Legalized Abortion: 39 Years Later

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued a 7-to-2 decision making abortion legal in the United States. Ever since that travesty of so-called justice, many people have felt uncomfortable about the decision. Even Newsweek as far back as 1988 was asking the right questions:

And — perhaps most troubling of all — if it is possible to save babies at 24 weeks, then how can we justify legal abortions at that point? Has medicine outpaced law? Progress in the nursery is forcing us to confront basic issues. “Science and technology don’t have the power to tell us when life begins,” says Arthur Kaplan of the Center of Biomedical Ethics at the University of Minnesota. “What they do have is the power to give us information and evidence which we must reckon with as we try to draw lines between life and death, fetus and person, mother’s rights and baby’s rights.”1

The medical evidence supports the biblical evidence that the unborn baby is an actual human being and not just a potential human being. “Abortion either involves the taking of human life, or it doesn’t — and the argument that it doesn’t is getting harder and harder to sustain,” said William Raspberry, Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated American public affairs columnist for the Washington Post.2

Why is it getting harder and harder to sustain the argument that abortion is not the taking of a human life? The medical evidence confirms what the Bible has always maintained!

When the Supreme Court voted to strike down all anti-abortion laws, it refused to take into account the wealth of medical evidence that shows that the unborn baby is indeed a human being. Instead, the court found a non-existent constitutional “right to privacy” in the “penumbra,” the shadows, of the Constitution. Justice White wrote the following in his dissent:

I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court’s judgment. The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant women and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes. The upshot is that the people and the legislatures of the 50 States are constitutionally disentitled to weigh the relative importance of the continued existence and development of the fetus, on the one hand, against a spectrum of possible impacts on the woman, on the other hand. As an exercise of raw judicial power, the Court perhaps has authority to do what it does today; but, in my view, its judgment is an improvident and extravagant exercise of the power of judicial review that the Constitution extends to this Court.

When a woman is confronted with newly published medical evidence, she can no longer claim that she has a “right over her own body.” Her unborn baby has a life of his own. As you probably have realized by now, the pro-abortion forces do not want the medical evidence to get out.

In 1971, a 79-page brief, citing evidence that preborn infants are human beings entitled to protection under the 5th and 14th Amendments of the Constitution, was prepared for submission to the U.S. Supreme Court. The brief was signed by more than 200 physicians, 100 of them professors representing 43 medical schools. It was organized and edited by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, a resident in obstetrics and gynecology at the famed Mayo Clinic: “All medical evidence which we have currently leaves no reasonable doubt that the unborn, from conception on, is an autonomous and separate human being.”3 It was ignored.

Consider the following:

  • Within six to twelve hours after conception (fertilization) and the exchange of genetic information, the process of cell division begins. During the first three to four days of life, the developing baby journeys to the mother’s womb where he attaches himself. Genetically, mother and baby are separate individuals from the time of conception.
  • By the time the baby is 18–25 days old, long before the mother is sure or sometimes even aware that she might be pregnant, his heart is already beating the first strokes of the three billion beats it will make in a lifetime. So then, even before a mother is even aware she is pregnant, the baby’s heart is beating. Now, when a medic is trying to determine whether an accident victim is still alive, he feels for a pulse. The beating heart is a sign of life. One way to determine whether an unborn baby is a human being, and not just a blob of tissue, is his heart beat!
  • At 40 days, electrical waves from the baby’s brain can be recorded, indicating brain function. There is movement as well. By eight weeks, the baby feels pain, will grasp, and swims with a natural swimmer’s stroke. He even has finger prints. By the ninth and tenth weeks, the baby sucks his thumb, turns somersaults, jumps, can squint, swallow and move his tongue. By 12 and 13 weeks, the baby recoils from pain and is developing fingernails.
  • In the fourth month, he is eight to ten inches in length. At this point, the baby begins a four week growth spurt so rapid, that if continued, would cause him to weigh 14 tons at birth!
  • In the fifth month, the mother feels the baby’s movements during this time of lengthening and strengthening of the growing child. He can sleep and wake and hiccup. Skin, hair, and nails are growing. Eyebrows and eyelashes begin to appear. Survival outside the womb is possible at this stage.
  • During the sixth month, the baby responds to light and sound. He can hear his mother’s heartbeat and recognize her voice. Researchers have discovered that the baby at this point also leads an active emotional life. What he feels in utero begins to shape attitudes and expectations about himself. The baby can also learn.
  • By the seventh month, the nervous system is much more complex. At this time, there is substantial brain functioning and pain perception and greater control of sensory input. If a child is delivered from the womb at this date, he will shed tears and cry.4

Here’s a line of reasoning that I use with people who have not thought through the abortion issue but who would say that it’s up to the mother to make the decision. I draw a line on a piece of paper that represents nine months. “At what point on this nine-month would you say that it would be wrong to kill this pre-born baby?” Most people have never thought about the question. They are reluctant, so I facilitate the process. “Would it be OK to kill the baby soon as he was born?” (I draw an oval, representing the just born baby, at the right-end of the line.) No one says yes. “How about when the baby is half in and half out of the birth canal?” (I draw an oval so half the oval is bisected by the end portion of the line.)) Again, I get a “no.” “Would it be OK to kill a pre-born baby when the crown of the baby’s head begins to show. (I draw an oval so a portion of the end portion of the nine-month line goes through the oval.) “No” is still the universal answer.

It’s at this point that I hand the pencil over and ask them to mark on the line where it would be morally justifiable to kill the pre-born baby. Most are non committal at this point because they begin to see the logic of what I’m doing, and the terminology I’m use is not the typical “pro-choice” lingo. So I pick a point around three months, the end of the first trimester. I mark on the line. To the left of the line, abortion is morally justifiable. To the right of the line, abortion is not morally justifiable. Some will agree with this.

To those agree, I ask what has changed one second after three months — one second to the right of the line — that makes killing the pre-born baby morally justifiable?

I used this line of reasoning when I spoke to students at Emory University. It was very effective.

  1. Barbara Kantrowitz, “Preemies,” Newsweek (May 16, 1988), 64. []
  2. The Washington Post (May 20 1985). []
  3. The Washington Post (May 20 1985). []
  4. This medical information was taken from Abortion: Death Before Life? published by NRL Educational Trust Fund, 419 7th Street, N.W., Suite 402, Washington, D.C. 20004. []