Since I moved to Dallas, I have had the occasion to listen to a much greater variety of radio on my morning drive to work. Among the host of new commentators available, one Mark Davis is clearly prominent. Though virtually unknown north of the Mason-Dixon line, Mr. Davis is a libertarian commentator who is rather popular in North Texas. His name enters the discussion because one of his positions is as common as it is absurd – the idea that human life does not begin until implantation.
According to Mr. Davis, the “implantation of the fertilized egg” (sic) is the beginning of human life, but not of the human person. Rather, implantation is when the “building blocks” first become available. A human person emerges only weeks later in the process. As a result, Mr. Davis is four-score in support of abortion “during a very narrow window” of pregnancy.
Mr. Davis’ position fails on a number of levels, and it is worthwhile to consider how complete a failure it is.
From a biological viewpoint, Mark Davis is simply out of step with the science.
First, as I’ve pointed out in detail elsewhere, it is never the case that a fertilized egg implants in the womb. Only embryos are capable of implanting in the womb.
Second, the redefinition of pregnancy occurred only after science discovered how to manipulate embryos in Petri dishes. Prior to developing that skill in the mid-1980's, science had always considered pregnancy to begin at conception. The definition of pregnancy changed not because the reality within a woman changed, but because the skill set of a scientist who happened to be standing near the woman changed.
Third, embryologists - the men and women who actually study embryos - universally reject the implantation definition. The only people who accept such an absurdity are people interested in taking a newly conceived, rapidly growing little one and tearing her to pieces.
But the biological arguments are boring. Let’s consider the other problems the implantation definition creates.
From a moral perspective, the statement that pregnancy begins at implantation and that personhood follows afterwards creates all kinds of moral problems.
For instance, if pregnancy begins at implantation, then it is not clear why the act of sex would create responsibility in any man having sex.
After all, while the woman has no control over whether or not she releases an egg, she does normally control who may release sperm within her. The man likewise controls in whom he releases his sperm.
So, if pregnancy begins at conception, then the act of sperm release creates responsibility. Since both persons are equally involved in when and where this release occurs, both bear equal responsibility in what happens as a result of that release. In this scenario, sex creates equal responsibilities towards the child in both partners.
But, if pregnancy begins at implantation, the scenario is different. The man cannot control when implantation occurs. The woman, however, through the use of various drugs and chemicals, can control when and whether implantation occurs. Thus, responsibility for the resulting pregnancy is no longer equal, rather, it resides entirely with the woman. Given this scenario, it is not clear that sex creates responsibility in the man at all.
If sex does not necessarily create duties in the man towards a future child, then redefining the biological reality necessarily obliterates fatherhood. Fathers conceive children. They bear responsibility towards children. According to the new definition, men do neither.
With the new definition, men can never be considered fathers. This definition insists that children are created by gestation, not by the act of having sex. Men do not gestate. In fact, they never do more than have sex. Thus, by this definition, men do not create children. Men are not fathers.
Indeed, one could make a strong argument that an IVF lab technician is much more of a biological parent than a man having sex can ever be. After all, the conception event can take place hours, even days after having sperm release. But if pregnancy is predicated not on sperm release, but on implantation, then the dynamic has changed.
An IVF lab technician is actually directly involved in the conception of the child – he or she actually combines the egg and sperm. That technician makes sure the fertilized egg grows into an embryo suitable for implantation. That technician might even place the embryo in the womb, ensuring implantation. The one who conceives a child and/or helps it grow is called a parent. It is difficult to see why the IVF technician is not a parent.
But the biology has been redefined. Today, sex doesn’t create children. Gestation does. Redefining the biology necessarily redefines the morality. Because the new definition focuses on implantation, not sperm release, the act of sex – the act which is intended to release sperm – becomes a peripheral act, both physically and morally.
Mark Davis doesn’t understand this. Unfortunately, he has a lot of company.