A judge for Australia's Queensland District Court [official website] has, for the first time in Australian jurisprudence, defined the term "conception" as the act of getting pregnant. Judge Leanne Clare defined "conception" [attorney blog post] Wednesday as "the commencement of the pregnancy, which involves an active process within a woman's body," rather than the moment of fertilization. In this case, an embryo had been created years before the surrogacy arrangement, but it was not implanted into the mother's uterus until after the arrangement was created. This was important because the Queensland Surrogacy Act of 2010 [text, PDF] requires that arrangements be signed "before the child is conceived." Therefore, because the moment of conception did not take place until the embryo was placed in the woman's body and pregnancy was commenced, Clare ruled that the arrangement was created before conception.
Although Clare was the first to rule on the meaning of the word "conception," deciding on a definition may soon become an issue in US courts as well, as many states have recently considered or passed anti-abortion laws that define life as beginning at conception. In February, Oklahoma became the latest state to pass a bill [JURIST report] granting personhood to the unborn beginning at the moment of conception. A week earlier, the Virginia House of Delegates [official website] passed a similar bill [JURIST report] defining life as beginning at conception. Voters in Mississippi, however, in November rejected [JURIST report] an amendment to the state's constitution that would have redefined the words "person" or "persons" to mean "every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof."