Two common prochoice euphamisms for the fetus destroyed by abortion -- "products of conception" and "pregnancy tissue" -- realy do accurately apply in those unusual circumstances when there is no fetus present in a pregnancy. The two conditions in which a woman shows all the symptoms of pregnancy but is not sheltering a new human being are gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD) and blighted ovum.
In GTD, the conception results in what is called a "hydatidiform mole." This is a cluster of tissue with an appearance somewhat similar to a bunch of grapes. Researchers aren't 100 percent in agreement as to what causes hydatidiform moles, but the current theory is that they are caused by double genetic input from the male. There are three basic ways hydatidiform moles are believed to form:
- A sperm fertilizes an ova with no genetic material in it, so the sperm reproduces its chromosomes, making a mole that has two identical sets of haploid chromosomes from the male.
- Two sperm fertilize an ova with no genetic material in it, producing a diploid mole with two different sets of chromosomes from the male.
- Two sperm fertilize an apparently normal ova, causing a mole with three sets of chromosomes in stead of two. This produces a "partial mole," with molar tissue and a fetus with lethal abnormalities.
As an aside, it is the formation of molar pregnancies that makes geneticists, such as Jerome Lejeune, believe that plans to enable two homosexual men to have biological children by replacing the genetic material in an ova with the genetic material from their sperm are doomed to failure.
Hydatidiform moles usually are expelled naturally by the mother's body before twenty weeks of pregnancy. Sometimes they will cause potentially life-threatening symptoms and need to be removed by suction. Also, sometimes the abnormal cells can invade the uterus, causing hemorrhage. They can also become cancerous.
In blighted ovum, a placenta and amniotic sac form, but there is no fetus in the sac. Some researchers seem to believe that a blighted ova is caused by the same abnormal conception process that causes hydatidiform moles. Others say that they are two different kinds of abnormalities.
A blighted ova tends to be expelled naturally by the mothers body in the very early weeks of pregnancy. I've not seen any indication that they become invasive or cancerous, like hydatidiform moles.
For a while there was a trend among abortion defenders to claim that the existence of hydatidiform moles proves that life can not begin at conception. After all, they argue, here's a hydatiform mole, with its own genetic makeup, and it's not a person. So since conception sometimes produces this blob of tissue that is obviously not a person, life can't begin at conception. We could use the same logic (if you can call it logic) to disprove the prochoice claim that life begins at birth. Some babies are stillborn. So sometimes at birth you don't get a live person; you get a little corpse. Does this prove that babies aren't alive? Hardly.
More to the point, you can ask an abortion advocate when his life began, and when he says, "At birth," you can point to the existence of six billion other people on the planet and say that his life can't have begun at birth if birth can produce six billion currently living entities that are not him. An entity's existence begins when that entity comes into existence, and at conception we have either a blighted ovum, a hydatidiform mole, or a new human being.
(And let's not squabble about twins. Conjoined twins Abby and Britty Hensel have just one body, but are two people, so I see no reason one body can't be two people before birth as well -- or why we can't recognize twinning as a form of asexual reproduction, which human beings are capable of doing only at a very early age.)
Actually, the existence of hydatidiform moles underscores the prolife position. One need only compare a fetus with a molar pregnancy of the same gestation age to see very clearly the difference between "pregnancy tissue" and a viable embryonic human being. In fact, even in a partial mole, there is a clear difference between the doomed fetus, which is recognizably a fetus, and the molar tissue, as in this illustration:
- Patial Mole with Fetus (Warning: Graphic!)
For those of you with a strong stomach, here are a removed mole and an aborted fetus, for your comparison:
You can see that the mole really is just a blob of tissue, but that no matter how throughly shredded the embryo is, you can still see recognizable human body parts, such as arms, legs, hands, feet, and face. And even more to the point, if you leave the hydatidiform mole to itself, it will never develop into an organism, because it never was an organism to begin with. It will not differentiate into organs and organ systems. It has no capacity to do so. An embryo does.
Nowhere is the difference between a hydatidiform mole and a viable fetus more vividly demonstrated than in those rare pregnancies in which a woman has a twin pregnancy -- one hydatidiform mole and one normal fetus. So far, there seem to only have been about 30 of these cases reported. The mole is much larger than the fetus, and of course has no organs, limbs, or behaviors. Sadly, although some doctors have tried to manage these pregnancies in ways that save the fetus, they tend to miscarry before the fetus is old enough to live outside the womb. Some do carry to viability, and are not associated with a high number of birth defects.
Now, if prolifers really just had their knickers in a twist about what was being done to women's bodies, we'd object just as much to the destruction of hydatidiform moles as we do to the destruction of fetuses. We'd be just as outraged if a woman took chemicals to expel a blighted ovum as if she was taking them to cause the death of an embryo. But we're not. We're simply not interested. It's a medical matter, between a woman and her doctor, to decide how best to deal with a molar pregnancy or a blighted ovum, just as it's a medical matter, between a woman and her doctor, to decide how to deal with a fetus or embryo who has died but has not been naturally expelled.
It's the killing of a new human being that we object to, not the removal of unwanted tissue from the uterus.