It is astonishing that even today so many prominent advocates of legalized abortion still think the point at which human life begins is a matter of philosophical debate and religious dogma rather than settled science.
In an article entitled “Atheists and the Pro-Life Movement,” Mary FioRito of the Ethics and Public Policy Center cites the example of Justice Sonia Sotomayor of the Supreme Court of the United States. During oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson, the case that overturned Roe v. Wade, Sotomayor insisted to a lawyer for Dobbs: “The issue of when life begins has been hotly debated by philosophers since the beginning of time. It’s still debated in religions. So, when you say this is the only right that takes away from the state the ability to protect a life, that’s a religious view, isn’t it? It assumes that a fetus is life at … when?”
Coming from Sotomayor, such ignorance is staggering. And the same goes for Sarah McCammon, a national correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR) in the United States. On a May 8 broadcast she stated: “Much of the abortion debate centers on when life begins. It is essentially a religious question, but there is no consensus on the answer.”
You do not have to be a Christian to know that Sotomayor and McCammon are talking nonsense. The avowedly atheist leaders of Secular Pro-Life assert on their website: “Life begins at fertilization.” This phrase, the authors explain, “is a shorthand way to say that the zygote is the first developmental stage of a human being’s life cycle. This is not a religious premise; it is a biological fact, attested to in countless biology and embryology texts and affirmed by the majority of biologists worldwide.”
Many, if not most, leaders of legalized abortion now agree that life begins at conception, but they insist that babies in the womb have no right to life because they are neither self-conscious nor autonomous persons. By this reasoning, no child would have an inalienable right to life until after graduating from college, getting a job and moving out of the parental home.
On one point in this debate, there is no disputing: The great majority of pro-life activists in North America and Europe are Christians. Why is that?
As the atheists at Secular Pro-Life have clearly demonstrated, it is possible on the basis of reason alone to grasp that every human being has a right to life from conception to natural death. However, reason alone is an uncertain guide to moral truth. The prophet Jeremiah rightly observed: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
A mother bearing an unwanted child in the womb, can all-too-easily persuade herself that it would be best to have her baby killed. And the same goes for the father of that child. Countless numbers of politicians, pundits, and liberal clerics have likewise demonstrated how easy it is to rationalize support for abortion on demand as a means of currying public favour.
Theologically orthodox Christians — Catholic and Protestant — do not presume to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They do not try to contrive their own, supposedly progressive, moral rules. Instead, faithful Christians undertake to uphold the timeless, unchanging and universal moral truths revealed in Sacred Scripture as understood in the light of reason and the traditional teachings of the Holy Catholic Church.
On this combined basis of reason, revelation, and sacred tradition there can be no doubt about the sanctity of all human life. The Lord God assured Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Correspondingly, in a paean of praise and thanksgiving to God, the Psalmist acknowledged: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Our life is not our own. The life of our baby is not our own. Both are a gift of God. For any person of sound mind to commit suicide or to deliberately kill a baby in the womb is a crime that can never be justified.
At this season of Advent, it is also essential to remember that all of us — including even the most ardent pro-lifers — have sinned and fallen far short of the divine perfection. However, no one needs to wallow in guilt and shame, because God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not counting our sins against us and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.