Friday, August 31, 2012

Pondering Effects of Restrictive Abortion Laws

[Guest Blogger LN rejects the suggestion that restricting abortion has no effect on the actual abortion rate.]

If you're against abortion-- and not in an, "Oh it's not for me, but ya'll do whatever suits you!" way, but more of an, "Abortion is almost always the wrongful taking of a human life and I want to help stop that" way-- naturally you would want to reduce the abortion rate.

As it stands, pro-choicers hold the status quo legally here in America: abortion is legal in almost any circumstance. Thus they have little reason to engage in any sort of debate about preborn rights. However, pro-lifers can and do construct, vote for, and pass measures that legally restrict abortions-- most prominently, funding restrictions, informed consent laws, and restrictions for minors in the forms of parental involvement laws.

So the important question is: do these restrictions achieve the goal of reducing abortions?

Most have heard the claim that restricting abortions has *no* significant effect-- nada-- on abortion rate. First of all, to me this is not an intuitive conclusion to draw. When actions that previously went unpenalized are suddenly penalized, it makes sense that some people would opt out. And if the cost goes up, any economist will tell you that demand decreases because there exists a margin of people who can no longer afford it, and will choose the alternative. Second, in my experience, this claim rarely comes with any reliable evidence and appears more as wishful thinking.

So what evidence is there on the effects of abortion laws?

Upon some study-searching, I realized that the most obvious problem is analyzing data with proper controls for factors that also may influence the abortion rate. This study appears to have said controls. Published in 2011 and analyzing data from 1990 to 2005, this study found that "the number of legal abortions declined by 22.22 percent" and "one factor that played a role was the increased amount of anti-abortion legislation that was passed at the state level." This is not to say that abortion restrictions alone lowered the rate so much, but they definitely played a role.

Comparing abortion laws and their effects worldwide is problematic as there are vastly too many factors to control for. However, I am very interested in evidence of the practicality of these types of restrictions (as I believe anyone putting forth such restrictions should be), so if any reader has a study they feel is reliable, please comment and let us know about it. Certainly any studies showing increase, decrease, or no change in abortion rates are welcome.

Also- what, of the myriad of methods, do you feel is the most effective way to reduce abortions? What methods do you feel are more harmful than helpful?  

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Terms of choice

Over the years, there have been many calls (from both sides of the aisle) to do away with the labels "pro-life" and "pro-choice." The terms are "self-congratulatory," over- and under-inclusive, devoid of meaning-- really, the only point in their favor is that we've been using them for 40+ years.

Pro-life agnostic Conner Alford, who is a member of SPL, recently made this proposal:
I think that the terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are both Orwellian. I think it would be more accurate to denote the sides as "prenatal rights activists" and "postnatal supremacists," respectively. I'm sure the negative connotations attached to the word "supremacist" will offend those who support abortion, but if you ignore the emotional response it reflects their position well.
"Prenatal rights activists" works for me, and I understand where he's going with "postnatal supremacists." My issue with the word "supremacist" is that it is traditionally associated with race-related prejudice only; there's such a thing as a "white supremacist," but I've never heard of a "male supremacist" or a "heterosexual supremacist."

Borrowing from the LGBT rights conflict, "fetophobe" is an interesting possibility. I know many abortion supporters who are in fact motivated by an irrational fear or disgust toward pregnancy, often expressed in terms of "parasites" and "aliens." But I do not think that this describes the majority of self-identified pro-choicers.

Lately, "abolitionist" has gained popularity as a replacement for "pro-life," largely as a result of the Abolish Human Abortion graphics on Facebook. I quite like this, however, the opposing term "anti-abolitionist" has not seemed to catch on nearly as well. Perhaps "abolitionists" versus "abortion supporters" or "abortion advocates" is a workable option.

What do you think? Are "pro-life" and "pro-choice" the best labels out there? If not, what should replace them?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Actually, I Think Men Should Have An Opinion About My Uterus"

The Huffington Post's Carla Naumberg writes about why she believes men should have a say in reproductive policy.  Given that Carla describes herself as "unabashedly pro-choice" I'm sure there's much she and I disagree on, but I thought she was spot on here:
Most men, however, are not rapists and do not support rape. Most men are sons and brothers and fathers and friends; not only do they love the women in their lives, but they would go to great lengths to protect them. Their daily lives and very existence are deeply and inextricably intertwined with women around them. Including the men whose values don't align with mine. 
These men deserve a place at the table, if not a veto, then at least a vote.
 It's nice to see someone from the pro-choice side agree that men should have a say, something I've touched on before.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

American Ambivalence

The Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby points out that most Americans' views on abortion don't fully align with either Republican or Democratic party platforms:
Only about 1 in 5 [Americans] ever say that abortion should always be illegal. When asked directly whether abortion should be permitted if a pregnancy results from rape or incest, huge majorities — usually around 75 percent — say yes.
Moreover, only a minority of Americans favors amending the Constitution to end legalized abortion or overturn Roe v. Wade. In poll after poll, about 6 in 10 Americans express support for Roe. A GOP platform that endorses a human life amendment conferring on the unborn “a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed” — essentially a call to ban abortion, period — thus embraces a position that significant majorities of the public do indeed reject.
So Republicans are the extremists on abortion? Not so fast.
If you’re like most Americans, you believe that abortion is morally wrong. You oppose abortion on demand. You think abortion should be legal only in certain circumstances. Even then you favor restrictions on its use, including 24-hour waiting periods, parental consent in the case of a minor, and requiring a married woman to notify her husband before she gets an abortion. You want late-term abortions to be prohibited, and you reject using public funds to pay for anyone’s abortion.  
Does the Democratic Party uphold these mainstream positions? On the contrary: It rejects every one of them. 
Jacoby draws these conclusions from a "compilation of decades of polling data" entitled "Attitudes on Abortion."  The report's summary states,
Although opinion about abortion is stable, it is also deeply ambivalent. Americans are at once pro-life and pro-choice. On the one hand, substantial numbers tell the pollsters that abortion is an act of murder. On the other, they say that the decision to have an abortion should be a personal choice. Those two views are fundamentally contradictory, yet many Americans hold them within themselves. They see no reason to resolve the tensions in their own positions. They believe in the sanctity of life and in the importance of individual choice.
How is it possible for so many people to essentially believe that an act of murder should be a personal choice?

Perhaps it's because, as the report explains, some 90% of Americans have never been active in the abortion debate.  Those of us who have argued about this ad nauseum have been pushed to look further into legal precedents, philosophical perspectives, and so on.  Hopefully we've also been compelled to consider the inevitably complicated ramifications of abortion policy proposals (whether to restrict abortion or maintain the status quo).  In contrast, I imagine the topic of abortion--much less all the details it can involve--come up relatively rarely for most people.

I'm curious to know the average American's "abortion literacy." What do people believe our current abortion laws permit and restrict?  How often do they believe the hard cases (i.e. life-threatening pregnancies or pregnancies resulting from rape) occur?  What resources do they think are available to women with unplanned pregnancies?  Why do they think women choose abortion?

How close are the average American's expectations to reality?  If most people were as informed as those active in the abortion debate, how would that affect popular perspective on abortion?

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Life Equations

[Guest blogger Kara considers different factors regarding the rape exception.  While SPL does not necessarily agree with every view written here, Kara makes several good points deserving of discussion as she earnestly explores the issue.]

The horrid sentiments expressed by Todd Akin have left a lot of people livid and angry.  I am one of them.  This culture of blaming a rape victim that lies latent in his words, that if you get pregnant it must have not really been rape, that women have some strange control over pregnancy and thus can at least in part be blamed for pregnancy, is disgusting.  It is a culture that propagates the idea of women as the key holders of chastity and encourages marginalization.

As a pro-life person, I also despise what he said because when it comes down to a moral and philosophical debate on the rights of the unborn, all of a sudden this man's words can and often are attributed to "my side".  I reject that entirely, of course; I suspect Todd Akin and I share as many opinions as I share appendages with a fish, but in our emotionally-charged and partisan world, he has created a rallying cry for even the most superficial of pro-choice arguments.

Sherif Girgis writes in the New York Times about the problems with Todd Akin's statements:
Second, Akin’s efforts to defend the prolife view had the opposite effect, by feeding the (entirely unfair) narrative that pro-lifers are ignorant of and callous toward women’s true needs. The abortion debate is one between decent people with honest disagreements on the moral status of the unborn, not of women.
But this is a good time to talk about something as pro-lifers.  Pro-choice groups will be quick to jump on pro-lifers who allow exceptions in cases of rape: "If you think it is a human being, then isn't it always wrong to kill a human being?" That is a good question for each of us to ponder.   What are the moral underpinnings of a rape exception?

I preface this by saying that I have a very strong non-opinion on the matter.  That is, I am convinced that I, and the vast majority of humanity, minus the women who had lived it, have so little observational data that I can't comprehend the situation at hand.  I am female, but I have never even been sexually harassed, much less raped.  Consequently, I cannot form a moral opinion that would be suitable for public policy, as either way I go, my argument would be weak.

As has been discussed in countless articles before, one of the most compelling cases for abortion is bodily autonomy.  I, however, like the hosts of this site, do not see that as compelling enough.  Pregnancy, while duly fraught with hardship and difficulty, is ultimately a temporary condition.  The resulting post-born child is a longer time and effort commitment, but we do have a society that offers other options through adoption, so let us look solely at the term of pregnancy.  

We know in our society that people die, and are killed, for what is perceived as the "greater net benefit".  This could take the form of a soldier fighting to protect her country, or what we tolerate for carcinogens in our drinking water.  The EPA determines Total Maximum Daily Loads of particulates coming out of coal power plants not based on what would be needed to safely protect all human life, but based on what constitutes an "acceptable risk", which is defined as x number of people getting cancer after ingesting or inhaling x amount of substance.  They do this because the overall perceived benefit of economic activity, including the electricity needed to power street lamps at night which reduce car crash casualties, is perceived to be higher than the cost of a certain number of life-terminating cancers.

So when we apply this rationale--that we should strive to ensure there is the greatest net benefit between all parties involved--we can attempt to boil down the question of abortion into some equations:

The Life Equations

Life = Life

Nobody is saying the life of a fetus is worth more than that of the mother.  Few people argue for a ban on abortions where the life of the mother is at stake.  It does not make any sense anyway, since until viability, without the mother both lives would be lost, as opposed to only one life lost with a medically-needed abortion.

Life > 9 months of impact-free Life

Though the nine months of pregnancy clearly affect the pregnant woman on multiple levels, in a typical pregnancy, Life still trumps.  We can't talk about bodily autonomy as being more important than life; it certainly isn't for post-born people.  No mugger says "your money or your bodily autonomy!" 

Life is the most basic requirement we have to interact and exist in this world.  A person can live, grow and interact with the world without bodily autonomy (consider conjoined twins).  A person cannot have bodily autonomy without life.  In the case of financial burden, again, there are hardships (and we should regularly support and fight for causes that reduce those financial burdens) but still, Life trumps.  Unless we think the mugger will kill us anyway, or that we have the ability to overcome the mugger, the vast majority of us would be handing over that cash, even if it was the last dime we had.

Life ? Lifetime of vegetable-inducing impact

I have never been in a violent or forced sexual situation, but I do know that there are events in everybody's life that can severely impact them forever--some things that can make them a mental and emotional basketcase.  When we consider life as we know it, the type of life we strive for, life is more than lungs taking in air and a heart beating.  Life is being able to interact in your world, explore, develop relationships, grow.  When you are a vegetable (physically, mentally or emotionally) you are not doing this.  You are not living.  

I believe the trauma induced by rape to likely be one of those horrible things that some might never recover from.  In the case of rape, where a woman descends into the depths of depression, and she is unable to overcome the tragedy that befalls her, I personally find it difficult to say that she should not be given all the tools possible to survive that life-ending rut.  I do not know if an abortion in this case would do her much good--I do not know that as she is suffering, destroying the child would help her--but since I do not know the situation, I cannot make that call.  I am sure there are women who think it would help, feeling that knowing the rapist's child is in her would lead her into depths from which she could not ever recover.  Then I am sure there are women who would feel worse for it: first a victim, then a murderer.  I cannot say either way.  

This is not to say the child is at fault or suddenly not human.  It is to say the woman is also not at fault to strive for the survival of her mind.  While I do think abortion in the case of rape is the killing of human life, that a child of a rapist is as much a human before birth as the child of consensual sex, and that abortion should be avoided if possible, I am not willing to say that the holistic life of a fetus is worth more than the holistic life of the mother.  I would avoid abortion personally, and I would support efforts to help and encourage women who do not choose abortion.  But ultimately Life = Life, and there is no net benefit to be gained by choosing one over the other.

So: I am nebulously in favor of a rape exception.  What are your opinions, and what rationale leads you to them?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Punishing the Rapist, Not the Rapist's Child

As a pro-lifer who does not support the rape exception, I cringed as I watched Todd Akin's suicidal interview.   Todd Akin should never have publicly raised an argument that he was not able and prepared to back up - especially one as groundless as the claim that "legitimate rape" doesn't result in pregnancy.  Doing so not only discredited his entire statement on abortion, but also brought the entirety of his pro-life convictions into question. 

Much has already been said on the matter of where Todd Akin went wrong (see yesterday's post by Jen if you missed it), but I'd like to take a few moments to emphasize where Todd Akin went right.  
Let me be clear:  I don't believe this is reason to support Akin, and certainly the right doesn't wash away the wrong, but for the sake of discussion, it does bear mentioning that his subsequent point (and the only one he should have made, in my opinion) is nonetheless valid and worthy of consideration:

"I do think there should be some punishment,
but the punishment ought to be on the rapist,
and not attacking the child."  

This statement addresses the seriousness of the rape and that a crime did occur and should be punished.   The statement also emphasizes the humanity of the unborn by pointing out that the rapist is not the same as the rapist's child.   Finally the statement emphasizes the crux of the opposition to the rape exception: We should punish the rapist, not the punish the child conceived in rape.

I'd like to now introduce a slightly more successful interview that follows on the tails of the Todd Akin comments.  Rebecca Kiessling was interviewed on the Piers Morgan show a few days ago, thanks in large part to the rape-abortion media attention generated by Akin's blunder.   Rebecca faced a very hostile and forceful  Gloria Allred (who kept interrupting her with outlandish and sometimes irrelevant comments) and a less than supportive Piers Morgan (who promised Rebecca the last word and then repeatedly allowed Allred to interrupt and talk over her), but I feel she nonetheless stood her ground and argued well.

At 6:37 Piers asks Rebecca: "My problem is with the women who get raped and impregnated and they are desperate - desperate - to not have the rapist's baby.  On any human level shouldn't they just have a basic human right in that situation to make that decision for themselves, isn't that what a modern America should stand for?"

Rebecca responds: "Modern America has said, according to the supreme court, that it is cruel and unusual punishment to give the death penalty to a rapist or even a child molester...  I don't think that I or any other child similarly situated deserved the death penalty for the crimes of our fathers."

Gloria interrupts by pointing out that it's only the death penalty if you consider an embryo equal to a full-grown woman and when Rebecca finally gets the floor back from Gloria and from Piers, Rebecca continues:

"You know I may not look the same now as I did when I was four years old or four weeks old unborn in my mother's womb but that was still undeniably me.   I would've been killed.    My life would have been ended...  I was targeted for abortion - that was my near-death experience and the fact that I was younger doesn't make it any less real or any less significant than someone who wakes up out of a coma to find out they were almost killed in an automobile accident."  

Gloria cuts Rebecca off yet again, trying to voice a tangent about coma victims getting raped, and when Rebecca gets to finally finish her thought she concludes with:

"Gloria I'm a woman.  You talk about how much you care about women, but what good is my right to anything as a woman if I don't have my right to life?"  

One thing is for certain, Todd Akin screwed up.   But we can be grateful for one thing:   Akin has allowed pro-lifers and pro-choicers to once again discuss the ever-crucial matter of whether or not abortion should be permissible in cases of rape.    To read more on the matter, please re-visit the point/counter-point debate had between M and I this past spring.  

Her arguments in favour of the rape exception can be found here
My arguments in opposition to a rape exception can be found here

Friday, August 24, 2012

Thoughts on Todd Akin

[Guest Blogger Jen R., co-founder of All Our Lives, shares her thoughts on Todd Akin's "legitimate rape" comments.]

So Todd Akin, who thinks that pregnancy resulting from rape is "really rare" because "If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down," announced yesterday that he is staying in the Missouri Senate race. I hardly know where to start. I guess a grounding in reality is the first order of business: Yes, of course women become pregnant as the result of rape. No, it's not "really rare" -- although few studies exist, the best available evidence indicates that the conception rate for rape is roughly equal to that for the average act of consensual PIV intercourse. No, there is no "certain secretion" that kills sperm when a woman is raped. That's made up. No, it is not true that women who are "truly" raped can't get pregnant because "the juices don't flow." That's made up. No, even though ongoing stress can make conception and carrying to term more difficult for some women, the stress of being raped does not in itself make conception impossible or highly unlikely.

I think a lot of people don't fully understand what the problem is with Akin's statement. That a public figure is blithely, proudly ignorant about subjects on which he proposes to legislate is appalling. (I feel like I have to say that, because I'm not sure that's something on which we agree as a country. Akin serves on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, after all.) But it's so much more than that.

Women who have been raped automatically fall under suspicion in a way that virtually no other crime victims do. When was the last time you discussed a theft, and someone felt the need to disclaim that the victim might have actually wanted to give the thief money, or might be lying about the whole incident ever happening? That happens in virtually every discussion of rape outside of explicitly feminist and anti-rape spaces, even though evidence points to false accusations of rape being no more common than false accusations of other crimes, at between 2-8%.

So when Todd Akin and the people defending him claim that pregnancy due to "legitimate" rape (Akin later clarified, he means "legitimate" as opposed to those cases where women are lying) is rare or impossible, they are doing two things. First of all, by accepting the double standard on the need for the "legitimate" qualifier, they are tacitly promoting the falsehood that women who say they have been raped are to be trusted less than people who report other crimes.

It gets worse. If a person believes that pregnancy due to rape is extremely rare, but lying about rape is common, what are they likely to believe when a woman says her pregnancy resulted from rape? That she's lying. That she doesn't need help, that she is someone who is trying to hurt others and not someone who has herself been hurt. If you think that what Akin said is OK, could you please try to imagine yourself in the shoes of that woman for just one minute?

By contributing to the suspicion that rape victims already face far too much of, Akin and those who defend his claims about pregnancy due to "legitimate" rape make it more likely that women will not report their rapes or will not be believed if they do. They make it more likely that rapists will get away with it and rape again. They also make it harder for women who have become pregnant as a result of rape to carry to term and raise their children. If a woman knows that she will be suspected of lying about her rape if her pregnancy becomes known, and might even have to share custody or allow visitation by her rapist, how much weight must that add to the abortion end of the scale?

This is rape culture. It hurts women. It hurts children conceived as a result of rape. It's unacceptable.

What's also unacceptable is all the apologism from groups saying we should ignore Akin's "unfortunate" choice of words because he's such a staunch defender of the unborn, and the only reason anyone would get so worked up about what he said is because they're pro-abortion.

Missouri Right to Life apparently had no comment on the substance of Akin's remarks, and would say only that they support him.

Connie Mackey, head of the Family Research Council's PAC, said "I don’t know anything about the science or the legal implications of his statement. I do know politics, and I know gotcha politics when I see it."

And worst of all, the Susan B. Anthony List called Akin an "excellent partner in the fight for the unborn" and claimed that "Abortion supporters like Sen. Claire McCaskill are trying to use this issue as a smokescreen to hide from their radical, pro-abortion records." As though there was no other reason to oppose Akin's ignorant, harmful views.

Public Policy Polling found that only 9% of Missourians found Akin's comments appropriate. (That's somewhat cheering news, anyway.) I strongly doubt that 91% of Missourians are just trying to get Claire McCaskill elected.

Even if your idea of what "pro-life" means revolves solely around electing politicians who will vote for restrictions on abortion, one doesn't have to support McCaskill to demand a better candidate than Akin. Akin can still withdraw in the next five weeks and be replaced. Is there really nobody better available? Are there no pro-life candidates who are knowledgeable and sensitive about women's lives? And if not, if this is truly the best "pro-life" can muster, why would any decent human being want to identify with "pro-life"? About 75% of the time I don't want to apply that label to myself, and these people are the reason. (The other 25%, I want to reclaim it.)

Even if the pro-life establishment can't bring itself to demand better than ignorance and misogyny from its representatives, we can. We can contact Todd Akin's office and explain to him how his comments hurt women. We can contact Missouri Right to Life and the Family Research Council and the Susan B. Anthony List and tell them that the cause of protecting human life before birth is not helped by spreading hurtful lies about women. We can tell them that hurting women is anti-life. We can tell them that we won't stand for being represented by people like Todd Akin, and they shouldn't either.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Bodily Integrity Revisited

[Guest Blogger Simon takes a particular interest in the philosophical aspects of the abortion debate.  Here he considers the important role of bodily integrity.]

When studying the philosophy of abortion, it is often very hard to find new perspectives.  Many arguments run along the usual lines of bodily autonomy, personhood, the moral value of autonomy and human life, etc.  So I was surprised not long ago to have something pointed out to me that led me to alter my stance.

Much is made of bodily autonomy and the Violinist analogy, arguing that even if an innocent human has a right to life that doesn’t automatically override someone’s bodily autonomy. Granted, the case is weakened because the violinist argument applies more to rape victims, but even if we except consensual sex from the thought experiment, we run into a broader problem.

A few months back I posted on an abortion thread raising the bodily autonomy question and David Boonin’s Toxic Waste analogy.  I suggested that Boonin’s analogy is consistent in principle with existing moral precepts: even if another moral being is inside us we can still owe bodily compensation for causing existential harm to another moral entity.  

Another participant on the thread pointed out that nowhere in law do we allow bodily compensation by the offender for the victim.  This is quite true; one not need have read the Merchant of Venice to appreciate the problems involved with bodily compensation.  Since this is the case how can we ask women to give the foetus bodily compensation when our society does not legally require this in any other situation?

Of course not having a precedent is not, in itself, a reason to introduce a new law, but it does raise a point that doesn’t seem to have been addressed in any detail. And this is not just a simple matter of introducing a new law that focuses just on abortion and women, because when we think of legal matters we must make a general case for the principle. If you didn’t make this a general principle under the law, the result would be giving prenatal persons more rights than post partum persons: offenders would be forced to abrogate bodily autonomy to save prenatal life, yet post partum people cannot demand as much. Conversely you are giving pregnant women who consented to sex fewer rights than the rest of the population.

Such a principle would need to be applied in any case wherein an offender causes severe or existential harm to the victim and the only compensation is the temporarily use of the offender’s body, or if applicable (without leading to death), use of the offender’s organs or blood. For example, if a drunk driver caused a victim to need an organ transplant and no other organ was available, the law would abrogate the drunk driver’s bodily autonomy and allow the removal of the organ.

Unless this becomes a new legal principle, you don’t have the legal or moral basis to force a pregnant woman who consented to sex to compensate the foetus for putting it in existential peril. The most you could do would be to offer the woman a choice between jail time or the fetus’s use of her body.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Response to article in "The Humanist"

An article appears in the September/October 2012 issue of The Humanist, entitled "Are Atheist Pro-Life Groups Promoting Sound Science?" which quotes Secular Pro-Life leaders.  The article was written by Marco Rossi, a man who once worked for Planned Parenthood-- so it's no surprise that the article is unflattering.  He comes right out of the box with the baseless accusation that we have a secret religious agenda, akin to the intelligent design movement.  Nevertheless, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

What fascinated me most is that Rossi actually comes right out and states his adherence to the "magic birth canal" theory of rights, which most pro-choicers avoid:
There is in fact a major difference between human beings as fetuses and human beings as persons: human beings as persons are born. [. . .] Rights only exist within the context of a community where they have the potential to be realized and the possibility of being threatened. Birth is our universal entrance into any community. It is the point at which we are able to break away — literally — from the absolute dependency of our mothers. The fact of the matter is birth transforms us. It simultaneously makes us into individuals and members of a group, and thus embeds in us rights-bearing protections.
Why, exactly, does the right to life not have "the potential to be realized and the possibility of being threatened" in the womb?  (Certainly, abortion constitutes a threat!)  And why are we not "individuals" or "members of a group" before birth?  He never answers either question.  It's simply a case of saying it makes it so.

He goes on to make the fair point that human rights are "interdependent" with each other: "No right is absolute and can be used to justify canceling out another right."  Indeed, even the right to life, while fundamental, is not absolute; this is the basic premise behind the morality of lethal self-defense.  But Rossi errs when he argues that "The only way that this interdependence can exist between a child’s right to life and a woman’s right to her body is by demarcating the moment of right-bearing at birth as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states."  This is not interdependence at all.  It is simply declaring a winner, without considering which party has more at stake.

Rossi then addresses four topics on which he believes that secular right to life groups have been unscientific: abortion and breast cancer; post-abortion psychological problems; ultrasounds before abortion; and fetal pain.

Starting with breast cancer:
In an email exchange about the validity of this claim, Monica Lynn, SPL’s blog coordinator, responded that the group found the evidence conflicting, but that its president, Kelsey Hazzard — who has studied law, not medicine — believes that women should be informed of the “conflicting” nature of this evidence before an abortion.
Monica has written extensively about the debate on abortion and breast cancer.  In fact, Monica herself came out against such a link, but of course we acknowledge that conflicting evidence exists.  What is so radical about presenting all of the evidence for women to examine themselves?  (Of course, this is all a side issue; the risk or non-risk of breast cancer has absolutely no bearing on the morality of abortion.)

Rossi continues:
Similarly, the research on abortion and psychological stress has shown that the phenomenon of PASS — Post Abortion Stress Syndrome — doesn’t exist either. Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study from Danish researchers which confirmed that the majority of women who underwent an abortion in the first two trimesters were no more likely to seek out psychological counseling after their abortion than they were before. While Lynn says the PASS label is problematic, SPL believes women should be informed of the possible psychological repercussions and their risks before having an abortion.
One study does not a consensus make, particularly when that study relies on women overcoming the stigma of post-abortion stress to seek out counseling.  Many studies have shown an increase in negative emotions after an abortion, particularly where risk factors like youth or ambivalence are present.  (An extensive list can be found in the footnotes to this article.)

Frankly, Rossi has outdone himself here.  In general, the debate between pro-life and pro-choice is on how common it is for women to feel guilt or depression related to their abortions, and whether it's a significant enough risk to warrant a pre-abortion disclaimer; that's a legitimate debate.  But Rossi appears to be claiming that no woman has such an experience; it "doesn't exist."  Such a claim can be disproved with a single incidence of post-abortion depression.  I invite Rossi to attend a Silent No More event some time.

Then comes the discussion of ultrasound, which is truly baffling:
The new Virginia law requiring women to undergo an ultrasound prior to an abortion was designed by the organization Americans United for Life — another nonreligious pro-life group. According to Charmaine Yoest, CEO and president of Americans United for Life, the Virginia bill was necessary to protect women with ectopic pregnancies from the possibility of dying during a medication-induced abortion. Warnings like these are half-truths that only serve to whip up hysteria around the risks of abortion. An ultrasound before an abortion is a standard practice for most providers, and is an essential tool for helping determine gestational age, viability, and yes, the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy. However, doctors determine ultrasounds based on medical necessity — not ideology. In reality, the risk of a medication-induced abortion in the case of an ectopic pregnancy is phenomenally rare, and the possibility of the mother dying is even more remote.
It's remote, so therefore we shouldn't mandate something that can easily prevent it, and which is already standard practice for most providers?  There is absolutely no risk of medical harm to the mother from an ultrasound.  But there is a risk to Rossi's former employer-- clients might change their minds.  That's what this is really about, and that explains Rossi's next sentence:
When asked about the ultrasound requirement, Secular Pro-Life responded that doctors should not only be required to offer women an ultrasound twenty-four hours prior to an abortion, but they should also be required to explain the stages of fetal development with the women [sic] before she agrees to an abortion.

Next, we get to fetal pain, where Rossi begins by stating that there is "no clear consensus from doctors or medical researchers as to when a fetus feels pain."  He then goes on to cite two studies suggesting that the ability to feel pain comes at the later end of pregnancy (29-30 weeks and 35-37 weeks, respectively), while citing none of the research suggesting an earlier stage of development.  Finally, he bashes Secular Pro-Life for failing to recognize the "medical consensus" on fetal pain.

Rossi concludes by celebrating the fact that 25% of Americans support his view that abortion should be legal in all circumstances.  He would also like to claim the 51% who support abortion in "certain" circumstances, to create a pro-choice majority.  That's highly problematic, since "certain circumstances" would include people who only support abortion in cases where the mother's life is in danger (such as myself).  Rossi's abortion-until-birth position-- which, even accepting his favored studies, would allow for abortions on pain-capable unborn babies-- is extreme.  It will continue to fall out of favor as groups like Secular Pro-Life work to educate the public.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shooting at ProLife Office in D.C.

Early yesterday morning a young man from Virginia, posing as an intern, shot a security guard at the Family Research Council office in Washington D.C. The guard’s name is Leo Johnson and he was let out of surgery late last night and is doing well. Leo took a bullet to the arm as he, along with others guards, apprehended the shooter named Floyd Lee Corkins II.

According to an FBI intel report, the shooter was carrying “a Sig Sauer 9mm pistol, two additional magazines loaded with ammunition and an additional box of 50 rounds of ammunition when he came into the building”.

According to reports Floyd said before shooting, “I don’t like your politics”.

While yesterday was an eventful day to say the least, the widespread support from pro-life advocates across the world for the Family Research Council has been wonderful to see. Mainstream media hardly covered the shooting with only small clips on one or two of the main news channels.

Mitt Romney was quick to respond to the shooter and said, “I am appalled by the shooting today at the offices of the Family Research Council in our nation’s capital. There is no place for such violence in our society. My prayers go out to the wounded security guard and his family, as well as all the people at the Family Research Council whose sense of security has been shattered by today’s horrific events.”

Furthermore, President Obama responded hours later, after regular business hours by saying,
“this type of violence has no place in our society.”

My thoughts go out to the Johnson family as Leo recovers. May we all continue to support this family after Leo Johnson’s heroic actions of protecting the staff at the Family Research Council.

For the Dignity of the Born and Unborn,


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Viability = Personhood?

In the never-ending debates over what it means to be a "person" (as distinct from a human being) I've seen many people claim that you cannot be a person unless you are viable, i.e. a fetus is not a person until the fetus can live outside the mother's body.

The first counterargument I usually hear (or give) is that patients on respirators or people using dialysis or the like are not somehow less of people--they don't lose personhood due to their physical dependence.

Additionally, "personhood" should be an intrinsic property of a human, shouldn't it?  It doesn't make sense--and sounds a bit eerie--to suggest that your personhood depends on factors aside from you.  But viability is that type of quality.  The Department of Perinatology and Gynecology at the University School of Medical Sciences in Poznan, Poland explained it this way:
Viability exists as a function of biomedical and technological capacities, which are different in different parts of the world. As a consequence, there is, at the present time, no worldwide, uniform gestational age that defines viability. Viability is not an intrinsic property of the fetus because viability should be understood in terms of both biological and technological factors.
In other words, a fetus gestating in the United States, whose mother has access to advanced medical technologies, may be able to survive outside the womb at an earlier gestational age than if the exact same fetus were gestating in Rwanda.  If personhood depends on viability, the fetus is a person while in the US, and ceases to be a person if the mother travels to Rwanda.  ....This makes no sense.  No definition of personhood should boil down to geographic location.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gosnell Updates

The Associated Press reports on developments in the case of Kermit Gosnell, the infamous abortion doctor arrested in January of 2011 and charged with eight counts of murder.  According to the AP:
City prosecutors say the deaths [of a patient and seven babies] were no accident but the result of dangerous medical practices that went on for decades at his filthy Women's Medical Center.
"The uncharged conduct is relevant and should be admitted. It shows that breaking the law was standard operating procedure," Assistant District Attorney Joanne Pescatore wrote in a recent motion.
One former employee told a grand jury that she was expected to perform anesthesia on patients after just 15 minutes of training from Gosnell. Before long, she couldn't sleep at night.
"She knew that if she made even a small error, 'I can kill this lady, and I'm not jail material,'" Pescatore wrote in the motion, quoting from the woman's grand jury testimony. "One night in 2002, when she found herself alone with 15 patients, she refused Gosnell's directives to medicate them. She made an excuse, went to her car, and drove away, never to return."
 Nine other clinic workers have been charged, and several have plead guilty to third degree murder for their roles in performing late term abortions.  If Gosnell is convicted, he will face the death penalty.

Monday, August 13, 2012

People v. Davis

Ultrasound: 23 weeks

From Stanford Law School's Supreme Court of California resources:
On March 1, 1991, Maria Flores, who was between 23 and 25 weeks pregnant, and her 20-month-old son, Hector, went to a check-cashing store to cash her welfare check. As Flores left the store, defendant pulled a gun from the waistband of his pants and demanded the money ($378) in her purse. When she refused to hand over the purse, defendant shot her in the chest. Flores dropped Hector as she fell to the floor and defendant fled the scene.
Flores underwent surgery to save her life. Although doctors sutured small holes in the uterine wall to prevent further bleeding, no further obstetrical surgery was undertaken because of the immaturity of the fetus. The next day, the fetus was stillborn as a direct result of its mother's blood loss, low blood pressure and state of shock. Defendant was soon apprehended and charged with assaulting and robbing Flores, as well as murdering her fetus. The [7 Cal.4th 801] prosecution charged a special circumstance of robbery-murder. (§ 190.2, subd. (a).)
According to the CA Penal Code (Section 187, Subdivision (a)):
"Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought." 
The jury convicted the defendant of assault with a firearm, robbery, and murder of a fetus.  The defendant was sentenced to life without parole, plus five years for firearm use.

The defendant appealed, arguing that it was unlikely the fetus would have been viable, and citing Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey for definitions of fetal viability: the point in development when a fetus, if born, would be capable of living normally outside the womb.

Both the Court of Appeal and the CA Supreme Court found that the CA Penal Code does not include viability as an element of fetal murder.

Many pro-choicers assert that in order for a human being to be a "person," he or she must be viable.  Does this imply that, by CA law, you can be charged with the murder of non-persons?

Friday, August 10, 2012


It's no secret that our current laws are inconsistent when it comes to the legal status of fetuses.  For example, Kansas law declares the terms "person" and "human being"--as used in laws that define murder, manslaughter, and so forth--to include an unborn child.  California penal code draws a distinction between "human being" and "fetus", but defines murder to include the unlawful killing of either a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought.  New York, on the other hand, has no separate laws for the death of a fetus.  In other words, in some states killing a pregnant woman can mean two separate charges--one for the woman and one for the fetus--whereas in other states it is legally equivalent to killing anyone else.

If society consistently acknowledged that human beings begin as zygotes, how would this alter our laws?  We tend to focus on how such an understanding would change abortion-related law, but what about other laws?  Our detractors will sometimes insist that if the fetus is a "person," women can be charged with child abuse for smoking while pregnant, or manslaughter for a miscarriage.  I've also heard less extreme suggestions, such as being able to claim fetuses as dependents on tax returns, or leave property to fetuses in living wills.

Some of these ideas are, I think, pretty simplistic, in that they seem to imply that acknowledging the fetus is a human being prevents us from acknowledging any other circumstances unique to pregnancy.  I see no reason why we can't acknowledge both.

However other ideas don't seem so far-fetched.  Why, after all, shouldn't you be able to claim a fetus as a dependent?  Even before birth you have increased expenses as a result of caring for the fetus.  Why shouldn't you be able to collect different or increased state benefits when you are pregnant?  Seems to me increased support for pregnant women would be helpful to maternal and fetal life anyway.

What do you think the non-abortion-related implications would be if we legally recognized fetuses as persons?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Democratic Platform ProLife?

Currently the democratic platform’s party states its unequivocal support for Roe v. Wade and says, “we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.” However, some democrats in the party have recently suggested, at a committee meeting, that the language should be changed to allow some diversity of opinion on the issue within the party.

Part of the reason for allowing the open stance on life is out of fear of losing more of the House and the Senate in the 2012 election. Members of the party believe it would be advantageous, especially considering a recent Gallup poll where 44% of democrats shockingly said they thought abortion should only be legal “in a few circumstances”.

The efforts to acknowledge respect for human life to the party platform have been shut down for the most part; however, it will be interesting to see what the party decides down the road since ultimately they are politicians who need the votes and if society continues the trend of becoming more pro-life this may have a significant impact on the party. In the meantime President of NARAL Nancy Keenan, who is on the committee discussing the proposed changes to the party platform, has been quick to push for maintaining the unwavering pro-abortion position for the democratic party.

Stay tuned . . .

For the Dignity of the Born and Unborn,


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Pregnant? Don't come to our school.

The Washington Post reports on Delhi Charter School - a kindergarten through 12th grade school in Louisiana that has recently come under fire for its policy on pregnant students.  The pregnancy policy states:
If an administrator or teacher suspects a student is pregnant, a parent conference will be held. The school reserves the right to require any female student to take a pregnancy test to confirm whether or not the suspected student is in fact pregnant.
If a student refuses to take a pregnancy test, the school assumes she is pregnant.  Pregnant students must continue their studies from home.  There is no comparable policy for male students who get female students pregnant.

The ACLU has threatened to sue the school, pointing out that such a policy is in violation of federal laws against sex discrimination.  Some of the school's board members have stated that they are reviewing the policy.  The ACLU is hopeful that the school will see the need to change the policy.

Many women choose abortion because they feel they lack the resources to raise the child.  Greatly stigmatizing pregnancy, as this policy does, only exacerbates the problem.  Hopefully we will read about the policy's suspension soon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Consciousness = Personhood?

Given the impracticality of claiming a zygote is not a human, abortion proponents will typically explain that, while the zygote may be a human being, it is not a person.

What is a person?  Depends on who you ask.  Some of the most common pro-choice claims are that you are not a person unless you are viable, or you are not a person until you are physiologically independent.  I've never found these ideas remotely compelling.  However, there is one definition of personhood that has always intrigued me: consciousness.

Some people assert that our consciousness--our level of cognition--is what separates us from other species and gives us our worth.  They point out, for example, that when someone becomes brain dead--even as the rest of their body may function properly--we often consider them dead already.  Their consciousness is gone.  Some therefore assert that an embryo, which has no consciousness, is not a person either, and is therefore morally permissible to destroy.

Anytime people assert a definition of personhood that excludes the fetus (and, indeed, this seems to be the only time people distinguish "person" from "human being") I try to consider how their definition would apply to already-born people in similar circumstances.  For example, if you must be physiologically independent to be a person, humans on respirators would not be people.

So are there any examples of humans we already consider people who do not have consciousness?

Coma patients always jump to mind.  Damage to either the cerebral cortex (responsible for our awareness) or the Reticular Activating System ("RAS" - responsible for our sensory arousal) can cause a person to enter into a coma.  Whether someone recovers varies depending on how the damage was sustained and how severe it was.  In the meantime, the coma is considered a "state of profound unconsciousness."

So is a coma patient a "person"?  Seems to me the answer to that question depends on whether the coma patient has a chance of recovery.  If a patient has a high chance of recovery, society still considers that patient a person.  If the patient becomes brain dead, there are those who argue the patient is no longer a person anyway.

This implies that the personhood of the coma patient rests on their future ability to have full consciousness.  The same can be said of the zygote.  Both the coma patient and the zygote are human; neither have consciousness.

I suppose the question is, then, what is the significant moral difference (if any) between a human being that will develop consciousness and a human being that will regain consciousness?  What do you think?

Monday, August 6, 2012

IVF and Motivations

I have been active in the pro-life movement for about six years now.  My boyfriend is not quite as active as I am, but he does come with me to marches, and he is a good listener as I bounce ideas off of him for SPL blog posts or I talk about some recent piece of abortion-related news.  From everything I can tell we’ve been in agreement on the abortion issue, acknowledging that human beings begin as zygotes and that abortion destroys human beings.

The other night he learned that friends of his family had successfully completed IVF.  As he was telling me about this he asked, “What’s the big deal with IVF? Don’t some people have a problem with it?”  I told him that it can be controversial because the process typically involves creating multiple embryos, but not all of them are necessarily used in attempts at implantation.  There is a question about what becomes of the extra embryos.

He responded that this isn’t the same issue as abortion because this isn’t about people irresponsibly having sex and ridding themselves of the results—it’s about people who genuinely want a child using science to help them achieve that. 

A brief, tense conversation ensued. 

To my view, if you believe the biological beginning of a human being (the zygote) has enough moral relevance to make abortion unethical, then non-abortion-related procedures that involve destroying human embryos are also unethical.  I think the motivations of the people who choose to risk that destruction are of minimal relevance.  Embryos could die because someone doesn’t want a child (abortion) or, actually, because someone does (IVF).  If it’s unethical to destroy human embryos, it’s unethical either way.

(That’s not to say IVF is inherently unethical.  Genetic parents can donate their extra embryos to third parties trying to have children, so IVF doesn’t necessarily mean the destruction of human embryos anyway.)


Friday, August 3, 2012

Fetal Pain & Arizona

I have no perspective on the subject of fetal pain because I've never looked into it myself.  I've never looked into it because fetal pain does not affect my position on abortion.  Even if we were certain fetuses felt no pain during abortion, I would still find abortion unethical and would seek to see it legally restricted.  There are, after all, already-born humans with congenital insensitivity to pain; it is still unethical to kill them.  (Plus, frankly, I'm still a bit researched-out after exploring the alleged abortion-breast cancer link.)

However, the idea of fetal pain does affect policy.  Arizona has created a ban on most abortions beginning at 20-weeks gestation under the theory that this is when the fetus begins to feel pain.  Just this week US District Judge James Tellborg upheld the ban only to have it temporarily prohibited by a federal appeals court days later.  Banning abortion at 20 weeks gestation is a relatively new approach, starting with Nebraska's ban in 2010.  Arizona is now one of 10 states to attempt this type of legislation.

I'm interested to hear more about the rationale for these bans.  If it is legal to kill a fetus after 20-weeks gestation unless the fetus can feel pain, could doctors simply anesthetize the fetus and then continue?  Or is the ability to feel pain meant to imply that the fetus is now a "person"?  

I know this subject tends to revolve around whether the fetus can feel pain at a certain point, but I'm still stuck on "Why does that matter?"  Why would a human's inability to feel pain imply less moral worth or legal consideration?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars

This fall a new pro-life book will be released titled Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars. What makes this book stand out from other pro-life books available is that it tells the story of the impact of Roe v Wade from a woman's perspective.

Heart wrenching stories and motivation will draw you in as you read this biography by Dr. Monica Miller.

Jill Stanek of wrote in a recent article after having pre-read the book of stories Monica shares . . . "What was it like to be the first to actually creep into back alleys and warehouses in the dead of night to pick aborted babies out of the trash?"

Stay tuned as the book is published this fall. Pre-oder today and receive 35% off.

For the Dignity of the Born and Unborn,


Summer Successes

In our latest e-newsletter, we discuss the success of, our outreach to pro-life youth leaders, projects in the pipeline, and more.  Read it here.