More than 40 years after abortion became legal in this country, and more than a decade after embryonic stem-cell research was touted as the next big thing in regenerative medicine, why are more people shying away from these options?
One of the big reasons people are turning toward a more pro-life perspective can be summed up in a single word: Technology.
Whether its ultrasound technology or the significant advances in the treatment of more than 70 diseases and conditions using ethical forms of stem-cell research — as opposed to an absence of technological development using life-destroying, embryonic stem-cell research— technology has been slowly but significantly shaping the way we view preborn life in this country.
Recent polls indicate people across generations want to see fewer abortions. Among those in the 18-29 age range, one such poll said the view that abortion should be "illegal in all circumstances" has gone up 9 percentage points — from 14 to 23 percent — since the early '90s.
Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life of America, says as ultrasound technology becomes more widely available, it's making a difference in how young people view the issue of life. In fact, the younger generation has never been as pro-life as it is today.
"Ultrasound technology has played a big part in helping to make this generation pro-life," she says. "When you speak to women who had abortions in the 1970s and '80s, they will tell you that the abortionist told them their baby was simply a blob of tissue."
Today, abortionists may still try to use that old rhetoric, but thanks to technological advances, a woman can go online and within minutes see how her child is developing. "They can no longer deny that the unborn child is a baby," Hawkins says.
Ultrasound technology has forced the pro-abortion movement to shift its talking points from "It's not a baby or human" to "It's not a person."
Ultrasounds provide a concrete example of what the pro-life movement has always known: A pregnant woman is carrying a human life. Since abortion proponents can no longer deny this reality, they hold on to the flimsy argument that thelocation and stage of development makes pre-born life undeserving of the respect and protection we give to other humans. Thankfully, that line of thinking is rapidly losing ground – due to the wonders of technology.
Ultrasound technology is an imaging technique that uses a probe to transmit high-frequency sound waves into the body that return to form a two, three or four-dimensional image on the machine. This window into the uterus, and the developing baby, has revolutionized the care pregnant women receive.
First developed in the 1960's, ultrasound machines didn't become widespread until the 1980s.
In 2004, Focus on the Family added a powerful new outreach to its ministry called the Option Ultrasound Program (OUP). OUP provides grants to qualifying pregnancy centers to enable them to convert to medical clinics, to obtain ultrasound equipment and to train medical staff.
"In ten years, Option Ultrasound has provided 625 grants for ultrasound machines or top-quality sonography training — in all 50 states and one international grant in Romania — that have enhanced maternal and fetal health," says Kelly Rosati, senior director of OUP. "As a result, we estimate that since 2004, more than 230,000 women have changed their minds about having an abortion, choosing life for their babies!"
By allowing women to make an educated and informed decision, "ultrasound has been an irreplaceable tool that has helped women have a window into their womb and bond with their preborn children," Rosati says.
Focus on the Family collects stories of women and babies whose lives were changed forever. Venetta from Montana says, "When I saw my baby for the first time, she looked just like a precious little Teddy Graham. I fell in love right then. 'It' was real now, and I was excited to see there was a tiny little person in there. After the ultrasound, instead of wanting anything but a baby, I wanted nothing but my baby."
Looking down the road, technology may continue to be one of the best tools for advancing a pro-life message. As Rosati explains, "Ultrasound has been a window to the womb. It has helped cut through the fog of misleading information regarding choice and autonomy."
And, ultrasound gives women the truth: Abortion involves two people, not just one.
When embryonic stem cells were first isolated in the late 1990's, researchers touted them as the next big thing in the world of regenerative medicine.
Yet, as the research has unfolded over the last decade, just the opposite has taken place. Despite the continued push by some researchers and politicians, the reality is life-destroying embryonic stem-cell research continues to be a dead end.
The unpredictable, tumor-forming nature of embryonic stem cells continues to be a roadblock for researchers. In contrast, adult- stem cells, which are ethically derived from a variety of life-affirming sources, have proven to be the real answer to many diseases.
These two predominant types of stem cell research are radically different in the way they work. In order to gather embryonic stem cells, the cells must be collected from a young human embryo. The process of collecting these cells always results in the destruction of that young human life.
On the contrary, adult stem cells do not require the killing of a human life. Better termed "non-embryonic" stem cells, adult stem cells can be gathered from a variety of different sources including bone marrow, blood, fat tissue, nasal cavity tissue, and even umbilical cord blood.
To date, more than 70 diseases or conditions — including cancer, lupus, heart disease, Crohn's disease, sickle-cell anemia and spinal-cord injuries — have been successfully treated using adult stem cells.
The hopes for embryonic stem-cell research came to a screeching halt in 2007, when researchers discovered a way to take ordinary body cells, such as a skin cell, and transform them into embryonic-like stem cells. Now, research can be done on these induced pluripotent cells — that act like embryonic cells — without destroying life.
Since then, advances continue to be made using non-embryonic sources of stem cells and we continue to see the use of these cells to treat thousands of patients suffering from dozens of diseases and conditions.
Without a doubt, the advances in technology — with both ultrasound and ethical stem-cell research — have clearly helped advance a more life-affirming perspective in this country. But, as we see technology encouraging a pro-life ethic, we would be remiss not to remember the heart behind what we do: Showing love and compassion to those facing unexpected pregnancies and life-altering diseases.