Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Pro-Life Tips to Reason Honestly and Argue Persuasively

Equal Rights Institute banners at a pro-life rally

Secular Pro-Life has long enjoyed a positive relationship with the Equal Rights Institute, and its president Josh Brahm. The mission of ERI is to "train pro-life advocates to think clearly, reason honestly, and argue persuasively." Although Josh is a Christian, ERI emphasizes rational and relational techniques that are open to all. SPL president Kelsey Hazzard serves on ERI's advisory board.

SPL co-leader Monica recently interviewed Josh about how to have productive discussions about abortion in these polarizing times. Their discussion is lightly edited for clarity. 

* * *

Monica: Why is it important for pro-life advocates to learn to be persuasive?

Josh: A few reasons come to mind. 

First, I want abortion to become illegal as soon as possible. For that to happen, and for babies to be protected in the long-term, we need to convince a large segment of our society that abortion should be illegal. We're not there yet, at least not when it comes to first-trimester abortions, which constitute most of the abortions. I'm not aiming for short-term victories here; I want to see our culture change.

Secondly, I think truth is an intrinsically valuable thing. That's why I work so hard to be genuinely open-minded and avoid confirmation bias, for example, by reading and listening to a lot of voices across the political spectrum so that I can discover when I have false or incomplete opinions about things. (If you're looking for a recommendation, the Tangle e-newsletter is really great for this. You can listen to my interview with their founder here.) Every time my mind is changed so that I believe more truth than I did before, that is a good thing, in and of itself. It's also good on a practical level because it will influence my attitudes and behaviors related to that subject.

Here's an example of how both of those things work out. I spent a lot of time listening to what people on both sides said in 2020 regarding the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality. I watched the killing of George Floyd and learned a lot about the Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor killings. I read a lot on the topic in general, and I didn't restrict myself to what conservatives were saying. As a result, I think I have gained more sympathy for what Black Americans have to deal with. I don't think I was a racist in 2019, but I care more now. 

And that's a good thing. 

It's good for me to understand better (yet very imperfectly) what I didn't before, and I'm also more likely to stand up for my fellow human beings now.

Given that truth is intrinsically valuable, and assuming for the sake of argument that I'm objectively right about my belief that abortion is a human rights injustice, then it's vital for people who don't know that to discover it! The pragmatic argument speaks for itself: fewer babies will die as more people become pro-life, perhaps to the point that first-trimester abortion could become generally illegal.

Finally, our culture will become healthier if civil discourse becomes healthier. I am incredibly concerned with how divided our country is right now. People are giving up on having difficult conversations because they keep going terribly. There are many causes for the situation we find ourselves in, but I think a big part of the solution is for us to have more epistemological humility. In other words, understand that you don't know everything, and some of the things you think you know are incomplete or just wrong. 

We should spend more time considering what thoughtful people who disagree with us have to say about the day's news. We should spend less time rolling our eyes at stupid memes from the lowest common denominator from the other side that your favorite news network intentionally amplifies for ratings. If we do, we will naturally get better at having open conversations with the other side and even persuading them sometimes. 

Monica: Give some examples of common behaviors you see from pro-life people that are particularly unpersuasive.

Josh: We often refer to a pro-life habit that we call "Fetus Tunnel Vision," which I define as the inability to see and/or acknowledge human rights injustices without equating or comparing them to abortion. It's like the pro-lifers who'd say right after 9/11, "Yeah, that's bad, but think of all the babies Planned Parenthood is killing!" They meant well, but it seems like they only care about one issue, so it seems to the people around them that they have a broken moral compass. That's a problem because, if people think you have a broken moral compass, they won't be able to take any of your moral views seriously. Luckily, I think pro-life people are falling into this less often than when I first wrote about it in 2014, but I still see it sometimes. More often, pro-life people continue to struggle to acknowledge that other major global issues exist, I think because they're concerned about diminishing the evil of abortion. Again, they mean well, but arguably they're doing the pro-life cause a disservice by making people less likely to thoughtfully consider their statements against abortion.

I also want to mention a few pro-life habits that Rachel Crawford, our former Director of Training, wrote about while working here. She called them "two common extremes of pro-life advocacy" that she was seeing when searching on Twitter for the words "pro-life" or "abortion":

  1. Those who tweet about abortion without any careful consideration of how pro-choice people will perceive their words, and
  2. People who are throwing insults at individual pro-choice accounts and organizations like Planned Parenthood or NARAL.

Neither approach is very effective, but sometimes pro-lifers think it is because they manage to make people frustrated, and in a Twitter debate, that can feel about as close to winning as most people experience online. But as Rachel said: 

How angry someone is after your conversation is not indicative of how well you've made your case . . . We need to strive for the balanced approach: sharing the truth clearly and doing so winsomely. If people become angry with you during a conversation about abortion, it may be because they hate the truth and they are mad at you for speaking or sharing it . . . Leaving the conversation with a positive emotional experience is not mutually exclusive with having successfully shared the truth about abortion.

Having said all that, I'll tell you the single most unpersuasive thing pro-life people are doing right now, based on what I've learned about the way pro-choice people think. This will be hard for many pro-life people to read, but I've thought about it a lot, so please, keep your mind open as you read this. Ironically, it doesn't have to do with the way we talk about abortion. It happens when pro-life people strongly assert controversial political opinions in general without acknowledging thoughtful counter-arguments. If a pro-lifer argues that people shouldn't have to wear a mask to prevent the spread of COVID because it's not effective, they'd better be simultaneously explaining how their view isn't based on a lack of concern about the health of those around them. Why? Because that's the natural impulse of many people who strongly believe in the importance of wearing masks. If a pro-lifer argues that the 2020 election was stolen, they'd better be pointing to persuasive evidence and not the mounting piles of conspiracy theories that have already been debunked. If a pro-lifer expresses appreciation for the pro-life things President Trump did while in office, like appointing originalist justices to the Supreme Court, they should be ready to distance themselves from the problematic aspects of Trump's character (like the way he has mistreated women) because we don't want pro-choice people believing that pro-lifers don't actually care about women.

Again, we need to be more intentional about being accurately understood now than we did before due to the polarization in our society. I'm not saying it's ideal; I am saying it's necessary for optimizing your chance to actually change somebody's mind.

Monica: How about some examples of especially helpful approaches? 

Josh: Beyond the inverse of everything I said above, we need to recognize that people don't actually want to change their mind about anything, so when we have a dialogue with them (whether in person or online) about something we disagree about, their defenses are up. If they're feeling defensive, they're not going to be able to feel the full weight of my arguments, regardless of how factually-based or philosophically-nuanced they are. So we need to get better at bringing people's shields down. As my friends at Justice For All explain, asking lots of clarification questions, spending a lot of time listening to understand the person, and finding genuine common ground whenever possible are essential skills for bringing people's defenses down.

You also need to understand the pro-choice person's view so well that you can articulate it as well (or better!) than they can. When you can do that, people will be intrigued by you, because that's an unusual skill. It also raises the obvious question of why you're not pro-choice if you can make a better pro-choice argument than they can. It's implied that you're also aware of at least one pro-life argument that was more persuasive to you than their steel-manned pro-choice argument.

Here's a fun example of how you can get positive results from doing this. I'm sure many of your readers will remember when Richard Dawkins got into a controversy in 2014 after inadvertently tweeting that it would be immoral not to abort a baby diagnosed with Down syndrome. The following day Dawkins published a helpful article, apologizing and explaining his views more clearly. I remember reading it at a friend's house because I was on a fundraising trip out of town. I felt like I understood where Dawkins was coming from, and based on the articles (not to mention Facebook posts and tweets) from pro-life people, it felt like I was the only pro-lifer who really "got" him. So I wrote an article that day trying to translate his view to my fellow pro-lifers. I didn't say that I agreed with Dawkins' conclusions; merely that they made sense given his beliefs about fetal personhood combined with his desire to minimize suffering. 

The result? That was the only article from a pro-life advocate that Richard Dawkins himself retweeted. That brought us a lot of attention from pro-choice Dawkins fans, who ended up being impressed (if not annoyed) that I understood Dawkins well enough to defend him. My favorite comment said: "It pains me a little to have to admit that the most charitable, most fair-minded, most accurate, most logical, and least emotional analysis of the whole Richard-Dawkins-on-Downs-Syndrome-and-abortion furore has come from a 'pro-life' religious activist."

The more you understand where pro-choice people are coming from, the more you will be able to do what I did in that situation. You can't just argue for fetal personhood anymore; you also need to understand and be ready to refute bodily autonomy arguments, which I think are more fundamental to most pro-choice advocate's worldviews. You will be even more persuasive if you understand the more advanced pro-choice argument that's become more popular in the last year based on abortion as self-defense. It takes some extra work on the front end, but it makes you so much more persuasive down the road.

Monica: Some argue that we shouldn't focus too much on whether people will agree with us, and instead focus primarily on making sure we speak the truth without wavering. What do you think of that idea?

Josh: I think it's very understandable for some pro-life advocates to say things like this, especially for older activists who've been fighting abortion for decades longer than I have. They understand that thousands of babies are killed every day, and they've been watching that happen for a long time now, and they sometimes get impatient. I get it. We all want the killing to stop. Now.

We were getting comments from pro-lifers who felt like we were too nice to pro-choice people and wimpy about speaking the truth within nine months of launching Equal Rights Institute. My brother and co-founder Timothy was the lead author on an article we wrote to respond directly to this concern, and I want to quote a few large portions of it here as it relates to this question:

Here's the problem: navigating conversations about abortion is tough, because balancing truth and love is tough.

Pro-choice people need to be told, challenged by, and sometimes even confronted with the truth. But we are not telling them the truth just to make ourselves feel like we've done our pro-life duty. We want to share the truth with them in the way that is most likely to get through to them, and sometimes that means being patient. Sometimes I spend a great deal of time just listening to someone, partially because I think that will help them to be more receptive to truth later.

I could just lead every conversation by saying, "Abortion is sin, it kills a helpless baby, you're a sinner, you need Jesus, and you're going to hell if you don't have Jesus." I think those are all true statements, all of which I'd like to get to during the conversation. The reason I don't lead with that is not that I'm afraid of the truth or that I lack conviction, but because it's foolish and short-sighted to just blast people with the truth, with no thought to how they are going to respond to it.

I'm not saying "just be nice." I'm also not saying "don't be offensive." I'm arguing that we should love the people we talk to by seeking their best interest, and that means different things for different people. For some people, the most loving thing we can do for them is to graciously confront them with the truth about abortion, even if it offends them. For others, the most loving thing we can do for them is to listen to them, at least for a time.

One of the reasons why we train pro-life advocates to love the person they're talking with is that loving, truthful people are always more persuasive than unloving, truthful people.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Planned Parenthood Annual Report: Abortions Up, Real Healthcare Down

Planned Parenthood recently released its 2019-2020 annual report. Once again, Planned Parenthood has increased its share of the abortion market while sidelining legitimate, non-violent reproductive health services. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. It is a continuation of a trend that has been going on for many years.

I can't summarize it better than Dr. Michael New, writing for the Charlotte Lozier Institute:

The report indicates that in 2019, Planned Parenthood performed 354,871 abortions. This is the most abortions that Planned Parenthood has ever performed in a given year and marks a 2.6 percent increase from 2018. Interestingly, while abortions increased, the number of adoption referrals decreased by 37.6 percent between 2018 and 2019. Overall, for every adoption referral Planned Parenthood did in 2019, they performed 133 abortions.

The long-term trends are even more revealing. Between 2009 and 2019, the number of abortions performed by Planned Parenthood increased by 7.7 percent. However, during this time Planned Parenthood has provided significantly fewer health services. Breast exams fell by over 63 percent, pap tests fell by over 64 percent, HPV vaccinations fell by more than seven percent, and prenatal services fell by more than 72 percent. These numbers demonstrate that Planned Parenthood is steering resources away from women's health and toward abortion.

Young woman holding sign: "Prosecute De-Fund Shut Down Planned Parenthood"
As National Right to Life president Carol Tobias put it: "It is obvious, given the volume of killing, the group’s enormous budget, and its aggressive abortion advocacy, that abortion is essential to Planned Parenthood and that Planned Parenthood has tried to make itself essential to the performance, promotion, and defense of abortion in this country."

Planned Parenthood's supporters sometimes argue that it prevents more abortions through contraception than it commits. They are wrong. According to the Guttmacher Institute, which opposes the right to life, 48% of unintended pregnancies in the United States end in abortion. Planned Parenthood would therefore have to prevent 739,315 unintended pregnancies (354,871 ÷ 0.48) to come out "even" from killing 354,871 babies. Instead, Planned Parenthood only claimed to prevent 395,000 unintended pregnancies last year — a 29% drop from 2015.  

Disgustingly, Planned Parenthood appropriates the imagery and language of racial justice throughout its report. The very first photograph is of a Black person's raised fist, and the phrase "Black Lives Matter" appears repeatedly. Planned Parenthood was not only founded in eugenics but continues to come under fire for mistreating its employees of color. The racist organization kills tens of thousands of Black babies in the womb every year. Planned Parenthood's attempt to hide its radical abortion agenda by riding the coattails of good causes shouldn't fool anyone. 

[Photo credit: Maria Oswalt on Unsplash]

Friday, February 26, 2021

Marist poll finds common ground in the abortion debate (Mexico City Policy, Roe v. Wade, Down Syndrome abortions)

A recent Marist poll took a nuanced look at Americans' views of abortion. The poll is interesting because it digs further into people's stances than most polls do. Worth noting:

  • 17% of people who call themselves "pro-life" think abortion should be legal either during the first three months of pregnancy, first six months of pregnancy, or any time.
  • 20% of people who call themselves "pro-choice" think either abortion should never be permitted under any circumstance or should be legal only in cases of rape/incest or to save the mother's life.
  • Overall, only 12% of Americans think abortion should never be permitted under any circumstance and only 15% think it should be legal through all of pregnancy. The other 73% are somewhere in between.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Pro-Life Advocates Urge Senators to Reject Biden's HHS Nominee Xavier Becerra

Above: a speaker and sign language interpreter at a February 20, 2021 press conference in opposition to Xavier Becerra. Signs read "Drop Becerra from HHS!"
Photo credit: Democrats for Life of America Facebook page

President Biden has selected a pro-abortion extremist to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. Although no one expected a pro-life nominee, Biden's "unity" rhetoric led some to hope that he would put forward a moderate. Of course, it was all empty words. Xavier Becerra has a long, sordid history of abusing his power to serve the abortion industry. Among other things, he has prosecuted pro-life journalists for exposing Planned Parenthood's fetal organ trafficking scheme, attacked pregnancy centers' First Amendment rights, and is on record as opposing every common-sense abortion regulation imaginable—including protections for babies born alive after abortion attempts. Becerra's confirmation as Secretary of Health and Human Services would be a human rights disaster.

Becerra cannot become a Cabinet Secretary without the approval of the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority. It will only take a few "flips" to send Becerra packing. Pro-life lobbyists have identified ten Senators as possibly persuadable: Senators Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Raphael Warnock in Georgia, Susan Collins in Maine, Mitt Romney in Utah, Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, Michael Bennett in Colorado, Jon Tester in Montana, and Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona.

Contact your Senators and urge them to vote NO on Xavier Becerra! There are several ways you can take action: 

On Saturday, Democrats for Life of America held a press conference outside HHS headquarters to oppose Becerra. Longtime SPL volunteer Nora Brennan was among the speakers. You can watch her speech here (starting nine minutes in) and a transcript is below:

Hi, I'm Nora. I understand the fear that a surprise pregnancy can bring, and the support that crisis pregnancy centers can provide. Pregnancy resource centers provide vital services to people in desperate need, without charging a fee. But instead of lifting up pregnancy centers, Xavier Becerra abused his position as California Attorney General to try to shut them down. He ordered them to give free advertising to abortion businesses, or face crippling fines. He trampled their right of conscience. He was so determined, he took his unconstitutional crusade all the way to the Supreme Court. 

Thankfully, the Court protected California's pregnancy centers from Attorney General Becerra—but the vote was much too close for comfort. And he’s not done. Now Becerra wants to resume his fight against the pro-life movement from a new perch, as head of the Department of Health and Human Services. We cannot let that happen!

I know just how abortion advocates will respond: they'll play the religion card. They will accuse me of being a Bible-thumper, a theocrat, or even a conservative Christian! So predictable. 

The truth is that I am an atheist. I'm a Democrat. I am one of the 12 million pro-life Americans who do not belong to a religion. Because the right of conscience is not only for people who believe in God. It is for people who believe that the vulnerable members of the human family deserve care. It is for people who believe in compassion. It is for people who believe that every human being has the right to life. Xavier Becerra does not share those values. We cannot trust him to protect Americans' rights and health. Senators, I urge you to vote NO on Xavier Becerra! 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Evidence that abortion restrictions decrease *total* abortion rates (not just legal abortion rates).

When I tell pro-choice people abortion restrictions decrease abortion rates, one of the most common responses is "They only decrease legal abortions. Women just start getting abortions illegally."

This is a half-truth. The true half is that there will always be a nonzero number of women willing to seek illegal abortion. The false half is that abortion restrictions have no effect on total (legal + illegal) abortions. In fact abortion restrictions decrease total abortion rates.

While illegal abortions may be difficult to quantify, births are more straightforward. If it were true that all women who want abortions obtain them regardless of the law, we would expect abortion laws to have no relationship to either total abortion rates or birth rates. That's not the case. Below is a list of research (with links to the original articles) that examines abortion laws in relation to birth rates, fertility rates, unintended births, and other metrics which preclude the "off-the-books abortions" argument. (Please note this list is a subset of our longer list of evidence suggesting abortion restrictions decrease abortion rates.)


"Analysis of statewide data from the three States indicated that following restrictions on State funding of abortions, the proportion of reported pregnancies resulting in births, rather than in abortions, increased in all three States." Trends in rates of live births and abortions following state restrictions on public funding of abortion. Public Health Reports, December 1990

"The decline in geographic access to abortion providers during the 1980s accounted for a small but significant portion of the rise in the percentage of women heading families." State abortion policy, geographic access to abortion providers and changing family formation. Family Planning Perspectives. December 1998

"States legalizing abortion experienced a 4% decline in fertility relative to states where the legal status of abortion was unchanged." Roe v. Wade and American fertility, American Journal of Public Health, February 1999

"Our results indicate that much of the reduction in fertility at the time abortion was legalized was permanent in that women did not have more subsequent births as a result." Abortion Legalization and Lifecycle Fertility, The Journal of Human Resources, 2007

"Overall, the results show that laws that increased minors’ access to abortion in the 1960s and 1970s had a larger impact on minors’ birthrates than laws that increased oral contraceptive access." Fertility Effects of Abortion and Birth Control Pill Access for Minors, Demography, November 2008

"Approximately one-fourth of women who would have Medicaid-funded abortions instead give birth when this funding is unavailable ... Studies have found little evidence that lack of Medicaid funding has resulted in illegal abortions." Restrictions on Medicaid Funding for Abortions: A Literature Review, Guttmacher Institute, June 2009

"Robustness tests supported the association between access to abortion and decreased birthrates, while the relationship between access to the pill and birthrates received less support." Abortion or Pill Access Is Associated with Lower Birthrates Among Minors, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, March 2009

"Minors in states with mandatory waiting periods were more than two times as likely to report an unintended birth." How Are Restrictive Abortion Statutes Associated With Unintended Teen Birth? Journal of Adolescent Health, August 2010

"[If Roe v. Wade were overturned] abortion rates would fall by 14.9 percent nationally, resulting in at most, 178,800 additional births or 4.2 percent of the U.S. total in 2008. A ban in 17 states would result in a 6.0 percent decline in abortions and at most, 1.7 percent rise in births." Back to the Future? Abortion Before & After Roe, National Bureau of Economic Research, August 2012

"We estimated that each year more than 4000 US women are denied an abortion because of facility gestational limits and must carry unwanted pregnancies to term." Denial of Abortion Because of Provider Gestational Age Limits in the United States American Public Health Association August 2014

"I estimate an increase in the birthrate of 4% to 12% when abortion is restricted. In the absence of anti-abortion laws, fertility would have been 5% to 12% lower in the early twentieth century." The Effect of Anti-Abortion Legislation on Nineteenth Century Fertility, Demography, June 2015

"This law caused an increase in viewing rates and a statistically significant but small increase in continuing pregnancy rates." Evaluating the impact of a mandatory pre-abortion ultrasound viewing law: A mixed methods study PLoS One July 2017

"We estimate that over the past 25 years, parental involvement laws have resulted in half a million additional teen births." Did Parental Involvement Laws Grow Teeth? The Effects of State Restrictions on Minors' Access to Abortion, Institute for the Study of Labor, August 31, 2017 (See the SPL blog post about this specific paper here.)

"Participants were asked if they had considered abortion for this pregnancy and, if so, reasons they did not obtain one...more participants who had considered abortion in Louisiana than Maryland reported a policy-related reason (primarily lack of funding for the abortion) as a reason (22% Louisiana, 2% Maryland, p < 0.001)." Consideration of and Reasons for Not Obtaining Abortion Among Women Entering Prenatal Care in Southern Louisiana and Baltimore, Maryland, Sexuality Research and Social Policy, October 2018

"Greater exposure to ARs [abortion restrictions] was associated with increased risk of UIB [unintended birth]." Implications of Restrictive Abortion Laws on Unintended Births in the U.S.: A Cross-Sectional Multilevel Analysis APHA's 2019 Annual Meeting and Expo, November 2019

"We examine characteristics and experiences of women who considered, but did not have, an abortion for this pregnancy....Interviewees who considered abortion and were subject to multiple restrictions on abortion identified material and instrumental impacts of policies that, collectively, contributed to them not having an abortion." Complex situations: Economic insecurity, mental health, and substance use among pregnant women who consider – but do not have – abortions PLOS ONE January 2020


Further reading:

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Brian Sims, infamous for harassing pro-life teens, is running for Lt. Gov. of Pennsylvania

Remember two years ago, when a state legislator tried to doxx pro-life teenagers, on camera? His name is Brian Sims, and earlier this week he announced his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania on a message of — get a load of this — "kindness, equity, and justice." 

Condemnation was swift.

Via LifeNews:

Maria V. Gallagher, legislative director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, an affiliate of National Right to Life, told LifeNews: "The representative harassed, intimidated, and tried to doxx teenage girls, along with a senior citizen. His bullying behavior flies in the face of the compassion toward women and girls we want to see from our elected officials in Pennsylvania."

It's a safe bet that someone with such animosity toward pro-life constituents will do nothing to hold the abortion industry accountable. We know exactly what happens when abortion extremists dominate Pennsylvania politics: they look the other way, and you get butchers like Kermit Gosnell

Like me, Brian Sims is an atheist. I'm usually pleased to see atheists and agnostics run for office, even when I don't agree with them on everything; for example, Austin Petersen had my support even though I am not a libertarian. Not this time. Brian Sims' conduct is thoroughly disqualifying.

By the by, if you're a Pennsylvanian, there's still plenty of time to challenge Sims in the Democratic primary. Democrats for Life of America is an excellent resource for candidates!

[Photo credit: Brian Sims' Facebook page]

Monday, February 15, 2021

Film Review: "Incompatible With Life"

The short documentary film "Incompatible With Life" shares the personal stories of parents whose children were diagnosed with disabilities in the womb.   

Too often, doctors recommend abortion at the first sign of a physical or developmental abnormality. That recommendation comes from a skewed perspective. Doctors may read dire textbook depictions and interact with disabled children at their worst moments of sickness and suffering, but they do not typically witness those children's positive day-to-day moments. The families featured in the film strongly encourage people facing prenatal diagnoses to connect with fellow parents for the full picture, which is full of joy and love.
Despite being only 28 minutes long, the film manages to depict a wide range of disabilities—from a baby with anencephaly who died shortly after birth, to a 10-year-old with Trisomy 18, to a young adult with Down Syndrome who speaks for herself and works at a movie theater. The uniqueness and value of every life is honored.  

"Incompatible With Life" contains fleeting religious references, such as one mother calling her child a gift from God and another describing her child's baptism, but is essentially secular. Its anti-ableist, pro-life, and pro-love themes will resonate with people from any faith background or none.

"Incompatible With Life" is available for free on Vimeo, or watch it above.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

January Recap



With the March for Life moved mostly online due to the continuing pandemic, Secular Pro-Life had a much quieter January than normal. But SPL President Kelsey still made sure to engage and encourage our allies in the pro-life movement. She ran a virtual exhibit booth at the Cardinal O-Connor Conference on Life.  She also ran Family Feud at the virtual Rehumanize Game Night.

Of course, SPL co-lead Terrisa was a part of the small contingent of people physically at the March For Life as well as the Walk for Life on the west coast. As Terrisa takes on new responsibilities as president of Democrats for Life, she remains an important part of our non-partisan group as well.

In personal news, Kelsey has become a foster parent to a middle schooler! They have received tremendous support from the pro-life community. To learn how you can help foster children and families, visit Together We Rise, and check out Students for Life of America's proposed legislation to improve foster services. 

What is the WORST pro-choice slogan? Survey says 'my body, my choice,' with 'keep your rosaries off my ovaries' in second place.

Following the capitol riots and President Trump's removal from Twitter, for the first time, Secular Pro-Life lost Twitter followers. We have no specific information about the followers we lost or how they were lost, but we started out 2021 with 520 fewer followers and 12,800 remaining. For January we sent 70 tweets, which were viewed 213,000 times, including our response to a pro-choicer claiming pro-life advocacy is "easy":

Original tweet here.
We are at 33,820 followers on Facebook, up 109 from the start of the year. Our content was viewed 326,331 times, including 26,195 views this, stolen directly from Reddit.

See the original post here.
Our three most-read blog posts for January, in increasing order:
  • No, the Mexico City Policy does not drive up international abortion rates: President Biden promised to rescind the policy that withheld US tax dollars from funding international organizations that provide or refer for abortion. Guest blogger Candace Stewart points out the problems of the pro-choice claim that the policy paradoxically leads to more abortions.
  • Remembering the Victims of Roe v. Wade This time every year on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, we get an opportunity to reflect on just how devastating the ruling was for the millions of lives ended by abortion. Kelsey shares how she deals with the enormity of it.
  • Our cultural gaslighting of women who miscarry before 20 weeks Monica points to the cultural pressures that tell women the grief they experience in miscarriage is unrealistic or overblown. She then summarizes some research on how the medical community can better support women who miscarry. 
Interested in writing a guest post?  Guest bloggers 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 to discuss.
Thank you to our supporters
Thank you to those of you who donate to support SPL. We're run by dedicated volunteers who would not be able to devote our time and energy without your help. 

If you like our work, please consider donating: 


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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Fellowship Applications Open for Pro-Life Students

Young people with a passion for the pro-life cause and a desire to strengthen their leadership skills are encouraged to apply for Students for Life of America's 2021 leadership fellowships. These fellowships educate students about abortion, provide leadership training, and connect promising young people with more established mentors. SPL president Kelsey Hazzard is a graduate of SFLA's Wilberforce Fellowship for college and graduate students; in fact, she is proud to have been a member of the inaugural class. 

Since then, SFLA has added several fellowship opportunities, including the Stevens Fellowship for high school students. Both Kelsey Hazzard and SPL co-leader Terrisa Bukovinac (who you may also know as the head of Pro-Life San Francisco) have served as Wilberforce and Stevens mentors. Last year, SFLA added the Hildegard Fellowship for young artists. There are also fellowship groups geared toward young men and religious students.

Whichever fellowship program suits you best, be sure to complete your application before the March 31 deadline!

[Photo credit: Students for Life of America]

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Fundamental Question of the Abortion Debate: A Response to Nathan Nobis

Rehumanize International founder Aimee Murphy holds a sign that reads "Human rights start when a human's life begins"

[Today’s guest author is Dr. Steve Jacobs, the Program Director of Illinois Right to Life. He received his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law and his Ph.D. in Comparative Human Development from the University of Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @DrSteveJacobs or contact him at]

In 2019, my research on biologists’ understanding of when life begins gained media attention. [Read SPL’s overview of Dr. Jacobs’s research here.] Not long after, Dr. Nathan Nobis, a philosophy professor of Morehouse College, posted a blog on his abortion advocacy website critiquing my work, and recently Secular Pro-Life asked me to respond to the piece. Here are some of my thoughts.

Dr. Nobis opined that “When does life begin?” and “Are fetuses human?” are “bad,” if not “dumb,” questions. He asserted that those who deny fetuses’ humanity do not believe that “fetuses aren’t biologically human” but “mean that [fetuses] don't have what are often considered ‘human’ traits, like understanding and feeling and reason and the like.” That might well be the case but, despite quoting my research and linking to my dissertation, he failed to reference the data within that casts doubt on his belief.

We asked hundreds of Americans the following question: “If biologists were asked, ‘From a biological perspective, when does a human's life begin?,’ what would most biologists select as the point at which a human's life begins?” Only 23% of pro-choice participants selected fertilization.

They were also asked: “Based on your understanding of biology, from a biological perspective, when does a human's life begin?” Again, only 23% of pro-choice participants selected fertilization.

Dr. Nobis suggests that people know fetuses are biological humans. Yet when they were directly asked about this issue, most pro-choice Americans suggested our biological lives don’t begin until viability or birth. Similarly, they predicted biologists would not agree that a human’s biological life begins at fertilization.

Many polls and studies have shown that pro-choice and pro-life Americans disagree on when a human’s life begins. In one recent national poll, only 9% of young Democrats said that they believe human life begins at conception, compared to 51% of young Republicans. In my dissertation, I presented numerous linear regression models that reveal views on when life begins to be a stronger predictor of abortion attitudes than gender, religious identity, beliefs about sexual morality, and even one’s political ideology. 

As has been similarly shown by the work and very existence of Secular Pro-Life, the models suggest that a feminist atheist who recognizes a fetus as a human is more likely to support abortion restrictions than an anti-feminist Catholic who believes a human’s life begins at birth. This is so because the humanity of fetuses has been and continues to be the central factor in people’s views on the morality and legality of elective abortion access. 

If a fetus is not a human, then abortion restrictions stop women from having a basic, harmless medical procedure. 

If a fetus is a human, then each abortion kills a human and is a presumptively punishable crime without an affirmative legal defense.

Dr. Nobis and other abortion advocates seek to complicate the issue by moving the goalposts from humanity to personhood. In my research, I found that Americans rejected this distinction, as 93% stated that a human’s life is protectable once it has begun and 96% stated that all humans deserve rights and all humans are equally deserving of rights. Indeed, a legal review of the distinction between “human” and “person,” within the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, made it clear that there is none. 

19th-century U.S. Senators responsible for the passage and ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection to all persons within the United States, and Supreme Court Justices responsible for interpreting the amendment have stated that all humans are persons under the Constitution. In the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade, Justices who established abortion as a constitutional right said that if it is shown that fetuses are persons then they would be guaranteed constitutional protections, and abortion rights would collapse. [See SPL post “Why did people laugh during Roe v Wade?”] In the Supreme Court case Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the Court made it clear that if there is not “a fundamental and well-recognized difference between a fetus and a human being” then “the permissibility of terminating the life of the fetus could scarcely be left to the will of the state legislatures” as the Fourteenth Amendment would guarantee fetal rights. The Court does not draw distinctions between humans and persons.

It’s no great mystery why abortion advocates deny or downplay the significance of the question of when a human’s life begins. Equality dictates that all humans equally deserve legal protection, and virtually all criminal codes show that there is no liberty right to kill a human (as the right to life is seen as a higher, more fundamental right since one cannot have liberty without life and since there are fewer exceptions to the right to life than the right to liberty). Thus, establishing a fetus as a human invariably leads to the conclusions that (1) fetuses deserve equal legal protections and equal rights and (2) there cannot be a liberty right to elective abortion. Abortion advocates have known this since the 1970s

When pro-choice Americans were asked what would happen if the biological fact that a human’s life begins at fertilization were to become common knowledge, 90% believed abortion rates would go down and 83% believed that support for legal abortion access would go down. These results suggest that pro-choice Americans realize the question of when a human’s life begins is not a bad or dumb question: it is the fundamental question of the abortion debate. 

[Photo credit: Maria Oswalt on Unsplash]