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Although I am a very strong advocate and supporter of protecting human rights, I do not believe that human rights begin at conception. Conception joins two cells that begin to further divide and grow. Until the nervous system forms, self-awareness is impossible. For some time, no one is aware that conception has taken place. If these few cells are destroyed, there is little or no loss; the cells are unaware, others are unaware, and conception can usually be readily repeated.

While replication, such as cell division, is the signature of life, self-awareness is the signature of sentient beings. Human rights certainly arise whenever the developing human becomes self-aware, or others begin to know and care about the fetus, infant, or person. Specifying when this takes place is complex, if not impossible.

In considering abortion, the rights of the mother, father, and family have to be balanced against the rights of the unborn child. This is a complex assessment that must consider the circumstances of the pregnancy, the extent of development since conception, the health of the developing fetus, the fertility of the couple, and their love, resources, plans and preferences.

Discussions about abortion often focus on preserving human souls. I believe that self-awareness emerges as our brains attain a certain level of complexity, perhaps as an infant approaches one year old. That emergent self-awareness is often confounded with the notion of a divine soul that originates externally, and may outlive the body. While the emergence of self-awareness is extraordinary and awe inspiring, it is not evidence for a divine soul that can exist without human consciousness. Frankly there is no evidence for such a divinely created and sustained soul. To claim there is a “ghost in the machine” is extraordinary, and that extraordinary claim has to be substantiated by extraordinary evidence. There is so much we do not understand about the origins and nature of the universe. It is authentic to admit to what we do not understand; it is speculation to hold firmly to an unsubstantiated explanation.