Once upon a time there was a toenail that grew on a woman and magically developed eyes, ears, arms and legs until nine months later it fell off and became a little girl. And that’s comparable to the way babies are made. Apparently.
Ok, so that wasn’t quite what my friendly twitter comrade said to me this morning, but it may as well have been. A toenail, as I understand her claim, is analogous to a fetus growing inside a woman. Just as the woman is justified in cutting off an unwanted toenail, so she is perfectly justified in cutting off a fetus who is just as much a part of her. “My body my toenail.”
To some degree, I agree with my twitter friend. That’s why I believe the question of the nature of the fetus has utmost relevance when discussing matters like abortion. After all, there’s no discussion needed if the fetus is not a human being. Women should always retain full autonomy of their own bodies and not be burdened by any unwanted body part. Cut off your hair, cut off your toenail, cut off your arm if you wish. Your body.
But on the other hand, if the fetus is a human being, then we enter the realm of ethics and competing rights. If a fetus is its own separate and whole human entity, developing in a place of dependence and vulnerability through no fault of his own, then a number of new arguments can be made: that a parent has a basic obligation to feed and shelter her biological offspring, that a fetus has as much a right to his natural environment as the rest of us have to our own biosphere, and that a fetus’ dependence and vulnerability obligates us to them more, rather than less.
So what does science tell us? Is the fetus its own separate body developing within another body? Or is the fetus a part of his or her mother’s body like her appendix or her toenail?