Ask an Atheist (AaA) that asked their listeners to provide non-religious
reasons to oppose abortion. On June 17th, AaA discussed these responses
and other abortion-related topics during their show entitled “The Other A-word.”
Please note: the online audio clip displays the time remaining in the show.
All time stamps below are the time that has past in the show, based on
the downloaded audio clip.
so, a dog barf slime mold is precious?”
from a “sort of medical point of view and a morality point of view”
(0:57). Emphasis on “sort of.” They quote from
- “Address the question of when a fetus goes
from something that is not a person to something that is” (1:11),
- “When two adults engage in consensual sex
they are aware that a pregnancy could result from the encounter”
- “As a humanist I believe strongly that every
life is inherently precious and equally deserving of the right to
- “From a biological standpoint, every egg and
sperm combination is unique” (6:27),
- “As a humanist I believe that the more
fragile a life is, the more it needs protection” (9:06); and
- “From a biological standpoint, every embryo
is a growing entity with the potential to become a viable life”
is clear to me that most of these queries are in reference to human
organisms. Apparently this was not clear
to our hosts, who managed to joke about the skin
cells scratched off their arms screaming “help me, help me!” as they
die (1:55), discuss whether “dog barf slime mold” is precious (5:40),
point out that the single-celled germs we kill with hand cleansers aren’t
people (6:11), and laugh about how asparagus is fragile (10:01). They all
heartily agree that “the twinkle in Dad’s eye–I’m sorry, that’s just not
a baby” (4:19). I guess now that I know mold, asparagus, and
twinkles aren’t people, I can be pro-choice. I’m glad someone finally
cleared that up.
fair, they don’t spend the entire time
attacking strawmen. They do discuss the zygote too. While there is
an offhand acquiescence to the idea that the zygote is “a
human” (2:57), the hosts repeatedly assert that it is not “a
- “The point is that green is not blue” (1:24),
- “A group of cells–whether they be a single cell organism, two
cells, three cells, four cells–is not a person” (2:23),
- “Most people who don’t have a very specific dog in this fight
wouldn’t say that it begins on day zero, as you put it. They’d say it
begins sometime after day zero” (3:48),
- “Single cells, everyone agrees, just not a big deal. This idea
that the potential is the same thing as person just collapses when you
think about it” (6:03).
they never quite get to the part where they define the significant moral
distinction between, to use their analogy, blue and green (a newborn and a
zygote). They offer their repeated assertion, but no rationale, no
basis–no argument. Apparently the medical, moral standpoint boils down
abortion because that ‘unique little soul’ would go away!”
want people to have frank, useful conversations about abortion. Quoting Bible verses to people who don’t
believe in the Bible is not useful. There’s
a flip side to that coin, though: rejecting pro-life claims because you don’t
believe in a soul does nothing for pro-lifers who also don’t believe in a soul.
Pro-choicers think religion should be irrelevant to the abortion
debate? We do too! So why
do some pro-choicers continue to discuss religion even when no one else has
brought it up?
entity with the potential to become a viable life” (10:45). Bob’s response? (11:04)
potential—what just drives me nuts about this Quiverfull movement…is the idea ‘We’re going to let God decide
how many children we’re going to have.’
Which is, from my standpoint, the same thing as ‘I’m going to drink a
big bottle of poison. I’m going to let
God decide if I die or not.’
talking about the Quiverfull movement and God?
Acknowledging the biological reality of the embryo does not somehow
imply a religious value that everyone should get pregnant as often as possible,
anymore than saying a 3-year-old is a human being implies that everyone should
have lots of toddlers. If AaA wants
non-religious arguments against abortion, perhaps they shouldn’t assign
religious meaning where none was provided.
Deanna, and Libbie, the next set of hosts. Mike
poses an amazingly loaded (they prefer the term “open”) question
Can you find a rational, justified argument for making
abortion illegal that doesn’t, when you dig down deep under all the
equivocations, under all the bad science, under all the red herrings, that you
won’t find religious ideology at the bottom of it?
Mike’s fellow pro-choicers can’t think of a non-religious reason to oppose
abortion. Deanna claims pro-life arguments come down to claiming “the
potential baby is a special, unique creature endowed with a soul at the moment
of conception by their god” (22:35). She goes on to assert
“when you look at the science that opposes that you’re still not looking
at a unique, special, magical, souled creature” (22:52).
Deanna is right. Science does not support
anything “magical” or “souled.” If you take those
superfluous adjectives out, though, science actually does support the
“unique creature” narrative. Unique DNA from the moment of
conception, guys. The hosts earlier in the show already acknowledged this
making more little Christians.”
Libbie. According to Libbie, pro-lifers don’t oppose abortion due to
an actual problem with abortion. Instead (28:14):
What they care about, what’s really at stake here
for them, is the gradual decline in numbers of members of their religion.
This is what I think. I’m not a scientist okay? I’m not like a
social scientist, whatever. This is just my opinion about the
situation. But I think that the need to reproduce, to have as many babies
as possible in any given family, is a feature that is built into religions that
long-term exist, like I said a little bit earlier. And I think it’s kind of a
three-pronged approach of how this happens, how this is actually built into the
meme of religion.
Number One: The best way to keep a woman uneducated is for her to
have children young. If she’s too busy raising kids she’s not going to go to
school, she’s not going to educate herself, she’s probably not even going to
have time to think too much about politics or anything like that. She’s
going to be too busy running around taking care of kids forever because she’s
going to be barefoot and pregnant for most of her life!
Number Two: An uneducated person is far more likely to be
religious than nonreligious. I think a few different studies have shown,
including, I believe, Darrel Ray’s, that as a person’s level of education
increases their tendency to become less religious also increases. So the
more uneducated a person is, the more likely they are to cling to a
And Number Three: The more religious a mother is, the more likely
she is to raise her children religious.
So therefore you keep a woman uneducated, pregnant and having
babies, she’s going to raise up religious babies. And that just keeps the
religion going, and I think that’s what these people are really afraid of,
whether it’s conscious or not, whether they realize this or not. This is
so much a part of religion, that I think these people are really fearful of a
loss of their culture, a loss of their religion, and that’s what they’re really
fighting against. It’s not about abortion, it’s about making
more little Christians.
this amazing mischaracterization of the pro-life position deserved a very
course, later the hosts go on to talk about how pro-lifers just want to guilt
and shame people into not having or enjoying sex (32:41, 33:52, 35:16) (which,
by the way, is apparently another tactic to ensure people are trapped in
religion (35:31)). I’m not clear on how pro-lifers can simultaneously
want everyone to procreate as much as possible and also want to stop people
from having sex, but whatever. It seems any theories of pro-life
motivation, however internally inconsistent, are acceptable, as long as those
theories have nothing to do with, you know, the fact that abortion kills
fetuses. The entire podcast tended to avoid that small detail.
pro-life movement is strongly correlated with religiosity, particularly forms
of Christianity. In that light, it is
somewhat understandable that AaA puts forth so much energy rebutting
Christian-specific assertions. It would
be a lot more understandable, though, if they hadn’t asked for and quoted
non-religious anti-abortion arguments throughout the show. As it stands, they side-stepped the non-religious
points, and opted to focus on religion anyway.
a cop-out. They can allege religious
misogyny and ignore the historical anti-abortion stances of prominent
feminists. They can claim puritanical
views on sex and avoid the level of fetal development at the time of most
abortions. They can talk all day about how there’s no proof of a soul and skip
the part where there’s plenty of proof of a new human life.
pro-life activism to Secular Pro-Life.
Perhaps if more people recognized the religious-free arguments against
abortion, we could stop having the same sideshow conversations.