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.


M said...

Great post.

It's a bit ridiculous to be outraged that we think doctors should be required to *offer* ultrasounds.

I wanted to point out, just to be fair, that I hadn't written my extensive ABC Link post until after we'd corresponded with Marco. However I did make a point of telling him that some of us don't find the link compelling. Guess that didn't make it to final print.

Alaina S said...

Regarding ultrasounds, the author fails to recognize that ultrasounds are done during abortions anyhow.

They are done to determine the age of the baby to determine how much to charge for the abortion (older baby = more money). They are also done to guide the abortion process. In D+E abortions, the doctor uses the ultrasound as a guide to grasp fetal parts as he dismembers. One can go to any number of late term doctor's websites to read about the use of ultrasounds, so this can not be dismissed as "pro-life propaganda".

To make the most informed medical discussion, the ultrasound should certainly be available to see of the woman wants to see it. The pro-abortion lobby has fought such laws because a significant % of woman who see their babies choose not to abort, meaning the doctor looses that money.

Anonymous said...

I really don't understand why the FRC shooting is getting covered as an abortion issue. Is SPL implying that it stands in solidarity with FRC's views on traditional marriage? Or is SPL simply unable to control what it's republican fundamentalist/tea party-affiliated organizers decide to post?

I would like to hear more about why SPL supports the FRC's anti-homosexual agenda, because that issue hasn't really been discussed on this site. What is the secular justification for banning gay marriages?

Patrick Ptomey said...

LMFAO. Wow, great job of pointing out the MANY contradictions of Mr. Rossi. I couldn't help but notice his use of a few arguments that many pro-choicers have long abandoned for good reason. While I value a good debate on the issue, Mr. Rossi should have provided himself with the same critical assessment that he offered secular anti-abortion groups; but I guess that's your job, SPL.

Jeff K said...

Dear Mr. (or Mrs.) Troll,

SPL's post about the shooting has nothing to do with FRC's view on gay marriage. That topic is irrelevant to the abortion issue.

FRC is pro-life and against euthanasia. You can do some research here.

However, I am sure you already knew FRC's stance on the abortion issue and are just trolling for fun.

Your welcome,

Your friendly anti-troll agent

Kristine Kruszelnicki said...

Mr Rossi gold-mined our answers for this article. Kelsey, Monica and I worked very hard to ensure that in response to his questions on breast cancer and PASS in particular that we stressed that while we believed women should be informed, OUR CASE RESTS ON THE FACT THAT THE UNBORN ARE BIOLOGICAL HUMAN BEINGS. Whether or not abortion huts a single woman, gives a single woman breast cancer, causes any bad feelings, even if it took ten years off a woman's face, abortion would still be wrong because it is the dismembering of a human being.

Kristine Kruszelnicki said...

He was very dishonest. We made sure to stress that our case was not built on the link to breast cancer, nor on whether or not women feel guilty, not on whether or not a fetus can feel pain. The way this piece was written did not enable us to make our case at all, we're only quoted in relation to his biased agenda for this article.

Kristine Kruszelnicki said...

SPL does not take a stand against gay marriage. We have many glbt members and supporters, including our good friends at the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians (

We also don't take a stand on euthanasia. Our members are varied on end of life issues but we do agree on when life begins.

Jameson Graber said...

I am continually baffled by the "total dependence" argument. Show me a child under four years of age who has even a slight chance of surviving without the aid of parents who are constantly available to provide food and protection. Who besides Peter Singer honestly thinks it's okay to kill a one-year-old? And I don't understand what is meant by "total" dependence. There have been so-called "miracle births" lately which just prove that if we develop sufficient technology, we can make children viable at earlier and earlier stages of fetal development. There's something about this argument that reminds me of the Spartans, who would leave their children out in the wilderness for a few years to fend for themselves. If they came back alive, they earned the privilege of rejoining socieety. It seems there persists among us this never-ending desire to exclude certain members of race, even our own offspring, from the umbrella of society.

Anonymous said...

That answer doesn't make any sense, why is the shooter labeled as a "pro choice" supporter, when he's clearly a "gay marriage" supporter? Why is there a juxtaposition between support for gay marriage and support for abortion when this site claims to only be pro-life and not anti-gay marriage?

Something really fishy is going on here. You're sending mixed messages.

Anonymous said...

And it seems there are certain members of our race who want to establish thier own moral views as normative, even when those views are not held by the majority of others in society. Perhaps you'll just have to agree to disagree with people who think that a zygote isn't the same thing as newborn.

DaShondra said...

'Anonymous' continues to try to push his/her own moral views on the SPL and pro-life community in general.

There is no 'agree to disagree' on this topic.

He/she is wasting time. A large percentage of Americans are pro-life and that percentage is likely to increase in the future.

And since abortion is legal in the U.S. until the moment of birth, good luck trying to convince a majority of people that a baby is a 'zygote' 1 minutes before birth and a newborn 1 minute after birth.

Anonymous said...

late stage abortions are illegal in this country.

Pro-lifers have an issue with legal abortion, meaning at a stage of development where the fetus is closer to resembling a zygote than a fully developed newborn.

Regardless of whether the majority of americans would choose to have an abortion, this does not make someone "pro-life". Pro-life specifically means you are "anti-choice" or that you think that women have no right to decide whether or not they will give birth. It is a movement based on punishing women for immoral behavior, not the belief that a fetus deserves the same status as a human being.

Dashondra said...

If you think late stage abortions are illegal in this country, think again:

The above 'doctor', working in D.C., advertises abortions into the third trimesters.

On the above fact alone, I am a loud and proud "Anti-Choicer".

And before you claim that late term abortions are only done to save the life of the mother or on a severely disabled baby, I suggest you do some research on Ron Fitzsimmons,director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers. In 1997, he admitted that the vast majority of late abortions were performed on healthy mothers and babies.

(Reference: “Medicine Adds to Debate on Late-term Abortion: Abortion Rights Leader Urges End to ‘Half Truths,’” 40
American Medical News (Washington, D.C.: American Medical Association), March 3, 1997)

No matter how loud you blare your fog-horn, the pro-life movement is all about protecting pre-born children.

Pro-lifers organize support groups and provide resources to help women (and men) affected by abortion, so any 'punishment' you are referring to is a figment of your imagination or an outright fabrication to push a pro-abort agenda.

Anonymous said...

Dashondra said...

A random chart that someone put together does not change the fact that late term abortions are done in this country frequently (over 20,000 per year) and for non-medical reasons.

I'm glad we've had this disussion, Anon. Hopefully people will see the above link, check it out, and get past the myth that late term abortion is NOT done in this country.

Thank you.

Aaron said...


Checked out your link. No citations or references anywhere. Further, you lied or were seriously mislead regarding your "over 20, 000 late term abortions per year" claim. It is actually far far less than that ( and

Ok, so we have established that your data is significantly incorrect. The next issue at hand is whether abortions are wrong or not.

One may argue (poorly) that abortions at any stage, late term or early, is wrong as it is the murder of a child. Except, of course, it isn't. It definitely has the *potential* to become a child, but so does sperm. Are we then to argue that ejactulating into a sock is a form of murder? How many men will be incarcerated if that occurs?

Further, it seems that you think pro-choicers are 'gun-hoe' about abortions and want every single female to have an abortion, given the oppurtunity. This is, of course, false. The majority of those in favour of abortion, and those who have abortions, would argue that abortion is fine, if; the lady is raped, if the featus has a severe disability, if the lady does not think that they can support a child, if the lady may die as a result of pregnancy etc.

I know it may seem difficult to understand, but there really are too many people on this planet as it is. Having children isn't always a good thing, both for society and the child itself.

It could be argued that no life is better than a shitty life.

I'm glad we've had this discussion, Dashondra. Hopefully people will see the above links, check it out, and realise how wrong you are.

LN said...

Glad you are one to check sources.

And I agree that characterizing pro-choicers as *advocates* of abortion is very similar to characterizing pro-lifers as anti-sex (and out to punish women who have sex). It's just inflammatory and incorrect, and avoids the real issue.

Other than that, your analysis is pretty inaccurate. Pro-lifers tend to argue that abortion at any stage is wrong because it is the murder of a living human being (organism). The sperm analogy is a terrible one because sperm are not organisms, they are gametes. Upon fertilization, however, you get a zygote which *is* an organism of the human species (since you seem to enjoy wikipedia:
If you're interested in the actual (SPL) pro-life stance, and not straw men arguments, see

But perhaps I'm wasting my time since you seem to think there's a good basis for arguing that no life is better than a shitty life. Because even if that were true, that should be no one's decision but the person whose life it is-- if that is, indeed, the primary reason for a life coming to a justifiable end. I would never be comfortable with an individual deciding your life was crappy and killing you without your agreement. Your stance, without additional qualifications, allows for that.

Usually at this point those arguing for the death of humans with "shitty lives" jump to an additional reason to supplement this one, since by itself it's pretty pathetic. Once you tack on those additional justfications, you start to realize that saying, "well their lives will be shitty" is just a subtle way of adding fluff to a weak primary justification.

Anonymous said...

except in this case the life in question is not capable of contemplating its own existence because it is not a developed rational entity. Do you really support a stem cell research ban on the grounds that the fetuses from which these stem cells are derived are fully developed human beings whose lives we have no place to destroy?

This is not a logically valid argument. I think it's funny you assume that all human life is intrisically sacrosanct and that society cannot take any effort short of total sexual abstinence and the legislating of a brand of morality that coinicidentally is the exact same thing as christian fundamentalism. Oh wait, this is secular pro, how dare you call us religious!? We're completely secular,that's why we support the FRC council and thier efforts to suppress the civil rights of gay americans, and thier support of misogynist congressman Todd "It's not legitimate rape if it makes you pregnant" Aikin.

Simon said...

Anon surely you know about the Post Birth Abortion paper, if not google it. Technically a newborn isn't a developed rational entity either. So what next will you be arguing for infanticide for non person babies and infants? If not how do you ground full moral value for non person?

DaShondra said...

@Aaron, a couple thoughts:

1) The link I posted (also posted below) was for a clinic that does later term abortions, up to the moment of birth, in our nation's capital. They inject poison into the baby's heart then let the poor woman go off to deliver the dead baby someplace else. They don't want to be bothered with the gruesome details.

2) I suggest you do some research before making accusations.

3) Wikipedia is not a very reliable source, and I suggest you stop trying to build an argument based on info you find there.

4) From the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, approximately 1.5% of abortions occur past 21 weeks and are considered late term. You can verify this at:

5) The number of abortions in the U.S. every year varies. Simple mathematics tells us that if 1,300,000 abortions occur, that is approximately 20,000 late terms abortions per year. To arrive at this number, multiply 1,300,000 by 1.5%.

6) Either you have made an error in your math, or you are deliberately working to spread misinformation about the numbers of late term abortions.

7) Since you are more interested in haggling over numbers, this leads me to believe you are trying to distract yourself and others from the issues at hand. Your next post is likely to focus on spelling/grammatical errors in this response.

8) Once again, thank you for this discussion and giving me the opportunity to lay out the facts. If the information that I've provided opens even one person's eyes to the frequency and horror of abortion, it was time well spent. Good day.

Eric W said...


It is worth pointing out that a significant percentage of late term abortions are NOT done to protect the health of the mother or due to fetal anomalies.

In the words of late term abortionist Dr. Hern, "Abortion providers and pro-choice groups have not claimed that second-trimester abortions are performed only in the cases of risk to the woman’s life or health or fetal abnormalities...Those second-trimester, pre-viability abortions – by whatever method performed – that are not done for medical indications have been repeatedly found to be constitutionally protected by the Supreme Court."

Elliot Institute said...

Thank you for linking to our site for citations to studies on the psychological impact of abortion. Here is a link to a more updated list of recently published studies:

Jeremie Morse said...

I would like to see this go to the supreme court. When Roe V wade occurred. Fetal science was in it's