A new survey showed 57 percent of the 1,000 obstetricians and gynecologists who responded to a questionnaire said pregnancy starts at conception, according to Reuters News Service. The questionnaire found 28 percent said pregnancy begins at implantation of the tiny embryo in the uterine wall. That occurs about a week after conception, also known as fertilization. The remaining 15 percent said they were uncertain.
Since 1965, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has held the position that pregnancy begins at implantation.
The distinction is highly important. Pro-life advocates point out that a new human being, and therefore pregnancy, is established at conception. Some contraceptive methods not only can prevent fertilization but also have the ability to block implantation if fertilization occurs. When implantation is prevented, an abortion takes place, pro-lifers point out in voicing opposition to the use of contraceptives that have abortion-causing properties.
C. Ben Mitchell, professor of moral philosophy at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., told Baptist Press, "It's actually quite amazing that the egg, once fertilized, has its own developmental trajectory.
"If the word 'begins' means anything, then one would have to affirm that pregnancy starts at least at conception. Any other definition would be to read pregnancy through the lens of politics," Mitchell said.
The study showed doctors who said they are religious or opposed to abortion or birth control methods that block implantation are more likely to say pregnancy begins at conception, according to Reuters.
Farr Curlin, senior author of the study and a professor at the University of Chicago, expressed surprise at the results.
"People say that the medical profession has settled on this," Curlin said, according to Reuters Nov. 18. "What our data show rather clearly is that it is not at all settled among the medical profession."
Curlin said a weakness of the study is its use of the word "conception" instead of "fertilization." Though the two words are normally considered synonymous, some use "conception" interchangeably with "implantation," according to Reuters.
The survey results were published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. ACOG declined to comment on the survey results, Reuters said.
Compiled by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode and BP editor Art Toalston.
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