An Acorn Is Not an Oak Tree, and Other Easy-To-Understand Concepts

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.

This post was read 120 times.

About author View all posts

Kathy Kattenburg

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • …At the risk of repeating myself…

    How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life” Movement

    RH Reality Check, by Vyckie Garrison, October 30

    The spring of my sophomore year of college I was president of my university’s Students for Life chapter. The fall of my junior year of college I cut my ties with the pro-life movement. Five years later I have lost the last shred of faith I had in that movement. This is my story.

    I was raised in the sort of evangelical family where abortion is the number one political issue. I grew up believing that abortion was murder, and when I stopped identifying as pro-life I still believed that. Why, then, did I stop identifying as pro-life? Quite simply, I learned that increasing contraceptive use, not banning abortion, was the key to decreasing the number of abortions. Given that the pro-life movement focuses on banning abortion and is generally opposed advocating greater contraceptive use, I knew that I no longer fit. I also knew that my biggest allies in decreasing the number of abortions were those who supported increased birth control use – in other words, pro-choice progressives. And so I stopped calling myself pro-life.

    But when I first started blogging a year and a half ago I was very insistent that the pro-life movement should be taken at its word when it came to rhetoric about saving “unborn babies” from being “murdered.” I insisted that the pro-life movement wasn’t anti-woman or anti-sex, and that those who opposed abortion genuinely believed that a zygote/embryo/fetus was a person with rights in need of protection just like any other person. I believed that the pro-life movement’s actions were counterproductive, but that they were merely misinformed. I wrote a post with practical suggestions for opponents of abortion. I believed that the pro-life movement was genuine in its goals, but simply ignorant about how its goals might best be obtained.

    I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong.


    I realized that the only world in which opposing birth control made any sense was one in which the goal was to control women’s sex lives. After all, birth control allows women to have sex without having to face the “consequences” of sex. But I had never opposed abortion in an effort to make women face the “consequences” of having sex. I had always opposed abortion out of a desire to save the lives of unborn babies. As a child, I had been moved to tears by the image of millions of babies murdered by abortion each year. If making it easier for women to have sex I personally believed was sinful was the price I had to pay to save the lives of unborn babies, it was a price I was more than willing to pay.


    Obamacare stands to cut abortion rates by 75%. And yet, the pro-life movement has been leveraged in opposition to Obamacare, and most especially in opposition to the birth control mandate. They don’t believe women should be guaranteed access to free contraception even though this access is the number one proven best way to decrease the number of abortions. That access would, to use the rhetoric of the pro-life movement, prevent the murders of 900,000 unborn babies every year.


    The reality is that so-called pro-life movement is not about saving babies. It’s about punishing women for having sex. That’s why they oppose birth control. That’s why they want to ban abortion even though doing so will simply drive women to have dangerous back alley abortions. That’s why they want to penalize women who take public assistance and then dare to have sex, leaving an exemption for those who become pregnant from rape. It’s not about babies. If it were about babies, they would be making access to birth control widespread and free and creating a comprehensive social safety net so that no woman finds herself with a pregnancy she can’t afford. They would be raising money for research on why half of all zygotes fail to implant and working to prevent miscarriages. It’s not about babies. It’s about controlling women. It’s about making sure they have consequences for having unapproved sex.

    But I am very sure that there are other dupes out there. If you’re sitting there reading this thinking “but I really am in it to save unborn babies,” I am sure you’re not alone. After all, I was one of you. If you are one who has been a part of the pro-life movement because you really do believe in “saving unborn babies,” it’s time to cut your ties with the movement. You may be an honest and kind-hearted person, but you’ve been had. You’ve been taken in. It’s time to let go. It’s time to support Obamacare’s birth control mandate, it’s time to call off opposition to birth control, and it’s time to get behind progressive programs that help provide for poor women and their children. It’s time to make your actions consistent with your motives.

    We’d love to have you join us.

    Interesting math at the link.

  • Good post, Kathy. I take a different tack when the subject of abortion comes up with my “pro-life” friends (most of whom are pro-death penalty and pro-war, which makes no logical sense). I challenge them directly on the notion that “life begins at conception”. Life actually began about 2-3 billion years ago and all life on this planet is a direct expression of that initial instance of life and more specifically, cell division. When a sperm and egg come together, it isn’t like two rocks come together and create a living thing. Both the sperm and the egg are living things! I find the direct lineage of all life from a single instance to be even more remarkable and, mystical, if you wish than asserting that life magically springs into existence when a sperm and egg cell unite.

Leave a Reply