With the Embryonic Stem Cell debate still looming over our heads, this brings us to the age-old abortion question that keeps many people from even arguing about the same thing. Those who say that it’s ok to abort a fetus or to use an embryo for research clearly don’t believe that life begins at conception. Those who believe that abortion is murder and embryonic research is wrong believe that life does begin at conception.

My question is, if not conception, then when?

Gary (Melvin – a regular commentator on this blog) has mentioned that maybe, at least from a legal standpoint, life should begin at “quickening” (the point in pregnancy when the mother can feel the baby move.) I see a few problems with this.

First, quickening occurs at different times for different women – even at different times in different pregnancies. Some women feel movement as early as 10 or 12 weeks, while others don’t feel a thing until sometime between 20 and 25 weeks. There is a HUGE developmental difference between 10 weeks and 25 weeks. At 10 weeks a growing fetus is barely the size of a walnut, almost all major organs are formed (heart, lungs, brain, liver, intestines, etc.) and has begun growing finger and toe nails and swallowing. At this early stage, the baby moves, flails his/her arms, and kicks (I got to see my own baby doing this a mere 5 weeks ago!). By 25 weeks the fetus is over a foot long, weighs at least a pound and a half, the sex organs have long since formed, taste buds have formed, blood vessels in the lungs have developed, and the baby startles at loud noises outside the womb. Babies even younger than 25 weeks gestation have survived outside the womb (i.e., babies born 11 weeks premature can – and do – survive.)

An additional problem with Gary’s suggestion is that women can lie and/or be mistaken. The only person who knows when she has felt the baby move is the pregnant mother. Women could say that they haven’t felt the baby move when they really have, or she may think she has felt “quickening,” when what she really felt was gas (this is a common mistake).

So, quickening isn’t a reliable way to determine when life begins, and again I ask: if not conception, then when?

When the baby can survive on his/her own? Not only does medical technology make survival outside the womb possible earlier and earlier, but some babies are able to survive outside the womb earlier than others. My niece, who was born 8 weeks premature in 1988, would not have survived had she been a boy, according to doctors.

If not conception, when?

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