“Fertilized Eggs:” One of the Least Scientific Terms in the Abortion Debate

National   |   Kristi Burton Brown   |   Sep 6, 2013   |   3:07PM   |   Washington, DC

As I’ve mentioned before, my first major foray into the pro-life world was the 2008 Colorado Personhood campaign. As spokesperson, I had countless opportunities to present our message to the public – often through the media.

One of the most frustrating things was to pull up a newspaper article, after an interview that I thought had gone pretty well, and to see a headline that talked about protection or legal rights for “fertilized eggs.” Even I had to laugh. Protecting and recognizing eggs does sound pretty funny.

And that’s exactly the problem. Calling new, unique human beings “fertilized eggs” demeans, degrades, and dehumanizes them. It conjures up hillarious thoughts of an over-baked omelet prohibiting a waiting family from consuming their Saturday morning breakfast. Or, it beckons thoughts of chickens and eggs – which one did come first, anyway?

The last thing that the term “fertilized eggs” makes the average person think of is their mother, sister, son, or grandfather. And yet, what’s being referred to as a “fertilized egg” is equally human, unique, and deserving of rights as those other “real people” in our lives.

In the same way that “real people” is an awkward and deceptive term – is there such a phenomenon as non-real people? – “fertilized eggs” is an inaccurate and inequitable term that ought not to be used in honest debate. Why not? Here, I submit to you, are three reasons:

1. If it’s science you care about, please…pass the eggs.

There really would be little problem if people who used the term “fertilized egg” also went on to explain that a so-called “fertilized egg” is “the beginning of a human being.” Or that, through fertilization, “a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.” See, there’s a very big difference between an egg, a sperm, and the new, unique, separate human being formed through the combination of an egg and a sperm. By themselves, an egg and a sperm only have potential to become a new life. But they are not new life in and of themselves. However, once they combine, it’s a different story, and our words and descriptions ought to reflect this.

Honest people should find some way of communicating that this “fertilized egg” isn’t the equivalent of those all-natural, farm fresh chicken eggs you have sitting in your refrigerator. But sadly, many in the mainstream media would prefer that chickens and breakfast and their fridge are exactly what their readers think about – anything to avoid the true topic of human oppression here.

It’s important to remember that it’s disingenuous and dehumanizing to spout off “fertilized egg,” “fertilized egg,” “fertilized egg” with no real explanation as to what (or who!) you’re talking about. It’s just as silly as describing a dirty dog solely as a “pile of muddy fur.” Pardon me if I get the impression that your “pile of fur” isn’t alive, valuable, or worth protecting.

Science doesn’t deceive like that. And if we want to be accurate, trusted, and honest – neither should we. (If you’re wondering where I got those little add-on descriptions above, or if you’d like to find a list of scientifically accurate language, see this article from Princeton.)

2. Bias does not become you.

This reason is particularly applicable to the media at large, individual journalists, and any who would consider themselves fair and unbiased.

I won’t go into great detail because I’m confident you’re smart enough to figure this one out. But really, why the constant use of “fertilized egg” when only one camp uses it? At the very least, why don’t you mix up your reporting to sometimes use the terms “preborn child” or “baby in the womb“? Have you realized that more Americans consider themselves pro-life than pro-choice? Does their voice not matter?

Bias is obvious, especially when it persists. And it does not become you.

3. You may not want to be part of one of the greatest human discrimination campaigns in history.

Then again, you might, though it’s difficult to understand why.

Here’s the thing: throughout human history, there’s been a trend to dehumanize those we want the freedom to torture, persecute, kill, or oppress. If they are not human – or if they are less human than us – what’s the big deal? Recall the Nazi propaganda on Jews, depicting them as less than human or as preying on the noble German humans. Recall how plantation owners discussed their slaves as if they were mere property – chattel in the master’s hand. Recall how women were analyzed in terms of the supposed development of their intelligence and the size of their brains and not in terms of their innate humanness.

These, we would all agree, were blatant civil rights violations. They constituted horrible human discrimination campaigns, and, in many cases, they instituted unspeakable horrors. First, dehumanize. Then, the freedom to oppress runs rampant.



One day, we will look back with shame on how we have treated the most innocent and helpless human beings among us. We will be horrified at the great lengths so many went to while insisting that a human being in her mother’s womb was not a person – and possibly not even human. We will rightfully loathe the history books that will describe, step-by-step, exactly what an abortion was and that will show, piece-by-piece, exactly what an abortion did to a fellow human being.

Read the following prize pieces of dung, compiled by William Brennan [1], and decide whether or not you want your statements to be added to this list.

  • A Negro “belongs to an inferior and subordinate class.”
  • “In the eyes of the law…the slave is not a person.”
  • Buckner Payne, a publisher, declared in 1867 that “the negro is not a human being.”
  • “An Indian is not a person within the meaning of the Constitution.”
  • Secretary of State Henry Clay stated in 1825 that “Indians [are] inferior to the Anglo-Saxon.”
  • Dr. Joseph Nott, in 1847, concluded that “the Indian…is an untamable, carnivorous animal.”
  • In 1779, Hugh Brackenridge wrote that “the life of these [aborigines] is…not human.”
  • Prosecutor Andrei Vysbinski, in 1938 stated that “[Purge Trial Defendants are] a foul-smelling heap of human garbage.”
  • People who were purged by the Soviet government were designated as “unpersons who had never existed.”
  • Lenin and Stalin repeatedly told their people, from 1918-1934, “Kulaks are not human beings.”
  • Adolf Hitler proclaimed to Germany in 1923, “Jews are undoubtedly a race, but not human.”
  • The 1936 German Supreme Court declared, “The Reichsgericht itself refused to recognize Jews…as ‘persons’ in the legal sense.”
  • In a British voting rights case of 1909, the court stated, “The statutory word ‘person’ did not in these circumstances include women.”
  • The 19th century poet, Charles Baudelaire wrote, “Women are domestic animals.”

[1] William Brennan, Ph.D, Dehumanizing the Vulnerable:  When Word Games Take Lives (Loyola University Press, 1995).

LifeNews Note:  Kristi Burton Brown is a pro-life attorney, volunteering for Life Legal Defense Foundation and as an allied attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom. She is also a stay-at-home mom and an assistant editor for Live Action News. This column originally appeared at Live Action News and is reprinted with permission.