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The Unbegun Life

As we pray for the end of abortion, let’s also pray for the abortion generation that has been doubly cheated out of the beginnings of their lives.

(Image: kishivan |

A long time ago, even before the Dark Ages – we’re talking about the 1970’s, the Stoned Age – when I was in Junior High, I stood up in an English class and gave a speech against abortion. I was a long way off from being a Catholic, but I was a devout Evangelical Christian, and I knew that abortion was wrong on all counts and simply could not be justified. The U.S. Supreme Court had just handed down its grim decision in the Roe v. Wade case, and I think the country was reeling. It just didn’t seem possible that what had happened could ever happen. The people in favor of legalized abortion were a loud and unpleasant minority, and suddenly they had won.

But the argument was not over. Already the controversialist, I plunged into the controversy, and I did it controversially. There I was giving my speech, and I used as a visual aid … an actual unborn baby. That’s right. My father was a high school biology teacher, and occasionally the county coroner would give him a fetus in jar, the result of a pregnant mother being killed in unusual circumstances. My father had three or four of them and used them in an advanced biology class to show the stages of pre-natal development. They were never on public display. Incredibly, he let me borrow one for my speech. Obviously and for any number of reasons, this is not something anyone could get away with today: a junior high student in a public school giving a formal presentation against abortion and showing the class a jar with an unborn baby inside.

But it was effective.

I had listed all the reasonable arguments why abortion is wrong, but the climax was pulling the jar out of a paper bag and holding it up. “This is a human being.”

I still needed an ending to my speech. I closed by saying, “In the words of the poet: ‘Never fear that your life might come to an end; rather fear that it should have no beginning.’”

The students all applauded, and it was pretty clear that I had won the debate that day. My opponent reluctantly congratulated me, but she said “the bit with the baby was below the belt.” (Did I mention we were dating? Did I add that we broke up?)

The only thing the teacher said was, “Who was the poet?”

I replied, “I don’t know. I got the quote off a poster hanging in my bedroom.”

The poster in my room showed the silhouette of a young man leaning in obvious despair against the limb of a leafless tree, set against a barren sky.

For reasons that I am about to explain, I was thinking about this quotation the other day and wondering if there really was a poet behind it, or if its entire literary life was on a 1970’s poster. So I did some research. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the actual quote comes from – no, it wasn’t G.K. Chesterton – it comes from the recently canonized John Henry Newman. Pretty interesting. Turns out I was quoting a Catholic. It is originally rendered as: “Fear not that life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.”

Though the line is not from Chesterton, who wrote a lovely poem called “By the Babe Unborn,” there’s a paradox here worthy of Chesterton. Your life has to have begun in order for you to have the fear that it won’t begin. But it is a fear you should have.

What is the Unbegun Life?

I thought of this recently when I was talking with a couple that I’ve known a long time. They had a very un-merry Christmas. Their son has been on a steady path of self-destruction for most of his 35 years. Even as a child he was reckless in his behavior, regularly injured because of taking thoughtless risks, and never taking responsibility for his actions. When his face was bleeding from having fallen on it, it was always someone else’s fault. As he grew up, he was a million excuses waiting to be made for his many non-accomplishments, or rather anti-accomplishments. He studiously avoided his schoolwork so that he managed to put nothing into his head. He spent hours playing video games. He never developed any of the disciplines that would have afforded him mental, intellectual, philosophical or artistic satisfaction, but he only pursued physical stimulation. After several years of this, he has become a violent drunk, unable to hold a job, unable to take care of himself. He begs and steals, then gets bombed and breaks things, sobers up, feels sorry, sort of, then does it again.

His life could end this way. And that would be tragic. But the real tragedy is that his life has never begun. He has never actually started living. On the one hand, he is a product of an education system that does not teach truth, beauty and goodness, leaving him nothing to do but grope after the shallow substitutes of the artificial, of glamor and glitter and instant gratification. On the other hand, he is a representative of the abortion generation that has been taught that there are no consequences for your actions. In either case, there is no meaning, only misery. And he is miserable. And there are millions like him, whose life has never begun.

As we pray for the end of abortion, let’s also pray for the abortion generation that has been doubly cheated out of the beginnings of their lives. If the first chapter hasn’t been written, then neither has the last.

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About Dale Ahlquist 50 Articles
Dale Ahlquist is president of the Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, creator and host of the EWTN series "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense," and publisher of Gilbert Magazine. He is the author and editor of several books on Chesterton, including The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton.


  1. We read: “There I was giving my speech, and I used as a visual aid … an actual unborn baby [in a jar]”. This being barely the end of the Christmas season, we might reflect on St. Nicholas as compared to the modern-day abortuary…

    In December 1997 an abortion clinic in Seattle thought it culturally instructive for the state’s politicians to attend a December “Holiday Season” open house. The featured display, in various stages of life, was the bottled and preserved fetal remains of aborted children. A post-modern manger scene! Merry Christmas!

    A legend for the original St. Nicholas holds, instead, that he resuscitated some children who had been murdered by an inn keeper and preserved in brine. A jar of brine in legendary yesteryear; a jar of formaldehyde today. And worse, an abortion technique of choice is a fatal saline solution. So today, still in a jar, we have sixteen centuries of “progress” from strange fiction to a reality even stranger than fiction.

  2. Very thoughtful. How to deal with the “unbegun life” is always a challenge because the capacity to think is undeveloped.

  3. Good that the article rightly points to the intricate connections , thus the manifestations , in both good and evil choices of our lives , even through generations .. and hope that same would get lots more magnified in our times so that families and persons see the truth of the power of love and thus of the responsibility given us all .
    Yet , calling the person as being of ‘unbegun life ‘ might also bring confusion , in seeing such people as sort of ‘ worthless ‘ , as not that of The Father area that the Holy Father tries to undo in many hearts , that we see the potential in every life , in the oneness in the wounds that have been invaded by the father of lies , to thus help turn to The One we need to , seeing such persons and occasions , requiring massive combats of the spiritual kind .
    came across the above talk , that points to the effeminacy of seeing the purpose and end of life as living for pleasure alone , the lower appetites thus taking hold of all .
    The animal pleasures associated with certain bodily functions thus become an end in itself , even seeing own children as agents to be surrendered to such vicarious pleasures , through the mother , seeing all life as basically worthless other than to be used for such and to be disposed off , with similar worth and values as well .

    The Father allows suffering and labor pains as well as labor after
    The Fall , knowing that the envy of the enemy towards life and life bearers would bring the lie of seeing life as to be only for animal passions .

    Our Lord came to deliver us from all such lies , redeeming suffering , to help us to see the worth and dignity of our lives .
    Today Feast of Our Lady of Arabia , church named for same , in the gulf region
    ( again, thank you Universalis site )

    and the odor of the sanctity of her Motherhood ,may same be magnified through all lands , to help bring forth life into all the deadened / unbegun areas of many , in hope and trust in The Father , through The Son .

  4. As part of the Rescue Movement in the 1980’s I and my 20-year-0ld daughter were arrested in Providence, Rhode Island. When we went to court, we were given the option of paying a $75 fine or prison. My daughter, who went first, testified that, “I cannot pay a fine to a state that supports the killing of unborn babies.” In my testimony I said, “One of the saddest things about this whole situation is that the police, who put their own lives at risk to protect lives, are now being compelled to arrest us – and protect those who are killing babies!” We spent four days in a medium security women’s prison in Pawtucket, RI.

    Though we did spend that time in prison, I learned only recently that the case had been dismissed due to lack of prosecution.

  5. And the great “What If” will never be known in this world by the mother & father not to mention,the loss of the baby and Gods gift of life.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The Unbegun Life - Catholic Daily
  2. O dia que ganhei um debate sobre o aborto – Comunidade Católica Fiat Mihi

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