Pro-Choice – A political view that believes abortion should continue to be legal and accessible. Pro-choice is not necessarily pro-abortion, but merely being in support of a woman’s having the option available (Urban Dictionary).
Pro-Life – Advocating the legal protection of human embryos and fetuses, especially by favoring the outlawing of abortion on the ground that it is the taking of a human life (The Free Dictionary).
THE BASIC FACTS OF LIFE – THE ABC’S
Abortion – The termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus (Merriam Webster). The deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy (oxforddictionaries.com). In medicine, an abortion is the premature exit of the products of conception (the fetus, fetal membranes, and placenta) from the uterus (medterms.com).
Birth – The time when a baby comes out from the body of its mother (Merriam Webster). A pre-mature birth is one that takes place before 37 weeks of gestation have passed. Historically, the definition of prematurity was 2500 grams (about 5 1/2 pounds) or less at birth (medterms.com).
Conception – The process of becoming pregnant involving fertilization or implantation or both (Merriam Webster). The union of the sperm and the ovum. Synonymous with fertilization (medterms.com).
In a 1973 landmark decision (Roe v. Wade) the United States Supreme Court held that a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. But, this right must be balanced against protecting prenatal life and protecting women’s health. Arguing that these became stronger over the course of a pregnancy, the Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the third trimester of pregnancy. “This is arbitrary, but perhaps any other selected point, such as quickening or viability, is equally arbitrary.” The Court later rejected the trimester framework, while affirming Roe’s central holding that a person has a right to abortion until viability. The Court defined “viable” as being “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.” (Wikipedia)
THE NOT SO BASIC FACTS OF BEING – THE A & Ω
Alpha – Personhood is the quality or condition of being an individual person (oxforddictionairies.com). When personhood begins (see differing views) would seem to be a critical factor in understanding the moral consequences of voluntarily ending it. Yet the U.S. Supreme Court stated: “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate” (Harry Blackmun Roe v. Wade, 1973). The Court initially limited abortions to no later than the third trimester, later changing it to no later than viability.
Omega – Death is when an individual [person] has sustained either (1) irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions, or (2) irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brain stem (American Medical Association). Murder is the crime of deliberately killing a person (Merriam-Webster).
Personhood – What Makes It So Complicated?
Bioethicists attempt to answer the question of personhood, or when a human life attains moral standing. The following views attempt to define when personhood occurs.
Genetic View – Conception (fertilization), when all human chromosomes are present, day 1.
Embryological View – When cells differentiate into three categories and establish the basic body plan (gastrulation). The mark of this stage of fetal development is the appearance in the embryo of the primitive streak, a precursor of the spinal column. Before gastrulation, an embryo can split and become identical twins (twinning). After gastrulation, an embryo is an ontological individual and can no longer form more than one human being. In humans, gastrulation occurs 14 days after fertilization when the embryo implants into the uterine wall of the mother.
Levitical View – When blood appears in the embryo. This view is based on Leviticus 17:11 – “the life of a creature is in the blood.” This occurs soon after gastrulation is complete, as specialized cells such as blood cells form, and the embryonic heart starts beating. This happens around 21 days after fertilization.
Quickening View – When the first motion of a fetus in the uterus is felt by the mother, usually somewhat before the middle (13-25 weeks) of the period of gestation.
Neurological View – Personhood should be defined using the same standard of measurement used to define death. Doctors define brain death as the loss of the pattern produced by a cerebral electroencephalogram (EEG) in the “lower” brain or brain stem. Thus, personhood starts when a fetus acquires a recognizable EEG pattern. This occurs about 24 to 27 weeks after fertilization.
Technological/Ecological View – When the developing fetus becomes viable (the point of fetal maturity that ensures a reasonable chance of survival apart from biological environment of the mother given technological support). This is the gestational age when a fetus reaches an anatomical threshold when critical organs, such as the lungs and kidneys, can sustain life. Currently, the borderline of viability is 25 weeks after fertilization. With advances in medical technology, the point of fetal viability will likely occur earlier.
Physiological View – At birth, when the baby has its own functioning circulatory, respiratory, and alimentary system independent of the mother.
Postmodern View – With the functioning of the neocortex of the “higher” brain that set humans apart from animals: rationality, self-awareness, and relationship with others. While this process begins as early as 21 weeks after fertilization, humans do not fully develop these capabilities until after birth.
Human Life – Where Do You Draw the Line?
Biologists clearly define human life as beginning when the fertilization process is complete, and a new, genetically unique organism comes into being.
The Development of An Unborn Child from Conception to Birth
Day 1: Fertilization: all human chromosomes are present; unique human life begins.
Day 6: Embryo begins implantation in the uterus.
Day 22: Heart begins to beat with the child’s own blood, often a different type than the mothers’.
Week 3: By the end of third week the child’s backbone spinal column and nervous system are forming. The liver, kidneys and intestines begin to take shape.
Week 4: By the end of week four the child is ten thousand times larger than the fertilized egg.
Week 5: Eyes, legs, and hands begin to develop.
Week 6: Brain waves are detectable; mouth and lips are present; fingernails are forming.
Week 7: Eyelids, and toes form, nose distinct. The baby is kicking and swimming.
Week 8: Every organ is in place, bones begin to replace cartilage, and fingerprints begin to form. By the 8th week the baby can begin to hear.
Weeks 9 and 10: Teeth begin to form, fingernails develop. The baby can turn his head, and frown. The baby can hiccup.
Weeks 10 and 11: The baby can “breathe” amniotic fluid and urinate. Week 11 the baby can grasp objects placed in its hand; all organ systems are functioning. The baby has a skeletal structure, nerves, and circulation.
Week 12: The baby has all the parts necessary to experience pain, including nerves, spinal cord, and thalamus. Vocal cords are complete. The baby can suck its thumb.
Week 14: At this age, the heart pumps several quarts of blood through the body every day.
Week 15: The baby has an adult’s taste buds.
Month 4: Bone Marrow is now beginning to form. The heart is pumping 25 quarts of blood a day. By the end of month 4 the baby will be 8-10 inches in length and will weigh up to half a pound.
Week 17: The baby can have dream (REM) sleep.
Week 19: Babies can routinely be saved at 21 to 22 weeks after fertilization, and sometimes they can be saved even younger.
Week 20: At 20 weeks the baby recognizes its’ mothers voice. At 20 weeks, the unborn child is capable of feeling pain. This is also the earliest at which partial-birth abortion is performed.
Months 5 and 6: The baby practices breathing by inhaling amniotic fluid into its developing lungs. The baby will grasp at the umbilical cord when it feels it. Most mothers feel an increase in movement, kicking, and hiccups from the baby. Oil and sweat glands are now functioning. The baby is now twelve inches long or more and weighs up to one and a half pounds.
Week 28: Laws vary by state, but in many cases, abortions are legal through 28 weeks.
Months 7 through 9: Eyeteeth are present. The baby opens and closes his eyes. The baby is using four of the five senses (vision, hearing, taste, and touch.) He knows the difference between waking and sleeping and can relate to the moods of the mother. The baby’s skin begins to thicken, and a layer of fat is produced and stored beneath the skin. Antibodies are built up, and the baby’s heart begins to pump 300 gallons of blood per day. Approximately one week before the birth the baby stops growing, and “drops” usually head down into the pelvic cavity.
APPLICATION – WHATEVER DO WE DO?
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalms 139:13-16)
If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life…. (Exodus 21:22-23)
[F]rom each man I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man . . . for in the image of God has God made man. (Genesis 9:5-6)
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Question of the Day – Is there really a difference between actions that result in the death of a “viable” fetus versus actions that prevent a fetus from becoming viable?
Nuffield Council on Bioethics, Medscape.com, Merriam Webster.
Bergel, Gary (Produced by NRLC) “When You Were Formed in Secret.” 1998.
Flanagan, Geraldine Lux. Beginning Life. The Marvelous Journey from Conception to Birth. New York: DK Publishing Inc., 1996.
Hopson, Janet L. Fetal Psychology. Oct. 1998. 07 Jan 2003.
“Fetal Development.” 07 Jan 2003. http://www.w-cpc.org/fetal1.html.
“When Does Life Begin? Abortion and Human Rights.” National Right To Life.