What used to be a small, technical point in the wars over abortion policy has been lifted by the fight against the Obamacare contraception coverage mandate into a really big deal: the exotic belief of most antichoice folk that pregnancy (and thus the human life that should, in their view, be protected by any and every means available) begins when an ovum is fertilized. This is not, to put it mildly, the settled view of medical and scientific experts, as the Guttmacher Institute notes:

Although widespread, definitions that seek to establish fertilization as the beginning of pregnancy go against the long-standing view of the medical profession and decades of federal policy, articulated as recently as during the Bush administration. In fact, medical experts—notably the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)—agree that the establishment of a pregnancy takes several days and is not completed until a fertilized egg is implanted in the lining of the woman’s uterus. (In fact, according to ACOG, the term “conception” properly means implantation.) A pregnancy is considered to be established only when the process of implantation is complete

This distinction matters a great deal when it comes to how you think about IUDs, Plan B contraception, and even (according to some antichoice folk) the standard estrogen “pill.” If pregnancy begins at implantation, all these methods are contraceptives. But the antichoice movement, the bulk of the Republican Party, and a growing number of states hold otherwise, and the idea that post-fertilization, pre-implantation methods cause abortions rather than preventing pregnancy is at the very heart of the fight against the contraception coverage mandate.

This does make you wonder: from whence cometh the “life begins at fertilization” claim? I gather it was more common outside religious circles when knowledge of fetal (or in this case, zygote) development was less advanced. Yes, it’s the firm position of the Catholic Church, though it’s unclear to me why there is a need for Catholic and non-Catholic OB/GYN convictions on this subject. As for Protestants, you don’t have to share my astonishment at the almost universally shared belief of conservative evangelicals that the Bible condemns abortion to be a lot more astonished that anyone thinks there is a scriptural foundation for fertilization as opposed to implantation as the starting point for pregnancy. Where is that in Deuteronomy?

In any event, the longer we hear conservatives complain about mandated coverage of “abortifacients,” the more the arbitrary nature and sheer extremism of the antichoice (and hence the GOP) position will gain attention. And in a debate where you’d sometimes be misled to think that antichoicers really just don’t like late-term abortions, that has value.

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.