendable and wasteful, cannot be equated to a person and be given equal rights of any kind.
What does it all mean for those who believe in “life and equal rights from conception” and want it part of our laws and our constitution?
If you believe that God is a giver of life and that God designed and created our reproductive system, then you are left with the fact that God is the biggest ‘abortionist’ there ever was. Considering that many on social media in Malta and in most ‘pro-life’ groups equate abortion with murder... well, draw your own conclusions what this tells you about God.
If you do not apply any religious interpretation to the human reproductive cycle, but still believe that human rights start at conception (and therefore that both a woman and a product of conception have equal value) – think again.
You are doing something completely opposite of what your intentions are. You are devaluing the life of a person and citizen – the woman – by equating her to an embryo that, in the vast majority of cases, is discarded and thrown away as waste.
To claim to be ‘pro-life’ yet equate the right of life of a human being to something so easily disposed of in nature as an embryo is to strip human life of its meaning and reduce personhood to the possession of wasteful yet ‘unique DNA’. Where is the dignity in that?
We are not our DNA, as identical twins will know well. We are much more than that.
Aleksandar Dimitrijevic is activist, Voice for Choice
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