When, during the processes that lead
up to birth, does human life become
a human person?
An unidentified pregnant woman with an outline of her fetus
About the processes involved in pregnancy:
The processes that lead to birth start about 10 months earlier when one very lucky female or male spermatozoon is released from one of a man’s pair of testicles and travels down his vas deferens tube in the company of about 100 million other male and female spermatozoon.
About a month later, one of a woman’s ovaries will release an ovum. The ovum and a spermatozoon may meet in the woman’s fallopian tubes where conception may occur and produce a zygote, which is often referred to as a fertilized ovum.
The zygote is a single-celled animal. It goes through multiple divisions and becomes a multi-celled blastocyst during her or his passage down the fallopian tubes until the uterus is reached. If it is lucky, he or she will become implanted in the inner lining of the womb.
Many, probably most, pro-lifers believe that:
- Pregnancy begins sometime during the process of conception.
- At the same time, human life becomes a human person.
Most pro-choicers believe that:
- Pregnancy begins at implantation in the wall of the uterus. This is a view shared by the medical profession.
- Human life becomes a human person at some time during the approximately nine months between implantation and birth.
After implantation, it is called an embryo. Its existence can be detected shortly after that time by a simple pregnancy test. Initially it looks very similar to the embryos of other mammals. Later, its beating heart can be detected, and the embryo loses its gill slits and tail structures.
About a month later, it is called a fetus. Some of the higher functions of the fetal brain first turn on at about 24 weeks gestation. At that point, Its weight will probably exceed 500 grams/17.6 ounces. If it is born at this point, it would have on the order of a 50% chance of surviving. This rises to about 90% at 27 weeks, largely because the fetal lungs are more fully developed.
The time interval from conception to birth is typically about 38 weeks. However, gestation -- the average length of pregnancy -- is generally counted from the first day of the woman's last period, which is typically 40 weeks.
The key question that needs to be answered in order to determine the morality of an abortion is when human life becomes a human person. Most people would agree that when a woman is carrying a human person, access to an abortion should be restricted, at least to some degree.
The Roman Catholic church teaches that an abortion is always immoral even if a continued pregnancy would result in the death of the mother -- and thus shortly thereafter, the death of the fetus as well.
2016-MAR-28: A pro-life/pro-choice debate at Salisbury University in Maryland:
Conservative and pro-life radio personality, Ben Shapiro, gave a speech at the university. It was sponsored by the conservative Young America’s Foundation. During a question and answer session after the talk, a debate started between Shapiro and a female pro-choice student. 2
He said: "You don’t get to kill things just because it’s in your uterus."
She said: "It’s my body. How about you stay out of it?"
He referred to a point made by the student earlier, saying: "I don’t care about your appendix. I don’t even care about your uterus. I care about what’s in it."
She said: "And I can take out my appendix if I don’t want it. So why can’t I take out other parts of my body?"
He referred to another point in which she said that an embryo was merely a "bundle of cells." He asked: "At what point does that bundle of cells become a human being in your judgment?"
She didn't have a quick answer to that question.
The debate over a woman's access to abortion has never been settled in spite of many decades of active conflict, and almost zero dialogue, Shapiro zeroed in on the key question that would have to be resolved first, before a compromise on abortion access could be made.
The debate was discussed in an article in The Blaze, a conservative Christian web site, TV program, and radio channel. 2 Less than two days later, it had been shared by 5,300 visitors to that web site and had generated 595 comments from readers.
One comment was posted by "ConservativeInOhio" who threatened:
"... just because you choose to live a reckless lifestyle, does not give you the right to kill an innocent person that is the result of that lifestyle.
To put this another way, I don’t care how bad a driver you are. But if you are so reckless that you have an accident that puts my family in danger, you had better hope the police get to you before I do."
Both "ConservativeInOhio" and Ben Shapiro zeroed in on the same fundamental question:
"When, between conception and birth, does human personhood begin?"
Or to be totally inclusive of all belief systems, one might extend the time limits beyond birth to include naming. Some aboriginal cultures believe that a newborn becomes a person only after having been assigned a name.
One might even select the criterion that was used in the Bible. Numbers 3:15 shows that a census counted only male infants over the age of one month, boys and men. It says:
"Number the children of Levi after the house of their fathers, by their families: every male from a month old and upward shalt thou number them."
Females of all ages were not considered worthy of being included.
There have been a few states that have held a referendum in which voters were able to vote in favor of the concept that human personhood begins at conception. The intent of the referendums have been to eliminate all access to abortion. Attempts have been made to implement referendums in California, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, and Ohio. Bills have been filed in the Legislatures of Oklahoma and Virginia. They have not been particularly successful. 3
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Image of a pregnant woman with outline of her fetus, Pixabay free image, by Skitterphoto. CC0 Public Domain, at: https://pixabay.com/
- Oliver Darcy "Shapiro Gets Into Tense Back-and-Forth With Pro-Choice Student, Demands She Explain When Life Begins," The Blaze, 2016-MAR-26, at: http://www.theblaze.com/
"Personhood Laws," RationalWiki, as on 2016-FEB-11, at: http://rationalwiki.org/
Copyright © 2016 and 2017 by Ontario Consultants on
Original posting: 2016-MAR-30
Latest update : 2017-MAR-19
Author: B.A. Robinson