Discover more from Friendly Atheist
"What If YOU Were Never Born?" is an Awful Argument Against Abortion
Kate Cohen takes that question apart in a new article
I’m writing my usual posts on Substack, without a paywall, while I wait for OnlySky to launch in early January. You can sign up there for a notification when the site goes live.
In the meantime, I would appreciate it greatly if you became a full subscriber! You can use the button below to subscribe to Substack or use my usual Patreon page!
There’s an old bit from comedian David Cross about what he hopes happens when he dies: Does he want to be buried or cremated? His answer is perfectly honest… and it becomes a punchline on its own.
I don't give a shit. I do not care… You fuckin’ do whatever you want, man. I'm dead… I don't care because I can't.
I mean, at least get some use out of my body, you know? Give it to a bunch of
necrophiliacs or something, and let them have a big ol’ circle jerk over me. I don't give a shit. I'm not gonna take it personally. I'm not gonna be offended…
Basically, it doesn’t matter what happens to your physical body after you die because you won’t be around to have an opinion about it. Sure, you can make a request ahead of time, but it’s not like you’re going to be able to verify that it happened. Your body’s fate is really all about satisfying the people around you, not you.
So what about the other end of the spectrum?
One of the common refrains you hear from anti-abortion activists is some version of this question: “Well, what if you were the one being aborted?” As if you’d change your mind about reproductive rights if the procedure prevented you personally from being born.
Kate Cohen, an atheist who’s previously written for the Washington Post, has a simple and honest response to that and it echoes the David Cross joke: Who cares? I wouldn’t be around to have an opinion on it.
Obvious, I know. But not being is a difficult concept for human beings to grasp, much less accept. It makes perfect sense that ancient peoples came up with stories to explain, all evidence to the contrary, that we continue to exist even after we don’t . . . and that we somehow existed before we did.
Of course she’s right. There are so many things that had to happen for us to be alive — so many things that could’ve gone differently leading up to our conception and so many things that could’ve gone wrong during the pregnancy — and the idea that we should treat abortion as some unique obstacle doesn’t make any sense.
It’s about as logical as demanding two specific people have a baby because of what they might produce. We wouldn’t force the possibility of conception upon people who aren’t interested in it, and we shouldn’t force birth upon women who don’t want to be pregnant.
But since we’re alive, the anti-abortion side implies, we’re supposed to have a pro-living bias. In their minds, the mother’s life and well-being always pale in comparison to the birth of a fetus.
Cohen summarizes that thinking like this:
Human lives, when seen this way, inhabit a strange kind of solidity even in the abstract: Before they live — even if they never live — these people were meant to be. And, if they do become (actual) people, their existence is retroactively deemed inevitable and necessary, “God’s will” and not just one of a zillion possible combinations of sperm and egg and time and chance.
It’s just humans attributing life (and everything that goes with it) to things that don’t have it. We often believe our dead loved ones are still hovering around us as angels, and we often think unborn humans have some magical right to exist. The consequences of the former are not necessarily harmful; the consequences of the latter are tragic.
That’s why, when some anti-abortion advocates argue, as a way to generate sympathy, that they weren’t supposed to exist because their mothers considered having an abortion — or perhaps were going through with it only to change their minds at the last second — it just doesn’t carry that much weight with everyone else. If you weren’t alive, sure, we’d miss out on who you became… but we also wouldn’t realize it.
It’s not worth dwelling on that idea because we’re all winners of a biological lottery. If we didn’t win, we’d never know we lost. (It’s really the best kind of lottery.)
Cohen concludes that there’s no dilemma on her end:
If I had to choose between my potential existence and my actual mother’s freedom? That’s easy. I’d choose my mother’s freedom every time.
Somehow, all of this is very upsetting to Brandon Gillespie of FOX News, who reproduced virtually her entire article under a headline that sounds shocked — shocked! — at the notion babies don’t have souls.
(Spoiler alert: None of us have souls. Get over it.)
Gillespie adds nothing original to Cohen’s article. It’s just a chance for the FOX News crowd to comment underneath the piece, and their reactions are exactly what you’d expect. A large dose of things like, “Since the existence of a spirit or soul has not been scientifically PROVEN, it has also NOT BEEN DISPROVEN.”
None of it addresses the substance of what she wrote. Which is just as well. There’s not much you can say to the realization that your existence isn’t some pre-ordained inevitable outcome that abortion rights advocates are interfering with.
It’s far better to never be born than born to a parent who never wanted you or in a circumstance that would make your existence a living hell.
(Featured image via Shutterstock)