Marco Rubio demanded people look at the science on abortion. So we did.

"Science is settled," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told Sean Hannity on Wednesday. Rubio wasn't talking about climate change (as anyone who's been paying attention this week might guess) but rather "that human life begins at conception."


Senator Marco Rubio delivers a speech on November 2, 2010 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Rubio's comments were predicated on his recent remarks that downplayed the role of humans in causing climate change. In response, critics repeatedly noted that the scientific community overwhelmingly agrees that humans are to blame. That clearly annoyed Rubio. (You can listen to his comments here.)

"All these people always wag their finger at me about 'science' and 'settled science.'," he told Hannity. "Let me give you a bit of settled science that they'll never admit to. Science is settled, it's not even a consensus, it is a unanimity, that human life begins at conception. So I hope the next time that someone wags their finger about science, they'll ask one of these leaders on the left: 'Do you agree with the consensus of scientists that say that human life begins at conception?' I'd like to see someone ask that question."

We reached out to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an association comprised of a large majority of the nation's ob-gyns. The organization's executive vice president and CEO, Hal C Lawrence, III, MD, offered his response to Rubio.

Government agencies and American medical organizations agree that the scientific definition of pregnancy and the legal definition of pregnancy are the same: pregnancy begins upon the implantation of a fertilized egg into the lining of a woman’s uterus. This typically takes place, if at all, between 5 and 9 days after fertilization of the egg – which itself can take place over the course of several days following sexual intercourse.

In other words: Consensus exists (if not unanimously), and the consensus is that uterine implantation is the moment at which pregnancy begins.

We presented that description to the senator's office, asking if he wanted to clarify or moderate his statement. Brooke Sammon, the senator's Deputy Press Secretary, told us that "Senator Rubio absolutely stands by the comment."

There's a blurry line between "pregnancy" and "life" in this discussion. When we asked ACOG if the two were interchangeable, we were told that the organization "approach[es] everything from a scientific perspective, and as such, our definition is for when pregnancy begins." On the question of when life begins, then, the scientific experts we spoke with didn't offer any consensus.

"Life" is something of a philosophical question, making Rubio's dependence on a scientific argument — which, it hardly bears mentioning, is an argument about abortion — politically tricky. After all, if someone were to argue that life begins at implantation, it's hard to find a moral argument against forms of birth control that prevent that from happening. If that someone were, say, running for president as a conservative Republican, that could be problematic.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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