The Question of Life Itself

This past year, I’ve reported frequently on the topic of abortion when it intersects with my beat as the national religion correspondent for The Times. In the months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, one question has come up over and over: When does life begin?

This question is simultaneously elemental and complicated. It has also become so politicized that thoughtful engagement is difficult. Even the question itself can be confusingly broad. In biological terms, when is an organism an organism? Or philosophically, what makes a human a person? And spiritually, when does a human being have a soul?

Humans have wrestled with the question of when life begins across time and cultures. For the past few months, I’ve spoken with scientists, philosophers and spiritual leaders to explore the question and to learn how people think about it. The resulting story published online here.

One mother I interviewed told me that the question of life and when it begins seems so much bigger than the fights we hear about in politics — and she is right. This question also pushes past the limits of law and science and gets to the heart of human experience.

When journalists report on a piece of legislation or investigate a specific event, there are some answers that are clear and able to be found. Exploring a question itself isn’t quite like that. My reporting doesn’t answer this one. Instead, my hope is that by writing about the quest for an answer, I offer you some space and ideas to reflect on your own views and maybe even start a conversation with friends and family about a topic that can feel taboo.

Last year at this time, I explored how people make sense of time. The year before, as Covid deaths rose, I wrote about how we survive winter. I’ve reported about the value of life in America, the cycles of apocalypse in the human story and what it means to be personally and culturally transformed.

These are all questions of spirit. And they are questions that humans across divides share.

Read Elizabeth’s latest story on a question that “goes far beyond politics, law and science into the heart of human experience.”

Welcome to a new year of culture. Among the releases that Times critics are most looking forward to:

Margaret Lyons can’t wait for “Succession” Season 4: “Oh, I can hear the jangly piano theme now, and just knowing that the bereft and broken Roys, their gorgeously cruel dialogue and endless, joyless quests for power will be back on my screen soon fills me with elation.”

Mike Hale is eagerly awaiting two crime dramas that take different approaches to a venerable format, the mystery of the week: Fox’s “Accused” and Peacock’s “Poker Face.” Both premiere this month.

Zachary Woolfe recommends a production of Wagner’s “Lohengrin,” which has been absent for a while from the 25 or 30 titles at the center of the Metropolitan Opera’s history. “It’ll be a major event when, on Feb. 26, the opera finally returns to New York in a new staging.”

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