Monday, June 3, 2019

Alabama's nutty anti-abortion law has its origins in "life begins at conception," which is demonstrably false -- meaning the law largely is grounded in fraud

The origins of Alabama's radical anti-abortion law probably can be found in four words: "Life begins at conception."

Those words are included in the Brody Bill, the 2006 legislation that ultimately changed the Alabama criminal code to define a "person" as "a human being, including an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability." The words are all over Stinnett v. Kennedy, a 2016 Alabama Supreme Court ruling that allowed a physician to face a wrongful-death lawsuit for treating a miscarriage. The magic words are not included in the new Alabama abortion law itself, but the "life begins at conception" philosophy is reflected in two of the law's key provisions.

What's wrong with that? "Life begins at conception" is a canard; it's not based in fact, science, or medicine. It is demonstrably false, as should be clear to anyone with a fifth-grader's knowledge of human biology. Does that mean Alabama legislators are dumber than the average kid at the upper levels of elementary school? Bill Nye, the Science Guy, applies the term "ignorant" to anyone who touts the "life begins at conception" nonsense as grounds for restricting reproductive rights. (See video at the top of this post. Says Nye, as reported at USA Today:

“Many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans,” he says, because not all of those eggs will attach to a woman’s uterine wall and result in pregnancy. But if you’re going to hold that as a standard—that life begins at conception and any egg that’s fertilized has the same rights as an individual—well, “Whom do you sue? Whom do you throw in jail?” he asks. “Every woman who has had a fertilized egg pass through her? Every guy whose sperm has fertilized an egg and then it didn’t become a human?”

From there, Nye escalates his argument, saying that legislators who push anti-abortion agendas are straight up “ignorant.” He explains, “It’s a reflection of a deep scientific lack of understanding,” adding, “You [anti-abortionists] literally don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Since Alabama legislators, even Gov. Kay Ivey (a woman), are clueless about how women's bodies work, let's look at some specifics. First, what is conception anyway? Here is a definition from

Biologically, conception is the moment when a sperm cell from a male breaches the ovum, or egg, from a female. The process is also known as fertilization and is the initial stage of development for human growth.

Does conception start a pregnancy? Nope, that requires implantation into the uterine wall -- and as Nye makes clear, many fertilized eggs (the products of conception) never attach and never lead to pregnancy, much less life. Here is a definition of implantation, from

In embryology, implantation refers specifically to the attachment of the fertilized egg to the uterine lining, which occurs approximately 6 or 7 days after conception (fertilization).

More explanation can be found at, via a post titled "The Biology of Making a Baby":

If one sperm manages to enter, the egg changes instantly to prevent any other sperm from entering. Next, fertilization begins: the genetic material of the sperm and egg combine to create a new cell that rapidly starts dividing. This tiny bundle of cells is called a blastocyst, and it travels down the fallopian tube on a three-day long journey to the uterus.

You aren’t officially pregnant until the blastocyst attaches itself to the wall of the uterus, where it develops into an embryo and placenta. Two weeks later, when you miss your expected next period, it’s time to take a pregnancy test to confirm it.

The reality? Conception does not even launch pregnancy, much less life. Implantation is required to start a pregnancy, and to borrow Bill Nye's language, "many, many hundreds" of fertilized (conceived) eggs do not successfully make that journey. In essence, the body rejects them via a natural process, which (according to Christian orthodoxy) a Creator designed. Does that mean Alabama is going to start charging God or Mother Nature with multiple felonies, punishable by up to 99 years in prison? Salon asks if the Republican Party is on the way to mass lockups for women who have miscarriages.

Here is more from, on the critical and mysterious role of implantation:

We usually think that pregnancy begins at conception—the moment that sperm enters the egg. But it makes more sense to consider the time when the fertilized egg successfully implants into the uterine wall as the true beginning of pregnancy.

Why? Well, implantation may be a bigger hurdle to clear than fertilization. Recent research shows that as many as two thirds of fertilized eggs fail to implant, indicating that embryos are likely predestined for survival or death before even the first cell division. . .

How deeply ingrained is the "life begins at conception" falsehood in Alabama's political and legal culture? The Alabama Supreme Court's ruling in Stinnett v. Kennedy -- especially a concurring opinion from Justice Tom Parker (better known as "Roy Moore Lite") -- gives an idea. Writes Parker:

Today, this Court again reaffirms the principle that unborn children are protected by Alabama's wrongful-death statute from the moment life begins at conception.

It's almost as if Parker drops this into the equation as if it came from pixie dust. He offers no authority that even comes close to proving "life begins at conception." And, of course, he ignores mountains of science that shows life does NOT begin at conception. Parker then blasts the viability standard, set out in Roe v. Wade, as "incoherent." He clearly applies that label because the viability standard blows his "life begins at conception" baloney to smithereens:

The use of the viability standard established in Roe is incoherent as it relates to wrongful-death law because, among other reasons, life begins at the moment of conception. The fact that life begins at conception is beyond refutation.

How does Parker know this? He says advances in medical technology, such as ultrasound, and genetics help him know that. Those technologies, of course, provide insights into the development of an unborn child. But do they prove life begins at conception? Of course not, given that a pregnancy doesn't even begin at conception.

As for the new Alabama abortion law, it contains at least two roundabout references to the "life begins at conception" notion:

(1) Abortion law sez: "As early as six weeks after fertilization, fetal photography shows the clear development of a human being. The Alabama Department of Public Health publication Did You Know . . ? demonstrates through actual pictures at two-week intervals throughout the entire pregnancy the clear images of a developing human being."

Tom Parker
Schnauzer sez: The "six weeks after fertilization language" is a clear reference to conception. Also, note the failure to mention implantation because that interferes with the desired "life begins at conception" narrative.

(2) Abortion law sez, in its definitions: UNBORN CHILD, CHILD or PERSON -- A human being, specifically including an unborn child in utero at any stage of development, regardless of viability

Schnauzer sez: The "any stage of development" language includes conception (even though it occurs before there is a pregnancy), so again, that promotes the desired narrative. The "regardless of viability" language is nothing more than a swipe at Roe and its trimester standard.

We will let Jessica Valenti, writing at Medium, have the last word:

Women’s bodies, lives, and futures are quite literally in the hands of men who seemingly couldn’t pass a high school health class. That’s part of what’s so hard about watching these debates: It’s not just that women’s rights and autonomy are being legislated away, but that it’s being done by complete morons.

This lack of remedial understanding of women’s bodies is not limited to Alabama. Representative John Becker of Ohio, a Republican, for example, sponsored a bill to limit insurance coverage for abortions, but claimed that it would have an exception for ectopic pregnancies, when the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. “That treatment would be removing the embryo from the fallopian tube and reinserting it in the uterus,” he said, explaining a procedure that doesn’t exist and isn’t medically possible.

There is also Texas state Representative Dan Flynn, a Republican, who believes abortion requires cutting into a woman’s uterus, or Vito Barbieri, the Idaho state Representative, a Republican, who thought you could give a woman a remote gynecological exam by having her swallow a tiny camera. And who among us can forget former Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, who once claimed that women can’t get pregnant if they’ve been raped because “the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down.” (Akin was not the only Republican congressman who believed this: In 1995, North Carolina’s former state Representative Henry Aldridge, claimed that when women are raped, “the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work, and they don’t get pregnant.”)

We cannot ask women to follow laws written by men who believe our bodies work like a game of Marble Run.

How deep does the ignorance run? Real deep, writes Valenti:

It’s not just that their science is so woefully wrong. The politicians passing these arcane laws seem to have zero understanding of how the implementation of their legislation will impact real-life women.

When asked how the state would treat women who have had miscarriages — how would they be able to prove they didn’t end the pregnancy? — [Clyde] Chambliss, the Alabama Senator, responded that the burden of proof would be on the prosecution. Does that mean that all miscarriages will be investigated? (If you think that’s out of the realm of possibility, consider that a Virginia lawmaker once tried to pass a bill that would require women to report their miscarriages to the police within 24 hours.)

Sometimes, though, lawmakers’ absolute ignorance over the laws they are passing provides necessary ammunition to American women. When Alabama Senator Bobby Singleton, a Democrat, pointed out that Alabama’s new law could punish those who dispose of fertilized eggs at an IVF clinic, Chambliss responded, “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.”

So much for “life begins at conception.” Chambliss proved what feminists have been saying all along — this isn’t about protecting fertilized eggs. It never has been. These laws are about men controlling women’s bodies. Even if they don’t know the first thing about how they work.


Anonymous said...

"...a scientific breakthrough is on the horizon that could irrevocably alter the abortion debate as we know it. That breakthrough is the artificial uterus, which could drastically lower the developmental age at which an unborn baby is viable, potentially to as early as conception itself."

Sounds like "life begins at conception" is something backed by science.

Anonymous said...

"...a scientific breakthrough is on the horizon that could irrevocably alter the abortion debate as we know it. That breakthrough is the artificial uterus, which could drastically lower the developmental age at which an unborn baby is viable, potentially to as early as conception itself."

Sounds like "life begins at conception" is something backed by science.

Anonymous said...

"Pro Lifers" have been playing games with the language for decades, to suit their purposes. This is just more of the same.

legalschnauzer said...

@7:20 --

I don't see anything in the RCS article that remotely proves life begins at conception-- certainly not in the passage you cite.

In fact, the whole purpose of the artificial uterus concept apparently is to get around the critical role of implantation in forming a pregnancy, which tells me supporters of this possible device acknowledge that life does NOT begin at conception. Someone's trying to play God, and I don't think that's a particularly good idea.

Anonymous said...

What's the point of an artificial uterus? What purpose does it serve? Is it designed to assist hysterectomy patients?

Anonymous said...

@10:09 --

I think the purpose is to create a uterus that works the way the "lifers" want it to work, without rejecting two-thirds of fertilized eggs. That's the uterus God created, but it doesn't suit the lifers.

legalschnauzer said...

How interesting that pro lifers buy into the science of an artificial uterus, which likely is many years in the future (at best), while denying the science behind climate change, which is right here, right now -- and is an existential threat to life of all kinds.

Anonymous said...

Good point, LS. The anti choice crowd believes the science they want to believe, what fits their agenda.

Anonymous said...

The Science Guy nails it. If life begins at conception, nature (God?) is the biggest abortionist of all, so who you going to throw in jail?

e.a.f. said...

OMG, American southerners are once again clearly demonstrating what morons they are.
The gene pool must be very shallow if they elect these uneducated fools to office.

As to charging women and their doctors because they have miscarriages, don't worry it can happen. It does in a number of Central American countries, which ban abortions. some doctors are so afraid of the law and the police, they won't even treat a woman who has a miscarriage and women are loath to report them to a doctor to seek medical assistance in fear they will be arrested for having an abortion. This is the type of fear Republicans want women to live in. They haven't gotten over women getting the vote, going out to work, demanding equal pay, being elected to office and being cops and judges. These men usually have very, very, very, very tiny brains and penises.

as to an artificial womb, that would cost millions and given the Americans won't even provide free pre natal care, free hospital delivery, and early child hood medical care, it is doubtful they'll spend billions a year for artificial wombs. that is for the ultra rich who wish to freeze their eggs and sperm and re produce at some very later date.

This isn't about religion. this isn't about the life of a blob or a child. this is about power and control. if American women do not vote every last Republican anti abortion, compulsory pregnancy idiot out of office at the next opportunity, they will have only themselves to blame.

Margaret Atwood does have some interesting thoughts and books.

Anonymous said...

Princeton has a very good list of scientific citations showing that life begins at conception:


"Development of the embryo begins at Stage 1 when a sperm fertilizes an oocyte and together they form a zygote."
[England, Marjorie A. Life Before Birth. 2nd ed. England: Mosby-Wolfe, 1996, p.31]

"Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception).
"Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being."
[Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2]

legalschnauzer said...

@8:28 --

It's kind of hard to get around this:

"You aren’t officially pregnant until the blastocyst attaches itself to the wall of the uterus, where it develops into an embryo and placenta. Two weeks later, when you miss your expected next period, it’s time to take a pregnancy test to confirm it."

Anonymous said...

96% of biologists affirmed the view that a human life begins at fertilization