Recently, several pro-choice MPs tried to insist that the abortion debate is over. Aspiring to be Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party, announced that all his MPs would have to vote for legal abortion. NDP MP Niki Ashton went further, putting forward a motion that would force Canadians to pay for other people’s abortions, not just in Canada but overseas as well. Both did so with the understanding that the debate is over and that opposition would be minimal. Yet despite calls to censor it, Canadians are still engaging in the abortion debate, and the “reopening” of the debate has revealed an ongoing flurry of attacks against religious faith.Read any online commentary on abortion or listen to any call-in shows, and you’ll hear a variation of comments like this one from Kristy (spelling mistakes are hers):
“I contend that those in the relgious corner are not educated on the matter and are spouting non-sensical religious beliefs like they’re fact. Let’s get this straight, religiion does not equal fact, it equals faith. When it comes to medical science and the laws of our country, let’s stick to facts.”[i]
Vliegende Hollander, commenting on a similar Globe and Mail story, goes further: “Careful. Sharia law and stoning of women that have an abortion can not be far away. Typical for neo Nazis…”[ii]Not only, then, are pro-lifers ignorant for “imposing” their religious views, they are downright evil.
This religious fear-mongering is commonplace in abortion advocacy. Consider Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, the leading abortion advocacy group in Canada. She writes: “The claims that embyros are persons with rights, and that women should be forced to have babies, are both based on narrow, sectarian religious beliefs. The anti-choice movement consists almost entirely of fundamentalist Protestant Christians or devout Roman Catholics who follow the Pope. These people wish to impose their private religious beliefs about abortion on the rest of us by law. By doing so, they deny and violate everyone’s freedom of religion.”[iii]
These abortion advocates however, confuse religion and moral truths. Pro-lifers aren’t seeking to indoctrinate Canadians to our religions through the law. Even if we were, we wouldn’t be able to agree amongst ourselves which religion to impose! Rather, we want the law to adhere to a moral truth that we believe everyone should live by. Why? Because the law already imposes moral ideas, chief of which is that human life has inherent value. We simply want to the law to protect all human beings. So rather than debating whether we should impose morals on others, we should be debating which morals we should impose. This is one of the reasons that the pro-life view cannot be dismissed as merely religious.
Pro-lifers’ argument against abortion consists of two essential observations: First, we argue that abortion kills a new human being. Second, we believe that it is morally wrong to kill human beings. Because both are true, we conclude that abortion is wrong.
Articulating these two elements of our argument shows why abortion advocates are confused. Our first observation, that abortion kills a human being, is a scientific not a moral or religious claim. It simply is an observation that every organism that reproduces sexually begins its existence when the male gamete, the sperm, fuses with the female gamete, the egg. When fertilization takes place, a brand new member of the species is created that is biologically distinct from either parent. This is also true of human beings. Biology then, not the Bible, tells us that a new human being begins its life at fertilization, and that abortion kills such a human being.[iv]
Abortion advocates can’t dismiss this as a religious or subjective claim. Rather, if they disagree, they need to show why these biological truths are factually wrong using better observations. As self-appointed experts on sexual rights, however, abortion advocates still seem to be having problems with this science (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gpssl_ZfPCM ).
It is the second element of the pro-life argument that delves into religion. When pro-lifers say the human child killed by abortion has equal worth to a born child, that isn’t a scientific argument; it is a moral argument. No experiment or biology textbook can prove this claim. Instead, the only way to argue for this position is from a moral point of view which is often informed by religion. Interestingly, most religious faiths do oppose abortion based on the idea that the pre-born child has inherent value.
But abortion advocates can’t dismiss this second part of our argument just because it is a moral argument. Why? Because the only way to argue against our position is by using moral arguments too!The pro-choice view also places a moral value on fetuses—they are not as valuable as their mothers—which they seek to impose on Canadians. For example, when Justin Trudeau insists that all his MPs should vote pro-choice, he isn’t taking a neutral stand. He is imposing his moral view of the fetus, that it is unworthy of legal protection, on his MPs and all Canadians.
Attempting to dismiss the value of the fetus, Joyce Arthur writes: “Regardless of whether a fetus is a human being or has rights, women will have abortions anyway, even if it means breaking the law or risking their lives. Even women who believe that abortion is murder have chosen to get abortions, and will continue to do so. That’s why we should leave the decision up to women’s moral conscience, and make sure that they are provided with safe, legal, accessible abortions.”[v] But in that statement alone, she’s made moral arguments which can’t be proven by science! For example, science cannot show us why we should respect human consciences; it can’t tell us that a mother’s life is worth more than a fetus’s life, and it definitely can’t tell us that we “should leave the decision” of abortion to a pregnant woman.
Remember, science can’t prove that born human beings have any value either. Biology cannot tell us that it is wrong to discriminate against people based on ability, skin colour, sexual orientation, or class. This is why it is just as “religious” to say that it is wrong to kill pre-born children as it is to say that it is wrong to kill born children. The only difference is that no one dismisses arguments against killing born children because it is “religious.” If we dismiss human rights as merely our own preference, then this means science also can’t tell us that women should be treated with the same dignity as men or that women should have the right to control their own bodies. In other words, when abortion advocates dismiss the pro-life argument for being “religious”, they would have to do the same to their own arguments about women’s rights.
Abortion advocates, in fact, can’t even argue that it is wrong for pro-lifers to “force” their religious or moral views on others without relying on their own moral arguments that they “force” on Canadians. Veteran abortion advocate,Katherine McDonald, argues: “Clearly, for women, the imposition of these ‘moral values’ constitutes the violation of women’s right to life, right to health and the right to reproductive self-determination, among other rights violations.”[vi] But McDonald’s argument assumes that it is wrong to impose one’s views on other people. Yet this view is her moral view that she seeks to impose on others by telling them not to interfere with access to abortion. Moreover, this view is a religious view held by pro-choice denominations, such as the United Church of Canada.[vii]
Now some abortion advocates are willing to concede that pre-born children are biologically human but not morally valuable. Ethicist Peter Singer argues that they should be valued when they reach a certain level of development, which is at a month after birth. But even then, Singer doesn’t rely on science. Science can tell him when a human being develops certain traits, but it cannot tell him that these traits have inherent value. The danger of this logic is that it means human rights no longer apply to humans, but to abilities which other humans value. When abortion advocates dismiss our arguments for being religious, they actually undermine the idea of universal human rights.
In this debate, then, pro-lifers can’t let abortion advocates get away with dismissing our arguments because they are “religious.” Abortion advocates can’t complain that we want to impose this moral view on others because even they seek to impose their morals, through the law, on other Canadians. Instead, they should be the ones to explain why their moral views trump the simple pro-life argument that human beings have human rights simply because they are human beings.