When Biology Speaks Truth to a New Prime Minister and Parliament


Prof. William Wagner

WFFC Distinguished Chair for Faith & Freedom at SAU

When Biology Speaks Truth to a new Prime Minister and Parliament [*]

Sentience – the condition of being conscious or aware

Encarta Dictionary


An abortionist rips apart a viable fetus and removes it from the mother’s womb piece by piece. Clamping a pair of forceps onto the live being the abortionist proceeds to tear off the unborn baby’s extremities and crush its head to fit through the vaginal opening.[1] Another abortionist injects a liquid solution into the amniotic sack to poison an unsuspecting fetus. The chemicals in the solution then eat away at the baby’s live body for the next hour or so, dehydrating it, causing internal bleeding and sending it into wild spasms until it dies.[2] Later, the mother goes into labor to expel the piteous corpse.[3] Yet another abortionist delivers a baby part way and kills it just before its birth. The baby dies as the abortionist punctures its skull and vacuums away its brains.[4]

At this writing Canada remains the only Western nation to place no restriction on abortion, no matter how barbaric the method or how biologically developed the child; Canada’s newly elected Prime Minister supports unlimited abortions at all stages of the unborn baby’s development through the point of the child’s birth.[5] Thus, an individual may end the life of an unborn or even partially born sentient child using any of the above described methods (i.e., ‘dilation and evacuation’ abortion, medication-induced abortion, and partial-birth abortion respectively). In this regard, it seems even unborn eagles receive more legal protection in Canada than unborn humans.[6]

Twenty years ago, in R v. Morgentaler, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the section of the Criminal Code proscribing abortion.[7] The Court stated the law unconstitutionally infringed on a woman’s rights and freedoms under the Canadian Charter.[8] In so stating, however, the Court did not hold the unborn lacked protection; In this regard, even the majority in Morgentler recognized a valid state interest in protecting the fetus, leaving it to Parliament to promulgate appropriate provisions.[9]

One of the fundamental functions of a civilized nation’s government is to protect human life. Although it must also protect liberty, the interest in life is plainly superior. Life without liberty at least holds the potential for renewed liberty, but liberty without life is a nullity. Thus, in civilized nations, no one has the “liberty right” to torture or terminate innocent human life because it is wrong to do so. What is wrong cannot be a right.[10] It is not surprising, therefore, that the rule of law in Western cultures regulate against killing partially born babies and viable human fetuses.[11] Reflecting divine and natural law traditions, Western cultures base their ethical and legal systems primarily on the Judeo-Christian tradition,[12] which teaches that taking human life is fundamentally wrong.[13] In formulating the law on viable and partially born live human babies, lawmakers may look to this inviolable standard as the benchmark, reflecting it in the law. Thus, consistent with historical and legal traditions, the positive law of Western nations reflect God’s revealed inviolable standard.[14] That truth said, we intend here not just to sing to a converted choir about the sanctity of life. We also appeal to reason and the rational responsibility of a civilized nation: petitioning that sentient beings of our own species be shielded from intentionally inflicted, slow, agonizing, involuntary death.

Our thesis is that the advanced biological development of a viable or partially born fetus carries it far past the matrix where, even for the irreligious, faith becomes sight. Compelling evidence reveals that around twenty weeks gestation, (the point of viability) the unborn are sentient and vulnerable to pain during abortion. Thus, whether one’s justification for reform rests on religious or secular foundations, a government’s tolerance of late-term and partial-birth abortion is irresponsible inhumanity at best and inexcusable infanticide at worst. This is especially so in light of the above described barbaric methods abortionists use at this stage in the pregnancy to kill the viable or partially-born baby.

Viable Fetuses and Partially Born Babies are Sentient During Their Abortion

Some, using a secular worldview, view a fetus only as a potential human. Nonetheless, they live and manifest their sentience in a variety of ways. Even before a fetus becomes viable, scientists observe a rich diversity of prenatal facial expressions. Fetuses smile, grimace, stick out their tongues, blink and even yawn, just like newborn babies.[15] The first body movements begin in the embryonic stage, long before its mother can feel it. Appearing reflexive and spontaneous at first, the baby soon begins to move in more deliberate ways, responding actively to stimulation.[16] In the last few weeks of gestation, the fetus’s behavior indicates that its brain is capable not only of responding to sensation but also of learning.[17] As early as twenty-eight weeks gestation, a fetus might begin to exhibit a basic form of learning called habituation. This is the ability to remember harmless sensations and become accustomed to them so that they no longer cause alarm. In several studies, researchers have observed fetuses startling at novel stimuli, but reacting less and less as the same stimulation is repeated.[18]

Unborn viable babies demonstrate their developing capacity for learning most clearly in their ability to recognize familiar sounds. According to a study with sixty full-term fetuses, playing a recording of the mother’s voice causes a fetus’s heart rate to quicken. The voice of a stranger contrastingly, made it decelerate.[19]

According to one experiment, premature babies as young as 28 weeks exhibited different facial expressions in response to different tastes. Babies given something sweet react with smiling, happy looks while those tasting, sour, salty and bitter substances respond with pickle-faced grimaces and other displays of displeasure.[20] We observe in all this that the fetus becomes sentient well before its birth. Not only does it develop senses and awareness, it also distinguishes between different stimuli and prefers some over others.[21]

Given the recognized government interest in protecting the living fetus, we suggest this must lead Parliament to the inevitable question “Does the baby also feel pain during abortion?”

The answer, in all likelihood, is yes. As described at the beginning of this article, abortion procedures performed on a viable fetus cause intense bodily trauma, create physical pain reactions, and probably cause great agony for the fetus.

A series of ground-breaking studies in 1987 revealed that a neonate’s physiological response to painful stimuli is a magnified mirror image of an adult’s.[22] Noxious stimuli invoke the same stress hormones in premature babies as they do in anyone else.[23] Likewise, they cause a surge in metabolism, accelerate the heartbeat and quicken respiration.[24] Today, doctors widely recognize that the all physiological aspects of pain are present at 18 weeks and standard medical practice dictates that painkillers be provided even for the youngest patients in connection with neonatal surgery.[25]

According to Neurologist Paul Ranalli, the first synapses between the cerebral cortex and the neurons that carry pain signals happen around 20 weeks gestation. Connections continue to form as more time passes and the fetus becomes increasingly sensitive.[26] Premature babies as young as 22 weeks respond to a needle’s poke with grimaces.[27] Nevertheless the ruthless procedures and brazen cruelty of partial birth abortion, medication- induced abortion and dilation and extraction are still preformed on viable fetuses.

A viable or partially born baby is the same as any other premature baby of its developmental maturity. Thus, if Parliament seeks a compelling government interest in the debate over protecting a viable unborn or partially born baby, the sentience of the child facing such a horrific termination should end the discussion.


Partial birth abortion falls far beyond secular gray-area penumbras of choice into the deep darkness of inhumanity. One can pretend a human fetus does not feel pain or that it is insensate as a spare organ. Yet, at some point, biological reality speaks truth to power. A nation’s character is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable. Canada is highly respected among the international community as a nation sensitive to human rights. Moving to end the barbaric inhumane conduct of partial birth abortion is consistent with such a noble tradition.


[*] This contribution is an updated republication of a 2008 article by Prof. William Wagner, N. Katherine Wagner, and J.Scott Kennedy, first published in Revue juridique Chretienne.

[1] See generally, wwwphysiciansforlife.org; See also, Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000) (Thomas – and medical authorities cited therein).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] S. Ertelt, New Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Supports Unlimited Abortions Up to Birth, LifeNews.com (2015); Kennedy, J.Scott, Law and Life – Abortion in Canada, Christian Legal Journal (2003), hereinafter, Kennedy I.

[6] See, e.g., B.C. Wildlife Working Report No. WR-62 at 55 (1994) (discussing the illegality of molesting eagle eggs)

[7] R v. Morgentaler, Smoling, and Scott (1988) 1 S.C.R. 30; For a deeper analysis of the decision and its impact see, Kennedy I, supra note 5, and Kennedy, J. Scott, Beyond Morgentaler, Christian Legal Journal (2004)

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Although this proposition is self-validating, Hadley Arkes provides a typically illuminating discussion of the matter in First Things: An Inquiry into the First Principles of Morals and Justice 24 (Princeton Univ. Press 1986). See also Wagner, Kane, and Gismondi, Physician-Assisted Killing Laws, Constitutional Authority, and the Conscience of a Nation – Two World Views 24 Thomas M. Cooley L. Rev. 123 (2007)

[11] Kennedy I, supra note 5

[12] See, e.g., Dwight G. Duncan & Peter Lubin, The Use and Abuse of History in Compassion in Dying, 20 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 175, 185 (1996).

 [13] In this regard, God reveals in his Word that the life He creates has worth, value, and significance; He declares his creation of human life good and intimately communicates that He has a plan and purpose for each life He creates See Genesis 1:26, 27 (NIV) (“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”); Genesis 1:31 (NIV) (“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”); Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) (For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD…); Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) (“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”); see also Genesis 9:6 (indicating that humans are not to be killed because “in the image of God has God made man”); Psalm 139:13, 16 (NIV) (“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. . . . [Y]our eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”); Colossians 1:16 (NIV) (“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.”); Isaiah 43:7 (NIV) (“Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.”); Acts 17:24, 26 (NIV) (“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth . . . . From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them . . . .”); Acts 20:24 (NIV) (Paul’s statement, just prior to facing humanly unbearable adversity: “[I]f only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”).

Because God creates human life, only He can authorize the taking of it – and nowhere in His Word does He authorize killing viable or partially born human life. God’s inviolable standard is expressed in His command, “Thou Shalt Not kill.” Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17 (King James). Thus, viewed through the lens of a sacred worldview, one discovers divinely revealed objective standards on the value of human life. In the revealed is the inviolable objective standard that killing viable and partially born human life for personal convenience purposes is always wrong. Underlying this inviolable standard is a presumption that human life has value and purpose at all stages.

[14] For example, Western culture has long honored the Hippocratic Oath. Its creation in ancient Greek culture has been foundational in Western medical ethics, and it remains centrally relevant in contemporary medical practice. See, e.g., C. Everett Koop, Introduction, 35 Duq. L. Rev. 1 (1996); Wagner, et.al, supra note 10

[15] Kurjack, et. al, Fetal Behaviour Assessed In All three Trimesters of Normal Pregnancy by Four-dimensional Ultrasonography, Croat Med J 5.46 (2005) at 778

[16] Ahmed, et.al, Fetal Behavioural and Structural Abnormalities in High Risk Fetuses Assessed by 4D Sonography, 5.4 The Ultrasound Review of Obstetrics & Gynecology 275, 267 (2005)

[17] Id. at 285

[18] Groom, L., et. al, Developmental Trends in Fetal Habituation to Vibroacoustic Stimululation, Am J Perinatol 1 (1993): 46-49; Kuhlman, K., et. al, Ultrasonic Imaging of Normal Fetal Response to External Vibratory Acoustic Stimulation, Am. J. Obstet. Gynecol. 1.158 (1988): 47-51; and Morokuma, et.al, Fetal Habituation Correlates with Functional Brain Development, Behavioural Brain Research 1.153 (2004): 459.

[19] Kisilevsky, et.al Effects of Experience on Fetal Voice Recognition, Psychological Science 3.14 (2003): 220-224

[20] Annis, Child Before Birth 50 (Cornell University Press, 1978)

[21] Some may attempt to justify partial birth abortion by saying the fetuses have hydranencephaly and they could never be conscious. Nevertheless, an article which follows the progress of four decorticate children reveals this be a dangerous presumption. Each child in the study was diagnosed by doctors as being in a “developmental vegetative state” yet all four responded to the unrelenting love of their caregivers with signs of sentient awareness. Once their physical health was stabilized and they had established a familiar routine, they reacted to people and situations with coherent emotion. Through smiling and laughing, grimacing in pain, and favoring some people above others, they show us their humanity beyond a question (Shewmon, et.al, Consciousness in Congenitally Decorticate Children: Developmental Vegetative State as a Self-fulfilling Prophecy, Developmental Neurology and Child Neurology 41 (1999): 364-374). These children’s stories and the stories of other children like them reveal that MRIs, EEGs, and other medical tests are not always reliable for manifesting consciousness. (For more information see http://hydranencephaly.com/, a caregiver support group). As Neurologist Bjorn Merker writes in a widely cited research paper, “The extent of awareness and other capacities in these children must be based on assessment in its own right, by appropriate neurological tests, and not by reference to the status of their cortical tissue.” (Merker, B. Consciousness without a Cerebral Cortex: A Challenge for Neuroscience and Medicine, The Behavioral and Brain Sciences 30.1 (2007): 63-81 at 80) No child born or unborn should suffer inhumanity on the basis of a fallible prognosis.

[22] See, Anand, et.al, Pain and its Effects in the Human Neonate and Fetus, N Eng J Med 317.21 (1987): 1321-1329.

[23] Id.

[24] Id.

[25] Paul, Annie Murphy, The First Ache, New York Times Magazine (25 Mar. 2008)

[26] Ranalli, Paul M.D., The Emerging Reality of Fetal Pain in Late Abortion, NRL News (1 Sep. 2000)

[27] Paul, supra note 25. Indeed, in light of what doctors know today, it is considered an ethics violation in some places to operate on a neonate without sufficient pain control. Id.

About the Author

Prof. William Wagner
WFFC Distinguished Chair for Faith & Freedom at SAU
Professor Wagner holds the WFFC Distinguished Chair for Faith & Freedom at Spring Arbor University. He has a special interest in building and preserving environments where Christians may share the Good News of Jesus, free from persecution and oppression.

More On

This Issue