Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Confessions of a Pro-Life Atheist: What Gives me the Passion to Actively Oppose Abortion

[Today's post was written by SPL member Patrick Ptomey for Bryan Kemper's blog.  It's since been picked up by LifeSiteNews, of all places. We're reprinting it too.  Enjoy!]

It can be said without argument that all who are against abortion have at least one thing in common. Be that as it may, the process in which we come to that conclusion is oftentimes a result of many different factors, thus our beliefs, while similar in principle, can be quite different in theory. 

Dozens of people have asked me why I am pro-life.

In the past it didn’t seem like such a hard question to answer. After all, if I have the ability to form a belief then surely my answer to such a question should come without forethought. However, I have never been asked by a pro-life Christian to clarify my position as a pro-life Atheist. Admittedly, the question has become a bit more difficult to answer because of the unnecessary adaptation. It was my presumption that this was not a confusing concept, but once I began to compile my thoughts I soon realized where confusion could emerge. The purpose of this article is to clear up some of the misconceptions about pro-life non-believers by providing a general comparison between Theism and Atheism in relation to the abortion issue and contributing a personal account of my own journey to the pro-life movement. An argument from morality has been purposely omitted.

To state the obvious, the only difference between my label as a pro-life Atheist and your label as a pro-life Christian is our outlook on the existence of a deity. Similarly, the difference between a pro-life Jew and a pro-life Muslim is once again rooted in religious differences. That being said, we can easily deduct that an anti-abortion position is not dependent upon adhering to a specific religion; thankfully. For example, one can be religious without ever taking a position on the abortion issue. Likewise, one can be pro-life without being religious. Because the two labels are independent from one another, it is not hard to imagine the diversity of  personal convictions within the pro-life community. This may become a confusing concept to those who base their pro-life position on the belief that they could not differentiate between right and wrong without guidance from their respective deity. This is where I believe some confusion and hesitation may occur.

The Christian religion, for the most part, has adopted a position on the abortion issue. Churches which have chosen to take a position on the issue have subsequently suggested that its followers do the same. To the contrary, Atheism asserts one thing and one thing only. That assertion makes no mention to the the issue of abortion or any other social issue for that matter and therefore does not require that Atheists accept any more or any less. An Atheist’s position on any other topic is simply a personal opinion.

Personally, my pro-life beliefs belong to the discoveries in science. While I am sympathetic to women’s rights and would even consider myself a Feminist as would any man who believes in gender equality, the right to life outweighs our personal discomforts. I will hesitantly concede that had I been born 10 years earlier I most likely would have considered myself pro-choice based upon the absence of scientific evidence within the pro-life movement at the time. More so, if science had proven that life began at birth I would have had no foundation for an anti-abortion belief. Thankfully for the pro-life movement, science has reemphasized the movement’s argument that abortion takes the life of an unborn child. Today, the movement has realized that science is much more likely to reach an audience which is increasingly looking for demonstrable evidence from which to base their position on social issues; not just the church’s suggestion.

It’s worth mentioning that the internet also had a substantial effect by allowing me to better research fetal development and share information and ideas with others.When I began exploring the issue as a seventeen year old back in 2006, the internet allowed me to see the larger picture, unlike the tri-fold pamphlet provided by my Catholic church. The pamphlet provided me with no context or arguments from the opposition. Heck, I didn’t even know there was an opposition.

I am not sure why the issue ever captured my attention, but it evolved beyond into a passion. After a couple years of researching the issue I decided that I would adopt an anti-abortion position based on the scientifically accepted conclusion that conception was the formation of a unique and living member of the human species. This was done absent of religious arguments and by 2008 I was beginning to question a different position – Theism. That year I wrote a pro-life blog which turned out to become the catalyst for my pro-life activism. The MySpace blog [insert joke here] titled The American Holocaust, was my first attempt at arguing against abortion from a secular perspective. The amateurishly written blog received hundreds of comments and at times was the third most active blog on MySpace. At that moment I was convinced  that the incorporation of religion was unnecessary to make a point against abortion and instead allowed readers to view the issue as a scientific and moral obligation rather than just a Catholic issue. The internet had allowed me to understand the various ways the issue affected people, something I would have never understood within the walls of the Catholic church.

I am currently concluding the final chapters of God is Not Great by the late Atheist, Christopher Hitchens; a post-abortive father himself. Hitchens, a hero to many non-believers, also noticed the reality of the unborn human life. I would imagine it took a great deal of courage to advocate the value of the unborn human despite the overwhelming number of supporters whom he knew would quickly voice their disapproval. For unfortunate yet obvious reasons, theists were just as reluctant to commend him. Undoubtedly, Hitchens has taught many non-believers and believers to rethink their position on the issue for purely scientific reasons. Like myself and the thousands of other pro-life secularists, Hitchens recognized that science had demonstrably proven that life does exist before viability and therefore deserved proper acknowledgement from the pro-choice side.

“As a materialist, I think it has been demonstrated that an embryo is a separate body and entity, and not merely (as some really did used to argue) a growth on or in the female body.  There used to be feminists who would say that it was more like an appendix or even-this was seriously maintained-a tumor. That nonsense seems to have stopped.  Of the considerations that have stopped it, one is the fascinating and moving view provided by the sonogram, and another is the survival of ‘premature’ babies of feather-like weight, who have achieved ‘viability’ outside the womb. … The words ‘unborn child,’ even when used in a politicized manner, describe a material reality.”
-Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great (pp. 220-21)

It seems to me that the confusion many people have when I tell them I am a pro-life Atheist happens to originate from their perception that Atheism and pro-life activism are incompatible. This is a half-century old product of religion’s disproportionate obsession with the issue and the subsequent and illogical ‘We want to be everything you’re not!’ attitude of Atheists. The middle ground, a pro-life Atheist (or a pro-choice theist), doesn’t seem to suit either side. I think it is fair to call us the step-child of the pro-life movement.Arguing against abortion goes beyond the policies or teachings of any religious text. It is not an issue restricted only to the religious but rather an issue concerning human rights and therefore defies the labels of religion, political affiliation, race, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. If we can agree that abortion wrongfully takes the life of a living human being, then all other labels which define our individuality should be irrelevant to the issue at hand.
- A pro-life[r] Atheist 
  Patrick Ptomey


Anonymous said...

This is a nice way of saying I'm tired of being socially isolated by my christian neighbors and I want to be treated fairly by my own community without having to lie about my belief in god. Deal with it Patrick. Religious people are dumb enough to believe everything they're told by a poorly worded english translation of tangentially related middle-eastern religious traditions, they'll believe you when you say that you believe in god even if you don't. It's not worth the hassle.

No need to take up a ridiculous cause that assumes the intrinsic value of a zygote just so that people will start talking to you again.

Caroline said...

Stay strong, Patrick. Keep speaking up for the weak and vulnerable. The unborn who are in danger of abortion deserve the same opportunity to continue their lives outside of the womb as the rest of us were given. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a Catholic, I for one am quite happy to that there are atheists who share this cause as well. Sure, I don't see how the two are consistent, but hey, there's a lot about our belief systems that don't make sense to each other. Fight on, good sir. Don't let some of your more conceited fellow atheists get to you.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, you've been fooled. It's not a "embryonic development" issue. It's a issue of basic human rights. NO LIFE has the right to exist at the expense of another, the right to cause unwanted suffering of another life. PERIOD.

It is logically impossible to support a prohibition of abortion without admitting that women are not human, but are nothing more then state-mandated incubation machines that must give up their basic rights under threat of imprisonment or worse.

xalisae said...

lol, yeah. None of the Christians will even talk to us. This article was only picked up by LifeSite News. XD

There's intrinsic value to every living human being. I wonder how much someone's parents had to hate them to teach the that human life is worthless. :(

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your intellectual honesty, Patrick. You have taken the issue and separated it from a lot of the emotionalism that so many religious pro-lifers and pro-choicers infuse into the argument. As a follower of Jesus, I do have a different ideology than you do in how I view life, but I am thrilled to see that there are non-believers out there who have the courage to honestly approach this issue from a scientific view. Good work, Patrick. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

As SPL clearly proves by using SCIENCE and "pro life atheists", The policies of the VA Republicans in the general assembly are in support of the "universal values of life" and not "christian morality".

Now you know why women should be legislated into state-controlled vessels of reproduction.

(any woman who pretends to support women while also supporting VA republican anti-choice policy is a liar)

LN said...

"NO LIFE has the right to exist at the expense of another, the right to cause unwanted suffering of another life. PERIOD."

So if your existence causes me suffering (unwanted, of course, I am no masochist), you lose your right to life? Sweet, that was easy.

Anonymous said...

You are not a feminist if you are anti-choice. Period.

Anonymous said...

Uh oh. The infamous "Period." Now the statement is irrefutable.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this good piece.
I too am pro-life. Im also Catholic but I strongly discourage the notion that Christians simply take over the belief of their Churches. Authentic Christianity teaches us that we are created in the image and likeness of God, that we are rational and have absolute human dignity from conception until death and that Christ died for each human being that has ever walked this planet. I have always been pro-life, even before I became Catholic, but I was still in some kind of coma. It was like the Holy Spirit opened my eyes one day and showed me that there is a real genocide going on.. In prayer I realised things that I had never even asked God about. My faith connected the structures of reality, what was already-always there. Im part of pro-life movement in Europe. Most of us are Catholics, but the people we seek to influence are of all faiths including atheism. We seek to touch the hearts and conscience. All people have a conscience. I would say that the ethical thinking, and long philosophic history of Christian thinkers on this topic is worth studying. because lets face it.. the issue is not only about abortion but also about all the behaviours that lead up to the tragedy of abortion. Anyway, we don't use the faith to convince secular people not to have abotions, we appeal to explaining images of babies in the womb etc. I myself have read a great deal about post-abortion syndrom. I really just wanna thank you for this site! Its great. We are on the same team:) May you have great success. - Ina, Denmark

Anonymous said...

Atheism and prolife are not incompatible, as abortion is first a human rights violation. I consider the secular POV invaluable to the debate.

Life and Value said...

The question an atheist actually needs to answer–that a Christian does not–is, “What makes it wrong to kill someone or something?” The Christians have their Bible to tell them what right and wrong is. The atheist does not.

As an atheist, I’m not moved by the “If it’s a living organism with human DNA, we can’t kill it, because human DNA is special” argument. Human DNA is no more special than any other living creature’s DNA. What actually makes people worth protecting is a complicated answer. My philosophy professor proposed it to us like this: If or when we encounter alien life, how will we know if it’s okay to kill–as we kill mosquitoes, as we kill and eat corn–or not okay to kill?

The important characteristics of life that make it worth protecting, in my opinion, are the ability to feel pain (sentience), the ability to feel emotions, the ability to think, and self-awareness. Of course, these are present in non-humans, too, to some extent: cows feel pain, pigs feel emotion, dolphins show self-awareness, and so on. Grass does not. Fungus does not. Trees do not. Fetuses do not.

So I don’t support the (torturous) killing of animals with my money. I’m vegetarian. But I see no reason to protect a fetus or elevate its rights over that of the woman who is forced to carry it. We did away with forced labor when we did away with slavery. The fact that the fetus forces the woman while it is unaware does not diminish the woman’s right to defend herself against it.

For an atheist, death is not hell. Death is painless nonexistence. Of course, for a being that can fear its death, the threat of death is still torture. But for a being that cannot imagine or fear its death–for a fetus–death is little different from the undeveloped existence it currently has.

Thus it is: a fetus cannot think or feel. So how is it wrong to kill one?

(Latest science on fetal pain, by the way:

M said...

Honestly, I see no problem with an atheist being a prolifer. As a Christian, a Medicine student and a prolife activist, I deal quite often with lots of different people. I work side by side with people of different religious beliefs - or with no religious belief at all -, and I speak with pro-abortion people who also have different beliefs or have none.

I prefer a rather secular approachment than a religious approachment, but that is just a matter of personal taste. It does not mean that religion has no say on abortion (far from that, many awesome prolife groups are of religious inspiration), but since my goal is to reach as many people as possible, and given that those many people may not share my beliefs, I try to speak in a language that we all can share regardless our personal beliefs: Science.

Even if I had been a atheist, I would have ended being a prolife activist all the same, just because the same reason as you, Patrick: Science has long ago made its point. The very moment of conception marks the beginning of a unique human individual, whose life deserves just as much protection and care as our own lives.

Congratulations for your wonderful post, and always keep on with the awesome job.

Anonymous said...


Patrick you are not the only Pro-Life Atheist I live in Rocky River, Ohio a westside suburb of Cleveland and I am very Pro-Life so don't be discouraged especially by Fanatical Atheists who pray to the God of Political Correctness!

Chandler Klebs said...

I am always glad to find other pro-life atheists out there. I knew there had to be more of them than just Christopher Hitchens. He was the first one I discovered but there are many to be found on the internet.