Case for Pro-Life
following article is a shortened version of the chapter, "Defending
Pro-Life" from Sean McDowell's new book Ethix:
Being Bold in a Whatever World (Broadman & Holman, 2006).
Imagine you are a
pregnant young woman with tuberculosis. The
father of your unborn child is a short-tempered alcoholic with Syphilis, a
sexually transmitted disease. You
have already had five kids. One is
blind, another died young, and a third is deaf and unable to speak.
The fourth has tuberculosis-the same disease you have.
What would you do in this situation? Should you consider abortion? If you
chose to have the abortion, you would have ended a valuable human
being-regardless of the possible difficulties it may have brought you.
Fortunately, the young woman who was really in this dilemma chose life.
Otherwise we would never have heard the Fifth
Symphony by Beethoven, for this young woman was his mother.
The issue of
abortion is very personal to me. My
youngest sister, Heather, was adopted into my family when she was just four
weeks old. Even though I was only
in fourth grade at the time, I will never forget the first time I held her as a
newborn baby. Like all newborns,
she weighed only a few pounds, and was so precious and innocent. Now
she is a beautiful young woman with an incredible heart for children.
Her birth-mother was a young, unmarried teenager, totally unprepared to
support a newborn. While she could
have chosen to have an abortion, our family is so thankful she did the right
thing by choosing life. While her
pregnancy may have been an inconvenience for her, the birth-mother understood
that even an unborn fetus is a valuable human being.
It's difficult for my family to imagine what our lives would be like
without the blessing of my sister Heather.
As you read
through this chapter please keep one thing in mind: Abortion is not merely an
academic issue-it involves every one
of us. We can all be thankful that
our parents were pro-life, because if they weren't, none of us would be here.
Many people mistakenly believe that abortion is merely a religious or
philosophical issue. But this is
false. The issue of abortion is
primarily a scientific issue, and more specifically an issue of biology.
What current scientific data has concluded is unmistakable: Conception
marks the beginning of human life. In
fact, prior to the Roe vs. Wade court case legalizing abortion in 1973, nearly every
medical school book assumed or taught conception as the beginning of human life.[i]
This fact is so well documented that no intellectually honest and
informed scientist can deny it.
The Three Steps of the Scientific Case
Not too long ago I visited a crisis pregnancy center.
I took a tour of the facility while the director showed me the method
their staff uses to convince virtually all pregnant women considering an
abortion to give birth. Do you know
what method they use that convinces nearly all women to keep their babies? It is
the ultrasound. As soon as women
are able to see a picture of the unborn baby inside them they immediately
realize that it is a precious unborn human being worthy of protection.
But this is a conclusion not reached solely through observation, it is
also widely supported by scientific data.
The scientific case the pro-life position has three key steps.[ii]
The first step involves showing that the unborn is alive.
Pro-choice defenders often express skepticism by saying, "No one knows
when life begins." Despite the emotional appeal of this claim, it is simply
false. Gregory Koukl observes,
"The mother and father are alive. So
are the individual sperm and egg. The
zygote formed from their union is alive, as is the developing fetus during its
entire term. Finally, the child delivered at birth is alive."[iii] There is no stage in the
process of development where the unborn is not living.
The second stage of the pro-life
argument is to show that the unborn is a separate individual from the mother.
Biologically speaking, it is a scientific fact that the mother and fetus
are distinct individuals. Consider
the following evidences:
Many women carry babies with a different blood type than their
Women may be carrying a male child.
The fetus has a DNA fingerprint completely distinct from the
If the embryo of black parents is transplanted into a white
mother, she will still have a black baby.
Early in development the fetus has its own hands, feet, heart,
skin, and eyes.
The third stage of the pro-life
argument is to show that the individual is human. A simple fact of life is helpful here: beings reproduce after
their own kind. Greg Koukl explains
this point" a new being can only come from living parents and these parents
reproduce according to their kind. Dogs
beget dogs, lizards beget lizards, bacteria beget bacteria, etc."[iv]
Therefore, if we want to know what type of being an offspring is, we ask
a simple question: what type of parents did it have? Since beings reproduce
according to their kind, something that is produced through the union of two
humans must also be human. Therefore,
at the moment of conception, the unborn is a living, individual human being
separate from the mother.
When Does the Fetus become Human?
Most people agree that the fetus either, from the point of conception, already
is a human being or becomes a
human being sometime during the process of gestation.
Nearly all would agree that by the time the fetus is born, it is a human
being with full human rights. Thus,
the central question under debate is: when does the fetus become a human being?
Various "decisive moments" have been suggested for when the fetus becomes
But before we consider the different "decisive moments," a
preliminary issue must be discussed. Many
suggest that no one can know for sure when life begins.
It is often argued that the issue cannot be solved conclusively, so it
should be left up to personal choice. In
other words, since scientists and philosophers have not come to common agreement
about the moment when life starts, it should be left up to the discretion of the
While this may
initially seem appealing, this approach is highly problematic, and here is why.
Consider this example: if I were going to blow up a building but was
unsure if there was anyone alive inside, should I proceed? Of course not.
Ronald Reagan made this same point: "Anyone who doesn't feel sure
whether we are talking about a second human life should clearly give life the
benefit of the doubt. If you
don't know whether a body is alive or dead, you would never bury it."[v]
Therefore, even if there is uncertainty about when life begins we should err on
the side of pro-life. The benefit
of the doubt goes to the life-saver. The
burden of proof rests on the life-taker to show that there is no presence of
So, when do we
become fully human? Abortion
advocates have offered some "decisive moments" when this occurs.
Probably the decisive moment most commonly proposed is viability.
Viability is the point at which
a fetus can survive outside the womb with the commonly available technology.
In other words, as soon as a fetus can survive apart from the nourishment
and protection of the mother's womb, it becomes human.
One problem with
viability is the difficulty of measuring it with any degree of accuracy.
Fetuses vary in their ability to live outside the uterine environment,
and, because of technological innovations, viability is getting pushed back,
closer and closer to conception. Currently,
viability begins around 23 weeks or earlier.
But as technology improves, isn't it at least feasible that it could
lower to 20 weeks, 18 weeks, or even 15? In
fact, with the development of the artificial uterus, why must there be a limit
at all? As Dr. Scott Rae has observed, "Viability has more to do with the
ability of medical technology to sustain life outside the womb than it has to do
with the essence of the fetus."[vi]
Viability is not a sufficient measurement for the beginning of human life.
Another commonly proposed decisive moment is brain function, which occurs
early in pregnancy. Since death is
defined as the loss of brain activity, shouldn't the beginning of life be
measured when the brain begins to function? This proposition has much appeal,
but it is also problematic. For one
thing, when a person dies, the brain condition is irreversible.
But with the developing fetus the condition is only temporary. From the moment of conception the brain has complete capacity
to develop, but, at death, that capacity is forever lost.
Even if we granted that brain function determines the beginning of life,
most abortions take place after the onset of brain functioning, so this
criterion wouldn't justify the majority of abortions.
Sentience is the moment at which a fetus can feel sensations,
specifically pain. The allure of
this proposal is that if the unborn cannot sense pain, then abortion is less
cruel and therefore less problematic. Here's
one reason to believe that sentience isn't what makes us human: this confuses
the feeling of harm with the reality
of harm. It is simply mistaken to
necessarily associate the feeling of pain with the actuality of harm.
For example, even if I could not feel pain in my legs from paralysis, I
am still harmed if someone cuts off my leg.
There are also many people who can't feel pain, but are nonetheless
valuable. For example, those
under general anesthetic, those in a reversible coma, and people suffering from
leprosy often cannot feel pain, yet they are nonetheless valuable human beings.
Our ability to feel pain is not what gives us value.
The first time the mother feels the presence of the fetus inside the womb
is known as quickening.
For many years, especially before the dawn of advanced technology, it was
believed that quickening indicated the beginning of human life.
Quickening typically occurs at about four months into pregnancy.
At this stage, the baby already has a heartbeat, basic brain functioning,
every major organ, and has been moving for about 7-8 weeks.
The problem with
this method for determining value can be answered with a few simple questions:
How can the nature of the fetus be dependent on the mother's awareness of it?
What if the mother was consistently drunk throughout the pregnancy and therefore
never felt the movement of the fetus? Or what if the mother was numb?
These questions reveal how ridiculous it is to determine the nature of
the fetus by the feeling of the mother.
In light of the previous discussion, it is best to conclude that human
life begins at conception. The
argument could be stated in this way:[vii]
Conception marks the beginning growth stage for an organism which ends in
an adult human being.
There is no break in the process from conception to adulthood relevant to
the essential nature of the fetus.
Therefore, from conception onward, the fetus is a human being.
Some have tried to challenge this argument by making a difference between
"being human" and "being a person."
The problem with this distinction is that it is completely arbitrary.
Even the Merriam-Webster's
Collegiate Dictionary defines a person as an "Individual human."[viii]
Humanity and personhood necessarily go together-they cannot be separated.
As John Ankerberg and John Weldon have observed, "Personhood and
humanity do not grow; they are inherent. They
are not something acquired; they are innate.
No human being is 'more' human than another."[ix]
people throughout history have used the arbitrary distinction between being a
person and being human to disqualify certain people from their God-given rights.
African-Americans and Native-Americans were once deemed "1/2 persons"
or "3/4 persons" then treated inhumanely.
In Nazi Germany the disabled were considered unworthy of life and killed
to rid society of the "burden" of caring for them.
Jews were also depersonalized in a similar way, and then killed.
In this same fashion, many people today depersonalize the unborn.
Scripture offers the only foundation for true human
rights-that people are valuable not
because of their skin color, intelligence or physical appearance, but simply
because they are humans made in the image of God. It is simply being human that makes one valuable.
And the unborn, as we have seen, is fully
Sean McDowell's new book Ethix is designed to help young people and adults build a biblical
worldview on major issues such as abortion, drugs and alcohol, sex,
homosexuality, marriage and divorce, war, knowing God's will and more.
Ethix has received
endorsements from Lee Strobel, Norman Geisler, J.P. Moreland, Josh McDowell,
Kerby Anderson, Brannon Howse, and more. It is available at www.amazon.com
[ii] This three-part argument
is developed by Gregory Koukl, Precious Unborn Human Persons (San
Pedro, CA: Stand to Reason Press), 16-23.
[iii] Ibid, page 16.
[iv] Ibid, page 22.
[v] Ronald Reagan, Abortion
and the Conscience of the Nation (Nashville: Nelson, 1984), 21 as quoted
in Robertson McQuilkin, Biblical
Ethics (Wheaton, Il.: Tyndale, 1989), 315.
[vi] Scott B. Rae, Moral
Choices (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2000), 139.
[vii] Richard Werner,
"Abortion: The Moral Status of the Unborn," Social Theory and Practice 4 (Spring 1975): 202.
[viii] Merriam-Webster I, Merriam
Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, Mass.: USA. Merriam-Webster).
[ix] John Ankerberg & John
Weldon, The Facts on Abortion
(Eugene, Ore.: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), 17.
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