Sunday, January 04, 2009

Is Abortion Murder?

Batting back and forth with other bloggers, the subject of abortion came up once again. The most overused phrase in this debate is 'life begins at the moment of conception.'

But is that true?

Like many assumptions conservative Christians make, the idea of life beginning at the moment of conception isn't particularly scientific. The idea of when 'life' begins is often called 'ensoulment' by Christians - and when in the process of gestation that takes place is hotly debated between the religious and the rational.

Many Christian sects specify unequivocally that life begins at the moment of conception - it's part of Catholic dogma (which, unlike Catholic doctrine, is inarguable.) Ironically, however, this contradicts the Bible, which clearly states that a life begins at the moment of (or some time after) birth.

One of the problems of claiming that life begins at the moment of conception is that is often doesn't. The majority of fertilized eggs never implant in the uterine wall - a woman could be 'pregnant' for days or hours and never even know it.

Likewise, it's difficult to argue that life begins even after that, as up until the second trimester, a full third of most pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion. In Britain, most pregnant women don't announce their pregnancy until the twelfth or thirteenth week as the chances of disappointment are so high.

Following the start of the second trimester, most babies are in there for the long haul. To many couples, this is when it feels like you're 'really' pregnant. However, some scientists argue that even this milestone shouldn't be considered the 'start' of life, as a baby isn't 'viable' until much later - as early as the 21st week, but generally much later.

However, advances in medical science are making that period shorter and shorter, although it's doubtful (and probably undesirable) that this would ever made a first trimester fetus viable.

The final milestone scientists consider is the period at which point a fetus develops the capacity for feeling pain - generally around the 26 week period. However, as premature babies are being successfully delivered before this stage is reached, it's generally lost it's significance in terms of the abortion debate.


So does life begin at the moment of conception?

Scientifically speaking, I'd say almost certainly 'no'. However, to many pregnant couples, the answer is almost certainly 'yes.' Scientists might disagree, but for many couples, 'life' begins when they stare at a positive pregnancy test or start thinking of names. That's what makes a miscarriage so upsetting.

However, other couples don't consider a pregnancy 'real' until that twelve-week milestone, or when the baby first kicks. After my wife and I went through two miscarriages, on pregnancy number three we certainly didn't hold our breath until the start of the second trimester - and the result was our beautiful Baby Boozer.

So given that the majority of fertilized eggs never get implanted, and a significant percentage of early pregnancies aren't viable, I think a rational person would probably accept that 'life' doesn't begin until the fetus has some chance of making it out into the real world.

For some, that's the start of the second trimester. For others, it's the moment a fetus is considered viable. Thanks to advances in medicine, the gap between those time lines is rapidly diminishing anyway, so soon both camps will share a general consensus on the issue.

That's why, from an objective, rational point of view, I think abortions up to the twelve week mark are tolerable. That's why I'm in vehement opposition to bills like 2008 Colorado Amendment 48, which tried to define a person's life as beginning at the moment of fertilization (which would have not only banned abortions, but the morning after pill, IUD and many other forms of contraception.)

However, following the 12 week mark, I think I'd agree that abortions start stepping onto shaky moral territory. Life begins, as far as I'm concerned, from the moment a baby could be born and stand a reasonable chance of surviving (with appropriate medical attention.)

Certainly, this is just my opinion - but unlike the concept of 'life begins at the moment of conception,' it's an opinion I've reached rationally, by examining the facts. It's also the opinion of most scientists and thinking people.

However, I reached that opinion fully aware that there's nothing truly objective when a pregnancy is concerned. As I wrote earlier - life truly 'begins' when a mother-to-be decides it does - whether that's the moment she sees the positive pregnancy test, views the heartbeat on an ultrasound or even just cradles her baby in her arms for the first time.

The Cake Metaphor

Take eggs, flour and milk. Mix them all together and pour the mixture in a tin. Place it in the oven at 350 degrees and cook for half an hour. But during that cooking time, consider: When does it become a 'cake?'
  • Does 'cake' begin at the moment the eggs, flour and milk are whirred together in the food processor?
  • Does 'cake' begin at the moment the cake begins to rise? Or when the gooey mixture becomes sponge?
  • Or is it only 'cake' when it emerges from the oven, golden brown and smelling delicious?
If you can answer that question convincingly, you're probably qualified to tackle the debate about abortion.


Coffee Bean said...

I'm in a rush and cannot give a more lengthy comment right now... but, I believe a cake is a cake when the person making the cake puts all of the ingredients into the bowl. The intent is to make a cake.

ck said...

Life begins when the egg is fertilized.

So when a baby has a chance outside the womb...

So a baby in America, that can be around the 5 month mark... in Africa... 8? Why should one's living arrangement make such a drastic difference.

I've had many friends have miscarriages. Ask them if that 8 week old is a baby.

And, fyi... the number is 25% before the 2nd trimester.

I'm all for being pro-choice, and the VAST majority of abortions are from women who CHOSE to have sex.

Max-e said...

This is one of the debates no one can never hope to win, because if you have a fundamental belief, no one is going to change it. I am pro life.
When does life begin, when the egg is fertilized and the life starts growing. The cake starts when you put the ingredients together.
To put it another way, look at any baby and ask youself the question, "At what point would it have been legal to take that life?"

Coffee Bean said...

Okay, I'm back.

Going along with the cake theme...

Cakes require certain ingredients. When the baker puts the ingredients into the bowl it is a cake. It isn't a finished cake, but all the ingredients for a cake are in there. If the baker spills the batter while pouring it into the pans, it is still a cake. If the cake does not rise, it is still a cake. If the cake burns, it is still a cake. The fact that the cake did not turn out does not negate the fact that it was a cake. If you spill the batter for a cake, you don't say, "I spilled a glob of ingredients."

Using the argument that a large percentage of pregnancies are spontaneously aborted or that a baby cannot survive out of the womb before a certain gestational age does not change what it is.

The fact is that, left on its own, fertilized eggs result in a baby. Because sometimes,for unknown reasons, there is a miscarriage does not mean that it was not real. When the egg was fertilized there was instantly all the DNA needed to cause the beginning of a new life. Because a woman could be pregnant for days and the embryo didn't implant, all without her knowledge, doesn't mean that it wasn't real. That same woman could deny that she was pregnant... yet in 9 months she'd be having a baby. The existence of that life is not dependant upon recognition of anyone.

Coffee Bean said...

ACK! That last bit wasn't totally clear.

My point is... it doesn't matter when any of us recognize that a baby is a baby. It is what it is. All the DNA is there from the moment of conception. Our souls are intangible. There's no way of knowing if that is also a part of who we are from the moment of conception and there is no way to know that. It is a fact that abortion ends the process.

busyrn said...

I am a registered nurse and can say as a fact that life is defined in the medical community by a beating heart. Even if there is no brain function or respiratory effort the body is alive until cardiac activity ceases. Therefore one could assume life begins with a beating heart as well. However, a fetus cannot survive outside of the host until at least 20 weeks gestation, though I know some could survive the odds of it being healthy are slim. There in itself lies the conflict in considering abortion murder, at least for me. Once the fetus is viable, late term abortion after 20 weeks, I would have to say one has had plenty of time to choose to end the pregnancy and follow through with that decision in 5 months. As a mother and a woman who has had a medical abortion, my opinion is on judgement day to whomever we may have to answer we will stand alone therefore I believe it's a personal decision that others have no right to make for another nor judge someone else for.

Roland Hulme said...

Hey Coffee Bean! - I believe when you mix all the ingredients together, you make 'batter' or 'cake mix'.

At some point in the oven, that batter becomes a cake - but not before.

When somebody spills the cake mix all over the counter, they don't shout: "Oh, #!?#&!!, I've spilled cake everywhere!"

Hey CK! Thanks for stopping by. As I wrote in my post, having experienced it myself, I'm not in any doubt that my wife and I considered our two miscarriages 'babies.' But that was us - subjective.

The 30% figure I quoted is accurate, depending on the age of the mother (past 40, it cane be as high as 75%) and where you get the figures. Many women who miscarry don't even know they're pregnant, which is why 25% is generally considered an underestimation.

As for you final comment - you're basically saying that women shouldn't have sex AT ALL unless they're prepared to have a baby as a result of that - which isn't exactly realistic or desirable. I can understand being against premarital sex, but I'd be interested to hear your view on contraception in general.

Hey Max-E! I have to admit that abortion would never be a choice I could have made for anybody pregnant with my child - and I think that doubly now I have my adorable Baby to remind me of that every day.

Hello again, Coffee Bean! I think I addressed the 'batter' issue... As for the miscarriage thing. Generally, pregnancies miscarry during the early weeks because there's something wrong with the baby - some genetic defect or something. The body aborts the pregnancy because that fertilized egg was never truly viable anyway - the pregnancy would never have gone to full term. That's why I don't believe the issue is black and white - in those first few weeks, the ingredients are still being put together and somebody - the human body, God - gets the recipe wrong sometimes.

But I'll give you this... If you terminate a pregnancy, one would have had to be 'pregnant' - and you can't be pregnant unless you're carrying a baby. Ergo, the whole argument I've been making it totally moot!

Hello BusyRN! Thanks for reading my blog! I think comments like CK's indicate that there's more to this whole issue than just pregnancy and abortion - there are elements of the conservative Christian movement who want to police people's (women's) sexuality and this is the first step. The second is banning abortion, basically removing all freedom women have to control their own bodies. I'd understand the conservative position a lot more if they weren't so hard line about policing other people's sexuality as well. It's hypocritical.

One Dove said...

The medical and scientific communities overwhelmingly agree that in humans, life begins at conception. The only reason someone would not know this is if they had not sufficiently researched the matter, had only accessed erroneous information, or was choosing to believe that, which to him or her, is most appealing.

Pro-choice groups no longer even debate on the issue of when life begins. Instead, their arguments are most often centered on the definitions of such terms as "viability," "human being," "person," and "personhood," which are philosophical by nature and therefore scientifically indeterminable. Arguing over terms like these and their assigned concepts is useless other than to further the rhetoric of debate and circumvent the core issue of life.

The cake metaphor is inapplicable. Comparing the preparation of a cake with the conception of life is incongruous. The initiation of fire would be a better metaphor, but still inadequate. Nevertheless, the conception of life is more similar to the initiation of fire, in that something begins suddenly and continues so long as it is fueled. Just as a match is struck and fire ensues, so similarly begins a human life. And just as the burning of a match can be extinguished, so can the continuation of a human life.

The fire of a match will only continue so long as it is fueled. Likewise with the fertilized eggs you speak of that never implant in the uterine wall. Those eggs were alive just as surely as the match was afire, but both failed to receive sufficient fuel to continue.

The unwillingness amongst people to accept abortion as the taking of a human life is a matter of selfish convenience and self-imposed ignorance. It is rationalization for the fulfillment of desire. Or, as my great-grandmother used to say, "Ignorance is bliss."

It's just a pity that so many children must die for the sake of their mothers.

One Dove - Against the Holocaust of Our Unborn Children

Roland Hulme said...

Hi, One Dove! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

You write: "The medical and scientific communities overwhelmingly agree that in humans, life begins at conception."

Unfortunately, that's not true - which is probably why you didn't link to anything to back up that claim. I'd start here to see how this is a debate that's still raging and there is certainly NO concensus on the issue:

Even the Bible is clear on this point, stating that a child isn't considered a person until they've been born:

“Let the day perish in which I was born. ... Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb, nor hid sorrow from my eyes. Why died I not from the womb? Why did I not give up the spirit when I came out of the belly? ... Or as an untimely birth I had NOT been; as infants which never saw light.”

Job 3:3, 10-11, 16

Also, your fire metaphor is flawed - fire grows, but in never actually changes. It starts as fire, it ends as fire. It's always the same thing.

A baby in the womb grows from 'ingredients' (like a cake) into a fully formed human being. There is a developmental period and that creates the 'grey' area which pro-choice people use to argue their position.

The Maid said...

Love how you say that this argument goes on between the religious and the rational.

You know, I am religious...and I am rational too.

I am also glad that no one ever sucked the "baby batter" out of my womb.

I couldn't imagine my life without them.

The Maid :)

ck said...

I believe a person shouldn't have sex unless they are ready to deal with all the possible consequences. Period. This isn't policing their sexuality, but not allowing them to kill a child as a form of birth control.

There are to many options out there to prevent pregnancy, from condemns to the pill, to abstinence. I had a vasectomy, I shouldn't be able to have another child with my wife. But if it happened... we'd accept and move forward (after adequate testing ;-) ).

Sex is a choice. A child is not. A child is a responsibility.

One Dove, I loved your fire analogy. Beautiful!

I am about as consistent on this subject as any one person can be.

If you are willing to 'play the game' then you better be willing to deal with the 'winnings'.

You'll notice I never bring the Bible into this argument. I think this is one argument that is so far outside the Bible it doesn't even need to be considered. This is purely a question of whether murder is acceptable.

One Dove said...

You write: "Unfortunately, that's not true - which is probably why you didn't link to anything to back up that claim."

Actually, no, I didn't link to anything to back up that claim for a couple of other reasons. The first reason is, I didn't want to fill your blog with links. The second reason is, it's kind of like linking to evidence that the earth is round, but since you think it's flat ;-), here's a page with plenty of links and references to the fact that life begins at conception: When does life begin?

As to the ONE article you cited, it's no wonder you're still confused, you are trying to answer the question of when life begins based on the contents of an article wherein the writer, Scott F. Gilbert, is attempting to likewise answer a scientific question using existing philosophy, religious beliefs, and philosopical reasoning--it doesn't work--and because of this, his examples and reasoning end up being ambiguous. As I explained earlier, arguing over terms like these and their assigned concepts is useless other than to further the rhetoric of debate and circumvent the core issue of life.

Remember Roland, in your initial post you posed the question "So does life begin at the moment of conception?" The philiosophical side of "What is Life?" is a separate issue. Kind of like, it all depends on the meaning of "is."

You also write: "Also, your fire metaphor is flawed - fire grows, but in[sic] never actually changes. It starts as fire, it ends as fire. It's always the same thing. A baby in the womb grows from 'ingredients' (like a cake) into a fully formed human being. There is a developmental period and that creates the 'grey' area which pro-choice people use to argue their position."

The reason you keep getting stuck on your cake metaphor is the same reason you're stuck on the conception issue--you are mixing discussions--stay on subject!

Your cake metaphor is fine if you are dealing with the subject of development of the baby's physical body in the womb. However, that was not your subject. Your top-level subject was "Is Abortion Murder?" with the sub-issue of "Is it true that life begins at the moment of conception?"

Given your subject, and the scientific and medical evidence available, your cake metaphor is not applicable. Science and medicine say the beginning of life is not a gradual baking, developing thing. Science and medicine say the beginning of life is more or less instantaneous, like fire--and yes, it grows, but it never actually changes. The baby's body on the other hand (separate issue) and everything involved with its physical and emotional development (another separate issue) is more comparable to your cake metaphor and again, as you say, this is where pro-choice people like to go, into that grey area, that philosophical side.

In your original post you write: "Like many assumptions conservative Christians make, the idea of life beginning at the moment of conception isn't particularly scientific."

Then you start quoting Biblical scripture in your reply to me, saying: "Even the Bible is clear on this point, stating that a child isn't considered a person until they've been born:

'Let the day perish in which I was born. ... Because it shut not up the doors of my mother's womb, nor hid sorrow from my eyes. Why died I not from the womb? Why did I not give up the spirit when I came out of the belly? ... Or as an untimely birth I had NOT been; as infants which never saw light.'

'Job 3:3, 10-11, 16'"

Make up you mind Roland, do you want to base your thinking on the Bible or on science? If you want to base it on the Bible, there are plenty of scriptures that can be quoted that infer the "personhood" (another subject again) of the child in the womb. In fact, depending on how one wants to interpret it, even the scripture you quoted would seem to support the "personhood" of the child. But again, this path of the abortion debate leads you into the grey area and those philosophical questions that rely more on personal belief and faith than science and medicine for their answers.

The title of your post posed the question "Is Abortion Murder?" Based on everything I know and believe, I choose to think it is. Based on everything you know and believe, you may choose to think it's not. To most people, therein lies the dilemma.

One Dove - Against the Holocaust of Our Unborn Children

One Dove said...

Just a little icing for your cake there, Roland ;-). Since you seem to have a more than passing interest in Scott F. Gilbert's work and opinions, you may want to check out some of his current endeavors. His present research is in evolutionary developmental biology, focusing on that most interesting of topics--how the turtle forms its shell. And, I know you'll enjoy this one--he has recently claimed to have identified the bone from which Eve was created.

Take care,

One Dove

Roland Hulme said...

CK! Great comments - they made me laugh out loud - especially the one about the paternity testing!

I like the way you suggested keeping the Bible out of it - in fact, that helps the pro-life argument, rather than hinders it.

One Dove! I wasn't advocating Gilberts work - merely illustrating that, unlike you claimed, the issue is STILL under debate from all sorts of angles.

You're right about the semantics of 'life.' Busy RN put it best when she said 'life' begins with a beating heart. Our local Catholic church has a big sign outside: "Abortion stops a beating heart" and that's short, succinct and inarguable. (Although pro-choices have defaced the sign now.)

I guess when I say 'life' I'm talking about when that little bundle of cells becomes a person - and I see your point about 'life' being different from 'personhood' and if I'm an atheist, surely I'm the LAST person who should be arguing that there's any difference.

Rick said...

I've read the previous comments, and as a minister, I believe the Bible when it says "the secret things belong to God." However, one thing is clear and that is what I go by in determining the moment of conception. At any time after the fertilization of the egg, and an abortion occurs, what would have been born a human baby, is not born. So I don't want to chance playing God. Plenty of scriptures testify to the fact that God is with the baby in the womb.
And this is very important. Pro-Choice means "NO Choice for baby!

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