Twice in the last few months, I’ve gotten into a conversation with someone who thinks pro-life people only champion the unborn because of religion. These friends seemed to take it for granted that someone who believed a baby in the womb had human rights could only hold such a belief if they chucked science and common sense.
This is plainly not true. There is even a group called Secular Pro-Life run by “three atheist women with significant help from atheist and agnostic volunteers.”
You read that right: atheist women.
“In what universe is this possible?” you might ask. “What reason could anyone have to be pro-life outside of an unfounded belief in God?”
I’ll be happy to tell you.
Life at Conception
At conception, the zygote that is formed has its own distinct DNA from either the mother or the father. Why is that important? Because that makes it distinct from both the mother and the father. It is not really just an extra part of one or the other at that point. It is its own unique organism.
This is the foundation of a scientific argument for the pro-life position. This is literally where a new human begins to form. Unless someone has a terribly compelling reason to think that we should not consider this the beginning of every human life, and therefore the beginning of that human being’s right to life, abortion cannot be considered anything other than murder.
Oh, But Wait!
No one can really argue against the fact that every human being begins, biologically, at conception. Many argue, though, that even if an embryo or fetus is biologically distinct from the mother, it is not a “person.” It can’t think for itself. Depending on the stage of development, it can’t feel pain and has no consciousness.
In this reasoning, though, there is something insidious that I don’t think a lot of well-meaning pro-choice friends understand. What they are really saying is that this unborn, biologically human being is not a real person with rights because it doesn’t have certain outward characteristics that we associate with a typical human being. That is some dubious intellectual territory. I’ll explain why.
Human, but not human?
I want to dig more deeply into the reasons I have heard for why so many consider unborn children less entitled to basic human rights than the rest of us.
Reason #1: “They are not conscious.”
This implies that to be human, someone needs to be conscious. They have to have the ability to think and be aware of their surroundings. So, I guess people in a coma are not really human?
Reason #2: “They are not fully developed.”
So essentially, the unborn child is not fully human because his brain, heart, or limbs are not fully formed. If that is the case, it’s good to know that if I ever need to get rid of my children, I’ve got solid philosophical grounds to do so. Biologically, they are not fully formed either.
Reason #3: “Anybody with common sense can see that a couple of cells in a woman’s pregnant body are not the same as a grown woman!”
But why? Because a fetus is not conscious? Not fully developed? Is it because the little life is too small to see with the naked eye? Throughout history, the disabled, the racially different, the mentally handicapped, and more have been treated as subhuman because they did not look like the “typical person” (as though there were such a thing).
Reason #4: “You don’t know when life begins. Don’t judge.”
Exactly! That’s the point! If you don’t know when an unborn child ought to have the right to life and become a full-fledged member of the human race, then why make any gamble at all?
When Does Life Begin?
In fact, I want to dig a trench on that last point. The longer a child develops in the womb, the more difficult it is to make the case that the child at that point in pregnancy is just a clump of cells.
So where is the line between human and non-human? Person and non-person? Is it 8 months? 6 months? 4 months? 8 weeks? 4 weeks?
You don’t know when life begins. So why the hell do we gamble with it? Why did we take the chance and legislate the humanity out of a living, breathing, clearly human organism with Roe v. Wade?
If there is any chance a person is in a condemned building, we do not demolish it. If we are hunting and have even the slightest inkling that the bush ahead of us is rustling because a man is hiding behind it, we do not shoot.
If there is even the slightest possibility that what is growing inside a pregnant woman is a real child, we do not abort.
See? No religion required.
Saying that being pro-life is merely a religious prejudice is a cop-out. Throughout American history, we have steadily marched towards making this idea that “all men are created equal” a lived reality. All people have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Those of us who are pro-life are not asking the rest of America to go to church every week. We are not trying to impose our religious beliefs on this one. We are asking America to make good on its own Constitutional promises.
We acknowledge the full rights of black people. We acknowledge the full rights of women. It is high time we acknowledge the full rights of the unborn.
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