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Pro-Choice or Pro-Life, It Doesn't Matter

honesty, compassion, and reason can bridge differences

Following posts come from the exchange that took place on the email list for the Portland Community of Center for Inquiry, which is a leading secular humanist organisation.

Forum: CFI Portland Meetup
Date: 12/03/2009

Hi Chris,

On Dec 2, 2009, at 10:09 PM, Rarian Rakista wrote:

Those of us of progressive pro-life find this entirely disheartening that this organization would tie the idea of atheism with an opinion on abortion. It is like assuming all Catholics must be pro-life.

Please remove all future ads for abortion activities or remove me from this list and group.

For the record I am pro-choice, but I have a lot of respect for people who identify as "progressive pro-lifer." In fact, most "progressive pro-life" people are indistinguishable from most "pro-choice" folks, if you actually listen to what they believe.

That's because "pro-life," especially for those of progressive bent, is about valuing unborn fetuses' lives, while "pro-choice" is simply a position about whether or not State should prohibit or severely restrict abortion. You can value fetuses' lives (pro-life), and still oppose State's power to force women to carry pregnancy (pro-choice).

I don't know what you actually believe, but if you believe in reducing abortion by promoting comprehensive sex education, making healthcare and health information accessible to everyone, providing more help to poor mothers, and eliminating poverty, instead of forcing women to continue pregnancy against her will by the use of State apparatus, then you are a true progressive pro-lifer (or you might be pro-choice--it doesn't matter what you call yourself at this point).

That said, the ad in the newsletter was for Lovejoy Surgicenter, which was seeking volunteers to escort women visiting the center because the anti-abortion protesters are making women feel unsafe accessing healthcare. I fail to understand why you find it so offensive. The ad was not advocating for any political or moral position; it was not necessarily "pro-abortion" or "ads for abortion activities." It was simply a request for volunteers to help women feel safe while accessing healthcare.

The only reason you might be offended is that you actually believe in reducing abortion not by any of the progressive strategies I mentioned above, but by terrorizing women into silence and submission. But since you call yourself "progressive pro-life" and claim to be non-violent, so I assume that you don't support that. Do you?

One can very much be pro-life because of the very rational belief that human life is a continuum and we do not go through morphological stages that somehow differentiate human life into insectoid metamorphic stages or court-created trimesters that deserve distinct legalistic or ethical claims to basic human rights.

I understand what you are saying, but I think you are confusing two separate questions. First is whether or not fetus lives have moral standing, and I respect your opinion that they do. But the second question is this: whether or not the State can and should compel a woman to continue pregnancy against her will in order to protect the fetus' life.

Even if we were to assume that the State has genuine human rights interest in protecting the fetus' life, it does not necessarily follow that abortion should be illegal. Fetus, like any other human being, does not have unlimited right to demand the use of other humans' body parts, even if it's necessary for survival. There are competing human rights claims here, and the "court-created trimesters" and other legal standards have been created in an attempt to strike a balance.

Depending on your point of view, it may not be an ideal balance, but at least you could appreciate the complexity of the issue and not view things as so black and white.

Whoever allowed that into the newsletter is a bigot and whoever thinks it is part and parcel of being a rational human being in protecting what amounts to when women allowed their unwanted children to die of exposure at best and planned eugenics directed mostly at the urban poor at worse is a monster.

How is it bigotry to help Lovejoy Surgicenter recruit volunteers so that women in desperate circumstances feel less threatened? Again, I have to wonder if you actually believe in the use of intimidation and terror to achieve your goals.

- ek

Date: 12/03/2009

Hi Chris,

On Dec 3, 2009, at 12:53 AM, Rarian Rakista wrote:

I don't believe in terror or intimidation on any issue; however, I don't believe this group should be in the business of working towards any end besides that of our shared disbelief in theism.

Thank you for saying that you don't believe in terror or intimidation, but you might be in a wrong group if "our shared disbelief in theism" is your only concern. While CFI may not have an official stance on the moral standing of a fetus (and I agree CFI shouldn't have one), it is clearly on the side of reason and civil discourse over mob tactics designed to force one's moral beliefs on others.

Plus, CFI does clearly support legal right to (and not necessarily moral merits of) abortion. See this: CFI Calls for Repeal of Federal Ban on Abortion Procedure

I'm not necessarily saying that CFI should include that ad in the newsletter, or it should get involved in defense of abortion rights. But I don't think the newsletter writers and editors overstepped their boundary by including that little ad, because the content was consistent with CFI's mission and positions.

That said, I don't agree with all of CFI's positions, so don't feel like you need to abandon the group just because of this one issue.

I would say those who are ardently pro-choice are as dangerous as pro-lifers in many respects. They may not use bombs ( except once ) but they have plenty to account for in terms of terror and intimidation. which may be a bit sensationalist at times but gets the point across.

It's not "a bit sensationalist." It is dishonest, pure and simple.

For example, the site claims that there have been "1,251 homicides and other killings" by "pro-abortionists" since the 1960s. Really? When you actually read on, you will find that this number includes instances in which "pro-abortionists" killed their spouses in domestic violence, or in other crimes and accidents that had nothing to do with their support of abortion. That's dishonest.

When it becomes possible to take an unborn human at any stage of gestation and implant it in an artificial womb do you think women ( or men/parents who force them ) should still have the right to terminate that human life? I will work towards the end as an engineer that such technology will be possible.

I would argue that women should still have the right to refuse State dictation of the medical care they receive, at least to some extent (i.e. there shouldn't be a categorical ban). But I'm not worried about that at this point, because I don't believe that such technology would be developed anytime soon. How about investing our resource and energy into providing better sex education and foolproof birth control? That's far cheaper and more realistic and could seriously reduce the number of abortions in less time.


Date: 12/03/2009

On Dec 3, 2009, at 9:18 AM, Bernie Dehler wrote:

There are some hot and heavy moral issues being debated today, such as abortion and homosexual rights, which I think it is best NOT to have an official position on (from organizations like CFI and the AHA). I think it is better to say "let's debate it." Otherwise, you will get a certain following, and attract more of the same and shut out all other possible people that have a dissenting opinion. Of course, one may think that it is appropriate to take an official organiztional stand, because they are correct and all who disagree are wrong.

I agree that CFI should not take an official position on the moral status of abortion. I totally think that reasonable people can disagree over that, and I respect those who may disagree with me there.

But does that mean it can't take a stance on a matter of public policy? For example, Bush administration's "global gag rule" that prohibit international aid agencies that receive U.S. funds from publicly discussing abortion was a public policy disaster, leading to grave consequences.

Shouldn't our public health policies be based on sound social science? It doesn't make sense for CFI to insist that scientific education to be scientific, and then have no position about the implication of sound public health researches.

And yes, taking that stand might mean that some atheists and secularists would feel alienated. But I think it's prejudicial to assume that all pro-lifers are unreasonable, irrational people who would be alienated simply because we take a scientifically sound position on public policy. People like Chris are telling us not to treat all pro-lifers as violent, irrational extremists, so let's take their word for it and stop worrying about offending them because we support public policy based on reason and evidence.

By the way, see my blog post about the pro-life rally I went to see this past January:


Date: 12/03/2009


On Dec 3, 2009, at 11:00 AM, wes wrote:

My guess is, that to be consistent, CFI would also run an ad for Crisis Pregnancy Center (I forgot their new name) if approached to do so.

Well, if bunch of angry pro-choice activists show up every day at these "Crisis Centers," screaming at and intimidating women who are trying to access their services, and they need volunteers to escort the women for her safety, then sure, let's run an ad seeking volunteers.

Even ignoring that, I really don't think that clinic that provide abortion services and Crisis Pregnancy Centers should be treated as equivalent. The former offers scientifically sound information about all options, including abortion among many others, while the latter intentionally mislead women with pseudoscience to steer them toward making a particular choice. As Sylvia pointed out, pro-choice groups aren't trying to sell any particular option for women to choose; "pregnancy crisis centers" are.

For example, these "pregnancy centers" often tell women that women who have had abortion have markedly increased risk of breast cancer and other health problems. The correlation does exist, but it's not a causal one. Poor women are more likely to have abortions, and they are also more likely to suffer from debilitating illnesses, most likely because poverty is actually the root cause of both facts.

This is just one example, but the use of pseudoscientific claims about abortion is very common in the anti-abortion literature, some of which are distributed through these "pregnancy centers." I don't have any problem with people promoting alternatives to abortion, but only if they do so honestly, based on best available evidence.