Reflections on the Sanctity of Life

January 2024

by Rebecca Peters

“Sanctity of Life Sunday” is January 21st this year. I’ve been thinking about how that phrase applies to an unexpected pregnancy. After working in the area of unexpected pregnancy support for almost 15 years, I have a few thoughts.

In 2024, “sanctity” is a word that people don’t commonly use. That doesn’t mean it’s not relevant, far from it. As someone who works in communication, I believe it’s important to use words that people are familiar with and understand or clearly define a word if your audience might not understand it. With that in mind, I believe defining what sanctity means is important.

Sanctity comes from the Latin word “sanctus,” which means holy or sacred.[1] A further definition is – the condition of being holy or of deserving great respect.[2] So, the sanctity of life means that life, or an individual’s life, is sacred and deserving of respect.

Christians believe that life begins in the womb, at conception, and we base this on scripture such as Jeremiah 1:5 and Psalm 139:13.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;  Jeremiah 1:5

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Psalm 139:13

These verses create beautiful imagery for us and tell us that God sees, knows, and values each life in the womb.

However, we must not stop at the womb when we’re considering the sanctity of life within the context of an unexpected pregnancy. The sanctity of life of the woman with the unexpected pregnancy should also be considered sacred and deserving of great respect.

Sadly, I think sometimes in our rush to help and protect the unborn, we forget to help and defend the woman, or perhaps her welfare is considered second. But we can’t put one before the other. We must care for, consider, and respect each life equally. There is sanctity of life for each one. God has intricately woven them together.

We recently celebrated the most holy of unexpected pregnancies – the birth of Jesus. I think it’s important to pause and look past the celebration of that great miracle and consider whether God gave Mary a choice to accept the outcome He desired. From the research that I’ve done, many scholars agree that it is likely Mary had a choice. First, God clearly respects human freedom and gives us the ability to choose. Secondly, the angel waits and does not leave until Mary agrees.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 6:38

I believe it’s important to remember this when we meet with women who are facing an unexpected pregnancy. God gave consideration to Mary, and He respected and cared for her. We must do the same.

So how do we do that? How do we uphold and live out the sanctity of life for both the unborn child and the woman with an unexpected pregnancy?

At Pregnancy Care Canada, we have thought about this carefully and learned from hearing thousands of stories of women impacted by unexpected pregnancies. We understand that very few women think of abortion as an easy choice. It is often a choice made from a place of fear, overwhelm, and pressure. We have learned that if we want to honour the life of the unborn child, we must also honour the woman and offer a safe space for her to share her fears and concerns. We must consider her situation and sit with her while she explores her thoughts and feelings. We show her respect by acknowledging that she has a choice and that none of the choices available are likely easy for her.

An unexpected pregnancy is sometimes referred to as a crisis pregnancy, and that can be an accurate description because the woman is often physiologically in a fight-or-flight state. She often feels trapped and panicked and is looking for a quick escape. If this is the case, decisions are based on fear, not logic, and not considering the welfare of others, like the unborn child. A woman with an unexpected pregnancy may not view herself as a mother who needs to protect her child; she feels the need to protect herself and get out of the crisis. Before addressing the needs and sanctity of the unborn child, we must first address the needs and sanctity of the woman with the unexpected pregnancy.

The sanctity of life is a beautiful and simple principle, and I believe in it. The difficulty is applying a simple principle to a complicated, emotion-filled situation. The sanctity of life still applies, but we must walk into the situation with more than just a belief we want to uphold. We must walk into people’s lives with a listening ear, compassion, and respect for their lives because the sanctity of life is for everyone.