Patrick Lee and Robert P. George have an article at NRO entitled “Debating when life begins.” My problem is with the title: when life begins is not debatable — the beginning of life is scientific fact, as Lee and George make perfectly clear:
With the fusion of the sperm and the ovum, the tail of the sperm is lost, and the membrane surrounding the head of what was the sperm joins the surface membrane of the former oocyte creating a single, continuous membrane; this allows cytoplasmic factors derived from the ovum to affect the nuclear contents derived from the sperm — for example, new types of histones begin to be associated with those chromosomes, modifying the behavior and interaction of the molecules in these chromosomes. This shows that the sperm has ceased to be.At this point the genetic material from the ovum (the female pronucleus) and the genetic material from the sperm (the male pronucleus) are both contained within a single new cell, are being moved toward each other, and will eventually intermingle. This is the point just after the fusion of the membranes of the sperm and the ovum, when the ovum and the sperm cease to be, and a new organism — a whole human organism — comes to be.
As medical doctor and novelist Walker Percy said in the 1970s, we no longer live in the Dark Ages and it is no longer possible to say we don’t know when life begins. While pro-lifers are charged with being anti-science and dependent on faith, it is the pro-abortion side that takes an anti-science view when it denies the humanity of the unborn child; 46 chromosomes is not religious dogma but the unique human being created when the 23 chromosomes of the sperm and the 23 chromosomes of the ovum are combined.
The abortion debate is not, and has never seriously been primarily about, when life begins. The debate surrounding abortion, as the Supreme Court of the United States Roe v. Wadedecision acknowledges, is whether unborn life is “meaningful” — whether human life in the womb should be protected by law. George Will used to say the question is not when life begins but when life becomes protect-able. That is a philosophical argument, not a scientific one.
What Lee and George’s article is useful for is to educate people early about the facts of the beginning of life to lessen the chances that they will someday fall prey to the barbaric philosophical argument that some humans deserve more protection than others.