by Thomas W. Hilgers, MD
Reviewed by Rita Louise Lowery Gitchell, B.S., M.A., J.D
This book is a criticism of the1973, “scientific” fact analysis in the United States Supreme Court opinion, Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion by balancing a woman’s privacy rights against state rights to protect “potential life,” and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton. Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D., a prominent board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, who has practiced medicine over four decades makes the case that the unborn is life with potential, and, not as described by the court, “potential life”. The lay reader is invited to question if settled law should be based on inaccurate, fake, and deceptive science.
The book is written through the experienced medical lens of Dr. Hilgers. Dr Hilgers is a member of Society of Reproductive Surgeons, Society of Robotic Surgeons, and Society of Procreative Surgeons. Dr. Hilgers has been active in the study of fertility and along with co-workers has been one of the developers of the Creighton Model of Fertility Care ™ System (CrMS) and NaProTECHNOLOGY. He has served as Director of the Saint Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha Nebraska, where, as Medical Director he served the institution that provides 3D and 4D ultrasound imaging of the unborn child. The book provides photo images of 3D ultrasounds of unborn human development. Dr. Hilgers writes this book for non-medically trained adults, although he has directed continuing medical education courses at Creighton University School of Medicine and is the author of over 238 professional publications. Dr. Hilgers uses bold face type to aid the nonmedical reader in noticing important facts. The book has references at the end of each chapter to support the sources. There are many tables, graphs, and illustrations.
Chapter Seven has a reference to a free online film explaining many concepts in the book. The average reader, as well as attorneys, professionals’ students and teachers, will find the film a great aid to explaining many of the photos and images in the book. This includes a short quiz distinguishing developing animals from developing humans. The recent experiment at Northwestern University in Chicago that took a portion of a sperm and under fluoroscopy showed that with sperm egg binding zinc is released from the egg emitting light was discussed in the film, but the fact that fluoroscopy and a sperm derivative were used in the experiment was not explained, which could leave one thinking sparks literally fly at the creation of life outside the fluoroscopic experiment. Overall the information provided in the film is a great resource for reviewing the biological facts of life.
Dr. Hilgers questions how Roe v. Wade can be described settled law when Roe ignored known medical facts in 1973. He describes how the opinion referenced 15 times the writings of two men 1.) Lawrence Leader a lay freelance journalist, who was a founder of the National Abortion Rights League (NARL), along with Dr. Bernard Nathenson, and 2.) the attorney for NARL, Cyrus Means. Dr. Hilgers makes a strong case that the Court “cherry-picked” different medical opinions, religious and philosophical thought before 1900, such as Aristotle, and St. Thomas Aquinas, to color a Court opinion that there was not a consensus, but only a “theory” in 1973, on when human life begins.
Dr. Hilgers invites the reader to examine the cherry-picked “scientific facts”. Dr. Hilgers textbook gives multiple citations to information that was not referenced but available to the Roe Court from amicus briefs, textbooks, Dr. Carl Hartman of the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau, and a statement by Dr. Alan Guttmacher President of Planned Parenthood, that pre-Roe v. Wade all recognized that life begins at conception. Dr. Hilgers comments on how the Court gave more credibility to the medieval thought, and publications before 1900, instead of the more recent scientific research known in 1963, showing the filmed animation of live fetal movement at ages 8.5 to 14 weeks gestation analyzed by Dr. Davenport Hooker, 1939-1952, and presented in the book “The First Nine Months of Life,” by Geraldine Lux Flanagan, in 1962. In Chapter Six addressing when human life begins, Dr. Hilgers quotes from medical publications from 1887-1972, regarding the fact life begins at fertilization. Dr. Hilgers references that certain member physicians, professors, and fellows of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) presented information to the RoeCourt to show how modern science, embryology, fetology, genetics, perinatology, and all of biology establish the humanity of the unborn child. But, all the Court did was reference “…well known facts of fetal development…” yet glossed over those facts in stating that there was “…no consensus” on when human life begins. The reader is invited to examine the facts known in 1973 and whether the Court’s analysis of those facts was accurate or fake and deceptive.
Dr. Hilgers emphasized three key scientific errors in Roe. Dr. Hilgers questions whether the “scientific” facts stated in Roe can be settled, when they are unsubstantiated.
The first error addressed is that the Roe Court relied on a statement made in an Appellant friend of the court brief, by the organization (ACOG) and other medical groups, that “Over one million criminal abortions occur in the United States each year, resulting in an estimated 5000 maternal deaths annually.”. Chapter Three is dedicated to examining this statement. Dr. Hilgers had informed the reader in the introduction that ACOG is one of the largest pro-abortion lobby groups and he thinks the data presented was false and deceptive.
In Chapter Three, Dr. Hilgers notes that Dr. Bernard Nathenson, former medical director of the largest U.S. abortion clinic and co-founder of National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL), confessed later in his book, The Hand of God: A Journey From Death to Life by the Abortion Doctor that Changed His Mind; that the widely spread statistic of 5,000 deaths a year from criminal abortion was known to be false. Dr. Hilgers provides comparison statistics revealing all maternal deaths from any miscarriage as well as illegal abortion or legal abortion was 48 in 1972 and 75 in 1971.
Chapter Three contains a subchapter story about how Dr. Hilgers successfully treated a woman with an infection in the membranes of her uterus after an abortion attempt. While medical thought at the time was to separate mother and baby by emptying the uterus, he chose to treat the infection, and the woman responded to the treatment, and cleared the infection. While Dr. Hilgers had success and has published on treating an infected uterus, he laments the lifesaving treatment technique is not used more. By the end of Chapter Three, Dr. Hilgers discusses the issue of how many illegal abortions there were before the Roe decision, and estimates there was an average of 98,000, per year, and after Roe that number went down to 45,000. This translated to 18 legal abortions for every 1 illegal abortions. Dr. Hilgers then asks the reader to question how the violent and destructive abortion procedure is the solution to social, economic, and psychological problems, compared to healing that can come from carrying a baby to term and permitting adoption. Since this book’s focus is on the Roe decision and its medical errors, there were not statistics presented in this chapter comparing a mother’s health when an adoption option is selected versus choosing an abortion.
Chapter Four expands on Chapter Three, to discuss the rate of maternal mortality. The second key error that the Court made, according to Dr. Hilgers, was that first trimester abortion was “…23.3 times safer than ordinary childbirth.” Dr. Hilgers stated that ACOG, in a friend of the court brief, made this claim by referencing the United States maternal mortality rate for death from any point in pregnancy until three to six months post-partum (28.0 per 100,000. live births) and compared them to statistics from Hungary on how many deaths resulted from first trimester abortions (1.2 per 100,000 abortions). Thus, maternal mortality in the U.S. study covered 12 to 15 months of time and the maternal mortality in the Hungarian study covered 3 months. In addition to noting that the comparison was apples to oranges, Dr. Hilgers indicated it took him years to note the disturbing “fact” reported by ACOG and the Roe opinion was that abortion was safer than “ordinary childbirth”. Yet, Dr. Hilgers reports maternal deaths do not result from ordinary childbirth, but from a catastrophic medical occurrence.
Dr. Hilgers provides statistics that pre-Roe v Wade maternal mortality rates were less than they are today. Legal abortion did not improve maternal mortality. Dr. Hilgers emphasizes that spinning the reporting in Roe that “mortality in abortion is less than mortality in normal childbirth” as an “established medical fact” was fake and deceptive.
The third key error was that Justice Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion, referenced “new embryological data” to indicate conception is a ‘process” over time rather than an “event”. Dr. Hilgers notes that no embryologist was referenced by Justice Blackmun in making this claim. Instead, there was a reference to five law review articles and two books by lay authors that were not peer reviewed. Dr. Hilgers theorizes that a law review by psychiatrist Roderick Gorney in 1968, in commenting on the origins of life and personhood purported that one could say no life has begun for three billion years because life only has an ending and the sperm and egg has life present so “while there may be a moment when life ends, no life has begun in three billion years” was a potential source for this statement. The book explains several times how a sperm or an egg is not a human being. The book also highlights how with the known scientific advances in in vitro fertilization, that no person exists, and no pregnancy occurs without fertilization creating new life.
Chapter Eight goes into detail on the influence of Dr. Bernanrd Nathenson, Cyril Means, and Lawrence Leader as providing source information for the Court opinion. Dr. Bernard Nathenson, would go on to change his view on abortion and support the pro-life movement and acknowledge that false statistics that had been reported as fact by NARL. Lawrence Lader was described as a free-lance journalist, who in his book, Abortion, likened pregnancy to the bondage of slavery. Lader was cited eight times in the Roe opinion. Cyril Means was a law professor who had opined that life does not begin as it began 3.5 million years ago. Means was cited seven times in the Roe opinion. Means had served on the board for NARAL and was one of NARL’S attorneys. Means is reported to have presented his own myth as fact that abortion was not criminal in England or America before the 19th Century, and abortion was criminalized to protect the mother’s life and not the child’s. Means work was then referenced in Lader’s book, Abortion, studied by Justice Blackmun’s clerk. Lader’s work in Abortion was not written with the expertise of a medical degree nor was it peer reviewed. Similarly, Cyril Means did not have a medical degree to provide scientific fact.
Chapter Nine references some international and state documents after 1948 that recognized respect for life at the time of conception (e.g., United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child 1959) and life begins at conception and is continuous, whether intra or extra uterine until death (1970 California Medical
Association). It discusses the value of the Hippocratic Oath and the demise of medical schools who cite the oath at graduation. Examples are given as to how society, post Roe, has lost respect for life, including promoting lethalism in medical schools, expanded embryonic and fetal experimentation, and, recently infanticide.
Chapter Ten reviews several issues including the “viability” standard and different meanings of viability. It comments on how the abortion decision was not to be a woman’s right to chose or reproductive freedom, but a decision left to the medical judgment of the woman’s attending physician. It notes that Chief Justice Warren Berger thought the Court rejects any claim that the Constitution requires abortion on demand.
Chapter Eleven has a chart summarizing the prior information and labeling “scientific” information from Roe as either settled science, fake or deceptive. Dr. Hilgers makes the case that there was a major consensus at the time of Roe that life began at conception which was ignored by the Roe Court Majority, and, relabeled as “one theory of life”.
Chapter Twelve, titled” Conclusions”, analyzes Dr. Hilgers position that the Court was not fair and impartial in its decision. It further raises that the problems of the number of unwed mothers, child abuse, teen age suicide, have all increased since Roe, and, Roe was not the solution to these problems. The Chapter raises that although the Court had the information that life begins at conception, the Court only raised that the facts of fetal development were well known and went on to adopt a minority view that it was unknown when human life began. Dr. Hilgers states this was purposefully done to make it seem abortion does not kill a human being. Dr. Hilgers questions how Roe and Doe can be settled law, when it was based on deception.
In the Epilogue, he comments on how there was an article in 2017 by a doctor, whose work is to create in vitro human embryos in a lab, that claimed there was not a scientific basis to support the fact life begins at fertilization. The doctor claimed prior to fertilization, there was a live egg and a live sperm, and that life is a continuum, and, from a biological standpoint, no new life was created. The doctor, also raised concerns about how if a preimplantation embryo was a human being, then a doctor could be subject to manslaughter charges if the embryo died. Dr. Hilgers published this full letter and Dr. Hilgers response to the letter, indicating he was not a grown-up oocyte or sperm. Dr. Hilgers cautioned that there is a trend to redefine, but that definitions are not a substitute for knowledge.
There are references at the end of each chapter, in case the reader wants to examine the source materials. There are several tables in the book that list statistical references, historical references, and current references, and two tables that highlight the role of Christian and Catholic Scientists in contributing to scientific discovery. Dr. Hilgers is not an attorney, and his citations to the Roe and Doe cases on the reference’s pages are not official legal citations to the United States Supreme Court cases. Dr. Hilgers credits Terri Green with the development of the glossary in the book but, there is no reference as to who is defining the terms in the glossary. The book is replete with examples of how life begins at fertilization, and yet the definition of an embryo references a developing human individual from the time of implantation. Other scientists referenced in the book use the term embryo to describe a stage of human development including the time before implantation. A source for the terms in the glossary would have been helpful. It also may have been helpful to reference the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists as a resource.