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Abortion access

Fundamental items: The morality of abortion.
Women's access to abortion. Biases. Definitions.

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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, etc.
  2. If, after a woman has consulted with her physician and perhaps her spiritual advisor and has decided to seek an abortion, whether the government should veto her decision. 
The first question is a very personal decision. The second question generates intense levels of debate and occasional violence, particularly in the U.S. The abortion controversy continues, but at a much lower level, in Canada.

There are two main answers to the question of abortion access. They can be grouped into two basic positions:

bulletThose promoting a pro-life or anti-abortion position say that the government should override a woman's decision to have an abortion in some, many, or all cases, and require her to continue her pregnancy to childbirth.

Most pro-lifers 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, a human pre-embryo, embryo and fetus are all persons entitled to fundamental human rights, including the most basic right: to be allowed to live. The lives of two human persons are being considered here: that of the woman and her the life of the pre-embryo, embryo, or fetus.
bullet Those promoting a pro-choice position say that the government should not interfere with the woman's decision, or should do so only under very rare circumstances. Pro-choicers 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 when it loses its tail and gill slits; or when the fetus first looks human; or when 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 is born; or is severed from its mother 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. She should be allowed to 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.

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.

About biases:

Almost all websites on the Internet that discuss abortion are either strongly pro-life/anti-abortion or pro-choice. Some are seriously lacking in objectivity and accuracy. Some distort data; others ignore information that contradicts their views.

This web site is maintained by an multifaith 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 a lot of 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.

About definitions:

Various groups define pregnancy and abortion-related terms differently. This can make dialogue and even elementary communication very difficult.


Most pro-life/anti-abortion and conservative Christian groups follow one set of definitions.


Physicians, medical researchers, and most pro-choice groups and mainline or liberal religious groups often define words differently.

In this series of essays, we will generally use the medical definitions, because they are in widest use.

There are many terms that people use to refer to an ovum, a spermatozoon, zygote, embryo, fetus, newborn, infant, child, youth, adult, and elder. Some are:

  • "life," as in the question "when does life begin?"
  • a human
  • human life
  • human person
  • human being
  • human individual
  • ensouled person

For simplicity, we try to restrict our writing to involve only two terms: human life and human person:


Human life: This is "any living cell or collection of living cells that contains DNA (or partial DNA) from the species homo sapiens." 1 This includes ova, spermatozoa, zygotes, embryos, fetuses, newborns, all the way to elders. It also includes a breast cancer cell, a living hair follicle, and a recent skin scraping. Some forms of human life, like an individual ovum or 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 priceless; medical professionals go to great lengths to preserve their life.

The term "partial" DNA may be confusing. It relates to sex cells -- an ovum from the woman and and one very lucky spermatozoon out of many tens of millions of spermatozoa supplied by the man. Each has 23 chromosomes. After the fertilization process concludes, the resultant pre-embryo normally contains 23 chromosome pairs.

bullet Human person: A human life that is granted civil rights, including the right to live. People have different opinions about the point at which human life becomes a human person. There is a societal 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 is the main point of disagreement that causes conflicts over abortion access: when does human life become a human person.

Unfortunately, many authors and commentators confuse the two terms, and refer to human persons as human life.

In addition, there is widespread disagreement about two additional items:

bullet Start of pregnancy: Pro-lifers typically define pregnancy as starting at conception. Pro-choicers and the medical profession usually define it as starting later when the zygote is fully implanted in the wall of the uterus. We use the medical definition in this section. The difference is on the order of 10 days.
bulletAbortion: We define abortion as the "purposeful termination of pregnancy with intention other than to produce a live born infant or to remove a dead fetus." 3 This is one of many conflicting definitions in common use.

It is important to realize that when one group defines something differently from another group, this does not make one group clueless, ignorant. backwards, etc. They are simply two groups 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.

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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:
  3. "SCAN Pregnancy: Definitions," Division of Biostatistics and Health GIS, Government of South Carolina, at:

Site navigation:

Home > Abortion access > here

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

Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1996-DEC-20
Last updated 2012-SEP-04
Author: Bruce A Robinson

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