I was born into a large Irish Catholic family in Montana. That comes with all the typical milestones you can imagine. I was enrolled in religious education classes from the time I started school, and went to mass every week with my family.
The fact that I’m a practicing Catholic does not mean I don’t have issues with the modern day church, by any means. The scandals that have ripped through the church in the last decades have not escaped my notice. I’m not blindly swallowing anything an official might say. But yes, I do still follow the faith I was raised in, and for a variety of reasons. I’m in love with the tradition of a church that extends back two millennia. The modern day church is still based on the foundation laid all those years ago. My earliest memories are of holiday masses with my grandparents and siblings, or of saying prayers at family dinners. It’s become such an integral part of me, there’s no way I would give it up.
Continuing my faith into college has been difficult, to say the least. I’m about to begin my second year of study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), majoring in chemical engineering. That I’m at one of the best universities in the world, and surrounded by some of the most intelligent people you could ever meet, never stops amazing me. A Nobel laureate teaches introductory level biology. My professors are working on research that is changing the way the world runs. The students adhere to some of the stereotypes you might expect: brilliant, analytically minded, and logical beyond anything else. They can look at the most complex problems I’ve ever seen and solve them in the blink of an eye. They are some of the most talented people I could ever imagine.
But all of these incredible minds can make religion seem illogical, a fairy tale people follow because they don’t know as much about how the world works. How could someone believe in a god when there’s no hard evidence supporting his existence? That’s a question I’m asked more often than I care to think about.
So, to get to the real reason I’m pouring myself out to you. Since Roe v. Wade, and I’m sure long before, abortion, birth control, and a woman’s rights about what happens to her body have been in the forefront of almost every political campaign I can remember. With the current Affordable Care Act policies, the Hobby Lobby case, and so many other issues, there’s no denying this subject isn't going anywhere anytime soon. I’m writing this article to add what might be considered a minority opinion into the pot.
I am fiercely pro-life. It’s not a popular stance to take today, especially at my university. I’ve been torn down for my opinion on this countless times in what were supposed to be friendly debates. The number one thing people ask me is, as a scientist getting one of the best educations in the world, how could I still believe that abortion could be wrong? People tell me “it’s just a bundle of cells,” “it’s the woman’s choice,” or my favorite, “it’s not even fully human yet.”
While I do respect everyone’s right to their opinion, I respectfully disagree. Here’s why.
My religious background has played into my opinion, unquestionably. I was taught before I could read that human life begins at conception, and ends at natural death. I believe that every human life, no matter what point of development, holds a unique grace and promise from God. Every person is loved and cherished, regardless of what point of their life they are at. All of these beliefs are integral to the foundation of my opinion, but they are by far not the only backing I have.
I’m just as analytically minded as any student at MIT. I look at the world through a lens of logic and try to fit everything into a sensible pattern. For me, abortion for any other reason than severe danger to the mother does not fit into any definition of logic. A zygote, or fertilized egg, meets every qualification set out by biologists to define life. It is fully and uniquely its own organism, a human in the making. A zygote has its own full set of DNA, completely separate from either of its parents. From the moment of conception, a fertilized egg is fully and uniquely human.
To those that say a fetus before a certain stage of development is just a ball of cells, you’re technically right. Yes, an embryo is a bundle of cells. But those cells, as discussed already, are completely unique from the mother’s. They have their own DNA. Stem cells are giving each cell a purpose in the developing body only days after fertilization. The zygote already has a sex, a physical appearance, possibly even a personality set into its genes. The only thing preventing these from appearing is the stage of development. You can’t see what a zygote is going to look like in ten years any more than you can a toddler.
I will concede that I believe in a woman’s right to have a say in what happens to her body. I disagree with the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control, condom use, and a number of other health issues. I think that a woman should be able to control what happens to her body and what does or does not go into it.
But for me, the issue with abortion is that once an egg is fertilized, it’s no longer just the woman’s body. A zygote, a human baby, is a completely different individual than the mother. It might not have a method of communication, but the embryo is its own person. It might depend on another to survive, but what child at any stage of development doesn’t? A toddler depends on his mother just as much as a fetus. A woman is entitled to the rights regarding her body. A fetus should be as well.
I know there are many practical issues that can lead to the decision to have an abortion. I understand that some women are unable to financially support a child, or are already stretched thin with other children, or are uncomfortable with having to put their lives and career plans on hold for an unplanned pregnancy. Simply not wanting children at all is also understandable. But for all the reasons I’ve already talked about, I pray that women in these situations consider other options.
There are thousands of couples, who for one reason or another, are waiting years for a child to adopt. If, for whatever reason, a woman can’t comprehend giving her child up, that’s also understandable.
But I’ve heard countless stories of women who thought a pregnancy would ruin their career paths, future plans, or anything else, and their baby ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to them. I’m not naïve enough to believe this happens all the time, or even most of the time, but these stories do offer hope.
I guess what I want to leave you with is a sense of appreciation for life. I’m a student at one of the biggest and most revered research universities in the world. Through travelling, school, and living abroad, I have met people from all over the globe. In every one of these people, regardless of where they come from, their character, or their past, I have always found a gift that only they could offer to the world.
That may sound cheesy or clichéd, but every human life has something to give. No matter what stage of life you’re at, if you think I’m crazy and completely disagree with me, or are even angry at me for what I’ve said, I hope you at least take a second to consider my opinion. Every life has value, no matter what.