Secular Pro-Life strongly encourages pro-lifers from different backgrounds to seek to understand one another and form coalitions in the fight against abortion. SPL’s main focus, obviously, is on different religious backgrounds. We ask our allies in the pro-life movement to help SPL create space for pro-life secularists and give secularists a stronger voice in the movement. In turn, we feel it’s important that SPL helps give a stronger voice to other non-traditional pro-lifers.
Today’s blog post focuses on the perspectives of LGBT pro-lifers. We interviewed four pro-lifers who identify as follows:
Deanna Unyk, a queer atheist.
Nate Sheets, a gay atheist.
Albany Rose Saindon, a pansexual atheist.
Rachel E., a bisexual Roman Catholic.
SPL does not necessarily agree with every view expressed in this post, but we leave the content unedited in order to give a voice to an element of the pro-life movement that is frequently ignored. We hope the perspectives here will help all of us gain better insight into how the pro-life movement looks to pro-lifers of different sexualities.
How would you define the term "pro-life"?
Deanna: I would define "pro-life" as the position that abortion, in general, ought to be illegal.
Nate: People who are pro-life think that there are better alternatives to ending life in the womb. They have a variety of reasons for believing this.
Albany: “Pro-Life,” to me, is knowing all innocent life is valuable, born and pre-born. I think being pro-life means never being cruel, condemning, or saying harsh words towards abortion-minded or post-abortive men and women. We cannot fit into the stereotype that we simply care about the fetus. We must always show love, kindness, and patience. Without that we won't get very far.
Rachel: Generally, I think being pro-life means respecting the right to life of human beings from fertilization to a natural death.
Some people believe abortion has relatively little effect on the LGBT community. Do you think this is true? Why or why not?
Deanna: I guess my shortest answer would be yes and no. Yes, because those in monogamous homosexual relationships would be less likely to have to deal with unintended pregnancy for obvious reasons. On the other hand, though, bisexuals can be engaged in monogamous heterosexual relationships. Lesbians can still get pregnant from rape and gay men can suffer from the past abortions of former lovers. Trans men who haven't had bottom surgery can still engage in procreative sex and end up pregnant and trans women can get others pregnant if they are having procreative sex. So, the LGBT community is not necessarily immune to unintended pregnancy and thus the legal option of abortion.
It is important to consider also that when LGBT people have an experience with unintended pregnancy they may face different challenges than their straight counterparts. They may view the pregnancy as a blow to their personal identity and there are unique challenges that come with that.
Furthermore, from a pro-life standpoint, abortion is the biggest human rights violation in our society, and I believe anytime one group is being mistreated in a particular society it affects all members of that society. In that sense abortion affects all of us, LGBT people included.
Nate: I guess I can understand that perspective. In some ways, abortion has little to do with us, but you could say the same thing about any other civil rights issue. LGBT people have experienced a history of violence, discrimination, and oppression, and so have the unborn, though in a different way. But no, I don't link the issue of abortion to LGBT rights normally.
Rachel: I definitely disagree with the notion that abortion has little effect on the LGBT community. I think there’s a general principle that we as people are not insular. We can’t simply say “Oh, that’s someone else’s issue.” Injustice against one community of the human family is an injustice against all people. We are LGBT people and we can help change the world.
Beyond the ideas of solidarity with the entire human community, I think there are a few issues that affect the LGBT community specifically:
If there was a “gay gene” that could be detected before birth, I believe some people would take advantage of that. Some people would have abortions simply because the unborn person would grow up to be an LGBT adult.
Transgender men (people designated at birth as female who identify as men) are a particularly vulnerable population in the current climate. Because many of these men have not transitioned physically, they are capable of being pregnant. This poses so many problems for the individual – most do not feel that, as a man, there should be any pregnancy involved. The result of pregnancy in a transgender man can be extremely dysphoric; their body is performing processes that they’ve tried to escape.
Because of the heteronormative nature of most sexual education programs, LGBT people are far less likely to use forms of protection in their sexual activities. The lesbian and bisexual teen pregnancy rate is 12% higher than heterosexual peers, and they experience twice the risk for unintended pregnancy. It’s not what’s usually expected, but LGBT people do get pregnant.
Additionally, many don’t realize that LGBT people are just as susceptible, if not more susceptible, to rape as heterosexual people are. According to 2013 data from the CDC, lesbians and gay men report lifetime levels of sexual violence equal to those of heterosexuals, and bisexual women actually experience significantly higher rates of sexual violence. We cannot forget the very real fact that LGBT people can also experience pregnancies that result from rape.
Finally, many LGBT people are waiting to adopt children. I don’t think this is the first reason to be pro-life, but I think it’s a good supplementary reason.
How would you describe your own position on abortion? How long have you held that position and how did you arrive at it?
Deanna: I would describe myself as pro-life, because I believe most forms of abortion ought to be illegal. Until about 6 months ago, I was pro-choice and I wrote a blog called "Restringing the Violinist" where I focused on defending bodily rights arguments. So I'm pretty new to the movement.
I’ve long thought that unborn children are valuable human persons, but I remained pro-choice because of my view of bodily autonomy. Changing my mind took time and involved many different factors. I still believe that women have the right to refuse to allow other people to use their bodies as life-support. As a result, to me, abortion is an issue that involves a conflict of rights: the mother’s right to refuse and the unborn child's right to (a) not be killed and (b) not have his or her bodily rights violated by being dismembered.
When I was pro-choice my view was similar to David Boonin’s view in his book “A Defense of Abortion.” I believed abortion did not violate the right to life of the unborn child because I believed (and still believe) the right to life does not include the right to use someone else's body to survive. However, I also believe the right to life does include the right to not be killed, and most abortions do actively kill the unborn. Thus, abortion does violate the unborn’s right to life in most cases. Additionally, in surgical abortions the unborn child is often dismembered, and I think bodily rights should really include the right to not be dismembered. In the end I couldn't justify legalized abortion to protect the mother’s bodily rights when the bodily rights and the right to life of the unborn child are violated during an abortion.
Even then I didn't immediately convert to the pro-life side. Being pro-choice was a big part of my personal identity. I identify as a liberal person. But what kind of liberal is against abortion? I think I had this fear in my mind that there wasn't a place for a queer atheist in the pro-life movement. I think deep down I worried that if I wanted to be active in the movement I would have to be surrounded by a bunch of religious old men that would constantly harass me to convert or tell me that my "lifestyle" makes God want to vomit.
So, in addition to the pro-life arguments, my friendship with Josh Brahm was also instrumental in my conversion. Josh and I had been friends for about a year and he remains one of the kindest and most open-minded people I know. Being friends with Josh helped break down the pro-life stereotypes in my mind. Although he never told me explicitly, I knew that I would have an ally in the pro-life movement who would love and accept me for who I was. So I ended up "coming out" again, this time as a pro-lifer.
Nate: I have a very conflicted opinion on abortion. The issue is framed so there’s a dichotomy between a woman's bodily integrity and a fetus' right to not be dismembered. I am conflicted because I believe strongly in both, and yet there often seems to be an impasse between the two. To me, abortion addresses the issue of bodily autonomy, but in all the wrong ways.
I used to have a more typical pro-life stance, but now as an atheist and lover of science, my position is much less firm as I see all of the grays that this issue presents. In many ways, I do not blame a woman who gets an abortion because, at least on the surface, there appears to be no alternative that will not ruin the woman's life. People do what they feel like they have to do. Pro-lifers try and present other options, but the pro-choice movement also works with a different agenda.
But, when push comes to shove, I simply cannot fathom the logic that leads people to be okay with dismembering a fetus. As a society, we should be beyond this--we are killing our own children, with the excuse that they are occupying our space? Who the hell do we think we are?
Albany: When it comes to abortion I am no exceptions Pro-Life. Outside of ectopic pregnancies, which most pro-lifers I know do not consider abortions, I do not agree that a situation can justify taking an innocent life. I have held my pro-life beliefs for almost three years now, after being pro-choice for almost my whole life before converting. Shortly after turning 16, I was coerced into an abortion, which lead me down a destructive path and ultimately made me feel like I had to be pro-choice to justify what I had allowed to happen. I ended up becoming pro-life after seeing the ultrasound of our first daughter. Her heartbeat, her little movements, it was like everything I had believed prior about the fetus and abortion came crumbling down all around me.
Rachel: I was raised in a pro-life family, and I don’t know if I ever had any sort of eureka moment. I think as I got older, my views became more mature and nuanced. I learned about the larger complexities of the issue. I certainly believe that when I started blogging about the issues my views became much more firm and I was far more knowledgeable about abortion and the pro-life movement in general.
Have you interacted much with the overall pro-life movement (e.g. walks, rallies, meetings, protests, political activities, sidewalk counseling, pregnancy centers, etc.)? If so, how has that gone? If not, why not?
Deanna: In the time that I've been pro-life I've gone to the Alberta March for Life and I went to an apologetics seminar put on by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform.
The March for Life made me feel somewhat alienated. I wore a shirt with a short pro-life argument on the front and "Atheist for Life" on the back. Most of the speakers were quite religious and a number of them said things I really found offensive. For example, one of the first speakers (I believe he was a priest) said something along the lines of, "The pro-life position is religious in nature, so in order to recruit people to our cause we need to work really hard to convert as many people as we can!" The most disheartening part about that statement was the thunderous applause it elicited from my fellow pro-lifers. Another speaker said something like, "Concepts like the right to life and intrinsic human value are grounded in Christianity, so we can't appeal to them when talking to secularists." Towards the end of the rally they included about 20 minutes of a Ukrainian Catholic mass (translated to English).
In some ways this March was pretty difficult for me. I see religion and sexuality as somewhat connected. A big part of what made coming out as queer difficult for me was my parents’ reactions, and their reactions were grounded, at least partly, in religion. So religion in general, and the Ukrainian Catholic faith in particular, can trigger my anger over unfair judgment toward my sexuality and fear I once had that God hated me. It was already difficult to be new to the pro-life movement and not having anyone in my city to go to this pro-life event with me. To then be surrounded by triggers and to see speakers act as if pro-lifers like me don't exist made the experience even more exhausting.
However, the March for Life wasn't entirely a negative experience. A man behind me saw my shirt and went out of his way to tell me that he was glad I was there. One speaker mentioned the importance of including secularists in the movement and trying to appeal to them. I was also texting Josh at the time and he was very encouraging and he seemed to be exited that I was already getting involved in the movement. I was also encouraged by the number of young people who attended. A girl, who appeared to be in high school, gave me a sign that looked homemade and read "A Person's a Person No Matter How Small" and I held it up while I longboarded alongside my fellow pro-life marchers. I was also invited to go to an apologetics seminar put on by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform, which was exciting for me.
A few months after the March I ended up attending the seminar. This was a much more positive experience for me. The speakers were extremely gracious and they emphasized the importance of finding common ground and treating pro-choice people with the respect that all persons deserve. It was also secular, which I appreciated. The tone of the seminar leaders was incredibly kind. I like to say "they oozed kindness" but oozing is clearly the wrong word. I disagreed with some of the arguments they taught, but I did learn a lot and it was helpful just to be surrounded by like-minded people who are passionate about helping others.
Nate: I have not participated in a mainstream pro-life event for several years. As an atheist, I don't want to feel like I'm at a church service. As a lover of science, I get frustrated with how many pro-lifers say "We have science on our side!" when, in reality, the majority of them have little understanding or interest in "science" beyond some fetal developmental milestones. The irony of the religion with the science rhetoric being all in the same place is too much. So I don’t participate in the mainstream movement, but I currently admin a large Atheist/Agnostic (and LGBT-friendly) pro-life group on Facebook. [If you'd like to join this Facebook group, please read the About section first.]
It is also difficult to participate in one issue with a group of people who you know fight against you on another. In some cases, anti-LGBT rhetoric peppers the conversations at these events. Pro-lifers have this idea that the Right to Life trumps everything else, so any other conflicts are considered secondary. But the fact is, my equal rights and protection under the law are important to me, and to have people who claim to stand up for the rights of "everyone" (meaning, fetuses) while they have disapproval in their hearts and discrimination in their votes against people like me is not something I can easily get past. Thankfully, I am seeing more and more pro-LGBT pro-lifers these days.
Albany: The greatest interaction I have in the pro-life movement (as I'm a stay at home mom with few ways to travel) is that I have become a YouTube vlogger. It has allowed me to reach tens of thousands of people all from my own home. I did participate in one walk for life here in Denver, but truthfully it was disappointing. Right after I told my story and shortly before we began the walk, speakers starting talking about traditional marriage and, "don't forget to vote against [a marriage equality] bill." It was disheartening how they so easily shunned people at an event that had nothing to do with one’s sexuality. The pro-life movement should be about coming together to protect life and should not be used as a billboard for other beliefs. I do enjoy, however, going out to the Planned Parenthood in the next town up and holding a sign that reads, "I Regret My Abortion." While there are negative comments, the overall reaction is positive, and it is clear when it makes someone think.
Rachel: My first activism for the pro-life movement was when I was about seven or so. My mom brought me to a “rosary rally” event, and we passed out the “precious feet” pins and bumper stickers. Right now my biggest activism is done through my blogging on Tumblr. I’ve got about 1,095 followers now. I’ve been to the March for Life in 2013, and over the summer I had an internship with Life Matters Journal.
How accessible is the pro-life movement for you? How could it be more accessible? What are some ways other pro-lifers could make LGBT people feel welcome?
Deanna: I feel like the pro-life movement needs to work on welcoming LGBT people. Being more inclusive in their language and maybe turning down the volume on the religious aspect could be really helpful. Even saying things like "although I think homosexuality is morally wrong, we welcome everyone into the movement including those from all sexual orientations. We appreciate you being here" would go a long way. Using arguments that appeal to all people regardless of religious or sexual identity would also be extremely helpful. Having other LGBT pro-life role models would be great, so I think those who are already in the movement need to work on finding each other and being more visible.
Nate: The movement is somewhat accessible. Thanks to social media, there are many smaller groups that you can join that fit what you're looking for. However, if the pro-life movement started leaving their religion at home instead of bringing it to the events, that would be a good start, as well as sticking to abortion and not bringing up gay marriage or other non-related issues. More room for nuanced views--or at least discussion--of abortion would be awesome, too.
Albany: Truthfully, the pro-life movement isn't very accessible to me outside of my home. While there are some speakers that travel occasionally in the area, and groups go to pray outside clinics, there are not many options for me. However, going back to my vlogging and public pro-life speaker page, it allows me to connect in a more accessible way. I do wish I knew more people in the area who were open to simply traveling short distances to hold signs with me, to sidewalk counsel, or even pro-life chalk.
I firmly believe that if more religious pro-lifers would stop tying in outside beliefs of the church to abortion, such as views on homosexuality or competition with other religious beliefs, it would allow more in the LGBT community to open up and listen. I think many in religion have dug themselves into a hole by perpetuating the stereotype that they want nothing to do with someone who is gay, when in reality many religious people will happily work alongside the LGBT community to help end abortion. The movement simply needs to vocalize that more through love.
Rachel: With the pro-life circles I associate with, it’s been no problem for me. However, when I venture out from more secular and open groups, people can become less than accepting. Some are outright hostile, but many are just patronizing about the LGBT community. Many of the traditional Christian pro-life groups seem to pity us or think that somehow they’re better. I think if many people thought “Let’s leave the sexuality out of it and work on the commonalities,” we could feel more included. We’re queer, and we’re pro-life. I don’t see why there should be any contradictions there.