By Christopher Conlon
I had a friendly argument about abortion recently with a candidate who stopped by my home while campaigning. We agreed that it’s wrong to directly kill an innocent human being, but they argued that abortion can be an individual’s right because it’s not a human being that’s being killed. We came to an impasse when we disagreed about the biological reality of when human beings begin to exist. They denied that a living, whole, human organism comes into existence at conception.
Science is conspicuously absent from the rhetoric of most abortion rights advocates. This is likely because it’s a basic biological fact that at conception two body parts (sperm and egg) combine to form a new living, whole, human organism – not another body part; and though consensus doesn’t make truth, the academic biological literature is unanimous on this. The candidate didn’t only deny this biological fact, but also denied there’s a scientific consensus on it. A litany of academic texts on embryology could be cited, but the point is concisely illustrated by a recent survey of over 5,577 academic biologists from 1,058 academic institutions – 95% affirmed that human life begins at conception (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3211703). Even Planned Parenthood agreed to this fact. In Planned Parenthood v. Rounds (2008), the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals found that requiring abortionists to say that the fetus is a “living, separate, whole human being” does not force an abortionist to espouse an unconstitutional religious viewpoint. The Court ruled that this statement was a biological fact that even the affidavit submitted by Planned Parenthood accepted. The ruling declared:
“The State’s evidence suggests that the biological sense in which the embryo or fetus is whole, separate, unique and living should be clear in context to a physician…. Planned Parenthood submitted no evidence to oppose that conclusion. Indeed, Dr. Wolpe’s affidavit, submitted by Planned Parenthood, states that ‘to describe an embryo or fetus scientifically and factually, one would say that a living embryo or fetus in utero is a developing organism of the species Homo Sapiens which may become a self-sustaining member of the species if no organic or environmental incident interrupts its gestation.’”
It’s remarkable that political candidates deny what their own sponsor, Planned Parenthood, conceded was scientifically and factually true. This is not some tenet of religious belief, but a biological fact even atheists recognize. Peter Singer, atheist and pro-choice bioethics professor at Princeton University, puts it in simple terms:
“It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens.’ Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being; and the same is true of the most profoundly and irreparably intellectually disabled human being, even of an infant who is born anencephalic –literally, without a brain.” (Practical Ethics, 2nd ed)
Likewise, the late renowned liberal author, journalist, and vehemently anti-religious atheist, Christopher Hitchens, remarked:
“That the most partially formed human embryo is both human and alive has now been confirmed, in an especially vivid sense… The original embryonic “blastocyst” may be a clump of 64 to 200 cells that is only five days old. But all of us began our important careers in that form, and every needful encoding for life is already present in the apparently inchoate. We are the first generation to have to confront this as a certain knowledge.” (Vanity Fair, February, 2003)
“Look, once you allow that the occupant of the womb is even potentially a life, it cuts athwart any glib invocation of ‘the woman’s right to choose.’ If the unborn is a candidate member of the next generation, it means that it is society’s responsibility.” (The Crisis magazine, January, 1988)
Hopefully, we all come to terms with this biological reality. We might then see through the fog of euphemism that obscures what a right to abortion really means – the right to directly kill an innocent human being.