Does life begin only when the fetus moves?

Photo copyrighted. Courtesy of Films for Christ.
Human fetus. (Copyright © Films for Christ, from the movie: “The Origin of Life.”)

Quickening has traditionally referred to the first movement of the unborn felt by her mother. It was at this time in fetal development that some ancient, medieval and common-law scholars thought it could be proved that the unborn was “alive” or that the soul had entered her body. Not having access to the biological facts we currently possess, they reasoned that prior to quickening it could not be proved that the unborn entity was “alive” or fully human.

Current biology, which has conclusively demonstrated that a biologically living human individual is present from conception, has decisively refuted this notion of “quickening,” just as current astronomy has refuted the geocentric solar system (the old idea that the solar system revolves around the Earth, not the sun).

Now, does this mean that our ancestors were not pro-life? Not at all. Legal scholar and theologian John Warwick Montgomery notes that when our ancient, medieval, and common-law forefathers talked about quickening as the beginning of life…

They were just identifying the first evidence of life they could conclusively detect… They were saying that as soon as you had life, there must be protection. Now we know that life starts at the moment of conception with nothing superadded.[1]

Hence, to be consistent with contemporary science, legal protection must be extended to the unborn entity from the moment of conception.

Furthermore, we now know that the ability to feel the unborn's movement is contingent upon the amount of the mother's body fat. It seems silly to say that one's preborn humanness is contingent upon whether one is fortunate to have been conceived in a body that frequents aerobics classes.


  1. John Warwick Montgomery, Slaughter of the Innocents(Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1981), p. 37. For more on quickening,see ibid., pp. 103-119; and David W. Louisell and John T. Noonan, “Constitutional Balance,” in The Morality of Abortion, pp. 223-26. [up]

Author: Francis J. Beckwith, adapted from a series in Christian Research Journal, Spring 1991. Provided with permission by Summit Ministries and the author.

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