LIFE ISSUES: by Bill MuehlenbergNews Weekly
Two myths about those who defend the unborn
, July 20, 2013
There are plenty of criticisms of, and objections to, the pro-life position. I have dealt with many of them over the years, and I find them easily answerable. A close look at these objections usually shows they are without much value and generally based on fallacious and errant thinking.
Here I wish to raise two more common myths about the pro-life position. Both have to do with values, beliefs and faith. Both involve the assumption that, in the abortion debate, anyone who is opposed to the procedure is merely seeking to ram his values or religion down the throat of others, and must therefore be discounted.
Let me examine each claim in more detail.
1) “Pro-lifers have no right to impose their values on others.”
Abortion supporters are quite keen to tell defenders of the unborn that they have no right to impose their moral views on other people. They seem to suggest that people who are concerned about abortion are somehow taking away the freedoms of others, and are just acting as a moral Taliban.
But in a democracy, all points of view are entitled to a hearing. That is exactly what makes for a democracy — allowing the free flow of ideas, and enabling the opposing views on contentious issues to be freely presented and discussed.
After all, does not the other side claim the banner of “choice”? Why then do they seek to deny the other side the right to be heard?
This myth is based on the common understanding of tolerance, which has become the greatest virtue in contemporary culture. Tolerance once used to mean respecting the other person while disagreeing with his or her ideas. Today it means you must accept the other person’s views, or be seen as intolerant, judgmental and narrow-minded.
However, as Francis Beckwith argues, “to be tolerant of differing viewpoints involves just that — differing viewpoints, all of which cannot be equally correct at the same time”.
Moreover, on important moral issues we need to speak out. Should we tolerate polluters, racists and rapists? This is like saying, “I am personally against ethnic-cleansing and lynching, but I do not want to impose my values on others.”
When the survival of innocent life is at stake, we not only have the right but a duty to speak out. And such moral concerns need to be reflected in the law. Issues as important as killing human beings need to fall under the domain of law, and all civil rights should be protected by law.
And values are being pushed all the time. The real question, as Carl Horn writes, “is not whether values are going to be imposed or legislated, but whose values”. It just so happens that at the moment, the values of the Culture of Death are predominating, legally, socially and culturally.
That is why its proponents do not want the other side to be heard. They enjoy the ideological hegemony they currently possess.
2) “Opponents of abortion are motivated solely by religion.”
It is often argued that only religious people are against abortion, and therefore their views are to be discounted for that reason. This myth is easily debunked because it is simply not true. While there are of course many religious people who are opposed to abortion, there are many non-religious people as well who are very much pro-life.
Simply consider one long-standing opponent of abortion, who is not in the least religious: Nat Hentoff. While he refers to himself as a “Jewish atheist”, he is well-known as a secular civil libertarian who shocked many of his colleagues on the left when he became a pro-lifer. He says it was the evidence which moved him, not any religious arguments. This is how one write-up about his change of mind describes things:
“A famous liberal who was a staple at the Village Voice and who had a column in the Washington Post, in the 1980s Hentoff actually let himself be swayed by evidence about abortion. It happened when Hentoff was reporting on the case of Baby Jane Doe, a Long Island infant born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, which is excess fluid in the cranium. With surgery, spina bifida babies can grow up to be productive adults.
“Yet Baby Jane’s parents, on their doctor’s advice, had refused both surgery to close her spine and a shunt to drain the fluid from her brain. In resisting the federal government’s attempt to enforce treatment, the parents pleaded privacy. As Hentoff told the Washington Times in a 1989 profile, his ‘curiosity was not so much the case itself but the press coverage’.
“Everyone on the media was echoing the same talking points about ‘women’s rights’ and ‘privacy’. ‘Whenever I see that kind of story, where everybody agrees, I know there’s something wrong,’ Hentoff told the Times.”
Other noted atheists, such as the late Christopher Hitchens, have also made a pro-life case, even if a somewhat qualified pro-life case.
There are even websites such as the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League in existence. And there have even been pro-life tables at atheist conventions.
So the pro-life cause is hardly made up entirely of religious people.
The truth is that abortion is an ethical issue and a human rights issue, not simply a religious issue. The right of every human being to live has to do with fundamental principles of morality and basic justice. It is simply ethically wrong to kill an innocent human being.
And justice must begin in the womb. To talk about justice while denying the unborn the right to live is a very distorted view of justice.
Moreover, even if it were true, even if all resistance to abortion was based on religious concerns, this objection is silly in the extreme.
Consider what is being said here: “Your objection to abortion is invalid because you are religious.” One might equally argue, “Your objection to rape is invalid because you are religious.” Or, “Your objection to murder is invalid because you are religious.”
If something is wrong, it is wrong regardless of whether or not those opposed to it are religious. As I have said, this is an issue of basic morality, and one’s religious views do not alter the morality of the issue. If it is wrong to kill innocent human beings in the womb, then it is wrong always, not just if the person opposed to it is religious.
Also, one could argue that everyone at heart is ultimately religious. Even the secularist acts on a set of worldview beliefs and values that can be said to be religious. Indeed, the US Supreme Court actually ruled that secular humanism is a religion. As it stated in a famous case, “Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others.”
Thus these two objections, like the others, really have very little merit and can be easily dispensed with. I am afraid that supporters of abortion will have to try to come up with better reasons to justify the killing of innocent unborn human life.
Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com