Monday, March 2, 2015

Three-Parent Babies: A Pro-Life Ethical Analysis

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

The UK Parliament voted early last month to allow for the creation of children using the biological DNA from three people, effectively becoming the first country to officially approve this technique. The aim of this technology is to allow parents with a high likelihood of passing down genetic diseases, particularly mothers who carry genes coding for mitochondrial disease, to have healthy biological children. Mitochondria, which are essentially the energy “power houses” of our cells, are passed down to children by only the mother. A child with an inherited mitochondrial disorder will likely not survive long after birth, or will be severely disabled if he or she does. Proponents of the three-parent measure point to Sharon Bernardi, a UK mother who lost seven of her children to mitochondrial disease, as the type of person who would benefit from the technique, along with an estimated 150 eligible parents in the UK each year. The three-parent method of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) would not only allow parents to have children free of certain incurable genetic diseases, but would essentially eradicate mitochondrial disease from a genetic line. Sounds pretty great, right? But like with all technology involving the creation of new human beings, it's not that simple.

For pro-lifers, the primary issue is that the three-parent IVF process can involve the destruction of human life. There are actually two methods: “egg repair” and “embryo repair.” Both are modifications of IVF (which is controversial in its own right). Briefly, in “egg repair,” two eggs are involved: one from the mother, and a donor egg that has healthy mitochondria. The nucleus of the donor egg is removed and discarded, and the nucleus of the mother’s egg is inserted into the donor egg. The new egg, which contains the mother’s nucleus but the donor’s healthy mitochondria, is now ready to be fertilized by the father’s sperm before being inserted into the uterus.

The "egg repair" three-parent IVF method
The second approach, “embryo repair,” is more complicated as it involves two embryos: one created from the egg and sperm of the intended parents, and a donor embryo created using the father’s sperm but a healthy donor egg. The nuclei of both embryos are removed, but the intended parent’s nucleus is inserted into the donor embryo while the donor nucleus is destroyed. This results in an embryo with the parents’ nucleus and the donor’s mitochondria that is then ready to be inserted into the uterus.

The “embryo repair” reproach is undeniably immoral from a pro-life perspective because it involves the destruction of an embryo, a new human life. Furthermore, the destroyed embryo was created solely for the purpose of creating a healthy embryo; do the ends justify the means? While the “egg repair” method is certainly controversial too, it does not require the destruction of embryos and could be considered an acceptable moral option if appropriate protocol is implemented. Caution must be taken, however; if typical IVF protocol is followed in order to increase the chances of a successful pregnancy, then several embryos could be created while only some are implanted, leaving the rest to be discarded, frozen indefinitely (with few being adopted), or donated to science.

Moreover, while the destruction of human embryos is the main area of concern from a pro-life standpoint, other ethical concerns are worth mentioning, including the potential slippery slope towards “designer babies” and eugenics. To be clear, only about 0.1% of the child’s DNA would be from the donor woman’s mitochondria, and it would not affect traits such as personality or physical appearance, which originate from nuclear DNA. But despite this small percentage, it is still a permanent change in DNA which would then be passed down to subsequent generations through the female line, a fact that has some bioethicists concerned due to the lack of research on the outcomes. 

A precedent has undoubtedly been set with the UK’s approval of this technology. Mitochondrial donation methods were banned in the US at the turn of the millennium during controversy over trials that used a similar cytoplasmic transfer technique (read the scientific publication here), but this issue will surely resurface as the process in the UK continues. Indeed, the Food and Drug Administration as well as the Institute of Medicine have recently been holding meetings to discuss the ethical issues brought up by mitochondrial donation techniques.

While I understand and appreciate that this IVF procedure has many potential benefits, extreme caution must be taken to avoid the destruction of human life in the quest to create human life free of debilitating diseases. I would encourage my fellow pro-lifers to also question the ethics of current mitochondrial donation methods (particularly the “embryo repair” method), and to make our voices heard: methods involving the destruction of human embryos are immoral, even if they do result in a healthy embryo. We must ask ourselves just how far we will go to achieve our ends.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Wilberforce Fellowship applications are open!

Students for Life of America is accepting applications for its Wilberforce Fellowship through March 31st. The Wilberforce Fellowship is a leadership program that connects campus pro-life activists with mentors who have devoted their careers to the cause. It's a great opportunity to acquire leadership skills and make connections. I speak from personal experience; I was part of the inaugural class of Wilberforce Fellows in 2009-2010 and I still keep in touch with my mentor and with the other students in my class.

That's me in the green shirt, way back in the day

Details from SFLA:
Fellows will be flown to Northern Virginia for the kick-off weekend training from July 10th-12th. Flights, housing, and meals in the Virginia area will be covered by Students for Life of America.
Who is Eligible to Apply
  • Any undergraduate, graduate, law, or med students may apply 
  • Must be a current leader in a pro-life organization 
  • Must be interested in pursuing a full-time career in the pro-life movement 
  • Must be able to attend the Wilberforce kick-off weekend, July 10th-12th
Good luck!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Website Under Deconstruction: American Family Planning of Pensacola

This post is the third in "Website Under Deconstruction," our series on abortion center websites. (See the first and second.)

Today we are featuring American Family Planning of Pensacola (AFPP), which sent a woman to the hospital last week. AFPP is owned by notorious abortionist Steven Chase Brigham, who cannot legally perform abortions himself because his medical license has been revoked in numerous states. (Even abortion apologists acknowledge that he was a menace to women's health.) That doesn't stop him from playing a supervisory role, though.

So it's no surprise that AFPP's website is full of troubling statements. That's especially true of its section on medical abortion (abortion by pill).

Strike one: AFPP uses an outdated, non-FDA-approved protocol that includes taking the abortifacient drug vaginally. ("You will be instructed to take the Misoprostol in the form of vaginal suppositories, placed high in the vagina near the cervix...") Even Planned Parenthood knows that this is a bad idea; they ceased vaginal administration of abortion drugs, on the ground of its increased risk for infection, nine years ago.

Strike two: AFPP makes a promise it absolutely cannot keep: "You will not see the embryo, but you may pass clots" (emphasis added). AFPP claims to provide medication abortion up to nine weeks gestation (again in violation of FDA protocol), at which point the fetus is over an inch long from crown to rump. Even Women on Web—a truly extremist abortion organization which distributes abortion pills over the internet, regardless of the side effects, to women in developing countries who may be unable to access emergency treatment for complications—admits on its website that at nine weeks "it is possible that you might see the embryo. ... This can be distressing."

And strike three, AFPP is using an unusual drug combination—methotrexate plus misoprostol—instead of the FDA-approved combination, mifepristone plus misoprostol. The usual combination is contraindicated in cases of ectopic pregnancies, but methotrexate is not. Accordingly, AFPP touts its method as a treatment for ectopic pregnancy.

It's strange, though, that someone with an ectopic pregnancy would seek care from AFPP in the first place. Untreated ectopic pregnancies are life-threatening emergencies. They are typically treated by emergency rooms, not freestanding abortion centers. If I had an ectopic pregnancy, a doctor with a reputation like Brigham's is the last person I'd want to see.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Volunteer opportunities for medical doctors, graphic designers

Secular Pro-Life is embarking on an exciting new educational campaign, which we expect will launch in the next two to three months. Since it's still in the pipeline, I can't tell you all the details on a public blog. I can tell you that I presented the project to the physicians, nurses, and medical students at last weekend's American Association of Pro-Life Ob/Gyns (AAPLOG) conference, and it was very well received.

In very general terms, the project involves the presentation of medical literature to the public along with personal stories; think of the Truth and Tips From Former Smokers public health campaigns against tobacco. We are looking for some special volunteers to put the final pieces of this project in place:

1) We need physicians to review our educational materials for accuracy and endorse the project. (The materials have already been prepared with the help of a wonderful pro-life medical student.) Your name will appear on the campaign website as a physician endorser. We already have some volunteers from the AAPLOG conference, but we don't want to limit ourselves; the more the merrier! All areas of practice are welcome.

2) We need graphic designers to push the campaign on social media. We will want a series of 10-15 designs, each sharing a message related to the campaign and/or pregnancy health generally. You should have access to appropriate design software. Secular Pro-Life can pay for fonts and stock images as appropriate.

If either of these volunteer opportunities sound like a good fit for you, please email with the subject line "Volunteer physician" or "Volunteer graphic designer," and include a short message about your pro-life values and your background (particularly your medical practice or design portfolio, respectively). We look forward to hearing from you.

If you're not a doctor or designer, please share this post with those who are!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Abortion as a symptom of social ill

In 2011, a 20-year-old woman sought an elective medical procedure.

The procedure would help her career as a dancer. It was, she surely felt, her body and her choice. But if she were being honest with herself, perhaps she would have acknowledged that the men in her life had considerable influence over her decision.

Local doctors must have either been unwilling to perform the procedure, or charged more than she could afford. To access it, she traveled outside of her home country, where she arranged a meeting with a well-known provider. Although unlicensed, the provider had a good reputation, which was reflected in her high income and lavish lifestyle.

The procedure killed that 20-year-old woman. The provider was arrested and charged with murder and the case is going to trial.

I'm not talking about abortion. Via the Associated Press:
A Gothic hip-hop artist who did illegal cosmetic surgery on the side boasted at her murder trial Thursday that her body sculpting work was so popular she was dubbed "the Michelangelo of buttocks injections." 
Padge Victoria Windslowe, who performed under the name "Black Madam," is accused of killing a 20-year-old dancer from London during a procedure at an airport hotel that involved industrial-grade silicone and Krazy Glue. . . .
Prosecutors said she collected $1,000 to $2,000 per session and told clients she was a nurse practitioner for a plastic surgeon. Some of them now battle frequent pain, all in pursuit of more curves, Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega said.
Imagine if the public debate around back-alley cosmetic surgery were anything like the public debate around abortion. Cosmetic surgery would be celebrated as an exercise of women's fundamental right to bodily autonomy, instead of raising feminists' alarm. We'd hear calls for greater access to legal procedures, as advocates shielded providers from medical regulations. Cosmetic surgeons, even those who killed women, would be lauded as "heroes."

That, of course, would be insanity. The better approach, and the one that feminist movements on the whole appear to be following, is to attack the root: low self-esteem, body image issues, and obsession with the male gaze, all of which are connected to sexism in society generally.

We must apply this approach to abortion as well. Just as we view a woman's desperate lengths to obtain cosmetic surgery as a symptom of serious social problems rather than a social good, we must recognize (in the words of Feminists for Life) that "abortion is a reflection that we have not met the needs of women."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Life Matters Journal releases new issue

Our friends at the Life Matters Journal, an amazing Millennial-led consistent life ethic magazine, are out with a new issue. It includes a piece by SPL's very own Monica Snyder, on page 31, entitled The Imago Dei: Why Secularists Should Care About Human Life. On page 20, longtime SPL supporter Kris Skul outlines steps the pro-life movement should take now to allow for a smooth transition to a pro-life society once legal victory is achieved (After Abortion, the Hard Questions).

Other topics this issue include sexual assault on campus, the Ukraine crisis, and state-level battles on the death penalty.

Best of all, as always, the Life Matters Journal is free! Click here to read the latest on Issuu.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Websites Under Deconstruction: Phoenix Edition

This post is the second in our series on abortion center websites. (Click here for our first.)

Today, we are spotlighting two centers in Phoenix, AZ: Camelback Family Planning and Acacia Women's Center.

The website for Camelback Family Planning is pretty mundane on the surface. It's mainly notable for what it doesn't say in its glowing bio of abortionist Gabrielle Goodrick.

Goodrick is described as having "an outstanding reputation with health care professionals in the community." Camelback's website fails to mention Goodrick's less-than-outstanding reputation with the Arizona Medical Board, which determined that Goodrick had a substance abuse problem and placed her medical license on probation for five years, beginning in February of 2011.

The Acacia Women's Center website is noteworthy for its descriptions of the morning-after pill (Plan B). There has always been controversy surrounding Plan B's exact mechanism. All agree that it can prevent ovulation, which in turn prevents fertilization. The question is what happens if the morning-after pill is taken after ovulation and fertilization have already occurred. Does it cause an early abortion by making it impossible for the newly-conceived embryo to implant?

Pro-choice groups, and some pro-life groups, say that the answer is no. Planned Parenthood, for instance, states plainly: "Emergency contraception pills work by keeping a woman's ovary from releasing an egg for longer than usual. Pregnancy cannot happen if there is no egg to join with sperm. You might have also heard that the morning-after pill causes an abortion. But that's not true. The morning-after pill is not the abortion pill. Emergency contraception is birth control, not abortion." All Our Lives agrees: "The best available studies provide no evidence that emergency contraception does anything but prevent fertilization."

Apparently, Acacia Women's Center didn't get the memo, because "ending pregnancy early on" sure doesn't sound like contraception to me:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Website Under Deconstruction: Reproductive Health Services of Montgomery

"Website Under Deconstruction" is a new series of SPL blog posts in which we deconstruct bizarre, disingenuous, and otherwise noteworthy statements on abortion center websites.

First up is Reproductive Health Services of Montgomery. It doesn't disappoint. The very first sentence on its homepage is incredible:
Reproductive Health Services ("RHS") was one of the first clinics to provide health care for women in Alabama. The clinic has provided abortion services and other health care for women for more than 30 years.
Wow! Who knew that until about 30 years ago, nobody provided health care for women in Alabama!* Abortion proponents have always had a tendency to treat "abortion" and "health care for women" as synonymous, but this just takes it to a new level of ridiculousness.

Then we have the "Abortion Services" page, which discusses the initial visit, 24-hour waiting period, and second visit for abortion surgery. It informs potential patients that they are prohibited from bringing cell phones into the building, ostensibly for "privacy and security reasons." So in the event of a complication, they'll just have to trust the abortionist to call an ambulance. Good luck with that. Other helpful advice includes "Please do not bring small children with you on the surgery day" (except of course for the ones who will be killed "using gentle suctioning").

There is also a page entitled "Patient Comments," but upon a close reading, the comments appear to come from political supporters rather than patients. None say anything specific about having had an abortion at RHS (e.g. "The staff treated me well"). One talks about having an abortion in 1973 (before RHS existed); another identifies herself as the mother of a newborn; another talks about wanting abortion to be legal when her four-year-old daughter grows up; and another refers to women she knows who have had abortions, rather than referring to herself.

The comment that really gave me chills, though, was the last one:
"I have cared for 53 foster teenagers, most of them born unwanted. I couldn't appreciate what you are doing more!"
Dude. If you truly believe that the children in your care would have been better off dead, you have no business whatsoever being a foster parent. I hope those 53 teenagers got out of this person's home with some measure of their self-esteem intact.

*For context, bear in mind that the University of Alabama-Birmingham Medical School has been training ob/gyns since 1945. Of course, that does not mean that there were no ob/gyns in Alabama prior to 1945. It does, however, mean that RHS is completely off base.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Three pro-life things to do this Valentine's Day

1) Donate $50 (or what you can afford) to a domestic violence shelter. You've probably already seen the campaign for #50DollarsNot50Shades. The Fifty Shades of Grey movie is coming out tomorrow, and advocates for abuse victims charge that the film glorifies emotional manipulation, stalking, and violence as "romantic." They're urging people to forego the movie and donate the money they would have spent on the movie/dinner/popcorn to a domestic violence shelter instead.

I myself have not read any of the Fifty Shades books, although the online summaries I've seen are pretty damning. Regardless, the money is for a good cause.

2) Be prepared. True, sex doesn't "just happen," but it's certainly possible for people to get caught up in their emotions—especially on a holiday that's dedicated to celebrating exactly that. So if you're in a relationship, have a conversation with your partner ahead of time about your expectations for Valentine's Day. As applicable, remember responsible condom use. (Unless, of course, you're trying to conceive, in which case we wish you the best of luck!)

3) Invite your friends to like Secular Pro-Life on facebook. Our goal is 7,000 likes by the end of Valentine's Day, and we're just a few dozen away!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Secular Pro-Life joins call to investigate Selma abortion business

A broad coalition of pro-life organizations, including Secular Pro-Life,
are calling on the Alabama Department of Public Health to take swift action against the Central Alabama Women's Clinic.

Under Alabama law, facilities that perform more than nine abortions a month must be licensed by the state. Pro-life groups have uncovered evidence that Central Alabama Women's Clinic exceeds that threshold, but it has failed to obtain a license. Instead, it is running its surgical abortion business under the lesser regulatory standards applicable to ordinary doctor's offices.
From the press release:
[Life Legal Defense Foundation] Senior Staff Counsel Allison Aranda reports that her organization actually provided overwhelming evidence of this facility’s illegal practices to the ADPH months ago, on behalf of concerned Alabama citizens. LLDF has also recently provided the same evidence to the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners. However, the only reaction after months of probing the ADPH is a resounding, “No comment.” Aranda states, “We have given the ADPH ample time to confirm our evidence and shut down another illegal abortion clinic. Yet, eight months have passed and it is still unclear if the ADPH has even begun an investigation into this facility’s unlawful activities.”
Rev. Terry Gensemer, Director of CEC For Life and Alabama citizen comments, “Agencies like the ADPH are put in place to ensure the highest standard of safety for every patient.  Months of inaction on a case like this imply targeted apathy towards the lives of Alabama women, while also bringing into question the intentions of the Department of Public Health – is this women’s clinic, whose main clientele is low-income minorities, somehow exempt from state laws and regulations?”
Catherine Davis of the National Black Pro-Life Coalition adds, “Alabama has joined a number of states in turning a blind eye to violations of the law by abortionists. Women – mostly Black and mostly poor – are being subjected to substandard medical care that has left them physically and psychologically injured, and sometimes dead.  We demand justice for the babies that are being ripped apart, illegally, every day. We demand justice for the women that have suffered botched abortions in this center.”
And thus, it's time for public pressure. There will be a press conference today at 10:30 a.m. outside the abortion facility, at 1013 Medical Center Pkwy.* Although Secular Pro-Life cannot be present at the press conference, we strongly support the call to investigate the likely illegal abortion center in Selma.

Regardless of where you live, you can assist this effort by contacting Alabama officials about your concern. Please be polite, but firm, in demanding that the ADPH do its job. Here is contact information for key decision-makers:

Luther Strange, State Attorney General
Ms. Sandy McLure (Scheduler and Executive Assistant)
PHONE: 334-242-7447 EMAIL:
Office Main Number: 334-242-7300

Brian Hale, Deputy General Counsel, Alabama Department of Public Health
PHONE: 334-206-5209

Kathy Burkett, Investigative Specialist, Alabama Board of Medical Examiners
PHONE: 334-242-4116 (Ask to be transferred to Kathy Burkett)

*For theist pro-lifers, there is an optional prayer vigil immediately after the press conference.