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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Abortion debate wrongly focused

The ever-raging abortion debate has made numerous headlines recently because of the near-constant protests by pro-life groups outside the Madison Surgery Center. As an avid proponent of a woman's right to choose, I always react to these demonstrations with anger and disgust. Nothing is more insulting and disrespectful to the women who have made this difficult and emotional choice than crowds spitting misnomers like ""murder"" and holding poster boards displaying pictures of aborted fetuses. Just thinking about it infuriates me.

However, the pro-life crowd always spouts one fact that rings true: Life begins at conception. The pro-choice side of the debate often attempts to contend this point, citing experts on fetal nervous system development who valiantly try to hammer out at just what point the fetus can be considered truly ""alive."" However, these explanations are truly in vain and ultimately weaken the pro-choice argument, instead of strengthening it.

The scientific definition of ""life"" does not require cognition or extensive nerve development, or even a recognizable fetus. Most biology textbooks give a definition of ""life"" describing an organism that engages in metabolism and reproduction (or cell division). Therefore this definition excludes things like viruses, which, though they possess genetic material, lack the ability to perform metabolism or reproduce outside of a host cell. However, the cell formed at conception fits cleanly and inarguably into the basic scientific definition of a living organism. At human conception, a sperm cell and an egg cell merge to form a zygote, a single cell with a completely unique genome. This zygote is capable of all of the functions that classify an organism as ""alive,"" so it must follow that the pro-life insistence that ""life begins at conception"" is true. Certainly this zygote only resembles a human life in its genome, because physically, it likely looks exactly like the zygote of a cat or a dog or a dolphin. However, this does not exclude it from the category of ""living"" organisms.

The real question then is: How relevant is this? Does the fact that life does, and indeed must, begin at conception make the pro-life side correct?

Of course not. The classification of a human zygote as ""alive"" has absolutely no bearing on the question of whether a woman should possess the right to exert control over her own body. This fact is a distraction, harnessed by the pro-life side of the debate, to try to make their argument seem more legitimate. However, the fact that the zygote is indeed alive should not affect a woman's right to make decisions regarding her own body.

Dwelling upon the classification of the zygote as alive or not alive is an endeavor that the pro-choice side should abandon quickly. Rather, we must reconcile ourselves with the fact that, by definition, an abortion terminates a life, and specifically, a human life. This unfortunate fact does not negate the validity of the pro-choice argument by any means.

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By jumping on the false issue of the definition of ""alive,"" we on the pro-choice side are losing sight of the real issue: the need to keep the control of women's bodies in their own hands. We must focus our attention on the more important matter of maintaining women's rights and avoid giving credence to the contrived debate over the definition of ""life.""

Alyssa Lochen is a senior majoring in zoology and Spanish. We welcome all responses. Please send all feedback to opinion@dailycardinal.com. 

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