What Is #UpForDebate in the Secular Community?

As I mentioned in an earlier post, David Silverman of American Atheists incited a firestorm when he said at CPAC this year that there was a secular argument against abortion rights. He’s not the only one: Disappointingly, my Patheos colleague Friendly Atheist gave a platform to an anti-choice atheist earlier this month and then declined to post a rebuttal by the group Secular Woman. In response, SW started a hashtag, #UpForDebate, sarcastically asking what else we should consider negotiable among atheists. (Correction: As noted in comments, the #UpForDebate hashtag was started by Elsa Roberts.)

The secular community has always been defined by debate and persuasion, and it’s right that it should be. We wouldn’t have the right to call ourselves freethinkers if we decreed a set of Approved Opinions for all members to adhere to; only religions do that sort of thing. There are legitimate debates to be had: about, say, the moral case for vegetarianism, or the wisdom of gun ownership, or the advisability of human cloning, or the diplomats vs. firebrands question of how to do political activism. And yes, there’s even room for debate about what there should be debate about.

But at the same time, there are some questions that are clearly outside the bounds of legitimate discussion. No one would tolerate a presentation on whether we should have separate, segregated conventions for black and white secularists. No one would countenance a “secular” argument for outlawing same-sex marriage, or ask whether women’s suffrage should be revoked. If anyone in our community advocated anything like this, there’d be a furious outcry, and no one would accept the disingenuous “but I was just playing devil’s advocate” defense.

What determines which is which? There’s a common thread that runs between all the intolerable arguments, and it’s that they disparage or deny the fundamental equality of some group of human beings. In the secular community, it ought to be an uncontroversial moral principle that all people possess the same rights and freedoms. We don’t tolerate exceptions to this rule, nor should we.

And abortion should be recognized as belonging to that same category of fundamental equality. The right to reproductive choice stems from the principle of bodily autonomy, the idea that we own our own bodies and can do with them as we wish. I can’t force you to give a kidney or a lung to me, even if you’re the only compatible donor and I’ll die without one. The idea of coerced organ harvesting from unwilling people shocks the conscience, as it should. Why should a uterus be treated any differently? Why should this otherwise uncontroversial idea be suddenly open to debate when a woman becomes pregnant?

What makes this especially infuriating to women and other uterus-havers is when issues of justice that affect their lives every day are treated like an idle thought experiment of no real-world consequence. This is more true than ever of abortion, which is under attack as never before. In just the past few years, religious-right-dominated legislatures have introduced hundreds of anti-choice bills across the country, from TRAP laws designed to shut down clinics with intentionally impossible regulation, to fetal-heartbeat laws that outlaw abortion even for pregnancies that are killing the woman. To pretend that the pros and cons of abortion can be dispassionately debated in this climate lends credibility to these vicious and extremist ideas.

That’s not to say that we should ban all mention of these ideas. We can and should argue against them. But you can refute a view without debating those who hold it; you can debunk their fallacies without giving them a platform to spread more. No less a secular personage than Richard Dawkins has said this, explaining that he doesn’t debate creationists because it only gives them publicity they don’t deserve. We in the secular community ought to treat anti-choicers the same way. That shouldn’t be a difficult call, since the nonreligious are overwhelmingly pro-choice – and yet there are far too many prominent atheists who keep making these entirely avoidable, alienating blunders.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Mimmoth

    Perhaps we have been asking, over and over and over, the wrong question.

    If
    we are going to deprive people of bodily autonomy to save wonderful
    wonderful fetuses from death there is an obvious alternative that we, as
    clear-eyed skeptics willing to question tradition and religion, should
    be examining–an alternative that causes less harm and does more good,
    as it benefits not only women, but also men.

    The question we ought to be asking is, should we
    sterilize men to save wonderful wonderful fetuses
    from death?

    Every man over the age of puberty
    would make a few sperm donations, which are frozen away, then promptly
    be vasectomized, period, no exceptions. The frozen sperm is saved for
    when he and his partner decide together to have a child. In the
    meantime, never again need a man fear being tapped for child support for
    a child he didn’t consent to. And never again need a woman fear being
    made to endure pregnancy and labor for a child she didn’t consent to.

    It’s true that this would deprive more people of
    bodily autonomy–all men instead of one third of women. But the harm
    would be much smaller. Instead of vomiting through nine months
    of pregnancy and screaming through eighteen hours of labor we
    would be talking about a half-hour visit to the doctor’s office, of which the
    shaving would be the most time-consuming part of the procedure.

    With every child a deliberate decision on the part of both parents, abortions plummet–not quite to zero, alas, as there are those rare tragedies when a wanted pregnancy goes badly awry–but by easily 90-99%. Surely that is cause for rejoicing, if saving wonderful wonderful fetuses from death was actually the point.

    And it may turn out, when it’s men’s bodily autonomy we’re talking about stripping away, that bodily autonomy is important after all, so we’ll live with abortion on demand and without apology. That’s also okay with me.

    #UpForDebate

  • Jim Baerg

    Some things are as much ‘up for debate’ as the flat earth theory.

  • John
  • Pattrsn

    Is there a T-Shirt?

  • Pattrsn

    Not to mention how many senseless deaths of the zygo/embryo/feto/proto-human most precious thing in the world thing from miscarriage. Think about how many people in the world are alive today because someone else died so they could take their place. Each miscarriage is like a little Jesus dying.

  • Pattrsn

    And all the anti choice arguments secular or religious boil down to, well the woman had sex so….

  • GCT

    QFT.

  • Seth Williamson

    Let me preface my comments by stating emphatically that I couldn’t be more firm in my position as pro-choice. My comments have more to do with peripheral issues in general rather than this particular issue.

    That said, I can sympathize to a degree with the perception of “don’t stray from the party-line.” Perhaps there might even be a bit of truth behind that perception. As a marginalized group, there may be fear that a lack of unity on all issues will somehow fragment our efforts on the issue that we share, or worse, be used against us.

    For many of us, our atheism informs our position on other issues perhaps just as much as some fundamentalist theists form their positions based on their religious beliefs. For other atheists, they see their lack in belief in the popular dieties to be about as relevant to their opinion on socio-political issues as their lack of belief in fairies or sasquatch. Naturally there’s a continuum riding between the two.

    Furthermore, a person can be an athiest without being a freethinker, skeptic, humanist, etc. While admitadly not likely the norm, there are republican, vegan, NRA card carrying, environmental activist, feminist, atheists out there.

    We often say “Atheism is a single position on a single question–no more. Rejection of the claims that dieties exist.” Is that merely a convenient definition to pull out when debating thiests or is it true?

    Personally I am profoundly interested in hearing what people believe and why. I’m repulsed by the idea that some topics should be forbidden from discussion. It has been my experience that I learn more about myself and others by challenging my preconceptions and biases and exposing myself to as many opposing views as possible rather than by insulating myself in a bubble of shared beliefs.

  • Rudy R

    It’s all how you frame the argument, as you have dully noted. I find it highly hypocritical for those religions that believe contraception supersedes gods intentions, can, at the same time, not believe that the use of erectile dysfunction medication doesn’t supersede gods will that a man shouldn’t have the ability to procreate.

  • Science Avenger

    I think many pro-life arguments do deserve the treatment you suggest. Someone who thinks a blastocyst is a person is a fruit loop, begone from our midst. I was at the Christina-Matt debate, and her arguments on this front were smashed as they should have been. Likewise, I have absolutely no patience for someone who opposes abortion AND birth control. They obviously have a stealth agenda against the sexual revolution, not abortion. Fuck off.

    But I disagree that every pro-life argument can be treated this way. Abortion is not like the other issues you list, which depend ENTIRELY on irrational arguments through and through. Everything a racist has to say to defend his position is as justified as an old-earth creationist’s. But some pro-life positions, particularly when you approach the 30th day of the 9th month, are not like that, relying as they do on many fuzzy issues such as personhood and autonomy. Reasonable people can disagree there. Surely I’m not the only pro-choice person here who gets the willies thinking of an 8th month abortion. Yes, I know they comprise a minute proportion of abortions, and arguing the issue as if they are representative is disingenuous. But if you are going to say EVERYONE who is pro-life deserves immediate dismissal from serious conversation, then the tough cases, however rare, must be addressed.

    I still think they’ll lose the debate, which is why I’m pro-choice, but I don’t think they belong in the same category as flat earthers. They’re persuadable, but only if there is dialogue.

    @ Minmouth. I firmly believe that one of the things about our society that people in the future will look back on with the same disbelief that we look back on slavery or child labor, is the notion that anyone with functioning naughty bits ought to be allowed to have and raise as many children as they care to. I don’t know if forced male sterilization is the way to go (a modest proposal on your part I realize), but I think in many ways that’s more rational than current policy.

  • Jason Wexler

    Thirty percent of people who identify religiously as nones claim to be pro life or demure to identify as either pro choice or pro life. Even if we disagree with their position and can easily refute it to our own satisfaction, we do ourselves a disservice by pretending they aren’t there or don’t matter. As Greta Christina herself points out in her talk on Atheism and Sexuality at 47:00 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_YxdM1WChHc the movement is going to grow and change as it becomes more common and mainstream. Let’s not forget that 30 or 40 years ago the atheist movement would have been more libertarian. We need to be prepared to accept that atheist doesn’t always mean left-liberal, as Seth Williamson comments we often talk about atheism being about one thing, not believing in god. Pro lifers may be wrong on that issue but pretending that they are some how unatheist is going to alienate people and make them continue believing in gods or just be unwilling to come out and support atheist issues they do agree with for petty political reasons. We can disagree with the pro lifers, we can refute their arguments but to tell them they can’t have a voice is a sure sign that atheism isn’t ready for prime time, and actually has many of the same structural problems that we like to point and laugh at the current Republican party for having.

  • Tommykey69

    I agree SA. One can make a reasonable argument that a fetus at 8 months should not be treated the same as a fertilized egg or a fetus at 2 months. By way of analogy, we consider both19 year olds and 21 year olds to be persons, but 19 year olds cannot buy alcohol legally while 21 year olds can, or that 18 year olds can vote but 16 year olds can’t.

    I would argue then that anti-choice efforts to require waiting periods or other punitive actions to delay how quickly a woman can get an abortion are wrong headed precisely because they result in a fetus being terminated farther along in the pregnancy.

  • Tommykey69

    That’s the thing. If anti-choicers really believed that fertilized eggs and fetuses were persons, then they would consider miscarriages to be a national tragedy and would be raising millions of dollars to fund medical research to reduce the rate of miscarriage.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/ Steve Bowen

    I think Hemant is being criticised for something he didn’t do. David Silverman intentionally or otherwise started a debate amongst atheists that there may or may not be a secular argument against abortion. Hemant allowed someone who claimed to have such an argument space on his blog and the comments were available to tear the argument down (not a difficult task). To my mind he proved by proxy that pro life (how I hate the euphemism) secular arguments are just rehashes of the religious one. It didn’t need a rebuttal, it didn’t need an equal time, teach the controversy or explain why it shouldn’t be controversial counterpost. It did all the work by itself.

  • Eli

    Two thoughts:

    1) What determines which is which? To me, it looked like the things you listed as “out of bounds” for discussion are primarily things that HAVE been discussed and a general cultural consensus has been reached (women’s suffrage, segregation, etc). Abortion, sadly, isn’t yet among those. I do feel very uncomfortable with the fact that things involving people’s autonomy would ever be up for debate, but the reality is that not everyone sees this as a problem, so I don’t really know what else to do except continue to have those discussions.

    2) I didn’t personally see that post about as putting autonomy up for debate but instead as a way for pro-choice people like myself to see what what we’re up against within this particular context. I suppose I could have just gone and looked up those arguments without having to read them here, but personally, I’d rather see it here in a relatively “safe” context. I don’t see acknowledging that they exist in order to understand and better refute them as meaning my autonomy is “up for debate” on The Friendly Atheist. The author of that post certainly may think so, but they’re going to think so whether it was shared or not, and, like I said above, I think that while the importance of respecting people’s autonomy (whether in regards to abortion or something else) should be obvious, it clearly isn’t, and so needs to continue to be emphasized.

  • Becca Thomas

    Hey, Adam,
    Not to be too nitpicky, but #UpForDebate was not started by Secular Woman. That bit of snarky brilliance came from Elsa Roberts.

  • Jorge Agudelo

    What is up for debate is not whether a woman has body autonomy or not, but whether this overides the right to life, which is pretty much the most basic human right. If unborn babies are human, then they have exactly the same right to life as their parents.

    The thing is is far more difficult to argue that a 2 month fetus is a human being without appealing to the soul, which is why secular arguments against abortion at all stages are not very common.

    Adam, do you believe that if a woman who is 8 months pregnant wants to get an abortion for no special reason, she should be able to do it?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Thanks for the correction. I’ll update the post.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    The thing is, I’d be more sympathetic to that argument if Hemant hadn’t then refused to post the rebuttal by Secular Woman, on the grounds that it didn’t conform to an apparently narrow set of standards he had in mind.

    I still wouldn’t agree with the tactic, but I could see the point of posting a pro-life argument just for commenters to tear it down. But refusing an equal platform for a response gives the distinct impression that he has a thumb on the scale, even if he didn’t mean it that way.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    This is an admirably modest proposal.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    If unborn babies are human, then they have exactly the same right to life as their parents.

    Yes, I agree. A fetus has the same right to life as any other human being – a right which notably does not grant you permission to parasitize someone else’s body against their will.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    To me, it looked like the things you listed as “out of bounds” for discussion are primarily things that HAVE been discussed and a general cultural consensus has been reached (women’s suffrage, segregation, etc).

    I don’t agree with this. There’s not yet a cultural consensus in favor of same-sex marriage (although that’s on the verge of changing), but atheists seem to be nearly unanimous in support of it.

    My contention is that the secular community can and should be united against any position that relies on religious arguments to justify unequal treatment. That’s the case for same-sex marriage; it’s also the case for abortion.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Adam Lee

    Surely I’m not the only pro-choice person here who gets the willies thinking of an 8th month abortion. Yes, I know they comprise a minute proportion of abortions, and arguing the issue as if they are representative is disingenuous. But if you are going to say EVERYONE who is pro-life deserves immediate dismissal from serious conversation, then the tough cases, however rare, must be addressed.

    I’ll be glad to address that, bearing in mind, as you say, that it’s strictly a hypothetical scenario. The overwhelming majority of terminations happen very early in pregnancy, and late-term abortions are almost always done because of serious medical complications. Any real-world examples of purely voluntary late-term abortion are vanishingly rare, if they ever happen at all. That said:

    My position is that every person has autonomy over their own body, full stop. If a woman is pregnant and no longer wants to be, for whatever reason, she has the right to evict that pregnancy. However, if the fetus has a functioning brain and can survive outside the womb without heroic measures, I don’t think there should be a right to insist that this removal be carried out in a way that ensures its destruction.

  • smrnda

    I also don’t get how they square opposition to abortion with their beliefs that god will save the fetus and it will go to heaven. I mean, in that case, what’s the harm? William Lane Craig has defended infanticide in that way.

  • smrnda

    Just wondering, are we intellectually and politically impoverished if we don’t hear from neo-Nazis or the KKK, or are any discussions with those factions a huge waste of time? I do kind of live in a bubble in which nobody I know seriously thinks slavery might be okay, at all, and I don’t feel that I would gain anything by hearing an alternative position; historically, it’s useful to see what rationalizations people came up with.

    It’s nice to hear some opposing views, but not all opposing views are really worth listening to, and we all have limited time for debate. I’d be interested to hear a debate on an issue where there isn’t strong consensus and where the right direction to take is unclear; debates on more or less settled topics seems to be more theater than anything else.

  • Pattrsn

    If this is true heaven is almost entirely populated by miscarriages if you consider that 50% of pregnancies end up in miscarriages and each miscarried soul ends up in heaven, then the number of unborn souls in heaven is equal to the number of humans that has ever existed. Perhaps miscarriages are the purpose of the universe.

  • Pattrsn

    What exactly are you saying about feminism?

  • Seth Williamson

    I’m not sure what you’re asking. I said nothing more or less about feminism than I did about environmentalism, veganism, political party affiliation… It was merely a list of labels/groups one normally doesn’t find describing a single individual.

  • Seth Williamson

    One merely has to look at US polls/news to see that the issue of reproductive rights is far from settled. If it were, there wouldn’t be a major decision before the Supreme Court right now.

    On issues where there are sufficient adherents to an opposing or even minority view where there are sufficient numbers and/or momentum behind their thinking to impact the world in which I live, I certainly think I am at a disadvantage by not attempting to intimately understand their mindset, values, and goals, even if only from a “Know your enemy” angle.

  • Azkyroth

    An “8th month abortion,” at least according to accepted medical practice, is either an induced delivery, a c-section, or an emergency surgery in response to a pregnancy that has suddenly gone catastrophically wrong. Bringing it up is a red herring.

  • ahermit

    No one decides to get an abortion “for no special reason” especially at 8 months.

    The real question is should that woman have to sacrifice her long term health, possibly her life, for the sake of a fetus that won’t survive more than a few hours after birth, because that’s the kind of choice you’re really asking about.

  • ahermit

    ” late-term abortions are almost always done because of serious medical complications”

    Fixed it for you.

  • cipher

    But you can refute a view without debating those who hold it; you can debunk their fallacies without giving them a platform to spread more. No less a secular personage than Richard Dawkins has said this, explaining that he doesn’t debate creationists because it only gives them publicity they don’t deserve.

    I couldn’t agree more. This is one of the reasons I’m vehemently opposed to creationism debates. Another is that debate is performance art; it has nothing at all to do with any sort of attempt to apprehend objective reality.

    “Debate is an art form. It is about the winning of arguments. It is not about the discovery of truth. There are certain rules and procedures to debate that really have nothing to do with establishing fact–which they are very good at. Some of those rules are: never say anything positive about your own position because it can be attacked, but chip away at what appear to be the weaknesses in your opponent’s position. They are good at that. I don’t think I could beat the creationists at debate. I can tie them. But in courtrooms they are terrible, because in courtrooms you cannot give speeches. In a courtroom you have to answer direct questions about the positive status of your belief. We destroyed them in Arkansas. On the second day of the two-week trial we had our victory party!”

    - Stephen Jay Gould, from a 1985 Caltech lecture

  • Tracy Burgess

    The idea of personhood is a great one. Personhood for females is absolutely correct. Colorado wants to say that the moment a female has sex, she must be considered two people. But that ideology simply proves that females are discounted as full and complete human beings and must be owned or at least monitored.

    A catholic pope went so far as to say the women were simply a birth defect as being male was cloaest to perfection. Denial of a person’s rights to their own body is slavery. Demanding women give birth is no different than masters forcing breeding on their slaves. We shudder when some group allows their child to die to show their faith in god. Then deny females the rights to their own bodies. Deny females the right to save their own lives instead of being sacrificed to someones gods. Personhood must not be denied to females in this crazy worship of fertility.

  • BruceMcGlory

    Or, they start trying to pass laws that basically are designed to intimate pregnant women and scrutinize miscarriages, see Kansas.

    Or, they pass laws that make harming a fetus a separate crime than hurting a pregnant woman, clearing the way to actually incriminate miscarriages. See Rennie Gibbs, Bei Bei Shuai, Amanda Kimbrough , etc ad nauseum.

  • GCT

    A significant fraction of the population thinks evolution isn’t true, global warming is a hoax, and quite a few other things that are actually settled. That people cling to misinformation and bad arguments and refuse to give up when they have nothing to stand on does not necessarily indicate that an issue isn’t settled.

  • BruceMcGlory

    ” Surely I’m not the only pro-choice person here who gets the willies thinking of an 8th month abortion.”

    This frequently sets off my misogyny alarm bells. Meaning, what exactly are we saying about women here?

    The point being, an abortion so late into the pregnancy happens because something’s gone horribly wrong and it’s no longer viable, or it’s killing the woman. Women don’t just wake up on the morning of their 8th month and decide, on a whim, to have an abortion.

    This example implies that they do, and that enough of them do to justify outlawing the procedures regardless of need.

    To be clear, I’m not attempting to accuse you personally of such. Just absolutely do not understand why would anyone would “get the willies” about a procedure that exists to save the life of a pregnant woman when her wanted pregnancy has gone wrong.

  • BruceMcGlory

    Citation? I’d like to see numbers.

  • GCT

    Do we really think that an atheist who wants to harass women is going to support theocratic notions because they are upset at other atheists for supporting women’s rights? Even if they do, do we really want that person in the atheist movement? The more you reach out to the people who would seek to deny equality, the more you alienate the people for whom equality is not guaranteed.

  • GCT

    What is up for debate is not whether a woman has body autonomy or not, but whether this overides the right to life, which is pretty much the most basic human right.

    Do the cells you kill (human DNA and all) every time you scratch an itch have the “right to life?” They are alive after all. How about the plants and animals that you eat? They were alive before we killed them for your nourishment. The “right to life” is not what is at stake at all, it’s first and foremost about controlling women and punishing them for having sex.

    Secondly, do you think that someone should have the “right to life” if that right requires they get to forcibly remove one of your organs without your consent in order to stay alive?

    Adam, do you believe that if a woman who is 8 months pregnant wants to get an abortion for no special reason, she should be able to do it?

    That never happens. Never. It’s a straw man. But, even if it weren’t, the woman has the right to withdraw consent to use her organs at any time, since it is her body.

  • Alex SL

    Adam Lee, Azkyroth,

    I am completely with you, but not everybody agrees:

    And it’s not up to you to determine at what point in a pregnancy a pregnant person may abort. Until it is fully born, the fetus is a parasite feeding off of another person. It’s up to that person to determine how and when that parasite should be removed. If the pregnant person decides at nine months that they can’t face childbirth, whether vaginally or by c-section, they can request an abortion, and if the doctor determines it’s safe to perform one, they can have it. Their body, their choice.

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/entequilaesverdad/2014/03/18/abortion-is-a-human-right/

    The question is then whether a statement on the lines of …

    “Well, I agree with the parasite argument, and the first several months abortion should be on demand. But the closer you get to natural birth the less difference there is to a baby, and beyond a certain point the fetus is not an obligate parasite any more but only a facultative one, and inducing labour would solve that issue.”

    … would be labelled as misogynist by some people because it treats the very last phase of a pregnancy as a grey area instead of an all black or white question of bodily autonomy.

    I mean, she literally wrote “at nine months”. At that point in time, I was born, my brother was born, and my daughter was born. None of us were parasites at that stage unless you count breastfeeding… So maybe it’s just me, but when I read that I felt the same willies as mentioned by Science Avenger.

    I must also admit to some ignorance here; Dana Hunter seems to imply that aborting a 9 month old and accordingly large fetus would somehow not be equivalent to and safer than an induced delivery or a c-section. Maybe I just don’t understand what she is aiming at because I am neither a woman nor a medical professional?

  • GCT

    You were breastfeeding in the womb?

  • ahermit

    You first. Find us any case at any time anywhere of a woman in her 8th month of pregnancy deciding to have an abortion for any reason other than major medical complications.

    There may be a teapot circling Neptune too, but I kinda doubt it…

    Not that it makes a difference to Adam’s argument mind you…

  • Elizabeth

    Exactly. And any law designed to prevent these capricious third trimester abortions that no one can ever provide an example of, would actually put an obstacle in the way of women who need them for dire health reasons.

  • Science Avenger

    “However, if the fetus has a functioning brain and can survive outside the womb without heroic measures, I don’t think there should be a right to insist that this removal be carried out in a way that ensures its destruction.”

    That’s my position as well.

  • Science Avenger

    “Just absolutely do not understand why would anyone would ‘get the willies’ about a procedure that exists to save the life of a pregnant woman when her wanted pregnancy has gone wrong.”

    From the potential unnecessary destruction of what for some of us has crossed the subjective boundary between fetus and child. I doubt anyone here suggests that saving the life of the mother is at issue.

  • Science Avenger

    Is it? I think you and I earlier demonstrated that it isn’t, at least not in some very narrowly defined scenarios. On most issues we’d categorize this way the nonreligious side has made consistent progress over the years. Yet polls on the acceptance of abortion remain fairly static. Why the difference, if not for the existence of nonreligious arguments?

    Incidentally, just because an argument isn’t religious doesn’t mean its not crap.

  • Science Avenger

    No, the real question here is whether its possible to have a nonreligious pro-life position. We aren’t senators discussing legislation, where the question of whether or not frivolous 8-month abortions actually happen would be a legitimate issue. Here it’s completely irrelevant.

    To put it another way, do I personally oppose some kinds of abortions in some hypothetical scenarios on completely nonreligious grounds? Yes I do. Would I support any proposed bans on abortions in this political climate, where incremental creep is the agenda of many towards a total ban? No fucking way,

  • Guest

    A thing being true means little if the masses don’t accept it as true. Scientific consensus is merely the first step. These people you speak of also vote and an unfortunate portion of those people are also elected officials making law and setting policy as well. I’ve watched in horror as officials justify policy with asinine statements like “God wouldn’t allow us to do irreparable harm to His creation.” That is why it is imperative that such conversations continue until such none sense is relegated to a tiny fringe where it can do little harm.

    An example of continued dialog on an issue you might call ‘settled’ is the recent Ken Hamm v. Bill Nye debate. Imagine how many people may have had their beliefs shaken watching that. How many seeds of doubt sewn. Sure, it is an incremental gain, but it is a war of inches and we will win it in time. Not through silence though.

  • ahermit

    What the people affected by this debate, you know, the ones who actually get pregnant, are telling us is that they don’t give a fuck for your hypothetical intellectual exercises when it’s their rights and their bodies being debated. The reality of the question being asked really does matter to them…

  • Tommykey69

    I’ve seen people write on Facebook that they will see their miscarried babies in heaven. How this is possible I don’t know. How will the miscarried baby appear, as a floating fetus or the child they would have been if they had been born and lived?

  • Tommykey69

    I use a variation of that argument with Catholics who say that only “natural” family planning should be used instead of manmade contraception. Why does the “natural” way only apply to contraception? Instead of using motorized forms of transportation, they should either have to walk or ride on horseback (no saddles!) to anywhere they want to go. Phones, computers or any other manmade device cannot be utilized for communication. Sorry, you have to do it the natural way and speak to that person in person. Let’s have some consistency with these people!

  • smrnda

    I agree that it’s useful from a know your enemy angle, but I think within any sensible community it’s best to keep the debate from legitimizing the position.

    On the other hand, I don’t think there really are any new arguments for the pro life position that haven’t been effectively dealt with, though there is a problem of people who don’t know biology saying things like the whole ‘legitimate rape’ or ‘contraception is abortion’ nonsense. The problem is the people who say such things seem immune to facts.

    As for public opinion, as mentioned below, despite there existing no debate among experts, there is controversy about evolution, vaccines, global warming or GMOs in the greater population, the issue being that the issue is settled among people who count and the controversy is simply manufactured.

  • Pattrsn

    Are there tiny zygotes flying around like clouds of mosquitoes? I bet somewhere there are theologians debating this.

  • smrnda

    Another issue is, how many abortions are done at later stages simply because there exist obstacles to obtaining an abortion earlier?

    The other thing is, if a woman was going to terminate for a reason other than her health being in danger, unless she’s been forced to jump through hoops, the abortion would have happened earlier. The late-term abortion where the mother’s life or health isn’t in danger, or when the fetus has some health issue aren’t real issues to me.

  • smrnda

    I agree, and I think a bigger problem is that at least in the US, the population at large has little to no idea how scientists actually solve problems and reach conclusions. Perhaps the most basic idea underlying the scientific method is the idea of a falsifiable hypothesis; most creationists start with unfalsifiable premises, so their ideas are outside of the realm of science to begin with, but in a debate viewed by people who barely understand science this fact is irrelevant, and it’s all about scoring points.

    I mean, we don’t decide whether the proof of a theorem is valid or not by debate. Whether a drug works or not is not solved by a debate. Science or math don’t work that way.

  • Seth Williamson

    A thing being true means little if the masses don’t accept it as true. Scientific consensus is merely the first step. These people you speak of also vote and an unfortunate portion of those people are also elected officials making law and setting policy as well. I’ve watched in horror as officials justify policy with adenine statements like “God wouldn’t allow us to do irreparable harm to His creation.” That is why it is imperative that such conversations continue until such nonsense is relegated to a tiny fringe where it can do little harm.

    An example of continued dialog on an issue you might call ‘settled’ is the recent Ken Hamm v. Bill Nye Debate. Imagine how many people may have had their beliefs shaken watching that. How many seeds of doubt sewn. Sure, it is an incremental gain, but it is a war of inches and we will win it in time. Not through silence though.

  • smrnda

    Another patheos blogger (Libby Anne on love joy feminism) actually maintains that the secular pro-life arguments aren’t that different from the religious ones, since the issue isn’t really addressed in the Bible. Historically, not all churches opposed abortion though they’ve tried to deny this in an Orwellian fashion.

    If I had a theory about the opinions remaining static while religious belief declines, it might be that opposition to abortion is really driven by other things; I’d be interested in seeing studies that look at how it’s correlated with views on gender roles, for example.

  • smrnda

    On my end, I could say that I oppose coerced abortion at any stage, but that’s not really an issue of contention. I personally cant think of no situations when I would force some woman to remain pregnant against her will, mostly since I think bodily autonomy settles the issue.

  • smrnda

    I think the idea of calling the zef a ‘person’ is that by making it a person, someone gets to control the woman. This is also why it seems so many pro lifers don’t care about born children; they don’t provide an opportunity to control someone.

  • cipher

    Yes. This is a nation of abject morons.

    At the end of the day, even they don’t decide whether or not a proof is valid by debate. That’s just the window dressing for them, as the books written by their apologists aren’t really targeted at nonbelievers but are intended to bolster the belief of members of the club.

    The Bible says it, they believe it and that settles it.

  • Jason Wexler

    This is exactly the kind of ideological rigidity that we need to avoid. This may be shocking and difficult for many of you to believe but most pro-life advocates really do believe that abortion is about murdering fetuses and has little or nothing to do with female agency. Yes there are some pro-life advocates who do hate females or female sexuality and yes some of them have prominent vocal roles in the pro-life movement, but by and large the majority of pro-life advocates are primarily concerned with not murdering fetuses. Ultimately I have spent years watching pro-life and pro-choice advocates both talking around each others points and responding to arguments filtered through a bias of what they want their opposition to be saying. So your premise is wrong, the pro-life atheist isn’t necessarily in it to harass a woman or women in general, which means yes we may run the risk of alienating that person and having them work against us by demanding ideological rigidity and purity on issues which don’t really have anything to do with atheism. When we say we are closed to certain discussions even absurd and offensive ones about abortion, or race or slavery which are issues which have been “settled”, we tell the world we are no different or better than the dogmatic institutions of religion we strive to break free from. We put the lie to the claim that we are thoughtful and rational people, not because we accept every thing we are told that would be irrational, but because we have closed ourselves to discussion. This does not mean we need to give a forum to ideas we have listened to and disagreed with, by no means is it necessary for Adam to allow pro-life advocates or worse to use his blog as a platform, but to criticize the decision of others to engage in discussion or provide a forum for alternate disagreeable positions to be expressed even if only to reject them, is the epitome of non-evidence based, irrational, closed mindedness.

    As Greta says in her exceptional talk which I linked to, there will come a time when there will be atheists who haven’t spent a great deal of time and energy agonizing over ethics and morality, when they find us and we tell them that the unthoughtful positions they have taken aren’t consistent with atheism, many of them will rightly say “gee this looks familiar, kind of like what I just left”. If the argument for equality for some group of people who ever they may be is really a slam dunk, then “we will catch more flies with honey then vinegar” as the expression goes by listening to what the opposition says and then reasonably explaining the evidence as to why they are wrong, I can’t help but wonder if the premise that some topics ought to be off limits is actually an admission that the arguments against them aren’t slam dunks.

  • Seth Williamson

    I suspect the difference here is that you seem to be talking about debate in the sense of discovering what is true and I’m talking about continuing the debate as a means of communicating what is true, and of hearing then challenging justifications for clinging to irrational beliefs. There’s value in debating even the most stubborn opponents. You’re not likely to ever change Ken Hamm’s mind, but you’ll sew doubt in thousands of viewers’ minds each and every time he’s engaged in a public forum.

    As for the people that matter, I think you’ll find that many voters, legislators, judges, teachers, corporate leaders, and celebrities that hold consequential public opinion, do cling to irrational beliefs and they’re making decisions based on those beliefs that affect us all. Ending the conversation is not going to change their minds.

    This is just as true within the athiest community as it is without.

  • tiponeill

    Actually I have seen quite a few secularists claim “secular” reasons for opposing gay equality. And there is a strong “libertarian” stream which is attached to a particular philosophy and claims that such issues aren’t even issues because “government shouldn’t be in that business”.
    And then we have the anti-circumcision zealots.
    I’m afraid that just being “secular” isn’t a guarantee of rationality.

  • Erik Johansson

    It’s a hypothetical discussion that’s relevant, not a red herring, because some of the people who are vocally supporting the (not) #UpForDebate thing apparently hold the position that it should be allowed, see for example the quote above where a FTB blogger call 8 month fetuses parasites that the mother should be allowed to dispose of if she so wishes.

    That seems to me to be a quite extreme position, that I suspect quite a few pro-choice people would disagree with. At least I know I do, and I’d even go as far as to call those people just as extreme and dogmatic as the religious nuts who claim that killing a zygote is murder.

    Faced with extremists from both sides, who both would love to simply shut down the discussion and simply proclaim themselves “winners”, I’d distance myself from both and say that “well, actually, there is room for debate here”.

  • GCT

    What about the doubt that Ken Ham may sow in the minds of others by legitimizing his views through public debate? Debate doesn’t only communicate what is true, but what 2 different sides claim is true.

  • Seth Williamson

    Certainly. That is a calculated risk. One hopes that more are swayed to your way of thinking than the other.

    The risk is not that engaging will lend
    legitimacy to their beliefs–it is that disengaging cedes defeat.

    Bottom line for me is that the “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response” approach (which is effectively what refusing to engage in dialog amounts to) is effectively synonymous with “Let’s just agree to disagree. You can just go on dictating who I can marry, what I can do with my body, what my child learns in school, what kind of medical care I can recieve, whether businesses can refuse me because of who I am, whether my child will be exposed to infectious disease at the playground. If you wanna go to war with someone for praying to a different invisible friend, sure, let’s go.”

    Perhaps some are ready to shrug and claim “They’ll never change so why bother?” Is that the plan then? Roll over and just let the fundamentalists continue to have a stranglehold on our schools, our government, our culture? All that is accomplished by disengaging is the maintenance of the status quo.

    That’s not a world I want to live in and that’s not a world I want to leave for my children. The status quo is not good enough and waiting for generations to pass in the hope that the demographic shifts in our favor is not good enough.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    No one would countenance a “secular” argument for outlawing same-sex marriage, or ask whether women’s suffrage should be revoked.

    -I seriously doubt this. I think the answer to the title question should be “everything”.

  • http://teethofthebuzzsaw.blogspot.com/ Leo Buzalsky

    which is pretty much the most basic human right

    Really? That’s news to me!

    Well, OK, I hear people make this claim a lot. But two idioms come to mind: One, talk is cheap. Two, actions speak louder than words. I see very few people actually treat this as a basic right. As GCT has essentially addressed, we don’t require people be organ donors or even enforce blood donations for those who can. I don’t see a lot of opposition to wars or other military tactics (e.g. drones) that are used to kill. There are also many laws out there that violate this. Stand your ground laws and capital punishment “laws” (or rather a lack of laws prohibiting such?) are a couple that come to mind. So in what meaningful way is right to life “basic”?

  • GCT

    The risk is not that engaging will lend legitimacy to their beliefs–it is that disengaging cedes defeat.

    What gives them legitimacy is sharing a stage with them in a national forum as part of a debate – which leads people to believe that there really is a debate to be had. On some issues, there is no debate.

    Bottom line for me is that the “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response” approach (which is effectively what refusing to engage in dialog amounts to) is effectively synonymous with “Let’s just agree to disagree.

    Oh, so let’s have a debate about whether the Earth is flat, or at the center of the universe, or maybe whether slavery is OK or not. How about it. Refusal means that you think it’s OK to agree to disagree about those issues.

    Perhaps some are ready to shrug and claim “They’ll never change so why bother?” Is that the plan then? Roll over and just let the fundamentalists continue to have a stranglehold on our schools, our government, our culture?

    WTF? How did my refusing to give a stage to ridiculous ideas somehow become me saying, “They’ll never change, so why bother?” Where the hell did you get that from? There are other ways to combat ridiculous ideas than giving them a stage with which to make them look legitimate.

    All that is accomplished by disengaging is the maintenance of the status quo.

    Bullshit. Allowing them to claim legitimacy is what maintains the status quo.

  • GCT

    Well, at least you’ve found a way to feel superior to both sides.

  • GCT

    This is exactly the kind of ideological rigidity that we need to avoid.

    What? That equality is non-negotiable? Aren’t you gay? Do you think your equality should be up for debate, or do you think that the whole debate over your equal rights is dehumanizing bullshit? I happen to think so. What’s so different about women that make them less worthy of having equal rights or at least debating about whether they should have them or not?

    This may be shocking and difficult for many of you to believe but most pro-life advocates really do believe that abortion is about murdering fetuses and has little or nothing to do with female agency.

    That’s been well debunked by now. Please keep up with the times.

    So your premise is wrong, the pro-life atheist isn’t necessarily in it to harass a woman or women in general, which means yes we may run the risk of alienating that person and having them work against us by demanding ideological rigidity and purity on issues which don’t really have anything to do with atheism.

    I wasn’t specifically speaking about the abortion issue, but showing how your position applied to the issue of harassment is ridiculous, just as your position is ridiculous in terms of abortion.

    When we say we are closed to certain discussions even absurd and offensive ones about abortion, or race or slavery which are issues which have been “settled”, we tell the world we are no different or better than the dogmatic institutions of religion we strive to break free from.

    Seriously? No, fucking really, seriously? That I won’t countenance a discussion on whether slavery really is OK or not makes me no better than the Catholic church? Fuck you. Seriously, fuck you for that. That’s a serious load of bullshit, and you fucking well know it. Equality is not up for debate, and that’s the difference. Saying it doesn’t make me the same as the people who claim that people shouldn’t have equality. Again, aren’t you gay? Are you resigned to gays finally getting equality and ready to just say fuck off to all the women who are still struggling, since you got yours? Is this offensive to you? Too fucking bad, because what you’re suggesting is far more offensive to not just me, but everyone who values equality.

    We put the lie to the claim that we are thoughtful and rational people, not because we accept every thing we are told that would be irrational, but because we have closed ourselves to discussion.

    Yeah, right. Because coming to a rational position and not being willing to deviate from rationality is completely irrational. Not willing to discuss slavery makes me irrational? Fuck that.

    …but to criticize the decision of others to engage in discussion or provide a forum for alternate disagreeable positions to be expressed even if only to reject them, is the epitome of non-evidence based, irrational, closed mindedness.

    Freeze Peach! It’s the same fucking argument.

    As Greta says in her exceptional talk which I linked to, there will come a time when there will be atheists who haven’t spent a great deal of time and energy agonizing over ethics and morality, when they find us and we tell them that the unthoughtful positions they have taken aren’t consistent with atheism, many of them will rightly say “gee this looks familiar, kind of like what I just left”.

    If they can’t tell the difference between a reasoned position and one that isn’t, then that’s not something I can fix for them. And, nowhere did I say that those positions are not true atheism (which is what you are implying). What I’m saying is that they may be atheists, but they aren’t ones I want to associate with or have in my movement if they think equal rights are up for debate.

    …I can’t help but wonder if the premise that some topics ought to be off limits is actually an admission that the arguments against them aren’t slam dunks.

    No, it’s an admission that throwing a brick through a window is a lot easier than cleaning up the mess. Look at how many words I’ve had to expend to clean up your mess.

  • Alex SL

    Sorry if my language was unclear. Perhaps I should have written that I, my brother and my daughter had already been born at that point in time.

  • GCT

    No one is talking about children who are already born, so I don’t see what you’re getting at. Are you trying to equate abortion to infanticide?

  • Jason Wexler

    It is because I am gay that I understand that being closed to dissenting opinion or ideas is a bad thing. Remember when it was settled that of course gays were sick perverted monsters, and of course there should be no rights for them? I know what it is like to fight for a place at the table when my ideas are outside of the mainstream, I know what it is to be scorned and mocked for trying to present radical and unfamiliar ideas, and you and I have debated often enough that you ought to be aware of just how outside of the mainstream I tend to be (and no I don’t believe you have ever tried to shut me down for holding contrary ideas, even here and now).

    Further with each of us being members of what Greta called that generation of thoughtful awesome atheists and in fact with many of us having been trained in STEM fields to boot, we should be more acutely aware than anyone of why we should not elevate any premise or idea to the level of beyond discussion or off the table. “Of course God exists”, “Of course women are inferior”, “Of course Indians are descendants of Canaanite refugees” (yes that one isn’t just a weird Mormon conceit it was the standard wisdom until the late 19th century among all historians), “Of course we’ve solved all the problems of science” (or as Lord Kelvin actually stated it “There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now, All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”). My problem isn’t with saying that bigotry and stupidity are bad, my problem is with having a list of conversation enders at all. It is very unlikely that we are wrong about issues such as slavery, abortion or gays but it isn’t certain, further more by creating this list of off the table topics which we won’t continuance discussion of because we know we are right, we almost certainly will find ourselves adding to that list ideas which are definitely not settled.

    With that in mind I would very much like a citation that proves that “pro-life advocates really do believe that abortion is about murdering
    fetuses and has little or nothing to do with female agency” has been fully debunked. Your dismissive arrogance in the rest of your response to me goes a long way towards demonstrating exactly why it is we shouldn’t dismiss any topic for discussion.

  • Seth Williamson

    I’ve already qualified everything I’ve said with the prerequisite that the issues in need of continued discussion are ones that have sufficient adherents and/or momentum to be a real and serious threat and such conversations should continue until the threat is relegated to a tiny fringe where it can do little harm.

    Geocentrism and flat earth don’t meet that test. Slavery is certainly something that continues to be a problem and continued efforts are needed to change accepted norms in the parts of the world where human trafficking and slavery still thrives. Public dialog isn’t the entire solution but it is certainly part of it.

    But let’s talk about issues closer to home. Right now roughly half of Americans think organizations should be able to opt out of including birth control in their health insurance plans. They’re absolutely in the wrong but that doesn’t mean the debate is over. 48% of Americans consider themselves pro-life. 45% think gay marriage should not be valid. 42% think global warming is greatly exaggerated.

    These beliefs have a real impact of significant consequence on millions of us every day and to just not get on stage cause that means legitimizing their point of view is ridiculous. They don’t need us on stage for their followers to feel righteous. What happens if we disengage from those discussions? They suddenly realize their position is illegitimate? No. They pat themselves on the back and boast about how we secretly know that our argument wouldn’t stand up against theirs and that they have the stronger position.

    Is continued dialog the entirety of the solution? Absolutely not and I never claimed it was. Are there other ways to combat ridiculous ideas? Certainly. I’m merely advocating a combined approach.

    I’m not advocating sharing a stage with every sandwich-board wearing crackpot loonie out there. However, if that crackpot has millions of followers or has a viral movement behind him gathering momentum, and he and his followers are causing harm to others, you’re damned right I think we need to challenge him on every front possible until the world turns its backs and he’s back out on the street corner shouting to himself.

    If you’re just talking about not giving that lonely crackpot a stage, then we’ve been saying the same thing. What I challenge is the idea that you don’t engage in a debate when the other side is clearly wrong.

  • Alex SL

    I am really sorry if my comment was so unclear; not a native speaker.

    The question implicit in the observation that I was already born at that age where Dana Hunter would approve abortion is this: In terms of personhood, ability to feel pain, obligate parasitism etc, what is the difference between a healthy human body 37 weeks old inside a woman and a healthy human body 37 weeks old outside of her?

    I was not making the point that there is any significant number of abortions happening at that stage, but merely that the various people in this thread saying that at that late stage “I don’t think there should be a right to insist that this removal be carried out in a way that ensures its destruction” would find themselves disagreeing at least with Dana Hunter.

    And further although implicitly, I was making the point that one would at a bare minimum have to admit that my second paragraph above constitutes a consideration that has nothing whatsoever, not the least, to do with religious arguments. I am exhibit A here: a second generation pro-choice atheist who gets “the willies” from the idea that abortions should still be allowed, say, three days before the natural birth of a healthy child would have happened anyway. Where does religion enter?

    Again, probably not something that really happens, just saying that some people out there would find it a-okay if it did happen, and it would be nice if one could disagree with that without immediately being suspected of wanting to slippery slope all abortion ever.

    (In case it has to be said, FtB hosts several of my most favourite blogs and I do
    not have any aversion to the site or to any of its bloggers, only perhaps a feeling that the Geneva Convention may want to take a
    look at Richard Carrier’s writing style. Also, note again that I am arguing precisely the same pro-choice position as Adam Lee did above.)

  • J-D

    As a generalised abstract methodological principle, I accept that any statement X can (and indeed should) be doubted if there is good reason to do so. But as soon as somebody particularises that by giving a specific example of X, it’s no longer a generalised abstract methodological debate (and it’s wrong to treat it as one).

    (For clarity: the ‘you’ in what follows is not, as I would hope is obvious, Adam Lee, but a hypothetical interlocutor, the generic impersonal ‘you’.)

    If you ask me whether there is anything that would make me doubt the statement ‘My skin is not striped purple and green’, I want to know why you’re asking. Do _you_ doubt that statement? Do you have any reason to? If not, why are you even asking about it?

    If you ask me whether there is anything that would make me doubt the statement (Newton’s Third Law) ‘To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’, I want to know why you’re asking. Do _you_ doubt that statement? Do you have any reason to? If not, why are you even asking about it?

    If you ask me whether there is anything that would make me doubt the statement ‘There is no God’, I want to know why you’re asking. Do _you_ doubt that statement? Do you have any reason to? If not, why are you even asking about it? People actually do that, of course, I’ve seen them, they ask ‘Can you imagine the kind of evidence that would convince you that there is a God?’ Why should I even try? What’s the point? Is there any point trying to imagine what kind of evidence would convince me that my skin _is_ striped purple and green, or that Newton’s Third Law is incorrect? If you think you can make a case that there is a God, why don’t you just do that instead of mucking me about with stupid rhetorical games? And if you _don’t_ think you can make a case that there is a God, then what in the name of goodness is supposed to be the point of the exercise?

    If you ask me whether there is anything that would make me doubt the statement ‘It’s a bad idea to inflict criminal penalties on people for having abortions’, I want to know why you’re asking. Do _you_ doubt that statement? Do you have any reason to? If not, why are you even asking about it? You want to draw it to my attention that there are people who disagree with that statement? Well, thanks for the information. It’s probably a good idea to draw this fact to the attention of people who aren’t already aware of it, a category into which, as it happens, I don’t fall, but perhaps you didn’t know that. So, do you agree with them? Or is it perhaps that you disagree with them but you’re having trouble identifying what’s wrong with their arguments? I’m happy to discuss that. But if it’s not that, and you just want to discuss whether hypothetically I could imagine that it might be possible that there could be some kind of argument that would change my position, what in the name of goodness is supposed to be the point of the exercise? If you’re talking about setting up a debate between people who hold different positions, why? Debates are not a good tool for figuring things out. They can be amusing entertainment sometimes, but if that’s what you’re looking for I suggest you find a topic that is amusing, which this isn’t.

    If you actually want me to confront an argument against my position (‘It’s a bad idea to inflict criminal penalties on people for having abortions’), either because you agree with the argument or because you don’t want to accept it but can’t find the flaw in it, have the courage to state that openly and own your position. Put your cards on the table and your money where your mouth is. But if you know the argument’s wrong and you know how it’s wrong, then have the courage to say that. Don’t weasel round the issue as if you think testing other people’s reactions is a good idea. Don’t play rhetorical games with this issue: it’s too important for that.

  • Azkyroth

    One of these things is not like the others.

  • Azkyroth

    How is it relevant, when it never actually happens?

  • Realist

    —- right to life, which is pretty much the most basic human right.—

    What the hell is this ‘right to life’ crap? Nobody has the ‘right to life’ in this country.

    If I need a kidney transplant, does my ‘right to life’ mean I get to take a kidney from the first compatible individual I find regardless of how they feel about it? What if it’s bone marrow? A liver? Heart? Blood?

    What if it’s just food and shelter? When then do the folks that beat people over the head with the concept of ‘right to life’ also predominately show a tendency to oppose welfare? Not to mention universal health care?

    My husband relies on a daily dose of a particular medication for his survival. Does that mean he has a ‘right’ to that medication? It’s a couple hundred bucks a month coming out of our pocket. What about his ‘right to life’?

    And on the flip side, what about the ‘right to life’ of somebody in the process of committing a violent crime? Or committing a crime that a person reasonably suspects is going to involve violence?

    What about enemy combatants? Or even just folks who are ‘collateral damage’? What about their ‘right to life’? We are capable of feeding the world, but a couple hundred children have starved to death since I started writing this post. What about their ‘right to life’? For the cost of the campaign in a single state to strip women of their right of bodily autonomy, we could save a years worth of starving children. That’s over 15 million, btw.

    So please, someone tell me, what exactly is ‘right to life’? Who has a ‘right to life’?

    Show me some evidence that this ‘right’ actually exists in any meaningful way. You can’t even show me that the cops have an actual obligation to show up to protect anyone’s ‘right to life’, nor that they have an obligation to not violate an innocent person’s ‘right to life’.

  • Sally Strange

    From the potential unnecessary destruction of what for some of us has crossed the subjective boundary between fetus and child.

    The potential unnecessary destruction? This is akin to declaring that you have serious ethical concerns about women giving birth because they could potentially commit infanticide.

  • tiponeill

    Which one ? Birth control ?

  • GCT

    I’ve already qualified everything I’ve said with the prerequisite that the issues in need of continued discussion are ones that have sufficient adherents and/or momentum to be a real and serious threat and such conversations should continue until the threat is relegated to a tiny fringe where it can do little harm.

    What’s the threshold where I’m allowed to say that those ideas are ridiculous and not worth giving credence? There’s always someone who will claim that this or that specific cause merits attention, just as you are doing.

    They’re absolutely in the wrong but that doesn’t mean the debate is over.

    Then, why debate it? If they are absolutely wrong, why pretend that they may not be wrong?

    These beliefs have a real impact of significant consequence on millions of us every day and to just not get on stage cause that means legitimizing their point of view is ridiculous.

    Saying that there’s something worth debating and giving them legitimacy by sharing a stage with them is rather ridiculous. So there.

    They pat themselves on the back and boast about how we secretly know that our argument wouldn’t stand up against theirs and that they have the stronger position.

    They do that regardless.

  • GCT

    The question implicit in the observation that I was already born at that age where Dana Hunter would approve abortion is this: In terms of personhood, ability to feel pain, obligateparasitism etc, what is the difference between a healthy human body 37 weeks old inside a woman and a healthy human body 37 weeks old outside of her?

    An obvious difference is location.

  • GCT

    I know what it is like to fight for a place at the table when my ideas are outside of the mainstream, I know what it is to be scorned and mocked for trying to present radical and unfamiliar ideas, and you and I have debated often enough that you ought to be aware of just how outside of the mainstream I tend to be (and no I don’t believe you have ever tried to shut me down for holding contrary ideas, even here and now).

    Then you should be able to sympathize with others who are still struggling for basic rights, like the right to autonomy over their own bodies.

    Further with each of us being members of what Greta called that generation of thoughtful awesome atheists and in fact with many of us having been trained in STEM fields to boot, we should be more acutely aware than anyone of why we should not elevate any premise or idea to the level of beyond discussion or off the table.

    Some things are settled. I see no reason to continue to debate ideas that no sane person should hold. Equality is one of those. If there are atheists out there who don’t want equality for others, then GTFO of my movement. That’s non-negotiable, and I don’t feel at all that I’m in the wrong for saying it’s not on the table for negotiation.

    My problem isn’t with saying that bigotry and stupidity are bad, my problem is with having a list of conversation enders at all.

    If someone tells me slavery is good and they want to debate that on a national stage, I’m going to tell them to fuck off back to the sewers. No one is claiming we can’t tell these people they are wrong and why and be loud about it. Quite the opposite. What we are objecting to is pretending they have legitimacy. They don’t. Creationists don’t. Anti-choice advocates don’t. Etc.

    With that in mind I would very much like a citation that proves that “pro-life advocates really do believe that abortion is about murdering fetuses and has little or nothing to do with female agency” has been fully debunked.

    Where the statement you made should be simply accepted without citation? LOL.

    http://amptoons.com/blog/2006/03/21/why-its-difficult-to-believe-that-anti-choicers-mean-what-they-say/

    Your dismissive arrogance in the rest of your response to me goes a long way towards demonstrating exactly why it is we shouldn’t dismiss any topic for discussion.

    Yeah, my being dismissive somehow validates your argument. Sure it does.

  • Alex SL

    Your replies are generally so cryptic that I cannot tell to what degree we are disagreeing about anything that matters.

    As for the location, that is easily rectified, at least as long as we can assume that, as per Azkyroth, an “8th month abortion,” at least according to accepted medical
    practice, is either an induced delivery, a c-section, or an emergency surgery in response to a pregnancy that has suddenly gone catastrophically wrong
    anyway, meaning that in the first two of these cases the only difference between birth and abortion would be whether the freshly born child is given up for adoption or killed. The question is then, how is the latter not infanticide, even to somebody like myself to whom a sixth month abortion is clearly not infanticide?

    (By the way, I am quite puzzled why English speakers count weeks and months in pregnancy different than everything else. If the nineteen-hundreds are the twentieth century, should a pregnancy after more than eight months not be in the ninth month?)

  • GCT

    Abortions that happen at that late stage are done because something has gone wrong. That’s why this discussion is pointless.

  • Erik Johansson

    Yes, it’s quite easy to feel “superior” to extremists no matter what side they are on, for example if you have fascists in one corner and communists in the other, it’s fairly easy to dismiss them both as genocidal maniacs…. and you’d not be wrong to do so either.

  • Erik Johansson

    It’s relevant because abortion is a complex ethical issue where a host of various ethical dilemmas has to be considered and evaluated and weighted against each other.

    I disagree entirely with those who want to reduce the whole thing to a simple question with a simple answer, no matter if it’s “Murder is wrong, therefore abortion is wrong!”, or “Women’s bodily autonomy is not #UpForDebate!”, and I’d want neither of those on “my team” as I think they are both equally as ethically wrong and deluded.

  • Azkyroth

    I’ll be sure to contact you if I ever need a kidney. No, your consent isn’t important, it’s a Complex Ethical Issue With Various Dilemmas.

  • Azkyroth

    I suspect this position is driven by the belief that any “restrictions” on abortion which are accepted will be exploited as leverage by the antichoicers, as has actually happened with clinic regulation, etc.

  • Azkyroth

    You didn’t mention birth control. I mean the other bodily autonomy/integrity issue you cited.

  • Incogneato

    That’s easy to say when you know that your basic human rights and bodily autonomy will never, ever be up for debate.

  • Incogneato

    There is a secular argument for religion, for Eris’s sake. It’s this: religion is needed to promote morality and to keep the masses in line, regardless of the truth of its tenets. (This is complete nonsense, of course, but it’s certainly a secular argument.) Does Mr. Friendly want to offer a guest post to someone with that argument?

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    How do you know?

  • Incogneato

    I know because nobody could be as blase as you are about being turned into chattel by the force of law. Feel free to tell me which aspect of your basic humanity is actually up for debate, though.

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    “Is” is one thing. “Will never, ever” is something else entirely.

  • J-D

    If I want to exclude pro-lifers from my conversation; if I don’t want to talk with pro-lifers; then that’s my decision. As it happens, my personal level of discomfort with pro-lifers is not that great. That’s what it is, though, a personal thing. If you want to exclude pro-lifers from your conversation, I support your right to your personal decision.

    If I want to exclude pro-lifers from my home, or if you want to exclude pro-lifers from your home, that’s also a personal decision. I shouldn’t have to admit anybody to my home or my conversation if I don’t want to, and neither should you.

    If I want pro-lifers excluded from a club I belong to, it’s not a purely personal decision, because I’m not sole dictator of the club. However, if a majority of the club members wants to exclude pro-lifers, or anybody else, they should be able to. If the pro-lifers don’t like it, they’re as free as we are to form their own club. Club members should be able to control club membership.

    If I want pro-lifers excluded from a movement I’m part of, it’s not so simple. If there are clubs, societies, associations, committees, coalitions, political parties, trade unions, or the like that are part of the movement, each one of them can and should have its own mechanisms for excluding people from membership and should be able to exclude whomever they want to exclude. If there are conferences or similar activities or events organised for the movement, the organisers should have the ability to exclude whomever they want to exclude. There is, however, no way to expel people from a whole movement.

  • Alex SL

    GCT,

    I have pointed out repeatedly that there are at least some people who are in favour of abortion at that late stage even if nothing has gone wrong. This concept should not be hard to grasp.

    Further, I find the idea that this never happens anyway pretty odd. One would think that if nobody actually ever terminates a pregnancy at that late stage then there would logically not be any infanticides either, right? Because that is an even later stage, and surely everybody who didn’t want a child would have done something by the sixth month of pregnancy, I guess. Strangely enough, infanticide happens, apparently often because somebody is desperate to hide that they had been pregnant, or because they are mentally ill.

    I am also puzzled by the logic leading you to dismiss the issue as pointless. Assume that there is a crime – or perhaps we should say some deed that some people consider a severe crime and others don’t – but it is only committed by one in fifty million people. And you say the rarity automatically makes it pointless to discuss? Would you really say the same if the rare deed was something else, like blowing up a national monument?

    Azkyroth,

    I completely understand the strategic considerations here, but one can still discuss one’s personal view of the matter. Sure, you imagine a politician implementing a ban on third trimester abortions and an obligatory six month counselling time as the perfect catch-22. But if we only ever allow the most extreme position on an issue to be mentioned because the other side is also extremist, then what can you ever mention? No more climate scientists critically peer-reviewing each others’ methods because it plays into the hands of the denialists? No more “I think carefully regulated six-shot handguns seem okay to me” because it plays into the hands of the gun nuts?

  • Artemis

    Are you really calling me an extremist because I think that my bodily autonomy should not be up for debate? Do you think that your bodily autonomy is up for debate, or are you an extremist too?

  • Azkyroth

    I don’t think he’s thought that far.

  • J-D

    A person who is pregnant and has to decide whether to terminate the pregnancy might find the decision simple and easy or might find the decision complex and difficult. That depends on individual factors, and both kinds of pregnant people have their own individual lived experiences and should get the support of the people who care for them. Pregnant people who find the decision simple and easy should not be told that they ought to be finding it complex and difficult, and pregnant people who find the decision complex and difficult should not be told they ought to be finding it simple and easy.

    However, when people face the decision about whether to support or oppose legislative proposals for criminalising abortion, individual factors don’t play the same role. The answer to that is the same for everybody, namely, that abortion should not be criminalised, and the decision shouldn’t be all that complex or all that difficult. If you think abortion should be criminalised, you should be prepared to state your reasoning; if you don’t think abortion should be criminalised, good.

  • Bdole

    MY $0.02 – There’s no such thing as an intolerable thought or argument. If/when I’m in the mood I’ll debate racists, misogynists, Nazis, homophobes, cannibals, psychopaths, JWs, Muslims, and even salesmen.

    But, that’s me as an individual. The same standards don’t necessarily apply to an organization. I can’t lend credibility on my own (I’m nobody), but an organization deciding whether blacks/women/gays/Jews are fully human – even if on the pro-side – makes it look like the question, itself, may have a semblance of integrity. I think that’s Adam’s proposition.

  • Bdole

    You are indeed a realist. I’m glad you gave that stupid buzzphrase the smackdown it deserves by putting the lie to the argument through very pertinent examples.

  • Donalbain

    What a staggeringly poor article you linked to. Coverture wasn’t really THAT bad because rich women could have lawyers draw up a contract, therefore women were better off than today because I say so. Therefore libertarianism!

  • http://againstjebelallawz.wordpress.com/ Enopoletus Harding

    Agreed.

  • GCT

    Yes, clearly everyone who doesn’t agree with you is an extremist to be looked down upon.

  • GCT

    I have pointed out repeatedly that there are at least some people who are in favour of abortion at that late stage even if nothing has gone wrong. This concept should not be hard to grasp.

    Because the concept of bodily autonomy still applies, no matter how far along. Given that, however, it simply doesn’t happen.

    Further, I find the idea that this never happens anyway pretty odd. One would think that if nobody actually ever terminates a pregnancy at that late stage then there would logically not be any infanticides either, right?

    Too bad. It doesn’t happen, and it’s a completely separate issue from infanticide. They are not related.

    Because that is an even later stage…

    No, just no.

    …and surely everybody who didn’t want a child would have done something by the sixth month of pregnancy, I guess.

    That’s simply untrue for a variety of reasons…one of those being restrictions on abortion as well as the societal stigma attached to abortions.

    Strangely enough, infanticide happens, apparently often because somebody is desperate to hide that they had been pregnant, or because they are mentally ill.

    The latter one has nothing at all to do with anything. The former has only 1 thing to do with abortion, and that’s the issues I just brought up regarding access and societal stigmas.

    I am also puzzled by the logic leading you to dismiss the issue as pointless.

    Because it doesn’t happen. Find me one case where it has happened. Just one. And, besides, even if it did happen, as distasteful as you may find it, it is still the woman’s bodily autonomy at stake here. Lastly, your examples, such as blowing things up, are well wide of the mark because they involve doing harm to the rights of others. No rights are violated when a woman exercises her right to bodily autonomy. None. It’s when we restrict those rights that harm is done to someone’s rights – namely the women in question.

  • Science Avenger

    Look, if someone has an argument that is not based on religion against legal abortion (or anything else), and we’re convinced its wrong, then it can be corrected via rational discussion. And if so then we should engage that discussion. This is what is supposed to distinguish us freethinkers from those who value dogma. WTF do you think the “free” there is all about? We don’t banish people for thinking sinful thoughts (or whatever euphemism you prefer), we appeal to their humanity and intellect and distaste for dogma. Bring on the secular pro-lifers, or the atheistic MRAs, or the Objectivists, or whoever. Crush them in argument. Leave the banishing to the guys with the funny hats.

  • J-D

    I’m not clear on what kind of ‘banishing’ you’re referring to. As I mentioned earlier, organisations like clubs, societies, associations, committees, coalitions, political parties, trade unions, and so on all can and should have their own mechanisms for excluding or expelling people from membership, and none of them should be considered automatically obligated to grant or continue membership for everybody who desires that membership. Likewise, organisers of conferences and of similar activities and events can and should have their own mechanisms for refusing or withdrawing permission to participate and should not be considered automatically obligated to permit the participation of everybody who desires that membership.

    Some specific instances of exclusion or expulsion may be injustices, but that depends on the circumstances of the individual case, it’s not a general principle.

    A ‘movement’, on the other hand, is too loose or too vague a concept for expulsion to be possible: suggesting expulsion of people from a movement is meaningless, but for precisely that reason it’s also meaningless to object to the concept.

    I also think that you go too far when you say ‘we _should_ engage that discussion’. Who do you mean by ‘we’? If you mean that you are going to argue back against people who advocate for the criminalisation of abortion, then I can respect your choice, but I can also respect the choice of people who can’t stomach doing that.

  • OldAtheist

    “Find us any case at any time anywhere of a woman in her 8th month of pregnancy”

    I’m pro-choice, but this is a ridiculous argument on many levels. First, because voluntary abortions in the 8th month are generally illegal (so it’s hard to find numbers) and second, because are cultural norms are vehemently against voluntary abortions in the 8th month.

    But it’s worth noting that abortion is nothing new. In the Western World, abortions in late pregnancy happened ALL THE TIME. Abortion and even infanticide were legal and encouraged in certain situations in the Roman Empire, Greece, and other Mediterranean cultures before the arrival of Christianity.

    The arrival of Christianity actually changed the ethos of the Ancient World from accepting infanticide to opposing it. And that, in turn, led to the ethos against abortions as well.

    I don’t think it’s beyond the bounds of discussion about what happens to a culture that is more accepting of voluntary late-term abortions or a culture that even goes further and pace Peter Singer begins to endorse infanticide. We can be concerned about it because we look back in time to history and see that devaluing infants happened in ancient cultures.

    Does this argument get a little reductio ad absurdum? Perhaps. But history’s bloody and people are generally self-centered and indifferent towards other people without strong legal and cultural norms to counterbalance those inclinations.

  • OldAthesit

    As a man, I can be conscripted and forced to fight in a war I don’t agree with. People seem to be pretty blase about that – the laws are still on the books.

  • Incogneato

    Nobody has been drafted in decades and there hasn’t been a peep about changing that. Meanwhile, one of our two political parties is dedicated to reducing women to breeding chattel. There is no equivalence.

  • GCT

    Look, if someone has an argument that is not based on religion against legal abortion (or anything else), and we’re convinced its wrong, then it can be corrected via rational discussion.

    You’re assuming that the other party in the discussion is using rationality.

    This is what is supposed to distinguish us freethinkers from those who value dogma.

    I’m getting really tired of this. Rejecting (for the 100th time) old, tired arguments that have been wrong the first 99 times is not the same as accepting dogma. Refusing to give legitimacy to bullshit is not the same as dogma. Is it dogmatic to not accept that arguments for a flat Earth have merit?

    WTF do you think the “free” there is all about?

    It’s not about being so “free” and willing to countenance dead arguments that we never get anywhere.


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