The evolutionary advantage of spontaneous abortion

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Listeria monocytogenes is a gram-positive, rod-shaped bacterium. It can be found in the environment as a soil inhabitant. However, it also can be a frequent contaminant of our food supply. As the latter, the bacterium is a significant public health concern, as it is capable of causing serious infections. Listeriosis (infection with Listeria) causes ~2500 serious illnesses and 500 deaths each year in the United States, and the hardest-hit are those with poor immune systems due to age (the very young and old), other immunocompromsing conditions (such as chemotherapy, organ transplant, or AIDS), and pregnant women. Once ingested, the bacterium is able to cross the intestine and spread throughout the body via the bloodstream, where it can attack organs and cause serious damage.

The very fact that it’s typically an environmental organism (rather than a solely pathogenic agent) likely accounts for some of its virulence and transmission. It’s able to survive a number of environmental stresses, including low temperature and high salt concentrations. Indeed, its ability to grow at relatively low temperatures is one way it evades our efforts to control it: it can grow in food even at refrigeration temperatures.

Listeria is particularly insidious as a cause of fetal death or other complications during pregnancy. Intrauterine infection can lead to preterm labor, spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, or serious–and potentially deadly–infection of the neonate. However, fairly little is known regarding exactly how this condition develops, or the mechanisms that lead to infection of the fetus. It has been thought that the increased susceptibility to infection with Listeria during pregnancy is largely due to a decrease in cell-mediated immunity that occurs as a result of pregnancy. This is a particularly attractive hypothesis for Listeria, which is an intracellular pathogen. A new paper in PLoS Pathogens examines this phenomenon in greater detail, using a guinea pig model of infection.

(Continued at Aetiology)

98 Comments

This is a wonderfully informative post by Tara (who has the best mug shot of any scientist I have ever seen). However, I am worried that the tag line “The evolutionary advantage of spontaneous abortion” will be hijacked by ID and creation advocates to show a link between evolution and the promotion of abortion. Just as the evolutionary benefits of some diseases (i.e. sickle cell anemia) do not endorse spreading such diseases, I know that this article is not an endorsement for abortion on demand. Having been brought up as a christian fundamentalist and having witnessed the massive misrepresentation of scientific literature, I can assure you that there will be some fundamentalists who will try to use this post to show that belief in evolution leads to abortion on demand.

Listeria is the cause of many spontaneous abortions, more so than abortion clinics. In effect God does more abortions than people do. What a meanie!

Yeah, definitely count on some creationists hollering “evolution justifies abortion!”.

And maybe Phil Johnson will deny that Listeria causes Listeriosis ;-)

Edwin Hensley Wrote:

However, I am worried that the tag line “The evolutionary advantage of spontaneous abortion” will be hijacked by ID and creation advocates to show a link between evolution and the promotion of abortion.

And it does on occasion. I remember reading a pro-choice tract that explicitly used the presence of “gill slits” to argue that the fetus wasn’t really human during development.

I remember reading a pro-choice tract that explicitly used the presence of “gill slits” to argue that the fetus wasn’t really human during development.

The pro-choice movement does not “promote” abortion; in fact, unlike the misnamed “pro-life” movement, it favors measures that effectively reduce abortions.

And, without having this “tract” in hand, I have no reason to believe your claim, and plenty of reason to disbelieve it, as it is a claim commonly made by fundies and other truth-aversive slime.

P.S. Ken Hovind is one of those who claims that “gill slits are used to justify abortion”. I suspect that it was his tract you read, if you actually read any tract at all, rather than simply repeating a slimal canard.

Here’s the only post I was able to find on the web that both mentions gill slits and is pro-choice. Notably, it does not “promote” abortion:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2006/[…]857.html?p=2

IN A never ending effor to educate the ignorant paternalistic pew-lemmings… and even those who are pro-Choice, but are not familiar with the absolutely solid ethical foundation upon which it rests, i offer the following “tome”:

WHY all Americans should be concerned about the radical religious right-wing’s assault on women, and their fundamental right to choose whether to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. Standing up for abortion rights means you are not only “pro-choice”, but vigorously defend equal rights, privacy rights, our bodily integrity and personal autonomy, and vehemetly oppose unwarranted government intrusion into personal reproductive issues. Those who oppose abortion, by necessity, oppose all of the above rights and freedoms, and futher, utterly fail in the most basic test of morality, “The Golden Rule”. Instead of dictating to others what you would have them do… if you oppose abortion, then simply don’t have one.

It should be obvious that the government, The State, should not be intervening in the most private area of reproductive function. Neither a married couple nor “single female” should be coerced by the “Heavy Hand of The State”, in any manner, but should be free to follow the dictates of their conscience. Freedom of Conscience is the ethical foundation of personal morality.

LET’S begin with the absurd proposition that is driving this blind train of false “christian” ideology and is seeking to derail not only the basic rights of women but “leaves reason standing at the station” as well. The pew-lemmings, despite no specific references to abortion in their error-riddled bible, are obssessed with equating the legal and moral status of a fertilized egg (or embryo/fetus) with an adult U.S. citizen! This bald assertion is “prima facie” absurd, yet we hear them parrot the oxymoron, “unborn child” ad nauseum.

HERE is why “it” is neither remotely a “child”… nor an “innocent angel”:

1. In the real-world, of course, there are no devils nor supernatural evil and no angels nor supernatural innocence… no evidence of “holy ghosts”, lesser gods nor a omnipotent tribal jewish sky-god of the bible. The term “innocent” applied to a non-sentient entity is a complete abstraction, having absolutely no meaning pre-birth and pre-personhood.

2. A fertilized egg has only a 70% chance of survival as 30% of these “unborn children” are “murdered” (to use the bizarre lexicon of the evangelicals) in the basic act of human reproduction, 1/2 of which are recognized clinically as “miscarriages” or spontaneous abortions. Perhaps this is not a good example of their bible-god’s “intelligent design”… or perhaps we just have to assume that this sort of “life” is just not valuable to their sky-god. I’m sure the 3rd option is even less palatable to bible-believers: that the tyranical god of the old-testament, is engaging in some bizarre bloodsport.

3. An embryo and early fetus does not even have the possibility for sentience, even on the most primitive level, since synapses in the brain are not even in place until the 13th week of gestation. Of course, 90% of abortions have been performed by that time… and an even higher percentage would be “early terminations”, if unfettered access to medically safe and compassionate care were available!

4. A fetus is wholly dependent on the pregnant woman and a intact uterine-placental circulation, and cannot be viable in any legitimate sense, before 22-23 weeks gestation, and only then, with high-tech sustained artificial life-support. The result may be death or survival, and the surviving neonate will likely have serious impairments, not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars spent utilizing scarce health care resources. There is not even a possiblity of the strawman of “fetal pain” until a minimum of 28 weeks gestation, and then it is still most likely reflexive in nature, and clearly not psychological, which of course, would be the only “pain” that matters.

5. A fertized egg… an embryo or previable fetus do not even remotely satisfy the criteria for personhood, which include, at a minimun for society to embue an entity with legal and moral status:

a. sentience or consciousness b. capacity to interact with one’s environment c. capacity for communication d. capacity for rational thought e. capacity for purposeful behavior f. capacity to distinguish self from others… or self-idenity g. and perhaps the context of time, or experience, in order for a real “life” to emerge.

As we can clearly see, an embryo or fetus is not an entity with a “life” in any meaningful sense of the word. It has much more in common with the embryo of any other mammal, for example a pig’s appears almost identical to a human’s… not to mention that human embryos have vestigial tails (adults have a useless “coccyx”) and branchial (gill) slits and paryngeal pouches, since all mammals evolved from fish. If we assign legal personhood status to embryos and fetuses, then The State had better immediately declare that all animals have at least equivalent rights. Chimps, for example, can easily outperform most human toddlers by just about any measure and they, along with dolphins, clearly meet the criteria for personhood, including self-identity and altruism. However, we don’t see these embryo-obssessive “pro-lifers” demonstrating for humane treatment of these wonderful, clearly sentient animal-persons!

IT is instructive to contrast the reasoned position of the real biblical authorities, the jews, with the uninformed dogma and the inflammatory rhetoric of the evangelicals. The jews do not accept personhood status of the fetus until birth, which of course makes perfect sense, and is also completely constent with biblical text. Halacha (Jewish law) does define when a fetus becomes a nefesh (person): “…a baby…becomes a full-fledged human being when the head emerges from the womb. Before then, the fetus is considered a ‘partial life.’ “ They recognize the obvious, that the fetus is utterly dependent upon the pregnant woman and compare it’s status to any other part of her body. Rashi, the great 12th century commentator on the Bible and Talmud, states clearly of the fetus ‘lav nefesh hu–it is not a person.’ The Talmud contains the expression ‘ubar yerech imo–the fetus is as the thigh of its mother,’ i.e., the fetus is deemed to be part and parcel of the pregnant woman’s body.” This is grounded in Exodus: 21-22, which outlines the Mosaic law in a case where a man is responsible for causing a woman’s miscarriage, which kills the fetus. If the woman survives, then only a fine must be paid. However, if the pregnant woman dies, the man pays with his life. Thus “holy scripture” indicates that while the fetus has some modest value, it clearly does not have the status of a person.

ANOTHER ruse used by fundamentalist christians in trying to abridge the rights of adult women, on the altar of their religious dogma, is to claim that fertilize eggs have equal status based on imagined “potential”. Again, this is absurd to most rational, fair-minded people, but let’s examine it. Clearly, just by arguing an embryo has the potential to become a person, is an obvious admission that the embryo or fetus is, in fact, not a real person. Putting aside the fact that 30% of conceptions are literally flushed down the “celestial toilet” during the process of human reproduction… and that these artificially conceived “micro-persons” are unceremoniously disposed of daily, from fertility clinics around the world… society has never made moral and legal pronouncements based on vague notions of potential, especially when such judgements would restrict the rights of others.

It is also clear that all sperm and eggs have the “potential” to become persons, but no sane person argues for harvesting all eggs from a woman’s body or regular “milking” of men’s semen, eh? And the mere fact that two teens get drunk and copulate like canines at the Motel 6, does not grant some mysterious super-moral status to the resulting conceptus… nor would any sane person think some celestial sleight-of-hand was at work when the “condom broke” and Bobbie Sue got “knocked-up”!

The potential of the developing embryo has value, but only to the woman or couple involved. The State has no interest in your pregnancies, no matter how unwholesome the circumstances orinept the prospective parents. However, the State should be concerned if it’s citizens actually have the means to economically provide for and nuture their genetic offspring (Hint: “planned parenthood”); otherwise, it must assume the burden. This “potential life” may well have had the misfortune of being born, only to suffer daily from abject poverty, malnutrition, and neglect or significant medical illness due to genetic disease or anatomic malformations. Our prisons are literally overflowing with those former-fetuses who now repetatively engage in predatory criminal, maladaptive and violent behaviors. The abusive foster-care system is stretched beyond the braking point, attempting to raise these unwanted troubled children, who were once touted, while in-utero, to have “potential”. Our cities have a permenant underclass of these former-embryos and our society has become numb to the plight of the erstwhile institutionalized mentally ill, many of which roam our streets, practically unseen, as non-persons or “homeless people”. There are areas of rural America that are like third-world countries, where unplanned pregnancies and the cyle of ignorance, joblessness, hopelessness and poverty seems unending.

NOW, what does our common-sense tell us about reproductive choice. Our basic sense of fairness and emphathy for others dictates that we should all have control over our own bodies: bodily integrity and autonomy. What could be more fundamental than the “right to be left alone” from unwarranted intrusion by The State. Who among us would willingly yield these rights to the capriciousness of Government? Who would argue that the Government has the right to coerce women, against their wills, to become essentially “Incubators for The State”? Exactly where in the U.S. Constitution, a document clearly written with the primary purpose of limiting the reach of the government, does it grant The State this awesome power?

It is absolutely clear that we agree that we should all have these “inalienable” rights, and they are wholly consonant with the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, as stated in the Preamble of the Declaration. It is likewise clear, as the record of jurisprudence indicates, the Right to Privacy and Personal Autonomy are well grounded in the language and intent of the Constitution, and clearly present in the 4th (right to be… “secure in their persons…”), 5th (no person… be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process…”) and 14th (“nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”) Amendments, as well as the Penumbra of the Bill of Rights. The revered supreme court Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1916- 39) called the Right of Privacy “the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men”.

THE LAW on privacy has a long tradition, extending back to 1891 in the “Union Pacific Railway v. Botsford” case, which defined the obvious right to bodily integrity and personal privacy:”no right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others…”. Later court rulings prefaced on the right to privacy disallowed Government’s intrusion into family matters and prohibited coercion of medical treatments. A landmark decsion came in 1965 when the Suprem Court decided the “Griswold v. Connecticut” appeal, involving the dispensing of information and prescriptions for contraception to married couples! The seven justice majority proclaimed: “The present case, then, concerns a relationship lying within the zone of privacy created by several fundamental constitutional guarantees…We deal [in this case] with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights…” Another watermark was set in the “Eisenstadt v. Baird”, decided just before “Roe” and involved a statute restricting contraceptives to unmarried couples only. Again, another common-sense majority opinion held: “If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.” However, it was “Roe v. Wade” that specifically extended privacy rights to specifically include medical abortion: “This view of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” Of course” Roe” also set the common-sense standard that The State could claim a compelling interest only after fetal viability in limiting abortion.

WHAT about the Canadians, who seem to be able to look at what is happening here, and act to prevent following our worst impulses. The abortion issue there was resolved in 1988, when their Supreme Court unambiguously ruled that section 287 of the Criminal Code (adopted in ‘69 and restricted abortion) was in direct violation of section 7 of the Charter of Right s and Freedoms (adopted in ‘82 and guaranteed “life, liberty and the security of persons”), and thus the restrictive section of the Criminal Code was eviscerated and declared to be of “no force or effect”. Apparently, Canadians embrace the novel idea that abortion is a private matter of conscience and best decided by the woman involved.

Chief Justice Brian Dickson wrote, in stating what any clear-thinking person already knows: “Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a foetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and this a violation of her security of the person.”

APART from the Constitutional guarantees, can we really abide a Government forcing women to carry unwanted pregnacies, in any circumstance, but especially when the pregnancy threatens the woman’s very health and well-being… or the fetus is genetically afflicted or malformed… or the result of failed contraception… or in the context of poverty and drug addiction… or prior child abuse… or as the result of incest… or rape! WHO except the woman involved with the pregnancy, is going to be responsible for the 24 hours a day responsibility of caring for this unwanted newborn and providing economically for it until the age of maturity? Certainly not the pretend christians casting stones: heaping coals on these unfortunate women faced with a true moral dilemma and pouring salt in their wounds. Certainly not The State!

WHAT happened to the guiding principle of our Founding Fathers that we should all be able to follow the dictates of our conscience? Do those of use who are pro-equal-rights, pro-privacy, pro-personal-autonomy and anti-government-intrusion attempt to force people who have absolutely no business becoming pregnant, or insist on carrying a severely malformed genetically diseased fetus to term only to suffer and receive futile and wasteful medical care, utter a word against such obvious, misguided foolishness? NO! We afford those who differ with us the “freedom of conscience” that they seek to deny others.

WHEN the rights of women are under such a blantant assault as the law recently enacted in South Dakota, not only banning all abortions, including those involving rape and incest, but also criminalizing a legitimate medical procedure, one would do well to remember the not too recent past, when desparate women were the victims of botched back-alley hack jobs and others tried with coathangars. These poor women often found their way to emergency departments, hemorrhaging and in bacterial sepsis… often in shock and often succumbing. Are these the dark days in America, like slavery, any sane person with a even a modicum of compassion would wish to revisit?

ALSO consider, if the religious zealots force their perverse agenda through Republican controlled legislatures, can the criminalization of “negligent mothers” be far behind? There are myriad behaviors that may adversely affect the developing fetus (smoking, drugs, and alcohol… obesity and poor diet, etc.). Surely these obssessive bible-believers would push for harsh penalties if any “deliberate” actions by the mother were deemed harmful (by The State), to the “unborn child”.

FINALLY, let us also remember the sentiments echoed in these wonderful American proclaimations of freedom: “Don’t tread on me”… “Live free or die”… “Give me liberty, or give me death”. Hold those phrases in you mind and think of The State dictating… mandating… forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term and criminally prosecuting those physicians dedicated to compassionate reproductive healthcare.

By: spinoza on March 25, 2006 at 12:02pm

And of course, contrary to GOP’s lie, the piece doesn’t “argue that the fetus wasn’t really human during development” – it explicitly refers to “human embryos”. Rather, it argues that “it” is neither remotely a “child”… nor an “innocent angel”.

popper's ghost Wrote:

And of course, contrary to GOP’s lie, the piece doesn’t “argue that the fetus wasn’t really human during development” — it explicitly refers to “human embryos”. Rather, it argues that “it” is neither remotely a “child”… nor an “innocent angel”.

It’s no lie; in fact, I still have the booklet. I’ll dig it up when I get a chance.

I remember reading a pro-choice tract that explicitly used the presence of “gill slits” to argue that the fetus wasn’t really human during development.

coughcoughhorseshitcoughcough

Ah, good old Paley–all drapery, but no substance.

Reminds one of Frost’s “Miles To Go” poem…

If only some of us regulars had a buck–heck, an endangered penny!–for every time Paley had promised to come back with the real goods as soon as he got done with X, returned from Y, finished project Z.

Don’t hold your breath while you wait.

It’s no lie

Well, gee, it must not be if you say otherwise. So what species does it claim a human fetus is a member of? Try answering without looking; you should be able to do so given how certain you are of what it claims.

It’s no lie; in fact, I still have the booklet. I’ll dig it up when I get a chance.

“It is not scientifically vacuous. In fact, I still have the paper napkin I penned the theory on somewhere. I’ll dig it up and get it peer reviewed and published when I get a chance. Meanwhile, allow me to believe that I’m a real scientist…”

With all due respect, I’m afraid you’re all missing the point. Even if tGOP’s hypothetical pamphlet exists approximately as he recalls, its contents do NOT propose the dreaded link between evolution and abortion.

Arguing that the presence of gill slits makes a fetus non-human links morphology/physiology and abortion, not evolution and abortion. Evolution has nothing to do with the argument as stated.

That is, unless tGOP wants to argue that: a) biology is being used (incorrectly) to justify abortion b) evolutionary biology is part of biology therefore: evolution is involved in justifying abortion

But tGOP’s smart, and I doubt he’s willing to cast the blanket quite that far, because if he did, we might as well say that astronomy is being linked to abortion, because it’s part of science, and science is being used to justify abortion, so…

Besides, if some random pamphlet uses a tidbit of science to justify its ends, is that the responsibility of the science, or the responsibility of those using it to meet their ends?

Even further off topic: Great post, Tara. You should check out RAGBRAI when it goes through Coralville; it’s always a good time.

Arguing that the presence of gill slits makes a fetus non-human links morphology/physiology and abortion, not evolution and abortion. Evolution has nothing to do with the argument as stated.

Here’s a section from the post I quoted, and its argument is probably much the same as what GOP has seen:

As we can clearly see, an embryo or fetus is not an entity with a “life” in any meaningful sense of the word. It has much more in common with the embryo of any other mammal, for example a pig’s appears almost identical to a human’s… not to mention that human embryos have vestigial tails (adults have a useless “coccyx”) and branchial (gill) slits and paryngeal pouches, since all mammals evolved from fish.

No matter how ridiculously GOP may have misrepresented the argument here, evolution does have something to do with it. I was in fact going to make the point about physiology, until I read that text. Your claim that we’re “all missing the point” is an unwarranted inference … and you could have made all your points without it.

P.S. GOP’s actual version of the argument is

I remember reading a pro-choice tract that explicitly used the presence of “gill slits” to argue that the fetus wasn’t really human during development.

It’s not hard to see the supposed (by GOP) argument from evolution to abortion: Haeckel said that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. Since creationists still tar proponents of evolution with this, it’s natural for GOP to attribute this view to the authors of his “tract”. The claim that “the fetus wasn’t really human during development” makes sense on the view that the fetus is actually passing through the stages of evolution as it develops, and when it has gill slits it’s not yet human (which may exonerate abortion, but it doesn’t “promote” it). Of course this is a ludicrous argument and almost certainly isn’t the argument actually made in the “tract”, but it’s GOP’s claim that we’re assessing. Note that I explicitly asked GOP what species, other than human, the “tract” claims the fetus is a member of … that’s because I did get the point, which “some dude” seems to have missed.

You should check out RAGBRAI when it goes through Coralville; it’s always a good time.

Cycling: the favorite sport of geeks.

I’ll dig it up when I get a chance.

GoP promise of future substantiation of current claims #453.

Maybe the pamphlet is in that box in the attic, next to your geocentric model of the universe (snicker, guffaw).

Funny. I’ve heard lots of women say they’re expecting a baby. None saying they’re expecting a foetus.

Silly women!

…and I’ve seen lots of folks call a pepsi a coke.

-the horror! the horror!

If you’re “expecting a baby,” chances are you already have a fetus, or are about to.

Good news and bad news: I couldn’t find the book at home, but I was able to locate it on the internet. Here’s the summary:

Book Description In The Facts of Life, Harold Morowitz and James Trefil, two distinguished scientists and science writers, examine what modern biology can contribute to our understanding of the abortion debate. Sensitive to the myriad ethical and religious arguments beyond the realm of science that swirl around abortion, the authors focus on one crucial question–when does a fetus acquire “humanness,” that quality that sets us apart from all other living things. While humans are linked via cell structure and cell chemistry with all life on our planet–from monkeys to fruit flys to pumpkins–it is the human brain structure which makes us who we are. Reviewing the latest advances in molecular biology, evolutionary biology, embryology, neurophysiology, and neonatology–fields that all bear on this question–the authors reveal a surprising consensus of scientific opinion; that humanness begins around the twenty-forth week of gestation when connections needed for brain function are finally made. A fascinating inquiry, moving across various scientific disciplines, The Facts of Life makes a valuable contribution to the continuing abortion controversy, and offers a fascinating glimpse of what makes us uniquely human.

Good news and bad news: I couldn’t find the book at home, but I was able to locate it on the internet. Here’s the summary:

I take it that you haven’t even READ the book, hm?

Any bets that the book, in toto, doesn’t come CLOSE to what this idiot says it does?

Dopey me. I thought this thread was about “The Evolutionary Advantage of Spontaneous Abortion”. Sorry I didn’t see the soapbox sitting there.

I doubt anyone could be surprised that a certain amount of screening has evolved that applies early in development. Those screened out aren’t going to survive to reproduce in any case, and child bearing is damn expensive. In fact, if the situation were otherwise, it would be considered most peculiar – if the species NOT screening out the hopeless were still around, of course.

gwangung Wrote:

I take it that you haven’t even READ the book, hm?

Any bets that the book, in toto, doesn’t come CLOSE to what this idiot says it does?

Yes, I’ve read the book, and it uses von Baer’s version of the biogenetic law to argue that the early foetus lacks humanity in any meaningful sense. The book also claims that the important part of brain formation occurs in the third trimester, and attempts to rebut the prolife contention that the foetus exhibits measurable brainwaves at 8 weeks. They claim that prolifers distorted a Swedish study (mid-sixties, I think) that actually showed that the foetus exhibited a primitive neural reflex at this stage. Neurobiology played a bigger role in the book, but I remember being taken aback at how morally crude the evolutionary arguments were. I’ll keep looking for the book, but I suggest you read it, cause you’ve got a surprise ahead of you.

The serial promise-breaker and terminally confused Ghost is complaining about the moral crudity of someone else’s arguments? There goes another irony meter…

hugs, Shirley Knott

Ghost’s pet book sounds to me like it’s irrelevant to anything. Let’s say, just for discussion, that we can produce a description of human fetal development, moment-by-moment in arbitrary levels of detail, from sperm and egg to birth. Along this 9-month journey, we can identify *completely* any and all phases of development. Let’s say we can determine for any given fetus, to the exact second, the point where current technology (also updated to the second) is sufficient to support appropriate development outside the womb right through adulthood.

Now, armed with complete information, will either side change their position even in the slightest? The fetus is human and no other species, and has been since conception. The PERSON arrives when the law decrees it so, biology notwithstanding. The battle is to jigger the declaration of a PERSON around so as to fit either practical (in the case of pro-choice people) or religious (in the case of pro-life people) requirements.

And in practice, practical considerations always win. When the bible bangers had the upper hand, those who wanted abortions had illegal abortions (*including* bible-bangers who didn’t want a child). So we’re not talking about what people DO, we’re arguing here about how self-righteous we can feel about forcing others to do as we prefer (and they don’t). It’s a straight political power struggle.

Just a minute there oh Ghost who talks.

You are citing peer reviewed sci-un-ti-fecal stuff there I assume.

So where is the same authoritative supporting literature for ID?

Or do you want to have it both ways?

Flint Wrote:

Now, armed with complete information, will either side change their position even in the slightest? The fetus is human and no other species, and has been since conception. The PERSON arrives when the law decrees it so, biology notwithstanding. The battle is to jigger the declaration of a PERSON around so as to fit either practical (in the case of pro-choice people) or religious (in the case of pro-life people) requirements.

Your argument can be turned against you. For example, what’s the logical case against infanticide? Some evolutionary biologists (including Stephen Jay Gould) have argued that babies up to a year old are natural “preemies”, their early delivery necessitated by a relatively large braincase. This implies that the legal concept of personhood may be restricted to an arbitrary time after birth. In fact, several cultures have done just that.

By the way, Tara, let me know if I’m derailing this thread. I’d like to keep this discussion here, but I can move it to ATBC if you wish.

Patricia Princehouse Wrote:

Nevertheless, despite Ghost’s lack of forthcomingness, I do not feel he has been treated with the respect that anyone (no matter how misguided) who chooses to post here deserves.

Is this some sort of bad joke? Can you point out how the book you quoted from supports

I remember reading a pro-choice tract that explicitly used the presence of “gill slits” to argue that the fetus wasn’t really human during development.

What sort of respect does that sort of misrepresentation deserve? You suggest that someone deserves respect merely because they choose to post here. Sorry, but that’s ridulous.

Sometimes people influence governments to take actions for a purely moral cause, outside their economic interests. Crushing the Nazis was an extreme example.

While this is wandering WAY far afield and Tara has a good reason to gripe, I think Bee has this exactly backwards. The Nazis instigated WWII in the form of invasions. Those being invaded and their allies responded in immediate self-interest - defending their sovereignty. The US entered the war later, but for exactly this same reason. Moral outrage was irrelevant.

However, it’s important to note that a war footing requires a good deal more unanimity than is normally available in a pluralistic society, so it is ALWAYS necessary to fan moral outrage. War means massive polarizing propaganda, horror stories cobbled up for the purpose.

So please note: It was the government that inflamed and then directed the moral outrage necessary to wage the war. Not the other way around. And propaganda like this, once deployed, is hard to counteract. Here 60 years after the war, and a German accent is *still* code for an evil villain on TV and in movies.

Anyway, back more or less to the topic, knowledge of biology, no matter how infinitely detailed, provides absolutely NO guidance about the morality of legalizing abortion. Tara’s OP shows that biology is equipped to perform abortions all without any regard for Ghost’s morality or our legal processes.

Now, Ghost of Popper, let’s show some manners. The book’s summary admits that.…

In The Facts of Life, Harold Morowitz and James Trefil, two distinguished scientists and science writers, examine what modern biology can contribute to our understanding of the abortion debate. Sensitive to the myriad ethical and religious arguments beyond the realm of science that swirl around abortion, the authors focus on one crucial question–when does a fetus acquire “humanness,” that quality that sets us apart from all other living things.

.….which, when combined with Ms. Princehouse’s excerpt, shows that I didn’t make the allegation up. The authors were exploring the definition of humanness, and using the biogenetic law to support something. Is it really so hard to believe that that “something” could have been the book’s “crucial question”? It’s a reasonable inference.

Those being invaded and their allies responded in immediate self-interest - defending their sovereignty. The US entered the war later, but for exactly this same reason. Moral outrage was irrelevant.

It’s not that simple. America’s short-term self-interest – the kind that most often compels action – was in staying out of the war and not spending lives or tax-money fighting anyone. FDR tried for YEARS to get us into it based on both his long-term vision of America’s interests, and moral concerns about Hitler’s rulership. (His initial aid to Britain was unilateral and illegal.) And all that time, there were LOTS of Americans clamoring for a united effort to defeat Hitler and fascism.

War means massive polarizing propaganda, horror stories cobbled up for the purpose.

The propaganda works best if it appeals to pre-existing moral or economic concerns.

So please note: It was the government that inflamed and then directed the moral outrage necessary to wage the war. Not the other way around.

It did not do so in a vacuum. Plenty of people were scared and outraged by Hitler’s actions long before the government really got into the act: Jews, some Germans, unionist workers, Communists, Socialists, liberals, and a progressive left that was a lot stronger (and more coherent) then than it is now.

And propaganda like this, once deployed, is hard to counteract. Here 60 years after the war, and a German accent is *still* code for an evil villain on TV and in movies.

Prejudice is hard to counteract. And anti-German prejudice predates both World Wars, at least in Britain and France. And Russia, and Poland, and probably Italy, and…

PS: Which movies and TV are you talking about? I’ve seen Germans portrayed as master criminals (“Die Hard”), dorky technocrats (car ads), scientists (mad and not mad), slick Euro-sophisticates, hot uninhibited babes, and the occasional terrorist mastermind; but never as Jew-hating Nazi bigots.

Strictly speaking, Congress declared war on Nazi Germany in response to Hitler’s declaration of war on the U.S.A.

But what in the world does that have to do with what I thought this thread was supposed to be about?

David:

I’m only speculating here, of course. But I think some people here are disturbed at the very idea that their moral positions may be both personal and arbitrary, and perhaps not as important as they prefer to believe. At the extreme, we have someone convinced his personal preferences embody absolutes built on the very essence of human nature.

And when we’re talking about abortion, moral sensitivities are provoked - even when the abortion is entirely natural, and evolved as a defense mechanism against certain bacteria. And so we rather predictably got off on a tangent as to whether normal biological human development can or should be used in support of ‘good’ (my opinion) or ‘evil’ (your opinion), with the presumption that my opinion reflects an absolute moral good.

Let’s face it. If nobody could drag religion into these biological discussions, few of us would have anything to contribute. I’m certainly no biologist.

Raging Bee Wrote:

but never as Jew-hating Nazi bigots.

The PRODUCERS!!

Heh, just kidding.

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This page contains a single entry by Tara Smith published on July 17, 2006 12:05 PM.

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