Roe v. Wade: Bad law and bad science

Aaron Lambert

A new book by a renowned reproductive healthcare doctor takes a critical look at the flawed science of Roe v. Wade, the infamous Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S. over 50 years ago. 

The Fake and Deceptive Science Behind Roe v. Wade is the result of a years-long scientific study conducted by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, M.D., who has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for over 40 years. Dr. Hilgers founded the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb., in 1985 and presently serves as its director. He is also known as one of the primary developers of the Creighton Model Fertility Care System, which is endorsed and promoted by the Catholic Church as a method of Natural Family Planning. 

Many experts of constitutional law have argued that the Roe v. Wade decision should be considered illegitimate from a legal standpoint. Dr. Hilgers takes that logic a step further and argues that Roe, as well as the similar decision of Doe v. Bolton, were also decided based on bad science. 

“My study found that both rulings are riddled with scientific errors,” Dr. Hilgers said. “With regard to these decisions being settled law, we can only hope and pray that the conscience of a nation is not willing to accept that distinction. The scientific reality that the Court failed to grasp in these rulings is that human life begins at conception. 

“I’ve known for a long time that this science that they presented was not accurate and the thing that I had some trouble with over the years was trying to document that they actually lied,” Dr. Hilgers told the Denver Catholic. “I’ve been able to do that now. They either were lying, or they were deceptive in how they presented their case. The whole Roe v. Wade decision is based on aberrant science, and it is in a lot of ways an illegitimate decision because of that.” 

The lynchpin that the Roe v. Wade decision is based upon, and the primary lie that has subsequently shaped the way much of society thinks about abortion, is the fact that the court did not define when life begins. 

“They basically said, ‘well, we don’t need to determine when life begins,’” Dr. Hilgers said. “It seems to me that that’s a really important issue here. Otherwise, we just have the Dred Scott decision all over again, which in fact, I think there’s a real similarity between the two, because they wouldn’t give the unborn full credibility for being human in Roe v. Wade.” 

The Dred Scott v. Sandford decision of 1857 ruled that Black people could not be recognized as U.S. citizens, whether they were enslaved or not, and essentially denied them their humanity. It is universally condemned as one of, if not the worst Supreme Court decision in U.S. history. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia once cited Scott v. Sanford as a precedent that paved the way for Roe v. Wade

In the Roe decision, the court cited what they called “new embryological data” that was pulled from law review articles by lawyers and other lay publications written by people who were interested in science but were not scientists themselves, Dr. Hilgers explained. The data cited in the decision “was certainly not the consistent thought at the time of Roe.” 

A 2019 study conducted by a scholar of the University of Chicago found that of 5,577 biologists who were asked whether human life began at conception, 96 percent responded in the affirmative. Interestingly, the majority who responded identified as pro-choice. Given the scientific advancements that have been made since the 1970s, this consensus is notable. It implies that most scientists know that human life begins at conception and aligns with Dr. Hilgers’ notion that they knew this fact in 1973, too. 

“We knew then, and we know now, life begins at conception,” Dr. Hilgers said. “Then it grows all the way through pregnancy, birth and all the various stages of life. That’s what human life is, it’s a group of stages of life. They talk about a woman’s choice [or] women’s freedom to choose. I couldn’t find any place in Roe where it talks about a woman’s freedom to choose. In fact, the choice to do the abortion, according to Roe, was the decision of the doctor and the doctor alone.” 

Another claim in particular that alarmed Dr. Hilgers is a statistical figure that purported 5,000 – 10,000 women die each year from illegal abortions. It’s a figure that Chelsea Clinton has cited in recent years, and the same one they used at the time of Roe

“It’s completely untrue,” Dr. Hilgers said. “The maternal death rate for abortion of all causes, not just septic abortion, but of all causes the year before Roe v. Wade was 48 women. Now, that’s 48 too many, but maternal death does occur still in pregnancy every once in a while. That was in 1972, and they don’t miss these deaths very easily when it comes to the scrutiny of the statistical division of the national vital statistics.” 

In fact, the activists and doctors who used these figures to help advance their argument to legalize abortion knew themselves that these statistics weren’t true, Dr. Hilgers said.  

“There was a book published by Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who was an obstetrician-gynecologist and was one of the core of three people who are responsible for making the argument for abortion,” Dr. Hilgers said. “He said that he knew for a fact that five to ten thousand women did not die every year from illegal abortion and that [they] just said it to make a big mark. [They] knew it wasn’t true. He flat out admitted it.” 

Despite being one of the three doctors who helped to make the arguments that would legalize abortion in the U.S. with the Roe v. Wade decision, Dr. Nathanson would later have a conversion to Catholicism and become a staunch anti-abortion advocate. 

The Fake and Deceptive Science Behind Roe v. Wade is the result of a years-long scientific study conducted by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, M.D., who has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for over 40 years. Dr. Hilgers founded the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb., in 1985 and presently serves as its director.

Another claim in Roe that befuddled Dr. HiIgers was one that said abortion was 23 times safer than ordinary or normal childbirth, implying that giving birth is more deadly than getting an abortion. 

“That’s actually a statistic that I’ve been chasing for quite a few years, and I never could quite get my fingers on it. I couldn’t figure out exactly why I was having trouble with it,” he said. “Then I realized how they worded it. They worded it by saying that it’s 23 times safer than normal or ordinary childbirth. That’s the language used in Roe. You can [also] say it the other way around, that normal, ordinary childbirth is 23 times more dangerous than an abortion. But actually, the mortality rate from normal and ordinary childbirth is zero because there is nothing normal or ordinary about a maternal death in childbirth. They still occur once in a while, but they’re quite rare, and when they do, it’s a catastrophic medical situation that happens usually without warning.” 

Dr. Hilgers said that similar to what we’re seeing amid the current pandemic crisis, science isn’t always politically neutral, and Roe v. Wade was in fact a highly politicized decision that neglected to take into account all of the scientific facts that were presented at the time. 

“Medicine is much more political than one can imagine,” Dr. Hilgers said. “The decision itself was highly political. It was set up to be able to make a case for abortion and was written from a very pro-abortion mindset as opposed to a constitutional mindset or a more neutral presentation. They decided pretty much what they wanted to do.” 

Roe v. Wade completely reframed the issue of abortion and opened the door for what St. Pope Paul VI alluded to as a “throwaway culture” in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. The effects of this decision are still felt to this day, and not just in the fact that abortion remains legal. The language used in Roe v. Wade persists in mainstream American culture and informs how the majority of people think and talk about the issue of life. Dr. Hilgers hopes this book will give people a foundation to enter the debate in a more effective way.

“We live in a climate of what people have called Identity politics, and these poor babies have had no identity because they’re inside their mother’s womb,” Dr. Hilgers explained. “When [people] start saying its products of conception or amorphous cells or whatever it may be, they use a lot of language which is very nonspecific and oftentimes clouds the issue on purpose. I’m not talking just here about the court, but just in general in the general debate. When they do that, people don’t know how to respond. One of the challenges with this book is to try to get people to start thinking otherwise about it so they can be a lot more effective at standing up for the unborn. It is the number one human rights issue in the world right now. 

“People just don’t know what’s going on,” Dr. Hilgers continued. “They believe a lot of how people frame this issue [when] it’s framed as pro-choice or they use the terminology that really is so fake. Does the baby have a choice? The answer is no. We have to find better ways of arguing the issue. There are ways of doing that. I’m not saying I’m an expert at it, but I’ve always been aware of the language and we need to work harder at getting it into everyday life.” 

In addition to becoming more aware of the pro-choice stance and entering into the debate in a more informed and effective manner, Dr. Hilgers said that another step to take is better equipping and training doctors to provide actual real support for women who are distressed by pregnancy. 

“We need to find a way to take care of those women who are pregnant and distressed,” he concluded. “The whole culture has to get to a point where they don’t see a pregnant woman as a threat, but to see them as someone that you need to really help and find ways of supporting them that are really effective.” 

Featured photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

COMING UP: From rare books to online resources, archdiocesan library has long history of service to students

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National Library Week, observed this year from April 4 to April 10, is the perfect occasion to highlight the essential role of libraries and library staff in strengthening our communities – and our very own Cardinal Stafford Library at the Archdiocese of Denver is no exception.  

Since 1932, the library has served as a religious, intellectual, and cultural resource for seminarians and students at St. John Vianney Seminary in Denver.

As the library of the seminary, we are always responsible for the four dimensions of the priestly formation of our seminarians. The library is charged with being responsible to all the divisions of the Seminary: the Lay Division (Catholic Biblical School and Catholic Catechetical School), the Permanent Deacon Formation Division, and the Priestly Formation Division, said Stephen Sweeney, Library Director. 

In addition to being one of the main resources to the seminary, the Cardinal Stafford Library serves the needs of other educational programs in the Archdiocese of Denver, including the St. Francis School for Deacons, the Biblical School, the Catechetical School and the Augustine Institute. While the library is currently closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was previously open to anyone, giving people access to more than 150,000 books, audios, and videos. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library was named after Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, Apostolic Penitentiary at the Vatican and former Archbishop of Denver from 1986 to 1996. He was a dedicated advocate of the library and of Catholic education.

In 1932, the library was established by two seminarians, Maurice Helmann and Barry Wogan. While they were not the first seminarians to conceive the idea of establishing a library, they are considered the founders for undertaking its organization.  

Since its founding, the library has grown and compiled a fine collection of resources on Catholic theology, Church history, biblical studies, liturgy, canon law, religious art, philosophy, and literature. Special collections include over 500 rare books dating back to the early 16th century and many periodicals dating back to the 1800s. The oldest publication in the library is a book on excommunication published in 1510. The Cardinal Stafford Library is also home to various relics and holds bills personally written by some of those saints.  

Over the past few years, the library has undergone a process of beautification through various renovations that include improvements in lighting, flooring, and even furniture restoration. During these difficult times, libraries are doing their best to adapt to our changing world by expanding their digital resources to reach those who don’t have access to them from home. 

The Cardinal Stafford Library provides a community space; we subscribe to about 200 print journals and have access to literally thousands more through online resources available on campus computers, Sweeney added. “I have been the Library Director for almost 11 years. I absolutely love my work, especially participating in the intellectual formation of the faithful from all of the dioceses we serve”.  

For more information on the Cardinal Stafford Library, visit: sjvdenver.edu/library 

Featured photo by Andrew Wright