Abortion, Values, and Religion

There are plenty of criticisms of, and objections to, the pro-life position. I have dealt with many of them over the years, and I find them easily answerable. A close look at these objections usually shows they are without much value, and generally based on fallacious and errant thinking.

Here I wish to raise two more common myths about the pro-life position. Both have to do with values, beliefs and faith. Both involve the assumption that in the abortion debate, anyone who is opposed to it is merely seeking to ram his values or religion down the throat of others, and must therefore be discounted. Let me examine each claim in more detail.

Pro-lifers have no right to impose their values on others

Abortion supporters are quite keen to tell those who are pro-life that they have no right to impose their moral views on other people. They seem to suggest that because some people are concerned about abortion, they are somehow taking away the freedoms of others, and are just acting as moral Taliban.

But in a democracy, all points of view are entitled to a hearing. That is exactly what makes for a democracy: allowing the free flow of ideas, and enabling countering views on contentious issues to be freely presented and discussed. And after all, does not the other side claim the banner of ‘choice’? Why then do they seek to deny the other side the right to be heard?

This myth is based on the false idea of tolerance, which has become the greatest virtue in contemporary culture. Tolerance used to mean respecting the other person while disagreeing with his or her ideas. Today it means you must accept the other person’s views, or be seen as intolerant, judgmental and narrow-minded. But as Francis Beckwith argues, “to be tolerant of differing viewpoints involves just that – differing viewpoints, all of which cannot be equally correct at the same time”.

Moreover, on important moral issues we need to speak out. Should we tolerate polluters, racists and rapists? This is like saying ‘I am personally against ethnic-cleansing and lynching, but I do not want to impose my values on others’. When the protection of innocent life is at stake, we not only have the right but a duty to speak out. And such moral concerns need to be reflected in the law. Issues as important as killing human beings need to fall under the domain of law, and all civil rights should be protected by law.

And values are being pushed all the time. The real question, as Carl Horn writes, “is not whether values are going to be imposed or legislated, but whose values”. It just so happens that at the moment, the values of the pro-death camp are predominating, legally, socially and culturally. That is why they do not want the other side to be heard. They enjoy the ideological hegemony they currently possess.

Abortion opponents are religious people

It is often argued that those who are against abortion are religious folks, and therefore their views are to be discounted for that reason. This myth is easily dealt with because it is simply not true. While there are of course many people who are religious who are opposed to abortion, there are many non-religious people as well who are very much pro-life.

Simply consider one long-standing opponent of abortion who is not in the least religious: Nat Hentoff. While he refers to himself as a “Jewish atheist,” he is well-known as a secular civil libertarian who shocked many of his colleagues on the left when he became a pro-lifer. He says it was the evidence which moved him, not any religious arguments. This is how one write-up about his change of mind describes things:

“A famous liberal who was a staple at the Village Voice and who had a column in the Washington Post, in the 1980’s Hentoff actually let himself be swayed by evidence about abortion. It happened when Hentoff was reporting on the case of Baby Jane Doe, a Long Island infant born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, which is excess fluid in the cranium. With surgery, spina bifida babies can grow up to be productive adults.

“Yet Baby Jane’s parents, on their doctor’s advice, had refused both surgery to close her spine and a shunt to drain the fluid from her brain. In resisting the federal government’s attempt to enforce treatment, the parents pleaded privacy. As Hentoff told the Washington Times in a 1989 profile, his ‘curiosity was not so much the case itself but the press coverage.’ Everyone on the media was echoing the same talking points about ‘women’s rights’ and ‘privacy.’ ‘Whenever I see that kind of story, where everybody agrees, I know there’s something wrong,’ Hentoff told the Times.”

Other noted atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens, have also made a pro-life case, even if a somewhat qualified pro-life case. There are even websites such as the “Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League” in existence. And there have even been pro-life tables at atheist conventions. So the pro-life cause is hardly made up entirely of religious folks.

The truth is, abortion is an ethical issue and a human rights issue, not simply a religious issue. The right of every human being to live has to do with fundamental principles of morality and basic justice. It is simply ethically wrong to kill an innocent human being. And justice must begin in the womb – to talk about justice while denying the unborn the right to live is a very distorted view of justice.

Moreover, even if it were true, even if all resistance to abortion was based on religious concerns, this objection is silly in the extreme. Consider what is being said here: “Your objection to abortion is invalid because you are religious”. One might as well argue, “Your objection to rape is invalid because you are religious”. Or, “Your objection to murder is invalid because you are religious”.

If something is wrong, it is wrong regardless of whether or not those opposed to it are religious. As I said, this is an issue of basic morality, and one’s religious views do not alter the morality of the issue. If it is wrong to kill innocent human beings in the womb, then it is wrong always, not just if the person opposed to it is non-religious.

Also, one could argue that everyone at heart is ultimately religious. Even the secularist acts on a set of worldview beliefs and values that can be said to be religious. Indeed, the US Supreme Court actually ruled that secular humanism is a religion. As it stated in a famous case: “Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others.”

Thus these two objections, like the others, really have very little merit and can be easily dispensed with. I am afraid the pro-death will have to try to come up with better reasons to justify the killing of innocent unborn babies.


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8 Replies to “Abortion, Values, and Religion”

  1. Dear Bill, The pro-abortionists obviously cannot let the facts get in the road of a good story. Today is Sanctity of Life Sunday in Rockhampton Diocese. We are having a rally for Life on the 24th August, a few weeks before the next election. A lady in Belfast, Northern Ireland, has attended a pro-life candle vigil in the Vatican. Keep up the good work.
    Regards, Franklin Wood

  2. Good article Bill. May I add a few thoughts of my own about common abortion arguments.

    “Prolifers have no right to impose their values on others”:
    The unborn don’t have a voice, both men and women can and do speak up on their behalf.

    “It’s a woman’s right to choose”:
    It’s a reasonable assumption that approximately half the babies aborted are female. Why don’t they get the right to choose?

    “A woman should be in charge of her own fertility:
    This is a euphemism or furphy: when a woman is pregnant, she has gone beyond the question of fertility. What she is trying to control by abortion is not fertility but pregnancy.
    I would much rather she did take control of her fertility by appropriate contraception.

    “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries”:
    Similar to your argument above, it assumes that only Catholics are against abortion.

    John Bennett

  3. The idea that objection to abortion is somehow a religious issue can easily be disposed of. The case against abortion rests on two propositions:
    (1) You must not kill innocent people; and
    (2) Human life begins at conception.
    The first might be one of the Ten Commandments, but it is not one which many atheists would disagree with.
    The second is not a religious position. You won’t find it anywhere in the Bible. However, it is medical position. Everyone with basic biological knowledge knows it to be a fact.

    Malcolm Smith

  4. Excellent article Bill. You refuted those two objections very effectively. (I also liked the four points from John Bennett.)

    Just one small point of clarification (I don’t mean to be obtuse, but forgive me if I am). Since Baby Jane Doe was not aborted, what was the “evidence about abortion” in this case that turned Nat Hentoff into a pro-lifer? Was it the nature of her disabilities? Was it her parents’ refusal to accept treatment? I know he says it was the press coverage, but coverage of what aspect relating to abortion?

    There’s no suggestion that the parents knew in advance about Baby Jane’s disabilities, so presumably there was no informed decision to keep the child despite her known disabilities. How does this story relate to women’s rights — unless we mean (both) parents’ right to refuse medical treatment for their child?

    Or perhaps the parents did know in advance (ie pre-birth), and this detail was inadvertently omitted. If so, that would certainly explain this case’s relevance to the abortion debate.

    Either way, it’s great to have Nat Hentoff on the right side of this debate.

    Rowan Forster.

  5. Bill,
    If you follow the money trail these abortionists make a lot of money from abortion. Also the population gets older by abotion. The abortion should be called murder in the womb and a crime

    Neil Herbert

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