I’ve been pro-life since I knew what the word “abortion” meant. When God called me back to faith, one of the means he used to bring me to the Catholic Church was its pro-life witness, which presented, in an even deeper and more profound way than I had yet been able to, the best moral intuition in me of the inestimable value of every human life.
|Deacon Kyle Eller
I grew up in a Protestant community that was also strongly opposed to abortion, but as a young adult I fell away from faith. By the time I was out of college, I was basically a “spiritual but not religious” agnostic seeker, and when it came to controversial social issues, I sided with orthodox Christianity on few of them.
Abortion was the big, glaring exception.
At some point this exception began to bother me. Why did I have this one view so conspicuously out of place? I wondered if I had missed something. So, I started to examine my position, and the more I did that, the more sure I was that the pro-life position was right.
Scientifically, there is no reasonable doubt about when life begins. At the moment of conception there is a new life, starting with a single cell — a new organism with its own unique set of human DNA distinct from both mother and father, rapidly growing and developing along a plan largely encoded into those genes. Every subsequent stage of life, from embryo to an old-age deathbed, is just part of the life cycle of that same organism, the life of an individual human person. At no point along that path is there any difference in kind — in what kind of thing it is — only in his or her growth and development. Deciding you can kill a fetus but not a toddler is exactly as arbitrary and outrageous as saying you can kill a toddler but not an adolescent. It’s the same creature.
The same is true for human capabilities that change with our development, such as intelligence or self-awareness. Those vary throughout every stage of life and also vary widely among people. To imagine we could assign a right to life and dignity based on someone's present knowledge or intelligence or self-awareness is as arbitrary and morally monstrous as doing so based on productivity or physical beauty or sex or skin color.
Perversely, this kind of thinking would also end up measuring human worth on a scale, both individually and collectively, with some people deemed more valuable than others, and each individual life more valuable at some stages than others, and where at certain points the value drops so low one may be killed. Who is the worthy judge of such things? What reliable, universally accepted measure of them could there be? How do we weight which characteristics matter most? The whole idea is absurd.
The more I examined it, the clearer it was that abortion is just what I thought it was: the deliberate taking of an innocent human life. And while I was then a self-professed moral relativist, there I bumped up against a hard limit to relativism.
Because I revered life. I was a pacifist and a nature lover and for many years even a vegetarian. Life, to me, was (and is) something so precious, so irreplaceable, the taking of it so irrevocable. And especially every human life, each person brings the light of a unique perspective and experience, a fresh set of eyes on the world. How could anyone be content to deliberately snuff that out? Who can fathom the loss of even one life?
Finding this solid ground, I decided the “glaring exception” in my worldview was not what needed rethinking, it was my worldview. Eventually, by God’s grace, that came to include my religious views.
All this has filled my thoughts in the wake of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a moment I had doubted I would live to see. I’ve been mulling over five decades of life, most of those years spent engaged in some way in the public conversation about this issue: writing, speaking, marching, praying, attempting to persuade and reason.
I have in my mind snapshots and memories — incidents and personal encounters praying during 40 Days for Life, distressing conversations with people close to me, friends gained and lost, hurtful things said or written to me and about me, faces and names of people who didn’t live to see their prayers for an end to Roe answered, the hard decisions, the internal disagreements, all the rest.
Coming to faith deepened and grounded and enriched (and in some ways purified) my lifelong conviction about the beauty and worth of every human life. I never needed to be told being pro-life also meant compassion for scared or desperate pregnant mothers or all the rest of the suffering people of the world. That was always a given, always wrapped in the same moral conviction for me. That’s all it ever has been about for me.
Now, as I look out on a post-Roe world in this watershed moment, it’s as if I can see the destruction of 50 years of cultural conflict and hear the roar of irrational hatred and wrath pouring out. To be hated for loving life and wanting to protect the innocent — it’s so absurd I want to weep for the sadness of it.
But I know it is not our call to get lost in that sadness. God's call is to continue to love. United with Jesus, who also was hated for doing good and forgave his tormenters from the cross, we are to love even those who hate us and wish us harm. In this way we continue to grow in our reverence and love for every human person, each of whom was willed and loved by God from all eternity, from the moment of their conception through every stage of life.
Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected].