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This Week: The Original Motto Project

The Other "A" Word

In this long-awaited episode, the cast of Ask an Atheist discusses our position on abortion and responds to feedback about this topic. Speaking on this episode: Becky, Deanna, Nick, Mike, Libbie, Scott, Sam, Eileen, and Bob.

Additionally, Bob posted this blog post back in February about this subject: 5 Recommendations to the Pro-Life Movement

Episode Archive

About the Author: Becky Friedman

Becky works on the Ask An Atheist production team, frequently appears on episodes, and lends her voice to commercial announcements. She speaks Spanish, works as an educator in the Seattle-Tacoma area, and sits on the Board of Humanists of Washington.

Feedback and Commentary

10 Comments 0 Trackbacks
Kyle June 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Which girl said rampant orgying sounded awesome?

John M June 19, 2012 at 8:15 am

Interesting to apply some trolleyology to the problem. If the best defence of abortion is to de-humanise that which you are about to destroy, that is what to expect in arguments. Checkmate atheists:)

Becky June 19, 2012 at 11:47 am

The only runaway trolley problem presented is the group of toddlers vs. the 7 year-old. And most people would say that if you can only save one or the other, they’d save the group of toddlers. The argument is that most people already inherently don’t consider blastocysts or embryos human because (1) most would choose to save a 5-year-old child over a vial of frozen embryos, and because (2) abortion opponents don’t put pictures of blastocysts on posters. They put faces of children or faces of near-term fetuses. The only way to dehumanize a blastocyst is to have it be humanized in the first place. I’m not playing that particular chess game, John.

John M June 19, 2012 at 3:56 pm

We would both pass those tests, but that is not the case I had in mind. I was thinking about the rights and wrongs of doing away with a human being not for reasons of danger to the mother’s life, or even rape, but just the common garden reason of inconvenience.

When do you say we begin to exist? I say earlier…? were you…ever a blastocyst?

Dianne Leonard June 19, 2012 at 8:49 pm

I am 59, old enough to remember what it was like pre-Roe. In those days, the leading cause of death among women of childbearing age was septic abortion. Every hospital had wards for women who were suffering the effects of septic abortions. In 1972-73 I worked at a doctor’s office, and one of my jobs was calling the local hospital to schedule “TAs” (therapeutic abortions). California had one of the nation’s most liberal abortion laws, but you still had to get the approval of 3 doctors. I will never forget moving medical files to the “deceased” section, of women who died from (often) self-induced abortions. We fought hard for this right, and we must not let the Right take it away!

Sam June 20, 2012 at 1:11 am

I was once a blastocyst, and yeah, I’d say that I didn’t qualify as human then. If my parents had chosen to get rid of me, I wouldn’t have held it against them. ;P

Similarly, someday, I will die. After I die, I will more than likely be buried in spite of my wishes to be distilled into whiskey to be consumed by Martians if and when they should exist.

Actually, in either case I will be consumed, digested, and excreted. While those molecules may have once been me, and I was human, I don’t believe that the sewage deserves the same bill of rights that I did when I was still alive even though some of that sewage would be alive by the biological definition.

It’s a silly, outlier case, but it points out that the human/non-human (or, to be more precise worthy of protection) line is not a sharp as most folks would have us believe. Within the blastocyst-and-piss boundary box there’s a lot of room for debate, no doubt. But the line isn’t even as sharp as a Sudanese border.

Sam June 20, 2012 at 1:16 am

Also, did you just use “checkmate atheists” unsarcastically?

Eiji June 20, 2012 at 10:39 pm

Hi Sam,

I was kind of bummed out with the way the arguments were being made on the last show for pro-choice. It seemed like the panelist would start with a really good argument and then wander off to an ending of sarcasm.

If it is possible can you re-address these topics because I am really interested in a skeptic’s argument for these ideas.

There was an idea that between the first cell from conception to a full pre-born child there is a “spectrum”, I think an analogy of a color spectrum between green and blue was used to describe this. Now I like this analogy because I think it really hits a point of personal opinion and personal value. I was a student of the fine arts and I did a lot with color theory.

What I find is that how people perceive color and on a even bigger scale how people perceive art is very individual. For example, to me, the da-da era of art is nonsense but to others they are masterpieces. Now going back to the comparison of color spectrum and single cell embryo and full pre-born baby, I think there is a value that each individual person has toward when they feel that there is a human there.

I tried to think of another situation that this idea of a single cell versus a future stage evokes similar emotions. Then I thought of cancer. Cancer I though would be an interesting counter though process to a baby. This is because in both cases I think we can look at the “potential” of what these organisms hold. An embryo can lead to a human and a cancer cell can lead to tumor but with total opposite emotional ties to how we perceive these things.

That was a bit wordy so I will simplify. So for a pro-lifer a single cell embryo is seen to have value because of the potential it holds and there is an emotional tie to this potential. So regardless if it is one cell or a full baby this cluster of cells is valued in a positive way.

Now to a pro-choice person this may not be the case but to understand how a pro-life person might feel, think about a cancer cell. One cancer cell may not be a tumor and it may not be malignant but if you found one cancer cell in you body I think for most people even a single cancer cell would cause them emotionally to one to remove it. This idea of a spectrum, I don’t think it works very well because it seem that there is correlation where there is a point of physical critical mass that evokes emotions in people at deferent levels. Some people feel something at one cell for others it is when the baby comes out.

But on a side note how would you argue against a pro-lifer if they did bring the argument of the cancer cell? I stumped myself with this one… Ok so one cell that hold potential for growing into a child… I personally could abort because I as a pro-choice person value this single cell as something that can be terminated. But if I found even one cancer cell or ebola cell that holds the potential to kill me I would take that very seriously even if it is just one cell. That feeling of having to get rid of that single cancer cell, spun 180°to a positive mindset is what I think pro-lifers fell towards that single cell of a baby.

Quintin June 21, 2012 at 2:41 pm

I just listened to this episode earlier today and I’ve got to tell you I loved it. The format was perfect. Three speakers for fifteen minutes at a time with a specific topic. Everyone seemed well informed and focussed on their bit of the discussion. The segments were put in the right order, first the facts and some arguments, then some opinions from both sides, and finally real experiences showing that the pro life movement isn’t some monolithic institution either and that it’s OK to think differently (no dogma from you guys and girls).

Sofie Louise July 6, 2012 at 9:11 am


I actually agree with this not being the most sound arguments I’ve heard – nor the most convincing. Comparing it to the discussion on the Godless Bitches podcast, I found it a little lacking (or simply relying too much on too little).

On the GB pod, they compared the fetus to a parasite which it shares some features with and I actually found that to be a compelling analogy. Pregnancy is hard on the body – very much so, and if you don’t consider the fetus (or clump of cells, according to time) as more important than the mother, there’s really no way you can force a person to lend their body and organs to another being – especially not if there’s a chance it may end in death (or worsen the quality of life dramatically for the mother, which I think is seen much more often).

Bottomline really is that yes, I think these kinds of views are very individual (color spectrum was a great metaphor) which is why the individual person should get to decide whether or not to have an abortion. I think a medical deadline for abortions is positive if only because it will make the girl/ woman have to consider things carefully and make a conscious decision.

Birth control really should be the way to go but I think there’re two sides to religions’ opposition to this: Dogma and control – e.g. the national church where I live is not near as dogmatic nor as controlling as many of these churches seem to be and there’s not really any interference from their side when it comes to sex, abortions and birth control (never heard a peep, actually).


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