Wednesday, October 31, 2012

News briefs: China's one child policy

Bad News
Pro-lifers were right to be skeptical of claims that China had stopped using abortion to enforce its one child policy.  Reports have surfaced that Song Ping'an, six months pregnant, was kidnapped by the Family Planning Police, who killed her unborn child.  Song has suffered severe mental trauma (no kidding) that has made it impossible for her to care for herself and for her older children.

Good News
Chinese one child policy opponent Chen Guangcheng, who made a daring escape from house arrest in May, was presented with an award for his courageous human rights advocacy.  The award was presented by Batman actor Christian Bale; Bale had attempted to visit Chen while Chen was still under house arrest, and was beaten by Chinese government thugs for his trouble.  With the pro-abortion philosophy dominating Hollywood, it's great to see an actor standing up for life.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The "Solid" Pro-Choice Stance: Texas Freethought Convention 2012

Recently Secular Pro-Life participated in an abortion debate at the Texas FreeThought Convention. Pro-life atheist Kristine Kruszelnicki and pro-choice atheist Matt Dillahunty presented their sides, questioned each other, and then answered questions from the crowd. You can watch the entire debate here.

I'm pro-life, and I'd like to say the pro-life side dominated the debate, but that wasn't the case. While I agreed with some of Kristine's points, I also found some of her arguments confusing and problematic. Matt seemed calmer, clearer, and more confident. I don't agree with his conclusions but he made a strong case, arguing based on bodily rights.

Still, I thought Matt benefited a lot from an audience clearly on his side. It's not just that Kristine was laughed at and repeatedly cut off by applause. It's also that Matt had people cheering him on even when his points were ridiculous.

I agree people have a fundamental right to bodily autonomy. I believe one person's right to bodily autonomy supersedes another person's right to life in many (though not all) situations. Matt was right to focus on bodily rights. In my opinion, it's the only strong pro-choice argument.

However, Matt had some other, much weaker positions.

Human vs. Person

Matt insisted his argument is not based on the nature of the fetus. That is, even if we all agreed the fetus is a full person with equal rights, no one--a fetus, a child, an adult--has the right to use another person's body against that person's will. (There's room for debate over whether the Courts would agree.)

While Matt agreed that, biologically, human beings begin at "the instant of conception," Matt made it clear he does not believe the fetus is a person, calling the idea irrational and stupid. Yet when Kristine asked Matt for his view on when we become "people," Matt dodged:
When do we become a person? Ah! Now that’s a difficult question, and I think that pregnancy is the process of going from a fertilized egg to something that qualifies as a person, and that we can figure out—try to make our best judgments about that. But the fact that we can’t necessarily draw a quick and easy line--like, you know, the day that it pops out of a womb or 10 days before or 20 days before—doesn’t mean that we can’t make a determination that there’s a big difference between Day 2 and Week 38.
So..."I don't know when the fetus becomes a person, but I know it's not at conception."

Of course there are big differences between Day 2 and Week 38. As Kristine pointed out early in the debate, there are also big differences between newborns and adults. No one is denying big differences. The questions are:
  1. Which differences apply to the fetus alone among other human beings?
  2. What makes those differences morally significant?
Matt asserts bodily rights are supreme regardless of whether the fetus is a person. Even if I agreed with him, that would make fetal personhood insufficient to outlawing abortion. It would not make fetal personhood irrelevant. Personhood still needs to be addressed. 

There are many factors that complicate the morality of unwanted pregnancy and abortion. It's simplistic to assert that because you've decided one factor is the most important, all the other factors need not even be considered. 

[Aside: This works both ways. Many pro-choicers avoid personhood because they feel bodily autonomy supersedes. Many pro-lifers avoid bodily autonomy because they feel personhood supersedes. I find it generally irritating, but especially so if you've agreed to debate the other side. What sort of debate boils down to, "I feel the factors you emphasize are irrelevant and so I'm not going to discuss them"?]

Anyway, Kristine pressed further: "So if you don’t know, then, when a person begins, is it not possible that you might be killing a person?" Matt dodged again.
Well what I said was, first of all, personhood is irrelevant to my issue of bodily rights.  My defense of bodily rights takes into account the idea of a person and this is not an issue for that. But what I just said was that even though we can’t make a necessarily distinct moment, that doesn’t mean we’re blind, that doesn’t mean we don’t have any information to consider. We know, roughly, about the development of embryos. PZ can explain it.
I didn't hear an answer in any of that, did you? 

Even if we all agreed that it's justifiable to kill another person to preserve your bodily autonomy, the question "Are we killing a person in the first place?" is still an important question. After all, if the fetus is not a moral entity worthy of rights, none of this matters at all. We don't need to justify abortion through bodily autonomy any more than we need to justify a cavity extraction. But if the fetus is a person, things are much more complicated. Abortion advocates may assert personhood is irrelevant, but notice how carefully they avoid even the possibility that abortion kills a person?

[Aside: Kristine used the "SLED" argument to discuss differences between the fetus and other humans. While it's not necessarily incorrect, I think the SLED argument is a bit vague. I think it's better to get more specific about developmental differences, as I've found many people are dubious about fetal personhood based on these differences.]

"To Us" vs. "By Us"

Pregnancy is an involuntary condition that results from our natural biological drives and interactions, and is often in conflict with our desires, our designs, and our best interests. It's something that happens to us, not by us.
First, yes, I think it's natural to want to have sex (or, to use Matt's euphemism, to want to have a "biological interaction"). And yes, pregnancy can result from having sex. And yes, pregnancy is not always in the best interest of the pregnant woman, and certainly not always her desire or plan. I agree.

But saying pregnancy "happens to us, not by us" seems to imply we have no control or choice and no responsibility in the situation. And that is false.

[Aside: I am referring here only to consensual sex. Clearly rape victims had no control or choice and therefore have no responsibility. Because of this crucial factor, I do not agree with Kristine on rape exceptions.]

When you choose to take an action knowing the risks, you are choosing to take those risks. If those risks come to pass, it is at least partially because of a choice you made. The risks didn't just happen to you--they happened because of your choices.

This is true for many circumstances, including the choice to have sex--and it's not just pro-lifers who see it this way. Consider current child support laws. If a man fathers a child, he can be legally required to pay child support. It doesn't matter whether having the child was in his best interest, and it doesn't matter whether he desired or planned to have the child. He consented to have a "biological interaction" and risk pregnancy. He is responsible for the child.

I am amazed at how strongly the more adamant pro-choicers reject this connection. I suspect, as with fetal personhood, acknowledging the important factors of consent to risks and responsibility for outcomes make the situation too complicated. This came up a few times during the debate. Here:
Matt: "The fact that you happen to die when we deny you the right to use somebody else’s body is not the woman’s fault."
Kristine: "Well the woman is actually the one who has put that child in a position of dependence on her."
Audience: "No!" "Not agree!" "No! No!" 
I'm sorry, what? Kristine's statement is not a moral judgment--it's a biological reality. (I would only alter her statement by saying the woman is one of two people to put the fetus in a position of dependence. Both the man and woman are responsible.) I can't fathom how people can so strongly deny this fact. What's the alternative? Do fetuses invade the womb of their own volition?

Let me put it another way: has anyone ever accidentally gotten pregnant without having a "biological interaction"?

To be sure, sex is necessary but not sufficient for unplanned pregnancies. There are many other factors that can determine whether the woman gets pregnant. However, in the process of becoming pregnant, there is a choice over which people have control (sex), and then there are factors over which people don't have control (fertilization, implantation). In order to be subject to the factors you can't control, you must first choose to have sex.

This is not actually how it happens, guys.

Audience member: "I was on birth control, I used condoms, I did not want to be pregnant, I did not choose to be pregnant, at all—I guess by having sex I guess I did, but whatever—I didn’t choose to be pregnant. I took every precaution I possibly could. I got pregnant. Then I had an almost nervous breakdown because I did not want to go through that (at that time, I was much younger). And I ended up with a spontaneous abortion."
I do not envy this woman's situation; given my way, no woman would get pregnant who didn't want to be pregnant. It's smart for sexually-active people to use birth control if they don't want children.

However--as this woman's story so amply demonstrates--protected sex still includes risks. She is right when she says she didn't choose to become pregnant, but she's wrong when she says she took every precaution she possibly could. She took every precaution except refraining from sex (at least the type of sexual interactions that can cause pregnancy). She didn't choose to become pregnant; she did choose to risk becoming pregnant. These are distinct choices, but both include a level of responsibility. Saying "whatever" doesn't negate this reality.

This is usually the part in the conversation when people start accusing me of hating sex and/or women and demand I stop being so judgmental/such a prude and the like. These are all faulty assumptions. Nowhere have I said having sex is wrong. I don't care whether you have sex or how often or with who (as long as it's consensual, obviously). All I ask is you not put yourself in a position you will hate so badly you'll want to kill someone to get out of it. And all I'm saying here is that, yes, sex can cause pregnancy, and when you choose to take risks, the outcomes don't just "happen to you"--they happen because of your choices.

Termination vs. Killing

I've seen people avoid fetal personhood and the sex/pregnancy connection many times. I've seen people avoid the "killing" aspect of abortion by only discussing the restoration of bodily autonomy. ("Nothing to see here, folks!") But rarely have I seen people specifically assert that abortion isn't killing. I find that really bizarre, but that's what Matt seems to think:
Matt: "You can abdicate parental rights, and termination of a pregnancy is one of the ways in which you can abdicate those rights."
Kristine: "You can abdicate parental rights, but you can’t kill your children. If you abdicate parental rights by saying 'I’m going to place my child for adoption' or 'I’m going to withdraw child support,' that’s not the same as killing the child." 
Matt: "Right, and neither, really, is abortion. We’re talking about the termination of a pregnancy. It is a fact of nature that this tends to result in the death of the fetus. There are also cases in late term abortions and late term [unclear] deliveries where we actually have a vested interest in the viable fetus." 
It's also a fact of nature that a bullet in the brain tends to result in the death of a person, but "nature" doesn't put the bullet there. People do. Likewise, "nature" doesn't use surgical tools to break apart and remove the fetus from the womb. People do. When people take actions which result directly in the death of someone else, we call those actions "killing."

I'm interested to learn more about these late-term abortions in which there is a vested interest in the viable fetus. And by "vested interest" I mean an interest in protecting the life of the fetus. There are plenty of premature deliveries in which medical professionals try to protect the life of the fetus, but those aren't referred to as "abortions." They're referred to as childbirth. To me, Matt's reasoning sounds like an equivocation. If we define "abortion" to include premature delivery and childbirth, then sure, abortion isn't necessarily killing. I just didn't realize anyone defined abortion that way.
Kristine: "If there was a situation in which somebody became obligated for a born human being, you would not say ‘Well I’m meeting the responsibility of my obligation by killing them.’ The same way the child…"
Matt: "Yes, because I reject your ignorant strawman of "killing them"...[audience applause] The fact that they die is not necessarily the same as terminating the pregnancy."
Kristine: "If you’re actively going in there and you’re decapitating, dismembering, and disemboweling them, how is that not an act of killing?"
Matt: "It is, but that’s not the sum total of all abortions, first of all, and second of all, that is depending entirely on your assertion that it is a person with full personal rights."
I'm not sure what Matt means when he says that's not the sum total of abortions. He may be again referring to the idea that some late term abortions include trying to preserve the fetus, or that "abortion" includes childbirth. Alternatively, he may be asserting that Kristine's description would not apply to abortions in the earliest stages of pregnancy. For example, you can't be disemboweled unless you have, well, bowels, and intestines don't start developing until between 4 - 5 weeks after fertilization.

But 66% of abortions are performed after 6 weeks gestation. I can't find data that specifies how many are performed after 5 weeks gestation, but it's moot anyway. Even though earlier-term abortions don't disembowel the embryo, they still kill the embryo, which was Kristine's main assertion.

Beyond that, the assertion that abortion is a form of killing does not depend at all on the fetus being a person with "full personal rights." Living organisms that aren't people can still be killed. If you ran over your neighbor's cat and she said "You killed my cat!" you wouldn't say "Actually, I didn't, because your cat was not a person."

To say "abortion is killing" is not an "ignorant strawman." It's not even a moral judgment. It's physical reality, nothing more. You can reject the assertion if you like, but facts don't change based on whether we believe them.

So yeah.

As I said, I think bodily autonomy is an important right and a significant argument from the pro-choice side. But maybe it's not as strong of an argument as I had originally thought. If it were, I'd expect pro-choicers wouldn't require the mental gymnastics displayed here. As long as you ignore the possibility of fetal personhood, reject the connection between your choices and your circumstances, and, above all, don't think of abortion as "killing," I guess the pro-choice stance will actually feel solid.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Atheist Experience's Matt Dillahunty Debates SPL's Kristine Kruszelnicki

400 attendees of the Texas Freethought Convention watch an
abortion debate between two atheists.
October 20th, 2012 Austin Texas

2012 has been a big year for Secular Pro-life!  First we (Kelsey, Michael and I) made a big opening splash with an info table at the American Atheist Atheist Convention in DC at the end of March.  Then two months later I got to network over drinks with several leaders of the humanist community at the American Humanist Convention in New Orleans (they surprised me with their sincere curiosity to hear the secular pro-life case).   Following these two exposures, a number of publications requested to hear from us with quotes from the secular pro-life community (The Humanist  and Poleitica come to mind at the moment, though I think there was at least one more?)  My letter to the editor is set to appear  in The Humanist's Nov/Dec edition following their less than flattering portrayal of SPL, and full-length feature article summarizing our side of the issue is still pending publication.

It's now October and I've just finished my first ever public debate against atheist celebrity Matt Dillahunty, president of the Austin Atheist Community and host of the nation-wide televised call-in show The Atheist Experience.  Matt is an experienced debater and public figure and our audience was the 400 attendees of the Texas Freethought Convention.  To say I was nervous would be putting it far too mildly! 

I'll confess that I'm not entirely thrilled with my debate and know I have room for improvement.  I couldn't sleep the night before, I had difficulties with my powerpoint, my computer failed to save my opening and closing scripts, forcing me to work almost entirely ad-lib... I had honestly planned to chalk up the whole experience to a good learning opportunity and figured I'd share my video with only a handful of supportive friends who could help me improve for next time... buuuuut it seems the atheist community had other ideas.  :)   In the two days since Texas Freethought  Convention posted their video, the debate has gone VIRAL.   Last I checked the video had 15,000 views - in TWO days

So since everyone else has seen it, y'all may as well see it too:

Feel free to message me with feedback on points you think I nailed and points that left you scratching your head wondering what the heck I was thinking.   I'm open to doing even better next time. 

It's been a big year - and 2012 isn't even over yet!   Following the debate, I received a number of opportunities to present my case again at a later date.  I've been invited to participate in two secular podcasts, including one set to take place in Dallas on November 14th.   The podcast will be a live debate with a feminist who is flying in from California just to engage with me on bodily rights arguments!  I'm also in discussion with the Texas director for the Secular Student Alliance who will try to book me to speak at one of STA's regional events some time down the road.  

And as for debates?   A second debate between Matt and I is already being discussed for the new year, hopefully somewhere up north next time.    I can't wait!  Now that I've gotten my feet wet with my first debate, it can only get easier from here, right?   :)

So a great big thank you to all of you who have made financial contributions to make this important work possible!   As atheists, we don't have access to church funds like a lot of our religious pro-life friends do, so we count on you who believe in what we're doing, in order to be able to keep doing what we're doing.   If you're not already doing so, please consider making a monthly contribution to the work of Secular Pro-Life.  

2013 is just around the corner and we hope to be able to attend even more events and travel to more functions to speak to willing audiences.   Your support goes a long way!  Thanks!

Myself with Matt Dillahunty after our debate
(Matt wanted to be clear that our photo op
"doesn't mean we're buds now") 

Daniel (my wonderful chauffeur, assistant and friend), 
Paul (the awesome TFC organizer who agreed to host the debate at his event), and I

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Planned Parenthood denies injuries at its clinics

The latest Live Action undercover investigation has just been released.  Watch below.

Secular Pro-Life works to educate at-risk women about abortion malpractice through our politically neutral website,  Please click here to learn how you can help.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

UPDATE: Dems for Life rescinds Kaine endorsement

Following criticism from Secular Pro-Life and others, Democrats for Life of America has removed pro-abortion Tim Kaine (D-VA) from its list of pro-life Democrats running for the Senate.

Democrats for Life of America now endorses three Senate candidates: Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Joe Donnelly of Indiana.

Democrats for Life issued this statement on its decision to drop Kaine:
Former DNC Chairman and Governor Tim Kaine has been a friend to DFLA and has previously defined himself as a pro-life Democrat.  While Governor, Kaine signed the Choose Life license plate bill into law.  We were proud to work with the Governor to ensure the bill was passed and critical funds could be used to support crisis pregnancy centers.  He also signed into law the Pregnant Women Support Act to help women in crisis pregnancy and opposes federal funding of abortion.  While Chair of the DNC, he supported pro-life Democrats and his policies helped elect pro-life elected officials.  His spokesman and website are now identifying him as a pro-choice Democrat.  DFLA, therefore, cannot endorse Governor Kaine.  However, should he be elected to the Senate, we look forward to the opportunity to work with him to pass pro-life legislation.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Join us at the SFLA conference

Registration has opened for the Students for Life of America annual conference.  It will be held on Saturday, January 26 (the day after the March for Life) in Bethesda, MD.  The schedule includes workshops from both secular and religious perspectives, on a wide range of life and bioethics topics.  It's sure to be a great educational experience.

Secular Pro-Life is excited to sponsor a booth for our fourth consecutive year.  We will be sharing the space with our friends at the Life Matters Journal.

Tickets are $55 for students and $75 for adults.  We hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Is Abortion Justifiable in the Hard Cases? Part III

[Today's post is the third in a three-part series on "hard cases" by SPL member Clinton Wilcox.  For the first post, on fetal disability, click here.  For the second, on pregnancy from rape, click here.]

One of the most tragic things in life is when a woman or a child dies during pregnancy or childbirth. Thankfully, technology has advanced to the point where the death rate from a pregnancy-related complication is extremely low. [1]

In fact, Alan Guttmacher, past president of Planned Parenthood, acknowledged: “Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal illness such as cancer or leukemia, and, if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save, life.” [2] A powerful quote, especially considering Dr. Guttmacher wrote it in 1967.

But what about the rare cases in which the pregnancy does become life-threatening? The most common example of this is an ectopic pregnancy, in which the human zygote implants itself somewhere other than the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tube. If the zygote implants itself in the fallopian tube, thi
s is highly dangerous to the mother. Once the embryo grows big enough, the fallopian tube will burst, causing the mother to hemorrhage internally. This is an extremely dangerous situation for the mother, and almost always fatal for the embryo.

Some pro-choice advocates claim that we should keep abortions legal because abortions are always an act of self-defense -- the pregnancy may end up threatening her life. However, very few women die in childbirth and pregnancy. Additionally, we can’t justify abortions because of the extremely unlikely possibility of the pregnancy becoming life-threatening, otherwise we could justify infanticide in the off chance they may grow up and kill their parents.

I take the position that life-saving abortions are morally permissible as long as the child is not yet viable. Once the child becomes viable, a caesarian section should be performed to save both mother and child. This is not only the ethical choice, it is also faster and safest for the mother. Late-term abortions are a three-day procedure, and a c-section takes about thirty minutes. This is a position consistent with my pro-life views. The mother and child are equally intrinsically valuable human beings. The mother and child should both be treated as patients, and it’s not always possible to save both.

Ectopic pregnancies don’t always implant in the fallopian tubes. If the embryo implants elsewhere and it is generally safe to continue the pregnancy, I don’t think abortion would be justified in that case (although constant physician observation may be required). But if the unborn implants in the fallopian tube, I believe that abortion is justified. There has been a case in which a zygote implanted inside his mother’s fallopian tube, later bursting the tube and implanting himself in the uterus, later to be born completely healthy. [3] However, I don’t think we can justify leaving ectopic pregnancies in the fallopian tube hoping that the woman and child will both survive. What would you think of a father who learns his son has pains in his appendix, waiting until the appendix bursts to finally seek medical treatment? With technology the way it is now, there’s a good chance of surviving a burst appendix. But the father would be negligent in waiting until his son’s appendix bursts to seek medical help. Since tubal pregnancies are dangerous and potentially fatal, I don’t believe a doctor is justified in leaving the embryo to develop there.

It is a tragedy when this happens, but to the best of my knowledge there is no way to transfer the developing embryo from the fallopian tube into the uterus for it to implant. If that were medically possible then that would be the ethical course of action. Since there is little evidence that this transfer could be done right now, abortions are justified in that instance. Sometimes the embryo dies on its own, before putting the tube at risk. In that case, there is no moral dilemma.

Life-saving abortions can be justified through three lines of reasoning.

Triage -- Triage is when two people are mortally wounded and only one can be saved. Say two soldiers are on a battlefield, dying of bullet wounds. The medic will survey the two dying soldiers, determine which one stands a greater chance of survival, and save that person.  If he works on the more severely injured person he may lose them both. By saving one he is not declaring that the other is not human or not valuable. In the case of a life-threatening pregnancy, the child can’t survive without the mother and the mother stands a 100% chance of survival. Since it is better to lose one life than two, the doctor will save the mother who has the best chance of survival.

Double effect -- Double effect reasoning is a set of ethical criteria that we can use for evaluating the permissibility of acting when one’s otherwise legitimate act would also cause an effect one would normally be obliged to avoid. [4]

In this case, the legitimate act is saving the life of the mother and the act one would normally be obliged to avoid is the death of an innocent human being. Essentially, four conditions must be met before an act is morally permissible:

1) The nature-of-the-act condition. The action must be either morally good or indifferent.
2) The means-end condition. The bad effect must not be the means by which one achieves the good effect. (This is because the ends do not justify the means.)
3) The right-intention condition. The intention must only be the achieving of only the good effect, with the bad effect being only an unintended side effect.
4) The proportionality objection. The good effect must be at least equivalent in importance to the bad effect.

Most life-saving abortions satisfy all four conditions. 1) The action is saving the mother’s life, which is morally good. 2) In most life-saving abortions (removing a cancerous uterus or the fallopian tube in which a zygote implanted itself) you don’t achieve the saving of her life by directly killing the embryo, itself. 3) The intention is only to save the mother’s life, not to kill the unborn human. If there were a way to save the unborn human, that would be the ethical course of action. And 4) The good effect is equal in proportion to the bad effect. You are saving the woman’s life although the unborn child will die, and the unborn child will die even without doctor intervention.

If the woman has a cancerous uterus and can’t wait for the child to become viable, the ethical thing to do would be to remove the uterus, with the unintended (but foreseen) side effect that the unborn child will die. This would only justify one method of action during ectopic pregnancy (though the other methods can be justified using the other lines of reasoning -- triage and third-party defense of an innocent aggressor).

Third-party defense of an innocent aggressor -- The preborn human has no intention of implanting itself in the wrong place or threatening the mother’s life. They have become an innocent aggressor. If the woman were to have the abortion herself, this would be justified by self-defense. But does the doctor have a right to step in? I would argue that he does.

Consider the case of a man at a bar who, unbeknownst to him, has his drink spiked with a hallucinogenic drug. He flips out and next thing you know is aiming a gun at five people, threatening to shoot. The police arrive and an officer has a shot, but a fatal one. I think the police officer would be justified in taking the fatal shot to protect the people whose
lives are at risk.

As I indicated earlier, pregnancies are generally very safe. Most abortions cannot be justified as self-defense. But in a case where the woman will die if the pregnancy is left alone, then defense measures are justified.

Let’s have a look at the three different methods used to treat ectopic pregnancies. Some pro-life people I have talked to justify these by claiming that they are not really abortions, since medically they are called something else (Methotrexate, salpingectomy, salpingostomy). However, this does not affect the morality of the situation. They still result in the death of the preborn human. Plus, we can make the argument that all abortions are called something else (e.g. Dilation & Evacuation, RU-486, etc.). Even miscarriages are called “spontaneous abortions.” Shakespeare once wrote, “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” [5] Well, that which we call an abortion by any other name would still result in the death of an innocent human being.

Sometimes an ectopic pregnancy may correct itself. If it doesn’t and if no intervention is taken the embryo will grow large enough that the tube will rupture, causing hemorrhaging in the woman and a severe risk of death. I do not believe a doctor is justified in waiting around to see what will happen, since the tube rupturing severely harms the woman (possibly fatally). To expound on an analogy I used earlier, suppose a boy approaches his father complaining of pain in his abdomen. The father realizes his son may have appendicitis, but decides it’s not an emergency so he waits. The son’s appendix soon bursts and his father rushes his son to the hospital. With today’s technology his son has a good chance of survival, but the father was still negligent in his parental duties by waiting until the son’s appendix burst to seek medical attention.

Salpingectomy -- In this procedure, the section of the tube with the zygote inside it is removed and the embryo dies on its own. This is seen as satisfying double effect since you are not directly killing the embryo, you are allowing it to die on its own. This satisfies the second criteria, where the bad effect (the death of the embryo) is not used as a means to bring about the good effect (saving the woman’s life).

Salpingostomy -- In this procedure, an incision is made in the fallopian tube and the embryo itself is removed. This has the added advantage of preserving the woman’s fertility. Christopher Kaczor actually argues that this procedure likewise satisfies double effect. The effect of removing the embryo itself from the fallopian tube is not an intrinsically evil act, otherwise we would have to oppose removing it to attempt to transfer it into the uterus, if such a procedure ever becomes perfected. [6]

Methotrexate -- Methotrexate is a drug that inhibits the cellular reproduction in rapidly growing tissue; it is also used to treat some forms of cancer. It works by inhibiting the growth of the trophoblast, the forerunner to the placenta and the embryo proper. [7]

Now, I personally believe that salpingectomy does not, in fact, satisfy the principle of double effect. Even if you are not directly killing the embryo itself, you are still the agent responsible for its death by removing the fallopian tube. You are removing it from the only environment in which it can live, which will result in its death. Someone might respond that you are simply removing the tube, which has been damaged and will result in hemorrhaging if left untreated. But I find this unconvincing. The reason the tube is damaged and will burst is because the embryo has implanted itself there and will burst it when it grows large enough. The embryo is the agent, not the fallopian tube, that is threatening the woman (albeit unintentionally).

I would actually argue that salpingectomy is morally impermissible in treating ectopic pregnancies. First, it is causing unneeded harm to the woman. By removing the fallopian tube, you are reducing the chance of her conceiving another child in the future by 50% (and if she had one before, you are effectively sterilizing her). Second, the embryo will die regardless of which method you use. Even if you don’t kill the embryo itself, you are still responsible for its death by removing it from its natural environment. So you are effectively responsible for the embryo’s death in any case. It seems that due to the unneeded harm and the fact that the embryo will die anyway, salpingectomy is actually morally worse than salpingostomy and using Methotrexate.

There’s some evidence to suggest that transferring an embryo implanted into the wrong place may be possible. [8] If this is correct, then this may change the ethics of the situation. Some may argue that this course of action would be morally required to be taken. Others, like Christopher Kaczor, argue that, as with saving other humans, this action may not be morally required. As he writes, “we need not make use of every treatment available in every circumstance. In each case, the burdens and benefits of the treatment must be considered, and treatments that are more burdensome than beneficial may be foregone.” [9]

So I would argue that abortions are morally permissible if the woman’s life is in immediate jeopardy but the child is not yet viable. Regarding the other hard cases, fetal disability/defect, rape, and incest, abortions are not morally permissible. On top of that, even if they were, they could not be used to justify general abortion-on-demand. Saying that we should make abortion legal because of a rare instance it may be justified is like saying we should eliminate all traffic laws because you may have to break one rushing a loved one to the hospital. [10]

[1] While this article claims that abortion is safer than childbirth, this is still a misleading figure. Abortion is safer than childbirth in the first trimester, and then it’s only marginally so. Less than 1% of women die from abortion (0.6 in 100,000, according to the study), and less than 1% of women die in childbirth (8.8 in 100,000, according to the study). A woman’s risk of dying by having an abortion rises exponentially as the pregnancy continues.
[2] Guttmacher, Alan F., “Abortion -- Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow,” in The Case for Legalized Abortion Now (Berkeley, CA: Diablo Press, 1967).
[3][4] Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica IIa-IIae Q. 64, art. 7.
[5] Shakespeare, William,
Romeo & Juliet, Act II, Scene II.
[6] See the article for a much more thorough examination of the methods of resolving an ectopic pregnancy, and the ethics involved in each of the methods.
[7] See Kaczor’s article for more on this.
[8] L. Shettles, “Tubal Embryo Successfully Transplanted in Utero,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 163 (1990): 2026.
[9] See Kaczor’s article.
[10] Scott Klusendorf makes this observation in The Case For Life, (Crossway Books: Wheaton, Illinois, 2009), p. 175.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Presidential Debate, Part II

If you didn't watch the debate, a transcript can be found here.

On our issue, Obama once again stretched the truth, with his statement that "there are millions of women all across the country, who rely on Planned Parenthood for, not just contraceptive care, they rely on it for mammograms..."

Not a single Planned Parenthood office in the country performs mammograms.  This claim has been so thoroughly debunked that I must conclude that the President was being deliberately misleading.  I guess "mammogram referrals" just doesn't have the same rhetorical punch to it.  Neither does "300,000 abortions a year," which is of course what this is really about.

Overall, the consensus is that Obama clearly did much better this time around than he did in the first presidential debate.  There's less consensus on who won.  Both candidates at times talked over the moderator, which many viewers found arrogant and off-putting.

I turn this over to the masses: What did you think of last night's debate?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is an Act intended to ensure "reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition."

The Huffington Post describes the types of women that could be helped by this legislation:
When Heather Wiseman began to suffer from bladder infections as a result of her pregnancy, the Walmart sales associate started carrying a water bottle during the day to stay hydrated. But the Walmart that employed Wiseman technically allowed only cashiers to have water bottles, and a note from Wiseman's doctor made no difference. Caught with a water bottle again, the pregnant Wiseman was fired from her job in 2007 for insubordination based on her failure to follow the water bottle rule.
Another woman, Victoria Seredny, was told not to move heavy objects -- something she did a few minutes a day in her job as a nursing home activities director -- by her doctor after a near-miscarriage. When she asked for help, she said her boss refused to allow her colleagues to assist her, even those who volunteered. Serendy was fired soon after for failure to perform her duties.
The National Women's Law Center describes these and a few other cases of pregnant women struggling to continue working while pregnant.

The Huffington Post explains that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 makes it illegal to fire a woman just for being pregnant.  That doesn't mean, however, that employers must accommodate a woman's pregnancy-related needs.  The PWFA looks to correct that.

Politicians that oppose the PWFA argue that it would place unnecessary burdens on businesses. For example, businesses would have to find ways to accommodate pregnant employees whose jobs include a lot of physical activity, such as repetitive motions or lifting heavy objects.

It's worth noting, though, that the PWFA does not apply if "the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business." (In this context, "undue hardship" is based on the definition used in the Americans with Disabilities Act.)

It's also worth noting that several states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Alaska, Texas, Illinois, and California) already have legislation that calls for accommodating pregnant workers. According to Time magazine, California passed legislation in 2000 that guarantees pregnant women the right to job-protected leave and to be transferred to another position if medically necessary.  Since then, California's pregnancy discrimination cases have dropped (currently averaging at just two cases per year). For reference, federal pregnancy discrimination cases have increased by 54% in the same time period.

I guess it comes down to a question of priorities, doesn't it? Is it more important to empower businesses to grow and profit? Or is it more important to empower pregnant women to continue earning a living while pregnant? Are there ways to empower each without hindering the other? What do you think?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Newsflash: politicians still crazy, inconsistent

First, some Republican whackjobbery.  Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia is in the news for his comment that "evolution and embryology and the Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of Hell."  (In part, the newsworthiness of this comment comes from the fact that Broun is on the House Science Committee.)  Most of the coverage has focused on the evolution and Big Bang parts of Broun's statement, but I find his condemnation of embryology equally baffling.  Broun is evidently oblivious to the fact that embryology is a key tool in the fight against abortion.  He may be a reliable pro-life vote, but he definitely hurt the cause of prenatal rights with this baseless, bizarre comment.

And now, the Democrats' turn.  There are many things about the Democratic Party that I find attractive; of course, the party platform on abortion is not one of them.  So I love the idea behind Democrats for Life of America (DFLA).  What I don't love is when DFLA throws its integrity out the window by endorsing a candidate who, by DFLA's own criteria, is unworthy of the honor.  That's exactly what they've done with their shocking endorsement of Tim Kaine for the Virginia Senate race against George Allen.

I wrote to DFLA president Kristen Day:
As a Virginia resident, I'm treated to constant Kaine radio ads.  From where I stand, he is campaigning on a pro-abortion platform and being quite vocal about it.  One radio ad features a moment in the debate where Kaine attacks Allen's support for pre-abortion ultrasounds.  Kaine's website very clearly states: "I strongly support the right of women to make their own health and reproductive decisions and, for that reason, will oppose efforts to weaken or subvert the basic holding of Roe v. Wade."  This under the heading of "Individual Rights"-- what about the rights of the preborn?  I find your endorsement of Tim Kaine to be wildly inappropriate and urge you to reconsider. 
Five days later and still no response.

It's common practice for abortion advocates to attack the GOP for defending the right to life while cutting back on programs that could help those whose lives are saved.  That's a fair criticism.  The inverse criticism, less often publicized, is also true; a party that claims to stand up for the helpless and oppressed betrays those values when it condones the killing of the unborn.

With all that in mind, I was encouraged to see that the latest issue of the Life Matters Journal is addressing these dilemmas.  The theme of the issue is "Where's my party?" and you can read it for free here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Help us build momentum for life!

Last week's video release was a great success! The moving pro-life story of Krista and Tatiana Hogan has been viewed thousands of times on YouTube and featured in major pro-life media outlets.

Above: Secular Pro-Life volunteers
educate attendees at the
American Atheists convention
We need your help to keep the momentum going. Later this month, our outreach coordinator will participate in an abortion debate at the Texas Freethought Convention.  In January, we will reach out to the next generation of pro-life leaders at the Students for Life of America conference, for our fourth consecutive year. And on top of all of that, we continue to invest in life-saving advertising for

Unlike many traditional pro-life groups, we do not reach out to church networks for funding. Our ability to promote the culture of life relies entirely on financial support from individuals like yourself. So if you appreciate what Secular Pro-Life is doing and want to see more, please consider making a much-needed donation.

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