Discussing Veganism with Pro-Lifers

Shaun O Connor
5 min readMay 23, 2018
Save The 8th Campaigners in Cork City

There’s a referendum on abortion happening in Ireland this week.

In the Save the 8th (Pro-Life) literature there’s a very strong emphasis on ‘the Right to Life’. Pro-Choice arguments about women’s rights, bodily autonomy etc are countered with the contention that every abortion constitutes ‘the taking of a life’. This is obviously an emotive statement, and not incorrect. And it’s often used to trump all other arguments: life is a precious gift and needs to be fought for at all costs.

With this in mind, I’ve been asking Pro-Life campaigners their opinions on vegetarianism and veganism. What I assumed was that since they’re campaigning vigorously to save lives, this fervour would logically extend to the lives of animals (who unlike unborn foetuses, are conscious and experience pain and terror before being killed).

Over three weeks I spoke to eight campaigners in Cork city and asked them:

  1. Were they vegetarian / vegan
  2. Did they know of anyone in the Pro-Life campaign who was vegetarian / vegan
  3. Did they see any moral connectivity between the two issues

These questions were asked in a friendly, non-confrontational manner. If the campaigners asked how I was voting I said that I was undecided (in fact I’m going to vote to Pro-Choice). This was so as not to skew the conversation or make the campaigners feel that I was attacking or judging them.

Of the eight campaigners I spoke to (six men and two women) none were vegetarian or vegan, and none of them knew of a single person in the Pro-Life campaign who was.

Four said that it was ‘a controversial subject’ and ‘something to think about’. This was typically accompanied by a palpable awkwardness and I got the feeling that the topic was something they strongly did not want to discuss. But this wasn’t always the case.

One very well-spoken lady, obviously versed in Pro-Life arguments, said that she ate meat regularly. I asked if she saw any conflict with her being on the street campaigning for the right to life when her diet is arguably responsible for multiple deaths on that same day. She said it was something she’d never considered.

When I said I found it confusing that the life of an adult animal was worth less than that of an unborn human, she interrupted me to say:
A human — you just called the fetus a human.’
An effective argument, but irrelevant to our conversation.

Three of the campaigners responded to my questions with religious arguments. One guy in his early 20s pushed back strongly against my suggestion that animals have a right to life at all. He mentioned, without providing quotes, that the Bible states that animals are lesser than humans and so we can do what we want to them.

I asked:
“But don’t you think that animals are capable of fear and suffering?”
“Of course they are.”
“So why should an unborn, unconscious life have more rights than a conscious, suffering one?”
“Because animals don’t have souls.”
“And if they don’t have souls it’s ok for them to suffer and die?”
“No, but the Bible says it’s ok.”

We spoke further but it was plain he hadn’t interrogated this line of thought outside of a religious context. I told him that I admired his decision to campaign for a social issue but suggested he read up about the effects of meat agriculture. He said that I should read up about abortion. We shook hands and parted ways.

What was fascinating was that another campaigner used the same words on a later date: “Animals don’t have souls.” He also said that there are “levels of being” and that it’s OK to kill and eat animals because the Bible says “we have dominion over them”. I pushed him on this, asking whether we should slaughter animals, with or without Biblical permission. He responded, unbidden, that he was “against torturing animals”.

I said, “I don’t think anyone is actively for the torture of animals.”

He pointed at a nearby Repeal stall:
“They’re in favour of killing babies so they’re probably ok with torturing animals too”.

I found that this was a common style of response and attempts to explore the issues in depth kept getting brought back to “killing babies”.

The closest I got to any interest in animal welfare was a campaigner holding a placard outside a politician’s office. He was protesting that the politician was a Repeal supporter and therefore “a baby murderer”. This campaigner did express concern about animal welfare in factory farms, but their being slaughtered was not an issue.

I should point out that despite our differing opinions, everyone that I spoke to was patient, civil and willing to hear me out. At no point was I belittled or insulted.

And yet I found a striking lack of self-examination in terms of moral equivalence between these issues. The people I spoke to were vehemently ‘Pro-Life’ but only in the case of unborn human life.

That animals may suffer terribly and be slaughtered while conscious — arguably a much greater ethical offense than the abortion of an unconscious, undeveloped foetus was irrelevant. There seemed to be no issue with campaigning vociferously for the rights of the defenseless, then going home to eat a lamb stew.

Ultimately I was unable to coax a valid explanation from anyone I spoke to. It either became an unsolicited repetition of Pro-Life arguments (which I wasn’t disputing), an assertion that “animals don’t have souls” or a brick wall of “we’ll agree to disagree”. At no point did I hear a considered argument as to why Pro-Life is only for unborn humans but all animal life deserves to be destroyed and consumed.

I don’t mean this as a commentary on the referendum or animal rights, more an observation on the surprising lack of personal examination of Pro-Life campaigners on the subject. It also makes me wonder where the conviction of ‘the Right to Life’ comes from, if the vast majority of life on the planet have no right to it.

At the very least, if your campaign is based heavily on emotive language and a core message to ‘Save Lives’ at all costs, it should be made clear that your concern only extends to one species — yours — and that in your estimation all other lives are essentially worthless.