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When Does Life Begin?

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For a presidential candidate eager to adjudicate moral questions,[1] Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been remarkably reluctant to define the morality of abortion. When asked at a Fox Town Hall, “Do you believe, at any point in a pregnancy, whether it’s at six weeks or eight weeks or 24 weeks or whenever, that there should be any limit on a woman’s right to abortion?”, Mayor Pete equivocated, “I think the dialogue has gotten so caught up in when you draw the line that we’ve gotten away from the fundamental question of who gets to draw the line. And I trust women to draw the line.”

When asked by Bob Costa whether there should be any line at all, Mayor Pete answered, “That’s part of the framework of Roe v. Wade, right?” He told Costa that the questions surrounding when life begins are “almost unknowable questions,” and, “We will never be able to settle those questions in a consensus fashion, scientifically.”[2][3] However, in an interview on The Breakfast Club, Mayor Pete suggested that the Bible may define life as beginning not at conception but at first breath, “[Pro-life people] hold everybody in line with this one piece of doctrine about abortion, which is obviously a tough issue for a lot of people to think through morally. Then again, there’s a lot of parts of the Bible that talk about how life begins with breath. Even that is something that we can interpret differently.”[4]


What Does Science Say?

Mayor Pete is wrong when he says we cannot know scientifically when life begins. Life begins at conception. This is affirmed in medical textbooks:

  • “A zygote (a single fertilized egg cell) represents the onset of pregnancy and the genesis of new life.”[5]
  • “It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual.”[6]
  • “Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition.”[7]
  • “In that fraction of a second when the chromosomes form pairs, the sex of the new child will be determined, hereditary characteristics received from each parent will be set, and a new life will have begun.”[8]


This was also the testimony of internationally known geneticists and biologists before a 1981 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee:[9]

  • “It is incorrect to say that biological data cannot be decisive…It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception” ( Micheline M. Mathews-Roth, Harvard medical School, supported his conclusion with references from over 20 embryology and other medical textbooks).
  • “To accept the fact that after fertilization has taken place a new human has come into being is no longer a matter of taste or opinion…it is plain experimental evidence. Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception” (Dr. Jerome Lejeune, known as the Father of Modern Genetics).
  • “To say that the beginning of human life cannot be determined scientifically is utterly ridiculous” (Dr. Richard Jaynes).
  • “By all criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception” (Gordon, Hymie, M.D., F.R.C.P., Chairman of Medical Genetics, Mayo Clinic, Rochester).

The official Senate report concluded, “Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being—a being that is alive and is a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings.”[10]

The scientific consensus is that life begins at conception, and birth is merely an event in the development of the baby. According to Human Embryology, “It should always be remembered that many organs are still not completely developed by full-term and birth should be regarded only as an incident in the whole developmental process.”[11] Likewise, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology explains, “Although it is customary to divide human development into prenatal and postnatal periods, it is important to realize that birth is merely a dramatic event during development resulting in a change in environment.”[12]


What Does the Bible Say?

The Bible does not explicitly say that life begins at conception. Nevertheless, it clearly teaches that life begins in the womb. As such, the notion that life begins at first breath is a misguided interpretation based upon contextual distortion. Such a view is consistently undermined throughout the Bible.

In God’s mind an unborn baby is a person (Psa. 139:13–16; Isa. 44:24). God speaks of having set Jeremiah apart to serve as a prophet to the nations even before he was born (Jer. 1:5). Likewise, the Apostle Paul was set apart by God before birth (Gal. 1:15). And John the Baptist was indwelt by the Holy Spirit and experienced the emotion of joy while still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:41, 44).


Both Scripture and science are in agreement. Life begins in the womb when a unique human being is conceived. And Scripture plainly teaches that humans are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26–27) with bodies that are described in terms of sacred architecture (Gen. 2:21–22, see footnote).[13] As such, only God has the right to determine whether or not to terminate a baby created in His image.

The abortion of unborn babies is murder. It is the shedding of innocent blood—something that God hates (Prov. 6:16–17)—and it is something for which God judges nations (Jer. 19:3–6). The Bible frequently speaks about how the shedding of innocent blood makes a nation guilty in God’s sight and pollutes the land until the guilt of that murder is purged from the land (Deut. 19:10; Psa. 106:37–38).

It is deeply troubling that the presidential candidate most interested in applying moral values to national policy is unwilling to render a moral judgment upon the issue of abortion. It doesn’t matter how politically controversial the issue may be—or even how difficult and intimate the decision may be for a woman. Abortion is immoral, and it is time that we as a nation stop equivocating by pretending that it is unknown when life begins.

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Timothy Zebell

Timothy Zebell

As a former missionary to Asia for twelve years and the author of several books, Timothy is passionate about helping people understand the relevancy of God's Word in today's world. His goals are to help Christians discern truth from error, empower Christians to speak into cultural matters with relevancy, and to help Christians capitalize on the opportunities that these matters provide for sharing the truth about God and His gospel message.
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1. Desanctis, Alexandra. “Buttigieg Calls Climate Change a ‘Moral’ Issue, Says a ‘Reckoning’ Is Coming for Republicans.” National Review, September 5, 2019, 3:21 p.m.

2. Washington Post Live. “Transcript: The 2020 Candidates: Mayor Pete Buttigieg.” Washington Post, May 23, 2019, 12:39 p.m., EDT.

3. “Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg Talks Policies, 2020 Election at Post Live.” YouTube video, 1:16:03. Posted by “Washington Post Live,” May 23, 2019.

4. Desanctis, Alexandra. “Buttigieg Defends Abortion by Suggesting the Bible Says ‘Life Begins with Breath.’” National Review, September 6, 2019, 4:33 p.m.

5. Turner, J.S., and D.B. Helms. Lifespan Developmental, 2nd ed. CBS College Publishing (Holt, Rhinehart, Winston), 1983, page 53. Source: Terzo, Sarah. “When Does Life Begin?: Quotes from Many Sources.” Eternal Perspectives Ministries, April 27, 2011.

6. Patten, Bradley. Human Embryology, 3rd ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 1968, page 43. Source: Terzo, Sarah. “When Does Life Begin?: Quotes from Many Sources.” Eternal Perspectives Ministries, April 27, 2011.

7. Potter, E.L. and J.M. Craig. Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 3d ed. Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1975, page vii. Source: Terzo, Sarah. “When Does Life Begin?: Quotes from Many Sources.” Eternal Perspectives Ministries, April 27, 2011.

8. Kaluger, G., and Kaluger, M. Human Development: The Span of Life. St. Louis: The C.V. Mosby Co., 1974, pages 28–29. Source: Terzo, Sarah. “When Does Life Begin?: Quotes from Many Sources.” Eternal Perspectives Ministries, April 27, 2011.

9. Terzo, Sarah. “When Does Life Begin?: Quotes from Many Sources.” Eternal Perspectives Ministries, April 27, 2011.

10. Terzo.

11. Beck, F. Human Embryology. Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1985, page vi. Source: Terzo, Sarah. “40 Quotes from Medical Experts and Textbooks That Prove Human Life Begins at Fertilization.” Live Action, June 3, 2016, 12:06 p.m.

12. Moore and Persuad. The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology 5th ed. Saunders Company, 1993, page 1. Source: Terzo, Sarah. “40 Quotes from Medical Experts and Textbooks That Prove Human Life Begins at Fertilization.” Live Action, June 3, 2016, 12:06 p.m.

13. The Hebrew word translated as “rib” is tsela which, in the 41 other occurrences of this word in the Old Testament, always refers to the side of something. In nearly every instance, it refers to the side of sacral architecture, such as the Ark of the Covenant, or the temple. (Gen. 2:21–22; Exo. 25:12, 14; Exo. 26:20, 26–27, 35; Exo. 27:7; Exo. 30:4; Exo. 36:25, 31–32; Exo. 37:3, 5, 27; Exo. 38:7; 2 Sam. 16:13; 1 Kings 6:5, 8, 15–16, 34; 1 Kings 7:3; Job 18:12; Jer. 20:10; Eze. 41:5–9, 11, 26.)


Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.