The Unborn: What Is the Unborn and Why Should We Care?

Article ID: DA360 | By: Scott Klusendorf

The following is an excerpt from an article appearing in the Christian Research Journal, Volume 27, Number 1 written by Scott Klusendorf. For the full article, follow the link below the excerpt.


The morality of abortion comes down to just one question: Is the unborn a member of the human family? If so, elective abortion is a serious moral wrong that violates biblical commands against the unjust taking of human life (Exod. 23:7; Ps. 106:37–38; Prov. 6:16–17; Matt. 5:21). It treats the unborn human being, made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26; 9:6; James 3:9), as nothing more than disposable tissue. Conversely, if the unborn are not human, elective abortion requires no more justification than having a tooth pulled.

Scripture (we will grant) is silent on the humanity of the unborn (as it is on the humanity of whites, blacks, Asians, etc.); however, it is clear that we are not to take human life without justification. It follows that if a positive case can be made for the humanity of the unborn apart from Scripture (as, e.g., we know the French are humans apart from Scripture), we can logically conclude that biblical commands against the unjust taking of human life apply to the unborn as they do other human beings. At this point, science assists theology; that is to say, science gives us the facts we need to arrive at a theologically sound conclusion.

What the facts of science make clear is that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. True, they have yet to grow and mature, but they are whole human beings nonetheless. Leading embryology textbooks affirm this conclusion.12

An Embryo Is More than Human Cells

Abortion advocate Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, whose work is prominently featured in the literature of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, insists, however, that we gain no theological knowledge from these facts. “The fetus is biologically human only in the sense that any part of a human body is human: every cell carries the full genetic code. A severed hand is genetically human as well but we don’t call it a person.”13 In other words, Mollenkott would have us believe there is no difference in kind between a human embryo and each of our cells.

This is bad biology. Mollenkott is making the rather elementary mistake of confusing parts with wholes. The difference in kind between each of our cells and a human embryo is clear: an individual cell’s functions are subordinated to the survival of the larger organism of which it is merely a part. The human embryo, however, is already a whole human entity. Robert George and Patrick Lee argue that it makes no sense to say you were once a sperm or somatic cell when science clearly states that you were once a human embryo: “Somatic cells are not, and embryonic human beings are, distinct, self-integrating organisms capable of directing their own maturation as members of the human species.”14

Maureen Condic, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at the University of Utah, points out that embryos are living human beings “precisely because they possess the single defining feature of human life that is lost in the moment of death — the ability to function as a coordinated organism rather than merely as a group of living human cells.” Condic explains the important distinction between individual body parts and whole human embryos overlooked by Mollenkott: “The critical difference between a collection of cells and a living organism is the ability of an organism to act in a coordinated manner for the continued health and maintenance of the body as a whole. It is precisely this ability that breaks down at the moment of death, however death might occur. Dead bodies may have plenty of live cells, but their cells no longer function together in a coordinated manner.”15

From conception forward, human embryos clearly function as organisms. “Embryos are not merely collections of human cells, but living creatures with all the properties that define any organism as distinct from a group of cells; embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury. Mere groups of human cells [e.g., a severed hand] do nothing like this under any circumstances.”16

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