By Dave Andrusko
The more pro-lifers are victorious—see the Dobbs decision overturning Roe—the more pro-abortionists are intent on revisiting topics that are already long since settled.
So we get stories from the reliable pro-abortion National Public Radio with the headline “When does life begin? As state laws define it, science, politics and religion clash.”
Sarah Varney uses a familiar tactic. Argue that since the definition of death is now (“more or less”) settled, then we ask “when exactly does human life begin? At conception, the hint of a heartbeat, a first breath, the ability to survive outside the womb with the help of the latest technology?”
Notice how Varney repackages the question. For the moment skip the last nine words:
Unlike the debate over death, which delved into exquisite medical and scientific detail, the legislative scramble to determine when life’s building blocks reach a threshold that warrants government protection as human life has generally ignored the input of mainstream medical professionals.
Medical professionals and bioethicists caution that both the beginning and end of life are complicated biological processes that are not defined by a single identifiable moment — and are ill suited to the political arena.
“Unfortunately, biological occurrences are not events, they are processes,” said David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.
Moreover, asking doctors “What is life?” or “What is death?” may miss the point, said Magnus: “Medicine can answer the question ‘When does a biological organism cease to exist?’ But they can’t answer the question ‘When does a person begin or end?’ because those are metaphysical issues.”
During the oral arguments over Dobbs, “That’s a religious view, isn’t it?” asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She was referring to the pro-life view. The implication was probably that, because it’s religious, this view shouldn’t be reflected in our law, Paul Stark observed.
Yet the pro-life position is about justice, not faith or dogma. Opposition to killing unborn humans is no more inherently “religious” than opposition to killing teenagers. Such opposition is supported by empirical science, which shows that embryos and fetuses are living members of our species, and by the principle that all human beings have human rights.
Secular pro-life comes to the same conclusion. “The human zygote is the first developmental stage in a human life cycle,” Monica Snyder.
In the abortion debate, people treat this statement as if it were a belief, rather than a fact. They seem to assume the demarcation of the zygote as a human’s beginning is just one belief of many, brought up only to support an anti-abortion agenda.
But pro-lifers didn’t invent the idea that the zygote is the start; we’re merely acknowledging that already existing reality. And I notice that whenever biology comes up outside of the abortion debate, science communicators readily acknowledge this basic biological fact too.
Varney smuggles in the question of personhood, which is a hugely important but separate issue. And she takes some shots at states whose laws she doesn’t approve of:
“[R]ed states across much of the South and portions of the Midwest are adopting language drafted by elected officials that is informed by conservative Christian doctrine, often with little scientific underpinning.
Varney to the contrary notwithstanding, the case for when the life of an individual human being begin is settled.
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