Mike Huckabee was on the Daily Show last week and I finally got to watch the episode this past Sunday (as we were in Kansas City for the rest of the weekend…had a great time!). The interview ran long, so the episode didn’t contain the whole thing. With the wonders of the interwebs, however, it has all been posted to their website!
Huckabee and Stewart had a lengthy discussion on the issue of abortion. While I disagree with Huckabee, I can at the very least appreciate this interview as a thought-provoking and well-mannered discussion on a complicated issue.
I will take issue with one specific part of Huckabee’s argument here, however. Around the 3:20 mark in the video above, Huckabee defines the point at which “life” begins. “I believe life begins at conception. 23 chromosomes from a male and 23 from a female female create a DNA schedule that’s never existed before…biologically and scientifically it’s irrefutable that that’s when life begins.” Now, one could make a philosophical argument about what exactly life means and what it looks like, but I will instead refute the whole “biologically and scientifically it’s irrefutable” part of his argument… Just because two halves of DNA have been put together to make chromosomes, you do not have “life.” Even if you have one cell, you do not have “life.” Even if you have a group of cells, you do not have “life.” [Note: Huckabee goes on to address whether we consider it “human life” or not, but doesn’t elaborate much on that] As Wikipedia states, in order to be considered “alive,” one must meet certain criteria, including homeostasis, organization, metabolism, adaptation, growth, response to stimuli and reproduction. You could say that a cell is capable of doing those things (and yes, indeed, a cell is capable of doing those things!), BUT it’s only capable of doing those things in the controlled environment of a uterus. That’s the ONLY place. Other single-celled organisms, like bacteria, are capable of doing it in all kinds of places (that’s the very important “adaptation” part of the definition of life).
As another example, I work with cell culture systems, which essentially means that I grow cells in a flask that I give specially-made growth factors and nutrients to keep them “alive,” before I allow them to “die” and see how that happened. So, yes, from a technical standpoint, they have “life” (otherwise, you can’t get “death”). However, these are just cells. If I took them out of that flask, they would not survive. They would never be productive. They would never grow into an organism. This is the problem with Huckabee’s (and the Pro-Life movement’s) argument, in my opinion. If you took sperm and egg and did not implant them into a uterus, you would never get a child. Even if you took a fetus out of the mother, it would not survive on its own. That’s, at least, where the difference lies for me. Obviously there are many that disagree with that interpretation, but that’s usually where I put “the beginning of life:” the point at which an individual can survive (perhaps with help from an incubator) outside of the mother. That point is somewhere around the end of the second trimester, or early third trimester, if I remember correctly. And this is why I generally go against late-term abortions (and so do many Pro-Choice individuals).
I do, however, agree with the future implications that Huckabee puts forward, especially talking about “value of life” as a whole. He sees it as a slippery slope. He uses the example of people in nursing homes, as your children would refer to you as an “inconvenience” or as an “interruption,” the same things that are frequently said of the possibility of having children when they aren’t desired. Jon Stewart eventually goes on to try and reframe the argument as a sovereignty issue for the Pro-Choice camp (i.e. you don’t have control over your body…the government does). Both of these two points are valid and discussed at length in the interview.
For those that care, here’s Part 2 and Part 3 of the extended interview. The whole thing is something like 15 minutes long across the three parts.
The whole thing is a complicated issue and neither side will ever fully agree on it, I’m afraid. But, interviews like this hopefully foster greater understanding between both sides, as the issue is discussed intelligently and reasonably (unlike many other discussions around the internet…).