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Monday, June 29, 2020

"I'm here to listen, not to judge." Interview with a young Catholic sidewalk counselor

Maria on the right.
Signs read "I'm here to listen, not to judge"
and "We bring hope, love, and support."

How did you get started sidewalk counseling? What draws you to the sidewalk compared to other types of pro-life work?

I got started with sidewalk advocacy when I joined my pro-life student group in college: Bama Students for Life! I had learned that the abortion facility less than a mile from our campus was the busiest facility in Alabama; that fact was a big catalyst in my pro-life advocacy. At the time, the facility performed nearly 70 abortions a week. So many were being killed, and I felt I could no longer stay silent.

What does your work entail? Describe an average day of sidewalk counseling.

On Saturday mornings I go to the closest abortion facility. I've coordinated with some friends from my church who also go, and there's usually a handful of other local pro-lifers present, so on a regular Saturday there's about 8–10 people out there. Because there are so many of us, we've gotten in the habit of splitting the group up across the sidewalk: groups of two or three will stand on either side of the entrance to the small parking lot to do outreach, and four or five people will stand a little further away to pray. Those doing outreach try to approach the people in their cars as they drive in or out. We also call out to people walking from their cars to the building, saying things like, "I can't pretend to know what you're going through right now, but I'd like to hear your story, and I want to know if there's any way I can help. I've got information about free local resources that I would love to share with you."

What are the most difficult aspects of this work, and how do you handle those?

For me, the most difficult thing is knowing what to say. I stumble over my words all the time, and talking to strangers makes me extremely nervous. I deal with that by trying to imagine what I would want to hear if I was the woman walking into the facility. I practice saying things to myself in the car on the way over. Obviously each person is unique, so I don't want to sound scripted, but practicing certain phrases helps me feel more comfortable.

Do you hand out literature? If so, what is it about?

Yes! Lately I've been using the "This is not your only choice" pamphlet from Human Life Alliance. I also have several handwritten cards that I use if someone seems like they're going to change their mind and leave; the cards list the closest local resources and include my personal phone number so they can reach out if they want to.

Do you refer people to local services? If so, what types or services? Provided by whom?

Yes — On the cards I give out I’ve list a couple different pro-life pregnancy care centers and a place that can help with housing. I also have the contact info for those places saved in my phone, along with information about what services they provide and whether they have any Spanish-speaking employees.

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?

I do! I'm Catholic and my faith influences my work in that I make a point to pray before, during, and after sidewalk advocacy. That said, I agree with the information in Sidewalk Advocates For Life's training guide, which suggests the following topic progression: first, address the mother and her crisis; second, talk about her baby; and last, you could ask about her faith background (if she has one). Rehumanize International also talks about this progression under “Dialogue Tips” in our handouts here. Most women, in my experience at least, are in crisis mode. They want to know first and foremost that you genuinely care about them and you want to help them through this crisis.

How do you respond to people who say they are at the clinic for reasons other than abortion?

I get this rarely; the vast majority of people coming into the facility I go to are there for abortion. However, I typically respond explaining there are so many other organizations that provide birth control that don't kill human beings.

What are some of the most common circumstances women describe that brought them to the clinic?

That they're scared because the pregnancy was unexpected, or that they don't have the finances to take care of the child.

Do you have ongoing relationships with any of the women you have met at the sidewalk? If so, what are those like?

I don't have ongoing relationships directly, but one of the friends from church who goes with me usually stays in contact with them.

Do you interact with clinic staff? If so, what has that been like?

I see them pretty rarely, and when I do, I struggle to know what to say beyond, "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?

I've witnessed my fair share of bad sidewalk advocates — so I won't deny that they exist — but in my experience, the good greatly outnumber the bad. When I was in college, our student group made a point to try to convince other local advocates to use more loving and helpful signs. It didn't always work. There was one man who'd carry a large sign with a swastika comparing abortion to the holocaust, and he refused to get rid of it because he had painted it himself. In those instances we distance ourselves as much as possible and carry signs like "Here to listen, not to judge."

What do you think of buffer zone laws? Has your work been impacted by such laws?

It’s my understanding that buffer zone laws were created in response to some extreme measures taken by pro-lifers (like chaining themselves to the doors of facilities to keep people from going in). Obviously I don’t like these laws because they hinder our ability as peaceful sidewalk advocates to reach the people going in for abortion. When I started getting into sidewalk advocacy, the facility we went to was in a medical office park, so there was a large parking lot between us and the people going in. It makes it really tough to seem compassionate when you have to yell in order to be heard. There was a lot of shouting "GOOD MORNING!" those days.

What advice would you give someone interested in sidewalk counseling?

Expect to wait around a lot. It takes patience. But also stay prepared so you're not caught off guard when someone actually takes the time to talk to you and needs help. Preparation is key.

What advice do you have for people who don't sidewalk counsel but still want to help women with crisis pregnancies?

Donate to local pregnancy centers! If you don't have the funds, ask if they need volunteers. You can also do a lot of outreach online, in forums and on social media where many people will ask questions if they're considering abortion. Make your pro-life stance clear to social media friends, and in a nonjudgmental way; you want to make sure they know you're a safe person to reach out to if they ever find themselves unexpectedly pregnant. If you're a praying type, pray for the people out on the sidewalk.

What do you believe the pro-life movement is getting right? What do you believe could be better?

I think the pro-life movement is vibrant and powerful, and that as a whole, we are most successful when we allow for a diversity of opinion on unrelated issues and focus on the human rights injustice at hand. Let's spread information about the truth of abortion. Let's find ways to help parents considering it and heal those who have already gone through with it. Let's debate which political strategy is going to be most likely to truly eliminate abortion. Basically, I believe the movement would be better if it were tied less closely to specific party platforms. I know too many people who were raised in a pro-life, conservative household, grew up, realized their politics didn't align with their parents', and decided that for that reason they could no longer be pro-life. It shouldn't be a partisan issue. It's a human rights issue, and we have to remind people of that.

Read more interviews:
Sidewalk counseling training resources:

Friday, June 26, 2020

The unlikely story of the pro-life author of "Reconsidering Fetal Pain"

[This post is a transcription of a story I told verbally.]

Okay so I want to share this amazing story.

First the background. In the abortion debate there's controversy over the fetal pain issue. For a long time the prevailing scientific wisdom (though not a consensus) was that fetuses probably couldn't feel pain before 24 weeks, and maybe even later. And then recently—in January of this year, actually, 2020—an article came out in a well reputed journal—The Journal of Medical Ethics—called "Reconsidering Fetal Pain." And there were two things about this article that I found remarkable. The first was that it basically argued that fetuses might experience pain as early as 12 or 13 weeks (so significantly sooner than was previously thought). This possibility has major implications for the abortion debate because something like 10% of abortions happen later than 12-13 weeks, and, you know, what does it mean ethically? So that's the first major point of this article.

But the other thing about it that was interesting, and the thing that originally caught my eye, is that it was authored by two men who made a point of noting more than once during the article that they do not agree on the abortion debate. One of them is pro-life; one of them is pro-choice. And they were trying to say that their findings and conclusions regarding fetal pain should be considered apart from the politics of abortion, which should be axiomatic but unfortunately is not. Either fetuses can experience pain or they cannot, and we should explore that question regardless of the implications it has, rather than consider the implications and then only explore the question if it's safe, basically. Anyway, it seems very rare for the two sides of the abortion debate to collaborate on anything, and so it was remarkable to me to see that these two authors who apparently are quite opposed to each other on the abortion issue are with each other on the fetal pain issue.

And I guess I should say: a third important point of the article (that I didn't realize initially and learned later) is that the pro-choice author, Dr. Stuart Derbyshire, is actually the author of some of the most cited prior work on fetal pain. Specifically, he authored the 2006 British Medical Journal article "Can fetuses feel pain?" in which he argued pain experience may require both neural circuitry (which embryos and early term fetuses lack) and mindful experience (which even late term fetuses don't yet have). Stuart also co-authored the 2010 Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists' highly influential research overview "Fetal Awareness," which argues fetuses can’t feel pain until at least 24 weeks, and possibly not at all during pregnancy, because they are always in a "sleep-like" state. And then in 2020 Stuart co-authored "Reconsidering Fetal Pain," which directly contradicts some of his prior work.

So this article is remarkable both because it involves collaboration between pro-life and pro-choice researchers, and because it involves one of the researchers publishing an article that contradicts his prior work, which—even outside the abortion debate—is not very common. So I thought that was fascinating.

Oh, and a distant fourth: it was very well written. I know how difficult it is to communicate technical ideas in layman's terms that are easy for people to access and read, and it was very well written in that sense too.

So four major takeaways of this article:
  1. It argues that fetuses might feel pain as early as 12 or 13 weeks instead of 24 weeks.
  2. It was coauthored by a pro-life researcher and pro-choice researcher.
  3. The pro-choice author was contradicting his own prior work. And
  4. It was just really well written.
So it definitely caught my attention.

A month later, maybe less, I was on the Secular Pro-Life account on Twitter. And the way I use the account is I mostly just send out original content and try not to spend too much time getting into comment threads and arguments. I just don't think it's a very productive use of time, usually. And I don't usually look at other people's profiles that much either.

But every now and then if I see someone tweet something I think is particularly clever or funny, I might skim their profile and see if they have more content like that. So I was on Twitter and I saw someone make a comment on a NARAL tweet, I think, that I thought was particularly funny. So I clicked on his profile to see if he had more like that, and the pinned tweet to the top of his profile was this article—"Reconsidering Fetal Pain"—and he had pinned it because he was one of the authors! He was the pro-life author. His name is John Bockmann. And I was a little astounded. I just didn't think there'd be reason for my circle to cross with his. It never occurred to me to look for him on social media or anything.

But as soon as I saw that he was the pro-life author, I direct messaged him and basically said "I really liked your article. Great work. I would love to ask you some questions about it if you have time." And he said "Yeah, that's fine. Go ahead and email me and I'll get back to you in the next few days because I'm busy with [whatever]." And so immediately, like in that moment, I emailed him I think a dozen questions off the top of my head about how this article came to be. He indulged me over the next few days and wrote me lengthy responses. Through that back and forth I got to hear more of his story, and I have to say it was fascinating. Very inspiring. And he gave me permission to retell it here.

So, according to John, he was not particularly involved in the abortion debate before. This is one of the remarkable things about this story. I work with pro-life activists all the time, and while I don't think I know everybody, I know a lot of people or at least have heard of them, and I had never heard of him before. And it turns out he was not affiliated with any pro-life groups. He doesn't really know a lot of people in the movement. He came at this, from my perspective, totally out of nowhere. He wasn't especially pro-life—maybe personally pro-life, but hadn't given it a lot of thought—and a couple things happened that made him change his mind and get more involved.

First, he had children. He got to witness his wife's pregnancies and the love he felt for his children even before they were born, and that moved him. He felt more passionate and personal about this issue.

Second—and I think this is really important—he saw David Daleiden's videos about Planned Parenthood's late-term abortions and selling of fetal body parts. John was just thunderstruck. Horrified. And he really wanted to do something, to be involved somehow. It moved him to want to try to effect some kind of change.

At the time he was in his program to become a military physician assistant, and he had to do a master's thesis. He was originally going to focus his thesis on obesity. But when the CMP videos came out, John decided he would like to change his project to fetal pain. His thought process was that if we can't stop late-term abortion from happening, we at least have a responsibility to understand what it means, what it does, and to handle it as humanely as possible. So he started looking into fetal pain.

So that's the first part of the story: he was moved by his own experiences of fatherhood and his own feelings of love for his preborn children, which I find is an extremely common reason for people to convert to being pro-life. And then also David Daleiden's videos inspired John. I think this is very important because there's no way to know how many effects those videos had. I don't think that they had the effects that Daleiden was hoping for. Planned Parenthood has not disappeared, and if anything they have gone after him very aggressively. I can't imagine how difficult that must be for him, both financially and in terms of the stress of fighting with them. And also the frustration of not seeing them taken down at least a few notches, much less entirely. That's frustrating, but there's no way to know who else has been influenced and in what ways, and I imagine that there are countless little interactions that have helped people move more towards our view on things. And you never know which of those interactions, which at the time may seem small, can lead to bigger changes, such as this story—where John was so moved by those videos that he decided to change his thesis and it resulted in a major journal article.

So John Bockmann decided to study fetal pain for his physician assistant program. And in the course of studying that, he read a lot of articles about fetal pain, including ones by Stuart basically saying that fetuses can't feel pain until about 24 weeks. So John was really involved in that research and very familiar with it when he happened to read a New York Times article in which Stuart seemed to contradict his prior research. I don't think most people would notice such a contradiction unless they happened to be following his work pretty closely.

And this brings us to the second part of the story that I find moving: I think there are a lot of pro-life people who would view Stuart and authors like him as "the enemy." I mean he was one of the lead voices basically saying we shouldn't worry about fetal pain. And if he was wrong, and if it's true that fetuses feel pain, do you know how many thousands of late-term abortions we perform every year without regard to the suffering that happens before death? It's of grave moral importance, in my opinion, and I can see how a pro-life person would view Stuart with anger.

But John read Stuart's work and, instead of lashing out, he did what I would think of as sort of the Josh Brahm approach to the abortion debate: he reached out to Stuart. He emailed and essentially said (I'm paraphrasing), "I’ve been following your work and I noticed you said this in your interview and it seemed to contradict this aspect of your paper, and I was wondering how you reconcile that? What changed?" And so in May 2016 they started chatting over email. They got to know each other and became friends, which is hugely important. People change their minds through friendship as much as or more than through logic and debate. And in the course of them becoming friends and discussing the fetal pain issue, Stuart changed his mind, or at least thought there might be significant factors that he should address. In February 2018, Stuart was asked to write an article on the current state of fetal pain scholarship, and he reached out to John for input. After much debate and collaboration, they wrote and rewrote their ideas into the article "Reconsidering Fetal Pain." And as of today, their paper is the 5th most downloaded paper for the Journal of Medical Ethics of all time and in the top 5% of 15M+ research articles scored by Altmetric.

In other words, John Bockmann, who was not particularly involved in the pro-life movement, was moved by fatherhood and the CMP videos to get involved, and when he did get involved he approached the opposition with respect in a spirit of friendship. He didn't change Stuart's mind entirely—Stuart is still pro-choice—but he changed Stuart's mind on fetal pain, and who knows who's reading that article now? And who knows how it influences their work? Who knows what influence it could have in the long term on the abortion debate? I think John did more than most people ever do, and he did it all because he was curious, respectful, and open. And I just thought it was a wonderful story.

Post script: I asked John to review this blog post for accuracy, and he added this note:
We can find important common ground with our ideological opposites, whether or not any minds change. This ability has huge implications for happiness and meaning, especially with how polarized our world is becoming. We must engage with curiosity, respect, and passion. I want everyone to know this!
John Bockmann

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Interview with a post-abortive sidewalk counselor: love, not shame, is the key

Interviewer's note: study after study confirm many women choose abortion because they feel they don't have the resources to care for a child. Sidewalk counselors work to connect these women to resources in their communities. This work transforms—and literally saves—lives.

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. Interestingly, in this interview Serena discusses these very type of ultra-aggressive protestors and how they make her goalsto reassure women and get them resourcesmuch more difficult. Still, she's tenacious.

I'm an atheist. I don't share Serena's beliefs about God or Jesus. But I can’t help but note how Serena's faith encourages and emboldens her to love and support other people in difficult circumstances. It's admirable work. (You can also read an interview with a secular sidewalk counselor here.)

Meet Serena


How did you get started sidewalk counseling? What draws you to the sidewalk compared to other types of pro-life work?

I got started sidewalk counseling after seeing Unplanned. I had gone to the movie not even knowing what it was about and it was like watching my life unfold before my eyes.

I was raped at 13 years old by an uncle and taken for an abortion at Ulrich Klopfer's clinic. For 30 years I did not talk about my abortion because it was something I wanted to forget happened. It was by far worse than my rape. I didn't know what abortion was when I went to that clinic but once I learned, it almost destroyed my life. I nearly lost everything. My marriage was almost over, and I was using drugs and alcohol to numb my pain.

One night after drinking heavily, I texted some friends to come get me. I knew I had too much to drink and I didn't want to end up in jail. But no one would come get me. I had burned all my bridges. I sat in my car and cried and prayed for help. That night God met me in my car and lavished me in a love that I had never felt before. I made it home and my husband welcomed me back. That began my healing process from my rape. But I never talked about the abortion.

When I saw Unplanned, I felt moved to tell the rest of my story, though I wasn't sure how exactly. I called our local Right To Life and asked if they ever minister to women before they go to abortion clinics. They explained they were going to start training people to sidewalk counsel in response to Whole Women's Health opening nearby. I signed right up and began going to the clinic.

It's so important to have peaceful people at the clinic. On the day of my abortion, no one was there. I will never know if it would have made a difference in my story, but I want to make sure that people know that they can make a difference for someone else.

What does your work entail? Describe an average day of sidewalk counseling.

Going to the clinic requires me to be ready to love others well. We really want to be a peaceful presence that is lead by the Holy Spirit on how to reach women. We want to love not only the mothers, fathers, and other family members but also the escorts and staff. We want to give the support so many of them are looking forin the moment, during the pregnancy, and after the baby is born.

What are the most difficult aspects of this work, and how do you handle those?

Escorts block us with their umbrellas and play music so the women can't hear us. We also have to deal with another group who come out with mics to "preach." They shame the women who then run right into the clinic. There have been times when we will get the attention of a father in the car and it looks like he is going to come over and talk, but the other group will call him a coward and he instead looks down and won't come over. They are also known to put ladders up and yell at escorts. It's awful.

During my own abortion, I remember the clinic telling our family that there would be people outside who hated us, so make sure to walk in quickly. Groups like these who shame women confirm the clinic workers' warnings. I've worked with many post-abortive women, and something I often hear is "the protesters were yelling at me and I just wanted to get away." In contrast, I had a woman share her story of two peaceful sidewalk counselors praying. She broke away from her parents and went to them for help. She said she could sense their love and knew they were safe. 

Do you hand out literature? If so, what is it about?

We hand out mom bags which include local resources, a free ultrasound coupon, and info about what abortion is (and that it's not her only choice). I personally try to put a hand written note, a bracelet, and some type of lotion or something to make her feel loved. If she returns a second day we also include abortion pill reversal information. We also try to let her know about a website (Her Michiana) that can help with many of her needs as well as resources for the dad.

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?

I'm a Jesus follower and that helps me love others well. When I'm at the clinic or talking to an abortion-minded woman, I talk about Jesus in a way meant to bring hope, not shame. I want her to know she is so loved. Sometimes you can tell that someone is not really interested and you can feel push back. At that point I will not talk about him, but hope they will know his love by my actions.

How do you respond to people who say they are at the clinic for reasons other than abortion?

We have people who walk by the clinic all the time; it's always a teaching moment to educate others on what abortion is. Some people just don't know and we have the opportunity to have a conversation (not a debate, but a conversation). People seem more open to talking if we approach them in a non-confrontational way. 

What are some of the most common circumstances women describe that brought them to the clinic?

I talk to women daily and they have shared so many reasons they come to the clinics. Some feel like they are not supported by family or the boyfriend, some think they can't afford a baby, some are scared of Covid. Some have been told something is wrong with their baby and abortion will show "compassion." In the case of my rape at 13 my family was told abortion would fix my trauma. It was all a lie. 

Do you interact with clinic staff? If so, what has that been like?

I make a point of interacting with clinic staff because the Jesus I serve can reach anyone. I speak truth in love to them and pray for them. I try to reach them were they're at.

I did befriend one of the escorts. Our first encounter did not go well. I shared my story with him and he cussed me out and flipped me off. The next week the escort was drinking a Snapple and made a face like it was terrible. I laughed and said "That bad?" and he laughed too, talked about how they changed the recipe. After that we started talking more, and he has since shared his story with me. He helps knit hats for premature babies! He has misplaced compassion that he doesn't even understand. 

Other escorts don't always like that he talks to me but he does it anyway. I'm going to keep showing him love and compassion. I believe it's just a matter of time before he leaves.

Many people believe that sidewalk counselors primarily try to shame and intimidate women. How do you respond to that idea?

Trained sidewalk counselors are not there to shame women at all. Sadly, there are people who go to the clinics to shame women and it's hurtful and counterproductive. The women don't realize we are different groups; they lump us together. I try really hard to separate myself from anyone who is not being peaceful. If a woman is taken there against her will I hope she looks for the people praying, not shouting. There are people who will help and love you well. 

What advice would you give someone interested in sidewalk counseling?

Go to the training. Make sure that you conduct yourself in a way that is loving; don't say anything that will hurt a woman for the rest of her life. Offer her hope. Be the hope. Love her, love him, and love the baby well. They are all God's kids. 

What advice do you have for people who don't sidewalk counsel but still want to help women with crisis pregnancies?

If you come across a woman who is in a crisis, meet her with love. Listen, discern, and respond. Figure out what is driving her to abortion and how to meet that need.

If you are part of a church, allow people to come in and talk about abortion. When the church doesn't talk about abortion it sends a message that we are okay with it. Women in the church have gone from the pew to the abortion clinic because they believe people will gossip instead of help them. [See the Pastor Pledge from The Equal Rights Institute.] If you are a pastor who doesn't know how to talk about it, invite me to speak. You can also make sure your local pregnancy centers are supported.   

Read more interviews:
Sidewalk counseling training resources:

Monday, June 22, 2020

A Supreme Court abortion decision is expected any day. Here's what you need to know.

The U.S. Supreme Court traditionally releases its major opinions in the month of June. We have already seen blockbuster rulings on LGBT employment discrimination and DACA. Next up: June Medical Services v. Russo, which will determine the fate of a Louisiana law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their practice.

Image via the Katrina Jackson for
Senate District 34 facebook page
The common-sense, bipartisan law was spearheaded by then-state representative (now state senator) Katrina Jackson (pictured), a Democrat. It is not a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade. Instead, it seeks to harness the power of existing medical institutions to identify and stop abortionists who are especially dangerous to women. As pro-choice author William Saletan noted years ago in his chilling Back Alley series, the medical community knows full well who these shoddy abortionists are and quietly declines to work with them — but historically, they have refused to speak up for political reasons. Admitting privileges requirements make these "open secrets" truly open, and force the abortion lobby to live up to the "safe" part of its empty motto.

Side note: Any news coverage of this case that fails to mention Kevin Work is sham journalism. He's exactly the type of abortionist that Louisiana's law is meant to address. Read more about him here

Louisiana's law is similar to the Texas law that the Supreme Court tragically struck down in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, although the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals noted some differences when it upheld Louisiana's law in 2018. Pro-life advocates were horrified by Hellerstedt, which prioritized abortion access and industry profits over women's safety. Hellerstedt was a 5-3 decision, when the Court had only eight Justices due to the death of Justice Scalia. (The three in the minority were Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito.) Since then, pro-abortion Justice Kennedy has retired, and Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — widely believed to support the right to life — have joined the Court. 

Here are the possible outcomes to watch for in Russo, from worst to best:
  • The Supreme Court strikes down Louisiana's law. This would mean that at least one of the Justices believed to be an anti-abortion vote is not, and that pro-life groups have received little in return for their decades of putting up with the Republican Party. If this happens, expect absolute chaos to ensue.
  • The Supreme Court upholds Louisiana's law without overturning Hellerstedt. This would essentially ratify the Fifth Circuit's approach. Lower courts would be instructed to consider other states' admitting privileges laws on a case-by-case basis, depending on such factors as the number of abortionists in the state and what criteria the state's hospitals use to grant or deny admitting privileges. 
  • The Supreme Court upholds Louisiana's law, recognizes its past mistake, and reverses Hellerstedt. This would be a victory for women's health and babies' lives.
  • The Supreme Court finds that the plaintiffs lack standing. This is a long shot, so don't get your hopes up, but a decision on the basis of standing would be huge. The legal concept of standing means that a person can't sue merely because they dislike a law; they have to have a certain level of direct involvement. To give an obvious example, the plaintiffs in the LGBT employment discrimination cases decided earlier this month were, not surprisingly, LGBT people whose employers discriminated against them. In Russo, the plaintiffs are arguing that Louisiana's law unduly burdens women's right to an abortion — but the plaintiffs in Russo aren't women, much less pregnant mothers seeking abortions and facing legal burdens. The Russo plaintiffs are abortion companies whose hired abortionists don't have admitting privileges. Although many past cases have involved abortion companies legally standing in for abortion-seeking mothers (e.g. Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Hellerstedt), allowing that type of substitute standing in a safety regulations case creates a serious conflict of interest. Women's desire to obtain the best possible care and avoid quacks like Kevin Work is directly at odds with abortion vendors' desire to cut costs. If the Supreme Court finally expresses some long-overdue skepticism at the idea that abortion businesses represent women's interests, our legal system could finally escape, or at least reduce, the influence of abortion industry money.
Dr. Michael New of the Charlotte Lozier Institute puts it best:

Friday, June 19, 2020

Secular Pro-life May Recap

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Projects
Another month of lockdown and Secular Pro-Life hasn't been slowing down at all, even if Covid-19 has changed the ways we can interact with people. Kelsey has been busy with virtual outreach, speaking to the National Campus Life Network (the Canadian version of Students for Life), and a pro-life student group at Florida Atlantic University. You can watch her talk with the National Campus Life Network here and Florida Atlantic University here.

In May, SPL enthusiastically joined a coalition of pro-life organizations led by the Susan B. Anthony List in an open letter to the FDA demanding immediate action against illegal online abortion drug vendorLearn more about it from our blog post here.

Bringing home the point that SPL is a place for people of every faith and no faith at all, Terrisa was interviewed by the Catholic EWTN channel on how Secular Pro-Life got her into pro-life activism and eventually went on to found Pro-Life San Francisco. She helps explain the secular position against abortion to a religious audience. You can watch her interview here.

Monica is working on a series of interviews on sidewalk counselors and people who work at pregnancy resource centers. If you are a sidewalk counselor or work at a pregnancy resource center and you would like to share the important work you do, contact Monica at monica@secularprolife.org.



Conversation with the National Campus Life Network

Twitter
We gained 167 new followers, bringing us to 11,773 total. We sent 138 tweets, which were viewed 314,700 times, including our reaction to this NARAL tweet that lacks self-awareness and drawing attention to this article by the National Review, debunking a Washington Post article on late-term abortions. The gruesome reality is that even though late-term abortions are rare as a percentage, they are more common than gun homicides.



Justin Timberlake disapproves

Facebook
In May we gained 242 followers, bringing us to 32,818 total. Our content was viewed over 375,224 times, including 30,900 views of our collection of tweets from people who were born in less than perfect circumstances but are tired of being told their lives aren't worth living by abortion supporters.



See more examples here.

Blogger
Our three most-read blog posts for May, in increasing order:
1) Destiny's Destiny: Pro-Life Lessons from a Horse Farm: A look by guest blogger Crystal Kupper at the all too common practice of horse abortions and the comparisons that can be made with the pressure put on human women to abort.
2) A former late-term abortion nurse speaks out: Julie Wilkinson, a former nurse at the abortion clinic of the infamous late-term abortionist Warren Hern, has since left to work at a NICU. SPL analyzes a recent interview with her in the New American.
3) The problem with "If you don't like abortion, don't get one": Guest blogger "J" breaks down this unfortunately common and frustrating misconception that pro-choice activists have about the pro-life position.  Two out of three of our top viewed posts were written by guest bloggers. Guest posts help us cover a more diverse range of perspectives, topics, and experiences. If you have an idea for a piece you'd like to submit, please email us at info@secularprolife.org to discuss.

Thank you to our supporters
Thank you to those of you who donate to help support our work. SPL is run by dedicated volunteers, and we would not be able to devote the time and energy without the help of donors like you.

If you would like to donate to Secular Pro-Life, here is our PayPal. If you don't use PayPal, you can also go to our Facebook page and click the blue "Donate" button under our cover photo on the right. If you would like your donation to be used for a specific need (e.g. travel costs, conference sponsorships, social media advertising, etc.) please email us (info@secularprolife.org) with your instructions.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

[CANCELLED] SPL's Kelsey Hazzard to Speak to Louisiana Students

June 24, 2020: Louisiana has extended Phase 2 of its COVID-19 recovery, and the event that was previously the subject of this blog post has been cancelled. We regret any inconvenience this has caused.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Interview with a secular 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 standing outside abortion clinics are there to shame and frighten women seeking abortion. Videos of street "preachers" screaming at everyone tend to be much more viral than depictions of people quietly holding signs offering resources. I'm interested in shining more light on the latter group. 

From what I've seen, the people waiting peacefully outside clinics to offer help (referred to in pro-life circles as "sidewalk counselors") are particularly brave and compassionate. In my experience they also tend to be particularly devout Christians. I was therefore happy to get an opportunity to interview one of Secular Pro-Life's own, Nick Reynosa, on what it's like for an agnostic to sidewalk counsel.

Before we begin, Nick asked that I clarify that while he sidewalk counsels when he has the chance, he doesn't counsel on a consistent basis the way some do. He didn’t want to give the false impression that he has devoted the same time and energy as some of his trainers and friends have, although he has enjoyed the experience and will continue to counsel when he has the opportunities.


(Nick in the upper right.)

How did you get started sidewalk counseling? What draws you to the sidewalk compared to other types of pro-life work?

My campus pro-life club (through Students for Life of America) went to the sidewalk once or twice a week. In my area of northern California, Students for Life and 40 Days for Life formed a natural partnership such that about a half dozen people would counsel regularly.

So through the pro-life club I started sidewalk counseling in Sacramento in 2011. After I left the sidewalk during one of my very first visits, the other counselors saved three babies in a single day! So that was a fortunate and very encouraging beginning.

Sidewalk counseling is a great way to help women at the one-on-one level. Often pro-lifers are discouraged by a seeming lack of political progress, but the individual victories at the sidewalk can be encouraging. You really see how you can make a difference. Also sidewalk counseling helps you get to know the flesh and blood members of the pro-life movement, which serves as a powerful contrast to the stereotypes the media portrays.

What does your work entail? Describe an average day of sidewalk counseling.

I try to create a peaceful presence and provide women materials and references to local pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) (usually located in close proximity to the clinic). Not all pro-lifers at the sidewalk necessarily talk to the women; conversations are usually reserved for more experienced (and usually female) counselors. The rest of us keep a general presence, often holding signs with information, being eyes and ears in case there are any altercations, getting water or snacks for the group, and sometimes providing more security than one or two female counselors might have alone. Many of the counselors who aren't interacting directly with the women approaching the clinic take the time to pray instead, though of course that's not something I do personally.

Typically at least some of the women accept our information. Nearly always some passersby will hurl profanity or flip the bird. It's common to hear street preachers mix evangelization with sidewalk counseling. It's also common for clinic escorts to play loud music or put up barriers like tarps in order to block the women's view of the counselors.

What are the most difficult aspects of this work, and how do you handle those?

By far the hardest part is being a man. Successful male counselors are unicorns. Pregnancy is an intimate, personal, and deeply feminine experience. Often women associate their situation with their sex lives and this association make establishing trust and comfort with a man more difficult. Women going to the clinic often seem to feel more comfortable talking with other women, so if possible, I defer to the female counselor present.

However there are some circumstances in which it's helpful to have a male counselor. For some women, interacting with a man who cares about what they're going through can be a refreshing experience. And for some, having male counselors there makes them feel safe from an abusive situation. Additionally, men sometimes accompany the women in their lives to abortion appointments and end up waiting outside. Some of them find it helpful to talk to male counselors about the experience.

Do you hand out literature? If so, what is it about?

Yes, usually basic information about abortion and marketing materials for local PRCs. If you're going to sidewalk counsel, I would recommend you read through these materials before you start handing them to people. Make sure you understand and agree with what you're telling others. Some publications are particularly religious, or anti-sex or anti-contraception. Not all pro-lifers agree with those views. Usually, though, the reading material is straightforward, honest, harmless, and very helpful.

Do you refer people to local services? If so, what types or services? Provided by whom?

Yes, I usually refer to local PRCs, primarily for pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, and counseling. I try to send them to the closest PRC with the highest level of medical services. It’s also common for counselors to refer to maternity homes.

It's my impression most sidewalk counselors are fairly devoutly religious, but you're an agnostic. How does being a secular person intersect with sidewalk counseling? Does it hinder you in any ways? Help you in others?

I think being secular can be very helpful when you're speaking to women, because you're presenting life-affirming resources that are religiously neutral and unlikely to come off as anti-contraception or anti-sex. I think female secular sidewalk counselors have the greatest potential of any demographic to connect with women at the clinic.

But being non-religious can be negative in two ways: (1) People tend to assume all of us at the sidewalk are from the same group or all together, which means if someone evangelizes at the sidewalk I'm held liable for everything they say, despite agreeing with probably very little of it. (2) If and when religious sidewalk counselors find out I'm agnostic, some feel the need to evangelize to me. They often believe that without faith in God, a person cannot believe in or access objective morality, and so they find a secular pro-life worldview nonsensical, and they want to debate it.

While I don't especially want to be evangelized to, I do admire the honesty. Sometimes Christian pro-lifers will be happy to have a secular person around to show that this is not a purely religious issue, but then the same people will argue that secular morality is impossible. I'm glad to get along well with religious allies, but if they really do think my worldview is foolish, I'd rather they be honest about it than placate or tokenize me.

Overall I think the fact that I'm at the sidewalk is encouraging to some but also causes cognitive dissonance for others.

How do you respond to people who say they are at the clinic for reasons other than abortion?

I say three things:
  1. I'm sorry if they felt we were making an assumption about why they were there. We're just trying to provide options to women in difficult situations.
  2. If they are there for contraception services, I recommend they get their contraception from providers that do not offer abortion, such as Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). Some counselors keep lists of local FHQCs. There are actually 25 FHQCs in the San Francisco area alone.
  3. I let them know that life-affirming clinics like PRCs often offer health care services like STD tests and pregnancy tests.
What are some of the most common circumstances women describe that brought them to the clinic?
  1. Economic concerns
  2. Tumultuous and dysfunctional relationships
  3. Educational concerns (primarily among younger women)
Do you have ongoing relationships with any of the women you have met at the sidewalk? If so, what are those like?

No, but I know this is very common. Often women who choose life will be in touch with PRCs for several years to come.

Do you interact with clinic staff? If so, what has that been like?

Yes. It has been almost universally negative. Everything from them playing loud music and erecting large barriers, calling the cops unjustifiably, threatening with non-existent buffer zone laws, taking my picture without my consent, etc.

Many people believe that sidewalk counselors primarily try to shame and intimidate women. How do you respond to that idea?

I find this to be patently absurd. I have only seen pro-life women being harassed, yelled at, cursed at on the sidewalk. While it is true that are clips of people doing this sort of thing in 1980s and 1990s, this behavior has almost entirely fallen away. The most common sight at the sidewalk is harmless middle-aged Catholic women.

What do you think of buffer zone laws? Has your work been impacted by such laws?

Buffer zone laws are blatantly unconstitutional. If they were consistently applied for all political topics, they would severely restrict all forms of speech and activism. As such, even a lot of passionately pro-choice people should oppose buffer zone laws.

I've never had my speech restricted but I have been threatened by escorts with nonexistent buffer zones. Another time I encountered some ridiculous doublespeak from the San Francisco Police Department. They began our interaction by claiming that "buffer zones are unconstitutional" and then proceeded to cite a city ordinance (which was a buffer zone in all but name) and threaten us with a citation. We promptly called the bluff, and nothing happened to us.

Pro-Life San Francisco actually maintains access to legal assistance in case there's a problem, but I find that if they try to cite us and we threaten action, they usually back down because the law is already on our side.

What advice would you give someone interested in sidewalk counseling?

You shouldn't feel guilty if you decide not to do it. There are many ways you can help women in need. If you are going to counsel and you're a man, I would suggest making sure a female counselor is also there. But overall I think it is a great way to see the movement in action and help women in your community.

What advice do you have for people who don't sidewalk counsel but still want to help women with crisis pregnancies?

Be a brand ambassador for your local PRC. Distribute their contact info everywhere: community poster boards, campuses, restrooms, gas stations, anywhere and everywhere helps. Attend annual fundraising dinners at local PRCs and donate. Help your local campus student group; they are often the best contact for the 18-24 age group where nearly 40% of abortions occur.

What do you believe the pro-life movement is getting right? What do you believe could be better?

The pro-life movement is doing an excellent job of providing a peaceful, compassionate, consistent, and nearly ubiquitous presence at abortion clinics throughout the country. However, too often well-meaning counselors mix their evangelization with their sidewalk work. The simple fact is that many secular women are on the fence about getting an abortion but not on the fence about premarital sex, contraception, and cohabitation. The stakes are too high for a potentially off-putting overtly religious approach, at least at the outset. Choosing life is a life-altering decision, and we are most effective when we focus on that specific issue and take care not to spend energy on other issues that may be major differences between the women and the counselors they're speaking to.

Read more interviews:
Sidewalk counseling training resources:


Friday, June 12, 2020

We Asked, You Answered: Conversations with Pro-Choice Friends

We asked our social media followers: "Are you close to pro-choice people? Do you talk about abortion with them? If so, how does it go?" We were flooded with responses. Here's a sampling.

Colleen A.: A few. We don't tend to get into a lot of direct discussion about it. But where I've had most success is when they go on a rant with horrible stereotypes of pro-lifers, and I just speak up and say, "You know ME, and I'm pro-life. You know I'm not like that. So why would you say things like this?" Sometimes the best I get is "The pro-life movement needs more people like you," which is at least the start of a win.

Linda K.: Most everyone in what I would call my larger circle identify as pro-choice. I have a small circle of people I trust, and we share privately. We talk about how we can make this world kinder to mothers and babies. As a woman born with a disability, I share my thoughts on how choice and eugenics intersect. I have had some civil and generative conversations with pro-choice friends.

Katherine A.: I am close with pro-choice people, but we don't talk about it because they refuse to believe the CDC statistics about why women get abortions and insist that no woman ever has an abortion for financial reasons or because her partner or family are pressuring her or even the number of elective abortions that occur. It's hard to have a conversation when people refuse to accept health care data from reputable sources.

Above: Students dialogue about abortion.
Via this post.
Jack V.: I’m pretty far left on everything but abortion and guns and as such most of my close friends are far left too. Typically it just turns to me pointing out the hypocrisy of our side being the bleeding hearts yet they won’t care for the unborn. And of course they reply with the it's not a baby bullshit and we never really get anywhere. I've almost convinced two of them though; hopefully I get there one day.

Carmen P.: Tell you the truth, I don't have many friends that are pro-choice because it's such a huge divide. I feel that their paradigm is completely different than mine.

Leette E.: I am. Several of my family members are strongly pro-choice and I find that typically they don't want to engage with people who have opposing views myself included. Usually this is because they don't want to be confronted with the horrible truth of abortion and know they can't get away with the typical "misogyny! Woman hating! Anti-choice!" arguments that they would with people they don't know. It's easy to fling insults at someone you don't love. So we don't talk about it as often as I'd like.

Katherine J.: [My conversations are] often better than expected. Often the stumbling block is how a child so small and undeveloped could be considered alive. Other stumbling blocks are the mother's unchosen suffering (especially in cases of rape) and the fear of being considered to be forcing their beliefs on others.

Candace R.: We talk occasionally. Minds aren't changed, but we all are very caring people who want good things for mothers and babies. I try to focus my energy on fixing the causes of abortion instead of abortion laws.

Caren G.: I don't bring it up. A couple of close coworker friends assumed because I am rather feminist and progressive that I am also pro-choice. They were talking about some pro choice movie they loved. I recommend they watch Unplanned. I can't remember exactly how it came out that I am pro-life... but I did flat out say it. I said "I'm pro all life." I love and respect all life... animals, the planet and especially humans. I said that if I have a chicken who has started sitting on eggs then abandons some — I try everything I can to incubate and save them... because even their little unhatched chicken lives matter to me. So much more the human baby ones. They said... "well at least you're consistent" and were very nice about it spite of their strong views.

Jazminn J.: Most of my friends are pro-choice but unfortunately many of them including family just think I'm the most hateful person ever even if I don’t talk about it. It’s always a huge thing if I make ONE pro-life post.

Carissa E.: I get tired of the same old "digs" at pro-lifers from my so-called "progressive" friends. They say we don't care about black lives, immigrants, women, science, etc... We care about giving zygotes more rights than living human beings. So annoying. I usually just politely suggest they look at this group or New Wave Feminists to see all the good pro-life people do and what we actually believe, which is that all life matters, from womb to tomb.

Eden M.: I'm in Canada where the pro-choice position is an extremely strong cultural default, so you’re bound to end up close to pro-choice people wherever you go. Most of the pro-choice friends I talk to are respectful and thoughtful (otherwise we wouldn’t be friends!). Same with pro-choice family. We even agree on most of the relevant facts surrounding abortion, including the fact that ZEFs are human organisms. The difference is that I believe that fact has moral weight and should affect our treatment of sex and pregnancy, and they do not. I have never heard a pro-choice friend address that fact in a way I found adequate, other than to wave it off. As in "Yes, technically a ZEF is a human, but…" in the same way you would say, "Yes, technically a tomato is not a vegetable, but…" There are other differences, but I find they trickle down from this big one.

Morgan S.: It goes how it has always gone, for 35+ years now: they write me off as an "extremist," they don't want to hear what I have to say. I consider myself a rational, science-based, pro-life feminist (NO contradiction in this for me) who sees abortion as a symptom of overt social injustice, but they just dismiss me. That's why I tend to talk about other topics at this point; I am bone-tired.

Katie S.: So many very loved friends and family. I talk to some more often than others, it goes better with those I talk to more often about it, and I get a lot more support for the pro-life work I do from the ones I talk to most about it, and that is both surprising and appreciated.

Kristina A.: I'm literally the only one in my entire close circle of family and friends (well, spare one or two). If I had a dollar for every time I heard that pro-life people are crazy or stupid "but not you Kris..." I'd be rich.

Monday, June 8, 2020

The pro-choice view survives on widespread ignorance of biology

Through Secular Pro-life I frequently post content about how the human zygote is the first stage of a human being's life cycle. Often when I point this fact out, people will suggest I'm strawmanning the pro-choice view. They assert that no one really denies the basic biology; the important issues to the abortion debate are personhood [i.e. yes the fetus is biologically human but is she philosophically a "person"?] and bodily rights.

But the longer I participate in the abortion debate, the more strongly I suspect that most people actually care more about the biology than the rest. 

[For any readers who genuinely don't already know: human sperm and human ova (eggs) are gametes (sex cells). They are not organisms. They are haploid cells (typically have 23 chromosomes each) created through a process called meiosis. A human organism is formed through fertilization; the sperm enters the egg to create a diploid cell (typically 46 chromosomes). This cell is called the zygote and it now multiplies through mitosis. Fertilization is a specific event that marks the transition from multiple gametes to a single organism and from meiosis to mitosis. These are basic biological facts. Read more here.]

To begin with, I've had so many debates with countless people who make 100% false assertions in defense of their pro-choice views. Here are some real examples of assertions people have made over the years:
  1. Sperm are organisms
  2. Gametes are organisms
  3. Neurons are organisms
  4. Skin cells are organisms
  5. Literally all cells are organisms
  6. Embryos are made of "non-living" cells
  7. Embryos don't have heartbeats
  8. Embryos don't have hearts at all
  9. Heartbeat doesn't begin until several months into pregnancy
  10. Consciousness is defined as breathing air outside with working lungs
  11. Human life cycles have no specific beginnings or ends
  12. Human embryos are analogous to unfertilized chicken eggs
  13. Human sperm are analogous to frog tadpoles
  14. If abortion kills humans, masturbation is genocide
  15. If abortion kills humans, blow jobs are cannibalism
  16. If abortion kills humans, menstruation is murder
  17. If an embryo is a human organism, so is snot. Or poop.
  18. The idea "the zygote is the first stage of a human's life cycle" is not supported by science
  19. The idea "the zygote is the first stage of a human's life cycle" is a religious view
  20. The idea "the zygote is the first stage of a human's life cycle" is a hotly contested view among many different and equally valid views in embryology
And so on.

I try to be careful not to give too much weight to comments from random people online. It's a pet peeve of mine when "news" articles allege a new controversial view among a subset of Americans only for the author's evidence to be screencaps of five otherwise ignored Tweets. You can find anything on the internet, so try not to over-extrapolate.

But the views I'm describing above are a lot easier to find than the 278th comment under a YouTube video. For example here's a gamete/organisms equivocation that got over 40,000 retweets:


In addition to the countless and popular anecdotes, a recent dissertation out of the University of Chicago (which I've summarized in detail elsewhere) found that most Americans think "When does human life begin?" is (1) an important question (2) that people deserve to know the answer to so they can be informed about their reproductive decisions (3) that is best answered by biologists because (4) it's an objective issue that can be informed by scientific knowledge. And of the Americans who chose biologists as the authority best suited to answer this question, 56% believed the biologists' answer would strengthen the pro-choice side of the debate! (In fact the biologists affirmed that human life begins at fertilization.)

In other words, in the abortion debate, biology is important to most people, and yet a whole lot of them have no idea what the facts actually are.

This widespread ignorance bolsters the pro-choice side, and that's why, I think, some abortion rights activists work so hard to obscure the biological reality. Last year multiple activists tried (completely incorrectly) to deny that embryos have heartbeats. When states have passed laws requiring doctors to provide information on fetal development or offer the woman the option to view her ultrasound or hear the heartbeat, pro-choicers have described these regulations as restrictions on abortion. We've seen alleged experts muddle the lines between their political views and the scientific facts over and over and over

If the general public already understood the basic biology and cared only about philosophical issues, abortion rights advocates wouldn't need to do this song and dance. But people do care and don't know about biology, and that's why I'm going to keep repeating myself: the fetus is a human organism, and abortion kills humans.


Other Sources:

Friday, June 5, 2020

Signal Boost: Scholarships for Student Parents

Education can play a very important role in a person's life. However, with college becoming more and more expensive, it is imperative that students with children have scholarships to help them achieve their degree. The following document was created to assist student parents in finding scholarships to assist them in funding their education. This list is not all inclusive.
  1. The Huggable Supermom Scholarship. This scholarship was created to help single moms fund their education. Current high school seniors, undergrad, and graduate students are all eligible to apply. Applicants must write a 500 to 1,000 word essay about their future career goals, and how being a mom has helped to shape those goals. The due date is June 30th and December 31st 2020. Awards are $2,000 each. 
  2. Bethel Foundation Grace Scholarship Fund. This scholarship is only available to women who identify as single and the head of household with at least one child under the age of 18. They must be pursuing an associate's or bachelor's degree and must be a recipient of the Pell Grant. Three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and high school transcripts are all required. The due dates to apply are June 15th for the fall semester, March 15th for the summer semester, and October 15th for the spring semester. Funding per student is up to $1,500 or $750 for the summer semester. 
  3. Soroptimist Live Your Dream Award. Applicants must be the primary financial support system for themselves and at least one other dependent. They must be enrolled in a vocational/skills training program or pursuing their first undergraduate degree. Two letters of recommendation and a personal statement are both required. The application period will run from August 1 to November 15, 2020. Funding runs from $1,000 at the club level to $10,000 at the international level. 
  4. Custody X Change Single Parent Scholarship. Applicants must have primary custody of at least one child under the age of 18. They must also submit an unofficial transcript and write a 500 word essay. The application deadlines are April 30th, August 31st, and December 31st. Awards are for $1,000 each. 
  5. Kopfler & Hermann Overcoming Adversity Scholarship. Though this scholarship is not directed at single parents, it asks all applicants to submit a 500 to 1,000 word essay describing a time that they overcame adversity. Applicants can be pursuing an undergraduate or graduate level degree. They must also submit a resume and an unofficial transcript. The application deadline is November 30, 2020. The award is for $1,000. 
  6. Kickass Single Mom Stimulus Grant. This grant can be used for anything, and the application process only takes a few minutes! The only qualification is that the applicant must be a single mother. Every week from March 26, 2020 onward, a different applicant is chosen. The award is for $500.
  7. TopProducts Single Mother Scholarship. This scholarship only requires a 1,200 to 1,500 word essay and unofficial high school or college transcript to be considered. Applicants must be a single mom with at least one child under the age of 18. No deadline is currently in place for fall 2020, and it is for an undisclosed amount. 8
  8. Bernal-Mora & Nickolaou Annual Single Parent Scholarship. This scholarship is open to both single mothers and single fathers. It requires a 500 to 1,000 word essay focusing on how being a single parent has helped to shape your life goals. The deadline is July 31, 2020, and the scholarship is for $1,000. 
  9. Women's Independence Scholarship Program (WISP). This scholarship is for women who are survivors of intimate partner violence. Women must be nominated by and sponsored by a local women's shelter, and must be working with them for a minimum of six months. There is no set deadline to apply, and the average award is about $2,000 per semester. 
  10. Patsy Mink Foundation. This scholarship recipient must be a single mother with dependent children, and must be pursuing their first bachelor's, vocational, or graduate degree. The recipient must also qualify as low income. The scholarship is worth $5,000.
[Today's guest post is by Annaliese Corace. You can read more of her articles here, herehere, and here. Photo credit: Tai's Captures on Unsplash.]

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Tonight: Live! From the Abortion Frontlines


Our friends at Pro-Life San Francisco (PLSF) — whose president, Terrisa Bukovinac (pictured), is a key Secular Pro-Life volunteer — have a major online event this evening at 6 p.m. Pacific (9 p.m. Eastern). The emcee will be none other than human rights activist and filmmaker Jason Jones!

In addition to Jason and Terrisa, the event will feature David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress and PLSF activists Jazzi Milton and Robert Byrd. Terrisa says:
We will be reporting directly from the abortion frontlines here in the abortion training capital of the U.S. and taking your questions from one of the most pro-choice cultures in the world. You will be informed, entertained, moved, and enriched through this one-of-a-kind event. Together, we can overcome and resist the influence of abortion in America by investing where it matters most: California. 
I've gotten a sneak peek at some of the material PLSF will release tonight, and it's incredibly well done. Register for the free PLSF webcast here

Monday, June 1, 2020

Former Abortionist Kathi Aultman on Dehumanization

Dr. Aultman
Kathi Aultman is a former abortionist who told her story in an interview with Lila Rose from Live Action. Aultman was strongly pro-choice when she entered medical school. A doctor she really admired committed late-term abortions, and she was eager to learn from him. She bought into the pro-abortion argument that women’s bodily autonomy gave them the right to have abortions.

She liked the challenge of doing abortions and was not put off by doing them late in pregnancy:
I was challenged by the procedure and I really hate to say this, but the bigger the better. I cringe now when I say that, but I wanted to do the biggest ones I could. It was a challenge, and my whole focus was being good at what I did and stretching the limits. 
She did not see the babies she aborted as human beings:
I think part of the problem was that I didn't see a fetus any [differently] than a chick embryo. The chick embryos that we dissected in college. And I didn't see them as human beings. 
She did not feel any emotional conflict about tearing preborn babies apart. In fact, she was fascinated by the babies’ bodies:
As a matter of fact, and again I hate to admit this, but when I would look at the parts that I had taken out, I was fascinated with them. I thought, "Oh, these are so cute. And they're great, they've got little fingers and toes."
… I just wanted to find out everything about them that I could. But I did not see them as human beings. I just saw them as embryos and fetuses. Not as people. 
Aultman became pregnant. She continued to do abortions throughout her pregnancy:
I got pregnant while I was in residency, and I was moonlighting at an abortion clinic at the time doing abortions. And I was almost proud of the fact that here I was pregnant, and I was still doing abortions. I felt like, well, my baby is wanted, theirs is not. They have the right to abort their babies. And so, I continued to do abortions during my whole pregnancy. 
But when the baby was born, Aultman found that her attitude had shifted. Things about her work that hadn’t bothered her in the past began to trouble her. She stopped doing abortions because of three women she encountered.

She describes the first woman:
The first one was a young girl that came in, and she was scheduled that morning. I had done three abortions on her myself… And she had had other abortions that I didn't do, but I had done three of them. And I told the people at the clinic that I didn't want to do it. And they said, "You don't have the right to judge. It's her choice. If she wants to use abortion as birth control, that's up to her."
I looked at them, and I said, "Yeah, but I'm the one that's having to do the killing." So, I ended up doing the abortion, and afterwards I tried to get her to take birth control and she refused, so she left. 
Finally, Aultman was starting to see what she was doing as killing. The casual attitude of the woman using abortion as birth control troubled her. The next encounter was with a woman who had a similar attitude:
Then the next woman came in with a friend, and sometimes people did want to see the tissue. And the friend said, "Do you want to see the tissue?" And she said, "No. I just want to kill it."
And it just hit me, like cold water in the face. And I thought, "What did this baby do to you?" It's not the baby's fault. 
The third woman was a mother of four who really wanted to keep the baby. She and her husband didn’t believe they could afford a fifth child. Pressured by financial circumstances, the woman was forced to "choose" abortion. She cried the entire time she was at the abortion facility. Aultman was able to see how little choice this woman had and how devastated she was by her abortion. Aultman says, "Thankfully, she was my last patient, because I just — I couldn't do them after that."

She says:
I think I had finally made that baby = fetus connection. And I realized that that was a little person, just like my daughter was a little person. And the fact that they were no longer wanted was not enough for me to kill them. 
Aultman quit and resolved never to do abortions again. But she was still pro-choice. She still supported keeping abortion legal and would refer patients for abortions, even if she wouldn't do them herself.

Aultman had always believed the pro-choice narrative that young girls needed abortion because a baby would destroy their lives. But what she saw in her practice proved otherwise:
It wasn't until I started to see young girls in my practice who had babies and did really well. I had always thought that an unplanned pregnancy for a young girl was the worst thing that could happen to her. That's sort of the normal thinking…
That's the narrative. And to see these girls do so well. And then I had other patients who were seeing psychiatrists or were struggling with the physical complications of abortions. And it just wasn't what I expected. It didn't jive with the rhetoric, the rhetoric that I had embraced. 
Aultman became a Christian and began going to church. Her new beliefs had no effect on her pro-choice views. But she saw young girls in her church have babies. Just like the young girls in her practice, these young women’s lives were not destroyed by their children. She got to know the babies and watched them grow, all the while knowing that had their mothers been her patients, she would’ve encouraged them to abort. She says:
And as I watched those little children grow up into these wonderful people, I began to again see, okay, these are real people that we are killing. Who never get a chance to be alive. And we never get to see who they're going to become.
But the final, pivotal event that won her to the pro-life cause was reading an article given to her by some pro-life friends.

The article drew a parallel between the Holocaust in Nazi Germany and abortion in America today. Although abortion and the Holocaust are very different, the article pointed out that both were enabled to happen because people did not see the victims as human beings. Both preborn babies and the victims of the Holocaust were dehumanized. Aultman says:
My dad was with… the group that [liberated] the first concentration camp during World War II. And so, I grew up with all those stories and those horrific pictures. And then, when I became a doctor, I couldn't understand how the German doctors could do the things that they did… 
When I read that comparison between the Holocaust and abortion, I finally understood how they could do the horrible things that they did. Because just as I didn't see the fetus as a person, they didn't see the Jews and the Gypsies and the others as people. And if you don't consider someone human, you can do anything you want. 
That's when I realized that I was a mass murderer. I had killed all of these people. And that's when I completely changed my opinion on abortion. 
Aultman made the connection between the dehumanization of babies in the womb and the dehumanization of other victims of violence.

She struggled to cope with the guilt and remorse she felt for killing so many people. It took years of therapy, reflection, prayer, and spiritual guidance for her to come to terms with what she had done. Now Aultman is pro-life and speaks out against abortion.

She says that she is far from the only former abortionist, but most former abortionists never tell their stories:
[N]ot many people can continue to do abortions. They may do them during their residency training, but very few of them go on to do abortions because the normal human cannot be ripping apart and killing other human beings for very long, if you have a conscience. And that's why there aren't that many abortionists, because people just can't continue to do it. Something happens along the way, where they see the light, and they realize what they are doing. 
Most former abortionists, she says, keep quiet because of the stigma of abortion and their shame in taking part in so many deaths. Many of the ones still in practice know that women don’t want their babies delivered by an abortionist or former abortionist. They fear losing their patients, and they fear the judgment of people in their lives.

Aultman speculates that if more doctors spoke out about their experiences, it would greatly help the pro-life movement. It is important for the pro-life movement to create a welcoming environment that encourages former abortion doctors to tell their stories.

At the end of the interview, Aultman encourages those currently doing abortions to feel the same compassion for the babies that they feel for the mothers:
So you're thinking you're helping this poor woman. There are alternatives for her, okay? There aren't any alternatives for the baby. So you're, in order not to inconvenience this person, or make her feel bad about "giving her baby away" or whatever, you're then taking the life of this other person, who never gets to experience the light of day. Never can grow up and be who they're supposed to be. So, have as much compassion for the baby as you do for this woman. 
She also reminds pro-lifers of the importance of reaching out to people on the other side with compassion:
It wasn't people yelling at me, berating me, trying to make me feel guilty, that's not what changed my opinion. It was people loving me, even though I was pro-abortion and me respecting them and then them telling me, "well, maybe you should consider this." 
Aultman’s conversion was a process, and it took time. Pro-life friends, such as the ones that shared the article, were pivotal in opening her eyes. Pro-lifers need to approach pro-choicers with respect and compassion and be willing to befriend them. Many times, it is through friendship that conversions happen.

You can watch the full interview and read the transcript here.

[Today's guest article is by Sarah Terzo of ClinicQuotes. If you want to contribute an article to the Secular Pro-Life blog, check out our submission guidelines.]