Jonathan Cohn is complaining about an ad in which various doctors express their support for the South Dakota abortion ban. Cohn writes:
Consider [the ad's] first statement: “Science now proves that life begins at conception.” This is an apparent reference to a finding by the state task force that laid the intellectual groundwork for the new ban. It’s also absurd on its face. Science can prove a lot of things about the process of human reproduction, like what happens when a sperm and egg meet, how the newly formed zygote behaves after that point, when it implants in a woman’s uterus, and so on. But the one thing science cannot “prove” is at which point in this process life actually begins–because, by definition, that is a subjective judgment based as much on moral and religious beliefs as on observable scientific facts.
People argue the way Cohn does here all the time, but his point seems to me to be, well, absurd on its face. Of course it is true–nearly by definition–that a newly conceived human embryo is a living organism belonging to the human species. What science can’t do is to prove that we should treat that new living human organism as expendably as we treat a mosquito, or as protectively as we treat a newborn. It’s a mistake to confuse the two questions. On the point that Cohn is disputing, embryology textbooks have no trouble affirming the physicians’ views.