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I began my Christmas Day by watching the “Messengers” episode of The Chosen in which the baby Jesus is born. It was touching to contemplate the physical reality of his birth and the courage and love of his mother, a mother that to the world was a seemingly unworthy mother out of wedlock. The Son of God was born in an unsanitary manger, small, weak, and vulnerable. His life was preserved, though there were those who would have slain him even as an infant.
I could not help but ponder the fate of other vulnerable infants in our day in a nation where tens of million have suffered the brutality of abortion.
If we are going to sincerely follow the science as we deal with the medical and social issues of our days, let’s follow the science of life. What we have learned in the past few decades about the miracle of life has expanded our horizons in many ways, revealing the miraculous brilliance and majesty hidden in our cells and our genes, steadily adding to the wonder of reproduction. Science today makes it abundantly clear that an unborn child is a unique human. It is not merely a clump of cells that is part of the mother’s body, but a unique human with its own brain, its own circulatory system, and of course its own unique DNA. It is a separate body, vulnerable but alive, sheltered in the body of the mother. That tiny infant is more than amazing — it is miraculous, a divine gift. Based on the latest science, we now know much more about what happens in the life of this delicate human after conception. Here’s a three-minute scientific visualization, “Meet Baby Olivia” from LiveAction.org, that could help save the lives of millions if more of us were to grasp and follow this science:
How have we reached a state where our law discounts the value of a human life before birth and allows millions of the unborn to be killed?
Many liberal scholars and lawyers admit that the law behind Roe v. Wade was abysmal. (For further details, see “The pervading dishonesty of Roe v. Wade” by Timothy P. Carney, Washington Examiner, Jan. 23, 2012.) But the bad science used to deny the humanity of the victims of abortion and to mask the brutality of abortion also needs more attention.
Roe v. Wade relied upon what was already bad science in 1973. Part of that bad science was the claim that the unborn child could not feel pain during the brutal abortion procedure. Doctors who care for unborn and premature children are aware of the obvious fact that they feel pain and are extremely sensitive. Few parents would choose abortion of they understood that they had been deliberately lied to by abortion advocates claiming that the baby does not feel pain. Few could endure the thought of the painful brutality of today’s abortion procedures that occur in the second or third trimesters if they knew the basics of the science about the unborn child. We must learn from science to help our withering civilization become more humane.
Part of the bad science behind Roe v. Wade involved claims about when the fetus can become viable outside the womb. As science has progressed, the ability to save the life of a premature infant has far exceeded what was thought possible in 1973. In 1973, it was generally believed that a fetus born before 28 weeks could not survive. Today those born at 28 weeks routinely survive. A fetus weighing only 1 pound or less can live outside the womb and be given hope for a happy and productive life. But viability outside the womb may not be a reasonable criterion to decide whether the unborn child has any rights. The humanity of the living fetus needs to be considered, not just its dependence on others.
Part of the bad science behind Roe v. Wade was the claim that there was no scientific consensus on when life began. Other questionable aspects of the evidence presented to justify the decision include completely fraudulent data, such as the numbers presented to make it seem like thousands of women were dying from illegal abortion, that legal abortion would save women’s lives, and, of course, that the fetus is not yet a human being. See “Exposing the six lies of Roe v. Wade that led to legal abortion” by Nancy Flanders.
Here are the thoughts of a doctor who is focused on the care of the unborn, Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, author of “The Obsolete Science Behind Roe v. Wade” for the Wall Street Journal, Oct. 28, 2021:
As a diagnostic radiologist—whose youngest patients are fetuses, who are very much alive—I submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization urging the justices to rethink Roe, a case premised on a claim about science. I was joined by two other female physicians, a neonatologist and an obstetrician, who also value their youngest patients, believing that whether inside their mothers or born, premature or full-term, they are worthy of respect and protection.
Ultrasound technology was in its infancy in the 1970s, when there was much more uncertainty about life before birth. The first ultrasound machines, introduced in 1958, were enormous, and the images were rudimentary. It was only in the later 1970s that fetal ultrasound became widely available, with increasingly detailed images of recognizably human babies. Black-and-white ultrasound images are now found on refrigerators of expectant parents across America. New three-dimensional images have put a human face on the person once dehumanized as a mere clump of cells.
Perfectly apparent now, to the justices sitting on today’s court as well as the public, are the liveliness and humanity of babies at 15 weeks of gestation—the age at which Mississippi proposes to protect them from elective termination.
Nestled within their mothers, these fetuses on average are 6.4 inches long and weigh 4.1 ounces. They have the proportions of a newborn—seemingly all head and rounded belly. The major organs are formed and functioning, and although the child receives nutrients and oxygen through the mother’s umbilical cord, the fetal digestive, urinary and respiratory systems are practicing for life outside the womb. The sex of the child is easy to discern by this point. The baby swallows and even breathes, filling the lungs with amniotic fluid and expelling it. The heart is fully formed, its four chambers working hard, with the delicate valves opening and closing.
A healthy baby at 15 weeks is an active baby. Unless the child is asleep, kicking and arm-waving are commonly seen during ultrasound evaluations. The fetal spine is a marvel of intricacy, and it is most often gently curved as the fetus rests against the mother’s uterine wall. Often, I watch as babies plant their feet against the uterine wall and stretch vigorously. Sometimes a delicate hand—with all five fingers—approaches the face and appears to scratch an itch. Fingernails aren’t visible, but they are present. We can see how the bones of the leg meet the tiny ankles and the many-boned feet.
At 15 weeks, the brain’s frontal lobes, ventricles, and thalamus fill the oval-shaped skull. The baby’s profile is endearing in its petite perfection: gently sloping nose, distinct upper and lower lips, eyes that open and close. With the advent of 3D ultrasound, we can now see the fetal face in all its detail.
These are the patients I encounter daily in my work as a radiologist. Clearly human, clearly alive, no longer mysteriously hidden from the eyes and knowledge of man, they ask us to consider them not disposable nonhumans but valuable members of our human family.
Yes, our understanding was different in 1973. But in Roe’s own terms, we have arrived at a much different “point in the development of man’s knowledge” about life in utero. The Supreme Court’s judgement should reflect that advancement and put an end to the casual cruelty of unfettered abortion.
Dr. Christie has joined two other woman doctors in filing a brief to the Supreme Court as they consider a direct challenge to Roe v Wade, where “science” was used to deny protection to the fetus before viability. Christie and others are asking the Supreme Court to strike down Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, thereby allowing Mississippi to ban elective abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.
Christie also addresses the issue of fetal pain in “The Pro-Abortion Case Is Based on Bad Science” for National Review, Sept. 21, 20201:
We want the justices to know that there have been vast changes in our fields in the decades since Roe. We physicians know so much more about and can do so much more for the unborn babies in our care than we could in 1973. The patient-doctor relationship with our fetal patients has grown and grown, reflecting scientific advances in the areas of fetal therapeutics, fetal imaging, and our understanding of fetal pain. Our growing knowledge of fetal pain, especially, demands the end of Roe, which enshrines the nationwide legality of the breathtaking brutality of second- and third-trimester elective abortion. In short, if Roe is based on science, then let it stand or fall today on modern science.
At the time of Roe, the scientific consensus held that for a fetus to feel pain, her brain cortex had to be developed and connected to peripheral nerves through the spine, and that these pathways were established around 24 weeks’ gestation. Therefore, second-trimester abortion (dilatation and extraction), in which the fetus is dismembered alive with forceps, could not cause the baby suffering. Ethical and moral considerations that would be naturally awakened at the thought of causing even any animal pain when being “put down” could be set aside in the case of the elective termination of a young human. That was then. Now, however, the science presents a drastically different picture, demanding a new judicial response from a compassionate country.
In the Journal of Medical Ethics last year, Doctors Stuart Derbyshire and John Bockmann wrote, “Current neuroscientific evidence supports the possibility of fetal pain before the ‘consensus’ cutoff of 24 weeks.” In fact, Derbyshire and Bockmann conclude that they may experience pain as early as twelve weeks.
That’s the science from the journals. Clinicians, however, have not waited for the research scientists to reach a consensus on neural pathways and cortical activity in regard to fetal pain. Neonatologists treating premature babies born at 23, 22, or even 21 weeks (something unthought of in 1973 when viability was much later) watch their little patients react with distress to painful stimuli, and they protect them with analgesia and anesthesia just as they do their full-term patients.
Other clinicians who know that babies before the 24th week of gestation feel pain are fetal surgeons. The first successful fetal surgery occurred in 1982, and the field has since exploded. Removing a living unborn child from the womb, operating on him or her, and returning the baby to finish growing inside the mother was also unthought of in 1973. Today during a fetal surgery, a specialist in fetal anesthesia is invariably present to administer a general anesthetic to the baby, as well as a paralytic agent and an opioid. The aim? Preventing unnecessary and gruesome suffering for the fetal patient.
A lot has changed since Roe put America in the same class with North Korea and China by legalizing second- and third-trimester elective abortion. The undeniable and ever-more plainly visible humanity of the unborn child has since increased our sensitivity to these vulnerable persons’ moral claims on our compassion and respect. Advances in fetal science have made plain just how barbaric and unethical their terminations are. For us as doctors, who establish warm and urgent ties with our fetal patients, who advocate for them, care for them, pray for them, it is crystal clear that Roe must pass away and a more humane America be born.
For members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considering the issue of abortion, I’d like to recommend the thoughtful and courageous views expressed by Dr. Terryl Givens, a profound thinker and scholar who has helped many of us better appreciate our religion and our scriptures. In “A Latter-day Saint Defense of the Unborn” written for Public Square, Oct. 19, 2020, he begins with a well-reasoned call for us to approach the issue with an open mind, and an open heart, as he shares perspectives that might help us reason more effectively with others:
The intellect disconnected from the heart is just an organ for winning arguments. And few arguments of our day are as disconnected from both the heart and the facts as those disputes involving “reproductive rights.” Most partisans of the pro-life and pro-choice positions are immovable in their entrenchment. I am pro-life. I taught in a private liberal arts college for three decades, where, as is typical in higher education, political views are as diverse as in the North Korean parliament. In numerous conversations with colleagues over the years, I was consistently dismayed by the general lack of thoughtful rationales for their embrace of the pro-choice position. Frequently, I found they were uninformed, unreflective, but occasionally—very occasionally—they were surprisingly open to reconsideration upon a more honest evaluation of the facts and premises behind their positions. In the hope that some of my fellow pro-choice Saints and other readers may similarly be open to a deeper engagement with this issue, I offer the following information and discussion.
Givens deals with a number of the issues raised above, but I’d like to especially call attention to his thoughts on the fundamental issue of life that needs to be considered, regardless of our political leanings:
Can’t I be personally pro-life but politically pro-choice?
If abortion is wrong, it is wrong because it involves the intentional destruction of another human being. This is really the heart of the matter. You must ask yourself, why are you personally opposed to abortion? I am not personally opposed to abortion because of religious commitment or precept, because of some abstract principle of “the sanctity of life.” I am personally opposed because my heart and mind, my basic core humanity revolts at the thought of a living sensate human being undergoing vivisection in the womb, being vacuum evacuated, subjected to a salt bath, or, in the “late-term” procedure, having its skull pierced and brain vacuumed out. (I have spared the reader the clinical descriptions of those procedures, although I think those who support abortion rights while willfully avoiding direct confrontation with the specifics of what they countenance are in an indefensible position). According to the Mayo Clinic, an infant in the womb has a beating heart by 5-6 weeks of pregnancy. The first electrical brain activity also appears at this point. Well over two-thirds of abortions are performed at that stage or later. And as we saw above, at a very early, undefined moment in the child’s development, a nervous system responds to the horror of such inflicted suffering. There is no more ethical or logical sense in being “personally opposed, but pro-choice” than in being personally opposed to sex trafficking, slavery, or child abuse, “but” pro-choice regarding the adult’s prerogatives in those cases. Abortion is not like heavy drinking or pornography or blaspheming, where one deplores the action but accords another the right to act immorally. Abortion is of that class of wrongs that entails the willful infliction of pain or killing on another human being.
Ultimately, the pro-life position is not a commitment predicated on sectarian values or God’s precepts. It is the fruit of a more universal commitment to protect the most vulnerable and voiceless. It is a commitment to the most fundamental obligation we have as part of the human family: to defend the defenseless.
Here, science helps us understand the fundamental issue more clearly than ever: what was once (and still often is) called just an inanimate “clump of cells” is known to be much more. It is much more lively and human — and beautiful — than those who profit from abortion would ever want their customers to know. When we understand the physical reality of the fetus, an unborn child, and the mechanics and brutality of abortion, it will be easier for us to frame the ethical questions properly and recognize that something very tragic and inhumane is being sold to us at a terrible price. Humane alternatives are needed. Compassion for the weakest and most vulnerable among us is needed. May our hearts and minds join in praying that this nation might be a safer place for the unborn, a less violent and brutal place that respects and treasures life. May those in power have the courage to resist the political and financial pressures to sustain the abortion industry and deny the humanity of the unborn. May those asked to judge on this matter judge widely, and listen to their hearts and their minds, and pay attention to sound science this time.