Pro-Life Humanists

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Your Body, Your Choice!

Posted by on Feb 18, 2017 in Reasoned Arguments | 0 comments

I Support Your Right to Choose to Harm Your Own Body!

 

I’ll be blunt: I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone under the age of 40 would choose to smoke!  Having grown up at a time when the ill effects of smoking are so widely known, why would anyone decide to start something that will likely be detrimental to their lives and to their bodies?  I know I personally would never choose to smoke!

But on the other hand, I don’t think that cigarettes should be banned either. We can discourage their use and offer smokers alternatives, but people have the right to knowingly harm their own bodies if they so choose.  It’s true that the government has an obligation to recall or ban harmful products when people expect them to be safe (tainted milk, lead in paint etc) but there’s a fine line when it comes to personal choice and to the adult consumption of products that are known to carry some health risk.

And that’s why I don’t find particularly persuasive the arguments to ban abortion on the grounds that it harms women – be it “abortion causes breast cancer” or worries about “post-abortion syndrome.”  Even if abortion does cause physical or psychological damage, women undergoing a surgical abortion expect a certain degree of risk.  I think the law has no further obligation beyond ensuring that informed consent is received, and that adequate risk warnings are given — akin to the warnings placed on cigarette cartons, perhaps.   Pregnant women, just like smokers, have the autonomous right to choose their own bodily risks.

However, I also strongly support bans to public smoking, and all efforts to make it illegal to smoke in vehicles or in homes where children are present. The difference lies in what the risk taker is doing only to themselves, vs what they are potentially doing to another human being.  In the first case, the smoker harms only his or her own lungs and body.  In the second case, the smoker is imposing his or her personal choice on the lungs and body of someone else.  Often on someone who is unable to consent to having smoke in their shared air.

So if abortion is like all other surgeries, which affect only the body of the one undergoing the surgery, then no one should have anything to say about the personal choice being made.  I may not personally choose to have an abortion, just as I may not personally choose to smoke, but if there’s no second body impacted in that choice, no restrictions should be imposed on their choice.  Offer alternatives and discourage their choice if you want to advocate for a different choice, but don’t take their legal choice away.

… Unless the choice of abortion imposes harm on a second body.

If public smoking and smoking in the presence of minors are banned because of their known impact on others, especially on vulnerable and non-consenting minors, then the law has exactly the same right to impose restrictions on the choice of abortion.  The body that is dismembered in an abortion is not the woman’s body, it’s someone else’s arms and legs and developing brain.  Human bodies don’t begin development at birth, and human beings don’t become fully human and worthy of protection only once we’ve attained completed brain function and adult maturity.  Young and vulnerable humans matter – and they should be protected from the destructive choices of others.

I wholeheartedly agree with the philosophy of “your body your choice,” — even when I personally wouldn’t ever make that choice.  But you don’t have a right to make a choice that has deadly impact on someone else’s body.  No one does.

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Unwanted Pregnancy: Forced Organ Donation?

Unwanted Pregnancy: Forced Organ Donation?

Posted by on Dec 18, 2014 in Reasoned Arguments | 19 comments

black & white war-era operation room

Welcome to The Abattoir, the center for forced organ harvesting of pro-lifers!

I was recently nominated to have my organs harvested by force in order to save the lives of other people.  I was chosen along with an impressive list of conservative politicians (which is odd in and of itself, since I’m quite lefty in most of my ideologies)  including Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, Michele Bachmann, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, and Rick Santorum, as well as a number of prominent pro-life leaders (and more strangely, Richard Dawkins, though I’m still baffled that he made the list!)

Why will I be strapped down while my organs are removed against my will?   Perry Street Palace, a blog produced by writer Iris Vander Pluym explains:

All involuntary donors must meet one very specific criteria: they would eagerly and happily force other people to donate lifesaving organs without their consent. Since they feel so very strongly about this particular principle, it is only right and fair that they live by it!

In other words, if you’re pro-life, your belief that a woman “should continue a pregnancy against her will” is no different than forcing someone to donate a kidney against their will.  After all, the Abattoir entry emphasizes, “we’re saving lives!”

The argument isn’t new, of course, but built off of the Famous Violinist bodily autonomy argument crafted by Judith Jarvis Thompson over 40 years ago. Thompson argued that even if the fetus were a human being with the right to life, no one has the right to use someone else’s body against their will, not even if their life is in danger.  Pluym extends the analogy by arguing that those who advocate “forced childbirth” should experience the equivalent via forced harvesting of their own organs.  Yet while her tongue-in-cheek series of mixed metaphors is creative and somewhat entertaining, it still fails to take into account some of the crucial differences between pregnancy and forced organ harvesting.

For one thing, a stranger has no moral obligation toward another stranger.  In fact, that’s one of the many reasons why Thompson’s violinist is not the strongest version of the bodily autonomy argument, and therefore neither is Pluym’s Abattoir.  It certainly is tragic that thousands of people die annually from organ failure, while so many others take their healthy organs to the grave or crematorium because they’re not registered organ donors* (even if they think they are).  But if I am not morally obligated to feed the homeless man in the park, even though it’s a nice thing to do, I am certainly not morally obligated  to provide him my kidney.

I prefer to respond to the stronger version of the bodily autonomy/organ donation argument that is more analogous to pregnancy in that it involves a parent and child.  A parent does have an obligation to provide basic care for their children (food, shelter, protection from harm) and doing so is more than just a nice optional thing to do. On the other hand, trips to Disney world, private helicopter rides, and yes: organ donations do not fall under basic care and baseline obligations.  So if a parent is under no obligation to donate any part of their body to a born child  – not even an organ that is needed to save their child’s life, then isn’t the abortion advocate justified in arguing that even if a fetus had equal rights as a member of our species s/he still would have no more right to his/her mother’s uterus than the born child has to his/her mother’s kidney?

Unfortunately for the abortion advocate, that’s as far in that direction as this comparison will take us.  While it is arguably true that a parent is under no obligation to donate a kidney to save their dying born child, neither may a parent directly end that child’s life.   They furthermore may not abandon their dependent born child without transferring the care of that dependent onto another caretaker, in the event they find themselves unable or unwilling to continue care.  So if we’re arguing for equal treatment of born and pre-born offspring when it comes to access to organs, then a parent of a pre-born dependent would have a similar obligation to continue the care and feeding of that offspring, and to at very least not actively end their life via abortion.

Which analogy is more fitting to pregnancy? Is pregnancy comparable to extreme care like organ donation, or is it more comparable to the basic care of feeding, sheltering and maintaining the overall well-being of one’s offspring? In fact, a child dying of kidney failure may die because her parents were passive and did not donate their kidney, but as with Thompson’s violinist, it is ultimately the illness that will cause the death.  On the other hand, in an abortion a child dies not because she is sick and her parent didn’t act to save her life, but rather because her parent actively ended her life.  The first child is denied someone else’s organ, which exists in someone else’s body for the functions of their own body, while the second child is denied basic ongoing care and food – which all humans have a right to. That different body parts are involved in feeding a born child than in feeding a pre-born child doesn’t change a parent’s inherent obligation to their offspring.

Sometimes parents need to use their bodies to care for their dependents. Imagine leaving an infant to starve on the floor because he has no right to your arms. Younger human beings require more bodily resources earlier in life than later, because that’s how human beings develop.   Human bodies start out small, fragile, and needy;  with time they mature and become bigger, stronger and more independent.  Just as a parent must wheel or carry an infant everywhere they go, because the infant’s level of development doesn’t allow them to walk independently, so too a fetus will place more demands on his/her parent because of his/her age and developmental stage.  It so happens that pregnancy is the only way to feed, shelter, and protect developing members of our species when they are at their very youngest and weakest.

What obligates a parent to the basic care of their own offspring is not that they had sex (the writer of The Abattoir seem confused about that – “Had sex? Organ donor!“).   It just so happens that humans are creatures that reproduce sexually.  Our offspring don’t force themselves into our uteri and demand to be fed, but rather come into dependence upon their parents by their parents’ actions.  Still, what obligates a parent to their offspring is that they have created and brought into existence a dependent and wholly vulnerable member of our species.  And while we may quibble about the duties parents have toward their offspring and whether or not a parent should ever be obligated to donate their kidney (perhaps if they’d been the one who’d damaged or sold their child’s kidney in the first place?) one thing is certain: no parent has the right to dismember or poison to death their dependent child just to maintain their own independence.

Therefore I’m sorry Ms Pluym, but  I won’t be joining your forced organ harvesting program since your analogy falls apart and bears no true resemblance to pregnancy and the dependent relationship between parent and child.  Continuing a pregnancy is not about “saving a life”.   Rather it’s about not ending a life that barring illness or violence will continue to grow and develop toward human adult maturity the way we all do.   The dying can be saved, but the living should be allowed to keep living.  So strap me down and cut me up if you must, I maintain that parents should be “forced” to not intentionally kill their dependents.

———

* Please do ensure that you are registered in your state or province as an organ donor upon your death – Pluym raises a good point there.  In many provinces/states one must do more than sign a donor card, so please look into the rules for your local area.  And even though talking about your inevitable death may be unpleasant, make sure your family/next of kin know your wishes (you won’t be around after you die to ask them to please not cremate everything and to go ahead and help someone else live with the organs you no longer need.)

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Yes, There Are Pro-Life Atheists Out There. Here’s Why I’m One of Them …. (Friendly Atheist Blog Repost)

Posted by on Nov 4, 2014 in Reasoned Arguments | 5 comments

In March 2014, Hemant Mehta of Friendly Atheist blog asked me to guest-blog about why I was a pro-life atheist. The post was met with much impassioned interest from individuals on both sides of the fence.  As of November 2014 there are approximately 3500 comments on the original post, not including the countless secular bloggers who subsequently addressed my post on their own blogs, and generated comments among their own readership.  Some of these rebuttals merit a response, and I hope to answer to several of them in the coming weeks, now that my calendar has a little room to breathe!

Hemant Mehta is a good guy, though we still disagree on abortion, and it saddens me that he has taken a lot of flack (more on that later) from some members of the atheist community for even letting ‘anti-choice’ folk like myself and Secular Pro-Life’s ladies have a voice in the atheist community.  Some atheists feel that there is only one way to be an atheist, and I’m pleased that Hemant is not so narrow-minded his own thinking! So do check out the original piece on his blog and join in on the discussion and debate over there if you haven’t already. Certainly do follow his blog if you’re looking for good reading on the atheist community. Anyone honest enough to seriously examine issues they disagree with is more than ok in my book! (Plus he actually is as friendly as his blog name suggests).

I am reposting my original piece here in its entirety, including a few modifications and a paragraph on equal consideration of interests that Hemant opted to cut for space and clarity, but which I believe belongs in the piece.

———————————————————————————————————————————-

Yes, There are Pro-Life Atheists Out There.  Here’s Why I’m One of Them:

There was a time when the lines seemed clearer and the slogans said everything. Pro-lifers were Jesus-loving Pope-followers with a passion for sticking rosaries on ovaries, and atheists were quick to respond with “Keep your theology off my biology!”

But then lines began to blur. Atheist and civil libertarian journalist Nat Hentoff said that “Being without theology isn’t the slightest hindrance to being pro-life.” Atheist philosophy professor Don Marquis declared abortion is “immoral” because it denies developing fetuses “a future like ours.” The host of CFI’s Point of Inquiry, Robert M. Price, author of books like Jesus is Dead and The Case Against the Case for Christ, called abortion “second-degree murder” on one of his podcasts.

Well, at least we still have the “Four Horsemen” safely in our ranks, right? Not quite. Even our beloved Christopher Hitchens considered “the occupant of the womb as a candidate member of society.” He also argued that “the unborn entity has a right on its side” and identified himself as involved with the pro-life movement.

What the heck are we atheists supposed to do with all our “Keep your rosaries…” stickers now?

Sorry, Virginia, there really are pro-life atheists. American Atheists President David Silverman wasn’t wrong when he told a reporter at CPAC this week, “I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion” (even if he didn’t agree with that position himself).

When I partnered with fellow atheists from Secular Pro-Life to bring a display table to the 2012 American Atheists Convention, some bloggers really wanted to believe we were lying about our atheism, but it turns out we’re all True Scotsmen. The latest Gallup poll suggests that 19% of those identifying as atheist, agnostic, or of no religious affiliation also identify as pro-life.

While that number is likely a bit smaller among absolute atheists and freethinkers, my by-atheists-for-atheists organization Pro-Life Humanists is constantly growing, as every week I connect with at least one or two more pro-life atheists from around the world and across social media. Some are still closeted and think they’re the only pro-life person in their local secular community. I am confident most of them are not alone. Our global atheist community is more diverse than we’ve been led to believe, and many pro-life atheists walk among us. Welcome to a new chapter in secularism!

Many people have a hard time understanding why I might be a pro-life atheist. Here are my responses to some of their more common objections:

It doesn’t matter whether or not the fetus is a human being, because women have bodily autonomy rights and no human can have non-consensual access to her body.

Well not so fast. If the fetus is not a human being with his/her own bodily rights, it’s true that infringing on a woman’s body by placing restrictions on her medical options is always a gross injustice and a violation. On the other hand, if we are talking about two human beings who should each be entitled to their own bodily rights, in the unique situation that is pregnancy, we aren’t justified in following the route of might-makes-right simply because we can. Bigger and older humans don’t necessarily trump younger and more dependent humans. Rights must always be justified and ethically grounded lest they become a tool of tyranny.

Before we address the question of bodily autonomy in pregnancy, let’s meet the second player. What does science tell us that the pre-born are? To be clear, science doesn’t define personhood. It never could. When I debated Matt Dillahunty on the issue of abortion at the 2012 Texas Freethought Convention, I’m afraid that as a first-time debater I really wasn’t clear enough on this point — and was consequently accused of trying to obtain rights from science. Science can’t tell us whether it’s wrong to rape women, torture children, enslave black people, or which physical traits should or should not matter when it comes to determining personhood. Science may be able to measure suffering in living creatures, but it can’t tell us why or if their suffering should matter. However, biological science can tell us who among us belongs to the human species.

Like all species that reproduce sexually, humans reproduce after their own kind.  Their sexual cells, sperm and ovum, cease to exist individually and become a new substance that is not the mother and not the father but a new body altogether.   Unlike sperm and ovum or other human cells, the newly formed zygote  has the built-in capacity to develop itself through all stages of human development.  As Christopher Hitchens aptly said:

The original embryonic “blastocyst” may be a clump of 64 to 200 cells that is only five days old. But all of us began our important careers in that form, and every needful encoding for life is already present in the apparently inchoate. We are the first generation to have to confront this as a certain knowledge.

But embryos and fetuses can’t be our equals — they’re not fully developed yet! They aren’t self aware or sentient! They can’t survive on their own!

Well, of course they can’t. But why isn’t a fetus self-aware or sentient? Why hasn’t an embryo developed a functioning brain or the capacity to breathe on its own? Isn’t it merely because she or he is younger? Isn’t that just the way human beings at their age and stage naturally develop and function? While we wouldn’t give our car keys to toddlers on account of their current capacities, neither would we kill them for not having reached a developmental milestone yet. If we deny personhood and justify the death of a fetus simply because he or she has not developed to the point of sentience yet, that makes abortion the deadliest form of age discrimination.

Entering the realm of philosophy and ethics to discuss rights and personhood, we see that history is ripe with examples of real biological human beings whose societies arbitrarily decided they didn’t qualify as equals, on account of criteria deemed morally relevant at the time.  At one point (and still, in many ways, today), it was skin color, gender, and ethnic background. Now, we can add to that list consciousness, sentience, and viability. We haven’t evolved so fast in 50 years as to be immune from tribalistic us vs. them thinking. If science defines a fetus as a biological member of our species, is it possible that our society is just as wrong in denying them personhood as earlier societies were in denying personhood to people of the “wrong” colour, ethnicity, or gender?

Any criteria we use to disqualify the pre-born human being from personhood could just as easily exclude some born humans as well.  If self-awareness is to be the dividing line, anyone unconscious or in a coma might not be considered a person, while those in a heightened state of awareness due to drugs would trump the rest of us. If we decide that the ability to suffer and feel pain is what counts, then any born person with Congenital Insensitivity to Pain can be stripped of equal rights and killed. If higher brain function or a greater degree of health are what matter, then anyone with a higher IQ or a greater longevity and health than your own should be free to decide that your unfortunate quality of life makes your existence not worth continuing. Only the pro-life position — that all human beings should be granted the common right to continue their lives as human persons, regardless of their age, stage, gender, sexual orientation, race, or physical form and abilities — is truly egalitarian and fair for all human beings.



But so what? Even if the unborn are human beings worthy of personhood even in their earliest stage of development, under normal circumstances, no one has a right to use someone else’s body against their consent.

This is true. And, likewise, under normal circumstances no one should be killed for being too young to care for themselves independently. Unfortunately, pregnancy is completely unlike any normal circumstances or normal human relationship. What happens when both a woman and her developing fetus are regarded as human beings entitled to personhood and bodily rights? Any way you cut it, their rights are always going to conflict (at least until womb transfers become a reality). So what’s the reasonable response? It could start by treating both parties at conflict as if they were equal human beings.

Eighteenth century philosopher Jeremy Bentham put forward a solution known as Equal Consideration of Interests which I believe can well apply to the conflict inherent in pregnancy.  Bentham argues that where an act affects only two entities,  if what one party stands to lose is greater than what the other stands to gain, then that act should not be done.  Philosophers like Peter Singer have used this principle to argue that in the animals vs humans conflict, animals stand to lose much more in being eaten (their entire lives) than humans stand to gain in eating them (temporary satisfaction) and so conclude that meat eating is immoral.  Applying this principle to abortion, the pre-born stands to lose far more if she is aborted (her entire life) than her mother facing a normal pregnancy stands to gain if she aborts (her bodily independence a few months sooner).   It’s not much contest to see which party has the most to lose in this conflict of competing interests.

A woman has a duty to protect and to feed her pre-born child just as much as human society has already determined that parents have an obligation to nourish and protect their dependent born offspring.  The more vulnerable and dependent someone is, the more we are obligated to not abandon them. That a fetus is singularly dependent on one woman for the duration of nine months is not an argument for abortion, but against it. If an unrelated infant were abandoned on your doorstep miles from civilization with no one in a position to reach you and release you of your charge, would you not be obligated to at least provide basic life-sustaining care until such a time as care could be passed on to another person? Would this not be true even though you did not consent to the arrival of the dependent human, who was in fact forced upon you? Would you be any less obligated to try to keep this child alive if doing so was wearisome and taxing on your body, though not life-threateningly so? If this is true of one’s duty to sustain a vulnerable and dependent stranger until care can be passed on to another, how much more obligated is a woman to feed and sustain her own prenatal offspring the only way humans of that age can be fed and sustained – via pregnancy?

And there you have an introduction to an abortion debate that is void of Bibles, popes, and rosaries. I realize that this brief secular case against abortion undoubtedly raises as many questions as it has answered. After all, if we make abortion illegal, won’t that make them more dangerous for women? Do we believe women who have abortions should face jail sentences? Should fetuses be counted in the census, and if so, what happens when a woman miscarries? Are we trying to put a stop to the work of Planned Parenthood and other women’s clinics? To adequately deconstruct these concerns would require lengthy articles unto themselves, which is why I hope this will be the beginning of ongoing dialogue amongst atheists on this matter.

I understand some of the concerns that people have about the pro-life position. Can we grant fetuses rights without endangering and hurting the lives of women? Indeed, no one wants to see women injured or harmed in a dangerous illegal abortion! And therein lies a conversation that a civilized society must have if we are to truly treat every member of our species with equality. Can we legally condone one human being killing another human being because one might otherwise risk her life and health to do so? Or are there better ways to address the problems that drive so many countless women to feel they have no choice but abortion?

Pro-life feminist Frederica Mathewes-Green once said “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 advocates 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

If we all work together to come up with real choices for women — better birth control, better maternity leave, subsidized daycare, a living wage, flexible work schedules, better schooling options, more attractive open-adoption and temporary foster care options, etc. — abortion may roll itself into the world of obsolescence, regardless of its legal status.

That being said, if the pre-born are human members of our species and worthy of recognition as human persons, we have just as much of an obligation to protect them from the choices of other human beings and to ensure that violence against them is not legal and condoned.

I’m an atheist and I’m pro-life because some choices are wrong, violent, and unjust — and I want to do whatever I can to make abortion both unthinkable and unnecessary.

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Are Parental Obligations Voluntary?

Are Parental Obligations Voluntary?

Posted by on Sep 23, 2014 in Reasoned Arguments | 1 comment

Abandoned baby Genesis Hailey found in bushes

Hong found abandoned baby in remote industrial area bushes

On June 24th, 2014, CNN reported that a  Houston, Texas jogger named Hong Nguyen found an abandoned baby in the bushes of an unpopulated industrial area.  Baby Genesis had already been missing six hours, after the vehicle in which she’d been riding was carjacked from a local gas station, but was thankfully found mostly unharmed and crying in her carseat.

Hong Nguyen called 911 and postponed her jogging plans in order to remain with the baby until help arrived and care of the child could be passed on to someone else.  Hong wasn’t the girl’s mother, yet Genesis was a vulnerable  and dependent 8 month-old, and for the time-being this stranger was the only person around for miles who could care for her and ensure her ongoing survival.

Now let’s suppose that rather than staying with the baby, Hong had instead decided to exercise her autonomy and freedom, and had gone on with her jogging.  Would anyone think that she had done the right thing?  Hong could’ve argued that the fact that she was the only person around who could care for the child put an unfair burden on her alone.  She could’ve pointed out that she hadn’t chosen to become a nanny or a babysitter and she’d never consented to have this baby put in a position of dependence upon her.  Would anyone applaud her choice to jog away?

I suspect that most people would be horrified and quick to point out that it’s precisely because there was no one else to keep Genesis alive that Hong was obligated toward her.  The fact that Genesis was so very vulnerable and utterly dependent was the very reason why she was entitled to care and protection.

How peculiar then that abortion takes these very ideals and turns them upside down.  The fact that the preborn can’t surive on their own is used to discount their right to keep living, and to jettison their lives.  The fact that no one else can care for that particular child is used as a reason to justify abandoning ongoing care for that developing prenatal being.

What is it that nullifies the obligation in one case while not in the other?   Is it perhaps the personal and intimate demands of pregnancy, in that a pregnant woman must use her own body to keep the child in question alive?   If Hong were a nursing mother and help had been delayed long enough that Genesis was in danger of dehydration, would she have been justified in letting Genesis die in order to not have to use her own body to sustain a child she’d never planned on feeding?

Yes it’s true that Hong had a choice, and so does any parent of a dependent child – pregnant women included.  But just because one can choose to abandon an unexpected and uninvited child doesn’t mean one is justified in doing so.   And if this is true of one’s duty toward a dependent and vulnerable stranger, how much more ought it be true of the parent of a biological offspring, who in most cases is directly responsible for their offspring being in a position of dependence upon them in the first place?

It’s time to reject might-makes-right thinking.  Young and vulnerable humans have a right to be fed, sheltered, and protected by their parents according to their specific developmental needs – precisely because of their dependency and vulnerability.  “Genesis” means “beginnings”, and as we consider the story of baby Genesis and the care of a stranger, let’s not forget our own vulnerable beginnings in life.  No human should be violently decapitated and dismembered simply because they can’t yet fend for themselves or survive on their own.

—–

Recommended pro-life reading: the essay DeFacto Guardian, which goes into depth on the above ideas.

Abandoned baby Genesis Hailey found in bushes

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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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