Monday, June 17, 2019

Baby Chris is Twelve Weeks Old

[This is part 13 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

One-third of this pregnancy is over! Baby Chris has entered the second trimester, and this week, his or her weight has increased about 58%. He or she is now about the size of a lemon.

The bladder is developing smooth muscle cells, the taste buds are maturing, and the arms have lengthened. Fingernails and toenails are forming. Baby Chris's nervous system is sensitive enough to respond to light touch in most places. Baby Chris can squint, frown, grimace, suck, and chew.

Follow Baby Chris's journey to birth by downloading the free See Baby app on your devices!

Friday, June 14, 2019

In One Week: Pro-Life Women's Conference

The fourth annual Pro-Life Women's Conference will take place next weekend, from Friday, June 21 through Sunday, June 23, in New Orleans!

This year's theme is "When Women Lead," and it will feature presentations by female physicians, activists, attorneys, and more. As always, it's family-friendly and there will be opportunities for enrichment through art, self-care, and general pro-life feminist awesomeness. New this year: ASL interpreters, a fashion show, and awards!

Secular Pro-Life is once again proud to sponsor this amazing event. Come by our exhibit booth and participate in the soft launch of our new project! (If you can't make it, don't worry; we'll have a wider launch later this summer.)

Still on the fence? Check out what happened at the first, second, and third conferences, and you'll be convinced to register.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Are Human Embryos Human Beings from the Beginning?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Pro-choice advocates will insist that the human embryo doesn't become a human being until birth or at least sometime late in pregnancy. Pro-life people generally agree with the scientific consensus that human life begins at fertilization; once the ovum cell is fertilized by the sperm cell, a new, genetically distinct human organism comes into existence. But I sometimes come across pro-life advocates who believe human life begins at implantation or around that time, not at fertilization.

As an example, Don Marquis, famous for his essay "Why Abortion is Immoral", believes the view that human life begins at fertilization to have serious problems ("Abortion and the Beginning and End of Human Life", Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics 34 (1): 16-25 (2006)). His view of personal identity is animalism (aka the biological view of personal identity), which Eric T. Olson argues convincingly for in his books and articles. But Olson, despite believing we are essentially animals and are identical to the embryo as long as we are biologically continuous with it (in other words, as
long as the embryo develops into me in a continuous fashion), does not believe we are identical to the embryo at the single-cell zygote stage for this reason: he believes human beings become individuals after the potential for twinning is lost. Olson writes:
According to the Biological View, I started out as an embryo. Does that mean that I came into existence at the moment of conception? Not necessarily. The Biological View implies that I came into being whenever this human organism did. But it is unlikely that this human organism came into being at conception -- that is, that it started out as a fertilized egg. When a fertilized egg cleaves into two, then four, then eight cells, it does not appear to become a multicellular organism -- any more than an amoeba comes to be a multicellular organism when it divides. The resulting cells adhere only loosely, and their growth and other activities are not, at first anyway, coordinated in a way that would make them parts of a multicellular organism. The embryological facts suggest that a human organism comes into being around sixteen days after fertilization. (Eric T. Olson, "Was I Ever a Fetus?", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 57 (1), 95-110, 1997)
Pro-choice philosopher Peter Singer and embryologist Karen Dawson, in an attempt to argue embryonic stem cell research should be pursued, argue an embryo created in a lab is not a human being because it lacks the potential to grow into an older human being on its own. An embryo in a petri dish can survive for about five days and then it will die if not implanted into a uterus. They write,
But can the familiar claims about the potential of the embryo in the uterus be applied to the embryo in culture in the laboratory? Or does the new technology lead to an embryo with a different potential from that of embryos made in the old way? Asking this question leads us to probe the meaning of the term 'potential'...While the notion of potential may be relatively clear in the context of a naturally occurring process such as the development of an embryo inside a female body, this notion becomes far more problematic when it is extended to a laboratory situation, in which everything depends on our knowledge and skills, and on what we decide to do. This line of argument will lead us to the conclusion that there is no coherent notion of potential which allows the argument from potential to be applied to embryos in laboratories in the way in which those who invoke the argument are seeking to apply it. (Peter Singer and Karen Dawson, "IVF Technology and the Argument from Potential"in Embryo Experimentation: Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues, ed. Peter Singer, et al (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), pp. 76-77, as quoted in J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics, (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2000) p. 270)
Still other people, even some pro-life advocates I've talked with, believe that we shouldn't consider an embryo at fertilization a human being because it can grow into things which aren't humans, such as an empty sack or a tumor.

All three of these arguments are seriously flawed and reflect a faulty understanding of how human development works. I'll briefly reply to each argument in turn below.


Olson believes that the embryo at its earliest stages is not an organism, but rather the organism exists as a unified whole at around sixteen days after fertilization. Now despite the fact that all embryology textbooks place the start of the organism at fertilization and not at any point after that, occasionally you'll still have people arguing that it's not an organized individual until after that point. Olson is simply wrong when he says that the embryological facts suggest that a human organism comes into being around sixteen days after fertilization because the entire field of embryology would disagree with him.

He compares the early embryo to an amoeba; as an amoeba does not become a multicellular organism when it divides, neither does the early embryo. But here, Olson is making the same kind of elementary mistake that a pro-choice advocate makes when they assert that sperm and ovum cells are alive but we don't grant them a right to life, so the embryo doesn't have a right to life. Olson is confusing the parts of the embryo (the cells) with the whole embryo, itself. An amoeba, by definition, is a unicellular being. So when it divides it only divides into other unicellular beings. And of course, some early embryos have the potential to split when they become twins, and two individuals will exist instead of just one as was the case before the split. So twinning is more comparable to the amoeba splitting. The cells of the embryo dividing are not comparable to the amoeba splitting because these are the cells of the embryo which are dividing while the embryo remains the same kind of thing it has been since day one -- a human embryo, whose cells divide because it is in the nature of human beings to grow and develop.

Olson's other point is that the cells of the embryo are not coordinated in a way that would make them parts of a multicellular organism but only loosely adhere to each other. This is a fairly common claim you hear but it's simply wrong. Olson is misrepresenting the facts of embryology here. Developmental biologist Michael Buratovich addresses this argument. He writes,
The embryo...prepares for future events. For example, at the two-cell stage, the blastomeres synthesize a cell adhesion protein called E-cadherin. E-cadherin acts like cellular superglue, and the two-cell stage embryo makes it in anticipation of compaction, which occurs two days later. (Michael Buratovich, The Stem Cell Epistles: Letters to My Students About Bioethics, Embryos, Stem Cells, and Fertility Treatments, (Cascade Books, Eugene, OR, 2013), p. 58.)
He also shows, referencing philosophers Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, that this idea of Olson's ignores the goal-directed behaviors of the embryo. There are at least three goals of the embryo: get to the uterus and implant, form the structures necessary for successful implantation, and preserve its structure against the many hazards it might encounter. (Buratovich, ibid.) So the early embryo is still a coordinated whole organism, even at the very early stages of development. Olson is mistaken about the facts of embryology.

Singer and Dawson

Singer and Dawson (hereafter SD) argue that because the embryo conceived in a laboratory is completely dependent upon what we do to it, on our knowledge and skills, this means that the potential of an embryo created in a lab is wholly different from an embryo conceived naturally. But this dubious conclusion they draw from the unique circumstances of the conception of an embryo created in a lab relies on a faulty understanding of potential.

It should be quite obvious that SD's argument is simply a more sophisticated version of the viability argument. The argument is essentially because an embryo is not viable in a petri dish in a lab, creating an embryo in a lab means that it does not have the same kinds of potential as one who is conceived naturally and relies on the natural processes of the mother's body. But this shows no such thing. As happens quite often, embryos created in a lab can be implanted into a woman's uterus and then will continue to develop normally, as if they had been conceived naturally in the woman's Fallopian tube. This shows clearly that the embryo created in the lab has the same kinds of potentialities that an embryo conceived naturally does. It just will not continue to develop because it is not in an environment in which it can survive. An astronaut on a spacewalk or a deep sea diver swimming in the depths of the ocean are both completely dependent on our knowledge and skills to survive, on the technology they use to survive in those harsh environments. But this certainly wouldn't justify a view that because they are now in environments in which they can't ordinarily survive they suddenly have lost the potentialities that other human beings their age possess. In fact, it would be absurd to make that argument. Embryos created in a lab have the same potentialities because they are the same kind of entities -- human beings.


The final argument I will address is the argument that human life doesn't begin at fertilization because the embryo can simply grow into an empty sac, or some other kind of entity like a hydatidiform mole. But this argument doesn't work, either. Whatever is human is human from the very beginning. It's not the case that a human embryo will develop into an empty sac or a mole. If the entity in the womb is an empty sac or a mole, then it was always an empty sac or a mole. We just weren't able to detect what it was yet. Even so, an embryo is an embryo from the very beginning, even if we can't know for sure that it's an embryo until later on, when the pregnancy can be detected.

Maureen Condic explains it like this, is important to appreciate that simply because two living entities share some common elements or overlap in a sequence of biochemical events, they are not necessarily the same kind of entity.
Distinct biological entities that share some initial molecular events are similar to two musical works that begin with the same notes...For example, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "The alphabet song" are identical until the fourth measure, yet they are distinct (albeit, very similar) songs. While listening to a CD recording, it would be impossible to determine which work is being performed until the first distinguishing note is heard, yet once this point is past, all prior notes provide clear evidence that a particular song was indeed recorded on the CD and was being played out from the first note. The CD does not begin playing random notes that resolve into a specific song, nor does it begin with one song and later "transform" into the other, nor does it begin playing "both" or "neither" song until the first distinguishing note is produced. From the beginning, it plays the single, specific song that is recorded on the CD. Indeed, prior to the CD being played, a sufficiently detailed examination of the recording (for example, analyzing the data encoded on the disc using a scanning probe atomic force microscope) would determine the precise song it contains without any ambiguity. (Maureen L. Condic, "A Biological Definition of the Human Embryo" in Persons, Moral Worth, and Embryos: A Critical Analysis of Pro-Choice Arguments, ed. Stephen Napier, (Springer Publishing, Philadelphia, PA, 2011), p. 216, emphases in original)
It's just simply not the case that the embryo will develop into something non-human later on. A human embryo exists from the beginning, even if we don't have the ability to tell what it is from that point.

These are not the only arguments I've seen for why life doesn't begin at fertilization, at least in some cases, but instead at implantation (or sometime near). But these are, I think, three of the most persuasive arguments for the position. As I have shown here, each of the arguments rely on fundamental misunderstandings of some element of human development, whether it's the biological aspects or the philosophical aspects. Once those misunderstandings are resolved, it remains clear that human life does indeed begin at fertilization.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Baby Chris is Eleven Weeks Old

[This is part 12 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

Eleven weeks after conception (13 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is about three inches long. It's been a busy week for the development of facial features. The tiny nose and lips have formed, allowing Baby Chris to make complex facial expressions.

Although Baby Chris continues to receive most nutrients via the umbilical cord, he or she also swallows amniotic fluid, from which the digestive system can successfully extract water and glucose.

Close-up of an 11-week-old's hand, via the Endowment for Human Development

This is the final week of Baby Chris's first trimester. Only 28% of Americans believe that abortion should be allowed after this point. Unfortunately, the consensus in favor of protecting babies in the second and third trimester cannot be implemented until Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey are overturned.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion, 11.3% of abortions in the United States occur after the first trimester. In 2017, when there were approximately 879,000 abortions in the United States, we can estimate that 99,327 second- and third-trimester babies were killed.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Pro-choice articles euphemizing "heartbeat."

Definitions of "heartbeat."
To my knowledge there's no unifying authoritative definition of "heartbeat." Embryology textbooks do use the term. For example:
"Blood flow begins during the fourth week, and heartbeats can be visualized by Doppler ultrasonography." - The Developing Human, Moore et al, 10th Edition (2013) 
"The heartbeat is initiated around the twenty-first day, and its continual beating is required for normal heart development." - Larsen's Human Embryology, Schoenwolf et al, 5th Edition (2015) 
But in neither case do they explicitly define the word "heartbeat." Merriam Webster defines the term as "one complete pulsation of the heart." Mosby's Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing & Health Professions (9th Edition) defines "heartbeat" as "a complete cycle of cardiac muscle contraction and relaxation." By these definitions the embryo does have a heartbeat from approximately 3-4 weeks postfertilization/5-6 weeks LMP onward.

The embryonic heart.
As we explained in more detail here, by 4 weeks postfertilization/6 weeks LMP, the embryo's heart is beating as it uses coordinated muscle contractions to unidirectionally pump blood, exchanging well-oxygenated blood from the chorionic sac with poorly oxygenated blood from the embryo's body via multiple paired veins. The heart has also started partitioning into four chambers (atria and ventricles), which are observable by 5 weeks postfertilization/7 weeks LMP.

All of this information is taken directly from the embryology textbook The Developing Human by Moore et al, 10th Edition, 2013. Keep these facts in mind as you read the descriptions below.

(Click to enlarge.)

Vague and evasive articles.
A number of outlets have run articles quoting pro-choice medical professionals making at best misleading and at worst flatly false claims about the embryonic heart. As we go over these articles, please notice the following themes:

1) None of these articles specifically define "heartbeat." Most just describe the embryonic heart in markedly vague terms and then declare its activity doesn't qualify as a heartbeat without explaining why not.

2) Nearly all the articles quote medical professionals directly working for or affiliated with abortion rights advocacy groups, but generally the articles omit mention of these affiliations (the exception being Jezebel, which is refreshingly upfront).

Anti-Abortion Extremists Are Controlling the Narrative on 'Heartbeat Bills' Jezebel, 6/5/19
  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat."
  • The author references the Guardian article listed below.
  • Dr. Catherine Romanos, family physician and abortion provider: Calling the embryo's cardiac flutter a "heartbeat," she said, is tantamount to pseudoscience--and capitulation to the efforts of Republicans and anti-abortion activists who have forced their language into the mainstream.

Doctors' organization: calling abortion bans 'fetal heartbeat bills' is misleading, The Guardian, 6/5/19
  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat."
  • Dr. Ted Anderson, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), states "What is interpreted as a heartbeat in these bills is actually electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue that will become the heart as the embryo develops."
  • Author Jessica Glenza states "Instead of using 'fetal heartbeat bills', as the laws are often called by anti-abortion campaigners, the Guardian will make 'six-week abortion ban' the preferred term for the laws, unless quoting someone, in order to better reflect the practical effect of the laws."
    • Glenza is either unaware of or neglects to mention the fact that so far nearly all of the legislation outlaws abortion not at a specific gestational age but when a heartbeat is detectable. (See the text of the bills for Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Ohio.) 
    • Currently, only Missouri's heartbeat legislation outlaws abortion based on gestational age: the bill states no abortion shall be performed at 8 weeks or later.
    • It's unclear, then, why "six week abortion ban" would better reflect the laws than "fetal heartbeat bills."

Dear News Media: It's not a heartbeat when there is no heart, Medium, 5/28/19
  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat."
  • Author Kathy Gill: "At four weeks after conception, an embryo has no heart."
  • Gill references the LiveScience and Wired articles listed below.
  • Gill implies there's no heartbeat until the 20th week: "It takes muscle to generate a heartbeat. British researchers reported in February that the fetal heart 'does not have fully organized muscle tissue until the 20th week.'"

Embryos Don't Have Hearts, The Cut, 5/24/19
  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat." although OBGYN Sarah Horvath (also of ACOG) implies a colloquial understanding - the "lub dub":
    • Horvath: "The characteristic 'lub-dub' of the heart is created by the valves in a four-chambered heart opening and closing." 
    • This definition wouldn't exclude the embryonic heart. As early as the 4th and 5th week (postfertilization) valves control the blood flow into and through the heart (Moore et al, Figures 13-10 & 13-11).
    • The article neglects to mention that ACOG is committed to increasing access to abortion
  • Author Katie Heaney: "Though pulsing cells can be detected in embryos as early as six weeks, this rhythm--detected by a doctor, via ultrasound--cannot be called a 'heartbeat,' because embryos don't have hearts."
  • OBGYN Robyn Schickler: What is detectable at or around 6 weeks can more accurately be called "cardiac activity." Essentially communication between a group of what will eventually become cardiac cells. 
    • This article at least states up front that Schickler is a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, although it doesn't mention the group's stance on abortion. On their website they talk about "anti-choice politicians" and explain that they "advocate for the right to access safe and affordable abortion care in our communities."
  • OBGYN Jennifer Kerns: "These are cells that are programmed with electrical activity, which will eventually control the heart rate--they send a signal telling the heart to contract, once there is a heart."

  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat," although author Rachael Rettner potentially implies a colloquial understanding:
    • Rettner:"The 'beat' isn't audible; if doctors put a stethoscope up to a woman's belly this early on in her pregnancy, they would not hear a heartbeat." So possibly she believes a heartbeat must be audible via stethoscope to count as a heartbeat?
    • But audio detection of heartbeat is imprecise. Even fetal Doppler (significantly more sensitive than a stethoscope) can't reliably detect heartbeat until 10 to 12 weeks according to WebMD.
    • Whether we can yet hear the heartbeat doesn't change whether the process that causes the sound--the heart's contractions as it pumps blood--is already happening.
  • Dr. Saima Aftab: At 6 weeks the ultrasound detects "a little flutter in the area that will become the future heart of the baby." She says this happens when a group of cells gain the capacity to fire electrical signals.

  • Nowhere does the article define "heartbeat."
  • Author Adam Rogers: "What the bills call a heartbeat--it's not that." "It's a cluster of pulsing cells."
  • OBGYN Sarah Horvath of ACOG: "Our ultrasound technology has gotten good enough to be able to detect electrical activity in a rudimentary group of cells." "Heartbeat" conjures an organ which expands and contracts, but a six-week embryo has yet to develop that structure.
  • OBGYN Jennifer Kerns: "[The rhythm specified in the bans] is a group of cells with electrical activity. ... We are in no way talking about any kind of cardiovascular system."

Euphemism list:
  • cardiac flutter - Jezebel
  • electrically induced flickering of a portion of the fetal tissue - Guardian
  • pulsing cells - The Cut
  • cardiac activity - The Cut
  • what will eventually become cardiac cells - The Cut
  • cells programmed with electrical activity - The Cut
  • little flicker - The Cut
  • a little flutter - LiveScience
  • detection of cardiac rhythm - Wired
  • cluster of pulsing cells - Wired
  • fetal pole cardiac activity - Wired
  • electrical activity in a rudimentary group of cells - Wired
  • group of cells with electrical activity - Wired

Further Reading:

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

When we say "heartbeat" we don't mean "fetal pole cardiac activity." We mean "heartbeat."

Recently a FB follower shared this post to our page:

(Click to enlarge)
The text reads, in part:
This is what an embryo at 6 weeks looks like. There is no real heart beat because it’s heart isn’t nearly complete - they’re heart “vibrations” (vibrations are caused my cellular activity where the heart WILL be. Meaning, yes, the title of the “heartbeat bill” is misleading, purposely). There is no brain, meaning no pain receptors. It does not feel pain. This is what you’re stripping women’s right away for. I, your sisters, your mothers, aunts, friends - we all have beating hearts and brains. Our lives are more important than this. 
**Stop listening to pro life talking heads that use purposely emotional language to manipulate your view. They are not doctors or scientists.**
•This is not a “baby”. They use pictures of 6 month old babies to pull on your heart strings. This is an embryo. This is not “10 fingers, 10 toes” babbling cooing baby they’re trying to get you to imagine.

The post is certainly right that this image is not of a "baby." The image is actually from Etsy, described as "Baby Memorial/Honor Sculpture." The tiny figures pictured are clay sculptures which the seller says are "for those who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy during the first trimester and are searching for a tangible keepsake to honor their precious Angel." The Etsy page includes reviews from mothers describing how much it means to them to have a way to mark their grief and loss. How ironic that the OP uses art specifically meant to help people value and mourn prenatal life to instead deride those very viewpoints--and all while claiming to be representing science. It's kind of amazing.

Here's an image of an embryo around 6 weeks post-fertilization (or 8 weeks LMP - after the beginning of the last menstrual period) courtesy of The Bump:

As the prenatal website explains, "You may have your first prenatal appointment right around now. At this visit an ultrasound may be performed to determine how far along you are. You may even hear—and see—baby’s heartbeat."

The Bump's use of the word "heartbeat" is representative of not only many prenatal websites but also descriptions medical professionals give pregnant women during routine prenatal care. Using "heartbeat" to describe embryonic activity at this stage is neither new nor unique to anti-abortion advocates.

Some pro-choice people argue that when medical professionals say "heartbeat" in these contexts, they're just using layman's language with their patients, just as an OBGYN might say "baby" when talking to a woman with a wanted pregnancy. That doesn't make "baby" a medical or technical term.

But "heartbeat" is appropriate both for the layman and as a medical description. As The Developing Human by Moore et al (10th Edition, 2013) explains in "Chapter 13: Cardiovascular System":
The cardiovascular system is the first major system to function in the embryo. The primordial heart and vascular system appear in the middle of the third week (Fig. 13-1). This precocious cardiac development occurs because the rapidly growing embryo can no longer satisfy its nutritional and oxygen requirements by diffusion alone. Consequently, there is a need for an efficient method of acquiring oxygen and nutrients from the maternal blood and disposing of carbon dioxide and waste products.
In other words the embryonic heart exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide even before it fully develops into the more complex heart we're familiar with. Those insisting we say "fetal pole cardiac activity" instead of "heartbeat" or describing the embryonic heart as just "electrically induced flickering" or--more ridiculously--"vibrations" try to imply that the four chambered heart doesn't happen until months later; that's completely incorrect. Here's a diagram from Moore et al of the heart at 35 days (approximately 5 weeks post-fertilization):

(Click to enlarge)

At this point the embryonic heart already has four chambers. It's reductive to describe this development as no more than "pulsing cells."

Additionally, by 4 weeks the embryo has three paired veins draining into the heart: vitelline veins return poorly oxygenated blood from the umbilical vessel, umbilical veins carry well-oxygenated blood from the chorionic sac, and cardinal veins return poorly oxygenated blood from the embryo's body to the heart. Here is an illustration from figure 13-5 of Moore of the heart at 24 days postfertilization:

Here are the veins illustrated at 6 weeks:

This image is from Figure 13-4, the caption for which states, "Initially, three systems of veins are present: the umbilical veins from the chorion, vitelline veins from the umbilical vesicle, and cardinal veins from the body of the embryos."

More from Moore:
  • "The heart begins to beat at 22 to 23 days (Fig. 13-2)."
  • "Blood flow begins during the fourth week, and heartbeats can be visualized by Doppler ultrasonography (Fig. 13-3)."
  • "The initial contractions of the heart are of myogenic origin (in or starting from muscle). ... At first, circulation through the primordial heart is an ebb-and-flow type; however, by the end of the fourth week, coordinated contractions of the heart result in unidirectional flow."
  • "Partitioning of the AV canal, primordial atrium, ventricle, and outflow tract begins during the middle of the fourth week."
By 6 weeks the heart is chambered and moving blood unidirectionally through coordinated contractions--that is, the heart is rhythmically pumping blood. Of course the heart has more development to do, but the pro-choice side is hand wavy at best to insist we can't say "heartbeat"--and they are flatly wrong to say embryos don't have hearts! Which side is anti-science, again? 

The embryonic heart is "a bunch of pulsing cells" in the exact same way the embryo herself is "a clump of cells"--in a way meant to downplay that abortion kills prenatal humans. It's continually remarkable to me that the pro-choice side seems to badly need to obfuscate the humans abortion destroys. I suspect if arguments regarding bodily rights and fetal personhood were stronger, fewer pro-choice people would recoil so hard at what are otherwise basic and generally uncontroversial facts.

Of course, and as always, the fact that a human organism has a heartbeat doesn't in itself establish moral worth. But it's one thing to argue that the embryonic heart is irrelevant; it's another to suggest it doesn't exist. I'll take my scientific education from an embryology book, not Etsy, thanks.

Post-publication update: I've seen so many stories now purporting to scientifically explain away the embryonic heart, I'm just going to start collecting them here:
Read more details about why these articles are misleading here.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Baby Chris is Ten Weeks Old

[This is part 11 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

Baby Chris has put on some serious weight this week: a whopping 77% increase, according to the Endowment for Human Development. He or she now weighs about half an ounce and is the size of a lime.

Common behaviors at this stage include thumb sucking, eye movement, and yawning.

The intestines, which protruded into the umbilical cord due to lack of space when Baby Chris was six weeks old, have now receded into the abdominal cavity. The corpus callosum, vocal cords, fingernails, and toenails are developing.

If you haven't seen this movie, are you even pro-life?
(Yes, I know the creators are abortion advocates. It's still great in spite of them.)

Keep watching Baby Chris grow and learn fun facts about the unborn babies in your life by downloading the free See Baby app.

P.S.—The ultrasound photo at the top of this post was donated by Secular Pro-Life supporter Jean I., and it depicts her son in 1998. She also sent in her son's senior class photo, 17 years later!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Making Sense of Arizona's Late-Term Abortion Statistics

Above: a 28-week-old baby
I don’t know about you, but I often use the data brought to my attention by the SPL blog post "More evidence that most late-term abortions are elective." A lot.

It’s an excellent case study in the disconnect between rhetoric and reality. As a reluctant online debater, it’s the one thing I’ve felt comfortable bringing to the attention of my pro-choice friends who repeat the idea that late term abortions are mostly done for tragic reasons such as a fatal fetal anomaly or maternal health. We’ve already hashed out the moral underpinnings and philosophical stances we believe. This data offers them an opportunity to demonstrate the rigorousness with which they came to their conclusion.

But reading data and fact sheets can be difficult, especially if you are not used to doing so. Let’s break down how SPL comes to the conclusion that roughly 80% of late term abortions are done for elective reasons (i.e., neither maternal nor fetal health reasons).

Go ahead and pull up your 2017 abortion report from the Arizona Department of Health Services, located here. There is a lot of data. Let’s parse through what is important to our question.

Our first visit is going to be to page 17, Table 9, "Gestational age at time of abortion, Arizona residents, 2017."  This table will give us a breakdown of all abortions performed, filtered by the age of the pregnancy at the time of the abortion. Our interest here is in abortions of older fetuses, highlighted below. For the year of 2017, there were 157 abortions performed on fetuses anywhere from a few weeks away from viability (24+ weeks), to birth. There is no further breakdown from the 21 weeks or older group. From a pregnancy perspective, this encompasses all of the third trimester, and the tail end of the second trimester.

Our next step is to compare that with data on the numbers of late term abortions done for the cause of maternal and fetal health. Luckily, there is data to help us here. Let’s start with maternal health which can be found on page 15 of the 2017 report: Table 7, "Maternal characteristics and maternal medical conditions cited for obtaining an abortion, Arizona residents, 2017."  Note that "maternal characteristics" refers to the age of the mother and the age of her pregnancy. "Maternal medical conditions" refers to her physical health which was identified as the reason for the abortion.

Again, I have highlighted the relevant data. Note that it is empty, and the reason for this, stated in the footnote, is that the number is extremely low: five or fewer. In my experience with Institutional Review Boards (IRB) – a necessary review process for anyone wishing to report data on legally identified people – this is likely a way to make it impossible to identify individual cases with specifics. At very most, this number could be 5, but it is equally probable the number is 1. In either case, it's a very low number, which makes sense since no medical conditions post viability are actually alleviated by abortion (a multi-day process) that wouldn’t more easily be alleviated by ending the pregnancy with induction of a live birth (usually a one-day process).

Next up is fetal conditions. We will find those on the next page, Page 16, Table 8: "Maternal characteristics and fetal medical conditions cited for obtaining an abortion, Arizona residents, 2017."  Relevant information is shown below. Again, "maternal characteristics" refers to the age of the mother and the age of her pregnancy. "Fetal medical conditions" refers to the health condition of the fetus which was identified as the reason for the abortion. The relevant line is highlighted. Note, this is a higher number. Of the 157 abortions performed on pregnancies equal to or greater than 21 weeks, 31 were terminated for reasons of fetal health. Also listed are some truly tragic fetal conditions, as well as some that are unclear (e.g. musculoskeletal, twin abnormality). We are also unable to determine which of those conditions match up with the later term abortions.

Here is a handy graph for where to find the relevant data for prior years (link to each): 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Total Abortions ≥21 weeks
Page 17 / Table 9
Page 17 / Table 9
Page 23 / Table 10
Page 26 / Table 10
Page 27 / Table 10
Page 21 / Table 8
Page 13 / Table 1D-3
Total Abortions
≥21 weeks
Maternal Health
Page 15 / Table 7
Page 15 / Table 7
Page 21 / Table 8
Page 24 / Table 8
Page 25 / Table 8
Total Abortions
≥21 weeks
Fetal Health
Page 16 / Table 8
Page 16 / Table 8
Page 22 / Table 9
Page 25 / Table 9
Page 26 / Table 9

Since 2010 and 2011 lack the relevant data, let’s take a look at 2012 – 2017:    

Now, remember I mentioned that there are some maternal health tables that don’t give a number, but are non-zero? Let’s assume the worst, that the number is as high as could be without triggering reporting (5). 

That still gives us a 77.0% elective abortion rate. If you substitute those numbers with an average of 2.5, the result is 78.5%. However you slice it, the vast majority of later abortions (21+ weeks) are for elective reasons, and not for reasons of maternal or fetal health.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How do I know these numbers haven’t been fudged by some third party?
Answer: A good question. The simple answer is found in the introduction of the 2017 report:
Beginning July 29, 2010, abortion data is reported using a secure, web-based reporting system. The reporting system was designed to meet the statutory requirements. Reports submitted using the web-based system do not include personally identifiable information (i.e., name, address, birthdate, social security number) and are submitted by password-authenticated personnel only.
Question: How do I know the people reporting are being honest in their reporting?
Answer: Somewhat ties in with the last question. The people reporting this are the abortion facilities themselves, and those people have a paper trail. You can actually see the reporting form on the 2017 report, page 23.

Next, you’d want to question motive. Again, I refer you to the introduction: “Reports submitted using the web-based system do not include personally identifiable information (i.e., name, address, birthdate, social security number)…” The data is collected anonymously, so there is no fear of the data coming back to a patient. More importantly, the doctor is doing the abortion. They would (in theory) be the first person to know if a termination was occurring for a medical reason.

If anything, the incentive for the abortion provider would be to inflate numbers for health reasons, as to follow the narrative that most late term abortions are done for those reasons. Personally, I take the data as it is, with no fudging of any numbers. But I would be more inclined to believe an over-reporting on later term abortions for health reasons than an under-reporting. But this ties into the next question.

Question: How do I know the doctor/ reporting personnel didn’t make a mistake?
Answer: This is a question that comes up all the time in self-reported surveys. The simple truth is that people are humans, and we all do make mistakes. We mitigate that problem by collecting more of it. A mistake can go both ways, over-reporting and under-reporting. The more data we collect, the more see those mistakes cancel each other out, so to speak.

Your Statistics 101 class will tell you that you need a minimum of 30 observations to have data powerful enough to say much of anything. Even just looking at the late term abortion data, we have 674 observations from 2012 to 2017. When we have more data, we can also begin to see patterns. Every year we see relatively the same pattern: very low maternal, slightly higher fetal reasons. It is possible that several clinics are all making the same mistake in data recording every year, but it is not probable.

Question: Well, maybe there are other tragic reasons that have nothing to do with health that aren’t getting reported!
Answer: This isn’t really a question, but I’ll give you a brief opinions on this. Perhaps that might be the case. But the news reporting should match reality – regardless of the topic. If the news wishes to classify financial situation or educational situation or any other thing as tragic enough to warrant the purposeful killing of an individual human being who either could live outside the womb, or are extremely close to it, they are free to make that case. Instead what I see from beloved news outlets are stories of fetal demise, or incompatibility with life.

[Today's guest post is by K. B. Click here to learn more about becoming a guest author.]

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Recap: Senate Symposium on Sex Trafficking

Secular Pro-Life co-leader Terrisa Bukovinac here. Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a symposium at the United States Senate entitled “Trafficking and Women’s and Children’s Health.” The event brought survivors of sex trafficking together with doctors and legal experts to discuss the serious and pervasive concerns of sex trafficking in America and how it relates to abortion, women’s health, and the health of their children. Americans United for Life hosted the event, and Secular Pro-Life was proud to co-sponsor.

From left to right: Catherine Glenn Foster of Americans United for Life; Terrisa Bukovinac of Secular Pro-Life; Patrina Mosley of the Family Research Council; Jamie Ballew of Concerned Women for America 

According to the Polaris project, from 2007 to 2017, their National Human Trafficking Hotline has received reports of 34,700 sex trafficking cases inside the United States. In 2017, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 7 endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 4.8 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation globally. This is a major cultural problem.

This symposium was intended to influence Senate staff and inspire new legislation protecting and helping the victims of trafficking and their families. Listening to the survivors personal testimonies was undoubtedly the most heartbreaking and moving part of the day.

Three takeaways:

Trafficked people often experience extreme reproductive harm. Most survivors who testified experienced, or witnessed those who experienced, severe injury including infertility, cervical cancer, hysterectomies, and other conditions as a direct result of being trafficked. According to Dr. Yaro Garcia, a clinical psychologist and expert on human trafficking, the average trafficked woman sees between 20 and 30 clients a day. Trafficking disproportionately affects minority communities, and with a known bias in healthcare against women of color coupled with a lack of resources, access to necessary medical treatment can be out of reach. The women who spoke all called for free healthcare for victims of human trafficking and survivors of modern day slavery. They also called for, and some have implemented, training hospital staff to recognize signs of trafficking victims and action steps to take to get help.

Trafficked women experience forced pregnancy and abortion. Many of the panelists experienced both pregnancy and abortion. Some were forced to abort, while others were permitted to keep their pregnancies because their hourly rate would sometimes increase. Many were forced to work throughout their pregnancies and continue working directly after experiencing abortions. Allan Parker of the Justice Foundation pointed out that forced abortion is illegal in every state, making each abortion a serious crime to which the pimp or trafficker can be held accountable. He also suggested that states with fetal homicide laws can help deliver harsher sentences for traffickers.

The children of survivors experience mental health issues. Some of those who were trafficked were also trafficked by their parents as children, and many of them raised children in that life. Trauma experienced in the early years of life can culminate in addiction and other mental health issues. The survivors stressed the importance and need for mental health programs, treatment, and greater awareness of the needs of the children raised in the world of trafficking.

While the event was open to all Senate staff, it seemed only to be visited by conservative staffers. I wish more Democratic leadership saw the value in listening to these brave survivors and subject experts. This is a crucial issue affecting millions of people across the globe and women and children’s lives are at stake. I look forward to seeing positive legislation on the issue come soon to the Senate floor.

Jeanne Allert of The Samaritan Woman

Monday, May 27, 2019

Baby Chris is Nine Weeks Old

[This is part 10 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

One week into the fetal period, Baby Chris is exhibiting new behaviors. According to the Endowment for Human Development, "thumb sucking begins and the fetus may swallow amniotic fluid. The fetus can also grasp an object, move the head forward and back, open and close the jaw, move the tongue, sigh, and stretch. By 9 weeks, the nerve receptors in the face, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet can sense and respond to light touch. Following a light touch on the sole of the foot, the fetus will bend the hip and knee and may curl the toes."

Baby Chris is about an inch and a half long from crown to rump. He or she has developed eyelids, which are fused together. Vocal chords are also developing at this point, as are the uterus and ovaries if Baby Chris is female.

You can learn more about Baby Chris' life in the womb by downloading the free See Baby app.