In response to a “pro-life atheist”

On Tuesday, Kristine Kruszelnicki, director of Pro-Life Humanists, was featured as a guest blogger on Hemant Mehta’s blog – “Friendly Atheist” with her post: Yes, There Are Pro-Life Atheists Out There. Here’s Why I’m One of Them. Perhaps Mr. Mehta is letting his friendliness override his sense? In her blog, Ms. Kruszelnicki attempts to address several challenges to the “secular case against abortion.” She fails. Not just because I disagree with her, but because she doesn’t have real evidence, and like many other anti-choice extremists, relies on logical fallacies to try to make her case. Ironic, since she accuses her opponents of using one in the beginning of her article, but I digress.

Clearly, she is pro-life (anti-choice is the more accurate term). Of course anti-choice atheists exist. No one has said they don’t, but her case for being anti-choice isn’t a secular one and it certainly isn’t a Humanist one. The fact that pro-life atheists exist does not mean that there is a secular case for being pro-life. One might even argue that there is a strong secular case for being pro-choice. Sarah posted a great blog about this recently on the main Skepchick site.

For clarity, pro-life = wanting abortion to be illegal. Anyone who says “I think abortion is sad, but it should be legal,” or “I would never have an abortion myself, but I think they should be legal for women who want one,” or even “I think they should be legal in some cases,” is pro-choice, not pro-life. I personally hate the term pro-life, because it actually is pro-women dying to want abortion to be illegal, so from here on out, I will use the term: “anti-choice.”

Ms. Kruszelnicki starts by quoting four atheists, who may or may not actually be anti-choice and who are all old or dead white men. The classic appeal to authority. As if these famous atheists’ quotes taken out of context mean that there is a secular case for being anti-choice. When writing about a woman’s issue, choosing to quote Hitchens is ironic and highly laughable. I can’t think of an Atheist who would be a worse authority on this issue. If you can, please share in the comments. Appeals to authority don’t work, because the views of one or a few famous or respected individuals is not evidence.

Here, let me try. I know a former Catholic Priest and Theology professor at Marquette University named Dan Maguire. He has written extensively on the case for contraception and abortion in the world’s religions. He is on the Emeritus Board of his local Planned Parenthood and travels the world speaking on the topic. One can’t assume that his views are relevant in making claims about the Catholic Church’s position on abortion. Or that of Marquette University (which would probably fire him were he not tenured).

Next, she counters the “bodily autonomy” argument, where she uses the strawman, ad hominem and black and white fallacies.

If the fetus is not a human being with his/her own bodily rights, it’s true that infringing on a woman’s body by placing restrictions on her medical options is always a gross injustice and a violation.

Agreed. However, while most people would agree that a fetus is a human being, the key distinction is whether or not that human being has bodily autonomy.

On the other hand, if we are talking about two human beings who should each be entitled to their own bodily rights, in the unique situation that is pregnancy, we aren’t justified in following the route of might-makes-right simply because we can. Bigger and older humans don’t necessarily trump younger and more dependent humans. Rights must always be justified and ethically grounded lest they become a tool of tyranny.

She casts women as Goliath in a battle against poor David fetus. And implies that abortion is a case of might makes right, simply because we can? What the actual fuck? First, in the “unique” situation of pregnancy, the fetus is not just a smaller more dependent human, it is, for all intents and purposes, a part of a woman’s body. A non-sentient parasite reliant on her to survive. One can’t separate the two. To frame women as bigger, older humans bullying the poor fetuses or obtaining abortions simply because they can is an ad hominem attack.

In the case of abortion, the right to bodily autonomy is justified and grounded in ethics. No one should be forced to stay pregnant against her will. Women should not have less bodily autonomy when they are living than they will when they are dead.

This issue is not black and white. Abortion is not just beneficial to women, but also to children and society. Babies deserve to be born to families who want, love and are able to care for them. Women in the United States who seek abortion care, do so because of concern for or responsibility to other individuals (3/4 of women), inability to afford a child (also 3/4 of women), and because having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents (also 3/4 of women).

Outlawing abortion does not result in a reduction in abortion. In countries where the procedure is illegal or highly restricted, rates are generally higher than in countries where the procedure is legal. Not surprisingly, more women seek out unsafe abortions in those countries and more women die. When abortion is illegal, women die. When abortion is illegal or highly restricted, more women carry to term unwanted pregnancies. Those women may not be able to support themselves and their children, and more women and children are forced to live in poverty.

Next she claims that science doesn’t define personhood. And that sentience is not relevant to this discussion.

But embryos and fetuses can’t be our equals — they’re not fully developed yet! They aren’t self aware or sentient! They can’t survive on their own!

Her argument amounts to the same ad hominem and strawman attack presented earlier. A woman who seeks an abortion is not only killing a younger human who, by no fault of its own, is simply not developed enough to exist outside her body, but is also engaging in the deadliest form of age discrimination.

Let’s see what science has to say. Science can tell us when a fetus is capable of feeling pain and thought. What’s more, science can tell us when that fetus is capable of existing outside of a woman’s uterus and when it is likely to survive. In terms of late-term abortion – I would argue that post viability abortion is actually equally if not more grounded in ethics than earlier abortion, because it is almost exclusively sought for medical or compassionate reasons – to save a woman’s life or health or to save that fetus from a short and painful life full of interventions.

tumblr_lh7frx5vNN1qc751zShe goes on to compare a fetus to other individuals whose societies arbitrarily decided they didn’t qualify as equals, on account of criteria deemed morally relevant. As if skin color, gender and ethnic background of adult humans can be compared to consciousness, sentience, and viability of a fetus. I am going to have to call false analogy here. We can all agree that it’s not a fetus’ fault that it is not conscious, sentient or viable, but that doesn’t mean that it can once again be compared to sentient born human or that its rights should override those of a woman. And then she uses a slippery slope. But if we can justify killing fetuses, will we then think it’s right to kill people who can’t feel pain, people in comas, and even people with lower IQs or who are younger than we are?

Only the pro-life position — that all human beings should be granted the common right to continue their lives as human persons, regardless of their age, stage, gender, sexual orientation, race, or physical form and abilities — is truly egalitarian and fair for all human beings.

All human beings, except women who are pregnant with unwanted or unsafe pregnancies, it seems. Another false analogy and appeal to emotion. She asks how to resolve the conflict between pregnant women and the poor, unfortunate younger humans that happen to be inhabiting their uteruses. She then, once again, makes the false analogy between an unborn fetus and an already born child in need of care and protection.

If I was a good atheist, I would pose the question – You are in a burning building and there is a live baby in one corner and a tray of 50 human embryos in the other. You can only save either the baby or the embryos, which one do you save?

She concludes with a statement with which I definitely agree…we DO need to work together to make abortion less necessary, but abortion will never be completely unnecessary. So again, the solution is not perfect and frankly unachievable – we will never have a world free from poverty or pregnancy-related health issues; we may never prevent all incompatible with life conditions in fetuses; we may never have birth control that is 100% effective; we will never have a society free from rape or spousal abuse. Abortion will always be necessary. And an ethical choice.

I am an atheist, I am a mother and I am pro-choice.

Featured image credit: Talk Radio News Service

Fetus =/= Baby credit: Steph

To learn more about what you can do to avoid logical fallacies, click here.


Steph is a mom, stepmom, freelance writer, and advocate. When she's not busy writing, chasing kids around, cleaning up messes, and trying to change the world, Steph enjoys snuggling, making pies, politics, reading paranormal fiction, yoga, and fitness. A fully recovered natural parent, Steph now trusts science, evidence, and common sense to lead the way. She has been actively involved in the reproductive and women's rights movements for more than 20 years and is a passionate pro-choice feminist. Her writing can be found on Grounded Parents, Romper, The Cut, and other print and online publications

Related Articles


      1. But, Em, Atheist =/= Feminist. 😉 JK Perhaps An Atheist Explains Why Rape is Just a Matter of Buyer’s Remorse…oh wait, that one has already been done.

  1. Great post, Steph. One of the things that pregnancy taught me is that it’s hard and annoying and limiting enough when you desparately want a child as a result. I cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to have to put my body and very self through that without feeling passionately and postively invested in the outcome.

    1. I was 100% Pro-Choice when I got pregnant with my first child, but having been pregnant and become a mother has further pushed me to advocate for reproductive freedom. Pregnancy is no joke. Women are not incubators and all children deserve to be wanted, loved and cared for.

  2. This, everything.
    And I posted the following on another blog already and I will probably continue to post it because I want to fucking scream it:
    And here’s another thing that’s been driving my blood pressure up and I will bold the beginning so that people READ THIS:
    I have been pregnant three times which resulted in two kids. My first pregnancy turned Wahoonie-shaped around week ten and I needed an abortion (which is never counted as an abortion-abortion, but as a reasonable medical intervention because reasons. Probably because I suffered enough since I actually wanted to be pregnant very much). I had two wonderful kids afterwards.
    To act as if the death of that embryo was somewhat comparable to one of my children, actual people with personalities, characters, wishes, likes, dislikes, a central nervous system, even breaking a bone, let alone dying is so deeply fucked-up and beyond belief offensive that I hardly have words for it.

    1. Almost a third of the women I know who have kids, including myself, suffered at least one miscarriage, and one had a complication that required one of those not-really-an-abortion abortion. NONE of us act as if we’d lost a child. Sadness, yes. Even a little mourning of sorts, sure. But it doesn’t even compare to people who actually lose a baby either during childbirth or soon after birth. In those incidences, the baby is given a name and a funeral takes place, and the parents go on to say they had a child but that child died. People just don’t say that about a early term pregnancy failure. It is so ridiculous.

      1. That’s a good point. Although, to be fair, it may be that our tiny lady brains just don’t fully comprehend the depth of our loss. I mean, it’s been well documented (by republicans) that we really aren’t qualified to make decisions about all this complicated pregnancy stuff…

      2. I mourned my miscarriage. Not really the “baby” but the future that I already started to envision. Part of me still does, but never would I compare the two.

        1. Yes, me too.
          The ideas I had already formed, the things I wanted to do and show the baby. The deep betrayal of my body*
          The senselessnes…
          Nobody thinks I had 3 children. I have two.

          *My poor body. It probably was totally blameless, because it did quite well in the following pregnancies

  3. It’s not often I read posts on this topic, but this was certainly well done. And yes, it’s so weird reading it. As someone living in Scandinavia, I have trouble understanding that you guys are still having this debate. So, while you state you case well, in the end I’m more than anything baffled that you have to. Understanding foreign cultures is hard, I guess.

    1. Well, depending on which country in Scandinavia you’re living in, you might live in one that locks pregnant women at risk of substance abuse up for the good of the fetus, so, it’s not all Unicorn poop either

Leave a Reply