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The Unanswered Abortion Question

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Writing about abortions is difficult because it is an extremely emotional subject. This writer has had the experience of readers misinterpreting what was written. Readers are cautioned to not impose their assumptions over the words actually written. Abortion is a more serious issue than most people realize because a large number of voters consider abortion the only issue they are concerned with.

The specific issue addressed here is the extremely complicated pregnancy process and the natural loss of millions of fertilized eggs before they start growing in the uterus. Believers have not explained why God terminates half of the lives created at conception after only a few hours.

Background

The Supreme Court ruled in 1973, in Roe v Wade that an embryo is not a person until the fourth month. This means that early term abortions are legal. In general, nearly everyone agrees that late term abortions are unacceptable. The debate is over about early term abortions. Catholics and other Christians believe that life starts at the instant of conception therefore all abortions are murder. Non-religious people believe live starts much later and therefore early term abortions are acceptable.

The opposition to early term abortions is based on religious beliefs. Although unsupported by any biblical passages, Catholics are taught that at the moment of conception the fertilized egg receives a spiritual essence called an immortal soul. It is not known how that particular timing was determined but that is critical to the belief that any abortion regardless of the timing is murder. In the early church there was no agreement on when the soul was created. St Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Pope Innocent III, who were considered great philosophers and theologians, believed that God did not create an individual's soul at the time of conception. So early term abortions were not considered murder. The question was open to debate for a long time. Without any divine guidance available to settle the issue, the church leaders decided to go with the idea that the soul was created at conception. They may not have settled on this option had they been fully aware of the entire complicated pregnancy process.

Pregnancy Process Summary

The female produces one egg, or sometimes more than one egg, each month prior to her menstrual cycle. The male provides about 250 million sperm cells during each mating procedure. This large number increases the probability of hooking up with the egg. The egg is released into one of the two fallopian tubes. While the egg is moving through the fallopian tube, thousands of sperm cells are moving through both fallopian tubes in the opposite direction. If one of the sperm makes a connection, the egg's chemistry changes to reject other sperm cells.

Both the egg and the sperm contain 23 chromosomes. Each chromosome contains a large DNA molecule. Each DNA molecule has millions of base pair nucleotides. A nucleotide is made up of a large number of nitrogen, helium, oxygen and carbon elements arranged specific combination. The total number of base pairs in a single cell is 3 billion (3,000,000,000). So when a cell decides to divide into 2 cells, 3 billion more base pairs have to be created and then arranged in the proper alignments on the 23 chromosomes. It seems the odds of that happening correctly are infinitesimal. I once saw the birth of a baby, so I am convinced that as improbable as it is, somehow all those base pairs seem to get it right - at least sometimes.

While still in the fallopian tube, the process of mitosis begins. Mitosis is the magical process that changes a cell into a complete living creature. Scientists know the details of what happens in mitosis but they have no idea why it happens. First, each of the 3 billion base pairs in the chromosomes must be accurately duplicated in the cell. Then these chromosomes have to be sorted into 2 equal groups and sent to opposite sides of the cell. Finally the cell magically becomes 2 identical cells. To the casual observer the success of this amazingly complicated process seems absolutely incredible. These 2 cells repeat the process becoming 4 then 8 and so on while still moving through the fallopian tube on the way to the uterus. The evolving cells are referred to as a zygote. The zygote continues to grow into a blastomere. If all has gone well, at around 7 days it should attach to the wall of the uterus and continue developing into a baby. Unfortunately it does not always go that well.

The Big Dilemma

The natural world is subject to all sorts of disturbances and random happenings. So it is with human pregnancies. Several obstacles have to be overcome for a zygote to make it all the way to the delivery room. A frequent problem is the difficulty of a blastomere properly attaching to the uterine wall. Only 50% of blastomeres successfully attach to the uterine wall. Those that do not make it are lost. Every day about 350,000 babies are born in the world. An equal number of fertilized eggs lasted for only a few days and then are gone forever. Millions of pregnancies are lost each year as a normal part of nature. Others are lost for a variety of reasons such as miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births and so on. In total, more pregnancies are lost than are successful. This very complicated process and the loss of millions of fertilized eggs is never brought up in the abortion debate. This article corrects that omission.

A devout religious person believes God created and manages our world. They give God credit or blame for things like a streak of bad luck or a cripple suddenly able to walk. It follows that the religious person believes God created a living soul at conception and then terminated its existence a few days later. The religious person believes all abortions are murder including those only a few days after conception. It qualifies as murder to them because they believe a soul was created at the instant of fertilization. It does not matter that the zygote consisted of only a few cells. They believe it has a soul and therefor it is a human being. From their point of view it is immoral to abort any pregnancy even though God routinely terminates billions of pregnancies before they even start to develop. It makes no sense that an act is immoral if a person does it but not immoral if God does it. The only thing that is close to sensible is that God does not create a soul at conception but rather at a more appropriate time.

This presents a serious dilemma. A religious person can believe God creates a soul when the fetus becomes viable or he can believe the soul is created at the instant of conception. If he chooses the latter he also has to accept that God destroys countless billions of lives only a few hours after he created them. What possible reason could God have for doing that? The only sensible answer is that God does not really do that. It seems that if the church leaders of the past had some knowledge about the complexities of reproduction or the low percentage of successful pregnancies they would have sided with St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas who believed a human life does not start at conception and we would not be having this debate today.

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The author was a Spacecraft Engineer on NASA's Apollo program and a Computer Science instructor at California State University. He holds a Master's degree in Systems Engineering from the University of California and has traveled extensively (more...)
 

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