Hitchens? Really? Nat Hentoff wasn’t available?

Lisa Miller writes about pro-life atheists in this week’s Newsweek. (h/t JivinJ) I was all excited — then I read the article.

Miller asserts, regarding atheists who are pro-life, “Few of them are.” This may or may not be true, but just try determining it from the evidence she offers:

Abortion has been a wedge for more than 30 years because its moral volatility has forced Americans to choose sides: religious vs. secular, right vs. left, traditional vs. progressive. Atheists have generally aligned with the left.

Which, I feel compelled to point out, does not necessarily translate into support for abortion.

In a three-year-old Gallup poll, nearly 40 percent of Christians who attended church weekly said they believed that abortion should always be illegal.

What does this tell us about what atheists believe?

Meanwhile, nearly 40 percent of people with no religion (not atheists necessarily) said that abortion should be legal in all circumstances.

OK. How do the other 60% break down? Miller doesn’t say, because she doesn’t know.
The poll she’s citing only analyzes those respondents who said that abortion should be legal “in all circumstances” or “in no circumstances”; many self-identified pro-choicers don’t fit in the former category, and many self-identified pro-lifers don’t fit in the latter.

Wallace is likely one of the very few atheists who voted against Barack Obama, largely because of his abortion views.

I don’t know how to parse this. Is she saying it’s likely that Matt Wallace voted against Barack Obama, or likely that very few atheists did? Either way, she could have found out instead of just making an assumption.

It doesn’t get better. Miller holds up Christopher Hitchens as an exemplar of pro-life atheistic thought. Hitchens, who thinks RU-486 is a solution because “that will make abortion more like a contraceptive procedure than a surgical one.” I can only hope that’s a misquote. Worst of all, Miller apparently considers Hitchens’s incoherence a feature, not a bug:

One of the most sympathetic and intriguing aspects of the Hitchens plank, as he outlines it, is how little the atheist talks about fetal science (terms like “viability” and “neural development” rarely come up) and how much he cedes to his squeamishness on the matter […]

It’s inconsistent and imperfect, for how is a pharmaceutical abortion any different from a surgical one? But as he says, “I’m happy to say some problems don’t have solutions.” In the abortion wars, such honest reflection is progress indeed.

Yes, it’s helpful to recognize that sometimes our most fiercely defended views are based less on carefully considered arguments than on emotion and pre-logical gut feelings. On the other hand, one reason it’s helpful to recognize that is so that we can use reason to check our emotions and gut feelings lest they lead us to positions that harm ourselves or others. Not only does Miller not demand that Hitchens take that second step, she applauds him for not doing so.

I don’t want to be completely negative. It really is good to see a departure, any departure, from the standard narrative that all opposition to abortion is motivated by religion. Still, this was disappointing.

(While we’re on the subject, allow me to take this opportunity to promote the Pro-life Nonbelievers group on Atheist Nexus.)

8 thoughts on “Hitchens? Really? Nat Hentoff wasn’t available?

  1. I am prolife, but not an atheist–but if I were, I would not want to have Christopher Hitchens identified as my spokesperson, either.

  2. Good points, Jen.

    I would not call Hitchens an anti-choice “pro lifer” on the basis of this article. His views are consistent with the moderate “pro choice” stand.

  3. Thanks.

    Yeah, I mean, I know the terminology surrounding this issue is a mess, but … well, I can’t speak for pro-choicers, but I don’t know a lot of self-described pro-lifers who would claim him on the basis of the views in that article.

  4. Howdy Jen,

    I suggested Nat Hentoff…

    Ironically, during Campaign ’92, I started on the path from an “I oppose abortion but support a woman’s right to choose” pro-abortion stance to my current pro-life position after an altercation with another “pro-choicer” over the nature of RU-486.

    And for the record, I voted against Barack the Commie Rat Bastard for a multitude of reasons…

    — Matt Wallace, aka The Compleat Heretic

    also Founder and (erstwhile) Webmaster of the Atheist and Agnostic Pro-Life League

  5. Hey Matt,

    Out of curiosity, did she ask you how you voted?

    I wonder why they went with Hitchens. Probably because he’s more in the news these days.

    Are you on Atheist Nexus?

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