In the abortion debate, one of the things people like to argue is at what point the fetus qualifies as a living human being. Is it when the heart starts beating around 3 weeks? Is it when we can detect higher brain functions at at 22–24 weeks? Is it when the fetus is “viable” without the mother? Or after the baby has been born?
There’s plenty of science to indicate that a unique human entity is created either at the moment of conception or at cellar division about 24 hours later. The zygot, and then the fetus, is alive when a genetically unique cell forms that can grow, metabolize, and respond to stimuli. You can click here to read an excellent white paper on the subject written by Maureen L. Condic, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine. She concludes,
This view of the embryo is objective, based on the universally accepted scientific method of distinguishing different cell types from each other, and it is consistent with the factual evidence. It is entirely independent of any specific ethical, moral, political, or religious view of human life or of human embryos. Indeed, this definition does not directly address the central ethical questions surrounding the embryo: What value ought society to place on human life at the earliest stages of development?
I was on a pro-choice action network website, and they’re perfectly willing to admit that the fetus is alive and that it’s human (click here for the article I was reading). What they contend is that the fetus isn’t a human being yet (they distinguish “human being” from “human”). They also contend that a fetus does not have the right to live parasitically at the expense of its mother if she doesn’t want to carry to term because her person-hood and right to choose is not in dispute. They’ll then turn the argument to the “rights of the woman,” asking why we’re so ready to sacrifice her right to decide whether or not to have a baby on the altar of a fetus’s “hypothetical” right to be born.
Even at this point in the argument, you can see it really isn’t about science or objective fact. The facts are that the fetus is genetically unique, human, and alive from the moment of conception. That’s not in dispute. In reality, the question we should be asking is not, “When does the fetus become human?” but rather, “At what point do we value human life?”
The main leg the pro-life movement has to stand on is convincing society that we should value the life of unborn people so much that killing them is legally considered murder. We can use the science, but ultimately that’s not going to convince people to fight against abortion. People who support the legal right to terminate pregnancies know fetuses are alive — they just don’t think it matters. Our battle needs to be fought on philosophical and moral grounds.
Recent polls show that while more American’s describe themselves as pro-choice than pro-life right now, 51% think abortion should only be legal “under certain circumstances” verses 19% saying legal “under any circumstances (Gallup Polls). Getting into more detail about exactly what this means, we see 84% of Americans want tight restrictions on abortion: 25% say it should be legal in the first 3 months, and the others are divided between only in cases of rape or incest, to save the life of the mother, and not legal at all. (Marist Poll).
The Marist Poll also reports that even though only 13% of respondents favored banning abortion under every circumstance, 60% believe abortion is morally wrong. In today’s America we hate the idea of imposing our morality on other people, but we still do that every day we continue to (rightly!) maintain that murder, rape and pedophilia are wrong. Why is it so hard for us to extend that moral stand to protecting unborn life? And how far are we going to let this go? When we as a society set arbitrary limits on what makes a human life qualify as a human being, we’re on a very slippery slope. In 2011, two researchers in Australia published a paper titled “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?” I’ve not read the whole paper, but this is the researcher’s own succulent abstract statement of what their work is about:
Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.
While these researchers were not widely supported and later claimed their argument was taken out of context, it was a step in a disturbing trend. Informal evidence suggests college students are increasingly in favor of “after-birth abortions” up to 4 or 5 years old because they believe children that age aren’t “self-aware” yet (never mind that psychologists say children become “self-aware” between 1 to 3 years, usually 18 months).
It’s ridiculous to suggest that a fetus suddenly becomes a human being at 3 months, or at birth, or whatever age you decide to go with, but that he or she isn’t a human being a few minutes, hours, or days earlier. When you take such an argument to it’s farthest extent, you either have to believe human life is precious from conception or arbitrarily define a point at which humans are protected and before which they are not.
While we’re on the subject of valuing human life, I want to point out that a pro-life argument should never be anti-women. As one blogger who works with at-risk women points out, “Abortion isn’t so much about a woman having a choice — but a woman feeling like she has no choice at all.” While I want abortion to be illegal because I firmly believe no human being has the right to decide they can kill another, I also want to create a world where women don’t feel they have to or should have abortions. Where violence against pregnant women who want to keep their child stops. Where people are honest about what actually happens to both the mother and unborn child during an abortion. Where we consider the physical, emotional and psychological risks to the mother and stop pretending abortion is pro-woman.
It is our right and it is our duty to stand up to injustice, to speak out against moral wrongs and fight to correct them. And if we’re Christians, this is doubly the case. We’re called to “choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19). God talks about knowing His people pre-birth and calling prophets and judges “from the womb” (Judg. 13:5; Is. 49:1, 5; Jer. 1:5; Gal 1:15). Other verses talk about Him forming children inside the womb and being involved in birth (Job 31:15; Ps. 22:9; 139:13; Is 44:2), and about in-womb children reacting like and being treated as people (Gen 25:23; Luke 1:41). For Christians to say that murder is wrong but killing an unborn child is not just doesn’t add-up. There are certain areas in which we cannot be like our culture, and this is one of them.