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The Dawn of the Full-time Pro-Life Atheist

The Dawn of the Full-time Pro-Life Atheist

Posted by on Nov 14, 2013 in Being a Pro-Life Atheist, Featured posts | 11 comments

 

Hire me sign
Twelve years ago, at an annual pro-life student symposium in Toronto, I had the privilege of sitting under the tutelage of pro-life apologist Scott Klusendorf. After leaving us rapt with awe over the simplicity of making a solid yet secular pro-life defense, Scott further impressed us with the importance of considering full-time pro-life work as a career choice. I’ll never forget his words*:

“There are more people working full-time to kill babies than there are working full-time to save them. That’s because killing babies is very profitable, while saving them is very costly – so costly that large numbers of people who say they are pro-life are not lifting a finger to stop the killing, and those that do lift a finger do just enough to salve the conscience, but not enough to actually stop the killing.”

I believe Mr Klusendorf is right about this. Most pro-life action is undertaken part-time, often by stay-at-home mothers and grandmothers, whereas abortion advocates have doctors and paid professionals, politicians, judges, lawyers, and university professors all working to propagate abortion ideology and ensure that it remains on demand. The rest of us (and by that I mean we who regularly engage the issue, say nothing of the hundreds of thousands who are pro-life in ideology but never speak or think of it unless explicitly asked) unite a few times a year for a March for Life or a Life Chain, or to attend a pro-life conference with like-minded friends. But how many of us pro-life faithfuls are involved in actual activism on a regular basis? Do we treat abortion like a hobby? Something we can devote a few hours to, here and there?

Those that do lift a finger do just enough to salve the conscience, but not enough to actually stop the killing. Could this be true? I know I feel so zealous after attending a pro-life event, but I often ask myself: am I really doing all I can do to change minds in the culture at large? How easy it is to fall into a habit of simply blogging and talking to one another! We reason that we’re making a difference because, after all, we do the occasional debating with abortion advocates on Facebook or Twitter, and perhaps we even have the occasional dialog with pro-choice friends or colleagues. But do our efforts match the intensity of the abortion death toll around us?

With approximately 44 million global abortions occurring annually, that means that every single day, more than 120,000 developing human beings beginning their lives in a position of utmost dependency just like you began yours, are being denied their opportunity at life. Every. Day. Are we acting like it? In North America alone, it’s about 4000 per day. Every. Day. Are we who got to live and who know this killing is wrong doing everything we can? I’ll wager we all could do more. And that’s why I’ve decided to make Mr Klusendorf’s challenge my own. And it’s why I’m passing it on to you.

I launched Pro-Life Humanists with the intention of ultimately building a fully-funded pro-life organization that atheists can work in. (Read this post to learn how too many pro-life organizations won’t hire atheists)
I’m asking you to consider doing one of two things:

1. Consider a full or part time career as a pro-life advocate. Join me in making it your job to become as thoroughly equipped and trained to defend the pro-life position as possible. Join me in taking the pro-life message back out into the atheist community where it’s not often heard.
2. “Hire” one of us. If you can’t make a career of pro-life work, you can become the collective employer of those who aspire to do so. A team of 100 people funding $30/mth, 60 people donating $50/mth or 200 people donating $15/mth can collectively hire (at a baseline survival level) one person to be their full-time voice for the voiceless. There are many funded pro-life organizations out there, let’s make sure there’s at least one where atheists can work!

We’re starting small and we’re part-time volunteers for now, and of course we’ll need to fund the organization too, since one of the main purposes of Pro-Life Humanists – flying to atheist conventions to dialog one-on-one with our peers – will require at least $2000 – $3000 per event, but I’m letting you know this is on the radar and you – especially if you’re a pro-life atheist who has wanted to be more active but didn’t know what you could do – are a part of this. Please be a part of this. There are so few of us and this work is vital!

I want to hear from you. Please click below or send me an email at emailicon
… and let’s chat about how you can be involved. No one is holding the door for pro-life atheists – not the majority of our atheist peers and not the majority of mainstream Christian pro-lifers. It’s up to me and it’s up to you.

—-
* Gregg Cunningham, director of Center for Bioethical Reform first spoke those words to Scott himself, prompting Scott to leave his job as a pastor and pursue full-time pro-life work.

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Gandhi, Non-Violence & Abortion

Gandhi, Non-Violence & Abortion

Posted by on Oct 31, 2013 in Featured posts, Poverty & Violence | 5 comments

aaanonviolence

I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.
—Mahatma Gandhi

A death in my family early this month played a roll in the rather lengthy pause between blog posts.  Death has a funny way of making one slow down and really take stock of one’s life and the life of others.  Especially when that death involves violence of any kind.

Non-violence and pacifism don’t often seem to go hand-in-hand with pro-life ideology.  As it happens, most pro-lifers identify with Republican and conservative values, and that, more often than not, means a support for war efforts as a means to peace.  Add the the rare yet unfortunately loud stereotype of attacks on abortion clinics to the mix, and public image of pro-lifers is far from gracious.  “Conservatives want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers.. Pro-life… These people aren’t pro-life, they’re killing doctors!” intoned the late comedian George Carlin in a comedy piece that seemed at times far more commentary than comedy.

Of course, pro-life conservatives aren’t alone in holding values that appear to clash.  Leftist values that typically include non-violence and support for the weak, seem best suited to pro-life ideology.  After all, what is more violent than tearing a young developing human entity limb from limb?  How does one oppose war  and the death penalty on the grounds of protecting the innocent, while bringing to death a developing being in the earliest stages of human development, for the simple crime of being an imposition, too small and too dependent to fend for himself/herself?

During the week of September 21st to October 2nd, I had the opportunity to take part in the 2013 Ottawa Peace Festival – a week long series of lectures and workshops on the theme of non-violence.  Veterans, global justice workers, professors, and several members of both the parliament and senate, spoke on non-violent alternatives to war,  the active campaign for a Canadian Department of Peace, and the politics of Gandhi, to name a few.   A  tribute ceremony to Martin Luther King Jr and Gandhi closed out the week on October 2nd – which I learned is both Gandhi’s birthday and the United Nation’s International Day of Non-violence.

Poverty is the worst form of violence” said Gandhi.  And when one considers just how many acts of violence – abortion included – are committed on the grounds of financial and social lack, it’s easy to see that the father of non-violence may have been right.  It is my sincere belief that pro-lifers must become active in the ongoing discussions concerning social and welfare reform.  While the fact that it’s wrong to kill a human being to ease financial burdens gives us the moral high ground, we can’t simply plant our flag and refuse to consider other life issues like war and poverty that play their role in abortion (see “consistent life ethic”.)  Pro-lifers and conservatives can’t afford to take the position George Carlin simplified as: “Preborn, you’re fine.  Preschool, you’re F***ed!“.   We must all take greater interest in the efforts to implement such essentials as national daycare and national healthcare where they are lacking.  So long as we’re not willing to at least engage in discussion on how to implement solutions, we’ll be shouting upwind to a people who can’t hear us.

By the same token, my leftist pro-choice friends also need to sit up and rethink their ideals.  How can we esteem and elevate women, while leaving them with so violent a solution to the problems of social inequality?  How can we claim as Feminists and Humanists to believe in a woman’s equality, while leaving her to choose between her career or her natural childbearing potential – a thing unique to her as a woman?  It’s been a man’s world for too long, and forcing a woman to conform her body to look, act, and function like a man’s body (remaining non-pregnant) in order that she may retain the same value and potential as he, is a violence to the very nature of what it means to be a woman.

As another great leader for non-violence, Martin Luther King Jr., said:  “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”  The violence of abortion, though it “appears to do good” in eliminating the unplanned child, has a permanent and deadly price-tag.  Abortion is only a temporary solution to the problems of poverty and social inequity it seeks to address, and like the violences of war and poverty, it is not the epitome of any utopia.   It is my sincerest hope that as humanity continues to evolve and to exchange our “isms” for inclusiveness and our discrimination for dignity, that we will learn to embrace the conflict of unplanned motherhood with love and non-violent solutions – to the betterment of all humanity.

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May the Fetus we Save be Gay

May the Fetus we Save be Gay

Posted by on Aug 27, 2013 in Featured posts, GLBT | 1 comment

may.the.fetus.you.save.be.gay
May the fetus you save be gay” The pro-choice slogan is oft used as a slight against pro-lifers, many of whom oppose both abortion and gay marriage on religious grounds. After all, the reasoning goes, it would serve you right if a fetus you save from abortion grows up to be gay. Would you wish he’d been aborted then? Would you still fight for his rights?

I can’t speak for all pro-lifers, but as an atheist and a Humanist, fighting for the rights and the lives of all humans is my default setting. A just society can only be called just if it truly respects and behaves fairly to all human beings. All human beings – regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, size, appearance, physical and mental capacities, religious or political affiliation, marital or relational status, level of education, sexual orientation, or any other number of differences that may exist between human beings. Any human being is just as worthy of his or her life, freedom, and pursuit of happiness as any other human being. As a general principle, only when one’s actions threaten or harm another human being should one’s choices or freedoms be curbed.

And that’s why I’m both pro-life and pro-gay. That’s also why I marched in Ottawa’s Capital Pride parade yesterday holding the following banner:

PLH-Pride1

 

While in no way intended to suggest that a straight fetus would be inferior to a gay fetus, I was pleased to perform a flipperoo on the pro-choice slogan by turning it into a positive pro-gay and pro-life statement. “May the fetus you save be gay”? Ok, sure! May the fetus we save be gay indeed! (Or straight, Down’s Syndrome, intersexed… – we’ll love them all!)

After standing for the length of the parade on the sideline (with my arms losing circulation) in order to make my sign visible to parade marchers and hand out PLAGAL pamphlets to anyone expressing enthusiasm for the sign, my PLH comrade and I hopped in behind the political banners near the end of the parade stream, and danced, shimmied, and cheered our way past a surprisingly receptive crowd. A small handful of boo’s and the angry fist-raised hollerings of one woman (who kept driving past me in her wheelchair at the post-parade celebration, screaming “PROOO-CHOOOIIIICCCEEE!!! PROOO-CHOOOIIIICCCEEE!!!“) were easily outnumbered by the endless paparazzi of photographers and cheers.  Our 75 pamphlets vanished within the first couple blocks (we want to come back next year with at least 1000!) but we happily had enough for the ladies who shouted “THANK YOU!  – THANK YOU SO MUCH!” as we passed by, and for the group who went nuts dancing and clapping “YEAH!! YEAH!! PRO-LIFE!!!“. Hopefully we’ll be hearing from them.

Pro-life GLBT aren’t the norm, but just as there are more pro-life atheists than one might expect to find (an American Gallup poll found 19% of non-religious adults identify as pro-life) so too do homosexuals span a wide berth of political views, including diverse views on abortion. Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians count 800 in their current membership.

So why should GLBT be pro-life? I’ll let PLAGAL speak to that in their own words. The following summary is a series of my favourite quotes that I’ve pulled from a handful of their brochures – all of which I recommend in their entirety.

“Of all Americans, those of us in the sexual minority community have the most reason to be concerned about protecting human life. After all, we know what it is to have our lives and rights trampled on, especially the basic human right just to keep on living.” ~ 3

“None of us is truly free until all of us are free, with all our rights intact and guaranteed, including the basic right to live without threat or harassment. And that’s why we’re Pro-Life. Just like homophobia, abortion tries to get rid of real human beings who are considered threatening or undesirable. Just like homophobia, abortion denies one’s place as a member of human society, and even one’s right to be alive in it.” ~ 1

“America’s abortion on demand policy… says that some lives can be exterminated at will; birth is a privilege reserved for those deemed eligible. While that policy exists, neither gays nor lesbians — nor, for that matter, the disabled, the elderly, the terminally ill, or any other class of human beings who may be considered ‘expendable’ — are safe.” ~ 2

“If, as recent scientific discoveries suggest, homosexuality has a genetic basis, the day is not far off when doctors will be able to determine if a child in the womb is predisposed to be gay. Once medical science achieves that ability, it will be possible to do by legal, surgical procedure what all the homophobes and gay-bashers throughout history have tried and failed to do — to eliminate lesbians and gays once and for all.” ~ 2

“Today, under the guise of choice, some children are aborted simply because they are the “wrong” sex. What chance would unborn children have of being spared from abortion if they’re deemed to have the wrong sexual orientation?” ~ 4

“…When sexual orientation becomes grounds for abortions, it is difficult to argue that a fetus is not human. If we exterminate a fetus because of his or her intrinsic nature, we are acknowledging that that fetus has the qualities of a unique human being.” ~ 2

“As gay men and lesbian women, we say that all human life deserves dignity and respect. No human life should be considered expendable and the basic right to live should be guaranteed without threat or harassment. That includes the unborn, a voiceless minority with no defense against the worst of all abuses: death.”  ~ 3

“The freedom for each of us to dispose of our bodies as we see fit does not give us the freedom to dispose of someone else’s body. No one has the right to decide for others whether they will live or die. Each human life is its own justification for being.” ~ 2

“A society which offers the deaths of their children as an acceptable choice doesn’t place much value on human life, period — women’s lives included. Pro-Life lesbians and gay men work for a society where human life is better valued than it is today. Everyone’s life. Where each person is guaranteed the human rights that belong to us all, whether we are female, male, gay, straight, white, people of color, post born or pre-born. We work for real choices for women so that they do not feel that abortion is their only alternative.” ~ 1

“PLAGAL is committed to the concept that people can live together in peace regardless of sexuality, without hate, without fear. We seek a world where a woman’s right to control her body is not pitted against her child’s right to exist. We support a compassionate society where both can live.” ~ 4

“Why must we speak for unborn people? Simply because they are people. To be pro-life and pro-gay is to affirm that human rights are not discretionary.”  ~ 3


Sources
1: Victims: Lesbians, Gays… and the Unborn
2: Abortion: Another Name for Gay Bashing?
3: Under the Rainbow Flag
4: Human Rights Start When Human Life Begins

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Dr Henry Morgentaler vs Pro-Life Humanism

Dr Henry Morgentaler vs Pro-Life Humanism

Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Abortion in Canada, Featured posts, Humanism & Morality | 5 comments

morgentaler1

He broke the law and became a national hero.  That’s the story of Dr. Henry Morgentaler, the abortion provider credited for Canada’s current lack of abortion laws.  Dr. Morgentaler passed away of a heart attack May 29th 2013, at the age of 90.

Morgentaler has been aptly called in his biography by Catherine Dunphy, a “difficult hero”.     “Difficult” may be putting it far too mildly, and “hero” naturally depends on one’s point of view.  Certainly it can be said of the man who performed abortions while they were still illegal, challenging the abortion laws to the point of going to jail, that he was a consistent advocate for abortion and a true believer in his cause.     It takes courage to go against the grain of one’s society, and as a Humanist and activist, I honour that in him – even if I disagree with the cause he championed.

Dr. Morgentaler’s story is a fascinating one.  A Holocaust survivor, having been interned in both Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps in his youth, he immigrated to Montreal, Canada in 1950 where he studied medicine and became a family physician.  After specializing his practice to family planning and becoming one of the first physicians to perform vasectomies and to offer contraception to unmarried women, his clientele increasingly turned to him with requests for elective (non-life threatening) abortions.  Abortion was illegal in Canada prior to May 14th 1969, and afterward only legal when performed in hospitals under the approval of a Therapeutic Abortion Committee.   Morgentaler defied the law and was thrown in jail for his efforts, facing a decades-long legal battle in court case after court case.    In January of 1988 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Prime Minister Trudeau’s 1969 Omnibus law on abortion violated women’s “right to life, liberty and security of the person” as per section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the inadequate abortion laws were struck down, leaving a legislative void on abortion in its place.

Now it has not escaped my notice as a pro-life Humanist that Dr. Henry Morgentaler also identified as a Humanist.  In fact, Morgentaler was the first president of the Humanist Association of Canada, from 1968 to 1999, and he remained its honorary president after that.   I had the privilege of rubbing shoulders with some of his long-time friends and colleagues at a recent Humanist Association Christmas party in Ottawa, and it was evident how revered he  still is among Canada’s Humanists.   The American Humanist Association likewise honours him, and named him their 1975 Humanist of the Year.    I met Dr. Morgentaler briefly in 2004 and have been saddened by threats to his life and property made by more extreme opponents of abortion.  As a Humanist I found him to be quite personable and couldn’t help but like him, his stance on abortion aside.

“The fact that some people are opposed to abortion on religious grounds doesn’t bother me as long as they are not allowed to influence other people by force or by other means,” Dr. Morgentaler said in 2008.  “… I believe as a medical doctor my duty was to help humans, and I did it.”     Morgentaler assumed what most people assume: that opposition to abortion is primarily if not entirely religiously grounded.   He also assumed that the best way to help a woman facing a crisis pregnancy is to eliminate the pregnancy, rather than the crisis.   I believe he was wrong on both counts.

Pro-life Humanists are now the ones going against the grain.   After all, the 1973 Humanist Manifesto II (article six) clearly names abortion as a right that should be recognized along  with the right to contraception and divorce.   Nevertheless, all versions of the Humanist Manifesto and its subsequent declarations lend themselves toward a belief in egalitarian treatment of all human beings.   Article eleven of Manifesto II speaks eloquently of our particular obligation toward the disadvantaged and those unable to support themselves.   Included in that list are “the mentally retarded, abandoned or abused children, the handicapped… [and] all who are neglected or ignored by society.” Developing humans in utero, biologically members of our species though too young to possess the strength, awareness, or physical functions for independent living, demand on account of their dependence and vulnerability more special care and support – not less.   Their current age-related mental and physical state does not translate into a justification for extermination.

Dr Morgentaler frequently justified his illegal abortions by citing “necessity“.   He argued that women would seek illegal and dangerous abortions if he didn’t help them out.   While I appreciate that his intentions in trying to help women were for the good, I think the doctor ultimately failed in his attempt to increase freedom for women.  Freedom that comes at the expense of a weaker and more vulnerable being is not freedom at all.  It’s tyranny.   More to the point, society has not elevated women by removing their pregnancies from the equation.  The very same problems of inequality that make it so challenging for a woman to couple motherhood with career and education are not eradicated by the abortionist’s suction.   They remain an entrapment for the next woman and the woman after her.   Abortion puts a band-aid over society’s blistering pus  while never actually addressing the root infection that causes a pregnancy and a new human life to be so problematic in the first place.    If abortion appears necessary, and if any woman is so desperate to escape the trap she finds herself in that she will resort to dangerous surgery, perhaps it’s not abortion that she needs, but real choices and a reform of society itself?

Pro-life feminist and author Frederica Matthewes-Green once stated that “no woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”   Abortion providers like Dr Morgentaler correctly perceive the trap, but they merely offer the woman a sterile knife to aid in the amputation.   Real help does not sacrifice one human life at the expense of another, but goes to the source of the trap to unscrew the hinge and free both.

Dr Henry Morgentaler has died but his legacy, along with the false beliefs of abortion as the salvation and equalizer of women, are still very much alive.  Believing that he was improving the lives of women, Dr Morgentaler sacrificed a generation of future women and men whose lives were cut short before they’d drawn their first breath.  Pro-Life Humanists dare to imagine better.   We seek a world in which all humans are equally valued and where pregnancy isn’t a desperate problem in search of a desperate solution.   In the words of another feminist writer Germaine Greer: “Too many women are forced to abort by poverty, by their menfolk, by their parents … A choice is only possible if there are genuine alternatives.”

Dr Morgentaler, we are Humanists — and more than that, we are Pro-Life Humanists.  Most of us are survivors of the generation your work diminished by a third, and we reject the “solution” you offered our mothers and their peers.   We seek to make your “necessity” both unnecessary and unthinkable.   We believe we can do better than abortion.

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The Toenail that Became a Human Being

Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Featured posts, Science, Stats, & Facts | 7 comments

Once upon a time there was a toenail that grew on a woman and magically developed eyes, ears, arms and legs until nine months later it fell off and became a little girl.  And that’s comparable to the way babies are made.  Apparently.

Ok, so that wasn’t quite what my friendly twitter comrade said to me this morning, but it may as well have been.    A toenail, as I understand her claim, is analogous to a fetus growing inside a woman.  Just as the woman is justified in cutting off an unwanted toenail, so she is perfectly justified in cutting off a fetus who is just as much a part of her.  “My body my toenail.”

To some degree, I agree with my twitter friend.   That’s why I believe the question of the nature of the fetus has utmost relevance when discussing matters like abortion.  After all, there’s no discussion needed if the fetus is not a human being.  Women should always retain full autonomy of their own bodies and not be burdened by any unwanted body part.  Cut off your hair, cut off your toenail, cut off your arm if you wish.  Your body.

But  on the other hand, if the fetus is a human being, then we enter the realm of ethics and competing rights.    If a fetus is its own separate and whole human entity, developing in a place of dependence and vulnerability through no fault of his own, then a number of new arguments can be made:  that a parent has a basic obligation to feed and shelter her biological offspring, that a fetus has as much a right to his natural environment as the rest of us have to our own biosphere, and that a fetus’ dependence and vulnerability obligates us to them more, rather than less.

So what does science tell us?  Is the fetus its own separate body developing within another body?  Or is the fetus a part of his or her mother’s body like her appendix or her toenail?

First, let me be clear about the limits of science.  Science does not and can not confer personhood; neither can it tell us which human traits matter to the equal recognition of a human being as a person.  Those are ethical and philosophical concerns.  But what science can and does tell us is that biologically, a human being acquires his or her genetic blueprint and internal directives for ongoing development at fertilization.  Then and only then do parts converge to make a new and separate whole.

Parts vs Wholes

There is no such species as “sperm” or “ovum”.  Sperm and ovum are not distinct unique organisms.  They are in fact complex specialized cells belonging to the larger organism, namely the male and female from which they came.   In other words, they are, like skin cells and blood cells, alive and bearing human DNA but nonetheless parts of another human being, even when mobile like the sperm.

Sperm and ovum lose their individual identity and their function as sperm and ovum once they have merged.  Instead of being parts carrying 23 chromosomes from two different human beings, the unification and merging of their chromosome pairs has now created a new whole with a new set of chromosomes and a cellular structure that now contains the inherent capacity to grow and develop itself through all stages of human development.  This of course is  something that neither sperm nor ovum parts had the inherent capacity to do on their own.  It’s something that only whole human beings can do.

Furthermore, among the factors that differentiate an infant from his or her biological parents one may note his or her unique DNA (unless he was cloned from aforementioned toenail or other cell through somatic cell nuclear transfer, which I plan to address in future entries), perhaps a unique blood-type, and a gender that is different from one of his or her biological parents.    The same can also be said of his younger, smaller, and more dependent self in utero.

The embryo and fetus are entirely dependent on and living in the mother’s body, but they are not a part of the mother’s body.   Healthy women’s bodies don’t grow organs and body parts of a differing DNA than their own.  Their bodies don’t have four arms, four legs and an extra set of genitalia that may even be male.

So once upon a time there was a toenail that grew on a woman and was a part of her body with her body’s DNA, and had absolutely nothing biologically in common with her dependent offspring who was living within her.

—-
As a materialist, I think it has been demonstrated that an embryo is a separate body and entity, and not merely (as some people really did used to argue) a growth on or in the female body...”
                       ~ Christopher Hitchens; God is Not Great

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A Secular Case Against Abortion

A Secular Case Against Abortion

Posted by on May 13, 2013 in Featured posts, Reasoned Arguments | 153 comments

The following piece was originally submitted to The Humanist after their September/October edition of the Humanist featured an article by Marco Rosaire Rossi questioning the existence of pro-life atheists.   The piece, though as extensive as possible in answering standard pro-choice arguments, was ultimately rejected because it didn’t answer a number of other questions (including contraception and early vs late-term abortion) that a 2,500 word limit simply could not allow.    While I hope to work with the editor for a future re-write, here is the original piece for your reading:


A SECULAR CASE AGAINST ABORTION

By: Kristine Kruszelnicki

“Is there really such a thing as a pro-life atheist?” asked Marco Rosaire Rossi in the September/October edition of the The Humanist.  “What’s next, Intelligent Design Agnostics?  How about Secularists for Sharia Law?”

Atheists may not have a pope, but in the eyes of many there is still a proper dogma that all good atheists must adhere to.   To be an atheist is to support abortion.   Fail to do so and you will be denounced as “secretly religious.”   When I joined an agnostic and an atheist from Secular Pro-Life for an information table at the 2012 American Atheist Convention, a popular atheist blogger accused us outright of having “actually lied about being atheist.”  [Edit: She also seriously misheard and misconstrued the point of my green banana analogy!]

There is an obvious reluctance to accept that non-religious pro-lifers exist.   But we do exist.   While we differ somewhat in our approaches and philosophies, our numbers include atheist thinkers like Robert Price, author of “The Case Against the Case for Christ,” civil libertarian writer Nat Hentoff,  philosophers Arif Ahmed and Don Marquis, and liberal anti-war  activist Mary Meehan, to name a few.

The late atheist author Christopher Hitchens, when asked in a January 2008 debate with Jay Wesley Richards whether he was opposed to abortion and was a member of the pro-life movement, replied:
“I’ve had a lot of quarrels with some of my fellow materialists and secularists on this point, [but]  I think that if the concept ‘child’ means anything, the concept ‘unborn child’ can be said to mean something.  All the discoveries of embryology [and viability] – which have been very considerable in the last generation or so – appear to confirm that opinion, which I think should be innate in everybody.  It’s innate in the Hippocratic Oath, it’s instinct in anyone who’s ever watched a sonogram.   So ‘yes’ is my answer to that.”

Secular pro-lifers include seasoned atheists and agnostics, ex-Christians, conservatives, liberals, vegans, gays and lesbians, and even pro-lifers of faith, who understand the strength of secular arguments with secular audiences.   The following secular case against abortion  is one perspective, and does not represent any single organization.


Abortion, The Complex Issue?

Abortion is an emotionally complex issue, stacked with distressing circumstances that elicit our sympathy and compassion, but abortion is not morally complex:    If the preborn are not human beings equally worthy of our compassion and support, no justification for abortion is required.  Women should maintain full autonomy over their bodies and make their own decisions about their pregnancies.    However, if the preborn are human beings, no justification for abortion is morally adequate, if such a reason cannot justify ending the life of a toddler or any born human in similar circumstances.

Would we kill a two year-old whose father suddenly abandons his unemployed mother, in order to ease the mother’s budget or prevent the child from growing up in poverty?    Would we dismember a young preschooler if there were indications she might grow up in an abusive home?    If the preborn are indeed human beings,  we have a social duty to find compassionate ways to support women, that do not require the death of one in order to solve the problems of the other.

Science vs Pseudoscience

While some abortion advocates have accused pro-lifers of using “pseudoscience”,  in fact scientific evidence strongly backs the pro-life claim that the human embryo and fetus are biological members of the human species.    Dr. Keith L. Moore’s “The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology,” used in medical schools worldwide, is but one scientific resource confirming this knowledge.  It states:
“Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoo development) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”

Unlike other cells containing human DNA – sperm, ovum and skin cells, for instance – the newly fertilized embryo has complete inherent capacity to propel itself through all stages of human development, providing adequate nutrition and protection is maintained.   Conversely, sperm and ovum are differentiated parts of other human organisms, each having their own specified function.   Upon merging, both cease to exist in their current states, and the result is a new and whole entity with unique behavior toward human maturity.   Similarly, skin cells contain genetic information that can be inserted into an enucleated ovum and stimulated to create an embryo, but only the embryo possesses this self-directed inherent capacity for all human development.

Defining Personhood

The question of personhood leaves the realm of science for that of philosophy and moral ethics.   Science defines what the preborn is, it cannot define our obligations toward her.   After all, the preborn is a very different human entity than those we see around us.  Should a smaller, less developed, differently located and dependent being be entitled to rights of personhood and life?

Perhaps the more significant question is: are these differences morally relevant?   If the factor is irrelevant to other humans’ personhood, neither should it have bearing on that of the preborn.    Are small people less important than bigger or taller people?    Is a teenager who can reproduce more worthy of life than a toddler who can’t even walk yet?   Again, if these factors are not relevant in granting or increasing personhood for anyone past the goal post of birth, neither should they matter where the preborn human is concerned.

One might fairly argue that we do grant increasing rights with skill and age.   However, the right to live and to not be killed is unlike the social permissions granted on the basis of acquired skills and maturity, such as the right to drive or the right to vote.   We are denied the right to drive prior to turning 16; we are not killed and prevented from ever gaining that level of maturity.

Similarly, consciousness and self-awareness, often proposed as fair markers for personhood, merely identify stages in human development.   Consciousness doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  It  exists only as part of the greater whole of a living entity.   To say that an entity does not yet have consciousness is to nonetheless speak of that entity within which lies the inherent capacity for consciousness, and without which consciousness could never develop.

As atheist Nat Hentoff points out, “It misses a crucial point to say that the extermination can take place because the brain has not yet functioned or because that thing is not yet a ‘person’.   Whether the life is cut off in the fourth week or the fourteenth, the victim is one of our species, and has been from the start.”

The inherent capacity for all human function lies within the embryo because she is a whole human entity.   Just as one would not throw out green bananas along with rotten bananas though both lack current function as food, one cannot dismiss a fetus who has not yet gained a function, alongside a brain-dead person who has permanently lost that function.   To dismiss and terminate a fetus for having not yet achieved a specified level of development is to ignore that a human being at that stage of human development is functioning just as a human being of that age and stage is biologically programmed to function.

Location and Singular Dependency

Pointing to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in support of his position that “human beings as persons are born,”   Mr. Rossi declared: “The fact of the matter is birth transforms us.  It simultaneously makes us into individuals and members of a group, and thus embeds in us rights-bearing protections.”

This claim is grossly fallacious.   First, what is does not necessarily represent what should be.    The fact that social conventions of personhood disregard the preborn human is no surprise, and in fact the very matter in dispute.   Second, birth possesses no such magical powers of transformation.    At birth a developing human changes location, begins to take in oxygen and nutrients in a new manner, and begins to interact with a greater number of other humans.   But a simple journey through the birth canal does not change the essential nature of the entity in question.

In fact, bio-ethicist Peter Singer agrees with the pro-lifer on this point.   He argues:  “The pro-life groups were right about one thing, the location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make much of a moral difference.  We cannot coherently hold it is alright to kill a fetus a week before birth, but as soon as the baby is born everything must be done to keep it alive.”   (Singer then goes on to argue that since there is no significant difference between a late-term fetus and a newborn, infanticide is thereby justified.)     Birth is undoubtedly a significant moment in our lives, but it is not our first moment.

So what of dependency?    Assuredly, a fetus is significantly more dependent on his or her mother than at any other time in his or her life.   But are dependent humans not fully human?   Does a conjoined twin’s dependence on a sibling’s heart or lungs disqualify her from personhood?    May we kill severely dependent adults or an infant who cannot even raise his own head, let alone feed, shelter himself, or walk away?

If the issue is what Rossi calls “absolute dependence [on] our mothers,”  a further question must be asked:  Why does dependence on a single person mean one is not valuable or worthy of life and protection?     If a wayward child were to find his way onto a stranger’s yacht only to be discovered  a day later at sea, he would be temporarily dependent on that sailor’s resources alone.   Would the sailor be justified in tossing the child overboard into shark-infested waters?

Moreover, is it truly the mark of a civilized people that the more vulnerable and dependent a human is, the more we can justify his or her death?    Is “might-makes-right”  the best we can do as a modern and sophisticated people faced with a vulnerable being and a woman in crisis?

Rape and Bodily Autonomy

Nothing adds more emotion to the already emotional debate of abortion than the issue of rape.  It is, however, vital that one does not confuse abhorrence of rape and desire to comfort the victim, with the fundamental question of whether hardship justifies homicide.   If the preborn is a human being, the circumstances of one’s conception have no bearing on his or her right to not be exterminated.

Judith Jarvis Thompson’s “Unplugging the Violinist” (a fictional scenario in which one is kidnapped by  friends of a dying violinist in need of a kidney, and forced to remain plugged into him for nine months in order to save his life) illustrates the dilemma of bodily autonomy, while suggesting grounds for abortion in cases of rape.

However, Thomson fails to recognize that the relationship between a preborn and her mother is unlike an artificial union of one stranger to another.   The fetus is not an intruder.  She is in the rightful home of a human being at her age and stage of development.   Unlike the kidneys, which exist for the woman’s body, the uterus exists and each month prepares to welcome someone else’s body.   A woman has a right to her body, but so too a fetus has a right to the uterus that is her biologically-given home.

Furthermore, recognizing the biological responsibilities with which we have evolved as a species, we understand that while one is not always morally obligated to a stranger, one is obligated to provide basic sustenance and protection to one’s biological offspring.   A breast-feeding mother can’t claim ‘bodily autonomy’ and abandon her infant in the basement while she travels; neither can a pregnant mother abandon her responsibility to a dependent human child.    While the rape victim did not choose and is unfairly put into this position, her basic obligation to her dependent human offspring is no less real than that of the sailor with an unwanted stowaway.

Abortion does not merely “unplug a dying stranger,” abortion actively dismembers and kills an otherwise healthy human being who is in an age-appropriate, naturally dependent union with his or her mother.   Rebecca Kiessling, conceived in rape, says: “I may not look the same as I did when I was four years old or four days old yet unborn in my mother’s womb, but that was still undeniably me and I would have been killed [for my father’s crime].”

Abortion neither unrapes a woman nor helps her heal.  Let’s punish the rapist, not his child.

Personally pro-life – But don’t change the law?

Finally, some will respond to the burden of science and reason by admitting that they are “personally pro-life” but wish abortion to remain legal so that it may remain safe.   Without taking time to delve into the statistics on legal vs illegal abortions, the numbers that were performed illegally in doctor’s clinics or the role antibiotics played in making abortion safer even before Roe vs. Wade, the question is necessarily begged:  safe for whom?

If one is “personally opposed” because he believes abortion ends human lives, it makes no sense to say that the ending of human lives should remain legal in order to save lives.  Whether legal or illegal, all abortions kill.   Sometimes the mother, but always her son or daughter.

Conclusion

Feminist author Frederica Matthews-Green once pointed out that “No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg.”    The challenge for our ever-evolving society  is this:    Are we going to hand the woman a hack-saw and help her amputate her leg?   Or are we wise and capable enough to come up with creative ways of removing the offending trap, without destroying the leg in the process  –  especially when that “leg” is a fellow human being?

Society can continue to pit women against their preborn offspring, or we can begin to talk about real choices, real solutions and real compassion – such as those suggested by groups like Feminists for Life.    The secular pro-life philosophy means including the smaller and weaker members of our species, and not excluding the dependent and vulnerable from rights of personhood and life.     We have evolved as a species into a complex and inter-dependent community that is gradually doing away with prejudices like racism,  sexism, and ableism.    Let us now dispense with the lethal discrimination of ageism.

In the words of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians:  “None of us is truly free until all of us are free, with all our rights intact and guaranteed, including the basic right to live without threat or harassment.”

We can do better than abortion.

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