Often pro-lifers are charged with forcing their (our) religious beliefs on women who should be left alone on the issue of abortion. “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” is how one complaint goes. Another is “Keep your theology off my biology.”
Such objections fall short when atheists, agnostics, secularists and otherwise irreligious people are strongly pro-life. How does an atheist force his or her religion onto women? How does a secularist force the Bible down peoples throats?
The organization Secular Pro-life stands on the following premises:
1. The fetus is a human being.
2. There is no consistent, objective distinction between “person” and “human being.”
3. Human beings possess human rights.
4. Bodily integrity is not sufficient to justify most abortions.
Suppose it was universally acknowledged that the fetus is a human being and agreed that there is no consistent, meaningful distinction between a “human being” and a “person.” These two premises are still not sufficient to hold a pro-life perspective. Pro-lifers insist that abortion kills a human being and that killing human beings is (generally) wrong.
The general wrongness of killing people is, thankfully, a near-universal moral judgment (sociopaths aside). The right to life is widely acknowledged by secular governments, human rights documents, and countless religious and philosophical traditions.
True, many people explain why killing is wrong from a religious perspective; for example, many point to the Biblical commandment that “thou shalt not kill.” Most Christians believe people were made in God’s image and/or that people have souls, and that this gives people value. But does that imply, like some have suggested, that secular people have no reason to find value in human life? No reason to feel passionate about injustices?
In a word: No. You do not have to be religious to value human life. You do not have to be religious to see the humanity of the fetus. And you do not have to be religious to be pro-life.
Of course you do not. Recognizing that a human fetus is a human being (as opposed to a squirrel, alligator or carrot stick) is just common sense.
Secular humanists have this figured out. Some do, anyway.
Pro-life Humanists affirms the biological evidence that the development of a human body is a continuum, and with exception of asexual reproduction (twining/cloning) begins at sperm-ovum fusion, when two human beings’ sexual cells form a distinctly new whole: an entity that will continue its development and growth until adult maturity, baring interruption from illness or violence. We oppose discrimination against biological humans on the grounds of what they look like and how they function, and we believe that abortion should be rejected on the same ground as racism, sexism and ableism – which place greater importance on what the human entity does and looks like, than on what the entity in question actually is.
Like I said, “common sense.” And science.
Pro-life humanists also
affirm that women and their prenatal offspring are both human beings with inherent rights and bodily autonomy. Although these rights naturally conflict in pregnancy, it is ageist to assume that older and stronger humans automatically trump younger and more dependent ones.
Kristine Kruszelnicki is Executive Director of Pro-Life Humanists, and an atheist. In this essay, “Yes, there are pro-life atheists out there. Here’s why I’m one of them,” she lists others from her tribe: Nat Hentoff, Don Marquis, Robert M. Price, and even uber-atheist, the late Christopher Hitchens. Peter Singer’s support of infanticide and Richard Dawkins’ delusions aside, there are atheists who recognize the value of human life. A 2012 Gallup poll showed 19% of agnostics, atheists, or of no religious affiliation identify as pro-life. Nineteen percent is a minority, but it is nothing to sneeze at.
Concerning the “woman’s body” argument, Kruszelnicki says,
[Some say] 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 very tyranny of which pro-lifers are accused, one could suppose.
Bookmark these sites for future reference. Drop them into conversations where atheists are ignoring the pro-lifers in their midst. Being pro-life on the abortion question is not solely a matter of religious conviction. For many it starts and stops at humanity. And common sense.
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