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“Stop pushing your religion!” “This is not a theocracy.” “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries.” These pro-choice slogans reference a common idea: that opposing abortion is a purely religious belief and therefore has no place in a pluralistic society.
From this perspective, making abortion illegal would be like making it illegal to eat non-kosher foods, or making all women wear hijabs, or outlawing eating meat on Fridays. The thinking is that if you are not a member of a religious group, then the government should not require you to abide by their religion.
It’s easy to see where this misunderstanding comes from because many people who oppose abortion are Christians. And many of those Christians defend their position by appealing to their religion, like “God hates abortion,” or “before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” or “pray to end abortion.” But the idea that abortion is wrong is not exclusive to the Bible, or to any one worldview: theistic, secular, or otherwise.
I’m an atheist and I oppose abortion. In fact, I’m the Executive Director of an organization called Secular Pro-Life, and our whole thing is to advance secular arguments against abortion. The reality is that the central argument against abortion has nothing to do with religion.
One, it’s wrong to kill innocent human beings. Two, abortion kills innocent human beings. So three, abortion is wrong. See? Not religious at all.
The belief that it’s wrong to kill innocent human beings is possibly the most universally accepted moral truth embraced by people throughout the world and throughout history. It’s found in the teachings of many religions, yes, but also has a firm foundation in secular morality.
Now, I need to stress that when I say “morality,” I am not referring to a religious doctrine. I’m referring to a rational standard by which we judge actions as beneficial or harmful to life, to flourishing, or to happiness for all human beings. And killing innocent people is not beneficial to life, flourishing, or happiness.
And make no mistake, abortion is killing. It’s not just refusing the use of your body, and then someone passively dies. Every single method of abortion involves taking a human who was living and making them not living. You’re either depriving them of oxygen, which we all need to live, or you’re dismembering them, or you’re injecting poison into their hearts. There is no abortion method that doesn’t involve actively killing someone.
Some people will say, “Well, yes, it’s wrong to kill innocent human beings. But the idea that human life begins at conception, that’s a religious belief.” It’s not a religious belief. It’s a biological fact. Crack open any embryology textbook, and it will explain that the mammalian life cycle, or specifically, the human life cycle, begins with the zygote, or with fertilization or conception, however they want to put it.They all attest to the same long understood fact when sperm and egg meet. You have a new human organism. This is biology 101.
Now, some people might agree that, scientifically speaking, a zygote or embryo is a human, but they counter that it’s not a person. That is to say, they do not have the same moral value as a born human in order to be considered a person. They argue you need special criteria like a heartbeat, or consciousness, or independence from the mother. But is an elderly man whose heart has temporarily stopped not a person? Is a boxer who has been knocked unconscious not a person? Is a newborn who is still completely and utterly dependent on her parents not a person?
Of course they are. You see, the distinction between humanity and personhood? It’s just the excuse to commit violence against certain groups of human beings. Historically, we’ve seen so many examples of this. People deny their personhood based on race, or ethnicity, or gender, or ability, or belief. These distinctions are arbitrary, and they often lead to horrific violence.
The reality is that if you are a human being, then you are a person. You, me, the pregnant woman, the child she’s pregnant with: we all have a right to life. Simple as. No religion required.