The Morality of Abortion.
Women's Access to Abortion.
Website is Different.
There are many Internet web sites and other sources of information that define and use terms related to conception, pregnancy, abortion, etc. in a very inexact ways.
There are other web sites that define these matters precisely, using medical and biological terms that are unfamiliar to people who lack specialist knowledge.
We try to reach a happy compromise: definitions that are understandable yet reasonably precise and accurate.
About the morality of abortion and women's access:
There are two main questions concerning abortion:
- Whether a decision to have an abortion is ethical for an individual woman, given her
specific situation. This might include consideration of her religious beliefs, age, marital
status, health, economic status, available support systems, genetic makeup, how advanced her pregnancy is, etc.
- If, after a woman has consulted with her physician and perhaps
her spiritual advisor, has become fully informed about pregnancy, and has decided -- for whatever reason -- to seek an abortion, whether the
government should step in, veto her decision, and require her to complete the pregnancy, and give birth.
The first question is a very personal decision. The second
question generates intense levels of debate and occasional violence,
particularly in the U.S.
In Canada, the abortion controversy continues, but at a much lower
Commonly used terminology about pregnancy:
The following are commonly used terms that refer to different stages of the gestation process. Unfortunately, not all groups define the terms in the same way:
- When a male's spermatozoon penetrates an woman's ovum (egg) and conception occurs, the result is often called a:
- fertilized ovum (a popular term); or
- a pre-embryo, also written "preembryo;" or
- a zygote (the scientific term).
- About two out of three human zygotes will die at some point after conception. Some are not even fail their first cellular division to become two cells. 6
- The single celled pre-embryo rapidly divides into multiple cells, and is called a blastocyst. If the blastocyst is lucky, two weeks or so after conception, it implants itself in the inner wall of the uterus.
- Sources differ on when a pre-embryo is referred to as an embryo. Some definitions are:
- when it fully implants itself in the inner wall of the uterus, or
- when it reaches 14 days after conception, or
- when it develops a "primitive streak." This is: "... a line of cells stretching from the exterior of the embryonic disc to the center. It divides the cell into left and right portions." 5 After the primitive streak is formed, the division of the pre-embryo into two embryos is prevented. That is the process which can lead to identical twins being born.
- At three months from conception, until birth, the embryo become referred to as a fetus.
However, these terms are far from being universally acceptable:
When does human life begin?
This is one of the key factor involved in the morality of abortion. Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the definitions of the terms "human life," pregnancy, or "human personhood." Above all, there is no consensus on when a human life also becomes a human person.
If you ask people "when does human life begin?" you will probably receive some very different answers.
- Some define "human life" as: "any living cell or collection of
living cells that contains
DNA (or partial DNA) from the species homo sapiens." 1
The term "partial" DNA may be confusing. It relates to sex cells -- an ovum from the woman or one very lucky spermatozoon out of many tens of millions of spermatozoa supplied by the man during a sexual encounter. Each has 23 chromosomes. After the fertilization/conception process concludes, the resultant pre-embryo normally contains 23 chromosome pairs.
The above definition would accept the following as human life: ova,
spermatozoa, zygotes, embryos, fetuses, newborns, infants, children, all the way to elderly people. It would also include a breast cancer cell, a
living hair follicle, and the contents of a recent skin scraping, etc. Some forms of human life, like an individual ovum
or a spermatozoon, are rarely considered to be of value, except by couples having
difficulty conceiving. Other forms of human life, like a newborn, infant,
or adult are considered priceless; medical professionals go to great lengths to preserve their life.
The above definition might lead to the interpretation that human life begins a month or so before conception, when a spermatozoon is released from a male's testicle and starts traveling up the vas deferens tube. Similarly, human life in a woman might be interpreted as beginning some days before conception when an ovum is released from an ovary and starts traveling down the fallopian tube.
- However, scientists formally define living things as exhibiting seven properties:
- They are composed of one or more cells.
- They have different levels of organization at the tissue, organ, organ system, and organism levels.
- They use energy for maintenance and growth.
- They respond to their environment.
- They grow.
- They reproduce.
- They adapt to their environment. 7
- Many pro-lifers do not differentiate between the terms "life" and "personhood" and interpret both as beginning at conception.
When does pregnancy begin?
- Po-lifers typically define pregnancy and personhood as beginning at conception. They base this on the fact that a unique human DNA -- different from the DNA of its mother and father -- first appears at that time.
- Pro-choicers and the medical community, generally define pregnancy as beginning when the blastocyst becomes implanted in the inner wall of the uterus. This happens about 14 days after conception. Pregnancy can be detected shortly after this time by a urine test which can be purchased at any drug store.
When emergency contraception (a.k.a. the morning after pill or EC) first became available, the mechanism by which it prevented pregnancy was unknown. There was speculation that it might delay ovulation, and/or prevent conception, and/or prevent the blastocyst from implanting in the womb lining. Most pro-choicers regarded it as a true contraceptive no matter which mechanism it used, because all three would prevent pregnancy -- according to their definition of the term "pregnancy." However, pro-lifers believed that if it prevented implantation, then it could be an abortifacient because they regard pregnancy as starting at conception. Further research showed that EC does not prevent implantation and may even improve the probability of implantation. However, many conservative web sites still refer to EC as an abortifacient or a potential abortifacient.
When does human personhood begin?
A human person may be defined as forms of human life that are granted civil rights, including the right to live.
People have very different opinions about the point at which human life becomes a
human person. Some aboriginal communities consider a newborn as only becoming a person after she or he is given a name. Otherwise, there is a near consensus that a newborn is a human person.
However, people disagree about whether a human life -- in the form of a zygote, pre-embryo, embryo, or fetus is also a human person.
This lack of a consensus is the main point of disagreement that causes conflicts over abortion
access. Sadly, there are few attempts to resolve the matter through dialogue.
There are two basic positions about when human personhood begins:
It is important to realize that both the pro-life, anti-abortion and pro-choice
positions cover a range of individual beliefs and advocacy. Most of what the media imply are wrong:
there is no single pro-life
position and no single pro-choice position.
Essentially all other web sites reflect the position of the webmaster or sponsoring agency. This web site is different. We attempt to present a balanced picture of all
aspects of, and all views on, abortion.
Because of this, you will probably find some parts
of our essays in error, even as you will affirm the accuracy of other parts.
Web sites on the Internet that discuss abortion are
frequently either strongly pro-life/anti-abortion or pro-choice/favoring abortion access. Some are seriously lacking in
objectivity and accuracy. Some distort data; still others ignore information that
contradicts their views.
This web site is maintained by an multi faith group. Our staff
have different but strongly held beliefs concerning the morality of abortion and whether it
should be available to women in specific cases. They have a range of beliefs
concerning when human life becomes a human person.
We try to present all sides to
each topic clearly, completely,
objectively and accurately. 2
If you feel that we have missed our goal in any of our abortion
please E-mail us, and include both the file name (e.g. abortion.htm) and
your specific concern. However, if you merely object to having all viewpoints explained
on this site, please don't write us. This
section of our web site generates Emails containing raw hatred and
we would prefer to not receive more of that type. Please direct your hatred to
pro-choice or pro-life web sites with which you disagree ... or even better, write your hate message and then don't send it.
It is important to realize that when one group defines something differently from another group, this does not make one group clueless, ignorant. backwards, immoral, unethical, sociopathic, psychopathic, etc. They are simply two groups having different viewpoints and using differing definitions. This happens often in areas where religion impacts people's sexual behavior, as in abortion access, rights of persons with a minority sexual orientation or gender identity, access to marriage, etc.
This, and similar medical information on our web site, is intended as a
general educational aid to the public. If the topics covered are of direct
concern to you, we recommend that you consult a qualified healthcare
professional who can review your unique situation before offering an opinion.
- We use the popular meaning of "life" here to include ova and
spermatozoa. Some scientists use a very strict definition of the word "life"...
which does not include ova and spermatozoa because they cannot, by themselves,
reproduce. Some pre-embryos and early embryos can reproduce by twinning.
- An interesting and unbiased article titled "The Abortion Debate"
is available at:
- "SCAN Pregnancy: Definitions," Division of Biostatistics and Health GIS, Government of South Carolina,
- Rob Schwarzwalder, 'Baby' Versus 'Fetus': Why Terminology Matters," Christian Headlines, 2016-MAR-02, at: http://www.christianheadlines.com/
- Don Dfoofnik, "What is the primitive streak?," Answers, at: http://www.answers.com/
- Krista Conger, "Earlier, more accurate prediction of embryo survival enabled by research," Stanford Medicine News Center, 2010-OCT, at: https://med.stanford.edu/
- "The 7 characteristics of life," New Mexico Tech, undated, at: https://infohost.nmt.edu/
Copyright © 1996 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally published: 1996-DEC-20. Not too many essays have remained on the Internet for over 20 years!
Last updated 2017-AUG-20
Author: Bruce A Robinson