Tag Archives: abortion

The Homunculus and Personhood Laws

The other day in my Physical Anthropology class, I was showing a video on genetics that I’d shown in prior semesters, but this time one portion of it struck me in a new way.  I believe I have figured out some of the ‘reasoning’ used by those legislators who are pushing personhood bills which declare the zygote (fertilized egg) to be a person who is entitled to all the rights of an actual person.

In Medieval Christian Europe, there was little understanding of biological processes and even less effort made to rectify the situation. The views of the ancient Greeks, especially Aristotle, were taken as the ‘gospel truth’.  Unfortunately, Aristotle and other Greeks, such as the physician Galen, did not understand the mechanisms of sexual reproduction in humans.

The ancient Greeks and, therefore, the Medieval Christians, believed that the man provided everything that was needed for a new human, except for a place to grow that new human.  The woman was essentially just an incubator.  Furthermore, they believed that a tiny person, the homunculus, lived in the head of the sperm.  They knew nothing about the ovum/egg.

The man ejaculated this tiny person into the woman and about nine months later, the ‘incubator’ produced a baby.  Other than providing a womb for growth, the baby did not belong to the woman.  The baby was solely generated, and therefore owned, by the man.  Of course, women were also owned (chattel) by men, further diminishing the female contribution to the baby.

As we have seen from the comments made by many of the personhood legislators, their understanding of biology and human reproduction has not progressed beyond that of the Medieval Christians.  A belief in the homunculus, whether or not it is articulated, clearly underlies the concept of giving personhood to a zygote and the subsequent ball of cells.  Anyone who believes in the homunculus must view a zygote as a miniature person.  Following from this, their ‘logic’ leads them to wish to protect this miniature person.

Awarding full personhood rights to a zygote while ignoring the rights of the woman in whom the zygote exists also follows from the Medieval Christian view that women are just incubators who contribute nothing to the embryo/fetus.  Since a pregnant woman is an incubator, she has no rights to do anything to the zygote/embryo/fetus.  Only men can decide this for her since only men truly ‘generate’ offspring.

These same legislators want contraception/birth control outlawed because it prevents a man from generating more offspring.  In their Medieval Christian view, any sperm that is prevented from implanting in the womb results in killing a person since the head of the sperm contains the homunculus.  Life doesn’t begin at conception.  Life begins in the sperm.  Every sperm is a potential life because every sperm has a miniscule person residing in it.  This would also explain why masturbation is a sin.  Think of all the ‘lives’ that are being wasted/lost!

Since, in this Medieval Christian view, the man is the sole generator of life, and the woman merely an incubator, even rapists deserve to have rights to any resulting offspring.  If a woman becomes pregnant despite being raped, then that embryo/fetus is meant to be born.  Women (or even young girls impregnated by their fathers) must carry to term all results of sexual activity whether consensual or not.  After the birth, the woman has fewer rights over the offspring than does the genitor (man), even if that individual is a rapist.  After all, the offspring is more truly his than it is hers since her major role is as an incubator while he was the genitor.

The anti-contraception, anti-abortion, pro-personhood legislation now coursing through state legislatures can be understood if we realize that those pushing this legislation are operating under the Medieval Christian and Aristotlean view of human reproduction: the male is the genitor while the woman is the incubator.  Their ‘knowledge’ is stuck in the 11th century.  It is little wonder that those of us who live in the 21st century are shocked, amazed, and horrified by these legislators who have no understanding of human reproduction, but who are trying to control women and their reproduction.