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Religious Tolerance logo

Rsolving 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, dealing with
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 pregnancy when human life (that is, a form of life containing human DNA) becomes a human person with human rights including the right to live.

During the approximately ten centuries during which the Bible was written, scientific knowledge about human reproducion was at a primative stage. It was beleived that sperm acted like a plant seed that only had to be implanted in a womans body to be nourished and grow into a fetus and be born. The presence of human ova was unknown.

We now know that human spermatozoon is one form of human life. In excess of a thousand are produced by the average adult male each second. A human ovum is another form of human life. Fertile women between puberty and menopause release about one each month.

There is almost a universal belief that an ovum and spermatozoon are not a human person, but that a newborn is a human person. If a consensus can be reached on the point at which human life becomes a human person, then most of the controversy and conflict over abortion access would fade.

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 a two or three day interval.

  • When the zygote (often 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 to produce identical twins.

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

  • 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, perhaps as early as the 14th 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.

  • At about 24 weeks gestation, when the fetus has a reasonable chance of surviving outside its mother's womb.

  • When sentience is attained. This is when the higher brain functions of the fetus first turn on. It happens at about 25 weeks gestation. 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.

  • 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 the newborn is formally given 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 conflict concerns exactly when pregnancy is said to begin. This point in time determines whether a specific medication is a contraceptive that prevents a pregnancy from happening or an abortifacient that terminates an established pregnancy. 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 implanted in the inner wall of the uterus. This is the definition used by physicians and preferred by many pro-choicers.

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 throwing verbal rocks at each other.

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

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This topic 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 2016-APR-18, they totaled 7,757.
  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."

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How you may have arrived here:

Home > Vital notes > here

Home > "Hot" religious topics > here

Home > Abortion access > here

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

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

Home > Vital notes > here

Home > Vital notes > here

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Copyright © 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2016-MAY-07
Latest update : 2016-MAY-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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Go to the previous page, or go to the "Vital notes" menu, or to the Abortion access menu, or to the Homosexual menu, or to the Bisexual menu, or to the Transgender/Transsexual menu, or choose:


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