Pro-Life Foibles Like Fertilization and Heartbeat

April 13, 2011 09:00 AM

Some age-old debates within the pro-life movement just don’t seem to ever get resolved. Currently there are two separate issues on the front burner that contradict the very essence of why we claim to be pro-life. 

One addresses erroneously when a human being begins. The other draws an arbitrary line in the sand in order to set forth which preborn children will be saved.

The first deals with the lack of scientific accuracy behind the use of the word “fertilization.” We have dealt with this question on numerous occasions. 

The specific challenge in this most recent case is that some who claim to support human personhood are the very ones cluttering the arena with fictitious definitions. Let me explain. 

In the state of Alabama a human personhood measure has been introduced that contains flawed language. 

The bill in question, SB 301 states, “The term ‘persons’ as used in the Code of Alabama 1975, shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization or the functional equivalent thereof.” 

This language uses the phrase “moment of fertilization” which is inaccurate. As Professor Dianne Irving has pointed out repeatedly, fertilization is a process over time and, according to the Carnegie Stages, (updated annually since 1942) there are three very different sub-stages (phases) of human embryonic development during the process of fertilization.

Professor Irving’s point in her various articles over the years is always the same. Precise language is necessary if we are to assure total protection in the law for every human being at every stage of his biological development commencing from the beginning. This is why words are so important and need to be chosen with such great care.

It is for this reason that the term “functional equivalent” is also erroneous. It is well known among honest scientists that there is no functional equivalent between the reproductive processes of sexual and asexual reproduction. These problems raise questions.  

Why are such terms used? 

Couldn’t those concentrating on crafting human personhood language consult with experts prior to finalizing language?

Why isn’t there a consistent human personhood lexicon throughout the pro-life personhood movement?

These are questions I have asked and will persist in asking. 

There is absolutely nothing to be gained by distorting science or logic. Shooting ourselves in the foot on our way to hoped-for victory is actually a step back, not a step forward—which brings me to the second strategic problem confronting pro-lifers today. 

A bill introduced in the state of Ohio’s legislature is popularly referred to as the “heartbeat” bill.  This bill is designed to protect a preborn baby once that child’s heartbeat is detected.

The warning signs regarding proposals like this are like red lights in the middle of a busy intersection or a fog horn blown during dense fog when two ships are about to collide. Such ideas are accidents waiting to happen.

Why? Because pro-life Americans must not set forth proposals that define who should live and who should die based on detectable signs of life. Terri Schiavo was killed because some claimed that she was not exhibiting signs of a meaningful life. The same mentality could be employed if the “heartbeat” proposal moves forward. 

Headlines describe the “heartbeat” bill as a direct assault on Roe v. Wade, and as an actual abortion ban, even though the bill does not ban the act of abortion. 

The larger question here is a fundamental one that gets to the heart (no pun intended) of our struggle: 

What about all the babies who exist but whose heartbeat is not detectable? 

Are they to remain fair game for the abortionist’s suction machines, chemicals and curettes? 

When is a preborn child not qualified to be protected—when his heartbeat is not clearly present?

Sometimes well-meaning folks propose ideas because they believe we, as a movement, can achieve a little bit now and go back later for more. That sounds good if one is discussing incremental steps to completing shopping center infrastructure or restaffing a school. But it does not sound all that great when the subject is the inviolability of the human being.

Ambassador Alan Keyes examined the Ohio bill and wrote the following in an e-mail to a group of pro-life apologists: 

The bill risks the moral and political life of the American people. The principle that all human beings are created equal is the bedrock foundation of the idea of right on which the preservation of that life depends. Unless the pro-life movement defends and preserves that principle the whole basis of its activity in politics is called into question. Our opponents will then claim, with some semblance of justice, that we seek to use the law to impose a strictly sectarian discipline.

Indeed, the foibles of today can portend the defeat of our actions in the future. Words have consequences.

Back to news