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Abortion access

The Morality of Abortion.
Women's Access to Abortion.
Definitions of Pregnancy and
Human Personhood. Terminology.
Why This Website is Different.

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Webmaster's comment:

There are many Internet websites and other sources of information that discuss conception, pregnancy, abortion, contraception, etc. Some are strongly biased in favor of the website master's beliefs or sponsoring agency.

There are other web sites that define these matters precisely, using medical and biological terms that are unfamiliar to people who lack specialist knowledge.

We try to reach a happy compromise: definitions that are understandable, unbiased, yet reasonably precise and accurate.

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About the morality of abortion and women's access:

There are two main questions concerning abortion:

  1. Whether an woman's decision to have an abortion is ethical, given her specific situation. That 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 well informed about pregnancy, and has decided -- for whatever reason -- to seek an abortion, whether the government should step in, veto her decision, and require her to complete the pregnancy, give birth. Her only choice would then be whether to raise the child or arrange an adoption. 

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 is also present, but at a much lower intensity level.

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Commonly used terminology about pregnancy:

The following are commonly used terms that refer to different stages of the gestation process. Unfortunately, not all groups define the terms in the same way:

  • When a male's spermatozoon penetrates an woman's ovum (egg) and conception occurs, the result is often called a:
    • fertilized ovum (a popular term); or
    • a pre-embryo, also written "preembryo;" or
    • a zygote (the scientific/medical term).

  • About two out of three human zygotes will die at some point after conception. Some even fail at the time of their first cellular division when it tries to become two cells. 6

  • The single-celled pre-embryo rapidly divides into multiple cells, and is called a blastocyst. If the blastocyst is lucky, about two weeks or so after conception, it implants itself in the inner wall of the uterus and starts to obtain nourishment from the mother.

  • Sources differ on when a pre-embryo is referred to as an embryo. Some definitions are:
    • when it fully implants itself in the inner wall of the uterus, or
    • when it reaches 14 days after conception, or
    • when it develops a "primitive streak." This is: "... a line of cells stretching from the exterior of the embryonic disc to the center. It divides the cell into left and right portions." 5 After the primitive streak is formed, the division of the pre-embryo into two embryos is prevented. Before the primitive streak is formed, the embryo could divide, and later lead to monozygotic twins (identical twins) being born.

  • At three months from conception, until birth, the embryo is often referred to as a fetus.

  • After birth, it is commonly called a newborn. Later in life, it is referred to as a baby, child, youth, adult, and senior.

However, these terms are far from being universally acceptable:

  • Many pro-choicers use terms like pre-embryo, embryo, and fetus to describe the process that leads to a live birth. However, 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's article for a pro-life group, the Family Research Council during early 2016. 4 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 described the death as ocurring to 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’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

    Many in the pro-life and the medical communities regard "fetus" as a precisely defined medical term.

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About the 2021 Texas abortion law:

The Texas legislature passed a law that prohibits physicians from performing an abortion, if fetal cardiac activity or the "steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the fetal heart within the gestational sac" can be detected.

Jessica Roy, writing at says

"And despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's assertion this week that the law 'provides at least six weeks for a person to be able to get an abortion,' that's not the case. ... In reality, even a woman (or transgender or nonbinary person) closely and repetatively monitoring her menstrual cycle and testing will have learned about her pregnancy no more than about two weeks before the law's prohibition kicks in.

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When does human life begin?

This is one of the key factor involved in the morality of abortion. Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the definitions of the terms "human life," pregnancy, or "human person." Above all, there is no consensus on when a human life becomes a human person. That question is key to any discussion or debate over abortion access.

If you ask a few people "when does human life begin?" you will probably receive 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
    • an ovum created by the woman, or
    • one very lucky spermatozoon out of 20 to 100 million spermatozoa, or more, supplied by the man during a sexual encounter. 8

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

    The above definition would accept the following as human life: ova, spermatozoa, zygotes, embryos, fetuses, newborns, infants, children, all the way to seniors. It would also include a breast cancer cell, a living hair follicle, and the contents of 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 slowly along his vas deferens tube. Similarly, human life in a woman might be interpreted as beginning some days before conception when an ovum is released from one of her two ovaries and starts traveling down her fallopian tube.

  • However, scientists formally define living things as possessing seven properties:
    • They are composed of one or more cells.
    • They have different levels of organization at the tissue, organ, organ system, and organism levels.
    • They use energy for maintenance and growth.
    • They adapt and respond to their environment.
    • They grow.
    • They reproduce. 7

  • 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 pregnancy begin?

  • Pro-lifers often define pregnancy and personhood as beginning at conception. They base this on the fact that a unique human DNA -- different from the DNA of its mother and father -- first appears at that time, containing 46 chromosomes -- half from the woman's ovum, and half from the man's spermatozoon.

  • The medical community defines pregnancy as starting at the beginning of the woman's last menstral period. But this is long before a man's spermatozoon can meet with the womans ovum, cause conception and produce a blastocyst.

  • Pro-choicers generally define pregnancy as beginning when the blastocyst becomes implanted in the inner wall of the uterus. This happens about 14 days/two weeks after conception. Pregnancy can be detected shortly after this time by a urine test which can be purchased at any drug store. They detect the pregnancy hormone "beta hCG" in the woman's urine if she is pregnant, if the test is used in accordance with its instructions.

When emergency contraception (a.k.a. the morning after pill or EC) first became available, 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 -- according to their definition of the term "pregnancy." However, pro-lifers believed that if it prevented implantation, then it could be an abortifacient because they regard pregnancy as starting at conception. Further research showed that EC does not prevent implantation and may even improve the probability of implantation. However, many conservative information sources still refer to EC as an abortifacient or a potential abortifacient.

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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 human life -- in the form of a zygote, pre-embryo, 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. Sadly, there are few, if any, attempts to resolve the matter through dialogue.

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 zygote, an embryo, a fetus, newborn, or infant are all persons entitled to fundamental human rights, including the most basic right: being allowed to live.

    After conception, they believe that two human persons are present: that of the woman and her zygote, embryo, or fetus. Many believe that she must continue her pregnancy to childbirth. Her choices are limited to one: whether she will raise the child or to arrange an adoption for the newborn.

  • Those promoting a pro-choice position generally believe that the government should not interfere with the woman's decision to have an early abortion. They differ on whether a woman should be able to have an abortion -- whether it be 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; or

    • The fetus first looks human; or

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

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

    • It is fully born; or

    • It takes its first breath; or

    • Its umbilical cord is severed and is functioning independently of her or his mother.

    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 at, 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 has generated many 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, you might write your hate message and then not 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 different 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.


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 not base your decision solely on are articles. We strongly suggest consulting a qualified healthcare professional who can review your unique situation before you make any decision about your pregnancy.

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

  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:
  4. Rob Schwarzwalder, 'Baby' Versus 'Fetus': Why Terminology Matters," Christian Headlines, 2016-MAR-02, at:
  5. Don Dfoofnik, "What is the primitive streak?," Answers,™ at:
  6. Krista Conger, "Earlier, more accurate prediction of embryo survival enabled by research," Stanford Medicine News Center, 2010-OCT, at:
  7. "The 7 characteristics of life," New Mexico Tech, undated, at:
  8. "Nine Things You Never Knew About Sperm, Huffington Post, 2017-DEC-06, at:

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Home > Abortion access > here

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Copyright © 1996 to 2021 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. Not too many essays have remained on the Internet for a quarter century or more!
Originally published: 1996-SEP-10.
Last updated 2021-SEP-10
Author: B. A. Robinson

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