# 1

Life begins at conception

Fact: Human life begins even before conception because the sperm and egg are already living things. It is much more relevant to talk about when sentience starts – feelings and self-knowledge (see Myth # 5, 6). Studies have shown that higher-level brain development begins from the 23rd week.

Also, there is a crucial difference between “life begins at conception” and “life begins at birth”.  Legally and socially, it’s recognized that life officially begins at birth because that’s when a person gains a separate existence and legal rights. The status of life before birth is subjective – if the pregnancy is wanted, the woman and her friends and family can privately celebrate a coming baby. But if the pregnancy is unwanted and the woman wants an abortion, the fetus has no status at all, and it is nobody’s business.

The Bible is pro-choice. Life begins at first breath – i.e., birth.  The Bible does not support the value of fetuses or even babies over women. Many Old Testament passages encourage or condone the killing of pregnant women and babies. The prophet Jeremiah wished he had been aborted.  In Numbers 5, abortion is a mandated punishment for unfaithful wives. The Bible doesn’t use the word abortion but the phrase “untimely birth” is sometimes used as a euphemism. Several passages say that an “untimely birth” (miscarriage or abortion) is better than being born to an unhappy life. Further, the few Bible verses cited by anti-choice people to justify their views about the value of fetuses apply only to specific important people (like prophets or Jesus), and have nothing to do with abortion or the value of fetuses in general.

Source:

Anti-Choicers Don’t Have a Biblical Leg to Stand On, by Joyce Arthur

Pro-Choice Action Network, The Fetus Focus Fallacy

# 2

The fetus is a person from the moment of conception

When anti-choice people say that a fetus is a person from the moment of conception, their concern is that the zygote has a unique combination of DNA from a man and woman that would create a unique person, who would be deprived of a chance at life if aborted. This logic is flawed, because although there is a continuum from conception to death, there is a difference between an actual person and a potential or possible person. A fertilized ovum, or zygote, is a cluster of cells; taking this genetic code argument to its extreme, each of those cells is encoded with the same specific DNA. If each of these cells is considered to be a possible human being, then any time any cell is removed, through surgery for instance, a potential life is destroyed.

Potential life cannot have more value than a woman’s actual life, which would be compromised or even sacrificed if she was forced to give birth. Simply put, women are more important than embryos and fetuses.  Women are existing persons with rights, fetuses are not.

Legally and socially, it’s recognized that a person’s life officially begins at birth, because that’s when they gain a separate existence and legal rights. If fetuses were legal persons, pregnant women would lose their personhood and become mandatory incubators for the state, even at the expense of their health and lives. International law and global human rights agreements recognize that fetuses cannot have rights because this would seriously compromise the rights of women. In countries with strict bans on abortion, such as Ireland, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, doctors have refused to treat pregnant women with complications and even let them die.

In the U.S., “fetal homicide” laws meant to protect pregnant women from assaults, but which give personhood to fetuses,  have mostly led to hundreds of pregnant women being prosecuted for alleged harm to their fetuses. When fetuses are persons, women can become criminally liable for a miscarriage or stillbirth, as well as any behaviour that could possibly harm a fetus, such as drinking, taking drugs, or driving without a seatbelt.

Sources: www.publiceye.org

National Advocates for Pregnant Women

The prohibition on abortion constitutes violence against women  (International Federation for Human Rights)

Ireland Abortion: the Law is Failing Women  (Guardian)

# 3

Abortion is murder

Fact:  This is a personal opinion that is not shared by the majority of people in western countries. Also, the anti-choice movement engages in semantic trickery when they falsely claim abortion is “murder”, or the fetus is a “baby” or “child.”

Only a person can be murdered. Therefore, abortion is not murder unless one considers the fetus to be a person. But the word “person” does not include the unborn according to international human rights agreements, Supreme Court precedents in various countries, and the constitutions of most western countries. In common law for criminal matters, the definition of a “person” is one who has been born alive.  Further, “fetus” is the correct term for a developing human in the womb, while “baby” and “child” refer to a born person. A fetus is completely dependent on a particular woman for its survival and is part of her body, while a baby is a separate individual.

Abortion is legal to at least some extent in almost every country, while murder is not legal in any country. Even in countries where abortion is strictly banned, the penalty for abortion is generally not as serious as for murder. For example, women and doctors in Ireland are subject to up to 14 years’ imprisonment, while the penalty for murder is life imprisonment.

The notion of fetal “personhood” has been taken to alarming extremes in the United States with the passage of “feticide statutes” in 38 states that criminalize the wrongful death of fetuses in the womb. These laws have been primarily used to prosecute hundreds of pregnant women. Attempts to confer legal personhood on fetuses has expanded into the civil and medical areas as well: there have been cases involving forced caesareans; forced blood transfusions against the pregnant woman’s religious convictions; and some states have even gone so far as to disallow the use of “living wills” for pregnant women. In all of these cases, the “rights” of the fetus, whether before or after the point of viability, have been held paramount to the rights of the pregnant woman.

Sources:

www.publiceye.org

Center for Reproductive Rights, Who’s Right to Life?

Wikipedia, Abortion in the Republic of Ireland

National Advocates for Pregnant Women (U.S.), Punishment of Pregnant Women

everydayfeminism.com

# 4

Abortions cause pain for the fetus.

Fact: The scientific consensus is that fetuses cannot begin to feel pain until at least the 26th week of gestation (in the third trimester).By this time, 99 percent of all abortions have been performed.

The perception of pain is a complex biological and psychological phenomena. First, the ability to experience sensation, perception, and thought requires a minimum number of neurons in the cerebral cortex, and interconnectivity between these neurons. While these synapses start to form at about the third month, the minimum number do not usually develop until about 31 weeks, and most are not formed until after birth.

Second, pain is a subjective experience that requires a conscious interpretation by the brain – it is a complex interplay between thinking, emotion, and sensation. The degree of discomfort or trauma caused by a pain signal is directly related to the anticipation of pain, its duration, understanding of its cause and consequences, the memory of pain, and its lingering traumatic effects, as well as various personal and cultural factors. It’s therefore highly uncertain that even third-trimester fetuses can feel pain, because fetuses are not conscious – they are kept in a “continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation” (RCOG 2010) – and they exist in a very different environment than born humans. As fetal pain expert Stuart W.G. Derbyshire explains:
“The environment of the womb consists of warmth, buoyancy, and a cushion of fluid to prevent tactile stimulation. In contrast to this buffered environment, the intense tactile stimulation of birth and the subsequent separation of the neonate from the placenta, facilitate the rapid onset of behavioural activity and wakefulness in the newborn infant.”
Derbyshire summarizes the research on fetal pain as follows:

  • The neuroanatomical system for pain can be considered complete by 26 weeks’ gestation.
  • A developed neuroanatomical system is necessary but not sufficient for pain experience.
  • Pain experience requires development of the brain but also requires development of the mind [after birth, through interaction with others] to accommodate the subjectivity of pain.
  • The absence of pain in the fetus does not resolve the morality of abortion but does argue against legal and clinical efforts to prevent such pain during an abortion.

Sources:

www.publiceye.org

British Medical Journal, Can fetuses feel pain? by Stuart WG Derbyshire (2006)

Pro-Choice Action Network, Fetal Pain: A Red Herring in the Abortion Debate, by Joyce Arthur (2004)

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG), Fetal Awareness: Review of Research and Recommendations for Practice (2010)