The secular pro-life position rests on the following premises:
1. The fetus is a human being.
2. There is no consistent, objective distinction between "person" and "human being."
3. Human beings possess human rights.
4. Bodily integrity is not sufficient to justify most abortions.
A "human being" is a member of the species homo sapiens. While there is much debate over when a human organism becomes a "person," there is not much debate over when a human organism begins biologically: "Biologically speaking, fertilization (or conception) is the beginning of human development. Fertilization normally occurs within several hours of ovulation (some authors report up to 24 hours) when a man’s sperm, or spermatozoon, combines with a woman’s egg, or secondary oocyte, inside a woman’s uterine tube (usually in the outer third of the uterine tube called the ampulla)."
Many pro-choicers concede that unborn children are human beings, but deny that the fetus is a "person" deserving of full human rights. Their views of what else is necessary to achieve personhood vary widely. Some of the more common positions are that to be a "person," a human being must also:
Have a heartbeat (which begins at 3-4 weeks gestation)
Produce brain waves (which begins at 6-7 weeks gestation)
Secular pro-lifers find these personhood restrictions aribtrary and inconsistent. Many of the proposed
criteria would, if applied consistently, deny the personhood of newborns, people with disabilities, and
other vulnerable groups. For more on the practical problems of separating "person" from "human
being," see the "Related Articles" box at right.
Suppose it was universally acknowledged that the fetus is a human being and agreed that there is no consistent, meaningful distinction between a "human being" and a "person." These two premises are still not sufficient to hold a pro-life perspective. Pro-lifers insist that abortion kills a human being and that killing human beings is (generally) wrong.
The general wrongness of killing people is, thankfully, a near-universal moral judgment (sociopaths
aside). The right to life is widely acknowledged by secular governments, human rights documents, and countless religious and philosophical traditions.
True, many people explain why killing is wrong from a religious perspective; for example, many point to the Biblical commandment that "thou shalt not kill." Most Christians believe people were made in God's image and/or that people have souls, and that this gives people value. But does that imply, like some have suggested, that secular people have no reason to find value in human life? No reason to feel passionate about injustices?
In a word: No. You do not have to be religious to value human life. You do not have to be religious
to see the humanity of the fetus. And you do not have to be religious to be pro-life.
Some pro-choicers sidestep the above premises entirely by basing their position solely on a strict adherence to the value of bodily integrity or autonomy. Secular Pro-Life agrees that bodily autonomy is an important value. However, it is not absolute.
The overwhelming majority of pregnancies occur as a result of consensual sex. It is unjust to deny an unborn child's right to life in favor of a bodily autonomy right that could have been vindicated earlier, and without violence, through the practice of abstinence or contraception.
It is also worth noting that bodily autonomy is essentially an after-the-fact rationalization; women do not actually have abortions in order to preserve their bodily autonomy. Research has consistently shown that women have abortions primarily for socio-economic reasons. The idea of a woman aborting because she feels that she's been "invaded by an alien parasite" is pure political rhetoric.