There is a common misconception in our society that the pro-life movement is anti-science. People on both sides hold fast to the idea that opposition to abortion stems only from religious beliefs, which in turn leads to the frequently touted argument that us ideologues should stop forcing our beliefs down the throats of the non-religious masses. Many sum it all up with the concise "keep your rosaries off my ovaries." Now, this slogan makes a pretty nifty bumper sticker, but beyond that, it really holds no water. I don’t want my rosary near anyone’s ovaries, thank you very much. I want science, and science consistently affirms the pro-life worldview. It is also worth mentioning that in our country we have millions of non-religious pro-lifers who oppose abortion just as vehemently as those who ascribe to a faith tradition.
And yet, you cannot delve at all into the abortion debate without abortion supporters claiming the mantle of scientific superiority. They declare that the fetus is just a clump of cells, or a mass of protoplasm, as if being such precludes humanity. But we are all clumps of cells; some of us just have more cells than others, and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous.
If we really want to know when a living human being becomes a living human being, we have to look at basic biology. Human development begins at fertilization, when a male sperm and a female oocyte combine to form a zygote. This isn’t a religious dogma; this is a scientific fact that you can find in any embryology textbook. From the beginning, a zygote is alive, because it has the capacity to grow, metabolize nutrients, and respond to stimuli, all of which are the scientific determinants of life. Furthermore, the zygote is an independent organism, with a unique genetic code, not merely a part of the mother. And finally, since everything reproduces its own kind, and the zygote is the product of human sperm and a human egg, it follows that the zygote itself is human, i.e. a member of the species homo sapiens.
In summary, at fertilization there exists a living, unique, human organism. To say that an unborn child is not human because it is a fetus makes about as much sense as saying a 2 year-old is not a human because it is a toddler. All we are referring to here are different stages in human development. Whether or not the human in question deserves protection under the law is a different problem entirely, but one that should be based in philosophical reasoning, not scientific disputes.
The philosophical side is a bit trickier, though. If the fetus is not a living human, what objection can exist to its removal? If the fetus is a living human, however, then you have to entertain the idea that some humans can be deprived of life against their will, and most rational people are understandably less comfortable with such lines of thinking. This is why so many abortion providers are hesitant to provide accurate information about prenatal development. A recent example of this is the website EarlyAbortionOptions.com, which caters to women early in their pregnancy. In its “what does the tissue look like” section, it depicts a 9 week-old fetus as a formless blob. An actual 9 week-old fetus, however, has already started forming eyes, ears, a nose, arms, and legs. The heart is beating, and several organs have started working. There are measurable brainwaves. The fetus can sigh, stretch, and even hiccup. Hardly a blob if you ask me.
The bottom line is this: science clearly shows that birth does not make us living, unique, human organisms. That happens at fertilization, and you do not have to be religious to recognize such a fact. All you have to do is read an embryology textbook.
By Jessica Skansi
Jessica is a 2017 Summer Intern at The Family Foundation and a student at Texas A&M University where she majors in Genetics, with a minor in Biology.