The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Just to clear up a few, um, misconceptions...

...because I am so very sick of being lectured by people who DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT. Maybe it's because they were subjected to abstinence-only education, or maybe they simply weren't paying attention.

I'm not a doctor, and I don't have the latest statistics, and I want to make that clear because listening to people misuse medical terms in a way that can cause harm to others really makes me furious. But I do know that "conception" does NOT refer to the moment when an egg and sperm meet and merge genetic information. When you say "life begins at conception," you are saying that life begins at the moment a zygote (that's a merged egg and sperm) implants in a uterine wall. Fertilization -- which is the moment when an egg and sperm begin the genetic merger -- almost never takes place in a uterus. In most healthy pregnancies, it happens in a woman's fallopian tube; during in vitro fertilization, it happens in a laboratory.

The idea of "conception" dates back before it was understood that human women produced egg cells. It was widely believed in (Catholic) Europe that a man's "seed" contained a complete infant being who needed only a mother's womb in which to gestate. (This was the rationale for punishing a wife if a man produced only daughters -- her womb was hostile to male seed. Some remnants of this belief carry on till this day, since both Woody Allen and Bruce Willis have created "sperm" characters onscreen who have the personalities of the humans they hope to become.)

Now we understand that a unique genetic human being is not created until material from both an egg and a sperm cell comes together and begins to divide. But 3/4 to 7/8 of unique genetic human beings created via fertilization will never become human babies. In the vast majority of cases, they will stop developing before there is any indication that they even exist -- usually because of genetic incompatibilities or problems in the egg and sperm. In other cases, the fertilized egg will mistime its arrival or location in the uterus and will be expelled. (There are people who would phrase this to claim that such an event is the fault of "the mother" either for medical or behavioral reasons.) 1/10th of identified (post-conception) pregnancies will end in miscarriage because of problems in embyronic development. Even if it were impossible to terminate a pregnancy via artificial means -- and I'm including beating or killing pregnant women as well as abortion in that category -- the odds would be significantly against any given fertilized egg surviving until the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, let alone until birth.

Restrictions on the termination of pregnancy, too, date back to an era when it was widely believed that a fetus was a perfect miniature human being implanted in a woman's womb. "Conception" was the moment when that seed took root inside the womb and started growing in what was presumed to be a ready-made environment. Now we know that the development of the placenta is no more instantaneous than the development of a fetus into a baby. A number of pregnancies do not thrive because the network of blood vessels doesn't develop properly, either because of its placement in the uterus or because of a health complication in the woman or developing embryo. (Again, there are people who claim to this day that this is "the mother's fault" because she drank too much or had too much caffeine or had too many orgasms or had too much sex before marriage. Some of those people hold public office in the U.S.)

Most birth control pills work by preventing an egg cell from being released into a fallopian tube at a time when it could be fertilized. Like a condom, it prevents an egg and sperm from ever meeting. However, even if an egg and sperm do meet and merge their genetic material, a pregnancy does not begin unless that fertilized egg is among the few that actually implant in a uterine wall and begin to grow. It is CONTRACEPTION, not abortion, to take a pill that does what nature does 3/4 of the time anyway and stop an egg and sperm from implanting. Whether one uses cyclical birth control pills or what is commonly called "the morning-after pill," the result is the same: no pregnancy ever begins because conception never takes place. Whether an IUD works by altering the uterine lining or causing an egg to pass out of the uterus without implanting, no pregnancy ever begins because conception never takes place. A woman can't have an abortion if she's never pregnant.

There is a whole separate discussion to be had about phases of embryonic development, fetal survival statistics and how different religious have defined the beginning of life through the ages, but the point I wanted to make was that FERTILIZATION IS NOT CONCEPTION. You cannot accuse pharmaceutical companies and the women who use their products of being baby-killers when human bodies naturally discard a majority of fertilized eggs -- that fact remains whether you believe our bodies evolved that way or were intelligently designed that way. And you can try to hold women accountable for God or nature's development, though I don't know how you're going to track down and prosecute every woman who's ever had a fertilized egg pass out of her body, but I personally wonder whether your time wouldn't be better spent helping to care for all the children who have been born, unloved and uncared for, on this planet right now, and helping to make sure via proper use of contraception that all the children born from now on are wanted, loved, and cared for.

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