What Hemant Wouldn't Print

One of the folks at Secular Woman asked me to draft a response to the “pro-life” post at Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist blog. It was originally to be a guest post at Friendly Atheist, but Hemant decided not to publish this because he decided it didn’t fit the very narrow parameters he had set for a response to that post. He was willing to post the “pro-life” propaganda, but he was not willing to publish this. You can read Secular Woman’s take on his refusal here.

We at Secular Woman appreciate Hemant reaching out and clearing up the miscommunication over whether he was willing to host a pro-choice position on his blog. His apparent refusal was all the more alarming because it was unexpected, and we’re happy to see that part of this matter be resolved so easily.

Hemant asked for “A) a rebuttal to the specific things Kristine wrote about and B) the facts/data behind why being pro-choice makes sense”. While we understand why either of these might be considered the appropriate response to publishing a poorly reasoned, pro-life argument without comment, we feel those are not what the atheist community most needs right now. PZ Myers and Brianne Bilyeu have ably addressed the pseudoscience and non sequiturs of the original post. Avicenna has dealt with the humanitarian cost of “pro-life” stances. Commenters on the original post and across the atheist internet have made the argument that the bodily autonomy of people with a uterus does not disappear when that uterus is filled, the argument on which current legal rights are based, and they’ve done it repeatedly and well.

There is no need for Secular Woman to repeat the work of others. Instead, we would add our voices to those saying that playing at debate for the sake of debate on this matter is disrespectful to those nonbelievers (and believers) who face the possibility of unwanted pregnancy. Moreover, it adds to the voluminous threats to health and liberty they already face.

There is nothing that becomes new and fresh about the pseudoscience used to place unnecessary restrictions on abortion when the person using that pseudoscience is not religious. Nor is there anything suddenly newsworthy about the philosophical and emotional sleights of hand that confuse “person” with “human”, “fetus” with “baby”, or ending life with “murder” because they don’t come from a religious conservative. Using straw third-trimester “recreational” abortions to limit abortions well prior to fetal viability is a tactic decades old. Talking about the purported rights of a zygote, embryo, or fetus while treating the person gestating it as a uterus without rights is far older, as is the suggestion that women are not capable of understanding the ethical implications of their reproductive decisions.

These flaws in anti-abortion arguments have been documented and countered for as long as the arguments have been used. Tacking “secular” onto their description does nothing to make the arguments more valid or more worthy of being treated uncritically. We see no trend toward giving global warming denialists space to uncritically present their pseudoscience and poor argumentation simply because they aren’t all motivated by religion. We see no reason to do so with abortion.

In fact, we see compelling and immediate reasons not to. When we say we refuse to have a debate on the issue of abortion, this is only partly because the arguments of one side are so poor. We also refuse to dignify with the word “debate” those that are waging an assault on those who may become pregnant.

What do we mean when we say they’re waging an assault? We mean:

This is not a comprehensive list. Access to ethical medical care, bodily autonomy, and basic security are under a broad and constant assault. In this environment, we find it irresponsible and unethical to provide a platform for anything but the best available information and reasoning on the realities and ethics of abortion. Whatever one’s intended purpose, doing anything less puts people’s health, happiness, and their very lives on the line.

This is true wherever debates on abortion are hosted, but there are additional reasons to be clear and careful in one’s treatment of the topic of abortion in atheist, activist spaces. Despite some recent claims to the contrary, abortion rights have long been an area of atheist activism. Atheist groups have recognized the theocratic nature of the anti-choice movement, whether anti-choice organizations have explicitly called upon gods in their reasoning or attempted to hide their unconstitutional interest behind the pseudoscience and bad arguments adopted by the secular “pro-life” organizations. These groups, when crafting public policy positions, have rightly opposed the theocratic interference in our lawmaking.

This tradition has been one of the ways in which the U.S. atheist movement has made a clear break with the Christian culture in which it exists. As such, it has also been one of the few ways in which the atheist movement has staunchly stood by the interests of the women in this movement. Despite a history of erasing our past contributions and questioning our current worth, atheist women have not needed to worry that the movement to which they contribute was working against their interest in this regard. They have not had to take time out of their atheist activism to fight a threat to their rights in their own back yard.

Changing this now, either through planned action or reckless inattention, would be a serious setback for a movement that has gone through so much pain over the last few years in an attempt to become more welcoming to women. It would lead to additional turmoil, generate more bad press, and alienate the overwhelming majority of U.S. atheists who support legal abortion. For what? To provide a boost to pseudoscience and poor reasoning?

We at Secular Woman consider this a clear and easy choice. It is already the mission of most atheist activists to help others live lives based in the world’s realities. There is no reason to abandon that mission when the topic is abortion.


What Hemant Wouldn't Print

23 thoughts on “What Hemant Wouldn't Print

  1. 1

    An excellent post. Hemant’s treating this like a jolly hypothetical is truly ridiculous. He is of course free to run his blog how he wants, but setting himself up as the grand arbiter of the abortion “debate” is extremely crass.

  2. 2

    The idea that human freedoms are a matter of dry intellectual discussion? It is a cover for, and acts in support of the worst kinds of bigotry. Hemant should feel ashamed of himself… I’m sure he feels smugly superior and objective and other ways that fools and cretins celebrate their personality defects.

  3. 4

    I don’t believe debate should ever be anathema. I would never tell someone what they may or may not debate, as an intellectual exercise. If you find it satisfying and useful to do, do it.

    However, it’s not as if all people concerned in this matter somehow exist in a vacuum, where ours are the only conversations that occur. If a debate concerning the morality and permissibility of abortion had never taken place before, that would make it quite interesting to have one. But in actual fact this debate has taken place probably millions of times, between billions of people, throughout history and across the globe. You want to read an abortion debate? Well guess what– you’re in luck! They’re everywhere!

    The response to the utterly mundane, unsurprising notion that secular arguments against abortion exist shouldn’t be a gobsmacked “Oh really? Let’s hear ’em– come on, we need to evaluate these arguments!” No. You’ve heard them before. You’ve evaluated them before, countless times, yourself…and if you haven’t, where have you been? What are you doing trying to host a discussion about abortion in the first place, if you’re not intimately familiar with all of these arguments already?

    No. It is one thing to say that people can debate these things if they want. It’s another thing to say that a debate is what we need.

    We don’t need another fucking debate, any more than the gays need another debate.

  4. 5

    So he allows the anti-choice propagandist to post what amounts to lies and well, propaganda, but he is going to carefully screen the rebuttal?

    Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. I wonder if he dislocated his back bending over so far backwards to make himself ‘friendly’ to the anti-choice and anti-woman side.

  5. 6

    @5. He posted my rebuttal. He linked to my original piece which took a different approach to the issue. Bodily autonomy and embryology were already covered.

    So I wrote about the reality. The alternative to safe medical abortion is unsafe abortions. Are we going to jail mothers? Doctors? Quacks? This is what it looked like in the Philippines?

    What about the social evils such as starvation that abortion helps prevent.

    All the fancy ethics of the ivory tower are no use if they are detached from reality. And the reality is different.

    Sure it may be unethical to you to terminate a foetus solely because you cannot afford it but you aren’t the one starving already. It’s pocket money to you, it’s more starvation to them.

    I also wrote as one of those dirty abortionists you keep hearing about….

  6. 7

    I’ve never been a regular reader of Hemant’s blog. That’s due to the volume of blogs I already read. Still, I’d read enough by Hemant to consider him one of the better secular bloggers. I’m tremendously disappointed that he gave a platform to Kristine’s forced birth propaganda. I firmly believe in a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, and I support full access to contraception and abortion services for all women. I also believe that issues of human rights–such as a woman’s bodily autonomy–are not up for debate. It saddens me that Hemant appears to not agree with this and this lack of respect for women’s rights sours my opinion of the man.

  7. 8

    Cross-posted from Ophelia’s guest post:

    Refusing to publish this is definitely a faux pas on Hemant’s part. At a certain point, neutrality is itself a conscious decision to support the oppressive status quo…and when that neutrality is claimed in order to avoid the rebuttal of a position one has already published, that ‘certain point’ starts looking like beginning.

    The fact that we’re expected to stand calmly by while so-called ‘secular’ actors attempt to roll back women’s rights even in secular and atheist spaces is galling. All I can say is that I hope people like Ophelia and Stephanie and Rebecca Watson keep fighting

  8. 10

    In a vacuum it’s a strange thing: invite someone to post, then reject the post based on rules that were never shared.

    After a week of sanctimonious lectures about how everything should be on the table, everything should be contested…blah, blah, it’s…exasperating.

  9. 11

    This whole episode is exasperating. I really used to enjoy Hemant’s writing, but it is really difficult to view this in any way that isn’t incredibly offensive and dehumanizing. The whole “I’m just a neutral party” stance is such a cop out too. We make fun of news organizations for presenting “both sides”, there’s no way I can let this slide by.

  10. 12

    I just wish there were some way to protest Hemant as a group. A decision on my own part not to read his blog not only wouldn’t accomplish anything on its own, there’s no way for him to tie my “absence” to my disapproval of his actions.

  11. 13

    He deleted all my posts pointing out the flaws in the argument, but left the person whose response to my posts was to threaten to hook my genitals up to a car battery alone.

  12. 15

    He deleted all my posts pointing out the flaws in the argument, but left the person whose response to my posts was to threaten to hook my genitals up to a car battery alone.

    Really? Wow, some “debate”!

  13. 16

    Excellent posts. Along with bodily autonomy, these people have their heads in the sand if they think a woman not wanting to carry a pregnancy to term will not do everything in her power to make sure she doesn’t. Including harming herself to rid herself of an unwanted pregnancy. Abortion related deaths were on of the top ten causes of death before the passage of Roe v. Wade. Wealthy women will fly to where they can still get abortions legally, just as they did before 1973. It is the poor and middle class who will suffer. And anyone who thinks these children will be raised under optimal conditions is sadly deluded. I watched my own mother turn into an alcoholic after being forced to bear children she did not want, robbing me and my siblings of a childhood. I remember my mother sober and happy, my younger siblings do not.

  14. 17

    Foot, meet bullet. This is a serious misstep by Hemant given that his usual audience and the people who are willing to do the atheist census are a fair overlap.

    You know, not to mention the unfriendly nature of implying to women they aren’t people.

  15. 20

    Tony @7:

    I’ve never been a regular reader of Hemant’s blog. That’s due to the volume of blogs I already read. Still, I’d read enough by Hemant to consider him one of the better secular bloggers. I’m tremendously disappointed that he gave a platform to Kristine’s forced birth propaganda

    Same here! And I felt same about Secular Woman; just didn’t have time to check them out. As disappointed as I am with the “Fiendly” Atheist, I am really impressed with Secular Woman, and will make the time for them.

    (I caught Fiendly in the proofread, but thought it was fitting atm and let it stand.)`

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