Knuckle Draggers and the Pro-Life Enlightenment
To be pro-life is to be pro-science. That’s what Dr. Bernard Nathanson discovered in his own pro-life enlightenment during the 1970s. An abortionist who had presided over more than 60,000 abortions and a founder of the pro-choice group NARAL, Nathanson began his career as a staunch abortion advocate. But scientific advancements like the ultrasound, which showed babies developing and moving in the womb, began to unsettle him. He eventually declared himself to be pro-life and dedicated the rest of his career to battling the abortion industry.
In 1984, Nathanson narrated the film The Silent Scream, which used an ultrasound to show the a twelve-week pregnancy being aborted. It derives its name from a striking moment when the fetus draws back from a surgical instrument and opens its mouth in horror. The film infuriated Planned Parenthood, which swooped in with a bunch of half-baked excuses. One doctor made the incredible argument that the movie was misleading because the fetal scream may have actually been a yawn. (Well then, kill away!)
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s arbitrary line-drawing, under the law life begins when a fetus is viable – meaning it can survive independent of its mother. Only after this point can states implement abortion bans. The Court said viability falls between 24 and 28 weeks of gestation. Forty years later, remarkable medical advancements have given premature babies a greater shot at life. About 70% of Swedish babies born after 22 to 26 weeks survived for at least a year, according to a 2009 study. And scientists are developing an artificial placenta, which could make fetuses viable at the moment of conception. These advancements are an enormous threat to the pro-choice movement; if successful and applied consistently in the law, they could ban abortion entirely.
Liberals like to portray abortion as a new medical development threatened by right-wing retrogrades. The truth is the exact opposite. As far back as 1648, English common law permitted abortions before “quickening,” meaning when a mother first feels her baby moving, between four and five months of gestation. America inherited this tradition but applied it unevenly across the states. Ironically, Connecticut led the way, passing the first state abortion ban in 1821. Most states followed suit, but then began reforming their laws in the 1960s. By the time the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, 30 states had outlawed abortion and 20 allowed it under different circumstances: a patchwork. New York, which allowed abortion on demand without a residency requirement, became a destination for abortion-seeking women.
Abortion, then, was already legal for swaths of the country and had been for a long time. Even after Roe, legalization of abortion was relatively uncontroversial. It wasn’t until scientific advances gave us a peek at the baby within that the pro-life movement gained force and public opinion softened. Abortion opponents take heart: You’re on the cutting edge; ahead of the curve.
Unfortunately, the Neanderthal left will continue to obstruct your progress, rigidly clinging to pro-choice dogmas and incantations in the face of evidence. But primitive superstitions can only survive for so long. Abortion may persist in America, but thanks to modern science, heartbeats are being heard and hearts are being changed.
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