Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Month: February, 2016

What is the Unborn?

This article has been adapted with permission from the Alliance of Pro-Life Students

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Have you ever tried to provide a scientific answer to the question ‘What is the unborn?’ without using the words ‘foetus’, ‘baby’, ‘embryo’, ‘child’, zygote’, ‘blastocyst’, ‘clump of cells’ or ‘a pregnancy’? Perhaps not. It’s easy, in the context of popular debate, to use the same terms over and over again. But it’s of vital importance to know exactly what you’re talking about when you use those terms. So, let’s give it a go.

From the earliest stages of development, the unborn is a distinct, living and whole human being.

And this can be proven by turning to the science of embryology.

Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote”

(T. W. Sadler, Langman’s Medical Embryology, 10th edition, Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006, p. 11)

‘…a new cell is formed from the union of a male a female gamete. The cell referred to as a zygote, contains a new combination of genetic material, resulting in an individual different from either parent and from anyone else in the world

(Keithe L. Moore & T.V.N. Persuad, Before We Are Born – Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects [W.B. Saunders Company, 1998. 5th edition) p. 500

Both of these come from standard textbooks in embryology, and if you look, you can find many more. These facts about the development of a human being have been known for a long time. It is not controversial in the medical/scientific community to say that life begins at conception/fertilisation. This is a scientific fact. To deny that a foetus, embryo or zygote is a human being is to show your scientific ignorance.

But let’s flesh this out a little more.

As was said, the unborn (or what exists in a woman’s womb when she is pregnant) is a distinct, living and whole human being. But what is meant by each of these and how do we know they are true?

  1. Distinct: the unborn is a distinct human being. He/she has a unique DNA structure, different from his/her mother’s (and father’s) DNA. When sperm and egg combine at fertilisation, there is a new combination of genetic material.
    Furthermore, the unborn is not an organ of the mother. The unborn is not like a woman’s pancreas. The unborn is a distinct human which lives for 9 months or so in her womb.
  2. Living: in the category of things which are alive (as opposed to things which are not capable of being alive or dead like plastic or water) the unborn are undeniably alive. How do we know this? How do we know that they are not dead? Simple – dead things don’t grow. The unborn is growing extremely rapidly throughout its wombly existence, something it could not be doing if it were not alive.
  3. Whole: the unborn is a whole human being. It is not a part of a human being.
    Sperm and egg are parts of a human being. Left on their own they will never become a human being. Only when they combine at conception/fertilisation, does a whole human being with a complete genetic code come into existence. The 23 chromosomes from the father and the 23 chromosomes from the mother combine to give the complete 46 chromosomes that is typical of the human species.
    The unborn does not become a human being because he/she is already completely and fully human. Nothing more needs to be added to make the unborn a complete human. Yes, there is much development that must take place. Yes, he or she does not have a heart or brain at the very beginning of his or her existence, but at the very beginning of his/her existence, no heart is needed. When a baby is first born there is much development which needs to take place, but we do not deny that they are fully human. They are immature but they are no less human.
    Perhaps we can illustrate this in the following way. If I have a car chassis, I have part of a car. There is much more that needs to be added to make it a whole car. Similarly, the car engine is part of the car, as is the steering wheel, as is the gear box, as is the petrol tank. It is only when all these parts are added together (and many more) that we have a whole or complete car!
    Living things are not like this. They are not parts which are constructed from the outside. Rather, from the first moment of their existence, they are a whole and they are internally directed towards their mature selves. This is the same for all animals and plants. The unborn is a whole human being which needs time, nutrition and the right environment to mature.

Finally, we should note the species. An unborn human being is clearly a member of the species homo sapien. A male and female of the human species, when they procreate, can only produce another member of that species. And what is made in procreation, at the moment of fertilisation, is a distinct, living, and whole human being.

Greg Jackson is a former Student Support Officer for the Alliance of Pro-Life Students, and a former OSFL committee member

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Event Preview: Greg Jackson on the Ethics of Abortion

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Flash back to the Sixth Form common room: I, an enthusiastic pro-lifer, was willing to get stick for my beliefs, but really had very little idea how to communicate them. I remember one of my male friends making an off-hand comment that if he ever ‘got a girl pregnant’, of course he would tell her to have an abortion. Cue my outburst. I shouted. I told him how awful he was to think that: to talk about choice one moment and then to offer this hypothetical woman none. I was angry, and I was rash. The rest of our friends in the common room looked on as I got more and more exasperated and he just shrugged off what I had to say. The bell rang. We went to class. He probably forgot the conversation fairly quickly.

This was not an entirely fruitless conversation. I had a message a few months later from a friend who had witnessed this argument saying that he had changed his mind about abortion because of it. But really, I’m surprised that I got that note – I didn’t think I deserved it. I still worry that someone in the room who heard me decided, then and there, that they could never speak to me about abortion because of my reaction, or that one of my friends who might have been affected by abortion felt they could not tell me about it. Instead of showing the reasoning and the compassion that support my view, I might have made a lasting impression of anger. Part of me thinks that, carried away by emotion, I did not remember what it really was that we were arguing about.

This is not the kind of conversation that you want to have about abortion. When a friend makes a passing comment, you certainly need to talk to them about it, but hopefully with much more wisdom than I demonstrated that day. You need to be able to explain calmly why you are pro-life: why you know life begins at conception, why this matters, and why we have to provide real care for mothers and their children before and after birth. These are hard conversations to have, but they are some of the most worthwhile ones. I have learnt a lot since that argument, and am still learning with each person that I talk to about such a personal and important subject.

On Monday, Greg Jackson, former OSFL member and former Student Support Officer for the Alliance of Pro-life Students, will be talking to us about the ethics of abortion. It’s the kind of talk that would have helped me a lot in my Sixth Form days. He’s going to get us thinking about the questions at the heart of the abortion debate that each person must consider, and help us to understand the arguments behind the slogans we so often hear. If you’re pro-life but struggle to articulate why, if you think you’re pro-life but don’t really know why, or if you’re pro-life but struggle to keep calm and find yourself saying the wrong thing when talking to friends, then this is the event for you. Looking forward to seeing you on Monday!

RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/205661023120355/

Jo Jackson is co-president of Oxford Students for Life

Tips for Being Pro-Life Online

Being publicly pro-life can be tough – especially on the Internet. As someone who has posted op-eds I’ve written about pro-life issues, pictures of me and my friends at the March for Life in Washington, DC, and most of the undercover videos published by the Center for Medical Progress last summer, I have taken my share of public abuse on social media for my pro-life views. These are plain for all to see. But what people don’t see when they look at my page are the tens of productive discussions my posts have led to, offline. I’ve received just as many notes thanking me for my posts and the encouragement they give to those afraid to speak up about their pro-life positions. These posts have also led to in-depth and in-person conversations in which people who had never considered the issue before take one step closer to being pro-life. For every note I’ve received, I hope there are dozens more who have thought about the issue more seriously because they have seen my Facebook page. This makes the ridicule and conflict I often face eminently worthwhile.

Though I have by no means mastered the art of being a pro-life social media warrior, I will offer five tips from my experience about how to have more productive conversations about pro-life issues on social media platforms.

  1. Remember your audience.

If you’re American, fifty percent of your contacts are likely to be pro-choice. If you’re English, it’s more like ninety percent. Notwithstanding the tendency we have to befriend people of similar views, many if not most of the people seeing your posts are likely to disagree with you. When you write something, do so with the image of walking on a stage and speaking to 1,000 of your closest friends through a microphone (half of whom are booing you), not like you’re sitting in your parents’ basement alone with a laptop. That will help you manage the tone of your message and double-check the accuracy of your claims.

  1. Have a “hook.”

It’s helpful to anchor your comments by referring to current events instead of posting out of the blue. This increases the likelihood that someone will pay attention to your post when scrolling through their newsfeed. Plus, if your comments are timely and relevant, it won’t feel like you’re just moralizing your Facebook friends. People hate that.

  1. Back up your claims.

When you do post an article, be sure that it comes from a reliable source. This can be difficult to do in a media climate that is so blatantly pro-choice, but it’s worth the effort to add some authority to your claims. The facts surrounding such a controversial issue will always be matters of debate. However, you need to have a plausible explanation for your opinion, lest you be dismissed offhand.

  1. Watch your tone.

The pro-life message is a positive one: we appreciate the beauty and significance of every human life. Our tone must reflect that, and our pro-life social media presence can’t be limited to posting images of aborted fetuses (although such a strategy has a time and place). We lose when we do that because our tone becomes angry, negative, and off-putting. All the pro-choice side needs to do is find a famous actress to speak about the importance of abortion as a women’s rights cause. When it looks like pro-choicers are promoting a tangible good and pro-lifers are fighting against it, we have lost in the court of public opinion. So in addition to highlighting the horror of abortion, we have to post twice as much about the positive pro-life work that’s happening, not just for the unborn, but also for the elderly. A picture with a grandparent or baby, a link to a group facilitating adoption, a calendar of events at the local convalescent home — these are all subtle messages that will (hopefully) not provoke a big fight, but will celebrate every human life.

  1. Manage the comments.

When you are going to post something controversial, plan ahead. Choose your timing carefully so that you have a day on which you can manage the comments. Even if you post a coherent, factually proven point, your efforts will have the opposite effect you intend if there are a bunch of unanswered comments beneath it. It is best to arrange for a handful of people to keep an eye on the post and can come to your aid when necessary so you aren’t overwhelmed and it doesn’t look like you’re the only one of your friends with pro-life views. Furthermore, in managing the comments, remember that it is your page. You can choose the content of the discussion, and delete comments that are accusatory, irrelevant, or rude. Finally, don’t allow someone to bait you into saying anything that could be taken out of context later. Even if you delete content on Facebook, it is out there forever.

Social media is an important tool for promoting the pro-life cause in our generation. Its strength lies in its ability to reach a lot of people at once, many of whom may not have thought one way or another about the issue. Unfortunately, the breadth of reach often corresponds with a lack of depth. In a personal conversation about pro-life issues, you’re unlikely to change someone’s view completely — much less so on social media. You can’t expect a post or comment war to change someone’s heart. After all, the pro-life battle is one about hearts more than minds — no argument can prove beyond dispute that human life is worth living and protecting, even in the most difficult circumstances. People need to see this and internalize it for themselves. Our witness, in our daily lives and on social media, can help get them there, one step and one post at a time.

Aurora Griffin is a Rhodes Scholar from California