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Atheist Experience
Abortion

It seems to me that atheists rely on science to guide their behavior. Science says that human zygotes possess all the necessary characteristics of life. Therefore the human zygote is human life. I assume that atheists cherish one life equally to another. Therefore it seems logical to me that atheists would oppose abortion. Do atheists oppose abortion?

There is no atheist position on abortion. I know atheists with all manner of views on the subject. I think you will find a consensus on the issue of accurate sex education, taking responsibility for your actions, and not being overly punished for mistakes.

I've done a couple of shows on a related topic focusing on the failure of religious-based abortion policies. For example, it's well known that abortion restriction laws don't change the number of abortions, but the do dramatically impact the safety of women who get abortions. Christians seem to go out of their way in the US to sabotage contraceptive education, availability, and use. There are other reasons to criticize Christian-based abortion policies, which seem to be more interested in manufacturing poverty, rather than reducing abortions through proven means used by other countries.

I agree with most of what you said about Christians but, I didn't ask about Christian-based abortion policies. In general, based upon your response, I understand your position to be that you don't have a position on abortion but you have a very strong position on other groups' position on abortion.

To say there is no atheist position on abortion is "non-responsive" and disingenuous. Christians believe that their god has told them that life begins at conception and therefore abortion is murder and must be opposed. Atheists say there is no god so they reject the Christian argument. Atheists say we should not be guided by something so subjective and instead should look to science. Well, science says life begins at conception so I must come to the same conclusion, abortion is murder. It seems to me to be intellectual cowardice to deny this.

It seems quite clear to me that from a scientific perspective we as a country allow the murder of infants. Wouldn't you agree?

Lot's of problems with your response.

First, atheism is JUST the lack of belief of god claims. As a rule, atheists are not promoting a world view or a large agenda. Our group has position statements: http://atheist-community.org/library/positions/ , many other atheist groups do not. You might pose your question to a secular humanist group, that does claim to have more of a worldview.

Atheists say we lack belief in god. We don't necessarily take the opposite stance as believers on everything.

Science says that life began some 4 billion years ago and continues. The sperm and egg cells were alive before uniting. The "life begins at conception" is a religious phrasing that is based on a "moment of conception" idea that is completely at odds with science. Conception is a process and there is no magical moment that allows one to make black and white decisions.

You say that abortion is murder. I think that is not something that everyone agrees upon. The fetus is dependent on the mother for much of gestation and I think it's equally valid that it is a part of her body.

I think we can agree that abortion is regrettable and that it is worthwhile to reduce it.

One of the things that never seems to be brought up in the abortion debates is the question of responsibility. If a woman knows she cannot be responsible for a child, shouldn't those that want to control her decision become financially responsible?

Please understand, too, that childbirth is not without mortal risks. Who should make the decisions concerning that risk?

It seems to me that these decisions can only be left to the pregnant woman with the advice of her doctor. For others to meddle in her affairs REQUIRES them to take some responsibility, wouldn't you agree?

Don there are lot's of problems with your response. First of all a sperm cell and an egg cell (actually they are both egg cells) can perform certain life processes however they are not considered human life. A human zygote is considered human life based upon scientific principles. And, most likely an unborn infant at 24 weeks gestation is viable. So that eliminates any argument about the mother's so called right to choose. And yet, we allow abortions on these unborn infants. We are a nation of laws and our laws say that to kill an innocent human being is called murder (except in the case of unborn infants). I agree that there are issues of responsibility that must be dealt with but in order to deal with them we need to deal with the truth of the whole situation. And the truth of the situation is that we solve the problem of unwanted children with infanticide. It's horrible that we as a society allow this. It's regrettable that you can't speak to the truth of this.

Antifides: Your assumption that our laws against murder don't apply equally to all human beings is where you made your mistake. You are also mistaken when you equate an unborn infant to a cancerous tumor. It is also a mistake, as I noted above, to propose that cells that can perform certain life processes are equated to human life.

JustaDish,

You didn't address most of my points. Shall I assume you concede them?

On the sperm and the egg, you seem to equate a cell with a full compliment of DNA as human. In that case, all of the cells in my body (except my sperm) is human. We are just on the brink of human cloning and I know of no reason why that couldn't be achieved someday. Assuming that technology, my body is several trillion humans. By your reasoning, then is scratching my butt an act of murder, as it kills a handful of human cells?

On viability, our current laws outlaw abortion after the first trimester. Given your stance, it sounds like you'd like to outlaw all abortion. Maybe you can clarify your position there. I do feel that the fetus's ability to feel pain is a threshold that is respected by that law. I believe our current US laws are moral, which outlaw abortion after the first trimester except in medically justified cases.

It's horrible that lots of people die from starvation and preventable diseases. It's horrible that the US life expectancy has dropped relative to the rest of the first world. Much of these problems relate to how we, as a species, choose to allocate our resources.

You have the ability to save the lives of a small number of fetuses by finding mothers who would otherwise abort and fund her child rearing years so that she and her child do not have to suffer in poverty. I know of nobody who feels so strongly about this issue that they will take this step themselves. I know of no group that is doing this. Ultimately, nobody wants to bear the responsibilities for someone else's child. (Especially not those who believe that "God will provide".)

Instead, what people want to do is to stick someone with a responsibility that they know they can't handle and damn the consequences to that person. Does your moral calculus have any category for this cost?

Thank you Don for your reply. Regarding conceding your points, I would suggest that if I ask you what time it is and you tell me how to build a clock I am not required to argue your choice of springs of gears. I just wanted to know what time it was. It appears that you and society in general don't want to deal with the consequences of recognizing the scientific facts so you either deny the facts, or take no position on the facts.

I am grateful however that in my attempts to find a way to ask the question in a way in which I might receive a relevant response, I have in essence found my answer. And, as happens so many times, we base our actions upon conflicting ethical values.

According to law, only a natural person has rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and legal liability. A human being that is born alive is universally recognized as a person. The right to abortion is grounded in the general sense of liberty and privacy protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. A measure of when the "life" of the fetus is its own (and therefore subject to being protected by the state) is when the fetus is determined to be "viable" outside the womb. (However this right is superceded by the mother's rights under certain medical circumstances which vary from State to State).

So, the whole issue centers not around the concept of the beginning of human life but around the concept of the beginning of human personhood. And, here is where the conflicting values come in. As Justice Blackmun in Roe v. Wade said "However, the distinction in ethical value between currently existing persons and potential future persons has been questioned." And, the ethical value of the potential future person was deemed to be low or nil and that of the existing person to be of the highest. Then comes along the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004. This law recognizes a "child in utero" as a legal victim, if he or she is injured or killed during the commission of any of over 60 listed federal crimes of violence. The law defines "child in utero" as "a member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb".

So, if a terrorist kills a mother pregnant with a 3 week embryo it is considered a double murder because the child in utero is considered a person but, if the embryo is aborted it is not a murder because the child in utero is not considered a person. By the way, your butt crack made me laugh out loud. I've always been known as somewhat of a "scatman" myself….

You're right that this ultimately is a gray area, fraught with conflicting interests.

Atheist Experience co-host Tracie Harris posed an interesting question. Suppose you're in a fertility clinic and a fire breaks out. You have time to either save the 5 year old child in the waiting room or a freezer full of 10,000 embryos. Which do you save? In nearly all cases, people answer that they would save the existent child.

The Unborn Victims of Violence Act opens a giant legal can of worms, in my opinion. If embryos have full human rights, is a conceived embryo granted citizenship? Should US immigration separate citizen babies from their alien mothers and fathers? Should an IVF clinic whose freezers fail be charged with genocde? Should a pregnant woman who takes drugs be thrown in jail for murder? Even the Bible doesn't make causing a miscarriage anything more than a property crime. I can't imagine that the Unborn Victims of Violence Act will withstand supreme court challenges, though they did decide that corporations are people with respect to free speech (and campaign contributions).

I don't understand your clock analogy. Sorry. My point was that if some cells and vast sums of money can yield a viable human child, then the method shouldn't matter and the child should be created exactly the same ethically. If I understand your argument, you're saying all human cells with full DNA are all equally human. Without someone paying the bill, though, such falls in the realm of a regrettable loss of potential.

I hope we can agree that we should support family planning, contraception, and education, so that every conceived embryo is wanted by parent(s) who can support it and who have the potential to raise it. I believe our high abortion rate in the US is because we don't do this.

Don said: I hope we can agree that we should support family planning, contraception, and education, so that every conceived embryo is wanted by parent(s) who can support it and who have the potential to raise it. I believe our high abortion rate in the US is because we don't do this.

I couldn't agree more. A strange thing about the town I live in is it has/had one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the UK(generally bad thing IMO)...but also the lowest abortion rates (good thing IMO)...we were obviously lacking in entertainment and education...but there was no lack of support for those who fell pregnant. When I left what I guess you might call High school at 16yrs old.. 1/3 of the lasses were pregnant or had already given birth by the time of the final exams..pretty shocking I know...but I see lots of those girls kids now, and they are really fine people, because they got the support from government and society to become so.

Cancer is formed from the human body and has characteristics of life. Shall we cherish that as well?

On a less extreme example, sperm is alive, as is blood. We may cry when we bleed, but I don't think it is for the millions of tiny lives of human origin lost.

Your assumption that we cherish all life equally is where you made your mistake. I'm not aware of any human being who cherishes the lives of blood cells, except in as far as those lives benefit them.

Thank you! I couldn't believe it took so long for someone to point out the error of saying that a zygote shows all the characteristics of life, therefore it is definitively a human life. Plants show all the characteristics of life as well: response to stimuli, development, genetic material, carbon-based, requires nutrients, etc. While a zygote develops into a human, it isn't so obvious to say it is of the same value as a human.

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