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Abortion topics

Arguments that have been made
about when, and if, an abortion
can be a moral choice.

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About human life and human persons:

Many people would agree that:

  • An ovum is alive and contains human DNA. Therefore they consider it a form of human life. But it is not a human person. It is one of two components that could eventually become a human person. A woman typically produces a few hundred during her lifetime. The vast majority die and are expelled from her body.

  • Spermatozoa are alive and contain human DNA. Therefore they are a form of human life. They form is one of two components that could eventually become a human person. A man typically produces a few thousand per second during his lifetime. The vast majority die and are expelled.

  • However, specialists in the life scientists say that neither ova nor spermatozoa are actually alive. This is because they lack one ability that scientists regard as essential to be considered for life: the ability to reproduce by themselves. One ovum cannot divide and become two ova. One spermatozoon cannot divide and become two spermatozoa.

  • Any action that ends the life of a human ovum is a moral choice for a woman to make if she does not want to have a child. An ovum is a form of life with human DNA. That is, it is a form of human life. However, it is not a human person. Most women produce about one ovum each month between puberty and menopause.

    A woman might elect to not engage in sexual intercourse, thus preventing conception. The ovum will then die and be expelled from her body. Alternately, she might avoid a conception by choosing to take hormonal birth control pills, or have an IUD inserted, or refrain from sexual intercourse unless the man uses a condom.

A woman may decide to take emergency contraception (EC). Studies have shown that EC works by delaying ovulation or by discouraging conception; if conception has occurred, EC has no effect. However, most pro-lifers believe that EC can sometimes cause the death of a zygote or prevent implantation of the developing pre-embryo in the womb. Many pro-life information sources regard EC as always being an abortifacient.

  • However, a few faith groups -- notably the Roman Catholic Church -- forbid the use of birth control. Meanwhile, the vast majority of the members of that Church considers contraception to be a moral choice.

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Sometimes, an ovum and one very lucky spermatozoon meet. When the process of conception completes, which takes many hours, a zygote has been formed. It is often referred to by non-scientists as a fertilized ovum. At that time, or some time between that point and and childbirth, human life is considered to become a human person. Opinions differ. Once it is a person, many people feel that it has legal rights including the right to continue living. Many feel that having an abortion after that point in time should only be allowed for very specific cases, like when a continuing pregnancy would be certain to result in the disability or death of the mother and thus the death of both the mother and the fetus. Others feel that abortions should not be allow even if needed to prevent the death of the woman. They would recommend that the woman be allowed to die even though this would cause two deaths, not one: both the mother, and shortly thereafter, the fetus.

Unfortunately, there is no consensus about when the transition from a form of human life to a human person occurs. Beliefs include:

  • Sometime during the process of conception when a new and unique DNA is produced. This is the time when most pro-life supporters believe that both pregnancy and human personhood start.

  • When the zygote first reproduces itself to produce a pair of cells of human life.

  • When the developed zygote, called a blastocyst, implants itself in the inner wall of the womb. This is the time when most pro-choice supporters and medical professionals believe that a pregnancy starts.

  • When the embryo's heart starts beating.

  • When the soul enters the body. The existence of the soul is taught by many religions who consider it the part of a person that survives death. Some have no idea when the soul enters the body; others differ in its timing. Secularists and scientists who study the brain generally discount the existence of the soul.

  • When the embryo loses its tail and gill slits.

  • When the embryo stops looking like the embryos of other mammals and starts to look vaguely human.

  • At "quickening," approximately 13 to 20 weeks gestation, when the woman feels the fetus move for the first time.

  • When sentience occurs, at perhaps 23 weeks, when the higher functions of the fetal brain become active for the first time. The fetus develops a form of consciousness and an awareness of its surroundings.

  • When the fetus is half-emerged from the birth canal during childbirth.

  • When the umbilical cord is cut and the newborn is separated from its mother and functioning on its own.

  • For some aboriginal groups, personhood occurs after birth when the newborn is given a name.

In each case, proponents make what is a convincing case to themselves that their belief is the correct one.

The lack of consensus on when human personhood begins is the main cause of unresolved conflicts over abortion, up to and including arson and murder. Unfortunately, while debates among people with different beliefs sometimes occurs, dialogue is rare. Thus there is little likelihood that a consensus will be reached anytime soon.

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Related essays on this web site that you might find interesting:

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The path by which you may have arrived here:

 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > here

 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Basic facts > here

 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Laws > here

 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Religion/ethics > here

Copyright 2016 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2017-APR-14
Latest update : 2017-APR-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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