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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Confronting the Pro-Choice Stance, Honestly

Above: Pro-life youth demonstrate outside the Supreme Court; in the
background, a sign reads "Keep abortion safe and legal."

Last week, The Atlantic published an article by Caitlin Flanagan entitled "The Dishonesty of the Abortion Debate: Why we need to face the best arguments from the other side." I encourage you to read the whole thing. Flanagan, who is pro-choice, did an admirable job of identifying the best arguments on each side of the abortion debate.

For the pro-life side, she gave a heartfelt defense of children in the womb. While there are many other ways to arrive at the pro-life position—such as abortion's harm to mothers, fathers, abortion survivors, people with disabilities, and society at large—I agree that the harm to the unborn child is paramount. And boy, does she write it well. No one can accuse her of failing to understand the opposing position:
What I can’t face about abortion is the reality of it: that these are human beings, the most vulnerable among us, and we have no care for them. How terrible to know that in the space of an hour, a baby could be alive—his heart beating, his kidneys creating the urine that becomes the amniotic fluid of his safe home—and then be dead, his heart stopped, his body soon to be discarded.
For the pro-choice side, she selected the fear of "back-alley" abortion as the strongest argument. This is apparently the argument that most convinces her personally. She tells the tragic stories of three mothers in the 1950's who died after attempting to abort their babies with Lysol (which had a different formula than it does today). She concludes:
Women have been willing to risk death to get an abortion. When we made abortion legal, we decided we weren’t going to let that happen anymore. We were not going to let one more woman arrive at a hospital with her organs rotting inside of her. We accepted that we might lose that growing baby, but we were not also going to lose that woman.
It's the best available argument for abortion. And it's wrong, for at least three reasons.

(1) Roe v. Wade didn't reduce the maternal death rate from illegal abortion. 

Flanagan assumes that making abortion legal made it safer, but doesn't offer any evidence for that assumption beyond a correlation-is-causation argument; since women are no longer showing up in hospitals after surreptitious Lysol abortions, Roe must have been the answer! That's a weak case, and the data just don't back it up.

Whenever I give presentations on college campuses, I share this graph from the National Center for Health Statistics, showing maternal deaths from illegal abortions by year—but with the x-axis, the year, erased.


I then ask a brave audience volunteer to guess where 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade, falls on the graph. Most select a peak, in line with the narrative that Roe v. Wade caused maternal deaths to plummet. Invariably, they guess wrong:


Roe v. Wade isn't even a blip on the graph. Forget "correlation doesn't equal causation"—they don't even have correlation! The real savior of women's lives? Advances in antibiotics.

(2) A lot has changed since the 1950's.

And not just antibiotics. Flanagan herself acknowledges that it "was illegal to advertise contraception nationally until 1977," four years after Roe; today, you can pick up condoms at any corner drugstore, and prescription contraceptives are widely available. Pregnancy discrimination was perfectly legal at the time of Roe; today, it's prohibited by federal law. Women couldn't get credit cards in their own name at the time of Roe; today, it's unquestioned. Marital rape wasn't criminalized in all 50 states until two decades after Roe. And I haven't even mentioned that today, pro-life pregnancy centers outnumber abortion businesses. Using the 1950's to predict a post-Roe future is wildly unrealistic.

(3) Legal abortion is still killing women.  

Tonya Reaves. Jennifer Morbelli. Maria Santiago. Lakisha Wilson. Christin Gilbert. The list goes on. The pro-life movement can tell stories just as tragic as the "back-alley" stories Flanagan shares. The fact that their abortions were legal doesn't make them any less dead.

I appreciate Flanagan's attempt to engage the pro-life position honestly. It's the best article from an abortion supporter I've seen since Shawna Kay Rodenberg's piece in Salon two years ago. I hope Flanagan will keep digging, keep following her conscience, and become the next convert to the pro-life cause.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Baby Chris is 34 Weeks Old

Diagram of a mother and 34-week-old baby in the womb via BabyCenter
[This is part 35 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

34 weeks after fertilization (36 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 18 ¾ inches long and weighs 5 ¾ pounds—about the size of a head of romaine lettuce.

Baby Chris isn't just growing; he or she is also learning. The Endowment for Human Development reports:
Studies suggest that towards the end of prenatal development, the fetus has been developing preferences and tastes based on prenatal experience. For instance, fetuses whose mothers consumed anise, the substance which gives licorice candy its flavor, showed a preference for anise after birth. Newborns without this fetal exposure disliked anise.
The fetus hears numerous sounds before birth, with the mother’s voice and heartbeat dominating other sounds. Studies show that after months of listening to the mother’s voice, the newborn prefers her voice to any other. The newborn also prefers female voices to male voices and familiar lullabies heard before birth to new lullabies after birth. Newborns can distinguish prose passages heard during the last 6 weeks of pregnancy from new passages, providing additional evidence of in utero memory formation and learning.
For more information about prenatal development, check out the free See Baby app!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Book Review: "Sex Ed for Everyone"

Above: A free sample panel from the "Sex Ed for Everyone"
comic by Sophie LaBelle. Click to enlarge.

Sophie LaBelle, best known as the artist behind Assigned Male Comics, recently came out with a new comic book entitled "Sex Ed For Everyone." Featuring many of the same characters as her regular Assigned Male series, "Sex Ed for Everyone" is aimed at teenagers who are dissatisfied with the scope of sex education they are receiving in school.

It's important to note that "Sex Ed for Everyone" is not a substitute for comprehensive sex education. Pregnancy is not covered, so you will not find adorable cartoon depictions of prenatal development (I know, I was disappointed too). There's also not much in the way of contraceptive knowledge or STI prevention, beyond a brief mention of male and female condoms.

But it was clearly never LaBelle's intent to be a one-stop shop for sexual health information. Instead, "Sex Ed for Everyone" is best thought of as a supplement to sex education, particularly on matters of sexual identity, sexual orientation, and gender expression.

Judged on that metric, the book does an admirable job. To give you a sense of its tone, here are a few points I particularly appreciated:
  • "I think it's a shame that we don't hear much about the variety of bodies out there. It's one thing to tell us that the majority of people aren't trans, intersex, or disabled. It's another to tell us that we don't need to learn about them."
  • Speaking about queer teens making the decision not to have sex, one character notes: "The need for belonging might pressure people into situations they don't actually want."
  • And then there's this fantastic dialogue: "I'm scared to get pressured into having sex. When do you know you're ready?" "It's true that it can feel overwhelming, but it's totally OK to take your time. Maybe you'll never 'be ready' and that's also fine."
These messages are especially important for LaBelle's trans and queer audience, because sexual minority youth are actually more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy than their cis, straight peers. That might seem like a paradox, but when you consider the cultural pressure that some lesbians and bisexuals are under to "appear straight," the risk of reluctant sexual intercourse is apparent. In fact, when I was a student at the University of Miami, our pro-life student group hosted a speaker who had been in that very situation — twice. (Her first pregnancy tragically ended in abortion after she received deceptive counseling; for her second, she chose life.)

"Sex Ed for Everyone" is available on Etsy.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Baby Chris is 33 Weeks Old

Above: Image of a 33-week-old baby in the womb. Their hand covers their face. Graphic via the Endowment for Human Development.

[This is part 34 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

33 weeks after fertilization (35 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 18 ¼ inches and weighs 5 ¼ pounds—about the size of a honeydew melon. Baby Chris has doubled in weight compared to just six weeks ago!

Organ development is mostly completed at this point. The Endowment for Human Development reports that "[t]he digestive system further develops as the lower esophageal sphincter, a valve leading to the stomach, begins functioning by 32 weeks. Blood-filtering groups of capillaries called glomeruli have completed their formation in the kidneys."

Learn more about Baby Chris's journey from conception to birth by downloading the free See Baby app!


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Tonight: Secular Pro-Life at Seton Hall University


Secular Pro-Life representative Terrisa Bukovinac, who you may also know as the head of Pro-Life San Francisco, will give a presentation tonight at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. The event begins at 8:00 p.m. EST and will take place in the University Center, Main Lounge. There is no charge to attend.

We're excited for this opportunity to educate Catholic university students about the secular reasons to oppose abortion! Lest you worry that we're just preaching to the choir, remember that 48% of American Catholics support legal abortion in spite of the official position of their church. (Besides, 30% of Seton Hall students aren't Catholic.)

Not in the New Jersey area? Not a problem. The lecture will be recorded and we will post video on our social media as soon as it is available. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

What do yesterday's election results mean for unborn babies?

Yesterday's off-year elections were largely seen as a referendum on President Trump, but the short-term consequences for human beings in the womb are substantial.

In Virginia, pro-life advocates sought to win GOP majorities of the House of Delegates and State Senate—with the goal of keeping Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, of infanticide and blackface fame, from doing too much damage. (His term lasts until 2022.) Volunteers from the Susan B. Anthony List, Students for Life Action, and other organizations knocked on tens of thousands of doors. It was not enough. Democrats now outnumber Republicans in both chambers.

In the race to succeed the term-limited Mississippi governor, both major candidates ran on pro-life platforms. Republican Tate Reeves and Democrat Jim Hood have each advanced the legal rights of unborn children in their roles as Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General, respectively. Hood courageously defied his party to support life (much like neighboring Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, who runs for re-election on November 16). The natural result was that abortion did not play a significant role in the Mississippi contest. Voters selected Reeves by a margin of 5.8 points. 

Finally, in Kentucky, GOP incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin (0% Planned Parenthood rating) faced off against Democratic challenger Andy Beshear (100% Planned Parenthood rating). The result was extremely close: Beshear won by just 5,150 votes. For context, Libertarian candidate John Hicks received 28,426 votes.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Baby Chris is 32 Weeks Old

Above: an unborn baby at 8 months (32 weeks).
Graphic via the Endowment for Human Development

[This is part 33 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

32 weeks after fertilization (34 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 17 ¾ inches long and weighs 4 ¾ pounds—about the size of a cantaloupe.

Lung development is particularly important this week. According to the Endowment for Human Development: "Starting at 32 weeks, true alveoli (al-ve’o-li), or air “pocket” cells, begin forming from alveolar ducts. Development of alveoli continues through birth and until about 8 years of age."

Download the free "See Baby" app for week-by-week prenatal development facts!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Why Abortions Are Still Wrong and Should be Illegal (Part Three)

I recently began a series looking at a new article/book released by pro-choice philosophers Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob (hereafter NG). You can read part one here and part two here. And if you'd like to read the book before you read my responses to it, you can read it for free online here. This next section is quite lengthy, so I'll split it in half.

5. Better Arguments 

Now we get to the portion of NG’s book where they set out to justify the subtitle and show why most abortions are not immoral and why all of them should be legal. I will begin by defending the pro-life arguments they criticize and finish with criticizing the pro-choice arguments they defend.

Pro-Life Argument #1: Fetuses are human. NG begin by attacking an argument that fetuses are human and are, therefore, wrong to kill. NG are right to criticize this argument as easy to find counterexamples to. After all, not everything that is human (in the adjective sense) is wrong to kill. Tumors are human but are not wrong to kill, nor are human cells or tissue in a petri dish. The problem with NG’s rebuttal, though, is that no one actually makes the argument they criticize. Pointing out that fetuses are human is only one step in a cumulative case of showing that fetuses are wrong to kill. Human fetuses and embryos are living, independent organisms of the human species. All of this goes in to show why it is wrong to kill them because fundamentally, a human embryo is no different than the adult that he eventually becomes. So NG have subtly erected a strawman to attack and knocked it down.

Instead, let’s take this argument from Scott Klusendorf’s book The Case for Life, which makes a better, stronger argument against abortion based on the humanity of the fetus:

  • It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. 
  • Abortion intentionally kills an innocent human being. 
  • Therefore, 
  • Abortion is wrong. 

This argument better explains why humanity is so important to pro-life advocates and weighs so heavily in their arguments. If it is wrong to kill an innocent human being in uncontroversial cases, such as adults and children, in which even NG have expressed agreement in the preface to their book, then if it turns out that human fetuses and embryos fit the definition of “innocent human being,” it would be wrong to kill them, too. Of course, such a claim needs to be defended but the pro-life advocate will do so. That’s why even the humanity argument is, itself, used in a cumulative case against abortion. That case goes something like this: 1) All human fetuses are human organisms, 2) all human organisms are persons, 3) all persons have fundamental rights such as the right to life, so 4) human fetuses have fundamental rights such as the right to life.

Before moving on, NG try to address the concept of human rights and how they think pro-life people have gotten the concept of “rights” wrong. But all this discussion does is show how NG have fundamentally misunderstood this basic pro-life argument. No, cells in a petri dish don’t have human rights, but that’s because they are not human beings—they are parts of humans, not a full human on their own. My individual parts don’t have rights but I do, as a whole, complete, individual human. So while they are right that simply being biologically human does not grant a thing rights, neither is the pro-life person making this claim. Our rights are “human” rights, but other ways of saying this are “fundamental” rights or even “basic human rights.” This is because the claim is not that we have rights because we are biologically human, but we have rights because our rights inhere in us based on the kind of thing we are. As Patrick Lee argues in his book Abortion and Unborn Human Life, being “human” is not merely a biological category. There is much more that comes with being human, such as our human nature. There are metaphysical realities to being human; our unborn share in our fundamental human nature, so they also have fundamental, basic human rights.

So it’s not our psychological characteristics which are important, as there is much more to the person than our psychology. Our bodies are just as important to us as persons. Our bodies are how we interact with the world around us, and our minds are how we interpret those experiences. Plus, the fact that we are biologically continuous with ourselves throughout our entire lives is certainly significant. So while I do agree in some sense that calling them “human” rights isn’t accurate enough (after all, intelligent extraterrestrials would certainly have rights, as would spiritual beings, if they exist), I don’t agree that we should start calling them “person rights” or “conscious-being rights” because not all conscious beings are rights-bearing entities (and again, NG haven’t exactly defined consciousness for us to know what other kinds of beings would be included or just when, exactly, humans become persons). Dogs, for example, are conscious entities, and while they should be protected, killing a dog, even accidentally, is not the same kind of act as killing a human, even accidentally. Killing the human brings with it stricter punishments than killing the dog. So while I agree with them, I think calling them “fundamental rights” is perfectly fine because that term does show how our rights belong to us: fundamentally. They do not come and go when I gain or cease to have some property. They are always there.

Pro-Life Argument #2: Fetuses are human beings. NG have anticipated much of the response I gave above, since pro-life advocates respond similarly when presented with the charge NG have given. NG’s responses, though, don’t fare much better than their original criticism.

NG begin by reiterating that it’s not always wrong to kill a human being (e.g. you can kill in self-defense). So the question is, what is it about fetuses that makes it wrong to kill them if it is wrong to kill them? NG prefer their depiction of why it is wrong to kill adults and children, because they are conscious and feeling, and if we were in a permanent coma, death wouldn’t make us any worse off. But I already showed in section three why their depiction of the wrongness of killing is inadequate.

They also argue that their depiction shows why it is wrong to kill in a simple, common-sense way. But of course, the pro-life depiction of why it is wrong is also simple and common-sensical. If someone asks me why it's wrong to kill me, my answer will be something like this: “it is wrong to kill me because I am a human being," and if you stop and think about it without any prior philosophical reflection and no prior commitment to the morality of abortion, that may be the conclusion you immediately draw. Where it gets more complex is why it is wrong to kill me because I am a human being, but the same problem arises for their view. It may be simple and common-sensical, to them, to claim it’s wrong to kill me because I have experiences, I can feel, etc., but answering the question of why that makes it wrong to kill me requires more work. And their statements about why rocks, plants, etc., don’t have rights fails for the reason I showed in section three: they are making a simple category error and comparing things (rocks, plants, etc.) with things which are not relevantly like them (human embryos and fetuses).

NG turn to reasons that pro-life people give for why it is wrong to kill human fetuses despite their never having been conscious or having any feeling or awareness. The first supporting argument they look at is that human fetuses develop continually into the adult so it is the same being at all points in its development, which should seem familiar as it is a supporting statement I used in my defense above. However, they reply, this can’t be the explanation since we adults have different physical, cognitive, emotional, and moral characteristics than we had as fetuses (and as children). So even if we were the same being over time, that doesn’t show that fetuses have the same moral rights we do, as rights change over time. NG actually make two errors in reasoning here. First, they confuse the concepts of accidental and essential properties. It’s true that I am now 5’11”, have gotten bigger (and rounder) since I was a fetus, I can now recite the English alphabet, engage in higher levels of thinking, etc. But all of these are accidental properties—they are true things about me but are not what make me, me. I would be the same person, for example, if I grew up speaking German instead of English or if I peaked physically at 5’6” instead of 5’11”. However, the essential property I have now, my human nature, was present in me as a fetus, which means since that essential property never changed, “I” never changed from anything non-human into something human. I was human from the beginning and had my rights from the beginning. In fact, NG even admit they have different characteristics now than they did as children, so they can’t use their argument to show that they are different than they were as fetuses unless they also think they were not the same numerically identical person as children than they are now. That seems to be a bridge too far.

Second, NG make the error of confusing fundamental rights with legal rights. It’s true that some of my rights have changed since I was younger. I can drive a car now and I couldn’t as a fetus. I can vote in Californian and American elections and I couldn’t as a fetus. But these are all legal rights. Legal rights are granted to us by the government and often come to us through maturity. I couldn’t drive or vote as a fetus because I had not reached the proper level of maturity. Fundamental rights are not granted by the government and, therefore, every government is obligated to respect them even if I’m not a citizen. These rights include (but are not limited to) the right to life, the right to freedom, the right to self-defense, etc. These rights do not come and go. The right to life is a fundamental right, so if fundamental rights inhere in us based on what we are, not on what functions we can perform, and if human fetuses and embryos have the same fundamental nature adults do, as pro-life people argue, then human embryos and fetuses have the right to life, even if some of their other rights haven’t yet been granted due to immaturity.

The second argument that NG look at actually follows from my previous response: the argument that human beings have rights essentially and not accidentally. In contrast, NG view rights as accidental to the body but essential to the mind. It doesn’t seem clear, though, how one can be a “conscious being” without also being an “embodied being.” The idea that your mind can have essential rights but your body can’t seems incoherent to me, as both parts of me go in to make up the same human person. If they don’t believe they are identical to the body, then they have some explaining to do about what happens to that fetus they later came to occupy. As Alexander Pruss argued, either that fetus lived or died. But any changes the fetus went through were changes that were within its internal programming to undergo, and things don’t die by undergoing changes that are within their internal programming to undergo. So clearly the fetus didn’t die. So is it still alive? If it is, there are only two possibilities. It is still alive but separate from you or it is still alive but identical to you. If it is still alive but separate from you, this leads to absurdities. It violates a plausible law of physics since two physical objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. It also leads to other absurdities, such as that rape is not a crime against a person but is a mere property crime against one’s body, and that you have never actually kissed your significant other. Since the fetus cannot be dead, and the fetus cannot be alive but separate from you, the fetus must be alive and identical to you (Alexander Pruss, "I Was Once a Fetus: That is Why Abortion is Wrong").

Regarding the claim that rights inhere in us because of the kind of thing we are, rational beings, NG state that the argument seems to be question-begging. It is not, of course. In fact, many books and articles have been written regarding the defense of things like natures and how rights interact with us as human beings. It is, at least, abstract, as NG state, but lots of things are abstract that we take for granted. Rights, themselves, are abstract, so no matter how you account for them, your reasoning will be abstract. NG go on to claim if you define human beings as rational, even though only some human beings are rational while others are not, then why not simply define human beings as non-rational, since some human beings are not rational while others are. After all, why is it that the rational human beings get to define what being human is for all human beings, the ones who are not rational and the ones who are?

This profoundly misses the whole point, though. As I have argued above, fetuses are not “not rational,” like rocks and fish, they are “pre-rational.” Part of being a human being is development—you start out with a single cell (and other parts, such as the zona pellucida), and through development which is self-directed, you develop your body parts: your organs, your blood, your limbs, etc. Humans are on a path of development, which means that fetuses are not simply non-rational humans—they are humans which have the inherent capacity for rationality which just takes time to develop to be able to exercise it. So human embryos and fetuses are every bit the rational animal that human toddlers and adults are, they just don’t have the present means by which to exercise it. So this isn’t a case of rational humans defining what rationality is for all humans, even non-rational ones. It’s to look at human nature and say, “what is it that makes humans uniquely human?” In other words, what is the essence of being human? As the ancient Greeks taught, the way you determine something’s essence is by asking what sets it apart from other similar things. Human beings are animals, but what sets them apart from other animals is that we are rational. So the essence of humanity is to be a rational animal. This means that all human beings qualify as rational animals because under ordinary circumstances, all human beings are on a path to become more and more rational as they develop. This is not simply a path that only some humans are on, it is a path that all humans are on, even though some, tragically through disease, injury, or genetics, fail to become rational and are unable to fully flourish as human beings. This is what it means to say that it is in the nature of humans to be rational.

So then the question becomes, why does that rationality determine our rights? The answer is because with rights come duties. If I expect my right to life be respected, I have a duty to respect the right to life of others. Animals have no such duties because they don’t have the rationality to understand them, and since animals have no such duties, they also have no rights which we are obligated to respect.

So contrary to NG’s claim, this does not mean that rights “trickle down” regressively from our future rational state to our present non-rational state. That would be absurd. What it means is that since human nature entails rationality, and human embryos/fetuses are on a self-directed path of human development which includes eventually developing the ability to be rational, human embryos/fetuses are inherently rational beings who just need time to develop that rationality; and they will, all things being equal.

Also contrary to NG, this does not entail that we must never allow a comatose person to die. We are morally obligated not to kill such a person, but this doesn’t mean that we are always obligated to preserve life when it becomes more harmful to the person than to allow nature to take its course. We must never kill a human being, but if keeping him on life support or otherwise providing care is futile, then it would be more harmful to continue providing that futile care than to simply allow nature to take its course.

Furthermore, the existence of anencephalic fetuses does not refute this idea. Again, letting an anencephalic fetus die is not impermissible (especially since it is not possible at our present level of medical expertise to save him), but to kill him through abortion would be impermissible. This doesn’t show that anencephalic fetuses are a different kind of being than us. Anencephalic fetuses are still human beings who have tragically failed to fully flourish as humans should. To consider them non-human (which is what saying they’re a different “kind” of being than we are is to say) is ableist. A human does not become a non-human just because their disability to too severe.

Pro-Life Argument #3: Fetuses are persons. Here NG address the pro-life argument that the unborn are wrong to kill because they are persons, and persons are wrong to kill. They, of course, disagree with this argument. But what are their reasons for doing so?

Well, first, they say we should think about what it means to be a person and whether we ever cease to be persons. Many people think our personhood ends when you die or go into a permanent coma. And if some religions are right, that there is a life after death, presumably the person would continue on without their body in some sense. This seems to imply that personhood is defined by a “rough and vague set of psychological or mental, rational and emotional characteristics: consciousness, knowledge, memories, and ways of communicating, all psychologically unified by a unique personality.”

Second, they say we should think about the kinds of things we accept as persons and as non-persons: we readily think of ourselves and other adults as being persons and we readily think of fictional characters, like Luke Skywalker, as persons. We generally think of non-conscious entities, like rocks and carrots, as non-persons. Conscious and feeling animals tend to be closer to persons than not. Unconscious, unfeeling fetuses would definitely not be persons, as consciousness sets in later in pregnancy than the first trimester, where most abortions occur.

These are the only arguments leveled against the claim that fetuses are wrong to kill because they are persons, and it should be obvious that these arguments are severely lacking in persuasiveness. The first argument is simply based on what someone believes, and beliefs can be mistaken. I see myself as a person, but I also retroactively see myself as a person when I was a fetus. This is because of my prior belief that fetuses are persons. NG reject this claim and see fetuses as non-persons because of their prior commitment to supporting abortion. So this argument ultimately begs the question.

The second argument, that we should think about the things we accept as persons or non-persons, is question-begging for the same reason. You’ll accept certain things as persons or non-persons based on your prior metaphysical view of personhood. I don’t think conscious or feeling animals are “close” to being persons because I don’t think personhood is something that comes in degrees. You are either a person or you are not a person, and “conscious, feeling” animals don’t make the cut.

NG have not offered any good reasons for accepting their view of personhood, especially when there is good reason to believe personhood is established at fertilization.

Pro-Life Argument #4: Fetuses are potential persons. This is an argument that some have defended in the literature. It is not an argument I defend, as I think the critics of this argument (such as NG, as well as Michael Tooley and Peter Singer) are generally correct. If fetuses are merely potential persons, this does not, then, grant them personhood rights. However, this is not the argument that most pro-life advocates make. The argument is that fetuses are actual persons with great potential, and that potential matters in the consideration of personhood. It is true that fetuses are not yet rational, but they are rational by nature, and since one does not cease to be by undergoing changes that are within one’s internal programming, fetuses are persons now despite not yet being able to exercise their rational capacity since they are the same individual through all the changes they undergo. So I’m not very interested in defending this argument, but this is an important caveat to consider when trying to critique pro-life arguments.

In my next article, I'll look at one last pro-life argument and address the pro-choice arguments NG defend.

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

Monday, October 28, 2019

Baby Chris is 31 Weeks Old

Above: A 31-week-old unborn baby sticks out their tongue.
Graphic via the Endowment for Human Development.

[This is part 32 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

31 weeks after fertilization (33 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 17 ¼ inches long and weighs 4 ⅓ pounds—about the size of a pineapple. BabyCenter reports:
Skull flexibility
The bones in your baby's skull aren't fused together, which allows them to move and slightly overlap, making it easier for her to fit through the birth canal. (The pressure on the head during birth is so intense that many babies are born with a cone-head-like appearance.) These bones don't entirely fuse until early adulthood, so they can grow as the brain and other tissue expands during infancy and childhood.
Skin smoothing
Your baby is rapidly losing that wrinkled, alien look, and her skin is less red and transparent. It's becoming soft and smooth as she plumps up in preparation for birth.
Lots of movement
It's getting snug in your womb, so your baby isn't doing as many somersaults, but the amount of kicking should remain about the same.
For more information on Baby Chris's journey from conception to birth, download the free See Baby app!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Recap: Rehumanize Conference 2019

Last weekend, Secular Pro-Life volunteers took to New Orleans for Rehumanize Conference 2019. The event was a great success! Be sure to check out our photo album here.

Kelsey Hazzard and
Michaelene Fredenberg
Secular Pro-Life led two breakout sessions: SPL president Kelsey Hazzard delivered her classic "Secular Case Against Abortion" presentation, and for the first time, we moderated a workshop on secular resources for abortion healing. Although that landscape is dominated by faith-based organizations like Rachel's Vineyard and Silent No More, there are also some wonderful secular options like Abortion Changes You — whose leader, Michaelene Fredenberg, graciously joined us. Our dear friend Nora had her wallet stolen the day before her flight and was unable to board the plane to New Orleans without ID, but that didn't stop us! She shared her personal story of abortion and secular healing with the group over Skype.

The discussion was very open, with topics including secular rituals; healing for fathers; dealing with unsupportive therapists who deny that there is any death to be grieved; and do's and don'ts for being a good friend to people suffering after abortion. (The basics: thank them for their trust in sharing something so personal, maintain confidentiality, don't minimize their pain, and LISTEN.) Due to the sensitive and vulnerable conversations that took place, we will not be posting a recording of this workshop, but we hope to replicate it at future events.

With the caveat that this may be an artifact of which breakout sessions I got to attend, and that I'm sure I missed some great presentations, I felt that the disability rights programming was especially strong this year. I encourage you to watch the keynote panel on "Countering Ableism in Medicine." Pro-life atheist Sarah Terzo, who occasionally contributes to this blog, is among the panelists.

With another successful Rehumanize Conference behind us, we turn our attention to preparing for the March for Life in January. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Baby Chris is 30 Weeks Old

Above: Image of a 30-week-old fetus yawning, via the Endowment for Human Development

[This is part 31 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

30 weeks after fertilization (32 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 16 ¾ inches long and weighs 3 ¾ pounds. He or she is rapidly gaining weight, and their hair is growing. About 30% to 40% of Baby Chris's day is spent practicing breathing movements.

Want more prenatal development info? Download the free See Baby app on your mobile device.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

March for Life announces 2020 theme


Yesterday, the March for Life announced that the theme for January's gathering will be "Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman." The theme was selected to coincide with the centennial celebration of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which recognized women's right to vote. Accompanying the announcement, the March for Life released this spoken word video honoring our pro-life feminist foremothers, including those in the suffragist movement:



The March for Life will take place in Washington, D.C. on Friday, January 24, 2020. As always, we will be there with our giant blue banner. Stay tuned for details of our meet-up. The following day, we will exhibit at the National Pro-Life Summit (formerly the Students for Life of America conference).

Also, local and regional marches for life will take place across the country throughout the month of January. Secular Pro-Life will have a presence at the Chicago march on January 11. Want more meet-ups? We're open to your suggestions!

Monday, October 14, 2019

Baby Chris is 29 Weeks Old

Image via BabyCenter.com
[This is part 30 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

29 weeks after fertilization (31 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 16 ¼ inches long and weighs 3 ¼ pounds—about the size of a coconut. His or her full-term due date is just nine weeks away!

A baby's average weight at birth is 7 and a half pounds (although anything from 5.8 to 10 pounds is considered normal). That means Baby Chris is getting ready to essentially double his or her weight in only two months. The Endowment for Human Development reports that:
Each day, the adrenal glands produce large amounts of steroid products. The adrenal glands have doubled in size since week 20, and will double again before the end of pregnancy.
For more information on Baby Chris's nine-month journey from conception to birth, download the free See Baby app.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Women who've had abortions don't owe loyalty to the abortion industry


Since Roe v. Wade, there have been over 60 million abortions committed in the United States. Even if 40% of those were repeat abortions (statistics vary by year), about 36 million women have had at least one legal abortion in the past 40 years.

Some current and former abortion workers have wondered where all these women are. Why aren’t more of them active in the pro-choice movement? Certainly, there are many who are. But there has been no massive uprising of post-abortive women fighting for abortion rights. Despite high profile campaigns like Shout your Abortion, most post-abortive women keep their abortions to themselves. The fact that the pro-life movement is so powerful, even when such a large number of women have had abortions and would seem to have every reason to support that right, is telling.

Jeannie Jones counseled women and helped them get abortions both before and after Roe. She says:
I became convinced within a year or two of doing abortion counseling to great numbers at Amherst Medical that the whole thing – society's condemnatory attitude toward abortion – was going to change so dramatically because there were all these women of all ages who had abortions and members of their families who knew about it. They had this experience of making this tough decision. I thought that was going to change the political landscape and I can't believe [that opposition to legal abortion] is still going on. There's this enormous number of women having abortions still, but it's like you had one and you don't have any sympathy or concern for anyone else. Where is this enormous population of people who personally had this experience? Where are their families?
[Source: David P Cline Creating Choice: A Community Responds to the Need for Abortion and Birth Control, 1961 – 1973 (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006) 206]

Abortion is highly stigmatized despite many women having abortions. Former abortion worker Robin Dizard is so frustrated that more post-abortive women haven’t been fighting for abortion rights that she contemplated “outing” her former patients. The fact that many post-abortive women just want to go on with their lives, and others join the pro-life movement, angers her. She writes about exposing women’s secret abortions in order to shame them into being pro-choice, or to discredit their pro-life activism:
[I]t’s something that has been used very effectively in outing [of gay people], for example. I'm not in favor of it but look what it does. And look what happens when the hypocrites who are holding elected office get found out: "Oh, Senator whoever you are, your office is full of pornography, that's very interesting," and then the guy pipes down a little bit.
[Source: Ibid. 207]

Ironically and perhaps unintentionally, Dizard compares having an abortion to looking at pornography. This comparison acknowledges the stigma surrounding abortion.

Many pro-life post-abortive women are in fact open about their abortions; they see them as tragic events in their lives. Often, it is the abortion experience that motivates post-abortive pro-life women, whether they feel comfortable talking about their abortions or not.

Abortion worker Steph Herold also expresses her frustration:
We need our patients, who we do everything for, to stand up for us. We don’t need them to tell their abortion stories to everyone they know, although of course that would be great. We need them to fight for abortion access in whatever way makes sense to them. If one in three US women has an abortion by age 45, where are these women? Why don’t they stand up for us?
[Source: Sarah Erdreich Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2013) 175]

Herold's fake "one in three" statistic has been debunked.

Herold isn’t seeing the women who had abortions at her facility on the pro-choice picket line.

Abortion facility owner Maggie Cage ran a full-page newspaper ad during Operation Rescue’s campaign. While pro-lifers staged sit ins in front of the facility door, Cage called for her former patients to come and “defend” the facility:
Where are you? Where are all the people we’ve helped over the years? We need you now. When you needed us, we were there. We held your hand and supported you. We see you in restaurants and at the grocery store, at PTA meetings and softball games. You are the businesspeople, the school officials, the politicians, the voters. We kept you safe. We held your secrets. But now we need help. Where are you?
[Source: Susan Wicklund This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor (New York: Public Affairs Perseus Books Group, 2007) 160]

All the current and former abortion workers quoted here avoid coming to an obvious conclusion: many women don’t consider their abortion experience empowering. At "best," they want to forget about it. At "worst," they actively work against abortion.

What about the numbers? How many women who have had abortions are active in the pro-life movement vs. the pro-choice movement?

Unfortunately, current statistics aren’t available. But there is an older study, done in 1981, which found that more post-abortive women were involved in National Right to Life than in NARAL (one of the most prominent pro-abortion groups, then and now).

[Source: Donald Granberg, “The Abortion Activists” Family Planning Perspectives July – August 1981]

The study was done by pro-choice researcher Donald Granberg and published in the journal of the Alan Guttmacher Institute. It found that 3% of women in National Right to Life and 36% of women in NARAL had had abortions. At first glance, it seems like women who have abortions are far more likely to join NARAL and be pro-choice. But when you actually count the numbers up, you find that more post-abortive women were members of National Right to Life.

At the time of the study, there were 12 million women in National Right to Life and 156,000 in NARAL. This means that 39,000 women in NARAL had abortions. In National Right to Life, the number was 245,000.

What this translates to, if you do the math, is that there were six times more post-abortive women in National Right to Life than in NARAL.

Of course, there is only so much we can determine from the study. It only includes two organizations (though at the time, they were the largest), and it is from decades ago. So, we don’t know how much it can be applied to today. But it is seems clear that the majority of the 36 million American women who have had abortions are not pro-abortion activists.

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

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

How Legal Abortion Twists Society's Response to Miscarriages

Photograph by Joy Real on Unsplash. Image description: A cemetery in snow.

October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month, a time when we remember children lost to miscarriage, stillbirth, and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), and the families they have left behind. As a mother who has lost two of my children to miscarriage, I appreciate the need for awareness. Despite the fact that one out of every four women has suffered a miscarriage, the subject is rarely discussed.

Our reluctance to discuss miscarriage is partly a product of our reluctance to discuss death and mortality in general. But there is more going on here. I am convinced that a major cause of women's suffering and silence is legal abortion.

Legal abortion means with miscarriage, someone will get slapped in the face by our response. Either post-abortive women get slapped by the truth that their unborn child was an actual living human who died on their demand—or—grieving mothers of miscarriage will get gaslighted and mocked for melodramatically mourning a disappointing pregnancy as if they can't still have a baby if that's what they want.

It's impossible to validate the loss and grief that we face when we lose a child to miscarriage without acknowledging the humanity and life that existed. And if what I mourn is the loss of a human child's life, abortion is taking the life of a human child. Naming the child and otherwise acknowledging this was an irreplaceable son or daughter reminds women who lose children by choice of what they have willingly done. This truth is not a pleasant message for post-abortive mothers.

On the other hand, denying this truth is a huge slap in the face to grieving moms. If all I lost was a "potential person"—basically I am just disappointed that pregnancy didn't end with a full-term baby. In that case, miscarriage is just temporary bummer and "better luck next time." It denigrates our grief and pain and for no other reason than it makes society feel better about disposing of children at will.

Lies told to enable evil toward unborn children also hurt those who love (and lose) these babies. It is just another bonus gift from the culture of death.

[Today's guest article is by Dr. Jacqueline Abernathy, Assistant Professor of Public Administration at Tarleton State University.]

Monday, October 7, 2019

Baby Chris is 28 Weeks Old


[This is part 29 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

28 weeks after fertilization (30 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 15 ¾ inches long and weighs three pounds—about the size of a large head of cabbage.

Hearing has improved to the point where Baby Chris can "distinguish between high and low pitched sounds." Many mothers like to expose their third-trimester children to music by placing headsets on the baby bump. There is certainly nothing wrong with that; however, beware sales pitches that certain types of music will increase the baby's intelligence, as such claims are scientifically dubious.

Want to learn more about prenatal development? Download the free See Baby app for your smartphone.

Friday, October 4, 2019

In Two Weeks: Rehumanize Conference 2019!

The Rehumanize Conference will take place from Friday, October 18 to Sunday, October 20 in New Orleans, LA, bringing together advocates from various anti-violence movements to learn from one another. Topics include abortion, the death penalty, sexual assault, racism, war, ableism, and restorative justice.

Secular Pro-Life is proud to be a sponsor, and we are also on the agenda twice:

"The Secular Case Against Abortion"
with Kelsey Hazzard of Secular Pro-Life

"ISO Secular Abortion Recovery Resources"
with Kelsey Hazzard of Secular Pro-Life and
Michaelene Fredenburg of Abortion Changes You

It's not too late to register, and scholarships are available. We hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

"Except in the Womb"

Over at Slate, abortion supporter Christina Cauterucci has an article about the phrase "except in the womb." To call it an "article" is a bit generous. It's really more of a rant. The thesis is basically "I do not like it when anti-abortion people say this." Still, her annoyance is at least partially justified. For instance, when she says:
The ultimate message of “except in the womb” is that no one is allowed to try to change the world for the better until they try to criminalize abortion.
I immediately thought, Now you know how we feel when abortion supporters argue that we can't try to save babies' lives until we've adopted every child from foster care!, or until we've reformed immigration!, or whatever the popular distraction of the moment is. No one doubts that foster care and immigration reform are good causes. There's no need to make it a competition.

Via Dank Pro-Life Memes. Image description: One person says "Killing homeless should be illegal." A second person responds "How many homeless did you invite to your house?"

The use of "except in the womb" is sometimes perfectly on point, sometimes analogous to the "not until" pro-choice argument, and sometimes completely inappropriate. Surprise: context matters! So let's consider each of Cauterucci's examples, and my (admittedly subjective) verdicts on each.

Statement: "Climate change activists want to save future generations, except in the womb."
Verdict: Mostly bad

In general, using "except in the womb" in connection with climate change is bad form. It's a classic example of what Josh Brahm calls "fetus tunnel vision," defined as "the inability to see and/or acknowledge human rights injustices without equating or comparing them to abortion." The world has plenty of problems to tackle; we can acknowledge them on their merits without twisting everything into an abortion debate.

The one exception I'll allow is when climate change activists promote abortion as a form of population control, particularly for low-income minorities, to save the planet—as Sen. Bernie Sanders recently did. It's completely appropriate (indeed necessary) to call out the eugenicist roots of that thinking, and "save future generations, except in the womb" is a fine start.

But the usage Cauterucci cites was directed at Greta Thunberg, not Sen. Sanders, and it's pretty blatant fetus tunnel vision. Cauterucci's annoyance is understandable. I share it.

Statement: "Abortion care coverage for Peace Corps volunteers in the field? That’s supporting peace, except in the womb."
Verdict: Spot on

I have no complaints about this use of "except in the womb." Abortion is an act of violence, completely incompatible with any institution claiming a mission of peace. And it's obviously not a case of fetus tunnel vision since, as Cauterucci herself acknowledges, it directly concerns abortion policy.

Statement: "Opposed to Indiana’s ban on abortions sought due to fetal genetic disorders? That’s celebrating people with disabilities, except in the womb."
Verdict: Also spot on

You can't celebrate people with disabilities if you think they're better off dead. You really think people with disabilities don't notice your "fetal anomalies" abortion advocacy? It's hurtful. "Except in the womb" is great in this context; better yet, let's point ableist abortion supporters to pro-life statements from folks with disabilities.

Statement: "When Kamala Harris called for stricter gun laws after the Parkland shooting, it showed she cared about children being slaughtered—except in the womb."
Verdict: Borderline

If a pro-choice Joe Schmo brings up gun control and a pro-lifer responds with "except in the womb," that's clearly fetus tunnel vision, and also wildly insensitive to the families who have lost children to gun violence. The loss of life at Parkland is horribly tragic, full stop. Turning it into an abortion debate benefits no one.

The one reason I call this borderline is because it is not Joe Schmo; it's Sen. Kamala Harris, a public figure with a long history of hostility to unborn babies. Her political hypocrisy is gross and rage-inducing. Still, there's probably a better way to make this point.

Statement: "When Nancy Pelosi condemned Basher al-Assad for killing children with chemical weapons, she said she told her grandson the victims were 'children wherever they are'—except in the womb."
Verdict: Also borderline

Same as above.

Statement: "In replies and quote tweets on Twitter, conservatives regularly append the phrase to anything a perceived liberal says that rests on human decency or a shared set of morals. They’ve tacked it onto a March for Our Lives sign that said 'I don’t want [kids] to die'..."
Verdict: Definitely inappropriate. 

This is akin to the "Joe Schmo" hypothetical above—except that, for all you know, the person at the March for Our Lives is pro-life on abortion! That's just tribal antagonism for the sake of it. Knock it off.

Statement: "...to Rep. Eric Swalwell’s claim that he wants to protect children’s dreams..."
Verdict: Probably inappropriate. 

You can make the borderline case as with Sen. Harris and Rep. Pelosi above, except that Rep. Swalwell and his abortion advocacy are less prominent.

Statement: "... to Planned Parenthood’s post–Christchurch massacre tweet that said, 'we all deserve to live free from fear and violence'..."
Verdict: Absolutely fine.

C'mon. It's Planned Parenthood. They killed 332,757 helpless human beings last year. They don't get a pass.

Statement: "...and to many, many invocations of #BlackLivesMatter."
Verdict: NO. NO NO NO. NO.

Fetus tunnel vision and racist undertones? Not a winning combination. Please, for the love, do not do this.

Do you agree with my verdicts? Let's hear your arguments in the comments.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Baby Chris is 27 Weeks Old

Graphic via the Endowment for Human Development
[This is part 28 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

27 weeks after fertilization (29 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 15 inches long and weighs 2 and a half pounds—about the size of a butternut squash. Baby Chris performs somersaults in the womb.

Baby Chris can still be legally killed. A handful of abortionists, including the notorious Warren Hern and Leroy Carhart, openly advertise elective third-trimester abortions. This is despite the fact that, if born prematurely in the United States, Baby Chris would now have very good odds: 80-90% of babies born at this gestational age survive, and only 10% experience long-term health problems due to prematurity.

To learn more about the journey from conception to birth, download the free See Baby app.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Should We Make Abortion Unthinkable, or Should We Make Children Convenient?

Most people who identify as pro-life are advocates of legal restrictions on abortion. But there are some also who actively oppose abortion, yet do not want it to be outlawed, or at least do not want to make any efforts to outlaw it; their focus is on cultural attitude changes made possible mainly by better support for women, sometimes accompanied by promotion of certain kinds of birth control. Within each of those groups there is another spectrum as well: some oppose capital punishment and most war, and normally support universal healthcare, and call themselves consistently pro-life, while in others, anti-abortion advocacy is accompanied by more conservative political positions. But the distinction I would like to focus on here is that between the “legal” pro-lifers and the “cultural” pro-lifers.

I consider the “legal” pro-lifers and the “cultural” pro-lifers to be all on the same team. And it may even be best that different players on that one team have their different roles. It may be best for there to be both “tough cops” and “soft cops,” working in harmony. I think all the inputs of all the organizations that pursue only one goal or the other, or pursue any balance between the two goals, should be welcome on the team. But what I would like to argue here is that we will never achieve the maximum possible success against abortion without trying hard to enact laws; and that in fact we may never even make much progress on the cultural front until abortion is illegal. I would like to argue against the idea that efforts to create better conditions for women (even if those efforts are combined with the promotion of certain kinds of birth control) are enough, or that even all such efforts combined with moral suasion are enough. (Moral suasion through scientific and philosophical education is part of the toolkit of nearly all pro-lifers.)

Making Abortion Unthinkable, or Making Children Convenient?

Improving conditions for pregnant women, mothers, and children is a moral imperative, and not only because it will decrease the number of abortions. It will not only decrease the number of abortions, it will increase the number of healthy and empowered women and children. So we should pursue that goal for its own sake.

But we should face the fact that improving conditions in that way would do nothing at all to make abortion unthinkable. Nothing. Such progress would cause some women to think less about abortion, but that is not what we mean when we say “unthinkable.” When we say we want to make abortion unthinkable, we are using “unthinkable” to mean “so shocking that it cannot be imagined as possible.”

Suppose for instance that whenever a single woman or a couple decide to give life to and raise their baby, in exchange the government gives them a free car and a nice free apartment. The abortion rate will certainly decline. But suppose that the next year the economy worsens and the government discontinues the program. Couples will go back to baby-killing as usual, because their valuation of the unborn had not changed. They had given life because it was convenient to do so. Their consciousness about unborn life had not changed. Abortion had become situationally unnecessary for a year, but couples had not learned to perceive the unborn (at any stage of development) as full-fledged members of their family, and society had not learned that the unborn (at any stage) are our little sisters and brothers, whose protection is an imperative for us.

Unborn child-protection laws, on the other hand, send a moral message that we are going to stop treating unborn children, in our legal system, as less valuable than born children. They thus humanize the unborn. They don’t leave a hole in our institutions where the humanity of the unborn should be. (Laws can perform these functions adequately by targeting only abortionists and abortion pill vendors, by the way; it should be possible to avoid targeting pregnant women.)

Laws importantly influence culture, just as culture influences laws. If we are not continually and actively demanding legal protections for unborn persons similar to those we would demand for born persons, we will appear to believe that the unborn are not really persons, which will undermine even our efforts at moral suasion.

Rebecca Haschke does pro-life outreach on college campuses. In a Life Report video, she said:
I’ve talked to students on campus, though, when we talk about abortion – their reasoning for why abortion is okay is because the law says it’s okay. And I ask them, “Should the law be what determines what is right and wrong?,” and they'll be like “Well, yeah, it does.” And then I cringe and I say, “Well, have we ever had laws that have been unjust?” And then they go, “Yeah, we have.” [But] the law . . . influences people’s thoughts. 
In 2005, the Los Angeles Times interviewed patients at an abortion center: “She regrets having to pay $750 for the abortion, but Amanda says she does not doubt her decision. ‘It's not like it's illegal. It's not like I'm doing anything wrong,’ she says.”

In a 1996 debate with Naomi Wolf, Helen Alvare said (at 18:13):
The basis for the [pro-life] moral position is that it is the taking of a human life. In other arenas in society where the taking of a human life is concerned, the law also enters. If it doesn’t enter, that is the anomaly, that's the strange thing! So the very basis for the moral position leads. . . . I'm not saying the legal struggle will solve everything. The moral and legal have to go in tandem. 
To fail to advocate unborn child-protection laws is to countenance an anomaly, and thus to say that unborn children are not as good as born children. When the Virginia Supreme Court said in 1858, “in the eyes of the law . . . the slave is not a person,” that august pronouncement must have helped crystallize many people’s perceptions of slaves – certainly at least the perceptions of those who wanted to believe it. The pedagogical effect of law is well-known.

Actions proceed from thoughts, so consciousness is key to any kind of social change; and moreover, I think that the upgrade of consciousness involved in recognizing the unborn as full-fledged members of our human family, crossing that last and hardest frontier of civil rights, will have ramifying effects in upgrading morality in all areas of life. 

Unborn Child-Protection Laws Accomplish the Following:
  1. They are indispensable in making abortion unthinkable, as explained above. 
  2. They are proven to save some lives, right now, that otherwise we would not have saved and could have saved. Even the hard-core abortion advocacy site Rewire.News no longer denies this.
  3. The removal of abortion as an easy option ensures that people will protest strongly for better conditions for women. Why bother to protest strongly, which is a lot of trouble, as long as there is an easy way out, legal abortion? (For more on this, search here for “escape valve.”) 
  4. They prevent some unwanted pregnancies (a win from almost everyone’s point of view) by motivating women to adopt better contraception. Even the Guttmacher Institute agrees with this. 
  5. There will always be some women who simply do not want to be pregnant and cannot be induced, even by offering them the best conditions, to remain pregnant. Laws (the force of law, plus the pedagogical effect of law) are the only way for us to avoid abdicating our responsibility to at least try to protect these particular little citizens. 
Playing It Smart 

The “legal” and the “cultural” players on the pro-life team should at least never undermine each other’s efforts. The “cultural” forces should not publicly accuse the “legal” forces of failing to get at the roots of the abortion problem. (The roots are a mixed reality anyway; as mentioned, the “legal” approach addresses at least one root – perceptions of the unborn – with more institutional commitment than does the “cultural,” and it is only correct perceptions of the unborn that make abortion unthinkable.) And likewise, the “legal” forces should not publicly accuse the “cultural” of caving in and trying to placate liberal society.

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

Monday, September 23, 2019

Baby Chris is 26 Weeks Old

The above image shows a 26-week-old fetus with an unhappy facial expression.
Perhaps (s)he can taste something bitter in the amniotic fluid?

[This is part 27 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

26 weeks after fertilization (28 weeks LMP), Baby Chris is 14 ¾ inches long and weighs 2 ¼ pounds—about the size of a large eggplant.

From studies of premature infants born around 26 weeks, researchers know that Baby Chris has a well-developed sense of smell. This also corresponds with an increased sense of taste; the Endowment for Human Development reports that
[a] sweet substance placed in the amniotic fluid increases the rate of fetal swallowing. In contrast, decreased fetal swallowing follows the introduction of a bitter substance. Altered facial expressions often follow. A pregnant woman’s dietary intake can reach the fetus rather quickly. For instance, amniotic fluid assumes the odor of garlic within 45 minutes of ingestion by pregnant women.
Meanwhile, growing subcutaneous fat starts giving Baby Chris the plump, chubby-cheeked appearance of a typical full-term newborn.

Want more facts about prenatal development? Download the free "See Baby" app for your cell phone.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Why Abortions Are Still Wrong and Should be Illegal (Part Two)

I recently began a series looking at a new article/book released by pro-choice philosophers Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob (hereafter NG). You can read the article here. And if you'd like to read the book before you read my responses to it, you can read it for free on-line here.

3. Fetal Consciousness and Facts About Abortions

In this chapter, NG make the case that what matters morally is when the fetus becomes conscious,
aware, able to feel, etc. So they make the claim that when a fetus becomes conscious or aware is the most important information about the development of fetuses. Of course, one wonders why this information is considered more important than when the fetus was conceived, as if the embryo that eventually becomes the conscious/aware fetus was never conceived, the conscious/aware fetus would never come to be. So it seems like this is, at least, information as important as when the fetus becomes conscious/aware.

NG allege that consciousness likely emerges after the first trimester, at the earliest. To support this statement, they allude to information from the U.S. National Library of Medicine at PubMed.gov, assuming that if you are interested enough you will go search for the information yourself. This is unfortunate as it does not properly justify their claim. It is up to the one making the claim to adequately justify it, not to the one considering your claim to go out on a scavenger hunt to find your information. But not only is their claim not adequately sourced, a major problem is NG do not actually define what they mean by “consciousness” or “awareness,” nor do they tell us exactly how much is necessary in order for the fetus to matter morally. This is surely an important point, as some philosophers who weigh in on the abortion issue believe that you don't have a sufficient amount until well after birth (e.g. Michael Tooley, Francesca Minerva, Alberto Giubilini, and Peter Singer).

I’m not very interested in debating when, exactly, consciousness, awareness, or feeling develops in fetuses. This is because I reject their personhood framework. So I’m much more interested in refuting their arguments for why they believe consciousness even matters morally in the first place. If their arguments fail, then they have not sufficiently made their case. Needless to say, I think their arguments fail.

The first argument they give is that “concerns about consciousness and feeling in fetuses are most important for them because they are fundamentally what’s most important for us” (italics in original). Consciousness is what enables us to experience good and bad things in life; after all, without a viewpoint, then things can’t get any worse for us.

But this argument is specious. It subtly equivocates on the term “important.” We consider consciousness to be important because we are already having conscious experiences; we would not want to lose our consciousness because of these experiences we can value. But when it comes to fetuses, consciousness does not lack value just because they can’t appreciate these experiences. Consciousness is important for the fetus because without it, the fetus will not be able to properly flourish as a human being. To paraphrase Christopher Kaczor, we don’t find it a tragedy when a rock fails to develop consciousness. This is because rocks are not the kinds of things which are oriented toward being conscious. We do consider it a tragedy when someone is unable to be conscious because humans are the kinds of things which are oriented toward being conscious, so a human needs to have conscious experiences to fully flourish as a human being. NG’s argument doesn’t work because it trades on the second meaning of “important” in the first case (consciousness is important to fetuses because it enables them to flourish as human beings), and the first meaning of “important” in the second case (consciousness is important for us because it enables us to have good and bad experiences).

Second, they ask us to imagine a human who is born unconscious and lived their entire existence in that unconscious state. That human would have no perceptions or awareness, no relationships, knowledge, etc. From this they conclude that this human never actually was — any bad thing that happens to that human’s body never actually happened to them.

But this argument merely begs the question — why assume that because a human was born permanently comatose that the person never actually existed? Why couldn’t their being born comatose be a bad thing that happened to the person? In fact, it seems more reasonable to say that a person has been harmed by being born permanently unconscious. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to say that the body has been harmed but no person ever existed there. For whose body has been harmed? The person’s, obviously.

Third, they argue that if you died prematurely in some way, or even just went into a permanent comatose or vegetative state, for any undisclosed amount of time and then died, then either option would be bad for you — either dying or entering a permanent comatose state.

I definitely agree with the authors that either situation is bad and neither situation is desirable. In fact, I might even agree for the sake of argument that neither situation is more preferable than the other. [1] This would simply be because if I am permanently unconscious, it would be like I was dead. I wouldn’t know either way because in both situations, I permanently lose consciousness. However, does that mean I cease to be a person in both situations? Certainly if I die, I would cease to be a person. But would I cease to be a person if I enter a permanent coma? That is much more debatable. If your answer is yes, then there would be no reason to keep me alive at all via life support. But if the answer is no, then one should not be so hasty to pull the plug on me. Doctors are not infallible, and people have been known to come out of comas and even diagnosed persistent vegetative states. So it seems reasonable to keep me alive just in case the doctor’s diagnosis about me was wrong, or I might come out of it sometime in the future because something doctors don’t understand happened to me (after all, the brain is still one of the least understood organs in the human body). So it seems like NG are dedicated to the proposition that one should pull the plug on me so that I don’t take up valuable hospital space or become an unnecessary burden to others rather than keeping me alive since I may actually come out of the coma someday.

Aside from the logical problems with their argument, it is still quite debatable whether brain death counts as actual death, at all. After all, even if a person is brain dead, the person’s body can still be kept alive via life support. As bioethicist Maureen L. Condic has shown, “brain death” was proposed as the criterion of death in 1968 by doctors for the purpose of being able to preserve organs for harvesting and transplantation, a criterion of death widely accepted today (though not universally). But a person’s true death is not when the heart stops beating or when the brain stops functioning, it’s when the person’s cells cease being able to function as a unified whole. So if we are going to take a symmetrical view of human life, rather than arguing from the cessation/beginning of consciousness, we should argue from the cessation/beginning of when the person’s individual cells start being able to function as a unified whole, and this begins at fertilization.

Finally, they argue that rocks and plants aren’t conscious and that’s why they lack rights. The fact that embryos and fetuses completely lack minds, as rocks and plants do, is why they lack rights.

Here, NG simply commit a category error fallacy. Rocks and plants are non-conscious entitites — embryos and fetuses are pre-conscious entities, and this difference matters. Rocks and plants are never conscious (in the way NG want them to be, which is difficult to assess since they never actually define what they mean by consciousness). However, human fetuses and embryos will be conscious — they are on a self-directed path of human development toward being presently conscious. This means that embryos and fetuses do not lack consciousness. In fact, they are conscious entities. They simply lack the necessary organs to be able to immediately exercise their capacity for consciousness. And this matters morally for rights because rights are inherent to us as human beings, and since all of the changes the embryo and fetus undergo are within its internal programming to undergo, none of these changes are substantial changes — in other words, none of these changes change the embryo or fetus from one thing into something else. It remains the same thing throughout all of its changes, a human being.

So as we can see, NG do not adequately make the case for why consciousness matters. In fact, they seem to assume that the person doesn’t even exist unless one is able to immediately exercise their consciousness. But they don’t argue for this, it is merely assumed, making their personhood case as question-begging as several of the arguments they reject. Perhaps they do argue for this elsewhere in their writings, but as it is germane to the case presented here, it should have been included here, as well.

I have argued that their arguments for the moral relevance of consciousness, awareness, etc., have not succeeded. As such, I will not address their points about why and when most abortions occur, as it’s not really relevant to the overall argument.

4. Bad Arguments

In this chapter, NG address several bad arguments. They begin by addressing question-begging arguments and I generally have no issues with this section. I do agree that the pro-life arguments they present beg the question by assuming the immorality of abortion; consequently, they are not arguments that I use.

NG then go on to address common “everyday” arguments, and these bear closer examination. First they address everyday pro-life arguments. Some of the arguments on this list were also on the question-begging list and others I have addressed in my comments above or in the previous part. So I will not address every argument exhaustively here.

Argument: Abortion ends a life. NG’s response here is true, as far as it goes. Many things are alive, like mold, bacteria, and mosquitoes. But these are things people generally don’t have a problem with killing. So not all acts of killing are wrong. But what NG fail to consider is that few pro-life people oppose abortion simply because it’s taking a life.[2] Saying that abortion takes a life is part of a cumulative case for the value of the unborn. It’s not simply that the unborn are alive, but that they are living members of the human species. So to address the argument “abortion ends a life” on its own terms is to misrepresent how the argument is usually understood by pro-life people. Therefore it should not be on the bad arguments list, as it is not usually used in the way NG alleges that it is.

So yes, fetuses are biologically alive, NG agree, but this fact, alone, does not grant value to the fetus. To be fair, though, NG do end the section by conceding that pro-life people might mean something more, like “morally significant life” or “life with rights,” but if that's what pro-life people mean then they should say it since we need to be clear and accurate on this issue. And to this I give wholehearted agreement but pro-life people are not the only ones to fall prey to unclear and/or inaccurate statements. I have engaged many pro-choice college students on college campuses, and even many college students have difficulty articulating why they think abortion is moral or should be legal. Hopefully books like NG’s will help to elevate the conversation.

Argument: Abortion kills innocent beings. NG allege that the word “innocence” cannot apply to the unborn because it is a concept that applies to beings who can do wrong and choose not to. Fetuses are neither innocent nor not innocent. But this is a faulty view of innocent.

Traditionally, children have been seen as innocent because they cannot understand right from wrong. A toddler is innocent of any wrongdoing for this reason, so he is not morally culpable for any acts that he does (such as hitting his sister for no reason). He has to be taught right from wrong. But even the severely mentally handicapped are still seen as innocent of wrongdoing if they do something ordinarily perceived as wrong. In this case, as we’re talking about something that would ordinarily be a breach of a person’s human rights, i.e. to have their life taken without due process, the argument is the unborn are innocent because they haven’t done anything to warrant losing their life. They have not committed a capital crime so they are not deserving of capital punishment for simply existing.

Argument: Abortion hurts women. I generally agree with NG’s rejection of this argument, even if I disagree with their individual claims. It’s true that this is not a good argument against abortion. All surgeries have elements of risk; if there is nothing morally problematic with abortion then women should be allowed to take on that risk. However, their claim that the medical research shows that abortions are generally not medically dangerous is dubious. Again, they provide no evidence for this claim (although they do cite a source for their claim that racial minorities have increased health inequalities, a claim I’m not interested in debating). The evidence usually relied on for this claim comes from the Centers for Disease Control and there are good reasons to doubt the conclusion of their research (see the article linked here). How abortion affects women physically and psychologically are issues that deserve further research and study, from scientists who are objective and not setting out to bias the research.

Argument: The Bible Says Abortion is Wrong. I generally agree with the conclusion here. I reject this argument, generally, because one must first accept God exists and the Bible is God’s divine word in order for this argument to have traction. So it’s not always a bad argument; it could be helpful when discussing abortion with a pro-choice Christian. But when discussing abortion with a pro-choice atheist or person of a different religious faith, I don’t use the Bible.

There are reasons to doubt NG's handling of the Bible passages in their book. However, as this is a secular blog, I won't go into them here.

Argument: Abortion stops a beating heart. This is another argument that really doesn’t belong here. The argument is not simply that stopping a beating heart is wrong (which also means that NG’s responses miss the point of this argument). The argument is that a beating heart is a sign of life, so if you stop a beating heart, it is sure evidence that you are killing the embryo.

Additionally, NG’s claim that embryos don’t have a beating heart is absurd. Yes, critics of recent heartbeat bills have alleged this point but I was surprised that NG would agree with it, considering that earlier they were very much concerned with information about human development. The fact is that no pro-life person says that the heart is fully formed by the 22nd day after conception. The argument is that the heart starts beating at that time. Just as the fetus is not fully formed even after birth, the heart is not fully formed at 22 days, and no pro-life person thinks that it is. But there is a definite heartbeat at that time. Secular Pro-Life has published an excellent article describing this bizarre argument and showing why it doesn’t refute the science involved in fetal heartbeat bills.

NG give one more argument against abortion they view as bad, and I generally agree it’s not a good argument. So I won’t engage it here, nor will I engage the bad common pro-choice arguments they examine since I agree with those, too.

In the next part, I'll finish this series by analyzing their critique of the good pro-life arguments and critique their defenses of the good pro-choice arguments.

[1] I say “for the sake of the argument” because this assumes that there is no life after death which is better than our life here on earth. So for the sake of the argument I’m assuming there’s no afterlife.
[2] Some, like pro-life vegans, would be opposed to killing most life just because they are alive.