What Does Science Reveal About When Life Begins? – Part 3

By: Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr. John Weldon; ©2005
Isn’t the fetus merely part of the mother’s body? How can the embryo-fetus be a person? Isn’t it just a “potential” person?

Previous Article

Although every holocaust ever perpetrated is an unprecedented event in its own right, this should not detract from what all holocausts share in common… the systematic and widespread destruction of millions looked upon as indiscriminate masses of subhuman expendables.

The cultural environment for a human holocaust is present whenever any society can be misled into defining individuals as less than human and therefore devoid of value and respect.

William Brennan[1]

Isn’t the fetus merely part of the mother’s body?

Biologically, it is a scientific fact that in pregnancy there are two different bodies. First, there is the body of the woman. Second, there is another body—that of the child.

Evidence that there are two separate bodies can be seen from the fact that many women carry babies whose blood type differs from their own. It is medically impos­sible for a single individual to have two completely different blood types. Another illustration is that a female may be carrying in her womb a male child. This is clearly another body.

In addition, the body of the mother herself recognizes the child as a foreign body. This child would actually be rejected as “foreign tissue” by the woman’s body were it not for the protection of the placenta. Doctors tell us that the placenta does not exist until, by its own development, the unborn child triggers the existence of the placenta and places it under his or her own power for self-preservation. In fact, the zygote actually begins to form the placenta within 72 hours.

Professor A. W. Liley, research professor in fetal physiology in Auckland, New Zealand, is known as the “Father of Fetology.” He has stated,

The fetus is not a passive, dependent, nerveless, fragile vegetable, as tradition has held, but a young human being, dynamic, plastic, resilient and in very large measure in charge of his environment and destiny….
In summary, the fetus organizes his mother… so that nutrients are deflected for fetal needs….
Throughout pregnancy it is the mother, not the fetus, who is passive and dependent.[2]


It is the embryo who stops his mother’s periods and makes her womb habitable by developing a placenta and a protective capsule of fluid for himself. He regulates his own amniotic fluid volume and although women speak of their waters breaking or their membranes rupturing, these structures belong to the fetus. And finally, it is the fetus, not the mother, who decides when labor should be initiated.[3]

He has also stated,

Biologically, at no stage can we subscribe to the view that the fetus is a mere appendage of the mother. Genetically, mother and baby are separate individuals from conception. Physiologically, we must accept that the conceptus is, in a very large measure, in charge of the pregnancy.[4]

Further, it is a scientific fact that the little being in the womb has fingerprints, hands, feet, skin, eyes, ears, and genitals that are not the mother’s. It has its own lungs, respiration, blood, heart, and circulation that are not the mother’s. It has its own mouth, stomach, and digestion that are not the mother’s.

Thus, the fetus is no more a part of the mother’s body “than a nursing baby is part of her mother’s breast or a test tube baby is part of a petri dish. So distinct is an embryo from a mother’s womb that if a fertilized ovum from a black couple is trans­planted into a white mother, she will have a black baby.”[5]

In light of these undeniable scientific facts, we may now analyze the leading slogan of those arguing for abortion. Pro-choice advocates argue, “Every woman has the right to control her own body.”

Every woman does have the right to control her own body, but she does not have the right to control the destiny of another human being—the baby in her womb. Let’s examine the words used in the slogan.[6]

  • Every woman—At least 50 percent of the babies that are aborted are female human beings. Obviously, then, this slogan is not true for all of these aborted females. If they are part of what is termed “every woman,” then obviously they haven’t been given the right to control their own body. In fact, this slogan advo­cates the elitism of the powerful over the powerless rather than equality for all women. If all the aborted women could return to life, do you think they would agree that abortion is a practice that insures the rights and equality of all women?
  • Has the right—Legally, no one has absolute rights over other people. Human life is interrelated in such a way that many individual rights are necessarily curtailed for the welfare of society. For example, no female or male has the absolute right over his or her own body to mutilate it, to abuse it with drugs, to commit suicide, or to endanger the life of others. The same is true concerning human life in the womb. No one has the right to destroy it.
  • To controlTo be “in control” involves the assuming of personal responsibility. But, in fact, it is largely irresponsible actions (e.g., promiscuity) that have led to most pregnancies. Abortion has thus become the convenient means to protect an immoral lifestyle, to cover over irresponsibility in birth control, or to escape the personal responsibility of child-rearing.
  • Her own body—As has already been demonstrated, the fetus is not the mother’s body. It is an independent person with its own body. This is why Daniel Callahan, director of the Institute of Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences, has stated, “Genetically, hormonally, and in all organic respects save for the source of its nourishment, a fetus and even an embryo is separate from the woman.”[7]

How can the embryo-fetus be a person? Isn’t it just a “potential” person?

Abortionists claim that the living human fetus in the womb is not a full person, only a potential person. As such, it is not entitled to Constitutional protection as a human being and may be terminated by abortion.

In Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court arbitrarily implied that personhood only existed when the unborn fetus “presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb.”[8] They ruled that “the word ‘person’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment does not include the unborn.”[9]

What is wrong with the Court’s ruling that the fetus is a person only if it can exist outside the mother’s womb in a “meaningful” way? What is wrong is that nowhere is “meaningful” defined. Meaningful life to one person may be denied by someone else. Who is to judge? As Richard Exley has written,

If we base our decision on the prevailing pro-abortion rhetoric, then the unborn baby is not a person unless it is wanted by the mother—unless it is perfectly healthy, free from any deformity or other abnormality.
The problem with that kind of reasoning is that it is based on the subjective opinion of a biased party—namely, the mother and/or the abortionist. Not only does this approach deny the unborn their constitutional rights, it also opens a Pandora’s box of potential abuses.[10]

So why must it be assumed that personhood begins at conception? First, be­cause it is a scientific fact that human life begins at conception. Second, because every single “indicator” of personhood is not universally applicable, such as commu­nication skill and level of consciousness or ability. These may be lacking in the pre-born, but so are they in many other persons with impairment or disease. Third, because human life and human personhood cannot be separated.[11]

How do dictionaries define the word person? The Oxford American Dictionary defines person as “an individual human being.” Webster’s Third International Dictionary of the English Language defines person as “an individual human being.” In other words, once you have established (as we saw) that the zygote (the fertilized egg) is “an individual human being,” you have also established that it is a person. The objective definition of personhood is the dictionary definition, but this is also the biological definition—“an individual human being.” Thus, “by objective and scientific criteria, the individual is a person throughout his entire biological development.[12]

Why, then, is there so much confusion today over the issue of whether or not the fetus is a person? It is largely because many people have confused the term per­sonality with person. Personality must be distinguished from personhood, since they are not equivalent:

Personality is a psychological concept; personhood is an ontological [property and knowledge of being] category. Personality is a property, but personhood is the substance of being human. Personalities are formed by their surroundings, but personhood is created by God. Thus, personality is developed gradually, but personhood comes instantly at conception.[13]

Thus, to claim that a human being is not necessarily a person is false. The dis­tinction between “human being” and “person” is arbitrary. No essential differences exist between “being human” and “being a person.”[14]

Thus, when human life is present, personhood is present and entitled to full human rights. These rights should never be denied by those who make arbitrary definitions concerning personhood.

Personhood and humanity do not grow; they are inherent. They are not something acquired; they are innate. No human being is “more” human than another.

These statements indicate the zygote-fetus is not a potential person because 1) it is alive (not potentially alive), because 2) it has a unique human nature (not a potential human nature), and because 3) at any stage of development it is most accurately described as an actual person with great potential. From zygote on, genetically and physically, a unique individual exists: “Once it is alive, it is totally there as this particular actual being, even though it is only partially there as a devel­oped actuality. There is no such thing as a potentially living organism.[15]

The zygote is a person because it can evolve into nothing else; the essence of its personhood already exists:

No individual living body can “become” a person unless it already is a person. No living being can become anything other than what it already essentially is…. Only artifacts, such as clocks and spaceships, come into existence part by part. Living beings come into existence all at once and then gradually unfold to themselves and to the world what they already, but only incipiently, are. Some developmentalists use the analogy of the blueprint in characterizing the zygote. But a blueprint never becomes part of a house, unless it is used to paper the walls.[16]

So what does all this mean? It means that in abortion we are killing living human beings—human persons—and that no one can afford not to be concerned about this issue.

Read Part 4


  1. William Brennan, Medical Holocausts: Exterminative Medicine in Nazi Germany and Contemporary
    America (Boston, MA: Nordland Pub. International, Inc., 1980), vol. 1, p. 98.
  2. Thomas W. Hilgers, Dennis J. Horan, Abortion and Social Justice (Thaxton, VA: Sun Life, 1980),
    pp. 27, 32-33.
  3. Jean S. Garton, Who Broke the Baby? (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1979), p. 41.
  4. Ibid., cf. Landrum B. Shettles in Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints (New York: Greenhaven Press,
    1986), p. 19.
  5. Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1989), p. 140.
  6. Garton, pp. 21-26.
  7. Shettles in Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints, p. 19.
  8. Lawyer Cooperative, US. Supreme Court Reports, p. 183; 410 US 113 at 163.
  9. Ibid., pp.180, 182; 410 US 113 at 158, 162.
  10. Richard Exley, Abortion: Pro-life by Conviction, Pro-choice by Default (Tulsa, OK: Honor Books,
    1989), p. 30.
  11. Paul Fowler, Abortion: Toward an Evangelical Consensus (Portland OR: Multnomah Press, 1987),
    p. 52.
  12. Scientists for Life, Inc. and Edward C. Freiling, “The Position of Modern Science on the Beginning
    of Human Life,” p. 40, emphasis added.
  13. Geisler, Christian Ethics: Options and Issues, pp. 146-47.
  14. Ibid., p. 154.
  15. Hilgers, Horan and Mall (eds.), pp. 349-50, emphasis added.
  16. Ibid., pp. 351, 354, emphasis added.

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