Being Pro-Life is not About Imposing Religion
This week, newly elected House Republicans passed the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act at the start of the new legislative season. Passing 220-210, the bill aims to protect the lives of infants who are inadvertently born during late term abortions, with supports for such bills coming about following the Kermit Gosnell case in the late 2000s.
The bill, which received unanimous support from Republican legislators, was unanimously opposed by Democratic ones(one Democratic legislator voted against it), with many calling it an attack on women’s reproductive rights, and others accusing pro-life legislators of blatant dishonesty about the nature of abortion procedures.
One response in particular stands out, however. Representative Hillary Scholten had the following to say
“As a pro-choice Christian who chose life, this issue is so personal to me. I’m guided by passages like Jeremiah 1:5, which states, ‘I knew you before I formed you and placed you in your mother’s womb.’ It doesn’t say the government’s womb or the speaker’s womb, it says the mother’s womb. I believe life is precious, but I reject the idea that if I embrace the sanctity of life, I also must be forced to invite the federal government in to regulate it. My faith informs my actions but it doesn’t dictate the policy of an entire nation. We must protect families from unnecessary government intrusion into the most sacred and personal decisions of our lives and our children’s lives.”
Scholten is articulate, but mistaken. It’s worth noting the bill in question does nothing to restrict abortion, but instead works to ensure infants outside the womb won’t be left to die or be killed outright, which raises the question over exactly what it is legislators are finding objectionable.
Here’s the pro-life argument: It’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings. Elective abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being. Therefore, elective abortion is wrong.
Pro-lifers could very well be mistaken; we still need to explain the basis for our argument. However, Scholten is not showing how our argument fails. Instead, she is reframing the moral argument of pro-lifers as an inherently religious one, before going on to attack it as an imposition of a religious view on the rest of society.
The problems with Scholten’s argument become clear upon reflection. Why should anyone accept the premise that the pro-life argument is inherently religious in the first place? If an atheist or agnostic accepts the pro-life argument as both sound and valid, it seems reasonable to conclude they would remain an atheist or agnostic, which undermines the idea the pro-life position is inherently a religious one.
Second, Scholten’s remarks lead to some strange implications. Let’s suppose the bill was a law intended to curtail the killings of women in domestic violence incidents. Would Scholten seriously suggest that the federal government has no business legislating according to her views on the sanctity of life when it comes to protecting women from being killed by their husbands, even though domestic violence occurs in one of the most intimate contexts of adult life(dating and marriage)? A politician who stated their religion should have no say on the matter of voting to stop the killing of people outside the womb would find themselves booted from office as fast as bureaucratically possible. And yet, this is exactly the sort of thing Rep. Scholten is defending in her remarks when it comes to infants who were slated to be aborted just minutes earlier.
Third, while religious freedom is perhaps the most important freedom in America, it doesn’t follow that virtually anything under the guise of religion should be considered acceptable, especially when the issue regards killing someone. Americans have no issue whatsoever in prohibiting honor killings of young women, female circumcision, violent forced proselytizing, or human sacrifice, even though such practices can all be found in religions around the world. At a minimum, civil societies built on freedom for all will take steps to protect all from violence. It’s pretty hard to enjoy freedom when one is dead.
Fourth, Scholten is not exempt from her own argument. It might seem odd to say at first, but everyone in the abortion debate is assuming their view of metaphysical reality is correct. When a person says “Women have a fundamental right to abortion” they are assuming that women are a special type of being(human) that warrants special treatment based on a moral code outside of ourselves. This isn’t much different than what pro-life advocates are saying: That humans have intrinsic moral value in virtue of a shared humanity. As Scott Klusendorf points out, everyone does metaphysics in the abortion issue, so it’s unfair to dismiss what pro-lifers are saying offhand because we don’t like the metaphysical implications.
Accusing pro-lifers of imposing their religion on others isn’t a cogent argument; it’s a cop-out, a way to avoid having to deal with the charge abortion is the unjust killing of an innocent human being. It’s also intellectually dishonest. Even the staunchest pro-choice believer in the separation of church and state is supportive of laws prohibiting murder, regardless of the fact the Bible explicitly prohibits killing innocent people. In addition, no one seems to be bothered by Christians who explicitly cite their religion in their opposition to sex trafficking, and no one seems to call into question the legitimacy of laws prohibiting slavery such as the 13th Amendment, even though Abolitionists in the 19th century were largely religious and often appealed to religious teachings on the worth of human beings in the eyes of God. If that doesn’t produce a legal issue, then why oppose pro-life laws on the same ground, unless one is simply looking for a way to avoid dealing with the charge abortion is wrong? Why should abortion be any different?