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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Scientists discover "flash of light" at conception, immediately use it to decide which embryos to kill

A Telegraph article and accompanying video, published yesterday, has quickly gone viral among the pro-life community. The headline: "Bright flash of light marks incredible moment life begins when sperm meets egg." The article states:
The bright flash occurs because when sperm enters and egg it triggers calcium to increase which releases zinc from the egg. As the zinc shoots out, it binds to small molecules which emit a fluorescence which can be picked up my camera microscopes.


To be clear, the headline is a little deceptive. Buried toward the end of the article is this statement: "In the experiment, scientists use sperm enzyme rather than actual sperm to show what happens at the moment of conception." Obviously, sperm enzymes aren't enough to fertilize an egg and create a new human being. So the flickers of light you see in the video aren't actually the first moments of nine people's lives. It just looks the same. (From a pro-life perspective, that's a good thing; this was a "basic science" study rather than an attempt to help infertile parents, so if actual embryos had been created, they probably would have been destroyed.)

Even so, I get why pro-life groups are sharing this, because it is very, very cool. And the article is refreshingly clear about conception being the point where life begins. There is no obfuscation. The very first line of the article is "Human life begins in bright flash of light as a sperm meets an egg, scientists have shown for the first time, after capturing the astonishing ‘fireworks’ on film."

Which is why the rest of the article is so incredibly disturbing.
Not only is it an incredible spectacle, highlighting the very moment that a new life begins, the size of the flash can be used to determine the quality of the fertilised egg.
Researchers from Northwestern University, in Chicago, noticed that some of the eggs burn brighter than others, showing that they are more likely to produce a healthy baby.
The embryos that flash brightest are supposedly the healthiest, while the dimmer-flashing embryos are presumed defective.
"This means if you can look at the zinc spark at the time of fertilization, you will know immediately which eggs are the good ones to transfer in in vitro fertilization. It’s a way of sorting egg quality in a way we’ve never been able to assess before."
That's right, kids. After a brief moment of awe at the marvel of human life, researchers quickly moved on to figuring out which embryos should have a chance to live and which should be summarily destroyed.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Recap: Life/Peace/Justice Conference 2016

Secular Pro-Life spent last weekend at Villanova University for the Life/Peace/Justice Conference. It brought together whole life activists working in all areas: saving lives from abortion, abolishing the death penalty, combating poverty, preventing suicides, and so much more. It was an incredible gathering. Check out photos here.

Conference attendees of various faith backgrounds at the "infidelicious" Sunday morning breakfast sponsored by SPL
SPL president Kelsey Hazzard addressed a pack room for a breakout session entitled "How to Lose a Pro-Life Secularist in 10 Days: Things We Do to Push Away Pro-Life Atheists & How to Win Them Back." And we recorded it for you:



Your next chance to see us is at the Pro-Life Women's Conference in Dallas, June 24-26. Kelsey will speak on pro-life apologetics, and SPL will once again host a Sunday morning breakfast as an alternative to church services. We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Imprecise Language Used by Pro-Life Advocates

Some tools typically used in a D & C
[Today's guest post by Clinton Wilcox is part of our paid blogging program.]

Something I've noticed for quite a while is that well-meaning pro-life people tend to ignore any sense of nuance in the abortion discussion. This can lead to the appearance that the pro-life person holds an extremist view, even when the person doesn't.

An encounter I had recently underscored this problem and, I think, really helps show why pro-life people need to be careful with their words and with their definitions. Whether you mean to or not, refusing to add nuance to your discussions and refusing to be careful with definitions can be harmful to other people, even to other pro-life people.

I was with Justice for All at Fresno State a few weeks ago where I was approached by a woman I'll call Deanna. She had had three miscarriages, and for her first two miscarriages, the child's remains were expelled from the womb without any medical intervention. But in her third miscarriage, she couldn't leave the remains inside because it would cause a life-threatening infection. So the doctor performed a D&C to remove the child's dead body.

D & C stands for "dilation and curretage." During a D & C, a cannula is inserted into the uterus attached to a suction tube and the contents of the uterus are sucked out. D & C can be done for a number of reasons, including diagnostic testing in women who are not pregnant, and miscarriage treatment as in Deanna's case. But when the uterus contains a living unborn child, D & C is a common first-trimester abortion procedure.

Her son, who is apparently college age because he was studying to become a doctor, accused her of doing something wrong by having the procedure done. To him, pro-life people are supposed to oppose all abortions, so it was wrong for his mom to have the D & C procedure done.

The problem with her son's thinking should be glaringly apparent.

She sought my advice on what to tell her son about the D&C. I assured her that she didn't do anything wrong. When Deanna had the procedure done, the child was already dead. "Choosing life" was an impossibility. She was having the procedure done to avoid an unnecessary risk to her own life. There was nothing remotely morally problematic with what she did.

Why did this even become an issue? Because there are multiple definitions of the word "abortion." Within the medical community, any end to a pregnancy other than birth is called an abortion. What laypeople call miscarriages, doctors call spontaneous abortions. And what laypeople call abortions, doctors call induced abortions.

Deanna's son apparently thought that pro-life people are supposed to oppose all abortions, but this is not the case. An "abortion" to remove a dead baby's remains from the mother's uterus is not morally problematic, so that's an "abortion" that pro-life people can be okay with—if you even want to call it an abortion at all.

When we have our discussions on abortion, let's seek to add clarity to them by realizing that words often have multiple meanings. If we're not careful with our definitions, we stand a good chance of being misunderstood, even by those we are trying to help.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pro-Life T-Shirt Day is this Friday

National Pro-Life T-Shirt Day is held every spring, and this year, it will be on Friday, April 22. Although Secular Pro-Life is not an official co-sponsor, we definitely encourage you to participate!

If you don't have a pro-life t-shirt, you can buy an official 2016 NPLTD shirt here for just $10. More fun designs are available at the Secular Pro-Life Zazzle store, which gives us a percentage of the proceeds.



Also on Friday, you'll find Secular Pro-Life representatives at the Life/Peace/Justice Conference VIP dinner in Philadelphia. The dinner benefits a local maternity home, and the featured speaker is former abortion worker Jewels Green. We'd love to see you there (in your pro-life t-shirt)!

Friday, April 15, 2016

Pro-Life Californians call for the Resignation of Kamala Harris


Pro-life residents in the state of California are calling for the resignation of California Attorney General Kamala Harris after Harris initiated a raid on the home of the Director of the Center for Medical Progress, David Daleiden. The seized belongings included Daleiden's laptop and hard drives containing video footage collected during the three years he spent undercover, investigating Planned Parenthood’s involvement in the sale of fetal body parts. It's almost impossible not to believe that it was the reported $81,000 Harris received in donations from Planned Parenthood that sparked her move to raid Daleiden’s home. Harris is currently running for a seat in the U.S. Senate.


On April 6th 2016 David Daleiden released this statement:

“Today, the California Attorney General’s office of Kamala Harris, who was elected with tens of thousands of dollars from taxpayer-funded Planned Parenthood, seized all video footage showing Planned Parenthood’s criminal trade in aborted baby parts, in addition to my personal information. Ironically, while seizing my First Amendment work product, they ignored documents showing the illicit scheme between StemExpress and Planned Parenthood. This is no surprise–Planned Parenthood’s bought-and-paid-for AG has steadfastly refused to enforce the law against the baby body parts traffickers in our state, or even investigate them–while at the same time doing their bidding to harass and intimidate citizen journalists. We will pursue all remedies to vindicate our First Amendment rights”.

In response to this outrageous overreach in government authority and obvious misuse of position, California residents staged a protest on Wednesday, calling for the resignation of AG Harris on the grounds of political corruption, and using the hashtag #KorruptKamala to support the campaign on social media platforms.

When addressing a crowd at the state’s capital in Sacramento, Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America said:

“California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who sent agents to raid the home of a citizen journalist who exposed Planned Parenthood’s practices of harvesting and selling the body parts of aborted babies, is using her Senate campaign website to advocate for the abortion giant, promoting a petition to defend Planned Parenthood. Ms. Harris is engaging in exceptionally corrupt behavior, using her office as AG to aide a staunch supporter of her campaign. This is exactly the kind of puppeteering and blatant conflict of interest that the American public is sick and tired of. Ms. Harris should immediately resign her position as the California Attorney General.”

On Thursday, Daleiden accused the DA's office of illegally colluding with planned parenthood, in court documents, and is seeking to dismiss his current charge of falsifying records (using a fake I.D.).


Prosecutors are offering pretrial diversion, which is essentially a probation period, to Daleiden and Sandra Susan Merritt who is facing similar charges.


You would basically have to be living under a rock not to have noticed that there are growing concerns about political corruption throughout the United States. A recent Gallup poll revealed that three in four Americans (75%) acknowledged that corruption was widespread throughout the U.S. government. It also found that over the last 10 years, this opinion has increased from just 66% in 2009.


Kamala Harris has not done anything to inspire trust in her pro-life constituency, and has clearly demonstrated her willingness to compromise the integrity of the Attorney General's office. We stand together with pro-life Californians and continue to remain steadfast in our stance against the victimization of the unborn, and corruption within our democratic system.






Wednesday, April 13, 2016

What would a "non-political" movie about abortion look like?


Elle magazine recently published an interview with filmmaker Tracy Droz Tragos, whose documentary Abortion: Stories Women Tell premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival later this month. The Elle article is entitled: "Is This the First Non-Political Movie About Abortion?"

I don't have access to the film, of course, but my sneaking suspicion is that the answer is no.

The project does sound intriguing. Tragos supports abortion; she says that one of her goals for the film is to offer an "intimate look" at why women "need" abortions. But to her credit, she includes pro-life women in the documentary, and tells Elle that her pro-life subjects demonstrated "compassion. I don't think these are unfeeling people. They're not coming at this from an evil place."

So there is some attempt at balance. It might not be a pro-choice movie, necessarily. But that doesn't mean it isn't a political movie.

The fact that the only people deemed worthy of an interview are women of reproductive age—women who could have abortions, even though some would refuse—is highly political. It implies that abortion affects only one person. Thus this introduction from the Elle piece:
[D]ocumentarian Tracy Droz Tragos wonders whether we've really listened to the people whose opinions matter most.
"It's always women that I want to give voice to—women who are affected," Tragos told me last week. "For me, that's the bottom line."
Would Tragos consider Melissa Ohden and Gianna Jessen to be women affected by abortion policy? They were both born alive after "failed" saline abortions.

What about male abortion survivors? What about fathers of aborted children? What about people (of whatever gender) who are alive today because pro-life advocates helped their mothers during pregnancy? Just to name a few.

Of course, a documentary providing voices to all of these categories of people would have an implicit message of its own: namely, that abortion has a wide-ranging effect on society that goes beyond pregnant women. That's at odds with the belief that abortion is merely a personal decision, so a pro-choice viewer would likely object to my framing as "political," just as I object to Tragos' framing.

Perhaps the reason we still await the first non-political movie about abortion is because such a movie is impossible.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Another win for pro-life free speech rights


In February, we reported that Created Equal had launched Project Weak Link, a petition effort calling upon Stericycle to cease doing business with Planned Parenthood. Stericycle is a medical waste disposal company. In addition to its legitimate business, Stericycle unfortunately contracts with abortionists. Planned Parenthood centers rely upon Stericycle to, quite literally, get rid of the bodies.

Supplementing the petition effort, Created Equal began distributing flyers in Lake Forest, IL, where Stericycle is headquartered. Stericycle was none too pleased and sued, seeking a restraining order to censor Created Equal. The hearing was held yesterday.

Created Equal argued that Organization for a Better Austin v. Keefe was dispositive.  In Keefe, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a "blockbusting" real estate broker could not use the courts to silence critics of his racist business practices. The protestors' First Amendment rights were paramount. For the same reasons, Created Equal argued, Stericycle's proposed restraining order would be unlawful.

The court agreed. Celebrating the win, Created Equal director Mark Harrington said in a press release:
We will not be bullied into silence. This lawsuit confirms that Stericycle is more interested in doing the dirty work for Planned Parenthood than protecting their image as a respectable waste disposal company. Further public exposure of their sloppy and unethical business practices in a lawsuit is far more damaging to Stericycle's image than ceasing to dispose of aborted babies for Planned Parenthood. If Stericycle is really concerned about their image, they need to cease transporting and disposing of aborted babies for Planned Parenthood. The campaign continues.
Keep up the good fight, Mark!

This is just the latest in a long pattern of censorship attempts from the abortion lobby. You can read about more examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and I could go on.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Abortion advocates' plans for the Supreme Court


The Atlantic has put together a wish list for a liberal Supreme Court, and the top priority is no surprise:
Most obviously, Roe v. Wade and the right to abortion would be secure. State laws imposing restrictions on abortions would be far less likely to be upheld. Since 2010, states have adopted about 290 laws limiting access to abortion. These statutes impose regulations on abortion providers, prohibit abortions earlier and earlier in pregnancy, restrict the use of insurance to pay for abortions, limit medicine to induce abortions, and create many other restrictions. These laws likely would not survive review in a Court dominated by Democratic appointees.
There is no right to abortion, of course. The Roe Court made it up, ignoring the right to life that actually is mentioned in the Constitution. Roe didn't create a right to abortion any more than Plessy v. Ferguson created a right to operate a segregated bus system.

Now, abortion activists want to compound the error and invent a right to unsafe abortion—committed by doctors (or perhaps not) with no admitting privileges, in facilities with hallways too narrow for a stretcher—through all nine months of pregnancy, paid for by taxpayers.

And there are reasons to believe that nominee Merrick Garland would sign on to this extreme agenda. Although Judge Garland has never had occasion to rule on an abortion case, President Obama surely would not nominate someone who didn't pass his abortion litmus test. More disturbingly, Senator Chuck Grassley, who is chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had this to say last week:
A major reason the confirmation process has become more divisive is that some of the Justices are voting too often based on politics and not on law. If they’re going to be political actors after they’re confirmed, then the confirmation process necessarily will reflect that dynamic.
For instance, just last week, after one of my Democrat colleagues met with Judge Garland, this Senator said, after discussing issues like “reproductive rights,” “I actually feel quite confident that he is deserving of my support.”
Obviously, I don’t know what they discussed during that meeting, or what Judge Garland said about “reproductive rights.” And to be clear, I’m not suggesting anything inappropriate was discussed.
My point is this: if Justices stuck to the constitutional text, and didn’t base decisions on their own policy preferences, or what’s in their “heart”, or on “empathy” for a particular litigant, then Senators wouldn’t deem it necessary to understand whether the nominee supports “reproductive rights.”
With this in mind, is it any wonder the public believes the court is political?
Also on The Atlantic's wish list: abolition of the death penalty. Or so they say. Obviously, they only want to abolish the death penalty for individuals convicted of murder. Executing someone for the non-crime of being conceived at an inconvenient time, they call "abortion rights." Hypocrisy at its finest.*


*I say this as a death penalty opponent myself (although I'll freely admit that the Constitution allows it; we need to end the death penalty through legislation, not through the courts). 

Friday, April 8, 2016

In two weeks...

The Life/Peace/Justice conference is just two weeks away! Join us in Philadelphia for this amazing gathering of whole life activists, learning from one another about abortion, war, the death penalty, and assisted suicide.

The event begins on the night of Friday, April 22, with a fundraising dinner for a local pregnancy resource center. The keynote speaker is former abortion worker and dear friend of SPL Jewels Green.

On Saturday, there will be multiple keynote and breakout sessions. Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard will speak at two breakout sessions: a morning session entitled "How to Lose a Pro-Life Secularist in 10 Days: Things We Do to Push Away Pro-Life Atheists and How to Win Them Back," and an afternoon session on our upcoming project to mark the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment. You can also find Kelsey and Terrisa at the SPL sponsor table.

On Sunday morning, while church-going conference attendees do their thing, Secular Pro-Life will host an "infidelicious" breakfast. The conference will close with a community volunteer project and forum.


This conference is held every other year, and 2014 was incredible. Don't wait until 2018; get your ticket today!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Pro-Life Appeal to Agnosticism


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

In his 1989 essay Why Abortion is Immoral, Don Marquis notes that “a sketch of standard anti-abortion and pro-choice arguments exhibits how those arguments possess certain symmetries that explain why partisans of those positions are so convinced of the correctness of their own positions, why they are not successful in convincing their opponents, and why, to others, this issue seems to be unresolvable.” We may concede as much about popular level arguments, though I think the more sophisticated pro-life arguments are significantly better than their pro-choice counterparts; I particularly recommend the discussion of the "substance view" as described in Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, which Marquis does not address.

Regardless, I can see why someone who is undecided on abortion or the question of the unborn’s personhood can feel that such questions are unresolvable. The Supreme Court itself attempted to take a neutral or agnostic position toward the personhood of the unborn. And I myself find it hard from time to time to feel that the unborn (at least in their pre-sentient state) are the subjects of rights that I know they are. Perhaps this is true of you. This means that we ought to then present the best arguments for our case to persuade the public that unborn humans are persons.

However, the persuasion of others to affirming the personhood of the unborn is not the chief purpose of the pro-life movement. The preservation of human life is. Widespread conversion to our way of thinking is simply a means to that end. Until everyone agrees, we can still undermine abortion by appealing to their agnosticism.

If a person is hesitant to affirm that the unborn are persons, we can ask: “What if the arguments are evenly or sufficiently matched? Should abortion be allowed?” Then we can argue, as Beckwith does, that “if one is not sure that one is killing a moral subject, then one should not kill it. That is the unborn should be given 'the benefit of the doubt'.” Abortion would be comparable to detonating a building where there is a chance that person is in the building. Do we detonate since the odds are against there being a person in there, or it is not certain that I’d be destroying a person? Or do we abstain from destroying it as long as we don’t know? I’m sure that no one would destroy the building even if there was just a 1 in 100 chance of there being a person in it. Thus, since in the minds of the undecided, the chance that the unborn are subjects of rights is presumably greater than 1 in 100 (probably closer to 1 in 2), they should conclude that abortion is prima facie morally wrong. If personhood is in doubt, so is the right to elective abortion, and thus to excerize or permit its exercise would be reckless. (See Defending Life, pp. 149 – 152; author Francis Beckwith also addresses the pro-choice appeal to agnosticism.)

By doing this we can begin to turn people’s opinion against elective abortion, even if their view of the unborn themselves doesn't reform until later. The appeal to agnosticism is only the start, a start that will hopefully save lives, to presenting the pro-life case in its entirety.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Progress in the battle on rapist parental rights

Graphic via RAINN
Two years ago, we wrote:
In 31 states, a rapist can sue to obtain custody or visitation rights for the child conceived by his violence against the mother. 
I have to believe that these laws are simply the result of oversight. Perhaps these laws were written decades ago, when rape was a taboo topic and DNA testing was unknown, and legislators at the time simply didn't think to write in any particular provisions concerning rapists. As a result, rapists have the same rights as any other biological fathers. Once legislation is enacted, political inertia comes into play, and no reform comes until people start making real noise.
The time to make that noise is now. If there is any common ground between pro-lifers and pro-choicers, this is it! These outdated policies encourage abortion, threaten women's safety and sanity, expose children to needless instability and stress, and are just plain outrageous.
In some states, a rapist only loses custody if convicted of criminal charges, which requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Rape is notoriously difficult to prosecute; by some estimates, only 5% of rapists are convicted. But in typical child custody matters that don't involve rape, the applicable standard for a parent's fitness to be involved in the child's life is "clear and convincing" proof, which is less stringent than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Hope After Rape Conception—an organization co-founded by pro-life advocate Rebecca Kiessling, who was conceived in rape—works diligently to reform state laws on rapist custody, promoting model legislation to bring rape custody cases under the clear and convincing standard. They caught a break last year, when federal legislation passed that gives states financial incentives to enact reform. The latest state to consider reform is Hawaii:
Rape is one of the most under-prosecuted crimes, with less than 5 percent of rapes leading to convictions, according to the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office. The department says rapists may use the threat of pursuing custody to coerce survivors from pressing charges. ...
The Hawaii bill was introduced as part of Gov. David Ige’s legislative package for the 2016 session in response to federal law passed last year. The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act of 2015 increases funding for states that that allow for termination of parental rights for sexual assault based on the “clear and convincing” standard.
Julie Ebato of the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office said the state could get over $127,000 in additional funding. The department hasn’t figured out how it would use the money yet, but it could be used help victims by providing money for police, prosecutors and service providers.
For instance, Ebato said the money could help chip away at the Honolulu Police Department’s backlog of about 1,500 of untested rape kits. The kits contain specimens and DNA evidence collected from sexual assault victims to be used as evidence.
Prevent coerced abortions, help rape-affected families, and test more rape kits? Win-win-win!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Why penalties for illegal abortion should not focus on the woman

In the last week or so the internet has blown up over Trump saying there should be some form of punishment for the woman seeking an abortion if abortion were illegal. On the SPL FB page we posted a few links suggesting that both SPL specifically and most pro-lifers in general disagree with Trump’s initial answer (which he later rescinded).

Our FB page saw a lot of division in the comments over this topic…


…with certain themes emerging. Instead of responding via countless comments in multiple threads, I thought I’d make a blog post.

“What’s the point of making something illegal if there’s no repercussion for it?”

I don’t think pro-lifers are very divided on whether or not there should be repercussions. Most of us agree that there should. We aren't suggesting we make something illegal but have literally zero penalties attached for breaking that law. The debate isn’t about whether there will be repercussions; it’s about what those repercussions should look like and who they should focus on: the doctor providing the abortion, the woman seeking the abortion, anyone else involved?

There is a lot of precedent for crafting laws that focus on the doctors providing illegal abortions, not the women seeking them. Americans United for Life summarizes the situation well, explaining that the laws were set up this way both because the woman was viewed as a second victim of abortion and because prosecuting women seeking abortions made it more difficult to effectively enforce the law against abortionists themselves.

“If a woman would be charged with murder for taking a child’s life in other instances, why wouldn’t she be here?”

Short answer:
The culture war over abortion, as well as some of the unique factors involved in pregnancy and child-bearing, make this more complicated.

Long answer:
The thought experiment “What should the punishment be if abortion were illegal?” is woefully vague. For starters there’s a difference between talking about if (a)–bam!—abortion were suddenly illegal tomorrow versus (b) we’re at some point in the unspecified future, and abortion has become illegal alongside a lot of cultural changes.  If we’re talking about the “Bam! Illegal!” scenario, I do think it would be unjust to punish women who seek abortions.

A lot of pro-lifers claim that abortion is no different than infanticide, but that’s not true. Yes, they’re comparable in that they both involve killing particularly helpless humans. But they’re incomparable in that we can all see the infant. We can hold her, we can hear her coo and cry, we can see with our naked eyes her face, her little belly breathing. She is right there, irrefutable undeniable existence, and I think a person would have to be a certain level of horribly, evilly messed up to be able to kill her.

The same doesn’t apply to abortion. Most abortions are done early enough that the woman doesn’t have any direct interaction with the embryo, save for unpleasant pregnancy symptoms. For these abortions the tiny human is so tiny, the woman can’t feel any movements. Without the aid of technology she can’t see or hear anything. One major difference between (early term) abortion and infanticide is whether we can even sense the entity we’re harming. This has huge psychological implications.

It also leaves people a lot more vulnerable to misinformation or outright lies. Good luck using some ad hoc philosophy to convince someone holding a newborn that the baby isn’t really a human being. 


I like Supernatural, what can I say?

But we’ve seen this play out in the context of abortion many times over.

And that brings me to the next huge difference between abortion and infanticide: the social messaging we’re raised with. Society pretty universally reacts with everything from revulsion to hatred at anyone who harms an infant. Even those without kids generally recognize infants as vulnerable little people in need of our protection and love.

Contrast that with the huge, decades-long, seemingly intractable culture war over the nature of the fetus, with a large chunk of our country, including some of our most powerful voices, stridently insisting there’s nothing to even talk about, no real conflict, no other entity involved besides the pregnant woman.

We have videos of clinic “counselors” lying to women about the realities of prenatal development. We have testimony from post-abortive women who realized with horror what the abortion really meant when they went on to carry wanted pregnancies. We have ridiculously one-sided media coverage (Gosnell, anyone?) We have the never-ending rhetoric about “clumps of cells,” “products of conception,” and even “parasites”—so constant it almost feels mundane for me to write about it yet again, but it’s always there.


The level of willful ignorance, of outright deception, pushed on the public on this issue just has no equivalent on the issue of infanticide, none at all. And if abortion were suddenly illegal tomorrow, that context would be an important factor and would—and should—influence how we would craft such a law.

On the other hand, if the thought experiment is about illegal abortion in a culture that broadly and consistently acknowledges the fetus as a valuable human being—part of our species, part of our society—then I think it gives more weight to the arguments about including penalties for those seeking abortion.

“I don’t see this as any different than someone hiring a hitman to kill someone for them. Sure, the hitman should be punished, but the person who hired him should be punished too. Seems pretty simple. ”

Mmmm, not that simple.

First, when people hire hitmen, they unquestionably know that they are trying to have other human beings killed. And as I explained above, it’s often not that straightforward with abortion.

But even if we lived in a society that valued fetal life and we had all grown up learning and knowing the fetus is a valuable human being, I think the legal response to abortion would still be complicated. It’s complicated by the way child-bearing (and the circumstances surrounding child-bearing) affect a woman’s state of mind. And our legal system (rightly) recognizes state of mind as an important factor when determining guilt and appropriate punishments.

Mens rea, Latin for “guilty mind,” is a necessary element for many criminal prosecutions.


The idea is that it’s not only our actions that matter, but also our intentions. This means that even if you definitely took an action that is illegal, if you didn’t intend a crime it’s possible you’d still be found not guilty.

And even within a guilty verdict there are different levels of mens rea and so different levels of responsibility. Our legal system can find that you committed an act with (1) negligence (you weren’t aware your actions could lead to a certain outcome, but you should have been), (2) recklessness (you knew there was substantial risk your actions might lead to the outcome), (3) knowledge (you knew there was a near certainty your actions would lead to the outcome), or (4) purpose (you knew there was a near certainty your actions would lead to the outcome and that was your goal).

In addition to mens rea, our legal system also considers necessity and duress. Basically, necessity means you committed the crime under the belief that it would prevent a greater evil or harm from occurring, and duress means you were forced to commit the crime by someone else.

I bring up mens rea, necessity, and duress because it’s elements like these that (often) make abortion different than hiring a hitman. Suppose you hire a hitman to kill your spouse because you don’t want to deal with divorce or something. You are acting with purpose, and not under necessity or duress. I believe most cases of abortion are not comparable to this.


Even planned pregnancy can be very stressful; unplanned pregnancy can wreak havoc on finances, relationships, and employment, not to mention the impacts pregnancy can have on a woman physically and psychologically. Even if you haven’t been there yourself, it isn’t hard to imagine how the news of a pregnancy might sound to someone who is already struggling to support other children, or hasn’t finished high school, or is in an abusive relationship. There are lots of scenarios in which pregnancy can make women feel panicked. That does not justify taking a life. But, in our justice system, it can affect culpability.

And this doesn’t just apply to abortion. Even when a parent commits infanticide—where it’s blatantly obvious to everyone that a little human has been killed—external pressures can mitigate the repercussions. A high proportion of infanticide cases in the U.S. result in NGRI verdicts (Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity), and it’s unclear how many of these verdicts are based on the actual legal definition of insanity rather than juror conceptions of the term. I won’t repeat the anecdotes from the link here (they are heartbreaking and awful), but it seems judges and jurors are sympathetic to the intense stresses that are often at play when new parents kill their babies.

And you know what? I hate even talking about it. I hate even thinking about it, it’s so terrible. But that’s kind of my point. Pretty much everyone agrees infanticide is horrifying, but our legal system is still set up to account for the context, rather than automatically treat it as straightforward murder. Why shouldn't that approach also apply in the case of an illegal abortion?

If we lived in a society that eliminated some of the causes of panic associated with pregnancy, it might be different. If women with unplanned pregnancies knew they wouldn’t be let go from a job, pushed out of a church community, ostracized from their families, if they knew they could obtain prenatal and postpartum care, streamlined adoption services, paid maternity leave, flexible class schedules, effective protection from domestic violence, or any of the other countless solutions that would make pregnancy less frightening, the arguments about state of mind would probably be less impactful. But we aren’t there, at least not yet.

For all the reasons stated above, and for others I’ve probably failed to enumerate, it makes sense to me that a person could simultaneously think abortion is immoral and should be illegal and also think any laws criminalizing abortion should not focus on the woman seeking one.  Much of the pro-life movement feels this way (see examples from New Wave Feminists, Abby Johnson,  Priests for Life, March for Life, National Right To Life, and Students For Life of America).

But we had such a division on our FB page because clearly not all of the pro-life movement feels this way, and I want to say a few points about that too.

1) It's not no pro-lifers. It’s a mistake to suggest that no pro-lifers think there should be some form of punishment for the woman if abortion were illegal. If FB comments are any indication, plenty of pro-lifers think that would be intuitive. I haven’t found much polling data on this particular question, but what there is suggests that a portion of the pro-life movement thinks that makes sense, although it appears to be a minority position.

2) It's not no real pro-lifers. It’s even more of a mistake, I think, to then switch to “no real pro-lifer” thinks women should be punished. Let’s avoid the No True Scotsman line. Despite what our opposition seems to think, our movement is not that monolithic. Generally we think abortion is immoral and should be illegal, but there’s a variety of opinions about almost everything beyond that: Does life begin at conception or implantation or somewhere else? Should there be exceptions for rape? For severe fetal deformities? For children who get pregnant? Should there be a national ban or is it a state’s rights issue? If we’re against abortion does that somehow necessitate being against the death penalty? Euthanasia? Do we advocate for or against contraception? Comprehensive sex ed?

I could go on. And for every one of those questions you’ll find people with opinions about what “real” pro-lifers ought to answer. Don’t play that game. If we require agreement on all the many facets of the abortion debate before working together, we may as well just pack up and go home, guys.

3) They mean different things by "punishment." Those who say there should be a “punishment” have a wide range of views about what “punishment” would mean (which is why here I put “punishment” in quotes). Yes, some people think she should be charged with murder. But I’ve seen others suggest community service or mandatory counseling. I don’t think these pro-lifers all fall into the same category.

4) They have different reasons for their view. Of course there are those who think there’s no meaningful distinction between abortion and infanticide, between paying an abortionist and hiring a hitman. Then there are those that see the differences, but worry no repercussion at all signals the fetus is unimportant. And there are those who see such laws akin to laws against suicide: created so authorities have the right to intervene in order to help (I think that’s where the mandatory counseling idea comes in). And there are those that think there should be at least some cursory, symbolic repercussion so the law isn’t toothless.

5) They still have different ideas about who should be punished. The “punishment” pro-lifers also don’t all agree on how broadly a punishment would apply. There are some who think anyone who gets an abortion under any circumstances should be subject to the penalty of law. But there are many who recognize issues like mens rea; they just don’t think these issues mean the legal system should drop the punishment idea all together. Instead they think it has to be decided on a case by case basis, because however many women choose abortion out of desperation, there are some who are in a very different state of mind, who view the whole thing quite casually. In fact that’s one of the reasons sometimes cited in the recurring push to take all stigma out of abortion.

So even though, from what we can tell, most pro-lifers don’t think there should be penalties for women, we should keep in mind that there are those who do and that there is a range of opinions on that side of the debate as well.

Either way, the women who run Secular Pro-Life recognize that the humanity of the preborn child is not at all clear to many people, and that most women who seek abortion do so under intense pressure. We believe it’s both the most moral position and the best legal approach to make sure penalties for illegal abortions don’t focus on the women seeking them.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Anthology of abortion worker stories released

In 2009, Abby Johnson walked away from her management position at a Texas Planned Parenthood abortion facility and became a pro-woman
pro-life activist. You probably know her for her memoir, Unplanned. Or maybe you recognize her from this PSA that aired a few years back:



Abby went on to found And Then There Were None (ATTWN), an organization dedicated to meeting the needs of workers leaving the abortion industry. That has now led to a second book, The Walls Are Talking: Former Abortion Clinic Workers Tell Their Stories. It includes more from Abby, plus contributions from former abortion workers served by ATTWN.  

The Walls Are Talking was released last week and is now the #1 best seller in Amazon's abortion & birth control category. From the description:
These stories are difficult to read, because an abortion is an act of violence, harming not only the obvious victim—the unborn child—but also the mother, the father, the doctor, and everyone else involved. But these stories also offer hope, for they show that anyone, no matter what part the person has played in an abortion, can start anew, can make amends for past mistakes. They demonstrate that the first step on that journey is telling the truth, as these courageous individuals do in these pages.
We'll have a review for you in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you want to buy a copy, remember to use Amazon Smile to donate a portion of the purchase price to ATTWN or another pro-life charity.