Here I want to quickly explain (again!) why "When does life begin?" can be a religious question, since it seems like some people don't understand why that is. I suspect too many pro-choice people don't do a good job explaining this, which doesn't help anything.
The key, or a key, to understanding this is reflecting on the less controversial observation that "When does life end?" can be a religious question. If we see why this is so, we can see how the issues are similar (not identical or exactly the same!) with beginning-of-life issues.
To begin, here's a little survey I ran the other day:
Do people who say that "life begins at birth" very often say what they mean by "life"?— Nathan Nobis . com (@NathanNobis) July 3, 2023
They aren't talking about biology or life in a biological sense, and I wonder how often they clarify that. #abortion #prochoice #prolife #whenlifebegins
The deal is this: the biological life of human organisms very clearly and obviously begins very early in pregnancy (and we might even want to say before pregnancy): a biologically alive egg is fertilized by a biologically living sperm, and soon there's a new biologically alive thing. There are some disputes here about when exactly there's a new thing, but all answers agree on this: very early.
(Some say there isn't a living thing because it's dependent, but that's just foolish: there can be and are living dependent things: they are alive and their being alive is dependent on something or someone else.)
Now, when anti-abortion people talk about "life" beginning at conception or soon after, they are talking about biological life. And they are correct! Biological life does begin at conception or soon after!
When (usually) pro-choice people deny this — when they claim that "life" does not begin at conception — and claim that "life" begins at birth, or that "life" begins when fetuses become conscious — far later in pregnancy — they clearly do not mean biological life. They don't think that a biologically dead thing, or something that's somehow neither biologically dead nor alive, becomes biologically alive halfway or two-thirds of the way through pregnancy or at birth. That's ridiculous.
Someone would think that's what these pro-choice people think only if (a) they don't bother asking them to clarify what they mean and, if needed, doing a good job helping them clarify what they mean and/or (b) the person saying this just doesn't know how to explain what they mean. And (a) and (b) are common: anti-abortion people don't ask (why would they? what's in it for them to be charitable with people they want to "dunk" on?) and many pro-choice people don't successfully tell (as is suggested by the Twitter survey results).
So pro-choice people agree that biological life begins early. So when they say that "life" begins at birth or far later in pregnancy, they don't mean biological life.
The "life" they mean can be more readily identified by thinking about "when life ends."
When does life end? When even does biological life end, for human beings?
Here it's pretty well-known that there are multiple answers. Here are three:
- when someone's whole body is dead: that's when "life" ends;
- when someone's heart isn't pumping and they aren't breathing: that's when "life ends";
- when someone's brain is dead: that's when "life" ends.
On "When Life Begins," a common anti-abortion concern; responses to Steve Jacobs:
- When does “life” begin? When it comes to abortion, it depends on what you mean by "life" (at Salon)
- Would around 70% of people * deny * that "human life begins at conception"?
- "When does life begin? Well, when does life end?"
- Does "life" begin at conception? Biological versus "biographical" life
- "When does life begin?" and "Are fetuses human?": Two bad 'scientific' questions to ask about abortion
- Responding to Steve Jacobs at "Secular Pro-Life"
@nathan.nobis When does "life" begin & end? it depends on what you mean by "life"! #abortion #prochoice #prolife #abortionrights #ethics #philosophy #philosophytiktok ♬ original sound - Philosophy 101 - Prof. Nobis