In the last part of our series we looked at a definition of science and arguments from science. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. The definitions and background in part one will help with future articles. (click here to read Part One)
In the next part of our series, we’ll look at an example of using scientific investigation to determine whether a controversial claim is true or false.
Many people view the scientific arguments about abortion to be “settled science.” In other words the science used in arguing for the legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade is “settled.” Keep in mind that those arguments were made 45 years ago. Can we agree that scientific arguments from the early 1970’s are “settled science”?
Here’s a quick reminder from the last part of our series –
“Let’s begin with a basic question: what do the words ‘settled science’ mean?
- to place so as to stay (Merriam-Webster)
- not likely to change or move (Oxford Dictionary)
- A settled situation or system stays the same all the time (Collins Dictionary)
We’ve already seen that the definition of science is knowledge, so we could define settled science as knowledge that stays the same and is not likely to change or move.”
Is it true that the “science” concerning the issues raised in Roe v Wade has not changed in 45 years?
I remember when “abortion” became a theme for discussion between Christians and Christians and Christians and non-Christians. It was 50 years ago. I had just started my first full-time position in broadcast journalism. 1968 was a very challenging year for our country with the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The anti-war movement was becoming bolder and led massive protests that led to tens of thousands of protestors battling with police in the streets of Chicago at the Democratic National Convention.
1968 was also a year where the movement to legalize abortion was building toward what we now know as Roe v. Wade. Less than one year earlier, a freshman state legislator introduced a bill that would allow abortions if a woman’s physical or mental health was threatened, if the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest, or if the unborn child might have birth defects. The bill passed quickly and the governor signed it into law.
New York’s governor signed a bill three years later that repealed a 140-year-old law that banned abortion except to save a woman’s life. The New York law allowed abortion on demand up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Other states followed New York’s lead.
[UPDATES: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed a bill into law that makes abortion legal even after the unborn child is viable. Governors and legislators in other states are also supporting bills to make late-term abortions legal. Virginia Representative Kathy Tran introduced a bill that would would allow abortions up until the moment of birth. She admitted that during questioning in a legislative committee hearing. The Virginia bill was defeated in committee. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a pediatric neurologist, told a radio audience how the bill would work if passed. He said that a mother could give birth to her baby then have discussions with doctors about possibly killing the child.]
The U.S. Supreme Court took on the issue of abortion as early as 1971 (United States v. Vuitch) and ruled on Roe v. Wade in 1973. Abortion on demand was the law of the land.
I covered local protests and meetings about the abortion issue as a journalist during those years. I didn’t care about it personally as an atheist. People could do anything they wanted to do with anything in or on their body because I believed life had no meaning or purpose outside of what each individual determined for themselves. Everything was an accident of evolution and didn’t matter. A God or gods did not exist, so everyone could do whatever they wanted to do with themselves and their possessions.
One of the major aspects of late term abortion is the issue of personhood – when the “unborn” become a human person. The Pro-Choice/Abortion group has long claimed that an unborn baby is a non-person. That’s why they do not believe abortion is murder, because the killing of a non-person is not murder. The Pro-Life/Anti-Abortion group has long claimed that an unborn baby is a person. That is why they believe abortion is murder, because the pre-meditated killing of a person is murder.
I remember this argument in the early days of legal debate in Roe v. Wade. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun wrote this as part of the Court’s majority opinion – “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment.”
“The appellee and certain amici argue that the fetus is a “person” within the language and meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. In support of this, they outline at length and in detail the well-known facts of fetal development. If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the Amendment. The appellant conceded as much on reargument.” University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
This statement is often referred to as “Blackmun’s Hole.” Justice Blackmun seemed to be stating that if the personhood of an unborn child could be proven, then the baby would find protection in Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Justice Blackmun also wrote this about the medical implications of when a person becomes human –
“Texas urges that, apart from the Fourteenth Amendment, life begins at conception and is present throughout pregnancy, and that, therefore, the State has a compelling interest in protecting that life from and after conception. We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.
It should be sufficient to note briefly the wide divergence of thinking on this most sensitive and difficult question…Substantial problems for precise definition of this view are posed, however, by new embryological data that purport to indicate that conception is a “process” over time, rather than an event, and by new medical techniques such as menstrual extraction, the “morning-after” pill, implantation of embryos, artificial insemination, and even artificial wombs.” University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
Notice Justice Blackmun’s words – “at this point in the development of man’s knowledge.” Blackmun mentions “new embryological data” and “new medical techniques” that were part of man’s knowledge in 1973: “menstrual extraction, the ‘morning-after’ pill, implantation of embryos, artificial insemination, and even artificial wombs.”
What about the last 45 years since Roe v. Wade? At what point are we in 2018 “in the development of man’s knowledge”?
Medical science has added DNA paternal testing and ultrasound to “the development of man’s knowledge.” Even as the Supreme Court majority used the available knowledge of man in 1973, shouldn’t the Supreme Court of the United States now use the available knowledge of man in 2018 to reconsider the earlier decision? It seems only right that if a majority of Supreme Court Justices used the available science of 1973 to determine the personhood of an unborn child, the current Supreme Court Justices should use the available science of 2018 to determine the personhood of an unborn child. Since much of Roe v. Wade was decided on available medical science, it would seem that the Court would be sensitive to the advancement of science into the issues of pregnancy and personhood.
The definition of “personhood” is fairly simple – “The state or fact of being a person.” (Dictionary.com) The definition of “person” is even simpler – “human being.” (Dictionary.com)
As we reported in an earlier post about paternal DNA testing, unborn children can be proven to be “human” during the first trimester of a mother’s pregnancy. DNA testing was not available when the Supreme Court heard arguments in Roe v. Wade in 1973, but it is available now and has been for many years. So, why hasn’t the Supreme Court reconsidered its initial ruling based on evidence that the personhood of an unborn child within the first trimester has been proven scientifically?
Good question, but not one the national press/media is asking. Since it is the job of the press/media to cover news factually and fairly, why weren’t news managers and reporters covering the aspect of personhood during the Gosnell trial in 2013? It seemed like a “natural angle” to the story. (Read more about the news media’s coverage of the Gosnell Trial here.)
I think the answer is obvious – bias on the part of the press. What else can it be? The scientific/medical facts were laid out for all to see. An unbiased press would report the facts and follow them through to the point of asking the tough questions news managers, reporters and producers are supposed to do every day with every story. It’s not hard to do. In fact, asking tough questions is one of the best parts of being a journalist. Some of my best memories of being a reporter were turning on the camera and asking tough questions of powerful people. Isn’t that what reporters do? or should do?
Why is the press biased about abortion? Some members of the news media have strong, personal beliefs about the right of mothers to choose what happens to their body and they do not want that choice taken away from them. Others have had their journalistic judgment clouded by philosophical arguments that do not belong in the rational, reason-oriented, fact-finding atmosphere of a working newsroom (or what it should be).
Just the Facts
“Just the facts” has always been a good philosophy of news gathering and reporting and it was needed in the press and news media coverage of the Gosnell murder trial. It’s needed now as the issue of abortion has taken center stage in national reporting again.
Fact: Medical science has advanced tremendously since the Supreme Court’s majority ruling in 1973.
Fact: DNA paternal testing proves that the unborn are human persons from the early part of the first trimester of pregnancy.
Fact: The “zygote” (fertilized egg cell that results from the union of a female gamete (egg, or ovum) with a male gamete (sperm) – Britannica.com) is composed of human DNA. It contains genes from two human parents and carries two sets of chromosomes. The zygote is a new human person, not a part of another human person. It is unique.
Fact: “A zygote is the beginning of a new human being. Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm … unites with a female gamete or oocyte … to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” (Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. pp. 16, 2.)
Fact: “Fertilization is the process by which male and female haploid gametes (sperm and egg) unite to produce a genetically distinct individual.” (Signorelli et al., Kinases, phosphatases and proteases during sperm capacitation, CELL TISSUE RES. 349(3):765 (Mar. 20, 2012)
Fact: “Fertilization … the process of union of two gametes whereby the somatic chromosome number is restored and the development of a new individual is initiated.” (Medline Plus Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary, 2013)
Fact: “In that fraction of a second when the chromosomes form pairs, the sex of the new child will be determined, hereditary characteristics received from each parent will be set, and a new life will have begun.” (Kaluger, G., and Kaluger, M., Human Development: The Span of Life, page 28-29, The C.V. Mosby Co., St. Louis, 1974**)
** Published the year after the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade.
Fact: “It should always be remembered that many organs are still not completely developed by full-term and birth should be regarded only as an incident in the whole developmental process.” (F Beck Human Embryology, Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1985 page vi)
Fact: “Although it is customary to divide human development into prenatal and postnatal periods, it is important to realize that birth is merely a dramatic event during development resulting in a change in environment.” (The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology fifth edition, Moore and Persaud, 1993, Saunders Company, page 1)
Fact: “The predominance of human biological research confirms that human life begins at conception—fertilization. At fertilization, the human being emerges as a whole, genetically distinct, individuated zygotic living human organism, a member of the species Homo sapiens, needing only the proper environment in order to grow and develop. The difference between the individual in its adult stage and in its zygotic stage is one of form, not nature. This statement focuses on the scientific evidence of when an individual human life begins.” (When Human Life Begins, American College of Pediatricians, 2017)
Fact: The DNA of the zygote has its own design features that will guide all future development.
Fact: The U.S. Constitution and Amendments protect the rights of human persons.
Fact: Based on science and legal precedent, the U.S. Constitution and Amendments should then protect the right of unborn human persons.
Fact: The earliest human embryo is alive and meets all biological criteria for life as a human being (e.g. metabolism, growth, stimuli reaction, reproduction).
Fact: Fetal surgery is a medical speciality designed to save the life of the unborn child. The same types of surgeries are performed on babies after birth. Doctors are performing human surgeries whether the child is in or out of the womb.
“As medical techniques have become increasingly sophisticated, Malloy said, she has felt this tension acutely: A handful of medical centers in major cities can now perform surgeries on genetically abnormal fetuses while they’re still in the womb. Many are the same age as the small number of fetuses aborted in the second or third trimesters of a mother’s pregnancy. “The more I advanced in my field of neonatology, the more it just became the logical choice to recognize the developing fetus for what it is: a fetus, instead of some sort of sub-human form,” Malloy said. “It just became so obvious that these were just developing humans.” The Atlantic.com, Science is Giving the Pro-Life Movement a Boost (Colleen Malloy, a neonatologist and faculty member at Northwestern University)
Question from the Facts
Should Roe v. Wade stand as “settled law” in light of the new scientific evidence that has surfaced in the last 45 years? Should the Supreme Court send the issue back to the states where the people can make an informed decision based on the evidence?
If we say we believe what “science” tells us, the answer seems simple. Yes. The people of every state should make an informed decision now that science has told us so much more than was known in 1973.
A Secular Case Against Abortion – Pro-Life Humanists (many atheists are pro-life because of the science involved)
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