There is no consensus on when human life begins, despite numerous claims to the contrary. Scientific opinion differs with many scientists refusing to even enter the debate. I believe the question of what constitutes human life is more than our DNA. More than how many cells the developing being consists of. More than the stage of physical development. For me it is not a question for science to decide at all. Instead I believe it is meant to be a deeply personal question that each one of us must decide for ourselves.
I believe in a soul that is inescapably intertwined with human life. For me human life begins when The Greatest Love instills that soul into the developing zygote, blastocyst, embryo or fetus (hereafter referred to as simply the fetus). The difficult question then becomes: when does this spiritual moment, traditionally termed ensoulment, occur?
The short answer is I do not know but in the absence of this answer there are things that I still believe about human life. I must stress that the beliefs I have formed in this regard after much time and reflection, like all my beliefs, I would never force upon anyone. We each much decide for ourselves when life begins. Others, including friends and family, religious doctrine, or scientific understanding may help us in that determination but, I believe, they must never speak on the woman’s behalf.
To be even clearer I believe that all women have the individual right to determine for themselves when the being growing inside their body represents human life. Furthermore I believe The Greatest Love allows women to make this determination without judgement. Instead it is meant to be a deeply personal question between a woman, the being within her, and her god. And it is fine for it to be based more on feeling than logic. In fact the feelings of maternal love are perhaps the most relevant in coming to, what can be for many, a very difficult determination.
But I also believe there is help for pregnant women. I believe that The Greatest Love can help them in making this determination but they must be open to accepting Their signs: the movements within the woman’s body, the early pangs of maternal love, the emotions within her soul. I believe these are all signs from The Greatest Love meant to help her come to a determination of life or not.
And I believe once a mother has made a determination of human life, aborting it would, within reason (e.g. the life of the mother is in not in jeopardy), represent an aberration of love. Human life, whenever it is determined to exist, must be considered sacred.
On a personal note, after much prayer and reflection in search of guidance on this question, I have formed some beliefs that have provided me with solace. It was exceptionally difficult for me to come to these beliefs. Love is a complex condition and the issue of abortion involves love for the mother along with love for the fetus. Both must be considered. We must empathize with both.
When I searched my heart I wept for the victims of rape and incest, who want no part of the being growing inside them. And I wept with the young woman who is frightened, and worried about whether her family and friends would abandon her if she tells them she is pregnant. And yes my heart also wept for the unborn: the innocent who never asked to be part of this struggle.
For me, abortion is a fundamental question, not just of when human life begins, but of love in all of it’s infinite complexity, for all of the parties involved. And in my search for answers I have formed some beliefs which I believe my god, The Greatest Love, has guided me towards. The answers and beliefs your god guides you towards, if any, may differ. And that is fine. In fact I believe it is as The Greatest Love intended. For everyone is different, and the determination of life must reflect these differences.
I will share with you my beliefs in this regard in the hopes that they may provide some readers struggling with this question another perspective as you search for your own answers to this most fundamental of questions: when does human life begin?
My beliefs are:
- That the love in our heart represents our soul. Thus we must first have a capacity to love in order to have a soul.
- That human life begins at the moment of ensoulment.
- That together these three elements: human life, love, and a soul form a trinity. All three must exist together and if but one is missing the other two cannot be. Therefore human life cannot exist without a capacity to love. Even the most hateful, and evil among us were born into this World with a capacity to love. The same is true of a fetus at some point in its development.
- That the Greatest Love enforces this trinity in all of us, including a developing fetus. When The Greatest Love alone determines that a fetus is capable of love, They impart within it a soul. The fetus becomes human life. The three come into existence at the same instant in time, and love is the spark that ignites the trinity.
This, after much prayer and reflection, is what I believe.
Only The Greatest Love can determine with certainty when a fetus is capable of love, but science can tell us when it is not. In order for a being to be capable of love the beginnings of a brain must have formed along with some amount of brain activity. Without this brain activity a fetus cannot love. And thus for me, as revealed through personal prayer and reflection, there can be no life at such an early developmental stage. There can be no soul.
Brain activity begins around the sixth week of pregnancy. But is brain activity enough? Love is a complex emotion and the earliest manifestations of it likely require more development than the beginnings of a brain allows. How would we know when a developing fetus is capable of expressing love? A prenatal expression of love may begin with the fetus simply feeling their mother’s warmth and security. A moment that exists solely within the fetus’ mind. And even earlier than that, when does the fetus acquire this capability to feel that warmth. Without the capability to love, I believe, we are not human. It is not about the potential to love. We must acquire the capability to love. Only then do, I believe, a soul is imparted and human life comes into existence. And only The Greatest Love can know with certainty when this happens. I am left with the realization that I cannot know when human life begins. And this is how, I believe, The Greatest Love intended it to be for me.
The Greatest Love allows each of us to search our own hearts to try to come to a conclusion on when life begins. But do not feel disheartened if you cannot find an answer. Great thinkers, theologians, philosophers, and yes even churches have struggled with this question. The Catholic Church, my former church, only came to their most recent conclusion that life begins at the moment of conception in 1869. From the article “Catholic Church and abortion“, with the exception of the three-year period 1588–1591, early abortion was not prohibited by Catholic canon law until 1869.
Regardless of whether you find the answers you started out looking for to this question of life, I believe it is the search that is important. When I searched for an answer to the question I did not find one. My god did not answer those enquiries for me. Instead They led me to a conclusion of when life can not exist and that was enough to provide me solace.
But you are not me. And you may be able to come to an absolute conclusion on this most fundamental of questions. That would be wonderful. And for you that could mean that life begins at the moment of conception which, based on my beliefs above, would mean I disagree with you. And that is perfectly fine. It does not matter what I believe. What matters is what you believe. The Greatest Love intended that the question of when life begins to forever remain a deeply personal one between a woman, the being within her, and her god.
And what if a woman cannot make a determination of life or not even after listening honestly to others, her god, and of course her own mind, body, and soul? That after much searching there are no answers for her at all that are forthcoming? Then what? My heart goes out to her. Yes I can share with her my beliefs. I can tell her that if she terminates the pregnancy within six weeks I believe she is not ending a human life. But even if that is true human beings have a tremendous capacity to love. We can love sentimental keepsakes, glorious sunsets, and cool autumn walks. All sorts of things. And we can of course love beings that are not human life. We can love a fertilized egg, a zygote, a blastocyst, and an embryo. And if those feelings of maternal love have begun to stir within her, regardless of when they began, then those feelings alone may have made the decision for her. Regardless of whether she believes the being growing inside her is yet human life, she loves it and on that basis alone she may decide to carry it to term. I can find no fault in that logic. Quite the contrary. I believe it is the most human of conclusions. And I pray that the people around her can support her in whatever decision she makes.
Whatever her final decision is, at no point should society judge that decision or her. Why do I believe this? Because there was a sixth message. A message not for the pregnant woman on when she can or cannot terminate her pregnancy. But instead it was meant for the people and society that surround her. A powerful message that brought me to tears. That message was:
How dare you judge?
I believe the Greatest Love meant:
- How dare we judge, on another person’s behalf, when life begins? That is only ever a question that the Divine knows with certainty and society must never speak on behalf of Them. Instead women must be free to decide for themselves, as best they can.
- How dare we judge when a fetus is capable of love and thus able to accept a human soul? That is not for humanity or science to decide. There will be no test that will be developed. No formula that will be worked out. It will never be possible. Only The Greatest Love will ever know with certainty when a fetus is capable of love and therefore when human life begins.
- How dare the courts of our World interfere with a woman’s right to choose based on her own beliefs, thoughts, and feelings?
- How dare we judge any of the professionals involved in the termination of pregnancies? Those professionals will be judged at a later time by looking deep into their souls to assess their actions. I believe compassionate and caring healthcare professionals, who do not believe they are terminating human life, and working with the best interests of the pregnant woman in mind need not be concerned. They are acting out of love, love for the pregnant woman, without conflict to their personal beliefs.
- How dare we judge the pregnant woman and her determination of life, however she makes it? For the pregnant woman it can be a daunting challenge to assess her beliefs and feelings in this regard. She must contend with the stigmas we as a society have placed around certain types of pregnancies (teenage pregnancy, pregnancy outside of marriage, single parent pregnancies, etc.). Such societal stigmas can impact a woman’s judgement. That is on all of us. As well there are the circumstances surrounding the conception. For example how dare we judge a woman’s conclusion that the fetus growing inside her is not human life because it was conceived as a result of rape or incest? When she cannot get past the circumstances of it’s conception and begin to love the fetus on its own terms? How dare we say that under such conditions such a conclusion is not valid?
Next time you see a pregnant teenager ask yourself what do you truly see? Do you see strength, or weakness? Do you see resilience, or recklessness? Do you see love, or foolishness? Then correct yourself for judging either way. You don’t know her or her circumstances. And if we, as a society, were not so judgmental on women choosing to bring their fetuses to term perhaps the abortion numbers would drop.
And the woman who brings her fetus to term and then gives the child up for adoption because she, for some reason cannot love the child, or is not in a place to handle the responsibility? This woman my heart goes out to. This woman we should not stigmatize, we should applaud for recognizing her limitations, accepting any stigmatization, and putting the best interests of her child first. This is courage.
What about abortions of convenience? A woman who does not believe a fetus while developing within her can ever be considered human life and therefore can be freely aborted at any time, for any reason. It is still, I believe, her right to choose based on her own beliefs and feelings. And as told to me by The Greatest Love we must not sit in judgement of her, or any of the healthcare professionals involved in her case. And if at any point that woman believes the fetus inside of her is human life then I pray she can find the love, strength and courage it bring it to term. But if she cannot? Then it must be left to The Greatest Love to judge alone, as They judge all our actions, by looking deep into her heart, with love and mercy.
This is what I believe.