Biologists Agree: Life Begins at Conception

Pro-Life, James McNellis Wiki Commons

A recent survey released by Steven Jacobs, PhD candidate for biology at the University of Chicago, proves what pro-life advocates have argued for decades: the vast majority of biologists believe that life begins at conception. Jacobs conducted his survey over a five-year period, during which time he asked thousands of academic biologists when life begins from a scientific standpoint. Almost 90% of pro-life biologists and 75% of pro-choice biologists agreed that life begins at conception, with the act of fertilization determining the creation of a new, human life. The disparity between pro-life and pro-choice responses suggests that biases still exist within the scientific community, but that could be considered greater evidence that the science is settled. Even pro-choice biologists, who might like to say that life begins at viability, birth, or some other point in fetal development, know they cannot deny the facts before them.

Unsurprisingly, Jacobs received an enormous amount of backlash for his research. There was a reason why it took him five years to complete his survey, which he eventually used for his dissertation – the controversial nature of his subject matter made many in the scientific community unwilling to support or work with him. Jacobs’ own advisor flip-flopped on support, until he stepped down altogether, calling Jacobs’ research “unethical.” One respondent to the survey even said he would discourage other biologists from taking the survey at all. However, despite the backlash – Jacobs says he was even compared to the Ku Klux Klan – Jacobs completed his dissertation and published his findings. What effect, if any, these findings will have on the ongoing abortion debate is unclear, but Jacobs has a hope: that the debate will move from “When does life begin?” to “Is it ok to kill unborn humans?”

In the decades since Roe vs. Wade, that core question – when does life begin – has never gotten an answer approved by public opinion. A huge number of Americans still don’t know that life begins at conception. They don’t know when a human heart starts beating. They don’t know when that human can feel pain. This scientific illiteracy has plagued the abortion date for years, with far too much time and energy being wasted on that first question of when life begins. Until that first question is answered, and that answer is accepted, the rest of the abortion debate is obsolete. As any pro-life advocate knows, the amount of misinformation bounced around in the pro-choice community is borderline absurd: it’s just a clump of cells. It’s just a blob of tissue. It’s a parasite. It’s part of the mother.

However, what the science has told us for decades – and what Jacobs has now proven biologists believe – is that it’s not “just a clump of cells” inside the mother’s womb. It is a living, human being, a member of the species homo sapiens, with a set of DNA derived from yet distinct from both its parents. And “it” is not an it at all – from the moment of conception, when the DNA forms, the unborn child is either a male or female. Jacobs’ research proves that biologists agree on this. We’ll just have to wait and see how long it will take for public opinion to catch up with the facts.

Ruth Moreno is a contributor to