Feminist Libertarian Comes Unhinged

Dianne N. Irving
© September 22, 2010
Reproduced with Permission

Libertarian Lucy Quinn has blasted fellow Libertarian Doris Gordon for using "religious-philosophical" beliefs in support of her anti-abortion stance. Now anyone who knows Doris Gordon, and has experienced her requirement for rigid logic and legitimate facts, knows this to be rather far-fetched. But in the process Ms Quinn has unloaded a mother-load of false facts and seething innuendos across the board, several of which I would like to address before her "logic" and "facts" go unchallenged. I heartily welcome any responses Ms Quinn would wish to make.

Ms Quinn begins by accusing Doris Gordon of basing her prolife arguments on some weird mixture of "religion" and "philosophy":

You state that "Our reasoning is expressly philosophical and scientific rather than either religious or pragmatic." ... The question of when life begins is a religious issue. ... Religion is a kind of philosophy so your saying your views are philosophical but not religious does not make sense.

First of all, Doris Gordon's prolife position is not religious-based, but rather philosophically- and scientifically-based. Religion (theology), philosophy and science are totally different fields of knowledge, with different subject matters, and using different methods of coming to know those subject matters - although they can be legitimately related, if done carefully. Philosophy is what one can know through the use of reason alone, without the aid of "religion", "theology" or "Divine Revelation"; and the objective scientific facts of human embryology have been known and documents for over a hundred years - without the aid of any "religion" or philosophy. Ms Quinn is consciously - or unconsciously -- mixing and conflating these various fields of knowledge in order to make Doris Gordon sound as if her position is based only on "faith" or "religion" - in order that she in turn can dismiss it as senseless nonsense in the minds of anyone who reads her important work. However, it would seem that it is Ms Quinn who does not make sense.

For example, Ms Quinn's claim that "the question of 'when life begins' is a religious issue" is truly bizarre. The fact is that it has been known since the 1880's (Wilhelm His) that the immediate product of fertilization is a new single-cell human being, a human organism (not just a cell or a bunch of cells). Way back in 1942 the Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development were institutionalized, and their scientific facts of human embryology (not "developmental biology"!) have been continuously updated since then to the present by an international nomenclature committee consisting of 20-24 scientists with expertise in "human embryology" - can't get more objective than that. There is zero complicity with any religion or theology with the Carnegie Stages or with the science of human embryology. (See my article for more detailed historical and scientific documentation; see also my article with human embryologist Dr. C. Ward Kischer which addresses a variety of false scientific "facts" in the ongoing politicization of science.)

But it is worth asking this burning question, if this accurate human embryology has been known, documented and institutionalized internationally since 1942, why didn't the Supreme Court know about it in 1973? Didn't they have access to the libraries? Let me quote here for Ms Quinn from Carnegie Stage One, that anyone with a computer can access to read for themselves:

"Embryonic life commences with fertilization, and hence the beginning of that process may be taken as the point de depart of stage 1. Despite the small size and weight of the organism at fertilization, the embryo is "schon ein individual-spezifischer Mensch" [definitely and specifically a human person] (Blechschmidt, 1972). ... Fertilization is the procession of events that begins when a spermatozoon makes contact with an oocyte or its investments and ends with the intermingling of maternal and paternal chromosomes at metaphase of the first mitotic division of the zygote (Brackett et al, 1972). ... Fertilization, which takes place normally in the ampulla of the uterine tube i.e., fallopian tube - not the uterus], includes (a) contact of spermatozoa with the zona pellucida of an oocyte, penetration of one or more spermatozoa through the zona pellucida and the ooplasm, swelling of the spermatozoal head and extrusion of the second polar body, (b) the formation of the male and female pronuclei, and (c) the beginning of the first mitotic division, or cleavage, of the zygote. ... The three phases (a, b, and c) referred to above will be included here under stage 1, the characteristic feature of which is unicellularity. ... The term "ovum", which has been used for such disparate structures as an oocyte and a 3-week embryo, has no scientific usefulness and is not used here. Indeed, strictly speaking, "the existence of the ovum ... is impossible" (Franchi, 1970). The term "egg" is best reserved for a nutritive object frequently seen on the breakfast table. [8] [Carnegie Stages of Early Human Embryonic Development; Stage One.] (emphases added)

And in case there is any lingering doubt, let me also add here the following direct quotes from established human embryology texts written by academically credentialed human embryologists:

Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm ... unites with a female gamete or oocyte ... to form a single cell [embryo]. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual. (p. 18) ... The usual site of fertilization is the ampulla of the uterine tube [fallopian tube], its longest and widest part. If the oocyte is not fertilized here, it slowly passes along the tube to the uterus, where it degenerates and is resorbed. Although fertilization may occur in other parts of the tube, it does not occur in the uterus. ... The embryo's chromosomes sex is determined at fertilization by the kind of sperm (X or Y) that fertilizes the ovum; hence it is the father rather than the mother whose gamete determines the sex of the embryo. [Keith Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (6th ed. only) (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1998), p. 37].

Human pregnancy begins with the fusion of an egg and a sperm. (p. 3); ... finally, the fertilized egg, now properly called an embryo, must make its way into the uterus (p. 3); ... The sex of the future embryo is determined by the chromosomal complement of the spermatozoon ... Through the mingling of maternal and paternal chromosomes, the [embryo] is a genetically unique product of chromosomal reassortment .. [Bruce M. Carlson, Human Embryology and Developmental Biology (St. Louis, MO: Mosby, 1994 ), p. 31; ibid, Carlson 1999, pp., 2, 23, 27, 32].

In this text, we begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual. ... Fertilization takes place in the oviduct [not the uterus]... resulting in the formation of an [embryo] containing a single diploid nucleus. Embryonic development is considered to begin at this point. (p. 1); ... [William J. Larsen, Human Embryology (New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1997), p. 17].

O'Rahilly 2001 - Table 8-1 Principal Features of Developmental States of the early human embryo: Stage 1 - Includes penetrated oocyte, ootid, and zygote. Thus accordingly, the penetrated oocyte and the ootid (before syngamy) are characterized as an already existing human embryo at Stage 1 of development. [Ronan O'Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology (New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001), p. 89].

The same is true of the single-cell human embryo reproduced asexually (without the immediate use of sperm and oocyte), as we know happens in naturally occurring human monozygotic twinning in the woman's body, as well as in the laboratory. Once the DNA in the cell/s are "appropriately organized", or in the same state as the DNA in the cell of the earliest human embryo, that new human being simply proceeds through the same developmental stages as those documented by the Carnegie Stages. Strachan and Reed perhaps explain this most succinctly in describing one kind of cloning:

The term 'clones' indicates genetic identity and so can describe genetically identical molecules (DNA clones), genetically identical cells or genetically identical organisms. Animal clones occur naturally as a result of sexual reproduction. For example, genetically identical twins are clones who happened to have received exactly the same set of genetic instructions from two donor individuals, a mother and a father. A form of animal cloning can also occur as a result of artificial manipulation to bring about a type of asexual reproduction. The genetic manipulation in this case uses nuclear transfer technology: a nucleus is removed from a donor cell then transplanted into an oocyte whose own nucleus has previously been removed. ... The individual providing the donor nucleus and the individual that develops from the 'renucleated' oocyte are usually described as "clones", but it should be noted that they share only the same nuclear DNA; they do not share the same mitochondrial DNA, unlike genetically identical twins. ... Wilmut et al (1997) reported successful cloning of an adult sheep. For the first time, an adult nucleus had been reprogrammed to become totipotent once more, just like the genetic material in the fertilized oocyte from which the donor cell had ultimately developed. ... Successful cloning of adult animals has forced us to accept that genome modifications once considered irreversible can be reversed and that the genomes of adult cells can be reprogrammed by factors in the oocyte to make them totipotent once again. [Tom Strachan and Andrew P. Read, Human Molecular Genetics 2 (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1999), pp. 508-509]. (emphases added)

But Ms Quinn is apparently unaware of these long-documented internationally accepted objective scientific facts, as she continues:

You are evidently unaware that there is a long-standing religious/philosophical discussion as to whether life begins at birth which is the position of Jews and others who do not accept the papal pronouncement that life begins at conception.

As the scientific references from human embryology noted above document, in human sexual reproduction the life of the new human being begins at fertilization. It is precisely this accurate internationally accepted human embryology that the Church claims that life begins at conception. The Church is not basing this claim on any "religion" or "theology", but rather the accurate scientific facts of human embryology.

And then Ms Quinn pulls out her own "source" of "human embryology" - that of bioethicist Scott Gilbert (who has no academic degree in human embryology at all):

There is an article on when life begins on the internet at http://8e.devbio.com/article.php?id=162. It makes clear that the idea of when life begins has changed throughout history. This issue has been debated and written about over the years.

"In the late nineteenth century, following the discovery of fertilization, the debate about abortion within the church tipped in favor of its now familiar position that human life begins at conception. This view was enhanced by the theological acceptance of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. ...These beliefs did not coincide with the prior view that the fetus did not acquire a soul until later in pregnancy, so the church had to unite its doctrine so that the act of conception coincided with the beginning of human life."

Thus the life-begins-at-conception view originated with a pronouncement of a Roman Catholic Pope.

First, I do think that Dr. Kischer has sufficiently debunked the wacko "human embryology" of bioethicist Scott Gilbert (as have others) in his article, "The Final Corruption of Human Embryology". Quoting Dr. Kischer:

... It would be folly, and too extensive, to chronicle all of the errors and misstatements in Gilbert's text. So, some of the most egregious will be examined.

Gilbert prejudices his text and his students by immediately declaring his bias when he states on page viii in the Preface that he "favors the legality of abortion". ... We are in the age of merciless revision and it appears that Gilbert is leading the way. ... On page 19 Gilbert describes gastrulation. He states that when the embryo "can no longer give rise to twins or other multiple births it is sometimes called individuation". No human embryologist uses this term. In fact, the Nomenclature Committee of The American Association of Anatomists rejected this term in its official lexicon Terminologia Embryologica. It is a false term and was used by Grobstein to justify his invention of "preembryo", which term has also been rejected by the Nomenclature Committee. ... On page 34 Gilbert cites English Common Law as ("locating") the beginning of human life at quickening, the first felt movements of the fetus by the mother. This is incorrect.

Stevens and Sojka cite the fact that English Common Law applies all rights to the unborn, extending from the time of conception and are embodied in Blackstone's Commentaries on English Common Law, Book 1, Section 130, and also in the 9th amendment. It was, in fact, Roe v. Wade and Justice Blackmun's statement that the term "person" excluded the unborn. ... In the chapter "Unit 1: When does human life begin?" Gilbert states on page 40: "Science does not offer a hard and fast answer to the question of when human life begins, and there is no consensus among scientist's opinions".

Wrong on both counts. This is perhaps the most flagrant of Gilbert's falsifications. No human embryologist supports his opinion, and that is exactly what his conclusion is - an opinion, a political one at that. Virtually every human embryologist is unequivocal in their fact that the new individual human life begins at fertilization (conception). It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know this. ... Furthermore, in medicine, the Obstetrician routinely employs a formula to determine "when that life began", that is, the time of fertilization.

To cite such timemarks as "Brain Birth", "Quickening", or "Preembryo", simply confuses the student and begs their political application. No amount of parsing the language is going to change the truth. Anyone can simply apply the principle of the Continuum; It will work.

Further, Gilbert's declaration that there is no consensus as to when life begins is a page out of the Appendix of an Amici Curiae Brief of 167 Distinguished Scientists and Physicians, Including 11 Nobel Laureates, of the Webster case of 1988, page 4, in which it is stated: " there is no scientific consensus that a human life begins at conception". Of the 167 signees only one had a listing as a human embryologist. We were unable to track any information about this one person. ... In 1993 I warned that Human Embryology was being rewritten according to political correctness. My prediction has come true. Gilbert's book is short on Human Embryology and long on parsing its language.

Second, it is historically incorrect for Ms Quinn to claim that the Church had to change Her position on abortion. Despite writings of various theologians over the centuries, the Church has always formally held that abortion is wrong, regardless of any theories of when the soul is present:

... The tradition of the Church has always held that human life must be protected and favored from the beginning, just as at the various stages of its development. ... Most recently, the Second Vatican Council, presided over by Paul VI, has most severely condemned abortion: 'Life must be safeguarded with extreme care from conception; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.' The same Paul VI, speaking on this subject on many occasions, has not been afraid to declare that this teaching of the Church 'has not changed and is unchangeable.' [Declaration on Abortion]

... In the course of history, the Fathers of the Church, her Pastors and her Doctors have taught the same doctrine -- the various opinions on the infusion of the spiritual soul did not introduce any doubt about the illicitness of abortion. [CDF, Declaration on Procured Abortion, II.7 (Nov. 1974)]

... Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life. But in fact, "from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and ... modern genetic science offers clear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the program of ...: a person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time -- a rather lengthy time -- to find its place and to be in a position to act." Even if the presence of a spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves of scientific research on the human embryo provide "a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human person? Furthermore, what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at killing a human embryo. Precisely for this reason, over and above all scientific debates and those philosophical affirmations to which the Magisterium has not expressly committed itself, the Church has always taught and continues to teach that the result of human procreation, from the first moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being in his or her totality and unity as body and spirit: "The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. [Encyclical Letter: Evangelium vitae, 60 (Mar. 1995)]

... Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment of existence, including the initial phase which precedes birth. All human beings ... belong to God. ... Throughout Christianity's two thousand year history, this same doctrine has been constantly taught by the Fathers of the Church and by her Pastors and Doctors. Even scientific and philosophical discussions about the precise moment of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given rise to any hesitation about the moral condemnation of abortion. [Encyclical Letter: Evangelium vitae, 61 (Mar. 1995)]

Ms Quinn then develops her own pro-abortion position:

The sense that priority belongs to the weaker and younger of the two claimants is balanced, and in most people's judgment overruled, by a strong sense that the self conscious humanity of the mother, who has already established pattern of relationships, demands more attention than the yet unconscious humanity of the infant (O'Donovan 1975)." (emphases added)

It is here that Ms Quinn shows her debt to yet another bioethicist, Peter Singer. (For a lengthy analysis and evaluation of "bioethics", one of my doctoral concentrations for the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, see my article, -- "What is 'bioethics'?".). Singer argues that the term "person" should refer to anything that actively expresses "rational attributes" (e.g., knowing, willing, consciousness, relating to others around us, etc.) and/or "sentience" (the ability to feel pain and/or pleasure). Therefore, according to bioethicist Singer, some non-human animals are "persons" (and this is the basis for his sanctioning beastiality, among other things), and some humans, even adult humans, are not "persons" (and the political, scientific and ethical implications of this pronouncement are obvious). There is not enough space here to list all the viable and legitimate academic philosophical rebuttals of this normative (i.e., not neutral!) "preference utilitarian" bioethics argument (for more detailed philosophical refutations of "delayed personhood" see my article, "Scientific and philosophical expertise: An evaluation of the arguments on 'personhood'", Linacre Quarterly February 1993, 60:1:18-46.).

Let me simply instead note with simple logic what such a theory of "personhood" entails. If Singer is correct, then the following list of even adult human beings are not "persons": those who are comatose, the mentally retarded, the mentally ill, drug addicts, alcoholics, the depressed, the frail elderly, the physically handicapped - even Peter Singer and Ms Quinn when they are sleeping. In short, to adopt such irrational logic as "self-consciousness" and "relationships" just in order to justify killing millions of innocent living unborn human beings will obviously come back to smack such ideologues in the face if and when they lose their own Singerian "personhood".

As for picking either the mother or the unborn child, the Church has never taught that it is an either/or situation. Rather, the lives of both are equally precious and should be equally protected as far as possible. The Church has never taught that the life of the unborn child trumps that of the mother. Rather, no innocent human being may be intentionally killed. (For a more detailed explanation of the real Church's teachings, see my article, "Abortion: Correct application of natural law theory", Linacre Quarterly (Feb. 2000).

Ms Quinn's final politically correct linguistic barrage at Doris Gordon makes one suspect that she doth protesteth too loudly:

It seems to me that science and common sense would both agree that life begins with a live birth. If a baby is born dead, then life never began. You make a mockery of libertarianism with your attempts to paper over Roman Catholic theology with flimsy talk about science and philosophy. ... Over population is becoming a greater problem every day. There is not enough food, fuel and life support for all the people being born today. Continuing to enforce a ban on abortion in this situation is not ethical and is simply the wrong thing to do, regardless of what the Roman Catholic Church has to say. ... What you are putting out is not what we expect of Libertarians. Come off it!!

The only thing that Doris Gordon has done is to think independently of the Catholic Church, and of anybody else for that matter, including Ms Quinn. Libertarians should be deeply grateful for that, and ask no less of any of its other members.