What’s Wrong with the Pro-Life Position?

Atheism and ChristianityOne commenter to this blog made the excellent point that the label “pro-life” for the anti-abortion movement is a bit odd.  In this contentious debate, I wanted to label those in each group as they prefer, but who’s not pro-life?

In the Christian view, life on earth is “the cramped and narrow foyer leading to the great hall of God’s eternity” (William Lane Craig).  What a dismal view of life—something simply to be endured as we wait for the real Life to begin.  By contrast, the atheist, certain of only the one life we all know exists, is the one who lives life to the fullest.  It can be argued that the atheist is the one who’s truly pro-life.

But let’s leave the conventional labels alone and consider the pro-life position.  If there were no downsides of carrying a fetus to term, if carrying the fetus to term were nothing more than a minor inconvenience for the mother, the abortion question wouldn’t be an interesting issue.  But of course there are downsides—big ones.  To bring a child into the world, poorly cared for in the womb, unwanted and unloved by its mother, abandoned by its father, neglected or abused, or growing up in squalor or in an abysmal home—for me, that potential harm eclipses the harm of denying a cell the chance to grow into a person.  Demanding that the state step in and declare that it knows the consequences better than the mother seems an odd position to take for typically conservative Christians.

The pro-life advocate has a quick answer: carry the child to term and give it up for adoption.  But this does nothing to address the problem of the woman unable to or uninterested in caring for herself and the baby properly during the pregnancy.  Or of the baby with identified birth defects.  Unhealthy babies are far more likely to live out their childhood in foster care.

“Just put it up for adoption” is hopeless naïve when only two percent of all births to unmarried women ended in an adoption.  For teen mothers, the rate is even less.  Let’s not pretend that if the mother’s life and home situation aren’t conducive to raising a baby until adulthood that she’ll always put the baby up for adoption.

Even if a teen mother chose to have her baby adopted, the consequences of the pregnancy are dramatic.  She’ll miss school, she’ll be ostracized, and she’ll go through an emotional meat grinder when it comes time to give up her baby.  And since the statistics say she won’t, that she will almost surely keep the baby, she’ll have no chance to get back on track for the life she had planned.

I have a mental image of an anti-abortion activist looking with satisfaction on the girl he just talked out of having an abortion, with no understanding of the shackles he may have placed on her life or the hellish environment to which he has may have consigned that child-to-be.  Infuriating.

The alternative to abortion rights is compulsory pregnancy.  My claims are simple: that (1) some lives are truly abysmal and (2) creating such a life (for the mother or the child) is a bad thing.  I doubt that my argument has convinced any pro-lifers to budge in their position, but I do demand that they acknowledge the terrible burden that making abortion illegal would place on a million women each year.

Next time: What Does the Bible Say About Abortion? Not Much.

Photo credit: Wikimedia

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39 thoughts on “What’s Wrong with the Pro-Life Position?

  1. “A gleem in your daddys eye,” takes on new meaning.. What ever happened to the old style fundy that did not allow masturbation because the seeds are potential life (fundys oddly embracing science)? Or all the talk of banning birth control, for the same reason? At this rate, if fundies have their way, someday it might be the law of the land to attempt to impregnate every ovulating women (barefoot and always pregnant forever will be your life).. I really do not believe my estimation of how far fundies would take this, because all we need do is look at the “no abortion even in the case of forced rape,” as an example.. I’ve always thought it odd todays so called prolife group chose the moment of conception as the magic moment.. They certainly act like a fundy religious group, because they make an arbitrary decision (conception) then are willing to kill or die for that arbitrary decision (as some dead doctors are proof of).. Another odd thing, fundys are usually anti science, and in this case they embrace science (at least to pinpoint conception).. There is no justification for these fundies in their bible, which i believe defines that life begins with the first breath.. Back in the real world, overpopulation is a very real problem.. In order for people to live their lives, and for children to grow up in stable homes, we need to concentrate on after a child is born, planned parenthood style..

    • CORRECTION:
      I really do not believe my estimation of how far fundies would take this
      *** is far fetched*** (the correction)
      because all we need do is look at the “no abortion even in the case of forced rape,” as an example..

    • The odd situation you mention makes more sense in the light of politics, IMO. Abortion is a political football, and conservative politicians are happy with any problem (manufactured or not) to which they can say, “Don’t like it? Then vote for me!!”

  2. Pingback: What’s Wrong with the Pro-Life Position? | Galileo Unchained | Secularity (under construction)

    • I’m glad you liked it! Greta Christina was in Seattle recently for a lecture, and one of her points was that it’s great when straight people jump in to correct some sort of homophobic joke (or similar) so she doesn’t have to. Perhaps this is similar.

      I have 4 more posts in the queue on the pro-choice issue, so come back and let me know what you think of them.

  3. Pingback: Five Emotional Pro-Choice Arguments | Galileo Unchained

  4. Pingback: A Defense of Abortion Rights: the Spectrum Argument | Galileo Unchained

  5. Even more basic than the emotional or social toll that an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy takes on a woman is the sheer physical price she must pay. I won’t list all the awful symptoms that go with pregnancy, but it’s an impressive list if you want to look it up. Suffice it to say that it only ends with 2-10 hours of screaming, writhing agony as a big chunk of your guts are ripped out thru a too-small (and highly sensitive) hole in your body, accompanied by the sound of rending flesh and serious quantities of blood. Frankly, pregnancy makes waterboarding look like a pleasant stroll in the park, and if women didn’t undergo it voluntarily, it would be indisputably a violation of the Geneva Conventions. The worst, most misogynistic fundamentalist Muslim theocracy only takes an hour or so to stone a woman to death in horrifying pain and suffering, not 9 months of torture.

    • And, Richard, there are some women who choose to do it over and over again, LOL.. Still, what about the mans sympathetic pain? But seriously, there is the lifelong pain of the child, and how that pain typically creates a burden on society as a whole.. Perhaps someone can find statistics to back me up, but I believe children born when there is no one ready to care for the child, is an environment conducive to all sorts of negative factors (such as alcoholism, violent tendencies and fundamentalism, etc)..

  6. Ah, playing GOD again are we??……… making choices that morals, guided only by a higher authority can give direction toward! Otherwise you are making up your own rules as you go along. Oh, wait! You guys are atheists…… and therefore have no guiding principles, no standard to discern between good and evil!! Oh well, I will leave you to “doing whats right in your own eyes.” This always gets a little messy!!

    P.S. – I dare you to go to http://www.180movie.com and watch this shocking, award winning documentary! It is truly 33 minutes the will ROCK YOUR WORLD!!

    Agape to you!!

    • Robby:

      God doesn’t do much to help us out here on earth, so mankind for millennia has had to figure it out for ourselves. Is there an alternative to doing what is right in our own eyes? God is so shy that he leaves us no choice!

      Tell me why 180movie is so good. Just emotional scare tactics, I’m assuming? Or does it actually rebut the spectrum argument?

      • Robby,
        Did you read the posts? Your reply looks like SPAM to watch an anti choice movie. Since you are using god talk in this discussion, you apparently believe there is justification in your bible (please tell me you are pro war, but anti abortion).. Yes, we greatly question your interpretation of your religious texts on the abortion issue.. So this begs the question, are “you” playing god in your interpretations of your bible?

        AND, if you approve of the war (America in Iraq), then you just lost the right to speak to me on this subject..

    • We atheists are working (not playing) at being human. It is only those who believe in gods who play at imitating them or speaking on their behalf.
       
      In case you’ve never seen a legislative body (from Congress to your local city council) in action, you should go sometime. “Making up rules as they go along” is exactly what democracy is all about. If you’re truly unaware that that’s the way the world actually works, I think the sight of it actually happening will rock your world.

  7. It is a naive position I take… it seems to me that the real problem is careless and unbridled, irresponsible sexual activity. Abortion should not be used as “birth control”. Many of the mothers of these children terminated…only end up with “replacement babies” again…due to their sexual activity. The toll on the body of a woman with a series of abortions (or more than one) is …if not worse..comparable to carrying to term.
    Unfortunately, I concede, that those who can reproduce don’t necessarily need to do so. 62 million women in this country of childbearing age…have a failure rate on birth control of 50 percent. (I got that number from Medscape) resulting in over 30 million unwanted or shall we say unplanned pregnancies. Participating medical providers stated that they suspect improper use of birth control, also improper prescribing…something so simple as giving an overweight woman the wrong dosage of bc.
    Education, education, education. Please…someone get a clue!*smile* BTW, I work all day looking at ultrasounds. By the time we see a woman she can be as little as 3-6 weeks pregnant. It is not a cell…it has hands, feet, head, eyes…movement and a heartbeat. And…the cell development is distinctly different from the mother. It is a small, undeveloped human. Mothers see it…and some, still decide to terminate. Some are shocked to see it is not a blob…and decide to birth. It is all a matter of individual perspective and belief. Some see the baby as their baby. Some see the little creature as an invader. Some see a baby…they can’t support. But no matter how one looks at it..for sure…this is a surgical procedure with risks. Physical risks…and mental ones too. Women who abort are never the same…just like women who birth. …it is a choice…that is certain. So it is the reason I advocate for education. By the time it gets to the pregnancy its all over…and I don’t know how many times I’ve heard superstition and here-say as the statements of absolute knowledge on sex. I think there is something wrong with any species that kills itself or its offspring. Its just my humble opinion.
    Thank you

    • it seems to me that the real problem is careless and unbridled, irresponsible sexual activity.

      Yes, that’s a problem. Maybe better education?

      Abortion should not be used as “birth control”.

      I think I see your concern … but once a woman who’s unfit to be a mother becomes pregnant, what do you do? Do you just say, “tough luck”? What’s the best way out of this problem for both the woman and society?

      It’s like the guy who shoots himself accidentally. He’s an idiot … but you don’t let him bleed to death.

      The toll on the body of a woman with a series of abortions (or more than one) is …if not worse..comparable to carrying to term.

      I doubt that going through labor is easier on the body than going through an abortion.

      Education, education, education.

      Yes!

      she can be as little as 3-6 weeks pregnant. It is not a cell…it has hands, feet, head, eyes…movement and a heartbeat.

      I argue that it’s still somewhere along the spectrum. A half-inch fetus is no “baby.”

      Maybe the pro-life focus should be on early detection.

      I think there is something wrong with any species that kills itself or its offspring. Its just my humble opinion.

      Thanks for a thoughtful comment.

    • I agree with Latessa124 it is not pretty.. But necessary because consider the kind of laws that would have to be imposed to stop unwanted pregnancies.. Use your imagination, and tell me if this is even remotely possible… And, you are using the most negative, of the most negative arguments against (but doing a good job of it, BTW).. I am out of my element arguing abortion, so I dont know the statistics; but I expect the vast majority do not use abortion for birth control (indeed this is an argument to make birth control readily available and free for everyone).. I dont like it either, but there is no middle ground to take here.. Imagine a world where dramatically more babies were born into environments where there is no one to love and care for them.. Also, looking like a baby, and having a consciousness are two different things..

      • The paradox is that the worse the sex education and the less easy birth control is to access, the more abortion will be used as birth control. If the pro-lifers truly think that abortion is the holocaust they claim, they should be handing out condoms like candy. Who cares if teens are having sex like rabbits if there are no unwanted pregnancies?

    • I will heartily second the sentiment:

      Education, education, education!

      But I will not go along with the sentiment that, if education alone doesn’t get the job done, abortion must be ruled out as a method of birth control. I drive safely and responsibly, obey speed laws, yield right of way, look both ways before pulling out (no pun intended), etc. and do what I personally can to avoid accidents. Yet last October, at half past midnight, a drunk ran out in front of me trying to play tag with the traffic, and I whacked him. Fortunately, I’d managed to slam on my brakes, so I was most of the way to “stop” as he caromed off my windshield and got knocked to the ground but was mostly unhurt. My windshield, however, was shattered — thru no fault of my own, indeed, despite my best efforts to prevent it. It’s for occasions like this that I carry insurance.

      Same deal with birth control. Accidents happen. We need abortion as backup insurance for when they do.
       
      I think almost all women would agree that abortion is a very poor choice as the primary method of birth control, which is why I strongly favor making every other option available to them as widely, cheaply, and guiltlessly as possible.

  8. The whole abortion argument boils down to just one question for me. What is the unborn? If the unborn is NOT a human being, then no justification is necessary. If the unborn IS a human being, then no justification is adequate. Certainly, you would not be in favor of killing an infant to protect them from a hard life? Nor would you be alright with a mother killing a newborn just because the child is an inconvenience for her.

      • Thanks for linking me to that post. It helps clarify your view quite a bit. I agree with you that a single cell is not a baby. That there is a stark difference between the two.. We differ, though on the signifigance of that purpose as it relates to taking its life. What would you say to a situation in which a baby or fetus, if you prefer is born extremely prematurely. It’s systems are not developed. It requires machines to breathe, it’s completely vulnerable to the elements. It’s born, though. Out of the womb and surviving. This baby is obviously further down the spectrum than a full term baby would be. Is this baby somehow less of a human being? Is it less worthy of the protection of the law than a full term baby? I think the spectrum view, while interesting causes some problems when it is assume that protection of the law does not begin at the beginning of the spectrum but somewhere in the middle. Also, using a like-me-ness to determine the kind of entities that should be protected by law is a very dangerous slippery slope. People who are missing limbs, or have under developed circulatory systems are suddenly in danger of being seen as lower on the spectrum and somehow, less deserving of the protection of the law.

        I think you understand the gravity of this conversation. And I am glad you are willing to think through it, and while I know it is unlikely you will change your mind, I hope you will at least seriously seek to understand the pro life point of view. Most of us generally really do care for women who are put in this very unfortunate circumstance. We do not however think that abortions are a moral solution to the problem and as such should not be lawful.

        Best wishes.

        • There is a big grey area on morality.. If there were no other circumstances, I would go along with you just in case (because I dont like the idea of abortion either.. And I am an advocate for animal rights too.. too much unnecessary suffering of the food animals).. It is simply not practical to outlaw abortions for many reasons.. If outlawed, abortions would still would be done in back alleys with coat hangers (like alcohol, there is too much demand, so even if you outlaw it, it will still happen).. And we will have more women dying from unqualified people performing medical procedures.. America has limited resources, and the world is already over populated as it is.. With limited resources, what about all the people dying because conservatives are sucking the money out of our economy, so people do not receive life saving medical care? The statistic I read is that more people in America die every year for lack of health care, than died on 9/11 (the rest of the civilized world looks down on us here).. What about the war? Almost a million dead in a war America started (under conservative rule).. What about sex ed, and birth control to limit abortions (if you oppose birth control and sex ed, you are causing abortions to happen).. With all these different causes of death, can we realistically take the idealistic (non real world) approach to every case?

        • SHW:

          Is this baby somehow less of a human being?

          I would call it less of a person. I think most people would agree, since it can’t live on its own. But not much less of one, of course, because it’s almost there.

          Is it less worthy of the protection of the law than a full term baby?

          That underscores the aspect of pregnancy that is so often ignored. A pregnancy is seen by the woman as either a good thing or a bad thing. In fact, it’s usually a very, very good thing or a very, very bad thing, depending.

          I have no interest or expertise in defining where the line for abortion should be. But of course it must be somewhere.

          That line answers your question. Society defines the line.

          People who are missing limbs, or have under developed circulatory systems are suddenly in danger of being seen as lower on the spectrum and somehow, less deserving of the protection of the law.

          Someone missing limbs or something similar is trivially less of a person than a fully-functioning person. That difference is nothing compared to baby vs. single cell, which has absolutely none of the components of a person.

          We do not however think that abortions are a moral solution to the problem and as such should not be lawful.

          Are we at least on the same page that there’s a spectrum (I call it Personhood, but you can find another label), from single cell to newborn?

        • RM:

          more people in America die every year for lack of health care, than died on 9/11

          With 300+ million people in the US, I wouldn’t be surprised if this many didn’t die every day. Yes, the rest of the world looks down at us here. Highest per-capita health care spending but our international ranking is in the 20s or 30s. Embarrassing!

        • RM:
          more people in America die every year for lack of health care, than died on 9/11

          BS:
          With 300+ million people in the US, I wouldn’t be surprised if this many didn’t die every day. Yes, the rest of the world looks down at us here. Highest per-capita health care spending but our international ranking is in the 20s or 30s. Embarrassing!

          RM:
          And the point I want to stress is;
          Where are all the pro-lifers on the health care issue?
          Where are all the pro-lifers on war?
          Where are the pro-lifers on sex-ed, and birth control?
          Where are pro-lifers on the death penalty?
          Where are pro-lifers on animal welfare?

          I suspect on the opposite side of every single issue.. How in the hell does that make sense? If they were really pro-life, they would then be consistent in their moral assertions, and promote all the above items the same as liberals do (to help and preserve life)..

        • BS:

          I have no interest or expertise in defining where the line for abortion should be. But of course it must be somewhere.

          That line answers your question. Society defines the line.

          *********

          And that is what troubles me. I do agree with you that there is a spectrum between single cell to newborn. However, I do not think the spectrum of development stops there. By saying it is OK for society to place an arbitrary line somewhere in the middle of this developmental spectrum is a line of reasoning that leads to the possibility that society could move this line into childhood in the future. I can not back up a way of thought that could be used to justify killing six month olds because they’ve developed *differently* or at a slower pace than what the government deems worthy of protection. This view leaves that open as an option. That is dangerous to me.

          There is one non arbitrary point in the spectrum. That is the same in every situation and is impossible of being ignored or changed. And that is the very beginning of the spectrum. The point at which a separate entity is created from the mother or the father. This is the only view that protects us from society moving the line in the future, and ensures that there is no innocent human life being unprotected by the law.

        • The appropriate response on confronting a spectrum is to abandon the idea that there is A line that needs to be drawn. Consider the original spectrum for example: the rainbow. Where do you draw THE line between red and violet? Thru the orange part? Thru the yellow part? Thru the green part? Thru the blue part?
           
          No, what we’ve got going on in the case of a spectrum is a SERIES of lines (like the Fraunhofer lines of the visual spectrum), each marking a small incremental change. And, as you have correctly observed, each human being continues developing after birth, and we recognize that by adding more lines. When can you wean the child? When can you leave the infant unattended for an hour or so? When is he or she ready to start day care? Kindergarten? Regular school? Stay up past 10 PM? Come home without your waiting up for them? Drive? Vote? Drink? Shoot and kill? Run for president? Retire?
           
          Same story before birth: a SERIES of lines, not merely one.
           
          Did you follow my advice to google “roe v wade decision text” and read what the Supremes actually said on the subject? Because they too rejected the idea that there’s any ONE line involved.

        • SHW:

          However, I do not think the spectrum of development stops there.

          Nor do I. As a baby turns into an adult, it gets (1) more of the same (stronger muscles, smarter brain, better reflexes, etc.) as well as (2) new stuff (sexual maturity). And then, of course, we lose some of these things with age–amputations, appendix removed, reduced vision and hearing, etc. Nevertheless, these changes are trivial compared to a baby vs. a single cell.

          By saying it is OK for society to place an arbitrary line …

          It’s not arbitrary. No one is throwing darts at a wall to figure out the date beyond which society should declare abortion illegal. I presume well-educated people from many disciplines have input.

          Also note that abortion is a line, not a spectrum. It’s binary, not analog.

          society could move this line into childhood in the future.

          True. I see very very little to suggest that this is likely. I certainly wouldn’t want that.

          I can not back up a way of thought that could be used to justify killing six month olds because they’ve developed *differently* or at a slower pace than what the government deems worthy of protection. This view leaves that open as an option.

          But it’s your view as well. You acknowledge the spectrum.

          This doesn’t bother me. Again, the development post birth is trivial compared to the development during pregnancy.

          There is one non arbitrary point in the spectrum. … And that is the very beginning of the spectrum.

          Maybe we define “arbitrary” differently. I don’t see why this is any less arbitrary than a science-based argument of the form “abortion after development stage X is immoral because trait Y has developed by then.”

          If you’re worried about a slippery slope–today abortion is legal up to 7 months (say) but tomorrow it might be legal up to 6 months of age–keep in mind that that this is always a risk. Your approach is yet another date … that could be changed in the future. No date is set in stone.

    • Of course, Bob’s whole point here is that there is no more a “magic moment” in time when a developing fetus turns in a flash from a non-human into a human than there is a “magic moment” in time when night turns into day. Any attempt to identify such a “magic moment” (and there have been many thru the centuries) is invariably arbitrary and completely a matter of subjective opinion. And it assumes that there are zero other factors to be considered, which gives us TWO major reasons not to go down that road.
       
      Once again, I point out that the Supreme Court was not blind and deaf to this issue. Justice Blackmun addressed it squarely in Roe v. Wade back in 1973, and I really do encourage people to do a web search for “roe v wade decision text” and read it in its entirety. Unlike a lot of court decisions, it’s really very accessible, and it always surprises me how many people who hold powerful opinions about it have never actually read it (sort of like neo-puritans who want everyone else to boycott movies they’ve never seen themselves) and so misquote it out of sheer ignorance.

  9. Its a grey area when life begins.. And I dont agree with the anti abortion groups assertion that life begins at conception (as mentioned earlier).. If you want to talk about potential for life, there is potential every time a woman ovulates, or every time people flirt with one another.. After conception, it is further along on the road, nothing more..

    • Well … you could argue that life doesn’t begin but continue. If the egg and sperm are alive, they keep being alive once the egg is fertilized, and so on.

      If you mean: “When does that individual life begin?” that clearly seems to be at conception–when the unique DNA of the new individual is created.

      The issue for me is: let’s name the spectrum (from single cell to trillion-cell baby) that we all recognize.

  10. My suspicion is that the average pro-lifer also supports the wars that America started.. Am I wrong?

    And I agree sex education, and readily available birth control is the very best of all possible ways to limit the number of abortions..

    Again, I am guessing that the average pro-lifer is against both birth control and sex education… If true, then it is the pro-life group that is causing more abortions to happen..

  11. RM:
    more people in America die every year for lack of health care, than died on 9/11

    BS:
    With 300+ million people in the US, I wouldn’t be surprised if this many didn’t die every day. Yes, the rest of the world looks down at us here. Highest per-capita health care spending but our international ranking is in the 20s or 30s. Embarrassing!

    RM:
    And the point I want to stress is;
    Where are all the pro-lifers on the health care issue?
    Where are all the pro-lifers on war?
    Where are the pro-lifers on sex-ed, and birth control?
    Where are pro-lifers on the death penalty?
    Where are pro-lifers on animal welfare?

    I suspect on the opposite side of every single issue.. How in the hell does that make sense? If they were really pro-life, they would then be consistent in their moral assertions, and promote all the above items the same as liberals do (to help and preserve life)..

    • I agree–it makes no sense.

      My own view is that this illogic comes from politicians. Politicians care about votes. Being logical–not so much. I guess being anti-abortion, pro-war, pro-capital punishment, anti-sex ed, and so on gets votes.

  12. This is all a good discussion, with much of which I agree. But for me, the abortion debate isn’t about pro-life, it’s about a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. I agree with Bob that there is a spectrum, and that it’s reasonable for society to define a point of no return, where a woman is stuck going through with an unwanted pregnancy if she hasn’t acted before then. But in the early stages of pregnancy, and _certainly_ the morning after having unprotected sex (or a broken condom), I believe it to be her choice whether she wants to carry and give birth to a child. The laws being passed by right-wing legislatures that force women to view ultrasounds of a fetus before making their decision are immoral and coercive, and especially unconscionable since they are passed by (mostly) old, rich white guys.

    • Excellent point. There are two issues inside this one debate.

      As we see with the Catholic Church right now, there’s a major push against the use of contraceptives.

      We see a similar thing with the abstinence only crowd. Religious teenagers have more unprotected sex because the only thing worse than premarital sex is premeditated sex. One must plan ahead to use contraceptives, and this planning ahead makes sex even more sinful.

      I guess the thinking is that God Himself is supposed to be the one who decides if a woman gets pregnant or not, and the use of contraceptives is thwarting God’s will. If this is so, then I’d like to know why God allows bad people to become parents. If God actually did His job, shouldn’t only the good people get pregnant?

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