When debating the legality of abortion with an atheist there is often a rhetorical sleight of hand that takes place. Instead of framing the debate as a disagreement on the moral and legal treatment of the unborn child, the issue becomes a conflict between secularism and religion. The atheist may argue that the pro-life position held by a Catholic, for example, is an illegitimate political position in our country because such a position “establishes” the Catholic Church’s view on life and forces that view on people that are not Catholic. This in turn is an establishment of religion and results in the violation of the 1st Amendment of the Federal Constitution.
Francis Beckwith captures the essence of this rhetorical tactic in is book, Taking Rites Seriously, Pg. 5:
“Colb reframes the philosophical dispute as a conflict between ‘religion’ and ‘secularism.’ By arguing that the ‘religious’ view is counterintuitive to the secular understanding, Colb need not go any deeper in assessing the prolife case. For ‘secular’ is presented as virtually equivalent to ‘deliverance of reason.’ The implication is clear: the differing views of the nature of the embryo are not two contrary accounts of the same subject – each the result of rational argument – but rather, each view is about a different subject, one religious and the other rational.”
In fact, this is the exact argumentative tactic David Silverman makes in his debate with Dinesh D’Souza. From the 50 minute marker to about the 56 minute marker, D’Souza and Silverman argue about abortion and the principles of legal “establishment.” Towards the end of the interaction Silverman says something like – it is illegal to force the religion of anti-abortionism on non-adherents.
This argument by Silverman is completely mistaken.
Being pro-life is a moral point of view that can be religiously motivated or even completely atheistic. Advancing this moral perspective through the democratic process, if successful, would only be “establishing” a specific moral view on a specific topic. Let’s say the pro-life position won the day largely due to the Catholic vote, and women could no longer have abortions in this country. Does it follow that women are now forced to go to Mass on Sunday? Does it follow that women are being forced to attend RCIA and join the Catholic Church? Does it follow that women must now pray the Rosary everyday or receive a fine from the appropriate governing authorities?
What if the pro-life position was successful because the Muslim demographic successfully entered into the democratic process? Would we all be forced to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca? Would women be forced to wear burkas? Must we all pray five times a day and study the Koran?
What if the pro-life position was successful because the secular cause for life won the day at that ballot box? Would a liberal protestant have to stop going to church on Sunday? Would liberal Catholics have to renounce the Blessed Mother Mary? Would Muslims be forced to never pray again? Would orthodox Jews be forced to cease wearing a yarmulke?
Obviously, none of this follows. It is bogus to argue that advancing the pro-life perspective is forcing religion onto non-adherents. Modernist sophistry is unlimited when attempting to silence the pro-life cause.
– Lucas G. Westman