Friday, April 24, 2015

Exhale: Post Abortive Support and Pro-Voice Listening

I recently had the unique opportunity to spend time with Elizabeth, who is a volunteer with Exhale. Exhale is known as one of the only post-abortion support groups in existence that is not affiliated with the pro-life movement. Its website includes links to the National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood, but no abortion alternatives/pregnancy care centers.

Nevertheless, Exhale shies away from the "pro-choice" label. They prefer the term "pro-voice," which it coined to express a commitment to listening to the voices of women who have had abortions. Exhale promotes pro-voice communication as a non-violent practice that can be applied to any stigmatized human experience. The Pro-Voice Counseling Guide states: "We have found that speaking from personal experience allows people to have nuanced conversations about abortion, and invites a diversity of wisdom and values to be expressed."

Exhale operates as a call center, but the agents work from home and calls are dispatched to them directly. All agents work on a volunteer basis, and participate in an extensive training program designed to teach agents the skills relevant to their role. Elizabeth is a call center agent.

When discussing this with Elizabeth, I was surprised to learn several things about her experience as a volunteer.

The opinions of the agents are diverse. While there are not any volunteers that she would describe as pro-life, she said that differences of opinion on when abortion is justifiable were not discouraged. She explained that some of the questions asked throughout the training pertained to their personal feelings on abortion. One she example provided was the question "Would you feel differently about a woman who aborts at age 32 versus age 16?" She felt that all views expressed were respected.

The agents are not therapists. They are there to listen without judgement, to acknowledge the callers feelings, and to build upon their strengths. Callers who are deciding whether or not to actually have an abortion are referred to other (pro-choice) organizations.

Women and men experience emotional pain after an abortion.  This often seems like one of the hardest things for the pro-choice camp to admit, yet Elizabeth confirms that this is undeniable. She shared with me that her volunteering years with Exhale have made her to understand how devastating and troubling abortion can be. Many of the callers are family members or boyfriends of women suffering from an abortion decision. Many times, these men and women feel helpless to offer any support to those they care about and just need to talk to someone. It is important for agents to understand the tragedy of abortion, even if only for how it affects those already born.

Most of the callers are not religious. When I asked Elizabeth how she would handle a call from someone that is not religious, she said that religion rarely comes up at all. She shared that sometimes the caller will say something like "I feel like everyone is judging me," and Elizabeth will ask "who is judging you, is it your family, God, friends?" and that the callers almost always say "Oh, not God." Any religious concerns are referred out to another hotline. This really surprised me because of course abortion advocates generally frame negative feelings about an abortion as being religious in nature, claiming that post-abortion trauma is just a product of religious brainwashing. But secular women too experience profound emotional distress because of abortion.

The most traumatized callers took RU 486. As a pro-lifer, I've always viewed surgical abortion, in which the embryo or fetus is dismembered, as the most traumatic abortion method for the fetus. I always assumed that surgical abortions were more traumatic for the woman involved too. Not so. According to Elizabeth, during a surgical abortion, most women will not see the fetal remains. Rather it is the at home procedure when women witness the reality of the abortion, and when women see the fetal remains, that is when they feel the most isolated, scared, and unsure of their choice.

* * *

You may be asking yourself: why would we care about Exhale? Why should we, pro-lifers, who view abortion as a human rights violation, care about an organization that fails to explicitly denounce the practice, a group that will not even evaluate abortion on moral or legal grounds?  I have come up with a couple of things I hope you will consider.

Many women have not been exposed to the moral implications of abortion. How did you hear about abortion growing up? For many, it was through a friend's experience, or in high school debate class. In some places the only known resource for a crisis pregnancy situation is Planned Parenthood, basically everyone is pro-choice, and the only moral question presented is "are you ready to have a child"? (Exhale began in the extremely pro-choice community of Oakland, CA.)

Once someone with that background has an abortion and trauma unexpectedly begins to surface, where can she go for support? Speaking one-on-one with someone who has no broader political motivation may be the only way many of those struggling emotionally can be reached at all.

Pro-voice listening techniques are relevant to the pro-life cause. What would happen if we all started listening to each other? Would we have, as Exhale's counseling guide states, more nuanced conversations about abortion? Would we have a greater chance of being heard if we are willing to listen?

Josh Brahn, founder of the pro-life Equal Rights Institute, stated in his November newsletter that "When you go out of your way to understand people ... you help create an environment where you can have meaningful conversations with others, which does not happen if you just follow the temptation to dismiss their view."  If we  want to be persuasive and change hearts and minds, I suspect it will be helpful to not only be pro-life, but to also be pro-voice.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When mothers refuse life-saving abortions, how should we respond?

I just finished reading Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Trumps Modern Medicine by Dr. Paul Offit. The main focus of the book is religious refusal of life-saving medical treatment for one's children. However, Dr. Offit does devote a chapter to abortion.

He does an admirable job handling the subject; unlike Bill Nye, he fully acknowledges the science of prenatal development and does not dismiss concern for the unborn child as a foolish superstition. Rather, he focuses specifically on religious disagreements about abortion when the life of the mother is in danger. Secular Pro-Life, recognizing that it is better to save one life than zero, does not oppose such abortions, so I have little to add to Dr. Offit's thoughts. But I want to highlight one passage that I found thought-provoking:
Furthermore, while [Catholic] church officials claim that the life of the fetus and mother are equivalent, their actions speak otherwise. In the eyes of the church, the fetus is an innocent; the mother isn't. No story has made the Church's preference for the unborn clearer than that of Gianna Beretta Molla, a thirty-nine-year-old pregnant woman who suffered from uterine cancer. In April 1962, rather than remove her uterus to save her life, Gianna chose to take her pregnancy to term. "If it is a question of choosing between me and the child," she said, "do not have the least hesitation. Save it!" Gianna gave birth to a healthy baby girl and died several days later. Her ultimate sacrifice led to her beatification. "Gianna Beretta Molla knew how to give her life in sacrifice so that the being which she carried in her womb could live," said Pope John Paul II. "She was aware of what awaited her, but she did not flinch before the sacrifice, thus confirming the heroic nature of her virtues. We wish to pay homage to all brave mothers who devote themselves unreservedly to their families and who are then ready to make all sacrifices. We thank you, heroic mothers, for your invincible love!"
When pro-lifers applaud mothers who go to their death refusing abortion, is this an indication that we value the baby more than the mother?

Molla and two of her four children
I don't think that necessarily follows. After all, society routinely applauds people who sacrifice their lives for others. Fallen police officers are an obvious example. Memorializing fallen police officers certainly doesn't imply a judgment that police officers have less moral worth than the people they save.

But I also get where Dr. Offit is coming from, because the statement he quotes is way too cheerful. So cheerful it's creepy, if you ask me. A person's death may be heroic, but it's still a tragedy, not a cause for celebration and thankfulness. Maybe I feel this way because I don't share the Catholic belief in an eternal paradise, which may be assuaging their grief... but I don't think that's the sole thing discomforting me here. I'm having a hard time putting it into words.

What say you? Is this problematic?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Update from Fargo, ND

Earlier this month, we shared a call to action from Students for Life of America (SFLA) on our facebook page. SFLA reported that two Fargo, North Dakota teenagers—Brigid and Katie—wanted to form pro-life clubs at their high schools but were facing a stubborn pro-censorship administration. School officials declared that the proposed clubs were "too controversial" and "put these students through extensive questioning, including inappropriate questions about their religious affiliations." Pro bono lawyers stepped up to advocate for Brigid and Katie's freedom of speech and association. SFLA called on pro-lifers to send messages of support to Brigid and Katie.

Secular Pro-Life's message to these awesome young women was:
Hello Brigid and Katie! This is Kelsey from Secular Pro-Life. I myself didn't get involved in the cause until college. You got a head start on me! SFLA mentioned that school officials have been prying into your religious beliefs; I'm guessing they're part of the "all pro-lifers must be Christian fundamentalists" brigade? Well once your club is approved (and it will be, because you're in great hands!) I would be HONORED to come up and give a presentation about why the right to life matters to people of any faith and no faith—and I'll do it free of charge!!
We recently received an update from SFLA, which includes some more detail on the religious aspect of this mess:
At the end of last week, the Fargo School District answered our letter and said they will now make changes in the way they handle student groups and encouraged Katie and Brigid to submit paperwork to get their group started.
The problem with this response is that it makes it seem like the girls have done something wrong, that they didn't do what was needed, which is not the case. Brigid previously started a Book Club at her high school so she knew exactly what she needed to do when she applied for her Students for Life group.
Katie has been working for more than eight months and Brigid for more than two months to start their Students for Life groups. Never once has "lack of paperwork" been cited in the schools' denials of our groups. The schools always told the students they weren't allowed to be official, not even giving Katie the paperwork to fill out for her group, because they consider being pro-life to be "religious and too controversial." In fact, one of their principals went as far as saying that the scientific fact that "life begins at conception" is simply a religious view and religious views can only be spoken where everyone agrees with them!!!! Outrageous.
The District is hoping that they can play off this denial of constitutional rights because Katie and Brigid are young and seemingly naive. That's just wrong.
Everything about this is wrong, from the unconstitutional denials to the conflicting excuses to the scientifically illiterate high school principal. These schools clearly need pro-life clubs!

We'll continue to pass along information about this story as we receive it.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Are Unborn Children Just Like Born Children?

I was reading a pro-choice blog in which the author had an experience with a pro-life woman. The author asked this woman if a child who dies in a car accident is just like a child who is aborted. Incredulous that the woman would believe this, the author says, "I them [sic] pointed to my boyfriend's aunt who lost her child in a car accident last her [sic] and told her to tell that woman that people that make the decision to have an abortion is [sic] on the same level of her losing the child she raised and loved for sixteen years."

The pro-life woman and the pro-choice author talked right past each other. Several things went wrong here.

The woman the author was talking to possibly could have benefited from training from an organization like Equal Rights Institute about holding productive conversations. At the very least, she might have suggested continuing the discussion at a later time instead of just walking away.

The pro-choice author is making some unwarranted assumptions as well. When a pro-life person says that the unborn are just like born children, although this may be a sloppy way of putting it (again: preparation helps!), what we really mean is that fundamentally, there is no difference between unborn and born children. They have the same human nature, they are full-fledged members of our species. Of course there are differences. Older children have many abilities that unborn children do not; they can talk, form relationships, think about themselves and their place in the world, and so on. But in the morally relevant sense, an unborn child is fundamentally and numerically the same entity as his/her older self.

Further confusion appears when the author points out that the child who died in the car accident had been raised and loved for sixteen years, and an unborn child who is killed by abortion hasn't. That's a factually correct statement, but somewhat beside the point in this conversation. Being raised and loved does not make you a member of our species.

No, it's not exactly the same thing to kill a child in abortion and to lose a child you have invested in for 16 years. It's also not exactly the same thing to lose a newborn to SIDS and to lose a spouse of 50 years, or to lose a child to miscarriage or to lose your own parents. Everyone grieves differently in different situations and that's completely valid.

In all of these cases the same kind of entity has died: a human being. But it would be wildly insensitive to walk up to a grieving person and compare their tragedy to someone else's in order to score points in a random political debate. The pro-life woman was obviously right not to do so.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Seeking MDs for one-time volunteer assignment

[Editor's note: portions of this article were published earlier.]

Secular Pro-Life is seeking pro-life licensed physicians to review medical literature for an upcoming educational campaign.

This campaign, which will launch in late May or early June, focuses on a long-term risk of induced abortion. I can't reveal all the details yet, but in very general terms, the campaign involves the presentation of medical literature to the public along with personal stories. It's similar to the Truth and Tips From Former Smokers public health campaigns against tobacco.

We need physicians to review our educational materials for accuracy and endorse the project. (The materials have already been prepared with the help of a wonderful pro-life medical student.) Your name will appear on the campaign website as a physician endorser.

All areas of practice are welcome. If you are willing to give an hour or two of your time, please email with the subject line "Volunteer Physician." Thank you!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

On the start of presidential campaign season

Those of you not living under rocks have undoubtedly noticed that the 2016 presidential campaign is underway. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has formally announced her candidacy and is cruising to the nomination. On the Republican side, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio are officially seeking the GOP nomination for president, and many others are sure to join in.

Election season is a lonely time for secular pro-lifers. We care about the right to life, which puts us at obvious odds with Clinton. We also care about church-state separation, which puts us at odds with... just about everyone, actually, but while candidates of both parties are guilty of religious pandering, Republicans are (on average) louder.

Secular pro-lifers are all over the map politically. Some of us are single-issue pro-life voters, others balance abortion along with other issues that are important to us, and still others are so disgusted with the process that we don't vote at all or vote third party. We are liberals, conservatives, libertarians, and centrists.

Secular Pro-Life itself is strictly nonpartisan. Our role here is to foster community and friendly debate, in the hope of helping one other stay sane through the next 19 months.

So we open the floor to all of you. What factors are you weighing as you consider the candidates? Do you have a favorite? Or are you inclined to find a rock to hide under until November 9, 2016?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Website Under Deconstruction: Blue Mountain Clinic

Today's post is part of our "Website Under Deconstruction" series exploring abortion center websites.

The Blue Mountain Clinic is an abortion business in Missoula, Montana. It's somewhat unusual in that it combines abortion with the provision of legitimate health care like treatment for diabetes and other common afflictions, annual physicals, and mental health care. In their words, they want to "normalize" abortion "within the continuum of mainstream care."

That includes, worryingly, care for newborns.

Why do I say worryingly? Not because I think abortionists are utterly incapable of recognizing the humanity of babies outside of the womb. True, the line between abortion and infanticide is fuzzy, as the "pro-choice" opposition to born-alive infant protection laws attests. But Blue Mountain only commits abortions on babies in the first 16 weeks.

Rather, I'm concerned by this proud statement:
As per our choice-based mission, Blue Mountain Clinic offers alternative vaccination scheduling!
Oh dear.

Look. I know vaccines stir up all kinds of passions. I know from past experience that any comment about vaccines will attract a ridiculous amount of controversy, and I say that as someone who writes about abortion multiple times a week.*

But apparently I'm a glutton for punishment today, because I have to say it: alternative vaccine schedules have no scientific basis whatsoever. They are driven by a fear that recommended schedules expose children to more than their immune systems can handle. ("Too many too soon" is the catchphrase.) That fear is unfounded; experts point out that the immune system reacts far more aggressively to common throat infections than to vaccines.

Alternative vaccine schedules may also be driven by a desire for compromise. With scientists saying one thing and vocal activists saying another, I'm sure it's tempting for concerned parents to seek out a middle ground. The problem is that this isn't the type of issue where spitting the difference is productive.

There is no evidence to suggest that delayed vaccinations are any safer than vaccinations given on the regular schedule. In fact, the only effect of an "alternative schedule" is to extend the amount of time that children are left unprotected from potentially life-threatening infectious diseases.

I've got to hand it to Blue Mountain Clinic; at least their ideology is consistent. The facts don't matter. The mother's "choice" rules even if it harms the child, whether born or preborn.

*Because it's come up before, allow me to anticipate a tangent. I can appreciate ethical concerns about how certain vaccines are produced. I happen to agree with the Catholic position on this one: those concerns don't justify vaccine refusals that threaten herd immunity. But I have more sympathy for ethics-based opposition to vaccines than for opposition based in pseudoscience.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Coerced Abortion Awareness Week

Graphic via UnChoice

April 12-19 is coerced abortion awareness week. At Secular Pro-Life, we recognize the harm that coerced abortion causes both to women and their preborn children.

Coerced abortion can take many forms. Perhaps the best known is state-sponsored coerced abortion in China. Organizations working to end this human rights atrocity include Women's Rights Without Frontiers and All Girls Allowed.

But coerced abortion is by no means limited to tyrannical regimes. It happens here too, as a matter between individuals. An abusive partner may use physical violence to force a pregnant mother to have an abortion. The coercion can also be emotional or financial, as with a partner who threatens to end the relationship or withdraw needed support unless she has an abortion. For more information and to read women's stories, visit UnChoice.

Tragically, we sometimes see that pregnant teens face coercion from their parents to abort an "unwanted" grandchild. The pro-life legal team at the Center Against Forced Abortion provides a free defense to teens in this situation. As a first step, you can download template letters, to the parents and to the abortion business, which set forth the teen's rights and threaten a lawsuit if the abortion goes forward.

Finally, for even more resources, follow our friends at Feminists for Nonviolent Choices; they'll be releasing information and graphics about coerced abortion throughout the week.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Words Matter

Language is one of the most important aspects of being human. It's what sets us apart from animals. Language is how we communicate our desires and our needs. Language helps us understand and make sense of the world around us, and it lets us make distinctions so we can know how one thing differs from another.

It's also true that words can affect our perception. In a controversial discussion like abortion, society can be affected by the words you use in your discussions. That's one of the reasons abortion advocates were able to effectively win the culture over to their side in the mid-20th century. They were very deliberate about the words that they used. It's not a child, it's a "choice." They knew that if they could keep the focus off of what the unborn entity is and keep it entirely focused on women, on women's "rights", on women who "need" abortion in order to be equal with men and to live a full life, they could make abortion not just legal, but acceptable to the larger public.

This sometimes results in abortion advocates denying science itself. It sometimes results in highly counterintuitive notions, such as that parents don't have natural obligations to their own children (which was Thomson's point in her famous essay "A Defense of Abortion"). Either way, since abortion supporters have largely been successful in using ambiguous and vague terms (such as "choice" without defining what, exactly, the choice is) to obfuscate the issue, they have been able to convince our culture that abortion is morally good (or at least, morally neutral), even though many people still have no idea what an abortion is or what it does to the unborn child.

This allows abortion advocates to easily make pro-life people out to be monsters. They focus exclusively on women and on their needs. They can portray pro-life people as "misogynistic haters of women" because abortion advocates support women's rights (as if abortion is the only right enjoyed by women), and pro-life people are trying to take them away. Then when pro-life advocates try to explain that abortion supporters take a position that allows unborn human children to be legally killed, they can deny that the unborn child really is a child and get away scot-free. They can even accuse us of making "emotional arguments" by trying to focus on the unborn child. Then we're back at square one, appearing as if we don't think women deserve rights, and the abortion advocates come off looking heroic, since they can just flat-out deny that the unborn child is really a child deserving of human rights and respect.

So we need to be very deliberate about the words we use. It's true that we can make a well-reasoned case against abortion without having to use terms like "child" or "baby." But even if our arguments are sound, that doesn't necessarily make them emotionally convincing. If an abortion supporter intellectually assents to the soundness of your argument but still doesn't feel an emotional attachment to the entity that they are justifying the killing of, they might not actually be persuaded that it's worth protecting them. It might be tempting to try and "play by the abortion advocate's own rules" because we don't want to make unduly emotional arguments, but by the same token, it's equally true that the terms abortion advocates use can completely remove emotion from the equation, which is exactly what they need in order to justify their position.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A new beginning for

Three years ago, Secular Pro-Life launched The woman-centered website warns potential abortion clients about abortionists with a history of malpractice lawsuits, abortion centers with health code violations, and similar red flags—and offers practical nonviolent alternatives.

Those three years have been incredible. Despite our limited advertising budget, had over 28,000 unique visitors! Most of them were abortion-minded women drawn to the site by our Google advertisements for abortion-related search terms. This has been a life-saving project.

And it's about to get even better.

We're handing over our baby to Online for Life, which will integrate into its already extensive efforts to reach abortion-minded women online. We are very impressed by their commitment to measurable success; they are constantly tweaking their approach based on metrics. They have already saved 2,880 children, and those are just the ones that they know about!

The bottom line is that we are making this transition because it's what's best for unborn children. Nobody "owns" a pro-life project. There is no room for pride. It should be run by the organization that is best equipped.

We've found that it's just not realistic to expect SPL's volunteers to stay on top of the constant reports of malfeasance and negligence at abortion centers. Online for Life, with a full-time staff, is in a better position to keep the site up-to-date. It also has a much larger advertising budget, enabling it to reach more people in need. And although Online for Life was founded by Christians, it has experience with secular projects (such as the awesome Faces of Pro-Life) and has made a commitment to maintain's secular character as well.

So what's next? Now that we've placed in Online for Life's capable hands, we are focusing our attention on a brand new campaign! I can't tell you much about it now, except to say that it too is a woman-centered educational project. We expect it to launch in late May or early June. Stay tuned.