Re-evaluating Policy as an Atheist #3: Abortion

Abortion. Perhaps the most hot-button issue among evangelicals.  You don’t have to walk past many cars at my college to see an “Abortion is Murder” bumper sticker.  The Honors Seminar at my school last year did a session on abortion.  The students taking the seminar were required to read a pro-life and a pro-choice article before listening to a speaker on the topic.  One problem: only one side of the issue was honestly presented.  The speaker was an avid and open pro-lifer.  The pro-life article was well written and substantiated.  On the other hand, the pro-choice article looked like it had been ripped out of a 6th grade civics class.  A blatant straw-man, the pro-choice article they chose was filled with spelling and grammatical errors and full of poorly defended claims. 

Why do I mention this?  Because evangelicals are almost unanimously opposed to abortion.  Even the most liberal among them.  When asked about abortion by Barna Group, 94% of evangelicals and 73% of born-agains took the position that abortion should either be illegal in all circumstances or in all but a few special circumstances. 


For much of my time as a Christian, I was firmly planted in the pro-life camp.  As a high school student, I remember railing against abortion as the greatest attack on the sanctity of life since the Holocaust. During college, I became more sympathetic to the pro-choice movement.  It seemed to be an oversimplification of the issue to claim that all abortions were morally wrong.  Most of the arguments I heard from Christians were from the breed of ad populum (in one class, a group presentation once included photos of aborted fetuses; while these photos did little to substantiate their case, it did rile up like minded pro-lifers in the class).

I took the position that legislation was not the answer to the question of abortion.  As a Christian, I firmly believed that there were other solutions: education about contraceptives (which again put me in a stark minority), promotion of adoption, assistance to mothers who carried the child to birth, etc. 

In my mind, the issue hinges on whether or not life starts at conception.  I have heard arguments from both side.  At the end of the day, the question seems to be blurry (aren’t all matters of morality), but the best science I can find seems to lean toward the case of the pro-choicer.  But, as Mike Huckabee is fond of saying, “I would rather be on the side of life.”  If life did start at conception, it has profound implications for the debate. But I cannot bring myself to tell a fifteen year old girl who is completely unprepared to raise a child that she must, by law, carry it to birth just in case.  Moreso, I cannot tell a mother who will most certainly die during child rearing that she has no choice but to go through with the birth.

At the same time, I am uncomfortable with “abortion on demand” as the pro-life lobby calls it (though I detest that term).  But if anti-abortion legislation is not the option, and abortion is at best discomforting, then what is the solution?  I find the most reasonable solutions to be in the realm of the Democrats for Life group. In particular, I find the 95-10 Initiative to be the most comprehensive and best hope to reduce the number of abortions while not infringing on the right to privacy.

As a rule, I find the pro-life lobby to be disgusting.  They rely on tactics of emotional manipulation, pseudo-science and pseudo-psychology.  On the other hand, I find many pro-choice groups to be short-sighted.  I think it is time for leaders in this country to stop using abortion as a platform to win elections and begin to actively seek to reduce the number of abortions while protecting the rights of women.

Position as a Christian:  Right-of-center, pro-life leanings.  Oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.  Support comprehensive legislation that provides both education and support for mothers and babies.

Position post-Christian: Right-of-center, pro-life leanings, though a bit more sympathetic to the pro-choice crowd. Still oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.  Still support comprehensive legislation that provides both education and support for mothers and babies. 

Priority level as a Christian: High.

Priority level post-Christian: Moderate.


8 Responses to “Re-evaluating Policy as an Atheist #3: Abortion”

  1. I totally agree regarding the tactics of the pro-life lobbyists. Just because something looks disgusting, doesn’t follow that it’s morally wrong–I gather childbirth isn’t all that appealing either!

    My current opinion is that most people (including me) on both sides of the debate don’t know enough to have a well-informed opinion about abortion. The question becomes, which ‘experts’ should we trust to tell us?

  2. Samuel Skinner Says:

    The most sane position I am aware of is the “is it sentient” stance. So pro-choice until the third trimester, than for health in the last trimester. Of course some people with this stance take the position that abortion is okay throughout the entire pregnancy on the grounds that if you yield any ground to the fundies, they will take a mile.

    Personally, I only find abortion a major issue because people are opposing it.

    PS- life doesn’t begin at conception. We know this because the egg and sperm are both alive. The issue isn’t is the fetus alive or human, because all parts of our body exibit that trait and we don’t mourn them when we lose them. The issue is when do we include the fetus in our moral community.

    In addition abortion on demand appears to be a word that is intended to incite emotion and shut down thought. I recommend dissecting the word to discover its meaning and find if it is accurate and relevant.

  3. I’m the extremist…unless the mother is at risk of death herself, I’d rather prefer pregnant women carry to term, than give up to adoption of their child was the result of rape or incest or other non-consensual sex, or if the child has any kind of disability the parents are unable to financially and/or emotionally support the baby.

  4. But I did forget to mention

    1) I met women who committed abortion for all kinds of reasons…I realise people will not always agree or see things my way. Again, “Live, and let live.”

    2) I also think that we must realise that there are few things in life where we can generalise or simplify our decisions and views. While my father is pro-life as well, he still says we should see this as a case-by-case scenario and draw our conclusions based upon that.

    3) As is, isn’t this part of the beauty of America, the fact we can all debate, even argue and rant, our views without any form of persecution? 🙂

  5. “PS- life doesn’t begin at conception. We know this because the egg and sperm are both alive. The issue isn’t is the fetus alive or human, because all parts of our body exibit that trait and we don’t mourn them when we lose them. The issue is when do we include the fetus in our moral community.”

    Samuel, I think there was some equivocation on my part there regarding the word “life,” I apologize. When I speak of the potential for ‘life’ beginning at conception, I mean to say that I question if we indeed should bring the fetus into our moral community at that time.

    Jersey, thanks for sharing, good thoughts. In particular, I agree that the beauty of America is that we can shout at each other at the top of our lungs and at the end of the day, persuasion overrides coercion. A political rally in Pakistan was attacked today. As much as I may dislike certain political figures in America, I am glad that both they and my party are free to operate without fear of violence.

  6. Samuel Skinner Says:

    Yor arguing about potentiality. Bad arguement. Why is potential so important? And aren’t we denying potentil every time we pass up the oppurtunity for sex?

    PS Jersey give reasons

  7. “Yor arguing about potentiality. Bad arguement. Why is potential so important? And aren’t we denying potentil every time we pass up the oppurtunity for sex?”

    While I do not think the value that we place on human life is arbitrary, it is to some extent subjective. Why value life at all? Why not value only those lives which we consider to be ‘good’ for the community? Can an individual surrender the value of their life through certain actions?

    At the very least, there is some fluidity to how we determine value of human life. Beyond that, how do we respond to the value of human life? In Eskimo culture, it is acceptable (and indeed morally required) to abandon the elderly to the cold, lest they become a burden on the survival of the community at large. Why bring this up? To animate the point that there is, in my mind at least, no objective reason to arbitrarily place value on the life of a newborn child. What contribution can they make to the community, etc. They are not reasoning, independent, etc.

    Regardless, I make a value judgment that it is ‘good’ to preserve the life of the newborn baby. At the same time, I am making a value judgment that it is also more than likely ‘good’ to preserve the life of an unborn child. I qualify that with a hesitation to outlaw abortion, mostly for pragmatic reasons. I doubt that outlawing abortion will be as effective as some hope.

    Thus, I am more prone to support legislation that provides alternatives to abortion. Sex Ed for adolescents to prevent them from being in the position to make the decision in the first place, support for adoption services, incentives (tax credits? subsidies?) for mothers to carry their unborn fetus’ to term.

  8. I am pro-choice, so my answer to this might be somewhat skewed. But I think part of the problem in terms of the pro-life movement (at least the one seen in the news all the time through the heavy hitters such as Dr. James Dobson, or Jerry Falwell when he was alive) is that it treats abortion as though it occurs in a vacuum. It’s murdering a baby, that’s it, and if you make it illegal, the problem is solved.

    However, all the studies I see show that the problem is very far from solved. Those societies that are pro-choice also heavily promote sex education, contraceptives, freedom for women so that if they are pregnant, there are resources that will help them raise the baby. Those societies that have abortion completely illegal don’t have the same focus on everything else, and so abortions are higher, because women truly feel that abortion is the only moral choice available to them, because they cannot properly raise a child. I’ve seen two studies recently prove this point, in that making abortion illegal actually increases the occurance. The number of fetuses that are aborted remains the same. The number of women who die or are injured skyrocket.

    And that’s what scares me about the pro-life movement, because they don’t seem to see how abortion is connected to everthing else, and so by making it illegal, they’re not really accomplishing anything. Now, I’m sure there are pro-lifers who do push for just what I described, which is why I said this is skewed. But the group as a whole, the vocal elements, don’t seem to.

    On a random note, showing pictures of aborted fetuses has always puzzled me. Most abortions happened in the first trimester, and it seems that for the first two months of that trimester, the fetus looks nothing close to an actual baby. Second and third trimesters, yes. Yet the pictures shown always seem to be treated as abortion deals with a near fully-developed fetus, or a fetus in the fifth month.

    Good post.

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