As much as pro-lifers deplore the horror of abortion, on a practical level I think many pro-lifers think it is worse to kill a sentient human being (usually post-natal) than a pre-sentient human being (the unborn). Why? Because the sentient human being experiences pain the unborn does not (at least those who are aborted in the first trimester), and because it robs the person of his aspirations, hopes, and activity in the world.

I can understand this perspective; however, I think it locates the evil of murder in the wrong location, and underestimates the import of death to an embryo/fetus.

What makes murder wrong is not that it hurts. There are methods of killing that do not cause pain. Lethal injection is one. No one would suggest, however, that it is morally acceptable to kill your neighbor by lethal injection. A moral wrong would still have been committed even though the victim experienced no pain. What makes murder such an egregious evil is that it deprives someone of their most fundamental, and inalienable right: the right to life. Every other right is supported by this basic and foundational right. The right to live provides us with the ability to seek other moral goods: meaning, love, etc.

How could killing the unborn be worse than killing a 30 year old, then? Put simply the 30 year old had a past but is robbed of his future, while the unborn is robbed of his ability to have experience life at all. While the murder of a 30 year old is evil, at least he had a chance to experience life by pursuing its moral goods, and everything else it means to be human. When an embryo/fetus is killed, however, it is robbed of any chance to experience life’s moral goods.