Why Being Pro-Life Isn’t Religious Bigotry

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With the cascade of legal challenges and legislative battles following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, several state legislatures are implementing restrictions on abortion access. In the public sphere, the Supreme Court ruling has only added fuel to an already incendiary debate. A natural question arises from this conversation: is the pro-life position necessarily Christian? This question is pertinent to public policy concerns. Many critics of the pro-life movement claim abortion restrictions reflect religious dogma and thus violate the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment—either in letter or in spirit. How then can the Christian legally protect the unborn without imposing his or her beliefs on non-believers?

To answer the core question succinctly, one does not need to be a Christian (or even religious) to support pro-life policies. A pro-lifer need not be religious, and pro-life arguments do not need to refer to any religious teaching to substantiate their claims. Hence, advocating pro-life policies does not amount to cramming your religion down on non-believers, as is sometimes alleged.

Some may find this claim about the pro-life movement shocking or—more likely—strange. To ease such concerns, perhaps some further clarification is appropriate. By “the pro-life movement,” I am referring to the thought and ideas of the movement—namely, the broad objection to abortion. To be sure, the pro-life movement has historically been religious, but I wish to emphasize the cognitive content of the pro-life movement rather than engage in historical investigation.

Hence, to demonstrate the claim that the pro-life movement is not necessarily Christian (or religious), it is useful to outline what the general pro-life argument is. First, for brevity’s sake, we understand that murder is the intentional and wrongful killing of a human person. Next, we can lay out the argument as:

  1. Murder is wrong.
  2. Abortion is murder.
  3. Therefore, abortion is wrong.

This argument is bare bones, but, if the first and second premises are true, then the conclusion “abortion is wrong” logically must also be true.

Christians advocating for pro-life policies can proceed boldly without fearing legitimate criticisms of religious bigotry from abortion advocates.

It is not my intention to take you through any particular pro-life or pro-choice argument in excruciating detail as such discussion requires a much longer treatment. Instead, you should read carefully the claims in the pro-life argument presented above and then respond to this question: where are the Christian or religious claims in this bare-bones pro-life argument? At what point does the pro-lifer refer to Scripture or abstract theology? The pro-lifer simply does not.

Take the first premise: “Murder is wrong.” This premise is relatively uncontroversial as most moral and ethical systems recognize that murder is wrong—including those informed by naturalistic atheism.[1] Regardless of the plausibility of morality on atheism, the fact that virtually all worldviews(including atheism) affirm that murder is wrong is sufficient to demonstrate that one need not refer to any particular religion to maintain this claim.[2]

The second premise, “abortion is murder,” does not depend on any religious principles. The pro-lifer only needs to define “abortion” and “murder” properly to defend this claim. This work of defining terms goes beyond merely pointing to a dictionary and claiming, “See! There it is!” Instead, this work becomes increasingly technical as one digs further into the issue. Defining “murder,” for example, can further lead to defining “human person,” which brings with it a complex debate involving biology and philosophy. Without exhaustively surveying the field, suffice it to say that even the atheist could reasonably define terms in such a way where he or she could conclude that abortion is murder.[3] For example, Charles C. W. Cooke, a noted atheist claims, “As far as I am concerned, the core case against abortion neither presumes nor relies upon the existence of God, but holds simply that abortion involves the killing of an innocent human being, and that the killing of innocent human beings is wrong.”[4]

As for the conclusion, “abortion is wrong,” whatever has been said of the premises applies equally to the conclusion. If you have not supplied religion as a supporting reason in your premises, then religion will not be “baked into” your conclusion.

Historically, Christianity has deeply informed the pro-life movement—and with good reason. But the pro-life movement is not necessarily Christian, so Christians advocating for pro-life policies can proceed boldly without fearing legitimate criticisms of religious bigotry from abortion advocates. Furthermore, the claims that pro-life policies reflect religious dogma are little more than rhetorical flourish and fearmongering designed to discourage restricting access to abortion.

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[1] Some Christian scholars argue that atheists cannot reasonably or consistently maintain that murder is wrong, but it is best to set this issue aside for the moment. Many atheists sincerely believe they can consistently maintain that murder is wrong.

[2] To clarify the above, I believe that there are no such things as “secular” truths, as opposed to “spiritual” truths: All truth is God’s truth. Therefore, the fact that 2 + 2 = 4 is ultimately true because of God’s nature and Who He is (without getting into the metaphysical nitty-gritty of this claim). Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, I still think the atheist or the Hindu can reasonably believe that 2 + 2 = 4 even if their understanding of ultimate reality is misguided.

[3] I leave aside the broader philosophical debates on definition and language.

[4] Charles C. W. Cooke, “The Secular Case against Abortion,” National Review (Nov. 29, 2021).

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Mike Woundy

Mike Woundy is worship co-leader at Wakeminster Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. He received his MA in Philosophy of Religion from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing his Ph.D. Mike serves alongside his wife, Taylor, at church, and they are parents to Elanor and James.

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