Monica Snyder gave up her childhood faith. But she never stopped being pro-life.
She opposes abortion for different reasons than her Catholic parents. Snyder doesn’t believe fetuses are made in the image of God. She doesn’t think they have eternal souls. Though her arguments differ, as an atheist with a master’s degree in forensic science from the University of California, Davis, her conclusions are the same: Human life begins with the zygote, and abortion is almost always wrong.
“Pro-choice people act as if they are morally neutral,” she said. “But abortion is not amoral.”
The executive director of Secular Pro-Life is one of a growing number of nonreligious people joining the pro-life cause. Historically, the pro-life movement has been almost exclusively religious, predominantly made up of Catholics and evangelicals. Nonreligious people—including the rising number of younger Americans who tell pollsters “none” when asked about their religious preference—generally defend a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.
But a 2022 Gallup poll found that 21 percent of the nones say abortion is morally wrong.
And as the pro-life movement celebrated the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade in June and then scrambled to fight abortion in 50 states, religious activists are increasingly finding themselves working side by side with secular allies. They welcome the support.
“The fact that these nonreligious groups are really coming alongside faith-based organizations is really significant and makes a powerful statement about where the movement is right now,” said Diane Ferraro, chief executive officer of Save the Storks, a Christian nonprofit that partners with pregnancy centers to provide free ultrasounds. “The tent is definitely getting bigger.”
It’s not just the extra bodies that help the cause, either. Christian pro-life leaders are glad to have non-Christians making secular arguments against abortion.
“The pro-choice strategy has been to paint the abortion debate as a religious argument,” said Frank Pavone, a Catholic priest and the national director of Priests for Life. “But the existence of these groups indicates that we can come to these pro-life conclusions with human reason alone.”
According to Pavone, the pro-life movement has always involved nonreligious groups, but their visibility seems to be increasing. At the annual March for Life in Washington, DC, a few years ago, one pro-lifer held up a sign that said, “For the Embryology Textbook Tells Me So,” while another had a sign that read, “Destroy the Patriarchy, Not the Preborn.” Many pro-life progressives have been frustrated by the way the Democratic Party doesn’t tolerate their views, Pavone said, so they’ve turned to grassroots activism.
A lot of that activism, in turn, focuses on using social media to elevate secular arguments against abortion and show the world that nonreligious pro-life people exist. The hashtag #secularprolife has more than 3.6 million views on TikTok, and #prolifefeminist has over 4.1 million. These numbers may be small potatoes for big-time content creators, but they still raise the profile of nonreligious pro-lifers.
Videos may reach nonreligious women who are considering abortions and feel alienated by the religious arguments against terminating their pregnancies. But the real target is people who want to know if it’s even okay for a nonreligious person to be pro-life.
Snyder says many on the left have never even heard nonreligious arguments against abortion. And for many atheists and agnostics, even expressing curiosity about pro-life positions can feel like a big risk. Pro-choice ideas are so dominant that asking questions can get you ostracized.
So Secular Pro-Life’s social media content shows nonreligious women who oppose abortion that they are not alone. One of @secular_pro_life’s most popular TikTok videos shows Snyder responding to people who say opposition to abortion is just “pushing religion.” The argument is a red herring and doesn’t respond to the real issue of human rights.
“You can do what I do,” Snyder says while holding a sleeping baby, “which is to say, ‘I’m an atheist. Do you want to address my points?’ ”
Another of her TikTok videos says that feminists who support abortion rights with slogans like “No Uterus, No Opinion” are erasing women and that feminists shouldn’t ignore those who hold pro-life views.
The way the algorithm works, watching that video will increase the likelihood a viewer sees other pro-life content too, like maybe the TikTok responding to the argument that women need access to abortions to have equality with the viral audio “Hmm, funny, yes, but not funny ‘ha ha’—funny ‘weird.’” The social media platform may then feed viewers something from the Equal Rights Institute, an abortion language sensitivity guide posted by Save the Storks, or an abortion survivor story posted by Live Action.
Beyond social media, Feminists Choosing Life of New York, an organization that welcomes any type of religious affiliation (or lack thereof), hosts educational events, organizes women on college campuses, and lobbies the state government.
The group has recently gotten involved in counterprotesting pro-choice groups that target pregnancy support centers, said executive director Michele Sterlace-Accorsi. There, they often end up side by side with religious organizations.
Conservative Christians may not agree with Sterlace-Accorsi’s argument that abortion is bad because it’s a tool of the patriarchy that oppresses women. But, she said, they unite around the common cause of defending life.
“Working together with people of all faiths is so crucial,” she said.
Despite the work of secular pro-life groups, the issue of abortion continues to polarize. States’ reactions to the Dobbs v. Jackson decision have been sharply divided on political party lines. The pro-choice position is increasingly considered nonnegotiable on the left.
That could make things hard for grassroots groups of nonreligious pro-lifers, said historian Daniel K. Williams, author of Defenders of the Unborn. They may not really feel at home in the broader movement, since it’s so religious, and they have to endure conflict with their nonreligious peers. That tension can be difficult to sustain.
For some activists, though, the secular groups are a hopeful sign for the future of the movement.
“It’s important that we all join together regardless of our walk with Christ, regardless of whether we’re atheist or Jewish, whatever our background is,” Ferarro of Save the Storks said. “It’s so imperative and so exciting, truly, to see people step up from all walks of life to choose life.”
Kathryn Watson is a reporter from New York City.
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