Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

Ask an Atheist about that Other A-word

As early as our days on public access, our viewers and listeners have eagerly asked us “When are you going to discuss abortion?”  In keeping with our founding purpose as a show dedicated to atheism, skepticism, and the separation of church and state, we searched for a way in which this intersects with the topic.  A few months ago we put our an open call to our listeners to provide us with non-religious reasons to oppose abortion rights.  While some listeners responded with a few arguments they’d encountered, we heard very few atheist abortion opponents.

On Sunday, you’ll hear from a range of us who’ve been involved in Ask an Atheist: Sam, Eileen, and Bob; Mike, Libbie, and Deanna; and Becky, Nick, and Scott.  I’ll save the bulk of the discussion to this awesome cast, but want to give a few points that will guide our discussion.

The majority of arguments against abortion are religiously motivated and not based on science.  Science says nothing about souls, about any god giving the breath of life or dreaming us into the wombs of our mothers.  Because of these deeply held beliefs, religious folks then attempt to make all sorts of reasons why abortion is bad, including but not limited to misinformation that abortion is dangerous, or that it leads to murder or infanticide being legalized, or any number of spurious arguments. AaA contributor Bob Seidensticker has deftly addressed these at his blog GalileoUnchained.

The question of when human life begins is, possibly inextricably, linked to the question of moral permissibility of abortion, and isn’t inherently religious nor spurious. I’m moved by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan’s essay that originally appeared in Billions and Billions (Thanks to listener Crankyhumanist for the link).  “We offer for consideration the earliest onset of human thinking as that criterion [for when abortion is not permissible],” they state.  Human thought, they explain, is as observed by brain waves characteristic of people age infant through adult. This essay is written, albeit years ago, from an intensely sensitive and humanistic perspective.

Please join us this Sunday as we discuss these and other issues related to abortion, reproductive rights, religion, and atheism.  It’s bound to be a chock-full episode!

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.

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“As early as our days on public access, our viewers and listeners have eagerly asked us ‘When are you going to discuss abortion?'”

Well, on to a relatively safe, non-controversial topic after the last threads. 😀

David M

It would be nice if you could touch base with Robert Price on this issue. I couldn’t care less about religious arguments against abortion and he is one of the few prominent atheists that I’m aware of that opposes abortion (I seem to remember that Hitchens was opposed as well though I never knew the particulars of his views). On the opposite side of the debate you have someone like Peter Singer who not only supports abortion but makes a rational case for infanticide as well.


I’m not so sure Hitchens was completely anti-abortion, but did question some standard pro-choice arguments, notably that a fetus doesn’t constitute a human life. And obviously, that’s an area where the devil is in the details. At one extreme, you have the ridiculous claim that a fertilized egg constitutes a “human life”. On the other, the idea that a baby is not an actual life until it has emerged from the womb. Lots of reasonable interpretation in between these extremes. Of course, it should also be pointed out that the idea of an embryo or fetus as not fully human… Read more »

Kal-el H

Apparently, Michigan’s legislature finds the word “vagina” offensive. A rep. was booted off the floor…even though they were discussing an abortion unfriendly bill HB5711.

Grammar Merchant

If I can recommend a helpful and fascinating book to any of the Ask an Atheist crew who have not already read it, that book would be “Practical Ethics” by Peter Singer. For those who don’t know, Singer is a consequentialist (full disclosure: Me, too!) who tackles everything from animal rights to the obligation of rich nations to assist poor nations to the argument over abortion. His abortion section lays out some pretty helpful encapsulations of the most common arguments of both sides and shows why BOTH sides fail to carry the day. It’s probably not a happy read for… Read more »

[…] Reasons to Oppose Abortion?June 19, 2012 By Hemant Mehta Leave a CommentThat was the topic on the Ask An Atheist podcast this past weekend:A few months ago we put our an open call to our listeners to provide us with […]

Anne C. Hanna

Great show, all. It was a little surprising to me that you were willing to take on such a heavily politicized topic in such a direct way as opposed to solely discussing it in terms of its relation to atheism. In my experience many atheist shows tend to shy away from the kind of approach you took to some extent, generally either because they want to stick fairly strictly to atheism, or because they have libertarian or conservative constituencies that they don’t want to marginalize. What made you decide that you wanted to (or were able to) take a different… Read more »


Hey, guys. I thought you may enjoy my recent story about the “other A word”. I’ll post a link here: I entered a small contest to try to pitch a local atheist network. The people running the contest were a little put off by the idea of an atheist network. But when I sumbitted a new idea the the contest, suddenly atheism was tame. Awesome show. I just wanted to add one thing: It ought not matter if a fetus is or is not a person. The whole personhood argument is smoke and mirrors. The question is, “Is it… Read more »

Mike Gillis


The reason we tackled it was because the motivations and organizations involved on one side of this battle are helplessly entwined with religion.

This is the same reason the show has taken a position in favor of same-sex marriage. We see both battles as a way for religious people to impose their supernaturalist
belief systems on other people.


Andrew – Time to bludgeon this “debate” with facts, logic, and the failure of instrumental reasoning. You know what argument is actually a false equivalency? That the inconvenience of a child is equal to the death of a in-uterine human. There’s a small risk to the health of the mother. There’a a 100% death rate for an aborted human. Debunking the “bodily autonomy” argument – There are intrinsic bodily demands on mothers and fathers by children and society post birth so it’s ridiculous to make an argument for bodily autonomy pre-birth. Going and earning a living, foraging for food, getting… Read more »

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