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Friday, August 29, 2014

Tonight: Youth Rally in Bakersfield, CA


Tonight, SPL West Coast coordinator Monica Snyder will speak at the Make Noise! youth rally in Bakersfield, sponsored by Right to Life Kern County.

Date: Friday, August 29
Time: 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Location: Nile Nightclub, 1721 19th St., Bakersfield, CA

Monica rocked her speech at the Walk for Life West Coast in January. If you can make it to Friday's rally, you're in for a real treat!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Watch out for this disingenuous "pro-choice" tactic

In the last few weeks, the abortion movement has been having a very public identity crisis. Some prominent voices in that movement, including Planned Parenthood, argue that they should drop the label "pro-choice." The debate is playing itself out in outlets like Alternet and the Washington Post, among others.

If not "pro-choice" (and not, they vehemently protest, "pro-abortion"), what do they want to be called? The answers vary, but there's a common theme: they want to ride on the coattails of genuine good causes. In the Alternet piece, Planned Parenthood talks about supporting "economic security," while abortion advocate Monica Simpson, whose efforts are focused on the Black community, wants to link abortion to a "safe and healthy environment" for children and freedom from domestic violence. And of course, there's the time-tested method of hiding abortion in the tent of "women's health." Because as everyone who's never met a pro-lifer knows, there's nothing that we love more than poverty, battered wives, and breast cancer. (That's sarcasm. Don't you dare quote me out of context.)

Why they think the 40-something-year-old term "pro-choice" is suddenly responsible for pro-life success—as opposed to more recent developments like the increasing ubiquity of ultrasound technology, pro-life groups harnessing social media, and the pro-life trend of treating the right to life as a human rights issue rather than a religious one—is beyond me. But I don't much care what they want to call themselves. Frankly, the loftier they try to be, the starker the contrast we can draw between their language and the bloody reality of what abortion does to an unborn child. I like the way Jill Stanek phrased it: they're seeking a "euphemism for a euphemism."

Meanwhile, in faith-based-land, I noticed an interesting piece in the Christian Post arguing that the pro-life movement has the exact opposite problem: "pro-life" is being overused! Specifically, the authors worry that the use of "pro-life" messaging by Christian environmentalists is diluting the term. Myself, I'm not too concerned, because I suspect 1) that any conservatives who would abandon the pro-life movement because they see the term used by a cause they don't support likely aren't our movement's greatest assets anyway, and 2) it may have the beneficial side effect of busting the stereotypes that the abortion movement pushes about who pro-lifers are and what we do. But in any event, it's quite the contrast to what's happening across the aisle.

So where does that leave us? We're in a good position, but the conflict is far from over, and we need to remain on high alert. Based on the signals we're getting from pro-choice media commentators, we need to be particularly vigilant in our charitable endeavors. Pro-lifers are as active in charitable organizations as anybody else, so we have the ability to impede the pro-choice strategy here. Whatever causes you are involved in, be on the lookout for activists looking to co-opt them in the name of abortion—and when it happens, speak out against it, quickly and loudly!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Abortion prevention: don't forget about the men

[Today's guest post by Chandler Klebs is part of our paid blogging program.]

Consider this situation: A man chooses to have sex with a woman who he knows will go for an abortion if she gets pregnant. She does get pregnant. She goes to an abortionist, who performs the abortion. Which of the three people killed the baby? The father, mother, or abortionist?

It should be obvious that all three people played a part in the abortion. So no matter what your answer, you are partially correct. The father chose to do the one thing that could result in a pregnancy the mother did not want. The mother chose to abort rather than seeking out alternatives. The abortionist was the final step in causing the death of the baby.

Keeping all of that in mind, if you could go back and talk to one of the people—the father, mother, or abortionist—and convince them to become pro-life, which one would you choose?

Again, there's no one right answer, but I would pick the father. Talking to the abortionist could have a major impact if he's the only abortionist in town and has no one to replace him, but otherwise, the mother will just go elsewhere for the abortion. Of course talking to the mother is good because if her mind changes, the child will live. But will she have the support of the father? He had expected the mother to have an abortion even before they had sex, which implies that he has no interest in taking care of the child.

Talking to the father makes sense because he has the power to change his ways and stop creating children who will be killed. He also has the ability to support the mother in taking care of the children he is responsible for, making the mother less likely to want to abort. Many women abort due to fear of being a single mother.

Outreach to women in crisis pregnancy situations is great, but we need to make sure we're reaching the men too, rather than placing all of the weight on the women. The idea that men are irrelevant to the abortion debate is incredibly misguided.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Contraception, abortion, and the importance of control groups.

Some pro-lifers point out that many women seeking abortion were using (or misusing) some type of contraception when they conceived. Sometimes pro-lifers cite this fact as evidence that contraception does not decrease, and may even increase, abortion.

But this conclusion is misguided. It seems likely that women who don't want to be pregnant are more likely both to use contraception and to seek abortion than women who actively want to be pregnant or women who are ambivalent about pregnancy. If that's the case, we have a correlation/causation problem.

Which means I get to use an XKCD comic in my blog post!

In order to talk about whether contraception increases, decreases, or has no effect on abortion, we need to look at studies that have control groups. Ideally, a control group is identical to the experimental group in every way except for the one factor you want to analyze. As my beloved Wiki explains:
Scientific controls allow an investigator to make a claim like "Two situations were identical until factor X occurred. Since factor X is the only difference between the two situations, the new outcome was caused by factor X."
In the case of contraception and abortion, ideally we would have research that compares a control group of women to an experimental group of women. The two groups would be identical in terms of relationship stability, financial status, beliefs about abortion, feelings about pregnancy, and any other relevant factors. The control group of women would use no contraception, and the experimental group of women would use contraception. Then we could compare the rates of unplanned pregnancy and abortion for each group, and we could more reasonably talk about how contraception affects abortion rates.

A big part of the contraception debate is whether contraception actually decreases unplanned pregnancies. One side cites research showing the rate of unintended pregnancies is much lower for sexually active people who use contraception than for those who don’t.

The other side counters that not everyone would necessarily be as sexually active if contraception wasn’t so widely available. This side talks about risk compensation – the idea that if people believe contraception makes sex less risky, those people will make riskier sexual decisions. For example, they may choose to have sex more frequently, in less committed relationships, or with less careful attention to the woman’s cycle.

The fact that many women who have abortions were using contraception when they got pregnant doesn’t tell us anything about how contraception affects pregnancy rates. To illustrate the problem, here is a hypothetical situation using entirely made up numbers:

Suppose we have two groups of 100 women each. The first 100 women, called the Nope group, really don't want to be pregnant. 90% of them use contraception, and 100% of them will choose abortion if pregnant. The second 100 women, called the Meh group, are either open to or ambivalent about pregnancy. 10% of them use contraception, and 17% of them will choose abortion if pregnant.

Each symbol represents 10 women.

Now let's say 20 of the Nope women and 60 of the Meh women get pregnant, so 20 of the Nope women and 10 of the Meh women choose abortion. So 30 women are abortive.

If 90% of Nope and 10% of Meh used contraception.

For simplicity, let's assume their abortion decisions aren't related to whether they used contraception, so 90% of abortive Nope women (18 women) and 10% of abortive Meh women (1 woman) were using contraception. That means 19 out of the 30 abortive women were using contraception when they got pregnant, or 63% of abortive women were using contraception when they got pregnant!

Yet, in this scenario, contraception did greatly decrease pregnancy rates. The Meh women were three times as likely to get pregnant as the Nope women. If, like the Meh women, only 10% of the Nope women used contraception and 60 of the Nope women got pregnant, all 60 of those Nope women would have chosen abortion. Then there’d be 70 abortions instead of 30.

If 10% of Nope and 10% of Meh used contraception (scenario 1).

From this perspective, using contraception decreased abortions by 57%!

Yay contraception!

Alternatively, what if less contraception meant less risky sexual choices? Suppose again only 10% of Nope women use contraception, but this time suppose they’re so careful about sex that only 10 of them get pregnant. Then there'd be only 20 abortions instead of 30.

If 10% of Nope and 10% of Meh used contraception (scenario 2).

In this scenario, not using contraception decreased abortions by 33%!

Boo contraception!

The point is, without control groups, we don't know which way it would go. We can (and do) have strong opinions about how we think it would play out, but until we cite research with control groups, we're really just guessing. Simply saying "most of the women who got abortions had been on birth control" doesn't tell us one way or another how the abortion rates would be if less women used birth control.


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That doesn't mean the fact is irrelevant. If nothing else, we know contraception alone will not eliminate abortion. And I think it's true that there are plenty of pro-choice people who implicitly understand this idea, and see abortion as the "safety net," a back up form of birth control.

But there's a big difference between saying "contraception won't fully eliminate abortion" and "contraception makes no difference in abortion rates" or even "contraception increases abortion rates." The point about abortive women using contraception only speaks to the first statement, not the second two statements. For those statements, you need more information.

Friday, August 22, 2014

How I see the abortion debate now that I'm pregnant.

So I’m pregnant. I’ve been relatively active in the pro-life movement for about 8 years now, and I’ve never been pregnant before. I’ve tried to listen attentively to the experiences of mothers in general and pregnant women particularly and understand where they’re coming from. And of course I still think attentive listening is a good step, but there’s no substitute for experience, right?

My recent pregnancy FB announcement.

I suppose the abortion debate is a bigger part of my life than I realized, because, at every step of this pregnancy, I’ve thought about the many abortion-related discussions I’ve had over the years.

I thought about how women with unplanned pregnancies may not realize they’re pregnant, or may even be in denial about their pregnancies, for several weeks at least. I can see how easy that would be to do. I had only one minor symptom leading up to when my next cycle should have started: sore boobs. Barely. At night only. Mine is a planned pregnancy, so I was on the lookout for symptoms, and even then I wasn’t sure if I was just imagining things. Besides, many women have the same symptom before they start their cycle anyway.

I took a pregnancy test a few days after my period should have started, and it was immediately positive. But I didn’t experience any other symptoms for another week and a half or so. For those of you doing the math, that’d put me at about 3-4 weeks gestation before I really started getting symptoms. The next major symptom was exhaustion. I suddenly found myself drained of energy much more quickly during the day. For awhile I wasn’t sure whether my tiredness was really due to pregnancy or I was just experiencing a placebo effect because I knew I was pregnant. It wasn’t until about the 5th week of gestation, when nausea set in, that I was sure my experiences were not placebos.

In any case, that was my first observation: it’s pretty easy to not be sure you’re pregnant, even when you want to be pregnant. I can only imagine how easy it is to deny the reality when you really don’t want to be pregnant.

The next major realization I had was how difficult it is to bond with the kid in the first trimester. Obviously I can’t see the kid. I can’t feel any kicks or movement. I don’t know gender, so I can’t even refer to the kid as “he” or “she” much less by a name, which would feel much more personal. I have to opt for the awkward “they” or “the kid” or, worst, “it.”

If we didn’t live in a time and place where I have the resources to know how pregnancy and fetal development work, if we didn’t have cheap books and free websites and ultrasounds, there would be nothing inherent about my experience that makes me feel overwhelmed with love and connection. The only immediate signs I have that there’s someone growing in me are exhaustion, soreness, nausea (sometimes with vomiting), and random hormone surges. What in that list would make you feel affection, hm?

I’ve seen a lot of pro-lifers talk about how women who get abortions must be crazy (sociopathic) or evil or heartless or in deep denial. But I don’t think that follows at all. The vast majority of abortions are done in the first trimester – when it’s hardest to emotionally bond with the kid and very easy to feel physically and emotionally miserable over being pregnant. I can easily imagine many perfectly sane, non-evil women wanting to believe in and obtain a brief procedure to end a pregnancy. We shouldn’t vilify post-abortive women not only because it’s morally wrong and strategically foolish, but because it’s probably almost always totally inaccurate. 

I’ve taken this view long before I was pregnant, but, for me, experiencing pregnancy has just underscored my perspective all the more. It’s so easy to imagine how women would feel both emotionally disconnected from their unborn kids and averse to being pregnant. It’s a theme I’ve ruminated on a lot during my first trimester.

(I can anticipate the comments now: “That doesn’t make killing your unborn child okay!” Yeah, I’m not saying it’s okay. I’m saying these women aren’t crazy or evil.)

Another observation that surprised me a bit: until recently, I haven’t felt super-excited and all mommy glow about being pregnant, though most people seem to expect that reaction.

When I took the pregnancy test I was overcome with joy and couldn’t wait to tell my husband. I couldn’t even sit still, I was so happy and excited. And it was delightful telling our parents and immediate family that same night.

But that initial excitement ebbed quickly as various symptoms took its place. And mine hasn’t even been a particularly difficult pregnancy. From what I understand, it’s been pretty much textbook so far, with plenty of unpleasantness but nothing really extraordinary. I’ve had morning sickness but it’s confined itself to mornings, and not every one of them. Some women feel nauseous all day every day, and even struggle to get enough to eat because they can’t keep it all down. Ugh, I can’t imagine. Being nauseous flippin’ sucks.

Anyway, I was surprised to realize how not-that-excited I felt about being pregnant. If I focused on the idea of having a newborn, of having a nursery and cuddling and things like that, I still felt quite happy. I’m happy that I’m pregnant in the sense that I’m happy we are having a baby. I’ve long wanted kids. But at no point have I been happy to be pregnant in itself. I’ve known one or two women who enjoyed the actual process of pregnancy, but most of the women I know agree that pregnancy kind of sucks, and if we could have our little ones without having to go through pregnancy, I expect the great majority of women would choose to do that.

But my emotional ambivalence wasn’t just because of pregnancy symptoms. I also found myself getting pretty stressed about whether we’d made the right decision to have kids now. How will we handle division of labor? I’m working on a post-graduate degree and he’s working on his bachelors. We both want to keep pursuing our educational and career goals, but we both want at least one of us to be home with the kid at the outset. And what about money? We currently make just enough to cover our expenses, and now we need to get a bigger place, we need to get all the baby supplies, there are medical expenses, and we learned our insurance deductible resets with the new year (I’m due March 1st). I started to feel very overwhelmed about all the uncertainties in our future and how we will navigate them.

Of course we had talked about all of this before getting pregnant, and we decided this was still the right time due to other factors. I got pregnant on purpose, knowing in advance about all these concerns, carefully considering them, and deciding it was still the best decision. And I still think it was the best decision. But for awhile after finding out I was actually pregnant, it was a bit scary. There’s no going back now, better hope you’re right!

So between the tolls of pregnancy itself, the nervousness of having our first kid and how that will affect the rest of our lives, and a few other factors going on for us this summer, I just wasn’t feeling this giddy I’m-a-mommy feel that I had sort of expected. And this ambivalence is all for a planned, wanted pregnancy! I can only imagine the emotional roller coaster when the pregnancy is unexpected.

I feel better now. My symptoms are lessening as I enter my 2nd trimester, we’ve already moved to a larger apartment where I can start Pinteresting away for a Harry Potter-themed nursery, and we have a more concrete plan of how we will handle finances and so forth as we go.

But it was enlightening getting a taste of the stress and varied emotions that can come with even a desired pregnancy in a stable, committed relationship. I suspect it’s actually very common for women to feel ambivalent—especially about first pregnancies when we have no experience with the process—but I suspect it’s also very common for women not to talk openly about their ambivalence. When everyone is reacting with “Oh my god you must be so excited!!!” it can feel awkward to say “Hm, well not really, not right now.” I bet a lot of women worry that if they aren’t gushing with happiness there is something wrong with their feelings or with them as mothers. But it’s not true. I think ambivalence is probably more common than people realize in all huge, life-changing events.

Oh, one last observation: the ultrasound was a thrill! We got to see the kid squirming and kicking (even though I can’t feel that at all yet) and being able to see the kid made me feel so much more connected than any fetal development book or website could. I can definitely understand how ultrasound technology could influence some women to carry on with their pregnancies.


What about you other mothers? Were you in the pro-life movement before you had kids? If so, did you think about your pregnancies in that context? What did you notice?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Do abortion advocates believe their own bodily autonomy argument?

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about one of the major problems I have with the bodily autonomy argument: that it's totally at odds with people's real-life experiences with abortion. In keeping with that theme, here's another issue I have with the bodily autonomy argument. If the bodily autonomy argument were genuine, abortion supporters would have no discomfort whatsoever with Melissa Ohden.

Who's Melissa Ohden? I'm so glad you asked. Melissa is a public speaker who lives in Missouri with her husband and two daughters. And when she was 31 weeks old, she was born prematurely after an abortionist injected poisonous saline solution into her mother's womb. Melissa survived and was adopted by another family, but has since reconnected with her biological relatives and learned more about the unusual circumstances of her birth.1

Her medical records state: "Saline infusion for an abortion was done but was unsuccessful."

Unsuccessful? But the abortionist managed to "disconnect" Melissa's mother from the baby that was using her body. Melissa's mother's bodily autonomy was completely vindicated! Isn't that what abortion is all about? Why is this called "unsuccessful"?

The answer, of course, is that mere "disconnecting" or "unplugging" is not the goal of an abortion, no matter how vehemently its defenders insist that it is. The words "botched abortion," in reference to abortion survivors like Melissa, give the game away. The goal of an abortion is a dead fetus.

This came to the forefront in the debate about the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act (BAIPA). I realize that many pro-choicers (namely, the ones who aren't completely heartless) supported BAIPA. But if the pro-choice movement as a whole were truly committed to the idea of bodily autonomy as the rationale for abortion, there wouldn't have been a debate on BAIPA.

The main point of BAIPA, as expressed in the legislative findings, was to "repudiate the flawed notion that the right to an abortion means the right to a dead baby." But that "flawed notion" is very much alive within the abortion movement. An abortion advocate may argue passionately for the abstract ideal of "bodily autonomy," but the moment they refer to a live birth as a "failed abortion," their real position is exposed.

1. Although survival of abortion is uncommon, Melissa is far from being the only one. I'm only using her story as an example because I happen to know her personally.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Another Aspect of Persuasive Dialogue

[Today's guest post by Clinton Wilcox is part of our paid blogging program.]

Oscar Wilde once said, "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth." Wilde, of course, lived in the 19th century, born over a century before the internet was merely a gleam in Al Gore's eye. However, his statement is just as true now as it was back then. Internet anonymity allows people who would otherwise not be blatantly honest with people to show their true colors without having to look the person they're denigrating in the eye when they're saying it.

This article is a follow-up, of sorts, to my previous article about being persuasive in your conversations with pro-choice people. It was actually inspired by the recent tragedy regarding comedy legend Robin Williams taking his own life. It's bad enough that his family had to go through this situation, but Williams' daughter Zelda was forced off of social media because internet trolls posted fake pictures regarding her father. Thankfully many people have more sense than this, but if you want a true taste of human nature, just peruse the comments section on any YouTube video or blog article. There have been numerous accounts of teenagers pushed by internet bullies into committing suicide.

This, of course, also happens often in the abortion debate. People who are allegedly pro-life will attack pro-choice people verbally, even going so far as to make death threats against pro-choice people. Now right away, I know there are going to be people who are going to say that "it happens on both sides" (and I know there are going to be people who won't read the article so they won't see my prediction before making that statement). And that's true. But no matter what abortion advocates may do, it doesn't make it okay for us to do it.

Yes, it's frustrating when things don't go our way. We're fighting an uphill battle against our own government and the multi-billion dollar abortion industry. But if we really have truth on our side, and if we truly want to be persuasive, we have to stop acting as if we don't really believe our own arguments. If the unborn are human beings (P1), and all human beings are deserving of protection (P2), then the unborn are deserving of protection. This goes for pro-choice people, too. If pro-choice people aren't deserving of protection, then that invalidates our second premise and leaves the door open for arguing that the unborn don't deserve protection!

I have already written about being persuasive in our arguments by treating the other person with respect. Another aspect of persuasiveness is to let our actions match our words. If we argue one way and live another, on what grounds should pro-choice people accept our argument? Let's stop with the rhetoric and the name-calling; let's stop with the anonymous internet bullying, threats, and intimidation. Yes, let's stop even if we were on the receiving end of it first. We need to be a movement that can truly be respected, so that when a pro-choice person brings an accusation against us, we can honestly say that there may have been people like that in the past, but you'll be hard-pressed to find someone like that now.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Fourth-Wave Feminism: Reclaiming the Women's Movement

By now you've probably heard about the #womenagainstfeminism trend, and all the condemnations and refutations it has prompted. (I sure hope so, because it's a bit much to summarize.)

I am a woman. I am not against feminism. I am very much for feminism. Problem is, those statements depend a lot on what you mean by "feminism"—and that definition has been a thorny question for a long time.

In "You Don't Hate Feminism. You Just Don't Understand It," Emily Shire writes:
An April 2013 poll found just 16 percent of men and 23 percent of women in America identify as feminists. The women behind Women Against Feminism aren’t exactly a minority. However, that same poll found 82 percent of all Americans agree with the statement “men and women should be social, political, and economic equals.” That’s the simplest and most accurate definition of feminism, but the movement has come to be seen as anti-men, liberal, radical, pro-choice, and many other things that it is not. . . . 
People do not realize you can be a feminist and pro-life. . . .
I'm on board with that, but significant spokeswomen for feminism are not:
I know that I'm supposed to write 500 words on this subject, but it seems much simpler: You can't call yourself a feminist if you don't believe in the right to abortion. ~Nora Ephron
Considering that few things are more critical to the maintenance of the patriarchy than controlling women's reproduction, yes, I'm happy to say that opponents of legal abortion can't be feminists. ~Amanda Marcotte
The feminist movement has accomplished so much. I'm incredibly grateful to our foremothers; I'm particularly cognizant of the fact that I would never have been considered for law school without their efforts. And there is much work to be done: on affordable child care, on sexual assault prevention, on child support enforcement, and much more.

Those goals are impeded by leaders who insist that feminism is synonymous with support for the legal killing of preborn human beings. You'd think they'd be trying to build broad coalitions to work on issues where pro- and anti-abortion women agree, but instead, they're busy demonizing pro-lifers. (The other day I just about exploded in rage when an acquaintance posted a cartoon on facebook that attempted to link waiting periods for abortion with street harassment. I'm 100% serious.)

And so I rarely just call myself a feminist, full stop. It's always "pro-life feminist," or the clarifier proposed by our friends at Feminsits for Nonviolent Choices, a fourth-wave feminist.


Feminists for Nonviolent Choices has put together a great Buzzfeed post and is encouraging supporters to use the hastag #fourthwave.

I'll close with a personal confession, which I've been wanting to write about for a while, and now seems like a good opportunity: when I see an organization or campaign about "women's health," I always dig to see if it's an abortion group before expressing any support. And that disgusts me. I'm a woman. Women's health is my health!! How did we get to the point where I have to be suspicious of my health?! But my suspicions are justified, because the phrase "women's health," like "feminism," has been hijacked by people with values that are starkly opposed to those of 57% of the female population of the United States.

Yes, it's beyond frustrating, and I understand why some people just throw their hands in the air and reject feminism. But I'm convinced that the better response is to reclaim it!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Suicide Prevention Tips from a Survivor

[Today's guest post by Sarah Terzo is part of our paid blogging program. Sarah is a pro-life atheist, a frequent contributor to Live Action News, a board member of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, and the force behind ClinicQuotes.com.]

The suicide of Robin Williams has shaken just about everyone, but for those of us who suffer with depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental health issues, it is especially hard. I want to address the difficult topic of suicide from the point of view of someone who has struggled with it. First, I’m going to talk about some reasons why you should't do it. Second, I’m going to walk you through what happens when you reach out for help.

There are many, many reasons why a person should not commit suicide. I’m going to talk about just a few.

Reasons you shouldn’t do it. 

Suicide is devastating for the people who love you. Any death is tragic, and everyone has loved ones who will mourn their passing. But suicide is so much harder for people to deal with. It brings up such intense emotions of guilt (Why didn’t I stop her/him? Why didn’t I see it how depressed she was?) anger (how dare he do that to us) and intense grief. Also, when a person commits suicide, it becomes much more likely that one of their loved ones will do the same. Copycat suicides are a real phenomenon. Studies show that family members of suicide victims are more likely to commit suicide themselves. Even for people who are not close to you, there is an impact. You can leave behind a legacy of suicide. If any of your friends struggle with suicidal feelings, it will hit them especially hard.

A book I read once said that suicide is like throwing a hand grenade into a room full of people who know you. You can’t control who will be hurt or killed by the shrapnel.

You might fail at suicide, and things could get a lot worse. The truth is, the majority of suicide attempts fail. You might survive your suicide attempt, and be left with long-term, life altering health problems. Every form of suicide can leave a person permanently damaged rather than dead. Taking pills can destroy your kidneys and liver. Hanging can cause permanent brain damage from lack of oxygen, leaving a person mentally disabled (what callous people call “retarded”) and far worse off than they were before. Jumping can shatter your bones and leave you permanently paralyzed. And guns–let’s not even go there. There is no form of suicide that is 100% guaranteed to result in death.

You will never know if things would’ve gotten better. No one knows the future. Things could get better. Especially if you seek help. One thing about depression is that when you are in it, it seems like it will last forever. That’s one of the symptoms of depression, one of the lies it tells you. You tend to believe that you will be miserable for the rest of your life and that suicide is the only way out. For the vast majority of people, that isn’t true.

Reaching out 

If you are feeling suicidal, call a friend. If you don’t feel you can do that, call a hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Or you can do an online chat at SuicidePreventionLifeline.org. There is also an excellent forum where you can post anonymously about your suicidal feelings and get support, SuicideForum.com. It’s an active forum with an online chat room where you can get support for your suicidal feelings and give support to others.

If you are about to do it–if you’re at the point where you feel you can no longer fight your suicidal feelings, when the temptation is overwhelming, and you know you can’t fight anymore–you have to do the bravest thing you may ever have to do in your life. You have to call 911.

This is an intimidating thing. I’m going to walk you through exactly what happens if you call 911 or the police to help yourself, or if someone calls them on your behalf. That way, if you find yourself in the situation, it won’t be quite as scary.

First of all, I have a friend who works as a 911 dispatcher. She told me that the training manual they all study has an entire chapter on dealing with people who call because they feel suicidal. It’s okay to call 911 if you’re feeling suicidal. People do it all the time. The 911 operators are trained as to what to do. The operator will ask you a few questions, do you have a weapon, do you have a plan, etc., and then she will send someone to come and talk to you.

Police and paramedics will come. They will ask you to come with them to the hospital. You will not be put in handcuffs or a straitjacket. You will not be locked up and put in the back of a police car. The only exception to this is if you threaten the police or become violent towards them. They are not there to arrest you and lock you up–they are there to help you. As scary as this is, as hard as it can be–if it saves your life, it’s worth it. Think of your loved ones. Think of it as a gift to them and yourself–you are going through this in order to save your life and spare them the pain of losing you.

So what happens next? Well, they’ll take you to the hospital. At the emergency room, they will put you in a room of your own and you will wait for a psychiatric evaluation. The nurses and doctors will check in on you every now and then to make sure you’re safe, and they will probably take blood. This helps them check to see if your depression has a physical cause–for example, a thyroid disorder can cause depression. They may also ask for a urine sample. This is a good time to tell them about any prescription medicines you are taking and any health problems you have.

Here’s a tip–you’ll probably be waiting in the emergency room for a long time. Once they know you’re safe, the doctors and nurses will be busy dealing with people who are having heart attacks, strokes, or who come in with serious injuries. You will have to wait until these people are treated before you are screened. I recommend that before the ambulance drives you to the hospital that you grab a book or something else to keep you occupied. Because it can be hard to sit in the ER for hours with just your own thoughts.

When you are screened, a psychiatrist or psychologist will sit down with you and ask you about your suicidal feelings. It’s a good idea to be honest. After all, you’re getting help, and you won’t get it if you’re not honest. Tell him or her the truth. Some of the questions he will ask you include, do you have a plan to commit suicide? Have you ever attempted before? Do you suffer from any chronic mental health issues? Are you under the care of a counselor or psychiatrist? (If you are, they will usually notify them.)

The screener may decide that you’re okay to go home. Or, he may think that you need to be somewhere to keep you safe for the next couple of days. If this happens, he or she will offer you a chance to go into an inpatient unit. As long as you are cooperative, you will usually be placed in this unit voluntarily. This means you will be able to sign yourself out as long as they don’t think you’re in imminent danger of committing suicide. Occasionally, if they are really worried, they may give you an ultimatum–as in, we think you are in danger, so you can go in voluntary or if you resist, we will commit you. Go in voluntarily. If you become violent, or if they think you are in so much danger that you need to be watched constantly, they may commit you. This is an extremely scary thing–but even if they do commit you, there are very strict laws about how long you can hold a person without giving them the option to leave on their own. They will not lock you up and throw away the key. It’s unlikely that this will happen if you come in voluntarily, however. It usually only happens to people who are taken in against their will, who just made a serious suicide attempt, or who are violent and abusive toward staff.

It’s a very scary thing to go to a psychiatric hospital. But the truth is, it’s not so terrible. It’s something you can survive and get through, and it might help you. First of all, you can rest assured that no one has to know you were hospitalized unless you tell them. There are very strict laws about this. They won’t tell your parents. They won’t tell your boss. They won’t tell anyone unless you give them written permission to do so. If, while you’re inpatient, someone calls and asks for you, even a close friend or family member, they will tell them that they can’t confirm that you are in the unit. They give out no information about patients unless you sign a waiver saying that they can. If a nurse or mental health worker tells someone you in the unit without your written permission, she or he will be fired and the hospital can be sued. They won’t risk that.

Things that happen in the hospital 

You will meet with a psychiatrist. He or she will want probably to put you on medication, probably an antidepressant, if you’re not already on one. Taking psychiatric medication can be very helpful. It will not change your personality, it will merely, in most cases, cause your depression to lift or at least become more manageable. Sometimes it takes a little while to find the right medication, but it can definitely be useful tool in fighting depression. No one has to know you are on psychiatric medication unless you tell them.

You have the right to refuse to go on the medication. Even if they pressure you to agree that you will take it while you are in the hospital, it is always your choice to continue taking it when you get home. No one can force you to be on a medication long-term.

You will go to group therapy. In some hospitals the sessions are mandatory; in others, you can choose whether or not to go. These groups will allow you to talk about the things that brought you to the hospital. They will be led by a psychologist or mental health professional. If you feel you can, you will be given the opportunity to share openly among people who often can relate to the issues you’re going through. You will probably never see these people again, unless you choose to keep in touch with someone, so you can be free to be honest. In other groups, they will teach you about different aspects of fighting depression, anxiety, and other issues. There may be an anger management group, a group on substance abuse, a group on handling suicidal feelings, etc. Some groups may be more helpful to you than others.

You will have a lot of downtime. Between groups, there will be a lot of free time. You can take advantage of the free time by journaling. Journaling can help you get in touch with your emotions and work things out. Usually they have a television on the unit, though since there are so many people there you probably won’t get a choice of what you want to watch. It’s a good idea have a book or two with you to read. You will not be allowed a cell phone, tablet, or other device while in the hospital. They will hold onto them for you until you leave. You can also sleep and get some rest.

The good thing to remember is that, even if your experience of the hospital is absolutely terrible, you won’t be there for long. The average hospital stay is 3 to 6 days. The days of long commitments and locking people up for extended periods of time are over. Nowadays, treatment at hospitals is geared towards getting you out and back to your life as quickly as possible. They will be watching for signs of improvement. Generally speaking, as soon as you can tell them that you no longer feel suicidal, they will let you go. Being in the hospital costs insurance money, and insurance companies don’t like to cover extended stays–sadly, that is another reason why hospital stays tend to be short. Oh, speaking of insurance–if you don’t have it, you can still go in the hospital–there are often a lot of different types of financial help offered such as Charity Care, for people in hospitals. And even if you do get stuck with a bill, remember, it’s worth it to save your life.

The other thing that the hospital will do for you is set you up with ongoing mental health treatment. If you don’t already have a therapist, they will find you one. They may tell you where you can get more group therapy, if you find it helpful. They may tell you about support groups you can go to in the community. They will set you up with some kind of long-term treatment so that you can continue fighting your depression outside the hospital. They will not send you out of the hospital unless you feel ready to go and you have a place to go to for ongoing treatment.

This is the basic story of what will happen if you call 911 or friend calls 911 on your behalf. My hope is that if you need to get help, this article will make you more willing to do so. It’s easier when you know what to expect, when you’re not heading off into the unknown. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a side of extraordinary bravery and strength. Asking for help does not mean you are a weak person–it means you are strong person. Everyone needs help throughout the life about certain things. Accepting this, and reaching out, is tremendous sign of maturity and courage. Your life is worth fighting for.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

No, 1 in 3 women will NOT have an abortion

A reader emailed me asking if we could do a piece on the oft-touted statistic that "1 in 3 women will have an abortion in her lifetime" (or "by age 45"). Happy to oblige. By the way, suggestions for blog topics are always welcome.

The pro-choice movement loves to use the 1-in-3 statistic, arguing that it "humanize[s] the issue." (The irony of that statement does not escape me.) Of course, from a pro-life perspective, it matters little how many people have had an abortion; we know from history that large masses of people are capable of being very, tragically wrong. The apparent message they're trying to get across—that every third woman you see on the street has killed at least one embryo or fetus and therefore it must be totally okay—is, let's face it, not a logical argument by any stretch of the imagination. But as the pro-life movement gains ground, I'm sure abortion supporters find it comforting that they have some strength in numbers. There's even a pro-choice book and campaign named after this statistic.

So I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn that this statistic is complete hogwash. (That was sarcasm. If you really were shocked, you must be very new to the pro-life movement. Welcome aboard.)

The 1 in 3 campaign cites to a factsheet by the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion think tank. That fact sheet, in turn, cites a 2011 study by Dr. Rachel Jones and Dr. Megan Kavanaugh, which is based on abortion data from 2000 to 2008. The Jones & Kavanaugh study states:
The cumulative first-abortion rate increases with age, and women aged 40 and older had a rate of 300.9 per 1,000 women. Put differently, an estimated 30.1% of women aged 15–44 in 2008 will have an abortion by age 45 if exposed to prevailing abortion rates throughout their reproductive lives.
First of all, just in case the entire pro-choice movement missed out on third-grade math, 300.9 per 1,000 is not "1 in 3." It's basically 3 in 10, which is one in three-and-a-third. Their statistic is short a third of a person.

That's assuming Jones & Kavanaugh's numbers are reliable to begin with. The authors, to their credit, actually caution us that they may not be. Their method was to look at abortion rates within various demographic subgroups and then use that data to come up with an overall abortion rate. But (emphasis added):
Considering the substantial changes in abortion rates observed among young women, African American women, and poor women, abortion rates were calculated to determine potential interactions among these groups. Because some of these subgroups are relatively small and because the confidence intervals suggest some degree of inaccuracy, these findings are best interpreted as general patterns as opposed to precise measures. 
Go tell that to the 1 in 3 campaign.

Most important of all, however, is the fact that the 2011 study relied on old data. That isn't Jones & Kavanaugh's fault; abortion data is usually several years behind, whether you're talking about Guttmacher or the CDC. But this is a major issue, because abortion rates have dropped drastically since 2008. In the three years between 2008 (when the study's data set ended) and 2011 (when the study was published), the U.S. abortion rate dropped thirteen percent, to the lowest level since Roe v. Wade. And another three years have passed since then!1

At this point, there's just no feasible way that the lifetime abortion rate is even close to 1 in 3. We should celebrate that today's teenagers have much better things to look forward to than a one-in-three chance of being a party to an abortion.

Interestingly, the Jones & Kavanaugh study points out that an earlier study (in 1992) had predicted that a whopping 42% of women would have an abortion by age 45. The overly-enthusiastic abortion projection is not a new phenomenon.

1. For commentary about this in the context of abortion business closures, see When Access and Choice Collide. It's hard to separate out how many closures can be attributed to the decline in business versus how many can be attributed to pro-life legislation.