No One Knows When Life Begins

4 mins

"We don't really know when life begins." Pro-choice activists use this reasoning to argue for abortion, claiming that the mother is a designated life, but the life of her preborn child is yet to be determined. In this video, Tara Sander Lee, a molecular geneticist and Director of Life Sciences for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, delivers a scientific response to this common argument and dives into the developmental stages of the preborn child.

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Video Transcript

Do we really know when life begins? Some people think that it is a complete mystery, and therefore abortion should be allowed. They reason that a fetus is “not a person” or is somehow “not a real human being” or is just a "potential life" while in the mother’s womb. But there are two problems with this kind of reasoning.

First, even if it were true that we didn’t know when life had “begun” in the womb, that would be an argument against abortion. Imagine you go hunting with a friend and the two of you become separated. You see some rustling in the bushes ahead, but you don’t know if it’s a deer or your friend. Would you shoot? That would be criminally reckless if you did, because there’s a chance that behind that bush is a human life. In the same way, if there is a possibility that there is a human life in the womb, it would be reckless to kill that life.

But that’s where we find the second flaw in this reasoning: it’s not merely possible that a human life has begun in the womb: it is a scientific certainty that life begins at fertilization. At the moment a sperm fuses with an egg (known as fertilization or conception), a new, unique human being that is genetically distinct from both parents comes into existence. Gender, ethnicity, hair color, eye color, and countless other traits are determined at that moment. This genetic blueprint remains the same for his or her entire life, and no other human being past or future will have one identical to it.

After conception, a developing baby grows at an extremely rapid pace, especially within the first trimester. The baby’s heart begins to beat in the sixth week of pregnancy, which is only a little over 3 weeks from the moment of conception. A new study found that the first heartbeat may occur even sooner, as early as the fifth week (about the same time a woman discovers she is pregnant). The baby’s lungs and digestive system are also forming.

At eight weeks, human brain activity can be recorded. In fact, the human brain will continue to develop and mature even after birth and well into the person’s twenties. At twelve weeks, the tiny child can swallow, scrunch hands into little fists, touch his or her face, and scratch his or her head. The baby’s fingers and toes are also complete with nails. Fingerprints are developing by fourteen weeks. At eighteen weeks, the baby’s ears can even hear music and recognize their mother’s voice. Between 18-30 weeks, doctors can treat pre-born babies while still inside the womb with life-saving therapies and repair significant defects for certain diseases. And as early as 22 weeks, it is possible for babies to be born and survive outside the womb.

Referring to the preborn child as a zygote, blastocyst, embryo, or fetus at different stages of development does nothing to lessen his or her humanity. Those are just ways of referring to age, no different from the terms infant, toddler, adolescent, or adult.

It is also false for some to call the preborn child a “parasite” or consider him or her as nothing more than a blob-like “sea cucumber.” First, parasites are different in species from their host, and if a fetus were a parasite, then the mother’s immune system would attack it. Instead, the mother’s body undergoes dramatic changes to specifically provide nourishment and nutrients to her child. It is also a fact that pre-born children exhibit behaviors that we do on a daily basis—they smile, feel pain, cough, yawn, hiccup, respond to sound and light, sleep, and possibly even dream. Some researchers have even shown that babies may cry while in the womb.

Even pro-choice, atheist philosopher Peter Singer admits that, “There is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence, an embryo conceived from human sperm and egg is a human being.” And there are thousands of biology and embryology textbooks, modern DNA studies, medical dictionaries, science professors and medical researchers that all confirm that life begins at fertilization. And every mother like me that has experienced pregnancy knows that with every kick and movement the baby makes, life is blooming for the child growing inside.

So, when does life begin? It is a scientific certainty that human life begins at the moment of conception. Therefore, every abortion kills an innocent human being. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the scientific facts and miss the miracle of life.

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