It’s often stated or assumed that the pro-life position is only based on religious convictions. Like many other pro-lifers, yes, my faith in God and in His Word, which claims He created humans in His image, certainly informs my pro-life beliefs. But you don’t need to be a Christian, nor even subscribe to any religion, to believe that the unborn are children and it shouldn’t be legal to kill them.
That’s because the abortion issue is really a human life issue, a civil rights issue for the preborn. It’s not simply a religious issue, any more than the rights of Jews and African Americans are simply religious issues.
One of my favorite pro-lifers of all time is Nat Hentoff (1925-2017), the creator and editor of New York’s ultraliberal Village Voice. He was a self-described “atheist, a lifelong leftist, and a card-carrying member of the ACLU.”(i) He detested most of the policies of conservative administrations, and certainly no one could write him off as a Sunday School teacher. But he was also an outspoken pro-life advocate who took constant heat from his liberal colleagues for publicly calling abortion the killing of children.[ii] Hentoff wrote, “Being without theology isn’t the slightest hindrance to being pro-life.”[iii]
Though they’re certainly outnumbered by religiously-afflicted pro-life organizations, secular pro-life groups do exist, including Secular Pro-Life, Atheists for Life, and Pro-Life Humanists. I used to go to pro-life rallies and stand beside those holding “Atheists for Life” signs.
Pro-Life Humanists describes their stance this way: “We oppose discrimination against biological humans on the grounds of what they look like and how they function, and we believe that abortion should be rejected on the same ground as racism, sexism and ableism—which place greater importance on what the human entity does and looks like, than on what the entity in question actually is.”[iv]
Kristine Kruszelnicki, the president of Pro-Life Humanists, writes, “I’m an atheist and I’m pro-life because some choices are wrong, violent, and unjust—and I want to do whatever I can to make abortion both unthinkable and unnecessary.”[v]
It’s noteworthy that though most governments are secular, there is hardly a nation in the world where abortion was legal prior to World War II.
What the Polls Say
Many nonreligious people believe that abortion kills children and that it is wrong. Numerous polls show that an anti-abortion position, at least to a certain extent, is held by a majority of citizens (even though when asked to label their position, they may say they are “pro-choice”). Many of these citizens are not religious, and those that are belong to a wide variety of religious groups that transcend political parties.
A 2015 survey found that regardless of whether they thought abortion should be legal or not, six in ten Americans agreed that abortion is morally wrong.[vi] The surveyors noted that “Most Americans, 84%, agree there should be significant restrictions and safe guards associated with the procedure including limits to within the first three months of pregnancy, allowed only in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, or never permitted.” Only 9% of those surveyed felt that abortion should be available to a woman during all nine months of pregnancy.
Pro-Life Because of the Evidence
Dr. Landrum Shettles was for twenty-seven years attending obstetrician-gynecologist at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York. Shettles was a pioneer in sperm biology, fertility, and sterility. He is internationally famous for being the discoverer of male- and female-producing sperm. His intrauterine photographs of preborn children appear in many medical textbooks. Dr. Shettles states:
I oppose abortion. I do so, first, because I accept what is biologically manifest—that human life commences at the time of conception—and, second, because I believe it is wrong to take innocent human life under any circumstances. My position is scientific, pragmatic, and humanitarian.[vii]
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, internationally known obstetrician and gynecologist, was a cofounder of what is now the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). He owned and operated what was at the time the largest abortion clinic in the western hemisphere, and was directly involved in over sixty thousand abortions.
Dr. Nathanson’s study of developments in the science of fetology and his use of ultrasound to observe the unborn child in the womb led him to the conclusion that he had made a horrible mistake. Resigning from his lucrative position, Nathanson wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that he was deeply troubled by his “increasing certainty that I had in fact presided over 60,000 deaths.”[viii]
In his film The Silent Scream, Nathanson later stated, “Modern technologies have convinced us that beyond question the unborn child is simply another human being, another member of the human community, indistinguishable in every way from any of us.” Dr. Nathanson wrote Aborting America to inform the public of the realities behind the abortion rights movement of which he had been a primary leader. At the time Dr. Nathanson was an atheist. His conclusions were not even remotely religious, but squarely based on the biological facts.
I think that abortion policy ought not be beholden to a sectarian creed, but that obviously the law can and does encompass moral convictions shared by a variety of religious interests. In the case of abortion, however, we can and must decide on the biological evidence and on fundamental humanitarian grounds without resorting to scriptures, revelations, creeds, hierarchical decrees, or belief in God. Even if God does not exist, the fetus does.[ix]
Rights for the Unborn
The claim that abortion is a civil rights issue for women is one of the greatest ironies of the abortion movement. That’s because it takes away the most basic right that any person, young or old, big or small, can have: the right to live. Just because a child is in an earlier stage of development doesn’t mean we have the right to dispose of him or her.
Regardless of our personal religious beliefs, we should all publicly oppose abortion for the same reason we oppose slavery—it is a fundamental violation of human rights.
[ii] Ibid., 24–6.
[iii] Nat Hentoff, “Pro-choice bigots: a view from the pro-life left,” November 30, 1992, http://groups.csail.mit.edu/mac/users/rauch/nvp/consistent/hentoff_pro-life_left.html.
[v] Kristine Kruszelnicki, “Yes, There Are Pro-Life Atheists Out There. Here’s Why I’m One of Them,” Friendly Atheist, March 11, 2014, www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2014/03/11/yes-there-are-pro-life-atheists-out-there-heres-why-im-one-of-them.
[vi] “Abortion in America,” Marist Poll, January 2015, www.kofc.org/un/en/resources/communications/Abortion_in_America_January2015_For_Release_150121.pdf.
[vii] Landrum Shettles and David Rorvik, Rites of Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1983), 103.
[viii] Bernard N. Nathanson, “Deeper into Abortion,” New England Journal of Medicine 291 (1974): 1189–90.
[ix] Bernard Nathanson, Aborting America (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979): 227.