Quick Response #22: People Are Just Pro-Life Because They’re Religious

Pro-choice people often charge that the only reason for someone to be pro-life is because they’re religious. In this video, Emily Albrecht explains why this is both factually untrue and logically fallacious (in this case, using an ad hominem to distract from the real argument).

Script Text

Some pro-choice people complain that people are only pro-life because they’re religious. Well…[show Secular Pro-Life Channel screen shot] I guess this can be a very quick video.

(intro sequence)

In all seriousness, while just the fact that groups like Secular Pro-Life exist shows that not all pro-lifers are religious—and really, we don’t all conform to any easy category—there’s also a deeper misunderstanding behind the charge that pro-life people are merely religious nuts. There are plenty of people who are pro-life who are also religious, but they are pro-life for non-religious reasons or justify their position through non-religious arguments.

As of the time we’re filming this video, everyone on staff at ERI is religious, but we talk about religion as it relates to abortion pretty sparingly. Almost all of our central content is neutral with respect to religious beliefs. It doesn’t matter which religion you profess, you can understand the Equal Rights Argument, you can use Trot Out a Toddler. Our arguments appeal to a shared rationality and generally accepted rules of debate. Our goal is to be as convincing to pro-choice atheists and Buddhists as to pro-choice Christians and Muslims.

If you’re agnostic or pro-choice, you might think that it’s dishonest for us to use secular arguments because, if we’re religious, our pro-life position must be on account of our religion. The charge would be that we’re just trying to smuggle religious ideas in by using a secular argument.

I don’t think this is a fair charge for multiple reasons. First, people can have more than one reason for believing something. I can believe that unborn humans are made in God’s image, but that doesn’t prevent arguments like the Equal Rights Argument from clarifying how I view what a person is and the consequences of excluding people from the equal right to life community.

Second, religious believers generally have some kind of an anthropology; that is, we believe things about how all people are, not just our co-religionists, based on our faith. Most Christians believe that all people should be treated fairly, that they should be convinced by choice, and that people are capable of providing and understanding objective reasons and arguments for moral positions. Religious belief can actually JUSTIFY appealing to others without relying on religious arguments precisely BECAUSE we think people are rational.

Third, it pretends that some views are more neutral than others. Atheists have a particular anthropology, just like Buddhists or Catholics, and that shapes how they view the world, human rights, and the ability to engage in rational dialogue. All people are reasoning from a particular worldview; the best way to proceed isn’t by trying to shame others engaging in honest dialogue, but by seeking to understand their presuppositions and arguments.

Finally, this assumes a bad motivation on the part of religious people who use secular arguments. Rather than taking the arguments on their face, it says the arguments must be invalid because, even though there’s nothing religious about them, they’re made by religious people. This move to attack the people making the argument instead of the argument itself isn’t convincing, and it’s actually an example of a logical mistake called the Ad Hominem Fallacy.

To summarize: plenty of pro-life people don’t profess religious faith, and many of the ones who do, like we at ERI, utilize secular arguments rather than religious ones so we can be more broadly convincing about abortion.

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