Life Begins at Conception and Roe v. Wade was Correct

Life Begins at Conception and Roe v. Wade was Correct

If I invite you to dinner and for dessert, serve you raw eggs on a bed of flour and sugar, do you you say “Oh, what a delicious cake!” or “What kind of joke is this?”

It has all the ingredients of a cake, but it’s not a cake. And similarly, a zygote is not yet a blastomere or a blastocyst or a fetus or a baby. The cake takes a while to come into existence, and so does the infant.

Every time we name something, we know in general what it applies to, but when we look closely at its boundary, the drawing of a bright line becomes difficult. When does death occur? Is it when the heart stops beating, when pupils no longer dilate, when brain activity is undetectable? What counts as theft? Taking a paper-clip from the office? Borrowing your neighbor’s lawnmower when he is out? Taking food from a store after a natural disaster?

Sharp lines and clear differences make for clear-cut situations: if I park three feet from the curb, I am illegally parked; if I am within eighteen inches, I am safe. But again, on looking closely, the distinction becomes unclear. What if only one wheel is within that distance? What if I have long lug nuts or curb whiskers?

The claim that life begins at conception is perfectly reasonable, but the debate is distorted by the misuse of language. Beginning is not completion, and even that beginning is not a bright line. Is it when the sperm breaches the ovum? Is it when the two RNA strands start to join, or is it only when the last AT/CG bond forms? If, when there are 8 cells, they split into 4+4 and form identical twins, when does the second life appear? And so on. The difficulty in deciding when the baby comes to exist goes away when we say that it happens gradually. Life begins at conception, but comes into full existence over a period of time. (Nine missing periods, give or take.)

Our desire for simplicity make yes/no decisions attractive, but in practice, the world is not that way. One thing the law has to do is draw lines that follow, as far as possible, the distinctions that exist, and Roe v. Wade was an honorable effort. Do not insult me by serving an unbaked dessert.


Photo credit: Natallia Nagorniak, Unsplash

2 Comments on “Life Begins at Conception and Roe v. Wade was Correct

  1. Thank you for this cogent explanation. Every bit of reasonableness and energy will be needed now, for the challenges ahead.

  2. Here is a briefer version of the argument that I made as a Washington Post comment:

    When does a cake become a cake? Is it when the flour and eggs are mixed? Is it when it is put in the oven? When it is taken out? When it is sliced and iced? You would be insulted if a restaurant served you flour and eggs for dessert. The cake begins there, but it is not yet a cake.
    Similarly, life begins with a zygote, then a blastomere, a blastocyst and a fetus. The human comes into existence over a period of time, and the wisdom of Roe was to recognize this and draw the line (for all laws are lines) at fetal viability.
    The question of existence is everywhere: when does a sweater begin? At the first clack of needles? When does a house begin? When the footings are dug? Our desire for simplistic yes/no answers has blinded us to the nature of the world: there are no clear-cut boundaries anywhere; we draw sharp lines as convenient short-cuts.
    The argument that an infant slowly comes into existence is almost entirely missing from the debate. Use it.

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