I'm an atheist. I believe in reproductive rights for women. I believe a woman should be able to abort a pregnancy no questions asked. Why should I have to also believe the nonsense that "life begins at birth"? It seems to me that a human being is created as soon as a sperm fertilizes an egg. The DNA of a human being exists from that point onward. Are we so under the thumbs of the religious right that we can't say, "Yeah, life begins at conception. So what? The woman still has control."?

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Does consciousness begin at conception?

Obviously not. But neither does it start at any particular moment, probably. More of a dawning, I suppose.

Peter Singer has a brilliant argument that we need to move away from specieism, and determine personhood based on cognitive ability.  Specifically self-awareness.  When religious people say that phrase though, they mean the soul is perfectly formed at conception, thus it is a human at conception.   There is no evidence for this in their religious text.  There is only one passage stating "you knit me together in my mothers womb", which wasn't even meaning to address the subject.  When you knit a hat together it isn't a hat until you are done.  I have seen others here mention personhood, and I think that is the argument to use.

But here is Peter Singer's devastating argument against a soul being created at conception.  At conception there is still infinite potential for the fertilized egg to split infinite times.   Although the probability lies on the scale of impossible, it still is a potential. 

In reality, there is nothing to support that a soul comes into being at the point of conception, even in Christian texts.  Life is an idiom meaning the soul.  Otherwise it does become arbitrary as life is destroyed as you have already pointed out in animals, small organisms, and plants.  What matters to a religious person is the state of a soul.  You can easily argue "what if the fetus is also developing a soul at the same time as a body and neither are formed completely"?

Evidence of life is it's ability to grow and reproduce. Scientifically a fertilized egg IS life, it is a human being. The issue is not whether it's self sustainable outside the womb, etc. I have a real problem with someone aborting a third trimester fetus. We're talking about a developed brain and nervous system capable of identifying/sensing pain. If a mammal, even in early form, can have pain sensation then there should be pause for concern. A nervous system does not come into play in the first couple months of gestation IIRC.  


I have no problem with early stage abortions AND I have no problem with termination of adults who commit heinous crimes.

Someone commented that DNA tests should also be mandatory for married couples after a pregnancy is realized. Wow! So much for trust/commitment in a relationship. It would be sad to be that cynical.

I think you and many others would find this debate between Peter Singer and Don Marquis very interesting:


I have tried to find Marquis original paper on the subject, but it is a bit hard to find.  Although Marquis opposes Singer, he lays out his positions very well.  Singer's positions are the ones that are most thought-provoking though.

I don't think third trimester abortions are common at all and when they are done, they are probably done for medical reasons not just for fun. I'm not sure in what sense a fetus can "feel." I don't even remember being circumcised, which I'm sure, done as an adult, would hurt like hell. In fact, I have no memories much before my second year, and those are very hazy, like being in an inflatable baby pool in my parents' backyard. I'm pretty sure the fetus isn't thinking "OMG, I'm being killed!"

Someone commented that DNA tests should also be mandatory for married couples after a pregnancy is realized. Wow! So much for trust/commitment in a relationship. It would be sad to be that cynical.

This would actually be useful for future doctors. They could see the real genetic history of the child instead of the fathers half being questionable.

   You are 100% correct, biologically speaking.  But the question of when legal rights attach is something that perhaps we should all try to agree upon, if possible.  And personally, I think that determination should be left exclusively to women.  I don't think it's any more my business than it is the business of women to decide whether or not I should be circumcised (NOT!).

The thing that complicates the issue is that the disingenuously-named "right to life" paradigm has little  to do with the sanctity of life, and everything to do with what some Christian men regard as their God-given duty to rule over women, aided and abetted by the acquiescence of some Christian women who implicitly acknowledge the male superiority set forth in the Book of Genesis.  Have you heard a single one of them demand that American soldiers cease and desist from murdering Iraqi children because they, too, have a "right to life"?  Of course not!  No, it's not reverence for life that motivates them, it's Old Testament male domination.      

Hear hear

Let me answer this with a question....if I cut off my finger, it still has human DNA but it is not "a human", correct? The main problem I see is where to draw the line between human and not human. At what point does a clump of cells with human DNA (like my cut-off finger) become a human?

To be "alive" as a severed finger will be for perhaps minutes is different from "life," which implies the ability of something to sustain itself potentially for a full lifetime. DNA determines what it is, but does not give it life.

Well, an embryo does not have the ability to sustain itself for a lifetime. If it is removed from its life support system (the womb), it will die. Much as we could attach a severed body part to a machine to maintain its blood flow, warmth, nutrients, etc. The finger would continue to 'live', but would not be able to sustain itself without external support.


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