Bill Nye on Abortion

by Jay Johansen

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Bill Nye, famous for his television program "Bill Nye the Science Guy", recently made a brief video in which he talks about abortion. It has been pushed by many pro-abortion people as a "scientific view" of abortion. See, for example, this article in the Huffington Post.

They key point he wants to make is that life does not begin at conception, because, he says, "Many many many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans." Apparently he is referring to the fact that many fertilized eggs do not survive to the point of birth. For someone attacking his opponents for lack of scientific thinking, this statement shows shocking lack of scientific thinking. "Dies in the womb" and "is not human" are not the same idea at all. It's not clear what they even have to do with each other.

If the ... thing ... in the womb is not human, what is it? Is it a reptile? Is it a Martian? Is it a rock? The unborn baby has 46 chromosomes. A genetic test will clearly identify these as human chromosomes. Given our modern knowledge of genetics, how can you say that this is not human? What is the scientific definition of "human", if not "possessing human chromosomes"? As I write this, there's something of a scandal over a series of undercover videos that show Planned Parenthood employees discussing the sale of body parts from aborted babies. They specifically discuss how, during the process of abortion, they carefully avoid damaging the heart, lungs, and kidneys, because these are the most valuable parts. If the unborn is not a living creature, how does it have a heart, lungs, and kidneys? And if it is a living creature, what sort of living creature is it if not human?

How many legs does a pregnant woman have? Did you say "four"? I'm guessing you said, "Huh, what are you talking about? Two of course". (Maybe you thought, "unless she's handicapped".) But if the unborn baby is just "a part of the mother's body", and an ultrasound clearly shows that he has two legs, then doesn't that mean she has a total of four? No, it doesn't, because the unborn baby is a distinct human being. He is living inside his mother, but he is not a part of his mother. Any more than I am a part of my car just because I am sitting inside it.

He goes on to say that if the unborn child has human rights, then "Whom are you going to sue? Whom are you going to imprison? Every woman who's had a fertilized egg pass through her?"

What in the world is he talking about? His language is muddled, but apparently his argument is that if abortion was made illegal, than logically we would have to sue or imprison every woman who has a miscarriage. This is dumb. Murder of an adult is illegal. But no one seems to see any terrible, baffling paradox about how we can send people to jail for murder but not send anyone to jail when a person dies of natural causes. Miscarriage is death by natural causes. Abortion is death as the result of a deliberate act.* If you were arrested and charged with murder, could you defend yourself in court with the argument that it doesn't matter because lots of people die from natural causes? Hey, way more people die from natural causes than are murdered. Would a judge listen to such an argument for five seconds?

If a fertiziled egg does not survive to birth, he says, "Does this mean that all these people failed you? It's just a reflection of a deep lack of scientific understanding. You literally don't know what you're talking about." He doesn't explain exactly what scientific fact it is that pro-lifers don't understand. Of course many unborn babies die in the womb. We all know that. No one "blames" a mother for having a miscarriage, any more than we blame her if her born child dies of leukemia. Well, I suppose we might blame her if she did something while pregnant that was clearly bad for the baby, like excessive drinking or using dangerous drugs. Just like we might blame her if her born child died because of some dangerous or unhealthy thing that she did. But that's the point: was this death the result of a deliberate act? Was it criminal negligence? Or was it a tragic accident or illness?

Most people have no problem distinguishing death by natural causes from murder. Oh, in any particular case, the police or the coroner might have difficulty telling whether a particular death is by natural causes or a cleverly-concealed murder. But Mr Nye apparently thinks that the very idea of distinguishing the two is incomprehensible. How can you say that someone who deliberately kills their own child should go to jail, but someone who watches helplessly while their child is killed in a tragic accident should not? Well Mr Nye, most of us have no difficulty making a moral distinction those two cases. Indeed, I'd think to most people the difference is pretty obvious.

Mr Nye keeps repeating that pro-lifers don't understand science, but he never identifies one specific scientific fact that pro-lifers question or ignore.

Well, he does make one claim about a scientific fact that he says pro-lifers get wrong. "Your interpretation of a book written 5000 years ago, 50 centuries ago, makes you think that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse they always have a baby." One can only say, What in the world is he talking about? I have never heard anyone claim that every sex act results in a baby. We don't need advanced science to tell us that -- it's common human experience. I don't know of any place in the Bible -- I presume that's the mysterious book he is referring to -- that says any such thing. Who said that every sex act invariably results in a baby? Did he just make this up? For someone blasting others for their supposed ignorance, you'd think he'd check his facts and have citations before making such an unlikely claim. (The most favorable reading I can even think of is that maybe he heard a pro-lifer make a poorly-worded statement that sounded like it meant this. Or maybe his statement his poorly worded and doesn't mean what a literal reading would indicate.)

When it comes to who has science on their side, Mr Nye has it completely backwards. Before genetics was understood, before microscopes were invented, before ultrasound was invented, before scientists were able to study the process of development in the womb, someone might reasonably have been able to say that no one knows when human life begins. The beginnings of a new life were a very mysterious process. But since about the mid 1800s, biologists have known that human life begins at conception. Any embryology textbook will tell you that.

Nye concludes with the classic political activist's wail, "We have so many more important things to be dealing with! Why can't we work together?" Okay, Mr Nye. If you think this issue isn't important, than why don't you just give in and let us right-wingers have our way on this one? His statement that he believes this issue isn't important is an obvious lie. If he didn't think it was important, he wouldn't be making videos about it.

* Medical people distinguish "induced abortion", the deliberate killing of an unborn child, from "spontaneous abortion", another name for miscarriage. But this is a technicality. In common parlance, "abortion" means induced abortion.

Posted Oct 13, 2015.

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