Wednesday, January 31, 2018

In-depth interview with a millennial sidewalk counselor.

Interviewer’s note: People who aren’t involved in the pro-life movement—and even some within it—tend to believe that those who stand outside abortion clinics are there to shame and terrify vulnerable abortion-minded women. But what I’ve witnessed has been quite the opposite: the people who wait outside of abortion clinics (referred to within our movement as “sidewalk counselors”) are selfless, compassionate people trying to help the women who go to clinics because they feel they don’t have a choice.

We already know that most women seek abortion due to economic and social pressure. Both study after study as well as countless personal stories confirm that many women choose abortion because they believe they don’t have the resources to care for a child. Sidewalk counselors work to connect these women to the resources they need. This work transforms—and literally saves—lives.

As a secularist, I do not share the beliefs of Evie Schwartzbauer, the sidewalk counselor I have interviewed here. But I can’t help but be impressed and humbled by the way Evie’s faith clearly inspires, uplifts, and sustains her as she does this physically and emotionally draining work. It’s my impression there are relatively few secular sidewalk counselors. I suspect this is partially because most sidewalk counseling organizations are heavily religious, so it may seem like an awkward fit for an atheist or agnostic. But I also wonder what, in the absence of faith, the secular sidewalk counselor would draw on to do this kind of immediate and intimate work for an extended period of time.

(Evie asked me to emphasize that secular sidewalk counselors are very welcome and indeed could be particularly helpful in many contexts.)

If there are any secularists with sidewalk counseling experience who would be interested in being interviewed, please contact us at

How did you get started sidewalk counseling? What draws you to the sidewalk compared to other types of pro-life work?
I’ve always been pro-life, but for a long time my activism consisted of voting and Facebook debates. I didn’t even know what sidewalk counseling is. In September 2013, I became a part-time administrative assistant for Pro-Life Action Ministries (PLAM), and it’s understood that everyone who works for the organization does sidewalk counseling. Once I learned what that entails, I was eager to try. I had converted to Catholicism and learned about apologetics around the same time I started working for PLAM, and that combination of factors was powerful. When I saw the reality of the situation and learned I could really save lives, my spark of interest in pro-life work was ignited into a true passion. I’m involved in other pro-life work such as art and design projects (when they come up), but sidewalk counseling is my consistent and regular commitment. I can no longer not sidewalk counsel; I know that if I don’t show up, there may be no one else to tell these women that they don’t have to get abortions. No one will be there to let them know there is free help and that they are strong enough to be mothers right now. I feel a strong sense of duty and responsibility to this work and to these women. Sidewalk counseling is direct action—the very last minute help in the pro-life movement.

What does your work entail? Describe an average day of sidewalk counseling.
I get up early. Right now it’s winter in Minnesota, so I put on many layers: 5-6 layers of pants, 3 socks, 5-6 layers on top, and scarf, hat, and mittens. Today I wore only two pairs of socks and forgot my scarf, and I noticed the difference. It was 2 degrees out.

Meet Evie.

I drive ten minutes or so to the clinic. On the way I rehearse what I may say. On certain days such as holidays I try to relate my message to the holiday’s theme.

The clinic has a fence to stifle us, but PLAM owns the property right next door. They turned a house into a beautiful chapel with a crucifix outside, a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and what we call our “freedom stand,” which is a structure that lets us stand higher than the fence so we have better access to the clients.

The fence dividing the clinic parking lot (left) from the PLAM chapel (right).

When I arrive I park and grab my handbag with my sidewalk counseling literature in it and I go to the sidewalk. I used to put out signs, but I haven’t noticed a difference on the days I forgot them, so I’ve stopped using them. One less thing to do.

I start out in prayer with the rosary. For Catholics, each day has a certain set of mysteries to meditate on. Tuesday is a day to meditate on the Sorrowful mysteries of Christ, and I find it very helpful to think about the sufferings of the Passion of Christ while I’m suffering in the cold and ridicule of others. I know that He suffered too for a good cause: to save souls.

I pray until a car arrives. I try to talk to the people, and when they go inside I go back to praying the rosary. I wait for other cars to pull up. I’ve been counseling long enough that I recognize the slower cars of people looking lost, with a young woman in the car. As the client’s car pulls into the parking lot I offer my literature with my hand out and say something like, “Good morning! I have some information for you!” I hope they roll down their window and accept the literature. If they do, it gives me the longest amount of time to talk with them. If they pull in and park, they are more likely to walk into the clinic and be convinced of their decision regardless of what I say.

I try to let the Holy Spirit take over and guide what I will say. There have been times I’ve genuinely felt the Holy Spirit speak through me, using words and phrases I don’t ever say. But I usually say something such as, “Good morning! If you’re pregnant, congratulations! It’s a shame if no one told you yet, but your baby is a gift. I want you to know that there is free help across the street—anything you could possibly need! Whatever is bringing you here today, we can help you solve your problems nonviolently. You are strong enough to be a mom right now, and we can help you through this! Look at your ultrasound and see your baby girl or boy.”

The clinic is open three weekdays and Saturdays. There are usually 2-5 clients per day, more on Saturdays. In three years of sidewalk counseling, I have helped change the minds of about a dozen women and thus saved the lives of a dozen innocent children (that I know of). Most days, though, I have no luck. I have many heartbreaking conversations with friends, boyfriends, and husbands who are willing to talk with me and who did not want these abortions but were unable to convince their friends or significant others.

What are the most difficult aspects of this work, and how do you handle those?
You would think the angry clients would be the most difficult. I have had people try to run me over and threaten to beat me up. I’ve had nasty threats, cursing, middle fingers, and people tearing up my literature.

But actually it’s more difficult finding the motivation to get up early and stand in the cold and get ridiculed every week. But as Christians we hope that this earth is not our home and we believe that God sees all of our suffering. We take comfort in scripture such as the beatitudes, which say “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” We can offer up our sufferings and have more merit in our prayers.

And the most difficult aspect is twofold:

1) It is especially heart wrenching facing the ugly reality of abortion every week when I struggle with infertility. I’ve been married six years and have never been pregnant. I watch woman after woman throw away a gift I would give anything for. And I’m not alone. I have a friend on an adoption waiting list with an organization that specifically works with women who were considering abortion. He has been waiting four years so far, and there are 11 more couples on the waiting list. There are no babies to adopt and instead they are being aborted. It’s devastating.

2) It is very hard to see someone I know get an abortion. The hardest was seeing a young girl who I taught in her 8th grade confirmation class a few years ago. She knew who I was and acted casual, but I was shocked. She went through with the abortion; it was so agonizing. Seeing her afterward at a church festival was also very sad.

Do you hand out literature? If so, what is it about?
Yes, we have several brochures. The brochure I hand out most is titled “We’re Here For You.” If I talk to someone who is open to leaving the clinic, I give her the brochure which lists all Minnesota pregnancy centers as well as other pro-life organizations that help with resources for pregnancy, adoption, difficult diagnoses, housing, and so forth. If I counsel outside a Planned Parenthood I like to also pass out a magazine put out by Human Life Alliance called “Why Trust Planned Parenthood?” I also have brochures on birth control, Natural Family Planning, and scripture suggesting God is against abortion; I hand these brochures out only if the conversation leads to these specific topics. I bring up religion only if the person indicates they are religious (such as if they have a religious bumper sticker or a rosary on the dash or if they bring up God first).

Do you refer people to local services? If so, what types or services? Provided by whom?
I refer women to the closest pregnancy help center. The clinic I counsel outside of the most has a pregnancy help center right across the street, so it’s easy to suggest they go there for a free walk-in appointment. When I counsel in front of Planned Parenthood, I suggest a center a block or two away. These centers have trained professionals who are excellent at comforting and encouraging the women who go to them.

Do you have religious beliefs? If so, how do those influence your work? How do you handle religious differences between you and the people you meet?
As I mentioned, I’m Catholic. Being Catholic affects everything in my life. I try to always do the right thing and to speak to people in a way that they will see Christ through me. I desire for all people to know God and to not be hurt by sin, so if the Holy Spirit moves me to say something in a certain situation, I let Him move me. (This is never anything along the lines of calling women murderers or condemning anyone to hell or anything like that.) My first duty is not to preach the gospel; it is to try and save lives. If the conversation leads that way, I may simply say God gave this woman a gift and He will help her through this situation.

Most sidewalk counselors I’ve met are Catholic. I have met some Protestants. There’s been some tension there. I’m sure you’ve heard of the infamous group AHA (Abolish Human Abortion). One of their members told me their second goal is to save the baby, and their first goal is to “save people,” meaning preach the Gospel using condemning language about murder and hell. Many sidewalk counselors have tried to tell AHA that their methods only turn women away; they are neither “saving people” nor saving lives. Many of us have been frustrated trying to convince them that it’s more helpful to encourage women and let them know about the resources available. In general I’ve found that new sidewalk counselors are sometimes eager to “save” others on the sidewalk and can become distracted, but over time we’ve realized the “you do you” approach is the most fruitful in our efforts to save lives. For the most part sidewalk counselors of different denominations do all get along with each other and recognize that we have the same goal. Some of the AHA members have softened their approach and multiple women have been helped and their babies saved.

How do you respond to people who say they are at the clinic for reasons other than abortion?
Some women say they are not at the clinic for an abortion, but in many cases they simply don’t want to tell me. I usually respond, “Well, if you’re pregnant or know someone who is pregnant, there is free help across the street. No one needs an abortion.” If the woman is adamant she is at the clinic for a check-up or anything other than abortion, I may say, “Let me help you find a healthcare provider that respects all life. This place kills children for a living. You deserve real healthcare.”

If I’m counseling outside a Planned Parenthood, I have a lot more to say about how the organization takes advantage of vulnerable women to maximize their profits. At Planned Parenthood I also talk to the escorts about the reality of what Planned Parenthood does. I point out that if PP really cared about women, the organization would not promote lifestyles that increase a woman’s risks of STDs and unplanned pregnancies. If PP really cared about women they would include education on fertility awareness and NaPro technology, both of which can help couples actually plan to be parents.

What are some of the most common circumstances women describe that brought them to the clinic?
The most common reason women give is that they can’t afford another baby right now. The second most common is that they aren’t ready for a baby right now. I tell them about the plethora of help available and that a sibling is a great gift for their other children.

Sadly, the third most common reason is that their doctor told them to go to the clinic, saying the baby “isn’t compatible with life,” “is going to die anyway,” or “is already dead.” I suggest we can get them to another doctor for a second opinion, or, if the child is truly dead, I point out it’s safer to get a D&C at a hospital. Doctors refer these women to a clinic because it’s faster and cheaper, not because it’s safer.

Do you have ongoing relationships with any of the women you have met at the sidewalk? If so, what are those like?
There was a woman I stayed in touch with during and after her pregnancy; I tried to get her as much help as possible. She struggled with addiction but her baby was born healthy. Unfortunately I lost contact with her when her phone number no longer worked. Her child is now in the custody of her grandfather. Another woman was a friend of mine who I convinced to keep her baby on Valentine's Day. She gave birth to a baby boy and moved to Texas. There was a man I worked with to try to convince his girlfriend not to have an abortion, sadly to no avail. He and I now have a “pen pal via text” type friendship. I also have an ongoing friendship with a woman I persuaded to keep her baby. She is very grateful. She has sent me pictures and I have since helped her with two Christmas bundles of food and gifts. We’re Facebook friends.

Do you interact with clinic staff? If so, what has that been like?
At the clinic where I primarily sidewalk counsel, I’ve never met the abortionist. I have seen the nurse only once when she came out to take a video of me with her phone. She said she was going to show the law “how awful I am,” I think because I touched their fence? I don’t know why specifically, but nothing ever came of it. I have an interesting ongoing conversation with the security guard who is a fallen away Catholic. I believe and hope he will soon come back to the Church.

At Planned Parenthood, I speak to the volunteer escorts even though they are told to put headphones on and ignore us. I say, “You know why they tell you not to talk to us? Because they know if you listen long enough you’ll discover the truth about this place and about abortion. They want to keep you in the dark. We are both here because we want to help women. I just want to give them life-affirming healthcare.” If staff come out for a smoke break, I ask them to look up Abby Johnson’s testimony. I say “She was where you are, and you don’t have to work here.”

Many people believe that sidewalk counselors primarily try to shame and intimidate women. How do you respond to that idea?
Unfortunately that might be true for some people’s experiences, because on public property anyone can come out. I believe it’s more common in the South; sadly there is footage out there, usually older footage from Southern states. But these methods are shunned by the pro-life movement and by people trained in sidewalk counseling. We know that approach simply doesn’t work. I think it’s rarely used anymore except by the hardcore AHA people or perhaps ignorant passionate people who don’t know better. But I find if these people continue to go to the sidewalk they learn from the experienced counselors who hopefully convince them to use a message of encouragement and support.

What do you think of buffer zone laws? Has your work been impacted by such laws?
Buffer zones suck. Buffer zones actually make normal, peaceful sidewalk counselors look aggressive because we are placed so far away we have to raise our voices to even be heard, which seems like yelling and obviously has a negative connotation. If there were no buffer zones it would be clearer that I am just someone who wants to help, instead of looking desperate and crazy from a distance. Planned Parenthoods are also often built in a way to keep the parking lot very far away, preventing sidewalk counselors from speaking to the women. It’s frustrating.

What advice would you give someone interested in sidewalk counseling?
I actually wrote a piece for young people on sidewalk counseling I hope to use at a pro-life event someday:
Imagine there's an outreach activity done all over the nation, and if you were to step in and try it, you'd be more successful than 90% of the people who have been doing it for years? If you knew you’d be great at it, would you give it a shot? Because I know! You wouldn't even have to try as hard as the others. Just by being you, a millennial or a Gen Zer, you could save so many lives. This activity is sidewalk counseling. And right now, the majority of sidewalk counselors in the State of Minnesota are older than your parents or are your grandparents’ age. They can and do say so many wonderful things to abortion clients and they have years of experience. But they could say all the right things and a young pregnant mother won't even turn her ear because she doesn’t feel like they can relate to her experience. Just even seeing a young person such as yourself opens the door to a conversation she might never have had with someone else. Young women especially. If you just step out and give it a go, the fruits of your efforts will be so amazing. In this case your youth is your power. We would be so effective if more of you stepped up to this very important work of saving lives on the front lines in the battle over abortion.
I do want to clarify that the veteran sidewalk counselors are invaluable to the cause and I am grateful for all of the hard work and training that they have done. But I would like to think most of the current older sidewalk counselors would agree that younger sidewalk counselors would be effective and would want more young people joining them.

I guess I was lucky in how I came to start sidewalk counseling. It’s been hard since then to recruit others. They are more likely to do well here if they are not shy and if they feel knowledgeable about abortion. Once you start doing it you finally understand how vitally important it is and how much difference you can make. But it’s hard to get people to come in the first place.

What advice do you have for people who don't sidewalk counsel but still want to help women with crisis pregnancies?
I would tell them to look at this amazing image you guys made:

(Here's the pic on FB if you want to share it...)

And I would tell them to pray about it or think about where their passions and talents lie and figure out what part of the movement they believe would benefit the most from their work. There are so many ways to help.

But if they are interested in directly saving lives, sidewalk counseling is that work. Trained sidewalk counselors and staff at pregnancy help centers are the ones who are speaking to the women themselves and who have a direct line to saving those lives. The sidewalks and the help centers are the places with the most dire need, but particularly the sidewalks because there isn't 100% coverage yet and we always need a lot more people there. Additionally if pregnancy help centers are short volunteers, their hours may be shorter, such as being open only three days a week instead of six. There's no telling how many women were going to go to a pregnancy help center but it wasn't open, so they chose abortion instead. An open abortion clinic with no one outside offering help, not even a sign--that's hopelessness. There’s no chance of a woman changing her mind. But even people out there praying can be seen as a sign to a woman who was praying to God to give her a way out of this abortion she felt forced into.

What do you believe the pro-life movement is getting right? What do you believe could be better?
This is a most important and difficult question.

What the movement gets right: I think the number of different ways people can be involved is amazing. There’s no shortage of information out there from the pro-life movement. If you want to research abortion and the facts of fetal development, it’s out there. There are so many wonderful organizations to team up with and get involved. That’s a good thing we have going for us.

What we could do better: We could improve on our divisiveness and our effectiveness at decreasing abortion numbers. We could work on legislation to overturn Roe v. Wade. And we need to fight the bad image we have. When people think of pro-lifers they think WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant [usually male]). They think “those crazy protesters,” because pro-choicers continually point to photos and footage of the bad eggs. And in some place the “crazies” are still alive and well.

I feel when I started sidewalk counseling, I was awakened into fully being pro-life. Before sidewalk counseling, I voted pro-life and I stated I was pro-life on Facebook, but that was it. I believe the majority of the people who attend the March for Life are more like I was originally. They don’t know how to put their pro-life beliefs into real action, or they believe they are too busy. I think we need to better emphasize how to turn belief into action. It seems like hundreds of thousands of people attend a rally or march or walk with a “checklist” mentality: “I did my pro-life thing for the year. Check.” If the same number of people who go to marches were at the abortion clinics, these places would be shut down. The community would see the uproar against abortion and realize they don’t want abortion in their neighborhood. I think this video explains how sidewalk counseling started, what it looks like now, and where to move from here.

As a Catholic, I believe there should be more masses said outside of abortion clinics. From the secular standpoint, I think the pregnancy centers need to unite as one organization that will become more competition for Planned Parenthood. New Wave Feminist’s President, Destiny, has an idea for an app called Help Assist Her that sounds amazing. If that app existed and there was a FEMM center in every major city that would drastically help our cause.


Learn more about the Help Assist Her app.
Read the perspectives of a woman who did not have anyone to tell her she could keep her pregnnacy.
Read the perspectives of another sidewalk counselor.
Read the perspectives of a woman who runs a pregnancy resource center.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Walk for Life Recap

Last weekend, we traveled to San Francisco for the Walk for Life West Coast. California's counterpart to the March for Life brought together people from all walks of life. Liberals and conservatives, atheists and Christians, and people of every race and nationality joined forces in support of children in the womb and their mothers. It was a beautiful sight.

First, on Saturday morning, we met up outside the Asian Art Museum. We heard several inspiring speakers, including Bettina Di Fiore, whose story we shared yesterday. (I reprised my spoken word from the March for Life.)

Then we made our way down Market Street with tens of thousands of like-minded advocates:

Abortion supporters held a counter-protest along a small section of the route. They had bullhorns and screamed "Walk for Life, that's a lie! You don't care if women die!" over and over. I wanted so badly to ask if they'd heard of Tonya Reaves or Jennifer Morbelli (among many others). A protective cordon of law enforcement officers made any dialogue impossible. But it was probably for the best; there were many children and elderly people walking, and their safety comes first.

The Walk for Life concluded at the Justin Herman Plaza, where young adults from Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust conducted a symbolic "die-in" to remember the victims of Roe v. Wade:

Our next stop—after a lot more walking, because the huge Walk for Life crowd overwhelmed Uber and Lyft—was 1522 Bush Street, where Planned Parenthood hopes to demolish the existing structure and build a "flagship" abortion facility. Not if the good people of Pro-Life San Francisco (led by SPL's very own Terrisa Bukovinac) have anything to say about it!

The next day, Students for Life of America welcomed campus activists to their west coast conference. Secular Pro-Life had an exhibit booth to equip young leaders who are doing great things in very hostile environments. The conference featured excellent speakers, organized around five pillars of pro-life advocacy: effective education, industry impact, public policy, supportive services, and rapid response.

Check out all of our 2018 west coast photos here.

Monday, January 29, 2018

How a militantly pro-choice young lady switched sides

On Saturday I went to the San Francisco #LifeMatters Meetup to see SPL’s President, Kelsey Hazzard, perform some pretty excellent spoken word poetry and to hear the diverse group of speakers Rehumanize International had lined up. There were speeches from women about their experiences with pro-life activism in San Francisco as well as personal stories about how unplanned pregnancy had affected their lives.

I was particularly compelled by what Pro-Life San Francisco’s Bettina Di Fiore had to say. With her permission, I’m reposting her speech about her experiences here for others to consider.

I want to tell you a story about a young woman. When she was 16, she got pregnant, and as you can easily imagine, she panicked. In her distress, she solicited advice from a number of people. Among all of them, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that she would have an abortion. They spoke about the abortion as if it were a reality already in existence, a decision already made. “When are you getting the abortion?” “I bet you can’t wait to have the abortion.” “Don’t worry, you’ll feel better after the abortion.”

This included the nurse at the Planned Parenthood clinic where she went for a second pregnancy test. “Of course,” the nurse said, “this young woman couldn’t even consider having her baby. Her hopes, dreams, goals, indeed her entire life would be ruined if she carried to term.” According to the nurse, the best thing this young woman could do—the only thing she could do—was terminate her pregnancy. The nurse advised her to “beg, borrow, and steal” the money for an abortion and even told her how to break state law to get one without parental consent.

The night before her appointment at the clinic, our young lady stayed up weeping and apologizing to the child she was about to murder.

Fast forward about ten years. Our young woman was in college. And although she still had sleepless nights spent crying over what she had done years ago, she was fully invested in the pro-choice narrative. She believed that she was somehow defective for feeling grief over the child she never had, and that other post-abortive women did not share that pain. And although in her heart she knew better, she wanted to believe that abortion only involves one person’s body.

In 2004, she attended the March for Women’s Lives, the largest pro-choice rally in U.S. history. She carried a sign. She shouted the chants. She took photos for her classmates who were unable to attend. She even gave a presentation about the March for her women’s history class.

She was all in.

Fast forward another eight years. One day she heard a news story about a woman who drowned her baby in a public toilet just after giving birth. The commentator noted that if this woman had gone to Planned Parenthood a few weeks earlier, she would’ve gotten off scot-free. But as it was, she was facing first degree murder charges.

This caused our young woman to pause. She had to admit that the commentator had a point. Surely a baby is still a baby a few weeks before birth. That raised the question: at what point is it not a baby? Can one really draw a line at any point in prenatal development and state, with certainty, that this undeniably alive, undeniably human thing is baby afterward and not-baby beforehand? She’d had enough science education to know that no such magical transition point existed. She could reach only one conclusion: if it’s wrong to kill babies, it’s always wrong; whether or not they’ve been born is irrelevant.

And that is how our militantly pro-choice young lady switched and became pro-life.

That young woman is me. And today I am going to march again, this time for unborn lives. All it took to get me here was a single scientifically sound argument, logically constructed, and passionately stated. I am certain there are countless others like me, and it is our mission to reach them. We have science and logic on our side—now let’s go show the world our passion.

Friday, January 26, 2018

San Francisco Itinerary This Weekend

The Walk for Life West Coast, San Francisco's answer to the March for Life, takes place this weekend. Here are some things to do.

Friday, January 26 (tonight)
Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust will display pro-life messages on light boards at Union Square, corner of Powell and Post, starting around 6:00 p.m. Then at 7:30, head over to Encore Karaoke Lounge for social time with Rehumanize International, Pro-Life San Francisco, and more.

Due to travel scheduling snafus, I can't promise that SPL representatives will be present at the Friday night events. Go anyway and get to know some new people!

Saturday, January 27
Meet outside the Asian Art Museum at 11:30 a.m. for our pre-Walk meetup. The Walk for Life mainstage rally begins at 12:30 p.m., and we start walking with our famous banner at 1:30.

Survivors will hold a "die-in" at Justin Herman Plaza immediately following the Walk.

At 3:30, we will gather to protest at an old automotive building that Planned Parenthood hopes to convert into a "flagship" abortion facility.

At 6, some folks are getting together for dinner at Pena Pachamama.

Sunday, January 28
We'll be tabling at the Students for Life of America conference all day. Come by our exhibit booth to say hi and get free literature.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

States' abortion laws correlate to abortion rates

Americans United for Life (AUL) just released its annual legislative guidebook, Defending Life, which tracks state laws, provides model legislation, and suggests priorities for legislators in each state. [Full disclosure: I once interned at AUL.] AUL also releases an annual ranking, the Life List, which is based on the degree of legal protection each state affords to unborn children. This year, the best (#1) state is Arizona and the worst (#50) state is Washington.

It got me thinking: how does a state's Life List ranking correlate to its abortion rate? If pro-lifers are correct that legislation can save lives, we would expect to see a relationship. Conversely, if abortion supporters are correct when they claim that pro-life laws do nothing and we're all just wasting our time, we would expect little or no relationship. Dusting off my AP Statistics knowledge from an embarrassingly long time ago, I decided to dive in.

One problem: abortion data lags several years behind. We can't compare the just-released Life List to 2017 abortion rates, because the most recent data on abortion rates by state is from 2014. Therefore, at the risk of seeming like old news, I'm going to use the 2014 Life List rankings (#1 Louisiana, #50 Washington) instead. 2014 abortion data, measured by number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44, comes from our loyal opposition at the Guttmacher Institute.

The full data set is at the end of this post. Using a free scatterplot program, here's what we find:

The x axis is Life List ranking and the y axis is abortion rate. 
States with better Life List rankings do tend to have lower abortion rates, while those with poor Life List rankings tend to have higher abortion rates. The correlation coefficient is 0.4733, indicating a moderate relationship.

Certainly there are additional factors at work. Obvious potential confounding variables which I have not controlled for include income, political views, and the relative robustness of social support systems. Wyoming is an interesting outlier, with only 1.1 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age despite lackluster legal protections for unborn children. My educated guess is that Wyoming's low population density makes it impractical for abortion vendors to turn a profit there. (Supporting that hypothesis, Wyoming only has one abortion business.) In other states, I don't have a way to account for the possibility that the causation runs in both directions; a low abortion rate means less abortion lobby revenue, which could improve the odds that pro-life legislation will pass. 

With those caveats, I conclude that while legislation isn't everything, it is a worthwhile something. The statistics reinforce common sense: both law and culture have a role to play in protecting children from abortion. Get to work in whichever arena suits your skills best!

* * *
2014 Ranking, State, Rate per 1000 women aged 15-44
  1. Louisiana, 10.8
  2. Oklahoma, 7
  3. Arkansas, 8
  4. Arizona, 9.8
  5. Pennsylvania, 13.3
  6. Texas, 9.8
  7. Kansas, 12.9
  8. Indiana, 6.3
  9. Nebraska, 6.3
  10. Missouri, 4.4
  11. South Dakota, 3.5
  12. North Dakota, 8.7 
  13. Georgia, 15.7 
  14. Virginia, 12.5 
  15. Mississippi, 3.8 
  16. Michigan, 15.4 
  17. Ohio, 10.3 
  18. Kentucky, 4.1 
  19. South Carolina, 6.4 
  20. Alabama, 8.3
  21. North Carolina, 15.1 
  22. Idaho, 4.2
  23. Tennessee, 10.7
  24. Minnesota, 9.3 
  25. Florida, 20.6 
  26. Colorado, 12.1 
  27. Illinois, 16.3 
  28. Wisconsin, 5.6 
  29. Utah, 4.6 
  30. Rhode Island, 17 
  31. Maine, 9.5 
  32. Delaware, 16.7 
  33. West Virginia, 6
  34. New Hampshire, 10.4
  35. Wyoming, 1.1
  36. Alaska, 10
  37. Montana, 9.1
  38. New Mexico, 11.7 
  39. Iowa, 7.5
  40. Massachusetts, 15.3
  41. Nevada, 19.4
  42. Maryland, 23.4
  43. Hawaii, 14
  44. Oregon, 12
  45. New Jersey, 25.8 
  46. Connecticut, 19.2
  47. New York, 29.6
  48. Vermont, 12.1
  49. California, 19.5
  50. Washington, 13.7

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

March for Life recap

It's been a hectic few days as we joined hundreds of thousands of pro-life advocates from all over the country. Secular Pro-Life was ably represented by three atheist women: yours truly (Kelsey Hazzard), co-admin Terrisa Bukovinac, and Sarah Terzo of ClinicQuotes.

I arrived in D.C. on Thursday and stopped by the March for Life Expo; Secular Pro-Life did not get a booth this year, but many of our friends did. I also encountered some organizations I wasn't previously familiar with, that are doing awesome work. I may profile some of them on the blog in the coming weeks. 

That evening, Terrisa (still on west coast time) convinced me to hang out at the pro-life movement's signature Irish establishment until about 2:00 a.m. I'm so glad she did, because I wound up having some conversations that I believe will be very beneficial to an upcoming SPL project. I'm not at liberty to go into any more detail than that for now. Suffice to say that there is a huge value in seeing people face-to-face, rather than just online. 

There's been some debate within pro-life circles about the March for Life atmosphere. Critics say it's taken on too celebratory a tone; this is a memorial for 60 million lives lost, not a party. I certainly agree that we must keep the victims of abortion at the forefront. On the other hand, the March for Life is the only opportunity many of us have to re-energize and be inspired by what our fellow activists are doing. A sense of camaraderie, and with it joy, is only natural. And sometimes, potentially life-saving conversations can happen at a bar in the wee hours of the morning. 

Friday morning, I said a brief hello to the Created Equal crew, who were setting up a Jumbotron display showing victims of abortion. I'm not interested in a graphic images debate, but I do think there is a time and a place for them, and I found Created Equal's approach to be very moving. (Unfortunately, I found some others' use of abortion imagery to be less so, even bordering on cartoonish. It's a delicate balance.) 

Then I made my way to Constitution Ave, where Rehumanize International hosted a pre-March meetup. I was the first speaker, and you can watch the video here. People can't seem to agree whether it was a poem or a rap; what do you think? Terrisa and Sarah also addressed the gathering, as did Krista Corbello, Ruben Verastigui, John Whitehead, Ifeoma Anunkor, and Aimee Murphy. 

Sadly, I didn't get many March for Life photos this year, due to the fact that I had limited cell phone battery and I had stupidly left my nice camera in a taxi. But Rehumanize has some good ones, and you absolutely must see Students for Life of America's time lapse video.

The biggest difference between this year's March and past Marches? I only counted three counter-protesters at the Supreme Court. Usually there are at least a couple dozen. Your guess as to the reasons for the drop is as good as mine.

That evening, Rehumanize International and Secular Pro-Life jointly hosted a karaoke fundraiser. It was a great success and we hope to do it again next year!

On Saturday, we went to Georgetown University for the Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life; the theme was "(Ir)religiously Pro-Life: The Future of the Movement in a Secular World." I spent most of the day tabling, but I did get to hear keynote speaker Lila Rose, and I had the great honor of participating in the event's closing panel. You can watch part of it on facebook, up until Terrisa's phone died; official university footage should become available in a few weeks.

If you missed us in D.C., don't fret; you can catch us in San Francisco this weekend!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Highlights of Roe v. Wade anniversary media coverage

The March for Life was a whirlwind! We'll have a recap for you soon. In the meantime, check out these articles from the last few days, starting with one that quotes Secular Pro-Life.

Trump will address Friday's March for Life via satellite. Here's what abortion opponents want.
Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein & Julie Zauzmer
“I certainly understand the perspective of those pro-life advocates who support him,” said Kelsey Hazzard, president of Secular Pro-Life, who noted that things would be worse for the antiabortion movement under a Hillary Clinton presidency. “President Trump has also sparked a tremendous backlash. His boorish comments give ammunition to the abortion lobby, which has long worked to caricature the antiabortion cause.”
Science is Giving the Pro-Life Movement a Boost
Atlantic, Emma Green
When Colleen Malloy, a neonatologist and faculty member at Northwestern University, discusses abortion with her colleagues, she says, “it’s kind of like the emperor is not wearing any clothes.” Medical teams spend enormous effort, time, and money to deliver babies safely and nurse premature infants back to health. Yet physicians often support abortion, even late into fetal development.
As medical techniques have become increasingly sophisticated, Malloy said, she has felt this tension acutely: A handful of medical centers in major cities can now perform surgeries on genetically abnormal fetuses while they’re still in the womb. Many are the same age as the small number of fetuses aborted in the second or third trimesters of a mother’s pregnancy. “The more I advanced in my field of neonatology, the more it just became the logical choice to recognize the developing fetus for what it is: a fetus, instead of some sort of sub-human form,” Malloy said. “It just became so obvious that these were just developing humans.”
How the Pro-Life Movement has Promoted Liberal Values
New York Times, Andrew R. Lewis
Even before Roe, parts of the pro-life movement emphasized the universal rights of the unborn, drawing upon the language of human rights that was prominent in post-New Deal liberalism. These liberal pro-life activists sought to marry their cause to language used to support civil rights for African-Americans and promote human dignity by supporting antiwar efforts. The National Right to Life Committee, for example, was founded in 1968, intentionally emphasizing the rights of the unborn in its name.
March for Life reminds us that attitudes on abortion are changing -- one beautiful ultrasound at a time.
Fox News, Lauren DeBellis Appell
An annual poll released Wednesday by The Knights of Columbus and Marist on Americans’ abortion views found that 63 percent of Americans now strongly support a ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, up from 59 percent just a year ago. The number of Democrats who support the same ban has increased to 56 percent from 49 percent in January 2017. Also noteworthy is that 61 percent of Democrats want significant restrictions on abortion.
The poll also found that 62 percent of Americans said they believe life begins within the first three months of a woman’s pregnancy. Among those who believe life begins at conception, 46 percent said they believe so because it is “a biological and scientific fact,” versus 45 percent who said they believe it based on “a philosophical or religious belief.”

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The March for Life is this Friday!

Join us for a pre-March meetup (details here), then march with us to the Supreme Court to protest the 45 years of destruction wrought by Roe v. Wade. That night we will have a karaoke fundraiser. On Saturday, you can find us at the Cardinal O'Connor Conference on Life at Georgetown University; this year's theme is "(Ir)religiously Pro-Life: The Future of the Movement in a Secular World," and SPL president Kelsey Hazzard will be on the closing panel.

It's a busy few days and we probably won't have time to blog, but we will try to update our facebook, twitter, and Instagram.

We hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Tragic Parallel

Via Friendly Atheist comes the sad story of a needless death due to inadequate regulation of questionable medical practitioners. But this time, the culprit is not an abortion business; instead, it's a birth center run by unqualified naturopaths.

Britt Marie Hermes is a former naturopath who came to realize that her education was not grounded in sound science. Since then, she has boldly spoken out against her past field and worked to expose its misconduct. She's basically the Abby Johnson of naturopathy.

In a recent video, Hermes shared the horrific tale of a naturopathic birth center that faced an emergency it couldn't handle. A mother came to Birth Haven at Life Spring Midwifery in Gilbert, Arizona, in active labor. The center is supervised by a naturopath, with no M.D.s on staff. After four hours of labor, the baby's head still hadn't dropped, and the baby's heart rate grew slower. Rather than transferring their patients to a hospital for an emergency C-section, or using pitocin to induce birth, the naturopathic practitioners administered homeopathic remedies.

Homeopathy does not work.

After several more hours of labor with no improvement, someone called 911. It was too late; the baby could not be resuscitated.

The supervising naturopath, Ann Marie Palzer, was investigated by the state department of health. The investigation revealed numerous violations at the birth facility, including expired medications, and investigators also alleged that Palzer failed to communicate appropriately with the hospital. Those problems should sound familiar to long-time readers of this blog. Expired medications are a common finding in abortion facility inspections, and pro-life advocates have long pushed to require hospital admitting privileges for abortionists to avoid communication gaps after complications.

Like abortionists, naturopaths claim that they can regulate themselves appropriately. Like abortionists, they cannot. The Arizona Naturopathic Physicians Medical Board dismissed the charges against Palzer.

There is no happy ending to this story. It seems that if you have a large ideologically driven lobby behind you—whether it's abortion-first feminists or naturopathic magical thinkers—you can get away with killing innocent people.

Women deserve so much better.

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.]