AS75: Pro-Life Humanist, Kristine Kruszelnicki

Today I have the executive director of, Kristine! Oftentimes it seems as though atheists are 100% pro-choice, but Kristine is here to represent the other side. She contends that there are perfectly reasonable secular arguments to be pro-life. I’m really excited to get into these arguments!

10 thoughts on “AS75: Pro-Life Humanist, Kristine Kruszelnicki”

  1. This was a perfect example of what makes this show so great: really provocative guests, and subject matter that requires you to think like few shows can!

    Kristine presents a good case for questioning abortion, and surprisingly, I don’t feel that I have to actually challenge her logic to show that what she proposes won’t work in reality.

    It’s more fun for me to do it this way as I’m sure there are probably arguments you could make from a staunch women’s rights point of view, but I won’t go there at the moment.

    I had actually already covered some of this ground mentally by myself, when first considering the abortion issue and finding myself amazed by how polarised everyone seems to be on it . I am largely pro-choice, but not because I hadn’t heard the thrust of Kristine’s argument before, or even that I disagree with her logic – more that I’d already thought my way around it.

    Kristine’s pro-life argument seems to be largely theoretical, hypothetical, and based on consideration of rights. This is all well and good, although generally I find that viewing problems through the lens of human rights can be misleading and in this case, it may be a red herring. The ability to have a right is predicated on at least 2 things: the resources to enforce the right and pursue those that abuse it, and the political will to stand up for the right in the first place. If either of these things is lacking, talk of human rights becomes largely irrelevant, as no-one will be able to help the rights holder anyway. This is why we see human rights abuses more often in poorer countries (no resources), or in countries with dogmatic or dictatorial regimes (no political will).

    Instead, I find it more useful to think what would happen in an ideal world, and go from there. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need rights because everyone would treat everyone else in a completely fair and respectful manner. There would also be no abortions, simply because there wouldn’t need to be any. However, we’re not living in an ideal world and limiting the ability of women to have abortions when necessary would have many negative consequences as well.

    The way I view it, the world has finite resources. Every new human right we create, and every new human which comes into existence to hold each of those rights, puts an increasing strain on the system. In a sense, everyone’s rights take away from everyone else’s. With more and more people, eventually, we run the risk of not being able to enforce the rights we claim to have given to the people at all. And (one of ) the problem with not allowing abortion is it tends to lead to more and more people.

    Going back to the kidanpped-adult-in-a-snowed-in-log-cabin-with-unknown-child thought experiment that Kristine mentioned, we can easily see how divorced from reality her position is by simply adding in more and more children for the beleaguered kidnappee to be responsible for, one by one. This merely simulates the strain on resources that many women and their families face, and I think that Kristine may be underestimating.

    Of course the adult present has an equal responsibility to look after every child they can. CAN being the operative word. Eventually, as the adult has more and more responsibilities, they can no longer meet some of those responsibilities to an acceptable extent. It is simply a problem of resources and spreading yourself too thinly. What about with ten or twenty kids crushed into the log cabin? Would you really blame the adult at this stage for locking themselves in a back room with a few of the kids to look after properly and just leaving the rest to build up and look after themselves in the front room?

    So I can think of at least 2 counter-arguments for you, Thomas:

    One. The argument from lack of resources
    Changing abortion law to allow fewer abortions would necessarily lead to to a massive increase in financial strain on hard pressed families from having to fund more children. It is very expensive to raise children, and having to do so against your original intent would only lead to more broken families, and poverty, and so financial inequality and social strife. The solution of the political right is likely to be personal responsibility, so you’d just have to come up with a lot of money out of thin air….so increased crime would be a distinct possibility. This is maybe not too unrealistic, but it’s certainly not at all clear to me that the world we’d be left with would be better than the current one.

    Two. The argument from improbable politics
    The left leaning solution to the childcare problem would avoid some of these issues by placing more of the burden on the state. It seems to me that the practicalities of limiting abortion successfully are predicated on quite a strong form of socialist government. Only the political left could bring itself to create the necessarily state-funded support services required for the massive increase in children who need looking after and who their parents can’t cope with. However, this seems very unrealistic in the current climate of economic recovery, and with the rise of the religious right, and may well never be realised. In fact, it may not even be possible (do we have any great examples of successful socialist governments or who aren’t saddled with economic debt?)

    The only other redoubt that I can think Kristine may hold is that somehow we move away from the modern culture of rich CEOs and low pay for everyone else, and return to a post-war era of social equality. In the 1950s, families could often manage with 3 or 4 kids just from the wage of one working parent in an average job. This situation was predicated on a top tax rate for the rich of about 90%. However, seeing as the political power is firmly with the rich people now, they are unlikely to want to revert to that era once again.

    1. So, by your two pronged test, all it takes to remove a marginalized group’s rights is to marginalize them slightly more.

      I would suggest a right exists regardless of it being recognized by the greater society. No one suppresses the banal and insipid speech of the masses; only the dangerous and disturbing expression of the radical, the non-conformist, the other.


    2. I agree fully with James and his comment is well written. I would only add that education not restrictive laws is the key to reducing abortions.

      We should teach and encourage every woman to practice birth control and to only have the number of children she can afford to raise. We cannot stop the ignorant from becoming baby factories, filling their homes with children resembling a roach invasion, but we can respect and help the intelligent who know when they are not prepared financially or mentally to raise another or any children. If birth control is taught and widely distributed, less women will need abortions. Education will help women make informed decisions. My mother told me about birth control when I was around 12 or 13 years old and she explained that I should get on it before having sex. I was 19 before I became sexually active. Being taught about birth control did not make me go out and immediately have sex but before I did I was on the pill. I talked openly about sex with my sons and they were not sexually active as teens. If they had decided to be, however, they would have known about how to prevent a pregnancy.

      Abortions should be the last choice and should not be taken lightly; but a person who does not want that child growing inside them should not be forced to have it. I am ok with mandatory counseling beforehand (assuming the counseling is fair and balanced) because the woman may not have had parents who were willing to be open with her about her choices. Perhaps the woman doesn’t know there are a multitude of families who would love to give her child a good home if she would only carry it to term. But if this woman doesn’t want to have the baby for whatever reason the humane thing to do is to abort it as soon as possible. The inhumane thing to do is to force a woman who does not want a child, or cannot afford a child, or is not prepared to raise a child to have one. There are times that it works out, parent and baby live happily till death takes them some other way, but there are too many cases where a child would have been better off aborted than brought into the world suffering life in an abusive or neglectful family. I respect the pro-lifers love of life but I just wish they would realize not every situation will be made wonderful if only they let every flower bloom. The bush must be trimmed or the whole thing will become sickly and eventually die. Saving one family at a time with education and compassion is far better than saving every fetus indiscriminately through force.

    3. I would like to respond to what you said here: “The way I view it, the world has finite resources. Every new human right we create, and every new human which comes into existence to hold each of those rights, puts an increasing strain on the system. In a sense, everyone’s rights take away from everyone else’s. With more and more people, eventually, we run the risk of not being able to enforce the rights we claim to have given to the people at all. And (one of ) the problem with not allowing abortion is it tends to lead to more and more people.”

      What if the population is still increasing even in spite of allowing of abortion? I understand your concern about overpopulation, but if you intend to use abortion as a means to decrease the population, then it would require forcing people to abort against their will. This is what I believe the pro-choice logic leads to and why I am against it.

    4. “we can easily see how divorced from reality her position is by simply adding in more and more children”

      I haven’t read your whole post, but it doesn’t look like it will address my concern about what you are saying here.

      To rebut the kidnapped-adult-in-a-snowed-in-log-cabin-with-unknown-child thought experiment (1), you have created a kidnapped-adult-in-a-snowed-in-log-cabin-with-MANY-unknown-children thought experiment (2). But try a kidnapped-adult-in-a-snowed-in-log-cabin-with-MANY-OF-HER-OWN-CHILDREN thought experiment (3). The objection to 1 that you raise by creating 2 would apply equally in the case of 3. Yet in the “3” situation, the law does oblige a parent to take care of the children. By the logic of your argument, we should solve this problem by throwing out all existing child-neglect / parental-responsibility laws.

      The real moral of both 2 and 3 is not that we should throw out basically good laws, but that laws should be made nuanced enough so as not to oblige people to do the impossible or to make extreme sacrifices. For non-extreme situations, the basic version of a good law can stand as it is.

      So as far as I can see, you haven’t found a way to avoid dealing with thought experiment 1 on its own terms.

  2. Thank you so much for having Kristine Kruszelnicki on your podcast! I too am pro-life and atheist. The issue of abortion is so relevant to me that I would gladly support a pro-life cause even if it was religiously based. Life takes priority over my annoyance at Christianity.

  3. Well I certainly seemed to have sparked some comments here!

    Listen I didn’t mean to offend anyone so apologies if I have. Maybe I didn’t describe what I was trying to say very well because some of you seem to think that I said something I didn’t mean to. I’ll briefly try and respond to the points which have been brought up.

    I don’t know if Bangs’s comment was about my comment or someone else’s, and since I don’t really understand what he means anyway, I’ll skip that one.

    This is one of those times where I think my view has been changed, at least a little, and there may be a wider debate worth having in society at large, trying to look at it all more objectively and avoiding the entrenched positions, if that is possible.

    Chanderklebs – 3.26 – are you saying that quantity of life is unreservedly more important than quality of life? If so we’re back to the point about morality that Ryan Born mentioned back in AS53 – why not simply have as many kids as possible if it leads to a moral peak?

    3.34 – Population IS increasing despite abortion. I didn’t mean to insinuate it’s a method of control. I understand how you may have got this from what I said, but the point I was trying to make was that the ability to enforce people’s rights (which is what makes rights worthwhile to have, as a piece of paper won’t stop a bullet, for example) may not be increasing quickly enough to match the pace of more and more people demanding more and more rights. This is basically just an argument for better, quicker and more efficient methods of bringing people to account for their wrongdoings. Perhaps some parts of international law and legal systems round the world don’t help in this regard.

    Acyutananda – I’m not trying to rebut the log cabin analogy, nor avoid dealing with it. I agree with it. It shows that someone has a responsibility towards not just their own children but everybody else’s, to the best of their abilities (I’ve always viewed myself as having these responsibilities at least, it can be quite useful motivator to keep going when I’m feeling down). However, where I don’t think it’s appropriate to use in this instance to argue against abortion, is that it doesn’t reflect the extent to which some people may not be able to handle responsibilities in certain very challenging circumstances.

    This is why I tried to expand upon the analogy by making it more “extreme”. I understand that anyone who neglects their children (no matter how many they have) in a manner which breaks the law will still need to held accountable. But I think that if we had no abortion, this sort of unfortunate circumstance involving the courts would be much more commonplace.

    In the end it’s (thankfully) not up to me what happens, but I think it would require a rapid cultural and societal shift towards contraception use (presumably you have nothing against that) in order to avoid a lot of extra suffering. And the data on contraception I’ve seen says: people don’t generally like using it, or at least they won’t use it if they can get away with it. I guess this is where I view Kristine’s pro-life stance as kind of admirable in a way, but I’m not sure humanity is ready to make it work.

    1. Thanks for a thoughtful reply.

      I support contraception, but agree that advances in its use, alone, are not likely soon to make the inclination to abort uncommon.

      “But I think that if we had no abortion, this sort of unfortunate circumstance involving the courts would be much more commonplace”

      Abortion simply as a way of limiting population would reduce the need for court procedures, but perhaps that’s not what you mean. Perhaps you mean that the enforcement of laws designed to prevent abortion, even without any effect on population levels, would entail a lot of court cases.

      Whenever there is an unwanted pregnancy, there is rarely going to be a happy outcome. And if there are many unwanted pregnancies in a particular society, there is going to be no happy outcome for the society as a whole. We just have to find the least of the evils.

      In the context of our moral compulsion to protect BORN persons from violence, also, we try to find the least of the evils. By enacting child-protection laws and laws to protect innocent adults, we create a tremendous social burden for ourselves in terms of prevention of violence and in terms of prosecution when prevention fails. Our courts are backlogged, our police are overstretched, our jails are bursting. But what kind of society would we have if we did not try to protect the innocent born? It would be worse. So we accept the trade-off. The costs of protecting the innocent are the lesser of the two evils. We accept those costs for the more important goal of saving what used to be called our “souls” — let’s say in modern terms, saving our humanistic consciences. It is worth it.

      Similarly, I think we as a society will incur further costs on the practical level, but inwardly will find a level of peace of mind that we had never found before, when we enact unborn child-protection laws — when we stop ignoring or denying what we are doing to the most defenseless among us, and begin to say no to it.

      The above lines involve a lot of simplification. Unborn children have no friends, and therefore they can be killed without inviting retaliation and starting feuds. And even though I consider an unborn person at any stage to have the same moral worth as a born person, due to bodily-rights considerations and other considerations abortion is more likely to be somewhat justified than killing a born person. Nevertheless I think that unrestricted abortion makes us less human than we could otherwise be.

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