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Have you ever met anyone who identified themselves as con-life?

Didn’t think so.  Neither have I.

Everybody is pro-life.

But the term has taken on another meaning in our society.

It is a euphemism for anti-abortion, or even anti-contraception.

Usually it is espoused by religious folks who talk about the ‘sacredness’ of life.

But a growing number of nonreligious people identify themselves as ‘pro-life.’

In fact, there is an organization called Secular Pro-Life (SPL), a non-theistic anti-abortion group.  Their web site says that their mission is to expand their movement “beyond the cathedral walls.”

SPL members describe themselves as “pro-life for a reason” to distinguish themselves from those who base their position on religious faith.  They claim that “the science of life is in our favor.”

What science would that be?  They base their arguments on the following syllogism:

Major premise: A fetus is a human being.
Minor premise: All human beings are entitled to human rights.
Conclusion: Therefore fetuses are entitled to human rights.

A syllogism is only as good as its premises.  If one of them is wrong, the whole thing falls apart.  Let’s consider the major premise.  Is a fetus a human being?

Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) says, “All human beings are born free, and equal in dignity and rights.”  In other words, birth is what gives us our rights.  Nothing in the UDHR suggests or implies that the unborn fetus should have the same rights as independent person outside of the womb.

SPL literature quotes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which says, “Every child has the inherent right to life.”  When does a fetus become a child?  The statement from the UDHR quoted in the paragraph above would suggest that it happens at birth.

The United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women states that all women should have the right “to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children…”

In the case of abortion, those who claim the “inherent right to life” for the fetus are willing to deny the right of a woman to control her reproductive life.    But the UDHR resolves the conflict.  The child’s right to life begins at birth.

SPL and other anti-abortion groups make other pseudo-scientific claims about the physical and psychological consequences of abortion.  There are no reputable medical studies published that support these claims.  The National Cancer Institute has researched the alleged link between breast cancer and abortion and concluded that there is “no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk.”  Research on the psychological effects of abortion known as Post Abortion Stress Syndrome shows that it does not exist.  A New England Journal of Medicine study showed that women were no more likely to seek psychological counseling after an abortion than they were before.

Finally, there is the allegation that the fetus “feels pain” when it is aborted…a claim that is clearly intended to arouse an emotional response.  Is there any truth to it?  The Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynecology says there is no evidence that a fetus feels pain prior to 24 weeks.  Other studies suggest 29 or 30 weeks, or even longer.

But wait a minute!  When you put a worm on the fish hook, does the worm feel pain?  Does the fish feel pain when that hook is embedded in its mouth?  The answer to both is probably yes, but does anybody worry about that?  What about the cow in the abattoir who gets hit in the head with a sledgehammer?  Certainly the cow feels pain!

Neither the worm, the fish nor the cow is a person.  We don’t care if they feel pain.  So the whole pain argument comes back to the question:  When does a fetus become a person?  If it’s at birth, then whether it feels pain prior to birth is as irrelevant as it is for the worm, the fish or the cow.

Churches and other anti-abortion organizations are happy about the growth of organizations like SPL, claiming that pro-life is becoming America’s “new normal.”  A closer look at the numbers shows that while more Americans identify as pro-life, a substantial majority still think abortion should remain legal, and that number has remained relatively constant.  It seems there is one important difference between these secular “pro-lifers” and their religious counterparts:  They don’t try use government to try to impose their beliefs on others who do not share their views.

That as an encouraging trend, and I hope their influence in the “pro-life” movement grows.

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Bert Bigelow is a trained engineer who pursued a career in software design. Now retired, he enjoys writing short essays on many subjects but mainly focuses on politics and religion and the intersection...

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