Why It’s OK to #PraytoEndAbortion

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Now and then, #PraytoEndAbortion trends on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, most of the comments are unreservedly hostile. Among some of the printable tweets are:

Why do we always have to include religion?!”,

“Yes, please #PraytoEndAbortion. That way it will continue, like everything else anyone has ever used prayer to solve”,

“Religious, holier-than-thou, judgmental bigots: objectifying the subjective for 2000-odd years. Get out of your trances.”

The fury is a little puzzling. The tweets do not ask anyone to legislate to end abortion. They merely suggest that people pray that, one day, there will be no more abortions. Someone might believe that abortion is a necessary evil, but still pray that medical advances and provision for the poor will close abortion clinics one day. It seems that we cannot even suggest that abortion is an unpleasant, undesirable affair. Anything that offends the doctrine of the sovereign self is unspeakable:

How about praying that everyone in the world has the right and opportunity to decide what to do with their bodies?”

 That said, Saints and Sceptics recognises the humanity of the unborn child and its intrinsic right to life.  We believe that there are good non-religious grounds for affirming the unborn child’s right to life. Even a secular society should recognise the humanity of the unborn. All the information for the ongoing development of the human being is contained in the fertilised egg. In the right environment, the healthy embryo can do no other than grow to become a conscious human.By what moral right can we terminate that process?

Some contend that a child is not fully human until it has developed rationality or personality. Yet the newborn child new born child is less rational than a dog or a pig; are we to infer that it has less moral value? Furthermore human personality is inextricably linked to the human body. Our body shapes the way we experience the world and the way in which our characters are formed. So to destroy a human body in the earliest stages of its existence is to end a developing human personality and a human life.

Consider this thought experiment: imagine a strange and exotic virus ravaging a human’s nervous system, paralysing the limbs and leaving the subject with no conscious awareness. Cells in the higher brain cease to function properly; there is no response to external stimuli. Only those brain functions essential for life (respiration, heat-beat) continue. However, further suppose this disease will only last for a few hours. With nothing more than nine hour’s bed rest, the patient usually heals and makes a full recovery.

Presumably, no-one would deny that a human suffering the effects of this disease would lose their right to life. They would lose all conscious awareness and their capacity for rational thought, but not their human dignity. With a little patience and care, the potential of the human being will manifest itself once more. The person is on a path to full consciousness; they have all the capacities that give a human being inherent value. Now, change the thought experiment a little, and imagine the time it takes for recovery is nine weeks or nine months. Again, it seems we could not kill a human being simply because he is not conscious.

But the human embryo would also normally develop human capacities over nine months, so it also must be worthy of care and protection. It is a human being with a right to life. Peered at in a petri-dish, to the untrained eye the embryo just seems to be tissue, a collection of biological parts. But when we consider an embryo growing in a mother’s womb, we realise its true nature. Given time and care, it will develop the power to look out at the world, to reach out and experience sensation and emotion, to reflect on what it has experienced and to share all that it has thought and felt with others.

And suppose that we do not have rights until we become conscious and self-aware, or until we begin to think in a rational way. Or suppose that we can only obtain rights when other humans gain an emotional attachment to us. These views have absurd consequences: could we seriously suggest that a newborn child only obtains human dignity once it is accepted by its family? Furthermore, the doctrine of equal human worth is called into question if our rights depend on how far our capacities have developed. Some of us are more reflective and rational than others. And, if our rights depend on the degree of rationality or self-awareness that we have obtained, it would seem that some of us have a greater claim to fundamental human rights than others.

As for the sovereign self, Erika Bachiochi warns that this doctrine might not have been as helpful for feminism as many claim:

The feminist hope that liberalized abortion would usher in a new era in which women would enjoy sexual and reproductive autonomy akin to that enjoyed by men is simply illusory. While abortion has freed men further from the consequences of the potentially procreative sexual act, women must act affirmatively—and destructively—if they are to imitate male reproductive autonomy… It’s time for women to recognize that self-respect requires that they disentangle themselves from the culture’s current male-centered mode of sexuality.”

But isn’t all this talk of prayer dangerous when there is a pro-life political agenda? If we use religious convictions to motivate political action aren’t we are overriding the concerns of those citizens who do not share our religious convictions? They cannot consent to a religious law because they could never be convinced that it is rational. Secular rationality,surely, should appeal to reasons that everyone can agree on. No matter what else occurs, we must not impose our beliefs on others; so we must protect a democratic society from religious arguments. By excluding all religious agendas from the playing field we create room for a genuine consensus.

We should be suspicious of  such arguments.Atheistic secularism seeks something more than freedom of religion; its stated aim is freedom from religion. It tends strongly to the view that religious beliefs cannot be rationally justified. So it is convenient, to say the least, that secular theorists have developed such principled reasons for excluding all religious argument for the pubic square! The atheist need not even argue for the rational superiority of his worldview. He need merely point to the fact of religious pluralism, insist that it would be unfair to privilege one view over others and claim that a consensus is unlikely.

Yet atheistic secularism as a distinct worldview with substantive content and rules of conduct; and like any other worldview it stands in need of rational justification. For many secularists, atheism involves much more than the denial of theism: many atheists now strongly identify with naturalism. Naturalism contends that reality is composed only of forces and structures that can be described by science; it follows that the scientific method is the paradigm of rationality. It also reckons that human autonomy is the chief moral and political good; in the absence of transcendent values, humans must create their own significance. This can only be achieved when artists and authors have the freedom to express themselves.

So naturalism is a coherent set of ideas that aims to give a comprehensive account of reality, and that prescribes how we should act and live. That is all that it takes to be a worldview. But it is not at all obvious that naturalism is a rationally compelling worldview. It struggles to give an account of moral value, human significance, or even conscious experience and personal identity. Christian theism is a competing worldview (although there is much more to Christian faith than belief in a worldview). And it is crucial to realise that Christians can appeal to evidence to substantiate their worldview.The evidence from design, moral values and contingent existence ,and the evidence from the resurrection of Jesus Christ can all be employed to justify Christian theism’s core doctrines.

Now, given that atheistic secularism is a controversial worldview, and that Christian theism is a plausible worldview,  secularists should no longer pretend that they can act as non-partisan referees. Rather the arguments offered by each group, religious or non-religious, should be heard by all, and evaluated by all. If Christians are motivated to pray and argue that abortion should end, so be it. So long as we offer rational arguments for our beliefs we have as much right to be heard as anyone else. The snide remarks of secularists on Twitter should bother no-one. Simply remember Lucinda Creighton’s prescient warning about the corrosive power of group-think. 


It seems that if you do not succumb to the accepted view that abortion is a “liberal issue”, a “women’s rights issue”, a cornerstone of the “progressive agenda”, then you are deemed to be a backward, illiberal, Neanderthal fundamentalist who belongs to a different era. The distinct irony of this prevailing view, is that it is so illiberal in its intolerance of any alternative outlook.”

Just so.

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