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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Critical Thinking and Avoiding Logical Fallacies

[Today's guest post by Nate Sheets in the first of a series. The next post in the series will arrive sometime next week.]

One pattern I often see online is that people shape their worldviews in black and white. It doesn't matter what the subject is: abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, Dr. Who, the President, or pumpkin spice lattes--everyone seems to have an opinion, and that opinion seems to rarely declare: "there is grey area here!"

This is striking--at least in my mind--because at no other time have the majority of people (in the US) had virtually all of the wealth of human knowledge literally available at anytime, in virtually any place. We have the internet, with countless dissenting opinions and information, and yet we cling to our perspective with such clarity and confidence, often with little desire to dig into the thoughts of those whose opinions differ from ours. 



I have only recently begun to think critically using certain logical skills. While I have been an atheist for at least 5 years, and a pro-lifer since being a teenager, I only began to recently understand what it means to really think critically. What I found was a whole new world of perspective, leading me to fewer sure opinions, more "I-don't-know"s, and increased wonderment at the universe. 

Over the next few weeks, I will be working out the concept of logical fallacies with all of you. I am by no means an expert in logic or critical thinking, but one thing is clear to me when I read any abortion-related article, blog post, or comment thread on the internet: people revel in their own logical fallacies. If you point it out to someone, they likely will not care, or they will change the subject. I used to react this way myself when my own logical fallacies were pointed out, because I was not familiar with the big-picture of logic and critical thinking, nor was I appreciative of them. 

Assertions and Evidence
It is easier to assert without evidence than it is to assert with evidence. Because of this reality, we often employ logical fallacies to "enhance" our assertions. What ends up happening is that assertions are made that the other side can quite easily take down. So we scramble and move on to the next argument, or we try and enhance our position with another logical fallacy. (Sometimes we don't respond or we block people from our Facebook pages, because those things are easier to do than to abandon our original assertions.)

Politicians often rely on logical fallacies and making assertions without evidence. (From xkcd)
We need to make Arguments, not assertions. 
The difference between an argument and an assertion is probably obvious: arguments give reasons for why we believe our position. Logical fallacies come into play here as well--our brains often justify our positions using seemingly-reasonable lines of thought. However, when closely examined, these lines of fault end up being fallacious, and we have to start again. Unless we're on the internet, in which case we're already 200 comments in and it's too late. 

Examples

"Abortion is wrong."
This is an assertion. There is no argument, nor is there any evidence. In other words, it sucks.

"Abortion is wrong because God says so." 
This is an argument with unacceptable evidence. There are many gods, many versions of his supposed writings, and many interpretations of those said writings. It is not a compelling argument.

"Abortion is wrong. Many biologists and doctors believe this."
This is an argument with a logical fallacy. Do you know which one? We'll talk about it in the coming posts!

I am writing these posts just as much for me as for those of you who are interested in critical thinking. Personally, I enjoy having my worldview, my beliefs, and my strategies challenged. This series of posts isn't meant to reach out to pro-choicers, nor to every pro-lifer. My hope is that when you encounter a bad argument on either side, you can identify it and (hopefully!) correct it in an effective way. My bigger hope, however, is that you begin to see these logical fallacies in yourself. 

I invite other pro-lifers with more seasoned abilities to contact me with corrections, clarifications, or other thoughts you have. You can reach me by email at skepticalprolifer@gmail.com.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

SPL on the Atheist Analysis podcast

On Sunday night, SPL appeared on Atheist Analysis for what was intended to be a one-hour podcast. It wound up being closer to two hours. Nobody had any sudden pro-choice to pro-life conversions (or vice versa), but it was a great discussion and we found a lot of common ground. Watch/listen below, and let us know how we did!



Your next chance to catch Secular Pro-Life will be this Saturday at the second annual Vitae et Veritas conference at Yale. Details and registration here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

How does the pro-life movement look to LGBT pro-lifers?

Secular Pro-Life strongly encourages pro-lifers from different backgrounds to seek to understand one another and form coalitions in the fight against abortion. SPL’s main focus, obviously, is on different religious backgrounds. We ask our allies in the pro-life movement to help SPL create space for pro-life secularists and give secularists a stronger voice in the movement. In turn, we feel it’s important that SPL helps give a stronger voice to other non-traditional pro-lifers.

Today’s blog post focuses on the perspectives of LGBT pro-lifers. We interviewed four pro-lifers who identify as follows:

Deanna Unyk, a queer atheist.
Nate Sheets, a gay atheist.
Albany Rose Saindon, a pansexual atheist.
Rachel E., a bisexual Roman Catholic.

SPL does not necessarily agree with every view expressed in this post, but we leave the content unedited in order to give a voice to an element of the pro-life movement that is frequently ignored. We hope the perspectives here will help all of us gain better insight into how the pro-life movement looks to pro-lifers of different sexualities.





How would you define the term "pro-life"?

Deanna: I would define "pro-life" as the position that abortion, in general, ought to be illegal.

Nate: People who are pro-life think that there are better alternatives to ending life in the womb. They have a variety of reasons for believing this.

Albany: “Pro-Life,” to me, is knowing all innocent life is valuable, born and pre-born. I think being pro-life means never being cruel, condemning, or saying harsh words towards abortion-minded or post-abortive men and women. We cannot fit into the stereotype that we simply care about the fetus. We must always show love, kindness, and patience. Without that we won't get very far.

Rachel: Generally, I think being pro-life means respecting the right to life of human beings from fertilization to a natural death.


Some people believe abortion has relatively little effect on the LGBT community. Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

Deanna: I guess my shortest answer would be yes and no. Yes, because those in monogamous homosexual relationships would be less likely to have to deal with unintended pregnancy for obvious reasons. On the other hand, though, bisexuals can be engaged in monogamous heterosexual relationships. Lesbians can still get pregnant from rape and gay men can suffer from the past abortions of former lovers. Trans men who haven't had bottom surgery can still engage in procreative sex and end up pregnant and trans women can get others pregnant if they are having procreative sex. So, the LGBT community is not necessarily immune to unintended pregnancy and thus the legal option of abortion.

It is important to consider also that when LGBT people have an experience with unintended pregnancy they may face different challenges than their straight counterparts. They may view the pregnancy as a blow to their personal identity and there are unique challenges that come with that.

Furthermore, from a pro-life standpoint, abortion is the biggest human rights violation in our society, and I believe anytime one group is being mistreated in a particular society it affects all members of that society. In that sense abortion affects all of us, LGBT people included.


Nate: I guess I can understand that perspective. In some ways, abortion has little to do with us, but you could say the same thing about any other civil rights issue. LGBT people have experienced a history of violence, discrimination, and oppression, and so have the unborn, though in a different way. But no, I don't link the issue of abortion to LGBT rights normally. 




Rachel: I definitely disagree with the notion that abortion has little effect on the LGBT community. I think there’s a general principle that we as people are not insular. We can’t simply say “Oh, that’s someone else’s issue.” Injustice against one community of the human family is an injustice against all people. We are LGBT people and we can help change the world.

Beyond the ideas of solidarity with the entire human community, I think there are a few issues that affect the LGBT community specifically:

If there was a “gay gene” that could be detected before birth, I believe some people would take advantage of that. Some people would have abortions simply because the unborn person would grow up to be an LGBT adult.

Transgender men (people designated at birth as female who identify as men) are a particularly vulnerable population in the current climate. Because many of these men have not transitioned physically, they are capable of being pregnant. This poses so many problems for the individual – most do not feel that, as a man, there should be any pregnancy involved. The result of pregnancy in a transgender man can be extremely dysphoric; their body is performing processes that they’ve tried to escape.

Because of the heteronormative nature of most sexual education programs, LGBT people are far less likely to use forms of protection in their sexual activities. The lesbian and bisexual teen pregnancy rate is 12% higher than heterosexual peers, and they experience twice the risk for unintended pregnancy. It’s not what’s usually expected, but LGBT people do get pregnant.

Additionally, many don’t realize that LGBT people are just as susceptible, if not more susceptible, to rape as heterosexual people are. According to 2013 data from the CDC, lesbians and gay men report lifetime levels of sexual violence equal to those of heterosexuals, and bisexual women actually experience significantly higher rates of sexual violence. We cannot forget the very real fact that LGBT people can also experience pregnancies that result from rape.

Finally, many LGBT people are waiting to adopt children. I don’t think this is the first reason to be pro-life, but I think it’s a good supplementary reason.



How would you describe your own position on abortion? How long have you held that position and how did you arrive at it?

Deanna: I would describe myself as pro-life, because I believe most forms of abortion ought to be illegal. Until about 6 months ago, I was pro-choice and I wrote a blog called "Restringing the Violinist" where I focused on defending bodily rights arguments. So I'm pretty new to the movement.

I’ve long thought that unborn children are valuable human persons, but I remained pro-choice because of my view of bodily autonomy. Changing my mind took time and involved many different factors. I still believe that women have the right to refuse to allow other people to use their bodies as life-support. As a result, to me, abortion is an issue that involves a conflict of rights: the mother’s right to refuse and the unborn child's right to (a) not be killed and (b) not have his or her bodily rights violated by being dismembered.

When I was pro-choice my view was similar to David Boonin’s view in his book “A Defense of Abortion.” I believed abortion did not violate the right to life of the unborn child because I believed (and still believe) the right to life does not include the right to use someone else's body to survive. However, I also believe the right to life does include the right to not be killed, and most abortions do actively kill the unborn. Thus, abortion does violate the unborn’s right to life in most cases. Additionally, in surgical abortions the unborn child is often dismembered, and I think bodily rights should really include the right to not be dismembered. In the end I couldn't justify legalized abortion to protect the mother’s bodily rights when the bodily rights and the right to life of the unborn child are violated during an abortion.

Even then I didn't immediately convert to the pro-life side. Being pro-choice was a big part of my personal identity. I identify as a liberal person. But what kind of liberal is against abortion? I think I had this fear in my mind that there wasn't a place for a queer atheist in the pro-life movement. I think deep down I worried that if I wanted to be active in the movement I would have to be surrounded by a bunch of religious old men that would constantly harass me to convert or tell me that my "lifestyle" makes God want to vomit.

So, in addition to the pro-life arguments, my friendship with Josh Brahm was also instrumental in my conversion. Josh and I had been friends for about a year and he remains one of the kindest and most open-minded people I know. Being friends with Josh helped break down the pro-life stereotypes in my mind. Although he never told me explicitly, I knew that I would have an ally in the pro-life movement who would love and accept me for who I was. So I ended up "coming out" again, this time as a pro-lifer. 


Nate: I have a very conflicted opinion on abortion. The issue is framed so there’s a dichotomy between a woman's bodily integrity and a fetus' right to not be dismembered. I am conflicted because I believe strongly in both, and yet there often seems to be an impasse between the two. To me, abortion addresses the issue of bodily autonomy, but in all the wrong ways. 

I used to have a more typical pro-life stance, but now as an atheist and lover of science, my position is much less firm as I see all of the grays that this issue presents. In many ways, I do not blame a woman who gets an abortion because, at least on the surface, there appears to be no alternative that will not ruin the woman's life. People do what they feel like they have to do. Pro-lifers try and present other options, but the pro-choice movement also works with a different agenda.

But, when push comes to shove, I simply cannot fathom the logic that leads people to be okay with dismembering a fetus. As a society, we should be beyond this--we are killing our own children, with the excuse that they are occupying our space? Who the hell do we think we are?


Albany: When it comes to abortion I am no exceptions Pro-Life. Outside of ectopic pregnancies, which most pro-lifers I know do not consider abortions, I do not agree that a situation can justify taking an innocent life. I have held my pro-life beliefs for almost three years now, after being pro-choice for almost my whole life before converting. Shortly after turning 16, I was coerced into an abortion, which lead me down a destructive path and ultimately made me feel like I had to be pro-choice to justify what I had allowed to happen. I ended up becoming pro-life after seeing the ultrasound of our first daughter. Her heartbeat, her little movements, it was like everything I had believed prior about the fetus and abortion came crumbling down all around me.


Rachel: I was raised in a pro-life family, and I don’t know if I ever had any sort of eureka moment. I think as I got older, my views became more mature and nuanced. I learned about the larger complexities of the issue. I certainly believe that when I started blogging about the issues my views became much more firm and I was far more knowledgeable about abortion and the pro-life movement in general.


Have you interacted much with the overall pro-life movement (e.g. walks, rallies, meetings, protests, political activities, sidewalk counseling, pregnancy centers, etc.)? If so, how has that gone? If not, why not?

Deanna: In the time that I've been pro-life I've gone to the Alberta March for Life and I went to an apologetics seminar put on by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform.

The March for Life made me feel somewhat alienated. I wore a shirt with a short pro-life argument on the front and "Atheist for Life" on the back. Most of the speakers were quite religious and a number of them said things I really found offensive. For example, one of the first speakers (I believe he was a priest) said something along the lines of, "The pro-life position is religious in nature, so in order to recruit people to our cause we need to work really hard to convert as many people as we can!" The most disheartening part about that statement was the thunderous applause it elicited from my fellow pro-lifers. Another speaker said something like, "Concepts like the right to life and intrinsic human value are grounded in Christianity, so we can't appeal to them when talking to secularists." Towards the end of the rally they included about 20 minutes of a Ukrainian Catholic mass (translated to English).

In some ways this March was pretty difficult for me. I see religion and sexuality as somewhat connected. A big part of what made coming out as queer difficult for me was my parents’ reactions, and their reactions were grounded, at least partly, in religion. So religion in general, and the Ukrainian Catholic faith in particular, can trigger my anger over unfair judgment toward my sexuality and fear I once had that God hated me. It was already difficult to be new to the pro-life movement and not having anyone in my city to go to this pro-life event with me. To then be surrounded by triggers and to see speakers act as if pro-lifers like me don't exist made the experience even more exhausting.

However, the March for Life wasn't entirely a negative experience. A man behind me saw my shirt and went out of his way to tell me that he was glad I was there. One speaker mentioned the importance of including secularists in the movement and trying to appeal to them. I was also texting Josh at the time and he was very encouraging and he seemed to be exited that I was already getting involved in the movement. I was also encouraged by the number of young people who attended. A girl, who appeared to be in high school, gave me a sign that looked homemade and read "A Person's a Person No Matter How Small" and I held it up while I longboarded alongside my fellow pro-life marchers.  I was also invited to go to an apologetics seminar put on by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform, which was exciting for me.

A few months after the March I ended up attending the seminar. This was a much more positive experience for me. The speakers were extremely gracious and they emphasized the importance of finding common ground and treating pro-choice people with the respect that all persons deserve. It was also secular, which I appreciated. The tone of the seminar leaders was incredibly kind. I like to say "they oozed kindness" but oozing is clearly the wrong word. I disagreed with some of the arguments they taught, but I did learn a lot and it was helpful just to be surrounded by like-minded people who are passionate about helping others. 


Nate: I have not participated in a mainstream pro-life event for several years. As an atheist, I don't want to feel like I'm at a church service. As a lover of science, I get frustrated with how many pro-lifers say "We have science on our side!" when, in reality, the majority of them have little understanding or interest in "science" beyond some fetal developmental milestones. The irony of the religion with the science rhetoric being all in the same place is too much. So I don’t participate in the mainstream movement, but I currently admin a large Atheist/Agnostic (and LGBT-friendly) pro-life group on Facebook. [If you'd like to join this Facebook group, please read the About section first.]

It is also difficult to participate in one issue with a group of people who you know fight against you on another. In some cases, anti-LGBT rhetoric peppers the conversations at these events. Pro-lifers have this idea that the Right to Life trumps everything else, so any other conflicts are considered secondary. But the fact is, my equal rights and protection under the law are important to me, and to have people who claim to stand up for the rights of "everyone" (meaning, fetuses) while they have disapproval in their hearts and discrimination in their votes against people like me is not something I can easily get past. Thankfully, I am seeing more and more pro-LGBT pro-lifers these days.


Albany: The greatest interaction I have in the pro-life movement (as I'm a stay at home mom with few ways to travel) is that I have become a YouTube vlogger. It has allowed me to reach tens of thousands of people all from my own home. I did participate in one walk for life here in Denver, but truthfully it was disappointing. Right after I told my story and shortly before we began the walk, speakers starting talking about traditional marriage and, "don't forget to vote against [a marriage equality] bill." It was disheartening how they so easily shunned people at an event that had nothing to do with one’s sexuality. The pro-life movement should be about coming together to protect life and should not be used as a billboard for other beliefs. I do enjoy, however, going out to the Planned Parenthood in the next town up and holding a sign that reads, "I Regret My Abortion." While there are negative comments, the overall reaction is positive, and it is clear when it makes someone think.


Rachel: My first activism for the pro-life movement was when I was about seven or so. My mom brought me to a “rosary rally” event, and we passed out the “precious feet” pins and bumper stickers. Right now my biggest activism is done through my blogging on Tumblr. I’ve got about 1,095 followers now. I’ve been to the March for Life in 2013, and over the summer I had an internship with Life Matters Journal.


How accessible is the pro-life movement for you? How could it be more accessible? What are some ways other pro-lifers could make LGBT people feel welcome? 

Deanna: I feel like the pro-life movement needs to work on welcoming LGBT people. Being more inclusive in their language and maybe turning down the volume on the religious aspect could be really helpful. Even saying things like "although I think homosexuality is morally wrong, we welcome everyone into the movement including those from all sexual orientations. We appreciate you being here" would go a long way. Using arguments that appeal to all people regardless of religious or sexual identity would also be extremely helpful. Having other LGBT pro-life role models would be great, so I think those who are already in the movement need to work on finding each other and being more visible. 


Nate: The movement is somewhat accessible. Thanks to social media, there are many smaller groups that you can join that fit what you're looking for. However, if the pro-life movement started leaving their religion at home instead of bringing it to the events, that would be a good start, as well as sticking to abortion and not bringing up gay marriage or other non-related issues. More room for nuanced views--or at least discussion--of abortion would be awesome, too. 


Albany: Truthfully, the pro-life movement isn't very accessible to me outside of my home. While there are some speakers that travel occasionally in the area, and groups go to pray outside clinics, there are not many options for me. However, going back to my vlogging and public pro-life speaker page, it allows me to connect in a more accessible way. I do wish I knew more people in the area who were open to simply traveling short distances to hold signs with me, to sidewalk counsel, or even pro-life chalk.

I firmly believe that if more religious pro-lifers would stop tying in outside beliefs of the church to abortion, such as views on homosexuality or competition with other religious beliefs, it would allow more in the LGBT community to open up and listen. I think many in religion have dug themselves into a hole by perpetuating the stereotype that they want nothing to do with someone who is gay, when in reality many religious people will happily work alongside the LGBT community to help end abortion. The movement simply needs to vocalize that more through love.


Rachel: With the pro-life circles I associate with, it’s been no problem for me. However, when I venture out from more secular and open groups, people can become less than accepting. Some are outright hostile, but many are just patronizing about the LGBT community. Many of the traditional Christian pro-life groups seem to pity us or think that somehow they’re better. I think if many people thought “Let’s leave the sexuality out of it and work on the commonalities,” we could feel more included. We’re queer, and we’re pro-life. I don’t see why there should be any contradictions there.

Friday, September 12, 2014

VIDEO: Monday's presentation at College of Wooster

I had a great time at College of Wooster. It's a very, very small school, so I wasn't expecting a University of Georgia-sized crowd (which is good, because I didn't get one). But what the audience lacked in quantity, they more than made up for in quality. It was a mixed group—pro-life and not, secular and not—and the Q & A session was seriously fantastic. We discussed everything from IVF to adoption, and all with the utmost respect for one another. These students are a definite credit to their school.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. Enjoy the video:



And if you can't get enough of Secular Pro-Life, we'll be live on the Atheist Analysis podcast this Sunday at 11pm Eastern.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How abortion is like anti-rape nail polish

[Today's guest post is by pro-life feminist Caitlin Fikes.]

Recently there’s been a lot of media attention on a group of male college students who invented a nail polish that changes colors when it comes into contact with the most common date rape drug. Various media outlets have hailed the invention as an incredible breakthrough that will protect women from being raped.

However, many feminists and anti-rape activists have raised some very valid criticisms of the nail polish, its implications, and the kind of attention it’s getting. While the nail polish may indeed prevent some women from getting raped (and obviously, every rape avoided is a Good Thing), examining this invention in the context of rape culture still raises important concerns. For example, every precaution that places the onus on women to employ an ever-growing anti-rape checklist raises the possibility of victim-blaming: should this product become widespread, whenever a woman is drugged and raped there will invariably be voices saying, “This could have been avoided if only she was wearing her anti-roofie nail polish. How irresponsible.”

What does this have to do with abortion, you ask? You may be surprised to find that there are many parallels between the criticisms feminists levy against this nail polish and the criticisms pro-life feminists raise about the prevalence of abortion.

1. It fails to address the root causes of the problem. 
The anti-rape nail polish is a reactive, not a proactive, attempt to solve the problem of rape. The ultimate cause of rape is—shocker—rapists; more specifically, men (and yes, while both women and men can be victims of rape, the great majority of rapists are male) who are raised to believe that they are entitled to sex with whomever they choose and that it’s not really “rape” if the other person isn’t kicking and screaming. We live in a culture in which rapists are almost never punished for their actions in any way, and therefore they learn that they can coerce, rape, and sexually assault without consequences. The new nail polish won’t change our society. It just tries to make sure rape happens to someone other than you. The fact that this nail polish exists and is felt necessary is a sign that rape culture is rampant—not a way to fix it.

Abortion is also a reactive, not a proactive, attempt to solve the problems women face. Women feel driven to abort for many reasons: financial concerns, lack of emotional support, lack of adequate parental leave and childcare, an inflexible work schedule or class schedule, bosses that are unsympathetic to parents, lack of welfare programs, lack of societal support for teenage parents or unmarried parents... the list goes on.

Abortion doesn’t solve any of those problems. Abortion doesn’t change the fact that the United States is one of the only countries in the world without guaranteed paid maternity leave, or that women are much more likely than men to be in poverty, or that single mothers face disproportionately large financial difficulties. Pushing abortion as a solution for one woman’s crisis pregnancy won’t stop other women from facing the same situation, just as using nail polish to prevent one rape won’t stop other women from being raped. As Feminists for Life of America like to say, abortion is a symptom of the problems women face, not the solution.

2. It has existed throughout history and hasn’t solved anything yet. 
Anti-rape devices are not new. Anti-rape tampons and anti-rape condoms made the rounds of the Internet a while ago, but really anti-rape devices have always existed and go all the way back to metal underwear and chastity belts. Thousands of years later, rape still exists and is going strong in our “modern and civilized” society.

Abortion, too, has always existed. Women who become pregnant in a situation that is hostile to that fact have always found ways to terminate the pregnancy—and obviously, some ways are more unsafe than others. Abortion activists use this fact to say “Abortion has always existed and always will, so all we can do is make it safe and legal.” But when I hear that, it sounds suspiciously similar to when rape apologists say, “Rape has always existed and always will, so all we can do is give women ways to stay safe and protect themselves.” And to both statements, my answer is the same: “Yes, it has always existed, but it doesn’t have to. We don’t have to give up and accept defeat. We can make a change. We can do better.”

3. It detracts from real efforts to enact widespread change. 
There are many anti-rape activists working their asses off to make a change. They strive to educate about consent, that “Yes means Yes” and silence means “No.” That “We’ve had sex before!” doesn’t mean “Yes.” That “But she was flirting with me!” doesn’t mean “Yes.” That “But she wanted to make out!” doesn’t mean “Yes.” That bullying, harassing, or coercing someone into sex doesn’t mean “Yes.” There are so, so many great programs across the nation working to educate, to empower survivors, to push for rape survivors to be believed and for rapists to be punished, to dispel myths about “legitimate rape” and the “stranger in a dark alley” stereotype. Did you hear about the new law in California defining rape as the “absence of a Yes” instead of the “presence of a No”? Good stuff!

But somehow, none of these great efforts seem to get the same media attention and praise as that damn nail polish. And then when feminists speak out and say “Hey, this isn’t going to solve the real problem, let’s focus most of our effort on ultimate solutions,” they face vicious backlash and accusations of wanting women to be raped! The truth is, our society is much more comfortable centering conversations about preventing rape on which measures the potential victims ought to take instead of how to make a society in which such crimes almost never occur at all, and that’s frustrating.

Similarly, when feminists spend so much time and money fighting laws that protect women against coerced abortions or require higher safety standards for abortion clinics or prohibit abortions after a certain point of fetal development, they are drawing attention and energy away from the real solutions. There are groups such as Feminists for Life of America, for example, encouraging college campuses to provide better resources to pregnant and parenting students so that young women won’t have to choose between abandoning their education or getting an abortion.

But not all of the organizations working to solve the problems women face in our society are pro-life. Many feminist organizations fight for things pro-lifers and pro-choicers can agree on, such as better financial support for mothers and less discrimination in the workplace (i.e. putting women on the “mommy track” and passing them by for promotions).

One of the most important ongoing efforts, I think, is the one to sever the parental rights of rapists/abusers. When a woman becomes pregnant by rape and her rapist can threaten to sue for custody if she doesn’t drop the rape charges, or be part of her life via their shared child for 18 years, or legally block her attempts to give the child up for adoption, then abortion really does seem like her only choice. There are dedicated feminists working right now to change this.

But none of those other causes seem to be as well-known or praised as the effort to keep abortion legal in all circumstances. In fact, I would never have known about all of the important work feminists are doing on a variety of fronts if I had not been introduced to the idea of pro-life feminism. I initially saw feminism as a staunchly pro-choice movement, frighteningly so, and that turned me off from finding out any more about them or what they do. Once I became aware that there is a place in feminism for the pro-life prospective, I began to investigate and was astonished to find that I am fully on board with mainstream feminism on literally every other topic. I now am proud to call myself a feminist and am proud of what our movement has accomplished and seeks to accomplish, but the truth remains that the boldly pro-choice face that feminism wears publicly covers up the good they are doing.

I am a passionate pro-life feminist, but I long for the day when the descriptor “pro-life” does not have to be included to clarify the term “feminist.” It seems clear to me that feminism, with its main principles of nonviolence, justice, and nondiscrimination, naturally lends itself to a pro-life position.

I hope that some of my fellow feminists will read this post and perhaps reconsider their position on abortion, especially if they are already critical of the anti-rape nail polish. The comparison is not perfect, of course, but at its core I believe they are comparable. Women need real, permanent solutions, not temporary band-aids that do not address the heart of the matter.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Primer on Perinatal Hospice

[Editor's note: Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis recently disclosed that she had an abortion after her daughter was prenatally diagnosed with a neurological disorder. This post had already been written and the timing is a coincidence.]

Last week, in 8 Things "After Tiller" Left Out, we made the point that although the film emphasizes cases in which the unborn baby has an extremely serious health condition and is unlikely to survive long after birth, such extreme circumstances are not the majority of late-term abortions.

One our readers responded:
I am continuously disappointed in the pro life movement that supposedly "cares so much about women" for not taking a second to recognize these devastating situations and the heart break the families endure. Everyone is so quick to dismantle every shred of compassion they felt during the film, but that does a great injustice to the brave people who bared their soul in order to show us what these experiences are really like. . . . [You can] still be pro life, uphold the unborn, and show love to families who also wanted life and love for their babies but that chance was ripped away from them, and they will never be the same again.
Of course, she's 100% right. Pro-lifers were right to be angry about the pro-abortion misrepresentations being propagated with their tax dollars on PBS, but the needs of families hit with a lethal prenatal diagnosis got lost in the shouting.

As pro-lifers, we naturally focus on the fact that abortion kills; the assumption is that in the absence of abortion, the child's life is saved. That assumption is usually valid—but, tragically, not always.

I am not speaking here of prenatal diagnoses like Down Syndrome or cystic fibrosis; people with disabilities deserve the chance to live and the pro-life movement is right to condemn the high rates of abortion for such conditions. But in situations where the child is bound to die within days, hours, or even minutes of birth, abortion may be viewed not as homicide, but as a mere matter of timing. You can still argue that it's wrong, but at the very least, we must acknowledge that abortion in such cases is ethically murkier than the typical abortion chosen for socioeconomic reasons.

Society writ large has failed to appreciate the unique struggles of families facing lethal prenatal diagnoses. In these situations, the societal pressure to have an abortion can be immense:
The Children’s Hospitals [perinatal hospice] program here [in Minneapolis] is called Deeya, Sanskrit for “a small light.” Since 2001, Deeya has served six to eight families a year, who mostly hear of it from genetic counselors and midwives. At the Birth Center of United Hospital in St. Paul, about 24 families a year choose the perinatal hospice approach.

The numbers are growing but small, said Jody Chrastek, Deeya’s director, because many health care workers do not know the program exists, and some doctors are hostile to families continuing the pregnancies.

“Some have been told they’re wasting their time for a baby that would be dead anyway,” [author and perinatal hospice advocate Amy] Kuebelbeck said. “Some have been told they’re wasting the doctor’s time.”
People often say painful things to the family without even realizing it:
Many have family and friends who are mystified as to why a couple would continue a pregnancy knowing their child will die. Loved ones often fear that by continuing on, the parents are simply delaying their grief or torturing themselves. What will they say to strangers who casually ask if the nursery is ready? And what if bringing the baby into this world causes the child suffering?
But for some, the pregnancy feels precious because it may be the only time they’ll get to be with that child, says [genetic counselor Cheri] Schoonveld. “I think most people who have continued want to experience as much time with the baby as possible and want to hopefully meet the baby.”
Other families may have religious reasons that guide their choice. Sometimes parents may hold out a hope that somehow the terminal diagnosis was wrong. And others just don’t want to be the one who decides when their baby dies.
“Don’t assume we’re Luddites or religious fanatics,” Kuebelbeck says. “Don’t assume we’re saints. We’re just parents doing the best we can.”
In addition, parents may reject abortion because giving birth to the child allows the family to arrange for organ donation; although the child's life is brief, he or she can leave a tremendous legacy by saving the lives of other newborns.

The chief way to meet these families' extensive needs is through perinatal hospice programs. These programs are much like a regular hospice, but specialize in patients who have not yet been born. They help parents make arrangements for the birth and death of the child so that they can maximize their one-on-one interaction with the child for whatever short time they have. They help parents, the baby's siblings, and other family members grieve. They help arrange for organ donations. In a word, they practice compassion.

For more information, I highly recommend PerinatalHospice.org. Although not officially a pro-life project, the website collects crucial resources for parents who reject abortion in these tragic circumstances.

Monday, September 8, 2014

TODAY: Presentation at College of Wooster

This afternoon, Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard will present "Pro-Life Without God" at the College of Wooster.

Time: 4:00-5:30 p.m.
Building: Wishart Hall
Room: Lean Lecture Room

This event is sponsored by Wooster Scots for Life. It is free and open to the public. Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Precision of Language, Please, New York Times

Above: the author's son Noel, who died of
natural causes in utero.
[Today's guest post by JoAnna Wahlund is part of our paid blogging program.]

I recently saw the movie “The Giver” (and loved it, just as I’ve loved the book since childhood). It’s still fairly fresh in my mind, so perhaps that’s why I kept hearing Jonas’ mother say “Precision of language, please!” while I read this New York Times article, “The Dawn of the Post-Clinic Abortion” by Emily Bazelon.

Aside from the article’s blasé and almost celebratory attitude toward illegal and unsafe abortion procedures (such as importing abortion-inducing pills from countries with no product testing or safety standards and handing them out like Halloween candy to anyone who wanted them, with no attempt to screen for people who were only posing as women in crisis pregnancies so they could slip them to girlfriends or abuse victims without their consent), what I found particularly disturbing was the author’s apparent inability to distinguish between elective abortion and miscarriage. For example, in the very first paragraph (all italics are mine):
In June 2001, under a cloud-streaked sky, Rebecca Gomperts set out from the Dutch port of Scheveningen in a rented 110-foot ship bound for Ireland. Lashed to the deck was a shipping container, freshly painted light blue and stocked with packets of mifepristone (which used to be called RU-486) and misoprostol. The pills are given to women in the first trimester to induce a miscarriage. Medical abortion, as this procedure is called, had recently become available in the Netherlands. But use of misoprostol and mifepristone to end a pregnancy was illegal in Ireland, where abortion by any means remains against the law, with few exceptions.
Right off the bat Bazelon conflates miscarriage with medical abortion, when the two are not the same. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states: “A miscarriage may also be called a 'spontaneous abortion.' This refers to naturally occurring events, not medical abortions or surgical abortions” (emphasis mine).

One could perhaps give Bazelon (and the NYT editors) the benefit of the doubt—perhaps they didn't catch the error because they were too entranced with the romantic image of sailing under a cloud-streaked sky off the misty coast of Ireland (albeit on a ship that should be called the Barge of the Dead)—but it doesn’t happen just once.

Later on in the article, she writes of how Gomperts encourages to lie to medical professionals and claim they’re experiencing a miscarriage instead of a medical abortion, should they need to seek help for complications. “Gomperts says there is no medical reason for women to tell anyone that they’ve used pills. Treatment, if needed, is the same as it would be for a spontaneous miscarriage.”

[Lying to your care providers about the drugs you’ve ingested is always a good idea, right? No one need worry about allergic reactions or potentially dangerous drug interactions. Gomperts obviously has only the purest of motives. It couldn’t possibly be that she wants women to lie so that she doesn’t get arrested, charged, and convicted of drug dealing.]

Ahem. Back to the story.

Further on in the article, Bazelon describes her experience at a training session for “abortion doulas.” “The training included a session on the basics of how misoprostol and mifepristone are administered in clinics and how to help ease the discomfort of miscarriage,” she writes.

Bazelon tells of abortionist Amy Hagstrom Miller, whose Texas clinic is facing closure due to Miller’s refusal to comply with new Texas safety regulations for abortion facilities: “Amy Hagstrom Miller, the founder of a network of clinics called Whole Woman’s Health, told me she has been thinking about what might be possible. Facing the closure of her 11-year-old Austin clinic, she was considering whether she might open some sort of ‘miscarriage management’ facility in the Rio Grande Valley.”

I am appalled that neither Bazelon nor her editors at the New York Times either didn't notice or didn't bother to correct this shoddy phrasing. As the definition from the National Center for Biotechnology Information clearly states, miscarriage is not the same as medical abortion, yet she uses the two terms interchangeably, as do her interviewees—not just once but multiple times.

Precision of language, please! Abortion and miscarriage are not the same. The biological processes facilitated by the pharmaceuticals may be similar, but they are wholly different in one very important aspect: an abortion is the intentional killing of an unborn child; a miscarriage is when an unborn child dies of natural causes. They are antonyms, not synonyms.

When people such as Emily Bazelon try to imply that my experiences with miscarriage (I've lost two children) are no different than those of women who have aborted, it is blatantly offensive. She has no right to lump together abortion and miscarriage because she is essentially equating deliberate murder with natural death. I wouldn't walk up to someone whose grandmother passed away in her sleep and accuse him of murder any more than I would tell a person who smothered his elderly grandmother with a pillow that it was a good thing his grandma passed away naturally, and why don't we go ahead and tell the government to subsidize him.

The callousness and insensitively of the false equivalence of abortion and miscarriage—on the part of Bazelon as well as her editors at the New York Times—is a stinging slap to the face of every women who has ever experienced an actual spontaneous miscarriage. It is a gut-wrenching, agonizing, utterly helpless feeling of terrifying impotence when you know that the baby in your womb is dead or dying and there is nothing you can do to save him or her, despite your willingness to do anything in your power to keep him or her alive.

Moreover, this unfortunate comparison has actually inhibited our ability to grieve for the children we have lost, because we're inundated by abortion propaganda claiming that the children we lost were just insignificant masses of cells not worth caring about. Blogger Becky Thompson explains this cognitive dissonance eloquently in her post “How Abortion Has Changed the Discussion of Miscarriage”:
It is hard for a society to mourn the loss of WANTED unborn life when it is busy calling it “tissue” and discrediting its personhood.
It is hard for a society to embrace a mourning mother for her loss of tissue when it is busy defending another mother’s right to dispose of it.
Bazelon and the NYT's insiduous conflation of miscarriage and abortion is a prime example of this mentality. While women who are threatened with a miscarriage are desperately striving to preserve their child's life, the women as portrayed by Bazelon are desperately trying to ensure their child's death. Yet, she attempts to claim there is no difference between the two.

In contrast, blogger Krissi Danielsson at About.com acknowledges, “The elective ending of a pregnancy is a completely different situation than the loss of a wanted pregnancy, both medically and emotionally.” Why is this concept so hard to grasp for the Emily Bazelon and the New York Times?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

8 Things "After Tiller" Left Out

[Today's guest post by Maria Tsikalas is part of our paid blogging program.]

Social media is erupting this week in the latest abortion-related controversy: PBS’s decision to air “After Tiller” on Labor Day.

“After Tiller” is a documentary that examines the motivations and difficulties of four late-term abortionists—LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Susan Robinson, and Shelley Sella—and some of their patients, in an attempt to contextualize late-term abortion and humanize the doctors. There is not much to add that hasn’t already been said on other pro-life websites, blogs, and Twitter (#AfterTiller), but here’s a list of simple facts that further ‘contextualize’ the procedure and those who perform it.
  1. In the film, we are told that third-trimester abortions are less than one percent of all abortions. What we are not told is that one percent = approximately 10,000 babies in the U.S. per year. 
  2. Most of the pregnant patients featured in the film were carrying babies with severe abnormalities or disabilities, but in reality, Tiller himself admitted that this situation constituted only about eight percent of his abortions. So that means every year these doctors abort about 9,200 healthy, viable, developed babies with no health complications whatsoever.1
  3. At least four women have died from legal second- and third-trimester abortions in the past two years. 
  4. Carhart has been responsible for eight medical emergencies (that we know of) since March 2012, including the death of Jennifer Morbelli last year. 
  5. Carhart has described babies in the womb dying as being "like meat in a Crock-pot." 
  6. Former Tiller employee Tina David said of Sella: "[The] baby came out, and it was moving. I don’t know if it was alive or if it was nerves, I have no clue. But Dr. Sella looked up right away at me and took a utensil and stabbed it, right here, and twisted. And then it didn’t move anymore.”

 
  7. Former Tiller employee Luhra Tivis has said that she was trained to answer the phone like a salesperson marketing a product, selling abortion to the caller. Tivis also described seeing Tiller carrying a heavy cardboard box full of dead babies into his crematorium and smelling the flesh as it burned. 
  8. Robinson was shocked when she realized a baby she'd thought to be 32 weeks from the ultrasound was actually closer to 37 weeks when he or she was aborted.
Hard to humanize all that.

[1] Please note that I am not arguing that abortion is more justifiable for babies with disabilities than without. The film features some women who had received diagnoses that their baby would die would die in utero or shortly after birth, or that their child would be in pain for his or her entire life, leading viewers to believe that such extreme circumstances constitute the majority of late-term abortions, when that is not true.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

SPL's Make Noise youth rally speech

Below the embedded video of the speech is a transcript of Monica's remarks at the Make Noise! youth rally held in Bakersfield, CA on August 29, 2014. The transcript also includes sources and graphics not available during the original speech.

(If the embedded video ever stops working, click here.)

I’m Monica Snyder, I’m from the group Secular Pro-Life, and I’m an agnostic. My group is interested in making a space for pro-life atheists, agnostics, humanists – any pro-life secularists. We also are a group for people of faith who are interested in using secular arguments. And tonight I want to talk about why I think you should make sure you are able to do that, and how you can do that.

But before I do that, I want to do a kind of audience participation thing…though you guys are kind of hard to see. I’m going to ask you some questions, but in case anyone is shy, I’m going to ask you to go ahead and close your eyes again. Seriously. Okay, now: raise your hand if you’re against abortion. Don’t open your eyes. Put your hands down. Raise your hand if you consider yourself a Christian. I was going to count but I can’t see you so – don’t open your eyes, put your hands down. Alright, open your eyes.

Okay, before I tell you what it kind of looked like, raise your hand if you think that at least 60% of California is Christian. [Few people raise their hands.] Interesting! Alright, what about 70%? If no one’s going for 60, no one’s going to go for 70—oh, a couple people. How about 80%? Alright, okay. Raise your hand if you think at least 10% of California is not affiliated with religion. [Most people raise their hands.] 15%? 20%? Okay – 25%? Alright, okay.

According to the Pew Research Group, 72% of Californians are some type of Christian, and 22% [I misspoke - it's 21%] are not affiliated with religion: 

Orange = California, Blue = United States. Source here.

So roughly 1 in 5 of all Californians is not affiliated with religion. Do you think 1 in 5 of you kept your hands down when I asked how many were Christians in this room? It wasn’t. It wasn’t literally everyone, but it was almost everyone [who raised their hands]. I’ll try to keep it in mind for those of you who didn’t.

And that’s not surprising! Polls consistently show that Christians are more likely to say they’re pro-life than other groups. And polls consistently show that non-religious people are more likely to say they’re pro-choice than many other demographics. You can break it down by race, by income, by education, geographic region – and nothing predicts being pro-choice like being non-religious.

Why do you think that is? Some people tell me it’s because secularists don’t have a reason to care about abortion because secularists don’t have a reason to care about morality. If you don’t believe in God, then why should you care what’s right and wrong? You can’t be good without god.

I’m not going to get into a heavy theological debate about that tonight. I only have 20 or so minutes. But I will say that I know a lot of atheists and agnostics, and we care a lot about things. We love our families, we love our boyfriends and girlfriends and our friends and our husbands and wives. And we care a lot about social issues too. You’ll actually find if you talk to a secularist that many of us care deeply about a whole bunch of political and social justice topics. People care a lot about women’s rights, gay rights, the death penalty, the environment, education – you name it! And you might not agree with their stances on some of these issues (or maybe you do, I don’t know) but the point is we are not indifferent. We have strong opinions about what is right and wrong and many of us work hard to shape society according to what we believe is right. We care!

And yet, where are we in the pro-life movement? I do think that to some extent, secularists – because most secularists don’t believe in a soul, and they don’t believe in the image of God that we were just talking about – it’s not so terribly obvious to talk about what makes human beings valuable. There’s not that straightforward explanation you could apply to everyone. And I’m going to talk more about that later.

But not all secularists are pro-choice. Polls show that at least 15% of people who say they have no religion also call themselves “pro-life.” If you do the math on that, that’s millions of Americans – at minimum 6 million Americans. That’s what these pictures are about. These are all secular people who call themselves “pro-life.” My group, Secular Pro-Life, is trying to do this solidarity thing where if you are secular and pro-life, send us a picture saying you’re one of us, because it’s easy for us to feel like we’re the only one.

The pictures featured on stage during the speech.
So at least 6 million Americans are not affiliated with religion and still consider themselves “pro-life.” But where are they? When you go to pro-life events, when you do pro-life activism? I’ve had several situations where people tell me I’m literally the first secular pro-lifer they’ve met. And I’m talking tonight about secularism because I’m a secularist, but everything I say tonight keep in mind for other non-traditional pro-life groups, okay? Whether it’s liberals or gay people or even in some cases nonwhite people. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve seen people from all of these groups do pro-life activism, but it’s often atypical, for some more than others. You may have noticed that too. We get stereotyped (we being pro-lifers) as conservative Christians and it’s not totally ridiculous because there is a correlation to a lot of that.

Now here’s the question: should you care? Let’s say that you’re doing a great job – and here I’m speaking to the Christians in the room, obviously, not necessarily everyone – let’s say you guys are doing a great job of getting your churches more involved and your youth groups more involved and a lot more activity on the Christian side. Which is great, I’m all for that. Should you care that there’s sort of this drop in participation from these other groups? 

Yes! Yes! You should care, okay? What is our goal here? Why are you here? We are against abortion! We think abortion is a human rights violation. And it doesn’t just harm the preborn who it kills, it’s also mothers and fathers and siblings and families and communities that will never meet those children.

We want to live in a society (I would say) not just where abortion is illegal, but where abortion is unthinkable. What if you lived in a society where abortion was like cannibalism? Where it’s such a travesty that not only does nobody do it, you’re not even debating the legality of it! Nobody would even take you seriously if you brought it up. What if you lived in that society?

But if we want to make abortion unthinkable (and we should!) then we need a stronger voice. We need a more persuasive, larger movement, and we’re going to need everyone. And when you’re talking about “everyone” in a country as diverse as the United States – in a state as diverse as California! – “everyone” is going to include people that, at least in one way and sometimes more, are very different from you. So how do you talk to those people? How do you talk to people that come from such a different place and reach those hearts and minds?

However you do it, we better find a way to bridge those gaps, because the people unlike us? They’re not going anywhere! They vote. They have friends and family that they influence, who care what they think. And this is especially true of secularists! Polls show church and synagogue attendance has been decreasing and more people in the country are saying they’re not affiliated with religion, including calling themselves “atheists.” And this trend has been going on for years – including the youngest generation! (And for polls, the youngest generation is 18 – 29. They don’t poll below 18.) But they are more likely to say they are not affiliated with religion than the older groups. 

Source here.

And however we might feel about that trend personally – and I’m sure there are very strong feelings about that trend – it does mean there’s a growing space for secular outreach in the pro-life movement. So how do you do that? How do you begin to reach those people?

I think that pro-life activists are very used to – often without even meaning to – talking about their pro-lifeism in terms of their faith or their religion. And you know what? There’s a huge place for that, because most pro-lifers are Christian. Most of the country is Christian! So remember Josh was talking about finding common ground? If you share common ground on your faith and you have a shared basis of understanding with that, then by all means, talk about it in terms of your faith! That makes sense. Not only do I think there’s nothing wrong with that, I think it’s the strategically smart thing to do. You take what you have in common with people and you build from there. That’s great!

The problem is when you start to think that everyone you’re talking to (especially when you’re at a pro-life event or pro-life activism) is Christian. And you know what? It’s not just Christians who do this. I’m an agnostic, and I talk to everyone like they’re Christian! I was doing a presentation at Stanford in the spring, and I just – without even meaning to, while I’m lecturing other people about being more inclusive – I talked to the whole room like everyone was a Christian. And when it was over, an atheist came up to me and he was like, “You suck, man. You didn’t even think about including me and you’re an agnostic!” 

So it’s an easy mistake to make. You’re used to everyone being a Christian and if there are non-religious people in the group – as there may be tonight – many times they’re not super excited about letting everyone know they’re not religious. It can be awkward, okay? It can bring awkward conversations. So it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking everyone around you is Christian.

That’s understandable, but it’s a problem. To give you some examples, just in my experience: a few years ago I tried to volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. And they would not accept volunteers unless they signed a paper saying Christ is lord and savior. And I’m not willing to lie about that, so I couldn’t work with them. And a couple months ago I was at a conference: about 300 young people, college age, maybe not as much high school, but the same kind of thing. And two different speakers during the day made a point on stage of talking about how pro-life atheists can’t really defend their views. So I was super excited about that. And a couple months after that I went to a pro-life summit with between 100 and 150 major pro-life activists in California. And at one point early on in the summit, a guy with a microphone said that he thinks the best way to help the pro-life movement in California is to “get the pagans out of political office.” And when he said that, the room burst into applause! How welcome do you think I felt? Not especially. And then a couple weeks ago a guy told me that working for Secular Pro-Life mocks God by stealing his glory.

Now don’t get me wrong: I don’t think this is typical behavior. We have a lot of Christians that work with our group. Some of our biggest supporters are Christian pro-lifers: some of our bloggers and people that help us with a lot of things. And in my experience, most Christian pro-lifers are kind and welcoming and they’re glad we share common ground and they’re happy to work together.

So don’t mistake me in saying that this is normal behavior. But when the vocal minority gives off this idea, you might be able to understand how some secularists would feel like you don’t really want us here! You don’t understand us and you don’t like us and you don’t want us here. And that can be a problem.

Now I think most people have the common sense and the diplomacy to not go on about “pagans.” In fact I’ve almost never heard anyone use that word in real life before that one guy. But I think that the problem can be a little bit more nuanced than that sometimes. Just to give you some insight: Josh talked about finding common ground, right? I cannot overemphasize how useful that is. And sometimes people feel like – whether it’s with a secularist or someone with different politics than you or different sexuality or whatever – you might feel like “I don’t even know how to start.” But you’d be surprised how much you have in common. There are a lot of people that think abortion is wrong, and there are a lot of people that think it should be illegal, from lots of different walks of life. And if you go to a pro-life event and you talk about abortion, and you talk about why you think it’s a problem and what you can do to help, that’s actually very inclusive.

But sometimes I find that at pro-life events, people – for example, they might get into debates about bigger pro-life issues. You guys have probably heard some of this. If you’re “really” pro-life, you’ll have certain opinions about the death penalty or euthanasia or even veganism or the welfare state. There’s all sorts of stuff. And the more you bring up other things, the more you make people think that the only way they’re allowed to fight abortion with you is to agree with you on other topics, the more you take the pool of people who are against abortion and chop it up and make it smaller.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have opinions on other topics. Totally you should, and if you feel strongly about them than do something about it. I’m all for that. But when you bring it up is crucial. That’s just another example of a way that you might be alienating people without realizing it. Not you guys personally – probably none of you have ever done that, but in the future as you go forward as pro-life leaders you can keep that in mind.

So I’ve given you a whole list of things not to do – talking about “pagans,” talking about other political topics. If you are going to talk about the pro-life message, what do you say? What arguments do you use?

Before I even get into this, I’m going to tell you right now I’m not going to have enough time to really tell you. And so if you want to know, I have all these cool business cards that I made with our website on them and all sorts of information. If you’re curious I would be delighted to give you tons of information on arguments you can make from a secular perspective. But I find that most Christian pro-lifers already do that. Most of the stuff you say is usually pretty secular.

We go with four major premises, okay? The first premise: the zygote or embryo or fetus – whatever stage of development you want to talk about – is, from a biological standpoint, a human being. And that’s the first premise. I can talk to you about how to make that more comprehensive, but that’s the beginning.


The second one gets more philosophical: there’s no consistent, objective distinction between a human being and what many refer to as a “person.” You can get into all sorts of things about cognitive ability or ability to feel pain, and I’m not going to go into that right now, but the point is that you can say that they are a human being, and that’s what matters.

The third one – which is where people sometimes get tripped up when you’re talking between Christians and secularists – is that human beings deserve human rights. And sometimes I have Christians talk to me about how you can make that argument to a secularist. Because if you believe that human beings deserve human rights because they’re made in the image of God, how are you going to talk to a secularist about that

It’s a very good question. And, again, I don’t have a lot of time to go into it. I will say that in my experience – and not everyone has had this experience – but in my experience secularists aren’t wondering why human beings should have human rights. They already agree that human beings should have human rights. They don’t know if they agree that the preborn are valuable human beings, and that’s what you have to talk about. But if you talk to them about how they feel about born human beings, you’ll find that they completely think human beings should have human rights. So your question is a matter of consistency. How do you get them to apply that feeling consistently?

You will occasionally get people who are like, “Well, why? Why should anyone have human rights?” And that’s a whole different ball game. And I can give you resources on that if you want to talk more about it. There are philosophical points of view from a secular standpoint of why that should still matter. But most of the time if you happen to be talking to a secularist, don’t jump into all that philosophy unless they ask you to, because a lot of times you’ll find that they’re like, “Yeah, human beings get human rights, but is the preborn a human being?” Different topic.

And the fourth premise. Again, don’t have a lot of time. I think this is very important. I think pro-lifers often overlook this and I want to emphasize it, okay? So (1) the fetus is a human being, biologically speaking, (2) there’s no major difference between a human being and a person, and (3) human beings deserve human rights. That’s usually where we stop. The fourth premise: bodily rights – my body, my choice – is an important argument. There are many situations in society where bodily rights take precedence. It’s not enough to justify abortion. And if you’re really interested in getting into debates and discussions and dialogues, you should look into this so you can talk about it. Because at least the pro-choicers that I know, the most intelligent pro-choicers, this is one of the first things they’ll go to: bodily rights.

So I can’t get into all the details of why all this is true. I’m going to continue with something Josh said, though. You know I’m talking about dialogue and debate and stuff, and I find that a lot of people – whether it’s in pro-life work or any other political work – they might feel very strongly about a certain political topic but they’re not really sure what they can do to help. Because not everybody is confrontational. Not everyone’s ready to speak in front of a big group, not everyone’s ready to stand outside of a clinic, or even have a dialogue on a college campus. Some people aren’t comfortable with that level of face-to-face. What if someone yells at me? What if it’s awkward?

You know what? That’s okay. There are lots of ways you can help the pro-life movement. If you can do those things, do those things! You can find them very interesting and they can teach you a lot. But if you’re not sure you’re ready for that stuff – you’re not ready to hold clever picket signs – I submit that one of the best things you can do (especially young people!) for the pro-life movement is learn how to be good friends with people who are totally different from you. Seriously.

There are three ways this helps the pro-life movement. The first one is – especially for those of you about to go into college or those of you already In college – many women in crisis pregnancies (as we just heard a story earlier tonight) choose abortion because they feel like they lack support. It’s not that they can’t wait to necessarily get rid of their pregnancies; some of them would actually like to keep them. A lot of them would! And they feel like they don’t have the financial support and the social support. If you are friends with a lot of people you might find yourself in a position to be a voice of encouragement and comfort and resource, and that can be the difference between life and death. That’s the first thing, okay?

Second thing: when you become friends with people who are very different from you, you bust stereotypes. You want to be the “token pro-life friend.” They don’t know any pro-lifers besides you. You’re the first pro-lifer they’ve ever met in person, and they like you! You’re nice, you’re smart, you’re interested in a lot of things. So then when someone starts mouthing off about the pro-life movement, this person thinks of their friend and they’re like, “That doesn’t really fit.” They might even get defensive on your behalf because they don’t want people bashing their friends. Just by existing as a good friend and being out as a pro-life person, you’re helping show what the pro-life movement is like.

And it doesn’t hurt that you’re young! Because a lot of people think that the pro-life movement is just a bunch of people that have been fighting this since the 70s, grandmas outside of abortion clinics, and it’s all going to go away eventually. It’s not going anywhere! Plenty of young people are pro-life and we need to make that clear. Okay?

So the first thing is you help someone in a crisis pregnancy, bust stereotypes just by existing as a cool person – and if for some reason you’re not a cool person, you can just keep to yourself, but if you’re nice, okay?

Third thing: it’s not just about teaching them and showing them and swaying them. When you’re friends with people who are different from you, it changes you. You learn about people that are coming from a totally different place. I can’t tell you how different my relationships are because I have people I love dearly who are Christians and Catholics. And it completely changes many of my conversations with other secularists. And it can be the same thing for race, sexuality, politics, whatever. 

The point is: try to understand why they think what they do, why they’re coming from where they are, and it helps you think about what you think – not just on abortion, on everything. Hone your own opinions – yes your arguments, but also really think about what you think. And you come to a place of confidence and knowledge about where you’re coming from. And then you can communicate with them too, and not just the ones who are your friends, who you’ve gotten to know, but other people like them also. It makes a big difference.

So if you’re not ready to stand outside of an abortion clinic, that’s okay. When you go back to school – if you’re already back in school? I don’t know – try to figure out how to just start slowly, get to know someone you would have otherwise never talked to, just out of curiosity! And you don’t have to start with “Hey, so what do you think of abortion?” You can just say “Hey! How’s it going? What are you reading? What’s going on?” You don’t have to lead off with confusing, controversial topics. If you want to you can, I don’t know how it will go over, could be interesting.


So yeah. So that’s pretty much my thing. If anyone wants to know, I could go on for hours about the details of secular arguments. If you want to know, if you want to be equipped, come talk to me. I’d be happy to talk to you about the details of the four things that I just mentioned very briefly. But if you don’t have time, that’s fine. If you’re not ready to get into that, that’s fine. If you don’t feel like reading philosophy, that’s fine. Then go out there and make some friends. Help an agnostic out, okay guys?