Monday, January 15, 2018

Let's talk about abortion and race

This time last year, I had the pleasure of co-presenting with Christina Bennett at the Students for Life of America east and west coast national conferences. I am a white atheist, and she is a black Christian. Our topic was "Tactics of Inclusion"—she spoke to racial diversity and I spoke to religious diversity. We developed a series of funny, borderline offensive what-not-to-do skits to help students navigate this terrain. There's a video, but it's 35 minutes long and many of you may have missed it. So in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I am going to do my (admittedly small) part to improve race relations by summarizing Christina's half of the presentation in writing. Enjoy!

Christina's first skit focused on abortion's disproportionate impact on children of color. We should not be afraid to speak the truth about this horrific reality. There are, however, some incredibly poor ways to do this. Condescension will quickly alienate people. So will needlessly pitting good causes in competition with one another, i.e., "If Black Lives Matter, then abortion should be your top priority." It's even worse with an accusatory slant, i.e., "If you really care about black children dying..." 

Just stick to the facts. And remember to listen and learn something from the person on the other side of the conversation, as opposed to giving a one-sided lecture.

In her second skit, Christina played a student who was part of a pro-life organization on campus but had missed the last several meetings. The group's leader, played by yours truly, bumped into her outside of class and asked her what was going on: "I thought this was something you were really passionate about." So far, so good. Christina's character answered: 
So, I just feel a little uncomfortable at Life Club sometimes. First off, I’m the only person of color at any of the meetings. Of all the speakers we bring in none of them are minorities and when we talk about helping the black community everyone looks at me like I’m the one person with all the answers. It just makes me feel awkward.
My character's response was to get defensive:
I’m SO sorry. I didn’t even notice that. I never thought of it before. Honestly, I just don’t even see color. I never grew up that way. [laughing] Sometimes I forget that you’re even black!
In the post-skit discussion, Christina had this to say about the phrase "I don't see color":
I've had so many discussions about this phrase, and it's not like it's inherently a bad phrase. I understand what people mean when they say "I don't see color" and I'd guess that if I was to survey you, probably everyone has a different opinion, if you do say that, on what that means. But often it means "I don't discriminate against people. I don't think I discriminate against people, and in my opinion I just treat people the same; I've grown up in a diverse neighborhood, I have a diverse family, and I just don't see people that way." So that's often what people mean when they say that phrase. But what do people hear? Especially people of color, what do they hear when you say that phrase? 
Well I know for me, to be honest, when I hear it I think: Really? You don't see color? So you're telling me if a six-foot African-American guy is walking down the street, you can't tell the difference between him and a four-foot Asian woman? I just kind of feel sometimes we're not being honest. 
In addition to that, oftentimes I feel like when you're saying you don't see color, then you don't see me. You don't see how different I am. And you don't understand how to then reach me because of my differences.
Christina also mentioned how people have told her that she's "not really black" and similar statements. "I always want to ask, well, why? What negative African-American stereotypes am I not fulfilling for you?"

Aside from avoiding dumb phrases, what could my character have done differently? First, let's get rid of the notion that we have to have all the answers and have them immediately. Conversations about race are complex and probably shouldn't happen on the spot in a random hallway. Rather than being defensive and dismissive, my character could have offered to do lunch and go over possible reforms, like scheduling pro-life people of color as speakers. That way, everyone would have time to stop and think instead of spewing word vomit, Christina's character would feel that her concerns were being taken seriously, and there would be more trust between the two characters. 

Again, this is just a summary, and I encourage you to watch the video. I learned a lot in the process of preparing the presentation with Christina, and there is still much to learn. I'm so grateful to be surrounded by people of all colors, working hand in hand to protect the defenseless. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Support your local march for life

I know we're all excited about the national March for Life in Washington, D.C., which is only a week away! But today, I want to shine a spotlight on the many local and regional marches that will mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Some are happening as early as this weekend. Not everyone has the ability to travel, and besides, going to your local march fosters local connections that can help end abortion community by community.

Above: a regional pro-life march in St. Paul, MN

One such march will take place in Mobile, AL on January 19. The organizers reached out to Secular Pro-Life and we gave them an audio recording to play at the march. The transcript follows.

* * *

Hello everyone, and welcome to the Mobile March for Life. My name is Kelsey Hazzard, and I’m sorry that I cannot be there with you in person today. As you listen to this recording, I will be in Washington, D.C. for the national March for Life. It’s a shame I can’t be in two places at once – but as we all know, human cloning is highly unethical!

From Alabama, to our nation’s capital, and all across the country, people of good will are marching today in remembrance of those who have lost their lives to the violence of abortion. Many of you are people of faith, and your participation is greatly appreciated.

I bring a different perspective. I am an atheist, and I am proudly pro-life.

I have been pro-life since I was old enough to understand what abortion is: it is the destruction of a helpless human being. Though I was raised in the Methodist Church—which is officially a “pro-choice” denomination—the truth still found me.

Our basic rights do not depend on being useful enough, or convenient enough, or independent enough, or educated enough, or able enough. The child in the womb is a human being, and THAT. IS. ENOUGH.

It’s one thing to understand; it’s quite another to act. I did not get involved in the pro-life movement until I was in college. So for all the younger people marching today: bravo to you. You have a head start on me! And I know you’re going to do great things.

In 2009, I started an organization called Secular Pro-Life. Our mission is to unite people of every faith and none in defense of unborn children.

Through Secular Pro-Life, I’ve been privileged to meet countless people who have strengthened my pro-life convictions. I’ve met women who tragically trusted their doctors when they said it was only a “clump of cells”—and after all, people ought to be able to trust their doctors—only to realize the deception after it was too late. I’ve met former abortion workers, who work tirelessly to repair the damage they once caused. I’ve met abortion survivors. I’ve met mothers who have held strong and chosen life in the most challenging circumstances imaginable. I’ve met young adults who are alive today because of pro-life victories like the Hyde Amendment. I’ve met sidewalk counselors and pregnancy resource center volunteers, who provide mothers in need with peaceful solutions to their problems.

And the people I have met—the people who every day inspire me to keep fighting— come from every walk of life. They are liberals, moderates, and conservatives. They are Democrats and Republicans. They are Catholics and Protestants. They are Jews and Muslims and Mormons. They are pagans and Buddhists. And they are fellow atheists.

Abortion supporters dismiss the right to life as “just a religious issue.” I can tell you definitively that that’s nonsense. Abortion is about so much more than theological disagreements. Abortion cuts to the heart of our society. Will this be a country that strives to protect all of its inhabitants from violence, or only some? Will this be a country that sells women on abortion as the price to succeed in a “man’s world,” or will we re-embrace an authentic feminism that doesn’t require mothers to sacrifice their children?

The answers to those questions depend on one each of you. Marching today is just the beginning. Say hello to the stranger walking next to you. Start a conversation about how you will save lives in 2018. Connect with one another, find strength in numbers, and make a plan.

The abortion industry is running scared. The abortion rate is at its lowest since Roe v. Wade. Abortion facilities are closing left and right. More and more states are enacting pro-life legislation. Students are leading the pro-life movement in their schools. We have a great many reasons for hope—and now is not the time to slow down. Now is the time to keep marching.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

International "unsafe abortion" studies are highly flawed

Irish advocates rally for life. Abortion remains illegal in Ireland, despite industry attacks.

In my past post citing evidence of the effectiveness of pro-life laws, I mentioned a study conducted by the WHO and the Guttmacher Institute, published in the Lancet, often used by pro-choicers to claim that abortion laws don't change the rate of abortion.

In that post, I mentioned a statement by the UN acknowledging that the estimates published by Guttmacher are speculative because complete data isn't available. Recently, I've done more research into the methods used by the Lancet study by looking into Guttmacher's method of calculating abortion rates in individual developing countries where abortion is illegal. Because Guttmacher only has compiled estimates for a limited amount of countries, the Lancet study estimates abortion rates in world regions, rather than country by country. However, Guttmacher's individual country estimates are used to arrive a regional estimate.

Guttmacher's methodology for estimating a a country's abortion rate is explained in several publicly available studies. For this post, I'll use their Uganda study as the example, but this methodology is not limited to Uganda as they also use it for Guatemala, Kenya, Kinshasa (capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo) and many others.

Basically, their method consists of a few steps:

1. Survey a representative sample of health facilities that are likely to treat abortion complications, both from spontaneous abortion (also known as miscarriage) and from induced abortion. They call this the "health facility survey." The survey respondent is asked to provide the number of women they have seen come in for abortion complications in the past month and during the average month, and Guttmacher uses the average of these numbers and multiplies it by twelve to get an estimate for one year.

2. Estimate what portion of the women that were treated for abortion complications had a miscarriage and which had an induced abortion. Guttmacher assumes that women who miscarry before 13 weeks never or rarely go to the hospital, and that women who miscarry after 13 weeks usually seek treatment.

3. After arriving at their estimate for the number of women that sought treatment for an induced abortion, they have to estimate what amount of women did not seek treatment, either because their abortion didn't result in complications or because the woman was too afraid or could not access a hospital. To do this, Guttmacher comes up with a multiplier from what they call the "health professionals survey." These professionals are chosen by Guttmacher for their experience with abortion and abortion complications, and they agree to be interviewed as to their opinion of how many women don't go to the hospital after an abortion and how often illegal abortions occur.

4. Guttmacher takes the hospital estimate and uses the multiplier derived from the health professional survey to come up with a final estimate. In some studies, they use different estimates based on different assumptions regarding how many women were hospitalized for a miscarriage and different multipliers.

Now one doesn't need to be a statistician to see that this method will produce a very rough estimate highly prone to error and recall bias. If a lot of women actually do go to the hospital for a miscarriage before 13 weeks in a country, or the hospital survey respondent misremembers the number of women treated for complications, then the final estimate is going to be grossly wrong. But it's even more troubling than it appears. For instance, this is Guttmacher's statement to justify the assumption that women who miscarry in the first trimester don't go to the hospital:

"Although some women who miscarry at earlier gestations seek medical care, many likely are treated on an outpatient basis, and relatively few are hospitalized."

No data is presented here, only an assertion that is assumed to be true even for developing countries with higher rates of malnutrition and poor sanitation.

Here's Guttmacher's description of their health professionals survey:

"The research team prepared a list of health professionals who were conversant with abortion provision and postabortion care, including medical doctors, researchers, policymakers, family planning administrators and women's rights activists."

So this group includes family planning advocates and feminist activists (who are very likely to be supporters of legal abortion), and are by definition willing to talk to the Guttmacher researchers about abortion (in a country where abortion is illegal and highly stigmatized, probably very few people would be willing to discuss the subject with researchers unless they favored legalization). Although Guttmacher calls this a "health professionals survey" their description makes it sound like many of the respondents (such as the policymakers and women's rights activists) do not have medical degrees. Among those that do, it seems likely that some may be illegal abortion providers themselves and would benefit greatly from decriminalization.  Clearly, this group has various financial, legal, and political motivation to overestimate the numbers of illegal abortions occurring and women who have died from them. I'm sure they are aware that overestimation of both illegal abortions and abortion deaths has been a very effective strategy in convincing citizens and governments to legalize abortion.

All of this is troubling enough on its own, but what's even worse is that these estimates are often uncritically accepted even by pro-lifers and very few are aware of the methodology. The estimates are made by relying on an assumption with no supporting data (that women in developing countries don't go the hospital for an early term miscarriage) then taking that number and multiplying it based on the claims of an extremely biased group.

I'm not against the idea of trying to estimate the occurrence of abortion in countries where it's illegal, but this isn't the way to do it. I do think that the hospital survey method, while flawed, is probably the best given the lack of any other official data. There just needs to be a better way of estimating hospitalized miscarriages than Guttmacher currently does. I also understand that in countries with restrictive laws and high stigma around abortion, generally Guttmacher may have no choice but to talk to pro-choice advocates for information. However, Guttmacher should recognize the bias of these groups and adjust accordingly. Unfortunately, Guttmacher's own devotion to legal abortion probably gives them too much trust in these sources (some of which are probably affiliated with groups with close ties to Guttmacher, like the International Planned Parenthood Federation).

Finally, Guttmacher should present these speculative estimates as just that, speculative estimates, not objective fact, as they often do in their infographics and annual reports. They do at least make their methodology public, but then assert: "Guttmacher research proved once again that oppressive abortion laws are not effective in reducing the incidence of abortion." That's an extremely strong statement to make based on incredibly weak evidence with more grounding in speculation than fact.

So next time you hear the claim that 25 million unsafe abortions take place each year, or that abortion rates are similar in countries where it is legal or illegal, or that 50,000 women die from illegal abortions every year, take it with a healthy dose of skepticism. The numbers are largely based on subjective and probably highly biased opinion with very little empirical basis. The truth is that we don't know how many illegal abortions take place per year, but we do know from several studies that fewer women will seek and obtain abortions when they are illegal.

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

Monday, January 8, 2018

Down Syndrome Abortion and the Courts

Above: Down Syndrome advocate Frank Stephens testifies before Congress

Last month, Ohio passed a law to prohibit doctors from committing abortions sought in response to a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. Ohio is the third state to pass such a law. North Dakota was the first to do so; there, enforcement is made easier by the fact that there is only one abortion vendor in North Dakota, and it has not sued to overturn the law. The abortion industry did sue over Indiana's ban on abortion for Down Syndrome, and Judge Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana struck it down in September; that ruling is now under appeal. A lawsuit seems likely in Ohio as well.

The ideal outcome would be for the Indiana and/or Ohio laws to be reviewed by a pro-life Supreme Court, which could use them as a vehicle to reverse Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. But we do not have a pro-life Supreme Court, and we cannot count on an anti-unborn Justice's death or retirement to give us a pro-life Supreme Court during the time it will take Down Syndrome abortion bans to work their way up the judicial ladder.

This leaves the alternative path that the pro-life movement has pursued for decades: craft arguments to appeal to Justice Kennedy, who won't overturn Roe but is prepared to accept the legality of at least some limits on abortion. It is Justice Kennedy who provided the deciding vote in favor of the partial-birth abortion ban, among other pro-life victories. However, he ruled against us in the fight to regulate abortion businesses like the medical facilities they claim to be.

How might Justice Kennedy rule in favor of Down Syndrome abortion bans? Simple: point out that they do not impact the core rationale of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

Judge Pratt's ruling in the Indiana case, while unfavorable, did a good job of summarizing this position:
The State’s argument begins with the woman’s liberty interest as articulated in Casey: "the right of the individual ... to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child." (Filing No. 76 at 26, citing Casey, 505 U.S. at 851 (emphasis added)). According to the State, "both the woman’s rights and the State’s interests are different if the pregnant woman decides she wants a baby generally, but not the particular baby she happens to be carrying. A woman has already decided to bear a child. Although her privacy and liberty interests have not completely evaporated, those rights are not as central as they once were."
Judge Pratt rejected this argument, stating that the right to privacy prohibits any state "examination" of the "basis for a woman's choice to make this private, personal and difficult decision." But Judge Pratt's reasoning proves far too much. It would render unconstitutional numerous state laws banning coerced abortion and requiring abortion businesses to screen for coercion, because coercion is a "basis" that the state "examines." And laws requiring informed consent before an abortion can be committed—which the Supreme Court has upheld—could be seen as banning abortions sought solely on the basis of ignorance (e.g., the mistaken belief that an unborn child is "just a clump of cells").

And if a woman has the right to choose not only whether to have a child, but what kind of child to have, wouldn't that require all states to permit wrongful birth lawsuits to enforce that supposed right? Many states prohibit wrongful birth lawsuits, for very good reasons.

These arguments give Justice Kennedy a way to uphold bans on abortion on the basis of Down Syndrome, without upending his prior abortion jurisprudence. In plain English, he can do the right thing for children with Down Syndrome and still save face.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Foster kids need help. Pro-lifers can provide it.

When discussing abortion, certain issues tend to come up. Two of the most common? Adoption and foster care.

I’m often told abortion spares children from "the system." People who say that usually overlook some things. The first is that if foster kids really are better off dead, then why stop at killing them prior to birth? After all, shouldn’t we be "sparing" newborns and toddlers as well? Replies to this question are rarely polite.

The second is that choosing not to parent doesn’t mean putting your child foster care. People hoping to adopt actually outnumber adoptable infants, and many can be found online. Further, most children don’t enter foster care as babies: the Department of Health and Human Services reports the median age as 6.4.

Many abortion advocates aren’t pleased to learn this; some respond that if aspiring parents were truly pro-life, then they would seek out foster children to adopt instead. Recently, I heard one call adoptive couples "selfish" for wanting to adopt "fresh newborns." I pointed out that they’re at least providing families to some children, and then asked how many kids he had helped.

I never heard back. 

Still, children in foster children do need assistance. And while most have returning to their families as their eventual goal, around a quarter of are eligible for adoption. The good news? There’s an organization that helps make it happen.

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption was named for Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, and it’s "driven by a single goal: finding a loving family for every child waiting in foster care to get adopted." On its website, Americans can find information on how to adopt along with how to make a workplace adoption-friendly (there’s a site for Canadians as well). It also features a program that  connects kids with the families they need.

The Wendy's Wonderful Kids® program has helped over 6300 children to find permanent homes. It provides funding to hire Wendy's Wonderful Kids recruiters, "professionals who implement proactive, child-focused recruitment programs targeted exclusively on moving America’s longest-waiting children from foster care into adoptive families." Recruiters are trained to use "aggressive practices and proven tactics" on behalf of the kids they serve.

Recruiters operate across the United States and Canada; there’s an interactive map on the website to help you find one in your area. And even if you’re not ready to adopt, there are still ways you can lend a hand.

While the foster system is far from perfect, telling those in it they would be better off dead is reprehensible. But the fact is, those children do need help.

Pro-lifers can provide it.

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

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

A maternity shoot to remember

I love preserving moments through photos and words. I always have. In high school I took pictures of everyone and everything, creating a scrapbook that my friends and I still enjoy today.

I grew up to be that annoying mom who took pictures all the time. I have always subscribed to the idea that “you never  know the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” Some of my favourite photos are the maternity pictures I've had done over the years of my four pregnancies. I adore them because they capture the anticipation and happiness, as well as the beauty that only comes from carrying your child inside your  womb.

My last pregnancy was anything but textbook. I was given fatal maternal diagnoses of Complete placenta previa and accreta when I was pregnant with our first baby girl, Sadie. (I also had percreta, which was discovered after my C-Section.)

At 26 weeks I had a massive hemorrhage and was hospitalized. I continued to bleed heavily for two weeks. Thankfully, it just stopped—but the risk of allowing me to leave the hospital was too great, so I was told I'd be there until delivery.

It was a horribly depressing time for me and my family. We hadn't had time to prepare anything for the birth of our baby; no baby showers and no maternity pictures. With special permission from my doctors, my photographer Kendra Harrell was allowed to come to the hospital and take maternity photos.

It was a bittersweet day for me. I had no personal belongings at the hospital, so my best friends came and did my hair and makeup and brought me a dress to wear. Taking these photos was something I needed to do. I didn't know if I'd live to meet Sadie, but I wanted her to know she was so loved and that I treasured the time I was able to carry her. These photos would allow her to glimpse that joy. I also wrote her letters.

Thankfully, I will get to share these with her personally one day because we both won the fight for our lives that was her delivery. She was born March 8, 2017 weighing five pounds. She is now a very happy, extremely healthy nine-month-old. I still take pictures all the time and make scrapbooks for my family. They no longer complain (as much) because almost losing their mom gave them a new appreciation for having lasting memories of the moments we share that weave together to make a beautiful life.

When you look at a maternity shoot, you don’t get to see what it took for the mom, couple, or family, to get to that point in pregnancy; what struggles they have faced; the uncertainties that weigh heavily on their minds. When you look at my pictures, you would never guess that I prepared for it while in hospital—with help of such wonderful friends and support from the hospital. Our family will be forever indebted for the kindness shown to us. For that day we were able to let go of what was before us and enjoy the moment. That's the kind of power that life, love, and friendship has.

[Today's guest post by Amanda Solomon is part of our paid blogging program. Amanda is an editor and blogger at Life Defenders.]

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Join us to protest Planned Parenthood's expansion in San Francisco

Following the Walk for Life West Coast, we will gather to protest at the proposed site of a "flagship" Planned Parenthood location. It is currently a historic automotive garage (pictured above). If Planned Parenthood succeeds, it will instead become a place of tragedy. The proposed flagship would greatly increase the number of abortions PP can commit in the San Francisco bay area.

DATE: Saturday, January 27, 2018
TIME: 4:00 p.m. local time
LOCATION: 1522 Bush Street, San Francisco, CA
SPONSORS: Pro-Life Future of San Francisco, Secular Pro-Life, Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, and Rehumanize International

This will be a peaceful, secular vigil. You're encouraged to bring your Walk for Life signs and banners to this event; if you're able to bring signs specific to this vigil, so much the better.

Pro-Life Future of San Francisco offers the following background information:
This location is the proposed site for a Planned Parenthood Northern California “flagship” location that would perform three times the suction and dismemberment abortions currently happening at their Valencia location. PP Nor Cal is currently under FBI investigation for their part in the harvesting and sale of fetal remains. Recently locals took to the planning commission board to try to stop PP NorCal from obtaining the conditional use permit that allows them to turn this property into a surgical facility. Although we outnumbered PP supporters more than 2 to 1 (at SF City Hall no less!) the commission board voted unanimously in favor of PP grating the permit. PP NorCal has not yet raised the funds necessary to purchase the property, however, that could change any day.  
We want to show our community that we do not support this effort and the Walk For Life is the perfect opportunity to gather and raise awareness. We will not be silenced!