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The language of life

The language of life

In two weeks, America will mark the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision creating a constitutional right to abortion and legalizing most abortions.

Much will be written about the consequences of that decision. While both sides of the debate will insist they are winning, abortion rights advocates will have a difficult time claiming any kind of victory. As the cover of the new Time magazine declares, “40 Years Ago, Abortion Rights Activists Won an Epic Victory With Roe v. Wade. They’ve Been Losing Ever Since.”

Opinion polls show that a larger share of the country identifies with the “pro-life” position than at any time since Roe. Abortions have fallen by one third since their peak twenty years ago. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that both the number and rate of abortions dropped five percent in 2009, the largest decrease in a decade.

An important reason why “pro-life” is winning is the mounting evidence revealing the humanity of the unborn child. Taken together, developments in science belie the pro-choice assertion that an unborn child is nothing more than a clump of cells.

A new study from Pacific Lutheran University published in the journal Acta Paediatrica found that babies can learn individual speech sounds such as vowels and consonants while still in the womb.

Researchers tested 80 newborns in America and Sweden on their response to various sounds. The infants could control which sounds they heard by sucking on their pacifiers. The babies would hear the same vowel sounds again and again by sucking continuously on their pacifiers.

In both countries, newborns listening to foreign vowels sucked longer. This told researchers that the babies, who are naturally curious about new sounds, were expressing more interest in sounds that they hadn’t been exposed to in the womb.

A May 2012 study found that unborn babies can “wake up” in the womb in response to certain sounds, including their mother’s voice. Evan Balaban, a researcher at McGill University in Montreal, found that an unborn baby’s brain may be advanced enough at roughly seven months gestation to “wake up.”

Balaban told U.S. News and World Report, “There’s been a lot of disagreement about whether embryos ever wake up before they’re born, and the scientific consensus is that they don’t. It seems like things that are extremely interesting to them can wake their brains up.”

A recent study by researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found that just as a mother passes oxygen and nutrients to her unborn baby through the placenta, unborn baby boys transmit some of their DNA through their mother’s body and up to her brain.

And the baby’s cells can remain in a woman for decades. In one case, male DNA was found in the brain of a 93-year-old woman after she died.

The phenomenon is said to be healthy for the mother. Male DNA may help her fight breast cancer by strengthening her immune system. Some scientists believe that the infusion of fresh cells from the unborn baby may partially explain why women live longer than men. Girls may also pass on their DNA to their mothers, but testing this possibility is much more difficult, scientists say.

Other studies have shown that unborn babies can remember musical rhythms, and that they “practice” breathing in the later stages of pregnancy, with periodic inhaling and exhaling of amniotic fluid.

Perhaps the most important prenatal breakthrough was the discovery that unborn babies may feel pain as early as 20 weeks into pregnancy. Pain awareness laws banning abortions after 20 weeks gestation have passed in nine states and have been considered in many more.

The increasingly obvious humanity of the unborn child is at the root of most of the record number of pro-life laws that have passed state legislatures in recent years. Forty-three pro-life laws were enacted by states last year, second only to the 92 laws enacted in 2011.

Fetal pain statutes, laws that require physicians to perform a sonogram 24 hours in advance of an abortion and those that require abortionists to inform women seeking abortions about the development of their unborn child are all predicated on acknowledging that abortion involves the taking of a human life.

For decades pro-lifers were in the difficult position of seeming to place the rights of a “clump of cells” ahead of the right of women to control their bodies. But science has refuted that talking point.

The science of human development allows pro-lifers to continuously remind the public that unborn babies are capable of feeling, learning and communicating, and that they therefore cannot be dismissed.

Let me pivot from the science of life to the politics of life. More and more political analysts and weak-kneed politicians are advising the historically pro-life Republican Party to abandon its pro-life stance for political gain.

My first response is that if you cannot trust a party on the value of defending human life, how can you trust it on issues like marginal tax rates.

Still, consider this: A common but bogus attack on the GOP is that it rejects science. Notice I said bogus. Isn’t it ironic that just as science is proving the humanity of the unborn child some in the party of Lincoln are tempted to abandon the most defenseless Americans of all?

Former presidential candidate Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of the Campaign for Working Families.

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