Californians for Life will hold its 2017 summit in Bakersfield one week from today (Friday, June 17 and Saturday, June 18). Pro-life advocate and atheist Terrisa Bukovinac, who is a longtime Secular Pro-Life leader and also heads up the San Francisco chapter of Pro-Life Future, will give a presentation on reaching secular audiences with the pro-life message.
To promote the upcoming summit, Terrisa appeared on a Catholic radio program earlier this week. You can listen to her interview at this link, starting around the 46-minute mark. It is also transcribed below.
|Terrisa at last January’s Walk for Life in San Francisco|
Host: We are going to the city of San Francisco, the city of St. Francis, where we are joined by Terrisa Bukovinac, from Secular Pro-Life. Terrisa, good morning.
Terrisa: Hi, good morning! Thanks for having me on.
Host: Good to have you with us. You’re going to be at this wonderful conference in Bakersfield?
Terrisa: Yes, absolutely. Very much looking forward to this year’s summit. We have been there for the last four years, and have had significantly more involvement each year, so this year we’re really excited about what we have planned and we really hope everybody can make it.
Host: Tell us a little bit about Secular Pro-Life.
Terrisa: Sure! So, Secular Pro-Life is an organization that primarily creates a safe space for pro-life atheists and agnostics, and other non-traditional pro-lifers. But it’s also an organization dedicated to helping the pro-life movement as a whole, using secular arguments, secular reasoning, and ways that we can connect with people using a shared basis of understanding when it comes to the abortion issue.
Host: So, you know, I’ve been pro-life my whole life, or at least since I first heard about this issue, because it really wasn’t much of an issue when I was growing up, or at least an issue that was talked about. I certainly wasn’t aware of it. And people have said to me, people on the other side of the issue have said “Well, it’s just because you’re Catholic, it’s just because you’re Christian, it’s just because that’s been drummed into your head since you were a little kid,” and I go “No, you know, we didn’t talk about it when I was a little kid.”
Host: I was a child of the fifties, you know, it was a different era. And I’ve always felt, and told people, even if I had no belief in God, I would still be pro-life.
Terrisa: Right, absolutely!
Host: You know, I believe in the Constitution of this country, I believe in the moral foundation of this country—as many problems as we’ve had, like any other country—I believe in basic human rights, and the right to life, the right to breathe the air, is the most basic of those rights. And then many other rights obviously are very important too, but as we’ve heard many times, if you don’t have the right to life, the rest of your rights don’t matter.
Host: And it kind of, I guess it kind of hurts and it feels a little bit too dismissive for somebody to say “Well, that’s just, that’s just because of your religion.” Not that having a religious reason would be wrong, but it’s… everybody should be pro-life.
Terrisa: Exactly. And there is an effort from our opposition to frame the issue as a religious issue so that it can be dismissed. Those efforts have been made since the very beginning. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who was a co-founder of NARAL, who eventually became pro-life as an atheist, he talked extensively about how pro-life opinions from atheists or pro-life opinions from Protestants were purposefully suppressed in order to frame this as a religious issue. So it’s been set up that way by our opposition. It’s such an important stereotype to work against, because like you said, it’s not based on a religious belief necessarily, unless you consider the belief in human rights to be a religious belief.
Terrisa: I think we would agree that most secularists or people of varying religions, for the most part are going to believe in what we would call human rights, and the human right to life. I think that there’s ways we can help get around that stereotype, and part of it is doing what you’re doing today, by inviting an atheist to speak on your radio show. I think it’s really important that we magnify voices of non-traditional pro-lifers, so that other non-traditional people, or people don’t traditionally fall into a pro-life category, will feel comfortable identifying as being pro-life. I know I personally did not say that I was pro-life, even though I had pro-life opinions, for years until I actually found Secular Pro-Life and thought oh, there are people like me out there, I can express this openly. So unless we are going to keep the movement 100% Christian, and primarily Catholic, it’s going to be really important for us to continue to magnify the voices of non-traditional pro-lifers in order to fight that stereotype that you mentioned.
Host: Yeah, you know it cuts—it should cut across all demographics, this right to life. And obviously I know there’s great opposition to the way we stand, but it is certainly not… I mean, I remember being part of the civil rights movement in the sixties, and a number of people, even though so much of it was founded in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference—people forget, people call him Dr. King, I call him Reverend King—
Host: There were a lot of ministers in there, but there were also a lot of atheists in the civil rights movement, and of course they were welcome! Nobody thought there was something, “Well why is an atheist in favor of civil rights?”
Host: Nobody found that to be unusual.
Terrisa: Exactly. And their messaging reflected that. Their messaging was “I am a man,” they didn’t—
Terrisa: They were very cohesive in keeping their messaging accessible to everyone, and they used a shared basis of understanding, and the foundation of human rights.
Host: Right, absolutely. So is there any conflict within the pro-life movement in terms of that? I would think it’s, everybody’s welcoming everybody, we need all hands on deck!
Terrisa: Yeah, I think that we know that that’s the case, that we do need all hands on deck, but I think that there’s a disconnect in how we can achieve that. I think it’s really important that… There’s other positions that people hold in the pro-life movement that are often linked to a pro-life position, such as religious liberty, marriage, opposition to marriage equality, thoughts about chastity, and things like that. And I think that it’s fine that people hold those positions, I mean certainly I believe in the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion, so I think that it’s… people are welcome to pursue those passions that they may have. But I think that when we do them in the context of a conversation about being pro-life, we’re really missing out, because we will initially alienate the people who we are actually trying to convince that this is a human rights violation. So if we’re throwing in other political ideas or we’re just trying to say that all “Leftists,” quote-unquote, are, you know, “of the devil” and “they’re doing the devil’s work,” and things like that; if we fall into that kind of rhetoric, then we’re just going to lose.
Host: No, I agree.
Terrisa: We have to embrace everyone.
Host: I say many, many times on this program, obviously this is a Catholic program, we’re not Republicans, Democrats, we’re not conservatives or liberals, we’re Catholic and we’re pro-life. And I get frustrated too sometimes when I go to some allegedly pro-life websites and—not the ones that are famous, but some of the ones that are a little bit out there—and you’re right, they’ve got, they’re talking about global warming! And all these other issues. I say don’t dilute the message, you know?
Terrisa: Right, this is about killing innocent human beings.
Host: Yes, yes.
Terrisa: This isn’t about all of these other outlying issues. If we’re going to be cohesive in our efforts, if we’re going to make the most of these events, like the summit, we have to stay laser-focused on this violation of a fundamental human right, and leave all the other issues aside for our spare time.
Host: (Laughs) For our spare time, that’s right.
Host: Well Terrisa, thanks so much for all you do, thanks for taking the time to be with us this morning.
Terrisa: My pleasure.
Host: And may the good Lord bless your work.
Terrisa: (Laughs) Thank you so much, it was a pleasure being here.