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Friday, October 24, 2014

Slippery Slopes: Good for Emotions, Bad for Logic

From xkcd.com
[Today's guest post by Nate Sheets is the fifth of a series. The next post in the series will arrive sometime next week.]

Slippery slope arguments allow a person to ignore the issue being presented, and to speculate about potential consequences that will arise if their opponents win or are correct. The supposed possibilities posed are meant to emotionally move people to take a stand against their opponent. This is a logical fallacy if the person making the slippery slope comment cannot provide evidence for their theory, or if the slippery slope argument ignores the point the other party is making altogether.

There is hardly a controversial issue in which slippery-slope arguments are not used. "If we allow gay marriage," some may say, "Then soon people will be able to get married to animals!" Or, "If we label GMO foods, then soon they will be banned altogether!" 

Some slippery slope assertions may very well end up being true, but that doesn't matter--when arguing for a position, one must use evidence, not scary speculation, to prove one's point. 

Additionally, wondering whether or not a certain position will lead to other extreme or possible conclusions is absolutely valid. We live in a world where one cause being victorious paves the way for other, semi-related causes to have a go at it. But still, if no evidence is presented, then the slippery slope is being used fallaciously. Not to mention saying, "If we ban all abortions thousands of women will die!" does not address the argument of "Killing a fetus is analogous to killing a newborn". This is an example of using a slippery slope to avoid addressing an argument.  

Below are some examples that I thought of that I have seen in the abortion debate. Do you have any examples of your own?

Pro-Choice Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"Allowing for parental notifications will lead to a complete ban on abortion!"  Parental notification laws and abortion bans are two different things, and serve two different purposes. While there may be legitimate issues with parental notification laws, speculating that enacting one will lead to further degradation of pro-choice laws does not address the argument for parental notification laws.

Pro-Life Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"If we teach teenagers about sex, then they will have more sex and abortion will increase." This is speculation, not an argument against sex education. Even if it were true, would that mean that teenagers do not deserve to have knowledge about sexuality?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Justifications for Abortion are Inherently Ableist

More on the backstory of this photo here
[Today's guest post by Rebecca Stapleford is part of our paid blogging program. Rebecca is a proud physically disabled and autistic woman.]

Recently, certain disabled pro-choicers have started to protest the ableist language and ableist assumptions about a disabled person’s quality of life used by the pro-choice movement in order to promote late-term abortion. Lenzi Sheible, a disabled woman writing for RH Reality Check, points out that such assumptions hurt disabled people who are already born, saying that:
When we rely on that stance, we’re trading on discourse that says, “No one would want to live if they had disabilities like those,” or “No one would want to take care of children with those kinds of disabilities.” What does that say about the people who are living with disabilities like those? That they should have never been born? 
While Sheible realizes that the ableism present in the pro-choice movement manifests itself in ableist beliefs about disabled people who are already born and alienates potential disabled supporters of the pro-choice movement, she fails to realize that the ideological structure that the pro-choice movement relies upon is inherently ableist.

The pro-choice movement insists that the unborn are not persons, for a myriad of reasons. However, all of these reasons are based on functionalism, which is the belief that what you are currently able to do is what makes you a person, not who you are. For instance, some pro-choicers will insist that the ability to have rational thought is what makes you a person. Now let’s completely set aside the fact that this would make infants non-persons, since they are not yet capable of rational thought, and let’s focus on the functionalism inherit in such a statement. It presumes that what makes us all equally human and equally deserving of human rights is the ability to think on a certain level, and excludes from the definition of a human person those who cannot. It is no different than saying that in order to be a human person, one should be able to produce insulin, and that therefore diabetics are not human persons. It should be obvious by now that functionalism is merely a certain form of ableism.

Often, the ableist reasons given for denying personhood to fetuses and embryos would also deny personhood to disabled or temporarily impaired human beings that are already born, if abortion supporters were logically consistent. For instance, a more common reason given for excluding the unborn from personhood is that fact that they cannot survive on their own. However, not only does this rhetoric degrade dignity of those who need constant assistance from others in order to survive, it also would deny personhood to a conjoined twin like Anastasia Dogaru, who cannot be separated from her twin Tatiana and who depends on Tatiana’s kidneys in order to survive. Another common reason given for excluding the unborn from personhood is the fact that they lack consciousness. However, if taken consistently, such logic would exclude a temporarily comatose patient from personhood, since a comatose person has brain damage that prevents consciousness. Even such a seemingly minimal requirement as sentience, which is defined as either the quality or state of being sentient; consciousness or feeling as distinguished from perception or thought, probably excludes most temporarily comatose patients, since they lack all awareness of their environment, lack the ability to respond to even the most painful stimuli, and many recovered coma patients say that they felt nothing at all while in a comatose state. Even saying that it is enough to have been conscious previously in order to be considered a person excludes an infant born in even a temporarily comatose state.

The entire ideology of the disability rights movement is based respecting the humanity and the rights of all people, regardless of level of functionality. Those who need extra assistance in order to survive and to have a good life have the right to that assistance, even if that means that extra effort must be taken to ensure that a public space is accessible or that a disabled person has access to the care that they need. Indeed, some disability rights activists, such as myself, would say that a person like Anastasia Dogaru not only has a right to care, but also the right not to be forced to undergo a lethal separation surgery by a person like her sister Tatiana, whose body she depends upon for survival. This contradicts sharply with the ideology of the pro-choice movement, which holds that only certain human organisms who have already achieved a certain level of functionality can be considered human persons who are entitled to the basic human right not to have their bodily autonomy violated by being dismembered or poisoned. True opposition to all forms of ableism means opposing the functionalism used to justify denying the humanity of the unborn,
and embracing the unborn’s right to life and to care.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Your answers to the difference between "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion."

In order to change people's minds, we need to understand what people think in the first place.

Many pro-lifers who insist there's no significant difference between the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion," but clearly the other side disagrees. You've probably heard people who support legal abortion get angry or frustrated if others try to label them as "pro-abortion," or insist that "no one is 'pro-abortion'." Why do they react that way?

In an effort to explore our own understanding of the other side's position, we recently asked Secular Pro-Life Facebook followers, "How would you describe the difference between someone being 'pro-choice' and someone being 'pro-abortion'?"

We had many responses from pro-lifers who believe there's no difference between the labels. However, I'm more interested in the pro-lifers trying to understand the other side's point of view. I include excerpts from those pro-lifers here, but first, a few caveats:
  • Some of the posts are edited for length or grammar.
  • I believe the people I'm quoting are pro-life, but it's possible some are pro-choice, as our Facebook page is public and anyone can comment.
  • I'm not suggesting that any one of the below answers is exactly correct. I'm only presenting the answers so we pro-lifers can consider the distinctions and so any pro-choicer reading can see how they may be viewed by those on our side who recognize a difference. It'd be interesting to see a similar compilation but with answers from only abortion rights advocates.
Anyway, on to the answers:


Clinton: Someone who believes abortion is a good thing and that there should be more abortions is pro-abortion. Someone who believes abortion is a necessary evil but that the option should be available for women is pro-choice.

Kim: I believe there are people personally opposed to abortion but who legitimately don't want to impose their beliefs on others.

Grace: "Pro-choice" means they wish abortion didn't happen a lot, but they believe that the option should be open for women in tough spots. "Pro-abortion" means they think abortion is pretty much okay no matter what. There are way fewer of the latter.

Diana: People who are pro-abortion think that abortion has value independent of what the woman wants. For example, they think there's justification for the forced abortions in China. People who are pro-choice think that any woman who does not want to have an abortion should not be pressured/forced to do so, regardless of other circumstances.

Josh: One thinks that abortion should be legal, and the other thinks abortion is a good thing and/or something that should be encouraged or in some extreme cases forced.

Conner: A pro-choice person holds that while abortion may not be a good thing, it's something that we should allow individuals to do because people should be free to make their own decisions regardless of whether or not we agree with them. Judith Jarvis Thompson's violinist thought experiment is an example of a pro-choice argument. ...

A pro-abortion argument, by contrast, justifies abortion by characterizing it as a good thing either in and of itself or because it has a positive consequence. The consequences may be positive for the woman, for women in general, or for society. Some eugenic arguments even characterize it as good for the victim: the child will be born unwanted, might have a birth defect, or there's some other reason he/she will live a life unworthy of living.

Ken: Very few people are pro-abortion, and even fewer self-identify as such. Most are pro-choice.

Nicholas: Arguing that abortion is a positive good or that it should be destigmatised and/or subsidized vs. merely thinking it should be legal.

Stephanie: "Pro-choice" is vague. It can mean someone who is personally pro-life, or supports abortion in extreme circumstances--life of the mother, for instance. It can mean someone who does not want to get involved in others' lives. "Pro-choice" can also mean someone who supports abortion in any and all circumstances.

"Pro-abortion" is someone who is very in favor of abortion and may use it as their sole form of birth control or "If I get pregnant, I will abort no matter what!"

Sanlee: "Pro-choice" is for people making their own choices about pregnancy (even if it favors abortion) and "pro-abortion" is for people who do not respect your choice if you choose life. Pro- abortion people vandalize Facebook and website pages of women who had disabled babies (because they think that those women should have aborted). They terrorize parents of Downs children and vandalize pro-life pregnancy clinics and displays. Basically pro-choice people believe that you should make your own decision and pro-aborts want to make that decision for you, and they want women to abort.

Jacob: "Pro-choice" is supporting choices including abortion but also the choices of child birth, adoption, and birth control and choices regarding your body away from abortion and child birth, such as body piercing, tattoos, and liberty of your own body. "Pro-abortion" is supporting termination of a pregnancy and the removal of a fetus from the womb.

Elizabeth: "Pro-choice" might find third trimester abortions disgusting. "Pro-abortion" says the child is not human until birth and doesn't want "defective" babies to be born.

Sarah: I would probably draw a line in what they think the options are. "Pro-choice" is someone who thinks that when a woman gets pregnant, the woman has several options, one of which includes abortion. Pro-choice people argue that, in the face of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, abortion should be available as an option, but they'll support the woman in whatever she chooses and fight for there to be good options for her. I think that in this way a lot of them are like pro-life people, just with one more option on the table.

"Pro-abortion" advocates argue that in the face of an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, abortion should be the first and sometimes only option. This is where rhetoric like "every child a wanted child" comes in; every child is wanted, just perhaps not immediately. If the desire isn't immediate, I would imagine that a pro-abortion advocate would consider abortion to be the best option.

Laurie: Pro-choice but anti-abortion: might include believing abortion is wrong, but also believing it is an issue that is complicated and should be left as a decision of the woman rather than banned universally by law. Pro-abortion but anti-choice would include China, with women pregnant with one child already, forced by the government to abort a child they wanted.

You can also click here to see the full range of responses on the FB page.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Report from Fordham

Me (second from left) chillin' with Respect for Life officers
Your SPL president Kelsey Hazzard here. On Saturday evening, I spoke at Fordham University in the Bronx, where I was hosted by the wonderful young men and women of Fordham University Respect for Life. Unexpectedly, the audience was entirely pro-life.* This rarely happens when I speak at a college campus—there are usually at least a few pro-choicers who are curious and/or dedicated enough to show up, which is what makes the Q & A sessions so fun—and the presentation is prepared with a mixed audience in mind. So I went off-script and we wound up having a fabulous conversation about pro-life strategy, leadership skills, and relational apologetics.

And that's why there's no video of the talk. Sorry.

This was our last speaking engagement for the fall semester. Student groups, it's never too early to start planning for the spring! If you're part of a student pro-life organization and want an SPL speaker to come to your campus (me for the east coast, my colleague Monica Snyder for the west coast), start the process by sending an email to info@secularprolife.org. We're very affordable: you pay travel costs only, no honorarium, and we'll even stay in the dorms so you don't have to pay for a hotel.

Our next events will be the March for Life, Walk for Life, and corresponding Students for Life of America conferences. For more information about those, visit our website under "Upcoming Events."
 
*We didn't expect it because, although Fordham is a Jesuit institution, it doesn't have a conservatively Catholic campus culture. (The school even hosted Peter Singer a few years back, much to the chagrin of conservatives.) The student body is fairly diverse, and Respect for Life's president is a mainline Protestant.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Abortion as a social good?

On October 13, Slate published a piece by Hannah Rosin called “Abortion is Great,” in which Rosin discusses the views of pro-choice author Katha Pollitt and explains why more pro-choicers should embrace abortion as a social good. My blog post here is my initial reactions as I read Rosin’s piece.

Rosin points out that 6 out of 10 American women who have abortions are already mothers. In my experience, many pro-lifers don’t seem to realize this, as I’ve heard so many of us talk as if pro-choice people inherently dislike kids and would be incapable of parenting. Something to think about. 
“…any woman who’s reading this piece and has had an abortion, or any man who has supported one, should go in the comments section and [tell their story], until there are so many accounts that the statement ['I had an abortion'] loses its shock value.”

She seems to neglect the many post-abortive women and men who became pro-life because of their abortion experiences. 
“…we have all essentially been brainwashed by a small minority of pro-life activists. Only 7 to 20 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want to totally ban abortion…”

Most of the pro-lifers I know, including many pro-life activists, don’t believe abortion should be totally banned. For example, nearly every pro-lifer I’ve ever interacted with agrees abortion should be legal to save the life of the mother, and a majority of self-described pro-lifers believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape. It’s a misconception to suggest that pro-life activists are only those who think all abortions in every circumstance should be illegal.

Pro-lifers may disagree on the legality of abortion in the harsher cases: when a woman’s physical health is endangered, when she was raped, when the fetus has a severe, possibly life-threatening condition, etc. But if I had to describe the common thread that pulls together most people who call themselves “pro-life,” I’d say it’s the agreement that abortion is immoral and should be illegal at minimum when it is done on healthy fetuses resulting from consensual sex and carried by healthy mothers. And the great majority of abortions today are done in such cases. Rosin alludes to as much herself: 
“Three in 10 American women have abortions by the time they hit menopause. They are not generally victims of rape or incest, or in any pitiable situation from which they need to be rescued.”

Rosin continues: 
“They are making a reasonable and even admirable decision that they can’t raise a child at the moment. Is that so hard to say? As Pollitt puts it, ‘This is not the right time for me’ should be reason enough. And saying that aloud would help push back against the lingering notion that it’s unnatural for a woman to choose herself over others.”

Rosin is asking people to be more direct about abortion, yet she describes a woman’s choice to abort as merely “choosing herself over others.” That description is not direct at all. Abortion kills a human. That’s direct. Many people don’t consider that human worth much moral consideration, and so some of them are pro-abortion, as Rosin clearly is. Fine. But pretending that a death isn’t happening means ignoring why the entire subject continues to divide Americans. Rosin wants to believe this is about being aghast that a woman would choose herself over others, but it’s not about that at all.

Consider this: if a woman feels it’s not the right time for her to have children, she can choose not to have sex, or choose to only participate in non-procreative sex, or choose to use contraception, or choose to give a child up for adoption. She could also choose to abort. All of these choices may reflect her position that she isn’t prepared to or doesn’t want to raise children, yet one of these choices is far, far more controversial and contentious than the others.



If this were really about us being upset that a woman would want to choose herself over others, we’d be against any decision that puts her education, career, or other aspects of her life above procreation. Yet, for example, the vast majority of Americans, including the majority of pro-lifers, believe contraception is morally acceptable. Rosin says there is a "fog of regret" surrounding abortion, but we simply don't see that same "fog" surrounding these other decisions. There’s a clear distinction between abortion and other choices not to raise children, and Rosin, and so many pro-choice activists, skip this distinction entirely. Abortion is not simply about reproductive freedom, healthcare decisions, or a woman choosing herself over others. Abortion is about having a very young, less developed human killed. That’s the difference.

Rosin digs in with her gender-based theory by saying we don’t apply the same standard to men. “We would never expect a man to drop everything and accept a life of ‘dimmed hope’ because of a single ejaculation.” I expect the many men who (rightfully) have to pay child support for single ejaculations would beg to differ.

Rosin also elaborates on some of Pollitt’s explanations of alleged pro-life contradictions: 
“[Pollitt] cites one poll for example showing that 38 percent of people say abortion is as ‘bad as killing a person already born.’ But in the same poll 84 percent say it’s fine to save the life of a mother. If you really think about it, this position is untenable. No one would say it was fine to kill a toddler if the mother needed its heart.”

What a strange comparison. When is abortion about the mother needing the fetus's heart? The proper analogy would be if somehow a toddler’s very presence was actively killing the mother (akin to an embryo in an ectopic pregnancy) and the only way for the mother to save her own life was to remove the toddler, and the only way to remove the toddler resulted in the toddler’s death. 

I can’t think of a scenario where that would be true – which goes to a point Rosin and I agree on: the fetus and the mother have a complicated relationship. But if there was an analogous situation with a born human, I think many people would defend the right to kill as self-defense. This isn’t about killing someone else to use their heart (when would a mother ever be able to use a toddler’s heart anyway?) This is about killing someone else to prevent them from actively killing you. Most people, and our own history of self-defense laws, see the two scenarios entirely differently.

Rosin goes on to discuss how the left and pro-choicers should advocate for abortion, especially for poor women, as part of an effort to urge women to wait to have children until they are in stable relationships. She believes promoting abortion as an extension of birth control is part of “a new era of family values.” She agrees with Pollitt, who believes “the moral high ground is in reclaiming the right to have an abortion, regardless of the circumstances.”

But I’m not sure “reclaiming” is the correct verb here. Was there ever a time when people who promote abortion regardless of circumstances had the moral high ground?

Rosin seems to think her side has descended to defensiveness by saying abortion should be safe, legal, and rare and by focusing on abortion in the extreme cases of maternal health and life or of incest and rape. But (to my knowledge) this isn’t a descent – it’s where many abortion defenders have been from the beginning. Perhaps they focus on the extreme cases and act defensive about abortion in general because polls suggest most Americans think abortion as birth control – the kind of remorseless abortion culture Rosin promotes – should be illegal.

Rosin’s piece is not the first to push back against pro-choice defensiveness, but I suspect this aggressive strategy will ultimately backfire. From what I’ve seen, the average American finds abortion problematic but sees it as a “necessary evil,” at least for the extreme cases we so often focus on. I’m dubious our society is willing to instead embrace abortion as an unapologetic good.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Appealing to Authorities

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

When we would rather trust another person's opinion over any evidence presented, we may very well be appealing to authority. Again, remember that with logical fallacies, we are focusing on nothing more than the argument being made at the time by either party: does the authority we cite have evidence to support the claim, or are we using their position, title, or experiences as the evidence?

The Balance of Expert Opinion and Appealing to Authority
In the midst of creating a case for our side in an argument, it is common to quote experts on any variety of subjects. In the pro-life arena, many people quote doctors, previous abortion directors, or women who have had abortions in an attempt to solidify their defense of their position.

But appealing to authority occurs when the person arguing either directly or indirectly uses another person's "authority" as the basis for the validity to a claim.

Experts Can Be Wrong/Biased, and Experts Can Be Misquoted
A former abortion clinic director may make a statement which is false. To assert, "Planned Parenthood has abortion quotas--Cindy Larson [fictitious former clinic director] says so" is an appeal to authority. Other evidence (preferably non-anecdotal) needs to be presented, such as an internal document or a transcript of a conversation between clinic workers--and then we can evaluate how accurate or relevant that evidence is.

Additionally, we can skew an opponent's expert's quote as a way to support our own point of view. An abortionist admitting that life begins "at conception" seems like an "aha!" kind of moment, except that what an abortionist says about when life begins isn't evidence: it's their opinion. Likewise, many other abortionists may say that life doesn't begin at conception, so where does that leave us? We can only look at the evidence for when life begins and, if there is controversy (hint hint: there is!), examine the evidence on both sides and draw a conclusion.

Appeals to Authority are Often Uncited Assertions
Most appeals to authority (at least in my experience) are just generalizations of a supposed authority's opinion, but they lack any actual detail. This is a good sign that a person is appealing to authority rather than citing to support evidence. Some examples are below.

Pro-Choice Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"Most scientists are pro-choice."  Really? Perhaps the reality shows more varying, nuanced, or apathetic opinions than mere "pro-life" vs. "pro-choice". There are also several reasons why one may be pro-choice: what is the link between science and the pro-choice position that this assertion tries to make?

Pro-Life Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"Dr. Bernard Nathanson used to be an abortionist, and he says the fetus can feel pain." This is not a citation--where is an actual quote? Additionally, what qualifications does Dr. Nathanson have to assert that fetuses can feel pain?
"The Catholic Church's position on abortion is that it is wrong." Stating the church's position in any given topic does not present evidence to show that it is wrong. Many other churches are pro-choice or neutral on the subject. 
There is a fine line between citing sources as evidence and appealing to authority. When in doubt, ask yourself if you are presenting actual evidence or simply summarizing another person's position.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Check us out on the Friendly Atheist podcast

SPL representative Monica Snyder appeared on the most recent episode of the Friendly Atheist podcast. Click here to listen, and let us know what you think!

Monday, October 13, 2014

How Do You Understand Someone's Position on Abortion?

In the past week or two, an article entitled How Do You Change Someone's Mind on Abortion? Tell Them You Had One has been making the rounds. The title is slightly misleading; the bulk of the article focuses on gay rights activism, specifically, the connection between personally knowing an LGBT person and increased support for same-sex marriage. But the article touches on abortion supporters' attempt to stretch that reasoning to their own cause (emphasis mine):
Abortion is typically considered a moral concern, about the bounds of life, or a legal one, about the nature of rights and liberties. [Planned Parenthood marketer Dave] Fleischer hypothesized it could be understood instead as a matter of personal identity, and that resistance to abortion really is stigma towards the women who have—or could have—them. “My hunch is,” he says, “talking about real lived experience is extraordinarily helpful in developing empathy and support.”
If so, perhaps American society had just never been exposed to the sustained organic contact that Allport argued 60 years ago could begin to dismantle a deeply held prejudice. After all, whites with retrograde views on race find themselves working on the same factory floor as blacks; straight people learn a beloved cousin is a lesbian. But how often does anyone, particularly among those who consider themselves pro-life, learn that a friend or relative or co-worker has had an abortion?
The validity of that hypothesis is never examined. Perhaps that's because, as one of Fleischer's door-to-door canvassers puts it in the concluding line of the piece, it's easy "to talk to strangers, because you don't care what they really think."

The irony here hits mind-exploding levels. "Those anti-choice strangers must think the way they do because they've never met someone who's had an abortion and therefore don't understand how women who have abortions really think and feel. At least, that's our best guess; we haven't actually asked the antis about their thoughts or feelings. But we totally understand how they don't understand us."

Kaboom.
There's a lot that could be said in response. Various veteran pro-life leaders have noted that this is just the latest in a long line of I-had-an-abortion-style "stigma-busting" campaigns that invariably fizzle out, that this is basically just a cheap copycat of Silent No More, etc. They're right, and there's no point in echoing them. So for this blog, I'd just like to give Mr. Fleischer a friendly tip.

Sir, your whole premise is wrong.

I do know women who've had abortions. I know men who have been involved in abortions. I know former abortion workers. I know escorts. And I know people who are strongly pro-abortion: not merely "pro-choice," but people who have an unswerving conviction that if they were to have an unplanned pregnancy, they would absolutely without a doubt abort. 

Believe me, when you are outspokenly pro-life, you hear from all of these groups and more. You hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. You meet people who would give anything to go back in time and make a different choice, and people who hate your guts for daring to suggest that there's a moral aspect to the "minor surgical procedure" they had. It's all out there, and it's messy, and it's discouraging at times, but I try my best to treat everyone the way I'd like to be treated.

I know pro-choicers despise slavery comparisons, but what I'm about to say is not comparing the moral wrongness of abortion to the moral wrongness of slavery, so hear me out. The debate about abortion has something in common with the debate about slavery: it pits family members, friends, and neighbors against each other. Some anti-slavery campaigners came from slaveholding families. (A semi-fictionalized exploration of this phenomenon can be found in the fantastic novel The Invention of Wings.) Things got messy. Things got emotional. Things most definitely got personal. But those complications did not deter abolitionists. Even if they wanted to support their slaveholding loved ones, they could not, because they saw the slaves.

And so it is with us: we see the preborn children. That is what we think and that is how we feel. We don't hate you. We don't see you as "less than" or consider having an abortion to be a "personal identity" that we reject. We don't want to be in the conflict we're in, but we are.

And if you ask me, a campaign that fails to even recognize the nature of this conflict is pretty much doomed from the start. The same-sex marriage model just doesn't work here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Brittany Maynard and the ethics of assisted suicide

Several readers have asked me to discuss the Brittany Maynard story. Your wish is my command.

For those who somehow aren't aware, Brittany Maynard (right) is a young woman, only three years older than me, who has been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of brain cancer. Doctors informed her that she could not be cured, and even if the most advanced treatments available were pursued, death was inevitable in a matter of months. Brittany decided to move to Oregon to take advantage of its assisted suicide law, and plans to take the lethal medication on November 1. In partnership with an advocacy group, she created a video about her decision, which has been covered by media across the nation and the world over the past week. (As just one example, see this Washington Post article.)

Secular Pro-Life does not often write about end-of-life issues. Of course, we recognize that every human life is valuable, including the lives of the disabled, the terminally ill, and people considering suicide. But traditionally, abortion has been our primary focus. So forgive me if this post rambles a bit.

First of all, I would like to express my opinion that Brittany Maynard is brave. This places me in conflict with Christian pro-life commentator Matt Walsh, who writes:
If you are saying that it is dignified and brave for a cancer patient to kill themselves, what are you saying about cancer patients who don’t? What about a woman who fights to the end, survives for as long as she can, and withers away slowly, in agony, until her very last breath escapes her lungs? 
Is that person not brave? Is that person not dignified? I thought we applaud that kind of person. I thought we admire her courage and tenacity. Sorry, you can’t advance two contradictory narratives at once.
But this misses the point. I don't admire Maynard because she plans to end her life. I admire her because she is somehow able to go public about what has to be the most devastating situation she's ever encountered, knowing that she's going to be the topic of internet controversy, knowing that random bloggers she's never met are going to write about her (sorry), and somehow she recorded that video without breaking down into sobs. I definitely would not be able to do that. That takes an incredible amount of self-confidence. If she had instead chosen to fight to the end, and had broadcast that story, I'd be just as impressed.

Assisted suicide raises concerns that are distinct from those of abortion. Abortion always takes the life of someone who cannot consent; that's not true of assisted suicide. I'm willing to entertain the idea that assisted suicide in the terminally ill is not prima facie wrong, which I realize is a highly unorthodox position for a pro-lifer to take. I'm reminded of my recent article about perinatal hospice, in which I wrote that
in situations where the child is bound to die within days, hours, or even minutes of birth, abortion may be viewed not as homicide, but as a mere matter of timing. You can still argue that it's wrong, but at the very least, we must acknowledge that abortion in such cases is ethically murkier than the typical abortion chosen for socioeconomic reasons. 
Maynard makes an analogous point when she states:
I've had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.
I cannot begin to imagine what she's going through. The only positive I can see here is that she seems to have an incredibly supportive husband, family, and friends.

The problem is, not everyone does.

As I said, abortion and assisted suicide are unique issues, but we certainly can draw upon our experiences with legalized abortion to make some predictions about legalized euthanasia. We know from the abortion context that "choice" (and Maynard uses the language of "choice") can very quickly mutate into coercion.

No man is an island. We are deeply influenced by others, especially family, and especially when we are in a vulnerable state—as when we've been shocked by an unplanned pregnancy or a cancer diagnosis. We've seen women forced into abortions by the fathers of their unborn children. We've seen underage girls coerced by their statutory rapists, and sometimes, sadly, even by their own parents. We've seen mothers of all ages manipulated by abortion "counselors" who refuse to divulge accurate information about what takes place during pregnancy. And above all, we've seen women forced into abortion by economic circumstances. Legal abortion clearly has worsened those problems, not solved them.

How do we prevent similar complications from arising in the context of assisted suicide? How do we make sure that vulnerable people are not unduly influenced by family members, by overly pessimistic doctors, or by the potential financial burden of a longer life? In short: how can we create a law that allows assisted suicide for people like Brittany Maynard, without catching others in its trap?

I'm very skeptical that it's possible. And until someone shows me differently, I have to err on the side of protecting those who want to live every last day.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

New Brochure: Why Should Non-Christians Care About Abortion?

Once upon a time, pretty much all that Secular Pro-Life did was create religiously neutral brochures for other pro-life groups to use. SPL's founders were campus activists at the time and we saw a desperate need for handouts without Bible verses on them.

Times have changed—we've gotten older, and Secular Pro-Life has extended its reach into public speaking, internet outreach, etc.—but we do still offer free brochures. And now we have a new one: Why Should Non-Christians Care About Abortion? You can download it by going to the publications page on our website.

You'll notice that there's space on the back for your local pro-life group to leave a message; hopefully, a message about an upcoming meeting or event! Be prepared with our 10 Ways to Be Inclusive.