Is there a secular argument against abortion?

Yesterday, an article was published about atheists at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). Featured prominently in the article was Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists. In it, Dave was quoted as saying, “I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion. You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.” Is that so?

If by “secular argument,” you mean “a belief based on personal feelings,” then, sure, there’s a secular argument against abortion. There could be a “secular” argument against puppies, in that case. If you’re using “secular” to mean “a logical, science-based, or rational” belief, then no, there is no “secular argument” against abortion. The supposed “secular arguments” against abortion are rooted in misogyny, a lack of understanding of science, and religious overtones.

Consider this scenario: Jane is dying because her kidneys are failing. The only way she will survive is if she can get another kidney. Bob has two healthy kidneys and is a match. Can anyone– be it a doctor, a family member, or the government– force Bob to undergo a dangerous surgery and give up one of his kidneys? The answer, of course, is no, because Bob has bodily autonomy. This was even determined by the US Supreme Court in 1978 in McFall v. Shrimp.

Given that it has been deemed illegal (and unethical, by almost everyone) to take away someone’s bodily autonomy even if that will save someone else’s life, why would forcing someone who doesn’t want to be pregnant to remain pregnant be ethical or legal? Obviously, it isn’t, as was determined by the Supreme Court in 1973 in the landmark decision, Roe v. Wade

An argument often touted by anti-choice and anti-abortion activists is the idea of “fetal pain,” that unborn fetuses experience pain, which they say makes abortion unethical. This “science” has been debunked, and many scientists have said their work has been misrepresented by anti-abortion activists. However, even IF fetuses could feel pain as early as anti-choicers suggest, why does the potential pain of the fetus trump the undeniable pain of the mother?

There’s also the argument that if someone has sex, they should be willing to “deal with the consequences.” I feel that this is so ridiculous that it doesn’t even need to be debunked, but I will mention this: what exactly are you saying about children and parenthood if you think a child is a punishment?

If Dave Silverman wants to pal around with the kind of people who are trying to take away the fundamental rights of other human beings, then that’s his prerogative. Personally, I’d rather work with people who agree with me on important issues (like reproductive justice) regardless of whether we agree if god is real or not, instead of prioritizing atheism over issues that affect people every single day. The arguments I often hear about why atheist activism is important is that religion is the root of inequality in our society, and if we tackle religion, then our society will be equal. Dave Silverman is proving that this is not the case, and atheism is not the panacea for equality.

nnafbowlathonI don’t want to live in a world where being pregnant or having children is forced upon anyone, whether as a punishment, due to lack of funds, or for any other reason. That’s why I’m participating in the National Network of Abortion Funds 2014 bowl-a-thon. If you agree, please consider finding an event in your area and joining (or creating) a team, or donating to someone who is bowling. If you support reproductive justice but don’t like me, please consider donating to someone else’s page, or just donating in general (my friend, Adam Lee of Daylight Atheism, is also fundraising). If you’re fundraising, please feel free to share a link to your page in the comments.

Anyway, happy International Women’s Day!



Sarah is a feminist, atheist vegan with Crohn’s Disease, and she won’t shut up about any of those things. You really need to follow her on Twitter (and probably Google+, just to be safe).

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  1. I want to start by saying that I totally support reproductive choice, and I agree that many of the commonly used so-called secular arguments for pro-life / anti-abortion are bullshit. Also bullshit are the religious pro-life supporters that pretend to be making “secular” arguments, then fall back on “God said so” when pushed.

    However, I want to play devil’s advocate and say that you can have a secular argument or belief that abortion is wrong. I think you’d be wrong – but I think you could still be using secular, non-pseudoscience arguments. Abortion was the longest hold-over for me from leaving conservative Christianity. Partly because the brainwashing was powerful – it’s hard to say that I agree that killing or terminating a fetus is fine when I spent decades being told and believing that the fetus was a baby. But also partly because I think it’s difficult to reach a really definitive answer on when a fetus makes that switch from non-viable bit of biological material that doesn’t have rights to a human person/baby that does have rights, and partly because I’ve never completely bought the bodily autonomy argument.

    Re: bodily autonomy: I’ve always felt that it misses the action vs. inaction part. Philosophy of ethics has long understood that, in practice, it’s an important ethical distinction whether we cause something by our inaction (e.g. shove a stranger in front of a train) or our inaction (e.g. fail to pull the stranger out of the way of the train). Not giving someone else your kidney is inaction. I think in some ways, IF you believed that a fetus could be considered a person with a person’s rights, an abortion might be something more like separating Siamese twins. If one twin wants to be separated, but the other would die due to the separation, does the first twin have the right to that surgery? Or does the first twin have an obligation to support the second twin using her own organs etc? I feel like that’s a lot fuzzier than Bob not giving Jane his kidney.

    I ended up ditching my anti-abortion stance for two reasons. One was that I read “The Cider House Rules” plus many real-life accounts of women who needed abortions, and I came to better understand the real suffering that occurs when reproductive choice is denied. The other was something PZ Myers mentioned one day, that just because a person might WANT the issue of personhood to be black and white (e.g. at conception) doesn’t mean it works that way. Some lines are fuzzy and gray and we just have to live with that. So with more reflection I definitely think a first trimester fetus is in no way a person, and I think it gets fuzzy partway through the third semester, but I still support abortion rights for all stages of pregnancy (if only because the suffering that occurs from regulating or banning late-stage abortions is much greater than that from allowing them). Like you said, the fetal pain argument has no scientific support; so would I rather a fetus that’s bordering on personhood die without suffering or sentience, or would I rather that fetus and its mother spend a lifetime of suffering because someone else disagrees with the woman about the status of the object in her womb? I pick the abortion. However, if someone else with a secular viewpoint formed their ethics based more on basic principles and less on utilitarian views, I could see the possibility that they could be against abortion without using religion or pseudoscience.

    All that said, I definitely agree that equality is much more important to me than atheism. Sure, atheism is important to me personally and I have a lot of issues with religion, but I also find I have a lot more in common with a Christian co-worker who’s pro-choice and spends a lot of time working to combat racial inequality than I do with a guy like Dave Silverman.

    1. I want to play devil’s advocate

      *sigh* Why? Do you think there aren’t enough devils? Are the devils lacking in advocates? Do you seriously think anyone here is unfamiliar with the devils and their arguments, given that they are arguments against us and our basic humanity?


      Re: bodily autonomy: I’ve always felt that it misses the action vs. inaction part.

      This is telling me that, rather than merely playing at it, you have accepted the devil’s argument that carrying a pregnancy to term and giving birth is an INACTION.

      Think about that for a minute. Realize how profoundly dishonest it is, and how thoroughly it erases the experience (including the difficulty, discomfort, excruciating pain, and risk of death and permanent injury) of pregnant people.

      Once you’re done reflecting, promise to yourself and everyone else that you will never repeat that dangerous myth again.

      1. “I want to play devil’s advocate and say that you can have a secular argument or belief that abortion is wrong”
        You may have noticed that Sarah has addressed this: you can be secular and be against abortion, but it will not be a reasoned argument (and I’d go so far as to say that if you hold such a belief, it will be a belief directly at odds with beliefs in universal human rights). This bears out, btw, in reality when you see non-religious people argue against abortion. It’s always appeals to emotion or attempts at squicking people out with bloody/slimy images.

        “I think it’s difficult to reach a really definitive answer on when a fetus makes that switch from non-viable bit of biological material that doesn’t have rights to a human person/baby that does have rights”
        That’s not actually relevant. I am an adult with human rights, I still don’t get to use your body against your will. So a fetus wouldn’t, even if you gave it full human rights.

        “I’ve always felt that it misses the action vs. inaction part. ”
        It doesn’t. The kidney analogy is the easiest one to make, but the truth is that I am legally allowed to take actions in defense of my bodily self-determination that kill people. But to extend the kidney analogy: once someone consented to being a donor, it takes no further action to go through with it, but it requires an action to change your mind and cancel, even though now you’ve wasted the dying person’s precious time. You’re still entitled to take that action even though it will kill the kidney patient.
        Hell, you can even deny dying people kidneys off your dead body, when you definitely no longer need them and no action on your part is required. Because bodily autonomy is treated as the ultimate human right; except for pregnant women, apparently.

        “if someone else with a secular viewpoint formed their ethics based more on basic principles and less on utilitarian views”
        that depends on what those “basic principles” are. Bodily autonomy, meaning the right to have absolute say about what happens to your own body even at the cost of another’s death, is a basic principle as far as I can tell.

        1. You may have noticed that Sarah has addressed this: you can be secular and be against abortion, but it will not be a reasoned argument (and I’d go so far as to say that if you hold such a belief, it will be a belief directly at odds with beliefs in universal human rights).

          I think most of us here broadly agree with this. However, I don’t see how it contradicts what Dave Silverman said. “Secular” does not mean “logical, science-based, or rational”. It means “not religious or spiritual”.

          I’d go so far as to say that there’s no humanist argument against safe legal abortion.

          This seems like nitpicking, but that’s the nature of the beast. When you’re dealing with people’s identities, fine distinctions like this matter, much like the distinction between “gender” and “sex”.

          1. ***However, I don’t see how it contradicts what Dave Silverman said. “Secular” does not mean “logical, science-based, or rational”. It means “not religious or spiritual***

            I disagree. Silverman implied such qualifiers when he included in his statement that the abortion argument was less “clear cut” than other issues such as right to die, gay marriage, and school prayer.

            Given many off the cuff comments I’ve seen Silverman make and from my interactions with him in person, I don’t think he thought this statement through before he said it, and I wouldn’t surprised if he’s unfamiliar with the full secular humanist arguments about abortion.

          2. Martha, without reading the rest of his remarks (bad of me, I know), you’re probably right about Silverman not thinking this through. (Of course, there’s a lot of this going around. I’m sure we’ve all noticed that in atheist blogosphere, terms like “atheism”, “humanism”, and “skepticism” are often used interchangeably.)

            Nonetheless, critical thinking 101 (and I do mean that it’s literally the first lecture in any university-level critical thinking course) states that where there is any ambiguity, we must apply the principle of charity. There is a reasonable interpretation of Silverman’s claim, so that’s the one we should use in response.

          3. “However, I don’t see how it contradicts what Dave Silverman said. “Secular” does not mean “logical, science-based, or rational”. It means “not religious or spiritual”.”

            A “secular argument for” something is a non-religious set of coherent propositions leading from a premise to a conclusion. An argument is not the same as an opinion or preference.

          4. “Argument” usually means “reasons” or “line of reasoning” in this sense (the other sense being “disagreement”). An argument may take the form of connected propositions, but doesn’t have to be. I have no problem, for example, calling Sam Harris defending torture an “argument”, even though it’s incoherent and irrational.

            Having said that, (and we’re off-topic now, in that you, jadehawk, didn’t say this), I think that the most misused word in Internet argument is “just”. We’ve all seen it; It’s “just” an opinion, or “just” a theory.

            Abortion is undeniably a moral and ethical issue, and as such, science can inform the debate (it can, for example, knock out some bad arguments), but it cannot ultimately answer any questions by itself. It’s fundamentally a question of moral philosophy. Some answers are more wrong than others, but the “most wrong” answer, it seems to me, is to assume that the issue is easy.

            It’s such a complex and difficult question that I don’t believe it’s possible to leave it up to a blunt instrument such as the law. For this and many other reasons, it makes more sense to leave the hard decisions to a doctor and their patient.

      2. I think that at least the author of the piece is unfamiliar with the devil, since she hasn’t done a good job of demonstrating the strongest of their arguments. Here are some reasonably strong responses to the author’s piece that go unaddressed:

        1. Maybe bodily autonomy shouldn’t be as strongly protected under the law as it is currently. (Sarah relies on the fact that it is illegal, but so what? Does that mean that societies which don’t protect a general right of bodily autonomy are right in also banning abortion?) There are clearly secular arguments in favor of forcing people to give up their kidneys.

        2. Maybe the author’s analogy to kidney donation isn’t sound. You have no responsibility to give your kidney to a stranger, but you also have no responsibility to feed a hungry stranger. You certainly have a responsibility to feed a newborn baby. Is there any reasonable scope to dispute the analogy?

        3. Maybe society’s protection of bodily autonomy isn’t as strong as the author thinks it is. For example, in many jurisdictions there’s no right to kill in self defense unless you are threatened with death yourself. Society permits all kinds of violations of bodily integrity before it authorizes deadly force. In some cases the state itself will violate your bodily integrity, such as when it performs invasive searches or tests.

        These are just direct responses to the piece, they don’t touch any of the other potential arguments. To claim that there don’t exist any potential arguments in favor of a position is a very strong claim. These arguments do exist (they’re all over this comment section).

    2. Dave is pro-choice (very strongly so), and does spend a lot of time working to combat inequality – mostly for LGBT issues. He understands that some atheists are not though, and he completely disagrees with them.
      Why would you think otherwise?

      1. He’s obviously not so pro-choice that he doesn’t mind taking money and support from the Forced Birth Brigade. That’s not pro-choice enough to actually ensure the continuation of abortion access and abortion rights.

        1. I don’t understand how this point is obvious to you? Do we know that he takes money and support (and doesn’t mind doing so) from the Forced Birth Brigade? I have never known him to do so, but I have only known him for some three years. During that time, I have never known him or American Atheists to waver in their pro-choice, pro-women, pro-LGBT beliefs.
          In the article Sarah mentions above, he recognized that there were secular reasons for being against abortion. He never said he supported those reasons, nor endorsed those who do. He later explicitly said that he completely disagrees with those reasons (though he shouldn’t have had to – recognizing something exists does not mean you support it).

          1. Yes, and? He’s out there telling conservatives that maybe they can be atheists and still oppress women too! Sorry, that’s not up to par. That does not qualify as even being neutral, when the war on women’s rights is at such a fever pitch at the moment.

          2. No, he’s not. He is out there admitting anti-choice atheists exist (and disagreeing with them). He is saying secular anti-choice arguments exist, and then he said they were wrong and he does not support them. Admitting an argument exists is not endorsing it. Similarly, admitting an argument exists, and then saying it is wrong, and then saying you don’t support it, and then saying you support the opposite of it, is also not endorsing it.

          3. He wasn’t ‘just’ stating that there were secular arguments for abortion, or he wouldn’t have put those in a separate category from those against same-sex marriage and the right to die. Separating them means that the anti-abortion arguments are somehow more deserving of being treated as serious arguments. Hell, I can make a much STRONGER purely secular argument against the Right to Die movement than I’ve ever heard against abortion. It’s not one I find ultimately convincing, but I’ve had to admit it leaves me with qualms on the subject.

            Silverman’s choice to isolate anti-abortion arguments from those others does, in fact, lend that category of argument increased legitimacy. Honestly, if he’d admit that and say, “I conveyed my thoughts poorly. Here’s why,” he’d get a lot less grief about this.

          4. This, exactly this, freemage, and it really just BOGGLES MY MIND that people aren’t understanding that and are trying to defend his cowardice. His cowardice at the expensive of women.

          5. This is exactly where the problem is. The secular arguments against abortion aren’t any more valid than the secular arguments against gay marriage and there are better arguments against Right to Die. The fact that Silverman doesn’t see this shows a remarkable lack of concern for or insight about people who get might be faced with an unplanned pregnancy. Not to mention willfully ignoring the cultural and legislative climate that has a real impact on real people. But, that seems to be a feature of the movement – remove all arguments from the real world and then scoff when people point out how their words do real harm in that real world.

      2. While I think it’s important that Silverman’s statement be called out as it was on this blog, his statement shouldn’t be blown out of proportion or negate the fact that the secular movement at large (including American Atheists) has been a strong force in the fight for women’s rights.

        1. While you’re right, we shouldn’t blow that out of proportion either. Apart from Ingersoll (who was remarkable partly because he was so unusual in this respect), the atheist community has only taken up women’s rights (or gay rights, for that matter) very recently in history; certainly more recently than, say, liberal religion. But then, we shouldn’t make too much of that, either, because even if the movement has historically been behind on this, individuals were there at the forefront.

          I’m not sure if there’s a lesson to be learned here apart from “history is complicated”. If there is, it’s probably “alliances are important”.

  2. The only possible secular argument against abortion I can think of that isn’t trivial is that abortion should not be a primary method of birth control. That is not to say that it should not be made available, but rather that the emphasis should be on prevention rather than termination, but even this I admit is stretching.

      1. As I wrote the argument is weak, but key word here is ‘primary.’ While I hold that there should be no limits to access, I was simply pointing out that prevention is better. It was more a case of illustrating the lack of any real foundation to construct a purely secular argument against abortion since that would be the one reason that was not based on moral or ethical positions.

        1. even the “should not be primary BC” argument doesn’t hold water for long, when you consider why anyone even would use a surgical procedure as their primary BC instead of much less invasive methods. For one example, there are people for whom contraceptives and barrier methods are simply too dangerous (latex allergies and lethal contraindications), so of course those folks should be able to use abortion as their primary form of BC.

          1. That’s a valid point. At any rate, like I said, I was trying to grope for an example of an argument that was not grounded in morals or ethics (since the abortion = murder is, in the end a moral position, even if secular) and the one I offered apparently only illustrates just how flimsy any non-trivial one is.

          2. Which lethal contraindication for oral contraceptives would not be much worse if they instead used abortion as their primary form of birth control?

          3. Yeah. They all break down when you look at them closely. Which is why Silverman talking about the existence of secular arguments against abortion, without also noting their utter lack of validity, a shitty and basically anti-woman move.

          4. “Which lethal contraindication for oral contraceptives would not be much worse if they instead used abortion as their primary form of birth control?”

            Abortion doesn’t give you cancer, no matter what anti-choice propaganda tells you.

    1. Then that’s not really the abortion issue that Silverman mentioned in his quote, is it? Because the abortion issue as it is understood in common vernacular is about access to legal, safe abortions. Prevention of unwanted pregnancy is about sex ed and access to other forms of birth control.

  3. If by “secular argument,” you mean “a belief based on personal feelings,” then, sure, there’s a secular argument against abortion. There could be a “secular” argument against puppies, in that case. If you’re using “secular” to mean “a logical, science-based, or rational” belief, then no, there is no “secular argument” against abortion.

    “Secular” refers to human thought, behavior, institutions, etc. that do not have a religious basis. That’s it. And lacking a religious basis sure doesn’t mean that something is logical, science-based, or rational. A secular argument against abortion would be any argument against abortion that doesn’t rely on belief in God. Generally speaking,that secular argument is “Fetuses are people,” which is wrong (and ignorant). Pretty much as wrong and ignorant as “Fetuses are souls which belong to God so don’t murder them,” but secular.

    1. Yes…? I phrased it that way to say, sure, there’s an argument against abortion that isn’t based on religion, but it is not based on logic or scientific evidence (because many people assume “secular” means “scientific”).

      1. Right, so it isn’t “a belief based on personal feelings,” either. I mean, beliefs based on personal feelings can be secular, but they can equally be religious. What bothered me was that you didn’t mention the actual meaning of the term “secular” in a discussion of whether there’s a secular argument against abortion.

          1. No it isn’t? There’s nothing about “secular” meaning simply “non-religious” in that sentence, or section, or the essay itself.

        1. Silverman wasn’t clear in his quote what he meant by “secular”, but he did go as far as to suggest that there are secular arguments against abortion that are stronger than the secular arguments against right to die, gay marriage, or in favor of school prayer. This article seems to essentially be calling bullshit on that off the cuff and vague assessment.

      2. As I mentioned to you earlier in Twitter the few “secular” anti-choice arguments that I have heard are all dishonest, illogical, or both. Usually both, because they are theistic reasons disguised as secular reasons.

        1. Yes, they often are. I still don’t understand what’s problematic about acknowledging that they exist, though. It only makes sense if you think that what’s left when you take away religion is rationality, which is clearly not the case.

          1. Rillion: If Silverman had said, “There may be secular arguments against these things, but they ultimately fall apart,” he wouldn’t be getting grief. Instead, he said, “There’s secular arguments against abortion, and these are somehow different than those against gay rights and the right to die.” It’s the difference in categorization that’s causing the problem.

  4. Dave is not at CPAC to recruit conservative atheists, nor is he there to make friends with abortion opponents. He is there to show conservative leaders that by embracing the Religious Right’s bigoted platform, they are turning away the votes of atheist conservatives (estimated to be several million potential votes). Dave is solidly pro-choice himself. What he meant in that quote was that there are probably more conservative atheists that are anti-choice than there are that are anti-gay or pro-school prayer. I disagree with him on this, though. I think there are some anti-choice atheists, but I think there are just as many anti-gay atheists, if not more.

    I also disagree with him on why that matters. If half of the atheists of the US were anti-choice, they would still be solidly wrong, and therefore should bot be pandered to. All politicians should first campaign on what is right, and then on what makes there constituents happy. Sadly, few do.

    I am not sure of my opinion of American Atheists reasons for being at CPAC, though. On the one hand, if the conservatives were to dump the religious right’s insanity and cruelty from their platform (they won’t), then maybe they will get those conservative atheist votes. But then, maybe they would win more elections. That wouldn’t be good, IMO, because conservative social values aren’t the only thing I oppose about conservatives. If Paul Ryan (*spit*) came out tomorrow as a pro-choice, pro-LGBT rights atheist, would we embrace his horrible and brutal budget ideas?

    On the other hand, if they did split with the RR, maybe the conservatives would field less RR nut jobs for office, and we wouldn’t have to fight so hard for women’s rights, LGBT rights, separation of church and state, etc.

    In the end, none of this pointless speculation matters, because the GOP seems to be completely owned the the Religious Right, and I don’t think hat is going to end any time soon. The GOP doesn’t care about conservative atheists, just like they don’t care about conservatives gays, or conservative minorities.

  5. Ooo, one of my favorite subjects!

    The best secular argument I know of comes from Don Marquis, via “Why Abortion is Immoral“. His argument can be summarized as follows:

    1. Murder is held to be wrong because it deprives someone of a “future like ours,” a future with conscious experience.
    2. Abortion deprives a fetus of a possible future like ours.
    3. Ergo, abortion is the moral equivalent of murder.

    …. There’s a lot wrong there. For one thing, abortion is better analogized as a rights conflict, in this case the right of the mother to bodily autonomy verses the right of the fetus to a possible future life. As we rank bodily autonomy above right to life, we must permit abortion even if we think it is the moral equivalent of murder. Marquis never considers this objection.

    On top of that, murder is better thought of as a form of theft: X possessed consciousness, X was deprived of their continued enjoyment of that possession by external action, ergo that external action was immoral. Someone who was born and persists in a vegitative state, with no hope of future consciousness, is not murdered if their life is ended. Even if we instead know that vegitative state could be reversed in five months, we are still not depriving the person of continued enjoyment, which means ending their life should not be considered murder. Likewise, a fetus that never posssess consciousness will never know what potential future it is losing, ergo abortion does not deprive it of anything.

    Third, the argument ignores quality-of-life issues. Should a lifetime of pain and suffering be perferred over no lifetime at all? How about a lifetime of poverty and neglect? Marquis does not consider this, his “future like ours” is presumed to always be a net-positive over non-existence.

    So there are secular anti-choice arguments. I don’t think they’re very persuasive, though.

    1. HJ – your logic is as twisted as Sarah’s. For the record I’m pro-choice as well, but the arguments put forth here are severely lacking.

      First of all, you do a better job than Sarah does in identifying the legal issue – it is a balance of rights. Justice Blackburn expressed this same notion when he wrote the opinion in Roe v. Wade and said nothing of such nonsense as “bodily autonomy” (I mean nonsense in the legal sense). In his decision, he proclaimed the embryo/fetus to have rights equivalent to the mother at the moment of “viability”, when the fetus could live outside the womb on its own. That’s a medical definition which is different now than it was when the opinion was written. Suppose medical science were to enable fetal viability at 20 weeks, or 15, or 10, the legal standard for when an abortion would be legal should and would change. Note that this is a legal argument informed by science, not a scientific or philosophical argument.

      There are obviously legal arguments against the Supreme Court decision – the original decision was 7-2 but the Casey decision which upheld it was 5-4. Question: would abortion become illegal if Roe v. Wade was overturned tomorrow? No (in states without trigger laws). Were that to happen, abortion would no longer be identified as a right under the penumbra of the right to privacy and as a result protected by the 14th Amendment. The onus would be on the states, and this forms the bulk of the legal argument against a constitutional right to abortion: although a State may permit abortion, nothing in the Constitution says a State must do so. Note that I’m not arguing one side or the other here – I’m just arguing that there are valid legal positions on each side of the argument.

      Second, you’ve defined part of your argument as dependent upon consciousness, a completely different standard than the one Justice Blackburn laid out. According to you, if a human doesn’t posses consciousness (irrespective of whether or not it will at a future point, as an embryo/fetus will) then that entity has no rights and may be killed. But consciousness is a philosophical question – when does it begin and end? Are you conscious at birth? A day before? A day after? Medicine deals with the question in a concrete way, for example using a neuropsychological assessment, but that doesn’t mean it has solved, or can ever solve, the philosophical question.

      Third, the quality of life issues you mention are all value judgements. Would you rather die than live in pain or poverty or neglect? Depends on quite a number of variables. Were I placed in a specific situation I might know the answer for my circumstances – and I was close to being in a circumstance like that once. But I can’t pretend to have the answer for each and every other individual.

      Sarah was just as bad: “even IF fetuses could feel pain as early as anti-choicers suggest, why does the potential pain of the fetus trump the undeniable pain of the mother?” Exactly two sentences later she writes this: “what exactly are you saying about children and parenthood if you think a child is a punishment?” That’s some convoluted logic…or at least I’d like to hear her explain why the “undeniable pain” which is explained in detail and at length in the Skepchick post she cites in the first quote doesn’t equal “punishment” cited in the second.

      Also convoluted is this. “There’s also the argument that if someone has sex, they should be willing to “deal with the consequences.” I feel that this is so ridiculous that it doesn’t even need to be debunked.” I used to read Garrison Keillor a lot and one of his characters has this famous line about abortion, “if you didn’t want to go to Minneapolis, why did you get on the train?” The obvious answer is the train ride, while fun for most, isn’t consensual for some people and for others it risks their life. But most of the people who want to get off the train before it reaches Minneapolis are those that didn’t think they were going there in the first place ( Again, I’m not taking a side, I enjoy the ride to Minneapolis too without necessarily wanting to be in the city.

      How about countries who value male children more highly than female children? Is there a secular argument against abortion if people abuse it and select male children over female children?

      The pro-choice side of this debate is right in my opinion – but that’s a value judgment that I’ve made. It doesn’t mean that there are no valid arguments for the other side, nor does it mean that we have to invalidate every single one of their arguments because that would be impossible. But we should be precise both legally and logically (not always the same thing) because not being precise has consequences.

      1. > HJ – your logic is as twisted as Sarah’s.

        I’m not seeing it. Your first point boils down to “you’re not using the same logic as the US Supreme Court did in Roe v. Wade.” Yes, and so what? Judges are constrained by the laws and constitutions they operate under, they can only consider philosophic arguments when they intersect with those constraints. Up here in Soviet Canuckistan, our own Supremes had to consider the question in relation to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms in “R v. Morgentaler 1988,” finding it violated Section 7 (“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice…”) but could not be rescued by Section 1 (“… guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society,” which permits fundamental rights to be overridden for the benefit of the greater good). Unlike those of our Southern capitalist dogs, our judges then ruled fetuses have no legal right to life under the Charter, which dramatically hampered further anti-choice litigation and legislation.

        As I’m not a Supreme Court Justice, I’m not constrained by law or constitution and can look elsewhere.

        Your second point hits a straw-person, as a sleeping person has earlier reached consciousness and thus “possesses” it. They may then “loan” it out via sleep or surgery without forfeiting it, in a similar way to how you can loan me something without giving up your possession of it. The fuzziness of consciousness doesn’t matter here, as the argument was never intended to work between the time-span of “cannot plausibly possess consciousness” and “has sufficiently demonstrated the possibility of consciousness.” Other arguments carry that burden.

        Your third point is actually an argument against Marquis, not me. Your inability to weigh quality of life implies he should be unable to as well, yet he *does* weigh quality of life and finds it is insufficient to argue in favor of non-existence in all cases. Only one of you can be right on that score. All my arguments merely require that it’s possible non-existence can be desirable instead of certain qualities of life; where that line is drawn can be haggled over later, all I really care about here is that the line exists, contra Marquis.

        The remaining points don’t even argue against me.

      2. “if you didn’t want to go to Minneapolis, why did you get on the train?”
        -Hmmm, maybe because I was mistaken about where the train was going? I thought it was going to Memphis!
        -I don’t care that the train ends in Minneapolis, I want to leave at the next station
        -While I was on the train indeed planning to go to Minneapolis I got a call from a friend warning me that there was a natural disaster in Minneapolis
        -The tracks are damaged. No matter whether I actually want to go Minneapolis or not, I won’t end up there anyway, but I could get killed trying.

        1. -The ticket clearly read Minneapolis, not Memphis. There was a bright neon flashing sign above the train that read “Minneapolis.” And at least once during the train ride you thought to yourself, “holy shit I might actually end up in Minneapolis.”

          -The ticket also clearly stated that there was a 97% chance there would be stops at other stations before reaching Minneapolis, but no absolute guarantee.

          -Other trains were leaving the station at the same time for Memphis or San Francisco, but you didn’t choose to get on them.

          I’m not arguing that these points are more valid than the points you bring up. I’m simply arguing their existence is real.

          1. Why on earth would you want that person in Minneapolis?
            To tie this back to the original context: If a woman really willfully ignores everything she knows about safe sex, contraception, Plan B, pregnancy tests etc., why on earth would want that person to be in charge of a pregnancy, childbirth and a baby?

          2. You’re misreading my comment. I don’t want anyone to go to Minneapolis (I’ve been there, literally and figuratively). I’m not making the argument, I’m simply saying the argument exists, and it is this:

            If you’re old enough to consent (morally and legally) to vaginal sexual intercourse you’re old enough to understand that the end result of that activity – no matter what precautions you take – could result in pregnancy. Once penetration has been made (literally), you’re on your way to Minneapolis (figuratively). There’s a good chance you’ll never end up there even if you don’t take precautions, and if you do there is an even better chance you’ll get off the train before it gets to Minneapolis. But no matter where you get off, you’re still on that train. And if you’re there consensually and the train ride will be a safe one for you, then an argument exists that you should be prepared to deal with the end result.

            There are obviously rebuttals to this argument and you’ve illustrated a few of them, but that doesn’t make the argument go away.

          3. You know, I think we ALL understand that for fertile women PIV can result in a pregnancy.
            Having an abortion is a way to deal with a pregnancy.
            “You knew this could happen” is a really, really BAD argument against abortion.
            First of all, it treats sex-related health issues in a very different way to any other health issues. Hey, once you leave your house you know you could end up in a traffic accident! Why did you leave your house if you didn’t want to end up in a traffic accident?
            Secondly, you can’t guarantee a safe and healthy outcome until it’s over. A huge amount of women find themselves in life-threatening conditions at the very end of their pregnancies. Maternal death without medical care is 1%. And that’s just the worst possible case. Hey, my last pregnancy triggered a nice auto-immune disease, nothing anybody could have predicted at a time when I could have gotten an abortion.
            Thirdly, for every woman who makes a stupid decision about having PIV sex, there’s a guy who makes the same stupid decision, but funny enough, only one of them is at risk of going to Minneapolis.
            Last and most important: Those arguments treat children as unwanted consequences and punishment. It tells me a lot about those people’s disdain for women and children if they treat the future of a grown woman and the potential future of a child as things to play third grade gotcha with. Yeah, those points exist. But they are stupid points. People might feel very smart for making them, but it only makes them assholes, because they treat the lives of others as things to play silly games with.

      3. HJ –

        Noted – I assumed that because you used the same phraseology (bodily autonomy) as Sarah you were also attempting a legal argument. Having re-read your original comment again I understand my confusion. A subject like abortion intertwines legal arguments with philosophical and medical ones (to mention just a few) making Sarah’s thesis even more far-fetched.

        You seem to be arguing that human life is forfeit until the moment of consciousness is reached (correct me if I’m mistaken). Which sounds a lot like Peter Singer’s argument that even newborns lack the essential qualities of personhood and therefore killing them is not murder. Is this indeed your position?

        1. > You seem to be arguing that human life is forfeit until the moment of consciousness is reached (correct me if I’m mistaken).

          You are. In an argument dependent on rights, and that ranks bodily autonomy over right to life, you must permit abortion until birth. Bodily autonomy is narrow and considers only physical boundary violations, hence why there’s a sudden switch in priorities at that time. These arguments dodge the unease of “sufficient consciousness” arguments like Singer’s, at the cost of that discontinuity.

          1. I’m really confused now, because you wrote: “Someone who was born and persists in a vegitative state, with no hope of future consciousness, is not murdered if their life is ended. Even if we instead know that vegitative state could be reversed in five months, we are still not depriving the person of continued enjoyment, which means ending their life should not be considered murder. Likewise, a fetus that never posssess consciousness will never know what potential future it is losing, ergo abortion does not deprive it of anything.”

            Sounds like you’re disavowing these sentences with your last comment. And forgive me if I’m muddying the waters but “bodily autonomy” as a concept is itself a bit confusing, as a fetus also has a body, does it not? It really boils down to an argument of rights – at what point, if any, do the rights of a fetus outweigh the rights of its mother? (and father? Is he completely absent from this debate?) And if this is what it really boils down to, how can Sarah’s argument that there is no valid anti-abortion argument possibly be correct?

            Additionally, you can try to “dodge” Singer’s argument but you’re going to have to address it at some point if you use consciousness – as you did – as an argument for abortion.

          2. > Sounds like you’re disavowing these sentences with your last comment.

            I’m making three separate arguments against Marquis, hence the phrase “on top of that” and the word “third.”

            > And forgive me if I’m muddying the waters but “bodily autonomy” as a concept is itself a bit confusing, as a fetus also has a body, does it not?

            Yes, and the fetus has the right to protect the autonomy of its body. It infringes on the mother’s right to bodily autonomy by burrowing into her, however.

            > And if this is what it really boils down to, how can Sarah’s argument that there is no valid anti-abortion argument possibly be correct?

            Do you think the right to life overrides the right to bodily integrity?

            > Additionally, you can try to “dodge” Singer’s argument but you’re going to have to address it at some point if you use consciousness – as you did – as an argument for abortion.

            I didn’t dodge it, that argument doesn’t rely on consciousness. Again, three separate arguments.

          3. HJ – that didn’t help. And actually raises more questions for me than it answers (a fetus burrows into the person who put it there in the first place?).

            You made an argument for abortion based on consciousness. I’m asking you to clarify this argument.

          4. > (a fetus burrows into the person who put it there in the first place?).

            Hold up: you’re pro-choice, yet you accept the “implicit consent” argument against abortion? Add in that you’ve repeatedly ignored my clarifications that I’m making three arguments, not one, and I’m starting to smell rodent.

            > You made an argument for abortion based on consciousness. I’m asking you to clarify this argument

            There’s no clearer statement of that specific argument I can make. I’ve spent fifteen minutes trying to come up with one, and came up dry. What parts of it are unclear to you?

          5. HJ –

            Yes, I accept the implicit consent argument only if by that term you mean: by consenting to vaginal intercourse both parties share implicit consent in the consequences of that action. Accepting that argument doesn’t negate the possibility of being pro-choice.

            I’m confused by your argument on consciousness. You wrote, “Likewise, a fetus that never posssess consciousness will never know what potential future it is losing, ergo abortion does not deprive it of anything.” I posited that consciousness was a philosophical question, not a medical one and asked you when a human achieves consciousness. If it happens at the moment of birth, then it doesn’t conflict with your first argument re: bodily autonomy. But if it happens at another moment, a days before or days after birth for example, then it does conflict. This is what I’m asking you to clarify.

          6. Marilove:
            > Ah, yes, there it is, again: Pregnancy and birth are “consequences” of slutty women having sex.

            It’s an absurd argument, isn’t it? I love to point out that if you scaled the life of someone with a functioning uterus down to a year, and shuffled all their fertile days to the start, you wouldn’t even fill January. Pregnancy is a rare complication of sex, at best.

            H P
            > If it happens at the moment of birth, then it doesn’t conflict with your first argument re: bodily autonomy. But if it happens at another moment, a days before or days after birth for example, then it does conflict.

            It does not. As I’ve said multiple times, the right to bodily integrity overrules the right to life, even if that life is a fully conscious human being. You haven’t paid any attention to what I’ve said, have you? I’m becoming more suspicious of your alleged pro-choice leanings as time goes on…

          7. “by consenting to vaginal intercourse both parties share implicit consent in the consequences of that action. Accepting that argument doesn’t negate the possibility of being pro-choice.”

            This argument also ignores the fact that women are LARGELY the ones who have to deal with the OUTCOME** of pregnancy and birth. It is NOT equal. Once the man impregnates the woman, he can walk away, never to be seen again, if that’s what he so chooses — and the woman will have no recourse unless she takes great effort, including legal — none of which is easy or free.

            Then she also has to deal with 9 months of pregnancy, and birth, which can be very dangerous for some women (not just physically, but mentally as well) — while the man can just quietly saunter off.

            The “consequence” argument makes it VERY CLEAR that the *woman* has to bear the “consequences” of pregnancy and birth. The man has NOTHING to do with pregnancy or the act of birth. But HP and others like to bring up this argument as if the burden is EQUAL – which is demonstratively false. It’s an insincere.

            **It’s also telling when people start using the word “consequence” rather than the far more neutral “outcome”.

      4. Roe v. Wade balanced the woman’s privacy rights in her own body against the state’s interest in preserving fetal life. It found that balance shifted away from the woman and toward the state’s power to preserve fetal life depending on which trimester the pregnancy was in; ‘viability’ wasn’t so much a fixed medical definition as a point where the pregnant woman’s interest could be limited.

  6. Right now, David Silverman is far more useful to CPAC as the guy who’s suing to keep the 9/11 cross from the memorial. Given the vilification of David and AA by even the mainstream press, he’s pretty brave to show up at CPAC this year.

  7. I’ve come across this lot on Twitter before –
    Their argument is definitely secular.

    Pro-Life Humanists believe that human rights belong to all human beings and begin when a human being begins.

    Humanism has a long standing tradition of being a secular voice of social justice and equality.

    Humanists have historically been defenders of the marginalized, and champions of human improvement for humanity’s sake.

    Pro-life Humanists affirms the biological evidence of science that the lifelong continuum of individual human development begins when a new, whole, and distinct developing entity comes into existence at sperm-ovum fusion. We believe that to deny any biological member of the human species his or her basic right to continued existence based on exclusionary criteria, is to violate the very principles of equality and inclusiveness that are the foundation of humanism.

    Pro-life Humanists affirms that women and their prenatal offspring are both human beings with rights. When these rights conflict, we nonetheless reject as ageist the philosophy that a a fetus must lose his or her life entire to restore a temporary loss of bodily autonomy.

    I’d say the obvious flaw (Apart from the cissexism) is when a human being “begins” and then define that as a sperm->ovum fusion… So they are against test tube babies then! Creates a whole bunch of fusions and discards a bunch in the bin. They also have the “temporary loss of bodily autonomy” vs “fetus loss of life” argument … Ignoring that pregnancy is far from just a temporary loss of autonomy and often results in permanent injuries or loss of life for the person carrying it. The fetus’s life (Although they actually include embryos and zygotes) is contingent on the person carrying it.

    1. Oh, boy, that’s some high grade nonsense in their manifesto. It is so arbitrary to pick when the egg and sperm first hook up. At that point, it is a single-celled “potential” people. However, right before that point, it was till a “potential” people. Why is it OK to “abort” human sperms and unfertilized eggs, but not fertilized eggs? What is the difference, at all, between a fertilized egg, and an unfertilized egg as far as theoretical potential to become a person.
      This argument fails both tests – it is not rational (because it’s arbitrary), and it is not honest (because its irrationality is so obvious).
      I realize the world is filled with bad thinkers, and that many atheists fall into this camp, but anti-choice atheists completely befuddle me…
      This smacks of pseudo-theism to me. Protecting potential lives means those lives have predestined purpose, or a la “souls”.

      1. Yeah there is no overt religious overtone in the argument, but to imply it is a valid secular argument is ridiculous IMO (And Dave did that when he proposed it as a reason to join AA). As I’ve been saying on Twitter there are secular arguments for homoeopathy, racism, misogyny (overt rather than just not-so-subtly denying women their agency), religion even! So bloody what, none of those things are something we (Secular community) want to promote or encourage … Seemingly unless “we” are trying to schmooze some tea party cons.

        1. Dave did not propose it as as reason to join AA, and this was not a recruiting effort. He was saying that conservatives should dump the christian right social evils in order to attract conservative atheist votes. He then expressed the “secular” argument against abortion exists. He later clarified that although he understands it exists, he is absolutely against it.

        1. Those two things are not mutually contradictory. It would be perfectly logical to hold that human life begins at conception AND most human lives end shortly after conception.

          It may be offensive to the amour propre of our species, but that’s got little to do with logic.

    2. well no. the obvious flaw here is that none of these principles logically lead to the conclusion that pregnant people shouldn’t have bodily autonomy and fetuses should have the right to use other people’s bodies against those people’s will. In fact, all the principles they list are principles that would support the right to do whatever is necessary in defense of one’s bodily autonomy.

      1. and a bit more on topic: when your principles don’t logically/rationally lead to your conclusion, you can’t really say you have an argument for something. Otherwise, having an argument for something would just mean having a preference-based opinion, like a favorite color.

    3. Yes to your objections to such naive arguments! I’d add them that for the first two thirds of a typical pregnancy an abortion poses less health risks to the woman than seeing a pregnancy through. And it is there that the comparison of a kidney transplant is an apt comparison. We don’t force people to take any health risks even to save a human life. So unless prolife humanists are going to argue for forced organ donation, they have not a leg to stand on.

  8. What Silverman is proving is that even apostates like us are contaminated with Yahwist “values.” True liberation from the dark worm will come only when we work up the will to purge ourselves, and build safe spaces for the truly innocent to be born. I’m talking some year zero shit here, people.

  9. To me the fetal pain argument is untenable because we happily encourage the brutal slaughter of millions of animals every year, and there is no question that many of those feel pain. Not just “are capable of feeling pain”, but “actually experience pain while being killed”. If someone is so concerned about the infliction of pain on sentient beings, surely their most pressing concern would be animal rights laws?

    If it was a vegan anti-abortionist making that argument I’d be more inclined to accept that they were serious. But when it’s just another animal-torturing religionist, I’ll just laugh at yet another hypocrisy and move on.

  10. Of course there is a secular argument against abortion. Most societies value human life and set in place laws against ending it. The choice in time where ending another life is worthy of punishment is a matter up for debate. Nearly everyone agrees that ending life after birth is worthy of punishment. Many people believe ending it after conception and before birth is worthy of punishment. Some argue that ending it before contraception is wrong as well (see arguments against condoms and masturbation). There are other arguments as well – “right to die” laws are regularly argued, which entail when someone should be legally able to end their own life with the assistance of others.

    Clearly, there are competing values at every stage. Abortion definitely ends a human life, but it also involves the rights of the mother to control her own body and future by not being forced by society to give birth. I am certainly persuaded by this argument for many reasons, the most important being I feel locking up poor women and doctors for abortions is not acceptable, just, or helpful to society.

    That said, to say there is no secular argument against abortion is factually wrong and disrespectful to the many secular people who would not personally want an abortion because of what they do value.

    1. oh, we’re accepting appeals to popularity as arguments now?

      once again: it’s possible to have a personal negative opinion or preference about abortion. an argument requires a bit more than that.

      1. There is a difference, but the line of reasoning isn’t completely different. Roe v. Wade even found that the state has an interest in protecting viable fetuses, and certainly did not appeal to any religious arguments.

        1. Roe did not create that interest; it found that Anglo-American legal tradition showed a state interest in protecting fetal life (viable or otherwise). I assume you’re aware that Anglo-American legal tradition is not exactly rigidly secularist.

          1. Sure, but I don’t think it requires a lot of mental gymnastics to arrive at a secular reason for protecting human life. Murder statutes are also steeped in Anglo-American legal tradition, yet I’m certain we can arrive at a secular justification for them.

  11. There is quite a difference between not personally wanting an abortion and denying the choice to all or most others. While I am certain that there are indeed people making secular arguments against legal abortion, in two years of clinic escorting I have never heard a secular argument made by a harasser on the sidewalk. I have heard secular arguments in other contexts, say from politicians, but I have to wonder if at least some of them are trying to deflect criticism for theocratic leanings. Religious ideas are a pervasive background radiation in our society, and could be influencing some of these purported secular arguments.

    My Bowl-a-Thon team is the Guttermaker Institute, we are raising money for The Kentucky Support Network.

  12. Just have a look at this article and the comments that accompany it. It’s rather scary. The level of ideological rigidity, a kind of vicious anti-intellectualism and hostility to any level of nuance or inquiry.

    To be clear, I don’t object to strong points of view. What I object to is the climate here of fear of heterodoxy–the need to couch any discussion of the issue in a paragraph preamble assuring your readers that you accept their ideology before broaching the slightest objection to the rather absolute and hostile article. And then you get reamed for even daring to raise the hint of a possibility that there just might be another view.

    I mean, fuck, is that honestly what you want? Seriously, do you really want to foster an atmosphere where any unpopular inquiry is immediately attacked with sarcasm, dismissal, name-calling, ostracizing, or worse? Nothing here is attractive or inviting. Nothing suggests that there is any possibility of growth or learning, even a possibility of someone learning why Silverman is wrong. It’s just brow-beating and dismissal based on very little argumentation.

    I honestly wonder if there might be a reasonable secular argument against abortion, something I haven’t closely considered before. I don’t know. This article doesn’t convince me of anything. It doesn’t seem to address any real argument a secular humanist might make against abortion. So I’m left with the feeling that I better fucking agree … or else. Or else be baited and name called and straw manned. Which I guess is what’s going to happen … right now.

    1. So I’m left with the feeling that I better fucking agree … or else.

      Oh fuck off. Seriously, that’a fucking asshole move. People feel strongly, and dismiss the opposition’s arguments with contempt and snark. Therefore you imply someone will visit physical violence upon you if you agree with the opposition? FUCK YOU. All that is going to happen is that people will tell that you’re wrong and maybe use words to tell you that they think you’re mean and gross and ooh! all the terrible words!

      Meanwhile, if people come around to the CPAC way of thinking about abortion, a great many of us will face the prospect of having our rights severely restricted, and an increased risk of physical injury and death as a result.

      FUCK. YOU.

      Is that enough “or else” for you? Fuck.

      1. Restoring context, just for the record.

        “So I’m left with the feeling that I better fucking agree … or else. Or else be baited and name called and straw manned.”

        And of course that’s EXACTLY what happened.

        1. Oh right. I forgot to add in the part about how if you didn’t want readers to think that you didn’t mean that you’re going to be victimized by physical violence, real or metaphorical, you should have avoided the phrase, “or else.”

          “Do this… or else” is a phrase commonly associated with physical violence. What you did was set up a verbal construct in which “being baited and strawmanned” would be associated with the dire consequences of “or else.”

          You weren’t fucked strawmanned. You’re a dishonest manipulative shit, but your attempt at manipulation failed. Fuck off.

          1. “So I’m left with the feeling that I better fucking agree … or else. Or else be baited and name called and straw manned.”

            “You weren’t fucked strawmanned. You’re a dishonest manipulative shit, but your attempt at manipulation failed. Fuck off.”

            Not addressing sallystrange…just challenging anyone who might be reading who has a shred of intellectual honesty to say which of the above quotes is honestly trollish.

          2. beartiger: Your comment smacks of concern trolling. I share sally’s umbrage at your attempt to equate written hostility to a political stance that robs people of their agency as “ideological rigidity.”

            Seriously, you made a deliberately provocative statement and are acting shocked, SHOCKED to discover that someone thinks your statement is a line of BS. Your whole line of argument smacks of Bad Faith and if it’s genuinely not, then you have some serious self-examination to do. In the meantime you ought to take some responsibility for what you have written. You don’t just get to insult a bunch of people then walk away feeling indignant because it was pointed out that you are being an asshole. It’s time for an apology.

          3. Oh, fuck off, variable, you piece of shit ASSHOLE.

            See, apparently hurling insults is behaving the opposite of a troll, here. So, I’m learning to behave like a good citizen of this forum.

          4. Except since you’ve failed to actually RESPOND to any of the points made, yours just comes off pathetic. You’re concern and tone trolling, nothing else, and we can see it. If you aren’t, then respond to the actual points raised. But I suspect you won’t.

          1. Did you honestly not even see what happened there? For just a minute, use your brain and look. Just fucking look.

            I wrote: “So I’m left with the feeling that I better fucking agree … or else. Or else be baited and name called and straw manned.”

            She snipped out the 2nd sentence — she left out the part clarifying exactly I meant by “or else” and then insisted I meant violence. Then she started repeatedly hurling “Fuck you” at me.

            Then what did you do? Well, I’ll tell you what you did. After I already explained all that, you insisted I meant that anyone who disagreed with me isn’t sane.

            So, here we have two straw mans, exactly like I said would happen. The fist straw man is insisting I meant violence when I *very clearly* clarified the opposite. And then the second straw man is yours insisting that I meant anyone who disagrees with me is insane.

            Now are you going to respond with the same tactics, proving my point, or are you going to be intellectually honest this time?

          2. You are being intellectually dishonest and you know it. You came here specifically to bait people into attacking you then play the poor me card when exactly that happened.

            I mark you as a troll, be gone from under this bridge.

          3. I really don’t think you know what “straw man” means. It’s pathetic. You’re attempts at trolling are pathetic.

            Also, constantly plopping out logical fallacies as some sort of response when someone doesn’t respond the way you like IS GETTING REALLY OLD, particularly since they are almost always incorrectly used when that happens. It’s not a get-out-of-jail free card, you know.

        1. You don’t like what I have to say, so you accuse me of having a mental illness? I’m sure all the good people with mental illnesses appreciate being used as an insult for you to hit me with.

          I see my assessment of you was correct. You warrant being cursed out, not seriously engaged with.

          1. This is in reply to mrmisconception.
            “you then play the poor me card”

            I did no such thing. And how exactly did I “bait” people to “attack me”. What happened was I sat here trying to think what the best way would be to introduce thought into this subject, and I came to realize that there was absolutely no way to do that without being attacked here. So I decided to comment on that. I said I would be straw manned and insulted with name calling, and that’s exactly what happened.

          2. The level of ideological rigidity, a kind of vicious anti-intellectualism and hostility to any level of nuance or inquiry.

            That’s what you did to bait people.

            You asked if we wanted an atmosphere that rejects unpopular inquiry but actually offered none other than to insult the intellectual integrity (and sanity) of everyone here, and you still haven’t I might add.

            So no, you did nothing to bait people, you are definitely not not a troll. Add something other than “all you people are wrong and mean” or leave.

          3. “I’m sure all the good people with mental illnesses appreciate being used as an insult for you to hit me with.”

            Thank you for saying that.

        2. Really? Are you kidding me? The irony that you don’t see is that you’re the petulant child, here. You dislike curse words and the occasional truth of the insult asshole, but you’re okay with this sort of shitty response? People have already pointed out why it’s shitty, so I won’t expand on that ,but REALLY?

          You really are an asshole.

    2. It’s rather scary.

      vicious anti-intellectualism and hostility

      climate here of fear

      hostile article

      you get reamed

      I mean, fuck, is that honestly what you want? Seriously, do you really want to foster an atmosphere where any unpopular inquiry is immediately attacked with sarcasm, dismissal, name-calling, ostracizing, OR WORSE? [Caps added for emphasis]

      Tell us again about how it’s a straw man to note that you were trying to paint your interlocutors as so unhinged and dogmatic that they might physically attack anyone who disagrees with them.

      1. “Tell us again about how it’s a straw man to note that you were trying to paint your interlocutors as so unhinged and dogmatic that they might physically attack anyone who disagrees with them.”

        Okay. It’s a straw man to claim I was trying to paint people as so unhinged and dogmatic that they might physically attack anyone who disagrees with them. What’s my proof of that? Your utter and complete failure to quote ANYTHING (Caps added for emphasis) that I actually wrote that even suggests that.

    3. Yeah, sorry-not-sorry. Where my basic human rights to control over my own self are concerned, I am wholly entitled to “ideological” rigidity and to rejection of those who think that basic human right is in any way debatable. If that hurts your feefees, I quite frankly don’t care.

    4. beartiger: Once again: Silverman’s comments make it clear that he believes that there’s a serious secular argument against abortion that is different, categorically, from those against SSM, Right to Die and so forth. Furthermore, the category he’s placed the anti-abortion arguments in is implied to be stronger/more legitimate than the others.

      At this point, he’s claiming the existence of rocket-powered invisible pink unicorns. It might be interesting to live in a rocket-powered pink unicorn-inhabited world, but I retain the right to snark and dismiss attempts to claim that such things exist without proof. Silverman has asserted that these secular arguments exist; he needs to demonstrate them. That’s where the burden of proof lies.

      1. Once again – Dave attached no legitimacy to the secular arguments against abortion. And he later clarified that although those arguments exist, he is categorically against them and remains strongly pro-choice.
        Admitting arguments exist is not endorsing them.
        There are nationwide organizations that are atheist and anti-choice. The go to cons. They publish (see Henant’s recent guest post). They have debates with other prominent atheists (see Matt Dillahunty’s debate on YouTube with them). These people exist. Their arguments exist. And they are 100% wrong, on all counts, in all ways.
        On the other hand, there are not atheists who present arguments that school prayer should be mandatory in public schools. There (probably) are not atheists who present arguments against gay marriage (there are atheists who don’t like gays, sure, but that don’t have arguments against gay marriage other then “I hate those people”). There (probably) are not atheists who present arguments against right-to-die (there may be atheists that oppose this – but they have no arguments against it).
        Dave may have dropped the ball in that interview, and missed an opportunity to clarify his position on abortion. But he did not endorse anti-choice, or the vile people who support it.

  13. Silverman’s quote is horrible to me mostly because he perpetuates ignorant mentalities about the abortion issue as being a single issue. It is not one issue as viability of the fetus changes everything. There is no reasonable secular argument against early term abortions. But later term is another issue entirely, not only because of the biological fact of now having a human who is capable of surviving outside the mother, but perhaps more importantly, in the last term of pregnancy an abortion as a medical procedure poses the same level of risk to the woman’s health (assuming it is a healthy pregnancy). This is why Roe v Wade was a brilliant ruling and why abortion should now be a resolved issue. Because (as so many Americans are ignorant of) Roe v Wade made it no restrictions on first term abortions, only regulations to promote women’s health in the second, and while bans in the third are permitted, there are exceptions in the case of the woman’s health or life being in danger. The ONLY reason abortion is still an issue is because of two things: 1. ignorance about what the Roe v Wade ruling said and the reasoning behind it, and 2. Religious arguments against abortions.

    If there are secular pro-lifers, their stance is based in ignorance, not sound, secular reasoning.

    1. Martha, anything, no matter how well-validated, from heliocentrism to the boiling point of water, can be subject to examination. To dismiss out of hand (and it is literally out of hand, since you admit you don’t even know if such arguments exist) even any question of a question just makes you look dogmatic and unreachable by logic. Is that what you want?

      1. beartiger, yes, all theories are subject to re-examination. THAT is a given. However, while we can re-examine certain conclusions based on new data and analysis, we can also be confident in conclusions based on all the data currently at our disposal.

        The abortion issue is highly complex, involving many factors. All I was saying was that given our current information about all the data relevant to the issue, I see no ethical stance against first and second trimester abortions that is *well-grounded* in secular arguments. And also see no ethical stance against third trimester abortions that is *well-grounded* in secular arguments that isn’t already worked into current American laws and standards/procedures of the medical establishment.

        I’m not being dogmatic about it any more than someone who would say that there are no good secular arguments against the theory of heliocentrism.

        Dave Silverman’s statement is made in a way which suggests that the secular arguments against abortion are obvious and that we atheists just don’t talk about them because we don’t agree. That’s bullshit. Such secular arguments are not obvious to anyone who actually understands the current biological evidence regarding the development of an embryo/fetus over the course of a pregnancy, AND who understands how the health risks of having an abortion compared to the health risks of seeing a pregnancy through vary throughout the course of a pregnancy, AND who understands what Roe v. Wade actually ruled about abortion.

        I’ve had several debates in college with atheists who were either anti-abortion or on the fence about abortion. Each time all it took was ONE CONVERSATION where I explained to them that Roe v. Wade only allows bans for third trimester when the fetus is viable, but makes exceptions in the case where the woman’s health or life are in danger, and then those atheists responded with, “Oh, I didn’t realize that.” and looked like fools for their ignorance.

        Not that we needed any bans for abortion even in the third trimester – it’s not like there are any women who are having a perfectly healthy pregnancy who wait until they are showing and can feel the kid inside moving around, and then just wake up one morning and decide, “Gee, even though at this point getting an abortion is just as dangerous and traumatic as giving birth, I’m going to go ahead and get that abortion anyway.” All women who go to get late term abortion have serious reasons for getting them that are, frankly, nobody’s damned business.

        So, again, no, I’m not being dogmatic. I’m merely following what is *obviously* the most sensible conclusion based on a totally secular argument, based on ALL the available data. Something of which Dave Silverman is apparently ignorant.

        1. Martha –

          I’ll second your observation of the ignorance of many to the actual Supreme Court decision, as I noted upthread in my comment. However, it is the qualification *well grounded* in your comment which is telling. What is well grounded to you may or may not be well grounded for another observer.

          Here’s the real problem. No matter what your views on abortion are – and again for the record I’m pro-choice – anyone who argues this topic cannot get around this sentence, formulated by Scott Singer: “The entity created by fertilization is indeed a human embryo, and it has the potential to be human adult. Whether these facts are enough to accord it personhood is a question influenced by opinion, philosophy and theology, rather than by science.”

          Any argument either for or against abortion is dependent upon opinion, philosophy and/or theology (which I personally reject). Science can, and has to a great degree, described the journey of a human embyo from fertilization to birth. But what science cannot do is either prove or disprove the notion that this ‘entity’ should be afforded rights. This is a philosophical and legal argument, and where many pro-choice activists go astray.

          By saying “there is no argument against abortion” you’re prematurely proclaiming victory in the philosophical and legal debate (and that’s assuming our side will ever be able to proclaim victory, which is far from certain).

          1. One of the dumbest things the pro-choice movement has done is introduce rhetoric which suggests or even outright claims that an embryo or fetus is not human. Such rhetoric is a denial of biological fact that makes our side look dishonest or stupid. The discussion needs to stay one over rights. Science does help us with that. Science allows us to gather info about viability of the unborn and varying health risks to the woman at different stages of pregnancy. Maybe at some point in the future we’ll have universally accessible technology which can transport an embryo or fetus into an incubator without posing risks to the woman, and then there will actually be a well-grounded argument against all abortion. Until then I fail to see how we’re not uniquely violating the rights of pregnant women when we deny them access to abortion.

          2. Martha, I am not aware of prominent pro-choice advocates making the claim that an embryo or fetus is not human. They may exist, but I’m not aware of them, and that’s a pretty strong claim so it would be nice if you could give a link or something.

            Many pro-choice advocates DO make the claim that an embryo or fetus is not a PERSON, but that is an importantly different claim. Perhaps some people do not distinguish between the two terms, and that is the source of the confusion.

          3. Martha –

            Noted, and I generally agree (although the rhetoric flows pretty thickly from both sides in this debate).

            And I agree that science can be informative. However, it cannot be conclusive on the question of rights.

            In the US, free speech is a right. Gun ownership is a right. You have the right to remain silent, an attorney, etc. None of these were the end result of a scientific process – to the contrary, they were the end result of philosophical, legal, and historical processes. Science can inform, for example, the gun control debate and present evidence as to if and/or under what circumstances gun control measures decrease crime or homicide rates. But it cannot define the right (lawyers and judges do) and it cannot come to a conclusion as to whether or not the right itself should exist., which is a philosophical and (in the case of the US) a historical argument. Similarly in the abortion rights debate, science has described the journey a human embryo takes en route to birth, but philosophical, legal, and historical arguments (it’s interesting how Christianity has wavered on this issue throughout the centuries) take precedence. Can science answer whether or not abortion should be a right, or should be a question best left to the states to answer? No. Can science determine at what point, if any, are the rights of a fetus equal to those of its mother? Of course not.

            I understand what Sarah was trying to say – most objections to abortion have a religious component, that upon conception the embryo has a “soul” (something Christianity has been debating for 2000 years). That is clearly an ideological position based on current Christian teaching and has no basis in science.

            And I would argue that the opposite position, that the fetus isn’t human or alive, as you ably point out, is equally ideological, just without a church attached to the ideology. We need to be wary of both extremes.

    2. The thing about late-term abortions is that they typically come about for one of two reasons:

      1. a serious abnormality of the fetus is discovered in the standard 20-week ultrasound or an even-later ultrasound, usually one that is incompatible with life. This includes situations when there is an unexpected complication of pregnancy, like a septic infection, that renders the survival of the fetus impossible even though fetal demise has not yet occurred. The abortion of a non-viable fetus is significantly different from the abortion of a viable one, and non-viability can occur at any stage of pregnancy. There is no bright-line cutoff after which ALL fetuses are automatically viable without exception.

      2. a woman wanted to get an abortion at a much earlier stage, but so many legal and practical roadblocks were placed in her way that she was unable to obtain one until the pregnancy was far along. Poor women sometimes have to save for months to afford an abortion, afford the travel expenses to the only abortion clinic in the state which is several hours away, afford to be able to take the necessary time off work to do this, and sometimes do this multiple times before the state will allow her to actually get the abortion on account of mandatory counseling and cooling-off periods.

      Nobody can do anything about situation #1. Those kinds of medical problems will always happen. Situation #2 is a deliberate construction. Anti-abortion activists know perfectly well that what seems like a minor inconvenience to a well-paid and comfortable Supreme Court justice will be a roadblock to poor women. It’s a matter of making women delay and delay and delay getting an abortion, and then we’re suddenly at 25 or 30 weeks along and it’s all, “Well, you’ve come this far, now you might as well go the rest of the way and give birth!”

  14. There might actually be someone intellectually honest enough here to respond to the point I was making. And my point is not merely to do with the comments on this article, and the article itself. It’s everywhere here. There is a rigidity and dogmatism, an obvious climate of fear and attack, an immediate hostility and rage toward anything that smacks of heterodoxy, a sneering, mocking, vituperative response to even the most qualified and slight contradiction. I understand where this comes from. It’s an expected and natural human reaction to the years of internecine war in the atheist/skeptic community and the extreme vicious attacks of misogynists, which I’m sure sallystrange will agree really did involve and continue to involve daily threats of violence. I get that. What I’m asking of those here of good conscience and honesty is to ask yourselves if this sort of atmosphere I just described is what you want. What does it get you? What doesn’t it get you? Screaming “FUCK YOU” at me and insisting on straw man interpretations of my words didn’t get you anything with me. It simply persuades me you’re angry and sad. I mean, really angry and sad and hopeless. My view of a possible secular objection to abortion didn’t change at all.

    Another way to look at this is from a consideration of human nature. Stop reading each word I’m writing as something you can “reword for me” and attack and think about this, now. If someone insists without addressing any real argument in detail that a point of view must be “rooted in misogyny, a lack of understanding of science, and religious overtones”, then do you think anyone is going to look at that and think, “okay then, case closed…nothing to think about here”? Or are they likely to think just the opposite? Aren’t they likely to get a bit pissed off and become, if anything, determined to take seriously, at least for a time, at least until they satisfy themselves on the question, that which you want to persuade them is dismissible? In my own case, that’s what you convinced me to do.

    1. Are you seriously making a tone criticism? Are you aware that tone critiques are not new, not original, never actually advance the discussion, are used by trolls to derail good arguments, and come invariably from a position of unexamined privilege? “I’m not going to address the substance of what you’re saying, just rag on you for how you’re saying it, because my feelings are the most important thing to consider here and much more valuable than anything you’re substantively advancing” is a thing that a person can say only when that person has never been the target of the real-life consequences of an “abstract” “philosophical” argument.

      I mean, you’re aware of this, right? Right?

        1. Yes, it’s very common amongst trolls and the privileged to criticize the tone of a person’s arguments, rather than address the actual arguments. You only have to wonder why if you don’t feel like putting 15 seconds of thought into it, because if you do you will realize that a tone critique is just a common ad hominem. It’s derailing because it changes the topic from “this very important thing” to “why aren’t you being careful of MY PRECIOUS FEELINGS, taking care of my feelings is way more important than the actual topic that affects real people who aren’t me.” It’s privileged because only an extremely privileged person would operate from the position that their PRECIOUS FEELINGS are the most important thing that could possibly exist.

          So, you’ve derailed using a common ad hominem, and demonstrated your overweening privilege in the process. Oh, and you keep using mental illness as an insult. Yes, clearly you are the victim here.

          1. I said “they must be insane”, but I see the explanation is that they’re just pitiful, privileged whiners. Good to know. I knew there must be some explanation other than there being anything at all wrong with you.

          2. You forgot the ad hominem part. I’ve noticed that you are absolutely in lust with the ad hominem and should probably get a room with that particular fallacy.

          3. That’s funny, because, like most people, you evidently have no earthly fuck of an idea what an ad hominem is, yet you fatuously assume you have the knowledge to use the term. Hilarious.

          4. Yes, because “I don’t like the tone of your voice!” is a reasoned argument that addresses what the other person is saying and the points they are making, and not referring in any way to the attributes of the speaker.

            You’re no longer even attempting to pretend you’re something other than a common troll, are you?

          5. As I was saying: no fucking earthly idea what an ad hominem is, and not even the least shred of intellectual curiosity or honesty to suffer a second’s pause in your fatuous typing to, say, educate yourself by searching out a definition. No, just misuse the term again, with the absolute certainty that you’ve said something worth saying.

            skeith: let’s get one thing fucking straight: YOU’RE the victim here.

    2. Since you’ve been restating the same thing over and over again no matter what the response, critical, hostile, engaging, I’d suggest the only rigid ideologue here is you. This was a pretty amazing discussion about what a genuine secular anti-abortion argument would look like before you started whinging about how no one wants to talk about the very thing you’re so desperately insisting no one is willing to discuss.

      Again, you’re a fucking concern troll. It’s time for you to apologize, then go. You’re never going to get validation now that you’ve insulted every person reading and posting to this thread.

    3. Aren’t they likely to get a bit pissed off and become, if anything, determined to take seriously, at least for a time, at least until they satisfy themselves on the question, that which you want to persuade them is dismissible? In my own case, that’s what you convinced me to do.

      You mean we successfully identified and weeded out a false ally? Cool beans.

    4. It isn’t dogmatism. It is strong feeling about political and ethical stances which are based on solid conclusions. There is no reason to treat abortion like anything other than a women’s health issue, and yet in practice it has been separated from all other treatment. It often isn’t covered (a friend of mine told me the story of how she had costly, life threatening complications after a first trimester abortion, and was billed for nearly $200,000 after treatment and had to fight the insurance companies for over a year.) women must often fight through crowds of hateful protestors to get a very unpleasant procedure. Can you seriously not understand why emotions on this issue run high? Don’t confuse having strong emotions about a sensible point of view with having a dogmatic point of view.

          1. sallystrange, in an earlier exchange, you told me, and I quote, “women who have sex with numerous men are fucking whores”. Have you modified your misogynist views?

          1. Hey, mrmisconception, doesn’t it ever occur to you that if you label someone a troll and then continue to respond to him, that implies you’re a troll-manipulated TOOL?

          2. Right, this is the part where the troll crows, “Look, I smeared shit on the walls, and everyone is mad at me… that means I WIN!!”

            Sure honey. Keep telling yourself that.

          3. Hey, mrmisconception, doesn’t it ever occur to you that if you label someone a troll and then continue to respond to him, that implies you’re a troll-manipulated FOOL?

          4. What am I being banned for? For asking a perfectly logical question, like why you would continue to respond to me, like a CLOWN, when you claim you consider me a “troll”? For daring to question what you call “tone”, which apparently is forbidden? For daring to suggest screaming FUCK YOU FUCK YOU at me wasn’t a good way to engage me? Because I angered you and MADE you scream insults at me?

            PS: Please don’t ban me from this blog I never read.

          5. mrmisconception, do you care at all that your valued ally who calls herself “sallystrange” slut-shames women by calling them whores? Does that matter to you? Do you give a shit about real misogyny or do you just like to quibble with people you claim to think are trolls about “tone”?

          6. I guess you told me. Well then, that must make you feel very, very special. Look ma, I’m smarter then a random guy on the internet. Congrats, you win a fucking cookie. Now go away.

          7. Does it even begin to occur to you, I wonder, that as you sarcastically congratulate me for belittling you, you’re doing the same fucking thing? Of course it doesn’t. That would require some sort of self-awareness, subtlety of mind, not to mention self-respect, which would require you to pause for a few seconds thought as you type in internet flame-war cliche after internet flame war cliche.

            Okay, now you flame me. See how this works?

  15. “Consider this scenario: Jane is dying because her kidneys are failing. The only way she will survive is if she can get another kidney. Bob has two healthy kidneys and is a match. Can anyone– be it a doctor, a family member, or the government– force Bob to undergo a dangerous surgery and give up one of his kidneys? The answer, of course, is no, because Bob has bodily autonomy. This was even determined by the US Supreme Court in 1978 in McFall v. Shrimp.”

    This was where I started disagreeing. Certainly there is a secular argument to be made that in situations where one person could save another, that person is obligated to, depending on the danger to them which is involved. Our current laws and ethics may feel the bodily autonomy is more important, but there is absolutely a case that death is the worst thing that can happen to a person, and that violating other people’s rights to protect a life is valid. From there you would find the beginnings of an argument against abortion.

    As Martha has capably pointed out upthread, in many situations the risks to the woman are less from an abortion than from continuing the pregnancy, and that would have to be accounted for. Also the question of when death becomes important is something that would have to be answered. This is to say that I am not convinced that many people are making the cogent secular argument, just that there is one, for certain restrictions at least, if not for all abortion.

    It is my sense, looking at the conditions which would have to be placed on the final statement, that such an argument would be weak, and that it certainly would never ban all abortions, and perhaps not even most, but it is a potential secular argument which would be internally consistent.

    1. “Also the question of when death becomes important is something that would have to be answered.”

      In Practical Ethics, Peter Singer says essentially that it’s arguable that there’s no reason we shouldn’t consider post-utero abortions ethical–up to a certain age. I don’t remember the details of his argument…other things in that book are more memorable to me, but that passage has provided a lot of valuable fodder for outrage on the right, and probably is used in fund-raising letters. For me, the intuition against killing a baby is so strong, I’m not sure I can objectively evaluate it. Sarah dismisses “emotional” points of view, but I think that’s all I’ve got. I’m open to something more rational, if you’ve got it.

    2. “there is absolutely a case that death is the worst thing that can happen to a person”

      a statement that can only be made by someone with very little knowledge about the life of those who have their basic human rights taken away on a regular basis.

  16. I wonder if Silverman actually thought that they would get a booth, and wasn’t as surprised as I was that they got as far as they did before getting rejected. My guess is that the real motive here was to show how religiously entrenched the right wing is by very publicly being rejected, and so to grab some headlines and publicity.

    And I also wonder why anyone would want bother pandering to anti-choice atheists too. I would hazard a guess that they’re too insignificant in number to really be bothered about. Personally, I’ve never met a non-religious, much less atheist, anti-choice person, or for that matter a non-religious conservative. I’ve certainly met some non-religious libertarians, but conservative? I’ve not met a single one in my own personal life.

    1. Consider yourself lucky. When I worked for Big Atheism, I went to a lot of atheist conferences. I met way more anti-choice & anti-gay atheists than I ever thought existed. I don’t know if they identified as “conservative,” but that’s pretty far right in my book.

      1. Yup. There are some crazies in the capital “A” Atheist camp. I met one who declared that she was so firm an atheist that even if God and all the saints and angels in heaven came down, she would still refuse to believe. That’s why I only identify with the secular humanist wing of the secular movement.

        1. That A+ person’s view is an entirely acceptable position for any atheist. As Sartre said in Existentialism is a Humanism, “A certain mad woman who suffered from hallucinations said that people were telephoning to her, and giving her orders. The doctor asked, “But who is it that speaks to you?” She replied: “He says it is God.” And what, indeed, could prove to her that it was God? If an angel appears to me, what is the proof that it is an angel; or, if I hear voices, who can prove that they proceed from heaven and not from hell, or from my own subconsciousness or some pathological condition? Who can prove that they are really addressed to me?”


      2. Yeah, I guess I am. I live in a pretty conservative area, so maybe it’s a bit of rebelliousness or counterculturism? But they’re not exactly teenagers–in fact most of them are middle aged to retiring, and nor are they aged hippies (well, at least they don’t strike me as such anyway). In fact, one of the more liberal atheists that I know is actually a retired Air Force veteran.

  17. Man, with 144 comments extant before I throw my two cents in, I’m not sure anyone will even see this. Oh well –

    I’d really rather hear from Dave himself before leaping to assumptions about what he believes or doesn’t believe.

    Could he possibly be talking about late-term abortions where there is no reason to believe the mother is in danger or the fetus isn’t viable or damaged in some fashion? I don’t know, I haven’t seen a clarification and it would be foolish of me to assume I know what he meant when he said it.
    Could he be talking about other people with whom he disagrees? I don’t know.

    If we’re talking about 30+ weeks, when the fetus is theoretically viable outside the womb, then it seems to me that we would have some valid arguments against it (except in cases where the mother is in danger (or mental health or other issues), or the child isn’t developing in a healthy manner, or a host of other potential issues which may demand or allow an abortion at that point.)
    If we’re talking about post-viability fetuses where a host of exceptions are covered, it may be legitimate to ask if there is a limit to choice.

    Aside from that, I can’t imagine a secular argument against abortion. That seems to be the only possible reasonable exception to a woman’s right to choose.

    However, until he provides some sort of update, we don’t really know what he meant.

    1. ~ Someone earlier pointed out that sometimes there are legal and political roadblocks to getting an abortion before the 25-30 week mark.

      I don’t think that changes the moral calculus of whether or not it’s all right to abort a (healthy, no risk to mother, no problems etc) postviability fetus or not, but it is an important thing to consider. We need to clear those roadblocks.

    2. I should clarify that I can imagine the “well, it deprives a possible future, doesn’t it?” but I don’t think it’s a reasonable or entirely rational argument. Indeed, when I was fresh out of Catholicism and still sounding out atheism and humanism the argument was quite compelling to me, but I grew out of it.

      It assumes that the fetus was guaranteed to live, when it most certainly wasn’t. Miscarriages and stillbirths still happen quite frequently, after all.
      Worse, it assumes that the child would have developed in an entirely healthy fashion with no risk to the mother.

      We can’t make absolutist predictions, or even high-probability predictions, on these possibilities, so they shouldn’t really enter into the discussion.

  18. Only a very few people are for or against abortion per se, across the board.

    There are arguments for and against abortion under given circumstances.

    For example, most western industrialized countries, including the most reported secular and nonreligious countries, regulate abortions. The UK, for example, cuts off abortion as a general rule at 21 weeks (or thereabouts – going by recollection). So, are they “for” or “against” abortion? They are for some, and against others. Are their secular arguments for regulating or banning some abortion? Sure, and some have been legislated by very pro-abortion countries.

    In Norway, for example, a social democratic Scandinavian country — the public health policy provides for abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks of gestation, by application up to the 18th week, and only under special circumstances thereafter.

    Is it only religious arguments that can be made to require these kinds of restrictions? Is it only misogyny? Are we really to say that any prohibited abortion is based on misogyny?

    In the real world, being pro-choice doesn’t mean that one is for “abortion on demand through 40 weeks.” Pro choice usually means pro-choice up to a point. And pro-Life usually means against abortion in most cases, except under some extreme circumstances. Only a very small minority of people occupy the territory of abortion on demand always, and abortion never under any circumstances.

    Are there not secular arguments against needlessly aborting 9th and 8th monthers? In the Roe v. Wade opinion that set forth parameters for state regulation of abortion in the US, the US Supreme Court found important state interests and compelling reasons that States might want to limit and even ban abortions in the third trimester. Is that part of the opinion based on misogyny and religious overtones?

  19. Whether you agree with the arguments or not, there are some heavy-hitter atheists and anti-religionists who have been to some degree accepting of secular arguments. The late Christopher Hitchens, when asked in a January 2008 debate with Jay Wesley Richards whether he was opposed to abortion replied: “I’ve had a lot of quarrels with some of my fellow materialists and secularists on this point, [but] I think that if the concept ‘child’ means anything, the concept ‘unborn child’ can be said to mean something. All the discoveries of embryology [and viability] – which have been very considerable in the last generation or so – appear to confirm that opinion, which I think should be innate in everybody. It’s innate in the Hippocratic Oath, it’s instinct in anyone who’s ever watched a sonogram. So ‘yes’ is my answer to that.”

    1. Hitch was right about a lot of things. This isn’t one of them. A potential thing and a thing are not the same. A potential child and a child are not the same thing. Yes, a fetus is a potential child – it just needs some time in a womb, And, yes, a fertilized egg is a potential child – it just needs some time in a womb. But, then so is an unfertilized egg – it just needs a sperm and some time in a womb. And then so is a sperm – it just needs an egg and some time in a womb. I don’t think Hitch, or even any of the Right Wing anti-choice screechers would seek to protect them.
      A potential person is not a person that might have been born that wasn’t. There is no celestial person factory kicking out unique souls that desire or require to be born. There is only biology, which says, “given the proper circumstances, this perhaps may one day become something that it currently is not”.

      1. Datajack –

        Is a viable fetus – one that would be able to live outside the womb – a “thing” or a “potential thing”? Or is the moment of birth determinative?

        And if it is, then is a newborn child a “thing” or a “potential thing”? Using your logic it can’t function on its own, a newborn still needs someone to feed it.

        And please tell me I’m not the only one who got the song “Every Sperm is Sacred” stuck in my head after reading your comment…

        1. I don’t actually know the answer to that question. Certainly at one point, it is a potential thing and not that thing. Certainly at another point, it is most definitely a thing and no longer a potential thing. Somewhere in between those to, the transition is made. But I don’t know where it is – and those who think they do know, are really just expressing their opinion, based on criteria they have agreed to.
          It is an interesting philosophical question, especially in light of the fact that “fetal survivability” is something that begins earlier and earlier as medical technology advances. But that still has no bearing on a woman’s absolute right to choose, in my opinion.
          As for a newborn, I think it is safe to call a newborn a person. Even if it is dependent on others for survival, it is an autonomous being.
          That being said, my point was that the “life begins at conception” argument is not in any way valid. Because that is an opinion, based on arbitrary (and circular) criteria

          1. All views on this are “opinions.” The question is, are those opinions based on reason or not?

            Clearly, most secular arguments against abortion do not argue for the elimination of all abortion because “life begins at conception.” Most of the secular arguments relate to later term abortions, where a difference between a fertilized egg and a viable fetus are quite clear.

            As for “where to draw the line?” There is line drawing based on the best interpretation of the facts and achievable compromise in legislation all the time. Take the drinking age. Is 21 the true age for going from non-drinker to drinker? Is it 18? How about the countries that allow it at 16? How about the countries that don’t have any drinking age, and leave it up to parental supervision?

            One cannot create an objectively “true” argument that any of those ages are the best age. There are secular arguments in favor and against each age. Bodily autonomy arguments might say that there should be no drinking age, because we have the right to do what we want with our own bodies. Parental rights arguments start with the proposition that parents are to raise their children, and have a right to, so they should be the determiners of the age. And, public health arguments can be made that some minimum age should be reached before kids are exposed to alcohol because of the risk of alcoholism, irresponsibile behavior and the like.

            The reality is that every major western industrialized nation, including the much lauded western European social democracies, restrict abortion at some point during pregnancy. They do so by reaching a compromise position that is not a perfect, objective, precision, pinpointing of “the moment when life begins.” There is no such known or even knowable moment “when life begins.” Or, more properly when life has developed to be considered equivalent to a born human being.

            A biological argument can be made that “life” begins before fertilization. Sperm is “alive” — eggs are “alive.” They aren’t sentient. They aren’t going to develop into human beings. But, they are human and they are living tissues, as much as muscle tissue. Nobody thinks it’s murder to kill skin cells or muscle cells. Similarly, hardly anybody thinks it’s murder to kill sperm and eggs. A fertilized egg is also human and it’s alive. And, it’s a step beyond sperm and eggs because it is the beginning of a process governed by DNA which is the “continuum” of human life. But, that doesn’t mean that the fertilized egg must be treated the same as an adult human. And, so on. At some point on the continuum, and everyone can have a different opinion as to when this happens, but at some point we all know that a developing fetus reaches the point that we consider it a person deserving of legal protections. Birth is not the objective determiner of that. There is no reason why labor and childbirth is the deciding factor. To suggest that is just as much arbitrary and opinion based as picking the “moment of conception.”

          2. I think you need to figure out the answer, because you don’t have a cohesive argument.

            Also, you make the mistake Martha mentioned upthread – “the “life begins at conception” argument is not in any way valid.” Of course it’s a valid argument because life does begin at conception. When sperm joins ovum they create a new and distinct organism. That’s well established, and it’s also not the relevant question.

            The relevant question is when does that new life obtain rights equal to those of the mother. That’s what the abortion debate is about – not when does life start, but when are rights conferred to that new life.

      2. Whether an argument is right or wrong is a different issue than whether the argument is secular. Saying “there is a secular argument against [some] abortions” does not mean that the argument is a good one. Hitch may have been wrong, but he did not base his viewpoint on religion or misogyny, IMO.

        Now, as for a potential not being the same as an actual — sure, granted. HOWEVER, at 39 weeks — or maybe 43 for a late birth — is it an actual, or is it still a potential. I realize that, before you say it, that women don’t generally abort babies at that stage. It’s an example to make a point. If that is a circumstance where prohibiting or restricting abortion makes biological sense, then we have found a secular argument against abortion in a given circumstance. There may be others.

        I am an atheist. I call myself “prochoice.” I think abortion on demand up to 12 weeks makes sense. HOWEVER, abortion at 30 weeks? There are dramatic biological differences between a 30 weeker and a 3 weeker. There is little biological difference between a 43 weeker and a 38 weeker. Both of the later are essentially newborns.

        In short, like in life, we live on a continuum. We are very different at age 70 than we were at age 7, and we are very different at age 1, 3 and 5. Each day, small changes occur. Anyone who has had a child knows the feeling of waking up with them each day and seeing them just a little bit different, a little bit more developed. We have one continuum from fertilization through death.

        The proLifer’s and the extreme anti-choice people see that continuum and say “the fertilzed egg is the same as the grown adult, it’s just degrees of development.” And, they are right about the degrees of development, but they are not right, IMO, about the “it’s the same thing.” We are not the same at age 7 as we are at age 37, which is why there tremendous restrictions on the behavior and autonomy of 7 year olds. We don’t allow parents to kill 7 year olds — ANYMORE. But, in some cultures in some times, that WAS allowed. Different things ARE treated differently.

        The secular arguments against abortion generally are not that there should be no abortions, or that women’s health doesn’t mean anything and fetuses always take precedence. The secular arguments against abortions generally relate to SOME abortions — abortion after so many weeks of pregnancy, and the arguments can be and are based on the acknowledgement that biologically a 30 week fetus is different in substantial ways from a 12 week fetus. These differences may warrant different treatment. Different things may be treated differently.

  20. ” “I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion. You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.””

    I LOVE the people here trying to give Silverman slack for this stupid statement by saying, “Well, he didn’t say there was a logical or reasonable secular argument about abortion, nor did he define secular!”

    Why does that even MATTER? He was obviously being vague on purpose so that he wouldn’t have to go on to explain that the secular “arguments” are all illogical and downright shitty. OR he actually believes there are “reasonable” secular arguments against abortion.

    Either one stinks to high hell like shit that’s been left out on the sidewalk in Lake Havasu, AZ where the average high in July is 111 degrees. THAT IS TO SAY IT REALLY SMELLS.

    His statement was stupid, it was squirrely, it was awful, and it was only said to make himself seem every so slightly more acceptable to a mostly very religious group of conservatives.

    He has lost a lot of my respect. He just comes off as a coward. It’s not appealing. And his argument fucking stinks.

    1. Not merely cowardly, but I think he was also being deliberately deceptive. In fact I think that this entire charade of him getting a booth for AA was deceptive because I can’t imagine that he honestly thought they were going to get one.

        1. So, abortion on demand through birth is the only answer, and if a legislature proposes a restriction on availability of abortion, requires an application/reason for it to be done, etc., say, at 18 weeks (like Norway) or 20/21 weeks, like say many US states and the UK, etc., then the argument for that cannot be secular? It must be religiously based and misogynistic?

          I am addressing this in a real world sense. Norway, as I said, for example, has abortion on demand through 12 weeks. After 18 weeks, they require a special application. Misogyny?

          Are you saying that it is not part of the real world experience of women that abortions occur after 18 weeks or 20 weeks or thereabouts?

          Well, I do personally support abortion rights on demand through 12 weeks. I think that’s important, and I think it’s a good practical compromise. I think that the third trimester is too late, generally speaking, and there is an interest in the viability of the fetus at that stage, and I don’t hate women and I am not religious. The argument at that level is secular. The arguments made by the SCOTUS in Roe v Wade were secular, and SCOTUS acknowledged that the right to abortion would not be “on demand through 40+ weeks.”

          1. I know this wasn’t addressed to me, but folks have asked me to clarify my position, so I’ll do it here. I’ll respond to some of your statements in quotes, bellow.

            “So, abortion on demand through birth is the only answer, and if a legislature proposes a restriction on availability of abortion, requires an application/reason for it to be done, etc., say, at 18 weeks (like Norway) or 20/21 weeks, like say many US states and the UK, etc., then the argument for that cannot be secular? It must be religiously based and misogynistic?”
            I think the argument can be secular – but I also think it is wrong because it is based on flawed premises. Women should be allowed to choose that they do not want to be pregnant. For any reason. At any time. Even if other people disagree.

            “I am addressing this in a real world sense. Norway, as I said, for example, has abortion on demand through 12 weeks. After 18 weeks, they require a special application. Misogyny?”
            I don’t know if it is misogyny, but I do know it is wrong. Completely, all based on the term “special application”. To whom is the poor women applying? Who is she getting permission from? Who is it she must consult to help her make up her pretty little girl-mind? That’s what I object to. It’s her body, her choice.
            Does the Norwegian govt think that without this insulting legislation, women there will wait as long as possible to get their abortions? Or they will forget?

            “I think that the third trimester is too late, generally speaking, and there is an interest in the viability of the fetus at that stage, and I don’t hate women and I am not religious.”
            I understand your objection, and understand that it is secular. So I support your right to not get an abortion in the third trimester. I probably wouldn’t get one either (if I were a woman, and could get pregnant). However, we have no right to legislate our opinions onto others’ behavior. We simply don’t.
            As I said upstream, it is an interesting philosophical discussion to try to figure out at what point between egg and baby does it get the rights of a person. Fertilization? Umbilical cut? probably somewhere between those. However, during an actual pregnancy, the only opinion that matters is that of the pregnant women.

          2. I think you’re kind of funny, contemplative1, and I would be laughing if this were a laughing matter. It’s not.

            Who cares what Norway does? If Norway were jumping off a cliff, would you follow? Just because Norway does a thing doesn’t mean that thing is correct. Don’t get me wrong, I like Norway and there’s nothing wrong with it. But why are you leaning so heavily on Norway’s decision? If you think 12 weeks is a good bright-line cutoff, you need to support that with arguments as to why you think this, not by pointing at Norway and saying they did it.

            Let’s take a closer look at this:

            “I think that the third trimester is too late, generally speaking, and there is an interest in the viability of the fetus at that stage, and I don’t hate women and I am not religious.”

            Throughout the various threads, you seem to be groping toward some kind of objective way to define when a fetus gains “person” rights, in a completely abstract manner. You almost never mention or think about the woman, in whose body you want to apply this abstract decision.

            Let’s be a little less abstract: under what circumstances do you think a woman might want to obtain an abortion at 35 weeks? Mind you, this is still abstract, because a real-life woman will have real-life circumstances and you honestly cannot know them completely, ever, even if you are that woman’s live-in spouse. But, in reality, there are women (not many, but they exist) who seek induced abortions at 35 weeks. What do you think those circumstances might be? Come up with something, and roll it around in your mind a little.

            Now, look at what reason you imagined and really analyze it. Ask yourself, What justification is there for me, random Internet stranger to this hypothetical woman, to inject myself into her decisionmaking process on this matter? I want you to see if you can come up with some justification for why you have any right to criticize this (fully hypothetical) woman’s decision, UNLESS your reason was “she changed her mind willy-nilly at the last second and decided to abort a healthy fetus that was no danger to herself because she’s a silly woman and silly women do zany things like that.” I mean, was your imagined reason some variation of that theme (and can you really say you aren’t misogynist if that’s the only reason you can think of for why a woman might want a late-term abortion)? If it wasn’t, why do you grant yourself the right to overrule the woman?

  21. Carl Sagan wrote an excellent article on the ethics of abortion and which concludes that the Roe v Wade decision was a sensible compromise.

    I swear the only reason this is still an issue for *political* debate (I emphasize ” political” to acknowledge those who are politically pro-choice, but who would personally have an ethical issue with some or all legal abortions) is because of people who contend that an embryo should get rights equal to a newborn baby AND that a pregnant woman’s right to control her body is superceded by the rights of even a ten week old embryo. That is such an extreme, and sexist, and if not religious, certainly purely philosophical and/or emotion-based perspective. If such a perspective were mainstream, we’d be throwing funerals every time a woman had a first term miscarriage and prosecuting women who engage in certain risky behaviors while pregnant of child neglect or abuse. It is ridiculous.

    1. “we’d be […] prosecuting women who engage in certain risky behaviors while pregnant of child neglect or abuse.”

      I agree with you that it’s ridiculous. It is also a thing that actually happens.

      In South Carolina there is affirmative jurisprudence allowing this:

      Other states just kind of do it anyway with creative prosecution, while their legislatures try to pass laws to let them criminalize women for miscarriages officially.

      And here’s an interesting one:

      Fortunately the charges against Melissa Rowland were eventually dropped, but think about the kind of mindset that led to the charges being brought in the first place.

      1. Skeith – you’re being a little misleading here. In each of the first two cases you cite, the woman in question abused drugs during the latter stages of pregnancy. A good (although likely biased) legal treatment of the topic is here:

        “Facing the issue of when a fetus is entitled to protection, the court held that a viable fetus was a “person” for purposes of the Children’s Code. It is submitted that the Supreme Court of South Carolina correctly decided that a viable fetus was a “person” entitled to protection from criminal child neglect.
        The South Carolina Supreme Court rested its position, in large part, upon existing medical information regarding fetal development. It is well documented that maternal cocaine use during pregnancy can cause serious harm to the viable fetus.”

        In both of these instances the state is following the precedent set in Roe v. Wade that at the point of viability, a state may grant rights to an unborn fetus (Contrast this treatment with the charges against Kermit Gosnell, where he was only charged with murder when a failed abortion led to the live birth, and subsequent death, of a fetus).

        And then you go from misleading straight into bat-crap crazy – “while their legislatures try to pass laws to let them criminalize women for miscarriages officially.” Interesting that there’s no citation for that one…

        Let’s take a slightly different case:

        Should he have been charged with murder? Or simple battery?

          1. Jack – did you read the full article? Better yet, did you take a minute to find the actual Tennessee bill? My guess is no, because you would have found that it doesn’t criminalize miscarriages. It criminalizes actions, like those in the NY Post link I cited, which cause the death of an unborn embryo or fetus.

            See here:

            In fact, your point isn’t just wrong. It’s exactly the opposite of what the bill actually says. This bill insulates women from prosecution for “any act or omission by a pregnant woman with respect to an embryo or fetus with which she is pregnant.”

            The full text of that paragraph reads: “Nothing in subsection (a) shall apply to any act or omission by a pregnant woman with respect to an embryo or fetus with which she is pregnant, or to any lawful medical or surgical procedure to which a pregnant woman consents, performed by a health care professional who is licensed to perform such procedure.”

            I’ll note that this same refutation is noted by one of the commenters on the website you cited. It would help to fully read the links you’re planning on citing I suppose.

          2. Right, and in the real world stand you ground never allows people to kill other people just because they are a different color. Intent is not how laws are always applied, it is probably best to remove the possibility. But then again, maybe it’s just best to let the courts fight it out that way the actual lawmakers won’t offend anyone.

        1. Wow, I go away for 24 hours and get accused of being “bat-crap.” LOL

          I didn’t post a link because I thought everyone already knew this. That’s what I get for overestimating people on the intertubes! Here’s is just one example:

          Utah attempted to pass a bill that would criminalize a woman’s “intentional, knowing, or reckless” behavior that resulted in miscarriage. The “stated intent” was to criminalize women seeking illegal abortions, but as with the personhood laws nobody with a decent command of the English language would be fooled. This law would have criminalized a woman for getting on an exciting theme park ride if she subsequently miscarried.

          Georgia went even farther:

          Their law would have made having a miscarriage punishable by death, unless the woman could prove “no human involvement” in the loss of the fetus.

          I mean, these things are so outrageous, I thought everyone knew them. Sorry for making that assumption about you! You know what they say.

          As far as the women who were doing drugs: your point is? Men who test positive for drugs? In most states, nothing happens, because only possession or dealing is criminalized. Just having done drugs last week is not something you go to jail for, unless you were on probation or something. Women who aren’t pregnant? Same thing.

          Women who are pregnant? Suddenly it’s a criminal act. So, testing positive for drugs is a STATUS CRIME. It’s only a crime if you are 1. female and 2. pregnant. A woman doesn’t have to actually lose the baby to be prosecuted for “child abuse” in this fashion. After Utah (always the trendsetters) decided to start prosecuting pregnant drug users in this way, pregnant drug users ceased getting prenatal care or admitting to anyone that they were both pregnant and using drugs. So not only did they get zero assistance to get off the drugs, they also got zero prenatal care of any kind. Smart thinking, Utah!

          1. Skeith –

            The first bill “responds to a case in which a Vernal woman allegedly paid a man $150 to beat her and cause miscarriage but could not be charged.” Not exactly criminalizing miscarriage, except perhaps those that are put out for contract (and thus technically not a miscarriage, which is natural and spontaneous). And I challenge you to find any text in the bill that “would have criminalized a woman for getting on an exciting theme park ride if she subsequently miscarried.” Criminal law just doesn’t work this way (see below).

            The GA bill in at the second link is nuts. But it doesn’t criminalize miscarriage either. I’ll do the work for you on this one. The bill specifically states, “Such term does not include a naturally occurring expulsion of a fetus known medically as a ‘spontaneous abortion’ and popularly as a ‘miscarriage’ so long as there is no human involvement whatsoever in the causation of such event.”

            The interpretation that women would have to prove “no human involvement” appears to be that of of the Mother Jones author alone – who I’m sure you would agree is not the most impartial of observers. The text of the law includes no such burden of proof that I could find. Indeed that standard would be exceptional in criminal jurisprudence as the burden of proof always rests with the state.

            On the drug issue. You left a salient fact out of your analysis, the women in the two original cases you cited were pregnant with viable (not covered by Roe v. Wade) fetuses. As a society we criminalize the act of a mother giving cocaine to a newborn, and while I’m not suggesting what either woman did was exactly the same, there is a legal argument based on Roe that it’s similar. People can disagree as to whether the state should intervene in cases such as this or if they do, how they should intervene.

            My original point was that you were misleading in your characterization of the cases you cited, and that still stands. And you still haven’t cited the case of a legislature trying to outlaw natural miscarriages, so my characterization of that still stands.

            The thing that irks me is there’s no reason to be less than completely honest about things like this. We can, and have, been winning the argument on its merits. We don’t have to stoop to borderline fiction (like Mother Jones) or outright fiction (The Civil Rights Movement article, not cited by you but an example of my point). It disillusions people, like me, who read and want to believe these things because they support my cause, but then find out after further scrutiny that there’s more to the story and quite often I’m being lied to.

          2. Then try these. I would suggest a search for miscarriage, you will find it is specifically mentioned in the laws of Michigan, North Carolina, and Oklahoma although it is not a stretch to assume that the intent of plenty of the other states would include it.

          3. HP: Why do you think a woman would go so far as to PAY someone to help her miscarry? Think about it. That’s pretty terrible — and not for the fetus, but for the woman who perhaps had no other recourse or choice.

            It’s the same when women are secretly pregnant and then leave their babies in dumpsters or what have you:

            We shouldn’t be criminalizing that behavior. We should have things in place that would PREVENT such things.

            Maybe if abortion wasn’t so stigmatized and so expensive and sometimes nearly impossible to get (particularly in rural areas), then that woman wouldn’t have tried to pay someone to BEAT HER UP.

            Women don’t do that shit for fun: They do it because they are desperate.

            It hearkens right back to the days before Roe V. Wade and all the horror stories we heard about back-alley abortions.

            ****Making abortions safe and legal without any restrictions would STOP that kind of desperate behavior.****** THINK ABOUT IT.

          4. And women paying men to beat them to force miscarriage IS EXACTLY THE CONSEQUENCE of effectivley banning abortion has.

            It’s EXACTLY what the extremist anti-choicers and force-birthers want: They want to legislate abortion so much that it’s nearly impossible to obtain and then they want to criminalize women who become desperate because they have no choice.

            It’s disgusting and it’s wrong AND THAT IS WHY WE SHOULD NOT LEGISLATE ABORTION.

          5. I’m happy that you live in a universe where prosecutors and judges never never ever ever interpret a law differently from how it was “intended.” What color is the sky there? On my planet, in the geopolitical division in which I live, we had several “amendments” to our “Constitution” that were clearly, by the letter of the laws and by the statements of the people who wrote and passed them, for the purpose and intention of creating total legal equality between persons of all “races.” However, our “courts” which interpret our laws found a little hole into which it was able to insert an excuse to avoid imposing this total equality, because it proved to be somewhat inconvenient. I guess in your form of government, this must not ever occur, ever, so this idea must be very incomprehensible to you.

            Actually, that’s unfair of me. It’s actually the opposite: these laws attempt to criminalize miscarriages, and you seem to be hoping that judges won’t interpret the laws that way.

            A law that criminalizes “reckless” behavior if that behavior results in a miscarriage … are you really so dense as to not comprehend the meaning of that? A law exists as it is written, regardless of what prompted it. Efforts were made to amend it to remove the word “reckless” and those efforts were rejected – do you not comprehend what that states, outright? The authors of the law can claim whatever they want about what “prompted” it, but the reality is that it criminalizes anything a woman does that results in miscarriage if an argument can be made that her actions were “reckless.” I don’t know why you are making a distinction between a “natural” miscarriage and … whatever you think the other kind might be. These laws make no such distinction. Your “characterization” rests on something that does not exist: all miscarriages are “natural” insofar as the word “natural” means anything when combined with “miscarriage.”

            You seem to be banking on a court somewhere injecting a dose of rational thinking. “It won’t be interpreted the way the law is clearly written!” is your argument, as near as I can tell. That’s … wildly optimistic, and even if true it does not in any way negate the horribleness of the laws in question.

            Re: pregnant drug users, you are making excuses. Testing positive for coke won’t get you thrown in jail unless you are a pregnant woman. Just like being absent from school a lot won’t get you in legal trouble unless you are a minor child. These are status crimes. If a man or non-pregnant woman tested positive for coke, the =rational= thing to do is try to get them into treatment. I’m not sure why you are so invested in the idea that pregnant women should be handled differently.

          6. And stop and consider why a woman might be SO DESPERATE to end a pregnancy that she would risk her own life Think about that. Think about it long and hard.

          7. HP: Maybe if YOU read the entire link I posted you would see the full implication of the Tennessee Law.
            The law gives personhood status to a bunch of cells less than you lose every time you scratch your balls.
            As such this law is the first brick in the wall.

            In combination with other laws, the persecution of women begins, such as described here:

            And, sure, you and one other commenter in that first article hold that the intent is the opposite.
            Maybe with a liberal judge and jury that may be the case – maybe if the judge was you and the jury was that commenter plus the other 11 liberals in Tennessee.

          8. Mrmisconception, marilove, skeith, jack: the word ‘miscarriage’ – without qualifier – implies both in law and reasonable argument that the death of a fetus/embryo was either natural or accidental. None of the articles or statutes cited here criminalize miscarriage as described. They criminalize intentional, willful acts by anyone to harm an embryo/fetus (various laws describe this differently). And they do it, arguably (see below), within the confines of Roe v. Wade. I’m not passing judgement on these statutes, I don’t think they’re necessary. I’m simply saying we don’t need to lie – and in fact have an obligation not to lie – about what they actually say.

            You can argue, and some people think as marilove does, that acts such as leaving a newborn in a dumpster should not be criminalized. This is why we have a democratic process and to date that view has not carried the day.

            Skeith – I’m not sure what country you’re in, but here in the US criminal law statutes are based on that principle that the state carries the burden of proof and they must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed a crime. Of course there are rogue prosecutors and of course there are juries which fail to apply the law correctly. That’s not at issue.

            Let’s grant, for a second, that your proposition is correct. What would the chain of events leading up to an arrest and prosecution look like?

            A woman is pregnant. She starts to feel intense pain and experiences vaginal bleeding, so she goes to the emergency room. Some time later a doctor examines her and determines that the fetus/embryo is no longer alive. Her blood tests are do not show signs of drug use. She presents with no contusions or signs of physical abuse. The doctor cannot determine a cause.

            Using the laws you have cited, present a plausible scenario based in law for how this woman could be convicted of a crime. I’ll try to do it for you. The doctor would first have to report the death to the authorities, he’d then have to present (fraudulent) evidence that it was the result of something not natural, the prosecutor would have to review that evidence, conduct an investigation to determine opportunity, motive, etc., and come up with a plausible theory for how this would have taken place. The prosecutor would then have to present this evidence to a judge who would interpret the law and determine if a trial was in order – throughout this process the woman and her attorney would get to argue her side as well. And a jury would have to hear all the evidence, look at the law, and decide that she’s guilty of…what exactly? How can you show that she’s guilty of anything?

            You can’t do it, unless you posit an overzealous prosecutor, a less than truthful physician willing to not only lie but forge physical evidence, a corrupt judge, and an evangelical jury who completely disregards the actual text of the law.

            And then for that conviction to stand, you’d have even more things to explain because the appeals courts and ultimately the Supreme Court would have to uphold this verdict. This isn’t wild-eyed optimism, it’s based in reality.

            Now the obvious retort to all of this is – people get convicted of things they didn’t do all the time. And my reply would be yes, they get convicted of murder, rape, robbery, etc., which are all unambiguously illegal. They don’t get convicted of a law a that a pro-choice advocate interpreted to mean a specific thing when the text of the actual law says something else.

            You all have put me in an awkward position of appearing as if I agree with these people when I don’t. Roe v. Wade is law. It’s been decided and upheld (in Casey). Barring some radical change in prenatal science in the near future I can’t imagine the Supreme Court will ever again attempt to overturn it, such is the power of stare decisis.

            States which lean pro-life (and in this debate I choose not to tarnish either side by using labels with which they do not choose for themselves) will of course try to limit abortion within the framework set up by Roe, and from time to time they’ll try to nip away at the holding in Roe. These instances should be fought against for what they are, not for what we can twist them into.

            “Criminalizing miscarriages” is an attempt to do just that – to twist what is likely a bad law for many other reasons into something that sounds like a really, really bad law for something it’s not.

            Finally, Skeith, I’m not invested heavily in the idea that pregnant women should be handled differently re: drugs. But you continue to evade the salient point. In each of the cases you cited the woman was pregnant with a viable fetus. A state, in light of Roe v. Wade, can decide that it is in their interest to protect a viable fetus in this instance. You used the term “risky behavior” when describing these women, however this behavior – in the judgement of some – wasn’t just risky to the women themselves, but to the viable fetuses they were carrying. We can make the “bodily autonomy” argument all day, but at a federal level that legal argument is over and the decision the Supreme Court made was – once the fetus is viable – to leave that determination to the states.

            Finally, Jack: “The law gives personhood status to a bunch of cells less than you lose every time you scratch your balls. As such this law is the first brick in the wall.” First, you assume I have balls to scratch, can I scratch yours? Second, the law does exactly the opposite of what you said it does, which was to criminalize miscarriage. It in fact insulates women from prosecution. Third, even if I grant your point that the law “gives personhood” status to an embryo, it simply cannot criminalize abortion as long as Roe v. Wade stands – and as I said earlier I find it hard to image that it will ever be overturned. You sound like the NRA – who are convinced, even after Heller, that any gun control law will via a slippery slope lead to gun confiscations. Are there people who want to totally ban guns? Sure, but after Heller there’s no way they can do it. But the NRA needs money and donors to give it to them. I suspect a similar dynamic is at work here as well, as much as it pains me to say it.

  22. My only question: To what extent does a fetus differ from one’s liver, or other bodily organ? A pregnancy results when two persons provide healthy enough genetic material, within a specific time frame. At this time, I would argue there should be complete autonomy for a pregnant woman.

    If the technology existed to remove the child, without harm or intervention more intrusive than the abortion, and to provide a sufficient and successful gestation post-partum, should the second person providing genetic be given equal rights to terminate-or not terminate-the fetus?

    I do not mean removing late trimester, or viable fetuses, etc. I mean this technology doesn’t exists currently and would be able to remove a fetus at near the point of conception. Nor, would the second provider of generic material have to be male.

    1. If you do not include late trimester/viable fetuses, isn’t it true that you do not favor “complete autonomy” for the pregnant woman on this? Your carve out for late abortions would seem to be a limit on autonomy.

      I think that in many instances, the bulk of both “sides”on this issue talk past each other, saying nearly the same thing, but starting from a different base point. Like a prochoicer will declare that women should have “complete autonomy” to have abortions…but, then the caveat is drawn that “…not including late term viables…” (thereby turning complete autonomy into partial autonomy). Then the pro lifer will declare all abortion to be wrong because life begins at conceptions, but then leave some degree of caveats out there like “well, if it’s really, early on…” or “rape and incest, of course…” or “a really young girl gets pregnant, then sure…”

      The point being that only a small minority of people take an absolutist view that it’s either “never under any circumstances” or “always, anytime, on demand.” Most people occupy a compromise position. It would be far more productive if that great middle ground began to eschew the extremes and adopt a reasonable middle position. I think that’s why many cultures move towards a 20 week, or thereabouts, cutoff. Some a little sooner, some a little later, most of the time with provision for the life/health of the mother to be balanced with that of the child in the late terms.

      1. “If you do not include late trimester/viable fetuses, isn’t it true that you do not favor “complete autonomy” for the pregnant woman on this? Your carve out for late abortions would seem to be a limit on autonomy.” I meant to distinguish the question from current medical abilities. That is all. If we could extract a zygote with ease and provide an ex-utero environment or substitute environment, should the second giver of generic material have some or equal rights to the zygote/fetus?

        1. That’s a good question. As medical technology increases, we have some thorny issues to resolve. Not only would the question of the “second” giver of genetic material come up, but what of true designer babies? It is probably feasible theoretically to simply construct DNA from a variety of sources, not just two. Who will have rights? Who will have responsibilities? Lots of interesting territory ahead of us…

        2. I just love when people play theoretical games with shit that actually effects real life women.

          Must be awesome being able to have the time to consider things that aren’t even remotely possible at this time, when we’re over here busy trying to keep what little rights we have from being stomped all over.

      2. 20 week cut offs are not okay. These “cut offs” are often used to prevent women who NEED later trimester abortions. Do you remember that woman in Ireland? Do we really want that?

        I don’t think it’s AT ALL extreme to allow that women make the final decision, with her doctors — period, end of discussion. It’s my body. My views aren’t extreme. They are logical. This sort of thing should not be legislated. The law doesn’t have a fucking medical degree.

        1. And I know the Ireland example is “extreme” — except that we have people here trying to get us to that place, one law at a time. One restriction at a time.

          Women don’t get later or late term abortions willy-nilly. Can we stop treating women as if they can’t make their own decisions with their doctor? I do not need a law to tell me if I should get an abortion. At any time. That’s up to me and my doctors. PERIOD.

        2. Arguably it depends on the reason for the cutoff. If you have a period of time where abortion can be obtained even if there is no medical reason to do it – such as “abortion on demand through 12 weeks, or 18 weeks, or 20 weeks” or whatever, but then thereafter there has to be a medical reason, that is in line with some of our most liberal social democracies, and it is in line with treating abortion more like a standard medical procedure. Typically, medical procedures require a medical reason for doing them.

          1. Women don’t get late term abortions just for fun. The reasons are 100% irrelevant and SHOULD NOT BE LEGISLATED AGAINST. For any reason. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

  23. Marilove, yes, exactly, that could happen anywhere if we fail to fight it. With a new bunch of conservatives in Canberra, I fear for the future. Deals are done with minor parties such as Family First in exchange for support. Next thing we know we are back in the Fifties or worse.

    Also: “The law doesn’t have a fucking medical degree” is a beauty!

  24. And you call your POV skepticism? You present only the argument you choose to assign secular pro-life advocates while ignoring their actual arguments? Huh, interesting. Fyi, according to the rationale laid out by this author, the fetus is nothing but a mother’s organ matter so it can be disposed of anytime before birth at her choosing. So she supports late term and partial birth abortions, yes? Just so we’re clear on the implications of the author’s position.

    Some secular people see an emergent right of the fetus as it develops to protect its life via law, and the rights of the fetus competing with the woman’s rights. The vast majority of people don’t believe late term abortions are moral for just this reason. I as a secular person don’t believe some magic occurs at conception, but rather that at some point the fetus becomes a life in its own right and does so before birth. I actually believe the limit should be pretty early as – despite the author’s throwaway line – the science hasn’t been debunked on fetal pain. The truth is that me and many secular people aren’t exactly sure where to draw the line, but we certainly don’t buy the analogy that a fetus is just like a kidney.

    You may not like this argument. I’m willing to hear criticisms of it – but what I’m not willing to do is have it not even considered in an article that claims to be up for discussing a secular argument for prohibition on abortion after a certain fetal age limit. I doubt I’ll get an intelligible response as the comments here appear to be mere seal flap clapping, but hey, why not surprise me and be rational? I’m waiting…

    1. “Fyi, according to the rationale laid out by this author, the fetus is nothing but a mother’s organ matter so it can be disposed of anytime before birth at her choosing. So she supports late term and partial birth abortions, yes?”

      I never said a fetus was “just an organ,” but yeah, I’m not against late term or “partial birth” abortions.

    2. Wow, yet another person coming here with the predetermination that any argument made will not be rational. Where are you all coming from?

      The rational question to someone who is so very concerned about the rights of the unborn, as you seem to be, is when do the rights of said unborn trump the rights of the person whose body the unborn is using? I see lots of declarations of viability and person-hood but ignoring the rights of the person whose body is being used by said unborn is unconscionable. Or to put it another way, why is it a potential life is more important to you than an actual already established life? I’m waiting…

      1. I will weigh in to say that an argument can be made that at “viability” the fetus has some rights that deserve to be protect. The logic would be that it could be born prematurely, so to abort it is not substantially different than killing a newborn preemie. It’s difficult for me to square aborting a preemie with the need for abortion. I think an argument can be made that we have two beings who each have rights that must be balanced. I think that’s the kind of thing that the US Supreme Court found in cases like Roe v Wade, too. A balancing test.

        1. And where that distinction is made is not for you or the courts to decide any more than it is for them to decide that you must donate a kidney, after all the person needing a kidney has rights.

          Ask yourself where the idea that the fetus has rights that should usurp the pregnant woman’s. I have never heard a good secular argument, maybe you can enlighten me. And I would suggest that you save your breath if it is a variation of the “but sex has consequences” line of thinking since that is based on religious dogma or consequentialism and is not a good argument.

          1. Well, it is for the courts and the legislature to decide, because that’s our legal system. They do decide on various regulations governing kidney operations, governing the behavior of doctors and putting restrictions on medical procedures, availability of drugs/medical devices and whatnot. Abortion is not the only medical procedure that is subject to regulation.

            Well, the argument that there is a cutoff point for abortion on demand seems to be generally accepted in every major western industrialized nation. That’s why most social democracies have cut off at about 20 weeks or so. Like the Justices said in Roe v Wade – JusticePowell had suggested that the point where the State could intervene be placed at viability, which Justice Thurgood Marshall supported as well. Justice Blackmun who wrote the opinion of the court ruled ruled that in the first trimester of pregnancy, state laws and regulations may not interfere with a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. This means that the decision to have an abortion is left in the hands of the woman and her health care provider. During the second trimester, state laws and regulations can regulate abortion in order to protect the woman’s health. During the last trimester, and after the fetus is viable (developed enough to survive outside the mother’s womb), state laws and regulations may prohibit abortion except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the woman..

            The reason being is that by third trimester and/or viability — at some point — there is a good reason to protect the life of the fetus. I think the analysis probably goes that once the woman has already carried the baby for 24 weeks or so, then the remainder of the pregnancy is not enough of a burden to warrant the on demand abortion of the fetus. But, of course, there was the carve out for discretion when there is good reason, like the life or health of the mother.

            I haven’t used a “sex has consequences” line of thinking, although I have to say that such a line is not necessarily a religious one. Sex does have consequences. Some of them are minor, like orgasm (sometimes, lol), venereal diseases (sometimes), pregnancy (sometimes), emotional trauma (sometimes), emotional bliss (sometimes). That’s just a statement of fact. The key is what one thinks those consequences or potential consequences mean or necessitate. To me, sex having consequences is not very relevant.

          2. In what other case is a person’s bodily autonomy forfeited to another? None.

            Special circumstance = special pleading.

            The late term ban is a strawman argument, women simply do not get late term abortion for reasons other than the health and well being. Pretending that they do plays into the hands of those who wish to ban abortion. It gives them a timeline so that all they have to do is delay and intimidate to put off the abortion until it is too late and they “win”. That is what the laws requiring multiple counseling sessions, cooling-off periods, and vaginal probes are designed to do.

            Late term bans are a tool used to stop all abortions and nothing else. Protecting the life of a viable fetus is not a real concern because elective abortions simply don’t happen. You even said yourself that there aren’t enough abortions after 24 to warrant on demand abortions, I believe that lack of demand for late term abortions shows there is no need for the limit, it only plays into the hands of those who would eliminate the right.

        2. Apologies in advance if this seems harsh.
          The mother is a person, and a member of society. Not a potential, but an actual. Her rights are what matter. Her decision is what matters. If we disagree with her decision, we have the right to be mad, or sad. We do not have the right to bend the law to punish her for her decision, nor do we have the right to bend the law to demand she seek permission to make her decision. We just don’t.
          Rather then focusing on hypothetical situations that hardly ever occur (“she was hopped up on coke, on a roller coaster, in her third trimester!”), perhaps we should focus on the fact that when and where abortion is safe, available, and affordable, it is also overwhelmingly obtained as early as possible. And places where contraceptives are safe, available, and affordable, abortions are much less required.
          And then we can focus on the fact that political monsters who try to limit access to abortion and contraception should be removed from office.

          1. No apologies necessary. I understand what you’re saying, and I agree with it, for the most part. I call myself prochoice, and I think I am prochoice. I think my view is in line with mainstream thinking on the topic

            Where do I agree with you: I agree that a mother is a person and a member of society. I think she is an actual. I think her rights matter, and I think her decisions matter to the same degree as any member of society. If we disagree with her decision, we have the right to be mad or sad (not only that, but we have the right to say so and to criticize that decision). We do not have the right to bend the law to punish her for her decision (although I’m not sure how that would be done).

            Where I disagree is the description of the fetus as a mere “potential.” A fetus is an actual fetus. It’s a potential child and a potential adult. A viable fetus can be one that is 22 weeks along — I think at 24 weeks they say that fetuses have a 50% survival rate, and of course with new medical advancements that is going up. So, is a 25 or 26 week fetus a “potential” or is it an “actual?” It’s little different than a preemie, isn’t it?

            Now, I am not making any allegation that women generally make abortion decisions lightly or that later term abortions are very common. What I am saying is that people seem to overstate the case by saying that all abortions at any time for any reason or no reason even up through labor and delivery should be unregulated in any way. I think they say this because they don’t want to allow a crack in the armor — they don’t want to allow the anti-choice people to get a foot in the door to argue against all abortions. However, that’s not argument and discussion of the issue — that’s advocacy of a political position. Both are legitimate, but they are different things.

            As an aside, in my view, I hope technology will solve most of the problem. Freely available contraceptives and “day after” drugs and such which make it as easy as possible to take care of it in the early weeks would be best. Safe, legal and early, I agree with you there, is best.

            Canada’s way may well be the best. I am not one that advocates that regulations have to be criminal laws. In fact, this is an area where there should be no criminal laws. What we need is sensible medical criteria. That’s what Canada appears to do. However, that may not be wholly satisfactory to the more adamant absolutists out there, since Canada’s system results in just about zero abortions after 24 weeks, whether women want them or not.

          2. Even Canada’s ways, IMO, are not quite right. Regulation against any abortion means some regulators believe their decisions, made presumably not during and unwanted pregnancy, are more qualified than the decisions of the woman who is facing an unwanted pregnancy.
            Any regulation or criminalization or legislation at all says the exact same thing: other people, people not currently experiencing an unwanted pregnancy, are more qualified to make this decision about the termination of the pregnancy than the pregnant women herself is. That is across the board wrong.

          3. I agree that you are falling in line with the mainstream on this. That’s the problem.

            Putting restrictions on abortions is like speed bumps, everyone believes that is solves a problem that in fact it makes worse. Women are not heartless robots that decide willy-nilly to get abortions at the last minute. Restrictions on abortion are designed to stop all abortion not just limit them. Arguing for them is in fact arguing for the anti-choice side even if you don’t realize it.

            I don’t care that Roe v Wade said whatever, leaving that grayness in the law has lead us to where we are now, the abortion abolitionists throwing up every roadblock they can in ways that are less then subtle, and we have rational people helping them do it and I think that is sad.

          4. I can certainly understand your position, but all medical procedures have restrictions on them. We can’t just go to a doctor and ask them to perform surgery on us. At a minimum, medical necessity and reasonableness come into play. A doctor need not perform unnecessary medical operations or administer unneeded drugs, and he or she is professionally and legally restricted from doing so. So, I would think abortion, like any other medical procedure, could be treated that way.

          5. ” but all medical procedures have restrictions on them. :

            And these “restrictions” are LARGELY based on the opinions of doctors and other medical professionals, NOT POLITICIANS and random people voting out of fear rather than rational logic.

            Please point to me ANY medical procedure (which abortion is) that has been legislated as much as abortion has.

            Your argument fails because this kind of stuff SHOULD NOT BE LEGISLATED to fucking death.

    3. Do you think late term abortions and partial birth abortions happen just for fun or willy-nilly? Man. This thought-process boggles my mind.

      Could you provide some proof that late-term abortions happen with any frequency out of MEDICALLY NECESSARY reasons? And can you provide me proof that “partial birth” abortions is actually a thing to begin with?

  25. Here in Canada, we have no abortion laws at all. And our abortion rate is lower than in the US, a finding consistent with a large international study published in the Lancet in 2011, that found restrictive abortion laws were associated with similar or higher rates of abortion compared with regions that had enacted more liberal legislation.
    If pro-lifers were really about the babies, they’d embrace this research and fight to remove restrictions on abortions everywhere. But it’s not about the babies, is it?

    1. Certainly there are no criminal laws, which I think is good. However, a woman cannot have an elective abortion past 24 weeks gestation. There are simply no doctors and no facilities that will allow for an elective termination at that point. There are only a few doctors in the entire country who are willing to perform abortions past 20 weeks. In Canada there are very strict professional guidelines governing doctors which prohibit abortions after 24 weeks except under very limited circumstances. I.e., they do the same thing as the most legislative schemes achieve, but they do it through regulating the medical profession.

      The result is the same, though. After about 20-24 weeks, there is not an UNRESTRICTED option. The cut-off week differs from place to place, and reasonable minds can differ, but there, quite simply, are always limitations. And, that’s pretty normal with respect to all rights. Even basic rights like freedom of speech have limitations. Try to go on a rant in a courtroom, or try standing outside your neighbor’s house at night protesting his lawn maintenance while standing on a soapbox and descrying his landscaping. There are limits.

        1. No, he didn’t. He compared a right (abortion) to another right (free speech). Then he gave examples of free speech that included references to landscaping. He used those examples to illustrated that rights other than abortion have limits (again, in this case, free speech), in order to argue his case that abortion, even though it is a right, should also have restrictions.
          For the record, I disagree, and do not think there should be any legislative or regulatory restrictions on abortion. But I did want to point out that he did not compare landscaping to abortion.

          1. I am so tired of these shitty analogies and philosophical games when this shit is about real life. About MY actual, real life and body and health.

          2. I am too. And I am sick to death that we as a country still try to legislate abortion. As a world, actually. Safe, obtainable, affordable abortion when required would lessen so much hardship. And safe, obtainable, affordable birth control would lessen the need for abortion. We need both.
            But that doesn’t change the fact that he did not compare landscaping to abortion.

  26. A few minutes with Google gets me…
    Secular arguments against gay marriage:

    Against euthanasia:

    So, they certainly exist. And aren’t any better, looking at it as a person who can get pregnant. It seems to look very different to people who can’t get pregnant but might want the right to die or get gay married.
    Bonus, Zinnia’s argument for infanticide:

  27. I actually believe there should be restrictions on abortion.

    I believe you should not be able to force another person to have an abortion so we should make that illegal, other than that the pregnant woman gets to choose.


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