January 22nd is the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. In anticipation of the events marking this date, I thought I’d tell the two-part story of when babies became real to me, whether in utero or in bassinets.
As a high school guy, my world rarely included babies. None of my friends had them, I never helped in the church nursery, and at that time, the early 1980s, pregnant classmates disappeared for visits to relatives in other states. I wasn’t pro-choice, which would have been the “cool” position, but I wasn’t pro-life either; I’d just never thought about it much. Babies were, well, an abstraction. They didn’t really exist in my world.
In college, I spent most of my time in the campus science building, which was crammed with carefully prepared specimens, charts, and cabinets. One particular cabinet, a tall glass case with four or five rows of shelves, caught my eye from the start. The case contained thirty-odd jars, each containing a human fetus at a different week’s gestational development. From the tiniest speck in the smallest jar to a nearly full-term specimen in the largest, the fetuses floated in a state of suspension, palish pink in the fluorescent lights. A small placard on one shelf noted that the contents had been collected from “spontaneously aborted pregnancies” at the local hospital.
One day a classmate showed me that if the cabinet were hit in a certain way, the jars would slosh slightly, causing the specimens to move slightly. We laughed at this, touched by the absurdity of so many fetuses wiggling in unison. It was surreal.
Sometime later, I repeated this move for a friend, bumping the cabinet with my hip sharply and saying, “Look at the babies waving!” On cue, the specimens shuddered, the more advanced ones moving their arms slightly.
I froze at the sight: I no longer saw fetuses. I saw babies. Jars of babies, from the tiniest, most fragile, to the largest, most viable-looking child. I was horrified that I had made a joke out of it. This was the start of my shift from neutrality to having a firm opinion that babies were babies, no matter their stage of development.
A few years later, a very good friend of mine, a high schooler, became pregnant. I watched her make the determination to carry the baby to term, eventually placing the child up for adoption. I heard about the callow comments their fellow church members made. I knew about the rumors she dealt with at school. I saw her transform into a godly woman who understood grace in a way that was real, as she restarted her life after her child was born. She is one of the people I most respect in this world.
One off-hand comment from that experience has rung in my ears for almost three decades now: “The people who are the most vocal opponents of abortion are sometimes the very ones who most make young women want to have one. It’s easier to have one and keep it secret than to deal with the tongue clucking.” I was horrified for a second time, realizing that my own snarky words had, at times, not treated those babies like real babies.
Revelation 13:8 reminds us that the names recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life were written “from the foundation of the world.” This verse underscores the longevity of our relationships with God: through His foreknowledge, He knew our names before He shaped the dust of the ground into Adam. Life does not begin at conception, then, but rather, in a very real way, with the asynchronous relationship that God has with us. As Psalm 139:16 notes, God planned our days “before a single one of them began.”
If a baby could be so real to God at the foundation of the world that He would peer into history and know that child, the least we can do is find ways to protect that child, in the womb, throughout her life, and at the eventual end of her days in this world. This means being pro-life at every stage, whether we are advocating for the unborn, working for justice for the poor and the oppressed, or protecting the elderly from so-called “pragmatic healthcare.” Babies, and people, are real.