“The atheist community is a diverse community,” said a speaker at the American Atheist Convention in Washington DC, to a round of applause and cheers. “We’ve got people here from all genders, races, religious backgrounds, and sexual orientations.”
But as Secular Pro-Life discovered after setting up an information table at the convention and mingling among the 25,000 participants of the Reason Rally the day before, for many atheists, the enthusiasm for diversity ends where the philosophical line on issues like abortion begins.
“There’s a war on the womb” said Elizabeth Cornwell, executive director of the Richard Dawkins Foundation. “A war based on dogma, a war based on ignorance, a war based on lust for power. The religious radicals want to enshroud women in an invisible burka. They want to take away a woman’s right to control her own body. This is not about declaring a blastocyst as a human being. No… This is about eradicating a woman’s right to take her full place in society!”
As a secular pro-lifer I believe my case is scientifically and philosophically sound. Science concedes that human life begins at fertilization and it follows that abortion is ageism and discrimination against a member of our own species, based on characteristics outside of their control. As I listened to another speaker denounce all pro-lifers as “religious bigots who seek to enslave women and occupy vaginas”, it bothered me to see the pro-life position dismissed in its entirety alongside other dogmas of religion.
“I don’t understand how women could be so hateful to other women,” said one participant who approached the Secular Pro-life table. Her comment comes in the wake of a Pennsylvania rep who recently dismissed pro-life women as us “men with breasts”. Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard does not hate women. Kelsey is part of a team that is launching www.abortionsafety.com – a site that will expose the number of medical malpractice suits in the so-called ‘safe and legal’ abortion industry, and help women make an informed choice. Nonetheless, it is intellectually dishonest to argue “enslavement” without addressing the matter of competing human rights interlaced with one’s obligation to a dependent offspring.
Our time at the Atheist Convention was not the least bit in vain. A number of pro-life atheists approached us, ecstatic that we were there and saying “Thank you! I thought I was the only one!” Many others spent hours engaging us in meaningful and reasoned debate, granting a number of our premises and inviting further dialog on the matter. “I disagree with you but I’m impressed with you,” said one young man after a lengthy discussion. “This is the first time I’ve ever heard someone defend [the pro-life] view with reason and rational arguments.”
The young man’s words resonate the need for pro-lifers to use secular arguments when appealing to a secular audience. Indeed, atheists are not the only ones to be exclusive within their ranks. I have been told by fellow pro-lifers on more than one occasion that I have no business being at a pro-life event if I am not a Catholic. I know of several pro-life friends, including pro-life gays and lesbians, who feel too ostracized from the movement to be able to engage in meaningful activism with the rest of us. I’ve even been told that if non-Catholics want pro-life events with a non-Catholic approach “we should hold our own events.” The pro-life movement cannot afford to be exclusive, especially given the audience it primarily seeks to reach, and its own minority status.
My pro-life atheist friends and I are a minority within the pro-life movement, and a minority among atheists. Both movements could do with a little more open-mindedness. After all, whether there is a God or there is no God, we all have to find social solutions that allow us to live together on this planet.
LifeNews Note: Kristine Kruszelnicki is a pro-life advocate who attended the event.Read a more detailed summary of Secular Pro-Life’s experiences and exchanges at the American Atheist Convention, Day 1 and Day 2.