The right to life is the basic human right. When it is denied, no other right will ever be recognized. When it is affirmed, and appropriately grounded, all other God-given rights will be recognized and defended in just the way they ought to be.
In order to appropriately ground this right, however, we have to define our terms. We have to acknowledge what we are talking about, and this requires a moral imagination. But a functioning moral imagination is not possible without two things. The first is a fixed natural world, which runs as it does under the governance of God, and the second is a sure Word from the God who has done this for us. We need natural revelation, given to us by God, and we need Scripture to correct our sinful tendencies to veer off from what God has obviously presented to us in the world.
Think of it this way. Every person reading this began his or her existence as a human being as a single cell. One of the largest cells in the human body, it is even visible to the naked eye — about 0.12 mm in diameter. There you are. But even though it is visible, it is still just one cell, and we cannot make out any characteristics yet of William or Sally. But God can. We don’t need to know the details because we know that the details are all there to be known by God.
At the other end of the pregnancy, the child is obviously a child, capable of pleasure or pain, joy or sorrow, comfort or discomfort. I have conducted a memorial service for a stillborn infant, and everything about that was right and proper. But even the most ardent pro-lifers do not want to conduct memorial services for fertilized eggs that failed to implant. This is no inconsistency, because the God who requires us to honor and respect human life from conception onward is the same God who designed the means of emotional bonding over time. All of this is in the hands of God, and we are His creatures. We must receive what He gives us, and that includes everything He gives us, and the way He gives it.
The lie that abortion advocates have been told (and have told in turn) is that the unborn child is just “tissue,” with the same visible status as that fertilized egg. Rights are assigned on the basis of what appears to be true to them at a glance, and it is not long before even that cursory glance is dispensed with. But it has to be acknowledged that what pro-aborts say about the entire gestational period is something that certainly looks to be true in the immediate days after conception. However, it only looks that way in a godless universe — though pro-lifers can understand why unbelievers do not see the point of according full human rights to a cluster of sixteen cells.
We do see why they can’t see past what they are seeing with their eyes. But we also know that if they are not able to see the humanity of those sixteen cells, they will also not be able to see the humanity of a dismembered child in a pie plate with commodified legs and liver. They will not be able to see what has grown up into the obvious because they have willfully blinded themselves.
And that blindness began somewhere. So perhaps instead of asking when human life begins, we should rather ask when the moral blindness begins.
They have blinded themselves because they are not willing to receive what God has told them about it. Where has God spoken? God has spoken in two books. In the first, He tells us that a fertilized human egg is fully human. We know this on the basis of natural revelation. We know it the same way we used to know that the egg of a bald eagle in a nest was a member of a protected species. We knew the egg would become an eagle because the egg already was an eagle. The only things requisite are time, nutrition and protection — the same things needed by an eaglet . . . or a newborn baby.
And secondly, the God who has designed this amazingly intricate process of bringing boys and girls created in His image into the world is a God who wrote a book. And in that book, He defines unborn human life as human life, period, stop (Ps. 139:13; Ex. 21:22-23; Luke 1:41).
The moral imagination is axiomatic. It builds upon certain givens. The moral imagination is an exercise of right reason. It is a rational activity, and because our secular age despises moral reasoning, it has lost its moral imagination. If you reject the givens — in this case, natural revelation and special revelation — you will not be able to stop anywhere and say “thus far and no farther.” Without a functioning moral imagination, to suddenly stop and say “no farther” is to be completely capricious and arbitrary. Someone will ask, “why here, why now?” And without axioms from God Himself, such questions are unanswerable. Put another way, secularism is morally bankrupt.
“If that is the imagination, what is the moral imagination? The eighteenth century British statesman Edmund Burke first coined the term in his great work Reflections on the Revolution in France . . . The moral imagination is the distinctively human power to conceive of men and women as moral beings . . . Modern educators — a breed with which I am all too familiar — have not been good gardeners of the moral life. In their penchant to treat fact as god, event as illusion, individual as datum, person as chimera, norm as relative value, and human nature as social construct, they leave the moral imagination to perish” (Vigen Guroian, Rallying the Really Human Things, pp. 54-55).
So then, take the wonderful phrase “right to life.” In order to make any sense of it, we have to know what rights are, and we have to know what life is. Neither one is capable of springing autonomously, full-grown, from inorganic matter. Both of them, in order to be seen for what they are, must be seen with the eye of a moral imagination. That moral imagination must begin with axioms from the Creator in order to function at all. Rights are therefore a gift, just like life is. Life is a grace from the hand of a loving Father, just like our rights are. Rights are no more self-evident than life is. What is self-evident is that God has given both to us as an undeserved grace.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps. 111:10). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7). The fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Prov. 8:13). The fear of the Lord is to have a moral imagination.