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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Heather's Story

Heather Hobbs with her children Alexandria, Tristan, and Gideon
[Today's guest post is the personal story of Heather Hobbs as told to Feleica Langdon. It is part of our paid blogging program. Feleica is a provincial pro-life speaker in Newfoundland and the regional coordinator in NL of Campaign Life Coalition working alongside the provincial coordinator, Margaret Hynes.]

I grew up in an abusive household, and as a teenager, I vowed never to bring children into such a horrendous world - a perspective shaped by my upbringing.

The callousness of the world was proven once more when I was violently raped by my abusive boyfriend. That violation shattered me, and in spite of being on birth control, I became pregnant from that rape. Coming from a staunch pro-choice background, I didn't know any other way out of this situation other than abortion!

Things went from bad to worse when my rapist found out that I was pregnant. He found me, beat me, and proceeded to choke me. I remember feeling my baby flutter for the first time just before I passed out.

Upon waking up in the hospital and explaining everything that was going on, I was asked if I wanted an abortion. Remembering feeling my baby move , I refused to terminate. Embracing my daughter's life saved mine in every way imaginable. My baby was just as innocent in all of this as I was. 

Looking back I can tell you with the utmost confidence that my daughter, Alexandria, gave me purpose. She is what I needed to live and grow; she helped me heal and to see beauty that I hadn't before. I don't see her as being the "child of a rapist"; instead, I see her as the child of a rape survivor!

When she was four I married a wonderful man named Jeremy who accepted my little girl as his own. My husband and I wanted to give our daughter a sibling. To our surprise we were already pregnant due to the failure of the IUD Mirena. Unfortunately, I had a difficult pregnancy. I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, acute pancreatitis due to gall stones, and cholestasis. With my health deteriorating quickly, the doctors suggested that we have an abortion; when we refused the doctors said at the very least I would need to be induced early and undergo surgery immediately.

We were life-flighted to Portland and we received the care we needed. Tristan was born on my birthday and is perfect in every way!

On my third pregnancy we thought we were finally going to catch a break. Everything seemed to be going so smoothly; however, at 24 weeks along I knew something wasn't right. Upon medical investigation it was determined that I had cholestasis again, but something also showed up on the sonogram. There was a big black hole in his stomach and it was determined that he had a meconium pseudocyst. His intestines had ruptured and his body had built a calcified shell to hold the stool. We were told by specialists that he wouldn't live and that I needed to abort before the sac ruptured and I became septic.

I refused and signed the necessary waivers saying I was continuing the pregnancy against doctors' orders. We drove two hours in the snow and mountains to see specialists who kept an eye on the cyst.

At 28 weeks I went into quick and active labour. Every parent longs to hear that cry when their child comes into the world, but when Gideon was born, he was purple and silent. You could cut the panic with a knife and they whisked him away for what seemed like forever. He made it through emergency surgery but the doctors still didn't expect him to make it. Fast forward 18 months and 11 procedures later. Our son is happy, healthy, and excelling above the milestones for his age.

If you've been raped and have found yourself pregnant, Alexandria was my diamond in the rough and has brought me the healing that abortion would have stolen from me. Don't let abortion steal that healing from you! If you don't think you can parent, place your child for adoption! If you have received a difficult maternal and/or prenatal diagnosis, don't concede to the pressure to terminate. Yes, you may need to induce labour early, but then it's left up to your child! Premature babies and their moms beat the odds everyday!

I know you're scared, but I hope that my testimony will encourage you to give your child a chance at life! They have so much to offer this world and teach you! Chandler and I are currently pregnant with our fourth child and couldn't be happier with our precious family. Watching our kids interact together brings us so much joy! Each pregnancy has had its own set of challenges, but Chandler and I have grown as a couple and as parents through all of it. We can't picture our lives without either one of them and are so glad that our family doesn't have to deal with the hurt of abortion! We hope yours doesn't have to either, and if it already has, that you find healing!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Adoption is Not About "Giving Up"

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

Recently, Secular Pro-Life shared a throwback post about the stigma of adoption. They (rightly) pointed out that the stigma is going away for teens, but is still rampant for women over 21, which is the highest demographic for abortion. In the comments, we see so much support for women and a lot of great ideas about how to change this cultural problem. Yet, even those sympathetic to the pro-life cause are still using old language to discuss adoption.

As a linguist (that sounds more impressive than it is), I truly believe that words matter and they help shape our perceptions, which eventually form our culture. So, I’d like to share a quick fix you can incorporate into your mindset and vernacular to help reduce the stigma of being a birth mother who chooses adoption.

Try this: use “place for adoption” instead of “give up for adoption.” It’s a small change, but a powerful one. When we use the word “place,” we open up a new world for women who are carrying unplanned life inside of them.

After all, who among us likes to think of ourselves as someone who “gives up”? It perpetuates a defeating mindset to hear the phrase, even though we might know cognitively that it’s not what we mean. Understanding the background of a word doesn’t always translate when we’re talking about sensitive subjects and emotionally connected decisions. Using “place” gives women a sense of choice, rather than a sense of desperation. It is an empowering word that emphasizes the strong role that women play in the future of our society.

In addition to the feeling of choice, using “place” highlights the reality of choice. Many women don’t realize that adoption has changed so much over the last 100 years. Gone are the days of orphanages, and infants placed for adoption don’t go into “the system.” Rather, adoption agencies work with families and birth mothers to make a good fit so a woman can feel comfortable knowing her child is going to be in a family with the love and resources she desires for her baby. The birth mom has a choice in who her child will be with and how often (if at all) she will receive updates about the child’s welfare.

The point here is that we want to raise adoption to the status it deserves. We want women to understand the heroine they become for families that feel incomplete and can’t add children for whatever reason. Many adoptive mothers I know, including myself, have suffered either from infertility or particularly difficult pregnancies themselves. Not a single adoptive parent that I know judges our children’s birth moms. Why would we? They all chose to birth their children, and for that we are more grateful to these women than we could ever explain. No matter the choices a woman made that led her into an unplanned pregnancy, she showed her strength when she made the choice to let her child live.

Monday, August 14, 2017

YouTuber calls abortion a "necessary evil." He's half right.

[Today’s guest post by Adam Peters is part of our paid blogging program.]

Are you a fan of social justice? Do you think intersectional feminism has something to offer? Do you dislike hearing the f-word said in a British accent? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then there’s a YouTube channel you probably won’t enjoy.

Sargon of Akkad makes videos criticizing “the regressive left.” He doesn’t identify as a conservative, however, and rejects positions many conservatives hold. That includes his stance on abortion: during a conversation with fellow YouTuber Dave Rubin, he called it “a necessary evil.”

He’s half right.

Abortion is evil, and the later it happens, the more evil it gets. That’s evident from Dr. Kawaljeet Anand’s research indicating a fetus feels pain by twenty weeks. Dr. Anthony Levatino is a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist who has performed over twelve hundred abortions; here, he describes what a twenty week abortion entails.



The Supreme Court said in Wilkerson v. Utah that “punishments of torture” like dismemberment are too cruel for convicted killers. For children in the womb? Apparently not.

That abortion destroys an individual isn’t just evident at twenty weeks. After all, a little girl can be seen sucking her thumb at fifteen. Her fingerprints are present at twelve and her heartbeat is detectable at six. While some contend abortion only impacts a woman’s body, arguing that one body can have two brains, two hearts, two sets of fingerprints, and two DNA profiles is a little hard to take seriously.

Not that children are the only ones harmed. There’s evidence many women feel pressure to abort, and they can face violence when they refuse. That includes being smothered, shot, stabbed, burned, and beaten to death, which partly explains why homicide is a leading cause of death during pregnancy.

Changing this isn’t a priority for America’s largest abortion chain: Planned Parenthood has opposed legislation to protect women from coercion and violence. Further, when Texas state Rep. Molly White proposed a bill requiring that abortion centers have a private room with a telephone to contact law enforcement, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas called the move “not needed.”

Some men use abortion to avoid child support; others use it to make money. The medical journal Annals of Health published a survey of human trafficking survivors; it showed over half had at least one abortion while being trafficked. In a video produced by the anti-trafficking group A21, you can hear a survivor named Nicole describe being coerced into two abortions—an experience she calls “the hardest.” Listen to her story and then decide whether Rep. White’s bill would have helped.



But isn’t abortion often necessary? For example, aren’t late-term abortions only done to save a woman’s life? Nope. In Albuquerque, Southwestern Women’s Options offers elective abortions through twenty-eight weeks.


What if you’re just not in a position to parent? In that case, abortion might seem like the only alternative. It’s not.

Having a baby doesn’t mean having to raise one, as there are literally millions of people seeking to adopt. Many are interested in “open adoption,” an arrangement in which the birthmother knows the adoptive parents and usually has some role in the child’s life. One place to look for them is a website called Adoption.com. It allows those who’ve been cleared by a licensed adoption agency to create a profile; you can search them by location, family size, and other criteria. More information about adoption and parenting along with material support can be found at pregnancy care centers.

Many cite rape as an example of why abortion is necessary; they rarely explain why someone like Rebecca Kiessling deserved to die for her father’s crime. Rebecca is an attorney and an adoptive mother; she was also conceived in rape, and she’s only alive because abortion was illegal at the time.

And while there’s no proof abortion helps deal with emotional trauma, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that women who abort have a higher suicide risk than those who don’t.

Sargon says he’s interested in “finding the truth of the matter using rational arguments backed up by evidence.” If so, he should re-examine his views on abortion. Yes, the facts show that it’s evil. But necessary? Not so much.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Human Beings Begin as Zygotes: Refutations to 8 Common Pro-Choice Arguments

DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant for biological definition purposes. It is not meant to establish or argue any moral or philosophical points.
 
A zygote is a human being.  

1.  The zygote is an organism.
Fertilization – the fusion of gametes to produce a new organism – is the culmination of a multitude of intricately regulated cellular processes. [Marcello et al., Fertilization, ADV. EXP. BIOL. 757:321 (2013)]
This is not a new concept. The zygote has been recognized as an organism for decades:

"The zygote and early embryo are living human organisms.[Keith L. Moore & T.V.N. Persaud Before We Are Born – Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects (W.B. Saunders Company, 1998. Fifth edition.) Page 500]

"Embryo: the developing organism from the time of fertilization until significant differentiation has occurred, when the organism becomes known as a fetus."[Cloning Human Beings. Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Rockville, MD: GPO, 1997, Appendix-2.]

"Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed."[O'Rahilly, Ronan and Muller, Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29.]

"The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote."[Sadler, T.W. Langman's Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]

Some pro-choicers imply that the zygote is in some nebulous “in between phase” – not a gamete but not a human organism. But biologically, life cycles do not contain such a phase. In humans (animals), our life cycle goes from diploid organism, which produces haploid gametes, which combine to form a new diploid organism. The zygote isn’t in an unknown stage; it's the same organism as the grown adult, but at an earlier stage of life.

The Diplontic Life Cycle


2. Every organism is part of some species, and the human ZEF is part of the human species (Homo sapiens) by virtue of its human DNA.

A species is defined as
 (2) An individual belonging to a group of organisms (or the entire group itself) having common characteristics and (usually) are capable of mating with one another to produce fertile offspring. 
Please note that "capable of mating" does not mean at any given instant. For example, newborns are not capable of mating, but are still organisms of the human species. "Capable of mating" refers to an organism who should be capable of mating in their lifetime, barring sterility. And on that note, also keep in mind that there's a difference between an individual organism being sterile vs. an organism having developed genetic changes which render reproduction with his origin species impossible (speciation).

Every organism is part of some species. There are no "non-species" organisms. The organism is part of its parents’ species. For example, two honey-badgers cannot reproduce and create a frog; their offspring would also be a honey-badger. Furthermore, an organism can never change its species mid-development (in the middle of its life). A honey-badger zygote develops into a honey-badger adult; a honey-badger zygote can’t develop into a frog adult.

One species can develop into another species over many generations. This is called speciation. Speciation most often occurs when one species is split into two or more geographical groups (allopatric speciation). Genetic changes accumulate over many generations, not within a single lifespan, such that if the groups ever met again, they would not be able to produce viable offspring. That's when you can say "these are now two different species."


But we would never say "this offspring is an organism but has no species membership."

Human zygotes are human, both because their parents are human and because they have human DNA. They are not part of some other species, nor do they lack species membership.

3. An organism that is a member of the species Homo sapiens is a human being.

There are other definitions of human being, including “a person, especially as distinguished from other animals or as representing the human species.” I am only referring to the biological definition of human being when I use the term:
1. any individual of the genus Homo, especially a member of the species Homo sapiens.  

CONCLUSION: Since the zygote is an organism and a member of the species Homo sapiens, it is a human organism and therefore biologically a human being.


Below we present some topics that have been brought up as questions or objections.

Q1. Chimerism


Put simply, a chimera is a single organism composed of more than one unique DNA type (or antigenic marker on red blood cells). In animals, this can result from the merging of 2+ zygotes into one entity (tetragametic), or from twins sharing blood supply in gestation ("blood chimeras" have more than one blood type). You can be a microchimera if you received blood from mom early in gestation, if as a mother you received fetal cells during pregnancy (as most do), or just from a blood transfusion. You're even considered a chimera if you received an organ transplant. Chimerism is usually asymptomatic, but rarely it can result in things like intersexuality if it results from absorption of a twin.

The important thing to note is that a chimera is still one individual human organism. From the britannica article:

Chimera, in genetics, an organism or tissue that contains at least two different sets of DNA. In dispermic chimeras, two eggs that have been fertilized by two sperm fuse together, producing a so-called tetragametic individual—an individual originating from four gametes, or sex cells.When two zygotes do not undergo fusion but exchange cells and genetic material during development, two individuals, or twin chimeras, one or both of whom contain two genetically distinct cell populations, are produced. 

You may be a chimera and not even realize it. You may have multiple DNA types due to absorption of some cell types or an entire other organism -- and this doesn't change the fact that you are still an individual human organism.

The reason this is brought up as an objection is because people sometimes think of DNA as some sort of marker of individuality, and therefore they may see multiple markers of DNA as a sign of "multiple individuals." DNA can function as an individuality marker, but it doesn't always as is evident in the case of identical twins. DNA is simply a code of instructions for the body to function effectively as an organism. That's it. If it is unique to you, and you only have one set of DNA -- great! If you do not have unique DNA, or you have multiple unique DNA sets -- you're still a singular human organism. 

Q2. Twinning


This objection usually goes something like: A zygote can twin, therefore how can you say it's an individual human being before the potential twinning stage is over?

This objection is interesting because by extension, none of us are individual human beings. Why? Well twinning is essentially the same thing as cloning. The main difference is that one happens "naturally" and the other happens artificially. The point is, if your DNA can be taken from an epithelial cell on your arm and made into a clone, would spawning a clone mean you were not an individual human being to begin with? With advanced technology, we could all conceivably be in the "twinning" (cloning) phase indefinitely! Yet we're all still singular human organisms.

This is basically the backwards version of chimerism, by the way. Absorbing or spawning organisms does not change the fact that a single organism is still a single organism.   

Q3. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)


"In vitro" means "outside the body." IVF is when we use sperm to fertilize an egg in a laboratory dish instead of a uterine tube (in vivo). The resulting embryo is then placed into the woman's uterus to allow implantation and thus a pregnancy, which is why IVF is considered a type of assisted reproductive technology (ART).

The pro-life objection to IVF is that -- due to time, cost, and failure rates -- companies performing the procedure will always fertilize more than one embryo at a time. Many will then select the highest quality embryos to increase chances of a successful pregnancy. This means either cryopreservation (freezing) of the remaining embryos if the couple wants to pay for it, or destroying them.

In some countries, including the US, multiple embryos can be transferred to the woman's uterus to increase chances of a successful pregnancy. This can sometimes result in multiple implantations (twins or more), but this isn't usually the case, which means the other embryo will have been miscarried.

It's worth noting that although survival rates for IVF are poor, nothing about IVF alters the basic biological process outlined above: gametes join to form a new human organism. It is merely accomplished in a laboratory rather than in the womb. People conceived through IVF are as human as anyone else.

From my perspective, there is nothing inherently wrong with IVF if it were done on one embryo at a time, which gives every embryo the best possible chance of life. But this is not standard practice. Rather, IVF is used to make multiple embryos with the foreknowledge that not all will be allowed to grow and live their life, and in most cases with the foreknowledge that some will die.

One objection to this is: But a large percentage of conceptions die before ever implanting, or soon after. Why is that foreknowledge ok in natural conception, but suddenly wrong if done in a petri dish? 

In natural conception, couples are trying their best to give every zygote a chance to live. If a zygote dies naturally, that is not the preemptive work of the couple creating him/her as it is in most cases of IVF.  

And while I greatly sympathize with men and women who have fertility problems but have a great desire to create their own offspring, the solution is not to treat human organisms as disposable.

Q4. Random Mutations


Through your life, your body replenishes cells via mitosis. Every time a cell is copied, the replication machinery -- while mostly very accurate -- will make mistakes in copying the template DNA. Not to worry, there is proofreading machinery too. However, even this can make mistakes. So in the end, there is some non-zero number of mutations that are incorporated into the new cell which are propagated in that cell line (although you still have your original batch of stem cells).

What this means is that as you get older, some portion of your cells will have a specific DNA sequence that is different than the one you had when you were younger. Some people see DNA as a unique identifier, like a name, and therefore a change in this identifier might mean you are not the same individual.

We all change as we grow. I am not the same person I was when I was 5; I have different memories, experiences, mindsets, functionality, and slightly different DNA. But guess what? I'm still the same organism. While some people may ascribe to the belief that we are not the same "person" we were yesterday, in a scientific sense we are still the same organism. An organism goes through changes in its life, but it doesn't end its life and begin a new one in the same body.

Q5. Life as a Continuum vs Individual Life


We have written about this topic before. The objection goes something like: "Human life doesn’t begin at fertilization; it began millions of years ago."

The objection confuses the life of an individual human organism with life arising from life (also known as the Law of Biogenesis.) The Law of Biogenesis points out that living matter has to come from other living matter. However you, as an organism, were not the precursor molecules that eventually formed you, as an organism. For example you were not sperm and egg. Or an early primate. The precursors that create an organism are not equivalent to the organism itself.

The fact that all life comes from preexisting life does not change the fact that an individual organism's life has a start and end point. And for human organisms, that starting point is always as a zygote.

Q6. Hydatidiform Mole

hydatidiform mole (1/1000 pregnancies in the US) is an abnormal fertilized egg which implants in the uterus.

(Q6a) Complete Mole: This abnormality can occur when one (90%) or even two (10%) sperm combine with an ovum that has no maternal DNA; the sperm then replicates its DNA to create an artificially "diploid" cell. This results in a mass of abnormal tissue which can develop into cancer (15-20%) and/or invade the uterine wall (10-15% of all molar pregnancies will invade if not removed).

(Q6b) partial mole on the other hand is when a normal ovum is fertilized by two sperm or by one sperm that replicates itself, creating a triploidy or tetraploidy cell. In this case, an embryo/fetus tissue can begin to develop but it is not a human organism.

In both cases, the result is a non-viable growth. Unlike an embryo that isn't yet viable due to underdevelopment, a mole cannot ever become viable. And unlike trisomy 21, this involves extreme deviations from the standard set of DNA (heterozygous, diploid) required for growth. Again, viability is never a possibility. Note that in partial molar pregnancies, some fetal tissue can develop. However the hydatidiform mole does not have the genetic composition of a human organism. The random creation of fetal tissue does not equate to an organism any more than it would if I made some fetal epithelial cells in a petri dish.

Maureen Condic said it much better than I ever could (the bolded part is most important):
Despite an initial (superficial) similarity to embryos, hydatidiform moles do not start out as embryos and later transform into tumors, they are intrinsically tumors from their initiation. Moreover, they are not frustrated embryos that are “trying” (yet unable) to develop normally. Just as a CD recording of “Twinkle, twinkle little star” is not somehow thwarted in its attempt to play the “Alphabet song” by a deficiency of notes in the fourth measure ..., hydatidiform moles are not “blocked” from proceeding along an embryonic path of development by a lack of maternally-imprinted DNA. Rather, hydatidiform moles are manifesting their own inherent properties—the properties of a tumor. Even in the optimal environment for embryonic development (the uterus), hydatidiform moles produce disordered growths, indicating they are not limited by environment, but rather by their own intrinsic nature; a nature that does not rise to the level of an organism...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. Such entities are undergoing a cellular process that is fundamentally different from human development and are not human embryos.
(Maurine Condic, "A Biological Definition of the Human Embryo," Persons, Moral Worth, and Embryos: A Critical Analysis of Pro-Choice Arguments, as quoted by Jay Watts in his article Condic on the Difference Between Embryonic Humans and Hydatidiform Moles, emphasis Condic's.) 

We have written on these before. Some people use hydatidiform moles as an example to argue that fertilization is not necessarily the beginning of a human being, or that because fertilization can result in these moles, then it's wrong to say a fertilized egg is a human being.

In one sense, they're right. They're correct to say that not all fertilizations result in human beings. Clearly, some result in moles. Fertilization is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the formation of a human organism.

However in the vast majority of cases, a fertilized egg is a human organism (human being). The exception really does prove the rule. As the previous blog post pointed out, pro-lifers tend to take shortcuts here and say that fertilization is the beginning of a new human life. Most of the time, that's true. Perhaps it would be better to just say "a zygote is a human being," or something similar.  

Q7. Miscarriages


According to the NIH, half of all fertilized eggs die spontaneously, and 15-20% of pregnancies (post-implantation) will miscarry.

Q7a) People may cite the high number of miscarriages to imply that abortion is not morally problematic or the zygote is not a human being.

However, there's a clear distinction between natural death and intentional killing. Every human being will die. Some die of cancer (natural death) and some die of gunshot wound (intentional killing). If lots of people die of cancer, would that make shooting them morally acceptable? No. Just because people die naturally, whether in old age or pre-implantation, doesn't mean it's acceptable to kill them, whether by gun or by chemical.

If lots of people die naturally of cancer, does that mean they were not human beings to begin with? Clearly not. Likewise a high rate of natural death in the preborn does not mean they were not human beings. As stated above, a zygote is a human being, whether it dies naturally in a day or in 100 years.

(Q7b) People may also cite the high number of miscarriages to question why pro-lifers don't appear as concerned with the high number of deaths there. 

Why do people speak out more passionately and perhaps more frequently about shootings than they do about cancer? Does it mean that people who die naturally, from cancer, don't matter? Does it imply that they don't really care about people dying in general? Of course not. It makes sense to be more upset by a human being intentionally killing another human being than it does to be upset by a natural cause of death. Furthermore, stopping this type of killing is more likely within our grasp than finding a cure to cancer.

Likewise with abortion: we are far more equipped to stop the intentional killing of young human beings than we are equipped to stop natural miscarriages. And it's understandable that an egregious harm being perpetrated by an intelligent human being (capable of moral contemplation) is more upsetting than harm perpetrated by non-moral agents.

Q8. Skin cells are human!


The skin cells on my arm are human, too. Is it murder if I scratch my arm? Sperm are also human, is masturbation murder? 

This objection conflates "human" the adjective and "human" the noun. Epithelial cells and sperm are human cells, but they are not human organisms. There is a difference between components that make up an organism (epithelial, endothelial, renal, pulmonary, hepatic cells, etc) and the organism itself. Human organisms (human beings) are what pro-lifers are concerned with, which includes the zygote.  


Tonight at 6pm EST: Kelsey Hazzard on "Pro-Life Thinking" podcast

Tonight beginning at 6:00 pm EST, Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard will appear on the "Pro-Life Thinking" podcast. She will be interviewed by Clinton Wilcox of Life Training Institute. Clinton is a Christian ally. We'll be talking for an hour or two about Secular Pro-Life projects, philosophy, etc. and answering your (non-troll) questions. If you have any questions in advance, leave them in the comments!

Here's the link to tune in tonight. Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Pro-life laws stop abortions. Here's the evidence.


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

One of the most popular pro-choice arguments I've come across doesn't have anything to do with the personhood of the unborn or bodily rights. Instead, many pro-choicers try to render philosophical and biological arguments moot by saying that anti-abortion laws (whether they be incremental pro-life laws such as those passed in various US states or total bans on elective abortions) just don't work.

The source for this claim is nearly always a joint study done by WHO and the Guttmacher Institute (an explicitly pro-choice organization with former ties to Planned Parenthood) published in the Lancet. This study estimates abortion numbers and rates for women in different world regions. They claim to find that abortion rates are similar in regions where abortion is permitted on broad grounds (North America, Europe, etc.) and regions where it is largely illegal (Latin America and Africa). The only difference, the authors say, is that abortion is generally safe in regions where it is legal and unsafe in regions where it is illegal.

While I don't doubt that illegal abortions are taking place in significant numbers in many developing countries, I do doubt the accuracy of many of Guttmacher's estimates. It's beyond the scope of this post to get into all the reasons why, but I'll link here an admission by the UN (which tends to favor legalized abortion) that Guttmacher's estimates are "quite speculative because data are missing from the large majority of countries." (Note the study that the UN is referencing is an older one from 1999, but it was compiled by the same authors using the same methods, and those estimates are used as the basis for later estimates, so the UN's statement still applies). Despite the speculative nature of such estimates and Guttmacher's political dog in the fight, these numbers are often repeated uncritically by the media and even many pro-lifers take them at face value. Many people who are generally uncomfortable with legal abortion are convinced not to support banning it because of this study. In fact this argument was part of the reason (among others) that I was pro-choice (in the first trimester) for a few years, even though I was morally opposed to abortion.

About a year ago I started to question my former position on abortion and read a lot of pro-life material, and I did read some pro-life responses to the Lancet study.

Pro-life New York Times columnist Ross Douthat noted in his columns that the study doesn't compare like to like, and he points out that when comparing abortion rates between generally pro-life US states versus generally pro-choice states, pro-life states have significantly lower abortion rates (this holds even when accounting for women that cross state lines to obtain abortions). This piqued my interest because it contradicted the finding of the Lancet study: that laws restricting abortion weren't associated with lower abortion rates. Now correlation isn't necessarily causation, but obviously US states are much more directly comparable to each other than Uganda is to Germany. So I decided to do some research into this question. Rather than comparing different countries, I figured the best way to measure the effectiveness of abortion laws was to compare abortion rates in that country (or state/region) before and after either legalization of abortion or a restrictive law. I also wanted to be sure to find studies that weren't conducted by pro-life organizations to eliminate any possible bias in favor of anti-abortion laws. Some of these I came across while reading pro-life blogs, but most I found while searching Google Scholar.

This list is what I feel are the best studies showing the effectiveness of different types of anti-abortion laws. I will just summarize the abstract next to the link.

Effects of Abortion Legalization 


Effects of Restricted Public Funding for Abortion


Waiting Period/Counseling Effects 


Effects of Declining/Increasing Abortion Facilities


Note that many of these studies find effects of abortion laws on fertility (lower when abortion legalized and higher when abortion is restricted) which means that it can't be argued that unreported illegal abortion can make up the difference in abortion rates. If abortion restrictions don't change the rate of abortion, then abortion laws shouldn't have any measurable effect on fertility.

I think there are enough studies here to refute the notion that abortion laws don't work. This argument is very prominent among pro-choicers and it has proven influential in convincing people that are morally opposed to abortion not to oppose it legally. But it's simply a myth. Laws do matter, abortion availability does matter, and pro-lifers should not be deceived by pro-choice lobbying groups to give up the legal fight against abortion.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Does the first breath grant personhood?

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

My husband likes to watch videos of conflict and controversy on YouTube. I recently overheard a speaker addressing a crowd in an open debate at which one young man stated that “the first breath” endows an individual with personhood. Interesting concept; I’d never heard that before. If this is your opinion, there are a few things you should know:

1. The first breath occurs in utero. Preborn children not only have lungs, they use them. They practice taking amniotic fluid into their bodies through their little noses in preparation for the big b-day. The nose on your face as you read this did the same thing when you were in your mother’s womb. Kids in the womb also feed, digest, pass waste material, move, feel, hear, and dream. Close your eyes, cover your ears, abortion proponents. The less you know about the lives of pre-born children, the easier it is to dehumanize them.

2. After birth, many babies require a bit of assistance getting started breathing on their own. Whether it’s a spank on the butt or more involved medical intervention, these babies have already been born, but are not yet breathing. For a few moments, they are alive, outside the womb, the cord has been cut, and their hearts are beating, but that first breath of air has not yet occurred. According to this man’s opinion, they are not yet human beings and therefore have no human rights. If the first breath of air makes us people, then abortion is acceptable, yes, but so is infanticide.

3. Imagine a 24-week old baby, born prematurely, located outside the mother’s body, breathing air. In that young man’s opinion, this child has already “become” a child. Now picture a 36-week old baby, still in utero. The second child, although older and much more developed (relatively speaking), has not yet become a child. Does that make sense?

4. Allowing anyone’s opinion to decide who counts as a person and who doesn’t is dangerous. Ever heard the phrase “life begins at forty”? Not meant to be taken literally, but it goes to show that opinions can be anything and everything. Instead of trying to agree on a subjective opinion, let’s stick to scientific fact. Life begins at conception. A living human being is a living human being, and we all meet that criteria, right from the time we are one second old. Zero room for argument on this one. Whether your body contains one cell or billions, each of those cells contains a unique and complete genetic code that makes up you – a person.

Denying certain groups of living human beings their status as people is nothing new. History has shown again and again that when we allow ourselves the option of stripping certain people of their personhood, genocide and exploitation result. It’s what the Nazis did to the Jews, and what the slave traders did the Africans. In both cases, the line was: “it’s okay because they’re not people.” Sadly, this is going on in our country and our world today, in the form of abortion.

Let’s stop pretending that air is what makes us all the worthy human beings we are. Let’s admit that every single individual on the planet is a human being and a person, deserving of respect and human rights. We must tear the blindfolds off our faces and see every person, regardless of age, size, or location, as a person.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Common ground on undercover video investigations?


The Friendly Atheist blog is very vocally pro-choice, and especially supportive of Planned Parenthood. That's a shame, because the blog is often a source of insightful commentary and interesting, under-reported news. And when we appeared on the Friendly Atheist podcast some time ago, we got along with the host fairly well on a personal level—strongly opposed positions on human rights notwithstanding.

So I got a kick out of this article on Friendly Atheist yesterday. Raise your hand when you notice the blindingly obvious parallel:
An ongoing lawsuit between a mysterious sect of the Roman Catholic Church and one of its former members suggests that the group performs private exorcisms as part of its core practices. That sect is asking U.S. courts to make sure any evidence of such a practice is hidden from public view. According to a lawsuit filed by the Heralds of the Gospel Foundation, a Brazil-based organization, this past June, former member Alfonso Beccar Varela illegally obtained videos of their private rituals and then posted them on his personal blog in violation of copyright law.
The subject of an undercover video investigation seeks court intervention to keep things hidden from public view ... why am I feeling déjà vu?
Why was Varela so intent on posting these videos? He explained in his response to the lawsuit: "I don’t deny that I made available these videos to the public but it was done with the expressed intention of denouncing the true nature of this organization that recruits adepts and solicits donations under the pretense of being just a devout Catholic association but that in fact has another concealed face… The so called “healing rituals” revealed in the videos are highly questionable “exorcisms” carried in quite a free manner…"
Organizations that claim to be about helping people while concealing their nefarious activities are just the worst, aren't they? Denouncing them using undercover footage is totally appropriate!
Just to reiterate: The Heralds are worried that the inner workings of their group are so embarrassing that donors might not want to support them financially after learning about the exorcisms. You would think that a group “devoted to a life of charity” would find another way to spend their money than by shielding what they do behind closed doors.
Exactly! Courts have no business censoring undercover videos just because they're embarrassing to the subject's reputation or call its charitable status into question.

By the way, the case of the National Abortion Federation videos, censored by order of Judge William Orick (a Planned Parenthood ally), may be headed to the Supreme Court.

Why do I bring that up? Oh, no reason.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

FQHCs are the better alternative to Planned Parenthood


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

It seems that no matter where you turn during your internet browsing, someone is talking about Planned Parenthood. It’s a hot topic and often there seems to be no middle ground; either Planned Parenthood is the best option women have for healthcare or it is the worst option any woman, especially pregnant mothers, can choose from. Those who support Planned Parenthood can’t comprehend how anyone can be against such an organization that claims to “care, no matter what.” Likewise, those who oppose Planned Parenthood can’t understand why anyone would support an organization that promotes the direct killing of a human being.

Here’s the thing that those who support Cecile Richards and her associates need to know about their pro-life friends. Even if we were to accept the bogus claim that only 3% of the services done at Planned Parenthood are abortions, how could one in good conscience support an organization that purposefully ends the lives of human beings? Even if that number was 1% or .5% of the time, the percentage would be too high. Why? Because the vast majority of people in this world consider the purposeful and willful killing of a member of the human race to be immoral and wrong.

Unfortunately, more than a few people (surprisingly, in a culture that has an infatuation with science) reject legitimate, biological science. Principally, they reject the biological fact that a human’s life (like all complex animals) begins at the moment of conception. As soon as the ovum and sperm meet, the two sex cells cease to exist and a member of the species homo sapiens, specifically a zygote, comes into being. A zygote is simply an organism at the earliest stage of human development. Instead of accepting this universal fact, many turn the matter of the beginning of life into a philosophical question and ignore the answer that science has given us.

This is why many people find abortion to be morally repugnant, because it extinguishes a human life. And since Planned Parenthood facilitates this atrocity, those that are pro-life cannot support such an organization, even if it does do some good for American communities. Here’s a simple analogy. Public schools educate our children. They are taught skills that will be valuable to them as they grow up. They learn to read, how to add and subtract, and they learn how to interact with their peers. They also learn to respect authority in the classroom, and are disciplined for acting out of turn, building their character. Public schools do many great things for our children. But what if, every once in a while (let’s say 3% of the time), extreme measures are taken for discipline, and these extreme punishments result in the death of the child? Should we still support such schools? Of course not! This is an injustice and such schools should be denounced despite the fact that 97% of the time they don’t kill a human being. The same is true for the opposition many hold towards Planned Parenthood. An organization such as Planned Parenthood could, theoretically, be doing great things for society 97% of the time; but because they purposefully act to end the lives of innocent human beings 3% of the time, an act commonly defined as murder, every effort should be made to curtail and defund Planned Parenthood so that the destruction of innocent lives (which includes both mother and child) will cease.

Now that we have our reasons for opposing Planned Parenthood out of the way, let’s look at some alternatives. As Secular Pro-Life has noted before, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) and Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) “provide affordable care, accept Medicaid, and have vastly more locations than Planned Parenthood in every state.” Many people are spreading the myth that if Planned Parenthood is defunded, then “contraception and breast cancer screenings will no longer be available to low-income women… [which] is misleading the public and discouraging low-income women from getting care that is, in fact, available to them.” In reality, FQHCs outnumber Planned Parenthood locations in America 20 to 1. The state of Alabama is an excellent example. If Planned Parenthood is so important and necessary to the health of American women, how is it that only two Planned Parenthood facilities exist in the state, compared to 234 FQHCs and RHCs located in every Alabama county? It’s clear that Planned Parenthood is not necessary when so many other options for legitimate health care exist. And the best part is, no innocent human beings are killed via abortion in these FQHCs and RHCs.

Despite the information provided in the maps found at the links above, several people still claim that while women may have access to these FQHCs, they will not be able to afford their services. This is verifiably false. Luckily, you don’t have to do the leg work of finding this proof. FQHCs (and RHCs) are required by law to serve all people in their area, regardless of their income and ability to pay. This is made clear in 42 U.S. Code § 254b(k)(3)(G)(iii):
The Center (I) will assure that no patient will be denied health care services due to an individual’s inability to pay for such services; and (II) will assure that any fees or payments required by the center for such services will be reduced or waived to enable the center to fulfill the assurance described in [the above] subclause (I)...
In addition, 42 U.S. Code § 254b(r)(4)(A-B) states:
Rule of construction with respect to rural health clinics:
(A) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent a community health center [an FQHC] from contracting with a Federally certified rural health clinic [an RHC]... for the delivery of primary health care services that are available at the clinic or hospital to individuals who would otherwise be eligible for free or reduced cost care if that individual were able to obtain that care at the community health center...
(B) In order for a clinic or hospital to receive funds under this section through a contract with a community health center under subparagraph (A), such clinic or hospital shall establish policies to ensure—
(i) nondiscrimination based on the ability of a patient to pay; and
(ii) the establishment of a sliding fee scale for low-income patients.
Planned Parenthood also uses a sliding fee scale to make sure that all their clients are served. More information on what a sliding fee scale actually is, as well as more specific info on services provided at FQHCs, can be found here.

If one takes the time to learn more about FQHCs, it can clearly be seen that there are better alternatives to Planned Parenthood. That is, alternatives that do not include abortion. To find a FQHC near you, please visit this link and spread the word that other options exist. Planned Parenthood is not the only answer.