One of the most valuable sessions I remember attending during RCIA (the program by which adults enter the Catholic Church) was the one on the Church's position on abortion. As a Christian, a parent, and a self-described thinker, I already knew my own stance on abortion. In fact, I served as a volunteer counselor at the Crisis Pregnancy Center in Mesa for about eight months, for which I was required to attend some pretty extensive training on the topic. But until that RCIA session, I had never heard of the SLED test, a four-pronged argument for the unborn's right to life beginning at conception. Perhaps you are already familiar with it; if so, fabulous! But since it was new to me, I thought it might also be new to others, and since I find it an extremely sound argument, I'd like to pass it on. (And to give credit where credit is due, the test was created by author Stephen Schwarz in "The Moral Question of Abortion.")
The basic premise is that those in utero differ from those of us who are "ex utero" in a limited number of ways. We can all (probably) agree that we ex-uterites possess basic human rights, including the right to life. So let's compare ourselves with the in-uterites in these four ways:
S - Size
L - Level of Development
E - Environment
D - Degree of Dependency
Size: A toddler is smaller than me. I am smaller than Shaquille O'Neill. Does Shaq win? Or do all three of us have the same human right to life? Does a fetus or an embryo lack that right because of its size? Because it doesn't have enough cells yet?
Level of Development: An 8-year-old is less physically developed than me. I am less physically developed than Dolly Parton (if you know what I mean). My pre-schooler is less mentally developed than me. I am less mentally developed than Stephen Hawking. Are we going to let Stephen and Dolly live, but not the kids and me? While I'd sort of like to see the two of them ruling the world together, it doesn't make much moral/logical sense. Neither does withholding the right to life from the unborn.
Environment: Did you know that there are modern-day cave dwellers? Wouldn't you say they have the same rights as the mansion-dwellers in Malibu? Or let's think about astronauts in space--do they check their human rights at the atmospheric door? No. So why would we deny someone human rights just because their home happens to be a uterus?
Degree of Dependency: Our government has gone to great lengths to protect the rights of the disabled, who have a different degree of dependency than the rest of us. At one time or another, even as adults, probably all of us have been dependent on others for our very lives. Does it mean we relinquished our rights during those times? Does an embryo/fetus lack the right to life because of its sole dependence on its mother?
Last, I'd like to add that DNA is determined at conception. Even if you consider an embryo "just a clump of cells," it is a clump of cells that is genetically unique. So whenever I hear someone argue pro-choice by saying, "A woman has the right to do what she wants with her own body," my response is, we're not just talking about her body. We're also talking about another genetically unique being within her body. Which some might also have the audacity to call her child.
If you are already pro-life, I hope you find this argument helpful. If you are not, I hope you find it intriguing and (I especially hope) convincing.