Abortion Fact #7: The differences between embryos and adults are differences of degree not of kind.

i am not a clump of cells

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The Virginia Christian Alliance recommends to our readers to visit “Abortion Facts“, which lists 20 facts on abortion.  We have published Abortion Fact #7 exerpt  and the link to full informative article below.

Like toddler and adolescent, the terms “embryo” and “fetus” do not refer to nonhumans but to humans at particular stages of development. Human beings inside the womb are smaller, less developed, and more dependent than human beings outside the womb. These are differences of degree, not differences of kind. We can all point to other people who are bigger, stronger, smarter, or less dependent than we are, but that doesn’t make our life any less valuable or any less deserving of protection. 

i am not a clump of cellsThe lives of newborn children are protected by law. The lives of embryos and fetuses are not, at least when the context is abortion. If you asked the average abortion-supporter why this is, why it is generally legal to kill a human being before birth but not legal to kill the same human being after birth, they would likely point you to some of the differences that exist between humans in the womb and humans out of the womb.

Stephen Schwarz, in his book, The Moral Question of Abortion, notes that there are four basic ways that an embryo or fetus differs from a newborn baby. He coined the acronym SLED to help people remember and categorize these differences.

They are: Size, Level of Development, Environment, and Degree of Dependency. By looking at each of these differences in context, it is easy to see that none of them are sufficient to justify abortion, because each of them are equally applicable to many people outside the womb.


The first difference is size. Embryos are smaller than fetuses who are smaller (usually) than newborns. But what does size have to do with rights of personhood?

Smaller people are no more or less human than those who are bigger. Embryos and fetuses are smaller than newborns, just as newborns are smaller than infants, just as infants are smaller than toddlers, just as toddlers are smaller than adolescents, just as adolescents are smaller than teenagers, and teenagers are smaller than adults.

Size doesn’t matter. It is lawful to kill a fly and unlawful to kill a person, not because the person is bigger, but because the person is human. Trees are generally bigger than people, but while it is lawful to cut branches off of trees, it is unlawful to cut arms off of people. Why? Because humanity, not size, is what determines rights of personhood.

This might seem laughably obvious but there are people across the globe who try and justify abortion on the claim that the diminutive size of the embryo or fetus makes them ethically insignificant. Since size does not determine personhood after birth, it shouldn’t be used to determine personhood before birth.

Level of Development

It is quite true that embryos and fetuses are less developed than a newborn (unless, of course, that newborn was born prematurely). But this, too, is a distinction which has no moral significance. It is a difference of degree, not of kind.

Physical and/or intellectual development has nothing to do with determining personhood outside the womb. It is equally insignificant for determining personhood inside the womb. 

Children are generally less developed than adults. People with developmental disabilities may be less developed than some children, and those with extraordinary mental capacity are no more human than those with lesser IQs. It is humanity, not brain capacity or arm strength that determines personhood.


The third difference between an embryo or fetus and a newborn baby is their place of residence. Embryos and fetuses live inside the womb, and newborn babies live outside the womb. Just like the distinctions that have gone before, this, too, is an inconsequential difference.

Where someone lives has nothing to do with the essence of who that someone is. Moving from the bedroom to the kitchen, or from indoors to outdoors, or from your car to the classroom doesn’t affect your personhood in the least.

Personhood stems from inclusion in the human species not from the location in which you reside. For the entire duration of pregnancy, the tiny unborn child is a human being all it’s own. It is dependent upon its mother for many life-sustaining functions, but it is certainly not part of its mothers body.

Any attempt to disqualify unborn children from receiving their due rights of personhood because they live in a womb rather than in a room is dishonest and unjust. Location doesn’t affect the personhood of those outside the womb, and it shouldn’t affect the personhood of those inside the womb.

Degree of Dependency

The issue of dependency may well be the one abortion supporters turn to most in their attempt to justify abortion. “Since a fetus can’t survive on its own,” they argue, “it has no inherent right to life”. What’s the problem with this argument? In the broadest sense, it could be applied to all of us.

There isn’t a person alive who is radically independent from the universe we live in. We all need food, water, rest, and oxygen. We’re all vulnerable to a million different bodily breakdowns. Are those who must rely on kidney machines, pace-makers or insulin shots for their survival less deserving of basic human rights than anyone else?

Some of us may be less dependent than others, but if it is dependence that strips away a person’s right to protection under the law, then we would all be in trouble. Embryos and fetuses who must rely on an umbilical cord in the womb are just as human as those who must rely on a feeding tube outside the womb.

Perhaps the biggest absurdity about this whole attack on dependence is the fact that dependency should merit more protection under the law, not less! After all, the younger and more dependent a child is, the more care and compassion we have for them. The U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention expresses it well when they say:

Homicides are always tragic, but our sympathies are heightened when the victim is a young child or adolescent. Thus, the deaths of juveniles raise understandable public concerns.

The nation is far more outraged at violence directed towards children than at violence directed towards other adults. The reason is simple. Children are more helpless, and less capable of defending themselves. And the younger the child is the truer this becomes. How we ever got to the place of using dependency against children rather than for children is a tragedy of staggering proportions.

A person, as defined by the dictionary, is nothing more or less than a living human. Anyone who tries to narrow this general definition of personhood does so in an attempt to eliminate a certain group of people who is either getting in their way or has something they want. Creating self-defined definitions of personhood, which are uniquely crafted to eliminate certain individuals from protection under the law, has long been the method of choice for implementing all manner of genocidal atrocities.

The differences that exist between a human being before birth and a human being after birth are differences that don’t matter.

Like toddler and adolescent, the terms embryo and fetus do not refer to nonhumans, but to humans at particular stages of development.

The word embryo is used of any living creature at an early stage of development. Fetusis a Latin word variously translated “offspring,” ‘Young one,” or “little child.”

It is scientifically inaccurate to say an embryo or a fetus is not a human being simply because he is at an earlier stage of development than a born infant. This is like saying that a toddler is not a human being—or is less of a human being— because he is not yet an adolescent. Or that an adolescent is not a human being because he is not yet an adult.

Stage of development has nothing to do with human worth. One of my daughters is two years older than the other. Does this mean she is two years better? Is a two-year-old child more precious now than he was a year ago? Is a child more worthy to live after birth than before birth?

Semantics affect perceptions, but they do not change realities; a baby is a baby no matter what we call her.

dont be fooled pro choice lies“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” A baby by any other name is still a baby. Though fetus was once a good word that spoke of a young human being, it is now used with a subhuman connotation. Referring to the fetus allows us not to use the B-word (baby). The pro-choice movement labors to avoid the B-word for it reminds us of the reality that abortion kills a child. This reality must be denied at all costs, because anyone who is understood to be arguing for the right to kill babies is fighting an uphill battle.

Product of conception (POC) goes a step further in depersonalizing the unborn child. In reality, the infant, the ten-year-old, and the adult are all “products of conception,” no more nor less than the fetus. As the product of a horse’s conception is always a horse, the product of human conception is always a human. Still, the use of impersonal terminology allows us to overlook this reality.

Fertilized egg is a term frequently used of the newly conceived person. This term is dehumanizing and misleading. Neither egg nor sperm is in any sense a human being, but merely the product of a human being. However, at the point of fertilization someone brand new comes into existence, a unique human being. As the sperm no longer exists, neither does the egg per se. It is replaced by a new creation with unique DNA, rapidly growing and dividing on its own. This new human being is no more a mere “fertilized egg” than it is a “modified sperm.” He or she is a newly created person with the equivalent of hundreds of volumes of distinct genetic programming.

Historically, the terms conception and fertilization have been virtually synonymous, both referring to the very beginning of human life. A contraceptive, just as it sounds, was something that prevented fertilization (contradicted conception). Unfortunately, in the last few decades alternative meanings of conception and contraception have emerged, a semantic shift which has greatly confused the issue. In Physician magazine, Dr. Eugene Diamond explains: [1]

Prior to 1976, a “contraceptive” was understood to be an agent that prevented the union of sperm and ovum. In 1976 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG], realizing that this definition didn’t help its political agenda, arbitrarily changed the definition. A contraceptive now meant anything that prevented implantation of the blastocyst, which occurs six or seven days after fertilization. Conception, as defined by Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary [27th edition], became “the onset of pregnancy marked by implantation of the blastocyst.” The hidden agenda in ACOG’s redefinition of “contraceptive” was to blur the distinction between agents preventing fertilization and those preventing implantation of the week-old embryo. Specifically, abortifa-cients such as IUDs, combination pills, minipills, progestin-only pills, injectables such as Provera and, more recently, implantables such as Norplant, all are contraceptives by this definition.

This redefinition of “contraceptive” has gradually crept into the medical literature. Because of the change, many medical professionals refer to agents that sometimes prevent implantation as contraceptives, even though whenever they prevent implantation, they are in fact functioning as abortifacients. But because of some convenient semantic changes, this reality is hidden from the consumer. (See appendices D and E on chemical abortifacients and the birth control pill.)

Sometimes semantic shifts are made to depersonalize our smallest children; other times they are made to mask reality and confuse people. The National Institute of Health found that the public was reacting against the term “human embryonic stem cell research,” referring to the destroying of human embryos by performing experiments on them. NIH actually chose to use a new term, “human pluripotent stem cell research,” to describe the same thing. The new term masks the reality that human embryos are involved. [2]

Sometimes the characterization of the unborn is overtly hostile. I heard one pro-choice advocate refer to unwanted pregnancy as a “venereal disease” and abortion as the “cure.” Abortion-rights advocates have referred to unborn babies as debris, [3] garbage, and refuse [4] to justify abortion. Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg argues that the key to the widespread destruction of the Jewish people was the use of degrading terminology such as “useless eaters” and “garbage,” which blinded society to the fact that real people were being killed. [5]


From the moment of conception, the unborn is not simple but very complex.

The newly fertilized egg contains a staggering amount of genetic information, sufficient to control the individual’s growth and development for an entire lifetime. A single thread of DNA from a human cell contains information equivalent to a library of one thousand volumes, or six hundred thousand printed pages with five hundred words on a page. The genetic information stored in the new individual at conception is the equivalent of fifty times the amount of information contained in the Encyclopedia Britannica. [6]

Prior to the earliest abortions, the unborn already has every body part she will ever have.

what about my bodyAt eighteen days after conception the heart is forming, and the eyes start to develop. By twenty-one days the heart is not only beating, but pumping blood throughout the body. By twenty-eight days the unborn has budding arms and legs. By thirty days she has multiplied in size ten thousand times. She has a brain and blood flows through her veins.

By thirty-five days, mouth, ears, and nose are taking shape. At forty days the preborn child’s brain waves can be recorded. The child’s heartbeat, which began three weeks earlier, can already be detected by an ultrasonic stethoscope. By forty-two days the skeleton is formed, and the brain is controlling the movement of muscles and organs. The unborn reflexively responds to stimulus and may already be capable of feeling pain. This is before the earliest abortions take place.

Famous intrauterine photographer Lennart Nilsson is best known for his photo essays in Life magazine and his bestselling book A Child Is Born. In his “Drama of Life Before Birth,” he says this of unborn at forty-five days after conception (this is just six-and-a-half weeks, when many women don’t yet know they are pregnant): “Though the embryo now weighs only 1/30 of an ounce, it has all the internal organs of the adult in various stages of development. It already has a little mouth with lips, an early tongue and buds for 20 milk teeth. Its sex and reproductive organs have begun to sprout.” [7]

By eight weeks hands and feet are almost perfectly formed, and fingerprints are developing. Already, “Mother’s movements stimulate the fetus’s balance and motion detectors.” [8] By nine weeks a child will bend fingers around an object placed in the palm. Fingernails are forming, and the child is sucking his thumb. The nine-week baby has “already perfected a somersault, backflip and scissor kick.” [9]

By ten weeks the child squints, swallows, and frowns. By eleven weeks he urinates, makes a wide variety of facial expressions, and even smiles. By twelve weeks the child is kicking, turning his feet, curling and fanning his toes, making a fist, moving thumbs, bending wrists, and opening his mouth. [10]

All this happens in the first trimester, the first three months of life. In the remaining six months in the womb nothing new develops or begins functioning. The child only grows and matures.

Even in the earliest surgical abortions, the unborn child is clearly human in appearance.

The biggest disadvantage to the preborn child is that there is no window to the womb. His fate is in the hands of those who cannot see him. There are technologies, however, that have allowed us for almost thirty years to see into the womb. Both still and moving pictures show the startlingly clear humanity of the preborn. is my humanity not enough

Watching obviously human unborn children through ultrasound convinced abortionist Bernard Nathanson that for years he had, unwittingly, been killing human beings. [11] A liberal Ivy League professor and his wife changed their minds on this issue when a sonogram of their amniocentesis showed their unborn child grabbing hold of the needle.

One of the photos shown on this page is of an unborn child at eight weeks of development. Notice the clearly discernible eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and hands. The tear-drop shaped picture below it is of an unruptured ectopie pregnancy six weeks after the mother’s last menstrual period, taken after surgery by a medical photographer at the University of Minnesota. Notice again the clearly discernible features, especially eyes and hands. Remember that few abortions take place before this stage. This is the true appearance of one of the youngest of the 3,753 children killed in America every day. Sadly, few women getting abortions know this. Abortion clinics do not show them such pictures.

When I showed a picture of an eight-week developed unborn, a pro-choice advocate—an intelligent college graduate—looked at me with disdain and asked, “Do you really think you’re going to fool anyone with this trick photography?’ This woman, whom I’m convinced was sincere in her belief, had been taught that the unborn was a blob of tissue, but when she looked at the actual picture, she saw that this was clearly a little human being.

She was forced to conclude either that what she had been taught was wrong, or that this was a phony picture. It was easier to conclude the latter. Yet, as I pointed out to her, she could go to such secular sources as Harvard University Medical School textbooks, or Life magazine, [12] or Nilsson’s A Child Is Born [13] and find exactly the same thing. I wonder if she ever investigated the scientific data.

Unfortunately, the problem is not just ignorance, but misinformation. An abortion clinic spokesperson told the Winnipeg Sun that the unborn is “a froglike thing…without a heartbeat, brain, eyes or internal organs.” [14] A Kansas state representative, getting her information from a paid lobbyist of the abortion industry, stated that the unborn child at seven months “looks a lot like chopped liver.” [15] I often hear people who believe and pass on such utterly false information.

A pro-choice video aired on a cable television network showed a little pool of blood with no visible tissue, much less body parts, and said, “This is the contents of an emptied uterus after an eight-week abortion. It is clearly not a baby, despite what antiabortìonists say in their propaganda.” [16]Since the scientific facts of human development are indisputable, there are only two possible explanations: The video did not show the full remains of the abortion, or the child was so torn apart in the abortion that his body parts were no longer discernible. In either case, it is an attempt at deception, as one look at the photograph of the eight-week baby on the back cover of this book clearly shows.

Despite the widespread ignorance and misinformation on the subject, whenever we discuss abortion in this country, we are always discussing the death of a preborn with clearly discernible human features. In no way is it, nor does it even appear to be, “a blob of tissue.”

Even before the unborn is obviously human in appearance, she is what she is—a human being.

The cells of the new individual divide and multiply rapidly, resulting in phenomenal growth. There is growth precisely because there is a new and distinct life. Long before a woman knows she’s pregnant, there is within her a living, growing human being. 

Between five and nine days the new person burrows into the wall of the womb for safety. Already his or her sex can be determined by scientific instruments.

By fourteen days a hormone produced by the new child suppresses the mother’s menstrual period. It will be two more weeks before his clearly human features are discernible and three more before they are obvious. Still, he is what he is, regardless of his appearance. As any of us know who have been around people terribly injured in accidents and fires, one need not look human to be human. At conception the unborn does not appear human to us who are used to judging humanity purely by appearance. Nevertheless, in the objective scientific sense he is every bit as human as any older child or adult.

Though I have emphasized the clearly human features of the unborn after six weeks of development, this does not mean babies are any less human before they look human. No matter how he or she looks, no matter which organs have developed and which haven’t, a child is a child, and abortion terminates that child’s life. The earliest means to cause abortion, including Mifepristone (RU-486) and all abortion pills, are—and will always be—still too late to avoid taking a life.

Even if someone takes the scientifically untenable position that the unborn is not a human being until it looks human and its heart and brain are functioning, he is still acknowledging the humanity of the twenty-eight million unborn killed by abortion in America in the last two decades.

There is nothing about birth that makes a baby essentially different than he was before birth.

we have all been hereIn 1983 a physician was accused of murder because he killed a baby who survived his attempt to abort him. Envision this scenario as it actually happened. Before the attempted abortion, the baby was normal and healthy. Five minutes later, he had been disfigured, poisoned, and burned with salt, all of which was perfectly legal. But since this child had been moved a few feet from where he was before (inside his mother), he was now considered a person.

The same physician, who went on to become a director of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, had full legal right to poison and kill the child moments earlier, but was now considered a murderer because he bungled his assigned task of killing inside the womb and finished the same job on the outside. He was prosecuted not for killing a child, but for doing such a poor job killing a child. Does anyone really believe that one of these attempted killings was right and the other was wrong?

I spent the night in a city where the news was dominated by the frightful story of a murdered infant estimated at three pounds. Only the top half of the child’s body had been found. Doctors examining the baby said that he could have been born prematurely or aborted, but it was impossible to tell. The reason this was so newsworthy was that if it could be determined the child had been born, it would have been a murder of the worst kind.

But children of this size are killed by abortion every day, and it is a ho-hum affair to the media. Those who oppose the abortions that kill these children are regarded as antichoice and antirights. Yet anyone who would defend the bloody slaying of the child in the news—a child essentially no different than all aborted children of the same age—would be regarded as a monster. What’s the difference?

If our concern is for the innocent child, why should anyone be relieved to find out the child was aborted rather than murdered? Either way, he was killed— and killed brutally! There would be no less pain, no less horror, and death would be no less real if this baby had been killed inside his mother by the doctor’s knife or outside her by the knife of a psychopath.

There is simply no magic that somehow changes the nature and value of a child just because he has moved from inside his mother to outside.

<-   HomeFact #8: Less than 1% of all abortions are performed to save the life of the mother.   ->


  1. ^ Dr. Eugene F. Diamond, “Word Wars: Games People Play about the Beginning of Life,” Focus on the Family, Physician, November-December 1992,14-5.
  2. ^ “Deadline Extended for Comment to NIH on Stem Cells Harvesting,” Prolife Monet, 31 January 2000.
  3. ^ Dorothea Kerslake and Donn Casey, “Abortion Induced by Means of the Uterine Aspirator,” Obstetrics and GynecologyiO (July 1967): 37,43.
  4. ^ Naomi Wade, “Aborted Babies Kept Alive for Bizarre Experiments,” National Examiner, 19 August 1980,20-1.
  5. ^ Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of European Jews (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1967), 567-8.
  6. ^ Davis, Abortion and the Christian, 23. Davis cites as a source R. Houwink, Data: Mirrors of Science (1970), 104-90.
  7. ^ Lennart Nilsson, “Drama of life Before Birth,” Life, 30 April 1965.
  8. ^ Begley, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” 14.
  9. ^ ‘The Facts of life” (Norcross, Ga.: Human Development Resource Council), 2.
  10. ^ These are well-established scientific facts. See, for instance, Shetües and Rorvik, Rites of Life, 41-66
  11. ^ Nathanson, Aborting America.
  12. ^ Life, August 1990
  13. ^ Lennart Nilsson, A Child Is Born (New York: Delacorte Press, 1977).
  14. ^ Ellen Kreuger, quoted by Winnipeg Sun, cited in Kmsms for Life, May 1991,9-
  15. ^ Ibid.
  16. ^ “Abortion: For Survival,” a video produced by the Fund for the Feminist Majority


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views the Virginia Christian Alliance

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