Have you ever heard someone who supports abortion claim, “No one knows when life begins”?  The funny thing is, these very individuals actually do claim to know when it begins.  If they ban abortion at 3 months, then they are implicitly saying life begins at 3 months. If they ban abortion at 6 months, then they are implicitly saying life begins at 6 months.  The question is this: Is where they draw the line based on fact or convenience?

Moreover, abortion advocates are making an even greater concession than they realize.  Consider the labels “3 months” or “6 months”: these reveal the passage of time, and show that time is being “clocked” from a beginning point 3 or 6 months prior.  So wherever abortion advocates draw a line, they are unwittingly making this major admission: that life began where they started clocking the passage of time that brought them to 3 or 6 months.  So what happened 3 or 6 months prior?  Fertilization.  And that’s when life begins.

Life begins at fertilization, but not because I say so; rather, because science says so.  Embryology texts repeatedly echo the sentiment expressed by Keith Moore in his medical textbook The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology: “Human development begins at fertilization.”


To paraphrase my friend and pro-life apologist Steve Wagner, consider these 3 questions:

1.      If something is growing, isn’t it alive? 

2.      If it has human parents, isn’t it human offspring? 

3.      And we humans have human rights, don’t we?

Our society recognizes the latter—that’s why we are outraged when genocides occur.  As for the second point, as long as we don’t re-open the debate about the humanness of women, and as long as we don’t open a debate about the humanness of men, there is no reason to doubt the humanness of their offspring. 

As for the first point, at fertilization, a one-celled embryo grows into two cells, then four cells, then eight and so forth.  Thus, he or she is clearly alive.  That embryonic human may be smaller, less developed and more dependent than the rest of us, but let’s remember that a toddler is also smaller, less developed, and more dependent than us too. 

We are labeled when we are certain ages (e.g., “embryo” or “toddler”) and as a result of our age, we may or may not be able to do certain things.  But regardless of which age category we fit into, we’re human beings at all stages of our development.  To allow those of us who are older to kill those who are younger is age discrimination.

As for the claim that embryos don’t “look” human; actually, they look exactly as a human should look at that stage of development.  And that brings to mind an analogy from Richard Stith: consider a Polaroid picture.  Once you click the camera and the card comes out, what initially appears is brown/black smudges.  But within a few minutes the image appears with clarity.   The image is captured in an instant but it does need time to develop.  So it is with each of us—who we are as unique, unrepeatable individuals of great dignity is captured in an instant (fertilization); we just need time to develop.

To conclude, it’s worth considering that when scientists want to create human life in a lab, they don’t plead ignorance about when life begins.  On the contrary, they know exactly when it begins, for they aim to replicate not an individual at 3 or 6 months’ development, but rather they aim to replicate the moment of fertilization.  They aren’t satisfied with a sperm or egg by themselves, but they are satisfied with a one-celled embryo.

So why is it that when scientists, or others, wish to destroy human life, they claim to not know when it begins?  Perhaps it’s because we don’t want to know when life begins.  Because if we admit life begins at fertilization, then we have to admit our society is committing and permitting the greatest human rights violation in the history of the world when we allow for the destruction of the youngest of our kind.

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Stephanie Gray is co-founder and executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.