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Abortion politics take science to its limits

by Nicholas Mazur - Campus Talk Editor
Tue, Jan 30th 2018 08:00 pm

Science is something I believe in very strongly. I believe it has the potential to make us all better people and better thinkers. However, there are limits to everything, science included. Science cannot solve every problem. Like anything, it has a set number of things that it can accomplish. One of these limits comes in the form of morality. After all, you cannot scientifically test whether accepting a bribe as a senator is a morally sound decision. That is simply not how science operates. 

The event that brings me to this particular realm of reflection comes in the form of abortion. In an article recently released by The Atlantic, pro-life advocates are using science to bolster their arguments for pro-life policy. Where once science was a tool solely used by pro-choice advocates, now both sides are taking advantage of scientific statistics. Pro-life advocates are using the ability to monitor information about a fetus for their cause.  Science can tell us things about a child before they are born, like its sex or even birth defects. So now doctors are potentially pushing to change the cutoff date for an abortion from 28 weeks to 22 weeks.

Like I said, it's not a matter of science in this case, it's a matter of morality. You cannot expect science to solve this question. Before I continue, let me make it clear that this article’s aim is by no means to pick a side in this debate. This issue here is of science and misusing it, a crime both sides are guilty of in their own right.

Abortion is a hot topic and always has been, to say the absolute least. It doesn't matter what your opinion is on the subject— at a certain point, science can’t be your scapegoat. As much as I believe that science can be a force for good, it is by no means a way out of a tough moral decision. If both sides claim science in the name of the argument and their ideals, with such a hot topic, then science begins to lose its meaning. Science is a set of methodologies for discovering truth. It is not a quick fix to make your argument seem better. Abortion is an issue of morality on both sides. Is it moral to kill a “life?” Is it moral to restrict the rights of women? Both questions are ones rooted in morality and ethics, not scientific process. Science does not owe either side an answer.  

The Atlantic even cites my issue with this overdependence on science with a quote from Daniel Sulmasy, a professor of biomedical ethics at Georgetown University: “The question of whether the embryo or fetus is a person … is not answerable by science.”

I don’t want this to sound like I don’t think science should be used in arguments ever. Far from it. I think that science can often make many arguments more balanced and accurate. My beef here is that some arguments lie outside the realm that science deals with. Just because science is often synonymous with credibility doesn't mean it will give every argument credibility. 

In a big issue, like global climate change, it certainly lends credibility. In fact, without leading the argument, the whole thing would (and has) descended into a ridiculous shouting match. That is because at the heart of this argument lies a question of science, the science of climate, and how it is or is not changing. This is an argument which can be tested with scientific methods. Abortion, however, has distinctly made itself more than a question of a simple medical procedure by both sides. 

People who support pro-life policies often take the issue to a religious place, and frame their arguments as saving a life from the clutches of death. Pro-choice advocates often frame their fight as one for protecting the rights of women and their right to have autonomy over their bodies. Without picking a side, I can say that neither of these arguments can be answered by science. Should life be protected? Science usually says yes, should people have right over their own bodies? Science usually says yes as well. 

At the end of the day, science is not good or evil, it is a search for objective truth. The right to abortion is simply not an objective question. Both sides of this argument can shout and wave science around as much as they wish, but it won't bring them any closer to resolution.