Does Human Life Begin at Conception?

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The evidence that there is a human soul (life) from the moment of conception is both biblically and scientifically strong.

SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE THAT THE HUMAN SOUL BEGINS AT CONCEPTION

At the United States congressional hearings on April 23, 1981, scientific experts testified concerning the origin of human life. The following are samples of what they said.

In biology and in medicine, it is an accepted fact that the life of any individual organism reproducing by sexual reproduction begins at conception, or fertilization. (Dr. Micheline M. Matthew-Roth, Harvard Medical School’s Department of Medicine)

Matthew-Roth’s testimony was supported from more than twenty embryological and other scientific texts. No one at the hearing, even those who were pro-abortion, provided evidence that human life begins at some other point.

Dr. Hymie Gordon (Chairman of the Department of Genetics at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota) added:

Now we can say, unequivocally, that the question of when life begins is no longer a question for theological or philosophical dispute. It is an established scientific fact. Theologians and philosophers may go on to debate the meaning of life or the purpose of life, but it is an established fact that all life, including human life, begins at the moment of conception.

Modern fetology has brought to light some amazing insights into the growth of this tiny person in her mother’s womb. The following summary is vivid witness to the full humanness of the prenatal child.

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FIRST MONTH—ACTUALIZATION

  • She is conceived.
  • All her human characteristics are present.
  • She implants or “nests” in her mother’s uterus (at one week).
  • Her heart muscle pulsates (at three weeks).
  • Her head, arms, and legs begin to appear.

SECOND MONTH—DEVELOPMENT

  • Her brain waves can be detected (at forty to forty-two days).
  • Her nose, eyes, ears, and toes appear.
  • Her heart beats and blood flows (her own type).
  • Her skeleton develops.
  • She has her own unique fingerprints.
  • She is sensitive to touch on her lips and has reflexes.
  • All her bodily systems are present and functioning.
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THIRD MONTH—MOVEMENT

  • She swallows, squints, and swims.
  • She grasps with her hands and moves her tongue.
  • She can even suck her thumb.
  • She can feel organic pain (at eight to thirteen weeks).

FOURTH MONTH—GROWTH

  • Her weight increases 600 percent (to 1/2 birth weight).
  • She grows up to eight to ten inches long.
  • She can hear her mother’s voice.

FIFTH MONTH—VIABILITY

  • Her skin, hair, and nails develop.
  • She dreams (i.e., has rapid eye movement [REM]).
  • She can cry (if air is present).
  • She can live outside the womb.
  • She is only halfway to her scheduled birth date.

These characteristics make the human identity of the unborn unmistakable from the moment of conception: It is a human soul (life) from its very inception.

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What Does the Bible Really Teach or Say About Abortion?

BIBLICAL EVIDENCE FOR THE FULL HUMANITY (PERSONHOOD) OF THE FETUS

Since most of the scriptural data has already been presented, the arguments pertinent to this position will simply be summarized here.

(1) Unborn babies are called children, the same word (Gk: brephos) used of infants and young children (e.g., Luke 1:41, 44; 2:12, 16; cf. Ex. 21:22) and sometimes even of adults (e.g., 1 Kings 3:17).

(2) The unborn are created by God (Ps. 139:13), just as God created Adam and Eve in His image (Gen. 1:27).

(3) The life of the unborn is protected by the same punishment for injury or death (Ex. 21:22) as that of an adult (Gen. 9:6).

(4) Christ was human (the God-man) from the point when He was conceived in Mary’s womb (Matt. 1:20–21; Luke 1:26–27).

(5) The image of God includes “male and female” (Gen. 1:27), and it is a scientific fact that maleness or femaleness (sex/gender) is determined at the moment of conception.

(6) Unborn children possess personal attributes, distinctive of humans, such as sin (Ps. 51:5) and joy (Luke 1:44).

(7) Personal pronouns are used to describe unborn children (Jer. 1:5 [LXX]; Matt. 1:20–21) just as they are of any other human being.

(8) The unborn are said to be known intimately and personally by God in the same way He would know any other person (Ps. 139:15–16; Jer. 1:5).

(9) The unborn are even called by God before birth (Gen. 25:22–23; Judg. 13:2–7; Isa. 49:1, 5; Gal. 1:15).

Taken as a whole, these texts leave no doubt that unborn children are just as human—persons in God’s image—as are babies or adults. They are created in His likeness from the very moment of conception, and their prenatal life is precious in God’s eyes, protected by His prohibition against murder.

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SOCIAL EVIDENCE FOR THE FULL HUMANITY (PERSONHOOD) OF THE UNBORN

In addition to the biblical and scientific evidence, there are many social arguments for protecting the human rights of unborn children. The following are the most significant.

No one disputes that human embryos have human parents. Why, then, should anyone insist that a human embryo is not human? No biologist has any difficulty identifying an unborn pig as a pig or an unborn horse as a horse. What is it that compels anyone to decide that an unborn human should be considered anything but human?

Human life doesn’t stop and then restart—there is a continuous, uninterrupted flow of human life from generation to generation, from parent to child. New individual human life appears through conception; hence, the newly formed life is as fully human as his or her parents.

The father of modern fetology, Dr. Albert W. Liley (1929–1983), noted that “this is the same baby we are caring for before and after birth, who before birth can be ill and need diagnosis and treatment just like any other patient” (“CAA” in LS, cited in Willke, AQA, 52). If it is the same baby and the same patient both before and after birth, then it is just as human before birth as after (see Geisler and Beckwith, MLD, 90).

Modern medical care has made it possible for premature babies to live much earlier outside the womb—some twenty-week-old fetuses have survived. If they are human when they come out of the womb at five months, then they are human if they stay in the womb. There are no grounds, consequently, for killing them up to nine months, which is what U.S. law permits. This contradiction can be dramatized in a modern hospital, where staff members in one room rush to save a five-month-old preemie, while in another room others murder a baby who is younger or older than five months.

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All the arguments in favor of abortion apply equally to infanticide and euthanasia. If unborn children can be killed because of deformity, poverty, or undesirability, then both infants and the aged can be disposed of for the same reasons. There is no legitimate difference between abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia—they all involve the same patient, undertake the same procedure, and end with the same result.

Abortion has been declared wrong by many societies, Christian and pagan, since the dawn of civilization. The Code of Hammurabi (eighteenth century B.C.) even contained a penalty for unintentionally causing a miscarriage. The Mosaic Law (fifteenth century B.C.) exacted the same penalty for injury to both baby and mother. The Persian ruler Tiglath-pileser (c. twelfth century B.C.) punished women who caused themselves to abort. The Greek physician Hippocrates (c. 460–377 B.C.) opposed abortion by oath, swearing, “I will neither give a deadly drug to anyone if asked for, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect. Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy” (Krason, APMC, 132).

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Seneca (c. second century), whose stoic compatriots allowed for abortion, praised his mother for not killing him. Augustine (354–430), Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), and John Calvin (1509–1564) all considered abortion immoral. English common law exacted a punishment for taking life by abortion, as did early American law; in fact, before 1973, laws in nearly all fifty U.S. states opposed abortion.

Discrimination against anyone’s life based on circumstantial matters (such as size, age, location, or functional ability) is morally wrong. These are the actual grounds on which abortionists consider the unborn child to be non-human. On this basis, we could discriminate against pygmies because they are too small, or against ethnic minorities because of where they live, or against the handicapped and elderly because they lack certain faculties. If we can eliminate babies from the human community because they are unwanted, there is nothing to stop the elimination of other so-called societal undesirables.

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ARGUMENTS ATTEMPTING TO DEMONSTRATE SCRIPTURALLY THAT LIFE DOESN’T BEGIN AT CONCEPTION

A number of biblical texts are cited to support the position that an unborn child is not human. Brief comments can be made about and conclusions drawn from the most significant passages used for this viewpoint.

Genesis 2:7

Genesis declares that man “became a living being” only after God gave him life. Since breathing does not occur until birth, it is argued that the unborn are not human until they leave the womb.

Job 34:14–15

Elihu said that if God “withdrew his spirit and breath, all mankind would perish.” Here again, since life is connected with breath, it is reasoned that there is no human life before a baby begins to breathe.

Isaiah 57:16

The text refers to “the breath of man that I [God] have created.” This also seems to make the beginning of breath the point of the creation of a person.

Ecclesiastes 6:3–5

Solomon declares that “a stillborn child” comes into the world “without meaning, it departs in darkness.… It never saw the sun or knew anything.” This is taken to indicate that the unborn are no more than the dead, who also know nothing but lie in the darkness of the grave (cf. 9:10).

Matthew 26:24

Matthew records Jesus’ statement about Judas that “it would be better for him if he had not been born.” The implication drawn from this is that human life begins at birth; otherwise, allegedly, Jesus should have said it would have been better for Judas never to have been conceived.

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CONCLUSION

Some have attempted to argue that a conceptus is a human being but not a person. As already established, this differentiation is arbitrary, a distinction without a difference. There are no actual, essential differences between being human and being a human person—there are only functional differences. All attempts to distinguish personhood from humanness would lead, on the same grounds, to the denial of the personhood of the handicapped, the unconscious, and the senile.

Both Scripture and science support the view that an individual human life begins at conception, and both special and general revelation declare it is wrong to murder an innocent human life. Furthermore, the same arguments used to justify abortion apply also to infanticide and euthanasia; these reasons all violate the sanctity of human life.

SELECTED READINGS

  • Beckwith, Francis J. Politically Correct Death.
  • Brennan, William. The Abortion Holocaust: Today’s Final Solution.
  • Burtchaell, James Tunstead. Rachel Weeping: The Case Against Abortion.
  • Cassuto, Umberto. A Commentary on the Book of Exodus. Translated by Israel Abrahams.
  • Gardner, R. F. R. Abortion: The Personal Dilemma.
  • Geisler, Norman L., and Francis J. Beckwith. Matters of Life and Death.
  • Krason, Stephen M. Abortion: Politics, Morality, and the Constitution.
  • Liley, Albert. “A Case Against Abortion” in Liberal Studies, as quoted by Willke, Abortion: Questions and Answers.
  • Nathanson, Bernard N. Aborting America.
  • ———. The Abortion Papers: Inside the Abortion Mentality.
  • Wennberg, Robert N. Life in the Balance: Exploring the Abortion Controversy.
  • Willke, J. C. and Barbara Willke. Abortion: Questions and Answers.[1]

[1] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin, Salvation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2004), 552–557.

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