The most controversial argument in the debate on abortion is the matter of when life begins. Many abortion opposers argue that life starts at the very moment of conception i.e. when the egg cell is fertilized by a sperm. They contend that fertilization creates a special individual who possess complete genetic composition which is separate from the mother.  Furthermore, they contend that abortion is killing of an innocent and defenseless being.  Pro-life lawyers assert that in the early 18 days of an embryo, it has a beating heart, tiny fingers and toes. That at the point of fertilization all the genetic features are present such as eye color, height etc. abortion supporters also agree that a fertilized egg is potential human being but they insist that it’s not a person. They maintain that a zygote cannot live independently outside the body of the mother. According to them since embryo is not a being then it cannot possess defendable rights(Alcorn & Alcorn, 2012).

First, reproductive cells are not able to develop to full human being on their own. If a fetus is considered as a person then the sperm and egg should also be seen as such. The gametes are not able to survive outside the womb or incubator. Therefore they would not be termed to be person due to inability to direct growth and development into a human being. At conception the cells are just parts that constitute human life but they but are not yet human life. Parthenogenesis is development of haploid cell into an organism. Following that, if a fetus is given personhood because of its ability to develop into a being then haploid cells such as sperm should be given same rights (Roleff, 1997).

Secondly, the fetus must exhibit consciousness and self-consciousness before personness can be granted. Even though fetuses are able to move, are sensitive to pain, and have brainwaves and heartbeat, it does not guarantee that they are beings because even insects have same qualities. The most important quality is consciousness which is not definable easily but easily observed in absence.  Fetuses show signs of life but does not have consciousness until it is born (Roleff, 1997).

Thirdly, if personhood is to be considered at conception then what will happen with twins? They begin as one cell but eventually split into two distinct individuals. Does it mean that twins are a person? In cloning, it is proven that it is not zygote only that can be able to grow into a person; any kind of human cell containing normal chromosomes can develop into a person. There are unique events such as chimera which is a situation where two fertilized eggs join to become one cell. The point is that fetus cannot be a person because two persons can never become one (Roleff, 1997).

In addition, even the anti-abortionists agree that if mother’s life is at stake as a result of pregnancy then abortions should be allowed. By agreeing to this the anti-abortionists admits that fetus is of lower status than the person carrying it. On contrary, by stating that abortion should not be granted to save mothers lives then they mean that a single cell is worth more than a woman (Roleff, 1997).

In conclusion, both pro and anti-abortionists make strong points on validity of their arguments borrowing aspects from religion, science, morality and ethics. It is therefore hard to determine who is right and who is not. Judging on immorality of abortion can only result from ones description of personhood. The choice should be individual’s decision on what person is. It is not the law that should make this decision (Alcorn & Alcorn, 2012).


Alcorn, R., & Alcorn, R. (2012). Why pro-life? (12th ed., p. 133). Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers.

Roleff, T. (1997). Abortion (7th ed., p. 76). San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.