Debate on Abortion. Does when life begins really matter?

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Our second most popular Web site article is our abortion debate, “When Does Life Begin?” I doubt if this will be a big issue in the new Obama administration, but it will continue in the hearts and minds of many.

But I wonder, does it really matter to most people when life actually begins?  Is it really going to change anyone’s mind in the abortion debate?  The pro-choice group is really just concerned with a woman’s right to choose.  I doubt few care when and what happens to the fetus as long as the mother’s wishes are carried out.  Do they really care of the definition of life unless it is to carry out their agenda?  To them, a fetus is a mother’s property to do with whatever she chooses.

On the other hand, the pro-life group is against it on religious grounds.  Science is secondary and only brought into play if it meets their goals.

What about the nebulous areas, like the safety of the mother, incest or rape?  They don’t change any basic facts, but sure can alter your thinking if it’s you or your daughter in that situation.  How about partial-birth abortions and the ones that are unsuccessful, when the fetus lives?  Think this might alter your dreams, or nightmares?

But is any new fact really going to change already set minds?  Does it really matter to you one way or another?

Younger people haven’t made up their minds as completely, yet.  It is those we will try to influence, and as usual, place our hope.

Join our debate on the abortion issue and when life begins.

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17 Responses to “Debate on Abortion. Does when life begins really matter?”

  1. One Dove Says:

    Sadly Dr. Hubbard, abortion is usually a selfish choice, made independent of any “facts” or even “beliefs.” It has little to do with “reproductive health” or “family planning,” but rather, is a means by which a “mistake” can be “erased.”

  2. Judy Rodman Says:

    I think there are two things we as a nation must decide on the subject of abortion-

    One: What is moral?
    Two: What is legal?

    I believe the very question you bring up for us to discuss (when does life start) illustrates the fact that people see this answer differently. Then there are personal considerations- is the mother’s life more important or the baby’s? Are we ready to legislate the choice to be made in the case of incest or rape?

    This is why I am anti abortion, but pro-choice.

    Judy Rodmans last blog post..Singing with others: A time to blend, a time to stand out

  3. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Thanks One Dove. All too often I think you are right. I do think beliefs play a role.

  4. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Thanks Judy for your opinion. I wonder, though, do people see the answer of, when life begins, depending on their view of abortion rather that the other way around?

  5. Vek Says:

    I’d say Dr. Hubbard is trying to defend the job that makes him rich.

    If pro-life people defend their stance on religious grounds, then what is said grounds? I’d say that to a Christian, there is stronger scientific grounds than religious. The scientific grounds makes it a life. The religious grounds says that life is in need of being protected from harm.

  6. James Hubbard Says:


    I’m not sure what job you are talking about that makes me rich.

    If you are inferring that I have any monetary incentive to be pro or con abortion you are very wrong. Fortunately I don’t have to deal with it much in my work. If I diagnose a woman as being pregnant, she follows up with her obstetrician. With this post, I am only trying to make people think. We argue when life really begins, but is more scientific proof one way or the other going to change many minds on the abortion issue?

    I see the point you are making, but my argument is that science is not the primary key to our decision making here. Other things are involved.

    Pro-choice proponents are going to argue that science does not know when life begins. They will rely on science, and think anyone who doesn’t is just not smart as them, as long as science agrees with their thinking. But what they really believe is the mother is more important than unborn child no matter what.

    Pro-life will argue that life begins at conception. It is stated in the bible and the word of God is more important than anything else. If science shows studies to the contrary tomorrow, then the studies are wrong and science is making a wrong conclusion.

    Most, on either side of the issue, will make their decision in spite of the current available science. What is science itself but an agreed way of thinking and studying our surroundings?

    It has never been, nor will ever be the end all, final word. Scientists change their minds all the time depending on studies and their own biases.

  7. Vek Says:

    I think that we are looking at this issue in two extremes, and though these two extremes do in fact exist, they don’t account for many of the people who identify as pro-choice and pro-life.

    Though given that we are looking at these extremes, I’d have to say that each side of the debate does give off a certain perception of what they stand for, especially how they are seen by their opponents, and how their opponents speak of the other.

    The pro-choice side is seen as the woman before the child in any case. This is a perception that can be easily swallowed up, since the pro-choice activist movement is strongly held onto by the feminist movement, and that movement is often regarded in the same way.

    The pro-life side is seen as the child before the woman in any case, being fed through religious doctrine. This is then often seen as religious ideals being forced on women to supress them. Since much of the movement comes from the Catholic faith, comparisons are often made to the role of women in the Catholic faith, and conclusions are drawn.

    I think that in scientifically answering the question that you propose, “when does life begin?” we can really answer a lot of other questions regarding the issue. Does it end the debate? No. Pregnant mothers are alive, there is no question about it, and they have rights that must be respected. Their unborn children are what is under question, though the law right now, in either the US or Canada, doesn’t recognize them as ‘persons’ either way.

    Let’s say yes, the unborn are alive:
    There should be some form of legal protection. We protect animals, at least so that they be treated humanely. Even animals that are slaughtered are treated in a humane manner. Though that then brings up the question of sentinence, do they suffer? Is there pain to the unborn in early term abortions? No. Is there pain in later term abortions? Yes. Now what if this were taken a step further, and it was justified that the unborn child was given the status of ‘person’ at some point throughout pregnancy. In that case, the legal rights of all other persons would then apply to this unborn person. And that’s when things get really messy, about who has the right to live or not, and how a woman has the right to live her life with a person inside her.

    Now consider the other possiblity, not alive:
    Well, there isn’t much to be said here, unless there are some health concerns that women should be aware about, or maybe concerns regarding tax dollar funding. Though in this case there would be no reason to defend the unborn child.

    Considering bias in science, I wouldn’t say that it doesn’t exist either. What it comes down to is when someone has a theory, and they have put their life’s work into it, they will do whatever they can to defend it. And when grant money is involved, they will do what they can to retain the grant money.

    So, back to the original question. When does life begin? Define life. Well, there is single-celled organisms that are quite alive. A sea turtle will lay her embryos on the beach and then abandon them, with the hatched younglings appearing later on. Are these embryonic sea turtles alive? And if so, are they individuals? Marsupials give birth to their young while they are quite early in development compared to mammals, are these marsupial fetuses alive while mammal fetuses at the same level of development not alive? If they are alive, is one an individual while the other is not? These are important things to look at and consider.

  8. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Excellent points,Vek.

    Anyone correct me if I am wrong, but is it not true, that someone can be convicted of a double murder if they kill a pregnant woman?

    Any pro-choicers out there care to weigh in? Is it really an issue of when life begins to you, or is it a women’s right to do choose, meaning the fetus has no more rights than a piece of property until born?

  9. Dr. J Says:

    I really like reading this blog, both because of your articles, and the views of the commenter’s. Thank you!!

    Dr. Js last blog post..Nibbles: More peanut products recalled, Japan says cloned meat OK, and how networks fuel inaugural coverage

  10. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Thank you, Dr. J,

    The commenters do add immensely. The reason I write a post on abortion or universal health care or the like is to get the thoughtful comments.

  11. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Excellent points.

    Does “when life begins” really matter regarding abortion, or is it when the life is able to care for itself outside of the mother? Do you think that as long as it is in the mother, it is her property and she has the right to chose what to do with it?
    Or do we, as a society, have a moral obligation to protect it?

    Correct me if I am wrong, but haven’t there been cases of someone convicted of a double murder if a pregnant woman is killed?

    Pro-choicers, please weigh in.

  12. Project Swole Says:

    I’m sorry, but I am a proponent of letting people make decisions for themselves. If a pregnant mom does not want to have a child that was conceived by accident, she should be able to make that choice and have abortion services rendered safely and discreetly. I just think people should be able to make their own choices, and if they make bad choices then they will never be a successful part of society anyway. Sort of like survival of the fitness, but not really.

    Project Swoles last blog post..How Can I Lose 10 Pounds in Two Months?

  13. Vek Says:

    Project Swole:

    Since you are in favour of people being allowed to make their own choices, then can I assume you must take the belief that human life does not exist before birth? Or are you under the belief that it is irrelevant of the existence of life either way?

    Dr. Hubbard:

    I live in Canada, and I have a familiarity with the laws in Canada, though I know that American laws vary quite a bit from state to state.

    I’m not aware of any double murder charge under Canadian jurisdiction, though a private members bill to create that as a possibility was put forward in the House of Commons. The fall election happened before it could be voted on and cancelled any pending legislation. Before that happened, many groups identifying themselves as pro-choice lobbied against it, claiming that it could open the possibility to making abortion illegal. The bill itself was excluded from any lawful termination of pregnancy (abortion), so it really didn’t create any real legal threat to abortion. The real threat that I believe the activists were afraid of was any changes in opinion on abortion through public empathy that could be created towards the unborn given legal protection it could create. The bill essentially recognized the unborn fetus as more than an extension of cells within the mother, but still property, similar to that like a family pet. I guess those who opposed this felt it was too close for comfort.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if such laws may exist in some states in the US or even other countries. I’ve heard that Canada has the most relaxed abortion laws (or lack there of, depending on opinion) in the free world.

  14. Blessed to be a mother Says:

    I am blessed to be a mother of four. One, unfortunately, is in Heaven because I chose to have an abortion. Since then I have become a true Christian. There is no excuse for that horrible choice I made to end a life. Fortunately I have a gracious and merciful God who has offered forgiveness to me through faith in His son Jesus Christ. And therein lies the issue with this whole debate. God is the giver of life, and He alone decides when it should be ended. He has, of course, given jurisdiction to governments, as we see in the Bible, to bear the sword, execute judgement, and make laws that protect the lives of the innocent. Therefore, we have laws against murder. Sadly, along the course of time, a country that was founded on Christian principles, has put its stamp of approval on murder of pre-born children, a life that God created. So, whether people agree or disagree, in the end they have to answer to God Almighty (whether they accept that now or mock His name and existence) and I pray that they recieve the grace that I have.
    “…as it is written:“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands;
    no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;no one does good,not even one.”

    But thankfully…
    “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
    From Romans Chapter 3

    Life is created by God and is HIS property, not a woman’s even when it is growing inside her body. Whether by rape, incest, or a poor decision of premarital sex, “bad” timing, etc… the principle is the same and a life is a life. We must deal with the consequences, and not take the “easy way out, I speak from experience. However, the consequences of a bad decision (to have an abortion), are much worse for the mother and the child. If a woman was a strong woman, she would choose life. However, often times selfishness and fear win and a baby loses.

  15. Blessed to be a mother Says:

    Guess I’m two years late on this blog:)

  16. Leigh Ann Otte Says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Blessed to Be a Mother. The post may have been written a while back, as you point out, but the topic remains current. We’re glad to have the discussion continue. And I’m glad you’ve found peace.

    Leigh Ann Otte
    Managing Editor,

  17. Chris Says:

    During WWII, Jews were nor considered “persons” by law. It was legal to kill them. In America, when there was slavery, African Americans were not considered “persons” by law. They were property. When will we ever learn.
    Yes science can state when life begins, but the Word of God does it much better. God tells us that he knows us from our mothers womb. The Bible also says it is an abomination to shed innocent blood. From conception, the baby has its own DNA. Whatever the rationalization, it is a person and should have rights.

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