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A biologist sets the pro-lifers straight

Prof Guttman calls arguments about “life” a red herring. The “pro-lifers” misrepresent the very concept of “life”, because eggs and sperm are just as much “alive” as people are. “All the talk about how human life begins at the moment of conception is sheer nonsense” — which doesn't stop it from being enshrined in the law of places like Kansas. The pro-lifers’ real aim appears to be to keep women “subservient” and deny them their human rights.  

● For an hilarious tit-for-tat, see Scientists pledge to increase interference with the Church

Dr. Burt Guttman, emeritus professor of biology at Evergreen State College: 

Let’s get the biology straight, OK? 

Life doesn’t stop and start. In all living organisms that reproduce sexually, life continues through the stages of a sexual cycle. Some cells in our ovaries or testes carry out a special kind of cell division (meiosis) to produce egg and sperm cells; and under the right conditions a sperm and an egg combine to produce a zygote, which then normally develops into a mature person who produces more sperm or eggs. 

But all these cells are alive. And all the talk about how human life begins at the moment of conception is sheer nonsense and sheer distortion in the name of religion. You don’t think sperm and eggs are alive? You ought to watch sperm under a microscope and see how they swim! So if the religious zealots think human life is so sacred, why aren’t they concerned about saving the zillions of sperm and egg cells that get washed down the drains every day? (You say it’s because they don’t have souls? Is that another one of those “biological facts”? You’re sure, for instance, that sperm and eggs don’t have half-souls that form full souls during fertilization? Never mind.)

Once again we see the savants of the religious right trying to distort reality, making up “facts” of their own that are quite different from facts as established by science. Proudly calling themselves “pro-life,” they use their willful misunderstanding of biology to beat women over the head and the pelvis, to keep women In Their Place – pregnant and subservient – and to deny them the right to control their own lives, especially their own reproductive lives.

Source: Burt Guttman, “Politicians of religious right threaten American democracy, The Olympian, 9 May 2012.

 Editor’s note: Prof Guttman is talking about the “alternation of generations” between a life phase with one set of chromosomes (like the egg and sperm) and a phase with two sets of chromosomes (the animal itself).

Note that here “a generation” doesn’t mean the progression from parent to child. It means, instead, a transition from a parent with two sets of chromosomes to an egg or sperm with only one — or vice versa.

In plants such as moss and ferns the relative prominence of these “generations” is reversed. The generation with only one set of chromosomes is visible as the fronded green fern, while the generation with two sets is short-lived and only a few millimetres across.

Bút whatever they look like, and whether they have one set of chromosomes or two, these generations are equally alive. The chain of life continues unbroken.

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