The Zygote is the Mother of the Woman

Fri, 5 Aug 2011 Source: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power)

Why Abortion is Synonymous with Homicide (Part 2)

The part 1 of this article ‘Why Abortion is Synonymous with Homicide’, attempted a definition of abortion and homicide, and sought to provide a very brief statistics regarding the abortion practice worldwide and particularly in Africa. Some of the factors that motive abortion, the various abortion techniques, as well as the negative consequences of the practice were identified. It was stressed that this three-part article approaches this difficult ethical question not from the usual political cum legislative and religious cum theological perspectives, but from a biological, natural law and logical angles.

Pro-abortionists, it was noted, contend that the embryo or fetus is not a person and that the state has no right to ban abortion unless it can prove beyond doubt that the entity is a person. Anti-abortion campaigners on the other hand argue that the embryo or fetus is a person and that society should ban abortion until it can be proven beyond doubt that an embryo or fetus is not a person. For the latter, an “unborn child” is a member of the species homo sapiens in utero from conception onward, irrespective of age, health, or condition of dependency. Many people tend to assume that a “proper” definition of person would bring debates on abortion to a halt, but the reality is more complex than this simplistic assumption permits.

If human beings were designed to drop like snow from the skies onto the surface of the earth in our various sizes, genders and ages, this whole abortion debate would be non-existent; and I would probably be writing on a quite different subject. Interestingly however, this is not the case. Human life has a humble but an amazing beginning, and undergoes various stages of development or growth. This chain of development naturally commences in the womb of a woman. It must however be clarified that the advancement of science and technology has presently made it possible for the very first stage of the human life to occur outside of the female body before it is transported into the fallopian tube for further development.

The Facts of Life: To better understand the formation of the human entity and make informed judgements on the ethical justifiability or otherwise of abortion, it is important to familiarize oneself with at least the key stages of the development of a human being – from the fusing of the ovum and spermatozoon to a new-born and an adult. Scientists in fact divide the process leading up to the birth of a new-born baby and the emergence of an adult into many steps. However, this article focuses on only the key stages of the development of the human entity, namely Fertilization (Zygote) stage, the embryonic stage, the fetal stage, newly-born stage, adolescent, and adulthood. The first three stages are usually referred to as the prenatal development stages.

Fertilization Stage (Moment of Conception): This is the stage where the spermatozoon fuses with an ovum to form a genetically unique entity called zygote; it is the very first phase of human life or existence. This biologically alive entity, the zygote, fulfils the four criteria needed to establish biological life: metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction.

Embryonic Stage: Approximately two weeks after conception, the zygote now located within the uterus, transforms from a blastocyst into an embryo, which is a very small cluster of undifferentiated cells. It then develops into a worm-like and later tadpole-like entity. Between the third and the ninth week, the embryo gradually develops vital features – its heart begins to beat; the structure that will develop into a head is visible; other structures like the gills of a fish in the area that will later develop into a throat appears; tiny arm and leg buds are formed; hands with webs between the fingers are also formed at the end of the arm buds; fingerprints, the face with two eyes, a mouth and a nose are detectable; and some of the brain begins to form; plus many others.

Fetal Stage: After approximately ten weeks, the embryo grows into a fetus. At this stage, its face looks human; its gender may be detectable via ultrasound. Between the third and ninth month, all other features of the entity in the womb develop: fingernails and bones can be seen; the fetus’ movements may begin to be felt; it grows hair on its head; the lungs and lungs’ bronchioles, kidney, and liver are developed; and the development of higher functions of the brain occurs.

Birth or New-born, Adolescent and Adulthood: A full-term fetus is typically born on or around the ninth month. The placenta which also produces hormones to maintain the pregnancy alters the mother’s hormonal balance and triggers off the birth process. After labour, which varies in length, the baby is born. A gasp and a cry start the lungs working. The umbilical cord that connects the baby to the placenta, and serves as the lifeline channelling nourishment in and taking wastes out is cut close to the baby’s abdomen at birth. Finally the membranes and placenta are expelled. The baby no longer needs a direct life support system as he or she can now breathe air and take milk. With time, the new-born baby transforms, grows or develops into an adolescent and finally an adult; and the cycle of procreation continues.

One most important thing to be noted is that if any of the stages of the human development or growth (be it the zygote stage, the embryonic stage, the fetal stage, the adolescent stage, or the adult stage) described above is tampered with, life ceases to exist. In other words, the elimination of any one stage signifies the termination of a human life or existence. This in effect means that the zygote is as important as the baby, just as the baby is as important as the adult. If it is acceptable to proclaim that ‘the child is the father of the man’, then what makes it wrong to also declare that the zygote is the mother of the woman. After all, parents were first zygotes before they came forth as babies and grew into adults.

Latin or Greek-derived names are given to human beings at successive phases of development or growth, e.g. ‘zygote’ for the newly-conceived, ‘neonate’ for a new-born baby, ‘adolescent’ for a growing-up teenager, ‘geriatric’ for an adult or a pensioner. These terms simply identify different stages in the human lifespan which begins at fertilisation.

Interestingly, after delivery, babies who have been studied in utero show the same individual behaviour that was observed while they were in the womb. William Liley observes that after ‘birth you see many babies sleeping in the odd positions that they chose to rest in within the uterus prior to birth ... The good drinkers in utero are the good drinkers in the nursery and the dainty, tedious swallowers in utero are the tedious ones out of the uterus as well ... The behaviour traits also bridge the birth’.

It is now crystal clear from the analysis above that conception is the beginning of pregnancy and the start of a human person. As a consultant specialising in the care of pregnant women pronounces: ‘Life does not begin with birth. When born, we are already nine months old... we have a responsibility to learn how to study the life in utero, and how to care for it’.

Many people obviously carry out abortion on the probability that the entity they are expelling from the womb is a non-human organism. The probability of the entity not being a human being cannot justify abortion. The natural law dictates that one should not directly kill an entity if it is only probably non-human, because it is also probably human; just as one may not bury people if they are only probably dead, because they are also probably alive. In this situation, the morally safe course to follow, using the ethicist, Austin Fagothey’s words, ‘is to treat the … [entity in the womb] as a living human being, with the same right to life as any other person.’


Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (aka Black Power) is a lecturer and an investigative journalist in London, UK. He is the author of ‘Fourth Phase of Enslavement: unveiling the plight of African immigrants in the West’. He may be contacted via email (andypower2002@yahoo.it).

Columnist: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong