This response to the fetal heartbeat anti-abortion bill passed in Texas got me thinking about whether the heartbeat detection stage was rather arbitrary or in line with some sort of idea about personhood. I believe that the Church definitively says that life begins at conception and that human life should be preserved from the moment of conception. But is there anything special about the moment of a heartbeat that says life should be especially preserved or that it is changed in any when it starts or stops (at the end of life or during some trauma)?

  • +1 Doesn't the Church have a more specific argument than whether 'life' begins at conception, though? I am guessing the answer to your question here is no, except it is another significant step towards being born. The 'heartbeat' legislation more appeals to a concrete intuition people have when informed a very small human has a beating heart, I think, and cuts through the 'just a bunch of cells' nonsense. Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 21:33
  • yeah, the Church makes a bit deal about hearts, the Sacred heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Unless it's purely metaphorical, what I'm asking is, "is the potential heart of the embryo spiritually equivalent to the beating heart of the fetus"? Or is there no spiritual significance to the human heart?
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 21:42
  • Right, but I always thought the Sacred Heart of Jesus was not intended to refer to the organ that pumps blood - it is symbolic of the spiritual heart, no? Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 22:11
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    @one yeah, I'd think so, so maybe the answer is "no answer" because cool metaphysics wasn't around in the age of ultrasound. I'm hoping there's some cryptic writing by a medieval saint who ascribed some great spiritual significance to the heartbeat.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Sep 3, 2021 at 22:28

1 Answer 1


I don't know if it was theological, as it was trying to fit into Roe v. Wade as settled law. Though the stare decisis view of Roe v. Wade is often debated, it is likely that it will not be rescinded. It's kind of like how the Catholic church, and other churches like the Lutheran Church, never actually renounce what was once said in terms of public pastoral doctrine. Things are just reinterpreted. That's what may happen in American law. The opinion of Roe v. Wade can be accessed here.

Blackmun, in Roe v. Wade, said: "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins." That being said it looks to me that, despite that comment, the decision in Roe v. Wade was that "viability" is a demarcation for when a fetus is to be treated as fully human & to be affirmed as a "person" within the language and meaning of the 14th Amendment.

What is actually in the Texas law that could overturn Roe. v. Wade? It looks to me that Roe v. Wade understood "viability" as the same as "quickening." I don't view Roe v. Wade as necessarily concluding that the cutting of the umbilical cord is officially when viability begins.

If viability is roughly the same as "quickening" than the formation of the heart is important.

So, while biological life begins at conception, the question that Roe. v. Wade did not answer very well (in my opinion) was when does a fetus become fully human & to be affirmed as a "person" within the language and meaning of the 14th Amendment?

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