Home » Internet Infidels » Newsletter Archives

Newsletter Archives

The monthly newsletter of the Internet Infidels


January 1999, Vol. 4, No. 1

The monthly newsletter of the Internet Infidels

In this issue:


the wire
Mike Koller wires you into news affecting freethinkers everywhere. Get wired.

What's New on the Secular Web?

The Internet Infidels have a new mailing address. We will graciously receive your letters, suggestions, and donations at 7437 S. Eastern #302, Las Vegas, NV 89123, USA.
To learn more about supporting the Secular Web, point your browser to <URL:https://infidels.org/infidels/support.html>.


Upcoming Events

  • Tabash-Craig Debate, "Secular Humanism vs. Christianity: Which One is True?" February 8, 1999, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California, USA


Book of the Month

ImageUnweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder

By Richard Dawkins

Did Newton "unweave the rainbow" by reducing it to its prismatic colors, as Keats contended? Did he, in other words, diminish beauty? Far from it, says Dawkins--Newton's unweaving is the key too much of modern astronomy and to the breathtaking poetry of modern cosmology. Mysteries don't lose their poetry because they are solved: the solution often is more beautiful than the puzzle, uncovering deeper mystery. (The Keats who spoke of "unweaving the rainbow" was a very young man, Dawkins reminds us.)

With the wit, insight, and spellbinding prose that have made his books worldwide bestsellers, Dawkins addresses the most important and compelling topics in modern science, from astronomy and genetics to language and virtual reality, and combines them in a landmark statement of the human appetite for wonder.

This is the book that Richard Dawkins was meant to write: a brilliant assessment of what science is (and what it isn't), a tribute to science "not because it is useful (though it is), but because it is uplifting, in the same way as the best poetry is uplifting."


Web Scan

Helping you to sip from the information firehose

As we continue the countdown to Armageddon, when the Antichrist emerges and we infidels finally get our deserved comeuppance (just as Nostradamus predicted), mathew reminds us to party like it's 1999 at <URL:https://infidels.org/infidels/web.scan/1999/scan01.html>. Backwards "Nostradamus" spells "sudam art son" or Saddam the son of Satan, get it?


Grand Opening of the Bookstore's Fantasy and Science Fiction Section!

rocket2.gif (9490 bytes)

Many atheists/agnostics/freethinkers are fantasy and science fiction fans. In fact, many of us took our first steps towards nonbelief after our minds were opened by the works of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. A number of fantasy and science fiction writers are nontheists. Now the Secular Web bookstore has a new Fantasy and Science Fiction Section to bring them to you! Our Fantasy and Science Fiction Section, located at <URL:https://infidels.org/infidels/products/books/non-theists/fsf/fsf.html>, will bring to you the works of all the atheist/agnostic/freethinker writers of Fantasy and Science Fiction that we can find.

The writers on hand for the Grand Opening are Isaac Asimov (20 books), Iain Banks (21 books), Greg Bear (25 books), Arthur C. Clarke (26 books), Harlan Ellison (20 books), Stanislaw Lem (17 books), and H. P. Lovecraft (20 books). We know there are many other authors out there that are non-theists. If you know of any, please send an email to Internet Infidel and F&SF guru Jeff Lucas with "F&SF" in the subject line.


Upcoming Debate

Theodore Drange, professor of philosophy at West Virginia University and author of Nonbelief and Evil: Two Arguments for the Nonexistence of God (Buffalo: Prometheus 1998), will debate Doug Wilson over the Internet. Wilson is the editor of Credenda/Agenda and has also debated Skeptical Review editor Farrell Till. The topic for the debate is, "The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of the Christian God vs. the Arguments from Nonbelief and Confusion for the Nonexistence of that God."

As of this writing the debate contract has not yet been signed by either debater. However, both debaters stated over e-mail that they found the terms of the debate acceptable. Under the terms of the debate agreement, both the Secular Web and another web site (of Wilson's choosing) will have permission to publish the entire debate. Opening statements will be due February 1st, 1999. Successive statements will be due on the first of each month, every month, through June, for a total of five statements from each debater in the debate. A special feature of the debate format will be that all statements will be the same length: 15K of plaintext, including footnotes.


Focus: Reproductive Freedom

Reproductive Rights
A Chronology

In Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment protects against intrusions into "the privacies of life."


Charles Warren and Louis Brandeis write influential paper, "The Right to Privacy" published in Harvard Law Review.


Justice Brandeis writes his famous dissent in Olmstead v. United States, 227 U.S. 438, interpreting the Fourth Amendment broadly to conclude that all persons have a fundamental right to privacy.


Justice Douglas, writing for the majority in Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, struck down a ban on the use of contraceptives stating that we have "a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights" and that to interfere with the private lives of married couples is "repulsive to the notion of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship."


In the landmark case Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, the Supreme Court found that a woman had a fundamental right of privacy and autonomous control over her own body.


In Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 109 S.Ct. 3040, the Court weakened the Roe decision by making it possible to impose restrictions on reproductive rights so that the state can restrict abortions so long as the restriction does not impose an "undue burden" on a woman's right of privacy.


The Court continued to uphold the fundamental right of autonomy as outlined in Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 112 S.Ct. 2791; however, restrictions imposed since Webster make it harder for a woman to exercise that right.

Do you have something to say about all of this? Send your thoughtful, concise, and appropriate remarks to Feedback no later than Jan. 30th. We will publish your letters on the feedback page.

Can a freethinker oppose a woman's right to choose? That is, given the arguments for and against the right of autonomy, does a freethinker have an intellectual obligation to oppose a woman's choice to abort a fetus? Two commentators take up this question below. Christopher A. Stafford presents a pro-life argument and Janet Brazill writes a pro-choice rebuttal. The issue of reproductive rights is an emotional one so perhaps it is fruitful to survey briefly the history of privacy rights.

Citizens are believed to possess certain kinds of basic human rights. The U.S. Bill of Rights contains ideas of liberty based on negative rights, or the freedom not to be hindered from engaging in certain human activities. For instance, the right to peaceably assemble, worship or not worship as one chooses, or to speak freely, are considered negative rights because no one can hinder another from engaging in such activities. In the U.S., a woman's right to choose what to do with her body is based on privacy rights granted under the Fourth Amendment, which is extended to cover state laws by the Fourteenth Amendment. Critics hold that the rights of the "unborn"-the potential life in the womb-outweighs a woman's autonomous right of privacy. If it is granted that a woman has a right to autonomy, then the state cannot compel her to act against her will. On the other hand, if the rights of the potential life in the womb outweigh a woman's right to autonomy, then the state is able to encroach upon reproductive rights. Those who are pro-life believe that the potential life in the womb outweighs a woman's reproductive rights. Those who are pro-choice maintain that a woman's right to autonomy extends to her private life and the decisions she makes with respect to her body, at a minimum during the earliest stages of the growth of the potential life in her womb.

This issue's focus is on the pro-life and pro-choice debate. It is incumbent upon each of us to make an informed decision in answer to the question of whether a freethinker can oppose or support a woman's right to choose.

Editorial Note: The Internet Infidels endorse neither position, providing an appropriate forum solely for the purpose of stimulating meaningful discussion and debate.


Christopher A. Stafford

Since the Supreme Court legalized abortion over 25 years ago, the heated debate between the pro-life and pro-choice positions has been unceasing. Due to clinic violence and the recent re-sparking of the argument by partial-birth abortions, the debate shows little sign of waning. However heated or passionate the debate, many in the freethought community dismiss the pro-life position as something akin to the Ku Klux Klan or other discriminatory hate groups.

Unfortunately, the pro-life position has been tainted by the violent actions of extremist individuals (actions which I am by no means condoning). In the meantime, the members of the pro-choice movement have been able to come across as champions of logic and human rights. I intend to show that they are neither.

For the freethinking community in particular, the issue of reproductive rights can become muddled. The reason for this is that most pro-lifers are religious, so the most common arguments for the pro-life position are religious in tone and content. They are therefore easy to dismiss. In fact, some have conjectured that no argument can be made against abortion without making an appeal to religion. This, however, is exactly what I intend to do: form a case for the pro-life position using only logic and empirical data. I ask only that if you are currently pro-choice, you re-examine your position with an open mind. I hope to present an argument for being pro-life in a way never done before, and I hope you will find it thought-provoking.

In the course of this examination, I will make only one assumption: that the murder of a human being is immoral. That point can be agreed upon by all who read this. If it were not immoral, our structure as a society would soon collapse. In order to survive collectively, murder must not be permitted. Therefore, it is logically immoral, as it damages our ability to evolve as a society. With that sole assumption, I will make my case.

But is abortion murder? This is the issue at hand, and it is a very fair question. For a killing to be considered a "murder," the victim must be a human being. Is it fair to categorize a one- or two-day old zygote as human, with all the rights of an adult (or even all the rights of an infant)? This question can be reduced to: What defines a human being? In other words, what makes humans "human"? The Funk and Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary defines "human" as "having the nature or attributes of a man." Humans can be defined by their distinguishing characteristics as a race, just as any other animal. These characteristics ought to be evident in every member of the race. We could look at the superficial characteristics common to all humans, but it would be more effective to find the source of all these superficial characteristics in order to obtain the most accurate definition of a human possible. The source of all these common characteristics that define our humanity is the information encoded in the 23 pairs of chromosomes each of us has inside every cell (excluding red blood cells, which have no nucleus). Therefore, a human can be defined as a mammalian animal having 46 chromosomes (23 pairs) consisting of the human genetic type. A zygote fulfills this definition as soon as the egg is activated and the sperm becomes indistinguishable from the rest of the mass. At that moment, the sperm and egg are becoming human in the most literal sense.

But even if a zygote is genetically a human, is it fair to call it "human" on an equal footing with ourselves? To answer this question, I have invented what I call the Infant Principle. It states quite simply that any argument that is used to defend abortion on the basis that a fetus is not a human, an incomplete human, or an inferior human is invalid if it can be used to support the murder of an infant as well. Since infanticide generally translates into "death penalty" in court, we can assume that it is a very grave crime. This is so even though infants serve no useful purpose in our society. Infants cannot reason, reproduce, or contribute anything of value to the rest of humanity, yet they are considered wholly human, whose lives are protected under law. If an argument for abortion is equivalent to an argument for infanticide, it indicates that abortion ought to be equally illegal and immoral as the murder of an infant.

Therefore, we can discredit a good deal of pro-choice arguments in one fell swoop. One could argue that a fetus is not human since it cannot reason; however, I have yet to see a reasoning baby. The best I can say is that the infant has the "potential" for reason--just as much potential as a fetus. One could argue that a deformed or retarded fetus should be aborted; however, I don't see many doctors offering to kill retarded infants once they are born. Those that say that a mass of cellular tissue is not human since it resembles nothing remotely human for several months forget that infants are also incompletely developed. They have completely different body proportions and a very incomplete body. An incompletely developed human is still a human, whether they are ten years old or ten months old or ten minutes old. Judging an infant's humanity on whether or not it looks like a fully grown human is illogical. Our ages are just another element of our diversity as a race; they are not a criteria for one's humanity. One's age can be a criteria for adulthood, citizenship, and eligibility for sweepstakes prizes, but not for one's personhood. Someone's personhood can be determined empirically by a less subjective method: by using genetics. It is simply the most effective tool we can use to discern truth in this situation. An organism with the genes of a fish is not a person, it's a fish. But an organism with the genes of a human is a person. It is that simple. And since abortion is the deliberate killing of a human being, it is equivalent to murder.

Another good question often asked is this: Doesn't a woman have the right to do what she wants with her body? The answer is, unfortunately, no. She cannot fill her body with illegal narcotics, nobody can. She cannot prostitute herself in 49 out of 50 states, and neither can men. Even if you take a rather libertarian view that she should be able to do those things, you must agree with me on this: that no one has the right to use his or her body to infringe on the rights of another. One does not have the right to use his or her body to steal or murder, for example.

But does a fetus count as "another" person? Can the rights of the mother be separated from the rights of a fetus before birth? If a person can have their appendix or tonsils removed and donate blood, why shouldn't they be able to abort their baby? The answer, again, is readily found using fact and logic. The fetus inside a pregnant woman is not part of her body. I can prove it empirically. If one examines any number cells in a particular body (again, excluding red blood cells), each one will have the same genetic structure. But a fetus inside the womb of a pregnant woman is not "her" body; it has a distinct genetic makeup, entirely different than the mother's, which no other human being in history has ever had or ever will have. It is a unique individual with the potential to benefit the human race in a unique way which no other human in history will have ever been able to do. It does not belong to her in the same sense that her appendix belongs to her. It belongs to her in the same sense that any child she gives birth to is "hers." I think the difference in usage is apparent. Yes, the fetus is dependent on the mother's body to survive, but that does not make it part of her body or give the her the right to kill it. Again, I apply the Infant Principle. A newborn baby is also dependent on the mother (or another acting in her place) to survive, yet that does not mean that the caretaker can decide to kill the baby.

However, all is not lost. A woman can still choose whether or not to have a baby. It is a simple solution to the whole problem, anyone can understand the concept behind it, and it is cheaper than an abortion. It is called "don't have sex." There are several equally effective variations of this theme, including "count the days," "take the pill," and "use a condom." All of these are ways to avoid creating a human life. But once that life is created, there is no going back. In a nutshell, I am saying that when a woman gets pregnant, she has already decided what to do with her body. The choice has already been made. She might not like or even be prepared for the consequences of that choice. But once that life is in place, aborting it should not be an option, even if it was an accidental pregnancy.

The rather logical tone with which I have written belies my deep, passionate feelings on this subject. If this were just a matter of petty political differences, I would not even have bothered to put my opinion on the subject in writing. But this issue transcends all others in importance due to the sheer enormity of the loss of life incurred. Comparisons with the Holocaust do not seem inappropriate. Millions of infants have been killed in a cruel way, painful for those far enough developed, and nothing is done to stop it. If a newborn infant was put through the same barbaric process, it would be considered a heinous crime. I honestly have no conception of how sane, rational people can support the process of abortion when logic and evidence clearly show that abortion is murder. I see no way around it. It is the deliberate killing of a human being.

But the problem gets larger still! From an evolutionary perspective, we are seriously hampering our ability to survive as a species. How can our species improve itself through our offspring if we kill our offspring before it is born? Survival of the fittest is not allowed to flourish when offspring is killed in the womb. When a species does not protect its children, it is doomed to either extinction or stagnation. Being human, I don't really want to see that happen. We have no right to impose our desires upon those weaker than us, especially when the desire we impose is the desire of "I want you dead." Imagine a world in which Albert Einstein was aborted because his family was not certain of the economic repercussions of having a child. Or one in which Ben Franklin was never born because his mother "just wasn't ready for a child." One can imagine a world in which several small, yet invaluable, contributions to society were never made because the people who made them were never born. This is the type of world we are making for ourselves. But what of all the women who died horrible deaths in back alleys before abortion was made legal and safe? What of compassion for them? I do have compassion for these women. I also have compassion for many men and women who have died due to tainted drugs, but I do not advocate making drugs safe and legal for all. Even if you do, simple logic shows me my priorities: half of the people that enter abortion clinics never come out. A woman and her baby will go into a clinic, and in a few minutes, one of them will be dead. That tells me that the procedure ought to be made illegal. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would never approve of a drug that killed half of those who took it, and something tells me that Hippocrates would never condone a surgical procedure with a 50% fatality rate.

So why is abortion still allowed to continue? In short, I see all definitions of "human" given by abortion advocates as arbitrary. Is a baby one day away from entering the third trimester not human, while a baby one day into the third trimester completely human? The only definition we ought to give is one that can be determined not arbitrarily, but logically. The best definition that we can give ought to be one determined by genetics, not by age or stage of development. Anything else is less than rational. A definition based on genetics can be verified as fact; a definition based on age is arbitrarily determined.

I wish to close with one final thought: the humanist that supports abortion violates all principles upon which a society ought to be built. A society built on personal responsibility and human rights cannot include abortion. Abortion is the antithesis of personal responsibility in that it is a quick fix for a mistake, and since it is a fix that involves the deliberate loss of a human life, it is also the antithesis of human rights. This practice is something that should not be supported by any logical person.


Janet Brazill

"Pro-choice" or "No-choice." Many Freethinkers think this debate about abortion does not concern them. Ask those same people whether they are worried about the freedom to hold non-religious beliefs in this country, and you will surely get a "yes" if they are at all politically involved. The fact that many do not yet understand this connection shows the success of the strategy used by certain religious forces who are determined to subvert our separation of church and state. On this twenty-sixth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized a right to abortion, it is important to make people aware of this danger to our freedoms.

The Roe decision protects rights to equal treatment, the exercise of free choice and privacy, and revoking it would open the way for vast shifts in U.S. constitutional law, said Janet Benshoof, the executive editor of a report by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP).1 The report found that twelve legal advocacy groups opposed to abortion, aided by hundreds of radical right Christian lawyers, are working to change our constitution into a Christian constitution. "Their goal is to undermine the basic freedoms on which this country is based, starting with a woman's right to choose."

Revoking Roe would mean that we would have to accept Chris Stafford's argument that life should be defined to begin at fertilization, making the act of abortion murder. It is good to evaluate his ideas and see where they lead us.

The Arguments

First of all, I have a problem with his basic assumption: that the murder of a human being is immoral. This idea is not an absolute. Witness the cases of self-defense, justifiable homicide and "just" wars. The prohibition against murder is a societal norm, tempered by the fact that every judgment must allow for mitigating circumstances. His basic assumption is therefore not valid. Stafford proposes to make his argument based on what he says are only "logic and empirical fact," dismissing any appeals to religion. He then promotes the biological arguments favored by most abortion opponents, saying that a human being is created the moment the egg is activated by the sperm. He holds that it is an empirical fact that personhood begins at fertilization because this chromosomal conjunction creates an individualized genetic package having the common characteristics of a human.

ImageThe Ethics of Abortion Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice, edited by Robert M. Baird and Stuart E. Rosenbaum, is a collection of essays by leading thinkers on both sides of the issue. The authors did an excellent job of picking the best possible arguments from each side, and all the articles are concise and readable, with a minim of jargon. The Institute for First Amendment Studies has a long review of this book.

ImageAbortion and the Politics of Motherhood, by Kristen Luker, doesn't give us arguments for or against, but insights into the heart of the issues. This Berkeley sociologist conducted in-depth interviews of dozens of grassroots activists, learning the kinds of people they were, what they thought was at stake and why they were involved. This is a book that can change the way you define the issues, and deepen your thinking about what's happening to women in America today.

The film Citizen Ruth (1997) is a thought-provoking satire about a pregnant drug addict who becomes a pawn in the struggle between fanatics on both sides of the issue. With compassion as startling as the satire is sharp, this film will make you re-think your image of the other side, whichever side you're on. The CNN review points out that Citizen Ruth isn't only about the abortion controversy, but about how we debate such issues in this democracy of ours.

If These Walls Could Talk If These Walls Could Talk (1996) has a cast of big name stars--including Cher, Demi Moore, Sissy Spacek, and more. It consists of three vignettes, each set in the same house, each telling the story of a woman facing abortion: one in 1952, one in 1974, one in 1996. The stories illuminate the historical context as well as the personal issues of women making these decisions. While the film is decidedly pro-choice, the stories are realistic and complex enough to allow for ethical discussion and differences of opinion. It could, for example, be used in an ethics class, with one segment being shown at the beginning of each of three classes.

Using the genetic definition of personhood, however, presents its own problems. "Twinning," which takes place several weeks into pregnancy when the fertilized egg splits, results in two "persons" no longer genetically unique. Or perhaps twins are half-persons under his definition! This purely biological test of personhood reduces persons to simple biological realities. It ignores the development process and confuses potentiality with actuality-an egg is not a chicken; an acorn is not an oak. Being genetically similar does not automatically confer transcendence to the fetus to make it equal to an infant. This is what Stafford's "Infant Principle" tries to do. After equating a fertilized egg to a living, fully-human newborn baby based on the baby's inability to perform adult functions any more than a fetus can, he says that you cannot do to a zygote, an embryo, or a fetus what you cannot do to an infant under society's current rules. This argument is not new; it was criticized early in the Roe v. Wade debates by ethicist Joseph Fletcher as engaging in "prolepsis" because it tries to redefine critical terms like person, fetus, and murder to support their crusade. Fletcher writes, "What is called in logic the 'error of potentiality' is to confuse what is yet to be or could be with what is. In fact, a fetus is precisely and only a fetus."2 Simple logic confirms this. A zygote, an embryo, an early fetus cannot breathe, cannot process or excrete food. They are totally different from an infant, which is why nature requires a lengthy gestation period.

Simplistic thinking such as this proposed by Stafford was refuted in a conference held by Americans for Religious Liberty, where scientists, theologians, and legal scholars addressed the question of fetal "personhood." Their arguments are cogently presented in the book Abortion Rights and Fetal 'Personhood'. Michael J. Flower, Visiting Associate Professor of Biology and director of the Science, Technology and Values Program at Lewis and Clark College, charted the neuromaturation process of the developing fetus. He showed that the fetus does not attain a "level of neocortex-mediated complexity sufficient to enable those sentient capacities the presence of which might lead us to predicate personhood of a sort we attribute to full-term newborns" until at least 28 weeks of gestation.3

Noted theologian, Marjorie Reiley Maquire, offers a unique idea of personhood, defining it as membership in the human community. She believes the only way a fetus can become a member of the human community, and therefore a person, prior to birth, is if the woman in whose body it exists welcomes it into the human community by her consent to the pregnancy.4 Justice Blackmun, after studying the problem prior to writing the Roe decision, arrived at viability (the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb, usually about 24 weeks) as the start of possible personhood. Some ancient cultures did not consider an infant a person until it had survived for a period of time after birth. Catholic hospitals, which claim to respect human life from the time of conception, evidently judge it according to weight, as they do not have burials for fetuses weighing less than 500 grams.5 This diversity of opinion was recognized in the Roe v. Wade decision, which states, "When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy and theology are unable to arrive at consensus as to when life begins, the judiciary at this point in the development of man's knowledge is not in a position to speculate as to the answer."

Stafford's "proof," therefore, reflects only his opinion that life/personhood begins at fertilization. The evidence points to the conclusion that life is a continuum. Even the sperm and egg have life and are potentially human, so drawing the line of "personhood" at any point along this continuum is strictly optional and requires value judgments. This can be decided only on a personal level, as Maquire indicated, and it is wrong for anyone to deprive a woman from making this decision for herself.

This is the essence of the pro-choice position. The only thing on which society can fully agree is that the moment of birth represents an indisputable attainment of life and personhood. The compromise in the Roe v. Wade decision remains the best overall solution for legal purposes, allowing interference by the state only after the point of viability, with the mother's life and health the prime consideration. It strikes a balance between the right to life of the woman and fetus. Stafford's statement that a woman doesn't have a right to do what she wants with her body, because she doesn't have the right to use illegal narcotics or commit other illegal acts, trivializes the fact that pregnancy and childbirth, with their inherent risks and effects, have the potential to completely alter the course of a woman's life. In stressing the fact that the fetus is a separate "person," he misses the point that a "fetus-person" is unlike any other being that we designate as person, because only the fetus uses the body of another human being for its physical life-support system. The law should not order that form of life support, any more than it would order one person to donate blood, bone marrow, or a kidney to preserve the life of another person. This would violate personal autonomy. Stafford does not agree with this. His statement that "once that life is created, there is no going back," means that once a woman becomes pregnant, he would force her to have the baby, whatever the consequences. He cannot empathize with the mother of three who has developed diabetes so severe that a doctor tells her to choose between aborting the fetus she is carrying or not living to care for her other children. I cringe when I hear ignorant people coldly dismiss such tragic decisions to abort as "convenience." This inflexible attitude makes those of Stafford's persuasion condemn abortion at any stage, calling it cruel and painful, even though logic should tell them that a developed brain is necessary to feel pain. Professor Flowers describes a long, complex process of around 23 weeks of gestation before there is a neocortex potential for sensory input.6 Ninety-nine percent of abortions are performed prior to this time.

Besides the point that Stafford initially seeks to prove, he offers many of the same antiabortion arguments promoted for years. First, Stafford insults the millions of living, feeling human beings who perished in the Holocaust, whose personhood was never in doubt, by comparing their deaths with abortion terminations. Is he so naïve he doesn't know that God has been called the "greatest abortionist of all" because 30-50 percent of all conceptions are spontaneously aborted, usually without the woman even knowing? Fredrica Hodges, director of the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, a member of the above-mentioned conference, says that antiabortionists should look at themselves in the mirror of the Holocaust: "This event was the result of the ascendancy of those who would tolerate no ideological diversity, who would recognize no right to disagree with the principles and social programs of National Socialism, and who were ready to trample every noble notion of democracy and of freedom of conscience and religion beneath the boot of brutal conformity to a single system of belief".7 In other words, she equates opponents of abortion with the perpetrators of this ghastly persecution.

Like many of the uninformed, Stafford implies that woman are irresponsible if they allow themselves to become pregnant. He first advises, "don't have sex," but also mentions contraception. His ignorance of contraceptives is obvious, since the truth is that the shockingly few birth control methods available to American women-thanks in part to conservatives in Congress who consistently vote against funds for research for more effective methods-failed to prevent pregnancy in over half of those women requesting abortions.

What if Einstein had been aborted, Stafford asks. One could logically retort, "What if Hitler had?" But just as logically, perhaps there would be many more geniuses born if every child were the result of a planned pregnancy. Why should every conception result in birth? We no longer live in a world where the human species must procreate excessively to endure. With survival assured, we should concentrate on quality of life. Imagine a world where every child was a wanted child, where each birth was welcomed into a nurturing home, with adequate food and the best education. This is how our species can improve itself. This is how we can evolve into better humans.

There are worse things than not being born. I find it immoral to bring a child into the world if one cannot provide adequately for it. Or if it is doomed to a painful existence. Even more immoral is forcing others to bear children they do not want simply because one is convinced of the righteousness of one's own beliefs.

The Effects

Unwanted children often suffer neglect and child abuse and can grow up intellectually limited and dysfunctional. The book, Guilty by Reason of Insanity by Dr. Dorothy Otnow Lewis (Fawcett, 1998), cites several studies that show a link between child abuse and later violent behavior. Every one of 14 juveniles studied on death row had a history of intolerable abuse as a child. Overpopulation causes problems worldwide. Family-planning is badly needed, but religious fundamentalists oppose this, ignoring the suffering and deaths caused by their devotion to the "sanctity of life." According to Worldwatch, 14 million children under the age of five die each year from starvation and malnutrition. Eight-hundred million people are chronically undernourished.

Pope John Paul II travels extensively around the world, yet even in Africa, a land where the number contracting the fatal disease of AIDS staggers the imagination, he preaches not to use condoms. He prefers the transmission of deadly disease to stopping the possible transmission of "life." He is adamant that birth control conform to his teaching i.e., artificial contraception is immoral, but "natural" family planning is acceptable. Thinking people can see that, logically, there is no difference between using a condom, which prevents the sperm from reaching the egg, and having intercourse on safe days only, which accomplishes the same thing. Pleasure without consequences is the obvious aim in both cases, so what makes one immoral and the other not? Why this tremendous opposition to contraceptives?

It is basically a question of power and authority-logic has nothing to do with it. And therein lies the problem for our country.

The Politics of Reproductive Rights

Throughout history, suppression of abortion has been used by both governments and some religions as a tool to exert control and acquire power through numbers. The subjugation of women controls the family unit. On the other hand, women's command of their own fertility leads to women's empowerment. Society needs to realize that it is this threat to patriarchal ideology that is behind the opposition to contraceptives and abortion, with abortion being the red flag that can be propagandized to arouse emotions.

Those who are determined to make their religious agenda the law of the land have been surprisingly successful in controlling much of our federal policy.8 Funding for abortions is prohibited for those who depend on the government for their health care-federal employees, low-income women, Peace Corps volunteers, Native American women, and women in the military. Family-planning funds are cut both here and abroad. There is even a move in Congress to limit birth control methods provided by managed-care plans by classifying them as abortion-inducing drugs.

Religious leaders are becoming more open in directly challenging the separation of church and state. Last spring, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, along with other religious bullies, threatened Republican leaders of Congress with loss of votes for not passing legislation he favored, listing as his top priority the defunding of Planned Parenthood. The Catholic bishops threaten eternal damnation. Their recent statement, "Living the Gospel of Life," says that serious theological consequences could result for those Catholic legislators who favor legal abortion.

Among the "stealth strategies" being used are the "partial-birth" abortion bans. Advertised as concerning a specific late-term procedure, but written so that they could apply to all abortions, these bills contain no actual timelines, which could allow them to ban the most commonly-used contraceptives as well as abortion.9 Congress has passed such a federal law and was only three votes short of overturning President Clinton's veto. Over twenty laws already passed in the states are enjoined by the courts as unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade. Abortion opponents need only a simple majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe and put these laws into effect.

According to CRLP's report, the Christian Fundamentalists' legal arm challenges separation of church and state, opposes family planning and sexuality education (unless based solely on abstinence), promotes school prayer, and restricts gay and lesbian rights. Their most successful challenge to the U.S. Constitution so far has been against the right to choose abortion.


"The humanist that supports abortion violates all principles upon which a society ought to be built," asserts Stafford, adding, "A society built on personal responsibility and human rights cannot include abortion." As a humanist, I strongly disagree. Taking the personal responsibility of deciding if and when one should reproduce is one of the things that separates us from the animals. And clearly, abortion honors the human rights of the woman, whose personhood is unquestioned. For those women who have a planned pregnancy go wrong, abortion can be tragic, but the termination of unplanned pregnancies, while unfortunate, should be considered a sane and moral choice. Without the right to make their own moral decisions, women have no liberty. And if women lose their freedom, what other rights can survive?

The "pro-choice" vs. "no-choice" conflict is a critical part of the fight to preserve our American freedoms.


1 References to the CRLP report, Tipping The Scales: The Christian Right's Legal Crusade Against Choice, are from CRLP's newsletter, "Reproductive Freedom News," Dec 1998, located at <URL:https://crlp.org/rfncurrent04.html>, and a Reuter's article, "Abortion Rights Report," Oct. 27, 1998.
2 Abortion Rights and Fetal 'Personhood'. Edd Doerr and James W. Prescott, eds. Centerline Press, 1989. p. 113.
3 ibid., p. 74.
4 ibid., p. 10.
5 ibid., p. 94.
6 ibid., p. 72.
7 ibid., p. 4.
8 See the Spring 1994 issue of Free Inquiry and The Pope and The New Apocalypse: The Holy War Against Family Planning by Stephen D. Mumford.
9 Birth-control pills, the IUD, Norplant, Depo-Provero, all contraceptives that prevent implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus (medically considered the point of conception), could be considered to be causing an abortion under these laws and could be banned.


For More Information On Reproductive Rights

Since scientific research has increased our understanding of human reproduction, reproductive choices have expanded. New technologies allow women who could not previously become pregnant to choose pregnancy or continue difficult pregnancies, and to seek diagnosis and treatment of fetal illness, as well as terminating pregnancies. New knowledge and the choices it makes possible force us to re-examine our ideas on questions of ethics and how to answer them, as the cloning controversy made clear. These links are a small sample of information available on the Internet--both the facts and ways of looking at the facts:

Reproductive Rights in Canada

Freethought and abortion rights are closely interwoven in Canada. Dr. Henry Morgentaler, founding president of the Humanist Association of Canada, and recipient of the Humanist of the Year Award of the American Association, was a true hero in the struggle to bring abortion rights to Canada. A survivor of a World War II concentration camps, Morgentaler is dedicated to creating a world where such atrocities cannot occur, and believes that guaranteeing women's right to choose is crucial to universal peace and justice. The website of the Morgentaler clinics <URL:https://morgentaler.ca/educate.htm> includes a number of educational documents, including a detailed essay on "Abortion in Law, History & Religion" worldwide; a "Chronology of Court Cases-Dr Morgentaler & others" affecting the history of abortion rights in Canada; and basic information about "Abortion: The Medical Procedure."

See also resolutions of the Humanist Association of Canada on Abortion Services <URL:https://magi.com/~hac/HAC/DOCS/96resltn.htm>.

Reproductive Rights in the U.S.

Position papers and fact sheets on issues <URL:https://naral.org/issues/issues.html> including US Supreme Court decisions, clinic violence and sexuality education can be found on the site of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), a complete list of fact sheets <URL:https://naral.org/publications/facts/fact.html> with an opening paragraph beside each title is another way to find basic legal and scientific information on a number of issues.

Religion and Reproductive Choice

While atheists and freethinkers have a special perspective on reproductive rights, it's important to remember that there is a spectrum of views. Discussions of reproductive rights are one of many areas in which we can see how secular society has allowed interaction between theist and nontheist approaches. The website of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice <URL:https://rcrc.org> offers useful links to both secular and religious pro-choice organizations, and a variety of more or less "liberal" religious arguments for choice--many of them thought provoking for theists and nontheists alike. For example, among the articles presented on RCRC's "Religion and Choice" page <URL:https://rcrc.org/religion/> is "Abortion: A Christian Ethical Perspective," by John Swomley, a noted writer on church-state separation, whose commentary on the question "Do the Born and the Unborn Have Equal Value?" includes this comment:

"Some years ago at a meeting of the American Society of Christian Ethics, a workshop was confronted with the case of a 3-year-old child and an 18-week fetus, both with a dread disease for which there was only one injection of medicine in Chicago. The Chicago airports had been shut down by a blizzard, preventing the doctors from obtaining more of the medicine. We unanimously concluded that the child should get the injection. The moral difference is that the child is among us in a way that the fetus is not. The child's claim is based on relationship, rather than on a legal point of birth."

One-Stop Website?

That might be the Pro-Choice Public Education Partnership <URL:https://protectchoice.org/>, a joint effort of 49 pro-choice and multi-issue organizations, including Medical Students for Choice <URL:https://ms4c.org>, who "work to make reproductive health education a standard part of medical training," insuring continued access in the future.

A Very Important "Pro-Life" Website

The National Coalition for Life and Peace <URL:https://prolife.org/nclp/> was recently founded to oppose violence against abortion providers. At their site, which is home to a pro-life webring, they invite other organizations and individuals to sign a pledge that says:

"As a pro-life person I affirm, with all alacrity and fervor, my unequivocal opposition to and condemnation of violence as a means to end the travesty of abortion. In my actions in support of life I will remain positive and peaceful and only engage in legal activities to protect unborn children and their mothers."

Visitors to the site can identify organizations committed to this important principle, which must be part of a larger effort to have rational public discussion that doesn't demonize those who disagree.

[This report was prepared by Molleen Matsumura and James Still.]


Guest Editorial

Mike Koller
(email address removed)
Phillip E. Johnson is a lawyer and not a scientist, yet he feels eminently qualified to weigh in on the creation/evolution debate.

He comes down on the side of ... well nothing. The man doesn't appear to be a fundamentalist with an ax to grind; yet he seems to hold a grudge against science, its methodology, and its practitioners. Johnson boasts that he simply wishes to defeat scientific materialism. Yet, if he knew anything about science and its methodology, he would know that such a goal would alter the methodology of scientific inquiry so that the supernatural could be used to "explain" observed phenomenon.

But Johnson never justifies why such an alteration of the scientific method is necessary. Nor does he explain the process scientists are supposed to engage in, in order to conclude that a given phenomenon is in fact naturally unexplainableâ€"i.e, to relinquish the explanation to supernatural causes.

It seems that Johnson simply wants scientists to have the humility to say: "supernatural causes are possible." He seems to have an aversion, nay a bitterness, toward scientists who refuse to acknowledge supernatural causes under any and all circumstances. But by doing so, Johnson is holding a grudge against scientists for practicing their profession! Asking a scientist to acknowledge the possibility of supernatural causes is meaningless. An equally absurd request would be to ask a theologian to abandon supernatural spiritualism.

For what does it mean to a scientist's professionâ€"to his daily process of inquiry? Does it mean he should stop inquiring into natural mechanisms? Does it mean he should alter his approach of investigating because of the possibility of supernatural causes? The fact is that having a scientist utter the words: "It might have supernatural causes," does absolutely nothing for science or our state of knowledge.

It gives the scientist no additional tools of understanding. It adds nothing to the body of scientific knowledge. It is simply a statement that does nothing except perhaps appease the prejudices of a non-scientist who is unable to cope with the reality that science necessarily operates on a premise of materialism.

There is no denying that nor should science shun that reality because it happens to have a pejorative connotation within the current political, philosophical, and religious context. For science to be of any use to us, particularly its application, it is imperative that we continually probe for natural causes. It is not, as Johnson believes, a calculated anti-God materialism effort; but rather, it is a matter of practicality and integrity.

If all Johnson wants is to have scientists humbled before the heavens and to utter "God is possible," then his effort does nothing for science or the acquisition of new understanding and knowledge. On the other hand, if Johnson wants to altar the scientific methodology to allow for the conclusion of supernatural causes, then the onus is upon him to develop and justify a rationale, which unambiguously and ubiquitously gives the scientist a basis for abandoning natural explanatory mechanisms in favor of supernatural causes.

Until he does so, Johnson should stick to what he knows and does best: practice law.