John Kearney is a retired philosophy professor who taught at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has lived in Waterloo, Iowa for the past six years.
Governor Kim Reynolds’ position on the abortion issue seems to be inextricably linked to her religious beliefs. Prior to signing House File 732 at the Family Leadership Summit in July, she thanked the team at the Christian conservative organization The FAMiLY Leader: “You have lifted me up in prayer, grounded me in God’s word, and reminded me that He is always in control.”
Later in her prepared remarks for the bill signing, the governor said: “We read in Scripture that the Author of life wants to give ‘a future and a hope’ to all his children. Who are we to stand in his way?”
I take it that by signing the near-total abortion ban, Reynolds believes she is carrying out God’s will. She has God on her side. So, how can she be mistaken?
One wonders what Reynolds must think of Iowans who identify as Christians but who are ardently pro-choice. Or Iowans in the Jewish tradition who interpret Exodus 21: 22-23 to be saying that pregnant women have more value than fetuses? Are these individuals somehow misguided?
Interestingly, a Pew Research Center survey from 2020 found that
Americans are divided on the extent to which the country’s laws should reflect biblical teachings. Roughly half of adults say the Bible should influence U.S. laws either a great deal (23%) or some (26%), and more than a quarter (28%) say the Bible should prevail over the will of the people if the two are at odds […]. Half of Americans, meanwhile, say the Bible shouldn’t influence U.S. laws much (19%) or at all (31%).
There are nonreligious or “secular” arguments in the literature that support both the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” positions on abortion. There is not enough space in this post to present a detailed explanation of even one of these arguments. Suffice it to say that some pro-life philosophers have argued that abortion is wrong because it deprives the unborn of a valuable future, just like yours and mine.
On the other hand, some pro-choice partisans have claimed that there are cases in which a fetus, even when viewed as an innocent person, can pose such an enormous physical or psychological threat to a woman’s life or well-being such that, on self-defense grounds, an abortion may be justified.
One can, of course, raise objections to such arguments. And for half a century there has been a vigorous debate about abortion in academic journals. But the authors of these arguments do not pretend to be infallible. They do not invoke scripture in defense of their position.
Secular arguments lessen the risk of alienating those whose faith tradition may differ from one’s own, as well as the growing number of individuals who have no religious affiliation. I was surprised to learn, according to a 2016 report by the Public Religion Research Institute, that “as of 2015 nearly one in four (24%) Iowans identify as religiously unaffiliated” and “more than four in ten (42%) young Iowa adults are religiously unaffiliated.”
The last thing our state needs is division along religious lines. Politicians who are enamored with employing religious beliefs in support of public policy positions would do well to take note of that.
Top photo of John Kearney provided by the author and published with permission.