A Secular Case Against Abortion
1. The human zygote, embryo, and fetus are all human organisms; they are early developmental stages of a human’s life cycle.
2. All human organisms are morally relevant.
3. It’s generally immoral to kill humans.
4. Bodily rights aren’t enough to justify elective abortion.
Part 1: The human zygote, embryo, and fetus are all human organisms.
“Life begins at fertilization” is a shorthand way to say that the zygote is the first developmental stage of a human being’s life cycle. This is not a religious premise; it is a biological fact, attested to in countless biology and embryology texts and affirmed by the majority of biologists worldwide. Read more:
- Human beings begin as zygotes: refutations to 8 common pro-choice arguments (en español aquí)
- Even very pro-choice biologists acknowledge a human life begins at fertilization
- The zygote is the beginning of the human life cycle: everyday examples
- Click here to see images from biology textbooks
- See the Biology section of our Abortion Debate Index
Corner cases and unusual biological phenomenon do not change the fact that the zygote is the first stage of a human’s life cycle. Here are some common objections we have addressed:
- On miscarriage: Nearly half of all fertilized eggs fail to implant (en español aquí)
- Monozygotic twinning: Weasley brothers, flatworms, and cow clones (en español aquí)
- Hydatidiform moles and molar pregnancies (en español aquí)
Part 2: All human organisms are morally relevant.
Many pro-choice people acknowledge that, biologically, life begins at conception but deny zygotes, embryos, and fetuses are “people,” i.e. morally relevant humans deserving of human rights. They offer a variety of ideas about what additional criteria are necessary. Common suggestions include that the child must have a heartbeat, have brain waves, be viable, or be “conscious”/self-aware.
We find these criteria for “personhood” arbitrary. Many of the proposed criteria would, if applied consistently, deny personhood to already born groups of humans we universally recognize as morally relevant and worthy of protection, such as newborns, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. We believe consistency demands that we protect all humans as morally relevant and members of our species. Read more:
- Embryos & metaphysical personhood: both biology & philosophy support the pro-life case (en español aquí)
- A Primer on Fetal Personhood and Consciousness (en español aquí)
- Personhood based on human cognitive abilities
- Can you step into the same river twice? A closer look at human identity
- Why viability is the least plausible definition of personhood (Equal Rights Institute)
- The most undervalued argument in the prolife movement (Equal Rights Institute)
- Arguments against fetal personhood
- See the Personhood section of our Abortion Debate Index
Part 3: It’s generally immoral to kill humans.
In our experience, people may have different ideas about why it’s generally immoral to kill humans, but few if any people sincerely debate whether it’s generally immoral to kill humans. As a matter of policy, we at Secular Pro-Life do not take a stance on the metaphysical questions regarding where morality comes from or why we should care about one another. We simply ask that all people who believe, as a baseline premise, that it’s wrong to kill each other apply that stance consistently and recognize preborn children as part of the human family. For more details, read The Imago Dei, or “Why should secularists care about human life?” (en español aquí) and “Where do atheists think human rights come from?”
Part 4: Bodily rights aren’t enough to justify elective abortion.
Some pro-choice people argue that it doesn’t matter whether the fetus is morally valuable “person,” because no person can use another’s body against her will. We believe this bodily rights argument is one of the strongest pro-choice arguments, and we encourage all people interested in the abortion debate to lean into this conversation. Still, we find that the bodily rights argument is not enough to justify elective abortion. Examples involving organ donation, car crashes, and other illustrations of bodily rights are disanalogous to pregnancy and abortion in one or more major ways. Read more:
- McFall v. Shimp and Thomson’s violinist don’t justify the vast majority of abortions. (en español aquí)
- Abortion isn’t just about ending a pregnancy; it’s about killing a fetus.
- “Fewer rights than a corpse” rebutted
- Autumn in the Sovereign Zone: Why “it’s my body, I can do what I want” won’t do (Equal Rights Institute)
- De facto guardian and abortion: a response to the strongest violinist (Justice For All)
- Other bodily rights articles (Equal Rights Institute)
- See the Bodily Rights section of our Abortion Debate Index