Life in the Womb
Some of the most impactful pieces of pro-life information you can share are the details of the development of human life in the womb. Try to memorize as much of this information as you can. In this section, use of the word “baby” has been avoided, because this word presupposes the very thing you’re trying to show—the humanity of the unborn—and it may make a staunch abortion supporter tune out the information you’re trying to share.
Of course, there may be times when you’re talking to someone who will respond positively to hearing about “the baby’s heartbeat”; in such a case, you should feel free to modify your language.
Please note that embryonic and fetal development is presented here by referring to days or weeks after conception, which may be different from the less precise “weeks of pregnancy” typically used by obstetricians, which are calculated from the mother’s last menstrual period (LMP).
Other important milestones of fetal development include:
- At 9 weeks after conception, a fetus is able to bend its fingers around an object in its hand, and sucks its thumb. All essential organs have begun to form.
- At 11 weeks, a fetus is breathing amniotic fluid steadily and will do so until birth.
- At 12 weeks, a fetus can kick, turn over, make a fist, open its mouth and press its lips together.
- At 13 weeks, a fetus’s vocal cords and auditory sense are present.
- At 20 weeks, a fetus can be startled by a loud external noise.
- At 23 weeks, a fetus can demonstrate rapid eye movements (REM).
- At six months, fine hair grows on the fetus’s head and eyebrows, and small eyelashes begin to appear.
- At seven months, a fetus’s hands can support his entire weight.
- At eight months, a fetus weighs more than four pounds.
- During the ninth month from conception, a fetus gains half a pound per week. Of the 45 total generations of cell replication that will occur by mature adulthood, 41 have already taken place.
Clowes, Brian, PhD. The Facts of Life. Front Royal, VA: Human Life International, 2001.
The point in pregnancy after which a fetus is capable of living outside the womb is known as “viability.” As medical technology has improved, that point has been pushed back earlier and earlier in pregnancy. Babies born as early as 24 weeks routinely survive with medical assistance, and some have survived as early as 22 weeks.
Wikipedia contributors. “Fetal viability.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed October 17, 2013. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Fetal_viability&oldid=574028828.
Human life eight weeks from conception[/caption]Based on the development of the nervous system, a fetus is likely able to feel pain as early as eight weeks after conception.
Clowes, Brian, PhD. The Facts of Life. Front Royal, VA: Human
Life International, 2001.
Many stages of prenatal development can be identified, especially in the early days and weeks of life when change takes place at an extremely rapid pace. The following are the primary stages:
- Zygote—A single-celled human being from fertilization until the first cell division
- Embryo—A human being from the time of the first cell division until approximately the eighth week of life
- Fetus—A human being from approximately the eighth week of life up until birth
To this list of stages of human development might be added: newborn, infant, toddler, child, adolescent, adult and senior—the continuum of human life which begins with conception.
Prenatal development and pregnancy can also be divided into trimesters:
- First Trimester—From conception to approximately 12 weeks gestation
- Second Trimester—From approximately 13 through 26 weeks gestation
- Third Trimester—From approximately 27 weeks gestation to birth
Until 1965, physicians considered pregnancy to begin at fertilization, when the male sperm unites with the female ovum in the mother’s Fallopian tube, creating a new human life. Since then, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has identified the beginning of pregnancy as implantation, when the tiny human being (now scientifically known as an “embryo”) implants in the mother’s uterus and begins to draw nourishment, eight to ten days after life begins.
The reasons for this change are disputed. Some argue the new definition was established to allow intrauterine devices (IUDs) to be characterized as contraceptives rather than abortifacients, since they can inhibit implantation.
But even if one concedes the new definition, the critical question is when a new human life begins, not when pregnancy begins. Once that new life has begun, any measure taken that destroys that life constitutes an abortion.
Browder, Sue Ellin. “When Human Life Begins.” National Catholic Register. December 14, 2009. http://www.ncregister.com/site/article/19659.
Willke, John, MD and Barbara Willke. Abortion: Questions & Answers. Cincinnati: Hayes, 2003.
At conception, also known as fertilization, a male sperm unites with a female ovum (egg). The single-celled human organism formed by the fusion of sperm and egg is known as a zygote.
Condic, Maureen, Ph.D. “When Does Human Life Begin? A Scientific
Perspective.” The Westchester Institute, October 2008. Accessed October 10,
Biology is clear that at conception, also known as fertilization, a unique organism comes into existence. Since this new life possesses human DNA and is the offspring of human parents, it can only legitimately be described as human life.
Since there is no question that human zygotes, embryos and fetuses are alive, some have attempted to claim that human beings are not “persons” until some threshold is crossed, such as viability, the capacity to feel pain, birth, or even the first year after birth. The merits of such notions could be debated, but it should be clear that they are not
based on science but rather on ideology, philosophy, or belief.
As far as observable science is concerned, human life begins at conception.
Condic, Maureen, Ph.D. “When Does Human Life Begin? A Scientific Perspective.” The Westchester Institute, October 2008. Accessed October 10, 2013. http://westchesterinstitute.net/images/wi_whitepaper_life_print.pdf.