Does Ending a Pregnancy End a Human Life?

Miscarriage, stillbirth, and elective abortions occur every day.  Women can be left devastated, confused, or perhaps slightly relieved depending on their life circumstances. But what was actually lost when the pregnancy ended?  A clump of cells, a human, or just a potential human? Was a life lost? The answer may help women as they process a pregnancy loss and or make choices about their unplanned pregnancy.

What is a human?

While there are many philosophical ideas about what it means to be human, scientifically, according to biology online, a human is a “bipedal primate belonging to the genus homo, especially homo sapiens.” As humans, we are classified as a type of animal in the family hominidae and are vertebrate mammals. We have unique genetic codes in our DNA specific to our species.  To be human we must be living organisms containing human DNA. Some traits associated with homo sapiens are big brains, opposable thumbs, using tools, curiosity, and adaptability.

So when do we become human and alive?

Life is “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.”

Plants, animals, and bacteria are all alive.  Even a single cell is alive according to science.  You may ask, “If my skin cell is alive, is it a human?”  Your skin cell may be alive but it is only a single part of a living organism. It performs a function to help the whole being. It cannot function to sustain life alone without rest of the human body. An organism is “An individual form of life, such as a bacterium, protis, fungus, plant, or animal, composed of a single cell or a complex of cells in which organelles or organs work together to carry out the various processes of life.” A human skin cell is alive yet it is not an entire organism and so cannot be classified as a human. A single-celled human organism is first formed at conception, when the egg and sperm join together.

Human Development

As humans, we go through many different developmental stages.  My daughter was an infant before she was a toddler. She was a tween before becoming a teen. Hopefully she will one day be an adult. All of these different stages are a normal part of growing and developing as a human. Though some may believe teens are a whole different species, probably some kind of alien, scientifically they are really still humans going through a distinct stage of development.

So we know that infants, toddlers, and teens are all human beings, but what about an unborn fetus or a tiny fertilized ovum (zygote) within a human female?  According to embryology, “The zygote, the first cell of a new organism with an individual genome (2n4C) is created by the alignment of the maternal chromosomes together with the paternal ones on a common spindle apparatus.”   Human zygotes, embryos, and fetuses are individual human organisms growing and progressing through different stages of development. Whether they are inside the mom or outside the mom doesn’t change the essence of what they are.

The End of a Human Life

All pregnancies start with a new human life: a tiny one-celled organism who grows and develops throughout the pregnancy until birth and then continues to develop throughout their life-span.  For parents suffering a miscarriage or stillbirth, there is pain and grief. Others may not understand why they are so upset. Their pain is validated with the knowledge of a life lost. These parents did not just lose a clump of skin cells that floated away in the breeze, they lost a living human being…their child.  A woman considering an abortion also needs to understand that the consequences will be a life lost. The tiny life may not have any understanding of what is happening. It is developmentally immature. Perhaps the loss of this tiny human organism is an acceptable solution to a woman in a difficult situation. She deserves to know and understand the facts before making that decision because she is the one who will have to live with her choice the rest of her life.  And perhaps she also may need to understand why she hurts and allow herself to grieve.  The choice she makes is not easy and should never be minimized.