When does human life begin?

There has been a story going around the newspapers about a satirical campaign to introduce a $100 fine in Texas for every time a man masturbates.

The idea behind the campaign is to draw a comparison between what is being described as men wishing to “control female bodies” when it comes to abortion laws.

Men controlling women’s bodies?

There are a number of reasons why this analogy is a poor one. Let’s start with the suggestion that it is just men that take the pro-life position when it comes to abortion.

According to a Poll by Gallup ((Gallup.com – U.S. Still Split on Abortion: 47% Pro-Choice, 46% Pro-Life )), the United States is split fairly evenly between those that consider themselves pro-abortion and those that consider themselves anti-abortion. That includes 41% of women that are anti-abortion and 51% of men, so this can hardly be described as a male versus female difference of opinion.

Male opinions don’t count?

Secondly, even though more men than women are anti-abortion or not, how does that alter the validity of the arguments those men are making? Is it not sexist to dismiss or accept a persons opinions purely on the basis of their gender rather than the content of their message?

Her body, Her choice?

Ah, but abortion only affects women, they say. That foetus is inside HER body.

Well, it may be inside her body but it’s not part of a woman’s body, it’s made up equally of both the mothers and father’s DNA, it is as much in the interests of the father to be concerned about what happens to his potential offspring as it is for the mother.

That’s not to say that we don’t recognise the additional burden the mother has in terms of bearing a pregnancy, child birth or breast feeding . These are not things that a man can experience but it does not mean that he shouldn’t have a say.

It’s also interesting to notice how the concept of “her body, her choice” doesn’t extend to “his body, his choice” when it comes to the issue of genital mutilation, but that’s a topic for another day.

Another human being?

Besides, this is not about the parents of the unborn child. At some point that “collection of cells” growing inside the expectant mother becomes another human being in it’s own rights and therefore becomes entitled to the right not to be murdered that all born humans are entitled to.

This is what the issue of abortion comes down to, it’s a philosophical question of at what point we have moved on from one human being to two human beings. When does life begin? Some people believe that life begins at conception, in which case, human rights should also start from that point. Some believe that life begins at birth. There are even those that believe that life begins before conception and that contraception in itself is a form of abortion.

False equivalence

Moving back to the topic of the original trigger for this article, the satirical plans to fine men for masturbating, what it is that they’re suggesting is that a sperm cell in itself is a human life and therefore a man that masturbates is killing millions of unborn babies.

Whilst it may be true that a sperm cell is alive, it is not a separate human life to that of the man that generated it in the first place. That would be like suggesting that humans should be fined for shedding skin. Human cells are constantly replicating themselves and dying. We lose fifty million cells every day ((ASU School of life Sciences – Where Do Cells Come From?)).

Regardless of how that sperm cell is emitted from the male anatomy, the reality is that it will die within a very short period of time unless it manages to fuse with an ovum and form a new human organism with it’s own distinct genetic material.

If you’re going to fine men on the basis of “wasting” sperm, you’d also need to fine women every time they have a period too. It’s a ridiculous suggestion and a classic example of a false equivalence fallacy to compare a single cell to that of an organism that has it’s own unique DNA. One will die without fertilisation, they other will become a human being unless it is killed, whether naturally or otherwise.

My take on abortion

Some pro-abortion campaigners want women to be able to choose to terminate a pregnancy at any point literally right up to child birth (this includes Hillary Clinton) ((Hillary Clinton on late term abortions)). Some anti-abortion campaigners don’t think that abortion should ever be allowed under any circumstances.

My view sits in the middle. I believe that the point at which a “bunch of cells” becomes a living being of it’s own is at the point that its own beating heart. If you have a strong stomach and want to see what a “just a bunch of cells looks like, you can see for yourself here

In the human gestation cycle, a foetus develops a heart at about 5 weeks and  blood starts to pump around week 6 ((The Mayo Clinic – Fetal Development – The first Trimester)).

Now, determining the exact date of conception is not an exact science so I would allow a further 4 weeks error ratio, thus giving the expectant mother 10 weeks from conception to decide before abortion is no longer an option.

That’s plenty of time to make the decision and it means only a chemical abortion would be necessary, as opposed to the method the brutal surgical alternative ((WARNING – Graphic content – LiveLeak.com – Baby Screams for help during an abortion procedure!)).

In England, abortion is currently allowed up to 24 weeks. By that stage, we’re definitely not talking about a cluster of cells but a human being that could survive outside the womb if birthed. The most premature surviving baby was born at just 21 weeks and 5 days ((www.verywell.com – World’s Smallest and Youngest Preemies)), over two weeks before the late abortion cut off.

Therefore, we’d need to tighten abortion regulations in England, not relax them, if the sanctity of a human life is to be respected.

Last Resort

In my opinion, abortion should always be the very, very, very last resort and should be taken seriously. It should not be undertaken without a full understanding of what stage of development the foetus is in and how the abortion pill works.

Counselling should be provided both before and afterwards, and that should be extended to the expectant father as well as the expectant mother. In all cases where possible, the father should know and the decision should be discussed between both expectant parents, even though the final say should belong to the person expected to carry the child, should the pregnancy proceed.

Men’s Reproductive Rights

The topic of men’s reproductive rights deserves it’s own dedicated article, but here are a few thoughts.

Men’s Contraceptive Options

  • Abstinence
  • Condoms
  • Vasectomies

Women’s Contraceptive Options

  • Abstinence
  • Condoms
  • Femidoms
  • Diaphragms with spermicide
  • The coil
  • The contraceptive pill (of which there are multiple kinds)
  • The contraceptive patch
  • Contraceptive injections
  • Tubal ligation

Men’s post-coitus options

  • None

Women’s post-coitus options

  • Morning after pill (can be taken within three days of coitus)
  • Abortion (in some countries)
  • Give child up for adoption (does not need fathers consent even if the father is willing to become a single father and releases all financial obligations to the child)
  • Abandon the baby in a safe place under safe haven laws (in some countries)

Now, you may argue that some of the female contraceptive options also benefit men, and I agree. A couple having more options is better than fewer, but it does leave men vulnerable to deception and those “happy accidents” when a woman desperately wants a child but he does not.

No contraception is perfect

Also, no contraceptive option is 100% fail safe so pregnancy can still happen even with precautions. Some forms of hormonal contraceptives can also have adverse affects too. Introducing more contraceptive options for men would help couples in the same way that more contraceptive options for women also helped men too.

Scepticism of male contraceptives

However, there is a lot of scepticism about male contraceptives on the grounds of women not trusting men that claim to be using birth control. As it is the woman that bears the risk of the pregnancy itself, this is understandable, but women can be equally untrustworthy too. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, both could take responsibility for their own contraceptive needs. An unwanted pregnancy is just as life changing an event for an expectant father as it is for an expectant mother.

It appears to me that some of the objections to the idea of male contraceptive options are really about control ((The Guardian – Is the male pill good for women?)). Right now women can control when they become parents and men cannot. That is an advantage that some women do not want to give up for the sake of equal rights.

The future for Male Reproductive Rights

What I would like to see in the future is more options for men to control whether or not they become fathers.

There is a new contraceptive injection for men called Vasagel that offers a reversible alternative to vasectomies by blocking the tubes between the testes and the penis, preventing sperm from passing but it has not yet been made available by a pharmaceutical company, at least in the United Kingdom. I would like to see that changed.

There is also a hormonal contraceptive injection in the early stages of clinical trials. I am slightly more dubious about this option as it involves using female sex hormones to temporarily block production of sperm in the testes.

My concern is for the effects of long term usage of that option as we already know that there is a correlation between exposure to oestrogen in the water supply and a decline in average sperm count ((Water For Health – Small Doses of Hormones in Our Drinking Water Could Have a Massive Negative Impact on Our Health)). Should medical trials prove that this is a safe option however, then I would welcome it’s development but I believe there are other, non-hormonal drug trials that may offer a safer long term option for men.

For example, Gendarussa, a naturally occurring herb that is believed to stop sperm cells being able to penetrate an ovum. See https://www.malecontraceptive.org/prospective/ for more information.

Post-pregnancy Rights

I would also like to see men’s post-coitus options improve. I am not suggesting that men should have the ability to force an expectant mother to have an abortion, take the morning after pill or give a child up for adoption but I believe in the case that a woman does want to give the child up for adoption that she should be legally bound to notify the father, if known, about the pregnancy so that he has the option of raising that child as a single father.

More controversially, I would like men to have the option to relinquish their parental responsibilities and rights in the same way that women can. I propose that men should have a period of three months post received notification of pregnancy/childbirth in which they can decide if they want to bear fatherhood responsibilities and rights over his child. Once that decision has been made, then that’s it, they should have no right to change the decision.

I realise this sounds like a get out of jail free cards to irresponsible men but we offer the same opportunity to irresponsible women so in the spirit of equality, we should either remove the option for women or extend it to men as well.

Right now, a woman that desperately wants a child, which is a natural biological drive, can trick a man into conception of a child he does not want, deny him any access or say in his own child’s life, and still force him to meet a financial obligation to that child and the mothers well being.

There have even been a case where a fourteen year old male child, whom had been the victim of statutory rape, was threatened with prosecution if he did not pay child support to his rapist ((Independent Journal Review – A Boy Who Was Raped When He Was 14 Years Old Now Being Ordered to Do the Unthinkable for His Abuser)).

Knowing you’re the father

One key difference between male and female rights surrounding reproduction is that women almost always know that they are the biological mother to the child that is developing in their womb.

I say almost, just because, if the child was conceived via IVF treatment, it is theoretically possible for a mistake to be made in a lab whereby the wrong woman’s embryo is implanted into the womb. There is also the possibility where a child is swapped at birth.

Men are relying solely on the honesty of the expectant mother to know whether or not they are the biological father of that child. It may not even be a deliberate deception, the mother may think that someone is the father when they are not.

I think this is why we see the cultural difference in perception of a man that sleeps with many women and a woman that sleeps with many men. If you’re a man that has sex with a woman that is also sleeping with other men, there is no guarantee that the offspring is yours. A woman that sleeps with many men still knows that the child is hers. This is why men will always subconsciously favour women whom have had fewer sexual partners.

I would like to see routine paternal testing carried out at birth. This would give the father immediate reassurance that the child is his. Once he knows that the child is his, he will find it easier to bond with that baby, which will be mutually beneficial for all concerned. It might also encourage more honesty and faithfulness from women whom might otherwise be happy to deceive.

I’m not suggesting that all women would lie about something like this but women are human just like men and sometimes that means we make mistakes, sometimes we put our own interests first. To her, the consequences of the fatherhood of her child may seem irrelevant or benign, and I think that in a lot of cases, a male father will still want to love and care for the child anyway, but the absolute despair a father or child will feel if the lie is unravelled many years later can be devastating.

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