For whatever reason, I missed taking an ethics class in college. My speech class came with a list of topics we could not give a speech on. Abortion was at the top of the list which was not alphabetical. Every other class that might have touched on the topic, avoided the issue as well. Regardless of my inadequate undergraduate education, abortion is still a very controversial issue today. However, just because someone is uninformed about something controversial, does not mean there is no objectively true understanding of the issue.
With individual human lives at risk, the stakes could not be higher. There are no less than ten methods of abortion that can legally be done in most states corresponding to various stages of pregnancy.
In the U.S. alone, since the legalization of abortion in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court, there have been over 61.8 million surgical abortions. That is about 2,362 abortions per day, 98 abortions per hour, or 1 abortion every 96 seconds (Guttmacher Institute).
I first heard reasons for and against abortion from my seminary ethics professor Dr. Frank Beckwith. I learned that many arguments rested on the question of when, not life, but a living human being exists. If what is in the womb is not human until some point in its development, then abortion may be permissible in some instances before that point. However, if all that constitutes a human being is present at any point, then abortion should be prohibited from that point on. Both positions must first argue the question of the point when a human being exists, or they are just begging the question or assuming what they should be proving. Everything depends on the point.
I learned from my philosophy and theology professor, the late Dr. Norman Geisler, that to fully answer any complex question, one must not just rely on one area of inquiry such as law or the Bible but must consider every and any area that touches on the truth of the matter. Only then can a systematic argument be made. This is simply because the truth about what is right or wrong is ultimately unified or non-contradictory.
Hence, I offer five reasons that, when combined, point to why the existence of a living human being begins at conception, and therefore all methods of abortion at every stage of pregnancy are morally wrong and should be legally prohibited and socially rejected, that is rejected by our society as an acceptable means of birth control.
Philosophically what constitutes a human person? According to the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition a human person is composed of an immaterial rational soul (that which separates us from non-rational animals) that informs, i.e., a principle of organization for a material body constituting a functional unity of an organism. The person is not identical to the soul or the body, but both, in union constitute the human person. The central question of abortion, put in philosophical terms, is when does union or harmonization of soul-body take place? All one should say at this point is that for a human rational soul to be present, it is necessary for there to be a material substance (i.e., body) with the potential for a rational soul’s operation.
Further important clarification is between internal and external causes. A house for example is put together by builders using material such as wood and metal, based on a plan. The house cannot put itself together. The house has no internal active principle that grows and develops it fully into what it is. The house requires an external cause, i.e., the builder. However, a natural living substance must contain an intrinsic cause or immaterial form that moves the substances’ matter in potentiality towards its developmental ends. For a human being, this form must be the rational soul present if there is an organized material body with the potentiality for rational thought to be moved to the actuality of rational thought. This does not negate the need for outside support for development (such as a womb providing nutrients from another person) but does reveal that an immaterial soul must be present once the material body has all it needs for the development to be what it is.
In short, only the active potential for rational operations in the substance need be present to constitute a human being. The actual rational operation need not be there, such as when I sleep, I do not cease to be human. As such, there must be an immaterial internal form that guides the development of essential bodily matter (i.e., organs). The question of if and when such is present must come from another area of study, namely biology.
Biologically what constitutes a human being? The chemical deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) was first discovered in 1869 and its genetic function in 1943. However, it was the work of James Watson and Francis Crick in the 1950s (popularly published in the book The Double Helix in 1968) who first discovered its double helix structure that solved the mystery of how genetic instruction could be held in an organism and passed on to another through reproduction. Since then we have not only known that but also how all genetic information is present in the human zygote. At the moment of conception when the male sperm, with twenty-three chromosomes, and female ovum, with twenty-three chromosomes, unite, to form a forty-six-chromosome human being existing with all the genetic information (DNA) needed to develop. No additional or new genetic information is added. In the words of my ethics professor:
At conception, the genotype—the inherited characteristics of an individual human being—is established and will remain in force for the entire life of this individual.
The unborn individual, sharing the same nature with all human beings, is unlike any individual who has been conceived before and is unlike any individual who will ever be conceived again (unless she is an identical twin).
The question reasoned from philosophy now has an answer. The active internal efficient causation for rational operations (i.e., an immaterial soul) is present at the point of conception given the biological understanding of DNA to guide the development of essential material organs.
Should human laws have an essential connection to morality? Human law consists of certain ordinances, rules, or principles that are reasoned and promoted to be good for everyone. According to Thomas Aquinas, human law, to be good or right, must be derived from natural law. Natural law is grounded in a unifying undeniable principle that enables a human being to flourish according to its nature. In short, “Good is to be done and pursued, and evil avoided” (Summa Theologica Ia-IIae.94.2). All human law must be derived from natural law, otherwise, it is a perversion. Since the complete human being is present at the moment of conception, all human law should promote good being done to all unborn humans and avoid any and all evils that could be done.
Such an unfortunate perversion of human law occurred in a series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions beginning in 1973 (five years after the how of DNA became widely known). The first was Roe v. Wade in which the court decided that a woman has a right to an abortion on demand during the first trimester. Although this decision left open to the states to prohibit abortion after viability, a second case Doe v. Bolton (1973) quickly opened the door to abortion after the first trimester by expanding the health of the mother to virtually anything, thus allowing abortion at any stage of pregnancy.
Justice Blackmun who wrote the opinion of the court in Roe v. Wade admitted two things: 1) the court did not decide when life begins:
We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer .
And 2) he admitted if the personhood of the unborn is established, the U.S. Constitution would guarantee the right to life:
If this suggestion of personhood is established, the appellant’s case [for abortion], of course, collapses, for the fetus’ right to life would then be guaranteed specifically by the [14th] Amendment [156-157].
From philosophy and biology, the judiciary finds its answer. Given the above reasons, a philosophical and moral realism recognizes an essential relationship between law and morality. Hence, perverted laws that are not moral should be legally overturned.
Does the Bible agree with the above truth about the unborn? Regardless if you hold the Bible to be the word of God or just a book reflecting ancient cultural views, you should agree that it presents a consistent view of the fetus from the point of conception as fully human. First, the Bible prohibits the taking of innocent human life in the sixth commandment “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). This divine law reflects and makes explicit the natural law reasoned above. In Exodus 20:22-23, the life of the unborn is protected by the same punishment for the injury and death of an adult.
If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely [live birth of the child], yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide. But if there is any further injury [child or woman dies], then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life. . . (NASB)
Second, the biblical writers consistently attribute the same characteristics of the person outside the womb to the unborn in the womb. In one of the earliest books of the Bible, we read in Job 3:3 two lines of poetry:
“Let the day perish on which I was to be born,
And the night which said, ‘A boy is conceived.’” (NASB)
In this poetic parallelism, the second line emphasizes the first by restating it with different words. The child “born” and “boy” are the same person and speaks of this at “conception.”
In Jeremiah 1:5 (cf. Isaiah 49:1) we see that God knows the unborn in the same way he knows a person outside the womb.
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations. (NASB)
Psalm 139: 13-16 (cf. Psalm 51:5) refers to the earliest stages of pregnancy when God “formed my inward parts,” “wove me in my mother’s womb,” “I was made in secret,” “[I] was skillfully wrought,” consisting of “my unformed substance.” Given the personal pronounce, antecedents, and descriptions of that which is in the womb it is unmistakable that he or she from conception on is a human being known by God because it is a work of God.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them. (NASB)
Finally, following the Old, the New Testament uses the same term “baby” for that which is in and outside the womb (Luke 1:41, 44; 2:12, 16) showing the continuity in person “from the womb to tomb” as my late professor would put it. Jesus Christ was fully human at the moment of His conception by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb (Matthew 1:20-21) and the apostle Paul was known and called by God while in the womb (Galatians 1:15). Taken together all of these passages entails the complete substance of a human being existing while in the womb and being the object of God’s love from the moment of conception.
The biblical reader should at least acknowledge that Jesus of Nazareth held to the truth (John 17:17) of the Old Testament teachings (Matthew 4:4; 5:18; Luke 11:50-51) in all that it affirms and promised this same divine source of truth to his immediate disciples (John 16:13). Hence, it follows that Jesus of Nazareth held that a living human being exists at the point of conception. And this position of Jesus is surely reflected in his teaching not to murder (Matthew 5:21-22) and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40) which should apply even if she or he is in a womb.
Does the theologian unify truth found in the Bible with that found elsewhere? Even if you are not a person of faith you should still be able to acknowledge the unity of truth in Reasons 1-4 above and therefore conclude abortion is murder. But if you grant Theism is true, that One transcendent, eternal, omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient being exists who created everything according to its nature, then it follows that God is the efficient and continuing cause of the soul. While there are different theological views on whether God directly or indirectly creates the soul, both views see God as the efficient and sustaining cause. Both views now agree, it is at the moment of conception (Reasons 1-4). Hence, abortion is the intentional destruction of an intact innocent unborn human being which constitutes an attack on the work of God that bears His image (Geneses 1:27). In short, from the integration of philosophy, biology, law, and the Bible, abortion is murder and therefore a sin in violation of God’s eternal law.
Reason and truth may not convince everyone. But given the above five reasons, I hope that people of reason and faith will unite, set aside differences, and recognize the genocide that is being permitted by governments around the world against a group of human beings because of their developmental size, location, and timing. The question of when a human being begins may or may not have been clear in the past to some, but it is crystal clear today to all who want to learn. The most important areas of human study and inquiry that have something to say about when a human being begins, point to the same conclusions: the moment of conception.
Even if somehow you think something in the five reasons above are found to be lacking, thus making it unsure or unknown to you the point of when a human being exists, follow my professors’ plea and support to the extent you are able all legal, social, religious, and political efforts to stop the killing of unborn human beings. As every hunter knows, if you are not sure what is behind the rustling bush, don’t shoot. If somehow you are still not sure when a human being exists, then don’t abort! Every human effort within legal means should be used to change the laws permitting abortion in every nation they exist. For the Psalmist (9:18-20 NASB) warns,
For the needy will not always be forgotten,
Nor the hope of the afflicted perish forever.
Arise, O Lord, do not let man prevail;
Let the nations be judged before You.
Put them in fear, O Lord;
Let the nations know that they are but men.
 Francis J. Beckwith, Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Grand Rapids: MI: Baker, 1993), 42.
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