First of all as I reread the decision penned by Justice Blackmun, I realize that he did not, contrary to the opinion of others, answer the question he posed about the personhood and the humanity of the unborn. As lawyers, we know that the use of language is important to the position we argue and then seek to justify. In a manner of speaking, Justice Blackmun posed the question about the status of the unborn, but he dodged the bullet when the trigger was pulled when he said, “We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.” (Italics added)
In spite of the fact that there may not have been consensus in 1973, Justice Blackmun was in a position to answer the question then just as we are today. Consensus is not essential to answer any difficult issue. Facts and objective reason, on the other hand, are crucial to the task. And what do the facts state: that the fertilized ovum is a new human. On that point, it is worth reflecting that each one of us was in this precise state in the earliest moment of our human existence. While in our mother, we were not simply of our mother. We were us and no other. We were different. We were separate. We were human. We were new. Objective reason helps us to understand these facts and to comprehend their significance about the meaning of being human and being person.
I would like to add to Fr. Araujo's well written essay. I teach anatomy and physiology at a secular institution. There are no revealed truths in this class. As Sgt. Friday would say, we deal in "just the facts". However, these facts unwaveringly declare that the nascent life within the womb is a living human being. What is the definition of life? Science says six characteristics define life. The first is metabolism. The embryo, from the first moment of its conception, supports itself with a complex array of chemical reactions. That is the definition of metabolism. The second is growth. There is no question that the embryo grows both by the addition of new cells as well as the enlargement of existing cells. The third characteristic that distinguishes living from non-living is responsiveness. This is not necessarily a conscious responsiveness. Rather it refers to the organism's ability to detect changes in the environment and react to these changes. Fourthly, a living organism moves. Movement of the whole organism as well as movement of organ systems or even cellular structures qualifies as a sign of life. Differentiation is the fifth hallmark of life. A living begins with non-specific stem cells that differentiate into more complex and more specialized cells. Finally, life is capable of reproduction. Again this refers to both the reproduction of the entire organism as well as the reproduction of cells within the organism. Based on these widely accepted scientific principles, there is no argument that the newly conceived embryo is a living being. This new life carries out these six life-defining processes independently of his mother. His mother supports, but does not direct these functions. Now that science has established the newly conceived embryo is a living being, the question to be asked is "What kind of being is this new life?" The only answer is that the newly conceived embryo is a living human being. He has his own unique DNA that defines him as a unique human being. There can be no argument that the embryo is a fully alive human being from the moment of his conception. The crux of the argument concerning abortion is whether or not more powerful human beings have the right to declare less powerful human beings as unworthy of life.
On this disturbing anniversary I want to point out that as grotesque and horrific the acceptance of abortion is, it is not the root evil. Abortion is a symptom of a much deeper issue. Man has forgotten the reason for his existence. Like Adam in the Garden, he has chosen to make himself like God and become the arbiter of life and death. This arrogance of a false enlightenment has been emerging for years. A pivotal moment that precipitated this modern fall was the 1930 Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion. At this gathering, the Anglicans became the first mainline Christian denomination to condone contraception within marriage. This changed the understanding of the marital relationship. No longer was sexual intimacy a partnership with God, open to new life. Rather, it was wholly human. It was stripped of its Divine purpose and became something banal and mundane. The attempt to separate the procreative aspects from the unitive aspects of sexual intimacy left a disordered view of sexuality in its wake. This is what prompted Pope Pius XI to issue his beautiful encyclical, Casti Connubii, on Christian Marriage on December 31, 1930. Similarly, the promulgation of oral contraceptive led Pope Paul VI to issue his prophetic encyclical, Humanae Vitae in 1969. Both men understood that when marriage became an avocation, a quest for earthly happiness, rather than a true vocation, a response to the calling of God, society would suffer. Contraception has allowed children to be viewed as commodities that are obtained at the whim of the parents for the benefit of the parents. Is it any wonder that this selfish perspective has degenerated from the prevention of pregnancies to the elimination of pregnancies?
Only when pregnancy and parenthood is viewed as wholly human and totally separate from God and His plan for salvation, can fifty million lives be quashed without protest. When some men believe they are wise enough to determine which lives are valuable and which lives are expendable the culture devolves into the oppression of the weak by the powerful. The classification of one life as unworthy leaves all lives vulnerable.