When does a cell become human?¶
A murder is when you kill a human being because it disturbs your own life. Abortion is when an unborn child is being removed from it’s mother’s womb before birth.
Which arises the question whether a human egg cell that has just been invaded by a spermatozoid is already a human being.
If you believe that the answer is “yes”, then abortion is –of course– a form of murder because the right to life of the unborn child is more important than their parent’s right to avoid problems or troubles.
But what makes you assume that a fertilized egg cell actually is already a human being? Why not wait until week 6 when its heart starts to beat? Or even until week 21 when there is no known case of a premature born baby that actually survived?
And if you believe that the answer is “no”, then –of course– you get angry when some stubborn moralizers attack your liberty of doing what you want with your body.
But what makes you say that a one-year-old baby is already a human being? Why not wait until they are 18 years old and legally adult? And do you then agree that people with some disorder are human beings?
There is no scientifically clear answer to the question. Scientists cannot answer it because it is not their business, it is out of scope.
A controversial topic¶
One thing seems clear : abortion will remain a controversial topic.
And repeating ever more forcefully that “children in the womb are human beings and members of the human family entitled to the right to life by virtue of their inherent dignity and worth”1, doesn’t really help to answering our fundamental question. Neither does it help to repeat that you believe “in the sanctity and protection of all human life” or to call others to “boldly stand up for the protection of life, against the liberal and destructive spirit of the age, against the attacks on life”.2
Vance Morgan7 describes the abortion topic as an example of idolatry that caused Donald Trump to become president of the United States: “I am willing to turn a blind eye to and ignore any moral failings, even the most obvious and blatant ones, as long as the person in question has the right moral position on this one issue,” the evangelical Trump supporter says. (…) [I]n his evangelical supporter’s estimation, even murder doesn’t occupy the same moral universe as being right about abortion. One issue –being pro-life on the abortion issue– has been raised in status to being the only thing that matters. The abortion issue has become the only moral issue. And that, my friends, is idolatry.”
The fundamental question is unanswered, but reality needs decisions. We need civil laws about questions related to abortion because things happen.
Because the fundamental question has two possible controversial answers, abortion laws vary considerably between jurisdictions, ranging from outright prohibition to public funding of abortion.3
These differences are not because pro-choice supporters support murder, it is because prenatal development is a continuum, with no clear defining feature distinguishing an embryo from a fetus.
Late-term abortion is usually prohibited even in countries where early-term abortion is considered a simple routine remedy for “accidents”. So where is the limit between early-term and late-term? When does a human start to be a human? At the beginning of pregnancy (the first day of the last menstrual period, when the mother’s body starts to release an egg)? At the moment of fertilization (when the father’s spermatozoid enters into the mother’s ovum)? Or in week 4, when the the blastocyst implants in the wall of the uterus? Or in week 6, when we can detect its first heartbeat? Or in week 11, when doctors change its name from embryo to fetus? Or in week 14, when the sex of the fetus can be identified? 5 4
James Elgin Gill (born on 20 May 1987 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) was the earliest premature baby in the world, until that record was broken in 2004. He was 128 days premature (21 weeks and 5 days’ gestation) and weighed 1 pound 6 ounces (624 g). He survived and became a healthy adult. (via Wikipedia)
What the Church says¶
The Catholic Church answers clearly and without any doubt: a human exists from the moment where the father’s cell enters into the mother’s cell.
Pope Francis asks: Is it legitimate to take out a human life to solve a problem? Is it permissible to contract a hitman to solve a problem?
These thoughts make sense, but they don’t answer our fundamental question.
It’s about more than abortion¶
Raising a child means a fundamental change in the private life of a young woman. A human civilization should not give other people the right to decide about your private life.
We are not only discussing about some “right to decide”, it is also about “who should pay for your mistakes”? We love to talk about our rights, but we also need to talk about our responsibilities. Young people happen to enjoy moments of pleasure without worrying about the consequences of their acts, including the risk to be assumed by other people. Then they get pregnant, oops! but we are the ones they ask to fix their problem. Young people usually don’t have enough money to pay the full medical costs of an abortion.
Who decides whether a child is “unwanted”? It can be a complex question. Even if it is clear that the mother does not want her child. Maybe somebody else wants that child. Maybe God wants it. Maybe the mother will change her mind later and regret her decision. A therapist can help a pregnant woman to find an answer to that question. Who is going to pay the therapist?
Many things in life are “unwanted”. A pregnant woman who does not want her child. A young man who doesn’t want to live any longer. A man in his best years whose wife remains disabled after an accident. I we permit the right to abort unborn children, shouldn’t we also permit the right to suicide, euthanisia and death penalty?
“I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.” (Sr. Joan Chittister, from a 2004 interview with Bill Moyers) via patheos
I believe that the best solution would be to say that abortion, even very early abortion, should never be financed by public money unless the life of the mother is in danger, and to give every mother the right to leave her child to public care if she decides so. Abortion should be neither financed nor prohibited. Let people decide for themselves.
Yes, this solution means that a woman who got pregnant without wanting it, would have to suffer from the natural inconveniences related to pregnancy. Her pregnancy would be for her like an accident that needs nine months until you are fully recovered. Even in case of violation. It’s of course a pity to see a woman suffer innocently, and we are tempted to say “We have the medical knowledge to avoid her these nine months of suffering, so let’s use our knowledge and stop her suffering”. But isn’t the right to life of the unborn child more important than their mother’s right to avoid suffering?
Yes, this solution means that rich people can maybe afford the luxury of abortion where poor people won’t. Life will always be easier for rich people than for poor people. It’s not a government’s business to change this.
Taken from a Petition on the right to life in international law by radical c-fam.org. The petition collected 95586 signatures world-wide.
Taken from a petition Poland: Keep Standing for Life!
medicinenet.com, Embryo vs. Fetus: Differences between Stages Week by Week, (undated, seen 20190912).
Yes, there are exceptions to this rule, e.g. in-vitro fertilization.
Idolatry and Abortion by Vance Morgan on Patheos, 2020-02-02).