|Human embryo at 7 and a half weeks of age, via the Endowment for Human Development. Abortions are commonly committed at this stage of pregnancy.|
People looking for a middle ground in the abortion debate often settle on being pro-choice, "but just for the first trimester." In fact, Gallup polling suggests that about three-fifths of American adults take this position (although the survey is a few years old).
One-third of the way through pregnancy is an arbitrary point to be sure. It stands to reason that whatever or whomever is in the womb is either alive the whole time, or it isn't. But the first trimester does nicely as a get-out-of-the-debate free card. After all, who wants to choose between the "every sperm is sacred" bigots and "abortion on demand without apology" nutjobs? The former is of course a wildly inaccurate caricature, and not every pro-choicer is a nutjob either. But those who trust the media wouldn't necessarily know much beyond the headline-grabbing extremes. In a storm of extremists, people look for the high—middle—ground.
I don't say that with condescending intent. After all, nobody has the time to be fully informed about every issue. I only know what I know because I've been actively involved in the pro-life movement for close to a decade. I shouldn't expect the general public to be experts on the first trimester of prenatal development, any more than my international relations-focused little brother should expect me to know all about Chinese foreign policy.
So let's talk about what's happening in the first trimester, shall we? Here are some facts from the Endowment for Human Development, obviously much condensed:
- Conception: The unique DNA that will guide lifelong development and determine physical characteristics is established.
- One week old: The embryo has attached to the uterine wall.
- Two weeks old: The embryo develops three germ layers that will give rise to the organ systems: the ectoderm (nervous system and skin), mesoderm (circulatory system, kidneys, and muscles), and endoderm (liver, pancreas, bladder, and other organs).
- Three weeks old: The heart beats and a rudimentary brain has formed.
- Four weeks old: Intestines, cerebellum, and limb buds appear.
- Five weeks old: Cerebral hemispheres, pituitary gland, kidneys, and eyes begin to form.
- Six weeks old: Hands and bones begin to form.
- Seven weeks old: Reproductive organs appear; the embryo moves its head and legs; the embryo hiccups.
- Eight weeks old: All organ systems are present; this is the traditional dividing line between "embryo" and "fetus."
- Nine weeks old: The fetus sucks his or her thumb, drinks uterine fluid, and reacts to light touching of the face, hands, and feet.
- Ten weeks old: Fingernails and toenails begin to grow, and the child's unique fingerprints appear.
- Eleven weeks old: The nose and lips are formed, and with them, the fetus begins making facial expressions; weight increases by 60%.
- Twelve weeks old: The fetus, now 12 centimeters long, is ready for the second trimester.
Life begins in the womb, and abortion is a tragic human rights violation. Yes, even in the first trimester.