On Friday, June 24, a federal court in Indiana struck down portions of a bold and innovative set of measures intended to strengthen the Hoosier State’s legal protections for its most vulnerable residents – children in the womb. Indiana’s House Bill 1210 stripped Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers of Medicaid funding and required abortionists to tell mothers that “human physical life” begins at conception and that their baby will feel pain during the abortion. Of these three provisions, only the defunding of abortion providers was struck down in its entirety. (That decision has now been appealed), The informed consent provisions largely survived, and that is promising news for Indiana and our majority pro-life nation.
For starters, this means the law of the land in Indiana declares that “human physical life” begins at conception. An amazing feat considering the fact that Planned Parenthood’s “bioethics expert” in the case, Lee M. Silver, a Princeton University professor and American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, relied on the same Leftist-lexicon that has been so thoroughly dominant in academic and naturalistic circles for generations.
Throughout testimony, Silver did his best to present Christianity and science as two things as unmixable as oil and water: he contended the former is belief-based while the latter is empirical. Thus, to take the position that “human physical life” begins at conception was “an understandable religious position” but not a scientific one, he said.
Silver even went so far as to say the term “human physical life” itself is “meaningless” and that even a “fetus” cannot be described as a life with any degree of certainty.
Fortunately, the court did not agree with the philosopher, preferring instead to side with a scientist. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, an Obama appointee, credited the testimony of Dr. Maureen Condic of the University of Utah, an eminent and ground-breaking cell biologist, who told the court that “the conclusion that a human zygote is a human being (i.e. a human organism) is not a matter of religious belief, societal convention or emotional reaction. It is a matter of observable, objective, scientific fact.”
To many, it follows logically that if “human physical life” begins at conception, then the ability to feel pain must begin quite early as well. The more we learn about human development in the womb (beginning with the dramatic Lennart Nilsson embryo photographs in the early 1970s through today’s commonplace 3D ultrasonic imaging), the more we realize we’ve been fundamentally ignorant about the infinite complexity of what the Supreme Court has rightly called “the mystery of human life.” Estimates of the age at which babies in utero can feel pain have been lowered from shortly after birth – a common belief around the time of Roe v. Wade in the early 1970s – to more recent, research-based conclusions of 20 weeks or even as early as 16 weeks.
Thus the Indiana court, while preventing the fetal pain disclosure from being applied to Planned Parenthood’s patients because Planned Parenthood claims to perform only first trimester abortions, nonetheless also suggested that a law barring abortions in the second or third trimesters would be supported by the court based on the science submitted by the state. Therefore, the June 24 decision, which at first seemed such a defeat for defenders of life because it allowed Planned Parenthood to keep drawing state funds on which to run its abortion mills, has actually proven a boon to those defending life at the point in which it is least capable of defending itself.
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