Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Is abortion a religious issue?

Nancy Northup, president of the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights, recently said: "The enduring [abortion] divide represents the reality that there are fundamental religious differences on the issue of abortion that do not exist on, say, campaign finance or even on health care." (HT: Jill Stanek)

Is abortion a religious issue? Not really. Here's what the debate is really about, from the December 2008 issue of MCCL News.
Our opponents commonly dismiss the pro-life position as a "religious belief" that should not be expressed in public policy. Does this criticism carry much weight?

No. Though many advocates on both sides (e.g., myself, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice) have religious ideas and motivations that inform their views, abortion and embryo research are not particularly religious issues. Let me explain.

There are two overriding questions to ask when we assess the ethics of these practices. First, a scientific question: Is the embryo/unborn a human being? Second, a moral question: If so, how should we treat him or her?

Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who supports abortion on demand, said during the presidential campaign that his view that "life begins at the moment of conception" is "religiously based" and "a matter of faith." But the biological facts of conception are not a religious matter.

As Dr. Maureen L. Condic concludes in a recently published White Paper entitled "When Does Human Life Begin? A Scientific Perspective":

"The scientific evidence supports the conclusion that a zygote is a human organism and that the life of a new human being commences at a scientifically well defined 'moment of conception.' This conclusion is objective, consistent with the factual evidence, and independent of any specific ethical, moral, political, or religious view of human life or of human embryos."

Indeed, the debate is not about the science—we know, as a matter of fact, that abortion and embryo-destructive research kill living members of the human species. Rather, the controversy is really over the second question: How should we treat these young human beings? May we kill them for our convenience or possible benefit? This is a human rights question, and how we answer it reflects our view of human value and dignity.

One side contends that every member of the human family—young, old, big and small—is valuable and deserving of protection as a matter of basic justice; the other side argues that some humans qualify for moral respect and protection (usually by virtue of certain functions or acquired properties) and other humans do not.

That is the crux of the issue. Like many important public policy debates, religion may be a factor in the opinions of those involved, but it need not be. And one way or the other, the government cannot help but take a stand: abortion and embryo-destructive research are either permissible or impermissible. Either unborn humans have rights that society ought to respect, or they don’t.

Attempting to disqualify one position (pro-life) from public consideration—by branding it "religious"—is arbitrary and intellectually dishonest. It’s a fallacious and unfair tactic, and to win this debate, pro-life advocates must not stand for it.