The Roe v. Wade decision has been criticized on many levels, by both those who disagree with its intended effect and those who agree with it. However, there is one point on which we should all be able to agree when it comes to Supreme Court decisions - that they should not fly in the face of scientific knowledge. On this point, Roe v. Wade fails in several ways...

"Theory?" That a human life begins at conception hasn't been a theory since the early 19th century. Since we finally gained a complete understanding of human reproduction in the mid-19th century, that a human life begins at conception has been a fact. (The document referenced in footnote 45 doesn't actually discuss anything related to the science of human reproduction, either.)

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No support is offered for the implication that an unborn human being at any stage after fertilization might be merely a potential rather than an actual, realized life.

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Laws proscribing abortion only after quickening - which for the most part merely codified accepted English common law - were enacted in this country starting in the 1820s. Beginning in the second half of that century, however, states began outlawing abortion at any stage of pregnancy, even before quickening. By the Supreme Court's logic, we are to believe that abortion before quickening was more dangerous to women in the late 19th and early 20th century - when it was first outlawed - than it was in the early 19th century, when it was not outlawed. Not only is the logic of the argument silly on the face of it, the decision fails to reference any science that in any way "repudiates the theory that life begins at conception."

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There are two problems with this justification, both of which involve an utter lack of respect for science. The first is the idea that disciplines as disparate as medicine and theology should be consulted to answer a question that properly belongs only to the discipline of science. Nowhere does the decision indicate why science alone is inadequate to provide an answer to the question of when a human life begins. Even the Catholic Church would say that it relies on science to determine when a human being comes into existence, rather than theology or philosophy.

 

The other problem is that it looks for a consensus between philosophical and theological opinions formed in a period before we understood how a human being comes to be and those formed after science had finally obtained that knowledge. Of course those opinions are going to differ. In fact, the fact that they do differ is much more an indication that we have developed (supposedly) sought-after knowledge in this area than an indication that we haven't. (And if anyone thinks we are still lacking knowledge needed to answer this question, then please explain the mystery that remains and suggest who is or should be working to solve it.)

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There is no "new embryological data" that contradicts what we knew as the point at which a new human life begins when all states outlawed abortion in the late 19th century. And that point, which the decision itself earlier refers to as a "moment" (see first quote above), indeed fits the definition of "event" much more than "process."


"Menstrual extraction" and "morning-after" pills are merely methods of abortion or in the latter case possibly contraception rather than anything that could affect the understanding of when a human life begins, at least from a scientific perspective.


The same goes for implantation of embryos, artificial insemination and artificial wombs, which are merely ancillary to the event that marks the beginning of a new human life, and don't affect science's understanding of that event.

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Nowhere else - in science or any other discipline - do we use the term "potential" to describe something that is on a course to only one possible end, and an end that will definitely occur unless some part of the process goes unpredictably and significantly wrong. In other words, something that is inevitable absent some unforeseen tragedy. To use the term this way is either a travesty of language or a travesty of science.

Other Resources

Roe v. Wade, Part VII

Roe v. Wade, Part VII

Roe v. Wade, Part VII

Roe v. Wade, Part IX

Roe v. Wade, Part IX

Roe v. Wade,

MR. JUSTICE STEWART, concurring

Abortion takes the life of a complete, distinct, living, viable* and fully human being.

 

*according to the scientific/medical rather than legal definition of the term

Fact:

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