I am a fan of Hemant Mehta, as one of the few asian atheists online, reading his work got me writing my own stuff.
However I disagree with his guest blogger, Kristine Kruszelnicki who is the president of the Pro-Life Humanists.
I value free speech and differing opinions. I figure Hemant Mehta has the same ideas, hence putting up an ideology that is clearly anti-thetical to the secular values which include the right of women to get an abortion.
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?
This bit is by Hemant, the line of abortion has always been clearly mainly divided on the basis of religion. Because there were no really good secular arguments for the denial of women basic access to medical care.
These are arguments born out of academia, I have long criticised the A+ers for being entirely academic in their attitudes to social justice. The problem with pure academia is that such stuff seldom survives contact with the real world and works in a hypothetical model world. Social justice divorced from the reality of its application is castrated. In my experience, really powerful tools were being shackled by people who didn’t work with them.
The same rules apply here. We are talking about an ideal that exists in a perfect world. Rather than the brutish reality we live in.
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).
Doesn’t mean that the position is a good one. I can give up a secular argument for bias against the GLBT, but that doesn’t make my argument valid or right.
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.
Okay, you personally may be pro-life, but here is the thing. I know plenty or pro-lifers who ate humble pie. I am aware of the work of the American Abortionists who often provide abortions for pro-lifers and who promptly see them back on the lines.
But the difference between you and them is that you think that a pro-life stance is a personal choice.
See, I have no qualms about you saying “I Am Pro-Life, I will not abort MY Child”. What we have an issue with is people trying to tell others that they shouldn’t have abortions, spreading lies about abortions and straight denying women the choice and the right.
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!
But I meet more people who are pro-choice.
And I will point out that MANY pro-lifers are pro-choice if their hand was forced. That if they got pregnant and for some reason, could raise the baby… that they would grudgingly and indeed “covertly” request our help. The abortionist anecdotes are filled with “such hypocrites.
Okay that is harsh, I know why they are hypocrites. These people didn’t have to think about abortion before. To them babies are cute and adorable. Who wouldn’t want one? Then they realise that a baby is responsibility, a responsibility that not everyone is ready for. That babies require sacrifice and not everyone is in a position to make that sacrifice. That babies sometimes have birth defects and not everyone can care for such a child physically, mentally, monetarily or emotionally. And sometimes the books do not balance and an extra child would simply destroy the household economy. But prior to these thoughts it is easy to get outraged over abortions and depict cute babies.
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:
Okay, let’s take each one individually.
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.
The foetus is a human being. What it isn’t is “viable”. The majority of abortions occur to non-viable foetuses. They are human and alive in the same way that the patient in a permanent vegetative state is. The lack of organ development means that the foetus is not conscious and not capable of survival on it’s own. At this period it is in effect a part of it’s mother. It is a mass of cells. It is homo sapiens but it is human being in potential.
If you leave it, one day it may become a human being.
The line in the sand is not hearts or brains but lungs. At 24 weeks the lungs are fully developed at 28 weeks the survival rate is nearly 95%. It is why the cut off for non-therapeutic abortions is at 24-28 weeks. At that point it becomes capable of reasonable independent life with our technology. That is when it is considered an individual human. And at that point the termination becomes one of medical reasons.
Before we address the question of bodily autonomy in pregnancy, let’s meet the second player. What does science tell us that the preborn 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, science can tell us who among us belongs to the human species.
No, Science cannot. That’s because it’s not the purview of science. Science made the gun, it didn’t make the responsible usage of it.
A foetus is unquestionably alive.
As is the mother that carries it.
As is the person who had a motor cycle accident and is now brain dead but on life support.
They are all alive, yet we have no qualms in harvesting the organs from the third person. He is as human as the foetus we defend and the mother that carries it? Why do we deny his right to live so that another may survive?
It is because we discuss potential. The foetus has potential to be a human. To think, to love and to breathe. But at that moment it does not have any of those attributes. The mother is a fully realised human, with a fully functional brain. The person who is brain dead is like the foetus with the key difference in that the brain dead person effectively has no potential.
But that potential is just that. A theoretical future unlived. Even though all 3 are genetically human, what defines us is not mere genetics but our sum total of thoughts, experiences and ideas. The foetus and the vegetative man lack those and lack the independence to survive without the support of the mother or indeed the life support. To remove them from this is in effect like halting the reproduction of cells in a petri dish.
I know this is a hard lesson to swallow because these things look like us and indeed all of us were once foetuses. When we think of abortion we think of what would happen had WE been aborted. About all the experiences lost and all the life unlived. We never think that we would probably not care if we had been aborted or not since we would in effect have been just cells. Differentiated cells, but cells in particular.
When it comes to normal human reproduction, sperm and ovum merge to form a new whole. They cease to exist individually and become a new substance that is not the mother and not the father but a new body altogether, one that is also human and has the inherent capacity to develop through all stages of 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.
The inherent capacity to be something does not automatically mean you will be that. There are 300 million americans all with the capacity to be the President of the USA. But almost none of them will ever be President of the USA. That one single cell you came from may be a single chance of a lifetime but there were millions of other options that did not make it on that fateful day. You started off as one among millions after all. And by luck that one single sperm made you.
The rest? All perished. You also came from one lucky egg too. It is this luck of a single random assortment of genomes in a huge quantity of sperm that created us.
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.
And it makes organ donation murder. Why must the mere lack of a functional brain dictate that you can help yourself to some poor sod’s Kidneys? Why should he die for you to live? What makes your life more important than that of the man with no functional brain?
An embryo has not developed those things because it is not ready yet. It is incomplete. It is still cells and it is still being formed. It is not a milestone like walking or crawling or driving car which are developments of an already functional brain but a series of events in differentiating cells.
Why should we remove vesicular moles? Those are human too.
Why should we remove tumours? Are they not human? Do they not deserve the right to seek their own destiny? Why must your macro-cellular life count more than the mono-cellular life of the tumour?
The same science that determines that the developing foetus is “human” would also detect the “humanity” of these things. A vesicular mole is created by an actual fertilisation event. It’s just a very radical genetic deformity.
No, we assign a magic value to a foetus because we equate foetus with baby without realising there is a difference and that is realised potential. Those sperm and eggs realised their potential. Sometimes you get foetus, sometimes you get vesicular mole.
No, my arguments are sill. They are foolish. The autonomy of the sentient being overtakes the autonomy of the non-sentient.
When we talk about rights and personhood, we leave the realm of science for that of philosophy and ethics. 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 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?
Philosophy is not the determiner of the ethics of abortion. It is reality.
The reality is that abortions WILL happen whether you like it or not. It’s just the weirdest thing. I had a look at some old records and realised a lot of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists were doing a procedure called DnC (Dilatation and Curretage). It’s a vital procedure for treating a variety of conditions and is also a form of abortion. Now after abortion was legalised the numbers fell. This is also without the coathanger abortions that were so common.
This is where I come in. You can argue fancy ethics and high philiosophy all you like. I am an abortionist and I am proud to be one. Do you think it is ethical to force a woman to carry a child she cannot care for? Do you think it is ethical to bring a child into the world without a parent who can care for it? Do you think it is ethical to bring suffering children into the world solely to satiate your academic ethics?
Ethics are born out of experience and from the tears and blood spilled by those who wish for ethics to exist. Not from reading about it in a sterile environment of academics.
A mother can barely feed two children, if there are 3 children then all four of them will starve. For the two children to have a future, the future of a potential human at the stage of a bunch of cells has to be lost. A mother cannot care for a terminally ill or permanently disabled child, should she be forced to have one? A mother’s life is at risk. Why should we abort the child and save the mother when we should risk both of them?
To compare abortion to racism and sexism is an insult . An insult to people who have been discriminated for their skin or race or gender.
Repeat after me. Genetically Homo Sapien but not capable of sentience is not a human being yet. You are more than your DNA.
Furthermore, 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 determine 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.
Except this argument is plain “stupid”.
People who are in permanent vegetative states are often NOT considered as alive. Their life support is often turned off so that they can die in peace. Are you seriously so blinded to the difference between a person in a vegetative state and one who is not?
The pro-life position is not egalitarian. It is not fair. It is bunk. It is the denial of women the right to bodily autonomy. It is the denial of women the right to basic healthcare. The philosophical argument here is over, the ethical argument is that the “evil” that is abortion has a net positive effect on society.
It gives women economic liberty and allows them to control the spacing of their children. It creates children who are healthy by proper spacing and this is without the termination of genetic defects. It ensures there are adequate resources and the control of our population is artificial to create an artificial excess rather than have the controlling force on human populations being death by lack of resources. It helps the kids that are born, it helps the families who require it.
It’s easy to look down on these women as poor or weak when you are on your high horse but you can afford to care for a child. Many people cannot and would rather bring a child into a safe and secure world rather than bring one into the world where they cannot be the best parents they can be.
The Pro-Life stance harms women. Men are not beholding to it. A purely pro-life stance would not halt abortions, if you get rid of medical adoptions the replacement will be quacks.
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.
Except one of the individuals is a fully realised human being and the other is a human being only in potential and so would still be not on equal terms.
When we regard cells as equal to humans we live in a world run by people who live in a fantasy. A paradise where if we did this everything would be hunky dory. Women would stoically accept all pregnancies (obviously excluding all those legitimate rapes, their body shuts those down in a stoic manner. Don’t believe me? I have a binder full of women to prove my case).
These women will never suffer a miscarriage, a missed abortion, any medical issues pertaining to birth. If they do they will heroically perish with their infants to be remembered in song as brave heroines who gave their lives fighting for the ideal.
And when their children are born, all will be cared for perfectly, every want and need will be taken care of no matter what. And there will be jobs that pay well enough to ensure all these kids have the best that life can offer and that these kids will all go on to be hot lawyers with cool cars.And at no point will these women ever consider taking some drugs, massaging their abdomens, taking excessively hot baths, throwing themselves down stairs or using a coat hanger to prematurely rupture the membranes.
Or we can live in the real world where the majority of abortions are due to the mother simply being incapable of caring for the child. Birth control gives agency to women and gives them some control over the sometimes uncontrollable idea of pregnancy and ensures that the children they do have tend to get the best possible treatment..
Human society has determined that parents have an obligation to nourish and protect their dependent 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 her own prenatal offspring?
And that’s nice. What if you cannot afford to care for the offspring? Is suffering noble to you? You are not being dumped with a baby. You are being given a letter, a letter stating that “You have a baby on the way, if you chose to not want this baby then please send this letter in. Hurry! You need to send this before 24 weeks”.
It’s not like you are actually getting a baby at that point.
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.
No it doesn’t.
Yes, No (unless you are pro-life in which case you think they should be tried for murder), No, Manslaughter, Yes.
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?
Except in this case we are placing the rights of a potential human over the rights of an actual human.
Frederica Mathewes-Greenonce 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.
Then pray tell me what the fuck would you do? There are 1. 2 BIllion. That’s BILLION people. This is a population four times that of the USA in India. China’s got around another 1.2 Billion. You want to deny them the right to control birth rates? There are already dearths of resources, how is having more people going to make things better? What magic planet do you live on that thinks that poverty and starvation are a great future?
In addition the people most hurt by pro-life movements are not the rich but the poorest. When you are on the poverty line, every kid is a strain. You may satisfy all the needs for one child but now you have two? Do you abort the foetus as a bunch of cells? Or do you raise up two kids with no resources. No education, no food, no money = children whose growth and development are stunted and their futures destroyed.
Malnourishment is a thief of years and abortion helps fight it by controlling family sizes.
Your academia does fuck all for these women. It is a creed that exists solely in the warm fuzzy hearts of people who think babies are cute. These are the sorts of people who buy dogs for Christmas and then leave them out in the rain. We make more fucking decisions in the selection of our pets than we do when it comes to deciding whether or not we have a child when we adhere to pro-life principles.
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.
Only if you live a fantasy land.
Some women straight do not want children. At All At This Point And Time. Birth Control is never going to be 100% effective. Maternity Leave still harms women you know. Many jobs require skills that are lost during maternity leave. Having a baby because you have free day care is the stupidest reason to have a kid. A living wage is nice but a living wage is different from the ideal wage. Flexible work schedules are lovely, but it does mean drops in productivity and not all jobs are capable of having flexible work schedules (See the Service Industry) where it’s just cheaper to fire the weirdo who is unreliable and hire someone who is reliable and works like clockwork. Again if your reason for having a kid is because “the schools are good” then you really are having a kid for the wrong reason. Adoption and Foster care are not ideals and are a tragedy. In an ideal world there would be no need for adoption and foster care because there would be no orphans and no bad parents.
There was a pro life system like this. It was in Romania.
Don’t google Romanian Orphanage. Not unless you want your heart to break. It is better these days but back then it was pretty horrific.
Adoption will be at an all time low while orphanages would be crowded.
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.
This argument again? Sentience and capacity for independent life counts too.
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.
And you will do this by waving banners outside of abortion clinics? By denying women access to abortions? By forcing them to risk their own lives and injure themselves in ways to require an abortion?
You are not pro-life, you are pro-suffering. You are privileged to live in the lap of utmost luxury and privilege to not have to worry about a razor’s edge home economy that could be destroyed by another person.
What you wish for is a magical land where women who get pregnant who don’t want to carry their babies simply have the babies teleported out into a growth tank (for free) and these children are all given to good kind loving homes and everyone has wealth and there are no wants and needs.
What this stance is, is an immoral denial of basic healthcare, bodily autonomy and a system of harming women (particularly the poorest) by effectively destroying any capacity to be independent and not have your job enslaved to the status and contents of your uterus.