Rainbow profile pictures and equals sign bumper stickers are an easy way to share an anthropology. In a split second you can say, without having really to say, “I believe a human person is thus and such.” Why isn’t there a sticker or profile picture that will quickly and vibrantly communicate a different anthropology? Especially when it comes to the pro-life message, where is the icon that can share the news that life begins at conception?
A tree frog is said to be able to change color when moved from one background to another, but it takes several hours and considerable energy. An acorn can grow into an oak tree, but it cannot become a blackberry bush. To watch it try would break your heart. Although a child born into poverty could someday become rich, he could never become a moose. Whatever value or dignity we acknowledge in unborn children they are still undeniably human. When does human life begin if not at conception? And if human life begins at conception, should not also human dignity?
People have different perceptions of reality—different gods, social structures, diets, climates. Zen Buddhism changes the way you experience reality. Obesity changes the way you experience reality. Short people experience the world differently than tall people. Does becoming a mother or a father change your experience of reality?
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To conceive a child is to be changed. You are now a mother or a father. The only escape is so unnatural we give it names like “terminate” or “abortion.” It is the murder we cannot ignore and cannot name, though we want to do both. We cannot name it because it threatens the sham we’ve been living. Yet we cannot ignore it because it happened. A child was conceived. And his or her body was ripped apart and thrown away so that things wouldn’t have to change.
But when a woman becomes a mother the change is written into her very body and upon her deepest heart. An abortion, and then college, a career, good friends and a good savings account—nothing will undo it. She is still the mother of her child. And where is the father? Did he put aside his selfish concerns and celebrate the news? Did he look for ways to serve the mother of his child, to protect and to provide for her needs, to encourage her? Did he affirm without resentment the link between sex and children, or did he drive her to the clinic?
A child is conceived. When conception happens, another human life happens. And where there is life there is dignity.
Is there ever a moment that a human life becomes something other than a human life? Only when a candle is snuffed out is its light gone. Only when a baby is torn asunder is its life gone. Death is a change irrevocable. But who are we to decide who gets to live?
I am not an expert. My interest in unborn human life has been merely one of fatherhood and respect. I’ll never forget when we found out we were going to have a baby, or when I felt our son kick inside the womb, or when I held my wife as she writhed and screamed and pushed our son into the world. I know from experience that life begins at conception.
But I need a fresh, positive way to share this perennial message, and that’s why I’ve changed my profile pictures on social media to be the @ sign, an @ sign shrouded in a shade of Marian blue. That’s why it’s time for the At Conception initiative. One day I was trying to write something positive and fresh and pro-life when suddenly the @ sign seemed to leap off the keyboard. It’s the letter a with a swirl around it, an a curled into the fetal position, just waiting to be born. And the letter a stands for the beginning.
Everyone has a story, and every story has a beginning.
Life begins @ conception.
This is a quick and easy way to share the positive message that unborn children are alive. They have dignity. This is an anthropology that accounts for the whole human experience, from conception to natural death. “Never tire of firmly speaking out in defense of life from its conception,” says Pope Saint John Paul II, “and do not be deterred from the commitment to defend the dignity of every human person with courageous determination. Christ is with you: be not afraid.”
Everyone knows that human bodies—even unborn human bodies—are made of tissue, but it does not follow that humans are merely tissue. Everyone has a story, and every story has a beginning. Again, if human life begins at conception, should not also human dignity?
Our culture has been trying to wash away the messiness of abortion. We’re trying to make the abortion clinics look sterile and disinfected. We’re trying to scrub our guilty hearts clean. But if someone tells you cleanliness is next to godliness, the only appropriate answer is, “Yup, next. Right now, I’m working on godliness.”
Editor’s note: The image above is a detail from “Arnolfini and his Wife” painted by Jan Van Eyck in 1434.