The Science of abortion

“What Quantum Mechanics Can Teach Us about Abortion” (Scientific American):

As light can exist as both a particle and a wave, an abortion provider can honor birth and fight for a person’s right to give birth when it’s right for them

Quantum mechanics, a discipline within physics, has demonstrated that both are true. Sometimes light acts like a particle, sometimes a wave. This duality explains all the characteristics of light that have been observed experimentally, and has allowed scientists to explore the cosmos in previously unimaginable ways. That these two seemingly irreconcilable beliefs could come together gives me hope that similar harmony could be achieved in the discussion of other deeply polarizing topics, including abortion.

Instead of either/or, imagine both/and. We recognize the value placed on a desired and loved pregnancy by families and understand that ending a pregnancy is the right decision for some people some of the time. Individuals may have ethical objections to abortion and recognize that anti-choice laws can harm people. We can value human life and recognize the complexities of reproductive decision making. Attending thousands of births has been a great joy in my career and has cemented my belief that forcing a person to give birth against their will is a fundamental violation of their human rights.

Generally, the article takes the scientifically correct position that those who identify as “men” are just as likely to get pregnant and give birth as those who identify as “women”. But then the author and editors for some reason slip into distinctly unscientific (and hateful) language:

Given that one quarter of women in the U.S. have an abortion, many Americans have benefitted directly or indirectly from abortion care. I implore readers to emulate previous generations of scientists who changed our understanding of the universe by their willingness to consider seemingly opposite empirical truths: Particle and wave, abortion providers and ethical physicians, pro-life and pro-choice.

Scientific American says that correct political and moral decision regarding abortion (legal right through 37 or 39 weeks in Maskachusetts so long as one doctor thinks it will help the birthing person) can be established scientifically, in other words, and therefore anyone who has a different opinion is factually and scientifically incorrect.

Is this idea new? A Duke econ professor‘s 2007 introduction to Nobel-winner F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom:

The British were not Continental socialists, but still, the danger signs were there. Clearly, the nearly universal sentiment among the intelligentsia in the 1930s that a planned system represented “the middle way” between a failed capitalism and totalitarianisms of the left and right was worrisome. The writings of what Hayek called the “men (and women!) of science” could not be ignored. Look at this message from the weekly magazine Nature, taken from an editorial that carried the title “Science and the National War Effort”:

“The contribution of science to the war effort should be a major one, for which the Scientific Advisory Committee may well be largely responsible. Moreover, the work must not cease with the end of the war. It does not follow that an organization which is satisfactory under the stress of modern warfare will serve equally well in time of peace; but the principle of the immediate concern of science in formulating policy and in other ways exerting a direct and sufficient influence on the course of government is one to which we must hold fast. Science must seize the opportunity to show that it can lead mankind onward to a better form of society.”

The very next week readers of Nature would find similar sentiments echoed in Barbara Wootton’s review of a book on Marxism: “The whole approach to social and political questions is still pre-scientific. Until we have renounced tribal magic in favour of the detached and relentless accuracy characteristic of science the unconquered social environment will continue to make useless and dangerous our astonishing conquest of the material environment.” Progressive opinion was united behind the idea that science was to be enlisted to reconstruct society along more rational lines.

From the same 2007 intro, potentially of interest now that we’re in Year 3 of a “National Emergency” (see “Notice on the Continuation of the National Emergency Concerning the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-⁠19) Pandemic” (, February 18, 2022))

Another theme, evident perhaps more explicitly in this introduction than in specific passages in Hayek’s own text, but nonetheless very much a part of his underlying motivation in writing the book, is Hayek’s warning concerning the dangers that times of war pose for established civil societies—for it is during such times when hard-won civil liberties are most likely to be all-too-easily given up. Even more troubling, politicians instinctively recognize the seductive power of war. Times of national emergency permit the invocation of a common cause and a common purpose. War enables leaders to ask for sacrifices. It presents an enemy against which all segments of society may unite. This is true of real war, but because of its ability to unify disparate groups, savvy politicians from all parties find it effective to invoke war metaphors in a host of contexts. The war on drugs, the war on poverty, and the war on terror are but three examples from recent times. What makes these examples even more worrisome than true wars is that none has a logical endpoint; each may be invoked forever. Hayek’s message was to be wary of such martial invocations. His specific fear was that, for a war to be fought effectively, the power and size of the state must grow. No matter what rhetoric they employ, politicians and the bureaucracies over which they preside love power, and power is never easily surrendered once the danger, if there ever was one, has passed. Though eternal vigilance is sage advice, surely “wartime” (or when politicians would try to convince us that it is such a time) is when those who value the preservation of individual liberty must be most on guard.


  • “Governor Newsom Signs Legislation to Eliminate Out-of-Pocket Costs for Abortion Services” (, 3/22/2022): “In the face of nationwide attacks on reproductive rights, California has taken action to improve access to reproductive care by removing financial barriers to this essential health care,” said First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. “In the Golden State, we value women and recognize all they shoulder in their dual roles as caregivers and breadwinners. California will continue to lead by example and ensure all women and pregnant people have autonomy over their bodies and the ability to control their own destinies.” SB 245 prohibits health plans and insurers from imposing a co-pay, deductible, or other cost-sharing requirement for abortion and abortion-related services. The legislation also prohibits health plans and insurers from imposing utilization management practices on covered abortion and abortion-related services. California is one of six states that require health insurance plans to cover abortion services, but out-of-pocket costs for patients can exceed a thousand dollars.

9 thoughts on “The Science of abortion

  1. This is morally disgusting and scientifically idiotic, if you really want to use modern physics, relativity tells us that the future is as real as the past, and quantum mechanics tells us that all of the possible futures are equally real, so we should honor the choices of the descendants the fetuses grow up into in the universes in which abortion is not chosen, who retroactively wish not to have been aborted, with at least as much commitment as we currently honor the wishes of our departed ancestors when we execute their wills.

    • ^This. It’s also a very creative way to get laid at a party as an undergraduate. You just turn everything into an armchair discussion of the wave/particle duality and basically you can justify anything. The fact that it’s being repeated in Scientific American is one of the reasons I stopped reading it more than two decades ago.

      I’m a little tired tonight – it’s been a long day – so I’m going to work something better up for tomorrow. Waves and/or particles of electrons (or anything else) are not human lives, and attempting to instruct people in ethics this way is a terrible crutch (I actually think of it as a kind of sickness of its own) and a travesty. This guy has achieved the approximate ethical depth of a undergraduate at a halfway decent university hanging out during a party with a few hits in him/her/zir/ze/it. Well, anyone can do that! I know I did!

    • @JS and others:

      Here, watch the template. “Animal House” – 1978, featuring the absolutely incomparable Donald Sutherland as Prof. David Jennings (Literature), et. al.

      Scientific American has *become* National Lampoon.

    • Sirs:

      > Scientific American has *become* National Lampoon.

      Or maybe it’s just the other way around, in the fullness of time, as we always suspected it might be – but could never prove, at least while serious scientists still contributed to Sci. Am. and it was edited by people who weren’t political whores.

  2. > As light can exist as both a particle and a wave

    Not according to Carver Mead (Caltech phd, inventor of VLSI, national medal of the winner, founder of several billion$ physics companies). Mead contends there are only waves and no particles, that quantum mechanics is reslly just curve fitting, that QM is deterministic with no uncertainty, and QM standard model became popular because of a debate Einstein lost (but was too late proven correct).

    Interviewed for American Spectator, Mead explains how QM went wrong, and how his model works better. He talks about his accelerators making mile-wide electrons (in Mead’s model, electrons are 2D EM waves of energy over the surface of a orbit-sphere, more energy = bigger sphere). And shares stories from the early days, eg: Bohr telling a researcher his ideas about cohert photons were impossible becuase they violated the uncertainty principle, with the reasercher responding by showing Bohr his working laser, proving Bohr was wrong.

    The interview is a fun read for anyone interested physics + history:

    • Carver Mead is an extremely talented electrical engineer and inventor, but his ideas on QM, specifically the deterministic nature thereof, are those of a typical crackpot. See his embarrassing book on the matter “Collective Electrodynamics”.

  3. “autonomy over their bodies and the ability to control their own destinies.” Does this mean California is going to give men choice over whether they risk being responsible for 18+ years of “child support” payments merely for having normal sex with a woman?

    • Legalization of post birth abortion has rendered moot all of the previous justifications for abortion.
      It is child sacrifice. Curiously a town, in N Ireland iirc, has made it illegal to pray near abortion clinics.
      Those that keep trying to pretend it isn’t about child sacrifice, will have to defend their thoughts on judgement day.

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