Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states, for any reason during the full nine months of pregnancy, is on a collision course with science. When the 1973 court handed down that infamous decision, it overlooked the most important issue: when life begins.
Since there was no window to the womb, seven of the nine justices felt perfectly free to classify pre-born children to be non-persons, property of the mother that could be discarded at will.
During the last 33 years, technology has given us that window through ultrasound and fiber optics. Not only can we view these tiny humans, doctors can treat them in utero, performing lifesaving surgery on their miniature patients. Others study the growth and behavior of these babies as they develop and have made startling discoveries.
In the years that followed Roe, the high court felt free to ignore all of these discoveries since none of the cases it has been asked to decide were aimed directly at overturning that landmark case – until now.
Monday, South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signed th.e Women’s Health and Human Life Protection Act, which outlaws all medical and surgical abortions in his state. The only exception would be to save the life of the mother. In signing this bill, Rounds threw down the gauntlet to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, whose local affiliate operates the only abortion facility in his state.
Both sides are expected to carry that gauntlet all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. If the high court decides to hear the case, it will be forced to look through the window it has ignored all these years. When that happens, it will discover that the womb is a very busy place.
The pre-born begins to move about at about nine weeks. She squints, swallows and moves her tongue. If yo.u stroke her palm, she will make a fist. She will grasp an object placed in her hand.
She begins to explore her body by touching her hands, grasping a foot or her umbilical cord. Later in the pregnancy she will explore her environment by bouncing around the womb, pushing off with her feet. Some babies even lick the uterine wall.
In the first months of pregnancy, the developing child sleeps about 90 to 95 percent of the time. Closer to birth, the baby’s sleep pattern is similar to that of a newborn. Some of these sleep hours are spent in REM sleep, when the child’s eyes move back and forth just as the eyes of adults do when they are dreaming.
Genes or environment? For years scientists have been trying to discover which of these factors is most important in the shaping of an individual. While the jury is still out as to which factor will dominate, we now know that the environment in the womb will play an important factor in development.
Why do some babies teethe on chili peppers and others recoil when fed anything the least bit spicy? Why are some infants frightened by a slight noise, while others will sleep through anything?
The learning process begins earlier than you might think. Taste buds appear mature as early as 13 weeks. During the last trimester, a baby is swallowing up to a liter a day of amniotic fluid which will smell of onions, garlic, curry or other spices ingested by the mother, as does breast milk.
A child in the womb can hear and respond to sound as early as nine weeks. Unborn children also learn to recognize the sound of their mothers’ voices and can distinguish between her voice and that of a stranger. Scientists also have found that a newborn will respond favorably to a familiar story read by the mother before birth. The same is true with music.
Vision is the last sense to develop, but premature infants can see shapes and respond to light. Japanese scientists discovered that babies in utero respond to light flashes on the mother’s abdomen, so we know the womb is not completely dark and offers some visual stimulation.
One of the most sobering revelations about life in the womb is that pre-born children have the ability not only to learn, but to feel pain. Since 1973, birth has marked the end of the open hunting season on the youngest members of the human race. Prior to that time, babies can be brutally ripped apart at will. A future Supreme Court must confront these facts.