The Corner


The Washington Post vs. the March for Life

Participants attend the annual March for Life in Washington, January 19, 2017. (Eric Thayer/Reuters)

The Post’s main story (at least at the moment) on the March for Life — by Julie Zauzmer, Marisa Iati, and Michelle Boorstein — spends much of its time arguing against pro-life positions.

This year’s march theme is that the pro-life position is “pro-science”: in other words, that science backs the pro-life movement’s key premise that abortion takes the life of a living human organism. The Post trio establishes, as though it in any way contradicted that claim, that medical associations have taken official positions against restrictions on abortion. (I have never heard a pro-lifer make the more expansive claim that science proves that abortion should be restricted, which is obviously something that science cannot do, any more than it can prove the case against restrictions.)

Here’s the key passage:

The March for Life advertised two scientific papers along with its announcement of its “pro-science” theme. One, published by the antiabortion nonprofit the Charlotte Lozier Institute, describes the meeting of a sperm cell and an egg cell to form a zygote, a new type of cell distinct from the two that formed it. The paper then asks whether that cell is its own organism separate from the mother, or a part of a human like a liver cell or a skin cell.

The fact that the zygote “directs its own development,” leading it to eventually turn into more complete embryo and eventually a baby in the right circumstances, leads the writer of the paper (a neurobiology and pediatrics professor at the University of Utah) to conclude that from the moment of conception, embryos “are indeed living individuals of the human species.”

Sarah Horvath, a doctor who has performed abortions and currently works as a family planning policy and advocacy fellow for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said that ACOG, a 58,000-member organization that includes more than 90 percent of the ob/gyns in the United States, disagrees with that scientist’s explanation of life.

“I think that’s a gross exaggeration of an incredibly complex topic. There are many fertilized eggs that never implant, that implant in the wrong place … that become miscarriages, that in fact can become a type of cancer,” Horvath said.

Perhaps Horvath said something more compelling to the reporters that they did not print, but her words as quoted do nothing to undermine the conclusions of the paper by Maureen Condic (whose name the Post bafflingly omits).

Horvath’s first three points (mentioning non-implantation, implantation in the wrong place, and miscarriages) merely establish that human zygotes may die in the natural course of things, something that no informed observer has ever doubted; they do not establish that these zygotes are anything other than living organisms of the human species, exactly as Condic says. Horvath’s fourth point is presumably a reference to teratomas, which are gamete tumors and are not organisms that direct their own orderly development. Human teratomas are not cases in which a human zygote becomes a type of cancer (and if they were, they would merely be another way in which a human zygote could die).

To sum up, then: Conception marks the beginning of the life of a new human organism, however short or long the life of that human organism turns out to be; and every living human organism started being a living human organism as a zygote, at conception. It is of course possible to deny that all human organisms have a moral status that demands protection. But those who wish to deny it have often shown themselves capable of engaging in enormous feats of obfuscation.

Update (1/21/19): Over the weekend “mdepietro” left this comment, which I’ve lightly edited:

I think what Susan Horvath is referring to is not teratoma but a cancer called choriocarcinoma. In such cases there is typically an abnormal fertilization process such that either a normal zygote never forms (situations in which an egg is fertilized by two sperm or an egg that is fertilized but the maternal DNA is lost). In typical cases the malignant tissue is trophoblastic (that is, destined to be part of the placenta). It should be obvious that this does not represent normal fertilization, which in reality is not a momentary event but includes all the events from sperm penetration of egg to formation of a diploid organism with functioning DNA. It is correct to say this in no way disputes that a zygote/embryo/fetus/infant are all stages of human development. As my embryology text book clearly states the zygote is the beginning of a human being (The Developing Human, Keith Moore 3rd Edition). . . .

Readers should know the reason 90% of Ob- Gyns are pro abortion is not because they have some deep insight. It is because pro-abortion academics have gained control of the training programs. They do not even have to overtly deny admission to residency training to those who are pro-life. In the 1980s when I was in medical school, I thought about becoming a maternal fetal medicine specialist. But after serving my required rotation in Ob-Gyn as a third-year student under the supervision of a hyper-feminist pro-abortion resident I thought it would likely be nearly impossible to complete a 4-year residency constantly at odds with my program heads. I ended up becoming a pulmonary/critical care physician instead. In my conversations with pro life medical students it has been my experience that most of them realize they will be under intense pressure and since evaluations are subjective they will not be treated fairly if they have pro-life views. As such they simply select other fields. This is unfortunate but has been occurring for decades. Laws that afford conscience protections are not enough because you do not have to formally penalize a pro life ObGyn resident explicitly for being pro-life; you merely say other bad things about them. They are not “team players.” . . . they look to be “confrontational” . . . they lack “empathy”. If your supervisors say such things you will not thrive and they effectively drive out those who do not subscribe to the current orthodoxy.


Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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