Critics call him a scientific illiterate but life does begin at conception.
Over the past few days, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been getting flogged in the blogosphere by “reproductive justice” journalists, like MSNBC’s Irin Carmon, and tweeters in residence at the New York Times (and here) and Washington Post. What outrage did he commit worthy of 1,690,000 Google search results for the query “Rubio + disqualified for presidency”?
It is hard to convey the nature and gravity of the Senator’s misdeeds in American English, as our jurisprudence has not kept up with current norms. Essentially, he’s been charged with conduct that constitutes a doubleplus ungood thoughtcrime in the lexicon of Newspeak, the language of the bureaucrats and elites in Orwell’s Oceania circa 1984.
The two-count indictments charge that, on or about May 14, in an interview on the Sean Hannity show, Senator Rubio committed the following offenses: (1) He questioned the alleged “scientific consensus” on the causation and severity of future climate change; and (2) he raised the issue of hypocrisy by pointing out that where scientific consensus does exist—for example, that human life begins at conception—many persist in rejecting the settled science and encourage dissent.
Do the charges have any merit?
One need not dwell on the validity of a “scientific consensus” concerning the extent of future climate change. Predictions of future conditions that depend on almost infinite variables can be subjected to the scientific method (i.e., observed and measured) only after they occur. It is not possible to test the validity of projections and achieve a consensus on their accuracy decades in advance.
The verdict: Not guilty for questioning a scientific consensus on climate change.
Is Rubio wrong in pointing to a consensus about when life begins? Embryologists have long studied human reproduction and early human development. Through observation—not computer modeling—they have arrived at a consensus (indeed, likely unanimous) conclusion that the life of a new human organism begins at fertilization, when sperm and ovum unite. A few excerpts from major embryology textbooks confirm this.
“The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.” [T.W. Sadler, Langman’s Medical Embryology (7th ed.)]
“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed…. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity.” (Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Mueller, Human Embryology & Teratology (2nd ed.)]
“Zygote. This cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm during fertilization. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” [Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (7th ed.)]
For those who want to delve further into this issue, Maureen Condic, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine, authored a 2008 “White Paper” for the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person entitled When does human life begin? A scientific perspective.
In light of the consensus among embryologists, do Senator Rubio’s critics have any reasonable basis to condemn him for asserting that life begins at conception? An exhaustive survey (“Conceiving Pregnancy”) of a total of 73 published editions of the four major medical dictionaries in the United States found that all editions have defined conception as being synonymous with fertilization, i.e., the union of sperm and ovum resulting in a new human life. Beginning in the 1970s, however, a handful of editions attempted, at least for a time, to conform to the novel definitions of conception and pregnancy introduced in 1965 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Currently, one dictionary has consistently defined conception as fertilization, while a second switched to the ACOG definition (below). A third dictionary offers contradictory definitions and the fourth has given up on choosing sides, calling conception “an imprecise term.” No solid consensus can emerge from such chaos.
Rubio’s detractors rely on ACOG’s Terminology Bulletin Number 1, “Terms used in reference to the fetus” (September 1965), which states in part:
“FERTILIZATION is the union of spermatozoon and ovum.
“CONCEPTION is the implantation of a fertilized ovum. ‘This definition has been selected deliberately because union of sperm and ovum, cannot be detected clinically unless implantation occurs.’
“PREGNANCY is the state from conception to expulsion of the products of conception.”
What possible motivation would there be for redefining conception as implantation and redefining pregnancy as the period between implantation and “expulsion of the products of conception”?
Certainly, the leadership of ACOG promoted, and still promotes, abortion and “contraceptive” drugs and devices that also have abortifacient mechanisms of action. A very plausible explanation for these terminology changes has been suggested by an OB-GYN friend who is a Life Fellow of ACOG and Diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology since 1966. “Effective” contraceptive options in the 1960s were limited to the birth control pill and the intrauterine device (IUD). Christopher Tietze, MD—an advocate of population control through abortion and contraception, a member of the American Eugenics Society, a demographer and Fellow of the Population Council—often complained that IUDs could not be successfully marketed to women in Latin America due to the belief that they could cause the death of a week-old embryo by thwarting implantation. Unable to change the reality of how IUDs work, Tietze sought to change the terminology by defining abortion as terminating a pregnancy and defining pregnancy as beginning with successful implantation. It seems likely that ACOG leadership saw the benefits of Dr. Tietze’s marketing solution and adopted his approach.
ACOG’s charade deceives women and results in the loss of embryos’ lives on a grand scale. Beyond that, the new definitions lack scientific coherence and raise other definitional problems. For example, the new definition of pregnancy excludes “ectopic pregnancy,” a long-standing scientific term for a pregnancy in which the embryo is developing somewhere other than the uterus. In addition, the stated rationale for moving conception a full week forward to implantation, i.e., the union of sperm and ovum “cannot be detected clinically” before implantation, is simply false. Early pregnancy factor (EPF), discovered in 1974, is an immunosuppressive protein produced by the ovary shortly after fertilization, in response to a signal from the embryo. [H. Morton et al., Nature, 249:459-60 (1974)] EPF directs the mother’s immune system to “stand down” and not attack the new “foreign body,” as it would bacteria, for example. EPF has been detected in the mother’s blood 48 hours after fertilization [B.E. Rolfe, Fertility and Sterility, 37:655-60 (1982)] and has been documented in IUD wearers whose embryos were aborted in the presence of the IUD. [Y.C. Smart et al., Fertility and Sterility, 37:201-204 (1982)]
The verdict on Count Two: Senator Rubio was correct in claiming unanimity among embryologists on when life begins, but clearly the leadership of ACOG, as well as many advocates of “reproductive rights,” resist consensus and publicly reject the settled science that life begins at conception/fertilization. In denying the established scientific facts, many of the Senator’s detractors have claimed that, before birth, the existence of a human life is a matter of philosophical or religious belief, rather than science. In a Foreword to Dr. Condic’s White Paper, the late Rev. Richard John Neuhaus addresses this claim: “The debate in our society and others is not over when human life begins but is over at what point and for what reasons do we have an obligation to respect and protect that life. …
“It is sometimes said that the abortion debate is about ‘values’ rather than ‘facts.’ An honest debate about abortion, however, is about values based on facts. If we don’t get the facts right, we will not get our values right. Establishing by clear scientific evidence the moment at which a human life begins is not the end of the abortion debate. On the contrary, that is the point from which the debate begins.”
Let the debate begin!
Susan E. Wills, JD, LLMleft law practice to join the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, where she served for 20 years as Asst. Dir. for Education and Outreach until her retirement in 2013. She now serves as Aleteia’s English edition Spirituality Editor.