Does life really begin at conception?

It all depends on how you define Photo: Egg and sperm

FLORIDA, November 16, 2012 — During this year’s election cycle, abortion rights made quite a stir.

On both the left and the right, there was no shortage of words about whether or not abortion services should remain legal. At times, it seemed like the subject was more important to a great deal of voters than our nation’s economic future.

Who could have imagined that the Great Recession would actually take a backseat to Roe v. Wade?

Nonetheless, very little progress was made on discussing the social, as well as scientific, realities of abortion. In my opinion, the issue is presented in a far more complex manner than it needs to be. The essential question is as follows: When does life begin?

This has nothing to do with public funding, mandatory waiting periods, age limits, parental notification, or religious imperatives. No, it boils down to something far more important — the very meaning of what it is to be alive.

Life itself is defined as an organism’s capacity for self-sustainment, with the singular alternative being nonexistence, which is also referred to as death. Considering this, it becomes very difficult to claim that an embryo or, in certain cases, fetus is truly alive. While both undeniably possess the potential for life, the equally undeniable fact is that potentials are not actualities.  

Opponents of abortion rights frequently state that heartbeat begins at a relatively early stage of pregnancy. They are not wrong, but what is being spoken of pertains only to muscular action. Without the carrier in question’s incubatory support, all potential for life would vanish.

Viability comes about at a far later stage. Estimated to occur between twenty-four and twenty-eight weeks into pregnancy, this is when one can make a convincing argument that the fetus is no longer a solely developing entity. With the ability to survive outside of said carrier’s body, it has attained the status attributed to a living human being.  

After all, if said fetus no longer requires total and complete support from an objectively living individual, has it not become an individual in its own right? Does any individual have the liberty to take the life of another? Most certainly not.

Some hardline anti-abortion rights activists strongly believe that life begins at the instant of conception. If one is to seriously consider this idea, then all cells operating within a person’s body are alive as well, whether they be in a strand of hair or an appendix. Severing either of these, in turn, becomes murder. 

It goes without mentioning that such a concept, if applied to virtually any given legal system, would cause chaos and strife of epic proportions. The law would collapse under the weight of its own ludicrousness and leave those trying to adhere to it in a worse situation than experienced beforehand.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, a growing percentage of ethicists think that life begins at sentience. This denotes the ability for consciousness, which is not present in any meaningful fashion until long after birth. Under such a code of morality, terminating a nearly month-old infant is completely acceptable. 

Needless to say, this sort of thing opens the door for unimaginable horrors. In terms of practicality, it makes about as much sense as putting tumors on the same level as viable fetuses.

Brushing aside partisan rhetoric and discounting theological substitutions for scientific data are understandably no small feats for a substantial number of Americans. Throughout the course of their lives, many become dangerously immersed in their respective political ideologies, religious creeds, or both. These people often lose track of the reality that others hold different views. 

By recognizing an objective standard, however, on a topic so monumentally important as the beginning of human life, we can begin to bridge seemingly bottomless divides that have been built in our society.

My opinion is my opinion, and I am sure that the majority of those reading this disagree with it. I personally prefer things this way, and would only ask that, as far as abortion rights are concerned, one’s stance be rooted on the solid ground of fact and reason. Too few bother to make such a provision, and this has led to our degenerated state of public discourse. 

With so many matters in serious need of discussion, what a shame that is. Oh, well. That’s life, I suppose.

Much of this article was first published as When Does Human Life Begin? on

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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