For me, the science of embryology played a big part in getting more involved with the pro-life movement, and, to this day, it is where I usually start when discussing abortion with people.
The fact leading embryology textbooks almost all agree conception is when life begins, and from that point on the preborn is a unique, living, and whole human being, are often points I bring up first. Unlike religion, politics, or law, science does not have “sides.” It is objective, empirical and straightforward.
“The question as to when the physical material dimension of a human being begins is strictly a scientific question, and fundamentally should be answered by human embryologists; not by philosophers, bioethicists, theologians, politicians, x-ray technicians, movie stars, or obstetricians and gynecologists,” Dr. Dianne Irving states in an article from the International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, entitled “When Do Human Beings Begin? Scientific Myths and Scientific Facts.”
Because science played such a big part in my introduction to the pro-life movement, I am always on the lookout for studies and research that prove life does not begin at conception. When I talk to pro-abortion advocates who claim life does not begin at conception, I always ask them for medical or scientific evidence to back it up. After eight years of asking that question, I have yet to receive one legitimate medical or scientific study. It strikes me as odd that the people who are so convinced of their position never have any proof or evidence to back up their claims.
One side effect of studying anything at length is misinformation or lies about the subject stick out like a sore thumb. There are two common misleading and scientifically inaccurate points I would like to address.
You Were Once A Sperm
I’ve heard this inaccuracy more times than I can count. Whether it be from people I know, memes on the internet, on TV shows, or movies, it is everywhere. It is the notion that you were once a sperm. You hear phrases like “Never forget, you were the fastest sperm” or “you were the sperm that beat all the others.” Then, there are even more immature and vulgar things, such as “every time a man masturbates, he kills thousands of human beings.” Not to mention the silly and scientifically inaccurate song in the 1983 Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life entitled “Every Sperm is Sacred.”
All of these phrases falsely assume that we (human beings) were at one point, a sperm cell. Because of this misunderstanding of basic biology, it makes sense to those making the claims. After all, if the sperm cells were actually individual human beings and not just cells of the man, then I suppose there would be some truth to their statements.
But we know from embryology that sperm cells are simply part of the male reproductive system. They are what the male contributes to producing a new child. The sperm cells have his DNA in them. That is how investigators can often find out a rapist’s identity, by matching the DNA. Simply put: the sperm is in no way another human being.
You Were Once An Egg
Similar to the misinformation about sperm, I recently came across this meme that was meant to be a cute and heartwarming sentiment about the closeness of mothers and daughters.
Although no malice or ill will was meant by it, it still has some biological inaccuracies. It is true the female child has all the eggs in her when she is born that she will ever have for her life. However, it is not true that when your grandmother was pregnant with your mother you were present inside your mother’s body when she was in the womb. Simply put, an egg is not a human being. An egg is simply a part of the female’s reproductive system which helps to create another human being. The eggs from a woman still have her DNA, and are part of her. It is the same exact situation as with the sperm.
Contrary to these myths, neither the sperm nor the eggs “turn into” a person. In fact, both the sperm and the egg cease to exist upon fertilization.
“Scientifically something very radical occurs between the processes of gametogenesis and fertilization. The change from a simple part of one human being (i.e., a sperm) and a simple part of another human being (i.e., an oocyte, usually referred to as an “ovum” or “egg”), which simply possess “human life”, to a new, genetically unique, newly existing, individual, whole living human being (a single-cell embryonic human zygote). That is, upon fertilization, parts of human beings have actually been transformed into something very different from what they were before; they have been changed into 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,” Irving writes.
Maybe I am over analyzing this, but those two myths have always bothered me. For the most part, I think the people who say them do not mean to be misleading; they are just ignorant as to what science says. And it is in an attempt to educate people that I write this scientific clarification.
These facts, as renowned geneticist Dr. Jerome LeJeune points out, “are no longer a matter of taste or opinion…it is plain experimental evidence” and it is time we call out these inaccuracies when we see them.