For part one of this series click here.
Let’s start this part with a simple point. While the Bible may not be clear on when a life begins, if science were to determine that personhood begins at conception, the appropriate response for Christians would absolutely be to fight for that life. Because to terminate the most innocent of a person willingly would be murder. And if Christians (let alone anyone) believed such a thing was happening, then absolutely they should politically fight to end a mass genocide. As the commandment reads, “Thou shalt not kill.”
The ultimate question people have been trying to answer is this,
When does a fetus become a person?
Now that we’ve said that. Here’s a happy video of what happens in those nine months.
So to answer this question let’s look at a few stages of the developing baby.
Each month inside a woman’s ovaries, a group of eggs starts to grow in small, fluid-filled sacs called follicles. Eventually, one of the eggs erupts from the follicle. It usually happens about 2 weeks before a woman’s next period.
Week two: Conception itself does not happen until the sperm meets the egg. (This factor has caused much tension in arguments where faith led organization argue against the use of contraception or “birth control.”) In this week the egg will meet with the sperm cells and begin the process of fertilization.
At three weeks there is a little ball of cells called a blastocyst. Basically…this British guy will tell you what happens.
Until the thing “plants” like seen at the end of the video a “pregnancy” has not taken place.
At four weeks the organs begin to develop and it may be possible for a woman to tell that she is pregnant.
At five weeks the essentials are being formed, the brain, the heart, the spinal chord. It is in this week that the babies heart begins to beat. As you will see on numerous billboards up and down your highway.
Six weeks the facial structure begins to form.
At 7 weeks hands and feet begin to form. The baby has a tail and is still considered an embryo. At seven weeks the baby has distinct blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients.
Week 8 the neural pathways are taking shape.
In 2013 a study showed that 66% of abortions in the United States happen prior to the 9th week. According to the long period of church history discussed in the previous post, what follows is the period by which the child becomes an “animated fetus.” And it was considered illegal to perform an abortion.
Week 9 we’re looking at something like this.
Week 10: The baby moves from being considered an embryo and is now considered a fetus. The fetus begins moving and kicking, or “animated” as the church referred. However if it’s your first child you may not even feel these movements for another eight weeks. (Which could bring up a moral question about “technical animation” and “felt and observable animation.”)
Week 13: In 2013 the Center for Disease and Control determined that 92% of abortions in the U.S. happened prior to 13 weeks. Your baby has fingerprints.
According to the same study by the CDC roughly 1% of abortions happen at or after the 21st week.
Weeks 23-27 the baby is quickly building up its respiratory system that will help it breathe. Around the 26th week the baby is inhaling and exhaling small amounts of amniotic fluid, which is essential for the development of its lungs.
While the babies lungs are still weak, if the baby were born around the 27th week, with medical help, the baby would be capable of surviving outside the womb.
Only this was brought into question in 2008. A little girl in Miami named Amillia Taylor was born prematurely at just 21 weeks and six days into her gestation, which was two weeks before the legal abortion cut off at the time in the US. Amillia survived.
At 40 weeks is the average pregnancy, where your baby will take it’s first “breath of life.”
It wasn’t until the mid 1950’s that a woman could go to a doctor and have weird goo placed on their bellies and see an image of their child. The effect of this new feature directly impacted the communities that we now call “pro-life” and “pro-choice.” On the one hand, people of faith could see these images and clearly say that inside the woman’s belly was something that resembled a child. On the other this same technology was used to diagnose potentially fatal or debilitating abnormalities in the fetus, which can encourage termination of the pregnancy. Things like Downs-Syndrome which in the late 90’s, in the U.S., it was observed to have had a fetal termination rate near 90%. (Studies have shown that over the last decade this number has dropped though seemingly it’s unclear to say just by how much.)
The whole thing gets messy around an argument of semantics.
There’s a problem with the statement life begins at conception. The problem is what are we defining “life.”
If Nasa were to go and discover tiny bacteria on Mars they would lose their minds saying they found life on Mars. Every time we wash our hands we are killing millions of “living” bacteria. A man’s sperm is “living.” Yet we don’t shout MURDER every time a guy masturbates. Your skin is a living thing that dies constantly yet we don’t weep it’s genocide every time you scratch your head.
So we can’t necessarily argue when does life begin because technically life begins BEFORE conception.
The objective question bounces back to personhood and determining when does this thing inside a women become a living person. Is it from the moment of intercourse? Is it the moment of conception? Is it the ball of cells? Is it implantation? Is it when it becomes fetal tissue? Is it when the babies heart beats for the very first time around the fifth and sixth weeks? Is it in the later term when the fetus becomes conscious? Is it when the baby takes it’s first breath of life?
You could see why the sciences have a harder time answering this question than a religious person making arguments about the soul; a supernatural idea we have no way of measuring.
Personhood’s beginning is itself is a philosophical question. It’s merely an idea that has no clear definition…yet. And as we discussed previously, the answer cannot be clearly defined even by the use of scriptures.
If we are arguing that personhood begins at conception. We have to wonder what God is doing when millions of pregnancies end for natural reasons undecided by the parents. In 2013 it was found that nearly 15-20% of all pregnancies in the United States end in miscarriages before the 20th week of pregnancy; around the same time that most abortions occur. What do you do with that? Millions of “souls” leave this world every year without any parental intervention at all. And without ever experiencing what we call “life.” How do we rationalize this?
When roughly 20% of pregnancies naturally do what is largely condemned by people of faith. Why wouldn’t we picket God? Which this understanding puts great tension in both categories. Both the natural, and the supernatural.
It’s tricky to determine when personhood begins but do we default our confusion to say personhood begins at week 40 of the pregnancy with birth? Because clearly stories like Amillia Taylor show that personhood begins AT LEAST around week 21. So would the safest thing to do be to just say that personhood begins at conception until we figure all of this out? Shouldn’t we just play it all on the safe side? How doe we implement ideas that aren’t very clear when there are arguments that human lives are at stake?
Should the government decide what is and isn’t a human life?
Well that would be a Political discussion. So in our next part, let’s talk Politics.