The Death of a Fetal Human is Different Than the Death of a Dying Human

While hosting the Stand to Reason Radio Show on Sunday, a caller asked me how to defend an objection related to abortion. A friend asked him how he could be comfortable ending the life of a person on life support, yet uncomfortable ending a life in the womb. He was asked to imagine the scenario of a dying man who (as the result of suffering a stroke or being involved in a car accident) had no recordable brain activity. Isn’t this person just like the fetal human in the earliest weeks of development? Neither has any observable brain activity; should either been seen as a living human? If we have the right to “un-plug” one (the dying human), why don’t we have the right to unplug the other (the fetal human)?

Fetus Dyng Human

Of course the biggest problem with this description of “living humans” is that it equates mental capacity with personhood. Can a person still be a person even if they lack a certain degree of measurable brain activity?  How much activity is required before one attains personhood? Am I less a “person” if I don’t have the mental capacity of someone who is smarter? What if I am in an induced coma? What if my diminished metal condition is temporary? See the problem? But there is an even bigger problem with the scenario offered by the caller. We simply cannot equate the of lack brain activity in the unborn with the lack of brain activity in the aging or injured. We must distinguish between these two groups:

“Not Yet” Adult Humans
Fetal humans may lack brainwave activity, but if left to their own devices (if we do nothing to intervene) they will eventually become fully functioning human beings. They are “not yet” adult humans, but if you simply leave them alone, they will become adults like you and me. Ever notice the bananas on sale at your local market? Most of them are green. Many are so green that you wouldn’t even imagine eating them for a week. But we buy them anyway. Why? Because they are “not yet” ripe bananas. If we buy them, put them on the shelf, simply leave them alone and do nothing to intervene, they will become the ripe bananas we all know and love. We don’t throw away green bananas; we wait patiently for them to ripen. We understand their value even though they are green.

“Never Again” Adult Humans
But we don’t feel the same way about over-ripe, black bananas. We recognize that bananas (like all living things) have a life cycle. There is a time when a banana’s life is over. Sadly, there are times when we must also admit the same is true for humans. At the end of one’s life, when we are sure that someone will “never again” be a living adult human being, it may be appropriate to allow life to run it’s course. Aging or injured humans are not like fetal humans. When someone is aging or injured we find ourselves asking, “Should I intervene to prolong life?” When considering the fate of the fetal human, we find ourselves asking, “Should I intervene to end life?” See the important difference?

As Christians, we are consistent in our approach in these two scenarios when we say we ought not intervene. We don’t want to intervene to end the life of a fetal human, because our intervention alters the course of someone who is developing into a living adult (this is the expected trajectory that God has for all of us as fetal humans). And we don’t want to intervene to extend the life of someone who is already brain dead, because our intervention alters the course of someone who will never again be a living adult (this is the expected trajectory that God has for all of us as aging humans).  Fetal humans ought to be allowed to live, even as dying humans ought to be allowed to die.


When Does Personhood Begin? Part I

Once you have established that the unborn are human from fertilization, the next step is to ask when we should assign basic human rights to a human individual [1]. The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights since without it you can’t enjoy any other rights. It’s pretty difficult to enjoy freedom of speech if you’re not alive to speak in the first place.

As a Christian, I believe that all humans are valuable because we were made in God’s image. [2] God does not have a physical body, so we weren’t made in His physical image. We were made in the image of His likeness; in other words, God has a rational, moral nature, and made us with a similar rational, moral nature.

Clifton Blog

The pro-life view is that basic human rights should be established when the human comes into existence, that is, at fertilization. In fact, I hesitate to use the term “person” because it’s a legal term that has been used to legally discriminate against groups of people in the past (such as Africans when slavery was legal). So when I use “person” it’s usually synonymous with “entity with basic rights” (e.g. the right to life).

The view held by most pro-life advocates is the Substance View, which has its roots in the sixth century Christian philosopher, Boethius: “a person is an individual substance that has a rational nature.” [3] A substance is essentially something that maintains its identity through change. You are essentially the same being now as the embryo you were in the womb. You can cut off an arm and still be you. Since you are the same substance, if a morally justifiable reason is needed to kill you now, a morally justifiable reason is needed to kill you in the womb. So if anyone is going to support abortion, a reason must be given that could not also be applied to someone outside the womb, otherwise killing that person outside the womb would also be morally justifiable.

The only truly consistent position is the pro-life position, which holds that the unborn are human from fertilization. Basic human rights should be established as soon as the human comes into existence. By contrast, the pro-choice position establishes basic human rights at a certain arbitrary point in human development.

Furthermore, the pro-life view is the all-inclusive view, whereas the pro-choice view excludes certain humans based on their lack of some arbitrarily-decided-upon feature (or point in their development). But to the pro-life advocate, all humans are valuable based on their inherent capacity as rational, moral agents. The human is both a rational and a moral being. Without a moral nature there would be no true humanity, so those who would abolish the moral law would abolish humanity in the bargain. [4] As C.S. Lewis writes, “Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasure masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” [5]

It often helps in discussions with pro-choice advocates to make sure you listen carefully and accurately understand what their actual argument is, rather than assuming it. It helps to make a distinction between the humanity of the unborn and their personhood. Sometimes when someone accuses the unborn of not being human, they really mean they don’t believe we should afford them basic human rights, or personhood. If they really mean the unborn isn’t alive or isn’t human, then you can refer to my previous article about how we know the unborn are unique, living, human organisms. But if they mean the unborn are not persons, then the conversation will most likely be led in the following direction.

Most pro-choice objections you will encounter will usually fall under one of four categories, and you can remember these by the acronym SLED, as conceived by philosopher Stephen Schwartz. [6] SLED stands for Size, Level of Development, Environment, and Degree of Dependency. An objection raised that falls under one of these categories argues that the unborn aren’t human, or aren’t a person. After looking at these objections we’ll analyze a few others which have to do with function and socioeconomic problems. There are other, more difficult objections which I’ll write about in a future post. For now, these are some of the more common objections you’ll encounter.

For each of these objections, it helps to affirm the difference. This establishes common ground with the pro-choice advocate. Yes, the unborn are smaller, less developed, etc. than we are. But then you’ll want to ask why it matters. Finally, point to someone outside the womb who has those same differences and ask if it would be okay to kill them for that same reason. [7]

Size — the unborn is certainly much smaller than we are, but two-year-old children are much smaller than adults. Women are generally much smaller than men. But does this mean that two-year-old children have less rights than adults, and women have less rights than men because they’re smaller? It would not be unfair for a basketball coach to choose Shaquille O’Neal for his team over Gary Coleman, but it would be equally wrong to kill either one of them.

Level of Development — the unborn are certainly less developed than we are. Two-year-olds are less developed than adults. Does this mean that two-year-olds have less rights as humans than adults do?

Environment — the unborn are in a different place than we are. They’re in the womb. Changing location doesn’t change your nature or your value. I flew to Italy three years ago but who I was didn’t change. So how does an eight-inch journey down the birth canal change one’s value or nature?

Degree of Dependency — the unborn are much more dependent than we are. But how does being more dependent make us less valuable? It seems to me that someone who is more vulnerable deserves that much more protection. Children can’t drive, so they are more dependent than their parents are, who have driver’s licenses. But does it follow that adults may kill their children because they’re more dependent? Some say that the fact that they are totally dependent on one person means that person has the right to kill them. But how does that follow?

First, it seems that only being dependent on one person makes you less of a burden than being dependent on many people. But second, as Justice for All’s Executive Director David Lee says, suppose you’re the last out of a public pool and you hear a splash from the deep end. You look in the water and a toddler has fallen in and is drowning. No one else is there but you. That child is completely dependent on you for its survival — are you morally justified in walking away and letting the child die?

Some say that it’s okay to kill the unborn because they can’t feel pain. I think when someone says this they really mean it’s better to kill someone as an embryo because they won’t be in pain. But still, the lack of feeling pain does not mean it’s morally justified to kill someone, otherwise you would be justified in killing someone in their sleep, or through a painless method.

Take the case of Gabby Gingras, born with congenital insensitivity to pain. [8] This would mean that it would be morally justifiable to kill someone with this condition for any reason that would be used for a similar abortion.

Some also say consciousness or self-awareness is what establishes value. The problem with self-awareness is that we’re not self-aware until sometime after birth. So this would justify infanticide (and some pro-choice philosophers, such as Michael Tooley and Peter Singer, support infanticide for this very reason). Plus, if the immediately exercisable capacity for consciousness is what establishes value, then we could kill anyone who loses consciousness. This would mean we would be morally justified in killing someone for any reason who falls asleep, enters a reversible coma, or goes under anesthesia before a major surgery.

Additionally, as Francis Beckwith and Patrick Lee note, if consciousness is required to bestow value on a human, then no humans are intrinsically valuable. Consciousness is intrinsically valuable. This would mean that the moral rule would be to maximize valuable states of functions. It would not be morally wrong to kill a child, no matter what age, if doing so enabled one to have two children in the future, and thus to bring it about that there were two vehicles of intrinsic value rather than one. [9]

The thing about pain, self-awareness, or consciousness (aside from the problems already mentioned) is that these are Level of Development problems. So point to a two-year-old, or another human outside the womb who also fails in that way, and ask if it’s morally justifiable to kill someone just because they’re less developed than we are.

Finally, there are certain objections that rely on socioeconomic problems. For example, they might say that a family can’t afford another child, or that overpopulation is an issue, etc. Someone making these arguments is simply assuming that the unborn aren’t human, so in an argument like this it helps to bring the argument back on topic (to what is the unborn?) by asking if these same reasons could be used to justify killing a two-year-old child. A family of six could not kill their two-year-old child to help feed their other children, so we can’t justify abortion for this reason. We can’t go around killing small children or homeless people to help with overpopulation, so we can’t justify abortion for this reason either. Trotting Out the Toddler is a powerful tool to help keep the discussion on what the actual issue is, the nature of the unborn [10].

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[1] Note here that as a JFA mentor, we actually take a slightly different approach than the one presented here. The scope of this article is how to defend the position that personhood should be established at fertilization, but in JFA seminars we prefer to keep the focus on what the unborn is. I have used both approaches in my discussions with pro-choice advocates.
[2] Genesis 1:26
[3] Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius, Liber de Persona et Duabus Naturis, ch. 3.
[4] Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man, p. 77.
[5] ibid., pp. 84-85. Note that when C.S. Lewis speaks of the Tao, he is referring to an objective moral law.
[6] Schwartz, Stephen D., The Moral Question of Abortion, Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1990, pp. 15-19.
[7] Credit goes to JFA for this approach to using the SLED tool in a dialogue.
[8] Note that this article is a little graphic.
[9] Paraphrased from Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 2007), p.50, and Patrick Lee, Abortion and Unborn Human Life, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996), p. 55.
[10] Credit goes to Scott Klusendorf and Greg Koukl for the tool of Trotting Out the Toddler.

What is the Unborn?

By Clinton Wilcox

Before you can even answer the question of whether or not abortion is moral, you must first decide what the unborn is. For as Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason observes, if the unborn is not human, then no justification for abortion is necessary. It would be no different from having a mole removed or a tooth pulled. But if the unborn is human, then no justification for abortion is adequate.

Unborn Abortion Life

If it’s true that no one can tell when human life begins, then the benefit of the doubt should go to life. We should not be aborting the unborn because there’s a chance we could be aborting living human entities. If a hunter hears a rustling in the woods, does he shoot right away or does he make sure the rustling wasn’t caused by another human? Unless he’s Dick Cheney, he’s going to make sure it’s a deer he’s aiming at and not a human. Or if you’re driving down a road in the dark and you see the outline of something that may be a child or may simply be the shadow of a tree, do you drive into it or do you slow down? Or if you’re about to blow up a condemned building and you’re not sure if someone’s inside, do you blow it up anyway or send someone in to make sure?

However, it’s not true that no one can tell when human life begins. We can actually make the pro-life case in ten seconds or less: The unborn are alive because they grow, they are human because they have human parents, and living humans like you and me are valuable, aren’t they?

The unborn from fertilization are alive because they grow. They also exhibit other forms of life, such as cell division, metabolism, and response to stimuli. In fact, the only thing the unborn need to survive are adequate nutrition, a proper environment, and an absence of fatal threats. That’s all any of us need. There is no point in human development at which the developing entity goes from non-life to living.

The unborn are also human from fertilization. We know that everything reproduces after its own kind; dogs have dogs, cats have cats, and humans have humans. They have separate human DNA from, and often a different blood type than, the mother. A white human embryo can be created in a petri dish, implanted into a black mother, and be born white. In fact, if the unborn organism were simply a “part of the mother’s body,” then the pregnant woman would have four arms, four legs, two heads, four eyes, two noses, and roughly half the time male reproductive organs. But this is absurd. At no time during human development does the unborn ever go from “non-human” to human.

Some people think of the unborn entity as being constructed in utero, like a car. In fact, this probably accounts for why many people think pro-life advocates are so ridiculous, because they have a wrong view of what development in utero is. With a car, you have all the parts in front of you. They do not make a car on their own. It requires an outside builder to put all the pieces together into what we understand is a car. A car is not present from the beginning, because the parts that make a car can be used in the construction of something else (such as a boat or a plane).

However, the unborn’s development is different. It directs its own development from within. It does not have an outside builder, it directs its own internal growth and maturation, and this entails continuity of being. Professor Richard Stith illustrates the difference with the following analogy:

“Suppose we are back in the pre-digital photo days, and you have a Polaroid camera and you have taken a picture that you think is unique and valuable — let’s say a picture of a jaguar darting out from a Mexican jungle. The jaguar has now disappeared, so you are never going to get that picture again in your life, and you really care about it. (I am trying to make this example comparable to a human being, for we say that every human being is uniquely valuable.) You pull the tab out and as you are waiting for it to develop, I grab it away from you and rip it open, thus destroying it. When you get really angry at me, I say blithely, ‘You’re crazy. That was just a brown smudge. I cannot fathom why anyone would care about brown smudges.’ Wouldn’t you think that I were the insane one? Your photo was already there. We just couldn’t see it yet.” [1]

As pro-life philosopher Scott Klusendorf notes, “The science of embryology is clear. From the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. Therefore, every ‘successful’ abortion ends the life of a living human being.” [2]

Embryologists, who are the experts in the field on human embryos, consistently agree that the unborn are alive and human from fertilization. Consider the following from the most-used textbooks on the issue:

“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a ‘moment’) is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.” [3]

“A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” [4]

There are many more examples I could give. In short, you didn’t come from an embryo, you once were an embryo. Sophisticated pro-choice philosophers also know that human life begins at fertilization.

“It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo Sapiens.’ Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” [5]

“Perhaps the most straightforward relation between you and me on the one hand and every human fetus on the other is this: All are living members of the same species, Homo Sapiens. A human fetus after all is simply a human being at a very early stage in his or her development.” [6]

In fact, Alan Guttmacher, former president of Planned Parenthood, in 1933 (a full forty years before Roe v. Wade was passed), wrote:

“This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.” [7]

The facts of science are clear: human life begins at fertilization.


There are certain objections which are raised against the life and humanity of the unborn.

1) Human life doesn’t begin at fertilization, it began tens of thousands of years ago.

This is a rather bizarre objection. I’m including it here because I’ve now heard it twice. It’s simply semantic nonsense. A new, unique, genetically distinct human being is created at fertilization (as is attested by the science of embryology). In fact, the quote by O’Rahilly and Muller even attest to the fact that life is a continuous process. However, fertilization is that critical landmark that establishes the creation of a new, gentically distinct human organism.

2) Skin cells/hair follicles/sperm and eggs are human.

A pro-choice advocate who claims that zygotes/embryos/fetuses don’t have a right to life because we would have to give a right to life to cells, sperm, eggs, etc., because they are also human make the elementary mistake of confusing parts with wholes. The embryo from fertilization is a unique entity that directs its own development from within. Left alone, a skin cell will not develop into a mature human, but that’s exactly what a zygote will do. All of the embryo’s parts work together for the good (survival) of the whole organism.

Once the sperm and egg unite, they cease to exist and a brand new human organism exists. It makes no sense to say you were once a sperm or somatic cell. It makes complete sense to say you were once an embryo. The sperm and egg merely contribute genetic material to the creation of a new human organism.

3) Freezing/Twinning/Recombining

A pro-choice advocate I debated with once claimed that you can’t freeze an adult human, but you can freeze an embryo and it will come back to life, so the embryo cannot be human. This is faulty reasoning. First, embryos can only be frozen up to seven days after fertilization, but the embryonic stage lasts up to three months. After that, it is a fetus. But embryo and fetus are just stages of human development, like infant, toddler, adolescent, teenager, adult, and elderly.

Second, even though a very early embryo can survive the freezing process, it doesn’t follow that they are not human. This just means that early embryos can do one more thing that more mature humans can’t (they can also survive without a heart or a brain).

When it comes to twinning, this also doesn’t follow that just because some embryos twin, that there wasn’t one whole human organism before that. As Patrick Lee points out, “if we cut a flatworm in half, we get two flatworms.” [8] However, can you seriously argue that prior to the split, there wasn’t one distinct flatworm? Also, admittedly, we aren’t entirely sure what happens during twinning. Does the original organism die and give rise to two new organisms, or does the original survive and engage in some sort of asexual reproduction? Either way, it does not call into question the fact that there was one distinct organism prior to the splitting.

By the same token, it doesn’t follow that if one twin re-absorbs the other that there wasn’t one living human organism, then two separate organisms, then one living human organism again.

4) Not all products of conception are human and won’t develop into them, and not all human beings may result from conception.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson distinguishes three types of nonhuman entities that result from a union of sperm and egg: the hydatidiform mole (“an entity which is usually just a degenerated placenta and typically has a random number of chromosomes”), the choriocarcinoma (“a conception-cancer resulting from the sperm-egg union is one of gynecology’s most malignant tumors”), and the “blighted ovum” (“a conception with the forty-six chromosomes but which is only a placenta, lacks an embryonic plate, and is always aborted naturally after implantations”). [9]

Here, Dr. Nathanson confuses necessary and sufficient conditions. The sperm-egg union is a necessary condition for conception of a human, not a sufficient one. Not everything that arises from the sperm-egg union is a human conception, but a sperm-egg union is necessary for conception of a human.

Conversely, human clones arise without the benefit of conception. Just as the sperm-egg union is a necessary condition for conception and not a sufficient condition, conception itself is a sufficient condition for a human being to come into existence, not a necessary one. [10]

5) Miscarriages.

People often point to the high number of miscarriages that occur (many of which are flushed out of the woman’s body). However, how does it follow that just because the woman’s body may miscarry, that the unborn isn’t human? How does it follow that because nature spontaneously aborts unborn humans that we may deliberately kill them? People die of natural causes, but that does not justify murder. Natural disasters (e.g. tornadoes and earthquakes) kill many people at once, but this does not justify bombing cities.

Also, it should be noted that 100% of all humans conceived die. Whether you die as an embryo, a fetus, a teenager, or an adult, why would that affect your status as a human being?

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[1] Richard Stith, “Does Making Babies Make Sense? Why So Many People Find it Difficult to See Humanity in a Developing Foetus,” Mercatornet, September 2, 2008.
[2] Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life, Crossway Books, 2009, p. 35.
[3] Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd ed., New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001, p.8
[4] Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th ed., Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003, p.2
[5] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp.85-86.
[6] David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003), p. 20.
[7] Alan Guttmacher, Life in the Making: The Story of Human Procreation, New York: Viking Press, 1933, p. 3.
[8] Patrick Lee, Abortion and Unborn Human Life (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press in America, 1996), p. 93.
[9] Bernard Nathanson, Aborting America, (New York: Doubleday, 1979), p. 214, as cited in Francis Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 2007), p. 74.
[10] Paraphrased from Francis Beckwith, Defending Life: A moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, pp. 74-75.


How do I explain abortion to my children?

By Michael C. Sherrard

These kinds of questions keep you awake at night. Knowing how and when to talk to your children about sensitive issues isn’t an exact science. But we better figure it out quick. While we contemplate the best way to do it, our little ones are being taught by someone else. The internet, social media, and public education have changed the rules of the game. With that in mind, here are four practical suggestions for parents and church leaders on how to get ahead of the issue and teach your children about abortion.

explain abortion children


Parents always struggle with “how soon do I allow my children to see the brokenness in the world?” My wife, Terri, and I err on the side of sooner than later. I want the first time my children to be horrified by the brokenness of our world to be in the safety of our company and in the context of the gospel. Besides, in the tech age, I’d be foolish to think I can keep the filth away. It will find them. My children need to be ready for when they encounter the darkness.

We need to be proactive in teaching our children. This doesn’t mean that we the force the issue, though. A good way to be proactive but not overbearing is to use questions to gently bring up sensitive subjects. They way I broached abortion with my oldest daughter (age 7) was by asking her if she knew why I went on a recent trip to England. She said, “to speak.” I said, “Yep. I went to speak about abortion. Have you heard that word before?” She shook her head no. I left it there. One minute later she asked what it meant, and we had an amazing conversation.

Good teaching requires knowing your children’s knowledge and assumptions. Bad teachers simply lecture and then patronizingly ask, “Does that make sense?” Don’t do this with your children. Instead, ask your children questions to find out where they are on abortion. Are they oblivious, disinterested, or already educated? Find out. Asking questions also allows for self discovery. You’d be amazed at the insight of seven year olds. They are already making sense of the world. They are forming their moral framework. When simply asked a question and introduced to abortion, children often know what to think if it.(1)



Children, and adults for that matter, are confused about the pro-life position. We must simplify it. People need to know that we are pro-life because we believe it is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Abortion is the killing of an innocent human being. Therefore, we believe abortion is wrong.

Children also need to know the reasons that support this belief. They need to know that along with scripture we are pro-life because science and philosophy direct us to be. Science informs us that from the earliest stages of development the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. And philosophically, we understand that there is nothing morally significant in the difference between an embryo and adult that would justify killing the unborn. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons to kill the unborn.(2) 

The case for life is reasonable, rationale, and remarkably simple. Children easily grasp it. Use questions to simplify the issue, teach the pro-life syllogism, and explain the science and philosophy that support our conclusion.(3) Here are some questions you can use.

  • “Is it okay to kill humans?”
  • “Are the unborn human, and if not what are they?”
  • “Would it be okay to kill unborn humans because they are smaller, not aware of themselves, dependent on their mom for survival, and living in her womb?”
  • “Are humans valuable because of what they can do like be self-aware and able to care for themselves? Or are they valuable because of what they are, a human being?”
  • “If the unborn are valuable because they are human, what should we do with them?”

There you go. It’s that simple. You can teach your children the scientific and philosophical case for life by having a conversation directed by the right questions.



I understand that many pastors don’t want the controversy that might accompany speaking on a social issue, but neutrally isn’t an option when it comes to abortion. Children are very observant. When the church is silent on abortion one of two things is communicated to them: either that abortion is tolerable or that it is unforgivable. Both positions are false.

The sin of abortion is a horrific sin for which the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient. People in our congregation need to hear that abortion is wrong and that there is mercy, forgiveness, and healing for those who have participated in one. When the pulpit addresses abortion, it shows the relevancy of Christianity to our children. It shows that it speaks to all of life. Speaking on it also allows sin to be seen in a concrete rather than abstract manner which makes the gospel more tangible. If you want to faithfully teach your children about abortion, the pulpit must be involved. When it is not, the church undermines the work in the home. (4)



Training our children to be pro-life doesn’t mean that we just make then apologists. We want them to serve and love those affected by abortion. Whether this means that they serve in a local pregnancy resource center, or simply show compassion to their friends who have had an abortion, actively loving those affected by abortion must be stressed.

Do this as a family or a church family. Our youth group went and served our local pregnancy resource center by doing odd jobs for them. Our youth painted, cleaned up the grounds, folded clothes, and many other things. They also were given a short presentation by the director educating them on what the resource center did for woman. Many of our kids had no idea what the resource center was doing. This experience opened their eyes to the compassion in the pro-life movement and the reality of abortion in a way that words never could.


Parents, church leaders, we must be motivated. Children are almost always ready for more than we give them. Knowing when they are ready for something isn’t always clear. But I would rather make a mistake a time or two of addressing something too early rather than too late. So start early and teach the simple pro-life message in the home and the church, and may we all show the compassion that springs from the love of our Lord.


(1) Check out “Children asked about Abortion” by my friends at the Human Coalition..

(2) See “How to Defend Your Pro-Life Views in 5 Minutes or Less” by Scott Klusendorf for an excellent, concise summary of the pro-life position.

(3) A syllogism is simply a conclusion that is supported by reasons. This is the pro-life syllogism in case you missed it.

  •  Premise/Reason 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
  •  Premise/Reason 2: Abortion is the killing of an innocent human being.
  •  Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is wrong.

(4) I am a pastor, and I’ve experienced the fruit of speaking an equipping, gospel centered message on abortion. Pastors, you can win on this issue. You don’t need to fear taking it on. For our story and some resources on how to do this is your church, visit the Pro-Life Pastors Initiative at


Michael C. Sherrard is a pastor, the director of Ratio Christi College Prep, and the author of Relational Apologetics. Booking info and such can be found at



Dead Things Don’t Grow

Author’s Note: The debate discussed in this blog post can be seen at the bottom article.

Many who hold the pro-choice position subscribe to a postmodern worldview. They are not arguing that we can kill the unborn because a woman’s right to choose trumps the right to life of the unborn. They are arguing that ambiguity on the question of when life begins supplies adequate justification for abortion on demand. The argument from ambiguity was central to former ACLU president Nadine Strossen’s presentation when I debated her recently on the campus of Oregon State University (OSU).

I was pleased that Nadine’s opening argument relied heavily on the claim that we cannot know when life begins. This played into the strategy I had chosen prior to the onset of the debate. Nadine did two other things I had hoped she would do in her opening statement: 1) Argue that Roe v. Wade was a moderate decision that balanced the competing interests of the individual and the state, and 2) argue that the Roe decision was necessary to stop the deaths of women who were dying as a result of unsafe abortions. In my own opening argument, which followed hers, I tried to establish two things:

1. There is clear consensus in the science of embryology that life begins at conception. Scientifically speaking, the unborn are distinct, living, whole human beings actively involved in the process of developing themselves from within from the very point of conception.

2. There is no difference between the adults we are today and the unborn humans we once were that would justify killing us at an earlier stage of development. In other words, there is no essential difference between a “human” and a “person.” Furthermore, any effort to justify abortion with philosophical distinctions among the living would invite systematic human inequality. At the end of the day, our society must choose between human equality and abortion. We simply cannot have both.

After we presented our opening statements, Nadine had an opportunity to offer a rebuttal. In that rebuttal, she challenged my claim that there was an absolute consensus among embryologists that life begins at conception. She quoted a source saying that the question could not be answered conclusively. This was a good tactic for Nadine to employ. She was obviously prepared. Fortunately, I had fully anticipated her move.

In my rebuttal, which followed hers, I drew on the work of Francis Beckwith. As Beckwith has previously written, Roe v. Wade concedes that the question of the parameters of a woman’s right to abortion is inextricably bound to the question of when life begins. Therefore, if someone is agnostic on the question of when life begins, they are also agnostic on the parameters of a woman’s right to choose. I began my rebuttal by establishing this crucial point.

Rather than conceding that there was a legitimate doubt about when life begins, I decided to reassert the point that the matter was settled. I did this by firing off numerous sources. Among them, I included former Planned Parenthood President Alan Guttmacher and Princeton Philosopher Peter Singer. I wanted to establish the fact that many honest pro-choice advocates conceded the point. In fact, they have done so for decades.

Fortunately, OSU Socratic Club debates are structured in such a way as to allow opponents to have an informal half-hour exchange following the opening statements and rebuttals. During that exchange, Nadine came across as cordial and well informed. She also impressed me as sincerely interested in my views on a number of issues related to the debate topic. She was a worthy and articulate opponent.

One downside to Nadine’s choice of questions was that they sometimes gave the appearance of trying to divert the issue from the question of the status of the unborn. When Nadine interjected the phrase “potential life” into our discussion I tried to seize the moment to refocus the debate. I asked her whether by using the phrase “potential life” she meant to deny that the unborn were humans (in a biological sense) or persons (in a philosophical sense). Her answer was “both.”

Having established that the unborn have separate DNA and that there is cell division and metabolism from the point of conception, I replied with the following: “But, Nadine, dead things don’t grow.” In fact, I said it twice during the exchange.

That statement ended up being the takeaway line from the entire debate. In fact, nearly everyone who saw the debate and spoke to me afterwards quoted that one line. It was effective because Nadine and I were in danger of getting into a war of quoting texts no one has ever read. But “dead things don’t grow” was an unmistakable appeal to common sense that I believe solidified my central thesis and allowed the pro-life position to prevail in the overall exchange.

Therefore, I would like to conclude this column by thanking my friend Jay Watts for supplying me with that line, which I saw in a recent episode of “Life is Best” – a series hosted by my friend Scott Klusendorf. That series may be the best thing Scott has ever done for the pro-life movement – and that is really saying something.

My advice to pro-lifers debaters who wish to compete (and prevail!) in debates on hostile turf is twofold. First, read everything Francis Beckwith writes on the topic of abortion. Second, watch every video, speech, and debate featuring Scott Klusendorf speaking and teaching on the topic of abortion.

The best place to start is right here:


Barbarians at the State

In this latest undercover video, an abortion “doctor” picks up a severed human leg with forceps.  She toys with other organs, and earlier in the video offered to “change her procedure” to deliver dead babies fully intact.  Who can defend this?   Why did 46 Senators vote to keep sending our money to these barbarians? (The video below starts at about the 10 minute mark of the original video produced by the Center for Medical Progress.)
U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 114th Congress – 1st Session
Planned Parenthood and their advocates in the Senate refuse to watch the videos, seek court orders to stop them, or try to divert the issue.  This exactly the kind of behavior the Apostle Paul warned us about in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans— suppressing the truth so we can do our favorite evil.
We used to sacrifice ourselves for our children; now we sacrifice our children for ourselves. God help us.

Why Doesn’t Everyone See Late-Term Abortions as Morally Wrong?

In the interest of trying to provide some moral clarity, I want to examine the type of abortion scenario for which it should be straightforward to morally assess. My thesis in this article is thus narrow in scope but still significant in that some pro-choice advocates take a strong stance that abortion is to never be restricted and is never morally wrong. If it can be shown that this view is mistaken it may awaken folks to more carefully examine other scenarios as well. Here is my simple argument:

  1. If it’s generally wrong to kill a newborn baby, then it’s wrong in many cases to kill a full-term baby.[1]
  2. It’s wrong to kill a newborn baby.

Thus, it’s wrong in many cases to kill a full-term baby in the womb.

I’ll not be arguing for premise 2 as I’m interested here only in convincing those who already believe it’s wrong to kill newborn babies. I’m not trying to assess all possible cases of abortion but am merely wanting to examine whether or not it’s morally permissible to kill a baby that is fully matured but still in the womb. Also, my thesis deals merely with morality – it’s a separate question how this impacts laws.

Consider that many babies are born prematurely and yet have no adverse long-term health impacts. So if one thinks that it’s morally wrong to kill a baby that has been born say a month or so prematurely why think it’s morally permissible to kill an unborn human baby that is has developed for 40 weeks? In this scenario both babies are healthy and were not the product of rape or incest and were born into or would be born into reasonably loving families.[2]

Many arguments by pro-choice advocates fail in this scenario. For example, some claim that the life of the unborn is not worth protecting because it’s smaller or less well developed than humans that have been born. My youngest son Kevin was 10 pounds 6 ounces at birth and my wife’s labor was medically induced. He definitely stood out in the nursery at the hospital – the song “one of these things is not like the others” comes to mind. So when my wife went into the hospital that morning, would it have been wrong to kill Kevin? There are plenty of “preemie” babies that are probably healthy enough now that had a birth weight a small fraction of what Kevin weighed while in the womb. Was it really morally justified to kill my son Kevin just before birth but would be considered murder to kill one of the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit? Was Kevin less of a human person than a baby already born just because he hadn’t traveled a half foot down the birth canal? Is there anything developmentally that happens in the last minutes of pregnancy or during delivery that suddenly endows the baby with self-awareness or cognitive abilities sufficient to go from no protection of life to full protection. It should concern pro-choice advocates that their arguments that the unborn lack attributes worthy of protection seem to apply equally well to toddlers or adults in a coma, etc. In this scenario unborn Kevin was more developmentally advanced and certainly much larger than preemie babies.

What about the mother? Does her right over her body trump the rights of the baby inside of her? Isn’t it the case scientifically that mother and fetus are distinct organisms anyway? A pregnant lady is not four-legged. In this scenario I’ve proposed note that the Mom has already carried the baby to full-term and endured most of the sacrifices that pregnancy entails. She can deliver the baby and deliver it up for adoption and be at least as well off as if she had to recover from surgically aborting a full-term baby. Are there negative impacts to the Mom from delivering the baby sufficient to override the rights of the baby to live? If the mother decides to keep the baby, isn’t it possible that the child becomes a treasure and joy to the mother? Isn’t there a maternal instinct to protect one’s offspring that may have negative impacts emotionally on the mother if she ends the life of her child?[3] Science supports the notion that mothers generally have strong desires to protect their babies – it would be surprising if there were no negative psychological impacts on Mom to end the life of her full-term baby.

My final question to those who advocate abortion without restrictions[4] – do you really think it would have been morally acceptable for your Mom to kill you minutes before you were born? Do you really want to encourage a moral principle that would have so prematurely ended your own existence?


[1] I say ‘generally’ wrong to avoid controversial scenarios – e.g. the only way to stop a terrorist from detonating a nuke that will kill a million people would somehow necessitate the death of an infant. Likewise I say ‘wrong in many cases’ because I want to examine only whether or not there are ‘some’ cases where abortion is immoral.

[2]This is not a merely hypothetical scenario since 7 states and the District of Colombia allow abortions at any time during pregnancy and without restrictions.

[3] Whether this instinct is put there by God and/or evolution is irrelevant to my argument. Certainly natural selection favors whatever encourages mothers to preserve the lives of their offspring.

[4 One should not infer that I favor abortion just because I’m choosing to examine a specific scenario in this blog.