Thursday, June 23, 2011


Abortion is so controversial that there is little point in trying to discuss it with those who oppose it.  I can attest from personal experience that it is a very bad idea even to broach the subject or respond if someone else does.  Nothing will enrage the religious more quickly and put a bigger bulls-eye on your back than letting an anti-choice religious fanatic know that you support liberal abortion laws.  This is an area where their desire to kill us non-believers is not only still stated openly but has been acted upon regularly.

Thus, my usual advice should be altered with a special note of caution:  On most issues, I would say don't expect to win and just to have a few bon mots ready to drop in as "thought barbs" and then walk away.  In the case of abortion, non-believers in many cases are better off not commenting.  If you do, it is probably best to limit yourself to only one comment.  Choose the thought barb you think is best and use it as your single comment--if you say anything at all.  As is the case with creationism, there is little point in discussing this issue at all with religious fanatics.

For many of them, abortion seems to have become an obsession.  They claim that they feel this way because they think abortion is tantamount to murder and therefore a violation of god's moral directives.

I think abortion is, however, an example of another of the levers of thought control.  Religion is using it to play on emotions and human nature in order to control what people think and do.  I think it is being used both to control and motivate religious voters and as part of the campaign to breed particular religions (and, most importantly, their leaders) into power.  I think it's also a ploy to regain the high moral ground lost by complicity in the Holocaust and innumerable cases of child molestation. As I pointed out before, religion is driven by the quest for social status and the loss of social status from these scandals required a response of some sort.  The anti-abortion movement is part of that response. 

Although there are undoubtedly other reasons for opposing abortion, a cynical observer, jaded by too many observations of religious dishonesty and hypocrisy, can't help but notice that the issue has the effect of causing religious people to become willing to sacrifice even their own self-interest in order to "save babies".  Thus, it appears that the practical effect of this stance is to use the instinctual desire to protect the young and helpless to motivate religious people to vote and behave blindly in a way that advances the agenda of the clergy and others who benefit from the spread of religion and its power.

Most people don't realize that this vehement religious opposition to abortion is a relatively new phenomenon.

Although there have been theologians over the centuries who opposed it, there was hardly a consensus.  For most of the history of Christianity, abortion was a non-issue.  The protestants began to become obsessed with it less than a generation ago.  Indeed, it became an issue for protestants only within my living memory.  Even the Catholic Church, famous for its opposition to abortion, changed its position on the issue and only became truly adamant about the issue in the last century or so--right around the time the Church decided to declare the Pope to be infallible, which explains a great deal as I discuss below.

There are several very interesting points to be made here.  The first is that there is absolutely no support for this position in the bible.  In fact, it seems to indicate an opposing viewpoint among its authors--who were not unaware of the practice.

(You remember the bible?  That ancient book that the religious say must be followed strictly--except when it shouldn't because modern standards of civility and morality would be violated).

The ten commandments do forbid murder, but other parts of the bible show god actually ordering or even carrying out murder.  In fact, according to the bible, sometimes god killed children and babies without any excuse that a civilized person would consider acceptable.  Thus, it can be stated with certainty that when the ten commandments forbid murder, the intention wasn't to forbid all killing--not even the killing of children and babies.

Furthermore, it is clear that the authors of the Bible considered the killing of a fetus to be a lesser offense than the killing of a living person after his or her birth.  In other words, the bible clearly does not treat abortion as murder.

The closest the bible comes to addressing the question is in Exodus 21 where it provides for the punishment for causing a miscarriage during a fight.  The punishment is monetary compensation.  The punishment for actually killing a person already born is death for intentional killing or exile for unintentional killing.  Further on in the same Chapter of Exodus, there is a provision for accidentally killing another person's ox and the punishment is, again, monetary compensation.  Just as in the case of killing an unborn fetus.  Thus, the bible itself implicitly holds that an unborn fetus is not a human being, as indeed was the opinion of virtually everyone until recently.

Given the complete lack of biblical support for the anti-abortion position, one has to wonder what is driving this hyper-emotional obsession of the religious.

The motives of abortion foes come into question when one realizes that those who oppose abortion usually have other beliefs and engage in behaviors that belie their opposition and their stated reasons for it.  The opposition to other forms of birth control, the lack of efforts to prevent easily preventable deaths of children already born, the lack of concern for children who are victimized by clergy, and the lack of efforts to prevent miscarriages all indicate that the religious do not really care about the children. 

They are motivated by a confluence of other factors, such as their twisted thinking about sex, their confusion between authoritarianism and morality, their need to rehabilitate the moral authority of their religion after recent scandals such as the holocaust, and their simple inability to do anything that looks or sounds like an admission of error (classic symptom of narcissistic personality disorder).

The opponents of abortion are usually also opposed to other forms of birth control.  Anyone who is opposed to abortion on the grounds that it is tantamount to murder should be very much in favor of birth control methods that prevent conception in the first place.  Use of such methods has been shown repeatedly to reduce the number of abortions.  Abortion opponents will argue to the contrary and will actually say that birth control leads to more abortions.  Anyone who says such a thing is the intellectual equivalent of a creationist--and a lunatic.

Here is a quotation from the report linked above regarding the effects of legal restrictions on abortion:

Just as the data show that women have abortions despite restrictive laws, they also indicate that women do not have abortions because of liberal ones. Some of the world's lowest abortion rates are in western European countries, where abortion is not only legal but also covered as a standard service by national health insurance systems: For example, the abortion rate in Germany is less than one-quarter that in Columbia, and the rate in the Netherlands is some six times lower than the rate in the Dominican Republic.

The fact that the anti-abortion advocates oppose such methods proves that they are not, in fact, motivated by a concern for the life of the fetus.  It reveals that they are motivated, at least in part, by a perverse desire to prevent people from having sex.  If one searches for religious explanations of their opposition to abortion one finds numerous implicit admissions that this is so.  The explanations given for this contrary stance are filled with statements to the effect that such methods will simply encourage people to have sex.

They follow these statements up with an explanation that this will lead people to have unprotected sex eventually.  This, they say, explains why birth control is a bad thing.  The trouble is, the same point can be made even more strongly about opposition to birth control.  In societies where such people have their way, people are forced to have unprotected sex or no sex at all, with the result that such societies have noticeably higher rates of abortion.

This entire portion of their argument is implicitly based on the assumption that abstinence is the norm--or should be.  This is a ludicrous assumption.  It's absolute denial of human nature is similar to the assumption in communism that people can simply learn not to be selfish and to be completely altruistic.  "Abstinence only" birth control has been repeatedly proven to fail just as miserably as communism and for the same reason:  A complete refusal to face the facts of human nature--indeed of nature itself.

Sometimes they argue that contraceptives "routinely fail at statistically significant rates" resulting in more unwanted pregnancies.  Again this is an absurd claim because, except in the case of those new to such methods, the rate of failure is usually less than 1 or 2%, which is not statistically significant and, in any event, is far less than the failure rate of the rhythm method or using no contraceptive method at all.  There is evidence of higher failure rates and a temporary increase in abortions when a population begins to use modern birth control methods.  The religious point to this data as "proof" that birth control leads to abortions.  But, in fact, all it proves is that the population had to learn how to use the new methods after having been kept in the dark.  Inevitably, there will be human error.

The true concern of those opposed to birth control, however, is hidden in the implicit assumption that use of effective contraceptives will result in people having sex more often, which apparently is a very bad thing in the minds of those opposed to birth control.  See Chris Hedges article:  The Christian Right's Fear of Pleasure is Our Greatest Threat to Choice.  The war against abortion has nothing to do with the protection of life.  It is a war against an open society -- a cover for assaults against sexual pleasure and personal choice.  There are good reasons to be concerned about the consequences of sexual activity, but, as I pointed out in my posts on religious morality, those concerns are based on the harm that can occur from sex.  One of the biggest types of harm is unwanted pregnancies.  Remove the possibility of those and you have removed a major reason for moral strictures on sexual activity. 

Sex is a biological compulsion and can only be suppressed for a finite amount of time.  (The amount of time will differ, of course, from one person to the next.)  If you convince people that they have a moral duty to either have no sex or have unprotected sex, sooner or later they will opt for the unprotected sex.  Then they will have to make hard choices about the result.

Also, it is an unfortunate fact that this compulsion begins to manifest itself years before people are mature enough in any sense to become parents.  In the case of those who will not or cannot use contraception the unprotected sex will be chosen sooner rather than later--much too soon from the standpoint of their suitability as parents.

It is interesting to note that abortion opponents themselves often gloss over the difference between abortion and contraception, lumping them together as part of the same "attitude" and condemning contraception by association with abortion.  This view is seen clearly in Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Evangelium Vitae":

But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree. . .  [S]uch practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment.

In the same encyclical the Pope also wrote:

"[Contraception] is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage."

There are two possible explanations of his meaning here.  One is that he thinks it is bad to have sex with one's spouse just for fun.  That chastity is to be practiced in marriage unless and until one is ready to "accept the result".  This is an absurd, inhuman notion.  If people aren't allowed to have sex with their spouses for enjoyment, then they are obviously never meant to enjoy it.  In that case, the position of the Church would indeed be based entirely on a extreme hostility to pleasure.

The other possible explanation of the Pope's meaning is that married couples using birth control are more likely to cheat on each other.  Again, though the focus seems to be on punishing people for having sex by making them have babies.  Personally, I think no one in his right mind would want his or her spouse to be having babies with other people and would much prefer any infidelity to be sex only.  Taking away birth control may cause a reduction in infidelity, but it won't stop it.  What it will do is create more unwanted children born into complicated situations where they will often be despised by their own family members.

This brings me to one of the most important points to be made in this discussion:  It is more immoral to bring an unwanted child into the world than it is to use birth control--far more.  I also think it is more immoral to bring an unwanted child into the world than to have an abortion.

There are two reasons for this.  First and foremost, bringing unwanted children into the world usually results in the children having very unhappy lives, which tend to be shorter as a result.  In fact, often much shorter because these children are more likely to die miserably in infancy.  Bringing an unwanted child into the world as punishment for his parents' actions results in the innocent child being punished for things he or she didn't do.

(Abortion opponents would undoubtedly say that abortion is a worse punishment--but that reasoning is based on the circular assumption that the fetus is fully human.  Another example of assuming your conclusion in order to reach it logically.  For those who base their morality on actual suffering, the termination of a pregnancy before the fetus has a central nervous system is a non-issue and is vastly preferable to bringing an unwanted child into the world.)

Second, these unwanted children are far more likely to develop anti-social tendencies and become a burden or even a danger to society.  Thus, those who have to "pay" for a sex act are not always limited to those who actually "play".  We all have a stake in this.

The same people who oppose birth control are also opposed to programs that would help these children brought, unwanted, into the world.  This indifference has been shown not only to increase the number of abortions (because the mothers have no money, jobs or mates with jobs) but also to cause the unwanted children to have miserable, short lives in which they often become criminals and damage others as well as themselves.

One of the most telling bits of evidence is the way in which religious leaders react to incidents of pedophilia in the clergy.  The Catholic Church, which has been at the forefront of the anti-abortion movement clearly places its own reputation ahead of the well being of the church's own children.   More to the point, it places its reputation ahead of even the survival of its children (given that many of the molestation victims commit suicide).  See also this excellent article by Andrew Sullivan.

As I mentioned above, this is really all about trying to prevent people from having sex and is a reflection of their twisted thinking on that subject.  With regard to that twisted thinking, see this article and this one by Andrew Sullivan, who knows a thing or two about religion's twisted views on sexuality, as well as this one by another gay man who wrestled with his religion's rejection of his sexuality.

Furthermore, if the religious were really so concerned about all these babies, then they would be undertaking great efforts to make sure that these unwanted children are cared for properly.  But, they don't do anything in that regard--in large part because they see these children as "punishment" inflicted on the parents for having sex--i.e., what they have to "pay" for "playing".  In other words, their punishment for having pleasure.

If the anti-abortion partisans truly saw every fetus as a human being, then they would also insist on many other changes in our society.  For instance, shouldn't each fetus be given a name and a "conception" certificate?  After all, if it is conception that is the crucial event and birth is simply part of the development process, why should naming and the issuance of a certificate that records the inauguration of a new human life wait for birth?

Also, if every fetus is a human being, then shouldn't every miscarriage or potential miscarriage be treated like a life and death emergency?  Shouldn't all mothers having a miscarriage or in danger of having one be rushed to the hospital?  If mothers have miscarriages as a result of taking risks during pregnancy, shouldn't there be an investigation and perhaps even criminal charges against the mother or anyone else who was a party to neglecting the "child" resulting in its death?  I am sorry to say that soon after first drafting this paragraph, I came across a news story indicating that abortion foes in the U.S. want to do exactly that:  Pregnant woman arrested for falling down stairs and admitting that she had considered abortion months prior.

Unfortunately, this insane incident shows that the anti-abortion foes are starting to truly believe in their rhetoric and apply it as a general principle--even if the result is tyrannical and abusive, as it was in that case.

Perhaps more to the point is the fact that as many as 40% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage.  (That percentage is not definitive, however, because many pregnancies are never clinically recognized and recorded.)  This not only makes god, if he existed, the world's greatest abortionist, it indicates that all pregnancies should be treated as life and death situations--if one truly believes that each fetus is already a human being.

After all, if nearly half of all children died before adulthood of accidental causes, the situation would be seen as catastrophic and extreme measure would be taken to protect them.  Society would be restructured if necessary.

Well, if the abortion foes are serious about considering all fetuses to be children, then similar steps should be taken to end the incredible death rate among them.  All pregnant women would be put on bed rest (or similar measures) immediately upon discovering they're pregnant.  But, you don't hear the abortion foes even discussing this "dire" state of affairs much less proposing that something be done to stop the world's biggest abortionist:  "god".

As I hinted above, the anti-abortion partisans are motivated as much by classic narcissistic personality disorder symptoms as anything else.  Unable to face the evidence of their own moral failures, they try to cover them up by by shifting the debate and going on the attack.  Complicit in the murder of millions, they suddenly feel a very strong urge to let everyone know that they are "pro-life" and would never do anything to cause or allow the death of innocents.  This is a classic example of denial--trying to cover bad deeds with rhetoric.

In addition, the doctrine of papal infallibility--adopted in response to the loss of the papal estates and thus the Vatican's independent source of wealth--came at a time when the church had recently made clear that it opposed all forms of birth control.  That doctrine of infallibility made it impossible for the church to change its mind on that subject--as it had in the past.  To do so would be to admit that a Pope had been wrong, i.e., fallible.  That is something those with narcissistic personality disorder cannot do.  They would rather die--or kill.

Here is what will happen if abortion is made illegal in the U.S.:  Abortions will continueIn fact, we can't say for certain that the number of abortions for U.S. women would substantially decrease.  Approximately, 1.2 to 1.6 million abortions have been performed in the U.S. per year since abortion became legal.  According to the statistics from heavily catholic countries where abortion is illegal, the rate of abortion is actually higher in those countries than in many countries where abortion is legal.  Consequently, given the lack of data concerning the actual number of abortions performed before legalization, we have no way of concluding whether the total number of abortions would go up or down if similar laws are adopted in the U.S.

In fact, the data suggest that abortion rates are not determined by a country's laws regarding abortion, but by the private decisions of the individuals in those countries.  (That particular study concluded that "[a]bortion rates are no lower overall in areas where abortion is generally restricted by law (and where many abortions are performed under unsafe conditions) than in areas where abortion is legally permitted.")

Rich women will travel to places where it is legal to get abortions or else they will pay extra for high quality, safe clandestine abortions in the U.S.  Poor women will have unsafe, illegal abortions and many will die from them.  Poor women will also have more unwanted children.  They will not be able to care for those children, either emotionally or financially.  Those children will have very difficult and unpleasant lives, will die at much younger ages, and will be responsible for a huge percentage of crime--and the crime rate will go up as those children reach adolescence and adulthood.  The human population will continue to expand resulting in further overuse of resources and eventually war over scarce natural resources.

There are more than 6 billion people on the planet now and we are rapidly approaching 7 billion.  The Earth is overpopulated.  If all farmers switched to organic farming, 2 to 3 billion people would starve to death.  Many of them are starving to death even now.  Many others live in squalid, miserable conditions.  It has been proven that a good way to end poverty is to give women control over their reproduction rate.  This would improve the lives of millions, if not billions.  Only someone who thinks suffering is a virtue and happiness a sin could be against that.

Overpopulation will inevitably lead to war over scarce resources (and religion, of course).  Indeed, it is clear that this has already started to happen.  When it becomes clear that the need for scarce resources threatens the survival of large numbers of people, the wars will become worse.  Competing religions will be used to justify them.  They will become battles for survival with fanatical supernatural beliefs motivating the warriors on each side.  (Again, this has already started.)  The wars will become nuclear.  The result will be a thousand times as many people killed in one day as there are abortions in any year or even several years.

Even if mankind survived as a species, we would lose huge portions of our modern infrastructure and civilization resulting in millions a year dying from mankind's loss of the ability to feed and otherwise care for such a large population.  Indeed, it is not too fanciful to suggest that the 6th great extinction event that is currently underway as a result of mankind's overpopulation could include mankind itself among the species that go extinct.

Here are the thoughts of two of the 20th Century's greatest thinkers on this subject:

  “I am convinced that some political and social activities and practices of the Catholic organizations are detrimental and even dangerous for the community as a whole, here and everywhere. I mention here only the fight against birth control at a time when overpopulation in various countries has become a serious threat to the health of people and a grave obstacle to any attempt to organize peace on this planet.” [ Albert Einstein, in a letter, 1954 ]

"People would rather commit suicide than learn to do math." [ Bertrand Russell ]

One of the things a non-believer might say to an opponent of abortion is:  "How can you can yourself 'pro-life' when you support policies that threaten the very existence of the human race?"


"Is it 'pro-life' to support policies that threaten the existence of the human race?"

In other words, a great number of lives could be lost by banning birth control and abortion.  It could perhaps even result in the extinction of humanity--as our population explosion has already resulted in a great number of extinctions of other species.  It is clear that our planet's ecosystem is already out of balance because of our numbers.  At the same time, it is not at all clear how many "lives" would actually be saved by banning abortion.

No one knows exactly how many abortions occurred in the U.S. prior to Roe v. Wade.  Likewise, no one know for certain how many women died from unsafe, illegal abortions per year.  The estimates seem to vary from a high of 10,000 cited by pro-choice advocates to a low of 60 cited by those who oppose abortions.  It is safe to say, however, that there would be an increase in such deaths if abortion were made illegal.

There would also be an increase in the number of murders and suicides in the U.S. starting about 15 to 20 years later.  That increase would be approximately 8,000-10,000 per year based on the drop in the number of murders in the U.S. starting some 20 years after abortion was legalized.   This would come with an increase in other crime as well.  These deaths and the effects on the unwanted children and the crime they will cause will offset a large number of the "lives saved" by preventing poor women from having abortions.

In the final analysis, religion's stance against birth control is extremely foolish, ill-conceived (no pun intended) and leads to a great deal of harm in the short run and catastrophic harm in the long run.  It does far more harm than good.  This is entirely because it is not based on reality.  Governmental policies focused on the reality of human nature would be far more effective, as the data show.  The countries with the lowest abortion rates are those with the least amount of religiosity and secular, humanistic policies.

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