In high school, I never took the time to think through the issue of abortion properly, letting mantras like “my body, my choice” and “keep the government out of my business” take the place of honest searching for the truth. Yet for all the power my friends and I placed in these words, I never felt completely comfortable with the pro-choice label. For that reason, I resolved to keep the question of abortion open when I stepped foot on Brown’s campus in fall 2012.
Ironically, coming to Brown, arguably the most liberal school in the Ivy League, was the first step in my conversion to the pro-life cause. After taking BIOL 0320: “Vertebrate Embryology” with the late Marjorie Thompson ’74 PhD’79 P’02 P’07 P’09 P’12 P’15 P’16, who was associate dean of biology, the spring semester of my freshman year, I profoundly changed my disposition on human personhood, and I became firmly pro-life. The scientific reality of fetal development first catalyzed this resolution. In every embryology textbook, I found — as you will find — irrefutable evidence that an individual human life begins at conception. At that point, a living organism with unique human DNA is created. This is simply a scientific fact, and no amount of arguing from pro-choicers can make it untrue. What they mean to say is that this fertilized embryo, though human and alive, is not yet a person and therefore not protected under the category of human rights.
The moment that we divorce the concept of personhood from the acknowledgement of someone’s natural humanity is the first step down the fatal path that has led to countless atrocities throughout human history. Slavery and genocide, for example, are both driven by the idea that a select group of human beings are unworthy of the dignity intrinsic to personhood and could therefore be subjugated by a stronger class of humans. When people in positions of power and privilege use this language to deny someone their basic human rights, they do it to justify acts that would otherwise be unconscionable to enact on other people. Labeling these humans as nonpersons or fractions of a person is the first step in allowing them to suffer inhumane violence and at times extinction at the hands of their oppressors.
We must, therefore, beg the question: If we base the right to life on the personhood construct, who decides who is a person and who is not?
In this case, our legal right to life would be dependent on another person or a group of persons, just like it is now for the unborn. All it takes for our rights to be stripped away is for someone more privileged, more powerful and more resourceful than we are to come along and claim that we are nonpersons and therefore do not have a protected right to life.
But if we base the right to life on membership in the human species, all our lives would be legally protected from the moment of conception. In this case, our right to life would not depend on others’ opinions of us, but rather on the simple and indisputable fact that we are all human and that each human life deserves protection under the law. This is the pro-life position in a nutshell.
I am not a pro-life advocate because it is a popular position to hold. I am pro-life because I believe it is morally wrong to willfully terminate the life of a human being. I am pro-life because I believe that our laws should preserve the natural right for all humans to live. Today, I can no longer even imagine calling myself pro-choice, for to say “I am pro-choice” to other people is to tell them that I would have or could have supported their parents’ decisions to terminate their lives. To me, that is the absolute equivalent of telling someone that his or her life has neither meaning nor purpose.
For those who know me today as a devout Roman Catholic, do not dismiss my pro-life conversion as an extension of my religion. My religion did not bring me to the pro-life movement; the pro-life movement brought me back to my faith, the one — I realized after seeking truth — that had been right on the issue of abortion all along. Now, I am proud to be a pro-life Catholic with the proper understanding that each human life matters and has inexplicable value in the sight of a loving God. To tell someone anything to the contrary would be an affront to all truth and reality.
We are each willed into existence for reasons we cannot fully understand or articulate, but I know for certain that my life has value, your life has value and unborn lives have value. These truths transcend opinion. All human life has value, and it’s time we start protecting it.
Lauren Galvan ’16 is the founder of Students for Life at Brown and can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and other op-eds to email@example.com.