Dozens of people have asked me why I am pro-life.
In the past it didn't seem like such a hard question to answer. After all, if I have the ability to form a belief then surely my answer to such a question should come without forethought. However, I have never been asked by a pro-life Christian to clarify my position as a pro-life Atheist. Admittedly, the question has become a bit more difficult to answer because of the unnecessary adaptation. It was my presumption that this was not a confusing concept, but once I began to compile my thoughts I soon realized where confusion could emerge. The purpose of this article is to clear up some of the misconceptions about pro-life non-believers by providing a general comparison between Theism and Atheism in relation to the abortion issue and contributing a personal account of my own journey to the pro-life movement. An argument from morality has been purposely omitted.
To state the obvious, the only difference between my label as a pro-life Atheist and your label as a pro-life Christian is our outlook on the existence of a deity. Similarly, the difference between a pro-life Jew and a pro-life Muslim is once again rooted in religious differences. That being said, we can easily deduct that an anti-abortion position is not dependent upon adhering to a specific religion; thankfully. For example, one can be religious without ever taking a position on the abortion issue. Likewise, one can be pro-life without being religious. Because the two labels are independent from one another, it is not hard to imagine the diversity of personal convictions within the pro-life community. This may become a confusing concept to those who base their pro-life position on the belief that they could not differentiate between right and wrong without guidance from their respective deity. This is where I believe some confusion and hesitation may occur.
The Christian religion, for the most part, has adopted a position on the abortion issue. Churches which have chosen to take a position on the issue have subsequently suggested that its followers do the same. To the contrary, Atheism asserts one thing and one thing only. That assertion makes no mention to the the issue of abortion or any other social issue for that matter and therefore does not require that Atheists accept any more or any less. An Atheist's position on any other topic is simply a personal opinion.
Personally, my pro-life beliefs belong to the discoveries in science. While I am sympathetic to women's rights and would even consider myself a Feminist as would any man who believes in gender equality, the right to life outweighs our personal discomforts. I will hesitantly concede that had I been born 10 years earlier I most likely would have considered myself pro-choice based upon the absence of scientific evidence within the pro-life movement at the time. More so, if science had proven that life began at birth I would have had no foundation for an anti-abortion belief. Thankfully for the pro-life movement, science has reemphasized the movement's argument that abortion takes the life of an unborn child. Today, the movement has realized that science is much more likely to reach an audience which is increasingly looking for demonstrable evidence from which to base their position on social issues; not just the church's suggestion.
It's worth mentioning that the internet also had a substantial effect by allowing me to better research fetal development and share information and ideas with others.When I began exploring the issue as a seventeen year old back in 2006, the internet allowed me to see the larger picture, unlike the tri-fold pamphlet provided by my Catholic church. The pamphlet provided me with no context or arguments from the opposition. Heck, I didn't even know there was an opposition.
I am not sure why the issue ever captured my attention, but it evolved beyond into a passion. After a couple years of researching the issue I decided that I would adopt an anti-abortion position based on the scientifically accepted conclusion that conception was the formation of a unique and living member of the human species. This was done absent of religious arguments and by 2008 I was beginning to question a different position - Theism. That year I wrote a pro-life blog which turned out to become the catalyst for my pro-life activism. The MySpace blog [insert joke here] titled The American Holocaust, was my first attempt at arguing against abortion from a secular perspective. The amateurishly written blog received hundreds of comments and at times was the third most active blog on MySpace. At that moment I was convinced that the incorporation of religion was unnecessary to make a point against abortion and instead allowed readers to view the issue as a scientific and moral obligation rather than just a Catholic issue. The internet had allowed me to understand the various ways the issue affected people, something I would have never understood within the walls of the Catholic church.
I am currently concluding the final chapters of God is Not Great by the late Atheist, Christopher Hitchens; a post-abortive father himself. Hitchens, a hero to many non-believers, also noticed the reality of the unborn human life. I would imagine it took a great deal of courage to advocate the value of the unborn human despite the overwhelming number of supporters whom he knew would quickly voice their disapproval. For unfortunate yet obvious reasons, theists were just as reluctant to commend him. Undoubtedly, Hitchens has taught many non-believers and believers to rethink their position on the issue for purely scientific reasons. Like myself and the thousands of other pro-life secularists, Hitchens recognized that science had demonstrably proven that life does exist before viability and therefore deserved proper acknowledgement from the pro-choice side.
“As a materialist, I think it has been demonstrated that an embryo is a separate body and entity, and not merely (as some really did used to argue) a growth on or in the female body. There used to be feminists who would say that it was more like an appendix or even-this was seriously maintained-a tumor. That nonsense seems to have stopped. Of the considerations that have stopped it, one is the fascinating and moving view provided by the sonogram, and another is the survival of ‘premature’ babies of feather-like weight, who have achieved ‘viability’ outside the womb. … The words ‘unborn child,’ even when used in a politicized manner, describe a material reality.”
-Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great (pp. 220-21)
It seems to me that the confusion many people have when I tell them I am a pro-life Atheist happens to originate from their perception that Atheism and pro-life activism are incompatible. This is a half-century old product of religion's disproportionate obsession with the issue and the subsequent and illogical 'We want to be everything you're not!' attitude of Atheists. The middle ground, a pro-life Atheist (or a pro-choice theist), doesn't seem to suit either side. I think it is fair to call us the step-child of the pro-life movement. Arguing against abortion goes beyond the policies or teachings of any religious text. It is not an issue restricted only to the religious but rather an issue concerning human rights and therefore defies the labels of religion, political affiliation, race, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. If we can agree that abortion wrongfully takes the life of a living human being, then all other labels which define our individuality should be irrelevant to the issue at hand.
- A pro-life[r]