Bill Nye the Science Guy took a clear position today on the abortion debate and was cheered by the pro-choice movement. In a four minute video, he made his case for a woman’s right to abortion that was quickly celebrated with headlines such as Newsweek’s “Bill Nye Brings Down Hammer of Science on Abortion Opponents” or Huffington Post’s “Bill Nye Debunks Anti-Abortion Logic With Science”. The headlines imply that the pro-life logic is scientifically unsound and that the issue of abortion is resolved. The video starts out describing the scientific nature of life’s beginnings but quickly takes a decidedly unscientific and condescending tone toward those who oppose abortion. Below is the transcript of his video and a commentary.
“Many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans. Eggs get fertilized, and by that I mean sperm get accepted by ova a lot. But that’s not all you need. You have to attach to the uterine wall, the inside of a womb, a woman’s womb.”
Bill Nye begins with a loaded statement about what a human is and is not. He stealthily equates “becoming human” with something more than just an embryo. He quickly lends credibility to his statement by iterating some of the necessary biological steps for a successful pregnancy that the average person might not be familiar with, because he is a “science guy”. These opening sentences are the only bit of “science” in Bill Nye’s entire video and enough to feed an entire debate on the issue of life and when it begins. Bill Nye falls short of stating when exactly he believes “a human” begins. Indeed there is much science to be discussed about when life begins arriving at a “scientific consensus” is not as easy as it may seem. Both sides make legitimate arguments about what we should consider to be a human life but Bill Nye does not make any pronounce himself on any of it. He continues with a socratic assumption with the intention of debunking it.
“But if you’re going to hold that as a standard, that is to say if you’re going to say when an egg is fertilized it’s therefore has the same rights as an individual, then whom are you going to sue? Whom are you going to imprison? Every woman who’s had a fertilized egg pass through her? Every guy who’s sperm has fertilized an egg and then it didn’t become a human? Have all these people failed you?”
These questions are part of Bill Nye’s reductio ad absurdum argument which falsely assumes that opponents of abortion want – necessarily – to punish with lawsuits and imprisonment someone – anyone – when an abortion is committed. This unfairly paints a picture of abortion opponents as hateful people who are in the abortion debate simply to judge others and would find fault or guilt in a woman who had a miscarriage. Many pro-lifers (myself included) are genuinely seeking truth and have a very compassionate view of justice. I could not imagine condemning a woman to prison even if she knowingly and willfully aborted a child, much less someone who never had any idea that an egg was ever fertilized. But back to Bill Nye’s case. There are just as many or more questions to be asked of abortion advocates. If you’re going to hold that a fertilized egg has no rights, when did each of us acquire our rights? Was it when we became attached to the uterine wall inside of the womb? What about the hundreds of other steps required for a successful pregnancy? Are they not as necessary? What about a pregnant woman who smokes or takes drugs? Is she not failing her child? The bottom line is that we all – Bill Nye included – make judgment calls based on what we believe to be truth and if Bill Nye wants to shed light on the scientific truth about when life begins, he should do just that. Unfortunately Bill Nye forgoes any pursuit of truth and uses the rest of the video to insult and try and humiliate anyone who believes that purposely destroying an embryo is even morally troubling.
“It’s just a reflection of a deep scientific lack of understanding and you literally or apparently literally don’t know what you’re talking about. And so when it comes to women’s rights with respect to their reproduction, I think you should leave it to women. This is really — you cannot help but notice. I’m not the first guy to observe this: You have a lot of men of European descent passing these extraordinary laws based on ignorance. Sorry you guys. I know it was written or your interpretation of a book written 5,000 years ago, 50 centuries ago, makes you think that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse they always have a baby. That’s wrong and so to pass laws based on that belief is inconsistent with nature.”
It’s hard not to get offended at Bill Nye’s generalization that abortion opponents believe all sexual encounters lead to a pregnancy. Nye has abandoned all civility and let his deepest prejudices surface. So many abortion opponents are women, so many abortion opponents have no religious convictions, so many abortion opponents have principles with no roots in male European laws (whatever that means). This is a reflection of a deep lack of understanding of who he thinks his enemy is. Men also play a role in reproduction. Ignoring this scientific fact deprives fathers of their rights as well. Why don’t we leave decisions about reproduction to informed adults? Nye continues with the condescending tone of a teacher dealing with schoolchildren:
“I mean it’s hard not to get frustrated with this everybody. And I know nobody likes abortion, okay. But you can’t tell somebody what to do. I mean she has rights over this, especially if she doesn’t like the guy that got her pregnant. She doesn’t want anything to do with your genes; get over it, especially if she were raped and all this. So it’s very frustrating on the outside, on the other side.”
The fact is we all tell people what to do all the time, and with good reason. We have laws that protect the innocent and Bill Nye fails to really explain why we should not extend those rights to the unborn. He simply takes it as a settled premise that women have the right to destroy another life so long it is within her metabolic control. In this respect Bill Nye expresses a common attitude within the scientific community, one that separates life from its inherent dignity and treats an embryo as a parasite and sex as simple evolutionary activity similar in every respect to the division of an amoeba or the insemination of cattle. This cold attitude has become confused with a kind of scientific authority that has charmed abortion proponents. I would like to as Bill Nye why is it that “nobody likes abortion”? From a purely “scientific” perspective it should not even matter whether abortion is pleasant or not. Bill Nye left science almost completely out of the equation in this video and then further attempts to distract and dismiss with the conclusion of his video.
“We have so many more important things to be dealing with. We have so many more problems to squander resources on this argument based on bad science, on just lack of understanding.
It’s very frustrating. You wouldn’t know how big a human egg was if it weren’t for microscopes, if it weren’t for scientists, medical researchers looking diligently. You wouldn’t know the process. You wouldn’t have that shot, the famous shot or shots where the sperm are bumping up against the egg. You wouldn’t have that without science. So then to claim that you know the next step when you obviously don’t is trouble. Let me do that again. Let me just pull back. At some point we have to respect the facts.
Abortion is not important to Bill Nye but it is to a lot of people. You simply cannot dismiss other people’s opinions as unimportant because they contradict your beliefs or you believe they are uninformed. You may be very wrong about how informed others are. Nye’s attempt to assign to abortion proponents dominion over all scientific discoveries related to embryology is almost childish. To claim people do not have a right to an opinion about this matter because they didn’t make the scientific discoveries is absurd. Moreover, there are plenty of pro-life scientists that are good scientists. The video clearly shows an retake of his statements and was left in the final edit of the video. Clearly even Bill Nye realized he went overboard. His correction is to say that we have to “respect the facts”. What facts is Bill Nye referring to? That there is scientific consensus as to when life begins? There isn’t even any consensus as to whether there is any consensus at all! Let us not forget that it is this same appeal to a “lack of scientific consensus” that gives climate change deniers freedom to pollute the environment. If anything, we should err on the side of life.
“Recommending or insisting on abstinence has been completely ineffective. Just being objective here. Closing abortion clinics. Closing, not giving women access to birth control has not been an effective way to lead to healthier societies. I mean I think we all know that. And I understand that you have deeply held beliefs and it really is ultimately out of respect for people, in this case your perception of unborn people. I understand that. But I really encourage you to look at the facts. And I know people are now critical of the expression fact-based but what’s wrong with that? So I just really encourage you to not tell women what to do and not pursue these laws that really are in nobody’s best interest. Just really be objective about this. We have other problems to solve everybody. Come on. Come on. Let’s work together.”
What exactly has “insisting on abstinence” been ineffective against? Unintended pregnancies? Why should that even matter if you are in favor of on-demand abortions? Besides, women have had access to birth control and abortion for several decades and I think it’s a mistake to think that we live in a healthy society. We live in a society that commits 1 million abortions a year, and as Bill Nye himself declared, “nobody likes abortion”. Nye’s final words are just plain ridiculous attempting to take a conciliatory tone of a tolerant referee that has just ruled the game in favor of science and against ignorance. This video was clearly made off-the-cuff and shows little forethought so I don’t want to hold Bill Nye to everything he said. Instead, I would like to see an in-depth Bill Nye The Science Guy episode on human reproduction and early development and see how many people will be convinced that human life isn’t truly magnificent. Even Bill Nye can’t ruin that one.