Abortion and the concept of humanity

I have written about my stance on abortion in the past, but there is one thing I would really like to emphasize: the concept of humanity.

Everyone likes to claim the mantle of science. It’s very alluring, after all. Unfortunately, plenty of people are willing to claim it without a rightful basis. That especially includes so many anti-abortion folks. Just take a look at this site and scroll down to the excerpts from various biology texts. Again and again, the quotes say that human development begins at conception. However, that is not how they are being understood in the given context. The way the site (and those who cite it) are understanding the quotes is that they have definitively found a number of sources which say that humanity begins at conception. It’s just too bad that that is not a scientific concept. At least not here.

The important issue within the abortion debate is when humanity begins – and that is not something which can be determined scientifically. We can certainly say when development begins – that’s what all those quotes have done – but that is only an illuminating factor, not a definitive conclusion. That is, development is the joining of gametes and the process that takes place within the womb thereafter and we can thank science for the shedding of that light, but a human it does not make. We’re only picking out an arbitrary point; we may as well say the emergence of a new sperm or egg is the beginning of a human since each one contains its own unique DNA and a potential pathway to birth. The only difference is that a sperm or egg have less potential on their own than together because they haven’t an ability to appreciable change based upon their environment.

Anti-abortionists are muddling the debate when they claim development is the same thing as humanity. The first is a distinct, clear scientifically determined issue whereas the latter is only a scientific concept when we’re talking about species and evolution. The fact is, “humanity” is a subjective idea which only bears a relationship to development by virtue of human rationale.