Ok, I admit it, the headline is deliberately provocative to get your attention. Vjack over at Atheist Revolution wrote an excellent blog, Religion's Toxis Effects in the Abortion Controversy, in which he demonstrates that religion turns honest discourse about an important controversy into black-and-white good-versus-evil mudslinging.
But my provocative title is apropos to my thesis: There is a solution to the Abortion controversy, but we'll never reach it until we stop trying to debate the abortion issue. It's hopeless. Atheists tend to dismiss the legitimate and heartfelt beliefs of religious people in the abortion debate. These are not a bunch of nut cases with silly beliefs; they are our friends and neighbors, and they honestly believe that abortion is murder. As Atheists, we can see that life and the human "soul" are purely physical phenomena, and it's hard for us to take the religious position seriously. But if we aren't careful, we risk getting into a pointless debate that will distract us from real progress.
The only solution to the abortion controversy is to eliminate the need for abortion completely. Years ago, I heard Professor Carl Djerassi, inventor of the birth-control pill, interviewed on the radio, and he put it best: "Wouldn't it be better if we lived in a world where women have full access to birth control, where no woman ever needs to seek an abortion again?" (Paraphrased, it was probably 25 years ago!)
Almost everyone in the United States, Atheists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha'i, you name it, agrees to a remarkable extent on one topic: Birth control is moral, and is a woman's right. Even the majority of Roman Catholics agree; they think the Pope and official Catholic ban on birth control is simply wrong, and that the Pope is out of touch with reality.
I propose that Atheists, and religious people of a more liberal nature who accept that abortion isn't murder, should stop engaging in the futile debate about when the human soul is created, and instead focus on birth control.
A tiny minority of ultra-conservative religious leaders have a monsterous influence on United States domestic and foreign policy. Their conservative views are preventing distribution of birth-control pills, condoms, medication, education and many other services that are desperately needed, here and abroad.
Right now, regions of Africa have stunnning and horrifying rates of AIDS infections, in some cases 25% of the population is infected and will die. These are poor countries to start with; the cost of caring for these people as they sicken and die, and the resulting explosion of orphans, will overwhelm all economic and social progress for decades. It is a tragedy greater than most of the greatest plagues in human history.
And it could have been prevented with an aggresive campaign that included sex education, condom distribution, and medical aid. Sociologists warned of this impending disaster years before it happened, but because the solution included birth control and abortion rights, the funds for birth control, condoms and education were withheld. This completely preventable plague was left to run wild, and will ultimately result in hundreds of millions of deaths worldwide.
So, let's start engaging our religious friends (and those we may not consider friends, too) in a debate about birth control and sex education. Let's break the stranglehold the ultraconservative churches, led by the Pope himself, have on American and world politics. Let's make it so that every woman in Africa has access to condoms, so that we can stop the AIDS epidemic. Let's give every teenager in the world a reality-based sex education (to use vjack's term), so that no girl ever has to have an abortion again. Let's teach young couples everywhere how to be responsible, and plan their families, so that every child born will be greeting by happy, excited parents who planned the event and look forward to raising a happy and healthy family.
The abortion debate is a dead end. We have to hold the line, keep abortion rights from being eroded, but that's it. But the birth-control debate can be meaningful, productive, and have a far greater impact on the health and well being of everyone in the world.