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When Human Life Begins Is Not a Matter of ‘Belief’

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President Joe Biden made an irrational statement the other day about when human life begins, saying at a press conference:

I respect those who believe life begins at the moment of conception. I don’t agree, but I respect that. I’m not going to impose that on people.

Except this is not a question of “belief,” but one of biological fact. It’s a question about which science–rather than politics or ideology–has long known the answer. Indeed, embryology text books are clear on that point. For example (my emphasis):

Human development is a continuous process that begins when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (or spermatozoon) from a male. (p. 2); … but the embryo begins to develop as soon as the oocyte is fertilized. (p. 2); … Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or oocyte … to form a single cell. This highly specialized, titipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.

Keith Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (6th ed.) p. 18

Here’s another useful quote from another embryology textbook:

Although life is a continuous process, fertilization…is a critical  landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed...

Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd ed.

“A genetically distinct organism” is a technical way of saying that “a human life begins at conception” (when that organism is a member of the species Homo sapiens).

What the heck, one more:

“Zygote. This cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm during fertilization. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. 

Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology. 7th edition.

In other words, Joe Biden’s life began when he came into being after conception as a one-celled human being–whether he “believes” it or not.

Besides, at what other point could a new human life begin? …

Life can’t begin when the mother decides that she wants the gestating child. Because that is not a biological event. And it can’t be at birth, because a fetus is clearly alive before that, and so asserting transforms the biological question into one of geography, i.e., where the baby happens to be at the moment.

The scientific fact that life begins at conception doesn’t settle the moral question of abortion. But proper moral analysis about such issues must begin with the best understanding of the scientific facts that apply thereto. Otherwise, we are left with nothing but feelings, irrationality, and naked ideological assertions–which make actual debate impossible.

But of course, that is the point of Biden’s statement.

Editor’s note. The great columns appear at National Review Online and are reposted with permission.


Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

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