Whether You Use Conception or Fertilization, Human Life Has a Clear Beginning
by J. C. Willke, M.D.
June 16, 2008
LifeNews.com Note: Dr. Jack Willke is the president of Life Issues Institute. The physician is long considered the father of the modern-day pro-life movement and he and his wife are responsible for developing grassroots pro-life groups that continue today. Opinion and editorial articles like this one do not necessarily reflect the views of LifeNews.com.
I write to answer and hope to clarify the three page article in LifeNews.com, June 16, 2008 by Paul Byrne, M.D. We have semantic differences.
Conception of course is the classic term, but the word conception has had its meaning effectively changed in the last half century. I have my grandfathers medical dictionary from 1890. It defines conception as the union of sperm and ovum. I have my fathers medical dictionary from 1918. The definition is the same.
Mine is from 1944, the definition is the same. However, more recent editions of medical dictionaries redefine the word conception as beginning at implantation. Herein lies the problem of using the word conception.
In the early 1960s, it was determined that the newly available birth control pill would block ovulation and was a contraceptive. It was correctly judged that the public would accept this, but they were also aware of the anti-implantation effect at one week of life.
This was clearly an abortion. It’s supporters worried that if the general public found this out, the pill would be rejected.
What to do?
There was a meeting of officials of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some drug companies, and a prominent physician, Alan Guttmacher. They solved this dilemma by officially, but very quietly ruling that henceforth the word conception would no longer mean union of sperm and egg, but rather would mean implantation one week later.
The word pregnancy was also a problem, so they changed its definition from beginning at fertilization to beginning at implantation.
Almost no one was told about it then, nor do most doctors know about it now, but this semantic redefinition enabled the drug companies to call the pill and the IUD contraceptives.
Today, using their new definitions, they say that the emergency contraceptive pill prevents conception and therefore prevents pregnancy.
They say this with a straight face, using their own definition, while 99% of everyone else including most clergy and doctors believe that the words conception and pregnancy still carry their traditional meaning of union of sperm and egg.
And so it is best for us not to use the word conception unless at the same time we specifically define that we mean union of sperm and ovum.
However, the word fertilization, unlike Dr. Byrnes comments, still retains the meaning of union of sperm and ovum. In many other countries the word fecundation is another word, meaning the same thing.
Accordingly, I have always recommended that we do not use the word conception because of the confusion that these pro-abortion authorities have created. When we use fertilization as does the state of Colorado in their upcoming referendum, it is clear that they mean that defining point when a sperm enters the ovum.
Dr. Byrne notes that the word fertilization can be used in animal pregnancies. This is true, but not relevant. When used with humans specifically it refers to the union of sperm and ovum.
Accordingly, my suggestion is that until such time as the confusion over what the word conception is clarified, we are best not to use it unless we note at the same time what we mean by it. Rather lets use the more accurate term fertilization and if you are writing internationally, fecundation.