Steve Waldman argues that whether life begins at conception is the wrong question:
According to a 2007 survey commissioned by a progressive think tank called Third Way, 69 percent of Americans believe abortion is the "taking of a human life," but 72 percent believe it should be legal.
Let that soak in. Most people think abortion is taking a human life and yet favor the procedure being legal. How grotesque! Are we Americans utterly immoral?
Actually, what the data proclaim is something that politicians and activists can't: Most Americans believe there are gradations of life.
Some living things are more alive than others, and so the later in the pregnancy it gets, the more uncomfortable people become with the idea of ending it. But in reality they believe both that a life stirs very early on and that a one-week-old embryo is more "killable" than a nine-month-old fetus. For them, determining whether "life" begins at conception really doesn't determine anything.
He imagines a less toxic abortion debate:
Politically, the battle would shift away from the third trimester (pro-lifers having largely won) and the first trimester (pro-choicers having largely won) and toward the second trimester - what most Americans view as the true moral gray zone. Both sides could use a mix of science, libertarian philosophy and theology to argue for more, or fewer, restrictions during this period.
(hat tip: Dreher)