The recent videos of Planned Parenthood cause nearly everyone to cringe.  The words and images make the hardest among us repulsed.  It’s very easy to understand emotionally.  Yet, the science supports our anger as rational and not just emotional.

The abortion debate has gripped America for years with both sides of the argument continuing to fight vehemently for their beliefs.  In 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that a woman’s right to privacy and her ability to control what happens to her own body outweigh what was then understood regarding the science of embryology.  Yet if everyone believed that, there would be no outcry against Planned Parenthood.

At the same time, court cases, such as the Laci Peterson murder trial, find the defendant guilty of a double homicide for killing both the mother and her unborn child. The inconsistency here is obvious. It brings us to the real question:  is the unborn child a part of its mother and thus subject to the issues of the mother’s self-determination and privacy, or is it a living human being with its own rights? What do we now know regarding a baby’s time in the uterus that would answer the question?  How does our knee jerk reaction to the heinous acts of the baby part dealers at Planned Parenthood reflect our concept of whether it is a baby, or just a part of the mother?

As a physician tasked with the care of pregnant patients, I am somewhat well read on the subject and believe from a scientific standpoint it is now impossible to make the argument that the unborn child is a part of the mother.  When an egg is released from an ovary it floats freely through the fallopian tube.  The sperm cells unite with the egg and it implants itself on the wall of the woman’s uterus.  Within five weeks of gestation an umbilical cord stretches from the baby to the placenta.  At the placenta, a complex network of blood vessels allow nutrients from the mother to cross a membrane and feed the growing child.  The baby’s and mother’s blood are not supposed to mix.  When they do, as in the case of trauma, it can sometimes create a serious situation where the mother’s antibodies attack the baby’s blood.  The mother’s immune system sees the baby’s blood as a foreign intruder.

It makes complete sense.  While mother and baby have lots of similarities, they are, in fact, distinct beings.  Half the DNA comes from the father making the baby distinct and different from the mother.  If mother and unborn baby blood were dropped at a crime scene the forensics experts would identify two distinct people.  With the only connection at the placenta and through an umbilical cord, with a completely separate DNA, we can be certain while attached to the mother, the child is not a part of the mother.

If it is not part of the mother, such as her arm, leg or other appendage, we have to ask when is this human being’s rights protected by society?  Consider a baby two weeks postpartum.  The baby requires the nutrients from the mother’s breast.  Without them, the child dies.  Two weeks prior to birth, that same child, outside the womb is identical to the previous.  Only it gets its nutrients through a placenta. No one would discard the two-week, post-birth, nursing baby. Similarly, it is absurd to do the same for a child two weeks prior to birth when the child is clearly a human being.

Even Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun noted when writing the majority opinion in Roe that in the third trimester “the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications.” So, when does the child become a defined human being? 

Some, clearly including Blackmun, would argue viability.  If a child can live outside the womb or inside the womb it is clearly a human being.  Yet, viability, if equally applied using the pro-abortion’s definition is a measure that would demand the termination of life of many fragile senior citizens or many of our mentally and intellectually challenged citizens who contribute to life, yet are not “viable” in the sense of total independence.   Couched in those terms, the measure of viability has to be used within some moral value of life.

The same reflexive anger at the thought of ending the life of any who is not independent is rooted in the same anger experienced toward Planned Parenthood’s despicable actions on 12-week-old unborn babies. Our consciences seem give voice to an unspoken value a civil society must assign to life as the evidence of organ and body part harvesting has been exposed by these unbelievable videos.

From a scientific stand point it is hard to draw the line on viability throughout the lifespan of our humanity because each life is unique.  Whether we speak of the survival of the earliest premature birth at 21 weeks old or frozen fertilized embryos stored for years that come to life once implanted in a mother’s womb, the science of life must always be guarded by our respect of life.

Our revulsion at the actions of Planned Parenthood is simple to explain – most understand the true value of a life.  The contradiction of charging someone who harms a fetus with a crime while at the same time legalizing the same procedure for birth control to terminate a life is easy to appreciate.  The science is clear: the unborn baby is not part of its mother.  Viability as a defining criterion fails both scientifically and emotionally in the face of these actions.  From the beginning of its inception to its full-term birth, this being is a unique being.  The sale of parts of a human being for profit rightfully enrages us based on emotion…and science.

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