What can unborn animals teach us about life in the womb?

By Karen Swallow Prior
Jan 23, 2014

I have known since I was a child when life begins. I learned this first from the rabbits I kept as pets. Later, I understood the magic moment we were hoping for when we took my little mare to visit the farmer’s stallion down the road. I understood, too, that the damp, mewling mounds of fur my cat birthed in my bedroom one morning had begun their little lives some weeks before.

Perhaps this is why I’ve never understood when people say they don’t know when human life begins. Or why the United States Supreme Court opined in its 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion-on-demand, "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins.” To deem this a difficult question seems only a way to make crooked the straight paths of the Lord (Acts 13:10). An acorn isn’t an oak tree, pro-choice people say. True—but a sapling is.

Of course, I understand that by “human life” people are often referring to dimensions of our humanity that go beyond biology—onset of consciousness, ensoulment, intellect, sociability and so forth. While interesting and important, however, such questions are not a sufficient basis for depriving another human of life. So I continue to hold to my childlike conception of when life begins.

A couple of years ago, a National Geographic documentary called “Extraordinary Animals in the Womb” used small cameras, dimensional ultrasound scans and computer graphics to offer a glimpse into other wombs. The images are stunning. In them we can see that even in embryonic form, an unborn dog is a little dog, an unborn dolphin is a miniature dolphin and an unborn elephant is a teensy elephant. From the beginnings of all these creatures, there in the womb (or the petri dish, as the case may be), each is made according to its own.

It is no different for human lives. Simply “ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you” (Job 12:7).

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