I wrote this on my old blog a while ago, in light of the tragedy of Savita Halappanavar, who died in an Irish hospital after being denied an abortion. I’m going to assume that you know what happened, and if you didn’t, then you can click on the link above and read about it. I was having a discussion on Twitter with two friends of mine about abortion and I quickly realised that (shockingly) 140 characters was nowhere near enough space in which to make a proper argument.
Just to lay all my cards on the table from the beginning; I am an atheist who is pro-choice. I used to be a Catholic altar boy and was a theist until a few months ago, although I have been pro-choice for around four years now.
I decided that I should make two posts; the first about how I came to be pro-choice, and the second focussing purely on Savita Halappanavar and Irish abortion legislation (or lack thereof). Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree with me. Respectful, honest discussion is healthy and allows both sides to learn more about the other.
This is the first post (about why I am pro-choice), for part 2 (about my opinion on Savita and Irish law) click here.
I’d say I was around 17 when I first began to think about the abortion argument. It was around that time that I was struggling with my faith and it was one of the questions that drove me away from the Catholic Church in the end. I was unable to reconcile the Church’s view of abortion from what I believed to be the real world. Even though I felt disconnected from the Catholic Church at this time, I was still a theist. I was unsure as to whether or not I believed in the Christian God and in Jesus Christ, but I still definitely believed in a god of some sort (or even gods). I make this point because I want people to know that I became pro-choice before I was an atheist, and not the other way around. I will make a post about how I became an atheist at a later stage and I will link it here.
I read an awful lot of things online about both sides. It was not long before I began searching for information that I realised that it was much harder to find reliable material against the legalisation of abortion than it was in favour of it. When reading through some anti-abortion (I refuse to call the movement pro-life, simply because I feel that the terms “pro-life” and “pro-abortion” are loaded statements, as is “anti-choice”, although the latter does seem more accurate) material, I noticed a trend emerging; there was a tendency among anti-abortion writers to sensationalise (and in some cases, flat out lie about) stories to do with abortion. Many included pictures of “aborted babies at only 20 weeks old” which were actually children who were stillborn at the age of nine months.
It became clear very quickly that LifeSiteNews.com and LiveAction.org were simply propaganda sites, and no information from there could be trusted. In fact, this cut out a lot of the anti-abortion writing, as the most popular ones usually sourced from here. This sourcing was not always direct, as they may have quoted a piece based on something from one of these sites. One might say that obviously they are going to be biased, and that I would see the same thing on the pro-choice websites I found. The problem was that’s not what happened. Instead, I found pro-choice posts quoting statistics from the UN or the CIA or other sites which appeared to have no interest in which side was right, but merely in stating facts.
One thing that I have always believed is that if you have to lie in order to support your own view, then that view is probably not worth having. In this case, I became quite tired of sifting through piles upon piles of anti-abortion propaganda just to find one well-thought out argument. All of this would be irrelevant, however, if I believed the philosophical standpoint of the anti-abortion side. I began contemplating the fact that abortion is putting an end to a life. At first, this made me feel that, despite all the lies and the propaganda, the anti-abortion side was right.
I held this view for a few days until I brought it up with a pro-choice blogger online. They quickly pointed out to me that I have ended many lives in my lifetime. I kill spiders and other bugs, while the fact that I eat meat supports an industry literally built on ending lives, just not human ones. It then became a question of whether or not the foetus was a person.
Whether or not a foetus is human is not really debatable, but whether or not they are a person, i.e. a member of society on which we attach rights (such as the right to life), is up for debate, and essentially what the entire abortion debate is about. As I came around to the thinking that abortion should be allowed under exceptional circumstances, such as rape and incest, I found it increasingly more difficult to argue against abortion in other cases. Why was it okay to end the life of the foetus under certain conditions and not others?
It was around this time that I stumbled upon an argument that really hit home with me; no one can use another person’s body without that person’s consent, even if the first person needs the body of the second to survive. It is argued most elegantly in a piece by Judith Jarvis Thompson called “The Violinist”.
I know that some people will not agree with me on this issue. If I said I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind, I would be lying. But I am trying to discuss the issue in the plainest and most straight-forward way I know how; by laying all my cards on the table. Whether or not you agree with me, I hope you can appreciate that my position is based on hours upon hours of research and discussion.
Like I said at the beginning, if anyone disagrees with anything I have said here, feel free to let me know and I will try to defend my views, so long as you remain respectful and open to debate. I will not engage with anyone who I do not think is following these very simple rules.