My name is Rosemary and I’m a #SummerTeam16 intern at Life Matters Journal. I recently attended Reason Rally 2016, the largest gathering of non-religious persons in history, to promote the Consistent Life Ethic among fellow atheists. I arrived armed with “Why Should Atheists Be Pro-Life?” handouts that included a fetal development timeline as well as some basic scientific facts relating to the humanity of the pre-born.
While there, I had some awesome conversations about the human rights implications of abortion. One of my very first encounters was with a young man who seemed genuinely shocked that anyone could be pro-life without any religious reasoning whatsoever. He initially agreed with me that in general the intentional killing of other human beings is wrong. I explained the science behind human development that definitively states that a new human life begins at conception. He told me that, as a man, he never really put much thought into what actually goes on in an abortion (the taking of a human life) until now. He asked me what I thought about the various “tough cases” – rape, poverty, fetal abnormalities, etc. – that could lead women to choose abortion. As we walked through the issues, I just kept reiterating what he had already agreed with – it is wrong to kill human beings. At the end of the conversation he told me that he wasn’t quite ready to call himself pro-life, but that he definitely has started seeing the issue differently and that he would need to think about it more.
I wish I could say that all of my conversations were this civil and productive. However, while there I was also was greeted with quite a bit of hostility from a few people on the pro-choice side.
First Observation: Anti-Science Intellectual Dishonesty
Typically atheists claim that their beliefs come from science and logic; however, in many of my encounters I was given patently anti-science responses for why abortion should be legal. Despite the clear evidence I presented I was told things like, “Scientists don’t even know when life begins,” and “The fetus isn’t actually a human.”
On the contrary, we know that at the moment that the sperm fertilizes the egg a new distinct living human being comes into existence. This is not an opinion or taken from some religious doctrine, this be found in any embryology textbook. For some reason though many of the same people who claim to trust only hard scientific evidence are willing to deny these basic biological truths in order to continue supporting the violence of abortion. Ironically more than once I was accused of using emotional appeals and statements based on opinion rather than fact. In reality, throughout the day I issued only one opinion – it is wrong to kill human beings. I don’t think that this is a radical idea and it certainly isn’t exclusive to religious people.
Second Observation: Willingness to Discriminate
I did speak to a few attendees that were prepared to concede that yes, the preborn child is a human, they’re just not persons deserving of the same rights as born people. While I respect the intellectual honesty it takes to recognize the humanity of the preborn, I never know how to appropriately respond to people who are willing to admit that they believe that human rights – including the right to life – do not belong to certain classes of human beings. Basing personhood on traits such as size, location, age, or level of dependency is fundamentally ablest and it is this mindset is that has led to the most egregious violations of human rights in history. Unfortunately, it is now a common position to hold in regard to the most helpless among us.
Third Observation: An Almost Religiously Pro-Choice Position
While at the rally I also got the chance to listen to some prominent atheists/nonreligious speakers. Throughout the day many of them condemned people like Creationists or climate change-deniers for being anti-science. There was also plenty of talk about need for equality and human rights. However, ironically in the same breath these speakers would also advocate for the legal right of a woman to obtain an abortion. Nearly every speaker I heard referenced abortion rights at some point or another. In fact advancing “Woman’s Reproductive Rights” is a stated goal of the organization that runs the Reason Rally. Not one pro-life perspective was put forward during the event. It was as if because we were nonreligious it was a given that we would be pro-choice. But why is this? Obviously, the lack of belief in a higher power does not preclude one from following a basic moral code and even the most morally relativistic person among us can agree that the aggressive taking of an innocent human life is generally wrong.
There is no reason for the secular community to be as pro-choice as they are; in fact as lovers of logic and reason it would only make sense for more atheists to be pro-life. I fear that the reason the pro-choice side is so successful with nonreligious people is partially that pro-lifers have marketed ourselves as a fundamentally religious/Christian movement. This means that atheists, who might seem to be the antithesis of theists, would naturally be in the other camp.
I can understand why atheists would not want to be attached to the pro-life movement. Pro-life activism has traditionally been heavily dominated by religious people – which in itself isn’t a problem at all. The issue is that this can cause nonreligious people to feel unwelcome in pro-life spaces. Almost every pro-life event I’ve attended has included prayer – during which point I typically sit in uncomfortable silence and hope no one notices that I’m not participating. I can attest to the fact that religious arguments can be useless if presented to someone of a different faith or no faith at all; when I hear people defend their pro-life position using Scripture I feel as though the message does not apply to me. I can easily see why many atheists wouldn’t even consider getting involved in pro-life activism. To be clear, I have no problem with people who came to the pro-life movement as a result of their faith. I respect any religion or philosophy that encourages nonviolence, but in order to truly change our culture into one that respects life at all stages we must have everyone on board. If pro-lifers used secular reasoning more often, it’s possible that abortion would stop being framed as a primarily religious issue and countless more people would be open to protecting the preborn. I expect that once we are able to move past the religious rhetoric and more people are exposed to the truth behind the violence of abortion, it will be impossible to deny the injustice that is occurring every day in America – regardless of faith or lack thereof.