Air pollutants can cross placental barrier and affect unborn babies, study finds

Unborn babies are in danger of being exposed to air pollutants as new research has found air pollution particles on the unborn side of the placenta.

The research is the first to show that the air particles breathed in by the mother can cross the placental barrier and potentially affect the unborn baby. Thousands of the tiny particles per cubic millimetre of tissue were found in every placenta analysed.

Damage to unborn babies at this early stage of development can have lifelong consequences and Professor Tim Nawrot at Hasselt University in Belgium, who led the study, said

“This is the most vulnerable period of life. All the organ systems are in development. For the protection of future generations, we have to reduce exposure.” 

Published in the journal Nature Communications, the research examined 25 placentas from non-smoking women in the town of Hasselt in Belgium.

In each case, researchers found black carbon particles on the unborn baby’s side of the placenta and the number correlated with air pollution levels experienced by the mothers.

They also examined placentas from babies who had died as a result of natural miscarriage. They found the black carbon particles were present even in unborn babies only 12 weeks old.

The detection of the particles on the foetal side of the placental barrier means it was very likely the foetuses themselves were exposed to the pollutants. Analysis of foetal blood for particles is now under way, as is research to see if the particles cause DNA damage.

Professor Jonathan Grigg of Queen Mary University of London, led a group which presented the first report of particles in five placentas in September, said:

“We should be protecting foetuses and this is another reminder that we need to get [air pollution] levels down,” he said.

According to Professor Nawrot, levels of pollutants can be particularly high near busy roads.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said:

“The detection of air pollutant particles on the unborn baby’s side of the placenta is obviously a concern for us all, but particularly for pregnant women and their unborn babies, and we should do what we can on an individual basis to minimise our exposure.”

“It is also interesting to note the Guardian’s use of language in this piece. It mentions the fact that the “unborn babies” and “unborn children” can be affected by air pollutants. This is of course correct but is in sharp contrast to their ‘News Style Guide’ which has a strong pro-abortion bias.”

“As this article was apparently attempting to emphasise the negative effects of air pollution, and did not mention abortion, the Guardian seemed content to use language that humanises the unborn child.”

(Image credit: Adobe Stock - File #264091988)

Abortion, For Any Reason, Up To Birth – The Abortion Lobby’s Ultimate Sub-Humanist Campaign

by Peter D. Williams

This morning, a campaign was launched to promote the most extreme proposals ever officially advocated by the abortion lobby: abortion up to birth, and for any reason. Headed by BPAS, the leading organisation of the UK abortion industry, the campaign also includes eight abortion lobby groups (interestingly, this number does not include Abortion Rights UK) who together comprise just less than half of all the campaign.

The radical platform the campaign prescribes is unsurprising in its content, if nonetheless astonishing in its extremity, when you know how BPAS under the leadership of Ann Furedi has consistently advocated for the removal of all restrictions on the practice of abortion. Furedi is one of the most intellectually open and honest of all abortion lobbyists, and unlike the majority of people on either side of the abortion debate, she is strikingly (if hideously) consistent in her view that abortion should be available for any reason at any stage of gestation. In her view, the autonomy of the mother outweighs any intrinsic rights or value her unborn child may have.

This ideological commitment entails that she, and the abortion lobby, do not just want to amend current UK laws on abortion, they want to do away with them altogether. For many, such a proposal will come as a surprise, not merely because of its radicalism, but because it identifies something that is less well known than perhaps it should be: Abortion is a crime under UK law.

Under sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against The Person Act 1861, abortion is what used to be called a ‘felony’. Moreover, all abortions after 28 weeks are prohibited under the crime of ‘Child Destruction’ due to the Infant Life Preservation Act 1929. Some abortions are de iure permissible due to legal precedents set in court cases, and due to the Abortion Act 1967, which gave exemptions from prosecution under the 1861 Act for performing abortions for a few ostensibly very narrow reasons, as long as two doctors affirmed in ‘good faith’ that the conditions of the Act were met. (These exemptions were extended to the 1929 Act, and an upper limit for most abortions set at 24 weeks, in 1990.) The abuse of this Act has led to a de facto situation of abortion on demand, but the letter of the law means that abortion is indeed, as a legal norm, still banned.

The consequence of this is that some people are still prosecuted to this day for performing late abortions outside of a medical context. I wrote in December about two such recent cases: Kevin Wilson was found guilty of ‘Child Destruction’ for having assaulted his ex-girlfriend (whom he had tried to pressure into an ‪abortion) by stamping on her stomach, causing his unborn child (then at 32 weeks) to be stillborn. Natalie Towers, a woman in County Durham, was convicted of the same crime after taking contraction-inducing drugs whilst heavily pregnant in order to miscarry her unborn son, who, posthumously called ‘Luke’ by the medical staff, was also at 32-34 weeks and consequently died of oxygen starvation.

For the abortion lobby, the prosecution of the Towers case was an outrage, and they have decried UK abortion law as an unacceptable ‘patriarchal’ limitation on the personal autonomy of women, a ‘Victorian’ relic of a time before women even had the vote. (This language is employed regardless of Towers being prosecuted under a law passed in the 20s, after female suffrage was secured.) Unsurprisingly for a campaign ‘conceived’ and so dominated by them, the arguments for it are similar typical pro-abortion tropes.

It’s been given the title and hashtag ‘We Trust Women’, as if laws restricting abortion were about questioning the decision-making powers of individual women, rather than providing at least some protections for unborn children. It gratuitously asserts that restricting abortion denies women ‘fundamental rights’, even though there is not and never has been a right to abortion. It argues from a radical view of bodily autonomy, claiming that it is a legal principle that “a person’s body is their own”. This despite the fact that we are actually legally limited in what we can do even with our own body – we may not, for example, contract a doctor to remove one of our healthy limbs just because we want them to – let alone the body of another, such as that of our unborn child.

Consequently, Furedi, BPAS, and the wider campaign they are leading wants to see the total ‘decriminalisation’ of abortion. They point to the Australian state of Victoria as a precedent, where abortion lobbyists succeeded in passing profoundly permissive abortion laws in 2008. The UK campaign’s plans, however, go far beyond even what abortion lobbyists succeeded in gaining Down Under. Though the Victorian law allows for abortion up to the ninth month of pregnancy, it is only on demand up to 24 weeks. For abortions to be performed further than that, certain physical, psychological and social grounds have to be approved by two doctors, though this can be the operating surgeon and anaesthetist. The UK campaign would, by contrast, have no limitations whatsoever.

The problem for the abortion lobby’s campaign, is that their view is completely contrary to where science, medicine, and public opinion have moved in the last few decades. Consequently, the manifesto her campaign has drawn up is far removed from what is morally and politically acceptable.

If abortion in the UK were to become as totally deregulated as the abortion lobby would like, this would mean removing that two doctors give their ‘good faith’ judgement that the abortion is necessary for certain prescribed reasons, and that doctors alone (not nurses) should carry out abortions. It would also include the license of abortions that most people rightly find abhorrent: such as abortions based on the sex of the unborn child. Just as the preferred abortion lobby term ‘pro-choice’ simply begs the question ‘Which choice?’, so ‘We Trust Women’ begs the question, ‘To do what?’ To have sex-selective abortions (which Furedi has supported, and BPAS has insisted is legal, despite Government disagreement)? To kill their child at 32-34 weeks as Natalie Towers did?

Such an agenda runs counter to the consensus of UK public opinion. As RTL reported earlier:

“In October 2014, a ComRes poll found that 84% of people favoured a total and explicit ban on abortions based on the baby’s sex, including 85% of women. Another ComRes poll in March that same year found a similar figure, with 86% of people favouring a total ban (including 88% of women). This latter poll also found that 89% (92% of women) agreed that a woman requesting an abortion should always be seen in person by a qualified doctor, and 76% (78% of women) agreed that the health of women considering an abortion would be put at risk unless the doctors who sign abortion request forms had also seen the patient.”

What the abortion lobby are asking for – for nurses to be allowed to perform abortions and for abortion to be so on demand that it could take place for the purposes of sex-selection – completely contradicts what the vast majority of the public, especially women, think about those issues.

The marginality in the appeal of this extreme campaign, however is only one dimension in the practical question of its popular relevance. As the advent of 4D imaging, improvements in the ability of doctors to save pre-term babies, and better public knowledge of embryology have all made increasingly clear to the wider proportion of Britons, abortion always involves the destruction of an unborn human being. The life of a defenceless child is ended at precisely the time and place where they should be safest. As public awareness of unborn humanity increases, so more horrifying the idea of a total and sub-humanist disregard of the dignity and right to life of children in the womb will become.

More critiques can (and will) be made of the ‘We Trust Women’ campaign. What is immediately clear for now is that it is nothing less than the apotheosis of pro-abortion ideology. It is a campaign that dresses itself in feminism despite enabling gendercide. It prescribes a legal and social scenario utterly unacceptable to the majority of Britons. It involves a callous disregard for the humanity and rights of unborn children. In short, it is a ludicrous and hopelessly unrealistic move that only serves to helpfully demonstrate the extremism, anti-feminism, and inhumanity of the abortion lobby.

Amnesty’s Travesty of Unborn Humanity (‘Amnesty’s Travesty Of Human Rights’, Part I)

by Peter D. Williams

In the early 1960s, the English labour lawyer Peter Benenson founded a group to campaign for the rights of prisoners of conscience. This organisation, Amnesty, would grow into what is now Amnesty International (AI), a key means by which ordinary people could campaign to end torture and detention without trial, and call for fair treatment when trial begins. Over time however, this mission became broadened to include a wider human rights remit. In the latter stages of this expansion however, Amnesty became alienated from the concern for equal human dignity from which it sprang.

In 2007, AI’s Executive Committee controversially voted to begin to campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion across the world. Initially this policy was kept secret to the extent that an Amnesty worker sick of ‘hidden agendas’ and unhappy with the institutional ‘bias’ in the organisation itself released their preparatory documents to Wikileaks. In these, and in the official FAQs and justifications they gave once the policy was eventually announced, Amnesty enunciates an ostensibly moderate position, oft-cited as such by those who personally disagree with abortion but still wish to support them.

AI claims that they do not campaign for the ‘legalisation’ of abortion, or for a ‘human right to abortion’, but merely for “the removal of all criminal penalties (including imprisonment, fines, and other punishments) against those seeking, obtaining, providing information about, or carrying out abortions”. They believe this is justified on the basis that the consequences of “restrictive abortion laws and policies” are that women are denied “access to safe abortion services where continued pregnancy threatens their lives or health” or when they are made pregnant after rape and incest, and to “life-saving medical treatment for abortion complications” especially after the incidence of illegal abortions (to which they also object). They also oppose the ill-treatment of women who are criminalised by abortion. Their campaign to decriminalise abortion is rationalised then on the basis that trying to “stop violence against women, protest torture and ill-treatment, and promote non-discrimination and the right to health are fundamental areas of AI’s mission”.

Now, much could, and will, be said about the claims made in this position, but the fundamental problem with it is that it conveniently ignores a matter that should be basic to its very mission: the humanity and rights of unborn children. As noted, AI says that it does not take a position on whether abortion should be legal or whether it is right or wrong, and this is because it states that it takes no position on “when life begins”. Yet this is nothing short of laughably bizarre. Given that AI’s mottos is ‘Protect the Human’, how can a leading human rights organisation, dedicated to protecting human beings take no position on when such beings begin to exist?

It is not as if this is a particularly difficult question to answer: it is quite obvious to anyone with even a basic command of embryology or developmental biology. As the embryologist William J. Larsen stated on the first page of his work, Human Embryology, “… [W]e begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilisation to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual”. Moore and Persaud in their The Developing Human: Clinically Orientated Embryology, describe the Zygote, the first form of human being created by fertilisation as “the beginning of each of us as a unique individual”, and O’Rahilly and Müller in Human Embryology & Teratology call it “the beginning of a new human being”.

Given that the human being begins at conception then, this has an obvious and immediate implication for abortion. Since abortion involves the violent destruction of an unborn human being at their earliest stages, it is a violation of their most basic human right – to life. For Amnesty to advocate for removing legal protections for unborn children, decriminalising their being killed in their mother’s wombs, betrays the basic ethical purpose of Amnesty as an organisation. If AI is committed to protecting human beings, then it is grossly inconsistent to ignore the rights of any portion of humanity.

As a consequence, the rest of the logic they employ to justify their position is simply tortured and internally incoherent nonsense. They say that they do not campaign for the ‘legalisation’ of abortion, but only its decriminalisation. Yet this amounts to precisely the same thing. How can something be illegal if the consequence of doing it is not a criminal penalty? They also state that they oppose sex-selective abortion, but that they also take no position on disability-selective abortion. On what basis can they object to the former (indeed, at all), and not to the latter?

Indeed, their official position in theory does not easily marry with their campaigning in practice. They say they only want to “ensure access to abortion services” to women in extreme situations (rape and incest, or when her health or life is in danger), yet their current campaign ‘My Body, My Rights’ in countries like Ireland uses precisely the rhetoric and implicit reductive argument of the abortion lobby itself: that abortion is a matter of bodily autonomy, and thus personal right.

There are various details of Amnesty’s developed case for decriminalised abortion across the world, and we will consider these in future posts. What is certain about their basic position however, is that it is a hopelessly confused one, based on a ludicrous appeal to ignorance, and which profoundly contradicts their ethical basis as a human rights organisation. It would have horrified Peter Benenson, who thankfully never lived to see the organisation he founded so badly violate his own conviction of the equal dignity and rights of all humanity.

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This post is part of the ‘Amnesty’s Travesty of Human Rights’ series, and is cross-posted on the Blog of the Life website as part of our joint #AmnestyTravesty campaign. Please go to www.shamnesty.org and sign the petition!

Dr. Mosley & Mr. Nye: Why ‘Smart’ Science Supports Unborn Humanity

by Peter D. Williams

Bill Nye is a popular science broadcaster and comedian who made a popular Disney children’s science show ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ for ‘PBS’ (‘Public Broadcasting Service’, the US version of the BBC) in the mid 90s. He isn’t well known this side of the Pond, but for many Americans he carries the same credibility on matters of science as Johnny Ball, David Attenborough, or Brian Cox, do in the UK. Ball is perhaps the best analogy, given his appearance on children’s telly about the same time period, and the fondness which many feel for him.

This is the reason why, when Nye recently made a controversial video for the website ‘Big Think’, it went viral. Called ‘Can We Stop Telling Women What to Do With Their Bodies?’, the blurb for the video summarises his thesis: “anti-abortion legislation is derived from outdated beliefs that predate smart science by fifty centuries”. Given that this came from Nye, the framing for his pro-abortion conclusion as the informed scientific perspective granted it powerful credibility. Consequently, a slew of articles on popular magazine sites spread news of the video titled with comments like ‘Bill Nye Debunks Anti-Abortion Logic With Science’‘Bill Nye debunks anti-abortionist logic with science’, and ‘Bill Nye Brings Down Hammer of Science on Abortion Opponents’.

What then was this pure ‘science’ that has so utterly ‘debunked’ and ‘crushed’ right-to-life laws and arguments? Well, let’s take a look:

The basis that Nye gives for his assertion is at the very beginning of the video. Nye claims:

“Many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilised than become humans. Eggs get fertilised – 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. 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 fertilised it 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 fertilised egg pass through her? Every guy whose sperm has fertilised an egg and then it didn’t become a human? Have all these people failed you? 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”.

Strongly-put stuff. Is it right, though? Well, to put it mildly: no, not in the slightest. In fact, insofar as we can work out any logical argument from what Nye says, it is in fact so utterly, utterly incorrect that it constitutes on his part an astonishing degree of biological illiteracy, and an exemplary form of embryological ignorance.

Let’s start with the basic misunderstanding of the beginning of human life that is peppered throughout his comments: the idea that “eggs” become “fertilised” but do not “become humans”. This appears to be, after all, the basis for his implication: that a “fertilised egg” does not have the “same rights as an individual”.

Well, as a matter of fact, there is no such thing properly speaking as a ‘fertilised egg’. When an egg becomes fertilised by a sperm at conception, the sperm and the egg effectively cease to exist. They have merged into a new organism entirely: the zygote, which is the beginning of a new human being. Unborn children do not “become” human beings. They are human beings from their conception.

You needn’t take my word on it to see this fact, as it’s repeated across a range of embryological and medical textbooks by experts in these fields. Take Dr. William J. Larsen, an academic whose research was at the forefront of cell developmental and reproductive biology, and who stated in his book Human Embryology(1):

“… [W]e begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilisation to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual.”

Indeed, in describing the ‘developing human’ in their text of the same name(2), Dr. Keith L. Moore and Dr. T.V.N. Persaud, are even more explicit when they state:

Human development begins at fertilisation when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to produce a single cell – a zygote. This highly specialised, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”

Similarly, Dr. Ronan R. O’Rahilly and Dr. Fabiola Müller, in their Human Embryology and Teratology(3), characterise the newly created Zygote thus:

“Zygote: This cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo). The expression fertilised ovum refers to a secondary oocyte that is impregnated by a sperm; when fertilisation is complete, the oocyte becomes a zygote.”

What no less than five experts in embryology tell us then, is that when a female egg is fertilised by a male sperm, there is no longer an ovum but a newly conceived human being. This reality – that a new human being has come into existence – is the fundamental basis for the right-to-life movement’s contention that unborn children should be protected from abortion: all human beings are equal, and so all human beings have the same basic human rights. Contrary to Nye’s statements then, the “fertilised egg” does not “become a human”. He or she is an individual human being, from their conception onwards, and should have their human right to life respected.

Having dealt with his core assumption then, what should we make of Nye’s counter-arguments to this idea? He seems to have three:

  • Many eggs are fertilised (i.e. unborn are conceived) than survive the reproductive process.
  • They also ‘need’ to attach to the uterine wall (i.e. achieve implantation).
  • If unborn children are equal to adults, then this would mean that we must assert that every father and mother who have had a conceived child miscarry or fail to implant has “failed” us and should be sued or imprisoned.

The first two of these statements are irrelevant biological claims. It isn’t entirely clear, for example, why Nye mentions that the conceived child ‘needs’ to attach to the uterine wall. What this identifies is ‘implantation’, when the embryonic human begins to be sustained by her mother as a blastocyst when she embeds into the endometrium of the uterus. For what, however, does Nye think implantation is ‘needed’?

Some U.S. abortion lobbyists have used the American Medical Association marking of implantation as the beginning of pregnancy as a means of equivocating over when a human life begins, and it may be that Nye is doing the same. Yet this is fallacious: implantation is not the beginning of human existence – it is the beginning of gestation. As we have seen, every human being began to exist at their conception, not when they began to be sustained and gestated by their mother.

Perhaps the mention of implantation was simply a continuation of his first point: that many conceived children fail to survive. In any case, accepting for the sake of argument that many children are conceived but fail to survive (some estimates have gone from one third to one half of conceived children in total), this tells us absolutely nothing about abortion.

After all, abortion is a deliberate act of killing. Miscarriage or failure to implant is an accident of nature. The former is a moral crime, the latter is a natural tragedy. We cannot often control whether nature ends the lives of fellow human beings, but we can control whether we do so. That many unborn lives end before they get to the point of gestation, then, is about as relevant to the humanity of the unborn child as high infant mortality rates in past centuries were to the humanity of new-born babies. I.e. Not at all.

For the same reason, for Nye to, with gross insensitivity, suggest that because parents suffer the natural tragedy of miscarriage or failure to implant, that right-to-lifers think that they must be penalised is so obvious a non sequitur that it boggles the mind as to how he could make such a plainly erroneous assertion. We punish people for intentionally wicked actions, not for passively experienced accidents. A mother and a father whose child has sadly died deserve our sympathy, and have in no way ‘failed’ or warranted condemnation.

And there we have it. Nye’s arguments, such as they are, are riddled with biologically false assumptions about the nature of the newly conceived unborn child, and are so hopelessly illogical and ill-thought out that what little accurate facts he does know are completely misapplied and ill-considered. In the light of this, everything else he says in the video, even if it were not (as it is) flippant nonsense, is utterly irrelevant.

Indeed, since these comments by Mr. Nye, supposedly a man who spends his life educating people about scientific truth, are so astonishingly misinformed and irrational, they leave his eventual conclusion without any intelligent basis. You can only think ‘Can we stop telling women what to do with their bodies?’ is a meaningful question regarding abortion if you ignore the fact that abortion involves a woman doing (or rather allowing someone else to do) something to someone else’s body – the body of her unborn child. Given this, for a channel that is meant to distil significant and big ideas into relevant and applicable knowledge, its title alone marks Big Think’s video out as an explicitly biased and shallow presentation.

In contrast to Nye’s embarrassing ignorance and irrationality, the three-part BBC series Countdown To Life: The Extraordinary Making Of You on the BBC, hosted by Dr. Michael Mosley, has in the last few weeks been showing the amazing development of the unborn child. Unlike Mr. Nye, who simply has a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Dr. Mosley is a trained Doctor and has years of experience making programmes about biology and medicine. It is telling then, that from the first episode, he marks the beginning and follows the development of the individual human being from the point of conception. (Not implantation, or any later point.)

I am not claiming Dr. Mosley as a member of the right-to-life movement. I have no idea what his politics are when it comes to abortion or embryo-destructive research and medical practice. What is clear however, from the presentation he gives, as from the second episode of the 1998 BBC documentary The Human Body by Lord Winston (with whom Dr. Mosley had produced three other series), is that when the sperm from our father fertilised the ovum of our mother, we each of us began to exist as new individuals. This, as I have pointed out, is the foundational reality on the basis of which all right-to-life campaigning and advocacy takes place. Reinforcing this right understanding of unborn humanity, Countdown To Life fascinatingly accounts how so much of what happens to us in the womb can affect us in profound ways: from our skin colour, to our sex and sexual identity, to even how the organs in our body are arranged.

Dr. Mosley’s documentary is an excellent and informed illustration of the humanity of unborn children, and much recommended whilst it is still available to licence fee payers on BBC iPlayer. The first episode has just over a week until it expires, but can be downloaded for a period longer than that. Hopefully it will educate many people as to the reality of human origins, and particularly those abortion lobby supporters who, like Mr. Nye, literally – or apparently literally – don’t know what they’re talking about.

Peter D. Williams is Executive Officer at Right To Life.

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(1) William J. Larsen, Human Embryology, 3rd ed. (Philadelphia: Churchill Livingstone), pg. 1 (emphases added).

(2) Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th Ed. (New York: Saunders, 2003), p. 16, (emphases added).

(3) Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Müller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd. ed., (New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001), pg. 8 (emphasis added).