The sanctity of life

Published 9:56 am Wednesday, February 4, 2015

by Stephen Warren

God created man in his own image. — Genesis 1:27

Ye are gods; And all of you are children of the most High. — Psalm 82:6

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — United States Declaration of Independence

What makes life sacred? What is the basis for human rights? What is the self-evident foundation for our right to life and liberty? What makes us not just animals, but people? The answer: Self-consciousness. Self-consciousness, or the mind, or the soul, or the spirit, is what distinguishes us from other animals. It is what gives us the right to determine our own lives and to not have our lives controlled by others, much less to have our lives taken by others.

Many other animals are sentient and so deserve our consideration. Any creature with the capacity for suffering, the ability to feel pain, should not be mistreated. We should do all we can not to cause any unnecessary pain to any such being. But it is only humans, so far as we can tell, that are not just conscious, but self-conscious. It is only humans that have a sense of who they are; a sense of self; and consequently an experience of time. Only humans have hopes, dreams and expectations for the future. This is what makes life not just deserving of consideration, but sacred. This is why humans should have the right of self-determination.

In a human fetus, around 24 weeks after conception, the cerebral cortex develops and connects to the rest of the nervous system. Prior to this a fetus can not possibly feel pain, is not conscious in any way, much less self-conscious, and is therefore in no need of any kind of protection. You can no more harm an unconscious being than you can harm a rock. However precious the fetus may look, prior to this point there simply is no moral issue whatsoever. So without even needing to get into the question of when the right to life should begin, we can say for sure that any ban on abortion before 24 weeks is completely without merit.

Current Virginia law already bans abortion at 24 weeks gestation. House Bill 2321, which would ban abortion after 20 weeks gestation, should be dropped. Such a ban could not do any possible good, and has the potential to do great harm by unnecessarily interfering with such a monumental decision as whether or not to have a child and become a parent. The bill doesn’t even make exceptions for rape and incest.

For those that follow Jesus, he asked but one thing of us: “That you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:34-35). Our “greatest and first command” is to love God. “And a second is like it: ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40).

People working to restrict or outlaw abortion think they are standing up for the voiceless. They think they are demonstrating love for the unborn child. They are mistaken. However well intentioned, the attempt to ban abortion is not only not an act of love, it is an act of severe cruelty. It is cruel to interfere with such a personal and supremely consequential decision. It is cruel to force a woman to have a child that she is not prepared to have. It is the woman that must make this decision that needs our protection and love, not the insentient fetus. This choice is hers and no one else’s.

STEPHEN WARREN lives in Waverly and can be contacted at