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An essay about abortion access donated by Stephanie Chen

Defining personhood

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Defining Personhood:

Abortion is one of the most controversial and complicated topics of our day. People take a stance in their views on abortion through applying their morals, views, and ethics. Within the controversy of abortion is the complex debate over when 'personhood' begins. ¬ The abortion debate houses two opposing sides, the pro-life and the pro-choice. Those who are advocates of the pro-life movement believe that personhood begins at conception, when the sperm meets the egg. As a result, those who are pro-life believe the government should abolish a woman‚€™s right to an abortion. Those on the opposing side, the pro-choice movement, believe a woman should have the right to an abortion, and hold various beliefs as to when personhood begins. Their notion of personhood varies from when the heart begins to beat, to at birth. In my personal opinion, personhood takes a period of time to establish; beginning during the second trimester, and finally establishing itself by the third.

Many people gain their principles through their religion, thus basing their opinions off of religion. Religion is a good way to seek inspiration and set guidelines. However, oftentimes, those who base their opinions from religion are pro-life, believing that personhood begins at conception. While the Bible‚€™s purpose is to set guidelines for those who follow the Christian faith, the Bible cannot be interpreted in a literal sense. By reading the Bible in a literal sense, readers often come off as close-minded and unable to respond to different situations in life. The Christian Answers Network uses an excerpt from the Bible in which they use as evidence that personhood begins at conception:

"‚€¶and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her‚€¶"

Through interpreting this passage in a literal sense, the Christian Answers Network claims personhood is begins at conception because the unborn babies are referred to as, 'children', which is generally a term used for children after birth (Sarfati). This however cannot be a valid reason because our society has branded the term 'baby' for a synonym of a zygote, embryo, and fetus. Another reason the Bible also cannot be read literally because there ways to incorrectly interpret a passage. For example:

"While he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‚€˜Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!‚€™ When he turned round and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys (The Bible)."

This passage can be interpreted as God killing 42 children, just for teasing a bald man who was in favor of God. It is not often that God is associated with rage and backfire. From interpreting this passage for what it is exactly, it can be interpreted that God is cruel. However, in another interpretation by Dr. Elizabeth Mitchell, she states,

"They were old enough to know better, and they were challenging the credibility of God‚€™s prophet, the only man who was there to stand up for God‚€™s truth, bringing the word of life to a corrupt nation that had turned its back on God" (Mitchell). 2

One final reason why the Bible should not be interpreted literally is because it does not match up to scientific fact. Throughout our time, our scientific knowledge has improved greatly. While the Bible tells stories varying from the origin of people, and the beginning of the world, these stories cannot be interpreted literally because there is countless evidence for the theory of evolution and the big bang.

Oftentimes those who are pro-life view conception as the start of personhood simply because they confuse the definition of personhood with the definition human life. Human life inarguably begins at conception. Human life is defined as, "any living cell or collection of living cells that contains DNA from the species homo sapiens" (Abortion Access). 1 This definition includes a zygote, a fetus, a newborn, a teen, adult, as well a living hair follicle and a skin cancer cell. Human life should not be confused with personhood. Just as a zygote is a form of human life, a hair is also a human life. It can be implied that a human hair is as human as a zygote; however no one would ever step up to defend a human hair. It is scientifically proven that 'life' begins at conception, when the sperm and the egg meet the form a zygote. While the zygote contains the necessary DNA for a human person, it is merely only a potential person. Personhood can be defined as, "the quality or condition of being an individual person". While a baby fetus is still living off the mother, it cannot be considered an individual living being.

In order to be a person, one must have a sense of awareness. In this case, a zygote or a fetus in the first few weeks of the second trimester does not have a sense of awareness. At this point along the pregnancy, the baby is still fully dependent on the mother. Without the mother‚€™s life-giving nutrients and oxygen, the baby would die. Many pro-life advocates claim that self-dependency cannot be used to justify personhood, because after birth and for many years following, the baby is still dependent on the mother. While this may be true, this type of dependency is not physical dependency, but social dependency. The baby requires help from those around itself to feed, clothe, teach, etc. After the third trimester, it is possible for the woman to give birth, and have her baby survive outside the womb. As a result, after the third trimester abortion should be, and is illegal. Thus, personhood is clearly established.

By the third trimester the fetus is considered a person. While it may not be specifically living on it‚€™s own, it has the ability to live on it‚€™s own outside the women‚€™s body. It is not rare for women to have premature births well before their due dates. While personhood is clearly established by the third trimester, it seems as though personhood begins during the second trimester. The second trimester occurs from the 12th to the 26th weeks of pregnancy. During the second trimester an ultrasound can reveal the sex of the fetus to the mother. Around the 15th week, the fetus has developed taste buds, and may even be able to savor the mother‚€™s meals. Around the 18th week the baby can begin to hear noises such as the mother‚€™s heartbeat or voice. The fetus can also make facial expressions such as frowning or squinting. After 23 weeks, the fetus has the proportions of a newborn (without the baby fat). Finally at 25 weeks, a fetal brain scan shows how a fetus is responsive to touch (Watson). These human characteristics make the reality of a person all the more tangible.

Abortion is a difficult and complicated topic to discuss because of internal issues it houses. Based off their opinions off of their morals, values, and ethics, the opinion of each individual varies from person to person. Oftentimes, these principals are derived from religious belief. By aborting her baby, she is helping not only her life, but her baby‚€™s life. While personhood begins during the later half of the second trimester, it is not fully established until the third trimester. While pro-choice and pro-life advocated will never reach an agreement, one thing is for certain-- by choosing abortion, the mother, who has well established her own life, is making the most ethical choice if she knows she cannot be a good mother. Those who are pro-choice hope for those who are pro-life to see that pro-choice does not necessarily mean pro-abortion, but an advocate of the option for a woman to choose abortion.

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Works cited:

  1. "Abortion Access." Ontario Consultants on Religous Tolerance. N.p., 10 Mar. 2010. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. at: 
  2. Mitchell, Elizabeth, Dr. "Feedback: Elisha, Little Children, and the Bears." Answers in Genesis. N.p., 12 Nov. 2010. Web. 12 Dec. 2010, at: 
  3. Sarfati, Jonathan. "Life Before Birth ." Christian Answers Network. Ed. Paul Taylor. N.p., 2002.Web. 13 Dec. 2010, at:
  4. The Bible. N.p.: n.p., 1989. New Revised Standard Version Bible. Oremus Bible Browser. Web. 12 Dec. 2010, at:
  5. Watson, Stephanie. "Second Trimester: The Kicking Fetus." Discovery Health. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2010. at:

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Posted: 2010-DEC-14
Author: Stephanie Chen

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