Pro-life or Pro-choice . . . how about Pro-decency?

The following is copied from the "Are there any pro-life athiests out there?" discussion. It's the first time I've staked out my position in writing and I'm pleased with it, so in the blog it goes!

I think we should recognize, from the get-go, that it's highly unlikely that anybody's stance on this controversial issue is going to change if they've already staked out a position (though it's been known to happen). The contentious and emotional aspects of this controversy are unavoidable when both sides of the argument have valid points. It's not surprising that so many proponents, both pro-life and pro-choice, become extremists with very little provocation at all.

Atheists, in general, tend to be progressive in their politics and social values: they want to be inclusive and nonjudgmental. Judging from what I've seen in the past, atheists are predominantly pro-choice. Theists, on the other hand, tend to be more influenced by religion and are more likely to side with pro-lifers.

All societies, in their laws, place high value on human life. The severest consequences are meted out for taking, or trying to take, human life. But, despite this, those same societies are not averse to taking life: war, capital punishment, even assassinations. I reflect society in that regard: I want to value human life as much as possible but recognize there are times when taking life is justified, even necessary. Cold-blooded murderers should be executed, Adolph Hitlers and Osama bin Ladens should be assassinated and wars should be fought to protect our way of life.

It all boils down to intent. To keep us honest, intent should align with results.

Unless you suffer some neurological disorder like autism or had a feral childhood (raised by jungle apes), you know what hurts you -- therefor, you know what hurts others. This knowledge is part of the human condition and comes with experience and empathy. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Golden Rule is an excellent foundation for morality, ethics and law. The bottom line is that we should not harm others unnecessarily. For most of our typical, usual, concerns, this simple rule is all we need as a moral guide.

But then there's those untypical, unusual, concerns. Like abortion.

Abortion is a complicated moral issue. One doesn't need to be religious to have strong feelings against abortion. There are even FEMALE atheists who are against abortion. I think that, realistically, NOBODY is FOR abortion . . . those who support abortion rights are really for CHOICE.

I understand all the worn-out arguments from both sides. My own position (where adult sex is concerned) is that, in this day and age, it is irresponsible for adults to have sex without contraception (condom, pill, whatever) if they don't want a baby. The kind of sex that leads to unwanted pregnancy takes 2 heterosexual partners, so contraception should be the concern of both partners. Abortion should also be the concern of both partners, although I understand that the woman makes the ultimate decision.

I said that abortion is a moral issue. And it is. But it's not a clear-cut moral issue. If capital punishment and war are not murder, can abortion be considered murder? Once the fetus is viable (20 to 24 weeks), I'd have to say yes.

But what about before viability? There are so many strong opinions about this, it's hard to be sure what to believe or who is right. But I think most people can agree that, unless the mother's life is at risk, it's too late to abort if the fetus is viable.

I believe it's important to uphold the value of human life as much as possible. Because abortions were once illegal, we know all the tragic stories that come with criminalizing abortion. If a woman really insists on an abortion, then it's a good thing it's legal. But it should only be legal for the first 19 weeks of gestation. With such a controversial matter, there's no way to please everybody. I, personally, draw the line at aborting a viable fetus. In this regard, my position agrees completely and wholeheartedly with abortion laws as they currently exist in the U.S.

Many question the route the Supreme Court took to its Roe vs. Wade decision. I don't know about that. But I do believe that their decision strikes the best and most reasonable balance between the pro-lfe and pro-choice camps. Fetal viability is the line they draw and I'm comfortable with that.

My moral sense tells me that, if I can't value human life absolutely, I need to value it as much as possible. Legal abortions before fetal viability gives ample time for a couple to decide what to do. But I can't, in good conscience, endorse abortion beyond the 19th week (viability) except to save the mother's life.

It's exceedingly difficult to write sound law that handles exceptional cases without diluting or negating the law itself. It's hard to understand how the decision to abort could reasonably be delayed beyond the 19th week. However, with millions of women in the U.S., such a scenario might arise. I'm all for individual consideration in such cases but I have no idea how it could be handled fairly and consistently.

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Comment by beautifully barren on July 17, 2009 at 1:29am
Free thinker I have to say that I just loved your comment "My moral sense tells me that if I can't value human life absolutely, I need to value it as much as possible". I join you in that place. Debating the issues of early abortion can become quickly heated simply because the 'grey' area of viability still exists. Until that area is clarified, the topic will evoke any range of opinions.

On the upside it is so fantastic to see atheists debate the issue at all. It simply underlines the fact that religiosity is not a prerequisite for moral rationale.
Comment by Atheist Exile on July 17, 2009 at 12:47am
Hi beautiful
ly barren,

Your post brought a smile to my face. It's wonderful when people weigh their options honestly and make their decisions based on earnest consideration.
Comment by beautifully barren on July 16, 2009 at 10:19pm
Hi free thinker - i'm a little new to nexus and I was looking for this thread in the forums - i now know its in blogs!!

Yes, I agree with the idea that late abortions should really only be performed in extreme cases - when the mother's safety is at stake. I guess there could also be cases where abortions are illegal in some area and this puts a woman in a difficult and potentially time-consuming situation - perhaps leading to a 'later than it should be' termination.

But surely late-term abortions are the exceptions in most cases.

I personally had an abortion a few years ago. Contraception failed me for the first time ever - and I immediately sought the quickest means of termination. I didnt hesitate and the medical abortion was performed at 5 weeks. I experienced no guilt (i did kick myself a little for the accident though) or regret and nor do I to this day. I love babies and should I choose to have one, I would of course not even consider this option.

Although I cant base everything on my experience, I can say that if I was unsure about my position, this may have caused me some grief, subsequent guilt or perhaps an 'unwanted child'.

So in my humble opinion, a sexually active female needs to actually take a position on this. She needs to make her decision for herself and be able to live guilt-free with it. Be that 'never' or 'maybe' and consider under what circumstances yes or no.
Comment by Atheist Exile on July 16, 2009 at 5:37pm
Hi beautifully barren,

I've never seen data detailing the reasons for late abortions. I'll have to Google it later, when I have more time. I'm sure there must be cases where medical reasons would necessitate late abortions. I'm also sure that, given the spectrum of possibilities, women or couples might procrastinate without a very good reason (such as apathy and lethargy related to drug abuse). I've even read of obese women who gave birth to healthy babies but never knew they were pregnant. It could also come to light in late stages that the fetus is malformed or otherwise abnormal.

It might well be that most late abortions have compelling (if not legal) reasons. If so, I certainly have no problem with it in those cases. My problem would be with late abortions due only to inappropriate and irresponsible decisions of the mother or couple. By the time late term rolls around, it's too late to terminate a healthy fetus except for the mother's safety (and, possibly, other compelling reasons). I can't see sacrificing the mother for the fetus. Neither can I see bringing a child into the world if that child would only suffer or could never experience the human condition because of severe mental or physical problems. There are no clear-cut ways to define what a compelling reason is. Life is rarely so simple.
Comment by beautifully barren on July 16, 2009 at 8:33am
I have a question that might seem somewhat silly but as I see it there are really 3 main veiws on this issue 1) you cannot ever have an abortion or 'pro-life', 2) you can have an abortion if there are serious medical reasons, and 3) you can choose to have an abortion early in your preganancy or 'pro-choice'. While we dont have to really take one or the other, what i dont get is the late abortion view. why? Since when did this become an issue? Are some women unsure of whether to abort - and leave it to the last minute?
Comment by Atheist Exile on July 16, 2009 at 8:04am
Hi Jason Spicer,

I agree that fetal life is tenuous. But a spontaneous abortion is worlds apart from a medical abortion. Human intervention is what abortion is all about.

I too, have moved from a pro-life to a pro-decency position. The issue is simply too complex to be sure of any stance until fetal viability. Once the fetus is viable outside the womb, I have no problem standing against abortion. I mean, really . . . once fetal viability is established, how does ANYBODY say, "Go ahead and abort"?

In fact, I believe that in some states, beginning with the 20th week, a second doctor is required to be on hand in case, during an abortion, the fetus is aborted alive. In this unlikely scenario, the second doctor is responsible (as best he can) for keeping the baby alive.
Comment by Atheist Exile on July 12, 2009 at 3:15am
Hi Jim C.,

Yes, decency is in the eye of the beholder. Many would deny abortion at all. Others would accept abortion at ANY stage of gestation. I don't know when life begins. But I know life is established (in modern societies) by the time of viability.

I don't really care about the pro-life or pro-choice camps. My position is independent of either. I'm simply saying that person-hood is undeniable by the time of fetal viability.

I could toe the line of either camp (pro-choice or pro-life) . . . but I don't agree with either. With valid concerns on both sides, I have to make my stand where there's no longer any ambiguity. Fetal viability allows no ambiguity. It's alive. It's human. It has human rights.
Comment by Atheist Exile on July 12, 2009 at 3:06am
Hi Howard,

I agree with much of what you wrote. It's ridiculous how quickly dialog turns rancorous between the pro-life and pro-choice camps. Nobody seems interested in understanding each other.

The pro-choice people think that the concerns of the mother override the concerns of the fetus. The pro-life people feel the opposite. Any suggestion of compromise is tantamount to capitulation. In truth, I find it difficult to find comfort in ANY stance. There are valid concerns and arguments on both sides.

It's truly a gut-wrencher. I've decided that the "when life begins" argument is too open to question. The point where person-hood is undeniable is when the fetus is viable outside the womb (albeit with modern medical support). A person in advanced stages of emphysema needs oxygen; a person with heart disease might need an artificial heart: would we them these life-support items? Of course not. Then why deny a premature baby life support?

I'm pro-choice but it needs to be a reasonable choice. I don't want mothers burdened with babies they don't want and I don't want babies killed because they're unwanted. When is a fetus a baby? Viability is the answer.
Comment by Jason Spicer on July 11, 2009 at 12:35am
Over the course of my late 20s and early 30s, I did actually change my position on abortion. Once upon a time, I believed that life begins at conception, since a completed set of new DNA was a clear dividing line. But then I learned that most fertilized eggs never turn into babies. Many of them fail to implant. Many of them spontaneously abort. Basically, a fertilized egg is just not that special or valuable. Why? Because they're a dime a dozen for most people. And for the planet as a whole, they're a dime a billion, give or take a few million. Fertilized eggs have not taken a significant amount of parental investment. If you lose something you don't even know you have, have you really lost anything? If nature doesn't think they're all that precious, why should we think differently?

So the question really becomes where is the demarcation between not-very-special rapidly-dividing lump of cells and very-special human baby? Well, it's a gray area. It's like asking when is somebody all grown up? When are they an adult? Like you, Free Thinker, I've come to the conclusion that in most cases, the dividing line should be somewhere around the time of viability outside the womb. Leave some margin for error. But the first trimester is clearly on one side of the line and the third trimester is clearly on the other, except in extraordinary cases.

My hope and prediction is that science and technology will ultimately get us out of the abortion debate. People will rarely get pregnant accidentally, they will know they are pregnant very early, and they will be able to terminate a pregnancy discreetly and inexpensively in consultation with their doctor. RU-486 is just the beginning of a future without abortion clinics or the protesters/terrorists that cluster around them.
Comment by Jim C. on July 10, 2009 at 3:23pm
Decency is in the eye of the beholder.

Perhaps if the so-called "pro-life" folks weren't the same kind of people who push for abstinence-only sex education, there wouldn't be such a need for a pro-choice movement.

How about a "pro-responsibility for your actions and be willing to deal with the positive and negative consequences" movement?



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