In a letter to the Missourian, Edward Bode claimed, “the scientific medical fact is that human life begins at conception.” Nope. The scientific fact is that human life began hundreds of thousands of years ago, and life has existed as a continuum since then. There is human life in a tube of blood and in the sperm and egg cells prior to fertilization. The question is when does a particular human life – human being, personhood – begin? There is no religious, philosophical or scientific consensus regarding this.
At conception, a living cell with unique DNA is formed. But, from a scientific medical standard, the presence of unique DNA in a living cell does not establish personhood. Some level of neurologic function is necessary. Death of a human being occurs when brain activity is absent even though the body may contain millions of living cells containing unique DNA. While we know a lot about fetal development, it is not clear when neurologic function consistent with personhood is achieved. Estimates range from 12 to 24 weeks of gestation. There is good scientific evidence that a fetus does not experience pain until the beginning of the third trimester. (See the article in the August 24, 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.)
Bode alludes to a “deleterious mental syndrome” allegedly caused by abortion. However, after reviewing the pertinent research, the American Psychological Association concluded that abortion does not increase mental health problems in women. A study of about 365,000 women published in the January 27, 2011, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine found that, in the year following delivery, women who delivered a baby suffered an increased rate of mental health problems, compared to the pre-delivery rate. In contrast, women who had an abortion did not have an increased rate in the year following the abortion.
I know from personal experience that the protesters at the Columbia Planned Parenthood Clinic do more than “pray.” As a volunteer at the clinic, I have been subjected to verbal abuse. Patients I saw in the clinic reported experiencing similar harassment.
The Columbia clinic has not provided abortions for over a year; yet the protests continue. The sad irony is that if the protests deter women from obtaining contraception, more unwanted pregnancies will result. By providing safe, effective contraception, the clinic is actually reducing the need for abortion, something the protesters should embrace.
Robert Blake, MD, is a Columbia resident.