What Science Has to Contribute to Being Pro-Life

pro-life

At last week’s March for Life, many of the speakers declared the pro-life cause is winning and science is on their side. In many cases the former is true because of the latter.

Thanks to a host of scientific advancements in the last decade showing the humanity of an unborn child, it is increasingly difficult to claim that a fetus is nothing more than a blob of tissue.

Scientific Advancement Helping the Pro-Life Cause

3D and 4D Ultrasound

3D and 4D ultrasounds use sound waves to create an image of the baby in the womb. 4D ultrasounds create a live video effect, like a movie, allowing the parents to watch their baby smile, yawn and suck its thumb very early in the pregnancy.  

On the website “What to Expect” parents wrote heartwarming stories of what they saw in ultrasounds:

“When I went in for my 20 week ultrasound my lil’ man was so cute playing with his toes…it was like he learned for the first time that they were there and was so excited to play and pull on them. I can’t wait to play with those little toes myself!!!!”

“When we saw our little one at our 20 week ultrasound, she had her hands covering her face and her legs crossed, as if she were trying to be shy or something. It was really cute.”

“My son generally tries to hide his face for a few minutes, but he hates being prodded by anything and it’s usually not long before he starts to swing at the ultrasound wand lol. He’s so adorable in there having his own personal battle with his “nemesis.” At his 20 wk ultrasound (actually 22 by the time I got in), he flexed for us and unfolded so we could see all his parts—amazing!!! Who knew a bladder and kidneys would make me tear up?”

“Just had our first yesterday. Baby was adorable, but it was husband’s reaction that made me melt. He is 43 and this is our first baby, he goes, Oh, there’s a baby in there! Then he held my hand the whole time and kept telling me how good I was doing making the baby. Really sweet! He is a tough lawyer, so seeing him melt is just too much.”

The images are so precise that doctors use them as aides in fetal surgeries and they can reveal certain birth defects, such as a cleft palate, that might not show up on a standard ultrasound.

It’s not surprising that 78 percent of pregnant women who see an ultrasound of their baby reject abortion.

Viability of the Pre-Born

When the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the case that led the way to legal abortion, it pegged most fetuses’ chance of viable life outside the womb at 28 weeks; after that point, it ruled, states could reasonably restrict women’s access to the procedure. Now, with new medical techniques that threshold is being questioned.

Many doctors argue that medical advancements should place the age of viability at 22 weeks. The earliest recorded premature birth was Amillia Taylor. She was born at just 21 weeks and six days into her gestation, which was two weeks before the legal abortion cut off at the time in the U.S. Weighing 280g, with paper-thin skin, Amillia was just longer than a pen.

According to a study of more than 34,600 preterm babies born between 1993 and 2012, published in JAMA, overall survival rates for preemies between 22 and 28 weeks of gestation increased to 79 percent in 2012, up from 70 percent in 1993. The smallest babies had the biggest improvement in survival rates, showing a more than 5 percent improvement.

Fetal Pain and Fetal Surgery

Science has also discovered that babies in the womb feel pain. In the early ’90s, the scientific community believed fetal pain wasn’t really possible, but that was primarily because very little research on the subject had been conducted.

Dr. Nicholas M. Fisk, the deputy vice-chancellor of research at the University of New South Wales, and his co-workers set out to find a more definitive answer. He began by studying hormonal stress responses in fetuses undergoing invasive procedures, which culminated in the lead paper in a 1994 issue of The Lancet documenting significant stress responses. Spikes in adrenaline, endorphins and cortisol during invasive procedures confirmed that the sensation of pain was a possibility.

He also found that just like babies who are short on oxygen, fetuses respond to potentially stressful medical procedures by redistributing their blood flow to the brain and away from the body. Dr. Fisk began to recommend the use of analgesics during fetal surgeries, which remarkably improved surgery outcomes.

Research like Dr. Fisk’s, on the presence of hormonal and biophysical stress responses, formed the basis of 20-week abortion bans that have been passed in 21 states and is under consideration at the federal level.

And thanks to scientific and medical advances, more parents carry to term preborn babies with health issues. A handful of medical centers in major cities can now perform surgeries on genetically abnormal fetuses while they’re still in the womb. Many are the same age as the small number of fetuses aborted in the second or third trimesters of a mother’s pregnancy.

These continuing scientific breakthroughs have changed the abortion debate and have pro-life activists believing science is on their side.  

As Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse told the marchers for life last week, “We believe in babies and moms, and we believe in science. We sit at a technological moment where people are seeing what happens inside a mom’s tummy as a baby grows and develops. You cannot deny that’s a baby when you look at a picture.”

Even those working in the medical field are feeling the tension between policy debates and scientific reality. Colleen Malloy, a neonatologist and faculty member at Northwestern University, told the Atlantic, “The more I advanced in my field of neonatology, the more it just became the logical choice to recognize the developing fetus for what it is: a fetus, instead of some sort of sub-human form. It just became so obvious that these were just developing humans.”

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.

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