Who Skipped Science Class?

by Dr. Graham Walker
September 6, 2012

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On Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, the president of NARAL-Pro Choice America, Nancy Keenan, brought down the house with her full-throated defense of abortion.  Abortion, she maintains, should be legal at any time for any reason; moreover, she demands that taxpayers pay for abortions and holds that private and religious employers should be required to provide abortifacients (and birth control) at their own expense, even when to do so violates their consciences.  She was proud, she said, that her party and its nominee support this approach.

Keenan then alluded to that biologically inaccurate remark from a GOP candidate in Missouri last month.  To thunderous applause, she bellowed, “Rape is rape!”  On Wednesday night at the Convention, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, upheld the same position and drove home the same point.  In so doing, they were merely echoing the standard-bearer of their party, President Barack Obama, who told a group of Democratic donors in New York two weeks ago that the Missouri candidate "somehow missed science class."

So is opposition to abortion “unscientific”?  Does science support unlimited access to abortion?  A thoughtful look at either proposition begs the question: Who actually skipped science class?

It’s worth noting that the dispute over abortion has become more intense, not less, since the Roe v. Wade decision nationalized the issue in 1973.  The growing pro-choice intensity of the Democratic Party was on full display Tuesday night, following close on the heels of the pro-life silence at the other convention, which many suspect was due to strategic self-restraint.

Clearly, the debate has intensified in tandem with the progress of science.  With advances in genetics and imaging technology, we are confronted now as never before with the physical facts regarding pre-birth human existence.

The big question has always been:  Is the pre-born entity an individual human life from the moment of conception, or not?

We could ask, “Is it living matter or non-living matter?”  It is undeniably living matter.  We could ask, “What species of living matter is it -- homo sapiens, or some other species?”  It is undeniably human.  We could ask, “Does its DNA mark it as a component part of its mother’s body, or does it have a unique DNA distinct from the DNA of the cells in the mother’s body and from the DNA of every other individual human being?”  Obviously the latter.

In fact, science has revealed the seamless physical continuum of this individual’s development from the moment of its conception forward.  There is no point in the process where, judging by the physical evidence, it becomes something fundamentally different from what it was earlier in the process.

For example, there is no empirical evidence that this individual fundamentally changes from one thing to another during the minutes between when its head enters the birth canal and when its feet finally emerge from the birth canal.  This undeniable physical reality explains why such a strong majority of Americans think that partial-birth abortion should not be legal.

Of course, from the point of view of physical evidence, the continuum extends further backward in time.  It’s the same being at the moment it approaches the birth canal as it was a few hours before that.  And it’s the same being a few hours or days before that.  There’s no empirically demonstrable intermediate point at which it somehow becomes a human life. It’s always an individual human life, from its first moment.  This is an awkward and unwelcome fact to many.

I suppose you can use your imagination and stipulate that at some point after conception, or as late as birth, some kind of mystical substance floats into the child and then it becomes an individual human life.  But there’s no physical evidence for that.  (If someone claims the Bible teaches such a thing, it proves they’ve never read the Bible.)  The physical evidence demonstrates an unbroken physical continuum from the moment of conception.

Pro-choicers flinch at this physical evidence and avert their eyes from the science.  So does the general public, much of the time.

Is there any human being, not convicted of a crime, to whom the law has no obligation?  Whose life falls, in principle, outside the protection of the law?  Even pro-lifers and Republicans often flinch from these logical questions.  Perhaps it can help pro-lifers to remember that the law can be complex; it can take into account the fact that many people are honestly unaware of the physical facts, that some people can honestly but mistakenly think that the unborn child, especially in early pregnancy, is not yet a human being.  The law can under some circumstances extenuate even what it formally condemns.  Nevertheless, how can the protection of law be inapplicable to anyone who is demonstrably, empirically, a member of the human race?

The scientific evidence all points in one direction.  It points so clearly in that direction that people like Nancy Keenan and Barack Obama find themselves driven to ever shriller invective in order to block it out.

Dr. Graham Walker in 1988 received the Edward S. Corwin Award from the American Political Science Association for the best dissertation in the nation in the field of public law. His first book, The Ethics of F.A. Hayek, was published in 1986. His second book, Moral Foundations of Constitutional Thought, was published in 1990. He has served as PHC's President since 2006. Read full bio.


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