Science Has Changed Since Roe v. Wade, Now Abortion Laws Must Change
The abortion debate isn’t settled, but the underlying science certainly is.
Abortion is perhaps the single most contentious topic in national discourse. Consider any judicial confirmation hearing from the past few years — the one inflammatory constant is abortion. Pro-choice politicians fear the overturning of Roe v. Wade and will stop at nothing to dramatically draw this out during the process of confirmation. There’s something strangely anachronistic about the debate: Roe v. Wade while the “law of the land” is outdated when considering the latest advances in science and modern prenatal medicine and technology.
In 2005, columnist Richard Cohen argued, “If a Supreme Court ruling is going to affect so many people, then it ought to rest on perfectly clear logic and up-to-date science. Roe, with its reliance on trimester and viability, has a musty feel to it.” The mustiness identified by Cohen has only intensified in the 14 years since he wrote this.
Today I will join over a hundred thousand Americans in Washington to March for Life. Our theme is “Unique from Day One: Pro-Life is Pro-Science.” We march to build a culture of life, to end abortion and in protest of the court’s deeply flawed decision and its devastating effect on children and families across the country.
Overnight, Roe v. Wade allowed elective abortion throughout all nine months of a woman’s pregnancy, making the United States one of only seven countries allowing late-term abortions, alongside China and North Korea. At the time of the decision, the “right” to an abortion was balanced against the state’s interest in regulating abortion, but states could only regulate the practice after viability, the age at which a premature infant can survive outside the womb. At that time (1973) viability was estimated to be between 24 and 28 weeks gestation.
It should come as no surprise that science has made great strides in the nearly half-century since abortion was legalized in America. The medical community has developed a far greater understanding of the uniqueness of human life from Day One, what lifesaving in-utero procedures are possible, and at what point during his or her development a premature baby can survive outside the mother’s womb.
Medical developments reveal when life starts
Advancements in the medical profession, particularly ultrasonography, reveal earlier and earlier the humanity of the child and in doing so, help people to see clearly that a person’s life starts when male and female chromosomes come together. Standard human embryology textbooks such as “The Developing Human Being” teach that “human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell — a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” Unborn children possess from the beginning the DNA that informs a person’s unique characteristics.
Not only do scientists better understand the early stages of a person’s development in the womb, more and more they are able to perform lifesaving in-utero surgeries on babies who show signs of abnormal development. A team of doctors in Cleveland recently performed heart surgery on an unborn baby during the second trimester who had a rare and often fatal heart defect. That baby is now thriving.
The baby’s mother, Heather Catanese, told People magazine, “We went from discussions about what things did we want to do with him in whatever short amount of time we may be able to spend with him to talking with the doctors about what sports he may or may not be able to play in high school.”
Scientific and medical advances mean that diagnoses once a death knell for unborn children are no longer so.
Babies born before ‘viability’ are likely to live
And babies born before 24 weeks are more likely than ever to survive thanks to modern medicine. Consider the news in 2017 of a baby girl born at just over 21 weeks who beat the odds and is “thriving,” according to CNN.
“She may be the most premature survivor known to date,” reads an American Academy of Pediatrics report. “Over time, advances in neonatal care have led to a gradual lowering in the gestational limits of survivability.”
While people of faith are often criticized for defending the unborn on purely religious grounds, science in fact reinforces the notion that the unborn, from the moment they are conceived in their mother’s womb, are unique, unrepeatable human persons deserving of our protection.
While Roe argues that the right to privacy encompasses “a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy,” what we have learned from scientific discoveries and advancements in the past 46 years is that abortion is not merely a decision between a woman and her doctor. There is another, who is most impacted by such a decision.
Science has left Roe behind, but some Americans are still beholden to the “musty” legal decision. As we march today to end abortion, let’s hope and work for hearts and minds to be changed; for public policy grounded in the most up-to-date science and technology; and for laws that protect the inherent dignity of the human person.