Metro State Atheists was nominated for one of MSCD’s Student Involvement & Leadership Awards, the Student Organization Of The Year, and we won!
Abortion is one of the most controversial issues of our time. Like most controversies, there exist two main sides that seem diametrically opposed to each other. However, I believe that in this conflict there is a way for both sides to work together towards a common goal that will benefit both human life and society for the long term. Before continuing it is important to clarify where each side stands. Those on the “pro-life” side assert that abortion is morally wrong. This is usually, but not always, based on the assertion that God (usually the Christian god) has a purpose for all human beings and that the soul enters the zygote at the moment of conception. If one holds these assertions as truth it isn’t difficult to feel some sympathy to for their position. For those who stand on the side of being “pro-choice”, abortion is seen as primarily a medical procedure. Further, most “pro-choicers” would say that it should be a last resort only after all other options and factors such as personal socioeconomic situation and health have been carefully considered. This is because abortion, by its very nature, is intrusive, can lead to irreparable damage to the reproductive abilities of the woman and can have severe emotional side-effects (similar to those of women who have miscarried, ie. natural abortion). Therefore, they see abortion as a choice but one that should be used sparingly.
One side feels it is absolutely wrong while the other sees it as treatment and thus not completely wrong. Most of the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” individuals I have known through the years would generally agree with this summary of their general views on the subject. However, there are extremists on both sides. Carl Sagan[i] said of them, “doubtful arguments are trotted out as certitudes”. Thus, it would appear that there is little possibility of reconciliation between the sides. One side feels it is absolutely wrong while the other sees it as treatment and thus not completely wrong. How then could they be convinced to work together? To what common goal could they possibly work towards? To begin, I point out that both sides can agree that abortion is at minimum, undesirable. With this minor agreement as a foundation let us consider other procedures past and present that have either been eradicated from medical practice or are presently being phased out due to current medical therapies/treatments/advances.
For simplicity, let us consider another undesirable medical practice that is less controversial, at least ethically; amputation. Surgical amputations “date back at least to the time of Hippocrates (c.460-375 B.C.), amputating limbs to save lives did not become widespread until the sixteenth century.”(Source) Obviously, amputations “were performed mainly to remove tissue that was already dead. The reason for this limitation is that early surgical techniques could not control the blood loss.” (Source) Advances were made in surgical practices to prevent this hemorrhaging such as tying off the arteries. (Source) Amputation is an extreme medical practice which, over time given medical advances, decreases in use relative to the population. In a 1998 article in the journal “Diabetes Care”, Andrew D. Morris, MD et.al. found that “rates in the U.S. Amputation rates appear to have decreased significantly since 1980–1982.”(Source) The reason given for the decrease was education about diabetes and advances in care. Another study found that “[t]he frequency of major amputations in the country in 1986-87 of 40.9 per 100,000 per year declined by 25% to 30.9 per 100,000 per year in 1989-90.”(Source), stating further that “vascular surgery reduces the number of major lower limb amputations.”(Source) Given these and many other examples, it is clear that medical advances both in practice and education are responsible for a great deal of the reduction in the use of such an invasive, life-altering, and extreme medical procedure.
How does this relate to abortion? Not only is abortion undesirable, it is also invasive, life-altering and extreme. Thus, just as with the case of amputation; where instead of targeting the practice itself the causes were targeted, we should strive to eliminate the causes of abortions as much as possible. Abortion is obviously necessary in certain cases such as fallopian-tube babies, that if left to go to term, would kill the mother. Furthermore, just as education about diabetes helped in the reduction of amputations, so too can better sex education and the elimination of “abstinence-only” education reduce the need for abortions among ignorant or accident-prone young people. The following quote from Carl Sagani drives this point home: “Shouldn’t opponents of abortion be handing out contraceptives and teaching school children how to use them? That would be an effective way to reduce the number of abortions.” Though it is true that you can’t prevent or solve all amputations, so too will we not be able to end all abortions. That is where technology and research is vital. However, we can, if we work together instead of fighting about who believes what, we can end most abortions by using sound judgment and trusted preventative practices to treat the causes rather than the treatment.
At this point I anticipate some resistance from those extreme pro-lifers who view contraception as evil and won’t have anything to do with it citing that it is God’s will that we end abortion. This argument seems fraught with logical problems. 1) If God chooses when we are born and when we die, then why couldn’t abortion be a tool of God? 2) If it’s God’s will that abortions end then shouldn’t he be offering a solution to us without us asking? 3) If it’s God’s will that we end abortion, could it be that his will includes research as described above and through His divine grace provide us an answer via data collected in such studies? In any case, it would seem to be in the best interest of even the most hardcore pro-lifer to work together with pro-choicers and to utilize sound and moral science to reduce the number of abortions. Instead of killing abortion doctors why not try putting them out of business in a more constructive and less violent way, and donate to an organization or research project that is attacking one of the many causes of abortions. That will accomplish far more than squabbling amongst each other about who’s right and who’s wrong. The truth is, neither group is right by themselves, they are only right together.
In summary, my hope is that I’ve made it clear to pro-choicers that pro-lifers are not all a bunch of scripture-spouting nut-bars that are out to turn the country into a theocracy. Also, pro-lifers are truly concerned about human life, just as much as any pro-choicer. The problem lies in the question of when “human” life begins. This question is not as clear-cut as both sides would like it to be, therefore the concerns of the pro-lifers about ending human life is a painful decision that is not completely baseless from a scientific point of view. Also, I’ve hope I’ve made it clear to pro-lifers that not all pro-choicers are malicious baby killers that care only for the reproductive rights of women and care nothing of potential human beings. There isn’t a single person that is truly for abortion, but one way to rid ourselves of it as much as possible is embracing science and giving medical research a chance to find the cure for the causes of abortion in an effort to greatly reduce the practice.
 ANDREW D. MORRIS, MD; RITCHIE MCALPINE, BSC; DOUGLAS STEINKE, BSC; DOUGLAS I.R. BOYLE, BSC; ABDUL-RAHIM EBRAHIM; NAVEEN VASUDEV; COLIN P.U. STEWART, MD; ROLAND T. JUNG, MD; GRAHAM P. LEESE, MD; THOMAS M. MACDONALD, MD ; RAY W. NEWTON, FRCP.
[i] In an article that first appeared in Parade magazine on April 22, 1990 entitled “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers”, quoted here from his book Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death the Brink of the Millennium (1997). The article appears as Chapter 15 entitled “Abortion: Is it Possible to be both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice?”
Metro State Atheists: Making noise, making a difference in Denver
by Joel Guttormson, Metro State Atheists at MSCD
Many things happen during a college semester: mid-terms, finals, work and…activism? Yes, activism! That is the case for us, Metro State Atheists (MSA), an affiliate of the Center for Inquiry. Besides the classes, work, and other academic responsibilities that we endure, we participated in some secular activist activity that put me in the spotlight both locally and nationally.
Not many can argue that 2008 wasn’t a historic election, not only for the entire country, but also for Colorado as we hosted the 2008 Democratic National Convention. However, that wasn’t the only history being made—at least trying to be made—in Colorado. Amendment 48, or the Personhood Amendment, was on its way to become the first legislation in the United States to not only completely ban abortion but also redefine the term “person”: “to include any human being from the moment of fertilization.” When our group became aware of this initiative early in the summer, we immediately knew that we had to do all we could to prevent this from passing. That is just what we did, come the fall. We contacted the political group “Protect Families Protect Choice,” to offer our support, and they responded by giving us informational material as well as yard signs, stickers, etc. We then had two informational tables set up two weeks out from the election urging people to vote no on Amendment 48. This caught the eye of our local news, Channel 9, which was in the process of doing stories on the different amendments on the Colorado ballot. They asked to interview me about Amendment 48 the next day on campus as a part of their series that aired live online. Come November 4th, Amendment 48 failed miserably, much to our pleasure. We’d like to think we had a hand it its demise, seeing as we worked quite hard on campus to that end.
Next, without much warning, came what would turn out to be the most media coverage we have ever received. MSA is a part of the Colorado Coalition of Reason, or COCORE, which put up 11 billboards in the Denver metro area and Colorado Springs. The message was similar to those seen elsewhere around the country. The billboards needed only eight words, “Don’t believe in God? You are not alone,” to ignite a controversy that took two local newscasts (11/13/08, 11/18/08) and a half-page opinion article in the Rocky Mountain News to clear up. The fervently religious were utterly offended that such a message was allowed in Denver. The story received national media attention when the Channel 7 news story made its way onto CNN.com. We saw our first hate mail ever, from Christians no less, calling us evil and full of hate. I got phone calls too! However, instead of being mean-spirited phone calls, they were supportive. A man from South Carolina called me, telling me that he appreciates what we are doing and asked me, as a fellow atheist, if there were any similar organizations such as MSA or COCORE in his area. Another call was from a Jew lending his support to the cause. This project was a great learning experience and we enjoyed the huge amount of media coverage it got. It made more of an impact that we could have hoped for in our wildest dreams.
The last and most recent event wasn’t really an event, so to speak. After rediscovering my cousin Becky via Facebook, I learned that her pastor is Bob Enyart who appeared on the same newscast as I regarding the aforementioned billboards. She told me that ever since she told Bob that I was her cousin, he has been wanting to have me on his show on 670 AM, KGOV. She then served as a go-between to make the proper arrangements for me to be on the show. In short order we arranged a date and time. I appeared on Bob Enyart Live on January 7th, 2009. We talked about atheism, the billboards, and about how I became an atheist. This was an advantageous interview as Bob has offered to advertise our events to people of an opposing viewpoint, which we believe is critical to our cause.
In closing, I’d like to stress the importance of organizing. Although the task of secular activism and attempting to effect change can be tough, and at times seem impossible, it can be done, even if it’s just change at the local level. Think big, but take baby steps. The American Revolution wasn’t born, fought, and won in a day. We need to stay vigilant, learning from every victory and, perhaps more importantly, from every defeat. When a minority is fighting a majority who commands all the power and resources, it amplifies the importance of cohesive, organized goal-oriented activism by many orders of magnitude. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe this is insufficient and passive. You must not only be the change but also be willing to work for it. Thus, I appeal to you all: work with us, fight hard, and we can bring about the change necessary to make this country what it once was!
Joel Guttormson is President of Metro State Atheists and a theoretical mathematics major, linguistics minor at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Joel also volunteers for CFI as a campus regional coordinator.