As mentioned in Rending the Tent: A Statement from The Secular Woman Community, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist published a piece by Kristine Kruszelnicki of Pro-Life Humanists without comment. Secular Woman offered to be interviewed by Mehta to allow his readers a different perspective on the human rights of women. Mehta initially refused to include a rebuttal or balance to his guest blog due to an admitted misunderstanding on his part.
Mehta then invited a rebuttal of the previous post. Our submission was rejected by Mehta, since, apparently, it didn’t fulfill his requirement that we engage in debate.
Mehta set the table with anti-choice, anti-woman rhetoric, then dictated the exact terms under which responses were allowed. We respect Mehta’s absolute right to determine the content of his blog. We just question his decisions and what it means for the inclusion of women, feminists, and progressives in the atheist community. We have to wonder why Mehta gives greater voice to those he “disagrees” with than to those he states he fundamentally agrees with as he has repeatedly purported to be pro-choice.
Without an opportunity for explanation, the ProChoiceisProLife voice is diminished in comparison to the pseudoscientific, long-debunked falsehoods, and emotional arguments presented as reasoned and reasonable positions on Mehta’s blog.
Mehta chose to share an anti-abortion post with his audience. He chose not to share this one.
We at Secular Woman appreciate Hemant reaching out and clearing up the miscommunication over whether he was willing to host a pro-choice position on his blog. His apparent refusal was all the more alarming because it was unexpected, and we’re happy to see that part of this matter be resolved so easily.
Hemant asked for “A) a rebuttal to the specific things Kristine wrote about and B) the facts/data behind why being pro-choice makes sense”. While we understand why either of these might be considered the appropriate response to publishing a poorly reasoned, “pro-life” argument without comment, we feel those are not what the atheist community most needs right now. PZ Myers and Brianne Bilyeu have ably addressed the pseudoscience and non sequiturs of the original post. Avicenna has dealt with the humanitarian cost of “pro-life” stances. Commenters on the original post and across the atheist internet have made the argument that the bodily autonomy of people with a uterus does not disappear when that uterus is filled, the argument on which current legal rights are based, and they’ve done it repeatedly and well.
There is no need for Secular Woman to repeat the work of others. Instead, we would add our voices to those saying that playing at debate for the sake of debate on this matter is disrespectful to those nonbelievers (and believers) who face the possibility of unwanted pregnancy. Moreover, it adds to the voluminous threats to health and liberty they already face.
There is nothing that becomes new and fresh about the pseudoscience used to place unnecessary restrictions on abortion when the person using that pseudoscience is not religious. Nor is there anything suddenly newsworthy about the philosophical and emotional sleights of hand that confuse “person” with “human”, “fetus” with “baby”, or ending life with “murder” because they don’t come from a religious conservative. Using straw third-trimester “recreational” abortions to limit abortions well prior to fetal viability is a tactic decades old. Talking about the purported rights of a zygote, embryo, or fetus while treating the person gestating it as a uterus without rights is far older, as is the suggestion that women are not capable of understanding the ethical implications of their reproductive decisions.
These flaws in anti-abortion arguments have been documented and countered for as long as the arguments have been used. Tacking “secular” onto their description does nothing to make the arguments more valid or more worthy of being treated uncritically. We see no trend toward giving global warming denialists space to uncritically present their pseudoscience and poor argumentation simply because they aren’t all motivated by religion. We see no reason to do so with abortion.
In fact, we see compelling and immediate reasons not to. When we say we refuse to have a debate on the issue of abortion, this is only partly because the arguments of one side are so poor. We also refuse to dignify with the word “debate” those that are waging an assault on those who may become pregnant.
What do we mean when we say they’re waging an assault? We mean:
- Emotionally abusive, intimidating “protests” outside health clinics that offer abortion.
- Bombings of abortion clinics and murder of abortion providers.
- Legislation facilitating the intimidation and harassment of doctors who provide abortions.
- Legislation mandating waiting periods for abortion, increasing the cost of abortions, including putting employment at risk, and delaying abortions, making them potentially less safe.
- Legislation preventing both public health care and private health insurance from covering the cost of abortion, requiring women to wait until they are able to fund their abortions individually.
- Unnecessary and often impossible regulation of abortion clinics, forcing women to travel further to receive their medical care.
- Legislation banning abortion well before fetal viability, before many people are aware they are pregnant and in clear violation of legal precedent.
- Coordinated legislation mandating invasive medical procedures even when not medically necessary.
- Legislation mandating that doctors provide misinformation about the health risks of abortion before performing the procedure.
- Statements that incorrectly conflate pregnancy with consent to sexual activity, making the already difficult task of prosecuting rape even harder.
- Attempts by legislators and private organizations to defund organizations that provide abortion as part of a raft of sexual health services, leaving fewer options for the poor.
- Prosecution for murder of people who experience miscarriage or stillbirth after drug exposure or even suicide.
This is not a comprehensive list. Access to ethical medical care, bodily autonomy, and basic security are under a broad and constant assault. In this environment, we find it irresponsible and unethical to provide a platform for anything but the best available information and reasoning on the realities and ethics of abortion. Whatever one’s intended purpose, doing anything less puts people’s health, happiness, and their very lives on the line.
This is true wherever debates on abortion are hosted, but there are additional reasons to be clear and careful in one’s treatment of the topic of abortion in atheist, activist spaces. Despite some recent claims to the contrary, abortion rights have long been an area of atheist activism. Atheist groups have recognized the theocratic nature of the anti-choice movement, whether anti-choice organizations have explicitly called upon gods in their reasoning or attempted to hide their unconstitutional interest behind the pseudoscience and bad arguments adopted by the secular “pro-life” organizations. These groups, when crafting public policy positions, have rightly opposed the theocratic interference in our lawmaking.
This tradition has been one of the ways in which the U.S. atheist movement has made a clear break with the Christian culture in which it exists. As such, it has also been one of the few ways in which the atheist movement has staunchly stood by the interests of the women in this movement. Despite a history of erasing our past contributions and questioning our current worth, atheist women have not needed to worry that the movement to which they contribute was working against their interest in this regard. They have not had to take time out of their atheist activism to fight a threat to their rights in their own back yard.
Changing this now, either through planned action or reckless inattention, would be a serious setback for a movement that has gone through so much pain over the last few years in an attempt to become more welcoming to women. It would lead to additional turmoil, generate more bad press, and alienate the overwhelming majority of U.S. atheists who support legal abortion. For what? To provide a boost to pseudoscience and poor reasoning?
We at Secular Woman consider this a clear and easy choice. It is already the mission of most atheist activists to help others live lives based in the world’s realities. There is no reason to abandon that mission when the topic is abortion.