Wednesday, January 28, 2015

West Coast recap: “Just your existence makes a difference."

Last Saturday fellow SPL supporters and I marched in the West Coast Walk for Life through downtown San Francisco. To be blunt, I was not sure I was looking forward to it. I’ve done many SF Walks over the years, but this is the first year I was going to attempt one while 8 months pregnant. The very idea of the Walk seemed kind of exhausting. On the other hand, the Walk is a chance to see friends of mine in person who I usually only get to talk to online, so there was that to look forward to. I decided to just try to do the whole Walk, and if it got too difficult I could always head home early.

SPL supporters gathered at our banner in front of the Asian Art Museum as the San Francisco rally began. We had a few people stop and tell us they like the banner, and we even had a few people tell us they liked SPL’s speech last year! I was impressed and happy they still remembered.

Hanging out with pro-life people and their pro-life dogs before the Walk started.
Once the rally started wrapping up we easily slipped into the embarking crowd near the front of what always ends up being a massively long column of people trailing down Market Street in San Francisco. Most years I like to dart in and out of the crowd getting as many pictures of the different signs as possible. No darting for me this year. Luckily pro-life atheist and amateur photographer Ellen took on the role enthusiastically. I wish I had pictures of her taking pictures—she even climbed up on subway walls and other places to get better vantage points.

Ellen captures the crowd.
Meanwhile I walked alongside our banner and talked with Josh Brahm about the Walk, the effects of these kinds of pro-life events on people, and which signs we liked (or didn’t). With so many people milling down the street, the Walk moved at a place slow enough that I was able to keep up for the duration, which is nice.

Hanging out with Josh. :)
I was surprised at how few counter-protesters we saw. There were two or three here or there along the route, but most years there’s eventually a concentrated crowd of several dozen, usually with bullhorns and chants and plenty of signs that make for interesting photos. This year we saw none of that. When we got to the very end of the route there was a slightly larger group, but they seemed small compared to the thousands of pro-lifers overflowing from the street to the surrounding park and blocks around it. I think the counter-protesters’ message was largely missed by most on our side because of that. Not sure why they took that tactic this year. I think the only other year I’ve seen so few counter-protesters at the Walk was a year it was raining. Not sure what to make of that.

A handful of counter-protesters.
I found out later that some of the counter-protesters who were around had tried to physically block the Walk, but we never knew about it at the time. Apparently the police (and many student groups led by SFLA) made short work of those efforts (fast forward to about 3m50s to see the police stop people from blocking the street)—the counter-protesters didn’t even slow the column down enough for us to notice a pause. Ha.

After the Walk, several of the SPL supporters met up for pizza and card games and general fun, and it was great to get to hang out with everyone. I can only imagine what my life would be like if all my online friends lived in the same area. Ah well.

The next day was the West Coast SFLA conference. Ellen and I, along with pro-life atheist and SPLer Terrisa, arrived around 7:30am and set up SPL’s table. We were right between the tables for Life Matters Journal and Equal Rights Institute (two pro-life groups I consider good friends of SPL).

SPL's table!

We spent the day encouraging student groups to take one of our outreach packets, which contain brochures about why the pro-life positions is of interest to non-Christians and copies of our 10 Ways to Be Inclusive blog post.

We had a lot of great conversations with people interested in SPL. So many people tell us how happy or relieved they are to see secularists join the fold and how frustrated they get when people dismiss their views because of religion. Several people told us they think SPL and groups like ours are the key to the future of the movement! And one gentleman in particular told me that, in his conversations about abortion, just being able to point to SPL’s existence has helped make people more open to what he’s saying. It is so encouraging to hear how SPL is helping the pro-life movement in little ways we never even know about!

During the day we also got to talk with people who are leaders in their own pro-life organizations. Of course we talked a lot with our tabling neighbors, Life Matters Journal and Equal Rights Institute. We also got to chat with leaders from the Walk for Life, Feminists for Life, Priests for Life, And Then There Were None, 40 Days for Life, Students for Life (of course!) and many others. And we talked with a lot of students from different high school and college pro-life groups. Some of the schools that have had SPL for speaking engagements in the last year came over to say hi, and that was really sweet.

Throughout the day I took a few notes on good ideas other groups had for making their tables interesting and engaging (for example, candy doesn’t hurt). I think next year I’d like to have more copies of some of our blog posts printed as leaflets. Which blog posts do you think would be most useful for a student pro-life conference?

Overall it was a busy and enjoyable weekend. So good to see so many friends, get brainstorming ideas, and remember how many different kinds of people are interested in pro-life work. If you can make it to either a march or a conference (or both) I highly recommend it. Very thought-provoking and encouraging.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Irony at the March for Life counter-protest

In 1979, at a sold-out concert of The Who with approximately 18,000 fans in attendance, the force of the crowd at the entrance caused 11 people to be crushed to death.

In 2008, a crowd of around 2,000 Black Friday shoppers flooded into a Long Island Wal-Mart, fatally trampling 34-year-old employee Jdimytai Damour.

At the turn of 2013, a surge of people leaving a New Year's Eve fireworks display at an Ivory Coast arena trampled 61 people to death and injured over 200 others.

Bottom line: under normal circumstances, you wouldn't voluntarily place yourself in front of a large crowd of people moving in the same direction unless you had a death wish.

Why am I bringing this up?

Last week, an estimated 200,000 pro-lifers took part in the March for Life in Washington, D.C.* As they arrived at the Supreme Court building, counter-protesters from the radical pro-abortion group "Stop Patriarchy" were standing in the way. The March came to a halt for until police arrested the counter-protesters.**

Above: the March for Life pauses outside of the Supreme Court on Thursday. The woman in
the red coat is Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America, who led the crowd in a chant
of "We! Are! The pro-life generation!" while waiting peacefully for police to clear the path.
The members of Stop Patriarchy do not have a death wish. They want to live to see the Communist revolution. (Really.) But they didn't appear to be at all concerned for their safety when they stood in front of a moving crowd far, far larger than the ones that trampled people at a Who concert, a fireworks display, and a Wal-Mart.

Of course, their confidence was objectively well-founded. But I can't understand why they felt that way. After all, we hate women and stop caring about human lives after birth... right?

*Unfortunately, the National Park Service no longer provides official crowd size numbers. I was there and the 200,000 ballpark figure strikes me as reasonable, but I was toward the front and couldn't see everyone, so attendance may have been higher.

**They did an encore presentation of their stunt at the Walk for Life in San Francisco, which brings in a smaller crowd than the D.C. march.

Monday, January 26, 2015

East coast recap

Your president Kelsey Hazzard here. What a whirlwind week! I'm finally home and able to look back on SPL's incredible advocacy for life on the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

On Thursday at 11:00 a.m., I gathered with some of SPL's strongest supporters, both non-theist and theist, to announce Pro-Life Allies, a new coalition dedicated to ending infighting and focusing our energies on saving lives. A video of the press conference is below. (Many thanks to pro-life atheist Michael Crone for videotaping.)

We then marched together on the national mall with SPL's impossible-to-miss banner:

You can view our entire album of March for Life photographs here. For now, I leave you with a few of my favorites:
Pro-life lesbian atheist blogger and researcher extraordinaire
Sarah Terzo of

Our liberation CANNOT be bought with the
blood of our children!

"The world says I'm unwanted, but I am adopted and loved."
In the background: "When our liberation costs innocent lives,
it is merely oppression redistributed."
Next, I stopped by the A Matter of Life live-stream show. Considering that it was after 4 in the afternoon and my "lunch" had consisted of a few pretzel sticks, I think I did pretty well! I was running on adrenaline and the emotional high of being surrounded by fellow human rights activists. 

After a much-needed night's sleep, it was off to the Students for Life of America national conference in Upper Marlboro, MD. Photos here. Secular Pro-Life distributed outreach kits to 88 schools from across the country! And already, students who couldn't make the conference are asking if we have any left over that we can send to them. (Answer: yes, we still have a few left. Email to claim one for your school. If you're not a student but appreciate what we're doing, we'd appreciate your donation to help cover shipping costs.)

A recap of SPL's activities in California for the West Coast Walk for Life will appear on the blog later this week. Thank you so much for all of your support!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Upcoming SPL media appearances

Great news! 40 will have its network television debut on Wednesday, January 21, at 11:00 p.m. EST. That's the night before the March for Life. 40, so called because it was produced in conjunction with the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2013, is a documentary film about the history and future of the pro-life movement. (We've reviewed it previously. It's great.)

EWTN, the Catholic channel, has agreed to air the film in its entirety—including the interviews with Secular Pro-Life's Kelsey Hazzard and Pro-Life Humanists' Kristine Kruszelnicki! Booya! Those aren't throwaway appearances, either; 40 does a great job showcasing the diversity of the pro-life movement. If you haven't seen 40 yet, now's your chance to watch it for free.

And on January 22 around 4:30 p.m., SPL president Kelsey Hazzard will appear on "A Matter of Life," an online live-stream recap of the March for Life. The show will start at 3:00 and include interviews with various pro-life notables. [UPDATE: Hazzard's appearance moved to 4:15 p.m.]

We'd love to see you at the March, but if you can't make it, tuning in is the next best thing!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"At some point, all of humankind seems like kin": A pro-life review of Undeniable by Bill Nye

I recently read Bill Nye's Undeniable, on the subject of evolution. I read it purely because of my interest in the evolution versus creationism debate; I didn't expect it to contain any commentary about abortion. Alas, it seems I can't escape.

Actually, to be precise, the abortion commentary began as a segment about opposition to embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). But from there Nye made a rough transition to "extraordinary laws that are intended to legislate or control what goes on in a woman's womb," and then went on to make a giant skip, leap, and jump to the idea that human life begins at birth:
There is, for example, the strong belief that life begins at the moment a human egg accepts a human sperm and is thereby fertilized. But that's not exactly what happens, or more accurately what has to happen. Once the egg has accepted a sperm and its Y-shaped or X-shaped chromosome, it has to attach itself to the wall of the female's uterus. If it doesn't do that, there will be no baby in the works. After attaching to the uterine wall, the fertilized egg forms a cup shape and three layers. This is "gastrulation" because, if you use your imagination, the cup shape reminds you of part of an intestine. (This business of medical terms based on Greek and Latin is part of why it takes four years to get through medical school.)
...I mention this because our lawmakers spend a great deal of time in town hall meetings and on our legislative debate floors considering laws based on the idea that fertilized eggs are the same as people...
I hope it gives some of us pause for thought to realize that fertilized eggs pass right though women into the environment all the time. Put bluntly, un-gastrulated fertilized eggs become sewage. Are the women who produced these cells to be prosecuted for violating some church-driven law? ...
...Without basic research, this odd debate and these extraordinary laws that are intended to legislate or control what goes on in a woman's womb would not be possible...
This fundamental insight that living things produce a surfeit of eggs and sperm, more than can survive, goes back to Darwin's work on competing populations and figures prominently in any understanding of biology and evolution. For me, this makes every baby that much more precious—after the egg successfully develops and a baby is born, not before the egg even attaches to its mom.
I was surprised and disappointed to see Bill Nye take this train of thought, because earlier in the book, he (1) concluded that viruses may qualify as "life," despite them having less in common with us than embryos do, and (2) admirably explored in depth the fact that every human being ever to exist either has died or is going to die. On that second point, he hypothesized (and I'm inclined to agree) that the fear of death is a major obstacle to public acceptance of evolution. In light of that previous discussion, the fact that many young embryos die before maturing any further clearly does not suggest that they are non-human or non-alive, any more than the existence of SIDS rebuts the idea that newborn infants are human and alive.

(And for about the millionth time, I would no more prosecute a woman who miscarried than I would prosecute parents who had lost their child to SIDS, or any other natural death. Prosecuting people for the natural deaths of their offspring is just not nice. What bearing does this have on the ethics of killing someone on purpose? Good freaking question.)

What Nye is really doing, of course, is making a value judgment. It's his right to believe whatever he wants, but if he's going to use such sloppy reasoning, he should expect to be called out on it.

Speaking of sloppiness, how about the nine-month gap between a brand-new zygote trying to implant and a full-term fetus whose forehead is inches away from the birth canal? The mention of "women's wombs" is quite clearly a reference to abortion, not ESCR, as ESCR takes place entirely in vitro. But abortion never involves an unimplanted zygote, for the simple reason that pregnancy tests are not accurate that early in pregnancy. Abortion's victims are considerably further along in their development.

On January 22nd, the day of the March for Life, the House of Representatives will vote on legislation that bans abortion after twenty weeks—roughly the second half of pregnancy. Are those babies "precious" enough for him?

Earlier in the book, Nye had this to say about the evolutionary origins of human altruism:
Uncle lions often become beta-males and are subservient but helpful all at once. Even though they are not the parent, they are deeply genetically invested. Such is life.
It goes even beyond that. As the thought experiment extends to include our whole human family, our kin-selection choices expand to include the whole of humanity, as happens to those who [would rescue] a stranger's child over their own mother... At some point, all of humankind seems like kin. 
Couldn't have said it better myself. He continues:
...This is not just a hypothetical situation. As I write, there was a recent, highly celebrated incident in which a firefighter in Houston, Texas, risked his life by directing his fire truck ladder to set right up against an enormous apartment-house fire. The building was unfinished, and the wind carried the flames through the open-frame lumber like a hot knife through soft butter. The firefighter got right up next to the building, which allowed a construction crewman to jump from the flaming unfinished building to the ladder. A moment later the building collapsed in a flaming hot mess, missing the two men by millimeters. The incident was caught on video.
All of North America watched as one of these two unrelated guys risked his life to save a stranger. We celebrated their bravery and especially the selflessness of the firefighter. Newscasters speculated as to whether or not they'd ever have reason to sit down together for a beer or just go their separate ways. There was no question in any viewer's mind whether the firefighter and his team on the truck below did the right thing. Of course they did. Saving another life is what we do, whether we're related or not. Thinking a little further along this line, one can imagine that those among us who would not save another's life are generally unwelcome. They are, we might assume, less likely to meet a husband or wife and produce kids to carry those miserable genes into the future.
Well that would add a whole new dimension to the Roe effect, wouldn't it? (I'm only kidding, I promise.)

He concludes:
Altruism is not a moral or religious ideal, no matter what some people might tell you. It is an essential, biological part of who we are as a species.
Hear, hear. But, as Nye likes to say, there's more. The abortion debate reveals that the extent of that altruistic tendency varies from person to person. Some extend it to "all of humankind," including the preborn, while others experience altruism toward a more limited age range. That raises a fascinating question: could there be a genetic component to where we stand on abortion? And if there is, what position is our current environment selecting for?

Undeniable doesn't go into that, but it explores a vast array of equally interesting questions. So let me conclude by saying that I don't want to be too hard on Nye. He's a childhood hero of mine, and despite the above criticisms, I really did enjoy Undeniable and I recommend it. In fact, it's hard for me to pick a favorite part. (The chapter explaining that racism has no basis in legitimate biological science probably wins.) The misguided abortion tangent is unfortunate, but within the context, that's really all it is: a tangent.

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, Bill Nye and Corey S. Powell (2014).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I am secular and #iSEETWO

Focus on the Family is one of the most prominent religious right organizations in the United States. It is highly evangelical and has little in common with Secular Pro-Life.

But I give credit where credit is due, and Focus on the Family has come up with a fantastic campaign: #iSEETWO. The concept is straightforward: "When some look at a pregnant woman, they see only one life; we see two."

Pro-choicers fail to recognize life in the womb. Pro-lifers who fail to acknowledge the woman make a similar error. #iSEETWO reaffirms our commitment to value both lives in a pregnancy.

The campaign website features perspectives from five women: physician Freda Bush (pictured above), attorney Anne O'Connor, civil rights activist Alveda King, journalist Maria Gallagher, and former abortion worker Susan Thayer. Interestingly, despite Focus on the Family's sponsorship, the women's stories are almost entirely secular (with the exception of Ms. Thayer's mention of "God's forgiveness and healing").

They're encouraging all pro-lifers to participate. It's easy:
1) Print out the sign.
2) Take your selfie.
3) Make your selfie your profile picture.
4) Upload it to the campaign's facebook page.

I'd love to see the pro-life movement's religious diversity on display in the #iSEETWO campaign. Here's my own submission.

I am secular and #iSEETWO
And by the way, if you're wondering if these social media campaigns do any good, Students for Life of America just reported their first baby save of the year; the mother reached out to a pro-life student for help because that student had been sharing pro-life graphics on facebook.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Martin Pistorius case has disturbing implications

Martin Pistorius and his wife Joanna, via the Daily Mail
NPR has the story of Martin Pistorius, who lost all motor function and was diagnosed a "vegetable" but was in fact fully aware of everything that happened around him... for over a decade:
His parents, Rodney and Joan Pistorius, were told that he was as good as not there, a vegetable. The hospital told them to take him home and keep him comfortable until he died.
But he didn't die. "Martin just kept going, just kept going," his mother says.
His father would get up at 5 o'clock in the morning, get him dressed, load him in the car, take him to the special care center where he'd leave him. "Eight hours later, I'd pick him up, bathe him, feed him, put him in bed, set my alarm for two hours so that I'd wake up to turn him so that he didn't get bedsores," Rodney says.
That was their lives, for 12 years.
Joan vividly remembers looking at Martin one day and saying: " 'I hope you die.' I know that's a horrible thing to say," she says now. "I just wanted some sort of relief."
And she didn't think her son was there to hear it.
But he was.*
"Yes, I was there, not from the very beginning, but about two years into my vegetative state, I began to wake up," says Martin, now age 39 and living in Harlow, England.
He thinks he began to wake up when he was 14 or 15 years old. "I was aware of everything, just like any normal person," Martin says.
But although he could see and understand everything, he couldn't move his body.
"Everyone was so used to me not being there that they didn't notice when I began to be present again," he says. "The stark reality hit me that I was going to spend the rest of my life like that — totally alone."
Mr. Pistorius' story ends well, but I cannot begin to imagine what he went through.

I can think of only one thing worse than hearing "I hope you die," and that is hearing "We are withdrawing your hydration and nutrition."

Mr. Pistorius is not the first person to be misdiagnosed as a hopeless case. But the fact that it took twelve years to obtain a correct diagnosis has disturbing implications — how many families have the strength to wait that long? How many doctors would be supportive for that long? How many would instead urge the family to "let go" and end their loved one's life prematurely?

It's been said a million times, but it bears repeating: have the end-of-life conversation with your loved ones. Let them know what care you want, and put it in writing.

* He says he coped with his mother's statement "I hope you die" by contemplating how she must have felt: "As time passed, I gradually learned to understand my mother's desperation. Every time she looked at me, she could see only a cruel parody of the once-healthy child she had loved so much." Now that he is able to communicate, he and his mother appear to have a good relationship.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Get a FREE secular outreach kit for your campus!

Why hello, what have we here?

These blue bags taking over my living room sofa are SPL's awesome new secular outreach kits for student groups. They contain 50 copies of our Why Should Non-Christians Care About Abortion? brochure with space for a customized message on the back, plus tips for making your pro-life student group more inclusive, and some other goodies.

We will be distributing the kits at both the East Coast and West Coast Students for Life of America conferences. (Registration is still open, but the conferences have sold out for the last few years, so don't procrastinate.) We have enough kits to supply 150 schools. Come by our exhibit booth and claim yours!

East Coast: Friday, January 23 in Upper Marlboro, MD (greater D.C. area)
West Coast: Sunday, January 25 in San Francisco, CA

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What does it mean for life to be a gift?

The theme of this year's March for Life is "Every Life is a Gift." This theme, as March for Life president Jeanne Monahan explained in an op-ed in The Hill, is meant to draw attention to unborn babies who have been diagnosed with a disability. The piece closed with an invitation "to more fully explore how every life is a gift," which I would like to do here.

The idea of life as a "gift" frequently has religious implications—God as the giver of life—but Monahan's piece is entirely secular. As a secular person, I think about the gift of life in two ways.

First, I think in terms of gratefulness for my life. I have the privilege of living at a time in history with unprecedented opportunities, and I intend to make the most of every year I get on this earth. There is no shortage of secular commentary on the subject of being grateful for the gift of life (mostly near Thanksgiving). It's entirely possible to be thankful, without having a deity to thank. I particularly like how Mormon-turned-atheist Matt Kunes put it:
Even if I can’t thank a specific person or organization, being thankful for my life in the abstract sense is ennobling. Call it “fate” or “the cosmos”; I like to take time to be thankful for my life, the good and the grit together.
I'm also thankful for specific people who have shaped my life, and who have kept me safe for this long: most obviously my parents, and also my brother, extended family members, friends, teachers, and so on.

People with disabilities share that sense of gratitude for their lives. The assumption that people with disabilities are constantly miserable, wishing they had never been born, is abhorrently ableist.

Second, every human being has something to offer to the rest of society; every life is a gift to the people touched by that life. This absolutely includes people with disabilities. Taking the example of Down Syndrome, Monahan points out:
79 percent of [parents of people with Down Syndrome] felt that their outlook on life was more positive because of their child with Down Syndrome. In terms of siblings’ feelings about Down Syndrome and how such a diagnosis impacted their family, 94 percent of older siblings expressed feelings of pride towards their siblings with Down Syndrome; 88 percent expressed feelings that they were better people because of their siblings with DS autism.
The list of individuals with disabilities who have made a positive impact on society writ large is a very, very long one. The world would be a much poorer place without their lives.

This doesn't mean that every mother must view every pregnancy as a gift to them. Nor do I mean to suggest that it's wrong for a parent to react with fear, rather than gratitude, when given the news that their child has a disability. It's okay to be human! Life is messy and imperfect.

But as messy as life is, it is nonetheless a gift. Every person deserves the chance to live and experience all this world has to offer, the good and the bad. And that is why I march.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

SPL president to speak at AAPLOG conference

The American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists (AAPLOG) will hold its annual conference on Saturday, February 21, 2015 and Sunday, February 22, 2015 at the Georgetown University conference center in Washington, D.C.

The two-day conference is intended for ob/gyns and medical students. Day one, and the morning of day two, will be dedicated to continuing medical education. Topics will include maintaining an ethical practice, abortion pill reversal, adolescent psychology, postpartum care, and the science of fetal pain. The afternoon of day two will branch out a bit, with topics from law, policy, and economics as well as medicine.

Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard address the conference on Sunday the 22nd at 2:00 p.m.

Attendance at this conference is by registration only. Again, this is for medical audiences, and specifically providers of gynecological care. I realize that most of our readers don't fall into that category, but please pass this along to your pro-life friends who do!

If you support this conference, consider helping a medical student to attend:
If you are willing to sponsor a student ($600 one time payment, which covers airfare, hotel and some of the meals) please donate online or send us a check [made out to AAPLOG and mail to AAPLOG Accounts PO Box 395 Eau Claire, MI 49111-0395]. Then email us at and let us know that your donation is for medical student sponsorship.