When Should We Value Human Life?

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?”

When Should We Value Human Life? | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo Credit: “hello in there!” by Adrienne Bassett, CC BY via Flickr

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.

Stop Killing God’s Children

photo by Sander van der Wel, CC BY-SA via Flickr
photo by Sander van der Wel, CC BY-SA via Flickr

I can’t watch the Planned Parenthood videos. I’ve been reading articles by people who have seen them, though, and that’s enough to break my heart. How could we as a society and a nation have reached the point where chopping up living infants is not a crime?

It boggles my mind that any sort of decent person can condone this, but what’s even more disturbing is that some professing Christians still support abortion. We sometimes look at the Old Testament and wonder how a loving, merciful God could be so harsh and cruel, yet we overlook passages where God talks about looking at His own people with horror. As a God of both mercy and justice, there are some things He simply cannot stand for.

And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.’ (Jer. 32:35)

God found the idea of a nation murdering its children completely repulsive. It never even crossed His mind that Israel should do such a thing, and He certainly didn’t command it. But just in case it ever popped into their heads, He made sure to expressly forbid human sacrifice.

You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. (Deut. 12:31)

photo by Harald Groven, CC BY-SA via Flickr
photo by Harald Groven, CC BY-SA via Flickr

Child sacrifice was the epitome of the sins these nations committed. It’s one of the chief reasons God decided they deserved the sort of punishment — often complete annihilation — that makes us so squeamish today. And yet here we are in the United States, doing pretty much the same thing. We’re not killing babies as part of a worship practice, but it has the same result. We’re voluntarily slaughtering infants because we’ve put other concerns before God’s laws.

In Proverbs 6, God talks about seven things that He hates. “Hands that shed innocent blood” is the one that most clearly applies to abortion. What blood could be more innocent than that of an unborn child? But other abominable things play a role as well. “A lying tongue” tells women who feel trapped that abortion is their best or only option. “A heart that devises wicked plans” came up with the modern abortion movement in the first place, killing babies for convenience, profit, and to eliminate populations seen as “undesirable”.

When a nation starts killing its own children, you know God’s judgement is just around the corner. When Israel was taken into captivity in 2 Kings 17, for example, God said one reason was that they’d instituted child sacrifice (2 Kings 17:17). He lays this sin to His people’s charge again in the prophets.

Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, that you have slain My children and offered them up to them by causing them to pass through the fire? (Ezk. 16:20-12)

photo by Bridget Coila, CC BY-SA via Flickr
photo by Bridget Coila, CC BY-SA via Flickr

God sees child murder as a personal affront against Him. Children belong to God, and He is invested in their well-being as a faithful and compassionate Creator. That’s why He’s so harsh on people who kill babies.

King Ahaz of Judah was another evil man who was sacrificing his own children around the time Israel was carried into captivity for the same sin (2 Kings 16:2). Yet Judah was not punished for one very important reason. The next king — a son who’d been allowed to live — “did what was right in the sight of the Lord” (2 Kings 18:3). Hezekiah removed idolatry, including child sacrifice, from Judah, and the country prospered (2 Kings 18:4-8).

These examples give us reason for both hope and fear — hope that we can change our culture and fear of what will happen if we don’t. Through these Planned Parenthood videos, our country has been given a wake-up call. We can either choose to remove evil from our land, as Hezekiah removed the institutionalized evils of previous generations in Judah, or we can face judgement as the unrepentant land of ancient Israel did.

Keep Reading: When Should We Value Human Life?