What’s Life Got to Do With It?

So, I saw this on my Facebook news feed today, and my immediate reaction was a facepalm:


To be clear, the facepalm was not because this is an anti-abortion argument. Yes, I’m quite passionately pro-choice, but that wasn’t the reason. The facepalm was because it’s a really bad anti-abortion argument.

First of all, I have to ask: Has anyone ever heard an advocate for reproductive rights make the claim that a fetus, blastocyst, zygote, embryo, or even a single egg or sperm cell is not “life” in the same sense as a one-celled organism on any planet? I honestly can’t recall ever hearing anyone saying that. All of those things are alive, just like any individual cell in your body is alive. All cells, be they independent organisms or part of a larger one, are alive. Cancerous tumors are alive. I have yet to hear anyone make the argument that a fetus is not “life,” but just in case, I am now preemptively disavowing that position. It is not merely factually incorrect, but obviously so. Laughably so.

Perhaps this inspiration behind this graphic was the idea, spread by many and resisted by others, that “life begins at conception.” Biologically speaking, it does not. Conception is the product of two living cells that were alive from the moment each came into existence. Every egg my body has ever produced was alive at some point, and the fact that they were not fertilized does not change that fact. Likewise, each individual sperm cell is a form of life, whether it goes on to produce another member of its species or not. Life continues at conception, just as it continues through mitosis, growth spurts, puberty, disease, and any other changes you can think of. In that sense, a beating heart (and the organism containing it) and a bacterium are exactly the same.

But doesn’t that undercut the very point that anti-abortion activists are trying to make? Are you at all bothered by killing bacteria? I’m certainly not. I take antibiotics when I’m sick. I use anti-bacterial soap and hand¬†sanitizer.¬† I have no problem spraying my bathroom with products that promise to kill 99.9% percent of bacteria. I have never felt even the slightest guilt about mercilessly destroying those helpless little organisms, and I doubt most other people do either.

All this really amounts to is a tautology. Living things are alive. That’s all I got out of this. It’s not wrong, but only because it doesn’t really say anything. If all you’re looking to do is announce your position and preach to the choir, then I suppose this works. But if you post these sorts of things hoping to persuade others, you might want to evaluate them a bit more critically first. Sure, no argument is immune to criticism. But in my opinion, this one doesn’t even sound convincing on the surface.


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