When ‘Pretend Life’ Has a Human Heartbeat

Prominent pro-abortion politicians have struggled to answer direct questions about when human life begins

“Maternity” (photo: zffoto / Shutterstock.com)

Protesting the passage of his state’s new heartbeat bill protecting unborn babies, South Carolina Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford proffered illogical and unscientific arguments in denying that they are alive.

The disconnect between those on opposing sides of the abortion issue became very apparent Wednesday when South Carolina Democratic Minority Leader Todd Rutherford walked out on what he called a “vote about pretend life” prior to a vote on a bill that bans abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat at around six weeks. 

The bill passed overwhelmingly, even receiving the support of two Democratic lawmakers, and was promptly signed into law by Republican South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster. Planned Parenthood almost immediately sued, preventing the law from taking effect.

Rutherford accused his colleagues of “hypocrisy” for taking the vote when “there are real issues out there that are confronting us every day.” He said that “we don’t believe that life begins when science says it does not” and “we more firmly believe that we are here to take care of people.”

The bill that Rutherford was protesting against requires “testing for a detectable fetal heartbeat before an abortion is performed on a pregnant woman, to prohibit the performance of an abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected.” The fact of the matter is that a human heart is detectable at roughly 6 weeks, hence the basis for the legislation. Rutherford’s argument, against a bill that proposes the detection of an existing human heartbeat and a ban on the stopping of that heartbeat, raises the question of when he believes human life begins and how he would classify these entities with heartbeats that have a distinct upper lip and nose by the eighth week of pregnancy and fingernails by the twelfth week.

Rutherford’s statement that “we don’t believe that life begins when science says it does not” is interesting given that, as noted in the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, there is no scientific consensus on when life begins and many scientists do, in fact, argue persuasively that human life begins at conception.

Cecile Richards, who was president of the nation’s largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood from 2006 to 2018, called the question of when life begins one that “will be debated through the centuries,” but when asked by a reporter “for you, what's that point?” she replied "It is not something that I feel like is really part of this conversation. I think every woman needs to make her own decision.” She finally stated that as a “mother of three children, for me, life began when I delivered them.” 

Additionally, prominent pro-abortion politicians have struggled to answer direct questions about when human life begins. Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton referred to an unborn child as a “person” at one point when asked when the unborn have rights. On the campaign trail in 2016, MSNBC’s Chuck Todd asked Clinton, “When, or if, does an unborn child have constitutional rights?” and she replied that “the unborn person doesn't have constitutional rights,” emphasizing that under Roe v. Wade the choice to have an abortion should be left up to the woman as her right. 

Some other politicians — including the current president of the United States — have admitted to the belief that what Rutherford called “pretend life” is human life that begins at conception, but argued that they cannot impose that belief on others. In 2015, President Joe Biden, a baptized Catholic, told America magazine that “I’m prepared to accept that at the moment of conception there’s human life and being, but I’m not prepared to say that to other God-fearing, non-God-fearing people that have a different view.”

Responding to a similar comment from Biden in 2008, Archbishop Charles Chaput and Bishop James Conley wrote that, “in reality, modern biology knows exactly when human life begins: at the moment of conception. Religion has nothing to do with it.”

“If, as Sen. Biden said, ‘I’m prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception,’ then he is not merely wrong about the science of new life; he also fails to defend the innocent life he already knows is there,” the bishops stated at the time.

When 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg suggested in September 2019 that life begins at birth, Ross Douthat at The New York Times wrote that “the Democrats, in their zeal, are moving toward the most mystical, the least scientifically defensible, of possible positions on fetal personhood — one that only a special revelation could support.” Rutherford’s glib dismissal of a being with a heartbeat as “pretend life” appears to be just the latest example of the difficulties and contradictions that politicians run into when they attempt to sidestep the fundamental question of when life begins.

Shannon Mullen, Editor-in-Chief of CNA

Meet CNA’s New Editor-in-Chief, Shannon Mullen (July 31)

A new era has begun at the Catholic News Agency even as the news cycle continues to bring challenging stories both inside the Church and around the world. This week on Register Radio, we get to know Shannon Mullen, the new editor-in-chief of CNA. And then, we are joined by the Register’s Washington Correspondent, Lauretta Brown, to catch up on the latest pro-life news from the nation’s capital.