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Abortion access

The morality of abortion.
Women's access to abortion.
Terminology. Definitions. Why
this web site is different from most.

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About the morality of, and access to, abortion:

There are two main questions concerning abortion:

  1. 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.
     
  2. 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, 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 level.

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Commonly used terminology about pregnancy:

There are commonly used terms that refer to different stages of the gestation process:

  • When a male's spermatozoon meets an woman's ovum (egg) and conception occurs, the result is often called a fertilized ovum, a pre-embryo, or a zygote.

  • Later, 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.

  • At three weeks after conception, it is referred to as an embryo.

  • After three months from conception, and until birth. it is referred to as a fetus.

However, these terms are far from being universally acceptable:

  • Many pro-choicers prefer to use terms like pre-embryo, embryo, and fetus to describe the process that leads to a live birth.

  • Many pro-lifers object to these terms, and use the single term "baby" to describe all stages of development, from conception, through pregnancy, birth, and infancy. They might agree with Rob Schwarzwalder, the author of an article for a pro-life group, the Family Research Council during early 2016. He discussed articles by AP and NBC about a horrendous attack on a pregnant woman in Austin, TX. He noted that the person who wrote the headline referred to the death of the baby, while the author of the article itself referred to the death of a fetus.

    Schwarzwalder wrote:

    "She was a baby whether in or out of the womb. The only thing that changed was where she lived.  For the first eight months of her life, the baby lived inside her mother.  For a few hours, she lived outside of her mother’s womb.

    Yet even the AP or NBC headline writer couldn’t admit to the ridiculous terminological gymnastics demanded by a society whose unwillingness to acknowledge the personhood of unborn children requires it to retain the embarrassing legal fiction known as the 'fetus'." 4

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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 is created 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. That is approximately the time when pregnancy can be detected.

When emergency contraception (a.k.a. the morning after pill or EC) first became availalble, 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. However, pro-lifers believed that if it prevented implantation, then it could be an abortifacient because they regard pregancy as starting at conception. Further research showed that EC does not prevent implantation and may even improve it. However, many conservative web sites still refer to EC as an abortifacient.

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When does human life begin?

This is the key factor concerning the morality of abortion. Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the definitions of "human life" or "human personhood."

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. Each has 23 chromosomes. After the fertilization/conception process concludes, the resultant pre-embryo normally contains 23 chromosome pairs.

    The above definition would accept 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 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 embryo is released from an ovary and starts traveling down the fallopian tube.

  • Many pro-lifers do not differentiate between the terms "life" and "personhood" and interpret both as beginning at conception.

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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 zygote, 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.

There are two basic positions about when human personhood begins:

  • Those promoting a pro-life or anti-abortion position generally base their stance on the belief that human life, in the form of an ovum and spermatozoon, becomes a human person during the process of conception. Thus, what the medical community refers to as a human pre-embryo, an embryo, a fetus, newborn, or infant are all persons entitled to fundamental human rights, including the most basic right: to be allowed to live.

    After conception, they believe that two human persons are present: that of the woman and her pre-embryo, embryo, or fetus. Many believe that she should continue her pregnancy to childbirth. Her choices are mainly limited to whether she will raise the child or to have the newborn adopted by a stranger.

  • Those promoting a pro-choice position generally believe that the government should not interfere with the woman's decision to have an abortion, or should do so only under very rare circumstances. They differ on whether a woman should be able to have an abortion in many, most, or all cases.

    Most pro-choicers base their stance on the belief that human life becomes a human person at some time after conception -- perhaps when:
    • The embryo's heart starts beating; or

    • It loses its tail and gill slits;

    • The fetus first looks human; or

    • Its higher brain functions first turn on and it becomes sentient and aware to some degree of its environment; or

    • It has half emerged from its mother's body; or

    • It takes its fist breath, or

    • It is fully born; or

    • It takes its first breath; or

    • Its umbilical cord is severed and is functioning independently.

    They feel that a woman should not be forced to go through a pregnancy and childbirth if she does not choose to do so. Many feel that she should be allowed to freely have an abortion, if it is done before her embryo or fetus attains personhood.

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.

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Webmaster's note:

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 essays, 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.

Disclaimer:

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.

Three footnotes:

  1. 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.
  2. An interesting and unbiased article titled "The Abortion Debate" is available at: http://www.quickoverview.com/
  3. "SCAN Pregnancy: Definitions," Division of Biostatistics and Health GIS, Government of South Carolina, at: http://scangis.dhec.sc.gov/
  4. Rob Schwarzwalder, 'Baby' Versus 'Fetus': Why Terminology Matters," Christian Headlines, 2016-MAR-02, at: http://www.christianheadlines.com/

Site navigation:

Home > Abortion access > here

Home > "Hot" religious topics > Abortion access > here

Copyright © 1996 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1996-DEC-20
Last updated 2016-MAR-03
Author: Bruce A Robinson

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