The Secular Argument Against Abortion: Killing Babies is Wrong Because They’re Human Beings

Opinion   |   Dave Andrusko   |   Aug 9, 2022   |   3:11PM   |   Washington, DC

It is no secret that many pro-lifers are women and men of faith. What is not as well known—in spite of the presence of—is that our Movement has plenty of people who believe “You don’t have to be religious to have a problem with killing humans,” as secular pro-life describes itself.

On Sunday, David French offered a column entitled “There Is a Secular Case for Life: You don’t have to be a Christian to oppose abortion.” It’s a good column and well worth reading. Here are a few of the highlights.

French’s early pro-life epiphany was as a law student attending a small conference. “Amidst a squadron of religious conservative lawyers, there was a single atheist progressive,” he writes. “He was bearded, disheveled, and quiet, but when he spoke everyone fell silent. Everyone leaned forward to hear what he had to say.”

Who was that man?

His name was Nat Hentoff. He was a writer for the Village Voice; he’d published in Playboy. He was a progressive civil libertarian. He was also one of the most persuasive pro-life voices in the land.

For those of our readers who go way back with NRL News, Nat’s is a familiar name. He would call me periodically, asking in the most kindly way for specific information. Over the years, I was able many times to direct him to knowledgeable sources and we became good friends. We reprinted many, many of his columns which were exquisitely written.

Back to David French.

Since Dobbs was decided, “I’ve seen a number of people argue that Dobbs is essentially ‘theocratic,’ that it’s the result of a Christian majority of judges imposing their religious beliefs on a religiously-diverse country,” he writes. “To these critics, arguments against abortion are inherently and inescapably religious—which makes laws curtailing abortion a form of state establishment of religion that violates the religious liberty of dissenting Americans. ”

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French provides us with some compelling arguments, the gist of which is (regardless of what a writer will say)”one side is motivated by religious considerations.”

French then quotes Hentoff:

Once the sperm and the egg meet, and they find a sort of nesting place in the uterus, you now have a developing human being. It’s not a kangaroo. It’s not a giraffe. It’s a human being. And that development in the womb until the person comes out is a continuing process. Therefore, if you kill it at any stage–first three weeks, first three months—you’re killing a developing human being.

French says simply but with completely accuracy, “Nat’s statement isn’t an assertion of religious dogma but of scientific reality.”

So why do many “of the most thoughtful, kind, and ethical people I knew” also be people “who didn’t believe in God” yet still have “a high view of the value of human life”?

There are many reasons, as you would expect. But using Hentoff again, he tells us that Hentoff wrote that he was “deeply influenced by a left-wing thinker named Mary Meehan, and he quoted one of her most famous arguments:

It is out of character for the left to neglect the weak and helpless. The traditional mark of the left has been its protection of the underdog, the weak and the poor. The unborn child is the most helpless form of humanity, even more in need of protection than the poor tenant farmer or the mental patient. The basic instinct of the left is to aid those who cannot aid themselves. And that instinct is absolutely sound. It’s what keeps the human proposition going.

French tells us, “This is not an inherently religious argument. It is an argument that reached a man who did not believe in God. It is a moral argument, and moral arguments are not the exclusive prerogative of people of faith.”

A valuable essay which concludes “Let’s value all human life, from conception to natural death, including taking great care to preserve the life of the child in the womb. We might not agree on faith, but we can agree on biology, and biology implicates morality. There is a secular case for life.” Note: Dave Andrusko is the editor of National Right to Life News and an author and editor of several books on abortion topics. This post originally appeared in at National Right to Life News Today —- an online column on pro-life issues.