This is an unfortunately sensationalistic tabloid-ish account of a medical anomaly — the sort of headline that seems like it belongs in the Fortean Times: “Doctors Find 40-Year-Old Unborn Twin Growing Inside a Woman, Complete With Face and Hair.”
But, like the kid in Magnolia said, this is something that happens:
Her doctors, who insisted she have an ultrasound, discovered that Kavanagh had a 10-centimeter mass growing on her left ovary. They told her to have surgery immediately, worrying that the mass may rupture and kill her. But when they finally opened her up and got a closer look, they discovered the mass had a face, an eye, a tooth, and long black hair similar to Kavanagh’s.
The mass was her unborn twin. …
That unborn twin was not viable, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from critics of Roe v. Wade and the rest of the anti-abortion movement, it’s that viability means nothing. Life begins at conception, they insist — at the moment of fertilization. That is the beginning of human life and of human personhood. From the moment of conception, there can be no legitimate moral, ethical or legal distinction between the status of that human person and any other human person.
This principle is absolute. As Sen. Marco Rubio recently said, a zygote has human DNA and must therefore be a human life and a human person — because “a human life won’t become a cat or a donkey.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee endorses this same “personhood” principle, emphatically insisting that from the moment of conception, a fertilized human egg becomes a human life and a human person — a “baby”:
This is about personhood. This is about, “is that baby a human being?” because if it is, then … we have a constitutional responsibility under the 5th Amendment for due process, we have a responsibility under the 14th Amendment for equal protection, to provide a protection and due process for that person.
Huckabee later expanded on this to say he would not rule out using the FBI to protect the civil rights of unborn persons from the moment of conception on:
GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is open to the idea of using federal troops and the FBI to stop women from having abortions.
“I will not pretend there is nothing we can do to stop this,” Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and an outspoken social conservative, said Thursday at a campaign stop in Jefferson, Iowa.
Huckabee addressed abortion again at his next stop in Rockwell City, Iowa, where a reporter asked him whether stopping abortion would mean using federal troops or the FBI.
“We’ll see if I get to be president,” Huckabee said, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
“All American citizens should be protected,” he added.
Now I wouldn’t guess that either Rubio or Huckabee — or most of their fellow anti-abortion, “personhood begins at conception” proponents — would want to extend this claim of full personhood and full citizenship to the unviable unborn twin discovered in that poor woman in the tabloid report at the top of this post.
The problem, for them, is that they haven’t got any clear rationale for exempting that fetus in fetu from the categorical, absolute claim they are making about human personhood from the moment of fertilization. It was the product of conception. It possessed human DNA — not that of a cat or a donkey. It was alive and it had a face. If these are the criteria for human personhood, then this unborn twin meets those criteria. It won’t do to point out that this undeveloped twin was not viable because, again, viability has been rejected as a legitimate concern. Nor does it matter that the unborn twin lacked a heart or lungs — zygotes and embryos do not have those either, and that doesn’t prevent them from this attributed personhood.
I would guess that even someone like Huckabee shares the same moral intuition that most of us have to reading that story, sharing the same sense — whether or not it’s carefully articulated — that this woman’s doctors did the right thing in removing that twin. I would guess that even someone like Huckabee, who loves to speak of abortion as “murder” and a “Holocaust,” recognizes that the killing of this unborn twin was not murder. But I don’t think he can allow himself to examine or articulate why.
To do so would involve reintroducing all of those concepts he has fervently rejected in favor of personhood-begins-at-conception. It would mean investing things like viability and potential with the ethical significance that he has worked so hard to deny them. He cannot allow himself to consider any of that. His identity depends on his clarity and his certainty, and his clarity and his certainty depend on his refusal to engage such thoughts.