A clump of cells

What it is, and isn’t

Feminists in Dublin

One of the most divisive phrases on twitter in relation to Irelands fight for abortion rights is the simple term “A clump of cells”.
For the Pro-Choice — it highlights how different the unborn can be from the cherub like infants we see on billboards. For the Pro-Life, its infuriatingly dismissive — at best mistaken, and at worst a lie.

Mary Tweeted this 7 times in one day

I’m going to do my very best here to be an honest, yet Pro-Choice person,
and say both are right.

Yes, this pains me.
Both have a point, and are coming at this from different angles.
Often both deliberately misunderstand each other.

Pro-Life argument: it’s not a clump of cells

Everything is made of cells, and every adult human is made of cells. Therefore its perfectly valid to believe an unborn embryo/foetus/baby can never just be called a bunch of cells, or dismissed for this matter. Pro0-Life campaigners draw attention to human-like features and signs of development that make you think most of a newborn infant. Fingers, and toes, movements.

For their case, images of later pregnancy are much more effective than early. And so sometimes intentionally confuse gestational age and embryonic age. Meaning you could very likely be looking at a photo of a foetus 2 younger older than you thought — thats assuming they were honest, or at least honestly informed of the age.

Obviously humans do not spend 9 months as a small group of cells and then just *poof* into a baby as labour begins.
Anti-abortion advocates point to slogans about cells to try and demonstrate what they think to be stupidity, poor education, or even lies designed to confuse women.
Understandably, to them its ridiculous that Pro-choice people will refer a ‘clump of cells’ when they have spent a long time looking at ultrasound scans and graphic abortion posters.

A lot of them will genuinely see this as a ‘tactic’ through which naive women are fooled into having abortions.

Pro-choice Argument: A clump of cells

This is not a person, is it?

If you are Pro-Choice you have likely been exposed to the phrase “Life begins at conception”. This is the key reason you are hearing talk of cells.

I think pro-choice people actually know plenty about prenatal development. If anyone was unsure I would definitely recommend taking a look through Wikipedia’s articles on prenatal development and related topics.

Accuracy of language maters when we talk about early development.
Conception refers to the formation of an idea or concept. It’s a euphemism so ubiquitous we’ve simply come to understand it as the beginning of human life. Much like how we forget ‘period’ is a euphemism for menstruation.
In human prenatal development ‘conception’ is taken to mean Fertilisation. The fusing of the egg and sperm cells, which then start to divide. Even though Ireland has previously rules, in the case of embryos created through IVF that its implantation in the womb, not fertilisation, that marks the start of our current right to life. This can take place up to a week after fertilisation.
I referenced gestational age and embryonic age before, this is why you’ll want to read that Wikipedia article:

Gestational age is the time that has passed since the onset of the last menstruation, which generally or as standard occurs 2 weeks before the actual fertilization. Embryonic age, in contrast measures the actual age of the embryo or fetus from the time of fertilization. Nevertheless, menstruation has historically been the only means of estimating embryonal/fetal age, and is still the presumed measure if not else specified. However, the actual duration between last menstruation and fertilization may in fact differ from the standard 2 weeks by several days. Thus, the first week of embryonic age is already week three counting with gestational age.

12 weeks pregnant is 10 weeks since fertilisation, 9 weeks since implantation.

The Eight Amendment says that women life are equal to that of the unborn, from conception.
And So many feel it is a great injustice for their entire being to be valued only as much as something so undeveloped.
Regardless of what it will grow into, or how far it develops later, there is a point at which the unborn human was completely unrecognisable as a person, and yet valued in our law as much as the person carrying it.
It’s understandable that those people would want to point to the most simplistic, tiny things and ask incredulously;
“Is this all I am to you?”

Despite whats being said by anti-abortion campaigners, most people do understand prenatal development, and abortion. They know humans grow from two literal cells, to an infant during the course of a pregnancy. There is a clear understanding of this demonstrated in how early abortion is clearly favoured over later abortions.

In wider Irish society, people tend to assume the same. An early miscarriage, while tragic those going through it, is still often shrugged off by those surrounding the woman. While losing a young child brings a whole community to a standstill . Few question the morality of stem cell research — a field that’s long struggled with the vague wording of the eight amendment.

No clear answer

As I have stated, I am Pro-Choice. Those who oppose my stance will tell you I am completely without regard for the unborn.

Claims of disregard for the unborn

No one takes abortion lightly, Even so called “pro-aborts” such as myself.
Abortion should be safe, legal and rare. We don’t want anyone to need an abortion. We don’t want anyone to have to go through this.
No one wants to have an abortion, they didn’t want to get pregnant, and they are deciding they cannot, and will not continue the pregnancy.

Pro-choice activists in Ireland are hoping that through widespread legal access across Ireland, abortions will take place earlier in pregnancy. The earlier the termination the less likely it is the unborn could suffer in anyway. This is what they are trying to show the Irish public when they talk about how unlike a baby that pregnancy might be.

Ectopic pregnancy 7 weeks gestation

If you search google images for 7 weeks into a pregnancy you will get wildly differing results.

This image features on wikipedia, of an Ectopic Pregnancy at 7 weeks.
Thats 5 weeks embryonic age.

By contrast, the Love Both website uses child-friendly cartoons which use embryonic age only, even though most people understand pregnancy in terms of gestational age.

The Love both campaign illustrates the formation of eye buds at 7 weeks gestation

Posters and Dolls created for Pro-life causes will never show you translucent skin, or tails.
They know that images of early pregnancy do not inspire the emotional response needed to persuade someone the Eighth amendment is worth keeping. If the public don’t relate to the pregnancy, imagining pain and violence, then they might just listen to the women carrying it.

Pro-Life activists are frustrated that they are not allowed to show distinctions between an early pregnancy and a newborn. Even though most people on either side of the debate would still value the new born over the conceived.

Even when limited to a 12 week window they have always used the maximum age possible. Often images of 14 weeks gestation (12 weeks embryonic).

What an average abortion might look like in Ireland

If I had a perfect menstrual cycle of 28 days, I would be 4 weeks pregnant when period doesn’t come.
I’d likely wait up to a week before taking a test — 5 weeks.
I’d wait another week for an appointment. During this time I think over my choice. After initial appointment and counselling I could possibly another week of mandatory waiting period, then finally at 7 weeks gestation would have my termination.
First I would take a pill of mifepristone, blocking progesterone. The womb lining would break down and without access to my blood and nutrients the unborn/embryo/foetus/baby would die. This is not something I am in denial about. We all know what abortion is.

Then, 1 or two days later I would return to the doctor and be given Misoprostol, a pessary into the vagina. Causing contractions until all of the uterine lining and any remains have passed, like a heavy and painful period.

This is the same medication already given to women by nurses if they have an incomplete miscarriage.

Clump of cells or or not?

Pregnancy starts out as as 2 cells, further dividing, going through a itme where they may be described as a “clump” before, Developing from something very much not a person, into something we recognise as a person, over time.
All of this happens slowly and gradually.

It is human. It is alive (but many creatures and plants are also alive yet not protected at the expense of others so I don’t think this matters).
But a person can be justified in thinking ending a pregnancy is not in anyway, morally the same as killing a newborn, or any other human being who has been born.

The debate is not about humanity, or life. It is about personhood.

Feminists in Dublin

Written by

I help organise a feminist discussion Meetup and Book Club in central Dublin. In between that I write about topics related to feminism . Writings by Claire.

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