The atheist’s case against abortion: respect for human rights
I am an atheist, a 29-year-old woman, well-educated at secular institutions, and I lean liberal on many issues, including same-sex marriage and climate change.
I am also a dedicated pro-life activist, working to make abortion unthinkable.
The abortion industry would have you believe that people like me do not exist. They would have you believe that the pro-life movement is almost exclusively old white men, with a few pearl-clutching church ladies thrown in. This characterization is insulting to both young and old. The older pro-life leaders of today are the pioneering young adult activists of the 1970s, who courageously dissented from Roe v. Wade. And they have recruited new generations of pro-lifers to follow in their footsteps; millennials in the movement call ourselves the “pro-life generation.”
The abortion industry would have you believe that people like me do not exist. They would have you believe that the pro-life movement is almost exclusively old white men.
There are important differences between the millennial generation and those that came before. One of the biggest is religion. The well-reported decline in church attendance is driven largely by young adults. Over a third of millennials tell pollsters they have no religious affiliation, compared with 23 percent for Generation X and 17 percent for baby boomers. And even among millennials who have maintained a religious affiliation, many favor same-sex marriage and show less appetite for the “culture war” than their elders do.
Yet this more secular generation still shows up to save preborn children and their mothers from the tragedy of abortion. This puzzles some abortion supporters, who had assumed they would benefit from demographic changes. The key to understanding this discrepancy is to realize that it is not a discrepancy at all: We see abortion not as a culture war issue or as a religious issue but as a human rights issue.
Most pro-choice people are horrified by ableism—but close their eyes to the often lethal consequences of prenatal genetic testing.
It is not enough to understand “Humanae Vitae” (indeed, lecturing an atheist on the finer points of Catholic dogma is surely counterproductive). To work with pro-life young people and to change the minds of pro-choice millennials you must be able to articulate the human rights case against abortion. The pro-life pioneer Dr. Mildred Jefferson said it best: “I am not willing to stand aside and allow this concept of expendable human lives to turn this great land of ours into just another exclusive reservation where only the perfect, the privileged, and the planned have the right to live.” That’s a sentiment that anyone, from any religious or nonreligious background, can get behind.
Most secular pro-choice people are well-meaning and affirm a commitment to human rights. Most are horrified by ableism—but close their eyes to the often lethal consequences of prenatal genetic testing. Abortion advocates would never murder a defenseless sleeping or comatose person—yet they argue that because children in the womb lack consciousness, killing them is permissible.
Pointing out these contradictions is a delicate business. Many young pro-choicers have been exposed to years of ad hominem propaganda. They have been taught that pro-lifers are hypocrites who do not care about children after they are born. They have been taught that we hate women. They may be close to someone who has had an abortion—or even had an abortion themselves—and believe that becoming pro-life will require them to issue fire-and-brimstone condemnations of post-abortive women.
The best antidote to these fears is not argument but action. Examine your own life and ensure that your priorities reflect concern for human life at all its stages. Befriend pro-choice people and let them see what being pro-life really means on the ground. Do not expect they have learned this from the mainstream media.
When the time for discussing the issue comes, be gentle and ask questions. The Socratic method, allowing people to discover internal contradictions for themselves, usually works best. For more on this technique, I highly recommend the Equal Rights Institute website.
When we survey the lives destroyed by abortion over the past five decades, it is easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged. But we are making real progress. This is an incredibly exciting time to be pro-life. If we work together—secular and religious, young and old, from every race and gender—I firmly believe we can end abortion in my lifetime.