The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy
Morowitz (Harold J.) & Trefil (James)
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Back Cover Blurb1

  1. The question of whether abortion2 should or should not be permitted, and under what circumstances, is among the most difficult and sometimes anguished decisions for contemporary men and women. How we feel about this issue, and what actions we take, help to define our image of who we are as social beings.
  2. In the midst of the surrounding political, ethical, and religious debate, people everywhere are once again examining their consciences and their beliefs, and turning to unutilized sources of information as they seek to come to terms with this contentious issue. And as emotions run high, it is helpful to step back from the highly charged arena to reconsider the underlying scientific facts about human development.
  3. In The Facts of Life, Harold Morowitz and James Trefil, two distinguished scientists and science writers, examine what modern biology can contribute to our understanding of this debate. Sensitive to the myriad ethical and religious arguments beyond the realm of science that swirl around abortion3, the authors focus on one crucial question - when does a fetus4 acquire humanness, that quality that sets us apart from all other living things.
  4. From the viewpoint of science, they argue, "humanness" begins with the possession of a highly developed cerebral cortex5. While humans are linked via cell structure and cell chemistry with all life on our planet - from monkeys to fruit flies to pumpkins - it is the human brain structure which makes us who we are.
  5. Reviewing the latest advances in molecular biology, evolutionary biology, embryology6, neurophysiology, and neonatology - fields that all bear on this question - the authors reveal a surprising consensus of scientific opinion on when humanness begins.
  6. A lucid primer on the biological aspects of the abortion7 issue, The Facts of Life is also a fascinating inquiry, across various scientific disciplines, into what makes us uniquely human. Anyone who struggles with the issue of abortion8 will be grateful to find a work that moves this heated issue from the intensely emotional area it has occupied to the calmer domain of science.

  1. Asking the Right Question, 3
  2. The Web of Life, 21
  3. The Biology of Conception, 41
  4. The Emergence of Humanness, 59
  5. The Development of the Fetus9, 77
  6. The Birth of the Cortex, 103
  7. Survival Outside the Womb: Hitting the Wall, 129
  8. Conclusions, 149
    Afterword, 161
    Bibliography, 167
    Index, 175

In-Page Footnotes ("Morowitz (Harold J.) & Trefil (James) - The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy")

Footnote 1: Footnote 5:

Oxford University Press, NY, 1992

"Morowitz (Harold J.) & Trefil (James) - The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy"

Source: Morowitz (Harold J.) & Trefil (James) - The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy

Preface (Full Text1
  1. It is almost impossible to live in the United States today and be unaware of the heated and divisive debate that surrounds the abortion2 controversy. There are few subjects in the public arena that touch individuals more deeply, or that engender such strong emotions. In such an overheated atmosphere, it might seem that there is little that scientific inquiry could add. Sometimes it seems that rationality itself has been excluded. Nevertheless, we believe that significant new information has been brought to light in the last few decades – information that speaks directly to many of the arguments made by people on both sides of the issue.
  2. If you've already made up your mind on the subject of abortion3, this book probably won't change it, although it may add a depth of understanding to your position. If you haven't made up your mind, or if you have misgivings about the whole question, you will find information here that may help you come to firm conclusions. While no one is going to make a decision on abortion4 purely on scientific grounds, we feel that everyone, at the very least, ought to get the facts straight. To that end we explore the areas of science that bear on the abortion5 controversy, explaining what we know today that wasn't known when the whole subject blew up in the 1970’s and why that knowledge is relevant to the debate.
  3. The idea for this book arose in the late summer of 1991 when the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court made it seem likely that Roe v. Wade would be overturned and the country would be plunged, state by state, into an intense debate on abortion6. One of us (HJM) began to think about writing a friend-of-the-court brief laying out the best scientific knowledge available. Thanks to an innovative program at George Mason University, the authors have offices next to each other, although we are in different disciplines. Daily conversations and interactions made us realize that there was more to be said than could be contained in a short brief and that what we were finding deserved a much wider readership.
  4. The one overriding principle on which we agreed at the start was to make every effort to present the diverse science as accurately as possible. This meant that whenever possible we would visit or talk on the phone to people generally recognized as leaders in the different fields of research we were reporting and at the very least that we would track down claims in the original research papers, rather than rely on secondary sources and reports. Sometimes this method led us to unexpected results. We found, for example (see page 122), that a bit of "common knowledge" used by people on all sides of the abortion7 controversy is simply wrong.
  5. In the first seven chapters of this book, we present the results of a search through the sciences. This presentation is as dispassionate and objective as possible. In the final chapter we discuss policy on the basis of the scientific findings. Here, obviously, our own opinions and sensibilities have to enter the picture, and we do not try to conceal the fact that they do. Finally, in the Afterword, we make individual statements about our feelings about the abortion8 issue so that the reader can judge the extent to which those feelings may have colored the earlier discussion.

In-Page Footnotes ("Morowitz (Harold J.) & Trefil (James) - The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy")

Footnote 1:
  • Less the acknowledgements

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