This article is a reprint from a Focus on the Family publication, Physician, dated November/December 1992. Because it deals with the use of language to deceive—redefining "contraception"—in a manner meant to obscure the mechanisms of many modern so-called contraceptive agents we offer it as part of the birth control debate.
by Eugene F. Diamond, M.D.
Not too long ago, as medical history is measured, a group of physicians launched their campaign against abortion with this resolution:
"In questions of abstract right, the medical profession do not acknowledge such words as expediency, time service [cowardice]. We are the physician guardians of women, we alone, thus far, of their offspring. The case is here of life or death — the life or death of thousands — and it depends, almost wholly, upon ourselves. As a profession we are unanimous in our condemnation of the crime [which is] no simple offense against public morality and decency, no mere misdemeanor, no attempt on the life of the mother, but the wanton and murderous destruction or her child."1
This document served as a pro-life manifesto for years, not only for this group but for society as a whole. Its adoption was unanimous. The place: Louisville, Ky. The year: 1859. The group: The American Medical Association.
The advent of advocate science
Since 1859, scientific investigation has strengthened the facts upon which the AMA's original anti-abortion position was based. For instance, Oscar Hervig demonstrated in 1875 that human life begins with the union of sperm and egg (an event referred to until only recently by the basically interchangeable terms fertilization or conception.) Hertvig's pioneering work encouraged medical societies world-wide to work toward outlawing abortion, which was becoming more practical with the introduction of anesthesia and antiseptics.2
As in-vitro fertilization (IVF) was perfected, the pro-abortion claim "we don't know when life begins" became obsolete and ludicrous. So abortion advocates took another tack, claiming that IVF showed "conception is not an event, but a process." Their objective was not to clarify anything — the goal of legitimate science — but to confuse the issues. For if no one can fix a point when conception has occurred, the principle that life deserves protection from conception onward has no real meaning.
Even a non-scientist knows that life itself is a process comprised of events. Scientifically speaking, this process is an observable continuum that begins at fertilization (conception) and ends with death. Nonetheless, IVF has provided a window into the very early elements of this process, as follows:
1. The sperm head gets to the surface of the ovum and emits an enzyme that opens a path for the genetic material of the sperm (pronucleus) to enter the ovum.
2. The sperm's pronucleus makes its way to the ovum's pronucleus (12 hours).
3. The pronuclei fuse to form a zygote (2 hours).
4. The nucleus reproduces itself and divides into two daughter cells (18 hours).
The total process is 32 hours or less. When it "begins" is subject to interpretation. But whatever point you use, the process is clearly over long before abortion, either surgical or chemical, is usually considered. So this argument does not strengthen the pro-abortion case.
Another pro-abortion strategy has been to redefine "contraceptive" (and by inference, "conception). Prior to 1976, a "contraceptive" was understood to be an agent that prevented the union of sperm and ovum. In 1976, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), realizing that this definition didn't help its political agenda, arbitrarily changed the definition.
A contraceptive now meant anything that prevented implantation of the blastocyst, which occurs six or seven days after fertilization. Conception, as defined by Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary (27th Edition), became: "the onset of pregnancy marked by implantation of the blastocyst."
The hidden agenda in ACOG's redefinition of "contraceptive" was to blur the distinction between agents preventing fertilization and those preventing implantation of the week-old embryo. Specifically, abortifacients such as IUDs, combination pills, minipills, progestin-only pills, injectables such as Pro-vera and, more recently, implantables such as Norplant, all are contraceptives by this definition.
The next strategy was to invent a new term, "pre-embryo," to make it possible to dispose of frozen embryos after in-vitro fertilization. The term "embryo" traditionally has defined the first eight weeks of intrauterine development. The term "pre-embryo" was first popularized in the Tennessee frozen embryo case, when Junior L. Davis sued to force his wife to destroy embryos prepared for in-vitro fertilization.3
Both the attending physician. Dr. Ray King, and the legal expert in the case, John A. Robertson, referred to the frozen embryos as "pre-embryos." The judge pointed out, however, that in all of his notes, Dr. King had used the term "embryo" to describe what he now wished to formalize as a "pre-embryo." Similarly, Mr. Robertson, testifying as to the status of what he called "pre-embryos," had in all of his previous writings referred to the same stages of human development as "embryos."
The invention of the term "pre-embryo" correlates with the redefinition of contraception. The so-called "pre-embryo" is said to become an embryo at the time of (surprise!) implantation.
Straining at gnats, swallowing camels
Abortion advocates have demonstrated a willingness to utilize any artifice that will confuse the status of the early developing human being. Perhaps you have heard some of the following assertions:
Some zygotes become hydatiform moles or ovarian teratomas; therefore not all zygotes deserve protection.
But as Jerome Lejeune has demonstrated, neither of these tumors is of zygotic origin. The hydatiform mole is derived entirely from paternal germ cell material, and the ovarian teratoma is derived from chromosomal material entirely of maternal origin.4
Sometimes two embryos re-combine into a single being; therefore, the uniqueness of embryos is questionable. 5
Such combination of embryos in mice has been demonstrated in the laboratory.6 In order to effect such combination, however, the zona pellucida must be removed from each embryo by either a proteolytic enzyme or a mechanical process. The two embryos, devoid of their zona pellucida, must then be squeezed together through a micropipette to achieve combination of embryos.
But the function of the zona pellucida is to prevent contiguous embryos from combining. In order for this to occur in nature, two embryos in the same state of development must have to lose their zona pellucidae simultaneously. There is no convincing evidence that this actually occurs in human beings.
Identical twinning means a zygote is not always a unique individual.
Twinning of individuals with identical genotypes can occur after fertilization. It has recently been suggested that, because twinning is possible prior to gastrulation, abortion prior to gastrulation would not be murdering in a moral sense because "there is no individual to be the personal referent of such an action."7
The zygote, however, is either one individual human being or potentially two individual human beings of identical genetic makeup. Is murder mitigated because we do not know whether we are killing one individual or two? It would seem more reasonable to say that moral culpability is increased by the possibility that one might be killing two rather than one human being. If I burn down my enemy's house intending only to kill him, but find out that his identical twin brother has also died in the fire, am I more or less guilty of murder?
So, when does life begin?
Prior to 1973 (when Roe v. Wade became law), embryology and obstetrics textbooks stated unequivocally: "Life begins with the fertilization of the ovum by the spermatozoa."8
Furthermore, the "life" in question was obviously viewed as uniquely and indisputably human: "The zygote thus formed represents the beginning of life for a new unique individual."9
Even as recently as 1981, when a United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee invited both sides of the abortion debate to testify on the question of when life begins, the vast majority concurred with these selected statements. From the official record of the hearing:10
"By all of the criteria of modern molecular biology, life is present from the moment of conception." — Professor Hymie Gordon, Mayo Clinic
"It is scientifically correct to say that an individual human life begins at conception. . . . Our laws, one function of which is to help preserve the lives of our people, should be based on accurate scientific data." — Professor Micheline Matthews-Roth, Harvard University Medical School
"This straightforward biological fact (the beginning of life is conception) should not be distorted to serve sociological, political, or economic goals." — Dr. Watson A. Bowes, University of Colorado Medical School
Only one expert witness, Leon Rosenberg, M.D., said, "Science has no criteria for determining humanness." On a purely semantic level, this statement was patently untrue. Scientifically speaking, it is preposterous, for if true, the speaker, himself, would not be able to "prove" his own humanness.11
Humanness is not a philosophical or theological issue, but it is determined — as is dogness, mouseness or snakeness — by the genetic makeup of the individual involved, from the moment of conception. No woman, after all, has ever given birth to a carrot or a cat or anything other than a being endowed with humanness.
The pro-abortion movement has achieved monumental success by distorting language, muddying issues and withholding the truth from the public, with the tacit assistance of the media. The central themes of the pro-life movement are irrefutable and should be asserted categorically and without ambiguity. Words in this war are important tools that must not be dulled by sloppy thinking or intentional sabotage. They stand for facts, and the facts give witness to the truth.
1. From: "Report on Criminal Abortion," The Transactions of the American Medical Association. (1859) 12:76-77.
2. Franklin E. Payne, Jr. Biblical/Medical Ethics (Millford, Mich.: Mott Media, 1985), 143, 147.
3. Davis v. Davis v. King, Fifth Judicial Court, Tennessee, No. E-14496, Sept. 21, 1989 (Young, W. Dale. presiding.)
4. Jerome Lejeune, "On the Nature Of Man Allen Award Lecture," Child and Family, 13:154, 1964.
5. Haring, B., "New Dimensions of Responsible Parenthood," Theological Studies, 37:120, 1976
6. B. Mintz, "Experimental Genetic Mosaicism," Journal of Experimental Zoology, 157:273, 1964
7. T. Shannon. and A. Wolter, 'Reflections on the Moral Status Of the Pre-Embryo," Theological Studies, 51:603, 1990
8. See Leslie Arey, Embryology, 6th ed. (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Co., 1954), chs. 2, 6: Bradley Patten, Human Embryology, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw HiII, 1968).
9. Louis Fridhandler, "Gametogenesis to Implantation," Biology of Gestation, vol. 1, ed. N.S. Assau (New York: Academic Press, 1968), 76.
10. Report, Subcommittee on Separation Of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S.-158, 97th Congress, 1st Session 1981. Cited by Randy Alcorn, Prolife Answers to ProChoice Arguments. Portland, Ore., Multnomah Press, 1992), 40-41.
11. Franklin E. Payne. Jr., Op. Cit., 147.
At the time of the original publication of this article, Dr. Eugene Diamond, a Palos Park, Illinois pediatrician, served as a member of Focus on the Family's Physician Advisory Council.
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