04/05/2013 04:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2013

A Thought Experiment for "Pro-Life" Extremists

"Pro-life," anti-abortion extremists are the most extreme extremists in the country. Their only competition are the minutemen, militia gun guys who are arming themselves for a guerrilla war against the US government. You go, gun guys! I'm in awe of your craziness. You're really scary. But, you know what? I think the anti-abortion crowd has you beat! Now don't be disappointed. I know you pride yourselves on being really, really crazy. But even if you think that the Second Amendment gives you the right to possess your own personal nuclear weapon (I know that's what you really want!), you still cannot top the totally insane premise of the anti-abortion crowd.

We've gotten so used to hearing this premise that it may not seem so crazy any longer, but it truly is. The premise of anti-abortion advocates is that a fertilized human egg is a human being. A fertilized human egg is a single cell. That's right -- one cell. After about a day and a half, it becomes two cells. The cells continue to divide, forming a hollow ball of cells called a blastocyst, which is about the size of a pinhead. At this point the blastocyst is traveling toward the uterine wall, where it must attach and then bury itself. If it fails to do this, it does not survive. It cannot develop into a fetus. It cannot become a human being.

It is an empirical fact that a single cell is not a human being. Every human being that I have ever met has had more than one cell. Actually human beings have somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 trillion cells. Nevertheless, anti-abortion advocates claim that a single cell is a human being because they believe that it has a soul. Having been raised a Catholic, I am very familiar with this religious belief. Catholics believe that every human being has an immortal soul and that you get your soul at conception. If this is true, there are a lot of disappointed souls out there because more than half of all fertilized eggs -- maybe as many as two-thirds -- fail to implant themselves in the uterine wall, so that's it for them.

If I were an immortal soul, I would want to wait until the fertilized egg is actually implanted in the uterine wall before making my entrance into the human realm. Actually I'd really prefer to wait at least until the fetus is viable at about 24 weeks, and if I really wanted to be careful, I would wait until maybe a nanosecond or so before the baby is born and then jump in.

Needless to say, there is no proof that there is such a thing as an immortal soul. It's simply a religious belief. In the United States there is separation of church and state, which means that the government cannot impose religious beliefs on its citizens. No one else has the right to do that either. But that's exactly what anti-abortion extremists try to do. They would deny all women their reproductive rights based on the religious belief that a fertilized egg has a soul and is therefore a human being. They actually believe that you are committing murder if you terminate a pregnancy, even at the earliest stage, even if what you are extinguishing is a single cell.

The purpose of the various Personhood bills and constitutional amendments is to establish that a fertilized egg is a human being and ban all abortions, even in the case of rape or incest. Personhood Mississippi actually sponsored a "Conceived in Rape Tour," featuring Rebecca Kiessling, a woman who was conceived in rape, to advocate that all women who have been impregnated through rape should be forced to give birth to the rapist's child. That's extremely disturbing, but at least Ms. Kiessling did not run as the Republican candidate for Vice President, nor is it likely that she will run for president in 2016. That would be Paul Ryan, who is co-sponsoring the Sanctity of Human Life Act in the US Congress, which would establish that "the life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent... at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood." The bill states that "a one-celled human embryo... is a new unique human being."

Yes, "pro-life," anti-abortion extremists are the most extreme extremists in the country. But I would like to know if there is any limit to their extremism. For that purpose, I propose that all people who believe that a single-celled human embryo is a human being engage in the following thought experiment: Pretend that you awaken one day and discover yourself living in some nightmare world in which a malevolent higher power forces you to make Sophie's Choice. You must decide who lives and who dies -- a five-year-old little boy or a single-celled human embryo. If you refuse to decide, they both die. What is your decision? Is it obvious, or do you agonize over it? I need to know. Please contact me with your answer. You can respond directly to this piece or email me at