Only faith offers certainty
We believe in letting people have their say, and last week we published a letter by Joe Bialek in which he wrote, among other things, “Life begins at the point of conception.” It’s an assertion we hear often, usually as an expression of faith.
“Life does begin at conception,” Tufts University Muslim chaplain Celene Ibrahim told Public Radio International last month.
That is couched as an assertion of fact.
“I do believe that life begins at conception,” said Kirsten Powers, a Catholic who co-hosts a faith podcast.
Powers was more honest than Ibrahim, making her statement an expression of opinion.
Less candid is the website Liberty Counsel, which earlier this year asserted, “The fact that human life begins at conception has also been confirmed by medical professionals for years.” Its substantiation was a “2014 research brief on the scientific view of when life begins, published by the Charlotte Lozier Institute.” It gave the main name of the institute, but not the rest of the name—“Science & Statistics for Life.” The Lozier Institute is an anti-abortion outfit.
The truth is, science does not know where life begins. Many scientists say it is at fertilization. But not only is there no unanimity, there is no consensus on what the question is. Does life begin when a fetus can survive on its own or when thought becomes possible? What make a human being human?
Merely writing an article with a lot of medical jargon and the trappings of research does not settle the question. Nor does the enactment of a law that declares by fiat when life begins—a technique that voters in states like North Dakota, Colorado and Mississippi have rejected when it was on their ballots.
As the BBC reports, “Unfortunately there’s no agreement in medicine, philosophy or theology as to what stage of fetal development should be associated with the right to life. That isn’t surprising, because the idea that there is a precise moment when a fetus gets the right to live, which it didn’t have a few moments earlier, feels very strange. And when you look closely at each of the suggested dates, they do seem either arbitrary or not precise enough to decide whether the unborn should have the right to live.”
We need science. What we get too often is doctrine. And in the United States of America, doctrine has no place in law. When the governor of Alabama signs a bill as an expression “that every life is a sacred gift from God,” that is no way to make law. Catholics, Mormons and Muslims have no business trying to use the power of the state to enforce their doctrines on Lutherans, Presbyterians, Jews and Methodists, which have different abortion stances.
A better example is the Nevada Legislature’s enactment of Senate Bill 179, the patronizingly named “Trust Women” measure which removes government from roles that it should never have filled in the first place, such as prosecuting abortions and forcing physicians to lecture women seeking abortions.
Life is not easy, and using law to harass women who try to find their way by their own lights is way, way outside what is right, moral—and workable.