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Resolving current human rights controversies
in the U.S.:

A brief discussion of the root causes of major
religious/secular conflicts, involving abortion
access, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Part 2 of four parts:
Conflicts Over Abortion Access.

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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Conflict 1: Abortion access:

The root conflict is over the exact point in the 9 month pregnancy process when:

  • human life (that is, a form of life containing human DNA) becomes

  • a human person with human rights including the right to life.

During the approximately fifteen centuries (circa 1450 BCE to 100 CE) during which the Bible was written, scientific knowledge about human reproduction was at a very primitive stage. People generally believed that sperm acted like the seed of a plant. It only had to be implanted in a woman's body to be nourished and grow into a fetus and later be born. The presence of human ova was unknown.

We now know that the average adult fertile male produces about a 1,500 spermatozoa each second! 4 Fertile women between puberty and menopause release about one human ovum per month.

Neither a spermatozoon nor an ovum is a form of life, according to the generally accepted scientific definition of "life." Each lacks one property. Curiously, it is their inability to reproduce! That is, one ovum cannot become two ova; one spermatozoon cannot become two spermatozoa.

When an ovum and a spermatozoon merge, the process of conception ocurrs. Although there are many references on the Internet about "the instant of conception" the process takes about 24 hours. 5 A zygote is produced. Rarely, one zygote will reproduce by splitting into two zygotes. That is how identical twins are formed. A zygote meets all of the requirements of life. Also, since it contains human DNA, it is a form of human life.

Meanwhile, about nine months after conception, a newborn baby is not only a form of human life, but is also considered by almost everyone to be a human person.

There is no consensus about when, during gestation, a human life also becomes a human person.

If such a consensus could be reached, then most of the controversy and conflict over abortion access would fade.

Unfortunately, many pro-life groups complicate the controversy by using the term "human life" to refer both to life with human DNA and a human person.

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When do people believe that a human life become a human person?

There are many beliefs about when this transition occurs. Some are:

  • During the process of conception, which is often referred to as the "instant of conception," but which actually takes place over about a 24 hour interval.

  • When the zygote (commonly called a fertilized ovum) first divides into two cells. This indicates its potential to divide further and eventually perhaps develop into an embryo, a fetus, and finally a newborn.

  • When the blastocyst 2 (a growing mass of cells) implants itself in the inner wall of the uterus.

  • At the time of gastrulation, when the implanted embryo can no longer divide into two embryos and produce identical twins.

  • When the embryo's heart beat is first detectable by various methods.

  • When the embryo loses both its gill slits (more correctly called pharyngeal arches) and its tail by about the end of the second month.

  • When the embryo begins to look relatively human.

  • At quickening, when the mother first feels the fetus move. This commonly occurs as early as the 15th week gestation.

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  • At about 20 weeks gestation when the thalamus -- the relay center in the fetal brain -- connects the cerebral cortex to the spinal cord.

  • Slightly after 20 weeks when the fetus might possibly survive outside her or his mother's womb if she has access to state-of-the art medical treatment.

  • When sentience is attained. This is when the higher brain functions of the fetus are first able to function. 6 The fetus will have a low level of consciousness and begin to be aware of her or his environment. It becomes able to feel pain. There is much controversy about when this happens. A common estimate is at about 24 weeks gestation although many pro-lifers claim 20 weeks. The fetal brain will show a level of consciousness by generating regular wave patterns.

  • During labor, when the fetus is half-emerged from its mother's body. This is a common belief in Judaism.

  • When the fetus takes its first breath. Some people claim that Genesis 2:7 supports this belief. 3

  • In some aboriginal tribes, personhood is attained shortly after birth when a ritual is performed to formally give the newborn a name.

  • When God implants a soul in the zygote, blastocyst, embryo or fetus. Unfortunately the "soul" is religions concept. To date, no evidence of souls have been detected scientifically. People differ over when ensoulment occurs. Their beliefs range from during the process of conception,, to the newborn's first breath, to never.

A second pro-life/pro-choice conflict concerns exactly when pregnancy is said to begin. Here, the two main options that people cite are:

  • During the process of conception. This is a timing favored by many religious conservatives and pro-lifers.

  • When the blastocyst becomes securely implanted in the inner wall of the uterus. This is the definition used by physicians and preferred by many pro-choicers.

Obtaining a concensus on when pregnancy begins is important. It determines whether a specific medication is a contraceptive that prevents a pregnancy from happening or an abortifacient that terminates an established pregnancy.

Unfortunately, essentially no dialogue and very little debate is occurring on the timing of the attainment of personhood. And so pro-lifers and pro-choicers commit a lot of time and effort to throw verbal rocks at each other.

This topic is covered in greater detail elsewhere in this web site.

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The conflict over sexual orientation continues in the next essay,
which discusses homosexuality and bisexuality.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. This web site first went online in 1995-MAY. Essays have been added at the rate of about one per day. As of the beginning of 2019, they totaled over 8,000.
  2. An mammalian ovum becomes a zygote after fertilization. It then contains a full set of human DNA -- half from the mother and half from the father. During the next few days, the zygote passes down a fallopian tube and repeatedly divides to form a blastocyst -- a spherical-shape object consisting of many cells. It may implant itself in the inner lining of the uterus, grow, and subsequently pass through an embryonic stage, a later fetal stage, and be born at about 40 weeks gestational age, which is measured from the first day of the woman's last menstrual cycle prior to the pregnancy. This is about 38 weeks after conception. The gestational age is generally used to measure the development of a pregnancy, since the date of conception is usually not known.
  3. Genesis 2:7 refers to God creating Adam from dirt, dust, soil, or slime. The Hebrew word can refer to any of the four meanings. The King James Version states: "God ... breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Another 21 English translations of the Bible end with "being," 13 others with "soul," 12 with "person," and 4 with "creature."
  4. Janet Brito, reviewer, "How Long Does It Take for Sperm to Regenerate? What to Expect," Health Line, 2018-SEP-19, at: https://www.healthline.com/
  5. Traci C. Johnson, reviewer, "Conception: From Egg to Embryo," WEBMD, 2018-JAN-11, at: https://www.webmd.com/
  6. Dave Levitan, "Does a Fetus Feel Pain at 20 Weeks?," Fact Check, 2015-MAY-18, at: https://www.factcheck.org/

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How you may have arrived here:

Home > Vital notes > here

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Home > Religious conflicts > N.A. Examples > Abortion access > here

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Copyright 2016 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-MAY-07
Latest update : 2019-FEB-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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