Great graphic on GottaLaff’s post highlighting Jodi Jacobson’s explanation of basic biology for people who want to ban all abortions because “life begins at conception.” Yes, it does, Jacobson says, but that is not the point:
“Life begins at conception,” is repeated incessantly by politicians such as Richard Mourdock, as though this were a revelation, something not previously known, that should inform our thinking on whether women are people with the same fundamental rights as men, or if they are essentially incubators whose ability to participate in society and the economy, Andy, quite literally, whose ability to live is dependent on whether they are, might be, or might become pregnant.
But the phrase is highly—and purposefully—misleading because it confuses simple biological cell division both with actual pregnancy and with actual, legal personhood, which are all very different things.
The question is not when life begins. That just obfuscates the real issues.
The fundamental issues are:
When does pregnancy begin?
Does personhood begin at conception? Is a fertilized egg, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus a person with rights that trump those of the woman upon whose body it depends?
Do women need “evidence” that if they are pregnant, odds are they are going to have a baby?
Do women have the moral agency and fundamental rights to decide whether or not to commit themselves not only to the development of a life within their own bodies, but to a lifelong tie to another human being once a child is born?
Pregnancy begins at implantation. Human life has to begin with conception, but conception is not the same thing as pregnancy, the latter of which reason, science, and medical evidence agree begins when a fertilized egg successfully implants in the uterus and develops into a healthy embryo. Fertilized eggs take between six to 12 days to implant in the uterine lining. There simply is no pregnancy until this happens, which is why any method that prevents fertilization or implantation can not cause an abortion. A large share of fertilized eggs never successfully implant to establish a pregnancy: Between 50 and 80 percent of fertilized eggs never successfully impant and end in spontaneous miscarriage (and before a woman even knows she is pregnant) because of insufficient hormone levels or an non-viable egg or for some other reason.
Hormonal contraception, including emergency contraception, works to prevent fertilization in the first place. If you were really, really worried, therefore, about abortion at any stage, you would be a strong supporter of universal access to contraception, and to universal and easy access to emergency contraception, which needs to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse to prevent fertilization from taking place.
Anti-choicers are, of course, against both birth control and emergency contraception, which they attack by confusing conception with “personhood,” and then misrepresenting the mechanisms of action of contraception and the medical definition of pregnancy to blur the lines between contraception and abortion. By endlessly repeating “life begins at conception,” anti-choicers, “egged on,” if you will, by the USCCB and fundamentalist evangelicals, are trying to simultaneously sow confusion about when pregnancy begins and how birth control works to declare a fertilized egg to be a person. This is a precursor to promoting their goals of eliminating both contraception and abortion, making abortion the equivalent of murder, and by extension, controlling women’s bodies and their economic and social choices. This is exactly the goal of so-called personhood amendments that have been the subject of several ballot initiatives and of the “Sanctity of Human Life” act co-sponsored by Ryan and Akin.
The good news today comes from Ohio, where the Republican president of that state’s Senate, Tom Niehaus, has scuttled the so-called “fetal heartbeat” legislation, which “would have imposed the most stringent restriction on abortion in the nation” — making abortion illegal after a fetal heartbeat can be heard, which is at about the sixth week of pregnancy. The bill could not have stood up to constitutional challenge, and Niehaus decided it had no chance of passing until the new legislative session at the earliest.