Many subjects can elicit an array of emotions with varying degrees of passion. I think those passions can often cloud and complicate what should more often than not, be a rather simple issue. It might come as a surprise — then again, it might not — that I think one of the most volatile issues debated today is very simple, and only appears complex because of an insatiable desire to get the other side to see it through your own glasses.
To me, the debate over whether abortion is morally good, benign, or immoral, is as clear as any issue can be.
- Taking the life of an innocent human being without proper justification is morally wrong
- Elective abortion takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification
- Therefore, elective abortion is morally wrong
It would seem that the intricacies which make up defenses for abortion are really an effort to deny the obvious. In this three-part series, I will address three of the most offered defenses of elective abortion (abortion on demand for non-life threatening reasons). 1) We don’t know when life really begins and, a fertilized egg – fetus is not a human. 2) Until a certain point, the zygote, blastocyst, embryo is just a collection of cells in principle no different from fingernails or skin cells. And, 3) A fetus is not a person worthy of protection.
The first objection: We don’t really know when life begins — a fertilized egg is not a human being. The objection implies that we (understood to mean scientists) have not determined when life begins. Therefore since we cannot be certain, it is unfair to restrict a woman from obtaining an abortion if she so chooses. There are two parts to this particular defense. First, there is uncertainty as to when the beginning of life takes place. And second, that because of that uncertainty, we cannot say abortion is morally wrong.
Is it true that because we don’t know, we cannot say abortion is morally wrong? This seems intuitively wrong and actually serves as a reason to not allow abortion. Let’s say it’s the middle of the night and you are awakened by noises in the living room. You can’t really tell what it is so you grab your pistol that you keep for protection and slowly make your way into the hallway. Your spouse reminds you that it could be one of your three children, or even the family pet. It is so dark, you can’t even see your hand in front of your face. Would it be responsible to aimlessly fire your weapon into the darkness not knowing beforehand if it was one of your children? Would not a reasonable person at least make sure before pulling the trigger? Would you be willing to take that chance?
Can we know when life begins? According to Dr. Alfred M. Bongioanni, professor of pediatrics and obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania to the Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, 1st Session 1981, stated:
I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception…. I submit that human life is present throughout this entire sequence from conception to adulthood and that any interruption at any point throughout this time constitutes a termination of human life….
I am no more prepared to say that these early stages [of development in the womb] represent an incomplete human being than I would be to say that the child prior to the dramatic effects of puberty…is not a human being. This is human life at every stage.
The same report concluded,
Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being – a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings.
An entry in WebMd.com notes:
At the moment of fertilization, your baby’s genetic make-up is complete, including its sex….Within 24-hours after fertilization, the egg begins dividing rapidly into many cells.
Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. pp. 16, 2.
Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoa development) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.
A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo)….[B]irth is merely a dramatic event during development resulting in a change of environment.
In the Womb, National Geographic, 2005.
The two cells gradually and gracefully become one. This is the moment of conception, when an individual’s unique set of DNA is created, a human signature that never existed before and will never be repeated.
As it turns out, contrary to the objection, we do know when life begins. And we know what it is that now exists at the point of conception, a genetically complete living human being. What we do not have is a human being that looks fully mature. But why should we expect it to look fully mature, it’s not. Its life has just begun. Medically speaking, a fertilized egg is not a potential life, it is already alive. This is evidenced by the biological function which begins immediately, i.e., the outer layer changing composition to prevent additional sperm from entering the ovum; the rapid cell division, etc. Biological function is only possible if life is present.
Dna determines what a living thing is. At the point of fertilization, there is a complete sequence of dna. At no time in development will it gain any more genetic information. At conception, the fertilized egg is fully genetically human. This is not a potential human. It is a potential embryo. A potential fetus. A potential infant. A potential toddler. A potential adolescent. A potential teenager. A potential adult. It is fully human and potentially mature. But maturity doesn’t determine value either. For that matter, a 10 year-old girl whose reproductive system is not as biologically mature as a 17 year-old teen is not less valuable.
A human being is valuable in virtue of being a member of the human family. The only difference between a fertilized egg and a fully grown adult is degree of maturity. Taking the life of an innocent human being without proper justification is morally wrong. Elective abortion takes the life of an innocent human being without proper justification. Elective abortion is morally wrong.