Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Abortion and fallacies

By Martín Bonfil Olivera

Published in Milenio Diario, december 2nd, 2009

The decriminalization of abortion (or its penalization, in this poor country that, as it takes a step forward, always takes another backwards) is not a scientific issue, but a social and political one.

And also an ethical problem, of course… just like all social and political issues. But unlike what happened in the middle ages, when it was believed that the only valid ethical criteria were those dictated by religion, today, in the 21st century, we have scientific knowledge as a very important guide to norm the decisions we take as a society.

That's why fallacies such as "life begins at conception" cannot be allowed to pass for arguments when used by political parties, such as PRI, PAN, even PRD, and of course, the catholic hierarchy, have been doing in Mexico, in order to approve laws that will limit women's right to decide over their body, thus violating their human rights.

To refute this is so easy that its embarrassing: life does not begin at conception, because the sperm and ovum, the cells whose union gives origin to the zygote or fertilized egg (which is presented by these people as "potentially" human), are already alive before conception. If we take life as an absolute value, we should consider night ejaculations and menstruation as instances of assassination… "potentially".

A nice try to avoid this objection is to define that which starts with fertilization as human life. Again, false: sperm and ovule are as human as a zygote. The one thing that characterizes a zygote or an embryo as "human" during its first developmental stages is its genetic information… which is also present in the cells that give origin to it. (And even so, if the church wanted to argue that the essence of the human being reduces to its genes, they'd be getting into a conceptual mess worse than the one they started with!.)

A human being does not suddenly appear: it develops. Before the 12th week, it does not have a nerve system that can support functions such as perception and consciousness, without which we cannot speak of a "person". (For the same reason, someone with irreversible brain damage is not considered "alive" anymore, although its heart and lungs may be still functioning.)

As stated yesterday by Roberto Blancarte in Milenio Diario, what the religious hierarchy is achieving, with the complicity of political parties, is to "confessionalize politics, weaken secular State, and introduce catholic norms in legislation and public policies". It is evident: the criminalization of abortion is unjust and dishonest. Science and human rights give us enough arguments to oppose it. Otherwise, the price will still be paid by our women, and our society as a whole.

(translated by Adrián Robles Benavides)

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