Abortion: Questions and Answers by Jack Wilke, MD:Chapters 1, 2,3, and 5

back to the abortion files                          Back to Medical page

Questions and answers about abortion by Dr Jack Wilke, MD

CHAPTER 1 The Questions

The first question in the entire abortion controversy is: "Is this human life?" or "When is this human life?" Only then can we discuss the conflict between the rights of the woman and the rights of the "baby." In order to answer it, we must first agree on the terms of the argument and its importance.

Define "Alive"

Alive means that this being is growing, developing, maturing, and replacing its own dying cells. It means not being dead.

Define "Human"
Human means one of the biological beings who belongs to the species Homo Sapiens. Such beings are unique from all other beings in that they have 46 human chromosomes in every cell. Such beings do not belong to the rabbit family, the carrot family, etc.

Define "Person"

Person is defined in at least a dozen different ways, according to the field or discipline in which you define it. In theology it usually means when the soul is created. In law (in the U.S.), personhood begins at birth. Other countries have ruled that it begins at different ages. In medicine and natural science, person usually means when the being is alive and complete. In philosophy it has multiple meanings and shades of meanings.

We strongly suggest that no one use this term without first defining precisely what you mean by it; for, unless you do, any discussion of personhood is foolish.

Is this human life?

This is the question that must first be considered, pondered, discussed, and finally, answered. It cannot be brushed aside or ignored. It must be faced and met honestly. Upon its answer hinges the entire abortion question, as all other considerations pale to insignificance when compared with it. In a sense, nothing else really matters. If what is growing within the mother is not human life, if it is just a piece of tissue -- a glob of protoplasm -- then it deserves little respect or consideration, and the primary concern should be the mother's physical and mental health, her social well-being, and, at times, even her convenience.

But, if this is a human life, then we are faced with a second question -- one that says yes or no to the entire abortion question.

What is this Second Question?

It is: "Should we give equal protection under the law to every human in this nation from the beginning of his life until each individual's natural death?"

Or: "Should we discriminate under the law against entire classes of living humans -- fatally?"

Chapter 2 attempts to answer this question. Then, chapter 3 explores discrimination, and chapters 4, 5, and 6 examine protection.

For two millennia in our Western culture, written into our constitutions, specifically protected by our laws, and deeply imprinted into the hearts of all men and women, there has existed the absolute value of honoring and protecting the right of each human to live. This has been an unalienable and unequivocal right. The only exception has been that of balancing a life for a life in certain situations or by due process of law.

* Never, in modern times -- except by a small group of physicians in Hitler's Germany and by Stalin in Russia _ has a price tag of economic or social usefulness been placed on an individual human life as the price of its continued existence.

* Never, in modern times -- except by physicians in Hitler's Germany -- has a certain physical perfection been required as a condition necessary for the continuation of that life.

* Never -- since the law of paterfamilias in ancient Rome -- has a major nation granted to a father or mother total dominion over the life or death of their child.

* Never, in modern times, has the state granted to one citizen the absolute legal right to have another killed in order to solve their own personal, social or economic problem.

And yet, if this is human life, the U.S. Supreme Court Decision in America and permissive abortion laws in other nations do all of the above. They represent a complete about-face, a total rejection of one of the core values of Western man, and an acceptance of a new ethic in which life has only a relative value. No longer will every human have a right to live simply because he or she exists. Man will now be allowed to exist only if he measures up to certain standards of independence, physical perfection, or utilitarian usefulness to others. This is a momentous change that strikes at the root of Western civilization.

It makes no difference to vaguely assume that human life is more human post-born than pre-born. What is critical is to judge it to be -- or not to be -- human life. By a measure of "more" or "less" human, one can easily and logically justify infanticide and euthanasia. By the measure of economic and/or social usefulness,the ghastly atrocities of Hitlerian mass murders came to be.

One cannot help but be reminded of the anguished comment of a condemned Nazi judge, who said to an American judge after the Nuremberg trials, "I never knew it would come to this." The American judge answered simply, "It came to this the first time you condemned an innocent life."

Ponder well the words of George Santayana: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it." Wm. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Simon & Schuster, 1959

Is this unborn being, growing within the mother, a human life? Make this judgment with the utmost care, scientific precision, and honesty. Upon it may hinge much of the basic freedom of many human lives in the years to come.

When Does Human Life Begin?

If there is one function absolutely central to the duty of a
nation-state, it is to protect the most precious possession of
its citizens -- their very lives. In order to make laws to
protect their lives, it is necessary to determine when their
lives begin. The question must be answered.

Where does one begin?

The question can be answered spiritually, philosophically, or biologically. Much of today's confusion arises from mixing these disciplines. Each is valid, but only one can be used to make law.

How is "Human Life" defined spiritually?
A religious faith belief or spiritual definition usually sees the creation of the soul as the beginning of human life. The problem here is that believers differ in when they think the soul is created. There are, of course, other sincere people who do not believe there is a soul.

What is important is that in our secular nation, no one's religious faith belief can be imposed on others through force of law. Therefore, we cannot use a religious definition of when human life begins as the basis for making laws.

How is "Human Life" defined philosophically?
In a myriad of ways. For example, there is not human life until birth or until there is: a certain level of consciousness; a certain degree of being wanted; a certain exchange of love; a certain humanization or culturalization; a certain degree of self-sufficiency or viability; a certain degree of physical development; a certain degree of physical or mental perfection, etc. Many sincere people define "human life" by these and other criteria, all of which have certain things in common:

* While admittedly arrived at through a certain reasoning process, all of the above remain theories.

* None can be proven factually by science.

* All individuals have a right to hold their own philosophic beliefs.

* People of good will can and do differ completely on the correctness of the philosophic beliefs mentioned.

Because these are non-provable theories and beliefs, they should be treated the same way as religious beliefs. Just as our nation should not impose religious faith beliefs on others through force of law, so it should likewise not force philosophic beliefs and theories on others through force of law.

What of a biologic definition?
This is the area where there is no disagreement -- the area where natural science has provided proven facts. The biologic details of human growth and development, from the single cell stage until death, are beyond dispute.

Any discussion of human life must first look to embryology, fetology, and medical science. What are the known facts? Only then can we honestly answer the central question of human life's beginning.

Part III on Fetal Development is the most important part of this book, for it explores in detail these biologic facts.

The Second Question

There are only two questions that are basic to the entire abortion controversy. The first is, "Is this human life?" As we have seen in chapter 2 (and will further examine in Part III), the answer clearly is Yes. That answer is a medical and scientific one, for we cannot impose a religious or philosophic belief in our nations through force of law.

The second question is: "Should we grant equal protection by law to all living humans in our nation?" or, "Should we allow discrimination against entire classes of living humans?"

Has such discrimination ever been legal before? Yes, sadly so.


The Nazi Holocaust was a terrifying example of legal racial discrimination. It began with the elimination of almost 300,000 Aryan German citizens who were "defective" and ended with the elimination of 6 million members of a race that was also judged to be "defective." (Add perhaps another 6 million Gypsies, war prisoners, and other nationalities, e.g., Poles.)

First, Jews were labeled subhuman through the use of names such as "vermin, garbage, subhuman, trash," etc. Then, legal personhood and equal protection by law were removed in 1936 by the Supreme Court of Germany. Finally, the killing began. Detailed documentation is available in "The German Euthanasia Program" (Wertham, Hayes Publishing Co., Cincinnati [$2.50]) and "The Abortion Holocaust" (Brennan, Landmark Press [$7.00]).


In the U.S., from Colonial times, there was legal discrimination on the basis of skin color.

This ugly chapter in our history came to its legal climax with the Dred Scott Decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857, three years before Lincoln's election and the U.S. Civil War. In essence, it confirmed that black people had no legal rights and were the property of their owners. The analogy to abortion is direct. Complete details are available on this analogy in "Abortion and Slavery -- History Repeats" (Willke, Hayes Publishing Co., Cincinnati, 1984 [$3.50]).


If you are conceived in France, your life is legally protected after ten weeks of life. In Denmark, it is 12 weeks. In the State of Washington, just prior to the Roe vs. Wade Decision, life was protected at 16 weeks; Sweden was 20. In New York, it had been 24 weeks; England was 28; and presently in the U.S., life is legally protected only after birth. Nobel prize winner, Dr. James Watson, has suggested "three days after birth."

At first glance, one is likely to comment that all of the above disagree. But look closer at the ethic, the logic, and the criteria. They all agree. They agree that you can discriminate against an entire class of living humans on the basis of age. They just don't agree on which age.

But note well that in the U.S. today there are 3.5 taxpayers for every retired person who draws Social Security or other tax-funded pensions. By the year 2040, there will only be 1.5 taxpayers to support each retired person (assuming no rise in the current birth rate). Our nation (among others) is all but bankrupt now, partly due to such entitlement programs.

This will be a completely impossible economic situation. The answer could be rather simple and direct. Copy the ethic, the logic, and the criteria of today's fatal discrimination on the basis of age -- only start at the other end of the spectrum.

Perhaps a court could rule that everyone over 80 years of age was no longer a legal person. Or maybe it would have to be lowered to 75 -- or even to . . . ?


Handicap is one of the two most accepted reasons for abortion. But remember, before birth and after birth, it is the same patient and the same handicap. Is it any wonder that we are increasingly seeing the same "solution" after birth (killing by infanticide -- see chapter 24) as before birth (killing by abortion)?

Since when have we given doctors the right to kill the patient to "cure" the disease?


This is abortion in the U.S. It is discrimination on the basis of place-of-residence. If the child in the womb can escape from his first place-of-residence (the womb) the day before his scheduled execution, his life is protected by full force of law. As long as he remains in the womb, however, he can be killed at his mother's request.

Two Infamous Days in the U.S.A.

This brief chapter speaks of U.S. history. Its analogy is a powerful teaching tool worldwide.

On March 6, 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court finally decided a very vexing question which had troubled the citizens of the United States for many years. In the landmark Dred Scott Decision the court ruled once and for all that black people were not legal "persons" according to the U.S. Constitution. A slave was the property of the owner and could be bought and sold, used, or even killed by the owner at the owner's discretion. The ruling was final. It was by the highest court in the land.

Those who opposed slavery protested, but were met with the retort: "So you oppose slavery? It is against your moral, religious, and ethical convictions? Well, you don't have to own a slave, but don't impose your morality on the slave owner. He has the right to choose to own a slave. The Supreme Court has spoken. Slavery is legal."

But not for long. It took a bloody civil war to stop slavery. It took the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution to legally grant freedom, civil rights, and voting rights. From a socioeconomic view, we are still striving for full equality.

Then on January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court finally decided a very vexing question which had troubled the citizens of the United States for many years. In a landmark Decision, the court ruled once and for all that unborn humans were not legal "persons" according to the U.S. Constitution. An unborn baby was the property of the owner (mother) and she could have the baby killed at her request because of her health (social distress). This could be done at any time until birth. The ruling was final. It was by the highest court in the land.

Those who opposed abortion protested, but were met with a retort that seemed an echo of slavery days. "So you oppose abortion? It is against your moral, religious, and ethical convictions? Well, you don't have to have an abortion, but don't impose your morality on the mother (the owner). She has the right to choose to have an abortion. The Supreme Court has spoken. Abortion is legal."

But not for long? That was almost two decades ago. The goal of a Constitutional Amendment or reversal by the Court is still ahead. But the pro-life movement continues to grow. It is now the largest grass-roots movement in the history of the U.S.A.

Then, the discrimination was on the basis of skin color. Now, it is on the basis of age and place of residence (living in the womb).

The horrible similarities between the Dred-Scott Decision and the Roe V Wade decision! (ironically the African American Candidate running for president, Barack Obama, supports the Roe V Wade decision, thus forgetting the devastation the Dred Scott decision caused to his ancestors.

Slavery Abortion
Dred Scott 1857 : 7-2 Decision Roe V Wade 1973: 7-2 decision
African American = non person Unborn baby = non person
Property of Owner (Slave holder) Property of the owner (pregnant mother)
Can Choose to Buy, Sell or Kill Can choose to keep or kill
Abolitionists Should not impose morality on slaveholder Anti Abortion people should not impose morality on the the pregnant woman (the mother)