On Abortion and Life

This article will discuss abortion and what some good ideas of the start of life might be.

Figuring out just when life starts can be surprisingly difficult. It makes us consider what it means to be or to be human which can be simple prima facie, but difficult to do rigorously.

A person with no heartbeat is usually but not always dead. A person with no brain activity is usually but not always dead. In a few astounding cases there have been people with medically documented lack of both brain and heart activity and resuscitated from both.

I’m hardly an expert on biology or medicine. This is the point where I may or may not break from the medical community. Many people including myself would consider someone who has both no brain activity and no heart activity dead. If someone resuscitated from such a state we would see it as nothing short of miraculous and we would say that the person had revived, returned to life, come back from the dead and so on.

While that approach may not be bulletproof, I’ve yet to hear a better one. Unborn children usually exhibit brain activity at about 43 days. The heartbeat usually develops around 5 weeks. If a person with brain activity and a functioning heart is considered alive then the unborn child of about 43 days, or 6-7 weeks, should be considered an alive person.

Two other concepts which are important in this debate are the idea of conception and the point of viability.

The point of fetal viability is the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb. It is usually at about 24 weeks. While the concept is interesting, I would argue that fetal viability is not useful for determining personhood because such a standard would represent an inconsistent standard of life and death. We do not say a person ceases to be a person because they reach a point where survival becomes unlikely. Even if we did, the point of fetal viability would not be the correct standard here. The point of fetal viability is where the baby has a 50% chance of survival outside the womb, but there is frequently some statistically significant chance of survival as early as 22 weeks.

Other people say that life begins at conception. Conception is just another word for fertilization and it can begin as early as 30 minutes after sex.

I support the presumption of life at conception although I am not certain of life until that 6-7 week point. The reason I support the presumption is a kind of risk argument. If it is even possible that the baby is alive I don’t want to support abortion because it might be murder. For me, abortion after 7 weeks is murder of a child while abortion before 6 weeks is like letting children engage in Russian roulette.

I am somewhat open minded about special circumstances, but as a general rule I would never support abortion. I have no problem with birth control or contraception, although I do have problems with abortifacients and potential abortifacients like Ella and Plan B. Finally, I do support abstinence and waiting until marriage for having children, but I am realistic enough to know that an abstinence-only approach is not effective. I would support educating kids on the benefits of traditional marriage, abstinence and contraception. I would educate kids around age 13 because I think if we educate too late it’s not helpful, but if we educate too early a series of issues also occurs. If we educate too early the ideas will not be taken seriously, they may be forgotten and we may end up giving the kids ideas or making it acceptable to talk about sex in a casual way unacceptably early.

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  1. […] Much of this discussion overlaps with the discussion on swoon theory, but I’m not arguing that Jesus merely fell unconscious and didn’t die. I’m arguing, rather, that sometimes the concept of coma and the concept of death overlap. Conceptualization of life is relevant to the discussion on the resurrection and also to discussion on abortion. […]

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