Fetal Life and Abortion:
Human Personhood at Conception
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Section 5: Description of Maturing Human Being Before Birth


The following description of the developing human conceptus is a series of excerpts from Dr. Bart Heffernan's "amicus" brief, presented to the U. S. Supreme Court, October, 1970.

From conception the child is a complex dynamic rapidly growing organism. By the end of the first month, the child completes the period of relatively greatest size increase and the greatest physical change of a lifetime. The month old child is 10,000 times larger than the fertilized egg and will increase its weight six billion times by birth. (See http://www.justthefacts.org/clar.asp )

By the end of the seventh week, we see a well proportioned small scale baby. In its seventh week, it bears the familiar external features and all the internal organs of the adult, even though it is less than an inch long and weighs only 1/30th of an ounce. The body has become nicely rounded, padded with muscles and covered by a thin skin.

The new body not only exists, it also functions. The brain in configuration is already like the adult brain and sends out impulses that coordinate the function of the other organs. The brain waves have been noted at 43 days. The heart beats sturdily. The stomach produces digestive juices. The liver manufactures blood cells and the kidneys begin to function by extracting uric acid from the child's blood. The muscles of the arms and body can already be set in motion.

From this point until adulthood, when full growth is achieved somewhere between 25 and 27 years, the changes in the body will be mainly in dimension and in gradual refinement of the working parts.

The development of the child, while very rapid, is also very specific. The genetic pattern set down in the first day of life instructs the development of a specific anatomy. The ears are formed by seven weeks and are specific, and may resemble a family pattern. The lines in the hands start to be engraved by eight weeks and remain a distinctive feature of the individual.

The primitive skeletal system has completely developed by the end of six weeks. This marks the end of the child's embryonic (from Greek, to swell or teem within) period. From this point, the child will be called a fetus (Latin, young one or offspring).

In the third month, the child becomes very active. By the end of the month he can kick his legs, turn his feet, curl and fan his toes, make a fist, move his thumb, bend his wrist, turn his head, squint, frown, open his mouth, press his lips tightly together. He can swallow and drinks the amniotic fluid that surrounds him. Thumb sucking is first noted at this age. The first respiratory motions move fluid in and out of his lungs with inhaling and exhaling respiratory movements.

The movement of the child has been recorded at this early stage by placing delicate shock recording devices on the mother's abdomen and direct observations have been made by the famous embryologist, Davenport Hooker, M.D. Over his last thirty years, Dr. Hooker has recorded the movements of the child on film, some as early as six weeks of age. His films show that pre-natal behavior develops in an orderly progression.

The pre-requisites for motion are muscles and nerves. In the sixth to seventh weeks, nerves and muscles work together for the first time. If the area of the lips, the first to become sensitive to touch, is gently stroked, the child responds by bending the upper body to one side and making a quick backward motion with his arms. This is called a total pattern response because it involves most of the body, rather than a local part. Localized and more appropriate reactions such as swallowing follow in the third month. By the beginning of the ninth week, the baby moves spontaneously without being touched. Sometimes his whole body swings back and forth for a few moments. By eight and a half weeks the eyelids and the palms of the hands become sensitive to touch. If the eyelid is stroked, the child squints. On stroking the palm, the fingers close into a small fist.

In the ninth and tenth weeks, the child's activity leaps ahead. Now if the forehead is touched, he may turn his head away and pucker up his brow and frown. He now has full use of his arms and can bend the elbow and wrist independently. In the same week, the entire body becomes sensitive to touch.

The twelfth week brings a whole new range of responses. The baby can now move his thumb in opposition to his fingers. He now swallows regularly. He can pull up his upper lip, the initial step in the development of the sucking reflex. By the end of the twelfth week, the quality of muscular response is altered. It is no longer marionette-like or mechanical--the movements are now graceful and fluid, as they are in the new born. The child is active and the reflexes are becoming more vigorous. All this is before the mother feels any movement.

Every child shows a distinct individuality in his behavior by the end of the third month. This is because the actual structure of the muscles varies from baby to baby. The alignment of the muscles of the face, for example, follow an inherited pattern. The facial expressions of the baby in his third month are already similar to the facial expressions of his parents.

Dr. Arnold Gesell states that: "By the end of the first trimester (12th week) the fetus is a sentient moving being. We need not pause to speculate as to the nature of his psychic attributes but we may assert that the organization of his psycho-somatic self is now well under way."

Further refinements are noted in the third month. The finger-nails appear. The child's face becomes much prettier. His eyes, previously far apart, now move closer together. The eyelids close over the eyes. Sexual differentiation is apparent in both internal and external sex organs, and primitive eggs and sperm are formed. The vocal cords are completed. In the absence of air they cannot produce sound; the child cannot cry aloud until birth, although he is capable of crying long before. The taste buds and salivary glands develop in this month, as do the digestive glands in the stomach. When the baby swallows amniotic fluid, its contents are utilized by the child. The child starts to urinate.

From the twelfth to the sixteenth week, the child grows very rapidly. His weight increases six times, and he grows to eight to ten inches in height. For this incredible growth spurt the child needs oxygen and food. This he receives from his mother through the placental attachment-- much like he receives food from her after he is born. His dependence does not end with expulsion into the external environment. We now know that the placenta belongs to the baby, not to the mother, as was long thought.

In the fifth month, the baby gains two inches in height and ten ounces in weight. By the end of the month he will be about one foot tall and will weigh one pound. Fine baby hair begins to grow on his eyebrows and on his head and a fringe of eyelashes appear. Most of the skeleton hardens. The baby's muscles become much stronger, and as the child becomes larger, his mother finally perceives his many activities.

In the sixth month, the baby will grow about two more inches, to become fourteen inches tall. He will also begin to accumulate a little fat under his skin and will increase his weight to a pound and three-quarters. This month the permanent teeth buds come in high in the gums behind the milk teeth. Now his closed eyelids will open and close, and his eyes look up, down and sideways. He develops a strong muscular grip with his hands. He also starts to breathe regularly and can maintain respiratory responses for twenty-four hours if born prematurely. He may even have a slim chance of surviving in an incubator.

The remaining three months of the child's life within the womb need not be presented here, except by picture, to show that the continued development merely increases the child's size and weight.

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