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Friday, July 10, 2020

"Don't define me by my disease." On abortion and ableism.

[Today's guest post is by Deb Jones. If you would like to contribute a guest post, email your submission to info@secularprolife.org for consideration.]

Deb and Shooter

One of the main staples of the argument that abortion needs to stay legal is for those with disabilities, those diagnosed with diseases, syndromes and things of that nature. Why? Because those people suffer and we want to eliminate the suffering. Let me explain why that argument is offensive, bigoted, ableist, disgusting, and just plain incorrect.

I live with Behcet's disease, a rare autoimmune disease where I'm in constant pain (the pain began 12 years ago when I was 15, the diagnosis for the pain wasn't solidified until I was around 23). Medication and exercising through walks usually help me keep the pain at a manageable level. There are some days, however, where wearing even the loosest, softest, gentlest clothing is excruciating (some days, I can't even be touched or touch myself) because my nerves are so sensitive and no amount of medicine can even take the edge off.

When people suggest a person with a disability is better off dead (having been aborted), it is a slap in the face because they're telling me I would be better off not existing. Yes, life is hard. Yes there are some days I feel so low I don't know what to do or how to feel or how to cope. There are some times where I have to take it one day, one minute, one second, one breath, one heartbeat at a time....but that's part of the human experience. 

If I didn't have the low parts of life, I wouldn't be able to fully appreciate the high parts. If anything, my disease has helped me more than hindered me. I'm more compassionate and empathetic than I was before the pain started. Yes, it's made my life more difficult but it's also been the epitome of creating beauty out of tragedy and brokenness. I am like a glowstick: once dull and grey at the beginning or my life, then broken (with my disease) to become vibrant and beautiful.

Don't define me by my disease. I am more than my disease. And my disease has made me more.

My disease does not define me or decide my worth.


Read more:

The people whose lives you suggest aren't worth living? They can hear you. Secular Pro-Life Perspectives, May 24, 2019
Lucky to Be Alive: Zika Coverage, Ableism, and the Terror of Disabled Bodies, Huffington Post, February 5, 2016
How the Pro-Choice Movement Excludes People With Disabilities, Rewire News, October 17, 2014
"Didn't you get tested?" Salon, April 28, 2013

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

BREAKING: Taxpayers funded a dozen abortion industry groups through Paycheck Protection Program

Photo credit:金 运 on Unsplash
Taxpayer-funded Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans were used to prop up numerous abortion industry groups in addition to Planned Parenthood, according to a data set released by the Small Business Administration (SBA) earlier this week.

Controversy erupted in May when news broke that Planned Parenthood had received $80 million in PPP funds, despite being a much larger company than the PPP was intended to serve. The SBA has ruled Planned Parenthood ineligible for PPP funds and demanded that it return the $80 million. However, PPP funding for smaller abortion centers and advocacy groups has not been previously reported.

Secular Pro-Life's analysis of the SBA data set reveals that American taxpayers kept at least six non-Planned Parenthood abortion vendors and six abortion-promoting organizations afloat via the PPP program, at a cost of over $4.4 million. This is a very conservative estimate, and the true amount is surely higher, because the SBA has only identified recipients of $150,000 or more. In addition, the SBA has not disclosed the exact amounts distributed, instead giving ranges. 

The list below is not exhaustive. Secular Pro-Life searched the SBA data set using abortion-related keywords, and compared the results against AbortionDocs, but it is entirely possible that we've missed some. We encourage other activists and journalists to build upon our research.

Abortion Centers
Atlanta Women's Medical Center: This Atlanta, GA surgical and chemical abortion center received between $150,000 and $350,000. State health inspectors have repeatedly reported deficiencies at this facility. 

Family Planning Association of Maine: This Augusta, ME surgical and chemical abortion center received between $150,000 and $350,000.  

Feminist Women's Health Center: This Atlanta, GA surgical and chemical abortion center received between $150,000 and $350,000. State health inspectors have repeatedly reported deficiencies at this facility. 

Hope Clinic for Women: This Granite City, IL surgical and chemical abortion center received between $150,000 and $350,000. This facility has been the site of multiple medical emergencies, including two in 2020. Despite applying for and receiving PPP funds, Hope Clinic for Women deputy director Alison Drieth told CBS News in April that business is booming because "women are now less likely to change their minds once they schedule an abortion. Normally, 50% go through with it; amid the pandemic, the rate is 85%." 

Northland Family Planning Clinic: This Southfield, MI surgical and chemical abortion center received between $150,000 and $350,000. Northland perforated a woman's uterus in a botched abortion in April 2019. It has repeatedly sued the state of Michigan to challenge abortion regulations. 

Peoria Women's Health: This Peoria, IL chemical abortion center received between $150,000 and $350,000. AbortionDocs indicates that this center is affiliated with Planned Parenthood, but apparently it did not use the Planned Parenthood name in connection with its PPP loan. 

Abortion-Promoting Organizations
Center for Reproductive Rights: The mission of the Center for Reproductive Rights is to "use the power of law" to advance abortion. It received between $2 million and $5 million.

National Abortion Federation: This abortion industry trade group received between $350,000 and $1 million.

National Institute for Reproductive Health: The National Institute for Reproductive Health "works across the country to advance proactive policy on the state and local levels" to promote abortion. It received between $350,000 and $1 million.

National Network of Abortion Funds: The National Network of Abortion Funds, which funnels money to abortion centers for mothers who cannot afford the price of killing their babies, received between $350,000 and $1 million.

Physicians for Reproductive Health: This abortionists' lobby received between $350,000 and $1 million.

URGE (Unite for Reproductive and Gender Equity): This pro-abortion youth group, formerly known as Choice USA, received between $150,000 and $350,000.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Rehumanize Conference goes virtual August 29

2018 Rehumanize Conference attendees

Our friends at Rehumanize International organize consistently amazing conferences. Rehumanize is a Consistent Life Ethic (CLE) group, which means their work encompasses a wide range of social ills. That includes abortion, along with threats to older humans like the death penalty and sex trafficking. Their conferences present a wonderful opportunity for activists in different spheres to come together and learn from one another. Secular Pro-Life representatives have spoken at the Rehumanize Conference many times, and we have proudly sponsored every conference since its inception.

The conference typically draws hundreds of in-person attendees, including many disabled and immunocompromised people. Obviously, that's not in the cards this year. But fear not! The first-ever all virtual Rehumanize Conference will take place on Saturday, August 29.

The "Socially-Distant Edition" of the Rehumanize Conference is open to all. They encourage you to donate what you can to cover the costs of speakers. Register today, and I look forward to seeing you soon from the comfort and safety of my home.

The Rehumanize Conference will also feature the winners of the Create | Encounter art contest, which has extended its deadline! You have through this Friday, July 10, to submit your visual art, poetry, stories, and short films on life issues. Learn more here.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Secular Pro-Life June Recap


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June Recap

Projects
Monica has finished her series of interviews with sidewalk counselors.  This June three of them were published on the Secular Pro-Life Perspectives blog.  You can find them here, here and here.

This June we were all keeping our sights on the court with the recent June Medical vs. Russo decision, a case on a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the abortion clinic.

Secular Pro-Life admin Terrisa Bukovniac was on the front lines this month, joining others like our friends at Rehumanize International in protesting the lax regulations surrounding abortion that lead to women maimed and killed.




Terrisa with her iconic bullhorn


Twitter
We gained 137 new followers, bringing us to 11,910 total. We sent 96 tweets, which were viewed 204,900 times.  One of the most viewed tweets was on our initial reaction to the June Medical vs. Russo ruling:



On to the next fight...

Facebook
In June we gained 164 followers, bringing us to 32,982 total. Our content was viewed over 295,666 times, including 10,132 views of one of our SPL volunteers, Gina, and her son 9 months from conception and 9 months from birth.  



Still a human being throughout!

Blogger
Our three most-read blog posts for June, in increasing order:
We already have several guest blog posts scheduled for July!  Guest posts help us cover a more diverse range of perspectives, topics, and experiences. If you have an idea for a piece you'd like to submit, please email us at info@secularprolife.org to discuss.

Thank you to our supporters
Thank you to those of you who donate to help support our work. SPL is run by a scant number of dedicated volunteers, and we would not be able to devote the time and energy without the help of donors like you.

If you like what we do and you want to see more, please consider donating:  Paypal

If you don't use Paypal, you can also go to our Facebook page and click the blue "Donate" button under our cover photo on the right. If you would like your donation to be used for a specific need (e.g. travel costs, conference sponsorships, social media advertising, etc.) please email us (info@secularprolife.org) with your instructions. Just a reminder, if you see a post from us you really like on Facebook, you can also donate specifically to advertise it to a wider audience.

And if you haven't already, come find us on social media!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Pro-Life Messages in Fantasy and Science Fiction

As you probably know, Monday brought bad news from the Supreme Court in June Medical v. Russo. Last week, I wrote that a decision against Louisiana's admitting privileges law "would mean that at least one of the Justices believed to be an anti-abortion vote is not, and that pro-life groups have received little in return for their decades of putting up with the Republican Party. If this happens, expect absolute chaos to ensue." I stand by that statement, and by this one too. I know some of you are eager for a more thorough analysis of the Court's opinion, and my predictions about the chaos to come, but I'm really not up to it right now. I'm only human and I need an emotional break. Maybe next week. Please forgive me.

For a happier note, I turn it over to guest author Sophie Trist.

* * * * *

In addition to being proudly and unapologetically pro-life from fertilized egg to fertilizer, I'm also a ridiculously huge bookworm. Occasionally, I come across a quote that perfectly encapsulates the pro-life message, even if that wasn't necessarily the author's intention. There's the iconic "A person's a person, no matter how small" from Dr. Seuss's classic kids' book Horton Hears a Who, often cited as pro-lifers' favorite quote. This blog post will focus on lesser-known quotes from more modern novels, particularly those in the sci-fi or fantasy genres.

1. "Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving."

This quote hails from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and it's one of my favorites. Rowling may not have meant the preborn to be part of "every human life", but for me, this quote has always summed up the core of what it means to be pro-life.
A bookshelf and reading chair
2. "Ours is a world where the notion that some people are more important than others has been allowed to take root until it buckles and cracks the foundation of our humanity."

My favorite pro-life quote of all time comes from AMAZING black fantasy author and activist N.K. Jemisin, in her short story "The Ones Who Stay and Fight" which appears in her book How Long Till Black Future Month. While this quote does not directly reference pregnancy or abortion, it beautifully illustrates the dehumanization that allows abortion to occur.

3. "We could've done so many things. We could've brought a life into this world of wonders, and that life could've changed us both, made us better, fixed the broken clocks inside our brains that wouldn't let us be happy when happiness was within reach. It wasn't just a who inside her. It was a where, a place where both of us could've finally been free of the people we never meant to become, because that's the magic trick of creating life—it takes every bad decision you've ever made and makes them necessary footsteps on the treacherous path that brought you home. For just a moment, I had a home. It was the size of one cell, but that was enough to fit in all I ever wanted."

This beautiful passage comes from Canadian author Elan Mastai's 2017 science fiction novel All Our Wrong Todays and is the most poignant description of lost fatherhood I've ever read. A woman becomes pregnant the day before a critical time travel mission, and, with the prospect of her career coming to an end, she takes her own life. The novel's protagonist reflects in this passage moments after her death and that of their unborn child. There is also a wonderful description of fertilization and the formation of a human zygote a few pages before this passage.

4. "A tiny heart begins to beat. It is a secret, fluttering hummingbird beat, four weeks in the making... The whole thing, too young yet to call a fetus, has grown to the size of a pea. A face is beginning to surface from the tissue of the head, the earliest components of eyes. Those eyes: they will show her everything she will ever see. Passages are forming which will one day become the inner ear. Those ears will deliver every voice, every note of music, every drop of rain, she will ever hear in her life. Already, an opening is forming which will later become the mouth, the same mouth that, if mother and child survive, might ask, someday, what God is and why we need the wind, or where she was, anyway, before she was inside her mother's belly."

This quote originates in Karen Thompson Walker's 2019 novel The Dreamers, about a mysterious sleeping sickness sweeping through a small college town. It is noteworthy that the author was pregnant when she wrote The Dreamers, and in interviews, she discusses how this experience influenced her description of preborn life.

5. "If you throw away another's life as if it has no meaning, how then will your own life be measured?"

In Mark Lawrence's fabulous 2020 fantasy novel The Girl in the Stars, disabled and unwanted children are thrown into a pit to live the rest of their lives underground. This book affirms the innate value of every child's life, whether they are unwanted, broken, or able-bodied.

All of these quotes humanize the preborn and affirm the inherent value of every human life. Have more pro-life quotes from books? Feel free to leave them in the comments. Science is critical to the pro-life cause, but so too are words, stories, and imagination.


Photo credit: Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Monday, June 29, 2020

"I'm here to listen, not to judge." Interview with a young Catholic sidewalk counselor

Maria on the right.
Signs read "I'm here to listen, not to judge"
and "We bring hope, love, and support."

How did you get started sidewalk counseling? What draws you to the sidewalk compared to other types of pro-life work?

I got started with sidewalk advocacy when I joined my pro-life student group in college: Bama Students for Life! I had learned that the abortion facility less than a mile from our campus was the busiest facility in Alabama; that fact was a big catalyst in my pro-life advocacy. At the time, the facility performed nearly 70 abortions a week. So many were being killed, and I felt I could no longer stay silent.

What does your work entail? Describe an average day of sidewalk counseling.

On Saturday mornings I go to the closest abortion facility. I've coordinated with some friends from my church who also go, and there's usually a handful of other local pro-lifers present, so on a regular Saturday there's about 8–10 people out there. Because there are so many of us, we've gotten in the habit of splitting the group up across the sidewalk: groups of two or three will stand on either side of the entrance to the small parking lot to do outreach, and four or five people will stand a little further away to pray. Those doing outreach try to approach the people in their cars as they drive in or out. We also call out to people walking from their cars to the building, saying things like, "I can't pretend to know what you're going through right now, but I'd like to hear your story, and I want to know if there's any way I can help. I've got information about free local resources that I would love to share with you."

What are the most difficult aspects of this work, and how do you handle those?

For me, the most difficult thing is knowing what to say. I stumble over my words all the time, and talking to strangers makes me extremely nervous. I deal with that by trying to imagine what I would want to hear if I was the woman walking into the facility. I practice saying things to myself in the car on the way over. Obviously each person is unique, so I don't want to sound scripted, but practicing certain phrases helps me feel more comfortable.

Do you hand out literature? If so, what is it about?

Yes! Lately I've been using the "This is not your only choice" pamphlet from Human Life Alliance. I also have several handwritten cards that I use if someone seems like they're going to change their mind and leave; the cards list the closest local resources and include my personal phone number so they can reach out if they want to.

Do you refer people to local services? If so, what types or services? Provided by whom?

Yes — On the cards I give out I’ve list a couple different pro-life pregnancy care centers and a place that can help with housing. I also have the contact info for those places saved in my phone, along with information about what services they provide and whether they have any Spanish-speaking employees.

Do you have religious beliefs? If so, how do those influence your work? How do you handle religious differences between you and the people you meet?

I do! I'm Catholic and my faith influences my work in that I make a point to pray before, during, and after sidewalk advocacy. That said, I agree with the information in Sidewalk Advocates For Life's training guide, which suggests the following topic progression: first, address the mother and her crisis; second, talk about her baby; and last, you could ask about her faith background (if she has one). Rehumanize International also talks about this progression under “Dialogue Tips” in our handouts here. Most women, in my experience at least, are in crisis mode. They want to know first and foremost that you genuinely care about them and you want to help them through this crisis.

How do you respond to people who say they are at the clinic for reasons other than abortion?

I get this rarely; the vast majority of people coming into the facility I go to are there for abortion. However, I typically respond explaining there are so many other organizations that provide birth control that don't kill human beings.

What are some of the most common circumstances women describe that brought them to the clinic?

That they're scared because the pregnancy was unexpected, or that they don't have the finances to take care of the child.

Do you have ongoing relationships with any of the women you have met at the sidewalk? If so, what are those like?

I don't have ongoing relationships directly, but one of the friends from church who goes with me usually stays in contact with them.

Do you interact with clinic staff? If so, what has that been like?

I see them pretty rarely, and when I do, I struggle to know what to say beyond, "You don't have to work here."

Many people believe that sidewalk counselors primarily try to shame and intimidate women. How do you respond to that idea?

I've witnessed my fair share of bad sidewalk advocates — so I won't deny that they exist — but in my experience, the good greatly outnumber the bad. When I was in college, our student group made a point to try to convince other local advocates to use more loving and helpful signs. It didn't always work. There was one man who'd carry a large sign with a swastika comparing abortion to the holocaust, and he refused to get rid of it because he had painted it himself. In those instances we distance ourselves as much as possible and carry signs like "Here to listen, not to judge."

What do you think of buffer zone laws? Has your work been impacted by such laws?

It’s my understanding that buffer zone laws were created in response to some extreme measures taken by pro-lifers (like chaining themselves to the doors of facilities to keep people from going in). Obviously I don’t like these laws because they hinder our ability as peaceful sidewalk advocates to reach the people going in for abortion. When I started getting into sidewalk advocacy, the facility we went to was in a medical office park, so there was a large parking lot between us and the people going in. It makes it really tough to seem compassionate when you have to yell in order to be heard. There was a lot of shouting "GOOD MORNING!" those days.

What advice would you give someone interested in sidewalk counseling?

Expect to wait around a lot. It takes patience. But also stay prepared so you're not caught off guard when someone actually takes the time to talk to you and needs help. Preparation is key.

What advice do you have for people who don't sidewalk counsel but still want to help women with crisis pregnancies?

Donate to local pregnancy centers! If you don't have the funds, ask if they need volunteers. You can also do a lot of outreach online, in forums and on social media where many people will ask questions if they're considering abortion. Make your pro-life stance clear to social media friends, and in a nonjudgmental way; you want to make sure they know you're a safe person to reach out to if they ever find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. If you're a praying type, pray for the people out on the sidewalk.

What do you believe the pro-life movement is getting right? What do you believe could be better?

I think the pro-life movement is vibrant and powerful, and that as a whole, we are most successful when we allow for a diversity of opinion on unrelated issues and focus on the human rights injustice at hand. Let's spread information about the truth of abortion. Let's find ways to help parents considering it and heal those who have already gone through with it. Let's debate which political strategy is going to be most likely to truly eliminate abortion. Basically, I believe the movement would be better if it were tied less closely to specific party platforms. I know too many people who were raised in a pro-life, conservative household, grew up, realized their politics didn't align with their parents', and decided that for that reason they could no longer be pro-life. It shouldn't be a partisan issue. It's a human rights issue, and we have to remind people of that.

Read more interviews:
Sidewalk counseling training resources:

Friday, June 26, 2020

The unlikely story of the pro-life author of "Reconsidering Fetal Pain"

[This post is a transcription of a story I told verbally.]

Okay so I want to share this amazing story.

First the background. In the abortion debate there's controversy over the fetal pain issue. For a long time the prevailing scientific wisdom (though not a consensus) was that fetuses probably couldn't feel pain before 24 weeks, and maybe even later. And then recently—in January of this year, actually, 2020—an article came out in a well reputed journal—The Journal of Medical Ethics—called "Reconsidering Fetal Pain." And there were two things about this article that I found remarkable. The first was that it basically argued that fetuses might experience pain as early as 12 or 13 weeks (so significantly sooner than was previously thought). This possibility has major implications for the abortion debate because something like 10% of abortions happen later than 12-13 weeks, and, you know, what does it mean ethically? So that's the first major point of this article.

But the other thing about it that was interesting, and the thing that originally caught my eye, is that it was authored by two men who made a point of noting more than once during the article that they do not agree on the abortion debate. One of them is pro-life; one of them is pro-choice. And they were trying to say that their findings and conclusions regarding fetal pain should be considered apart from the politics of abortion, which should be axiomatic but unfortunately is not. Either fetuses can experience pain or they cannot, and we should explore that question regardless of the implications it has, rather than consider the implications and then only explore the question if it's safe, basically. Anyway, it seems very rare for the two sides of the abortion debate to collaborate on anything, and so it was remarkable to me to see that these two authors who apparently are quite opposed to each other on the abortion issue are with each other on the fetal pain issue.

And I guess I should say: a third important point of the article (that I didn't realize initially and learned later) is that the pro-choice author, Dr. Stuart Derbyshire, is actually the author of some of the most cited prior work on fetal pain. Specifically, he authored the 2006 British Medical Journal article "Can fetuses feel pain?" in which he argued pain experience may require both neural circuitry (which embryos and early term fetuses lack) and mindful experience (which even late term fetuses don't yet have). Stuart also co-authored the 2010 Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' highly influential research overview "Fetal Awareness," which argues fetuses can’t feel pain until at least 24 weeks, and possibly not at all during pregnancy, because they are always in a "sleep-like" state. And then in 2020 Stuart co-authored "Reconsidering Fetal Pain," which directly contradicts some of his prior work.

So this article is remarkable both because it involves collaboration between pro-life and pro-choice researchers, and because it involves one of the researchers publishing an article that contradicts his prior work, which—even outside the abortion debate—is not very common. So I thought that was fascinating.

Oh, and a distant fourth: it was very well written. I know how difficult it is to communicate technical ideas in layman's terms that are easy for people to access and read, and it was very well written in that sense too.

So four major takeaways of this article:
  1. It argues that fetuses might feel pain as early as 12 or 13 weeks instead of 24 weeks.
  2. It was coauthored by a pro-life researcher and pro-choice researcher.
  3. The pro-choice author was contradicting his own prior work. And
  4. It was just really well written.
So it definitely caught my attention.

A month later, maybe less, I was on the Secular Pro-Life account on Twitter. And the way I use the account is I mostly just send out original content and try not to spend too much time getting into comment threads and arguments. I just don't think it's a very productive use of time, usually. And I don't usually look at other people's profiles that much either.

But every now and then if I see someone tweet something I think is particularly clever or funny, I might skim their profile and see if they have more content like that. So I was on Twitter and I saw someone make a comment on a NARAL tweet, I think, that I thought was particularly funny. So I clicked on his profile to see if he had more like that, and the pinned tweet to the top of his profile was this article—"Reconsidering Fetal Pain"—and he had pinned it because he was one of the authors! He was the pro-life author. His name is John Bockmann. And I was a little astounded. I just didn't think there'd be reason for my circle to cross with his. It never occurred to me to look for him on social media or anything.

But as soon as I saw that he was the pro-life author, I direct messaged him and basically said "I really liked your article. Great work. I would love to ask you some questions about it if you have time." And he said "Yeah, that's fine. Go ahead and email me and I'll get back to you in the next few days because I'm busy with [whatever]." And so immediately, like in that moment, I emailed him I think a dozen questions off the top of my head about how this article came to be. He indulged me over the next few days and wrote me lengthy responses. Through that back and forth I got to hear more of his story, and I have to say it was fascinating. Very inspiring. And he gave me permission to retell it here.

So, according to John, he was not particularly involved in the abortion debate before. This is one of the remarkable things about this story. I work with pro-life activists all the time, and while I don't think I know everybody, I know a lot of people or at least have heard of them, and I had never heard of him before. And it turns out he was not affiliated with any pro-life groups. He doesn't really know a lot of people in the movement. He came at this, from my perspective, totally out of nowhere. He wasn't especially pro-life—maybe personally pro-life, but hadn't given it a lot of thought—and a couple things happened that made him change his mind and get more involved.

First, he had children. He got to witness his wife's pregnancies and the love he felt for his children even before they were born, and that moved him. He felt more passionate and personal about this issue.

Second—and I think this is really important—he saw David Daleiden's videos about Planned Parenthood's late-term abortions and selling of fetal body parts. John was just thunderstruck. Horrified. And he really wanted to do something, to be involved somehow. It moved him to want to try to effect some kind of change.

At the time he was in his program to become a military physician assistant, and he had to do a master's thesis. He was originally going to focus his thesis on obesity. But when the CMP videos came out, John decided he would like to change his project to fetal pain. His thought process was that if we can't stop late-term abortion from happening, we at least have a responsibility to understand what it means, what it does, and to handle it as humanely as possible. So he started looking into fetal pain.

So that's the first part of the story: he was moved by his own experiences of fatherhood and his own feelings of love for his preborn children, which I find is an extremely common reason for people to convert to being pro-life. And then also David Daleiden's videos inspired John. I think this is very important because there's no way to know how many effects those videos had. I don't think that they had the effects that Daleiden was hoping for. Planned Parenthood has not disappeared, and if anything they have gone after him very aggressively. I can't imagine how difficult that must be for him, both financially and in terms of the stress of fighting with them. And also the frustration of not seeing them taken down at least a few notches, much less entirely. That's frustrating, but there's no way to know who else has been influenced and in what ways, and I imagine that there are countless little interactions that have helped people move more towards our view on things. And you never know which of those interactions, which at the time may seem small, can lead to bigger changes, such as this story—where John was so moved by those videos that he decided to change his thesis and it resulted in a major journal article.

So John Bockmann decided to study fetal pain for his physician assistant program. And in the course of studying that, he read a lot of articles about fetal pain, including ones by Stuart basically saying that fetuses can't feel pain until about 24 weeks. So John was really involved in that research and very familiar with it when he happened to read a New York Times article in which Stuart seemed to contradict his prior research. I don't think most people would notice such a contradiction unless they happened to be following his work pretty closely.

And this brings us to the second part of the story that I find moving: I think there are a lot of pro-life people who would view Stuart and authors like him as "the enemy." I mean he was one of the lead voices basically saying we shouldn't worry about fetal pain. And if he was wrong, and if it's true that fetuses feel pain, do you know how many thousands of late-term abortions we perform every year without regard to the suffering that happens before death? It's of grave moral importance, in my opinion, and I can see how a pro-life person would view Stuart with anger.

But John read Stuart's work and, instead of lashing out, he did what I would think of as sort of the Josh Brahm approach to the abortion debate: he reached out to Stuart. He emailed and essentially said (I'm paraphrasing), "I’ve been following your work and I noticed you said this in your interview and it seemed to contradict this aspect of your paper, and I was wondering how you reconcile that? What changed?" And so in May 2016 they started chatting over email. They got to know each other and became friends, which is hugely important. People change their minds through friendship as much as or more than through logic and debate. And in the course of them becoming friends and discussing the fetal pain issue, Stuart changed his mind, or at least thought there might be significant factors that he should address. In February 2018, Stuart was asked to write an article on the current state of fetal pain scholarship, and he reached out to John for input. After much debate and collaboration, they wrote and rewrote their ideas into the article "Reconsidering Fetal Pain." And as of today, their paper is the 5th most downloaded paper for the Journal of Medical Ethics of all time and in the top 5% of 15M+ research articles scored by Altmetric.

In other words, John Bockmann, who was not particularly involved in the pro-life movement, was moved by fatherhood and the CMP videos to get involved, and when he did get involved he approached the opposition with respect in a spirit of friendship. He didn't change Stuart's mind entirely—Stuart is still pro-choice—but he changed Stuart's mind on fetal pain, and who knows who's reading that article now? And who knows how it influences their work? Who knows what influence it could have in the long term on the abortion debate? I think John did more than most people ever do, and he did it all because he was curious, respectful, and open. And I just thought it was a wonderful story.

Post script: I asked John to review this blog post for accuracy, and he added this note:
We can find important common ground with our ideological opposites, whether or not any minds change. This ability has huge implications for happiness and meaning, especially with how polarized our world is becoming. We must engage with curiosity, respect, and passion. I want everyone to know this!
John Bockmann

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Interview with a post-abortive sidewalk counselor: love, not shame, is the key

Interviewer's note: study after study confirm many women choose abortion because they feel they don't have the resources to care for a child. Sidewalk counselors work to connect these women to resources in their communities. This work transforms—and literally saves—lives.

People who aren’t involved in the pro-life movement (and even some within it) tend to believe that those who stand outside abortion clinics are there to shame and terrify vulnerable abortion-minded women. Interestingly, in this interview Serena discusses these very type of ultra-aggressive protestors and how they make her goalsto reassure women and get them resourcesmuch more difficult. Still, she's tenacious.

I'm an atheist. I don't share Serena's beliefs about God or Jesus. But I can’t help but note how Serena's faith encourages and emboldens her to love and support other people in difficult circumstances. It's admirable work. (You can also read an interview with a secular sidewalk counselor here.)

Meet Serena


How did you get started sidewalk counseling? What draws you to the sidewalk compared to other types of pro-life work?

I got started sidewalk counseling after seeing Unplanned. I had gone to the movie not even knowing what it was about and it was like watching my life unfold before my eyes.

I was raped at 13 years old by an uncle and taken for an abortion at Ulrich Klopfer's clinic. For 30 years I did not talk about my abortion because it was something I wanted to forget happened. It was by far worse than my rape. I didn't know what abortion was when I went to that clinic but once I learned, it almost destroyed my life. I nearly lost everything. My marriage was almost over, and I was using drugs and alcohol to numb my pain.

One night after drinking heavily, I texted some friends to come get me. I knew I had too much to drink and I didn't want to end up in jail. But no one would come get me. I had burned all my bridges. I sat in my car and cried and prayed for help. That night God met me in my car and lavished me in a love that I had never felt before. I made it home and my husband welcomed me back. That began my healing process from my rape. But I never talked about the abortion.

When I saw Unplanned, I felt moved to tell the rest of my story, though I wasn't sure how exactly. I called our local Right To Life and asked if they ever minister to women before they go to abortion clinics. They explained they were going to start training people to sidewalk counsel in response to Whole Women's Health opening nearby. I signed right up and began going to the clinic.

It's so important to have peaceful people at the clinic. On the day of my abortion, no one was there. I will never know if it would have made a difference in my story, but I want to make sure that people know that they can make a difference for someone else.

What does your work entail? Describe an average day of sidewalk counseling.

Going to the clinic requires me to be ready to love others well. We really want to be a peaceful presence that is lead by the Holy Spirit on how to reach women. We want to love not only the mothers, fathers, and other family members but also the escorts and staff. We want to give the support so many of them are looking forin the moment, during the pregnancy, and after the baby is born.

What are the most difficult aspects of this work, and how do you handle those?

Escorts block us with their umbrellas and play music so the women can't hear us. We also have to deal with another group who come out with mics to "preach." They shame the women who then run right into the clinic. There have been times when we will get the attention of a father in the car and it looks like he is going to come over and talk, but the other group will call him a coward and he instead looks down and won't come over. They are also known to put ladders up and yell at escorts. It's awful.

During my own abortion, I remember the clinic telling our family that there would be people outside who hated us, so make sure to walk in quickly. Groups like these who shame women confirm the clinic workers' warnings. I've worked with many post-abortive women, and something I often hear is "the protesters were yelling at me and I just wanted to get away." In contrast, I had a woman share her story of two peaceful sidewalk counselors praying. She broke away from her parents and went to them for help. She said she could sense their love and knew they were safe. 

Do you hand out literature? If so, what is it about?

We hand out mom bags which include local resources, a free ultrasound coupon, and info about what abortion is (and that it's not her only choice). I personally try to put a hand written note, a bracelet, and some type of lotion or something to make her feel loved. If she returns a second day we also include abortion pill reversal information. We also try to let her know about a website (Her Michiana) that can help with many of her needs as well as resources for the dad.

Do you have religious beliefs? If so, how do those influence your work? How do you handle religious differences between you and the people you meet?

I'm a Jesus follower and that helps me love others well. When I'm at the clinic or talking to an abortion-minded woman, I talk about Jesus in a way meant to bring hope, not shame. I want her to know she is so loved. Sometimes you can tell that someone is not really interested and you can feel push back. At that point I will not talk about him, but hope they will know his love by my actions.

How do you respond to people who say they are at the clinic for reasons other than abortion?

We have people who walk by the clinic all the time; it's always a teaching moment to educate others on what abortion is. Some people just don't know and we have the opportunity to have a conversation (not a debate, but a conversation). People seem more open to talking if we approach them in a non-confrontational way. 

What are some of the most common circumstances women describe that brought them to the clinic?

I talk to women daily and they have shared so many reasons they come to the clinics. Some feel like they are not supported by family or the boyfriend, some think they can't afford a baby, some are scared of Covid. Some have been told something is wrong with their baby and abortion will show "compassion." In the case of my rape at 13 my family was told abortion would fix my trauma. It was all a lie. 

Do you interact with clinic staff? If so, what has that been like?

I make a point of interacting with clinic staff because the Jesus I serve can reach anyone. I speak truth in love to them and pray for them. I try to reach them were they're at.

I did befriend one of the escorts. Our first encounter did not go well. I shared my story with him and he cussed me out and flipped me off. The next week the escort was drinking a Snapple and made a face like it was terrible. I laughed and said "That bad?" and he laughed too, talked about how they changed the recipe. After that we started talking more, and he has since shared his story with me. He helps knit hats for premature babies! He has misplaced compassion that he doesn't even understand. 

Other escorts don't always like that he talks to me but he does it anyway. I'm going to keep showing him love and compassion. I believe it's just a matter of time before he leaves.

Many people believe that sidewalk counselors primarily try to shame and intimidate women. How do you respond to that idea?

Trained sidewalk counselors are not there to shame women at all. Sadly, there are people who go to the clinics to shame women and it's hurtful and counterproductive. The women don't realize we are different groups; they lump us together. I try really hard to separate myself from anyone who is not being peaceful. If a woman is taken there against her will I hope she looks for the people praying, not shouting. There are people who will help and love you well. 

What advice would you give someone interested in sidewalk counseling?

Go to the training. Make sure that you conduct yourself in a way that is loving; don't say anything that will hurt a woman for the rest of her life. Offer her hope. Be the hope. Love her, love him, and love the baby well. They are all God's kids. 

What advice do you have for people who don't sidewalk counsel but still want to help women with crisis pregnancies?

If you come across a woman who is in a crisis, meet her with love. Listen, discern, and respond. Figure out what is driving her to abortion and how to meet that need.

If you are part of a church, allow people to come in and talk about abortion. When the church doesn't talk about abortion it sends a message that we are okay with it. Women in the church have gone from the pew to the abortion clinic because they believe people will gossip instead of help them. [See the Pastor Pledge from The Equal Rights Institute.] If you are a pastor who doesn't know how to talk about it, invite me to speak. You can also make sure your local pregnancy centers are supported.   

Read more interviews:
Sidewalk counseling training resources:

Monday, June 22, 2020

A Supreme Court abortion decision is expected any day. Here's what you need to know.

The U.S. Supreme Court traditionally releases its major opinions in the month of June. We have already seen blockbuster rulings on LGBT employment discrimination and DACA. Next up: June Medical Services v. Russo, which will determine the fate of a Louisiana law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice.

Image via the Katrina Jackson for
Senate District 34 facebook page
The common-sense, bipartisan law was spearheaded by then-state representative (now state senator) Katrina Jackson (pictured), a Democrat. It is not a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. Instead, it seeks to harness the power of existing medical institutions to identify and stop abortionists who are especially dangerous to women. As pro-choice author William Saletan noted years ago in his chilling Back Alley series, the medical community knows full well who these shoddy abortionists are and quietly declines to work with them — but historically, they have refused to speak up for political reasons. Admitting privileges requirements make these "open secrets" truly open, and force the abortion lobby to live up to the "safe" part of its empty motto.

Side note: Any news coverage of this case that fails to mention Kevin Work is sham journalism. He's exactly the type of abortionist that Louisiana's law is meant to address. Read more about him here

Louisiana's law is similar to the Texas law that the Supreme Court tragically struck down in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, although the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals noted some differences when it upheld Louisiana's law in 2018. Pro-life advocates were horrified by Hellerstedt, which prioritized abortion access and industry profits over women's safety. Hellerstedt was a 5-3 decision, when the Court had only eight Justices due to the death of Justice Scalia. (The three in the minority were Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito.) Since then, pro-abortion Justice Kennedy has retired, and Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — widely believed to support the right to life — have joined the Court. 

Here are the possible outcomes to watch for in Russo, from worst to best:
  • The Supreme Court strikes down Louisiana's law. This would mean that at least one of the Justices believed to be an anti-abortion vote is not, and that pro-life groups have received little in return for their decades of putting up with the Republican Party. If this happens, expect absolute chaos to ensue.
  • The Supreme Court upholds Louisiana's law without overturning Hellerstedt. This would essentially ratify the Fifth Circuit's approach. Lower courts would be instructed to consider other states' admitting privileges laws on a case-by-case basis, depending on such factors as the number of abortionists in the state and what criteria the state's hospitals use to grant or deny admitting privileges. 
  • The Supreme Court upholds Louisiana's law, recognizes its past mistake, and reverses Hellerstedt. This would be a victory for women's health and babies' lives.
  • The Supreme Court finds that the plaintiffs lack standing. This is a long shot, so don't get your hopes up, but a decision on the basis of standing would be huge. The legal concept of standing means that a person can't sue merely because they dislike a law; they have to have a certain level of direct involvement. To give an obvious example, the plaintiffs in the LGBT employment discrimination cases decided earlier this month were, not surprisingly, LGBT people whose employers discriminated against them. In Russo, the plaintiffs are arguing that Louisiana's law unduly burdens women's right to an abortion — but the plaintiffs in Russo aren't women, much less pregnant mothers seeking abortions and facing legal burdens. The Russo plaintiffs are abortion companies whose hired abortionists don't have admitting privileges. Although many past cases have involved abortion companies legally standing in for abortion-seeking mothers (e.g. Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Hellerstedt), allowing that type of substitute standing in a safety regulations case creates a serious conflict of interest. Women's desire to obtain the best possible care and avoid quacks like Kevin Work is directly at odds with abortion vendors' desire to cut costs. If the Supreme Court finally expresses some long-overdue skepticism at the idea that abortion businesses represent women's interests, our legal system could finally escape, or at least reduce, the influence of abortion industry money.
Dr. Michael New of the Charlotte Lozier Institute puts it best:

Friday, June 19, 2020

Secular Pro-life May Recap

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Projects
Another month of lockdown and Secular Pro-Life hasn't been slowing down at all, even if Covid-19 has changed the ways we can interact with people. Kelsey has been busy with virtual outreach, speaking to the National Campus Life Network (the Canadian version of Students for Life), and a pro-life student group at Florida Atlantic University. You can watch her talk with the National Campus Life Network here and Florida Atlantic University here.

In May, SPL enthusiastically joined a coalition of pro-life organizations led by the Susan B. Anthony List in an open letter to the FDA demanding immediate action against illegal online abortion drug vendorLearn more about it from our blog post here.

Bringing home the point that SPL is a place for people of every faith and no faith at all, Terrisa was interviewed by the Catholic EWTN channel on how Secular Pro-Life got her into pro-life activism and eventually went on to found Pro-Life San Francisco. She helps explain the secular position against abortion to a religious audience. You can watch her interview here.

Monica is working on a series of interviews on sidewalk counselors and people who work at pregnancy resource centers. If you are a sidewalk counselor or work at a pregnancy resource center and you would like to share the important work you do, contact Monica at monica@secularprolife.org.



Conversation with the National Campus Life Network

Twitter
We gained 167 new followers, bringing us to 11,773 total. We sent 138 tweets, which were viewed 314,700 times, including our reaction to this NARAL tweet that lacks self-awareness and drawing attention to this article by the National Review, debunking a Washington Post article on late-term abortions. The gruesome reality is that even though late-term abortions are rare as a percentage, they are more common than gun homicides.



Justin Timberlake disapproves

Facebook
In May we gained 242 followers, bringing us to 32,818 total. Our content was viewed over 375,224 times, including 30,900 views of our collection of tweets from people who were born in less than perfect circumstances but are tired of being told their lives aren't worth living by abortion supporters.



See more examples here.

Blogger
Our three most-read blog posts for May, in increasing order:
1) Destiny's Destiny: Pro-Life Lessons from a Horse Farm: A look by guest blogger Crystal Kupper at the all too common practice of horse abortions and the comparisons that can be made with the pressure put on human women to abort.
2) A former late-term abortion nurse speaks out: Julie Wilkinson, a former nurse at the abortion clinic of the infamous late-term abortionist Warren Hern, has since left to work at a NICU. SPL analyzes a recent interview with her in the New American.
3) The problem with "If you don't like abortion, don't get one": Guest blogger "J" breaks down this unfortunately common and frustrating misconception that pro-choice activists have about the pro-life position.  Two out of three of our top viewed posts were written by guest bloggers. Guest posts help us cover a more diverse range of perspectives, topics, and experiences. If you have an idea for a piece you'd like to submit, please email us at info@secularprolife.org to discuss.

Thank you to our supporters
Thank you to those of you who donate to help support our work. SPL is run by dedicated volunteers, and we would not be able to devote the time and energy without the help of donors like you.

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