(LifeSiteNews) – “‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’ ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’” –Carroll L, Through the Looking Glass, 1871
Humpty Dumpty certainly understood the power of words. Simple, seemingly innocuous changes in definitions can have a profound societal and cultural impact when set on a decades-long trajectory. Such has been the case with the definition of the word “conception.” The conception of something is the beginning of something, and to all sensibilities the conception of human life would be the beginning of human life, when spermatozoan and ovum meet at fertilization.
And yet, in the boardrooms of an official U.S. medical college almost six decades ago, a remarkable – some might say sinister – scheme was unfolding. It was made manifest in the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG)’s 1965 “Terminology Bulletin: Terms Used in Reference to the Fetus.” The scientific and intuitive definition of “conception” was changed by ACOG away from “fertilization” to mean “implantation” of the early embryo onto the uterine wall (typically occurring one to two weeks after fertilization). The purported reason given in the Bulletin: “This definition has been selected deliberately because union of sperm and ovum, cannot be detected clinically unless implantation occurs.” ACOG’s definition of pregnancy, which starts at “conception,” was thus similarly and necessarily changed from fertilization to implantation.
Thus, the biologic, embryologic, and genetic origins of human life – its true “conception” – were completely ignored by ACOG in lieu of a diagnostic pregnancy testing procedure. One group, one medical college, without any scientific foundation or authority to do so, altered the definition of conception.
But why? Why on earth would ACOG change the definition of conception from fertilization to implantation? The chilling answer was suggested by Dr. Richard Sosnowski of ACOG, who in his 1984 presidential address stated:
I do not deem it excellent to play semantic gymnastics in a profession…It is equally troublesome to me that, with no scientific evidence to validate the change, the definition of conception as the successful spermatic penetration of an ovum was redefined as the implantation of a fertilized ovum. It appears to me that the only reason for this was the dilemma produced by the possibility that the intrauterine contraceptive device [IUD] might function as an abortifacient.
Dr. Sosnowski’s point is that the IUD (as do essentially all oral and implantable birth control pharmaceuticals) acts at least in part by preventing implantation of a developing human embryo onto the uterine wall. At fertilization, 23 chromosomes of the spermatozoan join 23 chromosomes of the ovum, forming a unique new biologic entity, the zygote. At this point, the single-cell zygote is a genetically complete new human being with 46 chromosomes, and is of a XX female or XY male gender. The zygote divides over hours and days into an embryo, which travels down the fallopian tubes toward the uterus, where it implants seven to 12 days after fertilization.
If “conception” begins at fertilization, then preventing the implantation of the embryo would constitute an abortion. If, however, the definition of conception is misconstrued as to mean implantation, then destroying the embryo by preventing implantation would not be viewed as “abortion” per se. The redefinition of conception by ACOG was to appease societal, particularly Catholic, moral discomfort at the possibility that “contraceptives” may be functioning as abortifacients.
Population Council and Planned Parenthood held meetings to discuss population control strategy
The 1965 ACOG redefinition of conception was surely inspired with ideas from the 1959 and 1960s Planned Parenthood/Population Council Conferences. As described in a previous LifeSiteNews article, these meetings first proposed that conception should be associated with implantation rather than fertilization. The goal of the Population Council meetings, sponsored by John Rockefeller III, was to control populations and to halt the perceived threat of world overpopulation. A major focus of the meetings included circumventing negative religious, cultural, and political perceptions of population control and contraception.
The 1959 Conference on “Mechanisms Concerned with Conception” was first to suggest that conception should be associated with implantation rather than fertilization using a “prudent habit of speech” to avoid the perception that preventing implantation was “to destroy an established pregnancy.” The idea blossomed ever more explicitly in the 1960s Population Council/Planned Parenthood meetings. In the 1964 meeting, it was stated that “…if it is considered that the intrauterine device is abortifacient, this obviously would have a bearing on national acceptance or rejection of the method…careful attention should be given to the definition of terms.” At the same 1964 conference, Dr. Christopher Tietze suggested that from a public relations standpoint, if a “medical consensus develops and is maintained that pregnancy, and therefore life, begins at implantation, eventually our brethren from other faculties [vis a vis theologians, legislators, and policy makers] will listen.”
The very next year, right on cue from the Population Council meetings, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology changed their definition of “conception” from fertilization to implantation in 1965.
Human embryologists are clear on how and when a whole, distinct, living human being begins to exist
No legitimate embryology, genetics, or biology textbook ascribes conception as being anything other than the moment of fertilization, the embryologic and genetic beginning of a new human life. Jerome Lejeune, discoverer of the chromosomal basis for Trisomy 21 (Down syndrome) stated:
…each of us has a unique beginning, the moment of conception…As soon as the 23 chromosomes carried by the sperm encounter the 23 chromosomes carried by the ovum, the whole information necessary and sufficient to spell out all the characteristics of the new being is gathered … a new human being is defined which has never occurred before and will never occur again … [it] is not just simply a non-descript cell, or a “population” or loose “collection” of cells, but a very specialized individual…
KL Moore’s textbook The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology states, “Human development begins at fertilization…when a sperm fuses with an oocyte to form a single cel, the zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marks the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.” Moore continues, “The intricate process by which a baby develops from a single cell is miraculous…A zygote is the beginning of a new human being.”
Carlson’s Human Embryology and Developmental Biology states, “Human pregnancy begins with the fusion of an egg and sperm…Finally, the fertilized egg, now properly called an embryo, must make its way into the uterus.” TW Sadler’s Medical Embryology affirms, “Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote.” R. O’Rahilly’s Human Embryology and Teratology states, “Although life is a continuous process, fertilization…is a critical landmark…a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.” Embryology textbooks without exception affirm the truth of the beginning of human life in exactly the same way.
Embryologist C. Ward Kischer, emeritus professor of anatomy at the University of Arizona writes, “…the first thing learned in Human Embryology [is]that the life of the new individual human being begins at fertilization (conception)” and that “we should respect a microscopic human embryo because at that time it is an integrated whole organism, just as the human is at every moment in time until death. Every human embryo deserves as much respect as you or I because it is formed as a new individual human life within the continuum of life…”
To deny this, Kischer says, is “a trivialization and corruption of the science of human embryology.”
Dr. Kischer lamented the fact that in the overwhelming preponderance of legal proceedings regarding abortion, the professionals who should know the most about the subject – human embryologists – have been curiously left out of the discussions. In defending the intrinsic moral integrity of the human zygote from an embryologically precise standpoint, Kischer writes, “Over time, the qualities of life change – size, form, function and appearance. We can reduce any point in time to a trivial value by comparing that point to any other reference point one might choose.” The inescapable conclusion is that the new human zygote, with 46 chromosomes and a gender, has the moral integrity of any other human being at any other stage in life.
The bioethical implications of acceptance of the scientific facts of embryology and genetics are vast and breathtaking. They include human embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, in-vitro fertilization, and cryopreserved human embryos. The implications also include the actual mechanism of action of contraceptives to include prevention of implantation of developing human embryos – not simply the overtly egregious subject of surgical abortion.
Moore et al’s 1998 textbook Developing Human: Clinically oriented Embryology unassumingly notes that so-called emergency contraceptive pills “prevent implantation, not fertilization. Consequently, they should not be called contraceptive pills…Because the term abortion refers to a premature stoppage of a pregnancy, the term ‘abortion’ could be applied to such an early termination of pregnancy.”
An official U.S. Public Health Service policy 1963 defines abortion as “All the measures which impair the viability of the zygote anytime between the instant of fertilization and the completion of labor constitute, in the strict sense, procedures for inducing abortion.”
Package inserts for routine contraceptives admit reduction in ‘the likelihood of implantation’ due to changes in endometrium
Do practicing obstetrician and gynecology physicians even accept their own ACOG medical board’s redefinition of conception and pregnancy? A 2011 study from the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology indicates this is not the case.
In the study, the question of when they considered pregnancy to begin was posed to 1,800 randomly selected practicing obstetrician-gynecologists. The response options were (1) conception, (2) implantation of the embryo, and (3) not sure. It is fascinating that from the outset, the study design defied ACOG’s own definition of “conception,” since the answer of option (1) presumed that “conception” was synonymous with fertilization, not implantation. In any event, 57 percent of respondents felt pregnancy begins at conception (fertilization), 28 percent felt it begins at implantation, and 16 percent were not sure.
The Cleveland Clinic informational website likewise defies ACOG’s definition of conception by stating that “Conception happens when sperm swims up through the vagina and fertilizes an egg in the fallopian tube.”
ACOG’s 1965 semantic gymnastics did not end with redefining conception, because their bulletin further defined “embryo” as referring to the developing life after implantation. Embryologists actually use the term “embryo” to correctly mean the organism after the first division of the zygote, so the living being that traverses down the fallopian tube for about a week prior to implantation is indeed an “embryo.” The ACOG bulletin of 1965 did not describe what terminology should be used for the biologic entity existing in the time interval between fertilization and implantation (other than the trite label of “fertilized ovum”), but others have used the discredited, vague, and fanciful term “pre-embryo,” which has been universally rejected in the field of embryology.
But it gets even deeper, thicker, and more ubiquitous. It is something that women, physicians, clergy, and any person of good will should ponder well. In their descriptions of all “routine” hormonal contraceptives, the Physician Desk Reference (PDR) has detailed for decades that these contraceptives “act by suppression of gonadotropins. Although the primary mechanism of this action is inhibition of ovulation, other alterations include changes in…the endometrium (which reduce the likelihood of implantation).” This is found in every package insert of all routine contraceptives. Thus, embryologically, at least some of the time, hormonal contraceptives alter the endometrium such that the embryo cannot implant, and thus, a chemical abortion occurs.
In an embryologically purist sense, these “contraceptives,” at times, do not prevent “conception,” but destroy a pregnancy that has already begun.
How often does this happen? No one knows for certain. But the mind-boggling implication is that if we accept fertilization as the moment of conception and use as conservative estimate a five percent contraceptive “breakthrough” ovulation rate, then “the Pill” would be inducing millions of chemical abortions per year in the U.S., at least as many as surgical abortions. Does anyone’s family physician or gynecologist ever mention anything like this when they give the “informed consent” on prescriptions for oral contraceptives?
Humanae Vitae’s predictions
Pope Paul VI’s pivotal 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae has for more than half a century provided a beautiful and consistent ethical milestone from which to judge contraception. It has, however, been overwhelmingly reviled in secular, and sadly often Christian, commentary and practical action. Humanae Vitae was written in direct contradiction to the conclusions of the Vatican’s own expert panel, and in direct contradiction to John Rockefeller III, Planned Parenthood, and the Population Council. An interesting historical fact is that Humanae Vitae was published a mere three years after Paul VI read the three Fatima “secrets” detailed by Lucia dos Santos (the last surviving visionary of Fatima, Portugal, 1917). The encyclical has been an enduring source of wisdom on the illicitness of contraception, a teaching that transcends time. It made a number of bold prophecies on the damage to be wrought upon our culture if contraception were embraced by societies.
One cannot help but remember the trivial but apt 1970s Chiffon Margarine commercial declaring “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature!” The fulfillment of the predictions of Humanae Vitae have made it amply clear that “Mother Nature” is not happy, and it has nothing to do with climate change.
Humanae Vitae predicted that widespread contraception would lead to:
- Infidelity and general lowering of moral standards within families and societies. The self-discipline and mastery of will required in periodic abstinence would serve ultimately toward a unitive, cohesive outcome within marriage and societies, yielding the “abundant fruits of tranquility and peace.”
- A cultural loss of respect for women, which would cause a society to “forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of [men’s] own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
- The feasibility of an abuse of power by nations. Control of fertility would become a “dangerous weapon…in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral[ity].” To this, victims of population control in the Communist and Nazi regimes and China’s brutal family planning programs give stark attestation.
- A false presumption of unlimited dominion over one’s own body. The resultant cultural milieu would become utterly and completely convinced of its right to control one’s own body. The manifestations of this ultimately morphed into the tangled web of in-vitro fertilization, human embryonic stem cell research, cloning, and the most egregious examples of abortion and fabricated gender fluidity.
Catholics have failed miserably when it comes to following Church teaching on contraception
Humanae Vitae never even mentioned that contraceptives cause early abortion. Humanae Vitae does not use explicit pharmaceutical-embryologic reasoning to argue against contraception. To me, it is epochal. It argues from a philosophic, theological, sociologic, family dynamic, and even power-of-government standpoint.
The Catholic Church has always infallibly taught that contraception is an intrinsic evil, and the faithful are bound to obey this teaching. Astoundingly, the Church has done so via Humanae Vitae and other documents without even mentioning the pharmacology of oral contraceptives, and the embryology of its abortifacient properties. It’s as if God was giving mankind a test, without all the pieces, but was nonetheless a test of Faith. And the faithful, for them most part, failed miserably. And now, after decades of what the Physician Desk Reference says about the abortifacient properties of contraception, and what every instructional package insert of oral contraceptives state, how can we, in rationalizing our apostasy, claim ignorance?
It goes without saying that Catholic couples have and do use oral contraceptives – a lot. The U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare’s 1979 report “Contraceptive Utilization, United States,” using 1973 statistics, concluded that for currently married Catholic women of childbearing age, 66 percent had used contraception. The statistic didn’t change much for other religions. How many silent chemical abortions have occurred in the ensuing half-century in America as a result of oral contraceptives? God, literally, only knows.
Of course, all this, from an embryologic standpoint, becomes completely moot if conception is not the moment of fertilization, but merely the moment of implantation. One would think that would be a huge relief for all God-fearing individuals who have used contraception for so many decades. And it is exactly what ACOG – and Planned Parenthood – wants us to believe. But it is not the truth. And, like a bad penny, truth always, eventually, makes its way into the conversation.
Such brazen duplicity and twisted semantics are mentioned in Pope John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae:
“… we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises and or to the temptation of self-deception. …[with] a widespread use of ambiguous terminology.”
“[No] word has the power to change the reality of things…abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase or his or her existence extending from conception to birth.”
“With scrupulous concern for factual truth, they are called to combine freedom of information with respect for every person and a profound sense of humanity.”
Culture of Death vs. Culture of Life
The 19th century nihilist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Words are but symbols…nowhere do they touch upon absolute truth“ and, therefore “…whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.” A fanciful Humpty Dumpty couldn’t agree more with the seeming malleability of words as a function of power, not truth. ACOG is not a moral authority or arbiter of Truth. And it is certainly not an arbiter of human embryology. Pithily condemning his own medical college’s deformation of the definition of conception, Dr. Sosnowski’s ACOG presidential address states: “I do not deem it excellent to play semantic gymnastics in a profession.”
Beyond embryologic, philosophical, and theological debates of when human life begins lies an even more basic, more fundamental question: to whom or to what do we subscribe our allegiance? Who or what is our Master? Are we our own gods, or is there a higher power? The spectrum of answers with increasing clarity coalesces into a Culture of Life versus a Culture of Death.
In the titanic battle between Life and Death, there are many unwitting casualties. There is much collateral damage. Many of seeming good will who do not understand that the side they erroneously support does not care about them, their lives, or the future of humankind.
The ultimate aspiration of the Culture of Life is to accept God’s will and Providence, to acknowledge we are not our own masters. Even beyond whether the IUD or Plan B frustrates ovulation, prevents fertilization, or blocks implantation, the Culture of Life accepts the dignity of all human life made in the image and likeness of God. This goes much further and much deeper than even the embryology and genetics and nature that permeate all Culture of Life arguments in joyful defense of life and Truth. This is the Truth which Humanae Vitae was all about.
Aping in diametric opposition, the ultimate aspiration of the Culture of Death is defiance of God’s Will and Providence by claiming that we ourselves are our own masters. Language is turned on its head and good is called evil, and evil good. The Culture of Death does not accept the unique dignity of human life. This goes much further and much deeper than even the embryology and genetics and natural laws that contradict all the Culture of Death arguments. Such a contemptuous dismissal of life and Truth cannot ultimately end well.
The ultimate premise of the Culture of Life will do everything to respect the Will of God long before union of ovum and sperm to form a zygote. The ultimate premise of the Culture of Death is to do everything to blaspheme the Will of God, before and throughout pregnancy – even well after birth itself.
The Cultures of Life and Death are world and cosmic views and principalities that serve different masters. They go beyond contraception and abortion and get to the heart of who and what the human person is in his and her most basic nature.
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