When Life Begins: A Matter of Belief or a Matter of Fact?

¿Es Una Creencia O Es Un Hecho?

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
May 07, 2004

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Everybody has a right to his or her own opinion. But everybody does not have a right to his or her own facts. One's own personal beliefs do not change reality. I may sincerely believe, for example, that I can walk through a wall without harm, but if I try, I will not end up on the other side of the wall. Instead, I will end up with a headache.

There is a particular application here to the problem of abortion. Some people say that they do not believe that what is in the womb of a pregnant woman is a human being. They say that in their opinion it is something else. But if two people stand in front of a pregnant woman, and one says she is carrying a human baby and the other says it is not a human baby, they can't both be right at the same time.

What they may differ about is the value of the life within the womb. But the question of whether that is a human life is not a matter of belief; it is a matter of fact.

Listen to what the experts have to say: "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" (Dr. Jerome Lejeune, "Father of Modern Genetics" and discoverer of the cause of Down's Syndrome. Testimony to Senate Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, April 23, 1981). "By all the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception" (Dr. Hymie Gordon, Chairman, Department of Genetics at Mayo Clinic, Testimony to Senate Subcommittee on Separation of Powers, April 23, 1981).

The widely used medical textbook The Developing Human, Clinically Oriented Embryology, 6th Edition, Moore, Persaud, Saunders, 1998, states at page 2 that “The intricate processes by which a baby develops from a single cell are miraculous.... This cell [the zygote] results from the union of an oocyte [egg] and sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being...." At page 18 this theme is repeated: “Human development begins at fertilization [emphasis in original]...."

Judge Michael J. Noonan ruled as follows in a New Jersey case based on a man's efforts to save his unborn child from being aborted: "…based upon the undisputed medical testimony by arguably the foremost authority in genetics in the world, I found that human life begins at conception; and that Roe vs. Wade permits a legal execution of that human being." (Municipal Court of New Jersey --PRIVATE Law division, Morris County criminal action docket no. C1771, et seq. State of New Jersey v. Alexander Loce, et als., Defendants, April 29, 1991, Honorable Michael J. Noonan).

Even the "pro-choice" feminist author Naomi Wolf has criticized the efforts of abortion-supporters to obscure the humanity of the unborn child. She asks, "So, what will it be: Wanted fetuses are charming, complex REM-dreaming little beings whose profile on the sonogram looks just like Daddy, but unwanted ones are mere 'uterine material'?" (Our Bodies, Our Souls, The New Republic, October 16,1995)

These people are not speaking about the Bible or some religious belief. They are speaking from the basis of scientific proof. Every medical text in the world, in fact, will confirm that a unique human life begins at fertilization. If science did not know that, how could it have produced test-tube babies?

We have entered the 21st century. This is the age of fetology (the study of the preborn child) and fetal surgery (operations on the preborn child). The medical textbook The Unborn Patient begins by noting that modern science sees that "the fetus is a patient, an individual. . . " (p. 3). Those who say, "It's not a child" need to catch up with the times!

In a pluralistic society, a world of many beliefs, the laws should protect human life based on the objective and scientific fact that the life in question is human, not based on someone's belief that it is human. Otherwise, if we can kill the unborn simply because some do not believe they are human, what will keep us from killing the newborn -- or anyone else -- because some do not believe they are human?


Fr. Frank Pavone was appointed in 1993 by Cardinal John O'Connor to serve as National Director of Priests for Life, and has also served as an Official of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family, which coordinates pro-life activities for the entire Catholic Church. Fr. Frank is a priest in good standing and carries out his fulltime role as National Director of Priests for Life with his bishop’s permission.

Priests for Life aims to encourage God's people to respond to the tragedies of abortion and euthanasia, and is an association recognized under the Canon Law of the Catholic Church.

This material may be reproduced or quoted, with proper credit, to spread the pro-life message.

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