An Atheist and a Catholic Discuss Abortion.
The Scene: A Catholic is praying the Rosary outside a Planned Parenthood when he is approached by an atheist pro-choice Planned Parenthood supporter who happens to be on his lunch break. A conversation ensues…
Atheist: You’re praying for this woman’s health center to be closed aren’t you?
Catholic: Yes, I am.
Atheist: And you pray that abortion may be outlawed, don’t you?
Catholic: I do.
Atheist: In all circumstances?
Atheist: That’s my problem with you religious nuts. My daughter just had an abortion. You’d have stopped her, wouldn’t have you?
Catholic: I’d have tried to dissuade her from getting an abortion, yes.
Atheist: But then she’d be dead! It was an ectopic pregnancy. She removed the fertilized egg, what you’d call “murder,” to save her own life! You think your God would rather they both were dead don’t you?
Catholic: You say she removed a “fertilized egg,” you mean she removed a living human, correct?
Atheist: No. A fertilized egg is not a human anymore than a sperm is! If I wanted to say “living human” I would have.
Catholic: If the “fertilized egg” isn’t human, what is it?
Atheist: That’s a stupid question. It’s a fertilized egg! I thought that would be obvious. Why would you have wanted my daughter to painfully die instead of going to see a doctor?
Catholic: Nice appeal to emotion, but I haven’t said I wanted your daughter to die, have I? But let’s look closer at your “obvious” claim. Sure, a “fertilized egg” is a “fertilized egg” (that would be the law of identity), but that doesn't mean that a “fertilized egg” is not a human anymore than saying a toddler is a toddler means a toddler isn’t a human. You do admit toddlers are human?
Atheist: Of course.
Catholic: Let’s take a step back. Is a “fertilized egg” alive?
Atheist: Yes, but I’m saying that isn’t enough to say removing it is wrong.
Catholic: I agree. We need to ascertain what kind of living thing this “fertilized egg” is.
Atheist: It’s an egg.
Catholic: Right, but is it a living human fertilized egg or is it some other kind of living fertilized egg, perhaps we’re talking about a canine fertilized egg or a feline fertilized egg?
Atheist: Are you suggesting my daughter had sex with an animal? You Catholics…
Catholic: I’m not “suggesting” anything, I’m just trying to figure out what kind of living fertilized egg we are talking about. We both agree it’s human, correct?
Atheist: Of course it’s human. I’m insulted by the question! But that doesn’t mean anything. Did you wash your hands this morning?
Catholic: I’ve washed my hands several times today.
Atheist: Then you’ve murdered thousands of living things! Worse yet, thousands of living human things!
Catholic: I wonder if your analogy holds up. Is the “fertilized egg” genetically distinct from your daughter? Does it have it’s own, distinct, DNA?
Atheist: It does. It’s not a clone! What do you think my daughter is anyhow?
Catholic: Are the skin cells that die when I wash my hands genetically distinct from me? Do they have their own, distinct, DNA?
Catholic: Hand washing might not be the best analogy to abortion then as we both agree the “fertilized egg” is living, human, and genetically distinct from your daughter, while the skin cells in my hands do not possess those three characteristics. Lacking their own DNA code, the skin cells were just parts of my body. The genetically distinct “fertilized egg” that was removed wasn’t just a body part, it was a living human that is now dead.
Atheist: So you think my daughter should have died. End of story. Just like I said. You’re heartless.
Catholic: I don’t remember saying that and I’ll thank you for not putting words into my mouth. Would you agree that it is always wrong to kill an innocent person to save another person’s life?
Catholic: Had your daughter needed a heart transplant and your perfectly healthy neighbor had a perfect match would it by right for you to kill him, harvest his heart and give it to your daughter to preserve her life?
Atheist: Of course that would be wrong.
Catholic: I’m glad we agree on that too. Let’s call that “principle one.” Would you also agree with me that the following situation isn’t immoral?
Let’s say your daughter had gone on a cruise and the ship began to sink. There isn’t enough life boats for everyone, but your daughter ends up in one. She lives. Other people drown in the sea for lack of space in the boats.
I’d say your daughter has done nothing wrong in this case. She hasn’t murdered anyone by getting into a lifeboat to save her own life even if it was foreseen that some people (as an unfortunate and unavoidable side effect) would die in the sea for lack of space in the boats. All she did was a morally neutral act - get into a lifeboat to survive a sea disaster.
You don’t think she is morally responsible for murdering those who drowned, do you?
Atheist: Of course not. They died from the disaster at sea, not from my daughters actions. Maybe your God is to blame!
Catholic: If she had smashed someone over the head with a hammer and tossed them into the sea to make sure they didn’t take a seat she wanted, however, you’d agree that is murder?
Atheist: Yes, yes. You can’t go around killing people to save your own life, we already agreed to that.
Catholic: But in our example above, she is just saving her life, not killing other people, which is morally neutral? It is alright to save your life even if an unavoidable, unintended consequence of your morally neutral act results, indirectly, in the death of some other person.
Atheist: Quite right.
Catholic: Let’s call this “principle two.”
Atheist: Very well.
Catholic: Then with our agreement on these very basic moral principles and with what we’ve already agreed on regarding the nature of a “fertilized egg” I think we can conclude the following:
The unborn, as living, genetically distinct humans cannot be justly killed even to save another living, genetically distinct human. That is our “principle one.” Does that mean your daughter should have been left to die when her fallopian tube would have inevitably burst? Not at all.
An ectopic pregnancy can be morally resolved, not by directly killing the genetically distinct, living human (that would be like killing your neighbor for his heart), but it can be resolved by removing the part of the fallopian tube which is set to burst. Here we are treating the pathology in a morally neutral way (just like getting into a lifeboat is morally neutral), even though an unfortunate side consequence will be the death of the baby (like those left behind to die on the sinking ship). In the philosophy of ethics this is known as the law of double effect. It is a sad situation, but it isn’t an immoral one.
Atheist: Well… maybe you wouldn’t have let her die, but what about women with cancer or in other cases where the life of the mother is in danger?
Catholic: Our basic principle can be applied to any of those cases. We can treat the disease, even if it unfortunately results in the unavoidable death of the baby (our “principle 2”), but we can never directly kill the unborn simply to save the life of a born person (our “principle 1”). Directly killing the unborn (“abortion”) is always wrong.
Atheist: Yeah, well you Catholics are still heartless. You might not let a woman die but you still would punish women who are raped by making them have babies they didn’t choose to.
Catholic: The other “hard case,” eh? First, let me ask you do you oppose abortion in all cases other than rape and when the mother’s life is in danger? Do you support outlawing the 99% of abortions that occur for reasons other than these two? If so, let’s stop bickering and start working to end those abortions, the one’s we both agree are wrong.
Atheist: Not so fast. I think a woman has the right to choose.
Catholic: Your use of these “hard cases” is, then, just a rhetorical strategy?
Atheist: It sounds like you are avoiding my question. Would you punish a rape victim by forcing her to become a mother? Yes or no?
Catholic: I’m not avoiding your question. We’ve agreed on quite a lot, maybe we ought to see if we can agree on another basic moral principle to help us resolve this case. Let’s say a man went on a murderous rampage and then killed himself. Should the State execute the children of the murderer as they can’t execute the murderer himself?
Atheist: That sounds like some barbaric religious morality, not like mine.
Catholic: You don’t think the child of a murderer ought to be executed for the crimes of his father, even if those crimes are incredibly heinous?
Atheist: Absolutely not.
Catholic: Is rape a heinous crime?
Atheist: Do you even have to ask?
Catholic: Is the child the rapist or the rapist’s child?
Atheist: Obviously the child isn’t the rapist.
Catholic: The unborn child hasn’t committed a crime?
Atheist: Certainly not.
Catholic: You don’t think the crimes of the the father ought to allow a capital sentence to be executed on the son or daughter, right?
Atheist: Not at all.
Catholic: Then we seem to agree on this point too. From this we can conclude…
Atheist: Wait a minute. I don’t think abortion is okay in cases of rape because the child deserves a death sentence, but I do think it’s okay because the woman shouldn’t be punished for being raped! She isn’t the criminal either, you know. You pro lifers only care about unborn life. What about the woman’s life? Should she be made to suffer?
Catholic: The woman hasn’t done anything wrong and it is horrible and unjust that she has been violated in such a way. I certainly agree with you there.
Atheist: But you still want to punish her. You want her to be forced, against her will, to be a mother. That’s cruel.
Catholic: Do you think a raped woman should be able to kill a born child if that child was conceived against her will? Say the trauma is still too much for her after three years and she decides to kill the toddler on his third birthday. Do you think that is an okay choice?
Atheist: Of course not.
Catholic: I’m only extending that same protection to the life of those same children before they are born. I’m being consistent.
Atheist: But the children aren’t the same before they are born…
Catholic: Oh… I see. Your objection isn’t about rape, is it? You object to treating born and unborn children the same.
Atheist: Because the unborn aren’t the same!
Catholic: We’ve already shown they are living, genetically distinct humans. They aren’t “parts” of the woman’s body, but people in their own right. It sounds like you favor age discrimination. Can you give any good reason these living, genetically distinct humans ought to lack the rights of their born brothers and sisters?
Atheist: Yes and that is why I picked rape as an example. The unborn are burdensome to the mother. They are completely dependent on her! That makes them different.
Catholic: Are newborns “completely dependent” on others to help them?
Atheists: Not as dependent as the unborn!
Catholic: Are newborns or teenagers more dependent on their parents?
Atheist: Newborns, clearly. A teenager can suffice for themselves if they have to, but a newborn can’t.
Catholic: If the parents of a 17 year old leave their child home alone for an evening out or even a weekend vacation, would you say they are doing something wrong?
Atheist: No. I have a teenager myself and I have left them alone longer than that.
Catholic: Even without care being provided? No babysitter?
Atheist: They don’t need one at that age. You must be a helicopter parent.
Catholic: What if the parents of a newborn left for an evening out without providing any care for their newly born child, would that be wrong?
Atheist: That would be criminal. The baby would likely die.
Catholic: So you’re saying parents are more responsible for their children the more dependent they are on them for survival?
Catholic: And the unborn are the most dependent of all children?
Atheist: And therefore the parents are most responsible to keep them alive, that’s your point, isn’t it?
Atheist: But what about the rights of the woman, she is a victim here?
Catholic: If you steal my car is it okay for me to steal my neighbor’s TV?
Atheist: What? Of course not. Two wrongs don’t make a right.
Catholic: Right. And the horrible wrong of rape isn’t righted by another horrible act - killing the innocent unborn child.
Atheist: So you’re fine with making this woman suffer more?
Catholic: It’s regrettable and we should do everything possible as a society to eliminate the crime of rape and to punish rapists to the full extent of the law. Nonetheless, killing the innocent child is not an acceptable solution.
Atheist: You’re making this woman, this victim, be the mother of her assailant’s child.
Catholic: If she’s pregnant, she’s already the mother of the attacker’s child. I’m just saying making her the mother of a dead child isn’t the solution. As you said, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” The horror of the attack isn’t lessened by making the mother complicit in the death of her unborn child.
Atheist: I support choice. That’s the difference here. You want to impose your religious beliefs on women. I don’t. I think women are smart enough to make these choices for themselves. Choice is good.
Catholic: Is choice always good?
Atheist: Overall? Yes. I might not respect everyone’s choices, but I respect their right to make them.
Catholic: Is the choice of the man to become a rapist “good?”
Atheist: Of course not.
Catholic: Is the choice of the racist to murder African Americans “good?”
Atheist: I can’t believe you are even asking that.
Catholic: So “choice” isn’t always good.
Atheist: It depends on what is being chosen.
Catholic: Is killing innocent living, genetically distinct humans “good?”
Atheist: You know what, as a man, I don’t feel comfortable answering that. It’s a woman’s issue.
Catholic: Are all unborn babies female?
Catholic: So male babies are being aborted?
Atheist: I’d guess about half are male.
Catholic: You’d be wrong. More females are aborted, simply because they are female. That’s the true “war on women,” but you admit many male lives are being ended via abortion.
Catholic: How many of the aborted babies have male parents?
Atheist: Come now, all of them.
Catholic: Many male lives are being ended by abortion and every aborted child has a male parent?
Catholic: How is this only a female issue again?
Atheist: It’s a woman’s body…
Catholic: I thought we agreed the unborn are genetically distinct.
Atheist: We did.
Catholic: Then we aren’t talking just about the woman’s body are we? We’re primarily talking about the unborn child’s body.
Atheist: Well, we men don’t understand what it is like to be pregnant.
Catholic: No, but we were once unborn. We can be parents. And we are “living, genetically distinct humans.” I think that’s more than enough to make us interested in stopping the termination of human lives, even if we aren’t able to be pregnant.
Atheist: I don’t know. With all the disagreement over when a “living, genetically distinct, human” becomes a person, I just think it’s better to not impose the views, especially the religious views, of one group on the rest of society.
Catholic: How many times have I referred to God in this conversation?
Catholic: How often have I quoted the Bible or Church teaching?
Atheist: Not once.
Catholic: It doesn’t sound like we’re talking about a “religious view” then does it?
Atheist: Does your Church tell you abortion is wrong?
Catholic: Yes and it also tells me rape is wrong. Are you saying I shouldn’t support laws against rape because the Church is opposed to rape?
Atheist: Even if your position isn’t “religious,” it’s still just one view in a pluralistic society. Why should your definition of when a person comes into existence trump any one else’s? I think if we can’t agree, then the best policy is to leave the question to the individual conscience of each woman. I’m not saying the unborn are definitely not persons, just that we don’t know.
Catholic: Have you ever been hunting?
Atheist: No. Hunting is barbaric.
Catholic: I’ll resist the urge to point out the hypocrisy of your position.
Atheist: I’m okay with the mother animal eating it’s young, so I’m not a hypocrite.
Catholic: But you are aware that some people do enjoy hunting, yes? That it is a pastime some people partake in.
Catholic: And, you’re familiar with the possible situation that one hunter might not immediately recognize another hunter and might, by accident, shoot another hunter.
Atheist: Yes. I remember Vice President Cheney doing something like that. I really can’t stand Republicans.
Catholic: What would you say if we were hunting together and I saw a bush moving. You happen to be behind the bush, but I can’t tell for sure if it’s you or a deer behind the bush. My friend tells me it looks like a person. He even advances solid arguments showing that the creature I see is, in fact, a man not a deer. I, however, have another friend that says he isn’t sure what we are seeing behind the bush. Would I be justified in shooting?
Atheist: No. In fact you’d be guilty of at least criminal negligence, of manslaughter, if you killed me and rightly so.
Catholic: Why? My friends and I were unable to all agree that we were seeing a man.
Atheist: Why? Because it is irresponsible to shoot unless you are 100% certain you aren’t shooting a person!
Catholic: Right. And we shouldn’t abort an unborn child unless we are 100% certain they are not people. Are you 100% sure they are not people?
Catholic: Then abortion is, at least, a criminally negligent act, at worst premeditated murder. Either way, it isn’t something we can leave up individual conscience. We, as a society, have an obligation to protect all people, especially the most vulnerable.
Atheist: I don’t like abortion either. I actually don’t disagree with you that it’s a horrible thing. I think it sound be “safe, legal, and rare.”
Catholic: What’s horrible about it? Why should it be rare?
Atheist: Well… it… uh…
Catholic: We don’t describe routine “women’s health care” as “horrible,” do we?
Catholic: Don’t you think your moral repugnance might be telling you something about abortion?
Catholic: Would you consider an elective operation with a 50% mortality rate to be “safe?”
Atheist: Absolutely not. That’s why I support legal abortion, so 50% of women aren’t killed in back alley abortions. Are you suggesting half of all women who get an abortion are killed in the process? That’s absurd.
Catholic: I’m suggesting half of all “living, genetically distinct, humans” die in abortion.
Atheist: Hmmm… Well, you’ve given me a few things to think about. I’ll admit that much. I’m not convinced, but you’ve given me something to chew on. I’ve got to get back to work.
As the atheist walks away the Catholic picks back up his Rosary and begins to pray for his conversion.