A Conversation with a Pro-Lifer
Today I attended Party in the Plaza, a celebration of choice. This event is also a counter protest of the Jericho March, an annual anti-choice march held on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. It was a cold, windy January day outside of the Building for Women. It was also Monday at noon, which diminished our numbers. About an hour into the pro-choice protest, an anti-choice fellow who I will call Jim- approached me for a debate. I don’t often debate the other side. It is absolutely of no value, since we are so opposite in world views. But, Jim was kind of annoying. He had already harassed three people in the group. He basically told “S” that she was going to go to hell. Even as she danced and tried to ignore him, he shamed her for having fun and making light of the serious nature of abortion. He also engaged in conversation with two people who very clearly said they did not wish to debate and did not consent to debating. He actually ignored the word “consent”! I was quietly appalled that he talked over them, ignored their wishes, and coaxed them into talking- even when they made it very clear they had no interest or desire to engage. The blatant male entitlement was astonishing. Eventually, he moved over to me. I engaged, but I thought it might be a way to sharpen my debate skills and uncover some of my rhetorical weaknesses. Here is a summary of how it went:
Jim: I just want to ask you why you are here. When you see this innocent life, aren’t you bothered? (Jim is holding a sign of a mangled fetus that looks to be late term- perhaps eight or nine months). H. Innocence is a social construct. I am here because I support adult women. I am here because I care about the life that already exists in society. The poor, people of color, women, those who are bred to die in our imperialist wars, the mass incarcerated…
Jim: Good, I also care about those things. But what about the unborn? The little ones who no one speaks for?
H. You are here for them.
Jim: You know, a fetus has a heartbeat at six weeks. (Not sure if this is the number of weeks he stated).
H. Cows and frogs have heartbeats. Does a heartbeat offer special rights?
J. Those are animals.
H. Humans are animals.
J. Humans are mammals but they are not animals.
J. Humans are different because they are made in God’s image.
H. I don’t believe in God. Do you have an argument which does not invoke God?
J. Even if you don’t believe in God, God believes in you. God puts morality in our hearts, which is how we know right and wrong. (Provides examples of morality which I am not sure are culturally universal, but I don’t argue.)
H. The ability to say abortion is wrong requires specific knowledge of how reproduction works. In Biblical times, people were pretty clueless of how reproduction works, which has continued until modern times. Until the 1800s, people still believed that women contributed nothing to the pregnancy and that all genetic material came from men. Fallopian tubes were not discovered until the 1600s. Ova not until the microscope. (S. chimes in that scientists believed in homuculus- or tiny humans in semen.) This is why the Catholic church believed in delayed ensoulment in the 1600s and really didn’t come out against abortion until the 1800s (when the science of reproduction was understood). <Side note, I don’t like to use religious arguments because you can’t out-Christian a Christian…but, whatever>.
J. No, God knew how reproduction worked and even if the specifics were not known to man, God knew that it was immoral. (Uses the story of Onan masturbating as an example).
H. I don’t think that is a good example of God knowing how reproduction works.
J. Have you heard of the Holocaust (I nod my head)? Abortion is like the holocaust since it specifically targets a group of people, marking them for death. I am sure that you have heard of the Nazis and what they did to the Jews.
H. Yes, the Holocaust was terrible, which is why we must fight fascism. We must be vigilant against far right movements and aware that they often align themselves with religious institutions. (He was trying to compare abortion to genocide and ageism, which I didn’t specifically address).
J. There have been six million innocent lives lost to abortion.
H. To tell you the truth, I don’t care if it is a billion. I believe that abortion is a fundamental right of women and essential for their full participation in society. I don’t believe that anyone should be forced to be pregnant. I personally never want to be pregnant and can’t imagine gestating a child just to appeal to someone’s morality based upon a several thousand year old religion.
J. You are passionate about the rights of women, but what about unborn women? H. A fetus is dependent upon women for life. The rights of women supersede any rights of the unborn.
J. What about the sanctity of life?
H. Many things are alive, but do not have rights. We do not offer rights to the grass. I mean, I would like it if people had gardens instead of lawns, but I am not going to legislate that people can’t mow (I was purposefully being a bit sacrilegious comparing fetuses to grass).
J. Let me ask you this. Have you ever held a baby? Do you have any nephews or nieces?
H. Yes, I have held a baby.
J. And how did you feel looking into that baby’s cute little face?
H. I felt that babies cry and poop a lot. Babies have a lot of needs. (While many pro-choice people love babies and have children, I am really unmoved by babies).
J. Didn’t you feel that they were so innocent and pure?
H. No, not really.
J. How about murder, are you against murder?
H. (I pause to think and garble something about self defense, but really don’t want to share my philosophy on the morality or immorality of violence in the context of capitalism).
J. If someone murdered your friends, you would be upset- right?
H. Yes, I would be upset.
J. What about abortion, which is murder?
H. I really believe that abortion is fundamental to the rights of women and our ability to be full and equal members of society. I believe that our equality and participation in society trumps the interests of fetuses. I don’t want to be a parent or forced to be pregnant.
J. You shouldn’t be a parent. S. chimed in that it wasn’t a nice thing to say.
H. No, I really shouldn’t. No one should have a child if they don’t want to have one.
J. I agree.
H. At the end of the day, there is nothing you will say that will change my mind. And, there is nothing I will say that will change yours. We have very different world views. There are other people on my side (pro-choice), some of them are religious. But, I am an atheist. I think it is better to focus on common issues. For instance, there have been pro-life people in the anti-war movement. There are pro-life people who work against the death penalty. I have worked perfectly well with them on these other issues. (I also wanted to add that I am a Marxist, but didn’t want to open that can of worms).
J. No one is actually an atheist, since this requires faith.
H. (This is actually true and leads to a complicated argument). Yes, that is actually correct. The existence of God can not be absolutely discounted. In the same way, we can never prove that there are no purple pandas on the sun. However, the likelihood of purple pandas on the sun is so low that for all practical purposes I am a purple panda atheist.
J. You are actually agnostic.
H. When I say that I am an atheist, it means that I don’t believe there is evidence that would lead me to believe in God as defined by human societies. (What is God? How would a God be operationalized? How would a God be measured? But anyway…thanks for telling me what I am…)
J. Where does life come from? Life is so complex that evolutionary science can’t explain…
H. Evolutionary scientists don’t try to answer where life began. Their main concern is how life changes over time. There may never be complete answers to how life began or the complexities of the universe, but that doesn’t mean that God exists. (As a trend, throughout history when something is unknown God is used to fill in the blank. What causes rainbows? God. What causes the sun to rise? God. What causes the rain? God. but with scientific knowledge, the pool of unknowns begins to shrink and God fills in the blank less. So now, we are left with fewer questions such as- where did life come from?)
J. No, you are wrong! Evolutionary scientists care where life began and had a conference wherein several top scientists concluded that God must exist. (There were some specifics about this conference, but I don’t remember these details. I felt that this was mansplaining, since evolutionary scientists don’t specifically study the origin of life. Some geologists, paleontologists, chemists, astronomers, etc. may work on this question, but it is not specifically a question of evolutionary biology). The truth is that God made all of us and you are part of his perfect creation.
H. I do know that there have been five extinction events and that over 95% of the life on earth that ever lived has gone extinct. (Correction, 99.9% of all life has gone extinct). I think humans are here for a short time and we should just do our best to live well and treat each other well, since one day we will be like the trilobites.
J. I don’t know what made you this way, but I was once a rebel too. I am going to pray for you tonight.
I don’t think I was on my A-game with the argument. In the end, I was tired. Debating is tiring! I don’t like to debate, since I don’t want the other side to feel that I am the voice of the pro-choice movement. The pro-choice movement is diverse. Many of those involved are religious. Many are mothers who love babies and children. I feel that I don’t represent the movement well since I am a stubborn atheist with unconventional morality. I do feel somewhat insulted when religious people ask me what made me this way? I was never angry at God. I never rebelled against God. My faith simply changed. It passed briefly into a deep spirituality of scientific pantheism until it naturally became atheism. Spirituality was the training wheels to my atheism. Becoming a Marxist also aided that process. While I am not angry that God, I am angry with the pro-life movement. I am angry that they shame people who seek abortions. I am angry that they seek to control sexuality. I am mad that they seem to care more about “innocent” babies than grown women or that they pit “innocence” against the sin and guilt of women whom they fault for their poor choices. I am unapologetically pro-choice. In fact, I am pro-abortion because I feel that it is health care. I don’t place moral value on a dental visit or cancer treatment. Abortion is one facet of reproductive health. There is too much shame, silence, and stigma for me to back down from that position. This is a fight that I will continue in the years to come. I hope one day we advance as a society so that abortion is not looked at as a moral issue. I hope one day it is not a controversy, but a widely available service that long ago was accepted as vital to gender autonomy and equality.
Photo from last year’s event