Does the liberal ruling on the inviolability of the right to life applies to the unborn? This is the fundamental question in the debate between pro-choice and pro-life movements. Whether the deliberate termination of pregnancy before the fetus becomes viable violates the ruling rests on two controversial issues – when life begins and parental ownership.
Human life begins during fecundation or sometime during the gestation period? Life itself begins with the first cell split. But an embryo only becomes human once it has developed a brain. The brain begins to develop after the third week of pregnancy and will be complete by the 36th week. However, by the 22nd week it will be sufficiently developed to allow the survival of premature born babies. This is also the period after which the unborn can definitely be considered as separate from his mother.
The critical stage of brain development is between weeks seven and nine when it gains shape and becomes capable of some behavioral complexity. Thus a human being is alive by the ninth week and from then onwards abortion should be condemned.
We have said about suicide that for God-believers life is God's property. Yet, we have also noticed above that an unborn can only be separated from his mother on the 22nd week. So, between weeks 9 and 22 shall we consider the mother as a simple trustee of a God’s life or the rightful owner of the unborn human? If we take the second view then mothers would have the right to dispose of their babies until that stage of the gestation period.
Yet, for non-believers, the rights to freedom and equality based on mutual love would impose on mothers the obligation to protect the unborn human being during that period. Therefore, under the property criteria liberals cannot expand beyond nine weeks the period during which abortion is acceptable.
However, self-defense provides an exceptional circumstance under which abortion could be carried out beyond the ninth week. This includes only the case when the mother’s life is at danger due to pregnancy. It does not include other exceptions often invoked, namely in the cases of rape, incest or malformation of the unborn. Other arguments about saving the parents and the unborn from future pain and misery must be also refuted.
In conclusion, the liberal principles require the protection of all unborn individuals from the moment when they can be considered human beings.