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Monday, August 13, 2012

Pro-Choice Graphic

There’s a graphic that’s been going around trying to illustrate that the unborn are not persons. There are four panels: the top-left panel has an egg on a plate to illustrate that it’s not a chicken, the top-right panel has an acorn to illustrate that it’s not a tree, the bottom-left panel has a caterpillar spinning silk to illustrate that it’s not a dress, and the bottom-right panel has a sperm fertilizing an egg to show that it’s not a person.

Here is the graphic:

Now, under the panels we see in big bold letters: “THIS IS NOT A DIFFICULT CONCEPT.” But it seems to be a difficult concept, as whomever created the graphic is not making a very strong argument.

First, they are making a false analogy fallacy. They don’t define what they mean by “person,” but it can be safely assumed their definition of person is a human being that you can no longer kill for just any reason (e.g. through abortion). So comparing an egg with a chicken, an acorn with a tree, and silk with a dress only works if you are comparing a fertilized egg with a human, not a “person.” So right off the bat they’re making a logical fallacy with their argument.

Now to the second point. If we adjust the argument so it’s no longer a fallacy, we can make the argument of the sperm fertilizing the egg “this is not a human,” which may or may not be a position the person who made the graphic holds. But this is the only way their argument can succeed. So are these examples comparable? Let’s look at each one.

Is an egg a chicken?

Short answer, no. Here’s the long answer. This first panel is misleading. Here’s how chickens work: Chickens can lay eggs with or without a rooster. If a rooster mates with a chicken and the rooster sperm enters the chicken, the egg will be fertilized and an egg will be laid with a chicken embryo inside. If there is no rooster present, the egg will not be fertilized but a chicken can still lay eggs. Eggs that have not been fertilized are collected by farmers for the general public to consume. A chicken cannot mature and hatch from the egg without incubation (and if a fertilized egg has not been incubated, it can still be consumed and is considered by some to be more nutritious than an unfertilized egg).

So no, the egg in the first picture is not a chicken. You are eating the contents of the egg, usually from one that has not even been fertilized. However, if you have an egg with a chicken embryo inside it, then the embryo is, indeed, a chicken at a very early stage of its development. The egg itself is not a chicken and the chicken is not part of the egg, anymore than a human embryo is a part of the uterus she’s attached to, or anymore than she is a part of the mother’s body itself.

Is an acorn an oak tree?

Here we actually have another false analogy fallacy. An acorn may not be a tree, but it is an oak. As an embryo is a human at a very early stage of development, so is the acorn an oak tree at a very early stage of development. So when someone brings up this analogy, they are saying that acorn:oak tree as embryo:human. But this is a false analogy. A more accurate analogy is acorn:oak tree as embryo:adult. An acorn is a less developed oak tree, and an embryo is a less developed adult. That tree will develop from the acorn, just as the adult will develop from the embryo.

Let’s talk briefly about differences in value: Something that is intrinsically valuable is something that is valuable as an end unto itself. For example, happiness and love are intrinsically valuable. But something that is instrumentally valuable is something that is a means unto an end, something used to achieve something else. For example, money is instrumentally valuable.

So humans are intrinsically valuable. They are equally valuable based on their common human nature. It is equally wrong to kill a toddler as it is to kill an adult. However, oak trees are instrumentally valuable. They are not valuable in and of themselves, but their value rests on their beauty, their ability to provide shade, and their ability to be made into objects (like desks, tables, and paper). So it really doesn’t make sense to compare humans with oak trees.

As Christopher Kaczor wrote, “Unlike acorns and oak trees, human value depends upon endowment rather than performance. So although it is foolish to say that destroying an acorn is no different than destroying an oak tree, the same is not true of destroying an embryo and destroying a more developed human. As [Patrick] Lee and [Robert P.] George note, this is made more clear by the intuition that destroying a 100-year-old oak is worse than destroying a mere oak sapling (by virtue of the greater majesty and maturity of the oak), but killing a mature human being and a toddler are equal violations of the right to life despite their differences in age, maturity, intelligence, and other performative abilities (by virtue of their equal human dignity).” [1]

Is silk a dress?

I have actually previously discussed this objection. When I previously addressed this, I used a car as an analogy, but the same principle applies here. If you just leave the silk alone, all it will ever be is silk. This differs from a living organism (such as the chicken, tree, and human in this graphic). A living human organism exists from fertilization and directs its own development from within. Silk and cars don’t. If you have silk in front of you, we would not say it’s a dress because it can become anything. It could become a shirt or an undergarment. Just like if you have a hunk of metal in front of you, you can’t say it’s a car. It could become anything, like a boat.

Now you could try and argue as to when that silk becomes a dress. Does the dress have to be completely finished? Or is it a dress once it takes on the basic outline? However, the facts of embryology make clear a living human organism exists from fertilization. This organism is not constructed like a car and not sewn like a dress, it develops itself from within. Everything that organism will develop is written into its DNA. Unlike the silk and the hunk of metal, there’s only one thing that organism will develop into: a more mature version of itself.

Are the sperm and egg/is the zygote human?

The fourth picture is also a little misleading. First, the sperm and egg are only parts of the parent organisms: the father and mother, respectively. Sperm and egg are not individual organisms. They exist solely to contribute genetic material to a new living human organism, then they cease to exist. So if the picture is asking if the sperm and egg are humans, then obviously no.

But if the picture is asking if the zygote that results from the fertilization process is human, then absolutely yes. Scientists have not pinpointed exactly when during the fertilization process the new living human organism begins, but to claim for that reason we don’t know when human life begins is to make another logical fallacy, the fallacy of the beard. Just because we don’t know when stubble ends and the beard begins does not mean we can’t distinguish a bearded face from a clean-shaven one, and just because we don’t know exactly at what point during fertilization the new human begins its life doesn’t mean we can’t know human life when we see it. There is no doubt a new human organism exists once the egg has been fertilized. See the aforementioned article for the scientific evidence.


So as we can see, this graphic is misleading by someone who isn’t making a very strong argument at all (and in some places, their argument isn’t even very clear). The science of embryology has proven that the unborn are human from fertilization. Now, there’s no reason for denying personhood to the unborn, and I’ve already made that case elsewhere, as well. But personhoood is actually outside the scope of this graphic because as I’ve shown, they are making a false analogy. So I echo the sentiment, that it’s not a difficult concept. That is, as long as one considers the evidence properly.

[1] Christohper Kaczor, The Ethics of Abortion, Routledge, 2011, p. 124.


  1. Well written and thorough. Keep up the good work.

  2. Wow...this is an excellent argument. I love how you incorporated both the elements of logic and common sense. I need to put this on my FB for my pro-life,master's in communication level son...who will be looking for a job (hint, hint).

    1. Thanks, Carolyn. The reason that I'm pro-life is because the science supports the pro-life side, but I also believe that logic and reason also support the pro-life position. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. I made a graphic to illustrate the point