A Secular Case for Life

Is it possible to make a case against abortion, and more importantly, for the importance of valuing human life in all stages of development, that does not rely upon theological assumptions?

This is a question that has undoubtedly bothered many pro-lifers since the abortion debate became one of the political fault lines of the United States. I am not concerned here with objections to pro-life policies and legislation that rest upon a fallacious interpretation of the First Amendment, and which falsely conflate a separation of church and state with a separation of religion and politics – which, if taken literally, would disenfranchise religious people.

Rather I am concerned with an objection to the pro-life philosophical position, namely that which asserts that this position is either partially or wholly dependent upon theology. Or, as the less precise like to say, “religion” – though I believe secular religions such as humanism, feminism, and even versions of Christianity that have virtually been stripped of their theological content are often employed to justify abortion.

Of course there are many individual secular points against abortion, and attempts have been made to construct full secular arguments. Many of these points and attempts, however, focus upon the life in the womb of a mother, and whether or not it deserves the same protection under the law as born persons. While these arguments are foundational and necessary, they may not be sufficient. A more robust secular case against abortion will help the pro-life cause.

Thus, I propose adding to the secular case against abortion by focusing on what I call the subversiveness of abortion, and to recast the pro-life position as the pro-society position. What is subversion? It is an effort to undermine institutions from within, to uproot and overturn them. Abortion was peddled to a society in turmoil on the grounds that its illegality was causing greater harm than would its legality. But its effect has been to drastically undermine a set of social relationships that I call organic social bonds, and to justify their replacement with what I call artificial social bonds, both to be explained below.

This is not the place to address whether or not the forces that are responsible for legalizing abortion in the United States were conscious or not of the subversiveness of abortion. Briefly I will say that I think it is reasonable to assume that some of them were, and that this is why they pursued it. Others had intentions entirely unrelated to subversion, and were sincere enough in their approach, their rhetoric and their actions. For the time being, the subversiveness of abortion refers mostly to the act of abortion itself, and not to the men and women who promote it.

A secular argument can be difficult to make against abortion because it is tantamount to reducing the Ten Commandments to the Seven Commandments by eliminating the three that govern man’s relationship with God. Indeed, I do not believe – nor did the American founders believe – that a stable society can long exist if man cannot acknowledge a being higher than himself. The 20th century confirms that acknowledgment of God has always lead to more freedom, happiness, and prosperity than has resulted from the replacement of God with a dictator, or theology with ideology, or a balance of spiritual and temporal authority with totalitarianism.

That being said, however, society might plod along at a functional level even without acknowledging God, though it may not last much longer than did the Soviet Union. And it is unfortunate, but true, that many people in our society simply do not believe in God, or if they do, they erroneously believe that he has no place in politics. And yet as pro-lifers, we wish to bring abortion to an end now, rather than some future date when the First Amendment is properly interpreted and a subversive minority of secular radicals does not hold sway over the court system. This means, ultimately, that we must construct secular arguments against abortion.

Read the rest on my personal blog.

4 Responses to A Secular Case for Life

  1. Phillip says:

    Very interesting as always. I guess I see a secular argument as beginning with abortion as being fundamentally against justice. Then we begin to ask what is justice. There are those far better able to argue this but the simple answer seems to be that justice is rendering to another that which he is due. Is an innocent person due respect for their life and is it to be preserved intact? Yes, of course. Does a person deserve the basics to maintain that life? Yes.
    Now we begin to move beyond the basic principles. Is a fetus a human? For us yes. For basic biological and medical sciences yes also. Is it a person? Now we get into the problem of arguing that a fetus is in fact a person. For us again it is easy but for society in general it is to easy to argue against the fetus being a person. Thus we enter into the abuse of language to preserve the position that abortion is licit. The fetus is a clump of cells or a parasite or a part of the woman’s body. More fundamentally we can abuse language by claiming that the woman has a right to control her body. This is something that in justice must be rendered her by society or her basic rights,perhaps even her “right to life”, is violated.
    So it would seem these issues need to be addressed for a secular argument. First, the best argument that can be made that all humans are persons and all persons possess in justice a right to life. The second would be to address those who abuse language to expand rights talk in order to justify their position.

  2. Joe Hargrave says:

    I don’t disagree, Phillip – its just that we’ve been there and done that many times. That’s why I say such arguments are necessary but not sufficient (though they OUGHT to be sufficient).

    We have to highlight the social costs of abortion too.

  3. Phillip says:

    True enough. Though your work is very good I’m not sure it will be overly effective either. But again a good start if one there is. One possible good source for you is Fr. Spitzer’s book “Healing the Culture.” Might be a good source for thought.

  4. Gabriel Austin says:

    It was a clever move by the abortionists to claim that the question of abortion is a religious matter; and that the state should not interfere.

    With the same logic, one can claim that murder and theft and lying are religious matters, and that the state should not interfere. Let the strong conquer.

    Malthusians, Darwinians, Atheists will applaud this, [except as it applies to themselves]. It may be noted in passing that they are not exceptionally robust.

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