Show me your science


Religion New Service reports that detractors of a Missouri abortion consent law are critical because "Pythagorean Greeks, early Christian church fathers . . . and modern ethicists have grappled with the fundamental, ultimately unknowable mystery" of when human life begins, yet the Missouri law requires that women seeking an abortion in the state be told that human life begins at conception. Modern science and distinguished Princeton bioethicist Robert George are on the side the Missouri State Legislature.

Among other things, the new law requires modification to Missouri's 24-hour abortion consent law requiring that women be told, "The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being." The RNS article notes that opposition to this statement centers on the second sentence (i.e., abortion terminating a human being):

"But for philosophers and theologians, things get more complicated with the new law's second sentence, which asserts that abortion ends the life of a 'separate, unique, living human being.'

"'The distinction is between human life where you're talking about an organism as opposed to a human life in a moral sense,' said Bonnie Steinbock, professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at Albany. 'Those are two different debates that go back to Aquinas and the issue of ensoulment.'

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"Aquinas, and Augustine before him, wrestled with concepts first introduced by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C. Aristotle believed that a soul could only inhabit a fetus when that fetus began to look human, a timetable he set at 40 days for men and 90 days for women."

See the dualism here? The Missouri law critics believe that life and humanity are separate things. In other words, they believe life and humanity don't converge until some unknowable point during gestation . . . and it's moral to abort that life prior to the convergence.

A member of President George W. Bush's Council on Bioethics and co-author of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, Robert George told me five years ago that science had advanced to the point where it would be impossible for abortion-rights advocates to argue accurately that life and humanity do not begin at conception. Here's an excerpt from an article I wrote about our discussion:

"The science has advanced so far, George said, that the pro-choice crowd cannot make a sound moral and logically consistent argument for destroying life based on the idea that an embryo lacks humanity. Within hours of conception, he explained, scientists now know that the human body plan is already forming. The biological format for a well-constructed person is already in the works far before a morning after pill could do its job."

Yet, critics of the Missouri law display their ignorance. They revert to the ancient life-humanity dualism that modern science has debunked. Science has proven that life and humanity are not two different things that merge at some mystical time during gestation. If Robert George were to debate the scholarly critics of the Missouri law, he might begin by saying, "Show me your science." That's what the Show-Me State legislature did and they got it right.

Lee Wishing
Lee Wishing

Lee is the administrative director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.


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