A Biologist Looks at Abortion
(This article appeared originally in Lifewatch, the Methodist Pro-life newsletter)
by Gary E. Crum, Ph.D.
Roe v. Wade, the infamous decision on abortion made by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, was announced in the papers while I was living in New York City and going to graduate school at Columbia University.
As I read that amazing article in the New York Times I was reclining in an armchair in the upstairs student lounge at the Columbia University School of Public Health. The article’s effect on me was immediate and profound. I felt the Supreme Court had made a biological error of catastrophic proportions.
You see, when the Supreme Court said an in utero human being was not a person – that he or she had no rights – but that he or she nevertheless would have those rights a second later if they were born. This flew in the face of all I had been taught as a biologist and as a Christian.
I remembered my freshman biology instructor back in 1963 harshly speaking to a careless student at the next lab table -- telling him “don’t kill it” when the student was roughly handling a fertilized chicken egg we were to use later in an embryology experiment. My lab partner and I giggled at the instructor’s silly use of so harsh a word for an egg as “kill”-- until we later gazed though a hole the instructor made in that egg’s shell and saw the little embryonic chick’s heart beating away there floating in the pale yolk, already pumping red blood through tiny blood vessels.
Well, what do you know! That egg contained a beating heart and so it could indeed be killed. Even as naive freshmen we could easily understand that simple biological truth.
Ten years after that lab event, when in 1973 the Supreme Court spoke, it was to me therefore as if unborn human beings were ruled to be now somehow not alive, or ruled to be like rats or reindeer or some other nonhuman organism, in spite of all that biology told me about their physiologic and genetic makeup – or it was like the Supreme Court was saying the species of the organism was not important for assigning him or her basic human species rights, only his or her location (in the womb or out).
So, sitting there in the student lounge, I immediately put down my newspaper, jumped from my chair and hurried to the pay phone that was on the far wall (pay phones were ubiquitous back then). I grabbed the huge New York City phone book which was precariously balanced on the phone’s too-narrow writing shelf and began searching for a pro-life organization to support.
New York City was already probably the most liberal abortion rights state in the nation, save perhaps Hawaii, and historically the newspapers had lots of pro-life and pro-choice battles reported in them – so I knew there had to be abortion-related groups operating in a nerve-center like Manhattan.
As I flipped through the flimsy yellow pages my head continued to swim. The Supreme Court had said even New York’s liberal abortion laws were too restrictive – indeed, all state laws now had to be rewritten allowing abortion virtually anytime, even for economic and minor health reasons, based on the Supreme Court’s companion ruling (Doe v. Bolton) announced that very same day in 1973.
This was going way beyond the narrow cases which had been before the court: a blatant case of court activism by setting legislative policy, in my opinion, then and now.
I eventually found an organization in the phone book that maybe looked like it might be a group fighting New York’s (until then) very liberal abortion laws: NARAL – the National Organization for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (now better named as the National Abortion Rights Action League).
I hurriedly dialed their number and when the receptionist came on I asked if they were against abortion, and she said with a little irritation, “What do you think?”
I told her “I really do not know.” (I was much more motivated than informed.) They explained they were not against abortion and I thanked them for the information and went back to looking within the huge phonebook for a pro-life organization.
Eventually I found a “Heartbeat” pregnancy counseling organization that said it was definitely against abortion, and I sent them some money in the next mail, which made me feel a little better.
Since that day in 1973 I have been active in fighting abortion and debating its advocates. When I meet a Christian or a non-Christian who feels abortion is right for this reason or that, I say something like this: “I personally am against abortion because I don’t support violence. Most abortions in the USA are done by taking a sharp surgical object or powerful suction device and sinking it into the body of a developing human being with a beating heart and then rending him or her until the blood flows and the heart stops beating. The dismembered body is then discarded. This is a bloody, violent act destroying an innocent human life and cannot be anything I want to condone. “
And I sometimes also add the gruesome fact that this violent act takes place over two thousand (>2000) times a day in the USA.
Yes, embryonic and fetal humans are much smaller and not as capable as are adults, but so are newborns, to whom the Supreme Court thankfully does not deny human rights.
I really cannot pretend to be a legal expert, but as a biologist I clearly see abortion as unacceptable, and decry its ready availability in our midst. In my mind, it is only justifiable when necessary to prevent a likely death of the mother (and perhaps rape).
To those who have had abortions or encouraged them, and there are millions and millions of people in that category, I ask you to find peace through the total forgiveness that comes from God through his Son’s atoning sacrifice on the cross, and to turn from supporting violence to supporting life.
Let’s stop the killing.