Science and the abortion debate

Has science been a boon to the pro-life movement? Yes, says journalist Emma Green. In an feature article published in The Atlantic this week, Green suggests that, while both pro-choice and pro-life groups have used developments in embryology and neonatology to their advantage, the pro-life movement has been particularly effective in using new scientific evidence to shape the legislative agenda. After cataloguing developments in ultrasound technology and life-saving care for premature babies, Green states:

These advances fundamentally shift the moral intuition around abortion. New technology makes it easier to apprehend the humanity of a growing child and imagine a fetus as a creature with moral status.

Pro-life advocates have used fetal research to underpin abortion reform:

Advocates have introduced research on the question of fetal pain and whether abortion harms women’s health to great effect in courtrooms and legislative chambers, even when they cite studies selectively and their findings are fiercely contested by other members of the academy.

Green interviews several experts on both sides of the debate; she considers whether the use of science has obscures the moral dimension of the debate. Daniel Sulmasy of Georgetown University states that “The question of whether the embryo or fetus is a person … is not answerable by science,” and that “We’ve become steeped in a culture in which only the data matter, and that makes us, in some ways, philosophically illiterate”. 

MORE ON THESE TOPICS | abortion, law, neonatal care, science, us

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