Slate’s Dishonest Article on When Life Begins

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 04/25/2017

Slate posted an article the other week about bills that ban abortions after an embryo’s heartbeat is detected. It was a dishonest article that distorted the science and placed too great an emphasis on fringe religious belief.

The author argued that “Many scientists would say they don’t know when life begins.” Really? I suppose “many” scientists could be dozens or even hundreds, but there are probably thousands that are confident that humans begin their existence when sperm and egg meet. Standard embryology and college-level textbooks teach that that life begins at conception. Even stalwart abortion-choice advocates like David Boonin and Peter Singer agree individual human life begins at conception. They still believe abortion should be legal, but it’s not because they think the current scientific or medical research is uncertain when life begins.

Slate devoted most of its effort citing a slew of religions and their position on when life begins. The article’s researcher managed to find an abortion-choice advocate from every religious system. Apparently, they found Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, Catholics, Muslims, and Jews who all express uncertainty about this question. They even dug up a Bible verse, Exodus 21:22, which allegedly shows that Scripture doesn’t acknowledge the unborn to be equal to a born human (you can read STR’s take on that verse in this Solid Ground). According to Slate, though, these various religious devotees think life begins over time, “not in a single moment but in a series of moments, none necessarily more important than the next.” I’m not sure what that means, actually. How do you begin to exist over time or a series of moments? You either exist or you don’t. Nevertheless, that answer satisfied the author.

According to the Slate article, the only religious adherent who thinks life begins at a precise moment is the “Christian Right.” Although the author didn’t overtly claim that in the text of the article, the wording is found in the URL for the article. Also, when you scroll down the article, there is a heading that remains at the top of the webpage that says, “When does life begin? Outside the Christian Right, the answer is ‘over time.’”

I understand the article is about opposing bills that ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected, but I was surprised how far they went to suggest that both scientists and religious devotees agree that life begins over time. And while I’d support legislation that bans abortion at the point a heartbeat is heard, it’s not because I think life begins when we detect one. I know life begins at conception. Not only does my religious belief system acknowledge that, but the science of embryology decisively supports that view.

Read the article yourself, and then you can listen to my short interview with Issues, Etc. about Slate’s take on when life begins.