Terrisa Bukovinac is an atheist who also happens to oppose abortion rights. She was recently featured in a video titled, “The Non-Religious Argument to Being Pro-Life,” sponsored by Illinois Right to Life.
I watched it. I’m not convinced. And that’s because it seems abundantly clear that the atheist “pro-life” argument is identical to the religious one, except Bukovinac didn’t invoke “God” throughout the monologue. Both arguments are logically flawed, though. An atheist who opposes abortion essentially says Abortion should be illegal because of my feelings, while a religious person would say Abortion should be illegal because of my feelings, which also happens to be what God wants.
It’s worth going through the video to see exactly what she says since her arguments are typical for the 11% of atheists who say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.
At the 1:53 mark of the video, Bukovinac describes what led to her becoming anti-choice:
What really changed it for me was, much later in life, I thought, “All of these billions of years of evolution have occurred, and eventually, somehow, I’ve come into existence, and I have this conscious experience where I get to explore the universe in a way that’s so rare!”
And I started thinking about: what would justify robbing someone of that very small opportunity to experience that?
What would justify it? A woman not wanting to be pregnant, that’s what.
By that logic, every moment you’re not having unprotected sex is preventing another potential human from exploring the universe. (That argument would also apply, I assume, to victims of rape.)
And if we want people to celebrate the experience of life and explore the universe, what about the woman who’s already doing that? Shouldn’t her experiences, feelings, needs, and desires matter?
It’s also an irrelevant argument. It’s great that she loves the wonders of the universe; that has no bearing on whether women should be forced to give birth. I love pizza, too. It doesn’t mean a fetus is automatically entitled to it or that I’m morally obligated to make sure it gets to eat some.
A woman shouldn’t be forced to donate her uterus as an incubator for an embryo or fetus, just as no one should be forced to donate bone marrow, kidneys, or other body parts for someone else’s survival. It’s fine if you choose that option, but it’s cruel (and illegal) to mandate it. Additionally, Bukovinac seems entirely unconcerned about the potential consequences for a woman forced by the government to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term.
Embryos and fetuses are never “robbed” of any opportunity because they were never entitled to those opportunities in the first place. Bukovinac wants all potential babies to have the kind of life she enjoys, but the truth is that she can’t predict what kind of life those babies would have. A baby born to a mother who doesn’t want it, or can’t properly care for it, or lives in poverty, or who carries a genetic disorder won’t necessarily live the sort of life Bukovinac dreams they’ll have. If that’s her goal, she’d be better off working to help people who are living right now get to that place instead of dreaming up a utopia that doesn’t exist.
When it comes down to it, she cares more about her own feelings than the feelings of women who are pregnant but don’t wish to be.
At 5:00, Bukovinac says:
… It is pro-lifers that want a separation of church and state. Pro-lifers want the law to reflect the scientific fact that life begins at fertilization, not just whenever we feel like life begins…
Absolutely any textbook on biology is going to define the fertilization of any mammal to be the beginning of that new mammal’s existence. For the most part, if someone’s challenging me on that, I like to just throw the challenge back at them and say: “Show me anywhere, any biology textbook that says anything other than that, and then we can talk about it.”
Don’t get misled by this red herring. Just because something fits some biological definition of life isn’t a justification for forcing women to go through with an unwanted pregnancy. Cancer cells and chickens and plants are living, too. That doesn’t stop us from getting vaccinated, eating meat, or clearing a garden.
Not every form of life is inherently precious, sacred, and valuable. That includes human forms of life. To say otherwise is arguably a religious position. (It’s religious people who believe we possess souls from conception thanks to God.) Furthermore, there’s a lot of context that biology textbooks don’t (and wouldn’t) include.
Laws must incorporate women’s bodily autonomy, choices, and lives. That’s why babies don’t get a birth certificate or social security number until after they’re born. It’s why we informally recognize new life only after babies take their first breath. It’s why we celebrate birthdays, not dates of conception.
The reason an embryo or fetus becomes valuable or precious is because a woman who has it in her uterus decides to keep it, allows it to fully gestate, and then gives birth to it.
… As an atheist, people ask me all the time, “Oh, how do you ground morality?” or, you know, “Why would you care about something like this?”
I think it’s pretty obvious that anybody living should want to live in a world where we’re free from violence…
What about the violence of forcing a woman to give birth to a baby against her will? Why does that not count?
A society where abortion is outlawed turns women into forced breeders. It takes away their autonomy. It’s arguably a form of slavery. Bukovinac advocates for this without even a second thought and doesn’t seem to consider the other side of the story because the first part feels so compelling to her.
While we’re at it, what about the violence of unsafe, unregulated, back-alley abortions, during which many women die? This used to be more of a reality in the United States before the practice became legal.
Bukovinac cares more about unborn fetuses than women who would suffer if her dream became a reality. Banning abortion would cause more harm to more women, something Bukovinac considers a violence-free world.
… Abortion itself is an act of inequality. The pre-born doesn’t have an equal right to life.
Her desire to ban abortion would take away the rights of women to control their own bodies. So I guess inequality is okay for Bukovinac when it involves other women, just not fetuses.
… Since Roe v. Wade was established… it has changed our moral landscape in the United States, and 56 million lives, roughly, have been lost to abortion since that day. If we’re considering the pre-born to be equal to born people, then that is clearly an act of discrimination.
Abortions have always happened in the United States, whether Bukovinac and other “pro-lifers” want to admit it or not. There will always be women who are pregnant but desperately don’t want to be. She conveniently neglected to mention the large numbers of women who died in America from unsafe, unregulated abortions before Roe v. Wade, estimated to be anywhere from 200,000 to 1.2 million a year.
This is ableism… Do we give people who are less able different rights than we give able-bodied born people? This is a perpetuation of a type of discrimination…
This is the same kind of rhetoric we hear from conservative Christians who see “persecution” everywhere they look. If a retail store isn’t celebrating Christmas, that’s somehow anti-Christian. Similarly, if a woman has the right to govern her own body, then people like Bukovinac claim it’s discrimination against fetuses.
When we are saying that abortion is a way for women to achieve equality, they are doing that literally on the backs of the pre-born.
Bukovinac, however, wants embryos and fetuses to exist on the backs of women. Their trauma, pain, and intense suffering doesn’t matter to her. That lack of empathy for other women is simply deplorable.
… A woman’s body makes a baby sometimes… She is a mother. She’s not deciding whether or not she wants to be a mother. She already is one.
She says that like women’s bodies magically create babies out of thin air. That’s obviously not the case. The fact that someone who became pregnant through rape could be described with the same cavalier “It just happens!” attitude is disturbing.
A woman doesn’t make a baby unless the woman agrees to allow her body to do so.
(For someone who says she’s frustrated by how the anti-abortion crowd are victims of inaccurate stereotypes, she sure plays into a lot of them.)
Incidentally, this video — “The Non-Religious Argument to Being Pro-Life” — was produced by Spirit Juice Studios, whose mission is “to form the best representation of Catholic values to advance the mission of the Church today.”
Maybe Bukovinac didn’t know that or didn’t care, but they were using her atheism to advance their openly religious message. Even if that didn’t matter to her, the mission makes it clear that these organizations have no desire to promote public policies that have been demonstrated, through research and evidence, to prevent unintended pregnancies. They’re guided by dogma, consequences be damned.
There is a way for atheists who feel abortions are immoral to act on their beliefs: They could be strong, outspoken advocates for comprehensive, evidence-based sex education in all public schools. They could aggressively speak out in favor of easily accessible, affordable birth control methods for everyone (including emergency contraception, which is taken up to five days after having unprotected sex and does not cause an abortion).
Bukovinac doesn’t talk about any of that in this video. Instead, she talks about why abortions should be illegal, failing to note all the things we could do to reduce the number of women who end up in a position where they want or need one.
Planned Parenthood, by the way, is the nationwide leader in providing comprehensive sex education, as well as access to condoms and contraceptives to the public at large, regardless of ability to pay.
Why doesn’t Bukovinac mention this? Why doesn’t Illinois Right to Life mention this? If they wanted to prevent abortions, they should be applauding those services. And if they really want to ban abortions, then they should spend more time answering a very relevant question: Then what?
Bukovinac certainly didn’t talk about how society should care for the babies born to mothers who didn’t want to have them.
(The article originally referred to viruses as living, which they’re not, so we changed that in the piece. My fault entirely. — Hemant)