Once a month or so, the Secular Pro-Life blog features a short interview with a pro-life atheist. (See the full series of interviews here.) Although Secular Pro-Life is not exclusively for atheists, historically atheists have played a key role in the organization. As atheists become more prominent in the pro-life movement generally, we’re excited for the opportunity to share their stories. This month, we welcome an anonymous atheist.
How did you arrive at the anti-abortion position?
I grew up in a pretty liberal household. My parents always vote “blue no matter who.” They never really talked about abortion, but I absorbed the pro-choice position along with everything else. I grew up watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and sometimes the commentators talked about a “war on women” whenever any sort of state abortion restriction was proposed or passed. I never bought that rhetoric even when I was pro-choice. Even though I disagreed, I knew that politicians weren’t trying to restrict abortion because they hated women or wanted to control them, but because they thought it was killing a baby.
Back then I was very concerned about climate change, and I thought abortion was a good way to control overpopulation. I didn’t think very much about the issue, but if you’d asked me enough questions, you’d probably find that I had something like the “golden retriever” view summarized by Equal Rights Institute (i.e., I thought the unborn had some value, but not as much value as the born), and I supported restrictions on abortion after the fetus can feel pain.
I fully became pro-life in high school. It was a gradual process. I don’t remember what triggered it exactly, but I started doing more research on abortion. I found out that the entire movement to legalize abortion in America was based on lies – that Norma McCorvey (aka Jane Roe) had lied about being raped, and that Dr. Bernard Nathanson, co-founder of NARAL, had lied about how many women had died due to illegal abortions, and that both of them had later become pro-life. I learned about fetal development, abortion methods, and pro-life arguments. Perhaps most importantly, I saw photos of abortion victims. I even gave a brief impromptu presentation at school about why I was pro-life. It was a Quaker school, and Quakers believe strongly in nonviolence, so I thought I would get some sympathy, but I got none. A bit later, I asked a teacher to take down a cartoon on his classroom door that was degrading to pro-lifers, and he refused. From then on I kept pretty quiet about it (although I protested outside my local Planned Parenthood once, and I went to the Defund PP rally in DC after the CMP videos came out). Of the people I know, only my parents know that I’m pro-life.
This pattern continued in college. I went to a super-liberal college. Early in my freshman year I talked to a classmate about why I was pro-life, but she was very angry and refused to hear my arguments. I eventually got so depressed about the pro-abortion atmosphere there (as well as my general workload and mental health issues) that I took a year off. Looking back, I wish I had tried to start a Students for Life group, or gone to a school that already had one. It would have given me a much-needed outlet and a place to talk with like-minded people.
Since then, I’ve been a regular reader of Secular Pro-Life, Equal Rights Institute, and several other pro-life blogs. I’ve been honing my pro-life arguments and keeping abreast of abortion-related news stories at home and abroad. I found the De Facto Guardian paper particularly enlightening, and I still think it is the strongest response to bodily rights arguments that has yet been produced by the pro-life movement. None of the pro-choice arguments I’ve heard has ever come close to persuading me, and I seriously doubt any ever will.
One of the reasons I didn’t talk much about abortion for a long time was that I didn’t have much hope that Roe would ever be overturned, and therefore no major progress against it would really be made. Despite the backlash, Dobbs has emboldened me to get more active in the pro-life movement. My state recently banned abortion after 12 weeks (with exceptions), and that and all the other pro-life state laws give me hope that things could really change.
How did you arrive at the atheist position?
I was raised in progressive Christianity. My dad was (and is) an atheist, but he left my mom in charge of my religious education, so I believed in God, Jesus, and Heaven (but not Hell). I never questioned any of this until I was about 8. I read a comic strip about a boy who asks his mother what happens to people when they die, and she said that a lot of smart people believe that there is no afterlife, no soul, they just die and that’s it. That made sense to me at the time, so I stopped believing in God. It took me a few months to come out to my parents, and to my surprise and relief, they weren’t mad. I’ve been an atheist ever since.
How do you contribute to the cause of saving lives in the womb?
I recently reached out to my local pregnancy center to see if I could volunteer there. They had a number of volunteer opportunities, but the one that sounded best to me was to pass out flyers around town advertising them and their services. I’ve put up several of these flyers in public places, but I still have several of them left in my car (my ADHD makes it hard for me to complete tasks without a firm deadline). I can only hope that someone has taken one of these flyers and visited the center, either to find support for keeping their baby or for post-abortion healing. It is a Christian center, so I obviously don’t agree with all of their views, but I’m definitely glad they exist and I hope to get more involved with them in the future.
What words of wisdom do you have to share?
I’d like to use a term I heard from Kate Greasley, the smartest pro-choice philosopher I know of. She describes what she calls “package deal thinking,” which is when people adopt their religious and/or political views as part of a “package” (i.e. liberal or conservative) without thinking them all through individually. This was why I was initially pro-choice, and I suspect the same is true for many people (pro-life as well as pro-choice). Sam Harris has also talked about how weird it is that knowing a person’s view on any one issue generally allows you to predict their views on all the others, and the Irish pro-life site The Minimise Project has an excellent article on this topic titled “Don’t let people you disagree with control your mind.”
So my advice is to avoid package deal thinking – not just on abortion, but on all issues. I realize we don’t have the time or energy to work out a position on every single issue, but most people can certainly do better at this than they are now. I try hard to do this myself, and while I’m sure I don’t always succeed, I find that I don’t align with any political tribe on everything, which I’m pretty sure is a good sign (even though it’s very frustrating at the voting booth!).