The fundamentalist’s crusade against Planned Parenthood and what they so ironically call “pro life” has been appearing a lot in my news feed lately. Last Sunday some of the more extremist of these people even bombed a clinic in Wisconsin, USA. It isn’t the first time.
Of course, they are not all crazy lunatics. Some are just ordinary people driven by strong, dogmatic beliefs. Beliefs deeply rooted in religion and a view that human beings are separate from the rest of nature in a profound, supernatural way. An idea there is not a shred of evidence for in biology. On the contrary. All biological evidence indicate that we’re just another mammal no different than your next mammal, say your pet cat, than by a few genes and a few million years of speciation.
Now, I have no problem with people having a particular belief about souls and spirits and whatnot, but I do have a huge problem with these beliefs being forced on the rest of us through politics or even by acts of terrorism.
As a humanist, I certainly agree that human life is valuable. At least it is to us; and while philosophers like Peter Singer may have much to say about the logic of such a position, there are some things we may have to just agree upon. His thoughts on this, the ones I’ve read at least, are thought provoking and in my opinion necessary reflections.
Singer present the anti-abortion position as basically being:
It is wrong to kill an innocent human being.
A human fetus is an innocent human being.
Therefore it is wrong to kill a human fetus.
Of course this argument is only valid to the extent we accept the premise: “A human fetus is an innocent human being”. Now, I have only read bits and pieces of Singer’s work, so I do not dare to go into his arguments. He is on my reading list though, so maybe some other time. But his point is that the premise is invalid and goes on to try to define what it is to be a human being. Some of the consequences of his line of thought are quite controversial and have led to many misunderstandings as evidenced by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries absurd attacks on the British Humanist Association last year on the issues of abortion. Reported by New Humanist here, here and here.
A key in the debate about abortion is after all: what is human life? We can all agree that all life can’t be “sacred”. You kill millions of lifeforms every time you go to the toilet. I was recently in a debate with some religious fundamentalists about this in a comment section. I was accused of getting side-tracked when asking my opponent to define “human being”. He obviously took it for granted that any stage of development was by God’s design a human being. However the definition of a human being is the key here regardless of what you believe. When does human life start – even if you believe in gods? Catholics go to the extreme lengths of condemning contraception, with the consequence that they are responsible for thousands of people getting HIV as a result of their vicious campaigns against it in for instance Africa. They seem to have no problems letting people die, as long as they die for the right reasons. Another one of the absurdities of the “pro life” position. Many don’t seem to have any problems with women dying in child birth either as long as they don’t to that god-awful life-saving abortion-thingy.
There are also atheists that subscribe to the “pro life” idea. PZ Myers had an interesting post about it the other day where he shows one of their promotional images featuring an 8-cell zygote and basically the argument that this is a human being. As Myers points out, they don’t even understand the image they are showing us, and the biology behind it, and are basically arguing from a basis of ignorance.
So why does all this matter?
It matters because – and this should really be obvious – having a child is a tremendous strain on a woman’s life. It is such a life-altering thing that it should be every woman’s personal choice. This is not just about a potential human life – technically any cell in your body is a potential human life if you want to take things to the same extremes as the fundies do – it is about an existing, ongoing human life’s rights. So this is essentially about choice. It is “pro choice” set against “anti-choice”.
- The anti-choice minority are being allowed to dictate policy – Laurie Penny
- Abortion: Myths and Misconceptions – That Weird Atheist Girl
- Future of Feminism: Sex Education As a Human Right – Ms. Magazine Blog
- Women Deserve Full & Accurate Into Except When They Don’t – Skepchick