Last week, the annual March for Life was held in Washington D.C. It is estimated nearly 650,000 people were in attendance all marching for the unborn who are unable to speak for themselves. The theme of this year’s March was “Pro-Life is Pro-Science.” Of course, some abortion advocates took exception.
Most notably, Dr. Sarah Horvath, a family planning policy fellow with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) who was interviewed by the Washington Post[i] regarding the theme of this year’s March.
The Post article begins by referencing a study released by the Charlotte Lozier Institute authored by Dr. Maureen Condic.[ii] Dr. Condic’s study concludes that the one-cell stage embryo (zygote) is indeed, a living organism (as opposed to being merely a cell along the lines of a skin cell) and is a complete living human individual. Yet, Dr. Horvath attempts to refute Dr. Condic’s findings. Dr. Horvath asserts, “Science isn’t really designed to answer questions about the exact beginning of life or the moral assignations of these sorts of things. Science is really more designed to teach us how things work, and then we can allow people to make their own decisions about what that means for them.”[iii] Herein lies the problem. If science is able to determine if something is alive, then surely it can ascertain when life begins.
A simple Google search finds a definition of life as:[iv]
1) the condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death; and,
2) the existence of an individual human being or animal.
Dr. Condic’s study recognizing a zygote as a human individual certainly fulfills those elements within the above-stated definitions. The zygote can grow, it can metabolize, it functions as an organism, and it is an individual member of the species homo sapiens. It will not develop into a cucumber or a dolphin or anything else for that matter. The zygote functions as an individual human being at that stage of human development.
It seems Dr. Horvath would rather avoid committing to the hard science and delve into the realm of philosophical relativism which is not biology. It is this sort of philosophy which legalized abortion in the first place. The Roe v. Wade majority opinion states something eerily similar, “It should be sufficient to note briefly the wide divergence of thinking on this most sensitive and difficult question.”[v] The majority simply refused to do the hard work and logically look at the scientific and legal facts that were quite evident even 46 years ago.
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The failure to look critically both scientifically and logically at this issue is what gave rise to one of the Culture of Death’s most potent weapons—abortion. As a result, since embryonic life has been cheapened under the law, all sorts of other evils have arisen within society, for example, IVF, where embryonic children created through in vitro fertilization, are treated as mere commodities to be disposed of because they do not meet certain genetic criteria of either their intended parents or their creators in the laboratory. When we deviate from the fact that human life begins at conception, we open ourselves up to arbitrary determinations, which cause major problems.
However, what if science, hypothetically, was not actually able to determine when life begins? Would the so-called right to abortion be permissible? The answer would be an unequivocal no. Our moral duty would be to apply what is called the principle of the safer course. For example, if a hunter shoots into a rustling bush without seeing what is in the bush and kills another hunter, he could still be charged with a crime. Why? Because he did not take reasonable steps to ensure that it was not a person. The hunter should have erred on the side of caution. In essence, he should have practiced prudence and assumed it could have been a person there since he could not see otherwise. This principle would apply in this situation as well. If someone is unable to determine if the zygote is a human life, then one should apply prudence and assume that it very well could be a living person. Otherwise, the alternative is that you could be killing a human person. The Supreme Court of the United States failed to do this when it came to its decision in Roe. They simply ignored the principle that had been a part of our moral and legal fabric for centuries.
The Washington Post article raised a second argument; “what should women be allowed to do about an unwanted pregnancy.” Consider the following statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics opposing parental involvement laws in the article, “Timely access to medical care is especially important for pregnant teenagers because of the significant medical, personal, and social consequences of adolescent childbearing. Early childbearing can lead to a range of negative outcomes for the adolescent mother and her child or children, including lower rates of school completion, higher rates of single motherhood, higher rates of preterm birth and low birth weight, increased rates of incarceration among male children, and increased rates of teen motherhood among female children born to adolescent mothers.”[vi] Here, the Academy completely steps away from the science of pediatrics into making moral judgments about parental duties and the value of human life. On one hand, people like Dr. Horvath insist that science cannot determine when life begins because it is fundamentally a moral question, that all science can do is teach us how things work so people can decide for themselves; but then the medical community will turn around and have no problem making moral arguments to justify promoting abortion. It is clear that they are stepping away from standard medical ethics, which is based in Natural Law, into a form of utilitarianism.
Medical practitioners who advocate abortion abandon standard medical ethics and metaphysics in favor of an ethic and metaphysics that ignore reality. It is evident that the zygote is indeed an individual organism that is a member of the species homo sapiens. It exhibits the traits of life. Furthermore, it is clear that when it comes to abortion, some are willing to ignore standard medical ethics, which stem from the Natural Law and make an exception for abortion. The Natural Law simply does not work that way. Truth cannot contradict itself, this is why science and the Natural Law go hand in hand.
[iv] See https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C2RNVG_enUS567US567&source=hp&ei=245HXNO0H4Go_Qb_iJSQAg&q=Life+definition&btnK=Google+Search&oq=Life+definition&gs_l=psy-ab.3..35i39l2j0l8.1345.3897..4167…0.0..0.152.2082.0j16……0….1..gws-wiz…..0..0i131.kobYoQLaCUM.
[v] Roe v. Wade 110 US 113, 160.
LifeNews Note: Joe Kral has been involved in the pro-life movement since he has been in college. His MA in Theology was completed at the University of St. Thomas where he specialized in bioethics. From 1996-2003 he was the Legislative Director for Texas Right to Life. During that time he was also a lobbyist for the Department of Medical Ethics at National Right to Life. From 2004-2007 he consulted the Texas Catholic Conference on pro-life legislative initiatives. In 2006 he was awarded the “Bishop’s Pro-Life Award for Civic Action” from the Respect Life Ministry in the Diocese of Dallas. He currently is an adjunct professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas. He runs the Society of St. Sebastian, a pro-life public policy group.