Posted by: Bruce Allen | April 9, 2008

On the Right to Life

Sitting here staring at my 8 week old grandson, for whose care I am responsible today. His mom is starting back to work, and his Nanni slaving away at hers, leaving PopPop, sufficiently underemployed not to have to ask anyone’s permission, happily in charge. Which leads me to ruminate on the subject of the rights of the unborn.

Those last four words, like most of the terms in the debate, are politically charged. Their simple use suggests the user’s position in the debate. My thinking on the issue has moved roughly 180 degrees during my adult life. Recently, I tripped over a line of reasoning that, for me, breaks down the controversy into bite-sized pieces even my little clapped-out brain can grasp.

The basic point of departure for people referred to as “right-to-lifers” and “freedom-of-choicers” is the point at which “life” begins. For the former, it begins at the moment of conception; for the latter, at some point thereafter. Certainly, even the most convinced “choicer” would agree that a 39 week old fetus on the cusp of birth constitutes “life”. That same choicer would likely deny that a one week old fetus is “life”. Therefore, at some precise gestational point, it goes from “not life” to “life”. Its physical condition is unchanged on either side of that moment, yet its legitimacy, its right to be protected from doctors has been established. “He” or “she” is no longer “it”.

And there’s the rub.

As a lifer and recent convert to the Roman Catholic Church, I have adopted the Church’s belief that only God can decide on matters of life or death. Man has taken it upon himself to play God ever since the Garden, and our arrogance, and impudence, are at their height in this matter. We have mounted a coup. We have seized the power to decide the moment at which one of God’s human creations is invested with the right to live. This is the kind of stuff that got the Israelites tossed into captivity.

I do not believe that the life of a mother should be knowingly sacrificed for the benefit of an unborn child. Medical science can tell us when this is the likely case, and we should not ignore God-given scientific revelation. Likewise, I continue to struggle with the Church’s prohibition of contraception, although now on a merely intellectual level. I believe that a life sentence in prison, especially for a young person, is perhaps worse than death. For the wrongly convicted with the hope of eventual exculpation, it is better. For the guilty, they enjoy the advantage of having more time to beg God for His forgiveness and mercy.


  1. I appreciate your ability to write on this most difficult of subjects. We all need to more of this, conversations on the subjects that are the most divisive in our world, without name-calling, with kindness and thoughtfullness, and with the utmost civility. Thanks, really.

    I of course have not responded with any substance. I will say that I don’t disagree with what you have said. You haven’t addressed all of it. But you have made a start and have put forth grounds upon which I don’t think anyone could disagree with you and I think that is where we need to start talking.

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