When does life begin?

I took an automated “poll” yesterday, in which the computer asked me several questions on the hot political issues of the day. I suspect the computer had a conservative bias, because the questions were more than a little misleading: “Do you believe that the government should not pass laws restricting our constitutional right to bear arms?”; “Do you favor keeping your federal taxes the same, or, if possible, decreasing them?”; and, of course the big one: “Do you believe life begins at conception?”

No, no, and no. I guess the RNC can cancel that planned sales call.

But a recent Jane Brody column in the New York Times got me to thinking. The article was supposed to convince readers that the “morning after pill” should be available over the counter. Of course, it will do nothing of the kind. Pro-lifers will say “life begins at conception. End of debate.” Brody’s response is that

Some opponents of emergency contraception confuse it with abortion. But an abortion can occur only after a pregnancy has been established. The National Institutes of Health and the obstetricians group define pregnancy as beginning with the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.

Jane, you’ve already lost them. So what if a bunch of quacks say “pregnancy” hasn’t begun, they’ll say. “Life” has begun, and that’s what matters to them.

I have a different way of thinking about all this. First of all, whether it’s “life” or not doesn’t really matter. After all, humans don’t value a generalized “life” above everything else. We routinely slaughter animals, plants, bacteria, and even humans if we feel the need. What we’re really talking about is “innocent human life.” Even that is not something everyone feels compelled to protect. Think of the “collateral damage” in Afghanistan and Iraq. If we really valued “innocent human life” above all else, would we even allow SUVs on the road? According to today’s New York Times, SUV passengers are 11 percent more likely to die in accidents than passengers of other vehicles. If we don’t bother putting a stop to that, why are we so particularly concerned about potential loss of “innocent human life” inside a woman’s body? What about “innocent human life” lost in a famine? If a country is overpopulated due to lack of access to birth control and/or abortion, don’t the lives lost there matter too? Why aren’t we rushing to do something about the millions of children who die every year due to lack of food and/or proper health care? We’re not because we don’t see these people, we don’t live with these people, we don’t care about these people. So really we’re not concerned about loss of “innocent human life,” we’re concerned about loss of “innocent human life that matters.”

In this context, is a fertilized egg “innocent human life that matters”? To my mind, a fertilized egg doesn’t even live up to the biological definition of “life,” let alone “innocent human life.” Incapable of maintaining homeostasis without the protective environment of the host ovary, it’s not a living thing. At this point, a better definition is “human bodily function that matters.” How it matters depends on the woman hosting it. It could matter the way it matters to someone who is coming down with a cold, or it could matter the way a child matters to its parents. Does it “matter” to anyone else? Would anyone else mourn or cheer if they learned that the fertilized egg inside of Woman X failed to implant? Perhaps the potential father or grandparents might, but beyond that it simply wouldn’t. So why should we make laws regarding something that doesn’t matter to us? We shouldn’t. End of debate.

Unfortunately, only in my mind.

This entry was posted in Contraception and abortion, General. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to When does life begin?

  1. Pingback: Word Munger » I just read a very depressing book

Comments are closed.