Does life begin at conception?


Fact Box

  • According to a Stanford University Medical Center study, “two-thirds of all human embryos fail to develop successfully.”
  • In 2013, North Dakota became the first state to pass a fetal heartbeat bill, a “controversial form of abortion restriction legislation in the United States which makes abortions illegal as soon as the embryonic or fetal heartbeat can be detected.” 
  • An embryo is officially designated a “fetus” during the 11th week of pregnancy.
  • As of 2019, there were 7 US States with no limit in terms of gestational age that a baby could be aborted. 

Stephanie (Yes)

The fertilization of an egg by a sperm is an undeniable first spark of life. While both gametes are technically 'alive,' just as a transplanted organ is, neither is considered an independent being. Yet, at the moment of their fusion, 'a new single-cell human being immediately produces specifically human proteins and enzymes' and autonomously begins to develop. Without outside interference, a fertilized egg that successfully attaches to the uterus can grow to become a fetus and continue developing into a full-grown baby.

One could argue from the pro-choice perspective that abortion does not cause pain to the fetus because it has not matured to the point where it can feel such a sensation. However, depending on how far along the pregnancy is, this could be a torturous mistake, as a fetus develops the ability to feel pain weeks before it has developed the ability to regulate it. An unborn baby requiring 'intrauterine surgery' is given anesthesia, indicating that the medical field recognizes the fetus is alive and feeling. Similarly, when a fetus is deliberately killed in a crime, the penalties are harsher. In 38 states, there exist 'fetal homicide laws' that address feticide, many of which apply to an unborn baby at 'any stage of gestation/development.'

A question that pro-choice advocates often fail to answer is that if life does not begin at conception, then when does it? At implantation, at the quickening, when a mother can physically feel her unborn baby, or at birth? This uncertainty is troubling given that an unborn child who is very much alive may not be considered as such if the timing of its conception is deemed to be inconvenient.

Sheryll (No)

The notion that life begins at conception is not grounded in science, but rather it is upheld by religion. If we approach this argument with evidence instead of faith, it would be clear that an embryo is, by no definition, comparable to a human being with a right to life. 

To argue that life begins at conception would be to deny the realities of the fertilization process. The human egg is already a living cell. And when a live sperm fertilizes it, it evolves into a live embryo. Hence, there is no conception of new life here, as life is already present at every stage of the process. 

Furthermore, even when an egg is fertilized, there is no guarantee that it will form into a fetus. More often than not, fertilized eggs have actually been determined to exit with a woman's menstrual flow. This is why scientists believe that fertilization cannot be considered the beginning of life, as research shows it is simply impossible for most fertilized eggs to become human. 

Most experts are also in agreement that human reproduction is a highly inefficient process. For many pregnant women, it's often the case that something will go wrong. And in these cases, termination is the medically-advised option. This is perhaps the most important reason we cannot insist that life begins at conception. Because if we were to consider a fetus a human being, it may change what would otherwise be considered the safest option for mothers, as they would ultimately be compelled to continue with the pregnancy regardless of the outcome. 

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