Roe and Relativism: A Doctor’s Diagnosis
When fundamental truth ceases to exist, all that is left is the will to power.
Towards the end of this year, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear arguments from the state of Mississippi that have the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that forced legalization of abortion throughout the country. As a pro-life OB/GYN, I have been watching these legal developments with great alacrity. But the medical community as a whole stands strongly in favor of completely liberalized abortion laws. How did we arrive at an impasse where doctors deny the science of human life in utero?
Human life begins during conception. There may be some quibbling over the infinitesimal moment that life starts, but it cannot be denied that after the process of fertilization is complete, a distinct, new, human organism has come into existence. This is not a matter of sentimentality or political opinion, but an observable scientific phenomenon known with certainty for about a century. When advocating for legalized abortion, however, the majority of American obstetricians either reject or ignore this truth.
The rejection of reality afflicts not only obstetrics but other fields of medicine as well. The American Academy of Pediatricians now states that children experiencing gender dysphoria need to have their gender preference “affirmed.” The American Medical Association is lobbying to have sex designation removed entirely from birth certificates. The disease that has yielded this deconstruction within the medical field is relativism: a rejection of objective truth. When fundamental truth ceases to exist, all that is left is the will to power.
Enter Roe v. Wade and the legalization of elective abortion. The decision in many ways represents one of the first tangible fruits of the relativistic philosophical movement that worked to tear down truth. What had previously existed mostly within the academic institutions and the minds of intellectuals was now by judicial fiat the law of the land. The decision could not be arrived at without ignoring objectivity from both medical and legal perspectives. From the medical field, we had to ignore the obvious humanity of the unborn child. From the legal field, we had to ignore the meaning of the words of the Constitution to find our own meaning. But somewhere between the “penumbras” and “emanations” of the Court, our grip on reality was lost and we fell into the lonely void of a directionless subjectivism. Our descent continues apace today.
It is regrettable that many if not most of my fellow obstetricians support legal abortion in virtually all cases. Procured abortion in the medical field has historically been thought of as a circumscribed procedure. The Hippocratic Oath, dated about four centuries before the birth of Christ, explicitly denounces the act. The version of the oath medical students take today curiously omits this phraseology, but nonetheless, the general philosophy against abortion continued relatively unchanged up until the last 100 years or so.
What is most striking about the medical community’s position on abortion leading up to 1973 is not its final conclusions but the utter lack of sound reasoning involved. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) did not cite any new empirical scientific data that led to the medical community’s historic about-face towards abortion. The only new data pushed in the media was the false statistic of 5,000 to 10,000 women dying of illegal abortions per year—a gross overestimate by two orders of magnitude. One may wonder why a supposedly research-driven organization such as ACOG did not openly repudiate the erroneous “facts” promulgated to advocate for abortion legalization. Unfortunately, ACOG did not appeal to reason and evidence, rather they were beholden to the popular feminist ideology sweeping through the Western academy at the time.
In supporting the cultural shift towards abortion, physicians made a deliberate break with the traditional view of not only the matter at hand but with the practice of medicine in general, which had been intrinsically tied to morality up until the 20th century. But by necessity, their support for legal abortion cannot end with the privacy of their own opinions. As the folktale about the emperor’s new clothes suggests, the suspension of reason cannot tolerate being called to task by the truth.
As such, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published a committee opinion in 2007 titled “The Limits of Conscientious Refusal in Reproductive Medicine.” In short, the document says that pro-life OB/GYNs must put aside their personal ethics and either perform abortions or provide referrals for them. However, the committee opinion, keeping with a perspective of moral relativism, begins by wrongly defining conscience as little more than a mere feeling or instinct. Ergo, the pro-life physician’s feelings are trumped by the patient’s “need” for an abortion. This reasoning is wrong because its terms are incorrectly defined. In actuality, conscience is not a feeling but rather a judgment. The same human reason and rationality that we apply to the sciences can and should be applied to moral truth.
Yet what can be said about the rationality of a medical community that unabashedly supports dismembering unborn humans, administering sex-change hormones to children, and seemingly eliminating sexual distinctions entirely? What started as will to power has ended in cultural degradation. The denial of objective truth was needed to reach the conclusions of Roe, a major salvo in a war against reason. The tragedy of the Supreme Court decision was not only the mass killing of our fellow human beings, but it was firstly the formal jettison of human reason. Roe v. Wade’s first victim was the mind, not the body.
We will have to wait and see if Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Finch will be successful in her efforts to overturn Roe. It would be a real and symbolic victory for conservatives throughout the country in what has otherwise seemed like a long series of cultural defeats. But my fellow pro-life advocates should not be deceived; striking down Roe v. Wade is not the end of the struggle but the beginning. We have a long way to go and many sacrifices to make to win back the culture. In the meantime, let us watch closely, hope sincerely, and trust in providence.
Jason Phillips, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist. He has a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis, a doctorate of medicine from Texas Tech University, and completed an obstetrics and gynecology residency at Mercy Hospital St. Louis. Originally from Lubbock, Texas, Dr. Phillips, his wife, and their girls reside in Jacksonville, Florida.