This is what pro-lifers do. They usually do not make religious arguments when making their case publicly. Instead, they reason from widely-accepted moral/philosophical principles (e.g., murder should be illegal and every human being should have equal protection under the law) and scientific principles (e.g., a human being is the same kind of being from conception to death). Because both Christians and non-Christians share the ability to recognize basic moral truths (regardless of how those truths are actually grounded), and because the case against abortion can be made by arguing from these basic moral truths to pro-life conclusions, you will rarely (if ever) hear pro-life advocates appeal to their specific theological doctrines or cite the Bible to argue publicly against abortion. They have no interest in imposing their religion on others. They merely want the laws of our land to protect the lives of innocent unborn human beings just as they protect the innocent born ones.
The accusation that Christians have been “imposing their religion” on everyone through the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade has been widespread. Leaving aside the relevant point that the Supreme Court has not imposed a view of abortion on society but has merely returned abortion legislation to the states (since there is no actual right to abortion in the Constitution), is there any merit to the idea that the pro-life argument is religious? Well, yes and no. I do think the pro-life view is ultimately grounded in the Christian view of human beings, but not in the way most people think (and not in a way that would justify calling the argument “religious,” but we’ll get to that in a moment).
The pro-life argument, in its foundational form, is simple:
- It’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.
- Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings.
- Therefore, abortion is wrong.
The first thing to do when someone accuses you of making a religious argument against abortion is to clearly state the premises and conclusion of the argument and then ask, Which premise of this argument is religious?
I suspect most people’s answer will be #2,* but that is incorrect. The second premise depends on scientific reasons, not religious ones. It’s a biological fact that human beings are the same kind of organism from the moment they begin to exist, throughout every normal stage of development. Any embryology textbook will explain this. There’s no scientific reason to think we start out as some other kind of being and then become human at a later date.
The scientific truth is that the unborn is a living, growing, developing, very young human being. Abortion intentionally kills that human being. So no, the second premise is not where uniquely religious truth is hiding. (Incidentally, only those who argue for the mystical view that the unborn is later infused with a soul, or value, or whatever are making a “religious” claim about the unborn when it comes to this premise. Pro-lifers do not argue this way.)
Why Human Beings Have Equal Value and Equal Rights
That leaves the first premise: It’s wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings. Here is where Christianity (and Judaism before it) is informing the view that human beings are intrinsically valuable (having equal rights because all equally share a valuable human nature made in the image of God), not merely instrumentally valuable (with unequal rights earned as a result of individual characteristics), and that it’s wrong to end the lives of those who are inconvenient, or damaged, or unwanted. That religious idea utterly revolutionized the world over the last 2,000 years as Christianity spread—ending slavery in the West, fighting racism, making infanticide unthinkable, and more.
At each point in history when these evils were first opposed by those who believed in the Christian idea of intrinsic, equal human value, the Christians were ridiculed, but since the Christian view of human beings is actually true and beautiful, it has, by the mercy of God, prevailed. Thankfully, today in the West, Christians are no longer ridiculed for being against infanticide. Instead, most people are horrified by the very idea of it. But please hear me when I say you should not imagine you would have been against infanticide then if you are for abortion now. The same reasoning—a lack of belief in intrinsic human value, a belief that one’s convenience, economic situation, desires, etc. justify disposing of your children—has undergirded support for both practices.
So yes, it is very Christian to think human beings are valuable and should not be disposed of—no matter their characteristics, no matter the care they require from others, no matter whether or not they’re wanted by the world—and it is indeed lurking behind the first premise of the pro-life argument. After all, even our own founding documents here in America recognize the fact that our unalienable natural rights come from our Creator, who endowed them.