The Moral Logic of the Pro-Life Movement

Dec 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Ethics, Featured Issues

In November, the voters of Mississippi voted down a human personhood amendment by a 58% majority.  Similar efforts have failed in other states as well.  This amendment was a frontal assault on the legal and moral logic of Roe v. Wade.  Associate Justice Harry Blackman in 1973 wrote the majority opinion for the US Supreme Court in this case.  Theologian Albert Mohler summarizes the opinion:  ?. . . [it] effectively declares an unborn child in the first three months of a woman?s pregnancy to be of no moral or legal consequence.  Within the second trimester, there is the recognition of potential personhood.  Within the last trimester, the state may intervene with restrictions on abortion, but with clear allowances for stated reasons of the woman?s health?which can include mental health.?  The human personhood amendment, recently defeated in Mississippi, contained the ethical foundation of the pro-life movement?namely, that life begins at conception.  It rejected the claim of some in the medical community that conception is the successful implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterine wall:  The ethical status and value of the fertilized egg is the same, no matter where the egg is located.  Further, either legally or morally, it is arbitrary to identify a moment along the line of development from fertilization to live birth when personhood is understood to be achieved.  ?Unless the unborn child is recognized as a person at every point in its development, we are just negotiating our own arbitrary definition of human personhood and human life.?  Indeed, as a leading medical textbook on human embryology argues, ?Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male. . . sperm unites with a female [egg] to form a single cell called a zygote.  This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.  [A zygote is defined ] ?as the beginning of a new human being. . .  Although most developmental changes occur during the embryonic and fetal periods, some important changes occur during later periods of development:  infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.  Although it is customary to divide human development into prenatal (before birth) and postnatal (after birth) periods, birth is merely a dramatic event during development resulting in a change in environment.  Development does not stop at birth.?  [See Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N.  The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology.  6th edition.  Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1998, pp. 2 and 18.]

Mohler captures the seriousness of the defeat of this amendment in Mississippi:  ?voters. . . overwhelmingly voted down a statement that declared personhood for every human being from the moment of fertilization onward. . . The bitter lesson of Mississippi?s defeat of the human personhood amendment is this:  When it comes to moral reasoning concerning the unborn child, far too many just adopt Harry Blackman?s moral framework and want to tweak it.  Many in the pro-life movement want to shift his lines of moral judgment, but not to repudiate his deadly logic.  We may think we are pro-life, but if we do not affirm the personhood of every human being at every point of development, from fertilization onward, we are not really so pro-life as we think.?

Lest we forget the basis for this true pro-life position, let me offer a refresher on what the Bible says about prenatal life:  A cluster of verses in the Bible clearly establish God?s view of prenatal life:

  • Exodus 21:22-24–Whatever these difficult verses exactly mean, God views life in the womb as of great value.  Whether by accident or by intent, to cause a woman to miscarriage demands accountability on the part of the one who caused it.  The Law did not treat the fetus frivolously.
  • Isaiah 49:1, 5–Referring to Messiah, God called Him for his mission from the womb.  Life that is prenatal is precious to God.
  • Jeremiah 1:5 and Luke 1:15–As with Isaiah, God viewed Jeremiah and John the Baptist from the womb as of infinite value.  He even filled John with the Holy Spirit when he was in Elizabeth?s womb.


No other passage deals with the question of prenatal life so powerfully and conclusively than Psalm 139.  In this wonderful psalm, David reviews four phenomenal attributes of God–His omniscience, His omnipresence, His omnipotence and His holiness.  In reviewing God?s omnipotence, David reviews God?s power in creating life which he compares to God ?weaving? him in his mother?s womb.  God made his ?frame,? his skeleton.  Then, in verse 16, he writes, ?Thine eyes have seen my unformed substance. . .?  Undoubtedly, David is referring to the embryo.  If correct, then the divine perspective on life is that it begins at conception.  So awesome is God?s omniscience and His omnipotence, that he knew all about David even when he was an embryo!  This is God?s view of life?and it should be ours as well.

See James P. Eckman, Biblical Ethics, pp. 27-31 and (17 November 2011). PRINT PDF

Comments Closed