At FiveThirtyEight, Christine Aschwanden writes: “The GOP’s Abortion Ban Is About Politics, Not Science.” She’s half-right, though not in the way she thinks.
Before we get to that, it is worth reflecting on this simple fact: the progressive contribution to the modern abortion debate is, on average, the most science-free political discourse you’re apt to find. The Left is given to declaring that conservatives are generally “anti-science,” because some fundamentalist Christians don’t believe in evolution and many conservatives don’t believe we can accurately predict what the global average temperature will be in 200 years compared to a 1965 baseline.
“Science Is Real,” a popular liberal yard sign declares. There is no more anti-science position than that of the mainstream liberal stance on abortion. It is textbook intellectual Luddism dressed up as informed political dialogue.
We’re Interested in Fantasy, Not Religion
Consider Cecile Richards, the Grand Master of American abortion rights herself. When asked when life begins, she replied: “For me, life [for my children] began when I delivered them.” Hillary Clinton, a former senator and presidential candidate who came very close to inhabiting the Oval Office, declared several years ago: “I believe the potential for life begins at conception.”
A few years ago, a reporter asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: “Is an unborn baby with a human heart and a human liver a human being?” Pelosi explicitly refused to answer this simple tautological question, telling the reporter: “I think I know more about this subject than you, with all due respect.”
These answers are wrong, and demonstrably so, as we’ll see below. But if it were Republicans and conservatives opining so evasively and illiterately about fundamental scientific matters, then the media coverage would be wall-to-wall and gleefully destructive, as it was with Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments. Liberals tend to get a pass on their anti-science abortion positions.
When Does Human Life Begin, Again?
That brings us to the current “abortion ban” working its way through Congress. At FiveThirtyEight, Aschwanden points out that the science underpinning the debate—that unborn humans can feel pain as early as 20 weeks—is disputed. This is entirely true. But Aschwanden claims the entire discussion is less about the science of fetal distress and more about the ultimate moral facts of abortion itself:
[T]his particular debate over what the science does and doesn’t show is mostly a distraction because what we have here isn’t a scientific debate, but a moral one. Each side is using science to support age-old value judgments about when life begins and how the rights of a pregnant person are weighed against the rights that a fetus may or may not have; new scientific evidence is unlikely to change many minds.
National Right to Life believes human life begins when an egg is fertilized, and several of the bill’s other proponents have also been clear that they’d like to ban abortion altogether. For example, a 2010 brief about fetal pain published by the Family Research Council, another anti-abortion group and supporter of the bill, states that ‘The humanness of the unborn child is not contingent on its capacity for pain. Whether or not an unborn child can feel pain is irrelevant to the respect that an unborn person deserves.’
“National Right to Life believes human life begins when an egg is fertilized.” You will notice this is stated as if it were in dispute, a partisan political position rather than as settled a scientific matter as the existence of gravity or the Doppler effect. We are supposed to believe, it seems, that the idea that human life begins at conception is merely a policy position, something up for debate, a scientific fact still vigorously debated in universities, labs, and medical conferences across the world.
It is not. Human life begins at conception (“When an egg is fertilized,” as the phrase goes). To pretend as if this is one hazy opinion among many, rather than a fact underpinning the foundation of human biological science, is singularly bizarre, insofar as it does not square with what we know about allogamy, embryogenesis, embryology, mitosis, and everything else concerning the generative origin of our species.
Claim that the sun revolves around the earth and you’ll be laughed out of the room. Claim that your child suddenly sprang into existence on the day of his birth, on the other hand, and you’ll be given a lucrative position at the head of America’s largest abortion mill.
The Science Is Settled
The actual science on the matter if simple, elegant, easy to understand and easy to explain. Dr. Maureen Condic, an associate professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah’s School of Medicine, provides us with a well-written essay on the matter at the Charlotte Lozier Institute:
What is the nature of the new cell that comes into existence upon sperm-egg fusion? Most importantly, is the zygote merely another human cell (like a liver cell or a skin cell) or is it something else? Just as science distinguishes between different types of cells, it also makes clear distinctions between cells and organisms. Both cells and organisms are alive, yet organisms exhibit unique characteristics that can reliably distinguish them from mere cells…
An organism is defined as ‘(1) a complex structure of interdependent and subordinate elements whose relations and properties are largely determined by their function in the whole and (2) an individual constituted to carry on the activities of life using organs separate in function but mutually dependent: a living being.’ (Merriam-Webster) This definition stresses the interaction of parts in the context of a coordinated whole as the distinguishing feature of an organism. Organisms are ‘living beings.’ Therefore, another name for a human organism is a ‘human being’; an entity that is a complete human, rather than a part of a human.
Now, what do you think is a more compelling source of information: a scientist telling you the scientific facts regarding human life, or Nancy Pelosi refusing to answer a simple question about unborn humans?
National Right to Life is correct: human lives begin at conception. There is no debating this. There is a debate about whether elective abortion is acceptable, about whether it is okay to kill certain human beings for the sake of convenience. But we cannot have such a debate if one side continues, blindly and in direct contravention of the facts, to insist that the human beings they wish to kill are not human beings.
Before we deal with abortion, we must deal with the facts of abortion, however unpleasant and inconvenient they may be. Those facts are these: the lives of human beings begin at conception, and abortion kills human beings.