Unborn babies may “be planning their future”

What now for the abortion lobby?

by Dr Jonathan Sarfati

Published: 9 December 2010 (GMT+10)

A recent article1 in New Scientist, a  journal known for its atheopathy, began with the intriguing paragraph:

“Could a fetus lying in the womb be planning its future? The question comes from the discovery that brain areas thought to be involved in introspection and other aspects of consciousness are fully formed in newborn babies.”

These are the resting state networks (RSNs), AKA the “dark energy of the brain”, which are active even when a person is asleep. One of them, the “default mode network”, may be involved in thinking about the future.

What brought about this question was the research of David Edwards and colleagues at Imperial College London,2 who scanned the brains of 70 babies, many of them premature, with MRI (co-invented by creationist Raymond Damadian). They found that “RSNs for vision, touch, movement and decision-making were largely complete by 40 weeks, as was the default mode network.”

Naturally, this has implications for the pro-life issue, but not necessarily what many people think.

Humanity of the unborn: is it the issue?

Some creationists have argued on the lines of: Whether the unborn is human is not the issue. The main issue is that the Bible commands us not to murder.

This is fallacious. Murder by definition is intentionally taking an innocent3 human life. So before we can know if the command even applies in the first place, we must establish that the subject is human. Indeed there is  overwhelming scientific and biblical evidence for this. For example, see this Baby Steps video below, based on 4D (real time) ultrasound.

‘Brain areas thought to be involved in introspection and other aspects of consciousness are fully formed in newborn babies.’—article in New Scientist, November 2010

In fact, the humanity of the unborn is old news. For example, fetal surgery has been performed for decades, and by definition treats the unborn as a patient. I once had the privilege of sitting next to a fetal surgeon on an airplane, and he described some of the fascinations. For example, he has operated on the fetal heart, “about the size of a pecan.”

Edwards’ research is yet more evidence of pre-natal human life. But even if the opposite were found, it would not prove that the baby was not human. After all, adults in deep unconsciousness might not have any brain activity involved with planning for the future, but it is wrong to kill them. The reason is that they are still human beings.

The same sort of issue came up with a (disputed) study earlier this year claiming that unborn babies don’t feel pain for the first 24 weeks. But if that means it’s OK to kill them, then by the same reasoning it is permissible to kill patients under anesthesia, and those with a rare disorder that makes them unable to feel pain (Hereditary Sensory Autonomic Neuropathy (HSAN)). See  When does the unborn baby feel pain? And does it matter for abortion opposition?).

Pro-lifers should keep returning to this key issue—the humanity of the unborn—when dealing with all the usual pro-abortion rhetoric, as shown in Antidote to abortion arguments. Many conversions from pro-abort to pro-life have resulted from this one issue, as we have shown in  Refuting contrived pro-abortion arguments.

It was ultrasound evidence that convinced the former NARAL activist and abortionist Dr Bernard Nathanson that abortion was wrong, even though for many years he remained an atheist. His documentary on the abortion of an 11-week baby, Silent Scream, has convinced many women not to abort their babies, e.g. “Erica”:

Dear Silent Scream Website,

I just wanted to write a quick note to say thank you. I was supposed to have an abortion today and I was up all last night researching abortions on the internet. I came upon your site and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It had a profound effect on me.

I still went to the clinic and went through the blood testing and watched their video….then came the ultrasound; I begged the nurse to let me see my baby; I felt that I had to see. As soon as I saw my child on the ultrasound I knew I couldn’t do it.

The clinic can absolutely NOT convince me that that living child inside me wasn’t going to feel anything. I saw the heart beating, and he moved his little hands (almost like a wave). I think God intervened and lent me a message that I was about to make the biggest mistake of my life.

My nurse was very compassionate (which I thought was odd) I asked her for a picture of my baby and she explained that she wasn’t allowed to do that. She also explained that she wasn’t supposed to show me the ultrasound screen either. Well, she broke the rules and gave me a picture anyway.

Thanks to the nurse at the clinic and to your video I made the right decision. I’ll be having the baby in 7 months and am looking forward to meeting my little miracle in person.

Thank you a million times over,


And with this new evidence, it might mean that girls like Erica might reconsider abortion, knowing that they’re not “just getting rid of it at the fish stage” but prematurely destroying the future of their baby even as he/she might have been thinking/dreaming about it—perhaps even making plans.

Another atheist who became a pro-lifer is Nat Hentoff. One influence he cited was the inadvertent one by the ‘bioethicist’ Peter Singer:

“The pro-life groups were right about one thing, the location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make much of a moral difference. We cannot coherently hold it is alright to kill a fetus a week before birth, but as soon as the baby is born everything must be done to keep it alive. The solution, however, … is not to accept the pro-life view that the fetus is a human being with the same moral status as yours or mine. The solution is the very opposite, to abandon the idea that all human life is of equal worth.”4
With this new evidence, it might mean that girls might reconsider abortion, knowing that they’re not ‘just getting rid of it at the  fish stage’ but prematurely destroying the future of their baby even as he/she might have been thinking/dreaming about it—perhaps even making plans.

Hentoff accepted one premise, but argued the opposite: there is no difference but location between babies before and after birth, but killing babies after birth is wrong, therefore killing babies before birth is wrong. He cited people like the black militant Rev. Jesse Jackson:

“Don’t let the pro-choicers convince you that a fetus isn’t a human being. That’s how the whites dehumanized us … The first step was to distort the image of us as human beings in order to justify what they wanted to do—and not even feel they’d done anything wrong.”5

Humanity of the unborn: necessary but not sufficient for pro-life view

The above creationist misunderstanding seems to stem from what should be a caricature of the moral argument for God. We are often accused of saying that atheists can’t do good. No, what we say is: of course atheists can be good without God, but that the whole idea of good and evil has no objective meaning under their philosophy. See  Bomb-building vs. the biblical foundation. More recently, the Jewish libertarian columnist Jeff Jacoby gave a lucid summary of the argument:

“Can people be decent and moral without believing in a God who commands us to be good? Sure. There have always been kind and ethical nonbelievers. But how many of them reason their way to kindness and ethics, and how many simply reflect the moral expectations of the society in which they were raised?

“In our culture, even the most passionate atheist cannot help having been influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview that shaped Western civilization. …

“For in a world without God, there is no obvious difference between good and evil. There is no way to prove that murder is wrong if there is no Creator who decrees “Thou shalt not murder.” It certainly cannot be proved wrong by reason alone. One might reason instead—as Lenin and Stalin and Mao reasoned—that there is nothing wrong with murdering human beings by the millions if doing so advances the Marxist cause. Or one might reason from observing nature that the way of the world is for the strong to devour the weak—or that natural selection favors the survival of the fittest by any means necessary, including the killing of the less fit.

“It may seem obvious to us today that human life is precious and that the weakest among us deserve special protection. Would we think so absent a moral tradition stretching back to Sinai? It seemed obvious in classical antiquity that sickly babies should be killed. …

“Reason is not enough. Only if there is a God who forbids murder is murder definitively evil.”6 

As shown above, because atheists can do good deeds (humanly speaking), they can be convinced by the humanity of the unborn to become pro-lifers.

But not all of them do good. E.g. the above-mentioned Peter Singer draws the opposite conclusion to Hentoff: that infanticide is also permissible. At least he is in the  good company of the current President of the USA.

Proving the humanity of the unborn can convert an atheist to a pro-life position—if he holds to a basically Judeo-Christian ethic of sanctity of innocent human life. But Peter Singer, the Nazis and Communists are proof that conceding humanity to a class of humans is not sufficient to protect them, if they throw out this ethic.

For a historical precedent, Hentoff cited Dr Leo Alexander (1905–1985), who was a chief medical adviser at some of the Nuremberg trials of the Nazis. Alexander pointed out7 that the eugenics and euthanasia policies had “small beginnings … the acceptance of the attitude … that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.” But after the camel had managed to get its nose into the tent, it wasn’t long before its whole body was in, and the human displaced. Alexander wrote:

“Gradually, the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans. But it is important to realize that the infinitely small wedged-in lever from which this entire trend of mind received its impetus was the attitude toward the nonrehabilitable sick.”

Hentoff likewise saw the danger of dehumanizing the unborn—not only wrong in itself, but a dangerous slippery slope.

The above shows that proving the humanity of the unborn can convert an atheist to a pro-life position—if he holds to a basically Judeo-Christian ethic of sanctity of innocent human life. But Singer, the Nazis and Communists are proof that conceding humanity to a class of humans is not sufficient to protect them, if they throw out this ethic. This is presumably what the above creationist was trying to get across, although clumsily expressed.

Furthermore, the humanity of the unborn has long been known for millennia, well before ultrasound and other modern scientific advances. For example, one of the best-kept secrets of the anti-Christian MMM (Mendacious Mainstream Media) and government educracy is that the founding mothers of the feminist movement were staunchly pro-life. They denounced abortion as “child murder”, and argued that if they were to object to treating women as disposable property, they should likewise object to treating their unborn children that way (see  Abortion: an indispensable right or violence against women?).

Yet they had less scientific evidence for humanity the unborn than we have now. Conversely, now that we have more evidence of its humanity, our cultural gatekeepers are pro-abort—including most soi-disant feminists. The only reason for the change is not advances in fetal science, but a replacement of the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life ethic with an evolutionary ethic—if such a term can even have a meaning.


In summary: there are two—and only two—issues to decide the abortion debate, so it’s not so difficult:

  1. Is the unborn child (‘fetus’) a human being?
  2. If so, is it ever acceptable to kill the unborn?

This latest brain scan research on premature babies provides strong support for an affirmative answer to (1). But this support was far from necessary: the case was already overwhelming. But by its very nature, this cannot tell us anything about (2): this is a moral question, not a scientific one.

Published: 9 December 2010

References and notes

  1. Collins, N., Introspection brain networks fully formed at birth, New Scientist, 1 November 2010. Return to text.
  2. Doria, V., et al., Emergence of resting state networks in the preterm human brain, PNAS 107(46):20015–20020, 16 November 2010 | doi: 10.1073/pnas.1007921107. Return to text.
  3. In terms of the definition of murder, “innocent” does not mean “sinless” but its etymological meaning of in nocens or “not harming”. Return to text.
  4. Hentoff, N., The Indivisible Fight for Life, October 1986; groups.csail.mit.edu. Return to text.
  5. Hentoff, N., Insisting on life, Jewish World Review, June 12 2006; jewishworldreview.com.Return to text.
  6. Jacoby, J., Created by God to Be Good, Patriot Post, 15 November 2010. Return to text.
  7. Alexander, L., Medical science under dictatorship, New England Journal of Medicine 241(2):39–47, 1949 | doi:10.1056/NEJM194907142410201. Return to text.

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