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King: When does life really begin?
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Abortion is about as old as history itself. The Greeks did it. The Romans did it. Even the Catholic Church accepted abortion at one time. St. Thomas Aquinas did not believe the soul entered the body until quickening, the point when movement could be felt.

Today what should be a deeply personal matter has become a political battlefield. For many it is the defining issue in the up-coming elections. "Saving babies" is a cause that can hardly be challenged, never mind that we are unsure about when babies become babies or what we are saving them for.

Having seen what happens when babies are born to mothers too poor, too young, too ignorant to nurture a puppy much less a human child, I have my doubts about the "saving" part. However, I have no doubts about life.

I am pro-life in the largest possible sense. But what is life? When does it begin? Since it's become such a political issue, let's address the last question first.

Does an individual life begin when sperm meets egg? If the answer is yes, and more important, if it is written into law, the destruction of a fertilized egg will become a crime. This seems to be what right-to-lifers want and what Republican candidates are promising.

Knowing what we now knew about genetics and gestation, the answer is yes. There can be no other conclusion. The zygote contains all the material needed to produce a human being. It may be just a lump of cells, but they are human cells. It doesn't matter if these cells are in the fallopian tube or a petri dish.

Furthermore, we are living in a time when the developing fetus can be removed from one woman an implanted in another. What greater evidence could we have that the fetus is a human life, separate from the woman who conceived it?

However, this will not be written into law, at least it won't outlaw abortion for several reasons. To do so would bring about medical, social and legal problems of staggering proportions.

First of all, the majority of Americans believe abortion should be legal, regulated perhaps but legal, at least in the early months. Equally important, neither the medical profession nor the legal profession could cope with the liability should every conception come under legal scrutiny.

Now let's go back to the first question: What is life? Each branch of science will give us a different description, but essentially we don't really know. When speaking of human life, many will invoke the idea of a soul, but there is no agreement and no proof that such a thing exists.

Personally, I feel it does. If I'm wrong, none of the above matters one way or the other. But let me ask this: If there is life after death — if the soul is immortal — is it not equally plausible that life exists before birth? Before conception?

Conception does not create life. It merely passes it on. What is conceived is another human ego with potential for both good and evil. The outcome depends upon the environment and the circumstances into which it is born.

When a woman is unwilling or incapable of caring for a child, terminating a pregnancy is a responsible act. So, of course, is adoption, but few prospective parents want to take home a crack baby.

Abortion has been pushed into the political arena by ambitious politicians looking for a wedge issue, but it has backfired. No Republican can run for office without promising something he or she cannot do. The abortion issue has only served to further divide and distract the public. It has little to do with respect for life itself.

If you want to "save babies," fight poverty, fight ignorance, fight a sexualized culture that encourages teenagers to think making a baby is a cool thing to do. And keep government out of it.

Joan King is a resident of Sautee whose columns appear biweekly on Tuesdays and at