The Adventures of Ziggy the Zygote

In my post on how I lost faith in the pro-life movement, I wrote two things about zygotes. First, I wrote about the utter lack of concern the pro-life movement shows for saving the huge number of zygotes – i.e. fertilized eggs – that are naturally expelled from women’s bodies before they even have an inkling that a pregnancy may be about to begin. Second, I wrote that because birth control prevents ovulation, those who believe that zygotes are the moral equivalent of people should be working to put every woman on the pill so as to reduce the number of zygotes expelled from the body, and thus killed.

Some anti-abortion readers made clear in their comments on my post that they missed both of my points entirely. One pro-life website, Life Action News, put up a post responding to my points by similarly missing them. This post was called “Introducing Ziggy the Zygote in … Adventures in the Uterus!” It started with this introduction:

NOTE: In her recent post “How I Lost Faith in the Pro-Life Movement,” blogger Libby Anne suggested that zygotes “flushed out” of women’s bodies naturally are not at all different from zygotes that cannot implant because of artificial birth control. Because she really does not seem to understand our very simple argument, I am going to approach the issue using small words and a kindly, loveable fictional character, Ziggy the Zygote.

The post continued as follows:

Hey, boys and girls! I’m Ziggy, and I’m a zygote! Nice to meetcha!

According to SCIENCE!, I am a human being!

Every time someone who is anti-abortion talks about a zygote, or fetus, or whatever, being a “human being” or a “person” or “life,” we need to talk about defining terms. For instance, life doesn’t begin at conception. Life began 4 billion years ago and has been continuous since. Both eggs and sperm are “alive” before they come together. As another example, skin cells and hair are also human, just like a zygote. I don’t see people getting all up in arms about saving skin cells. Finally, the term “person” is a legal concept, and, currently, having been “born alive” is one of the requirements. (The same with “human being.”) You’re probably starting to get my point. Simply asserting “According to SCIENCE!, I am a human being!” is simplistic, misleading, and quite simply false.

I know what yer thinkin’ – “Hey, I know what human beings look like, and you don’t look like me!” Hyuck, hyuck! Well, I sure don’t! But then again, neither does your grandma, or your baby cousin! Human beings look different at different stages of development. This is what you looked like, once upon a time. Pretty hard to believe, huh? Welp, it’s true!


I mean, really? Really?

The author says that people look different at different stages of development, and this is true. You don’t look exactly like your grandmother. But you know what? You actually, uh, look like your grandmother. You do not, in contrast, look anything like a zygote.

Here is your grandmother:

Here is a zygote:

Notice the resemblance? Yeah, me neither.

While the author focuses on appearance – and fails in her argument there – appearance is not so important as what characterizes personhood. People, for instance, are self aware. Zygotes, in contrast, are not. People have a nervous system and can think and feel pain, zygotes don’t and can’t do either. People are physically autonomous, zygotes are not. The idea that a zygote should be in the same category as you or your grandmother is silly.

When a lady gets pregnant – ask yer parents for more information on that! – I form in her belly. About a week later, I IMPLANT, which means I grab on to the wall of my special home, the UTERUS, and hold on tight so I can get bigger and eventually come on out into the world! Hyuck, hyuck!

But sometimes, I don’t grab on. I float away and don’t grow up into a full-grown person. It’s just one of those things!

“It’s just one of those things”? “It’s just one of those things”?!? But see, that was my point! Do we say that when people get cancer? Do we say that when a baby is born with spina bifida? No! We always, always, always try to find a way to save people’s lives, no matter the kind of disability or disease they suffer. If abortion opponents really believe that zygotes and embryos are people just like your or I, where is all the research to stop the loss of zygotes and embryos through failure to implant or early miscarriage? Why do those who claim to believe that zygotes and embryos are as much people as you or I focus solely on elective abortions and ignore natural abortions (aka miscarriages)?

Now, some ladies take pills called BIRTH CONTROL. These pills are supposed to keep Ziggy the Zygote from ever existing, but sometimes they don’t work quite right, and the zygote grows anyway. These pills can keep Ziggy the Zygote from being able to grab on to the uterus. Ziggy the Zygote can end up flushed away! Awwww!

Actually, studies have found that this is not true. The pill prevents ovulation, which means that no zygotes are created. In the case of “breakthrough ovulation,” well, a small percentage of women do become pregnant on the pill, right? The pill doesn’t prevent implantation, and zygotes that result from breakthrough ovulation have the same chance of implanting and growing into people that any other zygotes do.

Libby Anne says that ladies who don’t take birth control lose more zygotes than ladies who do, and if we’re really PRO-LIFE, we should WANT ladies to take birth control because it will SAVE ZYGOTES.

Yes, this is exactly what I said, and it’s true. Because the body naturally expels 50% of all fertilized eggs, and because birth control prevents women from ovulating, women on birth control expel fewer fertilized eggs than those not on birth control. So if you believe a fertilized egg is a person, and that every time your body expels a fertilized egg you are committing involuntary manslaughter, well, you should naturally want to do whatever you can to reduce the number of eggs your body expels.

As I said above, studies have found that the pill does not actually prevent a zygote from implanting in a woman’s uterus. However, the point I made in my original post was that even if the pill did prevent zygotes from implanting, and even if it did so at the rates exact abortion opponents use in their literature, your body would still kill many, many, many fewer zygotes (by expelling them) on the pill than not on the pill.

Well, golly, I’m just a dumb little zygote, but even I know the difference between a natural, very early miscarriage as intended by God or nature or whatever ya wanna call it, and taking a pill that INTENTIONALLY ends lives. Hyuck, hyuck!

Oh. My. Word.

Well okay then. The author of this post argues that the natural “death” of a zygote is a-okay because it’s what God intended. Do we say this about cancer? Do we say this about strokes? Do we say this about multiple sclerosis? No. If the author of this piece is to be consistent, she must be against modern medicine, since it gets in the way of what God intends. Somehow, though, I doubt she thinks twice before taking aspirin.

And let me say this, too. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean we don’t try to subvert it. I mean, my goodness, we subvert nature all the time! Think about cars, and houses, and cell phones! The idea that it makes sense for people who believe that zygotes are the moral equivalent of you or I to not give a shit about trying to prevent zygotes from dying simply because those zygotes die naturally? I’m sorry, but no. Just, no. If you really believe those zygotes are the moral equivalent of people, equal in value and worth, you ought to be very interested in finding out why they fail to implant and trying to see if they can be saved. Since, after all, they’re people. Anyone who could believe that and do otherwise is a monster.

I mean, if a lady never knows she’s pregnant and nature takes its course, that’s one thing. But if a lady knowingly takes a pill that might end a zygote’s life, that’s another. What if the zygote “flushed away” by that pill was one of the ones that God or nature (or whatever ya wanna call it!) intended to grab hold and grow up?

Wait, what? We can, with our actions, prevent what God intends from occurring? How does that make any sense? If God intends for a zygote to implant in a uterus, how could humans stop that from happening? Isn’t God supposed to be all powerful? And more than that, don’t we prevent what God intends every time we treat cancer? Every time we set a broken leg? Every time we use electronic shocks to restart someone’s heart?

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Really? Who’s the one who needs to do some more thinking here?

Boys and girls, there is a thing called INTENT. And it matters a lot! INTENT, in a court of law, can be the difference between life and death! Did you intend for someone to die? That’s an important MORAL question! (Link added for the benefit of pro-choicers.)

A lady who doesn’t take pills may lose zygotes, but that is the result of natural, biological processes that happen in every lady’s tummy. A lady who does take pills takes nature into her own hands, and a human being – even a little one like me – dies because of it. That’s very different from nature doing it! Don’t ya think?

This is the only part of the entire post that makes any sense at all.

Let me start by pointing out that research has found that the pill does not prevent zygotes from implanting. The folks behind Life Action News, however, refuse to believe that science. They shouldn’t be so skeptical. I mean, if they’re really interested in saving zygotes from being killed, shouldn’t they be rejoicing that studies are finding that the pill does not kill zygotes, and in fact, that the pill could be a perfect way for women to keep their bodies from killing embryos? Seriously, shouldn’t that be the best news ever?

And more than that, even if studies were finding that the pill did result in a few zygotes being expelled from the uterus, shouldn’t those who want to prevent the natural deaths of zygotes be interested in improving the pill so that breakthrough ovulation wouldn’t ever occur? For example, if you could eliminate breakthrough ovulation, then there would be no question about the possibility of the pill preventing zygotes from implanting. Think how many zygote deaths could be prevented! In other words, even if the pill did prevent the implantation of some zygotes, why should those who believe zygotes are the equivalent of people see the pill only as an enemy instead of a possible solution in need of improvement?

To quickly address the point about intent, however, I would say this: If I took the pill with the intent of keeping my body from natural expelling zygotes, even knowing that there was a very small chance that taking the pill could prevent a zygote from implanting and I knew it, wouldn’t my intent be positive? My intent would be to save lives, not to end them, and the result of my actions would be fewer deaths. (I’ll address this point more thoroughly using an analogy at the end of this post.)

Finally, the author of this point once again brings up the idea of “taking nature into your own hands” as though it’s both negative and something that we don’t normally do, and once again she makes light of the zygotes a woman’s body expels naturally – zygotes she supposedly views as no different in value or worth than you or I. This was the point I was trying to make – as long as people like this author speak so cavalierly about the death of zygotes, I cannot for the life of me believe that they actually see these zygotes as the moral equivalent of a person – even though they themselves claim they do. The conclusion I keep coming to is that either they don’t actually see zygotes as people like your or I, or they do and they are moral monsters.

Ziggy the Zygote trusts nature more than a pill that can be harmful to a lady and end a zygote’s life in the process!

Once again we have my two points being combined here – the idea that zygotes dying naturally is a-okay and the idea that women who take the pill are murderers. But once again, this doesn’t work. Why? Because the author clearly sees nothing wrong with zygotes dying naturally. Nothing. In fact, the author argues that we shouldn’t try to prevent it, because it’s what God intends. (Can I say how glad I am that we as a society don’t approach cancer that way?) Remember when the author argued that there is no difference in worth or value between a zygote and your grandmother?

The idea that the author could argue that zygotes are just as much people as your grandmother and then show literally no care for the half of all zygotes that naturally fail to implant is morally horrifying enough without adding that the author goes on to say that a woman on the pill – even if she is on the pill with the intent of keeping her body from ovulating and thus keeping zygotes from being naturally expelled from her body – is a murderer because she might possibly expel a zygote if she experiences breakthrough ovulation (something studies are finding does not happen).

It’s almost like the author cares more about making sure women don’t take the pill than she does about preventing the deaths of the zygotes she claims to view as people just as much as you, I, or your grandmother. In fact, it’s exactly like the author cares more about keeping women from using birth control than she does about preventing the deaths of the zygotes she claims to care so much about.

Well, boys and girls, that’s it for today’s lesson! I hope this has helped some of you understand the MORAL difference between natural processes and artificial contraception. See ya real soon!

I know I’m starting to repeat myself here, but really? Really? My mind is boggled.

We treat people with cancer, and you know what? That’s artificial! We treat people with heart disease, and you know what? The “natural” process would simply be letting them die. But we don’t do that. You know why we don’t do that? Because we have hearts! Because we assign value to humanity! Because we believe that people matter, and have worth! And this is why, like I said above, I can’t bring myself to believe that people like this author actually believe that zygotes are just as much people with rights and worth as you or I. In trying to refute this point, which I made in my original post, the author of this piece merely reaffirms it.

And let me say one more thing about the whole idea that taking the pill makes you a murderer because the pill might accidentally make your body expel a zygote, even though in the process it will be keeping your body from naturally expelling a great many more embryos. I’ll use an analogy:

Let’s say you’re an army commander and you see that enemy aircraft have just arrived above your troops’ position. Your men are about to be shot down like rabbits, and you’ve estimated that the death toll will probably be around fifty percent. Fortunately, you have anti-aircraft weapons and you know you can take down the enemy planes. However, you know that some of those planes might go down on top of a few of your troops. Or, they might not. You have no way of knowing whether shooting down those planes might unintentionally cause the deaths of some of your men. However, you know for 100% for sure that if you do nothing, half of your men will die. What is the moral and ethical choice here? Because if we follow the logic the author of the Life Action News article uses, the correct choice is to do nothing so as to avoid the chance that you might accidentally cause the deaths of some of your men. The correct choice is to watch half of your men die while you do nothing to prevent it.

As the way abortion opponents approach zygotes and the pill makes stunningly clear, there is no logic, and certainly no morality, in the positions of the pro-life movement.

Note: A reader has pointed out that in the introduction to the Life Action News piece, the author promised to show that the zygotes naturally flushed out of a woman’s body are somehow different from zygotes that fail to implant because of birth control (and just so this fact doesn’t get overlooked, I’ll say it again: studies are finding that the pill does not keep zygotes from implanting). However, the author of the piece focused not on any differences between the zygotes but instead simply on women’s intentions and, I suppose, on God’s intentions. In other words, the author argues that if God intends for a zygote to die, all well and good, but, in contrast, if a woman takes any action that may result in a zygote dying, whether that’s her intention or not, she is committing murder. There was no attention at all spent on showing any sort of actual difference, in worth, value, etc, between zygotes that are naturally rejected from a woman’s body and those that hypothetically could be rejected because of hormonal changes resulting from the pill. 

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.