Fetal Slavery

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This article does not argue for or against abortion. It only examines the pro-choice claim that a pregnant woman has or should have total jurisdiction over her unborn child including the right to abort it at will, because she “own” the fetus as part of her body.

Slavery, oppression, serfdom, and involuntary servitude are about as old as mankind. The other side of slavery and subjugation is dictatorial power unlimited by moral principles or enforceable laws or – as in Roman times – as part of the being a good citizen. The father was head of the Roman family. He was called “pater familias” and …held legal privilege over the property of the familia, and varying levels of authority over his dependents: these included his wife and children, certain other relatives through blood or adoption, clients, freedmen, and enslaved persons….He held powers of life and death over every member of his extended familia through ancient right.” (Wikipedia). It can be argued that to varying degrees all members of the traditional Roman family were slaves of the pater familias.

Slavery is a condition in which one person is treated as property by another or is under the owner’s control, especially in involuntary servitude. It is a state of subjection to an owner or master.

Serfdom is a milder form of slavery marked by lack of personal freedom to act as one chooses. It is the condition of being a serf, a person in bondage or servitude.

There are many situations or conditions, which have the characteristics of servitude or slavery, that we do not normally recognize as such. For example, military service. A soldier forfeits his liberty and independence as a person to the military principle of command and obedience. At least, he or she will usually do so voluntarily and for a limited time. Military service then can be understood as a form of consensual slavery. If a soldier fails to obey orders or otherwise disrespects authority he may be court-martialed and even shot. The status of the military commander is very similar to that of the Roman pater familias.

In the Seventies, German pro-choice women coined the slogan “Mein Bauch gehört mir”, which means approximately “My womb is my property”. The intent was to argue for a woman’s right to determine whether she wants to have an abortion or give birth to a child. The argument that the maternal womb is part of a woman’s body and therefore under her jurisdiction – so to speak – is still made by the pro-choice camp today. The underlying logic is that, if we agree that a woman has the right to determine what is done with or to her body, then this implies that this right includes every organ or structural/functional part of her body.

Accordingly, pro-choicers still argue that the embryo and fetus that is contained in a woman’s womb is part of the woman’s body, which is her property, and that, therefore, she has the right to do with it what she wants, including to abort it, i.e. kill it.

This leaves the unborn child at the exclusive whim of the pregnant mother and her claim to have the absolute and exclusive right to decide whether the child will be born or aborted. The argument treats the child as an organ of the mother’s body and hence as her property.

Clearly, a fetus is not an organ of the mother’s body. Her womb is only a temporary host to a developing new human individual. This special arrangement in her body is to accommodate pregnancy and it is neither permanent nor necessary for her own body to function properly. Hence, the argument that the fetus is part of the mother’s body and hence her property is materially incorrect. Indeed, for the mother to treat her unborn child as her personal property is an act of enslavement. Fetal slavery – so to speak.

To argue that the feminist position that a woman’s property claim of her fetus amounts to the enslavement of another human being, a person, requires that we can demonstrate that a fetus is a person.

Between the processes of gametogenesis and fertilization a radical change occurs from a sperm of one human being and an oocyte or egg of another human being, which both “possess” human life, to a new, genetically unique individual human being: a single-cell embryonic human zygote.

After fertilization, parts of two different human beings are transformed into something different from what they were before. They have become a single, whole human being. During the process of fertilization, the sperm and the oocyte cease to exist as such, and a new human being is produced.

To understand this, it should be remembered that each living organism has a specific quantity and quality of chromosomes that are characteristic for each member of a species.

The number of chromosomes for a member of the human species is 46. Each body cell in a human being has this characteristic number of chromosomes. Even the early germ cells contain forty-six chromosomes with the exception of the sex gametes, the sperms and oocytes, which will later contain only 23 chromosomes each.

Sperms and oocytes are derived from primitive germ cells in the developing fetus by means of a process known as “gametogenesis.” Because each germ cell normally has 46 chromosomes, the process of “fertilization” cannot take place until the total number of chromosomes in each germ cell has been cut in half. This is necessary, so that after their fusion at fertilization, the combined number of 46 chromosomes in a single individual member of the human species can be maintained.

To understand why a sperm and an oocyte are considered as only “possessing” human life, and not as living human beings themselves, one needs to look at the basic scientific facts involved in the processes of gametogenesis and of fertilization. Bear in mind that the products of gametogenesis and fertilization are very different. Gametogenesis refers to the maturation of germ cells, resulting in gametes. Fertilization refers to the initiation of a new human being. The products of gametogenesis are mature sex gametes with only 23 instead of 46 chromosomes. The product of fertilization is a living human being with the full 46 chromosomes that characterize the human species.

In other words, the zygote has completely unique DNA and the resulting child’s body has completely different DNA from the DNA of any part of the mother’s own body, because every cell of the mother’s body contains the mother’s DNA, not the child’s. The fact that the developing child’s cells contain the same unique DNA as the zygote is due to biochemical induction, a default program by way of which the development of cells with zygote-identical DNA and organ development are chemically induced. This means that a zygote will inevitably and unstoppably develop into a human being that is separate from the mother. For a mother not to recognize the individual and unique nature of her unborn child and to claim dominion over him/her as part of her body and hence her property including the right to kill it, seems pretty much within the concept of chattel slavery to me. Q.e.d.

Respect your fetus. Do not enslave him/her.

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