The Right to Life
Every child in school is taught that we are endowed with the rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers believed that God gave human beings these rights. Non-believers may disagree, asserting that they are simply an intrinsic part of human nature. Regardless, most rational people will agree that every human being is endowed with these fundamental and unalienable rights.
In 1973 Roe v. Wade, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s right to an abortion must be balanced against the state’s right to protect prenatal life. They recognized that there is a point during the forty-week gestation period where the life developing inside the mother’s womb becomes human; inherits those unalienable rights, and is entitled to protection under the law.
In an attempt to achieve this balance, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman has the right to an abortion until viability. They defined viability as the “interim point at which the fetus becomes … potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.” Using the court’s logic, we can conclude that viability is the point in time at which a human life begins and the state’s right to protect that life goes into effect.
Initially the viability threshold was placed at 28-weeks. However, over the decades since Roe v. Wade, advances in medical technology have lowered that threshold to 24-weeks. Currently, the survival rate for infants born at 24-weeks is fifty percent. The youngest surviving premature infants were born between the 21st and 22nd weeks of gestation.
On October 21, 2006 Amillia Taylor was born at the Baptist Children’s Hospital in Miami. She was 21-weeks old, weighed less than 10 ounces and was only 9.5 inches long. Her mother Sonja lied to the doctors about the length of her pregnancy because being less than 24-weeks old, Amillia wasn’t considered viable. Today, Amillia is a thriving and healthy little girl.
We now know that viability is not a fixed point in time. Rather, viability is dependent upon a number of factors including, the health and strength of the fetus at birth, the medical technology and neonatal care available, and quite possibly the ability to pay for that care. If human life and viability are synonymous, then the definition of what constitutes a human life, and when human life begins is both ambiguous and arbitrary. It begins whenever it becomes viable and is dependent upon the numerous factors that determine viability.
However, there is a problem with trying to equate human life with viability. If medical advances continue, as they will, and neonatology is able to lower the survival rate to 20 or 15-weeks, do we then have to redefine human life? If at some point in the future, science is not only able to conceive a life outside the womb, which it is today, but is able to bring that life to term in some artificial womb, are we then again forced to reconsider and redefine human life?
The definition of what constitutes a human life and when human life begins cannot be ambiguous or arbitrary. It must be certain, fixed, and universal! It must apply equally to every person, everywhere, regardless of the time period, the technology available, or an individual’s economic condition.
Although viability will always be ambiguous and arbitrary, there is a point in time that we know with absolute certainty initiates the process that will result in an independent and viable human life. That point is conception! From the moment the sperm fuses with the ovum, the genetic blueprint is established, and the march towards life has begun. This is without question the point when human life begins.
There can be no uncertainty in defining human life, or in determining when a human life begins. If we error, we must error on the side of life as opposed to the side of uncertainty. If there is any uncertainty of what constitutes a human life, or when human life begins, we must protect the right to life over the right of a woman to have an abortion. The only certain and acceptable definition of what constitutes a human life, and when human life begins, is conception.