Wise up, Bill! O’Reilly insists preborn are ‘potential’ humans

Bill O’Reilly needs a reality check, stat.

On several occasions over the years, the Fox News superstar has erroneously referred to embryos and fetuses as “potential” human beings/life. On Wednesday, he did so again in the context of discussing a new Gallup survey on Americans’ shifting social views:

On the subject of abortion:

In 2001, 42% found it morally acceptable.

Fourteen years later, 45% do.

Now this is an area where the entertainment industry and the progressive movement have failed to move the dial.

Most Americans well understand that destroying a potential human being is not a righteous act.

Science has now established that human DNA is present at conception, so there really isn’t much debate about it.  If human life is sacrosanct and that is one of the pillars of the American Constitution, then abortion is a troubling situation.

Unless, of course, there are drastic medical circumstances in play.

So the progressives have not made many inroads when it comes to shutting down life.

Annoying, but at least he was trying to make a pro-life point. So what’s different this time? The fact that, despite being completely wrong, he decided to dig in his heels when a viewer’s email called him out on it the next night (video currently unavailable; paid podcast of May 28 episode available here):

Mr. O’Reilly, your Talking Points was on the mark overall, but you continue to disappoint on abortion. You refer to human life as a “potential human being.” Human life before birth is not a potential.

– Bill Penn, Granite Shoals, TX

O’Reilly responded:

Surely you know other Americans disagree with you, Bill, including the Supreme Court. Surely you know that your statement will not persuade them to oppose abortion. My job is to look out for everyone, including the unborn. My statement is rock-solid fact; you can’t deny it. Wise up. You want more folks to become pro-life, use facts, not your personal belief.

Every word of that is complete nonsense, including “and” and “the.” And especially “wise.”

First, Bill from Texas is 100% correct. This is not a question on which science leaves any uncertainty. All the components of this subject are objectively defined and well understood. Once fertilization occurs, an actual, not potential, living human being has been created. Any mainstream textbook on the subject will tell you that.

7 weeks old. Not a "potential" human. (Photo from Endowment for Human Development,

7 weeks old. Not a “potential” human. (Photo from Endowment for Human Development,

For all the tremendous changes that happen in the nine months between then and birth, none of them fundamentally transforms the prenate from one kind of entity into another. No missing magic ingredient is added that flips a switch letting us suddenly say, “Aha! Now it’s an actual human being.”

That’s not “personal belief,” Bill. That’s objective, undeniable scientific fact.

As a federal district court once wrote:

Birth is not a magical event in the life of a human person which transforms it from the world of nonpersons to the world of persons. (Foster v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co, 1994)

Second, science isn’t defined by popular consensus, and the fact that not everyone agrees with the truth in no way means there’s any persuasive advantage to going along with ignorance. To the contrary, correcting ignorance needs to be Step 1 of any pro-life appeal.

Besides, it’s not like it would be hard to do – the science is straightforward enough that it’s easy to explain to a layman, and even better, there are countless examples of abortionists and abortion supporters who admit it, which not only helps prove our point, but also puts the other side on the defensive to any reasonable listener.

Third, and most importantly, O’Reilly suggests that going with “potential human” somehow helps pro-lifers by giving pro-aborts one less contestable point to crow over, when in reality that all but gives away the game. “Potential” means the possibility of becoming  or bringing about something in the future, but that thing does not actually exist in the present.

7 weeks. Real human here.

7 weeks. Real human here.

Materially speaking, a “potential human being” is literally nothing. It isn’t there, and therefore could not possibly be harmed or killed. If the abortion fight were about mere potential, then that would mean we were opposing nothing more than preventing humans from existing in the first place.

But abortion isn’t wrong because it deprives the future of what might have been; it’s wrong because it kills people.

O’Reilly’s fantasy formulation would effectively destroy the pro-life argument by rendering abortion no worse than choosing not to have sex, which is obviously harmless because – pay attention here, Bill – THERE DOES NOT YET EXIST ANYONE TO BE KILLED.

Oh, and one last side note: O’Reilly references the fact that the Supreme Court wouldn’t be swayed by life beginning at conception, but the interesting thing about Roe v. Wade is that it concedes, “If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case, of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [Fourteenth] Amendment.” So even as they feigned ignorance on the science, the Roe court explicitly  admitted that this question should have everything to do with whether their ruling stood or fell.

Indeed, federal legislation such as the Life at Conception Act  is specifically predicated on calling Roe’s bluff and formally recognizing that modern science has conclusively resolved the justices’ confusion on this point. So while it’s true that rogue judges will lie on behalf of abortion no matter what, the real science matters far more to every aspect of the issue than O’Reilly thinks.

On the whole, Bill O’Reilly is still definitely an ally of pro-lifers, and has done a lot of great work to shine light on the abortion movement. But throughout his career he’s taken great pains to cultivate an image above liberal or conservative, a common-sense populist who’s just objectively and impartially “looking out for the folks.” That sometimes leads him down some foolish paths to avoid being seen as too affiliated with one side of an issue or the other…which means it sometimes falls on us to tell the No-Spin Zone to stop spinning.

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