Life begins at conception

Life begins at conception

It’s universally accepted that life begins at conception. To quote the American College of Pediatricians: “At fertilisation, the human being emerges as a whole, genetically distinct, individuated zygotic living human organism, a member of the species Homo sapiens, needing only the proper environment in order to grow and develop. The difference between the individual in its adult stage and in its zygotic stage is one of form, not nature.”

This is not some fanciful doctrinal pronouncement from a bunch of desiccated old men wearing weird clothes in the Vatican. It’s a clinical statement from medical professionals describing a biological reality.

The point here is that it’s impossible to arbitrarily determine any moment after fertilisation when a foetus suddenly and magically morphs from being a lump of tissue to becoming “human,” since it’s already a genetically unique and complete living being. Any such theoretical point (12 weeks? 20 weeks? The point at which the baby can survive outside the womb? The moment of actual live birth?) can be chosen only for reasons of convenience, pragmatism or sentiment – or perhaps all three.

If we accept the biological fact that life starts at the moment of conception, then it follows inexorably that abortion at any point during the development of the foetus involves extinguishing a human life. Whether you choose to call that murder is another matter. Society chooses not to, generally preferring to regard murder as a crime that can be committed only on a living, breathing, sentient human. (I say “generally” because the Crimes Act provides for a jail term of up to 14 years for someone “who causes the death of any child that has not become a human being in such a manner that he or she would have been guilty of murder if the child had become a human being”. I’m not a lawyer, but I think this offence is used in cases where a pregnant woman is violently assaulted, resulting in the loss of her unborn baby.)

The idea that abortion is murder is usually dismissed as unrealistic and absolutist, even fanatical, yet it’s one that can reasonably and logically be held. Society rejects it, however, because a consensus view has evolved that there are circumstances in which abortion is justified, necessary and humane. Placing time limits on it, as most abortion laws do, is essentially a pragmatic compromise aimed at making acceptable what might otherwise be unthinkable. Thus society is prepared to approve thousands of foetuses being aborted at, say, 12 weeks – although even then a baby is fully formed, with all its organs, muscles and limbs in place – but recoils in disgust at the idea of a baby being removed from the womb alive and left to die, cold and gasping for breath, in a hospital back room. (Couldn’t happen? Oh, but it did.)

At whatever point the abortion takes place, the timing is still arbitrary. There is no magic line marking a point beyond which snuffing out a human life (often by violent means, including dismemberment) suddenly becomes unacceptable. But what has happened in New Zealand, as in other “progressive” democracies, is that as society has become more inured to the idea of abortion, limitations on when the procedure can be carried out have been stretched to the point where they eventually disappeared altogether. Under the Abortion Legislation Act 2020, there’s nothing to prevent babies being aborted even when they are capable of surviving outside the womb. All that’s required is for two doctors to agree that the late-term abortion is “clinically appropriate”.

At this point, abortion really is tantamount to murder, albeit carried out with the sanction of the state; in other words with our concurrence. But we’re not told how often this happens in God’s Own Country, because since the passing of the Act there’s no longer any provision for the collation and publication of information about abortions. It’s legal now, you see, so the public is deemed to have no more interest in knowing about abortions – how many are performed, the reasons for them and the gestational age of the baby – than it has in knowing about tooth extractions, facelifts or hernia repairs.

This probably suits most people perfectly well, since what they don’t know won’t trouble them. Society has been conditioned by decades of feminist indoctrination into believing abortion is a human right and a women’s health issue. What it actually entails – that is to say, the moral implications as well as the physical detail – is something people prefer not to dwell on. Easier just to ignore the whole thing.

The morality (or otherwise) of abortion has suddenly been brought back into sharp relief by the furore over the US Supreme Court’s reversal of the Wade v Roe judgment. Much of the reaction – for example, the grotesquely hysterical scenes at American protest rallies and the ostentatious displays of hand-wringing by the likes of Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi (both nominally Catholic, incidentally) was predictable. What was less so was the desperate attempt by abortion rights activists in New Zealand, assisted by their allies in the media, to make political capital out of the decision despite it being of no direct relevance here.

Even in America, the primary consequence of the majority ruling is simply that decisions on abortion laws will be handed back to the states, which is where they belonged in the first place. This has been wilfully misrepresented as a deliberate assault on American womanhood when in fact it’s an acknowledgement that decisions on issues like abortion should be made by elected legislatures in state capitals, not by a judicial elite in Washington DC. (Last time I checked, American women were allowed to vote, so are free to exert influence on their politicians via the ballot box.)

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, we were subjected to the unedifying spectacle of politicians from across the spectrum scrambling to clamber aboard the abortion rights bandwagon, each trying to outdo the others with their pronouncements of woe and despair. Even David Seymour, who has arguably the least to gain and the most to lose by pandering to leftist feminists, couldn’t resist joining the chorus of denunciation. It wasn’t the first time Seymour had allowed his obvious antipathy toward the anti-abortion lobby to get the better of his political judgment. So much for ACT’s greatest political virtue, which is that it isn’t like the other parties. On this issue Seymour hunted with the pack.

Less surprising was Christopher Luxon’s eagerness to convince the media that a National government would leave the abortion laws alone. This was a no-win situation for Luxon; people who hate National didn’t believe him anyway, while people who might be inclined to support the party probably thought less of him for his moral equivocation, given that he has previously declared himself to be pro-life. He should have taken a less defensive stance. As it is, voters are entitled to wonder whether Luxon (a) has any bedrock values or (b) has been intimidated by the media into watering down his personal principles in order to appear more woke.

Instructing his MP Simon O’Connor to take down a tweet welcoming the Roe v Wade decision didn’t help. Abortion has traditionally been treated as a personal conscience issue for MPs, so O’Connor’s exercise of his right to free speech need not have been seen as a threat to the party. By censoring him, Luxon achieved the unusual feat of simultaneously appearing timid and a control freak.

As for the New Zealand media – well, needless to say they covered the issue with their customary detachment and unstinting commitment to neutrality and balance. The tone of the TV coverage was a blend of despair, denunciation, alarmism and moral panic, and overall only marginally less hysterical than the footage of a woman shown on her knees sobbing inconsolably in the streets of Washington. The dominant narrative, shared across all mainstream media but with no obvious basis in fact, was that women’s abortion rights were threatened in New Zealand too, although exactly how or by whom wasn’t explained.

I was able to predict with almost 100 percent accuracy the pro-choice activists who would be wheeled out to tell us what an appalling setback for women the court’s decision was. Both channels had 87-year-old Dame Margaret Sparrow (Newshub honouring her with the adjective “legendary”) and the voluble American Terry Bellamak – media favourites both – plus an unfamiliar (to me) American academic from the University of Otago who baldly pronounced, with no basis, that Luxon shouldn’t be believed when he said National would leave the abortion law intact. In an item that took up much of the first segment of Sunday night’s 6 pm news, Newshub could find no room for a single pro-life voice. (TVNZ, to its credit, did.)

At the heart of the protests over Roe v Wade is the notion that abortion is a human right – a very recent idea that has somehow taken precedence over the right to life, which is at the core of most moral values systems. This can only be explained as a triumph of ideology over humanity.

When I did a rough calculation in 2018 (the last statistics were published in 2019), the number of babies aborted in New Zealand since the law was first liberalised in 1977 was creeping up towards the half-million mark. In the US, more than 40 million babies were aborted between 1973 and 2019 – more than the population of Canada or Poland. Pro-abortion lobbyists celebrate this as a triumph for women’s rights, but it seems a tragically perverse way to assert women’s autonomy.

  • Karl du Fresne has been in journalism for more than 50 years. He is now a freelance journalist and blogger living in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand.
  • First published by Karl du Fresne. Republished with permission.
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