29 thoughts on “Fetus to “testify” in abortion bill debate

  1. Here’s a hypothetical. Suppose the witness to appear was someone with locked-in syndrome, or someone who for some other reason could not verbally express their thoughts in the form we typically consider ‘testimony,’ but who wanted to show some support for disability rights legislation. Would you have the same objection?

  2. Anonymous, I am so struck by your question; I hope Jender won’t mind my pointing out that it suggests some sort of significant similarity between a locked-in human being and what there is at stage 8 or 9 in this chart:

  3. SK, you’ll see that 9 weeks isn’t even on this chart. The fetus has can have a heart beat as early as 18 days. To support a bill that says there can be no abortion after there’s a heart beat by showing a picture of a fetus at 63 days seems to me intentional deception – unless, of course, it’s ignorance and/or stupdity.

  4. Yes, of course, and its shockingly blatant. Underlined by the fact that, evidently, those giving the testimony had a whole lot of trouble detecting the heartbeat on the fetus that was 9 weeks!

  5. sk, sorry if I seemed to think you wouldn’t know; I was trying to be emphatic.
    I do love web searches and what one finds out! Here’s a sweet model of a 4 week fetus:

    Not only is a bit scary, but it is also less than 1/4 of an inch. Clearly, putting it on the witness stand would be tricky.

  6. The point was this: there may be a rather blurry line between being a witness and being a piece of evidence to be used in testimony. You seem to think someone who cannot speak is on one side, and a fetus on the other. Maybe that’s the case, but I don’t really see why that’s a particularly important line anyway. I’m not aware of any principled reason why the case in question is somehow an inappropriate rhetorical technique, apart from a not very important worry about whether a fetus is properly called a witness. Maybe it’d be useful to ask whether you would object were the exhibit of the fetus being used by someone to make a pro-choice argument?

  7. I suppose someone making a pro-choice argument wouldn’t be calling the fetus to testify as a witness. Rather, there would be a human person testifying and using the fetus as evidence.

    Also, an important question arises. Will the other side be allowed to cross-examine or question the fetus?

  8. The line between a fetus that is, say, 28 days old and a locked-in adult contains, on the one hand, a self-conscious person with perceptions, emotions, imagination, a language, (probably) a long history of interactions with loved ones, intelligence, choices, and so on. On the other side, is the early stage fetus which lacks perceptions, emotions, imagination, a language, a long history of interactions, intelligent, choices, etc, etc. That seems to me pretty important, and it is simply a cheap rhetorical device to try to blur the distinction by saying that the fetus will testify.

    The fetus has a heartbeat and in that and every other capacity it can exercise, it is highly similar to a fetal pig (see Michael Gazzaniga’s book on the brain and ethics). There is no basis in the abilities it has at 2-4 weeks to label it human. It is simply deceptive, ignorant, stupid and/or medieval to suggest we have any human functions on hand at all. To describe it as testifying is, therefore, deceptive, ignorant, stupid and/or medieval.

    Perhaps the medievals thought pigs can literally testify. Apparently, in the Middle Ages “the brutes” were held to be morally responsible and, I believe, even put on trial, with some executed for their crimes. Fortunately, a lot of us have moved on from that period.

  9. I’ve read reasonable pieces on environmental ethics asking the question how do we give representation to the natural environment. For example, the rights of trees not to be destroyed, rivers not to be polluted and so forth can’t be directly defended by the entities affected. The article argued that the best compromise we can make in a democracy is for groups of people to act as advocates on behalf of the voiceless.

    Of course this whole thing is a stunt: it’s designed to be outrageous, not to tell us anything we didn’t already know about fetuses. But…

  10. to utilise L.W.: If a 9-week fetus could speak, we couldn’t understand it. If a person (i.e. person!) who can’t speak could speak, we could.

  11. I’m not sure it’s even medieval. Aquinas, for example, thought fetuses did not have human souls in the early part of pregnancy but rather vegetative or animal souls depending on the stage of development.

  12. How chilling. People must be “rational, feeling, thinking” to count as people? So Grandma is in a coma or at the last stages of Alzheimer’s and we can off her? They should be able to exist on their own without help? So we can off the person with Lou Gehrig’s or the quadriplegic?

    Many commenters seem to think that the human embryo will suddenly become something else, a horse, a bird. That he or she is not metabolizing and developing on its own. That he or she is not a person.

    “Calling a fetus to testify” is a little dramatic, but that fetus IS a person, distinct in his or her DNA and fingerprints, and it’s not that bad a stretch. I thought it was pretty smart of them – it forces the discussion into “who is a person and when?”

    (And Aquinas thought that the human fetus did not have a soul until the third month because HE DID NOT OWN A MICROSCOPE and thought the fetus was “ensouled” and “came alive” suddenly, evidenced by the first feelings of movement by the mother. Not bad logic based on what could be observed. These are the same people who thought flies arose spontaneously from dirty laundry, after all. )

    Don’t use the medievals to discuss science and medicine unless you can demonstrate that you cure your illness by bleeding and cupping and leeches.

  13. well said, kathryn. thanks for the reminder.

    anonymous, as in all cases, it really does depend on the argument, doesn’t it? for instance, in the article, whether the fetus is being called as a witness or as evidence, the difference lies in the idea that the women carrying the feti *agreed* to ultrasounds. the fact that their agreement was necessary is probably a clue here.

    and finally jj, that model is indeed both scary and sweet! maybe not as a model of agency, ha ha…

  14. Therese Z, Pointing out the difference beteeen a locked in person and a 18-28 day fetus is not the same as describing what counts as human person.

    The fetus does not have fingers, still less finger prints, when the heart beating starts. Goodness knows what Aquinas would have thought had he seen the spec a fetus is at 18 days or at the stage in 6 above. He might well have thought those that leave the womb that early are not really human, but instead some devlish creation.

    K, I meant the remark about the medievals to apply only to putting pigs on trial. Mind you, the cat who recently sucked a hole in a cashmere sweater was a good candidate for some sort of judicial action.

  15. jj- I figured, I meant my comment to be sort of funny, in that even Aquinas wouldn’t agree with these folks.

  16. :-D
    Just found my answer to the <:-/ –er, I mean rhetorical–question I asked on the What's It Like post…

    Voting rights for fetuses… :-D :-D :-D Though I do suspect a fetus has a much greater capacity for rational thought than some of the Republicans I know :-P

  17. Hello all, just wanted to add: I had an early ultrasound (at 6 weeks) and we were able to SEE the tiny heart beating. It happens really early!

  18. Laura, that is interesting. I think that ordinary ways of thinking associate the heart with the fullr human being. However, a little thought should lead us to expect it at an early stGe of development, since it facilitates the movement of resources needed for building the organism.

  19. A foetus possesses consciousness from the very earliest days of conception, according to the Hammeroff/Penrose Orch OR model of consciousness. As soon as it has microtubules it is plugged into quantum spacetime, just as you or I, and it’s then that a foetus becomes a ‘person’.

    However – this fact is absolutely irrelevant to the argument over the morality of abortion, as yeast cultures also have microtubules (the very things that also allow YOU to have consciousness). Yeast learns, hunts for food and mates, has sex, avoids predators, and works co-operatively with other members of it’s species. The Jews have always known this.

    Yet we have no qualms about making bread and beer from yeast and killing it when it suits our purpose to end it’s consciousness. An unwanted pregnancy is always a sad affair, but when terminated there is little loss to the universal consciousness of the universe. ‘God’ does not care. They might as well put yeast on the stand to testify – or perhaps a single cell Paramecium and bring Hameroff in as an expert witness. That would actually make more sense.

  20. Um… Just to clarify… when I said – “The Jews have always know this…” they obviously didn’t know about microtubules but all the prohibitions against ‘Chametz’ on the altar and for Pesach suggested they treated Yeast as being alive and possessed of consciousness.

    Also – I could be wrong here… but I don’t think there is ever a time when a foetus does not possess microtubules (and is therefore possessed of consciousness). But the same is true for every egg and sperm cell. Perhaps these men who claim to respect the early beginnings of the vessels of consciousness so much would like to stop being wankers, and drinking beer, and taking the sacrament of the Eucharist in Church – as that all destroys consciousness?

    All fundamentalism ultimately throttles itself in the noose of it’s own unavoidable hypocrisy.

  21. The whole abortion issue has nothing to do with reality and has everything to do with emotion. I have yet to see one Pro Lifer explain what happens to the unwanted child who is born into this world. Will the Pro Lifer provide for the child? No, they will not. They will not feed it, clothe it, or love it. They will ignore it when they see it hungry and dishevelled. They will be afraid of it as it grows up as someone outside of a society. They will fight to force it to be born and then fight to have it jailed when it fulfills the cycle of neglect and abuse that it is born into. Most criminals come from lives of abuse and poverty. Pro Lifers want every baby to be born, but they care little about the poor, unwanted child it becomes. How many children are abused, neglected, and die due to lack of stable homes? How many survive and lead miserable lives and harm themselves and others? If you truly believe in Pro Life, then take care of those unwanted children. But no Pro Lifer is willing to do this, they squawk about life, and then stick their heads in the sand when those lives need to nurtured. If you are going to be Pro Life then really stand for Pro Life, support and provide for these unwanted children, don’t just whine about a baby losing its life, when you don’t care about the child or adult that that baby will become!

  22. The realist,you are completely wrong. Many pro lifers cannot have kids of their own,therefore if given the chance and adoption did not cost 20,000$ and UP….YES they would take care of it, feed it, love it.

  23. You make a good point, Mel, but The Realist is not completely wrong. There are (approximately) over 130,000 adoptions annually but there are (approximately) over 400,000 children in foster care in most years in the U.S. So unless there are only 130,000 pro-life advocates in the U.S., then some are given the chance and do not adopt. Further, I suspect the point is larger than that some could adopt and don’t. I suspect the point is rather than social supports and public policies which would be more supportive of children are not enthusiastically advocated for by pro-life activists who ally themselves with political wings hostile to public support of needy people. (I realize this is not the case with all people who identify as pro-life. I’m just clarifying the view.)

  24. When did we decide that the heart beat was the be all and end all of humanity? why does the date at which we hear the heartbeat become the benchmark for abortion? if we weren’t listening the day before did it not exist? what happens when peoples hearts stop beating? and are re-started? or pumped artificially? do those people lose their humanity at that point? do they get it back when their heart restarts? if i have an irregular heartbeat am i an irregular human? the having of a heartbeat is not the answer, it may be a indicator of life but it certainly doesn’t define it. and has nothing to do with consciousness.
    i think the realist has it right (although not so much to do with reality vs emotion) we’re looking for clearcut scientific, medical answers for something that cannot be proved through scientific testing.

  25. From the day that the fertalized egg attaches itself to the inside of the mothers womb, that is the promise of life and regardless of if it is a group of cells or a fetus with a heartbeat who are we to give a gift just to take it away again….I can admit that there are certian instances that I believe that abortion is needed but only because no one seems to understand that rape needs to land you in jail for life, and if you got pregnant and had access to conterseption but were careless, thats not grounds to take life. Abortion is not conterseption,

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