Pro-life activists believe all human lives are sacred. They think this fundamental right extends to the moment of conception, that once something has the potential to become a fully developed human, it should be protected by all means necessary. They reject arbitrary distinctions about when abortions can occur because the end result is the destruction of a human life. It doesn't matter if the abortion happens at 8 weeks, 35 weeks, or right before pregnancy—either way, it's a life destroyed.
Every human being, from the moment of conception, is a person with intrinsic value who possesses the right to life. That fundamental human right doesn’t belong only to the strong and the powerful. It belongs to every human being—regardless of age, dependency, or ability. A country founded to protect unalienable human rights should not deny those rights to the most vulnerable children in our society merely because they are small, dependent, disabled, or simply inconvenient.
Instead of creating arbitrary distinctions in human development, pro-life activists say life should be respected, period. There's nothing that magically grants fetuses life and rights between weeks 10 and 20 in human development. The most straightforward and logical way of settling this debate is to say life begins at conception, and to protect it—so it has the chance to live.
Government has a duty to protect the weakest in society and to recognize the inherent value of all human life. A country founded to protect unalienable human rights should not deny those rights to the most vulnerable children in our society merely because they are small, dependent, disabled, or simply inconvenient.
On the other hand, scientists say there's no consensus on when life truly begins, but it's definitely not at conception.
Let's face the facts here. At conception, so-called human life is just a clump of cells. It's estimated that 45 to 70 percent of these embryos spontaneously abort. It doesn't make much sense to say life begins at conception when so few embryos actually make it to the next step of development. It's simply a non-starter.
Assuming that fertilization and implantation all go perfectly, scientists can reasonably disagree about when personhood begins, says Gilbert. An embryologist might say gastrulation, which is when an embryo can no longer divide to form identical twins. A neuroscientist might say when one can measure brainwaves. As a doctor, Horvath-Cosper says, “I have come to the conclusion that the pregnant woman gets to decide when it’s a person.”
Scientists say life exists on a spectrum. It's difficult to say exactly when life begins, but a useful way of looking at it is through the lens of viability. The potential for life is a philosophical discussion at best. Instead of going down that road, scientists say the test for life should be whether or not the fetus can survive outside the womb.
But earlier this year, Bell published a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine showing reasonably good outcomes in preemies born at 22 weeks of gestational age. Two key technologies have pushed that date: the use of steroids, which can speed up fetal development, and surfactants that prevent lungs from collapsing after birth. Still, setting an absolute cutoff for fetal viability is impossible. “It depends on how you define it. Is it some babies survive? Half survive? Or most babies survive?” Bell says. At 22 weeks, many of the babies that survive end up with permanent health problems or disabilities.