I have two friends, whom we will call John and Jane. They are college students who also happen to be each other’s college sweethearts.
What is unique about them, however, is that Jane is currently four months pregnant with John’s baby, and they are going to keep that baby. When they privately told me, I immediately hugged them, not only to congratulate them, but also to hide my surprise. The hug also gave me a moment to collect my thoughts.
Pregnancy is a crazy thing, especially for college students like us. I can only imagine what kind of changes parents must make to their lives, not only in terms of their career aspirations or their relationships to each other and society, but also in terms of the day-to-day grind of life that we all trudge through. We all have our crazy schedules, but they aren’t always colored with the knowledge that we will be responsible for another person in a few months.
It has also led me to ponder abortion. I believe we all generally know about the abortion debate that has gripped our nation for over 25 years. Some of us might even have opinions about it. But I also believe that the topic of abortion merely touches the surface of an even more basic question: What makes us human?
People have tried to answer this question for a long, long time. Plato once postulated that what makes us human is the fact that we stand on two legs and have neither fur nor feathers.
To his chagrin and embarrassment, someone produced a completely plucked chicken and asked if it were human. And over the years, others have offered definitions of humanity based on language, skin color, head shape and even sexual orientation. Sure, these qualities are all aspects of humanity, but they perhaps do not adequately define humanity.
Science might say that our unique chromosome count (we have 46 of them in each human cell) is what makes us humans. And even then, there is something not human about defining humanity in such a way. Moreover, there are people who live with extra chromosomes (Down syndrome), and even people with fewer chromosomes than the standard amount of 46. The vast majority of us would still call them human.
I believe what makes us human is something more than just any biological or physical attribute that we may have.
Sure, we are very unique in the animal kingdom for being more than just a bag of nerve endings and reflexes.
We are not slaves to instinct and evolution as drastically as the rest of our furry/scaly/slimy/feathery brethren are. We have the potential to do amazing things if only we choose to do such a thing.
Not only that, but we also have the potential to affect change in our world. Our very existence touches others in ways no cat, class or car can ever hope to achieve. It is our intrinsic and undeniable potential to inspire hope, love and change that defines our humanity.
And for the millions of embryos out there with (more or less) 46 chromosomes in their cells, they epitomize almost unlimited potential. These embryos can, and do, affect so much change in this world by their very existence.
After all, these tiny embryos have challenged us, even taunted us, wherever we meet them. In the abortion clinics, in the ultrasounds, in the Supreme Court, in our churches