Life does begin at conception – a secular view

A recent article from Newsweek was making the rounds in social media this week reporting on the new strategic draft issued by the Department of Health and Human services.  The draft includes language that defines life as beginning at conception.

"HHS accomplishes its mission through programs and initiatives that cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception."

The comments on this article were cleanly divided across ideological lines: those against abortion considered this a major victory while those for abortion considered this a major setback. It is neither and that debate seems to be nothing more than a red herring at best. I think the science is quite clear: life, whether it is human or otherwise, does begin at conception.  Once the egg and the sperm fuse the resulting DNA is human DNA which, for those of us who have their worldview informed by science, is the sine qua non of being human.  The DNA is unique to the developing embryo and will stay just as unique throughout the entire gestational period until the mother gives birth. The mother and the child are separate and equal both in fact and, as I will argue, under the law.

The anti-abortion argument goes something like this:  if you grant that the child is a child from the moment of conception (granted) then aborting the child at any point along the timeline spanning conception to birth is murder since you are taking a human life. It follows then that we should legislate according to this understanding since our laws consider murder a capital crime and our legal system, rather than aiding and abetting this, should be consistent in outlawing and prosecuting those who engage in this practice as they would any other individual or group who commits murder.  The question is, does this argument follow from granting personhood and the subsequent legal rights that personhood entails in our society to the developing child?  My contention is that it does not.

What the understanding that life begins at conception does do is grant both the mother and the child equal rights under the law. This is what logically follows, not the idea that the ending of the child's life is murder anymore than the death of a mother due to complications while carrying a child to term is murder.  In a secular society that follows the rule of law, we are all considered equal under the law.  If we are all considered equal, including the developing child, then no one, including the developing child, has the right to use anyone else's body for any reason, including survival, without that person's consent. That is the proper legal stance that government should hold and should base it's legislation on.  Given this understanding, the decision whether to have or to not have an abortion is left with the mother, her conscience and her doctor's advice.

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Comment by Michael Penn on February 7, 2018 at 8:27am

The first breath is indeed the "qualifier of life" and it is there in the bible. It is this "breath of life" that causes much confusion as many take it to be "god giving you a soul" rather than you actually becoming a "living soul." (Argue that one with Dan Barker.) 

Loren you left out the ridiculous idea that theists want to have "funerals" for the miscarried fetus, and in some cases, do so regardless of the circumstances. It sounds idiotic but such a move (if approved) would give a theist ammunition as to what qualifies as a child.

We have much strangeness in this world.

Comment by Loren Miller on February 7, 2018 at 7:58am

Life may begin at conception, but to say that attendant rights accompany that event is to invite the shit-storm which right-to-lifers have visited on too many women who, for whatever reason, wish to end their pregnancies.  It fails to acknowledge the lossy and imperfect process which is human reproduction, which includes fertilized eggs which fail to implant, miscarriages, and other abnormal developmental issues which can threaten not only the fetus but the mother.

Pregnancy may be seen as a 40-week gauntlet which, if survived, gives the survivor rights, among them the right of further continuance of its life.  It is worthy of note that in the Jewish tradition, it was the first breath that was the qualifier for life, not the meeting of a sperm and ovum.  As for the supposition that failures along the nine-month sublease which characterizes human gestation may be the work of some intervening deity, I have already recorded my thoughts on that matter, and I stand by them.

Comment by Michael Penn on February 7, 2018 at 7:04am

Thanks, Frankie. At least you put some legal aspect into my effort at comic relief. 

Comment by Frankie Dapper on February 5, 2018 at 7:20pm

We don't turn a blind eye and treat all people the same under the law. We don't treat child molesters, refugees, immigrants, minors,  mentally retarded the same. Nor ought we be inconsistent and superimpose a legal fiction giving full status to a fetus as we do others. 

When a person is incapable of giving consent the law examines the individual issues that arise. It is rape when a woman has been set upon and cannot  give consent. An individual who is a minor and without parents who has a legal issue utilizes in loco parentis to speak for her. Another who is in a coma with a hospital that wants to terminate life support utilizes health care proxy.  Similarly we use conservators and guardians in other circumstances where the law deems consent of the subject impossible. 

So the fiction you want to impose is incongruous and fails to acknowledge the role of the mother in creating the fetus. In the USA Roe v Wade is serviceable in negotiating a very delicate issue. 

Comment by Michael Penn on February 4, 2018 at 11:21pm

When the sperm and the egg shake hands the theist says "it's a baby" and suddenly it has all kinds of rights that only terminate with birth of said baby. The mother is only a "host" and she has no rights as such. Said child (the baby) loses other rights also at birth if the parents are Republicans. 
This process was so important to Jesus that many churches are confused by it to the extent that some people are proud to kill baby doctors and abortion doctors. This seems to be because the killer has prevented the taking of a life and this is all stirred up by those running for political office. 
Some are so qualified on this issue that they can tell you exactly when the soul enters the body. I think this is when the sperm and the egg shake hands. This issue is so complicated that it takes politicians and Christian apologists to sort it out.

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