The US Department of Health and Human Services recently described its mission as “serving and protecting Americans at every stage of life, beginning at conception.” Imagine that. An agency created to protect “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” wants to protect all human life. Sadly, powerful lobbies oppose it.
Their mission statement has since been revised to omit the phrase “beginning at conception.” According to some critics, protecting human life from the moment of conception violates “the separation of church and state.”
First, a point of fact—the phrase “separation of church and state” is not found in the Constitution. Not even the idea is found in the Constitution. The Constitution was designed to allow members of all churches to have full-throated participation in the government without having to deny their faith as the cost of full citizenship.
The non-establishment clause, the free-exercise clause, and explicit prohibitions against a religious test for public office are all designed to let people of faith into the government, not to keep them out.
Second, it is a highly dangerous practice to use labels in place of sound reasoning. If we allow viewpoints to be excluded from the public square just because they are “religious,” without actually considering whether they are true, we will all become fools.
Imagine living in a society where those in power could overturn the plain truth simply by calling it “religious.” In fact, you don’t have to imagine it. We are dangerously close to this already.
Progressive ideology is dismantling and marginalizing some of the most basic facts of human well-being by claiming that plain truth is “religious.” If this dangerous trend is not stopped, none of us on either side of the aisle will be able to guess which truths will be overturned next. We will all be hurt in unpredictable ways.
Besides, basic biology is not a distinctly religious belief. It is common knowledge which does not require any divine revelation or ecclesiastical authority to prop it up.
The most fundamental fact of modern biology is that your body is in a continual state of change and development from cradle to grave. Yet, through all the changes, your identity remains the same.
The science of embryology has traced this continual development all the way back to a single-cell organism called the zygote. What is most amazing about a zygote is that it is entirely self-contained and self-directed. Your mother’s body didn’t add anything to your being after fertilization; she only sheltered and fed you.
Just as your current body grows and matures as long as you keep it safe and fed, so also a zygote has absolutely everything needed to grow and mature. Keep it sheltered and fed for twenty years, and it’ll be driving off to college.
In fact, while the womb is designed to do this job, it has been done elsewhere. Ectopic pregnancies sometimes come to term. In Ogden, in 1999, Sage Dalton was delivered by C-section when the amazed doctors found her outside her mother’s womb. Worldwide, there have even been four cases of healthy children delivered from their mothers’ livers!
Since there is an undeniable continuity from zygote to grave, some try to confuse the science by blurring the line between egg and zygote. Dr. Richard Paulson, a critic of the HHS Mission Statement, wrote in the LA Times, “no new life is formed [when the zygote comes into being] since ‘the egg and the sperm were already alive.’”
But, of course, all life arises from life. Spontaneous generation went out with the flat earth. The real question is this: When does a new life come into being?
Science answers the question by comparing both the makeup and actions of the egg and sperm with those of the zygote that results from their coming together. Do they have the same material makeup, and do they do the same things?
For instance, no one would claim that a sperm cell simply develops into a zygote. Upon entry into the egg, it dissolves. It ceases to be a cell at all, losing both its chemical makeup and its ability to do what all sperm cells do (swim to fertilize eggs).
In the same way, an oocyte (egg) does not smoothly develop into a human being. At the moment of sperm-egg fusion, its entire makeup is changed, and it stops acting like an egg at all.
The egg is designed to receive fertilization. But as soon as it is fertilized, the new cell secretes chemicals and builds barriers against any sperm still outside of it. That’s why embryologists don’t call it a “fertilized egg.” There is no such thing. It is a human zygote, a new single-celled human being who will grow to maturity if fed and sheltered.
None of this is a special revelation from heaven. We can see it with a microscope. Standard textbooks on embryology don’t establish “religion,” just common knowledge. Those that use the “religion” label to set aside plain truth are simultaneously attacking religion and science.
Someone at Health and Human Services wanted their mission statement to reflect the truth. Let’s hope that someday it will.
Rev. Jonathan Lange is the District Life Coordinator for the Wyoming District LCMS.