As the abortion debate continues to rage in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, a U.S. News & World Report reporter claimed to explain how the pro-life movement is working to “have fetuses seen as human beings.” Yet absent from the piece is any discussion whatsoever of scientific fact, which would have undermined the author’s entire argument.
Kaia Hubbard, who frequently reports on abortion and seems to support it, wrote of how the pro-life movement is working to “make abortion murder.” Pro-lifers, she ominously warns, have a secret mission to make fetuses, who the abortion movement derides as meaningless clumps of cells, into actual living human beings. “[P]erhaps more quietly, they’re also reframing the conversation from one that centers the woman’s health to another advocating for the fetus – no matter the cost,” Hubbard wrote. “And in doing so, they’re elevating a decades-long push to have fetuses seen as human beings.”
Hubbard correctly pointed out that, for decades, viability — often considered 24 weeks gestation (though premature babies have survived as young as 21 weeks) — was seen as the benchmark for when abortion should largely not be allowed. Yet many states have been trying to pass laws banning abortions at earlier gestational ages, such as 12 or 15 weeks. Though the abortion movement derides these bans as extreme, the United States is one of only a small handful of countries allowing late-term abortions; most of the world bans abortion long before 24 weeks — usually around 12 weeks. If Roe is overturned, Hubbard warned that “fetal personhood” would be next on pro-lifers’ agenda, so that abortion would be illegal everywhere no matter what.
But what is fetal personhood? And why do so many in the pro-life movement argue that fetuses — a scientific term denoting a period of prenatal human development — are human beings? The answer is simple, and it involves something Hubbard didn’t factor in to the equation at all: science.
It is scientific fact that a human fetus, or preborn child, is a living, growing human being. Though many abortion advocates deride pro-life activists are having beliefs rooted in religion, many are pro-life because of their knowledge of the science of human development. It is a fact that a new human life begins at fertilization (conception). In this very moment, the second the new person is created, her sex, hair color, eye color, and countless other traits are already determined. She has her own separate, individual, unique DNA.
Within the first trimester, when most abortions take place, development proceeds at a rapid pace. The Endowment for Human Development (EHD), a non-partisan organization dedicated to improving health science education, and which takes a neutral position on controversial bioethical issues like abortion, has countless resources explaining how preborn children develop. This includes the science of embryonic heartbeats; the heart begins beating just three weeks after fertilization.
Many abortion advocates claim this is a meaningless throb of muscles or mere electric activity, but the child’s heart, though not fully-formed, is actually beating. Blood is being pumped throughout the growing human’s tiny body, which — as the EHD explains — is necessary. The child needs blood to flow throughout her body in order to grow. One EHD video shows a preborn child’s heart beating at 4 1/2 weeks gestation; the chambers change color as blood flows through the heart.
By five weeks gestation, the child has begun moving; by six weeks, brain waves can be recorded. At seven weeks, she can hiccup, and at nine weeks, she can sense touch. By the end of the first trimester, she likely has the capability to feel pain, according to recent research.
Hubbard, and other abortion advocates, use terms like “fetus” in an effort to strip the preborn child of his or her humanity. But fetus is merely a term for a specific period of development; within pregnancy, the child will go through multiple developmental stages: zygote, embryo, fetus, neonate, and so on. This does not mean that a fetus is somehow not human; after all, calling a two-year-old a toddler is akin to this. The child’s location within her mother’s womb does not make her a clump of cells, or a mere product of conception. She is still a human being, who we know with scientific certainty is alive and growing.
The pro-life movement doesn’t have to “make” preborn children into human beings or persons (there are no human beings who are “non-persons”). They already are, whether people like Hubbard acknowledge it or not.
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