A call for atheist activism in Northern Ireland for women’s rights.

On Tuesday 12th March a proposed amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, described as ‘entirely inappropriate’, ‘tacked on’ and ‘ill-thought out’, fell when it failed to gain cross-party support. This amendment was pushed by the unlikely partnership of the DUP and SDLP, and while I wouldn’t usually go out of my way to attack such surprising unity, in this case I and many others felt we had to. This amendment aimed to further curtail the rights of women in Northern Ireland by making abortion illegal outside of NHS premises.

Now what does this have to do with atheism, agnosticism, scepticism, secularism, etc.? At first it would seem not a lot as the vast majority of labels which the irreligious community tend to use describe only that, we lack a belief in the existence of deities. In many cases (though not all and it is in no way part of the definition) this extends to lacking a religion or any belief in the supernatural, and embracing the scientific method, as well as the vast majority of scientific knowledge. This is where I find the link.

In watching the debate I was appalled at the utter disregard many of the MLAs had for scientific understanding, not to mention their inability to grasp basic human biology. At one point an SDLP MLA was corrected on his spewing of nonsense, had it broken down and explained for him; his response, “Ah, well I don’t accept that.” That was seen as a win for the SDLP MLA. At various points MLAs even broke out into Christian sermons, quoting the bible and calling each other’s religiosity into question as a way to win an argument.

Even if we just look at this rejection and wilful ignorance of logical reasoning and evidence, there are grounds enough for sceptics (whether they prefer the C or the K) to be annoyed by this and pursue a course of activism. Likewise, secularists should be cringing and banging their heads upon tables in unison at the idea of not only religious groups having power over legislation, but that our political leaders personally and willingly bring it into this debate; turning a medical matter which they want to twist into a criminal one, somehow into a holy crusade.

Then I suppose the question remains, why call on the wider atheist community (by which I mean ‘a-theist’, lack of a belief in the existence of deities) to become involved? One argument I have heard against this is that anti-choice, so called ‘pro-life’, atheists do exist and that the atheist community must embrace them as well, unless we want to drive them away and reduce our numbers. Well likewise I’m sure that there are racist, homophobic and more widely sexist atheists too, but most atheist groups will have standards enough to say ‘change or leave’.

What I am suggesting is not a redefining of the word ‘atheist’, the religious do that enough for us, but rather that we use our numbers to affect positive change which would seem to fit the ideals of secularism and scepticism. If anything, this positive activism would attract more people and allow them to come out of the atheist closet than it would drive away. Plus, they’d likely be individuals you would rather spend time with over the bigots. If you want to see an example of a movement like this I’d suggest Atheism Plus.

I’d like to ask all atheist groups, no matter their focus, to support women in this effort to extend free, safe and legal abortion to Northern Ireland (I’d also love to see those in the south get involved as well). In doing so you’d be standing alongside the vast majority of medical and scientific evidence, that the limit should be set at 24 weeks and that women do not need to be ‘protected’, but should instead be trusted with their own bodies. I’m sure this argument could be extended to other causes as well and I warmly welcome that.


David Campbell

8 Replies to “A call for atheist activism in Northern Ireland for women’s rights.”

  1. I am deeply offended by your assumption that atheists have to be abortion supporters by default. I am as much an antitheist as I am an anti-abortionist, and this position is based on scientific facts. Not considering an embryo or fetus as a human being is unscientific and a perfect example of cognitive dissonance.

    1. Hi Frank,
      You may wish to read the article again as I very clearly said, “…anti-choice, so called ‘pro-life’, atheists do exist…”, so I was not at all suggesting that the default position of an atheist is to be pro-woman and pro-choice.

      Could you explain what you mean when you say that an embryo or foetus is a human being? Could then also go on to explain why an acorn is in fact an oak tree? Feel free to provide your aforementioned scientific facts to support your argument.


  2. Hi David,

    I haven’t read that paragraph before, just like most of the others. Could it be that the article has been heavily edited since I first commented?

    The acorn fallacy is as blindly repeated by abortionists as the creation myth by Christians. You should be aware that an oak is not a mammal but a plant and therefore has a different way of reproduction. However, if you compare the acorn in the earth to the fertilised egg in the ampulla, then the root making its way to the surface is similar to the morula making its way to the uterus. Shortly after breaking through the surface (which would be similar to the hatching of the embryo) you have an oak with leaves and twigs developing. While it is not a tree yet, it is most definitely an oak. (What else would you call it? A “potential oak”? A “timber blob”?)

    Similarly, the organs of the embryo develop rapidly after hatching, and the human shape can be recognised at a very early stage. Calling the embryo anything other than human is cognitive dissonance. You should note that there is not one biologist who claims that the embryo is not a human being, and therefore pro-abortion biologists resort to pseudo-philosophies, such as Richard Dawkins who claims that abortion is all right because the embryo or fetus being dismembered feels no more pain than a cow in a slaughterhouse. (I wonder how he knows this since he has been in neither situation.)

    (You may have noticed that I don’t consider the acorn to be an oak or the blastocyst to be a human – in my opinion, human life begins with the hatching of the embryo.)

    All the best,


    1. Has it been heavily edited? Ha! No. You’ve verging into conspiracy nut territory now. If you can’t remember reading the majority of my post then you either didn’t bother reading it (which seems pretty evident) or you need some serious help.

      I’m not at all sure why you’re calling me an ‘abortionist’, i.e. one who induces and performs abortions, but I certainly never claimed to be one. For clarification, I have never performed an abortion in my life, probably never will, but I support a woman’s choice to have an abortion and I have, and will continue to, help to inform women of their options and fight to expand them in Northern Ireland as well as hopefully in the Republic too.

      Yes, I’m aware an oak tree and an acorn are not mammals, it’s called an analogy…

      As for what an acorn with roots and the beginning of a shoot would be called, no, it certainly wouldn’t be an oak tree as it doesn’t have a wooden trunk. It’s not even a sapling at that point, it’s just a slightly bigger acorn.

      A human embryo is exactly that, a human embryo, just like a human sperm is a human sperm and a human hair is a human hair, but I’m not going to say that any of these things are an individual human being capable of conscious thought and action, nor should they have rights which supersede those of their person of origin. And I’m fairly sure you would find plenty of biologists, doctors, nurses, midwives, etc. who would completely agree with that, without having to resort to any kind of ‘pseudo-philosophy’.

      Could you provide a source for your Dawkins reference? Depending on the stage of development the central nervous system may not be developed enough to send pain signals, so that would hold to be true. Also, if it’s early enough (under 9 weeks) an early medical abortion (i.e. the abortion pill) can be used and so there is nothing there to feel pain.

  3. As you probably know already, the term “abortionist” is also used for those who support abortion (since the 19th century, check a dictionary), and I prefer it to the misleading term “pro-choice” (misleading because it promotes a choice for only one of the three parties involved: child, father and mother).

    The Dawkins quote in full is: “And there is every reason to suppose that all embryos, whether human or not, suffer far less than adult cows or sheep in a slaughterhouse”, from The God Delusion, page 336 of the Black Swan paperback (second last paragraph of the chapter “Faith and the Sanctity of Human Life”).

    1. Yes, and it’s a misleading term at that, you might as well just be calling me an ‘evolutionist’.

      As the boy or man’s (potentially not a father) body is not the one at risk, no, he doesn’t get a say in the matter, at least not one which trumps the girl or woman (potentially not a mother). And if you know anything at all about medical terminology you know that what is inside the girl or woman is not a child, it isn’t even a baby, so stop using purposefully overly emotive words to score cheap points; just shows the patheticness of your argument.

      Nice to see you you ignored everything else in the middle…

      As for the Dawkins quote, he makes exactly the point I have, that at an early enough stage there is no developed CNS and even earlier there is none at all, so there cannot be any experience of pain. He then says that at later stages a human embryo is as likely to suffer pain or as much pain as a cow or sheep embryo at a similar stage of development. However, having one’s spinal cord snipped and ‘dying’ a millisecond is not at all in competition with having one’s throat slit while conscious and dying slowly in pain and distress, a point that Dawkins makes clear.

      I think we’re done here as you’ve ignored a lot of what I’ve written, clearly didn’t even read it to begin with, accused me of lying and selectively quoted someone to ‘win’ an argument.

  4. David, you make a great point about alleged secular politicians sermonizing in Stormont. This is a source of much consternation for myself as an atheist. It is part of the reason I feel unrepresented by any politician in NI. Our voting system is a joke and may as well consist of two sets of football fans. I do think you’ve used a round peg in a square hole to illustrate the point, as abortion is a very emotive and controversial point which takes away from your main thread.

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