Two basic tenets of the pro-life position are: (1) abortion destroys the life of a genetically distinct, whole human being; and (2) abortion is psychologically harmful to women. On the other hand, two basic tenets of the “pro-choice” position are: (1) abortion does not destroy the life of a genetically distinct, whole human being; and (2) abortion is not psychologically harmful to women. With this in mind, I was interested to read this recent post by Jill Filipovic at the “pro-choice” blog Feministe, in which she starts off referring to some “fun facts” from Jena Pincott’s book Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?, as highlighted in the popular mom blog Mommyish:
Well here are some fun facts: Pregnant womenâ€™s bodies are basically swimming with the cells of their fetuses. And even when they give birth, some cells remain. By the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, cells from the fetus account for one in every 50,000 cells in the womanâ€™s body. Further along in the pregnancy, it increases to one in 1,000. Six percent of the DNA in her blood plasma also comes from the fetus. Which is interesting given some standard pro-life arguments like this:
Here is the “standard pro-life argument” Jill linked to:
The fetus growing within her womb is a separate person with its own distinct genetic makeup. Abortion does not remove some part of the womanâ€™s body; it destroys the body of a separate, unique individual.
Unfortunately humanity and life and the human body and development are slightly more complicated than just cells or DNA.
I was left scratching my head. So I reread Jill’s post, and I was still left scratching my head. It seems that what Jill is trying to say is: Who can possibly know how to answer the incredibly mysterious question about when human life begins?! It’s soooooooo confusing!
The Effects of Microchimerism
She’s going to have to try harder than that. It’s madness to imply that because cells from an unborn baby cross over the placenta and stay in the mother’s body for years afterward (in a process called microchimerism), that means that an unborn baby is not a genetically distinct, whole human being. As JivinJ pointed out:
… I’m struggling to see why she would think cells from Human Being A existing in Human Being B proves that Human Being A isn’t a distinct, unique human being. Transferred organs with the DNA of distinct, unique human beings live in other human beings for years. Does that prove organ donors aren’t distinct, unique human beings?
I’m not sure why Jill said anything about about fetal cells living in pregnant women’s bodies. These “fun facts” do absolutely nothing to advance the “pro-choice” argument that the embryo/fetus/unborn baby really is not a human being. In fact, they actually undercut it. And what’s more, these facts also undercut the other “pro-choice” argument mentioned earlier: namely, the notion that abortion is no more psychologically harmful to a woman than having a tooth pulled. The Mommyish blog post that Jill links to includes a link to a longer article by Jena Pincott in which she writes:
How many people have left their DNA in us? Any baby weâ€™ve ever conceived, even ones weâ€™ve miscarried unknowingly. Sons leave their Y chromosome genes in their mothers. The fetal cells from each pregnancy, flowing in a motherâ€™s bloodstream, can be passed on to her successive kids.
Of course, “any baby ever conceived” includes those who have been conceived and then aborted. That’s why women who have had abortions can’t simply flip a switch and pretend they were never pregnant: because the cells of their children actually remain within them. Vicki Thorn, founder of the post-abortion outreach Project Rachel, has spoken extensively about microchimerism and its role in contributing to trauma among women who have had abortions. I suspect that when Jill posted her original entry at Feministe, she hadn’t given any thought to any possible connection between the two. But it’s a connection that’s awfully hard to deny.