A “bunch of cells” or a growing baby?

by Bernard Moran, Voice for Life National President

Like many young guys growing up in the 1960s, I knew of girls getting pregnant and disappearing “up north” to have their babies which were later adopted.

As for my knowledge of what a baby looked like in the first trimester (up to 12 weeks), well it was “just a bunch of cells” – a sort of gooey substance that later on mysteriously turned into a baby.

On foetal development, I was a complete ignoramus – like most people. That’s the way things were then. There was no science of foetal development until Professor William (Bill) Liley began his pioneering research at National Women’s Hospital, developing blood transfusions for babies in the womb.

It was the first time a preborn child had been successfully treated as a patient in medicine and thus began the medical specialty of perinatology: the management of high-risk pregnancies. In international obstetrics and gynaecology circles Sir Bill Liley became known as the “Father of Foetology”.

One doctor he had a particular impact on was Bernard Nathanson, the co-founder of the abortion-rights movement in the United States. In the early 1970s, Nathanson ran the world’s largest abortion clinic in New York. After five hectic years he was burned out and took sabbatical leave during which he read Bill Liley’s research papers on the science of foetal development.

The research was a revelation. From being a medical “bunch of cells” man, he began to see the foetus (however small) through Liley’s eyes as a unique, human individual: a person, a “someone”.

This newly acquired knowledge brought about a profound change in Nathanson. He stopped being involved with abortions and wrote an article for the leading American medical journal in which he admitted his awareness that he had participated in the killing of thousands of human beings.

In 1981, Dr Bernard Nathanson visited New Zealand to meet Bill Liley. I was delegated to meet him at Auckland airport and drive him to his hotel. Although seriously jet-lagged from the long flight from New York, he was as excited as a Justin Bieber fan, at the prospect of meeting Bill Liley and exclaimed to me:

“You have no idea how we O and G’s (obstetricians and gynaecologists) in the United States, respect Bill Liley! We can’t understand why he hasn’t been awarded the Noble Prize!”

“Well,” I replied, “since he began opposing abortion he’s been sidelined here.”

What we now know with the wonders of DNA discoveries is that each one of us is genetically “programmed” from the fertilization of sperm and egg. Our features, our build and our individual talents and characteristics. We are not a mere “bunch of cells”, but a “someone”. As Nathanson said: “That is scientific fact – the rest is politics.”

Which brings me to “Fighting to Choose: The Abortion Rights Struggle in New Zealand” by Alison McCulloch, deputy leader of the Abortion Law Reform Association of NZ (ALRANZ).

Published in June 2013 by Victoria University Press, it is a fascinating insight. The author is a former staff editor on the New York Times.

In the final chapter, she reviews the decades of struggle and expresses her frustration that groups like us are still battling to defend a “bunch of cells”.

I can understand her chagrin, but the bad news is that we are not going to disappear. Not while the Ministry of Health and the medical authorities refer to the killing as “TOP” or “termination of pregnancy”, involving the removal of the “products of conception” and “medical waste”.

We exist to speak the truth, however uncomfortable, and protect the weak, innocent and vulnerable against the violation of their rights by the strong and powerful.

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