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The beginning of life and the abiguity of abortion

vcruz's picture

In any controversial topic it is so easy to fall on the basis of what is presented to us.  Topics like abortion have received a wide scope of investigations and views, but are we willing to go beyond what’s presented to us and dare to disagree with many of these explanations? What are the things that we take into consideration when accepting or denying the idea of abortion—science, lawfulness (or unlawfulness), moral values, and/or religious values? In this assignment I decided to follow my inquiries about this subject and try to come up with my own understanding of the beginning of life as well as the possible early end of it the end of it – abortion. My aim is not to change the concept of abortion. It is rather spark attention to the facts that many take into consideration when choosing their personal right - for instance, whose personal right? If we consider that at any stage there could be a human being.  


Contradictory explanations to the formation of life have existed for long periods of time. There has always been controversy surrounding the topic of abortion. Much has been argued about abortion not considered so if the baby hasn’t really been formed yet – in other words, if there was no life. This of course has sparked the question of defining life. In my research, I was a little surprised with my findings. I found such differing explanations like: there is no life until the baby breaths, life begins at the moment of conception, and being alive doesn’t ensure humanness.


Let’s first examine the belief that there is no life until the baby starts breathing [1].  Breathing is one of the scientific characteristics generally used to define life. However, we must ask how exactly are we defining “breathe”? Is it purely defined by inhaling air into our lungs? Plants don’t have lungs, and they are living organisms, they still breathe. In the same manner, babies breathe amniotic fluid instead of air [2]. If there is no life until breathe (by inhaling air), then there isn’t life until birth. However, in order to breathe when a baby is born, its body needs to have lungs fully developed (besides other parts of the body). Living organisms are also defined by “growth” [3]. Growth starts since the moment of the egg-sperm union. Therefore, two of the characteristics for defining life have already been fulfilled by the unborn.


This supports the principle that life begins at the moment o f conception - which is the moment when “the male sperm and the female ovum unite” [4].  This result in the formation of a zygote – a one celled biological entity. However, a varying conviction is that life begins at the moment of implantation. This is based on the idea that “it’s not a human life until it is in the uterus” [5]. A second supporting idea is that at the moment of implantation (when it reaches the uterus), the unborn produces hormones which reveal his presence to us by transmitting its own signals [4]. I find this idea to be problematic because there is no need for others to know me, for me to exist, or to be alive.


If conception is considered the beginning of life, then the zygote has to be a living organism. Many people however refer to zygote as a “fertilized ovum” and not a new entity. However, at the moment that the sperm-egg happens, both (the sperm and egg) cease to exist; therefore, what’s created is in fact a new organism [6]. Furthermore, it fulfills all the criteria needed to define a biological life: metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction [3 & 6]. Even in a class, students would agree that the zygote is a living organism based on the student’s characteristics defining life [7].Yet, how do we consider whether the living organism is a human being?


After countless studies and many agreeing on the beginning of life at conception, the new debate for considering abortion has been the humanness of the living organism [8].  Let’s consider the moment of implantation again. If the growing organism recognizes the moment that implantation needs to occur (9-10 days after conception) wouldn’t that knowledge show a human resemblance? The knowledge of what to do, when to do it and how, all show a form of intelligence [8]. Others consider this stage as pure chemical facts. Then we have to consider the chemical properties that all humans have, which are also present in the zygote – i.e. the 46 chromosomes.  Personhood is also defined as when the growing living organism is viable – “when it can survive outside of its mother’s womb by medical technology” [8]. Currently, this is considered around the 22nd week of pregnancy. At this stage, all areas of human brain are present, the baby’s arms and legs - and even fingernails are also present. At 11 weeks, the baby already produces such complex facial expressions as smiling [2].  Yet, it is not considered a person because it would not survive by technological means if it were born at that stage. Thus, the definition of viability only shows that the baby’s safest place is its mother’s womb; it doesn’t show that the baby is not a person.


Human beings just like any other living organisms go through different stages. It is often easy to forget about the small stages that we have gone though in life, or to consider some stages more important than other. However, all of these stages are essential to our development, and therefore are equally significant. This applies especially to our formation in our mother’s womb. Then who’s right is it to interfere with any part of our formation? Doctors’, mom’s,ours?





(2) “Just the Facts” - Schools Information Project, aims to teach students about Life itself.


(4) - “Is it true that no one knows when life begins?”

(5) - “When Does Human Life Begin? The Final Answer”. A human embryologist speaks out about socio-legal issues involving the human embryo.

(6) - “Is an unborn human less human?”

(7)    /exchange/courses/bio103/f07/notes#1oct – Serendip. Bryn Mawr College’s Biology 103 course – class notes.

(8) –“Developing Human Life: The Question of Parenthood”.

(9) - “Abortion History”. 



Paul Grobstein's picture

abortion: looking for a sharp change

Yep, we go through stages, changing more or less slowly from one state to another. So maybe what we have to think about is not "life", or "newness", or "humanness" but whatever difficult balance of a number of different things we care about is to be struck in any give case?