Once you were an unborn child. Your share that child’s lungs, heart and brain . Even before your organs developed you were completely human; from your first moment all the information for an adult body was etched into your flesh. When you had no personality to speak of you were the same personal being because with care and nurture you would inevitably manifest emotion, freedom and reason. To state the obvious: you and that child were and are the same human being.
So if human dignity and human rights have any meaning at all (that is, if they are more than legal fictions to keep solicitors and barristers in gainful employment) you had the same fundamental value then as you do now. Every person requires, at different times and for various reasons, care, nurture and protection. We owe such to our neighbours; and if we were once unborn children, our neighbours include children still in the womb.
Now, we can only care for the unborn by caring for their mothers. So we can measure how much society values humanity by the value it places on mothers and infants. As truths go, this is very inconvenient. It seems much more efficient to seek bodily autonomy by controlling our own reproduction. We do not want to mention concepts like love or sanctity when we consider medical ethics or public policy. Neither seems very modern and each seems to place such strong obligations on society.
Instead, the secular world prefers to view each “person” as the product of parts -amino acids, proteins and cells; secularism then assembles ethics from the preferences and desires of adults. Those concepts seem more scientific and rational , but when we explain away the sacred character of the individual human life we invite chaos. To rob the unborn of their rights we must confine moral significance to humans with self-awareness, desires and intelligence. This has two disturbing outcomes.
First, if traits like intelligence carry us across the threshold for human rights, we can only conclude that those with more intelligence have greater moral significance. Second, the new born child lacks the self-awareness and intelligence of a dog or a swine. Can we seriously believe that new borns do not have a greater right to care, love and life simply because they lack the requisite ambition? Can anyone propose that an infant lacks the objective moral status of a pig or a hound? Some do. They will reject infanticide, of course, because it is socially harmful: most parents find the idea quite upsetting. But such secularists will not acknowledge that the infant’s moral status equals an adult’s.
This is preposterous. True, by any empirical measure the newborn has not developed traits like intelligence.But there is more to a human being than what we can measure.If anything, the infant’s promise and potential gives him a greater right to care and consideration. The vulnerability of the newborn demands extra attention and support; this is over and above the respect we owe every human being simply because they are human, and therefore precious.
How do we account for the significance of the individual human? Science cannot explain it by describing our origins, or labelling our parts and identifying how they interact. And whatever value we attach to ourselves is inconsequential. Our existence is too fleeting; we are ephemera on the surface of an insignificant planet fuelled by a perishing star. There is nothing under the Sun that explains why the weakest human beings have such intrinsic value.
So the Scriptures ask us to believe in something greater than the sun, the moon and the stars. A divine source has carved his image on us , investing each of us with an awesome significance. The Psalmist knew that God knew him before his birth; before he was awake and aware, God knew who he was. He was made to love and be loved by the creator. God creates and sustains everything else; he is as valuable as it gets. Age and maturity are neither here nor there. If God made each of us to be loved by him, then it is a scandalous and horrific crime even to excuse the massacre of innocents.