Efforts to Reduce the U.S. abortion rate:
What is human life; what is a human person?:
Many people regard both a human ovum and a spermatozoon to be alive. Both contain human DNA. Thus both are often considered to be forms of human life.
However, the current scientific definition of "life" is that an item must exhibit seven properties:
- homeostasis; seeking and maintaining "... a condition of balance or equilibrium within its internal environment, even when faced with external changes." 1
- be composed of cells.
- undergo metabolism.
- able to grow.
- adapt to their environment.
- respond to stimuli.
- ability to reproduce.
Both a human ova and a spermatozoon meet the first six criteria for life, but neither can reproduce. That is, one ovum cannot become two ova; one spermatozoon cannot become two spermatozoa. Therefore, neither is regarded to be a form of life.
However, once process of conception is finisthed, then the resulting fertilized ovum -- called a zygote -- sometimes does split to become two zygotes. This is the process by which identical twins occur. So, strictly speaking, human life begins at conception, as is stated so often by the pro-life movement.
Similarly, there is also a
general agreement that a newborn is both a human life and a human person. (Some aboriginal groups only regard personhood to be attained after birth at a public ritual when the newborn is given a name. They represent a small minority.)
There is a lack of
consensus in North America about when -- between conception and childbirth --
human life becomes an actual human person who is entitled to legal rights including
the right to life. This lack of consensus has led to a deep division in the U.S. and Canada
between the pro-life and pro-choice movements.
- Most pro-lifers believe that the transition from human life to human person happens during the
- Pro-choicers generally believe that it happens later; when the embryonic heartbeat can be detected, or when the embryo loses its tail and begins to look human; or at quickening when the mother first feels the fetus move, or at about 22 weeks when the fetus is sometimes capable of living outside the womb, or at 24 weeks when the fetal brain's higher functions startup and the fetus becomes sentient and starts to be aware of its environment. The traditional Jewish position is that it personhood is fully attained only when the fetus has half-emerged from the mother’s body. Others suggest
it happens when the fetus takes its first breath.
Unfortunately, many pro-lifers refer to both a zygote and a newborn as "human life," and equate the two terms "human life" and "human person." This makes communication and dialog difficult unless the people involved can first adopt a common vocabulary and set of definitions.
The abortion rate:
The main activities of the pro-life movement has concentrated on restricting
abortion as much as is legally possible without violating the Roe v. Wade
decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973. At the same time, others in the movement are trying to oveturn Roe v. Wade via the court system. That ruling guaranteed the legality of abortion early in pregnancy. Meanwhile, the pro-choice movement
their effort on making a woman's choice to have an abortion available throughout pregnancy.
About the year 2006, a new emphasis surfaced. It is a desire to minimize
unwanted pregnancies and thus eliminate the need for many or most abortions.
This is a goal that many pro-lifers and pro-choicers can enthusiastically
embrace. Many countries in Europe have successfully lowered their rate to levels
far lower than those in the U.S. Unfortunately, the methods that they used
may prove to be deeply offensive and unacceptable to many in the North American
The 2008 presidential elections showed a clear difference between the
platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties:
||The Democratic party promised to increase abortion access, while
attempting to reduce the number of abortions by introducing policies that would lower the number of
unwanted pregnancies and by increasing support to pregnant women and mothers in need of help so that
childbirth becomes a viable option for them to choose.|
|The Republican party promised to attempt to reduce the number of
abortions by making abortions less accessible.|
Topics covered in this section:
The following information source was used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.
- "homeostasis," Dictionary.com, at: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/homeostasis
Portions originally published: 1997-JAN-20
Last updated 2017-JUL-03
Author: Bruce A Robinson