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Secular views challenging abortion

All Our Lives is neither religious nor anti-religious. We welcome people of any faith as well as nonbelievers. In light of my Point of Inquiry appearance, I'd like to direct readers to some secular or atheist views that question abortion.

Kathryn Reed's Feminist, Prolife and Atheist is a great example of a humanist, feminist challenge to abortion.

Many people think that opposition to abortion is a religious stance, and for many people this is true. For me it is not. I decided when I was thirteen that I was both an atheist and prolife. I became an atheist because I had no belief in a spiritual reality. I became prolife because my biology class taught a section about the development of the human embryo and fetus. I saw a human life as beginning at conception and stretching in one continuum until the death of that being. I saw that the inclusion of a child into society after birth (but not before) was nothing but a human convention.

When I attended college and studied anthropology, I saw this convention as part of a larger phenomenon: the practice of defining who is and who is not human. This practice is found in all cultures and though the choice of outcast is variable, it seems inevitable that someone who is biologically human will be excluded from the social definition of humanity. It is commonly known that those who are excluded are treated in ways that would be considered unthinkable otherwise. I suspect that this tendency is a perpetual weed in the garden of human society. I am not saying that this weed cannot be removed, but people who care will probably have to spend their Saturdays well into eternity walking out in their overalls to hoe if they want to keep it from choking out everything else in the garden.

Richard Stith: Arguing with Pro-Choicers or what I think of as "the Polaroid post."  Mr. Stith is himself a believer, but the argument he makes here is based entirely upon reasoning that is accessible to nonbelievers. He compares two different ways of looking at early human development, and how one's perspective colors one's view of fetal personhood.  (He also notes how religions often erroneously argued that the developing embryo or fetus was a nonperson based on lack of information.)

Here's a taste:

I submit that pro-life arguments seem absurd to any listener who has in the back of the mind a sense that the embryo or fetus is being constructed in the womb. Here's an analogy: At what point in the automobile assembly-line process can a "car" be said to exist? I suppose most of us would point to some measure of minimum functionality (viability), like having wheels and/or a motor, but some might insist on the need for windshield wipers or say it's not fully a car until it rolls out onto the street (is born). We would all understand, however, that there's no clearly "right" answer as to when a car is there. And we would also agree that someone who claimed the car to be present from the insertion of the first screw at the very beginning of the assembly line would be taking an utterly absurd position. To someone who conceives of gestation as intrauterine construction, pro-life people sound just this ridiculous. For a thing being constructed is truly not there until it is nearly complete. was founded by a Christian who wants to work with other believers as well as nonbelievers to foreground secular arguments against abortion. They are pro-contraception and pro-sex education.

Finally, for those of you on Atheist Nexus, there is a group called Pro-Life Nonbelievers. The group welcomes discussion, but not proselytizing (either for religion or for abortion).

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Links: maternal mortality improvements, U.S. sex ed, All Our Lives co-founder interviewed

  • A new report by the World Health Organization estimates that the maternal mortality rate dropped by one-third worldwide between 1990 and 2008. Although it's hard to quantify the exact reasons, there are a number of factors that likely helped bring about the decrease: the report specifically cites improvement in health systems, improved education for females, more births being attended by skilled health-care personnel, more women receiving prenatal care, and an increase in availability and use of contraception. Though this is a significant and welcome development, there is still a long way to go. An estimated 358,000 women died of pregnancy-related causes in 2008, 87% of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. A 15-year-old girl in sub-Saharan Africa has a 1 in 31 chance of eventually dying from a maternal cause.
  • Only two-thirds of U.S. teens receive sex education that includes information on birth control, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control.  About 97% of teens interviewed for the National Survey of Family Growth said they received formal sex education by age 18. Formal sex education was defined as instruction at a school, church, community center or other setting that dealt with saying no to sex, prevention of sexually transmitted infections, or birth control.  Of all of the teens interviewed, 62% of boys and 70% of girls had received instruction about methods of contraception. Teens were even less likely to talk to their parents about birth control: 31% of boys and 51% of girls reported talking to their parents about methods of contraception, and only 20% of boys and 38% of girls talked to their parents about how to obtain it.
  • Last week, I was interviewed for the Point of Inquiry podcast about atheist opposition to abortion. The interview should be posted online today. I'm very grateful to Bob Price and the Center for Inquiry for the opportunity to discuss a viewpoint  that is not often heard in either anti-abortion or skeptical circles — the secular, pro-balance, pro-reproductive-peace position.
Blog Posts, Past Actions

The law problem

Last Saturday, I had my first long-form interview on the Shared Sacrifice BlogTalkRadio show. It was more than a little nerve-wracking. The great thing about Shared Sacrifice is that guests get a full hour to talk about the issues that are important to them. The difficult thing is — guests get a full hour to talk about the issues that are important to them! I'm very much an introvert, so it's rare for me to talk to anyone for an hour straight about anything. It went pretty well, with one exception. The question of legal policy came up, as it always does, and I had a lot of trouble with it. It's very hard to answer. I know what's wrong. It's wrong that unborn human beings have no status in law. It's wrong for the destruction of one of our daughters or sons before birth to be considered the equivalent of an appendectomy. It's also wrong that Amalia in Nicaragua can't be treated for cancer because she's pregnant. It's wrong that a woman who has a miscarriage could face prosecution in Utah. It's wrong that Christine Taylor could fall down a flight of stairs and then be arrested for attempted feticide after she went to the emergency room to see if she and her baby were OK. I know what I want. I want social and legal recognition that in every pregnancy, there are two (or more) lives whose needs and interests we need to balance. What I don't know is how to get there from here. I don't know how to get to the point of balancing two people's interests when we only acknowledge one person's existence. I also don't know how to legally acknowledge the personhood of the unborn, in anything remotely resembling the current political climate, without inviting situations like Amalia's and Christine Taylor's. I know what we can do. We can make the case for the human personhood of both pregnant women and the children they carry. We can urge people to consider that when they have sex, they are responsible for the well-being not only of themselves and their partners, but of any children they might conceive as well. We can work for women's freedom to make all nonviolent choices regarding sexuality and reproduction. We can work for laws that directly benefit both mother and child, such as the expansion of prenatal care in Nebraska. Beyond that … I'm just not sure. I would very much like to hear the thoughts of readers and my co-bloggers. What laws can pro-balance people favor to bring about justice for women and children without contributing to the further oppression of either party?

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Interview with All Our Lives co-founder

All Our Lives co-founder Jen Roth (that's me!) will be appearing on the Shared Sacrifice webcast this Saturday, March 13.  The show starts at 12pm MST (UTC-7), and I will be calling in around 12:30.  You can listen live and call in or participate in the chat room.  If you're unable to listen live, the show is also available as a podcast — just follow the link on the web page or search for “Shared Sacrifice” in the iTunes Music Store.