By Leila Joy Castillo, 12th Grade
“Who said I was having a child?” she questioned, her eyes downcast and a confused frown on her face. “You did,” José gently replied, looking at her. “No,” Nina shook her head, lifting her eyebrows with a sidewise look at him. “I said I was pregnant.” This dialogue takes place between two characters in the film Bella, a story of healing and transformation in the midst of the unexpected. Nina initially thought that ending her unplanned pregnancy was a route she could rightfully take. However, she soon understood that the physical reality of her pregnancy was inseparable from the profound truth of the value, personal dignity, and right to life of the child within her. If, in a similar manner, I were speaking with a peer who was unsure about the dignity of the preborn, I would try to help her understand that the preborn are living human persons in a different stage of development and in need of our unconditional protection.
What does it mean if something is alive? Biologically, anything living fulfills several criteria, including response to stimuli, growth and reproduction, and nutritional intake. The preborn respond to changes in their prenatal environment, grow continually since conception by reproducing cells, and receive nutrition from the mother’s body. The category of “living things” is broad, as many entities fulfill these characteristics; thus, there is no reason the preborn cannot be included. Furthermore, since a preborn baby is alive, abortion terminates that life. This fact is so evident that even abortion advocates acknowledge it, as a Planned Parenthood pamphlet prior to Roe v. Wade stated: “An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun.” Finally, to say that a preborn baby can live only by dependence on the mother admits that the baby is alive. Yes, dependent on another, but alive nonetheless.
After reminding my friend that the preborn are evidently alive, I would explain that they are also humans. She has probably seen a sonogram picture of a baby in the womb, perhaps even one of herself. The little form in the black and white image is a human being since the moment of conception. What defines a human? Recalling the classification of living things from biology, we can precisely say first of all that humans belong to the species Homo sapiens. Continuing in biological terms, it is clear that members of a kind can only produce others of the same kind. This is evident in animals, as for instance, horses are only able to have other horses; thus, from human parents can only come another human. Moreover, from the moment a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg, the new creature possesses a unique genetic DNA code that begins the development of none other than a human being.
According to this distinctively human genetic sequence, a preborn baby develops from the moment of conception. Those struggling to grasp the humanity of the preborn may claim that they have potential humanity that is not yet realized, yet this is hardly logical. No living creature attains a greater degree of what it is; for example, it is impossible for a dog to become more “dog” than it already is. The preborn do not achieve humanity gradually because they already are human from the moment of conception. What the child does experience, however, is a process of human development. A fitting analogy used by pro-life apologists such as Trent Horn to describe this is a Polaroid camera. This vintage apparatus takes photographs and subsequently prints them from the camera onto special paper. A newly printed photo at first bears no resemblance to a photo, instead looking like dark smudges. Yet over a short time the image on it “develops,” revealing the entire picture; thus, it would have been rash to destroy the initially smudged paper because it did not look like a photo. In the same way, a preborn person is fully human from day one, even if he does not seem so because he is still in the process of human development.
By now we have seen that the preborn are living human beings who are still developing, but does the commonly used term “fetus” challenge this understanding? Some try to dismiss the humanity of the preborn by claiming “it’s not a person; it’s a fetus.” Yet these are not mutually exclusive terms. The word “fetus” is Latin for “offspring,” describing a person in growth from eight weeks in the womb until birth. Similarly, an “embryo” is a preborn baby from conception through the seventh week of pregnancy, before the fetal stage. These are not substitute terms to prove the non-humanity of the preborn; they do nothing to discount their personhood. The words “embryo” and “fetus” are like saying “infant,” “toddler” or “teenager,” which all describe stages of human development. You could not say that an infant is not a person just because he can be called an infant. Thus, a human fetus is simply a human at a particular stage of development. Babies are human beings at every stage of their prenatal and postnatal lives.
Finally, as living humans, the preborn deserve our unconditional protection. In a society that values equal rights, we should be concerned about granting them also to the preborn, who are human persons with the same dignity as each of us. The Declaration of Independence of the United States draws attention to the imperative nature of this task when it proclaims the self-evident truth that “all men are created equal.” It was apparent even to the founding fathers that the dignity of a person began at the moment his life was created in the womb. Furthermore, in society, individuals and groups that are weaker and more vulnerable than others require more protection. This principle includes minority groups, immigrants, the ill, and even born infants who, after all, cannot survive on their own. Since the preborn are also humans dependent upon others for survival and protection, it is crucial that we uphold their right to life and dignity.
Remember the baby in the sonogram picture? I have now briefly explained to my peer how that tiny being is a precious, living member of our human race. As a human being, the preborn baby has a right to life from the moment of conception. This right is in even greater need of being upheld since the preborn depend upon us for protection while in their early stages of development before birth. Based on all this, we must promote an ethic of life that is consistent and does not change according to appearance, degree of dependency, or level of development. We can convince the world of the dignity and value of human life in all its forms and stages, especially from the very beginning. Each and every person is a precious miracle created with purpose, as the pro-life song by Matthew West says, “Every life deserves a voice, every child deserves a chance. You are more than just a choice; there’s no such thing as unplanned.”
Bella. Directed by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde and Eduardo Verástegui, Metanoia Films, October 26, 2007.
Horn, Trent. Persuasive Pro-Life. California: Catholic Answers Press, 2014. https://www.premierproductions.com/blog/matthew-west-writes-title-track-unplanned-movie
Powell, John S.J. Abortion: The Silent Holocaust. Texas: Argus Communications, 1981.
Talks at Google. “Stephanie Gray: ‘Abortion: From Controversy to Civility.’” YouTube, June 19, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DzzfSq2DEc4.