Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Happy World Down Syndrome Day!

Today, on March 21—3/21, in a nod to the third copy of chromosome 21—we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day. It's a time to recognize the unique individuals with Down Syndrome and advocate for their inclusion in society.

It's hard to celebrate this year. A few months ago, major media outlets reported that Iceland is well on its way to "eradicating Down Syndrome"—more accurately, as actress Patricia Heaton pointed out, eliminating unborn children who have Down Syndrome. More recently, the ACLU has sued to block Ohio's ban on abortions for Down Syndrome, and the Washington Post published not just one, but two blatantly ableist op-ed pieces justifying the destruction of babies with that dreaded 47th chromosome.

This World Down Syndrome Day, I wish for every person with Down Syndrome to have equal opportunities and all the supports they need to accomplish their dreams. In the famous words of Megan Bomgaars: "Don't limit me!"

This World Down Syndrome Day, I wish for the ACLU to rediscover the meaning of civil liberties for all, not just the able-bodied and born.

This World Down Syndrome Day, I wish for Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post to soften her heart and stop hiding eugenics behind the veil of "choice" and "complexity."

This World Down Syndrome Day, I wish for a world in which every child is welcomed in life and protected by law, without regard to prenatal diagnosis.

Progress will come—but only if we work tirelessly for it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Three Major News Items Today

Mississippi passes 15-week abortion limit: Last night, Mississippi governor Phil Bryant signed a law limiting abortion to the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, except to save the life or health of the mother. Here, for reference, is what a 15-week-old human looks like (via the Endowment for Human Development):

While much media coverage noted that the new law is exceptionally "tough" or "strict," that's only true if you have a narrow, USA-centric frame of reference. Mississippi's 15-week limit is mundane in the context of other developed nations like Spain, France, Germany, and Belgium (14 weeks LMP); Italy (12 weeks LMP); Portugal (10 weeks LMP); and Ireland, Malta, and Poland (right to life recognized without regard to age).

Mississippi's sole abortion business has already filed suit to block the law. It will likely remain unenforced while the case works its way through the court system. The current Supreme Court is 5-4 in favor of abortion, so the law will only be upheld if a Justice soon retires or dies.

Illinois Primaries: Both the Democratic and Republican primary races in Illinois, being held today, are critical for pro-life advocates. On the Democratic side, abortion extremists have targeted Dan Lipinski, one of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in the House of Representatives. His challenger, Marie Newman, is funded primarily by NARAL and Planned Parenthood. Pro-Life Action League, Susan B. Anthony List, Democrats for Life, and many others are working phones and knocking on doors for Rep. Lipinski. Illinois has an open primary; pro-lifers of all stripes, including the independent and unaffiliated, who live in the 3rd Congressional District are strongly encouraged to cross over and vote for Lipinski. We must beat back those in the Democratic Party who would impose an abortion litmus test and treat the fundamental human right to life as a partisan issue.

Meanwhile, on the GOP side, Illinois primary voters have the opportunity to boot Governor Bruce Rauner from office. Gov. Rauner is infamous for signing a bill to destroy the Hyde Amendment in Illinois, introducing widespread taxpayer subsidies for the abortion industry. He betrayed not only those pro-lifers who voted for him, but the more than 144,000 Illinoisans who owe their very lives to Hyde Amendment protections. His primary opponent, Jeanne Ives, is an unapologetic pro-life advocate.

Today at the Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments today in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. NIFLA is an umbrella organization for pregnancy resource centers and clinics, who are challenging a California law that forces them to advertise abortions. Pro-life advocates from across the nation (including our own Terrisa Bukovinac, flying all the way from San Francisco!) are convening outside the Court this morning to stand up for life and freedom of speech. It's going to be an incredible rally, and if you can't make it in person, you can watch it live at the March for Life facebook page.

Monday, March 19, 2018

"I believe you've killed someone, but I will fight for your right to do it!"

Pro-choice Democrat Conor Lamb is the newest member of the House of Representatives, having squeaked out a special election win in Pennsylvania with just 641 more votes than his Republican opponent. The race was seen as a referendum on President Trump, who won the conservative district by 19 points in 2016.

There has been no shortage of commentary about what this means for the 2018 midterms, and in particular, whether Lambs' "personally pro-life, politically pro-choice" schtick should be replicated by Democrats in other red districts. But much of this coverage has ignored a key variable, namely, the reason Pennsylvania was having a special election in the first place.

Remember Tim Murphy? He held the district and was forced to resign after he was revealed to be Lamb's polar opposite: politically pro-life, but personally pro-choice. Pro-life organizations and voters alike were outraged when it came to light that Murphy had not only had an extramarital affair, but had encouraged his mistress to have an abortion. (She turned out not to be pregnant.)

There is no data to suggest that the district's residents suddenly abandoned their pro-life principles en masse, but such a betrayal from a traditionally pro-life candidate could have made Lamb's "personally pro-life" pitch more appealing. That doesn't make either Lamb or his voters correct, of course—Lamb's claim that he must vote pro-choice for reasons of church-state separation is particularly laughable—but I can understand why voters might have felt their vote wouldn't necessarily lead to a truly pro-life legislator anyway, so why bother.

Abortion extremists, of course, are busy eating their own. At Slate, Christina Cauterucci writes that "personally pro-life" politicians have been known to back Choose Life license plates (the horror!) and popular, common-sense limitations like parental consent for abortions on minors and prohibitions on taxpayer subsidies to the abortion industry. Cauterucci also makes this interesting point:
By broadcasting his belief that, lawmaking aside, a fertilized egg is a human life, he’s essentially scolding women who’ve had abortions. "I believe you've killed someone, but I will fight for your right to do it!" may be the best progressives can hope for from those who are morally opposed to abortion, but it’s also a good way to alienate people on both sides of the issue.
While I obviously disagree with Cauterucci on the morality of abortion, she's hit upon a critical insight here. In recent years, the abortion movement has been trying to distance itself from its traditionally anti-science lines of argument (e.g. "it's just a clump of cells") in favor of a more modern approach that acknowledges the lethal reality of abortion but justifies it anyway. Salon's 2013 article "So what if abortion ends life?" is a paradigmatic example. If Cauterucci is right that "I believe you've killed someone, but I will fight for your right to do it" alienates people, what messaging options does the abortion lobby have left?

The fundamental problem is that, in the long run, there is no way to both be honest and portray abortion in an attractive light. Abortion kills. Abortion targets the most vulnerable members of our human family. We must demand politicians who wholeheartedly oppose abortion—both personally, and politically.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

In One Week: Rally for Life and Freedom of Speech

Exactly one week from today, on March 20, pro-life advocates will rally outside of the Supreme Court while the Justices hear arguments in National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA) v. Becerra. As we previously wrote, this lawsuit challenges an extreme California law that requires pro-life pregnancy clinics to post advertisements for abortion. This law is a plainly unconstitutional gift to the abortion industry that neglects mother's real needs. It cannot stand.

When you're at the rally, keep an eye out for SPL rep Terrisa Bukovinac! Terrisa (pictured right) is also the head of Pro-Life San Francisco; she is traveling across the country to fight for California babies, parents, and pro-life advocates.

Other organizations participating in next week's rally include Students for Life of America, Rehumanize International, and of course NIFLA itself, along with a host of others.

This case is incredibly important for the future of the pro-life movement and freedom of conscience and expression. If there is any way you can be there, we strongly encourage you to attend!

P.S. If you happen to be in D.C. a few days earlier, the Newseum is hosting a legal panel discussion of the case this Friday, March 16, that looks really interesting.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Behind Enemy Lines: Undercover at a NARAL training session

All over the country, student and activist pro-life groups regularly meet to discuss the intimidating task of developing a sound messaging program to effectively reach members of their communities. Which key words will connect with women the most? How do we handle the most difficult questions with the appropriate amount of care? Often overlooked in all this is that simultaneously, as a foil to this work, abortion rights advocates are meeting in these very same communities, discussing these very same issues of messaging. Just as pro-lifers grapple with how to message about issues such as restricting reproductive freedom, bodily autonomy, and abortion in the case of rape, conversely, abortion rights activists are laboring to present their views on parental consent, late-term abortion, and public financing of abortions in the most palatable terms to the general public. 

Out of a desire to better understand our opponents’ viewpoints and be prepared for the types of messaging young women at risk for abortion may be hearing, our Students for Life group decided to secretly infiltrate a NARAL training session in California. What we encountered there was a pro-choice movement that is both shrewd in its marketing and emboldened in its goals.

Messaging Tactics                   
The messaging tactics seem to be emotionally aware and politically savvy. The issue of abortion was highly shrouded in the language of social justice. The “lived experiences of women” and “meeting women where they are at” were highly emphasized. It seemed that the objective question of “the morality of abortion” was countered with the subjective “lived experiences” of women obtaining abortions—as if obtaining an abortion was a form of identity, that could not be understood or questioned beyond the person experiencing it. Euphemisms were also used abundantly. As the trainer noted, while many Americans do not mind abortion being legal, a clear majority of Americans have strong ethical qualms with abortion. As such, the word “choice” can lose its power if many people view the choice as immoral. Therefore, incorporating more universal terms such as “economic security” can be more effective. As pro-lifer writer Jill Stanek has noted, “The pro-choice movement has been reduced to euphemisms about euphemisms.”

In a moment of shocking honesty in a portion on parental notification, the trainer noted that many parents do not feel that their children should have rights to abortion, prioritizing their child’s safety over their child’s personal privacy. She added that it’s important to relay to the parents, that of course their kid will come to them, but what about children who are more unfortunate and don’t have anyone to trust? Never mind that they’re advocating for the right of all children to circumvent their parents; at least the parents they’re talking to feel good about their kids. For someone willing to be so disingenuous with parents, she was strikingly honest with us about these tactics.

Above: Pro-abortion signs with "access" messaging
Policy Goals
Another component that jumped out at us was how far the conversation has shifted as the pro-choice has become more dissatisfied with the status quo and more emboldened in their policy goals. Long gone are the reverence for the trimester regime of Roe, the regulations provided for by Casey, the consensus of Hyde and the cautious verbiage of the 90’s which sought to make abortion “safe, legal and rare.” In their absence, “accessibility” has become the catch-all word. The NARAL spokeswoman made it clear that this prioritization of accessibility is the main driver behind 2018’s SB 320 in California, and the 2016 Democratic party platform, explicitly including the overturning of the Hyde Amendment. When directly asked about this by one of our members, the spokeswoman said that assuming a Democratic victory in 2020, the overturning of Hyde will be a top legislative priority in 2021. She also acknowledged that she never imagined a day when two national candidates would both advocate overturning Hyde. How far we’ve come. It is clear to us, that within the next 5 years it is highly likely that the battle over Hyde will be the front lines in the abortion debate.

The Litmus Test
Being as the training was held at a county Democratic Party office, it was only natural that the infamous “litmus test” question to arise. Ever since Tom Perez’s well-known snafu, Democrats have been contentiously debating whether their big tent can tolerate the presence of pro-lifers. It was here that the level of extremism was made evident. The NARAL spokeswoman said that if they feel confident their candidate can maintain the Democrat seat in question, then they would primary the only three Democrats that voted for the 20 week abortion ban. She also noted that NARAL endorsed Hillary over Bernie. This is rather remarkable, given that they did not endorse Hillary in 2008; but Bernie, who has a 100 percent voting rating from NARAL and a 0 rating from the National Right to Life, made the unpardonable sin of endorsing a pro-life Democrat from Nebraska. Apparently it is not just pro-life Democrats who will not be tolerated by NARAL, but also stalwart pro-choicers who merely wish to co-exist with pro-life Democrats.

Having discussed the abortion issue for over 10 years now, I felt a strange connection with the people there. I could relate to their passion and excitement about the issues being discussed. I myself have been in many similar pro-life talks and have the same types of conversations they have with the public week in and week out. It was interesting to think that these people have devoted their lives to defending that which my moral intuition tells me is the greatest moral wrong. In that moment, I realized perhaps they view me and my friends as doing the same and being equally misguided. 
Although, I can say that the evening did not end with moral ambiguity. As the training was wrapping up the spokeswoman did a brief Q&A. Answering one question she tongue-in-cheek replied “We’re very live and let live here” and then belly-laughed saying, “Sorry, I have a very dark sense of humor.” Dark indeed. 

At last: something we can agree on.

[Today's guest post is by Jeremy R.]

Friday, March 9, 2018

Jake and Amanda's Story: A Terrifying Diagnosis

I don’t think any man is prepared for hearing that a pregnancy he helped create may be the cause of death for the mother of his child. I know the father of my child wasn’t prepared to hear that, but he did nonetheless. In his words: "You hear people say a person could die having a baby, but we don’t really think about what that looks like. It’s so different than say a person having cancer because we see that and know what it looks like. People just don’t talk about what it’s like when you’re told you’re gonna die having a baby." I wanted to present our story from his perspective because men are often overlooked in maternal issues.

Mine and Jake's relationship began in July 2016. We hit it off immediately and felt there was something solid about the connection we had. Jake had no children and I had 3. I told him immediately that I didn't want more kids and in fact wasn't able medically to become pregnant. He said he was okay with loving the children I had, so we continued our budding romance. However, in August 2016 we discovered the doctors had been wrong and that I could become pregnant because I was definitely pregnant.

We were in disbelief and although he was shocked and scared, he handled it with grace. He was excited despite the fact we'd only been together a month. Unfortunately we both knew that with my medical history, our pregnancy would be difficult and statistically the odds were in favor of miscarriage. I'd had a uterine ablation a few years back and that makes conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy exceptionally difficult. We miscarried at 6 weeks... but at 12 weeks found out we were still pregnant. We had lost a twin.

It was then that my doctor presented us with the scary statistics of my pregnancy and that if I continued with it, my fatality was the overwhelming outcome. We chose to continue the pregnancy. Jake was angry when we were told to terminate, and scared for the implications of not terminating, but he supported my decision.

At 26 weeks I had a massive hemorrhage and was admitted to the hospital. We lived over an hour away from the hospital so he and I moved into a hospital room together. He got up each day, went to work and came "home" to me and did everything in his power to keep our lives normal. I can't imagine how difficult those days were for him but he says they weren't hard, it was just our life. It's funny how you can adjust to anything as long as you're with the one you love.

We had to stay in the hospital until my delivery, which was set for 33 weeks. The days leading up to my delivery were hard for Jake. This was his first and only child, but due to my medical issues I'd have to be under general anesthesia for delivery which meant he couldn't be in the room when our daughter was born. He would have to wait until she was stabilized to see her because of her prematurity, and he'd have to meet her without me because I'd still be in surgery.

On March 8, we were scheduled for delivery. Both of us were scared and anxious. Our main concern was would our daughter be okay? Would she have complications? It's so hard to be excited when your whole pregnancy has been doom and gloom. But we held fast to the belief that our daughter was a fighter and that she would be okay.

At 1:45 that day, Sadie Kayte Holliday entered the world weighing 5 lbs and was 17 inches long. She was every bit the fighter we knew she would be and came off intubation within the first hour of her birth. Jake only knew she had been born via a phone call to the waiting room from a nurse. He didn't get to meet her for several hours. It was only upon him getting to meet our daughter that he learned things were seriously wrong with me.

I was still in surgery, he was told. He knew I should have been out by now and that something was wrong. Later that evening my doctors met with Jake and my family and told them they'd done all they could do but it wasn't enough. I had bled out several times during surgery and they couldn't find or stop the bleeding. My body had had enough, so they packed my incision and stapled me up and put me on life support until they could come up with a new plan.

Jake finally got to see me in ICU around 11pm that night. He says seeing me like that was the hardest part. He held my hand, cried, and prayed for me to live. He thought about how life would be raising Sadie without me. He never left my side and slept with his head on my damaged body.

The next day I was operated on again. The doctors successfully found and fixed the arteries that had been damaged. I’ll never forget the look of relief on Jake's face or our hug through his tears when I saw him after surgery in ICU.

We are about to celebrate our daughter's first birthday. We are now married. Our experience shaped our relationship in so many ways. We grew together and became so strong. We could have so easily said we haven't been together long enough to have a baby, or the doctors know best, but we didn't. We chose to fight together instead of doing what was convenient, and I am grateful for that every day.

[Today's guest post by Amanda Solomon is part of our paid blogging program. She is Vice President of Life Defenders.]

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

You asked, we answered: The ethics of vaccines

A Secular Pro-Life supporter who shall remain anonymous wrote to us in search of advice.

* * *

Dear Secular Pro-Life,

Hey! Love the cause! I have a big, conflicting question which I believe affects many with our pro-life beliefs.

I recently had newborn twins and am starting the process of immunizations but am at a crossroads. The Hep A, measles, mumps, rubella, and chicken pox vaccines contain fetal stem cells collected from abortions. I'm not worried about not giving the chicken pox or rubella because it's rare to die from them and I am okay with the possibility of my children having them... but I'm scared as Hep A and measles are much more dangerous and can be deadly. I don't want to potentially endanger them by not giving them such a readily available shot but my gut says no. Especially since vaccines don't always work. I'm conflicted.

As much as I love my babies, I don't think I can give it to them in good conscience. "To save my baby's life, I'll support the death of another..." It just doesn't seem right to me. I was wondering if maybe you could pose a question about this so maybe I could see more perspectives. Not about vaccines as a whole, as that is so widely debated, but just those originating from abortions. Thanks!

~Concerned Mother

* * *

Dear Concerned Mother,

Thanks for writing in. Vaccines do not contain fetal stem cells; however, fetal remains from abortion victims were used in the development of certain vaccines, and that gives many parents pause.

As you ponder the ethics of this situation, please factor in that vaccines not only protect your children from illness, but also help prevent the spread of disease and thus protect others in society—including people with certain disabilities and babies who are too young to be vaccinated. (This is the concept sometimes called "herd immunity.") If a pregnant mother contracts measles, the virus can cause a miscarriage or stillbirth. There are lives on both sides of this equation.

The preborn lives lost in connection with unethical vaccine development cannot be brought back, and refusing the vaccine will not stop any future abortions. In my humble opinion, the moral weight is in favor of vaccination. Of course, this is something you should discuss first and foremost with your doctor.


* * *

Got a question for Secular Pro-Life? Email us at or message us on facebook.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

PP and SFLA announce big plans for battleground states

Planned Parenthood will spend at least $20 million in 2018 battleground states, the abortion chain disclosed last Thursday. The funds will focus on Senate and gubernatorial races in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. They are also spending money to defeat the few remaining pro-life Democrats, like Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski, in the primaries. 

Planned Parenthood spokespeople told reporters that focusing on "reproductive health issues" (by which they of course mean the dismemberment of unborn children) is a winning strategy, even claiming that abortion messaging moved voters to support Ralph Northam in the most recent race for governor of Virginia. Historically, however, pro-life candidates have enjoyed a default advantage over their pro-choice counterparts, because pro-lifers are more likely to be single-issue voters.

Pro-life groups are organizing to beat back Planned Parenthood's well-funded propaganda. Students for Life of America recently announced a tour through West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Kentucky, focused on ending taxpayer subsidies of Planned Parenthood. From the press release:
Students for Life of America President Kristan Hawkins observed that defunding the nation’s largest abortion vendor to redirect scarce resources to real medical centers “is priority number one for students in the more than 1,200 chapters working with us nationwide. This tour is even more significant in light of Planned Parenthood’s announced effort to spend $20 million dollars in an attempt to keep politicians in office who will force taxpayers to continue to give the abortion Goliath more than half-a-billion dollars annually,” said SFLA’s Kristan Hawkins. We don’t need Planned Parenthood, but with fewer women choosing them all the time, they sure need our money.”
SFLA doesn't have $20 million to throw around, but the pro-life movement has the truth, compassion, and the courage that comes with knowing we are on the right side of history. I'll take that over blood money any day.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Major pro-life rally March 20 on the steps of the Supreme Court

If you live in the D.C. area or are able to travel there, we strongly encourage you to rally outside the Supreme Court on March 20 as the Justices hear arguments in NIFLA v. Becerra. The rally will officially begin at 9:00 a.m., but the abortion industry is sending protesters, so you'll want to arrive early to secure a good location.

NIFLA (the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates) has sued California Attorney General Becerra to challenge a law that requires pro-life pregnancy resource centers and clinics in California to post signage in their waiting rooms advertising taxpayer-funded abortion. A webcast held last week described the case in significant detail. For those who can't listen, here are the key themes:

The abortion industry does not need free advertising, least of all from pregnancy centers. Several pregnancy care workers spoke on the webcast and expressed serious concern about the impact the law would have on their patients. Why on earth should pregnancy clinics make a referral for a medical procedure before the woman has even had a chance to speak with a nurse? And what message does such a sign convey to the woman sitting in the pregnancy center lobby who is already under significant pressure to abort? For that matter, the legally mandated signs promote abortion to women who haven't even have confirmed their pregnancies yet!

NIFLA attorneys liken the law to forcing Alcoholics Anonymous to serve cocktails, or demanding that the American Lung Association promote cigarettes. It's ridiculous, and a clear violation of the First Amendment. An adverse ruling would seriously undermine freedom of speech, not only for pro-lifers, but for all Americans.

For that very reason, pro-life leaders are optimistic about NIFLA's chances. One attorney noted that NIFLA not only expects to win, but hopes for a unanimous verdict in its favor. That's not crazy; although five Justices are pro-abortion, they do hold principled views on the First Amendment. In the controversial 2012 case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, all nine Justices ruled in favor of the church's position that its decision to fire a teacher was protected by freedom of religion, despite the teacher's claim that the real motive was disability discrimination. (Disclosure: one of my law professors argued Hosanna-Tabor.) And in 2011, the Court ruled 8-1 that Westboro Baptist Church, of "God hates fags" fame, has a First Amendment right to picket military funerals.

Ultimately, this is about money. As the abortion rate plummets, abortion businesses are desperate for customers. Pregnancy centers are a direct competitor, and thus a prime target. As Abby Johnson put it: "If you weren't making a difference, you wouldn't be going to court." The Supreme Court should reject California's cynical and unconstitutional attempt to make pro-lifers prop up the dying industry of death.

Again, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in NIFLA v. Becerra on March 20, and the pro-life presence outside the Court will begin early in the morning. A final decision from the Court is expected in June.

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Perpetual March for Life?

The March for Life recently announced that the 2019 event will be held on Friday, January 18. At the end of the announcement email, March for Life president Jeanne Mancini wrote: "And please save the date to join us in 2019, so that one day soon, we no longer have to march."

It's a common sentiment. Every January, I hear people say that they hope to never march again. The implied hope is that this will be the year Roe v. Wade will be overturned.

I too fervently hope that Roe v. Wade will soon be overturned... and I also very much hope to participate in the March for Life every January between now and my death. 

I mean no disrespect to Jeanne, of course, and I admire her commitment to putting herself out of a job. Perhaps I'm just being my unnecessarily contrarian self, but hear me out. The reversal of Roe v. Wade should not cause the March for Life to end. There are at least three excellent reasons to keep the March going in perpetuity:

1. To restore the right to life everywhere. The reversal of Roe v. Wade could result in immediate restoration of the right to life, if the Court holds that unborn children are Constitutional persons entitled to equal protection of the law. But the more likely path for reversal is that the Court will simply allow each state to enact its own laws on abortion. This would be a huge victory and save many lives in pro-life states—but woe to the child with the bad luck to be conceived in New York or California. Nationwide, you can be sure that the abortion industry will push to remake the Court and reverse the reversal. The pro-life movement's work must continue. The March for Life is, and will remain, a critical networking tool for a nationwide cause. 

Moreover, why should we limit our concern to the United States? Sure, it makes strategic sense to start close to home, but our success here should not be the end of the story. It should be a springboard to protect preborn children throughout the world. The March for Life could refocus in that direction.

2. To support mothers in need. After Roe v. Wade is reversed, women will need the pro-life network of pregnancy support more than ever before. Continued pro-life enthusiasm after Roe's reversal will be necessary to bolster that network. Pregnancy resource centers, adoption programs, and the like all benefit from an annual gathering. And I haven't even mentioned the March for Life's role in post-abortion healing.

3. To memorialize the victims. Suppose abortion ended tonight, completely, totally, everywhere in the world. The death toll is already in the hundreds of millions—over 60 million in the United States alone. We must never forget those children. The political environment may one day allow for a permanent physical memorial in Washington, D.C., but I think a living memorial of pro-life marchers is more fitting.

I'll see you on January 18.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Abortion Speakout and the Abortion Religion

The 1 in 3 Campaign, an abortion lobby group, is holding its annual "Abortion Speakout" today at 3:00 p.m.

There is a lot I could write about this event. I could start by pointing out that the very name is a lie; "1 in 3" is a reference to the thoroughly debunked talking point that one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. This was never true, and it certainly isn't true now that the abortion rate is at its lowest level since Roe v. Wade. (Some pro-choice groups have quietly conceded the point and now claim the correct number is "nearly one in four.")

I could write about how women have organically come together to share their stories of abortion regret for decades, and how the abortion lobby's latest efforts to put a happy face on abortion fall flat. I could write about how abortion celebration stories hurt women who have experienced miscarriage and infertility.

But instead, I want to share a single story from the 1 in 3 campaign's website. The story was submitted by a woman known only as Michele. It is peak Abortion Religion—which we've previously defined as "a set of supernatural beliefs which justify abortion on the ground that the victim of an abortion isn't really dead." Abortion Religion comes in various flavors, but typically adopts unproven ideas about reincarnation or ensoulment and uses them to rationalize violence against unborn children. (Of course, there is no logical reason why Abortion Religion couldn't be extended to rationalize infanticide or violence against older children.)

Michele writes (emphasis mine):
It may seem paradoxical, but I had two abortions because of how deeply I care about children. I had my first abortion years ago with my first boyfriend, before I had my daughter, and the second, many years later, with my daughter’s father.
I listened to a heated exchange between two women on the radio, the talk of how “each child is a flower.” This represents a fundamental misunderstanding, of life. First, life does not begin with a mere beating heart, with DNA exchanged between two cells, the inception of procreation. Life is not merely physical. Life is only life when the spiritual component enters into the biology. This is something I learned only as an adult. Yet, this recognition is essential in order to address the issue of abortion. A fetus is a vessel for the soul to enter. It is the human soul that enlivens the body. And there is a world of souls, preparing to enter our physical world. We ourselves in our bodies are the souls here on our Earth, here to learn from and to teach one another, in our various journeys. When does the soul enter the body? Well it depends, but when there is going to be an abortion, I believe a soul does not enter. The world up there is a world of knowing, and they are always trying to help us learn and grow. We ourselves are flowers, down here. We are here not only to bring children into the world, but to grow our own capacity for service to God.
"Life is only life when the spiritual component enters into the biology" echoes Justice Kennedy's widely mocked proclamation in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that "at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existing, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of life." This should terrify anyone who cares about basing public policy on objective reality.

Michele is, of course, free to believe whatever she likes, however unfounded and irrational it may be. That's her First Amendment right. But historically, American courts have held that people do not have the right to impose their dangerous religious beliefs onto their children. This is why an adult Jehovah's Witness may refuse a life-saving blood transfusion, but a child in the Jehovah's Witnesses is entitled to receive a blood transfusion in an emergency without regard to parental objections. The same principle applies here. The Abortion Religion imposes death onto children who have no say in the matter. That is intolerable, and will one day be viewed as a barbaric practice rightly condemned to the ash heap of history.

Monday, February 26, 2018

On the Single-Issue Struggle

Secular Pro-Life is a single-issue organization, and that issue is opposition to abortion. However, we frequently partner with multi-issue organizations on pro-life projects.

CLE activist Aimee Murphy
Some of those multi-issue organizations, such as Rehumanize International and Consistent Life, embrace what's known as the "consistent life ethic" (CLE) opposing all acts of violence against human beings. CLE groups typically advocate against unjust war, capital punishment, and various social ills in addition to abortion.

Other multi-issue organizations we've worked with have a more specialized focus, such as the numerous groups that combine opposition to abortion and opposition to physician-assisted suicide. And then, of course, there are those whose anti-abortion advocacy is one small part of a broader religious mission or political philosophy.

This can sometimes be a challenging landscape to navigate. Making it even more difficult, abortion itself has, tragically, become thoroughly entangled in our society. If you strive to be single-issue, as Secular Pro-Life does, where does the issue of abortion begin and end?

A few months ago, when a draft tax plan proposed elimination of the adoption tax credit, pro-lifers voiced near-unanimous displeasure and the credit was swiftly reinstated. The argument was straightforward: adoption is a key abortion alternative, and reduced funding for adoption could lead to more abortions. I happen to agree with that argument and think it fair to say that a pro-life organization could, in that situation, remain "single-issue" while taking a position on tax reform. To give another example, Students for Life of America has a terrific program called Pregnant on Campus that (among other things) educates students about their Title IX rights; those legal protections help pregnant students stay in school, which in turn reduces the pressure for abortion. I do not believe this advocacy transforms Students for Life of America into a multi-issue, "pro-life and pro-Title IX" organization. And of course, the pro-life movement's constant struggle against pro-choice censors has led many of us to become stalwart defenders of freedom of speech, which is fundamentally necessary for us to continue our activism.

How far does this logic extend? If a pro-life organization pushed for a higher minimum wage, arguing that most abortions are committed for financial reasons and that higher wages will therefore prevent abortions, would that organization still be considered single-issue? I suspect most readers will say no, but why not? What about paid maternity leave? What about an organization that (like Secular Pro-Life) promotes contraception and sex education as abortion prevention tools? Conversely, what about pro-life organizations that believe contraception has the unintended effect of increasing risky sexual activity, leading to more unplanned pregnancies, and therefore oppose contraception and emphasize abstinence?

The debate about what is and is not "single-issue" becomes even murkier due to recurring communication failures. For instance, I have observed that non-CLE pro-lifers often view CLE pro-lifers with suspicion because they associate CLE with the infantile pro-abortion taunt that "you're not really pro-life unless you also [fill in the blank]." Knowing so many CLE activists personally, I can tell you they most certainly do not view themselves as the only true pro-lifers—but in our sound-bite-driven world, perceptions trump intentions.

And then there is the tendency—so universal that I'm willing to bet I've been guilty of it myself—to treat those causes you personally care about as having an obvious connection to abortion, while those you do not care as much about are obviously unrelated.

The single-issue debate is hot at the moment, but it's been ongoing for longer than I have been alive. I certainly don't expect to solve it single-handedly. What I can do is name some categories that I hope will make the debate a bit clearer going forward. (Note that all of these categories apply to pro-life organizations and to individuals in their capacity as pro-life advocates.)

Category 1: Standard anti-abortion activism. This includes lobbying for pro-life laws, protesting abortion enablers, and educating the general public about abortion. Most pro-life organizations engage in these activities, which are unquestionably abortion-related.

Category 2: Direct aid to women. Sidewalk counselors, pregnancy resource centers, the Pregnant on Campus initiative, post-abortion support groups, and adoption-focused organizations belong in this category.

Category 3: The pro-life auxiliary. These are the lawyers protecting pro-lifers' freedom of speech, the consultants helping pregnancy centers target their advertising to reach women in need, the debate trainers teaching student activists how to make the case against abortion effectively, etc. They may be a step removed from the front line, but their work is incredibly valuable.

Category 4: "X causes abortion." Unlike Category 2, which involves reaching individual women in crisis and addressing the problems they cite as contributing to their consideration of abortion, Category 4 takes on a broader perspective. If you believe that the root cause of abortion is poverty, you might treat anti-poverty efforts as fundamentally pro-life. If you believe that the root cause of abortion is society's abandonment of traditional Christian sexual morality, you might preach the Gospel as part of your pro-life outreach. If you believe that the root cause of abortion is lack of respect for human life in general (not only preborn human lives), you might start by encouraging people to see similarities between themselves and others who do not look like them.

Category 5: "The same thing that causes abortion also causes X." This builds upon Category 4. Taking our earlier examples, a Category 5 organization might say:
  • "Abortion is caused by poverty. Poverty also causes homelessness. Therefore, we volunteer at homeless shelters as part of our pro-life mission."
  • "Abortion is caused by society's abandonment of traditional Christian sexual morality. Same-sex marriage also arises from society's abandonment of traditional Christian sexual morality. Therefore, we officially oppose same-sex marriage."
  • "Abortion is caused by lack of respect for human life. Unjust war also demonstrates a lack of respect for human life. Therefore, our pro-life advocacy encompasses opposition to unjust war."
Category 6: No substantive relationship to abortion. Here we have pro-life organizations that clearly are not single-issue and would never claim to be. For instance, the 66-page Republican Party platform addresses everything from federal dairy policies to cybersecurity, in addition to life issues.  

In my opinion, any organization whose work is limited to Categories 1, 2, and/or 3 is single-issue. Those in Categories 5 and 6 are unambiguously multi-issue. I see ample room for debate about Category 4.

Whatever category or categories of advocacy you're involved in, I hope we can understand one another better and stand united for the cause of preborn children. Our tactical and strategic differences should not overshadow the tragic destruction wrought by Roe v. Wade.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Volunteer Opportunity: Project Advisory Board

Secular Pro-Life is embarking on a new project to launch this June, and we are looking for volunteers to serve on our project advisory board. You'll get to hang out with the same awesome folks who were on the #HelloHyde advisory board, gain valuable activism experience, and contribute to a wonderful cause.

We can't share all the details of the project in a public forum yet, but we can tell you that it has a special appeal to pro-life feminists and people with an interest in the justice system. This volunteer opportunity is open to pro-lifers of every gender, race, creed, and political persuasion. We are particularly in need of people with a background in any of the following areas:
  • Signature-gathering, canvassing, and other campaign experience
  • Public relations and connections to news media
  • Job/internship experience on Capitol Hill
  • Web design
  • Graphic design
  • Marketing and social media 
  • Webcast production
This is a very flexible volunteer position and you can live anywhere in the United States. The time commitment will vary depending upon the role you adopt on the board.

If you are interested, send an email to with the subject line "Advisory Board." Include your name, a bit about yourself, and two or three pro-life references. We look forward to working with you!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Fixed that meme for you

Secular Pro-Life does not take an official position on what gun control measures are best suited to end the scourge of school shootings in America. We do, however, take an official position on ignorant bullshit memes: we are opposed. So when we saw this questionable meme comparing gun policy to abortion policy, we felt the need to make a few corrections:

Let's break this down, shall we?

Gun purchase waiting periods are already a thing. Like abortion waiting periods, the specifics vary from state to state. In my home state of Florida, the gun purchase waiting period is three business days. Want a longer waiting period in your state? Contact your legislators!

Rather than imposing parental consent laws, most states outright ban minors from buying guns. There are some gaps here, as detailed by The Guardian, because states have different laws for different types of guns. I expect this to be an area of significant focus for gun policy reformers in the coming months. Nevertheless, laws on guns for minors are already stricter than laws on abortions for minors, because Supreme Court precedent prevents enforcement of any age requirement for abortion.

What does informed consent for guns look like? The closest analogue is mandatory training. About half of states require gun owners to take a class before they can obtain a concealed carry permit. Slightly more than half of states require informed consent for abortion. Both pro-life advocates and gun safety advocates have a way to go in this area.

Whoever made the original meme clearly has no idea what pre-abortion ultrasounds are for. Abortion vendors use ultrasound to determine how far along the pregnancy is, which is how they decide which abortion method to use and how much to charge. Ultrasound is also used to detect ectopic pregnancies. Ultrasound laws have nothing to do with whether or not an abortionist will do an ultrasound; they will, as standard procedure. Rather, ultrasound laws exist to stop abortionists from hiding the ultrasound images from their patients. None of this "turn the screen away from her, it's just a clump of cells, ho-hum" nonsense.

Oh, and the wand is optional; you can get an ultrasound with no penetration of any bodily orifices.

Abortion businesses are, sadly, plentiful. There are over 700 abortion businesses in the United States. Only a handful of states are down to one abortion facility. But the number of abortion businesses has decreased substantially in recent years. One factor is decreased demand: fewer women are having unplanned pregnancies, and of those who do, more are choosing life. Another factor is enforcement of the health and safety regulations that shoddy abortionists routinely violate.

Gun control advocates are more than welcome to follow the pro-life movement's example. Want to decrease demand for guns? Educate people on gun hazards and offer alternative self-defense methods. Want to close gun shops? Investigate potential legal violations by your local firearms vendor, and if current laws aren't stopping bad actors, lobby for stricter standards.

On that note, why not emulate sidewalk counselors? There is nothing stopping you from protesting on public sidewalks outside gun shops. Hold up those victim photos. Plead with firearms customers to reconsider. You have the right to freedom of speech... at least until gun vendors respond by enacting "bubble zones" to censor your advocacy. These laws are unconstitutional and the pro-life movement has been fighting them in court for decades.

Abortion is lethal. No doubt, a gun in the wrong hands can be incredibly destructive in a very short period of time. In responsible hands, a gun is unlikely to kill anyone at all. Abortion instruments won't slaughter a room full of people all at once, but abortion consistently takes lives one or two at a time (except in the very rare case of abortion survivors). Over 60 million human beings have lost their lives to abortion since Roe v. Wade. It's not "health care."

Asking whether it makes more sense to stop abortion or to stop gun violence imagines a zero-sum game where none exists. It cynically pits victims of different injustices against one another for no reason.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: I Lived On Parker Avenue

The adoption documentary I Lived On Parker Avenue will be released on March 8—less than three weeks away! I got a sneak peek, and it is an incredible film.

In 30 minutes, I Lived On Parker Avenue traces the lives of 19-year-old David; his adoptive parents and grandparents; his biological mother, Melissa, and her family; and his biological father, Brian, and his family. Home video footage, interviews, and reenactments combine beautifully to tell a moving story of life and love.

As Melissa states in the trailer: "David was seconds, literally, from not being here." I won't give away the details of how Melissa came to reject abortion and preserve David's life, but I will say this: hardly anyone, pro-life or pro-choice, comes out of it looking good. Melissa deserved so much better.

David grew up with full knowledge of his adoption, and upon reaching adulthood, he decided he wanted to communicate with Melissa and Brian. After some time getting to know one another from a distance, David's two families finally come together in person. The filmmakers were there to capture that emotional moment.

As great as that is, it's not even the most emotional part of the film. That comes at the very end, which I will not spoil.

Is this a pro-life movie? Without a doubt. But it does not shy away from how difficult adoption can be, and the sacrifices birth parents make to give their children the opportunity for a better life. It's also a film that pro-choicers can watch without getting defensive. And it avoids the dreaded pitfalls: there's no religious proselytizing, the production values are superb, and the life-affirming message comes through organically.

Like the I Lived On Parker Avenue facebook page, or sign up for emails at the film's website, to be notified when it's available to watch!

Friday, February 16, 2018

We asked, you answered: the politics of unfriending

Last week we asked our facebook fans: "Do you unfriend people who disagree with you about abortion? Why or why not?"

The overwhelming majority answered no. A few said they would unfriend a pro-choicer under specific circumstances. No one gave an unqualified yes.
Jennifer B.: No. For lots of reasons, including: (1) Those people are still my friends. If I can engage with them, even better, but I'm also interested in *why* they're pro-choice. (2) Turning Facebook into your own personal echo chamber doesn't make you better at arguing your points. (3) You don't change minds by trying to silence people. Unfriending them, to me, would make it seem like I'm afraid of what they might say.
John B.: Nope. They're the people I'm trying to reach.  
Maureen E.: I would have to unfriend my own husband.
Jane C.: I try not to unfriend people with different beliefs unless they are consistently unkind to me or my loved ones.
Jonathan S.: It would be dumb and insular to unfriend someone because they disagree with me on an issue; even an issue as important as the abortion issue. We won't change hearts and minds by ostracizing anyone who disagrees with us.
Scott C.: I have to a few. They just said things I found reprehensible. One told me that not only do men have no say, women have the right to keep it a secret from the fathers. Another nicknamed her baby “parasite” on some pregnancy tracking app.
Sarah G.: No. For the same reason I lift weights: Resistance makes me stronger. I could never fortify my arguments against abortion unless I had opposition. I can't defeat the enemy unless I know him. I can't gain allies if I can't talk to them into switching sides first.
Andy A.: I only unfriend/block stalkers and people who creep me out. I like keeping people who disagree with my ideology because it paves the way for good conversations and debates.
Owen E.: No, in the hope that keeping lines of communication open may lead to them changing their minds. Also knowing what your ideological opponents think and feel is good - both to understand their view and to humanize them.
Sean H.: I mean I used to be the guy I disagree with and I changed my mind, why block people?
Unprompted, a secondary theme quickly emerged...
Arkadiusz K.: Unfriending them is just like giving up. Usually they unfriend me.
Sarah T.: No. Never once have. But a lot of them have unfriended me. Including, recently, a friend I've know for over 30 years. My crime was posting a picture from an embryology textbook of a 20 week preborn baby in the womb on her status supporting late term abortion. My words were "this is what a baby/fetus looks like at 20 weeks. I oppose late term abortion." This was apparently enough to get me unfriended and blocked.
Joanna W.: Typically not, although I make an exception if they are behaving badly on my wall (name-calling, profanity, etc.) and won’t knock it off. I have been unfriended by many pro-choicers, though, and likely unfollowed by many more. 
Jason B.: Never had to. They usually unfriend me first.
Anna S.: I only unfriend people if they’re disrespectful. I make a point to follow groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood. I have been unfriended hella times, though.
Sharyn T.: No, but I've been unfriended and blocked before for opposing abortion (even if we agree on everything else.) 
Donna M.: No, but they've unfriended me. I lived.
If pro-lifers are keeping pro-choice friends in order to give them a new perspective on abortion, while pro-choicers are unfriending pro-lifers and retreating into an echo chamber, that could be a major factor in the success of the pro-life movement in the social media era.

Joshua M. commented: "Studies actually show that liberals are more likely to unfriend because of politics." He's right. We'll be the first to affirm that liberal/pro-choice and conservative/pro-life do not map over each other completely, but the anecdotal evidence above suggests that the unfriending pattern does carry over into the abortion debate.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Got a story to share? These two organizations want to hear it.

The pro-life movement has science and logic on its side, but that's not enough to persuade everyone; we mustn't discount the power of storytelling. Life-affirming stories have always played a crucial role, and today, I want to highlight two organizations that focus on this area.

(1) You may remember Pro-Life Champions as the organization that brought us the documentary film 40. Released in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2013, 40 includes interviews with Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard and many others. Five years later, Pro-Life Champions has a new project: Shout Your Story, an online catalog of unplanned pregnancy stories offering hope to women in crisis. Unlike 40, Shout Your Story features shorter video clips that are easily shared on social media. If you'd like to contribute to Shout Your Story, contact them here.

(2) I just learned about Orange Socks when I stopped by March for Life Expo last month, and I'm so glad I did. Orange Socks is an incredible resource for parents whose children are diagnosed with serious genetic conditions. When diagnosis is made prenatally, parents face tremendous pressure to abort. As Orange Socks puts it: "Advice and guidance from medical professionals and internet searches can only go so far, and the information and images are often scary. The best source of information, to know what it’s really like to have a child with a disability or life-long condition, is from another parent who has a similar child."

Orange Socks collects those accounts of what it's really like, and organizes them by diagnosis so that parents can quickly find compassionate information about their child's condition—everything from ADNP Syndrome to ventriculomegaly! If you are the parent of a child with a disability, I encourage you to submit your story to Orange Socks here.

Finally, if you have a life-affirming story that doesn't quite fit either of the above, you are welcome to submit it to Secular Pro-Life! We are always accepting guest blog posts.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Are viruses "alive?"

The fetus is a living human organism.

When I state this long-standing and (at least in the field of biology) undisputed fact, pro-choicers usually have one of three reactions:

Reaction 1: They argue the point based on ignorance of basic biology. “A single cell is not an organism.” “A zygote is no different than your skin cells—they’re both human.” "Human life doesn’t begin at fertilization; it began millions of years ago." (Here is our summary post dispelling these and other common pro-choice misconceptions.)

Reaction 2: They concede the point and get philosophical. “Sure, biologically the fetus is a ‘human being,’ but philosophically, morally, the fetus is not a person, i.e. a human of value who merits protection.” (Here are a few of our past posts about different concepts of personhood, and I highly recommend the Equal Rights Institute's Zoo Shooting analogy testing people’s intuitions regarding personhood.)

Reaction 3: They argue the point by getting philosophical. “There’s no consensus on what it means to be ‘alive.’ By some definitions advanced artificial intelligence is alive. Is the Earth ‘alive?’ What about viruses? Are viruses ‘alive’?”

In my opinion this third type of response is actually pretty interesting, in a way. It’s true that we don’t have one universal definition of “life” that applies to all fields of inquiry and accounts for all of our intuitions about what might be considered alive and what probably isn’t. Here is a great video by “Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell” exploring these questions:

The video explicitly addresses the conundrum of whether viruses are alive:
This is where viruses make everything more complicated. They are basically strings of RNA or DNA in a small hull and need cells to do something. We’re not sure if they count as living or dead, and still there are 225M cubic meters of viruses on Earth. They don’t seem to care what we think of them.
The video doesn’t offer a definitive answer, only (fascinating) questions to ponder. But in terms of the abortion debate, this response is hardly the “gotcha!” argument some pro-choice people seem to think it is.

The fetus is a living human organism just as you and I are living human organisms. If we can’t know whether living human organisms are “really” alive because of deeply philosophical questions about viruses and the earth and aliens and AI, then we can’t know if you and I are “really” alive. Just like the fetus, we too are organisms made up of living cells that are made up of non-living microscopic machines.

So, at least as far as I can see, the pro-choice person making this argument has two options:

A. Assert that because we have no universal philosophical definition for “life,” we can’t really know if any human anywhere is truly “alive.” This strange premise leads to two implications that undermine the pro-choice argument:
  1. We don’t have to know if a human is “alive” in order to assert that human’s rights. The pro-choice person is asserting the right to an abortion even though the same person doesn’t seem sure whether the women seeking abortion are “alive” (since the pro-choice person isn’t sure what “alive” means in the first place).
  2. Uncertainty about whether a human is “alive” is not justification for killing that human. The pro-choice person is not (we hope) arguing that it’s okay to kill anyone at any time since we don’t really know what “alive” means.
B. Explain why these questions about “life” are profound only when it comes to the fetus and irrelevant when it comes to born humans. I strongly suspect this route will just lead us back to Reaction 2 above, but if anyone knows of a different response, I’d be curious to hear it.

In any case, when I say that the fetus is a living human organism, I am not implying that biology has answered all of life’s mysteries. I’m explaining that—to the extent you and I are biologically “alive”—so is the fetus. This statement is not a pro-life belief; it’s a long-standing well-established biological fact, and in stating it pro-lifers aren’t “twisting science” any more than are the countless biology and embryology texts which have explained for decades that, as organisms, we humans begin as zygotes.

The pro-choice people who are firm in their stance don’t tend to have a problem with this concept, because they believe merely being a living biological human is not enough to merit human rights. That’s fine—that’s a worthy discussion which we’ve tackled before (see above links). But I’ve long suspected that many pro-choice people are not nearly so confident in their position. How fragile does your view have to be if it only works as long as we can't really know if anything at all is "alive"?

"Viruses may or may not be 'alive,' so abortion is probably fine I guess."

Monday, February 12, 2018

What's wrong with killing?

Suppose a cute toddler is playing in front of us, riding on a toy truck, laughing and having a great time. She may be my child, or she may be anyone’s child. And suppose I kill that toddler before your eyes. You will all be shocked, certainly.

What I want to dig into here is what exactly has shocked us. I would like to submit that we would not have been shocked if not for our expectations that the life of that conspicuously alive child would continue in the next moment – and the moment after that, and the moment after that. Our shock will, by definition, consist simply of emotion and a pre-logical sense of wrongdoing. Logical analysis will not constitute any important part of our initial experience. And yet that gut experience, though it does not include analysis, can be subjected to analysis. We are shocked by the violence and the gore, but the violence and the gore mean what they do to us because subconsciously we understand their consequences. Their consequences are that I have deprived that child of her future. I have deprived all of us, but above all the child, of the life she would have had. Underlying our sense of wrongdoing, this was the real wrong.

(Evolutionary psychology would explain our response as a successful adaptation. I think the two explanations are not inconsistent.)

Suppose I killed that child with a sudden blow from behind. She did not experience pain. She did not experience fear. Yet nevertheless what I did was wrong. Some would say that I frustrated the child’s desire to live, but in fact her desire to live was “cured” in the moment that it was frustrated, so that the child never actually experienced frustration. The frustration that those people (such as Peter Singer) claim to be crucial was in fact purely theoretical. My brutal act did not result in any frustration, will not result in any frustration, and could not result in any frustration. The real wrong was that I deprived the child of the life she would have had, her future.

Everyone agrees that to cause suffering is a form of harm, and if that harm is unnecessary, it is wrong to cause it. But if to cause suffering is wrong, then to deprive of pleasure, or the chance for pleasure, is also wrong. A “potentiality account” of the wrongness of killing is to be found in Indian philosophy, and has been developed in the West by Don Marquis.

As mentioned, we expected that the life of that conspicuously alive child would continue in the next moment (let’s call it moment A) and for many moments after that. I deprived that individual of all that living, thus irreparably harming her, with a blow struck at moment A minus 1. But how else could I have caused that same harm to that same individual – or let’s say, how else could I have caused that same harm and even more to that same individual?

Obviously I could have caused that same harm and even more to that same individual with a blow struck at moment A minus 2, or at moment A minus 3. I could have caused that same harm and even more with a blow struck just after the child’s birth.

And, just as obviously, I could have caused such harm with a blow struck at the individual before the individual’s birth. I could have caused such harm with a blow struck at the individual just after fertilization. Whether or not we call that individual a “person” or a “human being” is completely irrelevant. I would be very comfortable calling it a “thingamajig.” The point is, whatever we may call it, if we kill it we clearly deprive it.

When I kill the toddler playing with her toys, the deprivation of moment A is in the future only by a moment, and when I kill the zygote, the deprivation of moment A is in the future by a couple of years, but what difference does that make? The deprivation is farther removed in time, but would not the toddler killed while still a zygote have lived moment A, soon enough, just as intensely as the toddler killed while a toddler? Of course she would have.

At either moment of killing, I have deprived that same individual of moment A and of a long string of moments, typically about eighty years of moments. They would not all have been moments of joy, certainly. Some would have been moments of great pain. But some would have been moments of joy, and all would have been moments of moral training and search for meaning.

Could I also have caused such harm to that same individual earlier than fertilization? No. Because before fertilization there was no such individual. There was a sperm, and there was an egg. The maximum possible harm that I can do to a sperm is to deprive it of some moments of sperm life. (And the maximum possible harm that I can do to an egg is to deprive it of some moments of egg life.) I don’t think that we should kill a sperm just for the fun of killing it, but the moments that we deprive it of, in killing it, cannot be compared in value to the toddler’s moment A, B, etc.; so we can kill it for any utility of human beings, whereas there is very little that can justify depriving any individual of moments such as A and B.

A sperm is an individual biological entity for whom, as an individual entity, there is no expectation that it will ever experience a moment like moment A. An egg is an individual biological entity for whom, as an individual entity, there is no expectation that it will ever experience a moment like moment A.

Of course if I kill a particular egg or the particular healthy sperm that is ahead of the pack in racing toward the egg, I prevent our toddler from coming into existence and thus prevent her moment A, B, etc. from ever occurring. But have I harmed anyone, have I wronged anyone – and if so, whom? Our moral intuitions say that harms can be done only to actual individual entities, not to theoretical individual entities. I have only harmed a theoretical individual entity, not any actual individual entity. (That is, the only actual individual that I harmed was the sperm or the egg, and as mentioned it had little to lose, so the harm wasn’t great.) By killing the individual toddler, or that individual toddler while still a zygote, did I take away from her that moment she was going to have, riding on the truck and laughing? Yes. By killing a sperm or an egg, did I take away from any individual that moment riding on the truck and laughing? No, the individual we’re talking about, the individual who can be deprived of a moment on a toy truck, and of many more moments of pleasure and pain over the 75 years that follow that moment, never exists if the meeting of sperm and egg does not occur.

It is to be observed that those who argue “If killing zygotes is wrong, then killing sperms and eggs is also wrong” invariably think that it is not wrong to kill sperms and eggs. And yet they agree that we cannot kill toddlers, and as we have seen, the wrongness of killing toddlers cannot be explained by pain, fear, or desire to live. So they are left with no explanation as to what is wrong with killing a toddler.

Of course it is only moral intuitions that can ultimately determine a correct moral principle, so if someone says they really have a moral intuition that depriving a theoretical individual is as harmful to that individual as depriving an actual individual, we cannot completely disprove the correctness of that moral principle with rational argumentation. But everyone agrees that “we have to draw the line somewhere,” and before no other line except fertilization can a serious argument even be made that killing does not deprive an individual of moments like moment A – that the prevention of moment A is not major deprivation for the individual who is killed. (I know there are arguments about “psychological personhood” and about continuity, but I don’t find them to be philosophically serious, and they seem to be ad hoc theories designed only to justify abortion.)

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

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Science/Philosophy Distinction

Last year I read and reviewed Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by abortionist Willie Parker (you can read my review of the book here). I posted my review on Goodreads and it actually garnered me more nasty responses than my reviews on Amazon, which surprised me somewhat. I gave a pretty thorough explanation for why his book doesn't add anything to the discussion on the moral argument over abortion. One thing in particular I mentioned was that the scientific evidence shows that human life begins at fertilization, yet Parker relies on pseudo-philosophical claims, as well as making himself out to be the only authority anyone needs, and passes them off as scientific claims. One of the commenters who responded to my review, who goes by Anna, wrote the following:
I read "Life's Work" and found it an entertaining biography and inspirational. I admire anyone who can overcome their fundamentalist religious upbringing and come into the 21st Century, where women are no longer under the boots of clergy or men. 

Re: "embryologists are, and they consistently agree, without significant controversy, that human life begins at fertilization.": You must not have had a graduate level biology class. Your statement is totally false. For example, the most world renowned embryologist, Dr. Lewis Wolpert, is pro-choice:

“What I’m concerned with is how you develop. I know that you all think about it perpetually that you come from one single cell of a fertilized egg. I don’t want to get involved in religion but that is not a human being. I’ve spoken to these eggs many times and they make it quite clear … they are not a human being.”--Dr. Lewis Wolpert, developmental and evolutionary biologist, author of "Principles of Development" and “Triumph of the Embryo”

“I’m also confident that the freshly fertilized zygote is not human, either. There’s more to being human than bearing a cell with the right collection of genes.”--Dr. Paul Myers, developmental biologist

Developmental biologists view reproduction as a cycle, not a starting point with fertilization:

“The idea that "life begins at conception" is not a scientific one. Since the disproof of 'spontaneous generation' (1668-1859), we have known that life only derives from life. Life arose billions of years ago and has continued since as a cycle. Assigning a beginning to a cycle (like the year) is arbitrary.”--Dr. Robert Wyman, neurobiologist 
This comment illustrates why all pro-life people need to be aware of the difference between a scientific claim and a philosophical claim, because random commenters and even scientists will confuses these two types of claims, such as what is going on here.

Of course, it's difficult to give a short definition of what a scientific claim is. But we can understand a scientific claim to mean something akin to an observation about the physical world. Science can only investigate physical reality. So any claim that tries to explain or investigate a non-physical aspect of reality is not a scientific claim. The scientific method is a physical method that allows us to investigate certain aspects of the universe. As it is a physical method, it can only investigate physical things. Any claims made about ethics or metaphysics is stepping outside the bounds of science. A claim that cutting a tree down will kill it is a scientific claim -- a claim that it is wrong to cut down a tree is an ethical claim, not a scientific one, even if it is a scientist who is making that claim. So saying that the field of embryology, as embryologists are the relevant experts, has a consensus that human life begins at fertilization is significant. Pointing out that there are pro-choice embryologists is not, because being pro-choice is about making an ethical claim. So an embryologist who tries to claim that abortion is wrong or right is stepping outside his field of expertise to make this claim. He may or may not be right, but he is not a relevant authority any longer.

Now let's look at Anna's comment. Her first paragraph implies the oft-repeated claim that being pro-life is a religious position held by neanderthals who never made it into the 21st century. This is, of course, complete hogwash that isn't worth time responding to. This is Cathy Newman-level bad engagement with your interlocutors' position.

Her second paragraph is interesting, in that she calls Lewis Wolpert an embryologist, and yet after quoting him refers to him as a developmental and evolutionary biologist. The latter is, of course, correct. Doctor Wolpert is a developmental biologist, not an embryologist. This means that he's not an expert on embryology and is not a counterexample to the claim that embryologists are in agreement that human life begins at fertilization.

But this quote doesn't say anything interesting. I would imagine Dr. Wolpert makes a more intelligent case elsewhere (Anna doesn't even source the claim, just alludes to two books that he's written, so I can't check the quote for accuracy). Doctor Wolpert makes the same mistake as Anna does, assuming the idea that life begins at fertilization is a religious claim as opposed to a scientific one. Then he says something bizarre in which, having never read the quote in context, I can only assume he's being condescending toward pro-life people. I doubt he's making a serious argument with his flippancy, which makes it all the more bizarre that Anna would quote it. It certainly doesn't make her case.

The quote from Paul Meyers (also a developmental biologist) more adequately expresses what I'm trying to relay here. Doctor Meyers is making a philosophical claim, that there is more to being human than bearing a cell with a right collection of genes. But that's exactly what you need if we're speaking biologically. If you can't tell what species something belongs to just by looking at it, you can take a blood sample and determine its species by its unique DNA. Of course, philosophically speaking, there's a lot more to being a human than simply having human DNA. Humans are also the kinds of things that can engage in rational thought, have relationships, hold religious and philosophical views, etc. Humans are more than the sum of their parts. But their parts are important in determining what, exactly, they are.

The final quote from Robert Wyman (a neurobiologist) makes the most bizarre claim I've ever seen a pro-choice person make. Life doesn't begin at fertilization, they claim, it began billions of years ago. And that is somehow supposed to show that we can't know when an individual human life begins. Not only in this argument simply wrong (I did not exist in the Jurassic period; there was a definite beginning to my existence), but it proves way too much. If we can't tell when human life begins because human life began billions of years ago, then Dr. Wyman can't prove that he is a human. Perhaps life doesn't begin until you're 80 years old. If we're to take Dr. Wyman's argument seriously, then you can't tell when anyone's life begins. This is clearly absurd, as is this argument.

These are just a few examples of people who not only make bad arguments, but confuse philosophical claims with scientific ones. It's true that embryologists are in constant agreement with this, but in case you encounter the occasional person who tries to refute this claim, knowing this basic distinction will be helpful as you attempt to show the person where he has gone wrong.

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