What really matters…The So-Called Secular Arguments Against Choice

It is often difficult and awkward to move disagreements forward to where they become productive in the insular, organized atheist community. Especially for a family that is as actively involved as the Ra family, because a lot of times we know and like and often respect the people involved on a personal level. And to make matters more awkward so do our other atheists friends. So basically, we all collectively cringed about Dave Silverman’s comment to conservatives about abortion rights, because we really like him and we respect his professional accomplishments in the secular realm. Of course, many of us were also chagrined because we are part of the super-progressive reproductive rights community. This is the comment for reference although you mostly likely already know what he said…

“I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,” said Silverman. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”

There have already been many criticisms from the fiercely, liberal secular types including PZ Myers, Sarah Moglia, Steve AhlquistOphelia Benson, and Jason Thibeault. And too, there has been support for Silverman from no less liberal sources such as JT Eberhard and my personal friend, who I can testify is actually a ray of Secular Sunshine Shanon Nebo.  Silverman clarified his comment on her blog.

Sure Shannon.
I was talking to a lot of press this week – I mean a LOT of press, and most of it hostile. When I was talking to Raw Story I gave them the same pitch I’d given so many times before: Conservatism is basically divided into two parts, fiscal conservatism, which is real conservatism, and Social conservatism, which is Christian theocracy masquerading as conservatism, with the latter holding down the former. Is the fiscals dropped the Christian social bullshit, I said, real conservatism would benefit from the influx of conservative atheists who avoid the movement due to the theocratic aspects.

I said that all of the social conservative agenda was religious in nature, to which the reporter eagerly countered that there was a secular argument for abortion. He clearly knew he was right, and so did I – there is a secular argument (one with which I firmly disagree) whose existence I cannot deny.

Rather than take the road to discussing abortion, I acquiesced to his correct counterpoint, returned to my point, and said that school prayer, LGBT equality, and Death with dignity were better examples of purely Christian positions (“it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage”), and we went on with the discussion on why American Atheists was there.

There’s my scandal. The rest of what you may have read is reckless “positing” by people who didn’t do what you did – ask me. Thank you for being responsible.

So there it is, Silverman says that even though he disagrees with secular anti-choice arguments, he couldn’t deny that they exist. As many of you already know there are secular arguments against gay marriage and euthanasia that are just as bad as the ones against a woman’s right to choose. You really don’t have to scratch too far beneath the surface of all of these supposedly secular arguments to smell the stink of repressive Christian culture.

In fact, I just did a presentation in February for the Secular Humanists of Southern California on how thinly veiled secular anti-choice arguments are. I don’t want to belabor the point but here is a photo from Secular Pro-life‘s website to just show you how they basically just spin religious arguments into secular ones.

That poster could just as easily be posted because the Bible tells me so...

That poster could just as easily be captioned because the Bible tells me so…

I have seen this group tabling at atheist conventions. If the Discovery Institute were to table at an atheist convention with their supposedly secular arguments like aliens seeded life on this planet; it would be a sideshow. Yet secular arguments against a woman’s right to choose are not self evident to some of us that they don’t have some sort of merit. We scoff at canards like “Teach both sides of the controversy” and try to be more than fair to religious based arguments like the one in that poster.

I first became aware of Secular Pro-Life through the work of Godless Bitches Beth Presswood and her husband Matt Dillahunty. Matt debated one of their members at a Texas Freethought Convention.

In the debate, she had the audience sit through a graphic video of abortions.. Nobody in our community puts reproductive rights on the secular agenda more than Matt and Beth do.

And even though Silverman didn’t intend to be dismissive to all of us, who are fighting the Religious Right’s relentless efforts to deny access of a safe and legal abortion. Groups like Secular Pro-Life, that openly cooperate with and have members from the Religious Right, can rightly claim that he said there is a secular argument for their cause. One already has. (As Jason Thibeault predicted, so it has come to pass) I appreciate his clarification that they are bad arguments, but secular pro-choicers can’t catch a break especially here in the South. We need help and are just as under fire as science advocates are from creationists down here.

This is what really matters. It is now virtually impossible for rural Texans to get a safe and legal abortion here, because religious crackpots like Rick Perry run the government and have passed unnecessarily draconian restrictions on abortion clinics that only 6 clinics in Texas are currently up to speed on. Two more clinics have shut down just last week.  How is passing more restrictions on clinics and on women’s reproductive choices fiscally conservative? Legislating the hell out of women’s uteruses and fighting tooth and nail regulations on guns and other businesses doesn’t make sense.

Most importantly, where are rural Texas women going to go when they have a crisis pregnancy when the nearest clinic is 6 hours way. And there will be more of those because Planned Parenthood clinics that provide access to contraception have been shut down by the Texas government too.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church where Planned Parenthood was stigmatized. As a young woman, who didn’t yet have the resource to raise a child, I avoided the Planned Parenthood clinic that was in walking distance from my apartment. I didn’t even own a car and walked or took the city bus everywhere. I still had more privileges than millions of rural women have right now.

I wound up raising a child as a single parent because poor women often have relationships with poor men and the economic stresses that go along with that. Most of the girls in my youth group had unplanned pregnancies due to the stigma of seeking contraception and impractical Christian advice about staying a virgin until you are married. In every state that advocates abstinence only sex education even though it is in a secular manner, the teen pregnancy rate is the highest. The funny thing is that advice is do as I say not as I do because 85 percent of evangelicals have sex before they are married. Our culture still has Christian hang ups about sex, and they are largely unnecessary due to low cost contraception, which would reduce the number of abortions.

Maybe reproductive rights is not a battle that American Atheists has the resources to fight like school prayer and the cross at the Ground Zero museum. However, religious-based regressive social policies including anti-choice are hurting millions of families nonetheless. And I think it has already been shown that if you advocate for women that more women will join your community. That is more volunteers and donors to help fight religious policies that restrict the freedom of women to choose what is best for their families not the government. Most certainly not pro-life groups of any stripe that don’t have to live with the consequences of another woman’s unplanned pregnancy. My hope is that Silverman will use the opportunity this has created to show strong support for reproductive rights and to denounce religious regressive policies.

[notice] If anyone reading this would like to help maintain access to a safe and legal abortion, especially for low income women please support The Lilith Fund and Planned Parenthood. I also will be talking about secular arguments for abortion to do my part on making pro-choice a more self evident secular position on The Magic Sandwich Show on March 23. I may see if I can enlist a fire breathing pro-choice friend too.[/notice]

 

 

A professed pro-life feminist’s attempt to co-opt feminists of the past.

By Lilandra           Lilandra is a username taken from a little known comic book character. In real life, her children are named after comic book characters, so her geek credentials are impeccable. Her husband is a large ape, cyber-viking, biker, who opines about religion and knows his place in a cladogram.

A “New Wave Feminist” pro-life advocate posted  three strategies aimed at abolishing abortion that she believes will, “make abolition a beautiful reality.” They are…

1. “Pro-Life Feminists”

What does make an impression is when women who are self-described feminists adopt a pro-life position. It blows people’s minds a little bit. It’s the thing that started me on my road to conversion. Groups like Feminists for Life of America remind people that our early feminists were dead-set on freeing women from tyranny, not just passing the tyranny on to their children.

The site she links to and is the vice president of argues to tradition, but not to the right wing religious tradition you would expect -at least not overtly.  The presidential election has shown how that fails to persuade anyone who isn’t already a zealot.  Instead, it quote mines feminists of the past.  The site and its publication “American Feminism” uses every appeal to emotion possible to push its pro-life propaganda.

Quote Mining, Appeal to Authority and Tradition…

They called it “child-murder” (Susan
B. Anthony), “degrading to women”
(Elizabeth Cady Stanton), “most barbaric”
(Margaret Sanger), and a “disowning (of)
feminine values” (Simone de Beauvoir). How
have we lost this wisdom?

It is impossible to rip these quotes out the context of how different abortion was compared to the medical procedure it is today.  All of the options available to women with an out of wedlock pregnancy were “degrading” and “barbaric”, because of the religion-based judgmental attitudes of the past. Among the options for women being consigned to religious asylums or left with the option of enduring unsafe and illegal abortions. The feminists of the past called attention to this. As a result of their courage, religion has lost much of the ability to dictate with the aid of the government to women what they do with their own bodies.

2. “Pro-Life Doctors”

Groups like the Association of Pro-Life Physicians and the American Association of Pro-Life OBGYNS help women find pro-life physicians. The more doctors refuse to perform abortions and respect their patients enough to tell them the truth, the fewer abortions there will be.

Convincing doctors to deny women with unplanned pregnancies a safe abortion, will only increase the number of illegal abortions and forced births to women who aren’t in a position to care for a child. For all the preaching about being a true feminist, note how she would turn back the clock to denying a woman a medical abortion.

3. Premarital Chastity

Of course, you can never get everybody to stop having premarital sex. But back in the olden days of yore, when there was a standard – and when if you got caught having sex before marriage, you would get your butt beat and get sent off to Ye Olde Forbidding Nunnery & School For Wayward Girls – there were a lot fewer teenagers having sex. You see, when you lower and then completely eradicate the standard, people – surprise! – fail to live up to that standard.

What follows is the gist of her holier than thou argument.  It is solidly based in controlling normal sexual behavior, and punishing people who challenge religious authority.  It harkens back to an era of The Magdalene Asylum Laundries when the church was something to be feared.

Turn of the 20th Century English Magdalene Asylum

The first Magdalene Asylum opened in Dublin in 1765 with the mission of reforming “fallen women” like prostitutes and wayward girls.  Throughout the 19th century they spread to Europe, Britain, Ireland, Canada and the United States.  The last Magdalene Asylum closed in Ireland in 1996. An estimated 30,000 women in Ireland alone went through the asylums.

Although the Catholic Church wasn’t the only religious sect to set up these “homes” for unwed mothers and exploit their physical and maternal labor in the guise of charity, it was largely responsible for institutionalizing this practice throughout 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Women in these asylums were subjected to slave labor, imprisonment, having their children sold and forcibly taken away from them, and physical, emotional and sexual abuse. So yeah, women were still having premarital sex, they were just being imprisoned, exploited, enslaved, shamed, and abused by the church for it.

The third strategy of premarital chastity in the post  is the most irksome, as it is an appeal to return to the ignorance of reproduction practiced in the storied past whitewashed into being wholesome.  In reality she neglects to mention the most effective ways to prevent abortions -sex education and better access to contraception. Women don’t need to be in the dark about their reproductive rights or abdicate them to a higher authority.  If we treat women with the dignity of educating them about the responsibilities and safe practice of sex rather than instilling in them the mindset of a grown child, there will be fewer abortions and no illegal abortions.

The way religion has co-opted reproductive rights and perverted it in the past is still evident today in this woman’s post.  It is what makes pro-life organizations like “Feminists for Life” so wrongheaded, it prevents us from moving toward a more enlightened future where abortion is more rare and largely unnecessary.