Friday, January 22, 2021

at least for the elites, the science didn't matter much back then either

Hadley Arkes in FT with a sobering reminder on the history of our knowledge (at least of the elites) of the science on biological life. Even then, the science didn't matter to many people.

I continue to find it remarkable to hear people say that public opinion may change on abortion because we know so much more about the baby in the womb than we did in 1973 when Roe was decided. But the brief for Texas showed how precise and deep our knowledge of the child in the womb already was:

"It most certainly seems logical that from the stage of differentiation, after which neither twinning nor recombination will occur, the fetus implanted in the uterine wall deserves respect as a human life. If we take the definition of life as being said to be present when an organism shows evidence of individual animate existence, then from the blastocyst stage the fetus qualifies for respect. It is alive because it has the ability to reproduce dying cells. It is human because it can be distinguished from other non-human species, and once implanted in the uterine wall it requires only nutrition and time to develop into one of us."

And perhaps the most jolting argument on that point came in the decision that the lawyers cited from a case in New York in 1953, Kelly v. Gregory, twenty years before Roe. The court dealt there with the challenge, emerging already, that the offspring was merely a part of the body of the mother and that a woman should have sovereign control of her own body.

"We ought to be safe in this respect in saying that legal separability should begin where there is biological separability. We know something more of the actual process of conception and fetal development now than when some of the common law cases were decided; and what we know makes it possible to demonstrate clearly that separability begins at conception.

The mother’s biological contribution from conception on is nourishment and protection; but the fetus has become a separate organism and remains so throughout its life. That it may not live if its protection and nourishment are cut off earlier than the viable stage of its development is not to destroy its separability; it is rather to describe the conditions under which life will not continue."


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