I'd like to thank David for writing the below. Like many of my past guest posts it's fair to say we disagree but there's little point in blogging if you're not going to listen to those of differing opinions and as an atheist opposed to abortion his voice is one not often heard in the debate.
I requested this guest post through a rather unusual method. I'd examined the Twitter account of @ProLifeAtheists and found that most of their followers were Catholic. While I still consider @ProLifeAtheists a poor example for those seeking to demonstrate diversity among those opposed to abortion, it was never my intention to imply that being an atheist and not being pro choice were mutually exclusive. I'm glad that David has been willing to give of his time to share his thinking.
He's indicated that he'll be happy to respond to comments below as time allows. I know that he's a busy chap and appreciate any time he can give.
I was asked to put some of my thoughts on paper because I happen to be an atheist who happens to be ‘pro-life’. I was asked to explain ‘why I'm an atheist’ and to also outline my feelings on abortion.
Well, I was born to Catholic parents. I was educated in a Catholic environment, and I would say that my present ‘values’ would be Christian influenced. But who was Christ? Well at this stage, to me, he was a man who lived a few thousand years ago who had some pretty enlightened ideas on how people should live with each other, ideas which, I think, have much in common with most other religions/social philosophies of the world. To me, Jesus was a man with ideas, and he wasn't the first or last person in history to have been persecuted for proclaiming unconventional or unfashionable ideas. From around the age of 16 I finally decided to defy my parents by no longer routinely going to mass with with them on Sundays, cos I simply did not believe in the whole thing. As for me, ‘agnostic’ may have been what I was as I started thinking for myself as a teenager. But at this stage of my life, when I think on it, I realise that I have been an atheist for quite some time. It actually feels odd to me to realise, that if I were to be pigeon-holed, it would be into that little box marked ‘ atheist’. It’s not something I dwell on too much, and its not like I remind myself every Sunday that I'm an atheist by attending some atheist church!! And I don’t belong to any kind of atheist club or anything like that. I'm a bit surprised at the notion some people seem to have, that being an atheist can’t be compatible with being anti-abortion, and that folks might think I'm just pretending not to be some kind of praying church-going bible-bashing ultra-Catholic, disguising myself as an atheist just to try to be cool.
I have a third level education of a scientific nature. I have had no formal education in the arts, philosophy or theology. My feelings on abortion are derived from what is, to me, instinctively fundamentally right or wrong as a human being, not because it is something dictated by any church’s teaching.
Any debate on this subject surely has to start with the fact of what exactly abortion actually is. Abortion is the ending of a pregnancy, which is the destruction and removal from the womb of the new ‘life’ which came into existence at the point of conception. This is fact – the debate starts at not whether there is a life, but whether this life is actually ‘human’, and if it is ‘human’ then whether it has any less of a basic right to life at 4 weeks, 12 weeks, 24 weeks, etc. than a new-born baby or indeed any human being at any stage in its life. Obviously if an unborn ‘life’ is not in fact a human being, then for me there is no argument – why should there be a problem with the ethics of abortion in that event? If human life only begins at birth, then I would agree, what’s the issue with killing a thing which is not yet a human being? However, anyone who in this day and age refuses to accept that human life begins at conception is surely flying in the face of science and logic.
Birth does not bring about a change in the nature of the ‘organism’ being born, it merely brings about a change in location. What was growing inside the womb now moves outside of the womb, and continues to grow. There is no change in the nature of a baby from an hour before it is born to an hour after it is born. Likewise, a baby born prematurely at 6 months, is not regarded, as far as I am aware, as somehow less than human or less worthy of a right to life until it is magically 3 months old (9 months from conception), than a normal full term baby born at 9 months old. The growth of the ‘ foetus’ is seamless from conception to birth, just as it is seamless from birth to full adulthood. There is no defining moment which one could choose, to define as the moment where this ‘organism’ becomes a human being. All the arguments about ‘ dependency on the mother’, ‘viability outside the womb’, ‘personhood’ etc etc are purely pedantic. There are many human beings, from newborn babies right through to elderly people on their death beds, who are entirely dependant on the help and sustenance of others to survive, no less than the unborn baby is entirely dependant on the sustaining environment inside its mother’s womb to remain alive.
So, for me, my reasoning, my conscience, and all the scientific evidence I am aware of, convinces me beyond doubt that we human beings, along with all other animals, start our lives at conception. We come into being at that moment. The fusion of the DNA from the mother and the father is the only ‘defining moment’ which can be pointed to. Everything after this moment is merely the multiplication of cells and the growth in size, and is seamless. This ‘fundamental truth’ defines for me how I must regard abortion, and how I must reason with the various arguments which are constantly put forward to try to justify the legitimacy of abortion either on the whole or in certain circumstances. The fact that, for me, abortion is the killing of a human being, has to be taken into account in any dilemma concerning whether an abortion should be allowable. Once you regard that unborn ‘thing’ as a human being with as equal a right to life as a mother, or a new-born baby, or a disabled person, or a dying patient, then you have to base all decisions by taking this into account.
Who is calling for it to be acceptable to simply kill a new-born child with a diagnosed fatal disability, in order to ‘put it out of its misery’? Yet people are saying it should be OK to abort a baby with a diagnosed severe disability.
Who is calling for the immediate execution of rapists, without trial? Yet many people proclaim it’s OK to kill the innocent child of the rapist and his victim.
If a rape victim were to carry her rapist’s child until birth, is anyone saying it would be OK to kill the child then? No? Why not?
Who is calling for Downs Syndrome children, or indeed adults, to be liquidated? Yet in countries with legalised abortion Down’s Syndrome is a qualifying diagnosis to justify abortion, no questions being asked.
Who is calling for children to be ‘culled’ in families who hit on hard times? Yet some people are calling for abortion to be allowed if it is deemed a baby might put the mother under some mental stress in trying to look after the child.
Suicide. It seems to be accepted by both ‘sides’ of the argument at this stage that an abortion is not a treatment for suicidal tendencies But how about just one hypothetical example to examine the ethics and thinking involved? Look at the recent spate of tragic suicides in Ireland apparently due to bullying – how would it be viewed if a victim of bullying demanded that their bully be executed, or else they themselves would commit suicide? It’s the same argument used to try to justify aborting the child of a pregnant woman claiming to be suicidal.
If somehow, magically, a ‘ foetus’ really does suddenly become a human being the moment it has fully come out of its mother’s body, before which it was just a bunch of non-living meat for the previous nine months, then none of the above questions really matter, do they? But really, is it not a bit medieval to think of a ‘ foetus’ in those terms, given what we now know about the development of life inside the mother’s body, before birth? It is easy to justify killing, if you can convince yourself that the thing you are killing is not entirely human, or, better still, some kind of parasite. That’s what the Nazis managed to do with the Jews in the 1940’s. They convinced themselves that Jews were ‘Untermenschen’, ‘sub-human’. That made it easy for them to justify doing what they did. This phenomenon has happened right down through history, where one group of people justifies its suppression or killing of another group of people by devising a propaganda that their victims are inferior and not deserving of the same rights.
It seems to me that the ‘Pro-choice’ proponents justify their aims by denying the fact that the ‘ foetus’ is in fact just a very small human being not yet old enough to be born. They don’t call for the ‘killing‘ of anything, no, that would cause too many questions to be asked. ‘Choice’ is a much more positive sounding word. Yet, the fact is, that the reality necessarily involves the killing of whatever that thing is inside its mother. It is alive. And the killing is gruesome, and bloody, but on a very tiny scale of size, which only the people who perform the abortion actually see. Very few people have ever had the ‘opportunity’ of seeing, either in real life or on video, the blood and tiny chopped body parts being removed through the mother’s vagina, but that is the hard unseen reality of what happens in an abortion ‘clinic’. And I'm not trying to be melodramatic here – that is simply the fact. And it happens to be an unpleasant fact. I think that a major element which makes it easy to gloss over is that it is unseen. The mother doesn't see what happens, the public don’t see. It’s not shown on TV. Killing and chopping up a thing which is only a few centimetres in size doesn't make nearly as obvious a mess as killing and chopping up a fully grown adult. The work of abortion is a bit like the work of a video-guided missile – it is remote, distant, one sees a building being blown up but one doesn't see any blood and one doesn't see the dead victims inside, and the ‘problem’ has been solved.
If the predicament of the human race should somehow change in the future to such an extent that our fundamental ideas of morality and right versus wrong change dramatically, then perhaps it may be deemed ‘right’ to kill certain people in certain circumstances. For example under growing pressures of population growth and dwindling resources perhaps society may move more in the direction of adopting eugenic practices like liquidating people who are old, infirm, disabled, unproductive, criminal, or whatever, and perhaps one day this type of action may be deemed by ‘society’ to be right, or at least acceptable.
But that is not where we are at now, and as far as I know, that is not where ‘pro-choice’ people claim we are at. We like to proclaim that our society has progressed to the stage where we recognise fundamental equal rights of all human beings regardless of race, or age, or gender. If one chooses to declare that human beings who are not yet born are unique in being the only section of the human race who have essentially no rights at all, then to me that is not logical, it is even hypocritical. Why don’t such people who propose their various justifications for the legitimacy of abortion in certain circumstances propose the same justifications, where ‘convenient’, to end the lives, post-birth, of people who tick the same boxes as those ‘ foetuses’. There are many people alive who would tick all of those boxes if the same arguments used by ‘pro-choice’ proponents were applied to them – disabled; doomed to a premature death due to some disorder or illness; a burden on society; a financial burden on the parents etc etc.
The reason for this ‘inconsistency of logic’ is perhaps, for some, that it is too radical to suggest the euthenising of what might be regarded as ‘unwanted’ people e.g. disabled/old etc etc, whereas it is nowadays quite acceptable, perhaps even fashionable, to be seen to be ‘pro-choice’ with respect to the ‘unborn’. However I suspect the main reason for the inconsistency of logic is that the vast majority of ‘pro-choicers’ simply do not accept the evidence pointing to the nature of life in the womb, and they simply do not regard it as a human life, (yet surely they must at least admit that this ‘thing’ is alive). Therefore, to them, killing a child in the womb is simply not the same as killing the child when it’s out of the womb.
For me, an argument about the rights and wrongs of abortion with someone with an opposing view of the ‘human-ness’ of the unborn child is as futile as an argument about the rights and wrongs of slavery with someone who genuinely believes that a Black African is inferior to a White European and may therefore legitimately be owned by the European as a slave. The argument cannot be won by either, unless the one concedes that the African is actually a full human being with equal rights, or unless the other gives in and says ‘OK those Africans are actually not quite human and therefore we may own them and do what we like with them’. This argument led to that most bloody civil war in the US, so it is easy to see how the debate on the abortion issue is likewise so divisive and fundamental. With abortion, the whole thing seems to boil down to whether the ‘ foetus’ is human and therefore deserves the rights of other humans. I have not yet ever heard a convincing argument that the ‘human’ foetus is not actually human at all……..
I consider myself lucky that I have never been faced with the dilemma of a child coming into my life which I perceived as a major threat to me. That is not to say that the children who I am now the father of were all ‘planned’! Nor does it mean that the prospect of a child coming into my life would not necessitate a certain change in lifestyle, or acceptance of new responsibilities. No person can expect to ‘plan’ their entire life ahead of them, whether with regard to children or anything else. I am lucky that my children were born healthy. However I would really like to think that if I were faced with the challenge of a disabled child, I would rise to that challenge, even if a disability were diagnosed before birth. But I haven't yet been presented with such a challenge, so all I can do is admire and empathise with all those who do find themselves faced with such challenges and who do their best to deal with them.
To me ‘abortion’ (de facto killing of child before birth) is simply fundamentally wrong, but it does present an easy ‘solution’ to a mere few of the many many challenges which we as humans face throughout the course of our lives. It is an easy solution, too easy, because the victims happen to be the only section of humanity who in our modern world truly have no voice, no means whatsoever to protest or rebel, whom nobody sees, who’s existence nobody is even aware of except their mothers and whoever their mothers choose to tell, and who are so small that their bodies can so easily be disposed of.