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Friday, November 30, 2012

Your adoption stories

National Adoption Month is about to come to a close.  Earlier in November, we asked SPL members how adoption had touched their lives.  Here's what you had to say:
"I gave my oldest child up in an open adoption. She's now almost 14 and is a happy, healthy young woman. We just visited with her and her family about a month ago and my youngest daughter (6 years old) was super excited to spend the night at her big sister's house. My whole family and her biological father's family are all pretty involved in her life. Our situation is not common, but it is awesome!"  ~Rachel M. 
"I am an adopted child." ~Cynthia T. 
"My little sister's from china!"  ~Dominique E. 
"I've adopted two through foster care and they are the light of my life. I can't imagine my life without them."  ~Kristin C. 
"I have friends who were adopted, but my dream is to build my future family through adoption."  ~Sara K. 
"I am an adoptive mom to a 3 year old."  ~Nicole K. 
"I'm adopted!  I'm now 36, with two biological children of my own, and it's amazing to look at them & see the faces of my biological parents. Being adopted to me, and being adopted out of a terrible situation in infancy, into a safe family, is foundational to why I am pro-life."  ~Jen M.
Many thanks to all of you for sharing.  Also, check out Amanda Lord's story on the Abolish Abortion blog.  She reminds us that, while adoption is the best outcome in many cases, simplistic slogans like "adoption not abortion" mask an important emotional element.  Pro-lifers must be sensitive to the feelings of pregnant women and birth moms.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Do human beings begin at fertilization?

Hydatidiform moles occur when an egg without a nucleus gets fertilized; this fertilized egg does not have the genetic code of a human organism and will never develop into an infant. Some argue, then, that fertilization isn't a defining moment and that it's incorrect to say fertilized eggs are human beings.

The Life Training Institute wrote a post on this unusual situation, quoting from Maureen Condic's article, "A Biological Definition of the Human Embryo." The bottom line:
If the necessary structures (molecules, genes etc.) required for development (i.e., an organismal level of organization) do not exist in an entity from the beginning, the entity is intrinsically incapable of being an organism and is therefore not a human being. 
When we say "human beings begin at fertilization" we are actually using a sort of shortcut. It takes a lot longer to say "human beings are human organisms that have begun the course of human development." In the vast majority of cases, fertilization is the point when a new human organism begins the course of human development, and so we just say "fertilization." However, there are some fertilized eggs that are not organisms (hydatidiform moles), and there are some organisms that do not begin human development until well after fertilization (the second embryo in a pair of identical twins).

If fertilization is usually--but not always--the beginning of a new human being, does this mean we don't really know when human beings begin? Nope. We know. I will say again: human beings begin when a new human organism begins the process of human development. This means the second embryo in a pair of twins is a human being, and a hydatidiform mole is not a human being.

Check out the rest of The Life Institute's post for some great analogies between hydatidiform moles, the Alphabet Song, and wildlife spotting. :-)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Does the pro-life cause have the wrong allies?

[Today's post is by Robert Christian, a progressive Catholic.  It is a response to last week's "Election Reflection" blog post.  It was originally posted at Millennial and is reprinted with permission.]

A recent blog post at Secular Pro-Life addresses the question of whether or not the pro-life movement has the wrong allies.  It does.

The post notes, “When the pro-life movement is allied with fiscal conservatives, who are inclined to cut social programs, it’s all too easy for abortion supporters to accuse us of not caring about people after they are born.”  Conversely, “The Democratic Party, with its historic concern for those who cannot speak for themselves, would seem to be a better fit– in theory.”

The Democratic Party is a much better fit, both theoretically and practically.  Pro-life progressivism is based on a far more coherent political philosophy in terms of its understanding of the role of government and the protection of human life and dignity.  In fact, in the 1970s, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to oppose abortion, and Congress was filled with pro-life Democrats.

It was only in the mid- to late 1980s that abortion became strongly associated with party identification, according to scholars Robert Putnam and David Campbell.  This is a relatively recent development, and it is not irreversible.

In the post, the argument is made that the Democratic Party is “married to abortion.”  That’s true if one focuses exclusively on party leaders and activists.  Overall, however, one third of the Democratic Party is pro-life.  Pro-life Democrats are elected at state and local levels across the country, even in deep blue states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.  These numbers would be considerably higher if so many pro-lifers who oppose economic libertarianism had not left the party over the past 40 years.

It is true that wealthy pro-choice liberals have disproportionate control over the party’s agenda.  This can only be countered by organizing a large grassroots network of pro-life Democrats.  Every time another frustrated pro-lifer flees the party, given the reality of campaign finance rules and closed primary elections, they make this more difficult.

And they hurt the cause by joining a party married to anti-government rhetoric, whose top priority is minimizing taxes on the wealthiest Americans.  It’s not a myth that many self-identified pro-lifers are not that interested in protecting life from threats other than abortion.  Some critics want to say that pro-lifers are really pro-birth or pro-baby.  That’s a bit charitable.  You can’t oppose access to affordable, quality healthcare for pregnant women and deserve the label “pro-birth. “  You cannot be completely indifferent to infant mortality rates and be reasonably identified as “pro-baby.”  And the basic incoherence of this type of worldview rightfully exposes many pro-lifers to the charge of being hypocrites or insincere in their commitment to defending innocent human life.

Framing the pro-life cause around the themes of equality and human rights and backing up this rhetoric with a commitment to policies that reflect these values, for both the born and unborn, is a far better strategy.  This rhetoric and worldview is also far more appealing to Millennials, many of whom are not affiliated with an organized religion, yet still have a strong belief in social justice and other values.  The pro-gay marriage movement has found the right formula to appeal to Millennials and its support has grown rapidly.  The pro-life movement cannot keep relying on the extremism of the pro-choice movement and its continued use of hyper-individualistic rhetoric to prevent the pro-choice cause from making similar inroads.

The devotion of the pro-life movement to the Republican Party has led to the endorsement of candidates that have embarrassed and discredited the movement.  This includes candidates whose understanding of women’s bodies and pregnancy is as sophisticated as the theory of where babies come from put forward by Maude Apatow’s character in Knocked Up.  It also includes Scott Desjarlais who opposes abortion, except in the cases where he pressures his wife and mistress to abort his own children.  Numerous pro-lifers stood by these ridiculous and repulsive candidates until the very end.

But is there hope for a new Republican party?  The post argues:

Rather than the usual dry talk of waste, balanced budgets, and so on, they have shifted their messaging to focus on the debt we are leaving to our children. In short, they’re saying that they do care very much about people who are already born, and using that as a basis for their fiscal conservatism. That could be a harmonious fit with the pro-life position.

Repackaging existing policies designed to aid the wealthiest Americans is not going to fool Millennials or anyone else who sees pro-life conservatism as incoherent or hypocritical.  Further, the elected Republicans using this rhetoric were not serious about debt reduction.  A balanced-budget plan that starts with large tax cuts for multimillionaires and billionaires and ends with no projected balanced budget for decades is more properly called a tax cut plan.  The argument that we must slash essential programs that help the neediest Americans so that we will not be in a position where we might have to slash essential programs that help the poor in the future is patently ridiculous.

It is not impossible to envision a Republican Party that is more open to those with a whole life perspective.  In the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss, many are arguing the party needs to move in a more moderate direction.  If the party does shift in this direction, three options appear most likely.  First, it could moderate its position on immigration and eliminate its hateful, divisive rhetoric (the 47%, makers v. takers, etc.), while basically maintaining its current understanding of social, economic, and foreign policy conservatism.  Second, it could moderate its position on social issues like gay marriage and abortion, weakening its commitment to both, while reaffirming its commitment to its current economic agenda.  Finally, it could develop an economic agenda that actually addresses the concerns and needs of working and middle-class Americans and/or one that tackles the budget deficit, while maintaining its opposition to abortion.

While the third might seem to be the best way to expand its electoral appeal, the first two are more appealing to the wealthy supporters of the party.   They would rather see the party move in the direction of a Marco Rubio or Bobby Jindal or a real life Arnold Vinick (of the West Wing) than see a genuine compassionate conservative or tax-raising budget balancer alter the direction of the party.  And over the past decades, these supporters have been the most powerful in the party.  As Jonathan Chait notes, “The Republican Party has been organized around defending the material interests of the very rich — largely by defending low top tax rates as its maximal policy goal.”  Change is always possible after a loss like Romney’s, but it is not clear that this organizing principle will change.

The pro-life movement’s devotion to the Republican Party has not just led to the endorsement of fools, but to coordinated campaigns to eradicate pro-life Democrats.  It is difficult to overstate how counterproductive this is.  Any movement that requires one party reaching and maintaining a durable supermajority to achieve its goals is doomed to failure.  The two-party system is not an endangered species in America.  Bipartisanship is necessary for success.  Gaining equal ground in the Democratic Party will be a challenge, but it is a fight worth undertaking. 

The biggest reason why the pro-life movement needs progressive allies is because the Republican strategy, which relies on the appointment of enough conservative Supreme Court justices to overturn Roe v. Wade and return the issue of abortion to the states, would neither result in the legal protection of unborn life nationwide nor address the underlying causes of abortion.  Only a comprehensive approach that guarantees constitutional protection for unborn lives and addresses the economic and social needs of pregnant women and children, born and unborn, can be fully successful.

The biggest obstacle to the pro-life movement finding its natural allies is that many important pro-life activists are highly partisan and would be devoted to the Republican Party regardless of its position on abortion.  The pro-life movement is filled with people who think food, healthcare, and other basic needs are privileges to be earned, not rights based on human worth and dignity.  I have seen pro-life leaders who are Ayn Rand devotees.  Others spread the prosperity gospel.  If the pro-life movement wants to be successful, it does not just need new allies, it needs new leaders.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Movie review: Life Happens


"It's not a Christian or a Jewish or a Muslim or a Buddhist issue... it's common sense." So says Gary Graham in the trailer (above) for Life Happens, a documentary focused on people who were at risk for abortion. The film's description promises that director Ash Greyson "skillfully replaces rhetoric and religion with hope and heart."

We at SPL were unenthusiastic about 180 Movie, so I was eager to see a pro-life film that took an explicitly secular approach.  But I was skeptical that such a film would be produced by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a conservative Christian legal group.

My doubts soon vanished. Greyson has created a must-watch film.

Life Happens opens with a short, accessible, and useful history of the abortion conflict in the United States. The film's coverage of the question of when human life begins is also excellent, with numerous expert interviews. But the heart of the film consists of personal stories.

These personal stories are not all rainbows and unicorns. Greyson does not only interview successful musicians and athletes; he gives equal time to teen moms whose parents threatened to kick them out of the house, families affected by rape, children born into poverty, and mothers who faced medical problems during pregnancy. The film does not shy away from hard narratives. That is what makes Life Happens unique, and perfect for an undecided audience of any religious makeup.

You can download Life Happens for $2.99 here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Philosophy in the abortion issue: part one


[Today's post is by SPL member Clinton Wilcox.]

Science can be a wonderful tool in the pro-life advocate’s arsenal. [1] However, science can’t dictate morality, it can only inform morality. Science can tell us that something we are harming or killing is human; science can’t tell us that it’s wrong to kill that human. So while we can demonstrate scientifically that the unborn are living human organisms from fertilization, we must turn to philosophy to demonstrate whether we can or cannot kill that living human organism.

It seems to me that the burden of proof should always be on the one wanting to take life. As I mention in my article on science, if we don’t know when human life begins (even though we do), the benefit of the doubt should always go to life. As I’ve demonstrated elsewhere, no pro-choice argument is powerful enough to justify killing the unborn human. I’ve looked at pro-choice arguments for personhood and bodily rights. [2][3][4] But now I’d like to turn to some basic philosophy, and look at the bad arguments that people use on both sides of the abortion fence. In this article, I’ll look at logically fallacious arguments. In my next article, I’ll look at arguments that aren’t necessarily fallacious, they’re just bad arguments.

Before we can look at what makes a bad argument, first let’s look at what makes a good argument. A lot of arguments you’ll find are written in essay form. This is fine; most of my articles have been the same. But usually it’s easier to see if an argument works if you put it in the form of a syllogism. A syllogism is simply an argument composed of premises that lead to a conclusion. A basic syllogism has two premises and one conclusion, but arguments can have more premises, and even more conclusions, than that. Here is a basic example of a syllogism:

P1: All men are mortal.
P2: Socrates is a man.
P3: Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

This is an example of deductive logic. Deductive logic argues from a general idea (that all men are mortal) to a specific case (that Socrates, being a man, is mortal). A premise is made up of a statement that can either be true or false. If all the premises are true, then the conclusion can’t be false.

If the conclusion follows necessarily from the premises, then the argument is valid. An invalid argument is one where the conclusion doesn’t follow from its premises. An argument is sound if it is valid, and all of its premises are true. If the argument is invalid, or if it can be demonstrated that one or all of the premises are false, then an argument is unsound. So an argument can be valid, but unsound. An argument can even be invalid, but have a true conclusion (you just arrived at it through bad reasoning). But an argument can't be invalid and sound.

The argument I generally make for the pro-life position is as follows:

P1: It is prima facie immoral to kill a human being.
P2: Abortion kills a human being.
C: Therefore, abortion is immoral.

Premise one can be supported because human beings are inherently valuable based on the kind of thing they are, human beings. All human beings have the inherent capacity as rational, moral agents. It is just as immoral to kill an infant as it is to kill an adult.

The term prima facie is Latin for “at first sight.” I insert this phrase because most pro-life advocates agree that sometimes killing is justified, such as in self-defense. Some pro-life people believe that capital punishment and just war are also justified forms of killing. The idea here is that under most circumstances, it is wrong to kill a human without moral justification. Abortion is an unjustified form of killing.

Premise two is supported through science. We know that all human beings are living human organisms from fertilization.

So the conclusion necessarily follows. If it is immoral to kill human beings, and the unborn are human beings, then it is immoral to kill them.

So we see that it’s immoral, but should it be illegal? Well, I add a premise and a conclusion to show that abortion should also be illegal. My updated argument looks like this:

P1: It is prima facie immoral to kill a human being.
P2: Abortion kills a human being.
C1: Therefore, abortion is immoral.
P3: The unjustified killing of human beings is illegal (e.g. murder).
C2 (from P2 and P3): Therefore, abortion should be illegal.

Premise three is supported because we do make the unjustified killing of human beings, like murder, illegal. In all civilized societies, murder is always illegal (although we sometimes disagree over what constitutes murder).

So conclusion two necessarily follows that abortion should be illegal.

Logical fallacies

A logical fallacy is simply a flaw in your reasoning. There are two kinds of logical fallacies: formal logical fallacies and informal logical fallacies.

In a formal logical fallacy, there is a problem with the form of the argument itself. In an informal logical fallacy, the problem stems from a flaw in reasoning that causes the conclusion not to be supported by its premises. There are many common fallacies made by people who argue in the abortion issue. We’ll be only looking at informal fallacies, since these are the most common.

Appeal to pity

X is in a pitiful situation.
Therefore your argument fails.

An appeal to pity is where someone claims that an argument fails because someone is in a pitiful situation. A common example of a pro-choice appeal to pity is that abortion is needed because some women are too poor to afford a child. This would be represented as follows:

P1: Some women are too poor to raise a child.
C: Therefore, abortion should be legal.

But how does it follow that because someone is too poor to raise a child, we may kill the child? Ask yourself if a woman may kill her two-year-old child because of poverty? Of course not. So why would we justify abortion for the same reason?

Ad hominem

X is a horrible person.
Therefore, X’s argument fails.

This one seems to be everyone’s favorite fallacy. Ad hominem is Latin for “to the man.” In this fallacy, you are simply attacking the character of the person making the argument, rather than the argument itself. An argument does not succeed or fail based on the person making the argument.

A common pro-choice ad hominem fallacy is that men have no say because they can never get pregnant, which I have responded to in a previous article. [5] A common ad hominem fallacy from the pro-life side is that pro-choice people hate babies. Most pro-choice people don’t hate babies, but even if they did, how would it follow that their argument fails because they hate babies?

Strawman argument

X believes Y.
I’ll attack argument Z.
Therefore argument Y fails.

A strawman argument is when you attack a similar but different argument than the argument presented because it’s easier to refute.

A common argument you hear from pro-choice people is that pro-lifers want to enslave women. No pro-lifer wants to enslave women. But it’s easier to dismiss the pro-life position when making such an extreme claim.

Another argument you hear is that skin cells are human, so pro-lifers should be against the death of skin cells (they might make their argument a bit more colorfully, like saying if abortion is homicide, then masturbation is mass murder). But here, they’re actually attacking a strawman. We don’t claim that it’s wrong to kill skin cells. This is because there’s a difference between a skin cell and an unborn human. The skin cell is just part of a larger organism; left on its own, it will never be anything but a skin cell. However, the unborn human is an organism, developing itself from within into a more mature version of itself, along the path of human development. There’s a major difference between the two.

Begging the question

This is one that confuses a lot of people. Usually when someone says “that begs the question,” they really mean “that raises the question.” But when someone begs the question, they assume that a statement or claim is true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself.

Pro-life people do this a lot, when they talk of abortion killing a baby. If your argument includes talk of killing a baby, but you have not proven whether or not the unborn are babies, you are begging the question.

Pro-choice people do this, too, usually when they talk of viability making someone a person. For example:

“The unborn are not persons.”
“Why are they not persons?”
“Because they’re not viable.”
“Why does viability make someone a person?”
“Because they can survive outside the womb.”
“Why does surviving outside the womb make someone a person?”
“Because they’re viable...”

And around you go. This is an example of circular reasoning, but they are begging the question by assuming that viability makes the unborn a person without actually proving it.

Non Sequitur

If A, then B.
C.
Therefore, B.

Non sequitur is Latin for “it does not follow." If you are committing a non sequitur, then your conclusion does not follow from its premises.

A common pro-life non sequitur is that abortion hurts women. Abortion does hurt women, but that doesn’t make it immoral, or mean that it should be illegal. There’s a difference between what’s wrong with abortion and why abortion is wrong. There are many things wrong with abortion, like the fact that it hurts women. But that doesn’t automatically make the practice wrong. For example, cars are dangerous. Many people die in car accidents, but it is not inherently immoral to drive. Abortions do hurt women (and some women die from botched abortions), but that doesn’t make it immoral. It is immoral (and should be illegal) because it unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being.

Another common non sequitur you hear from either side of the debate is “we have aborted X.” A pro-life person will say “abortion is wrong because we’ve aborted the next Beethoven, or the cure for cancer!” But how does it follow that just because we may have aborted someone who would grow up to be great, that abortion should not be allowed. This is a bad argument because the pro-choice person can just retort with “but we’ve also aborted the next Hitler or a serial killer!” It’s a bad argument because the other side can just respond with a hypothetical person we’ve aborted. But it’s still a non sequitur, even if it’s true.

As you can see, there are many ways in which someone might have an error in reasoning. I’ve only just scratched the surface in this article. There are many more, but this should get you started. If you avoid these common pitfalls, your discussions on abortion should be much more productive. In my next article, I’ll cover arguments that are not necessarily logically fallacious, just simply bad arguments.

[1] http://prolifephilosophy.blogspot.com/2012/07/what-is-unborn.html

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November newsletter

Please take the time to read our latest e-newsletter, which contains important information on Roe memorial events.  January will be here before you know it!  Don't miss your chance to meet SPL representatives at the March for Life, Walk for Life West Coast, and Students for Life of America annual conference.

The blog will be on hiatus for the rest of the week as people travel to be with their loved ones.  I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving.  I am grateful to you for your support every day!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Election Reflection

Despite America's pro-life majority, abortion supporters were victorious at the ballot box earlier this month. This is no doubt due to a confluence of many factors. Most pro-lifers are not single-issue voters, and they viewed Obama as better on the economy. Mitt Romney was never a strong candidate to begin with; you'll recall that pro-lifers were essentially rooting for "anyone else" in the GOP primary. Todd Akin made an outrageous comment on rape that was then presented as a mainstream pro-life position. And so on, and so on.

A good friend of mine who is a longtime supporter of SPL suggests that "perhaps a different lesson needs to be drawn: the pro-life cause has the wrong allies." When the pro-life movement is allied with fiscal conservatives, who are inclined to cut social programs, it's all too easy for abortion supporters to accuse us of not caring about people after they are born. (I myself described this alliance as "strained" when I appeared on NPR.) The Democratic Party, with its historic concern for those who cannot speak for themselves, would seem to be a better fit-- in theory. In practice, of course, the Democratic Party is married to abortion. So it's only natural that, in a country with a pro-life majority and a two-party system, the GOP would ally with us.

Are Republicans the "wrong" allies? My response is to quote Jason Jones: it's a tragedy that the pro-life flag was not firmly planted in both parties. We must reach out to people on the left as well as the right. But that shouldn't mean abandoning those allies we already have.

What does all of this mean for pro-life political strategy in the short term? I'll conclude with two quick thoughts, and welcome yours.  

First, we must be very clear about the fact that pro-lifers do amazing work to provide for needy families through private charity, regardless of the political situation. Pro-life organizations and individuals that do this work are often reluctant to talk about it, possessing a certain humility and embarrassment about "tooting one's own horn." That has to stop.  

Second, I've noticed an interesting trend emerging among some fiscal conservatives. Rather than the usual dry talk of waste, balanced budgets, and so on, they have shifted their messaging to focus on the debt we are leaving to our children. In short, they're saying that they do care very much about people who are already born, and using that as a basis for their fiscal conservatism. That could be a harmonious fit with the pro-life position. With a few other tweaks, like an intense focus on education reform, the Republicans could plausibly market themselves as the party of children's issues (including, but not limited to, the child's right to be born).

Your reactions?

Friday, November 16, 2012

What does Savita Halappanavar's death mean?

[Today's guest post is by Irish SPL member Evelyn Fennelly.]

The case of Savita Halappanavar should cause anyone concerned about the well-being of women to be incensed. As a resident of Galway City, as a medical student, and as a pro-life activist, I’m appalled and deeply saddened by her case.

We cannot know all the details about her condition, treatment, and untimely death until the investigations are completed and the results made available to the public.  What we do know is that the standard medical practice, in conformity with Irish law and medical ethics, requires that pregnant women receive all essential medical treatment during pregnancy – even if it won’t be possible for the baby to survive that treatment.

The Irish Medical Council’s guidelines on professional conduct and ethics clearly state that “In current obstetrical practice, rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention (including termination of a pregnancy) is required at a stage when, due to extreme immaturity of the baby, there may be little or no hope of the baby surviving. In these exceptional circumstances, it may be necessary to intervene to terminate the pregnancy to protect the life of the mother, while making every effort to preserve the life of the baby.”

In a piece in the Irish Independent, Galway lawyer EilĂ­s Mulroy confirms that “The decision to induce labour early would be fully in compliance with the law and the current guidelines set out for doctors by the Irish Medical Council. Those guidelines allow interventions to treat women where necessary, even if that treatment indirectly results in the death to the baby. If they aren't being followed, laws about abortion won't change that. The issue then becomes about medical protocols being followed in hospitals and not about the absence of legal abortion in Ireland.”

Speaking to a government committee in 2001 as Chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Professor John Bonner said that "In current obstetrical practice, rare complications can arise where therapeutic intervention is required at a stage in pregnancy when there will be little or no prospect for the survival of the baby, due to extreme immaturity.” "In these exceptional situations failure to intervene may result in the death of both the mother and baby. We consider that there is a fundamental difference between abortion carried out with the intention of taking the life of the baby, for example for social reasons, and the unavoidable death of the baby resulting from essential treatment to protect the life of the mother." “We have never regarded these interventions as abortion. It would never cross an obstetrician's mind that intervening in a case of pre-eclampsia, cancer of the cervix or ectopic pregnancy is abortion. They are not abortion as far as the professional is concerned, these are medical treatments that are essential to save the life of the mother.”

Dr. Jen Gutner asks in her post whether Catholic law or malpractice killed Savita Halappanavar. She concludes that “the fact that a termination was delayed for any reason is malpractice.” and goes on to say that “There is no medically defensible position for not doing anything other than optimal pain control and hastening delivery by the safest means possible.” When asked to clarify if such treatment constituted abortion or delivery, she stated: “Delivery = empty the uterus either induction of labour of D&E”.

I agree that religious beliefs ought not cause doctors to withhold medically necessary treatment. To be fair, Catholic teaching allows for medical treatment of pregnant women, even if this treatment has the unintended, but unavoidable, side effect of fetal death. If anyone at University College Hospital Galway justified withholding a legal treatment (that was also permissible by the Catholic Church) on the assertion that “this is a Catholic country”, I suggest they read this, this, and this – and also get a new job.

This is a very serious case, and it should be investigated thoroughly. On Tuesday I sent 68 e-mails to management of the health service, to TDs, and to Senators, urging them to investigate this matter fully.

The treatment that Savita Halappanavar required was legal and permitted under the Medical Council guidelines. Why did the medical team not induce as they could have? Was the doctor able to make a correct diagnosis? Was the doctor capable of performing treatments in such scenarios?

These questions should be answered as part of the three investigations that have been launched into the matter. Hopefully these investigations will explain why medical staff at UCHG did not provide treatment for miscarriage, when such medical treatment is legal and standard practice in cases such as Mrs. Halappanavar's.

If the allegations that the medical team withheld treatment are true, I believe that we can expect the Medical Council to strike off the doctor(s) at the centre of the case. And doctors who withhold treatments and ignore the Council’s guidelines on best medical practice in such cases should be struck off the medical register.

The Medical Council is clear that in cases where the fetus is still alive, treatment is allowed even if “there is little of no hope of the baby surviving”. That she wasn’t treated is a failure of the hospital and medical team, not a problem with the law or with Medical Council guidelines. Necessary medical treatment during pregnancy, even if fetal death is inevitable, is legal in Ireland (and should remain so). In fact, it is standard medical procedure in cases like Savita Halappanavar’s to expediate delivery. She should not have been made to hang on for as long as she did – if the details that are being reported are correct, her case was grossly mismanaged.

It is possible that Savita Halappanavar would not have survived even if she had been given medical treatment when she first presented at the hospital, such was the severity of the infection. But she was entitled to be treated promptly, and she ought to have been treated promptly, and doing so would have greatly reduced her risk.

Miscarriage has never formed part of the abortion discussion in Ireland. Legalising abortion will not change the management of miscarriage. Miscarriage is a common and very sad event that is managed by doctors as a routine part of their obstetric practice. About 14,000 women in Ireland experience miscarriage every year. Half of them attend hospital for treatment. Our laws on abortion do not prevent physicians from treating these 7,000 women in whatever way is necessary. It is misleading to suggest that Ireland's law on abortion is in any way responsible for Savita Halappanavar’s death. The Medical Council is clear that treatments managing miscarriage are permitted, and they do not constitute abortion.

The shameless opportunism of these groups and individuals is especially appalling when their reaction is contrasted with stories of women in the recent past that didn't fit with their agenda.


Pro-choice groups were totally silent when counsellors at the taxpayer-funded Irish affiliate of Planned Parenthood were found to be giving women life-endangering advice regarding abortion.

These groups and individuals have a track record of either ignoring or castigating Women Hurt, a group of women who have suffered mental and/or physical consequences following their abortions. Astoundingly, the National Women’s Council of Ireland just last year launched an attack on Women Hurt. It’s absolutely outrageous that a state-funded women’s organisation would attack women who seek to share their stories of healing.

They are silent on the issue of forced abortion in China, when women as far along as the third trimester are forcibly removed from their homes and subjected to abortions and sterilisations against their will.

Obstetric excellence is what saves women’s lives, not abortion. The greatest thing any of us can do to honour Savita Halappanavar’s life is to insist on obstetric excellence for every woman. 


I received an e-mail today from a friend who experienced a late term miscarriage a few years ago and required treatment in hospital. She spoke of how “hurt and angry” she has felt over the past few days, seeing the tragic case of Mrs. Halappanavar being used to advocate a change in abortion law. My friend agreed that Savita “should have got any care necessary to save her life” and she knows that this care wouldn’t have constituted abortion. She knows that the treatment she received when having her own miscarriage wasn’t an abortion, and is deeply hurt that pro-choice groups are attempting to imply that management of miscarriage is abortion. She spoke of the “hurt and pain of a miscarriage” being exacerbated by pro-choice advocates who are using losses like hers to advocate for abortion.



Pro-choice claims of being pro-woman ring hollow when they exploit the sorrow of grieving mothers like my friend to advance legislation. It's reprehensible that pro-choice groups and individuals are using this case to forward their political agenda to see abortion legalised in Ireland, when management of miscarriage is not abortion - medically or legally. I understand, and can forgive, well-meaning members of the public reading the reportage in the last few days and being misled. But I find it deeply disturbing that pro-choice groups and individuals who are informed on this matter are misrepresenting the medicolegal situation by claiming that this is a problem with the law when this is a case of medical negligence - the law and the Medical Council guidelines are very clear that management of miscarriage is not abortion and it is not prohibited by law.


They refuse to condemn gendercide in India and China, where abortion and infanticide have resulted in 200 million girls missing from our world today. 


Pro-choice groups didn’t care about those women then, and they don’t really care about them now. They’re only interested in Savita Halappanavar now that they can use her as a political football to advocate the legalisation of abortion. That is deeply disingenuous behaviour from people who consider themselves to be pro-woman.
Leading OB/GYNs speaking in the media today reiterated that Savita Halappanavar’s case was not about abortion laws. While they would welcome further clarity in the law, all medical treatments pregnant women need are provided for them within the law and under the Medical Council’s guidelines. Pro-life groups would support a Bill to reinforce the Medical Council guidelines of providing all necessary medical treatments to mothers during pregnancy. Focus on the mother’s health and minimisation of infection risk are both key in the management of miscarriage. This care is not affected or limited by a ban on abortion. Prof. Fionnuala McAuliffe, spokesperson for the Irish Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists confirmed that doctors are allowed under the law and under Medical Council guidelines to treat women during pregnancy, even if the fetus will not survive. She also said that "the outcomes for pregnant women in Ireland are among the best in the world. We have excellent maternity services. There is no evidence that we are letting patients die to prolong the pregnancy."

People are right to be outraged at what happened to Mrs. Halappanavar. But that outrage ought to be directed at the mismanagement of her care, not at a law that permits the treatment she should have received. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Celebrating adoption

November is National Adoption Month!  In honor of this occasion, Secular Pro-Life asks that you do two simple things:

1) Educate yourself by reading our pamphlet on adoption, which explains the often misunderstood differences between private adoption and the foster-to-adopt system.

2) If adoption has touched your life-- whether you've adopted, placed a child for adoption, been adopted yourself, or in any other way-- email your story to info@secularprolife.org.  We'll share your stories on our facebook page throughout the remainder of the month.  (If you wish to remain anonymous, please note that in the email.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Larger Agenda


[Today's post is reprinted from my blog, "Yeah, but..."]

If we suddenly stopped arguing about the legality of abortion and just skipped straight to an appeal to morality independent of legality (if that's even possible), how would people react?

Secular Pro-Life once talked about how 68% of Americans believe abortion should be illegal after the first trimester. The blog post ends by asking, "Why, then, has it been so difficult to unify and enact meaningful change?"

One of the blog followers commented,
Most pro-choicers that I know do not think abortion should be legal after a certain stage of the pregnancy. As for the policy making (just speaking of the conservative side), abortion bills are usually written by/for or framed in such a way that makes them appear more as small steps towards making abortion completely illegal. They do not come across, despite what some policy makers say, as "for the benefit of the woman or society", but as part of a larger agenda by very religious conservative people. That makes average/everyday pro-choicers very nervous and so it is fought.
How many people would work to legally restrict abortion if they weren't afraid that the end goal was to legally eliminate abortion?

Similarly, how many people would work to legally restrict abortion if they were confident that exceptions for the life of the mother and for rape would be preserved?

Even if we could change hearts and minds such that no one chose to get an abortion, I think I'd still want abortion to be legally restricted. After all, what does it say about my society that it is legal to kill an innocent person, even if no one actually chooses to do it? What would you think of a society in which it technically wasn't illegal to kill an infant, even if no one ever chose to do it?

But sometimes I do wonder if, on a practical level, the pro-life movement could get more done with a different strategy.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

This is what an abortionist's job description looks like

American Women's Services, which operates sixteen abortion offices on the East Coast, has an interesting job posting (screen capture below):
It's lucrative! You don't have to know much about that gynecology stuff! And did we mention it's lucrative?

Honestly, it's like somebody came across a satirical pro-life piece and said "Hey, that'll work."

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pro-Lifers & Birth Control

[Today's post is reprinted from my blog, "Yeah, but..."]

Gallup says 89% of American adults consider birth control morally acceptable. Gallup also says 50% of Americans describe themselves as "pro-life."

Let's assume all of the other 50% (the people who don't describe themselves as "pro-life") consider birth control morally acceptable. That leaves 39% of Americans who both describe themselves as "pro-life" and consider birth control morally acceptable. In other words, at a minimum, 78% of self-described pro-lifers consider birth control morally acceptable. But you wouldn't know it, would you?

I thought I was a minority in being both anti-abortion and pro-birth control. The polls say most pro-lifers are fine with birth control, so why doesn't it seem that way? I have some theories.

1) Pro-lifers who are more active in the pro-life movement are probably both more vocal and more ideologically "pure." In other words, perhaps the majority of self-described pro-lifers are fine with birth control, but the majority of pro-life activists (the people we hear from the most) are not?

2) "Birth control" is a vague term. There are many different types of birth control, and some are more controversial than others. For example, maybe most pro-lifers think condoms are a good idea but reject the morning after pill. Would they say, generically, that "birth control" is morally acceptable, or no?

3) The religious right is vocal about opposing the birth control mandate. People conflate pro-lifers with the religious right (and there's certainly a correlation, but still it's not quite accurate). People also conflate not wanting to pay for birth control with thinking people shouldn't be allowed to use birth control.

Anything I'm missing? Why do you think there's such a discrepancy between the perceptions of the pro-life movement and what an average "pro-lifer" actually thinks?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Should Men Stay Out of the Abortion Issue?

[Today's post is by SPL member Clinton Wilcox.]

Does this sound familiar? “Seventy percent of pro-lifers are men, and 100% will never be pregnant!" How about this? “Pro-lifers are nothing but old white men who want to send women back to the dark ages where they are pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen, breastfeeding twins!”

These types of argument commit a logical fallacy known as the ad hominem attack, which means you attack “the character or circumstances of an individual who is advancing a statement or an argument instead of trying to disprove the truth of the statement or the soundness of the argument.” [1] This article was inspired by another article on a blog making the argument that all men in the abortion issue should be silenced. [2]

The seventy percent statistic, unsurprisingly, is simply made up. [3] The next time you hear that, ask them to justify their statement. There are many pro-life women who make the same arguments that pro-life men do. But even if we did fall under the pro-choice stereotype of pro-life people, how does that negate our arguments? Even if we were all misogynistic old men, how would that suddenly make killing innocent unborn human beings moral? Remember that arguments don’t have gender, people do.

It’s also important to keep in mind that Roe v. Wade was decided on by nine men. If men must stay out of the abortion issue, we must keep them out of the issue on both sides. So we would have to overturn Roe v. Wade. But that’s not all. If your contention is that men must stay out because they have never been pregnant so they can’t understand what it’s like, would you say that women who have never been pregnant should stay out, too? “Well,” you might say, “women can at least get pregnant. Men should stay out because they can never get pregnant.” Then would you also say that women who are incapable of becoming pregnant should also stay out of the abortion issue?

Should white people who have never owned slaves, never had the means to own slaves, or were never slaves themselves, have stayed out of the slavery issue? Were non-Jews wrong for opposing the Holocaust? Abortion is a human rights issue, just like slavery and the Holocaust were.

Standing against injustice is right for everyone, not simply someone of a particular gender, race, religion, and so on. Trying to quiet one gender from speaking out is, itself, a sexist position. As Martin Luther King Jr. has famously said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” [4]

[1] http://philosophy.lander.edu/logic/person.html
[2] http://abortiongang.org/2012/02/silencing-men/#comment-7050
[3] According to a 2011 Gallup Poll, 46% of pro-life people are men, and 44% are women. By contrast, pro-choice people are pretty evenly split -- 50% are women, and 49% are men (it’s unclear where the missing 1% is, perhaps people who forgot or neglected to fill out the “gender” portion of the survey). http://www.gallup.com/poll/147734/Americans-Split-Along-Pro-Choice-Pro-Life-Lines.aspx
[4] Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The future of the Supreme Court

President Obama has been re-elected, and while many pro-life groups are disappointed, no one is calling it quits.  The pro-life movement has made many gains in the last four years, and we will make many in the next four.  For the most part, our struggle is a grassroots, local effort; having a pro-life president is a plus, but not a necessity.

The president's greatest impact on abortion issues is in the area of Supreme Court nominations.  A Romney presidency would have meant more pro-life Justices, and a possible overturning of Roe v. Wade.  Under President Obama, what is likely to happen in the next four years?

It all depends on who dies or retires.

Four current Justices--Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito-- believe that the Constitution leaves the abortion issue up to the states, which makes Roe v. Wade bad law.  None of them would dream of resigning while Obama is in office.  But if one of them dies in the next four years, Obama will undoubtedly replace him with a solidly pro-abortion Justice.  In January of 2016, when Obama's successor enters the White House, Scalia will be 79 years old; thus far, however, he has enjoyed good health.  Thomas will be 67, Roberts 60, and Alito 65. 

Justice Kennedy is in the mushy middle.  He wrote the majority opinion in the case that upheld the partial-birth abortion ban, and infuriated abortion supporters by acknowledging affidavits from regretful post-abortive women.  But he also helped write the lead opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where the Court had the opportunity to overturn Roe but declined to do so.  He will be 79 in January of 2016.

Finally, there are four Justices who are committed to maintaining or expanding Roe v. Wade.  An Obama replacement for any of these Justices will simply keep the status quo.  These include his two earlier appointments, Kagan and Sotomayor, who are young, in good health, and have no reason to retire.  Justice Breyer will be 77 years old in January of 2016.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is the oldest member of the Court, and has suffered from numerous health problems, including pancreatic cancer.  With Obama's re-election, there are indications that she will retire some time before 2016.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Election hiatus

For the next few days, your news consumption is likely to focus on the little matter of who's going to run the United States for the next four years.  We are therefore suspending the blog through Wednesday.  If you're eligible, fulfill your civic duty and vote!

Non-American readers, please accept our sincerest apologies for the interruption.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Hogan twins are back!

Following up on our bodily autonomy video featuring Tatiana and Krista Hogan, our Canadian friends at the Signal Hill have put together a new video, based on similar footage, entitled "See the Beauty."



The Signal Hill has also put together a sweet page introducing Tatiana and Krista to their new admirers.  Did you know, for instance, that they're big fans of Daniel and Henrik Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks?

We once again thank the Hogans and their family for being a part of these great messages.

The original video, in case you missed it: