In 1984, a video called The Silent Scream helped change the way people think about the unborn child. The footage of an actual abortion and the fetus's reaction reminded us that abortion involves the death of a real person.
A recent bit of footage has similar potential, only it couldn't be more different from The Silent Scream.
The footage was part of a recent PBS special, The Music Instinct: Science & Song. The program was an exploration of, among other things, music's "biological, emotional and psychological impact on humans."
Part of this "exploration" included how music affects babies. If we are, as some scientists believe, "wired for music," then babies are ideal test subjects since their reactions are, by definition, instinctual.
Part of this research involved the effect of music on fetuses. While we knew that mothers often sing to their unborn children, we weren't sure that the unborn child could hear them.
We are now. A segment of The Music Instinct featured Sheila C. Woodward of the University of Southern California, who has studied fetal responses to music. A camera and a microphone designed for underwater use were inserted into the uterus of a pregnant woman. And then Woodward sang.
The hydrophone picked up two sounds: the "whooshing" of the uterine artery and the unmistakable sound of a woman singing a lullaby.
Then something extraordinary happened. Upon hearing the woman's voice, the unborn child smiled.
It was one of those moments that makes you catch your breath. The full humanity of the fetus could not have been clearer if he had turned to the camera and winked.
Apparently, fetal responses to music aren't limited to smiling. They have been observed moving their hands in response to music, almost as if conducting. They have been soothed by Vivaldi and disturbed by loud tracks from Beethoven. They have even responded "rhythmically to rhythms tapped on [their] mother's belly."
Perhaps understandably, the connection between fetal responses to music and abortion weren't mentioned in the show. What is not so understandable is that the program's website contains no mention of Woodward and her findings. It's as if someone realized the implications and hoped nobody would notice.
I don't think that there's some kind of conspiracy afoot. I just think that the PBS people's worldview won't allow them to make the obvious connection. Abortion on demand is only possible if people minimize the similarities between the fetus and us.
That kind of denial is hard work because what we have learned in the past 25 years makes any denial of the fetus' humanity absurd. So instead of looking at the evidence, many people don't see it. Call it "worldview-induced blindness."
In other words, they have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear.
Humans, we are told, are a "musical species" whose brain devotes more to the appreciation of music than even the processing of language. That makes someone who smiles and moves his hands in response to music undeniably human, whether we notice it or not.