Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Drive Safely This New Year's Eve

This post has nothing to do with abortion. But it does have to do with saving lives, so pay attention.

This is Kortney Gordon. We met when I was a college student and she working for Students for Life of America (SFLA).
This is her daughter, Sophy.
This is Jon Scharfenberger, who worked alongside Kortney at SFLA.
All three were killed by a drunk driver in October of 2011. They had been traveling on a campus visit and were on a two-lane road when they were hit head-on. The driver of the other car also died.

Being pro-life is about more than opposing abortion. And being pro-life begins at home. The first and most obvious step to take is to not kill anybody—and that means never drinking and driving!

You're entitled to have your fun tonight. But if it involves alcohol, wait until you're sober to drive home. If necessary, crash the party host's sofa for the night or call a cab. Seriously. There is no excuse.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Why would a woman want an abortion?

A follower recently posted this clip to Secular Pro-Life's Facebook page and asked for our thoughts.

(If this link ever stops working, Youtube "Maddow Buchy")

The clip is not new--it's from the fall of 2012--but it's worth considering. 

My first reaction was disgust at this PR disaster. An older, white male talking about how he's never even thought about why a woman would want an abortion? This is a politician who is sponsoring legislation to restrict abortion, who has accepted media invitations to discuss said legislation, and he's never even thought about why a woman would want an abortion?

This is how I feel.

I'm sure there are plenty of issues on which Rachel Maddow and I disagree, but she makes a completely valid point here. If Rep. Buchy is going to work to outlaw abortion, it might be useful to him to spend some time understanding why hundreds of thousands of women seek abortion every year. And if he's not going to try to understand why this happens or show a bit of empathy for the women involved, I sure would appreciate it if he'd stop accepting media invitations to speak about abortion. 

In my opinion, there are three main strategies to decrease abortion:
  1. Outlaw abortion.
  2. Change hearts and minds regarding the nature of the unborn.
  3. Eliminate the reasons women want to get abortion in the first place.
I'm not sure how far we can get with strategy #1 if we don't also work toward #2 & #3. What's more, strategy #3 is the strategy on which we ought to be able to work together with everyone to achieve. Although each side has different reasons, in general both pro-lifers and pro-choicers want to decrease abortion. It would be great if that general desire to decrease abortion could translate to solidarity in creating a society more supportive of both mothers in particular and women in general. The first step toward such a society is understanding what women need to be supported, so they don't feel they must resort to abortion in the first place.

So why do women get abortions? According to research by Guttmacher:
The most common subreason given was that the woman could not afford a baby now because she was unmarried (42%). Thirty-eight percent indicated that having a baby would interfere with their education, and the same proportion said it would interfere with their employment. In a related vein, 34% said they could not afford a child because they were students or were planning to study.
Guttmacher also goes on to talk about other common reasons, including concerns about single parenthood, current relationships, being able to continue to care for other dependents, risks to fetal and maternal health, and more. Even so, these are pretty broad responses. To get a more personal perspective on why women choose abortion, consider these 26 stories from New York Magazine.

I read each one. Some of them I found heartbreaking, others enraging, but my overall takeaway was that there are a lot of factors that affect whether a woman chooses to abort, and we can do more to alleviate many of them.

To be clear, I don't think strategy #3 on its own will be enough. Even if we did create a society in which no woman felt she needed an abortion, abortion should still generally be illegal because it should be illegal to kill other human beings.

But either way, while the pro-life movement debates incremental approaches versus sweeping legislation and struggles to get even 2nd trimester restrictions passed, we can at least work where there should be the least resistance: creating a society where women have better resources for avoiding unwanted pregnancies and better support for carrying wanted ones.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Emotions run high in Texas life support case

[Today's guest post is by Rachel Cox and is part of our paid blogging program.]

Have you heard about the Texas husband who wants to remove his pregnant wife from life support?

In November, Erick Munoz’s wife Marlise, who was 14 weeks pregnant, suffered a blood clot and is still in the hospital hooked up to machines. Doctors say she is brain dead and will never recover. Erick Munoz believes the baby will have defects and the baby’s life won’t be worth living. Her husband says his wife clearly stated she never wanted to be on life support. Erick Munoz wants to “honor his wife’s wishes” and remove her from life support which would kill her and their unborn baby. However, Texas law prevents the removal of a pregnant woman from life support and Erick Munoz is publicly voicing his opposition.

After reading the comments section of this article on the story, I found myself in a very small minority of those who disagree with Erick Munoz’s desire to have his wife and unborn child taken off of life support, for several reasons.

First, when Marlise Munoz told her husband she never wanted to be on life support, did she think about the possibility that she may be pregnant when it happened? Did she consider that if kept alive, her unborn child may be able to survive? I’m going to guess she probably didn’t think about that, and I’m also going to guess that if she knew being kept alive now would give her child a chance at life, she would be willing to stay on life support at least long enough for the baby to be delivered. I know it must pain Erick Munoz to see his wife hooked up to a bunch of tubes, but I can’t figure out why on earth he would value his wife’s wishes more than the life of his baby.

Another issue I take with Mr. Munoz’s logic is his belief the baby will be born with problems due to the lack of oxygen it experienced when the mother’s oxygen flow was cut off. That definitely is a possibility, but it is not a certainty. Mr. Munoz said he knows the baby will have medical problems because he is a paramedic. However, doctors have said the child is too young to be able to tell at this point. I don’t understand why Mr. Munoz believes his experience as a paramedic makes him more qualified to predict the outcome of his child’s medical situation than a doctor. Besides, other cases similar to this one have resulted in healthy babies being delivered. Of course a child born with disabilities is no less a person than a healthy child, but that’s a whole separate topic that I won’t get into right now.

Why is this father trying to find all the reasons why his wife and unborn child should be removed from life support and left to die, and not the reasons why they shouldn’t? I find it very frustrating and disheartening that Erick Munoz thinks this way and also frightening that so many people actually agree with him. I believe these hopeless, negative attitudes about the Munoz family’s situation are caused mainly by one thing: abortion. Abortion causes society to devalue human beings. When the abortion industry, media, and politicians pound in our heads over and over that unborn babies are blobs of disposable tissue, it’s easier to see why someone would not be motivated to preserve the life of their “clump of cells.”

At least we can rejoice in the fact that Texas has a law which prevents misguided, emotionally distraught people from making this kind of horrible, irreversible choice. If only every state protected all stages of life in every situation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Loving Them Both

Editor's Note #1: Today's guest post is by Sarah Terzo of
Editor's Note #2: This is our 1000th article since we moved to the Blogger platform many moons ago. Thank you to our readers for allowing us to reach this milestone!
Editor's Note #3: Due to the drop in web traffic that occurs during the holiday season, the blog will be on hiatus for a few days. Whatever you celebrate, Secular Pro-Life wishes you a happy time with your loved ones. Safe travels.
* * *
In an article in the American Medical News (Diane M Gianelli, “Abortion Providers Share Inner Conflicts,” American Medical News, July 12, 1993), a counselor at a Dallas abortion clinic talked about how she deals with the stress of doing her job. In her own words:
This may sound like repression: however, it does work for me. When I find myself identifying with the fetus, and I think the larger it gets, that’s normal… then I think it’s okay to consciously decide to remind ourselves to identify with the woman. The external criteria of viability really isn’t what it’s about. It’s an unwanted pregnancy and that’s the bottom line.
This clinic worker is struggling with her conscience. Deep down, I suspect that she knows that the “fetuses” her clinic aborts are actually babies. You don’t “identify with” tissue, products of conception, or collections of cells. You identify with human beings. This clinic worker is struggling to silence her conscience, which tells her that these babies are more than just tissue or uterine growths. They are people. As the developing child grows bigger and begins to look more and more like a newborn, it becomes harder and harder to deny his or her humanity. This forces the clinic worker to rationalize what she is involved in. In order to cope, she blocks out the reality of the child and focuses only on the woman as her patient, making the woman her only concern.

Pro-choice arguments almost always focus solely on the woman involved in the pregnancy. The baby is completely disregarded.

The pro-life movement, on the other hand, is at its best when pro-lifers are concerned about both the child and the mother. Groups like Silent No More and countless postabortion support groups and organizations exist to help women cope with their past abortions. Crisis pregnancy centers, which outnumber abortion clinics, help women through their pregnancies and try to meet their needs. More and more, it’s becoming clear that women are physically and psychologically harmed by abortion. In opposing abortion, pro-lifers are not simply helping the baby – they are helping the mother as well. It is important that we do not deny that there are two people involved in each pregnancy – the woman, and her unborn baby. Both are important. Both require our support and compassion.

Focusing on only one person at the expense of the other should never be a tactic of the pro-life movement. It is important that we never allow ourselves to see only the baby and disregard the woman who also needs our help and support. It is of course the baby whose life is at stake – but the woman obviously has a pivotal role and should never be forgotten.

Pro-lifers are here to support both people involved in the pregnancy. We don’t exclude either one from our help and care.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Year's Top Graphics

Yesterday, we featured the top blog posts of 2013. But Secular Pro-Life is often an organization of few words. Here are the top 10 most liked and shared SPL graphics of 2013 (click to enlarge).

#10: So much for choice

#9: Wise words, Gloria

#8: Biology 101
(You can buy the bumper sticker, and proceeds benefit Secular Pro-Life.)

#7: Oh.

#6: What a concept!
(You can buy this one too.)

#5: Remember, "anti" is not always a bad thing
(You guys sure love bumper stickers.)

#4: This song will be stuck in your head now

#3: I promise this is the last bumper sticker

#2: "Bro-choice" boys have nothing on pro-life men

#1: And finally, a shout-out to all the powerful mamas out there

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Year's Top Stories

2013 has been an eventful year. Perhaps you've seen National Right to Life Committee's round-up of the top pro-life victories of the year, and Operation Rescue's review of sleazy abortionists brought down this year. It's been a great year for Secular Pro-Life, too!

Without further ado, here are the top ten most-read stories from the SPL blog this year.

10. A Future of Value: A summary of philosopher Don Marquis' famous secular argument against abortion.

9. Abortion: A Woman's Right to Control Her Body?: Paradoxically, while the right to bodily autonomy is often used to justify killing unborn children, no one believes that bodily autonomy gives women the freedom to cause non-fatal injuries to their unborn children. How can that be?

8. Check your born privilege: This checklist of privileges enjoyed by people outside of the womb would rank even higher if not for the fact that it was just published last week!

7. What about the choice to have a large family?: Abortion is not the only "reproductive choice" that comes with stigma.

6. Politically Incorrect Medicine: A supposed "women's health" conference threw women under the bus by censoring a presentation on the risks of induced abortion.

5. A Critique of Judith Jarvis Thompson's A Defense of Abortion, Part I: The first in a five-part series on the famous "violinist argument." (See also parts II, III, IV, and V.)

4. "Back-Alley" Argument Disrespects Women's Intelligence: No woman is ever "forced" to harm herself. To say otherwise insinuates that women are stupid or lack meaningful agency.

3. Dear Jezebel: Real Friends Don't Count Chromosomes: We lay the smack-down on a disgusting "feminist" piece against saving the lives of babies with Down Syndrome.

2. Don't Impose Your Science on Me!: When life begins is not a grand religious question shrouded in mystery, and protecting human beings from violence is everyone's responsibility.

1. Every Child is a Wanted Child: Our most-read post by far! This story about an abandoned young child with disabilities, and the family that stepped up to rescue her, quickly went viral. Read it and have hope for humanity.

* * *

You might think that the most-read stories would tend to be from earlier in the year, since there's been more time for people to read them. You'd be wrong. Most of our top ten are from the latter half of the year. That's a testament to the incredible growth of our membership and our readership in recent months! Thank you for helping Secular Pro-Life reach more people by sharing these stories with your friends.

Also noteworthy: six of the top ten stories are by guest bloggers. Secular Pro-Life belongs to you, and I'm incredibly privileged to be your administrator.

Finally, a few honorable mentions. Secular Pro-Life kicked off several stories this year that subsequently spread like wildfire through the pro-life media. First, we brought attention to the fact that Scott Richard Swirling, a man charged with soliciting a child for sex, was a long-time abortion advocate with ties to organizations opposing parental consent. As another example, we highlighted a horrific hospital accident that killed a pregnant woman—an accident that easily could have been prevented if the unborn child were treated as an individual patient rather than as an appendage of the mother. (That story came on a tip from a reader in the medical profession.) Another honorable mention goes to abortion survivor Melissa Ohden, who shot down denialists of live-birth abortion with her fantastic piece "I am not a myth."

Thank you for your support in 2013! Stay tuned: tomorrow, we'll feature the top most-shared Secular Pro-Life graphics of the year.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Man's Place in the Abortion Debate?

[Today's guest post is by across-the-pond SPL supporter Peter Hardy.]

I’m frequently berated with the comment that as a man I’m not allowed to have an opinion on abortion. Occasionally this same sentiment is expressed as a polite suggestion, and we should sympathise where women are worried that this is an attitude that wives should be under their husband's control. But the overall impression I get is men are dismissed on the basis of their sex as an anti-intellectual manoeuvre to try to shut down critical enquiry on this ideologically-charged topic.

Abortion Is A Mens' Issue Too 
Abortion is absolutely not a woman-only issue. It affects men because every child has a father, it affects men because half of children are male, and it affects men because many of the people involved in abortions, such as doctors are men. There has been a scandal recently about sex-selective abortions, terminations carried out because the parents would rather not have a child of that sex. Some left wing publications (that would normally only have positive things to say about so-called reproductive rights) have come out to condemn it.

While we normally associate this practice with with the Eastern world, countries like China and India where women are sadly viewed as inferior to men, this does also go on, under the radar, in the West. And because women are more highly regarded here, the motivation for a sex-selective abortion becomes one of 'completing the set' of having the number of boys and girls you desired, perhaps even in a certain order, rather than to avoid having a girl. And thus while there is only anecdotal evidence for it, I don't doubt that fetuses are being killed in this country because they are male. And what could be more of an issue for men than that?

One left wing publication, Red Pepper, broaches the issue in its most recent issue. Here, Kate Smurthwaite (who you might know from a very popular clip on YouTube called 'atheist bitchslap') says that this is being used by what she calls “The 'moderate' end of the anti-choice movement,” to derail the agenda from by shifting the focus to the fetus, excluding the mother from any place of importance.

And this is an important point for us men to note, because although appeal to the fetus is sufficient to show that abortion is wrong, we err when our discourse ignores mothers and their situations. A pro-life movement that ignores real women may still say the right things, but it says them in the wrong way, making us look sexist and out of touch. Smurthwaite doesn't concede that this is also the case for the pro-choice movement's exclusion of fathers, but at least she does recognise that the pro-life movement's focus on gender and disability is no more derailing than the pro-choice's movement's focus on cases of rape and incest (I would argue that it is much less so, considering the minute proportion of abortions carried out because of rape or incest).

Treating men as irrelevant to the equation also has significant drawbacks for women's well-being. As feminist campaigner Catherine McKinnon put it, "abortion facilitates women's heterosexual availability" and "frees male sexual aggression." Abortion supporters aren't doing women any favors by treating abortion as purely a "women's issue" and ignoring the reality of predatory pro-choice men.

Going back then, the first response when you are challenged for being a pro-life man, is to explain how much of a man's issue it is.

One's Sex Is Irrelevant to One's Reasons 

Even if abortion were just a women's issue, that wouldn't mean that men shouldn't express an opinion on it. To argue that they should not is an ad hominem argument. It is irrelevant to attack the person making an argumentin this case an argument against abortionrather than the argument itself. This is because there’s no logical relationship between the individual who happens to be articulating an argument and the soundness of that argument.

As an illustration, on a course on ethics, if two exam scripts make exactly the same points the teacher has no right to give lower marks to one person on the basis of their sex, even if that one was talking about the other sex.

Moreover, it is inconsistent for those people who take this line to appreciate the support that men such as myself give for the advancement of education and other rights for women. And ironically, I've encountered many women who approve of men sayingas they often dothat us men can't have an opinion on abortion, which is clearly incoherent. So the second response when you are challenged for being a pro-life man is that the challenge is essentially sexist because it has no basic in logic.


Ultimately, standing up for the voicelessfor animals, the environment, the disabled, the elderly and the very youngshould cross all social divisions, not least of all sex. A man's place in the abortion debate to act as a father by protecting children. Not just his own, but everyone's. The very least he should do is talk openly about abortion, and I hope I have given you some reassurance as to why you shouldn't be afraid of doing so.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Sad News in Oregon

Many of you have followed the story of award-winning Portland, OR high school teacher Bill Diss, who was targeted by abortion advocates because he discouraged his students from attending a Planned Parenthood presentation. A disciplinary hearing was held on November 14 to determine whether or not Mr. Diss would be declared "unfit to teach" and stripped of his credentials. Although Oregon is one of the least pro-life states in the country, Mr. Diss refused to roll over, and many pro-life Oregonians came out to support him.

I'm sorry to report that, according to Students for Life of America, Mr. Diss has lost his fight.

Shortly after the hearing, Secular Pro-Life wrote:
Mr. Diss warned his students not to trust Planned Parenthood, which was on the campus for a sex education program. Planned Parenthood has, among other things, been caught providing false information about prenatal development in order to make abortion appear more acceptable. . . .
Mr. Diss may have taught his students a more valuable lesson through this ordeal than he has in any classroom. His resolute commitment to doing the right thing, in the face of oppression and ridicule, is very admirable. The students of Portland, Oregon deserve to keep a teacher of such conscience and courage.
Sadly, they have lost their teacher. Worse, the young people of Portland now know the consequences of crossing the powers that be. They know that by speaking up for what is right, they risk put their jobs on the line. They know that the safe course of action is to keep their mouths shut.

What a horrible lesson for them to have to learn.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Being Pro-Life Means Respecting Human Dignity

We all know that the reason we consider ourselves pro-life is because we believe in respecting the life of the unborn. The right to life is the most fundamental of all human rights, so that is the right that holds the most weight in the moral equation. But did you know that the pro-life position is also the position that respects human dignity?

Human beings are rational agents. This means that we have a level of rationality, unmatched by any other creature in the animal kingdom, to contemplate ethics and act in a way that is either moral or immoral. And since we are rational creatures, we are also responsible for the choices that we make.

So the pro-life position entails that we not only protect human life, but we also protect human dignity. It does this in at least two ways:

By protecting unborn human beings.

By respecting the unborn's right to life, we are also respecting their liberty. Since we understand that the right to life is a basic human right, established when the human comes to be at fertilization, this prevents us from mistreating the unborn. Most abortion methods are gruesome procedures, resulting in dismembering the unborn in the womb. We treat convicted murderers better than we treat the unborn. Even in the states where capital punishment is allowed, care is taken to put the criminal to death in a "humane" way. We don't allow torturous capital punishment methods, like crucifixion or strapping someone to the rack and pulling them apart limb by limb. So protecting human life prevents us from torturing, killing, or otherwise mistreating the unborn.

By holding people responsible for their actions.

The pro-choice position entails that if a woman makes a "mistake" and gets pregnant, she can just undo the action by having an abortion and not being pregnant anymore. Obviously, one cannot reverse time. Having an abortion doesn't erase the problem, it just compounds it by killing an innocent human being. But the pro-choice position is also problematic because it holds that a couple should not be held responsible for performing an act they knew could result in pregnancy, conceiving a human child.

If we don't hold people responsible for their actions, not only are we treating them like children who "didn't know any better," we are not respecting their human dignity as rational beings. Rationality is an essential property of who you are; without your rational nature, you would not be "you" (in the same way, sweetness is an essential property of cookies; if you are baking a cookie and you put salt and not sugar in the mix, it will come out as salty and even though it will look like a cookie, it won't really be a cookie). Since rationality is essential to being human, if we do not hold people responsible for their actions, we're treating them as no better than lower animals, like dogs, who are not morally culpable for their actions. Not holding someone accountable for their actions is an affront to their very nature.

Much of my thought on ethics and human dignity have been influenced by Immanuel Kant (and philosophers who have been influenced by Kant). Here is a good essay to read for a little more information on Kant's view of human dignity.

Now obviously the second point does not hold if a woman is raped, or if she is mentally challenged to the point where she doesn't truly understand her actions. I would still argue that abortion is wrong in these cases, for other reasons (see my article here for my thoughts on abortions in the case of rape). But this is why it is so important that we end legalized abortion. Not only to protect the innocent unborn, but also because the very act of abortion is an affront to human dignity. The unborn deserve better. Women deserve better.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Check Your Born Privilege

[Today's guest post by Rebecca Stapleford is part of our paid blogging program. Rebecca attends the University of Georgia and majors in Greek, Latin, and Classical Culture. She is vice president of UGA Students for Life. Her passion is pro-life and disability rights activism.]

Chances are, if you’ve been exposed to the writings and ideas of the modern progressive social justice movement, you’ve encountered the concept of privilege—a common term used to describe the favorable treatment of certain groups by society as held in contrast to the discrimination faced by other groups. Common examples given of privilege are white privilege, male privilege, Christian privilege, heterosexual privilege, cisgender privilege, able-bodied privilege and class privilege.

Members of privileged groups are reminded of their favored status and encouraged to “check their privilege” by comparing their experiences to the average experiences of members of oppressed groups and recognizing the social, political, and economic inequalities that exist in the lives of the latter. Towards this end, activists write up privilege checklists that outline specific examples of privilege for a certain privileged group. Privilege checklists have been written for almost every possible group of people—except for one group.

The unborn have been left behind by progressive social justice movement. They aren’t even considered to be people. In an attempt to raise awareness of this injustice I have compiled a checklist for born privilege—the privilege experienced by individuals who are already born.
  • No one tells your bereaved parents that they can always try again, that you weren’t a “real baby”, or that it was a good thing that you died because you probably were defective anyway.
  • Society doesn’t believe that ending your life is the best solution to the problems and challenges that you might face in the future. 
  • The law doesn’t deny you personhood based on age, personal appearance, size, level of development, degree of dependency, or current temporary lack of consciousness. 
  • The law protects your life, even if your mother wants to end it. 
  • Society doesn’t try to justify killing you based on the hardships experienced by your mother. Instead, we try to help both you and your mother through your hardships. 
  • People who fight for your basic, most fundamental right to live are almost universally supported and encouraged. No one accuses them of being religious theocrats who just want to force their beliefs on everyone else and who want to oppress women. (Note: This privilege is obviously not experienced by death row inmates.)
  • Your right to live is almost universally acknowledged and respected by everyone, regardless of religious beliefs or lack thereof. (Note: This privilege is obviously not experienced by death row inmates.)
  • There is not a dedicated movement of people who honestly believe that only through having the right to kill you, an innocent human being, can women achieve equality with men and be liberated from the bonds of patriarchal oppression. 
  • No one denies that you are, in fact, a human being. 
  • The UN and various NGOs do not suggest that the killing of people like you is an important and acceptable way to reduce world overpopulation.
I could go on, but by now you should get the general idea. While there are many groups oppressed in our society, which still struggles to recognize the dream of “liberty and justice for all”, no group is more oppressed than the unborn. No other group has their personhood, humanity, and right to life (which is the most fundamental human right on which all other rights depend) regularly denied by society. Modern progressives need to realize that in order to truly stand up for social justice for all of humanity, it is absolutely necessary to fight for the unborn and their rights as well.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Planned Parenthood Deceives Breast Health Donors

I hate to say I told you so.

That's usually an empty phrase. Let's face it: most people love to say "I told you so." But in this case, I really do hate itbecause I successfully predicted that something pretty awful would happen.

Back in February of 2012, the Susan G. Komen controversy was at its zenith. You'll recall that Susan G. Komen announced that it would stop funding Planned Parenthood, which it had been doing to the tune of about $600,000 a year, and use that money for other projects instead. Planned Parenthood responded with an extensive media campaign denouncing Susan G. Komen's decision. Susan G. Komen eventually caved and reinstated the funding, but not before Planned Parenthood raised over $3 million off of the controversy. Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards publicly stated that the $3 million would allow Planned Parenthood to "expand our breast care work beyond our wildest dreams."

I predicted that Planned Parenthood would not in fact provide more breast care services in 2012 than it had in past years, despite the windfall. I offered a $100 bet to abortion advocates. Not one person took me up on it.

Breast care at Planned Parenthood has been on the decline for years now. (Note that Planned Parenthood has never offered mammograms, despite some rhetoric to the contrary; what we're talking about here are manual breast exams and related services.) According to its own annual reports, Planned Parenthood provided 839,312 breast exams in 2009, 747,607 in 2010, and 639,384 in 2011.

But surely an infusion of $3 million cash would reverse this gloomy pattern, or at least allow them to maintain 2011 levels... right?

Planned Parenthood just released its 2012 annual report (it's always a year behind). Expansion beyond their wildest dreams, my foot. Try 549,804 breast exams. That's about 90,000 fewer than the past year, and a whopping 34% decline since 2009.

But that number is hiding on page 15 of the 2012 report. The first reference you'll see to breast health is this, on page 7:
You read that right. "Significantly expand." That is a bald-faced lie.

They're a little more subtle on the next page: "1,040,000 Breast Exams and Pap Tests." Combining breast exams with Pap smears, that's clever. It doesn't change the fact that thousands of people gave them money to test more women for breast cancer, and Planned Parenthood did exactly the opposite.

Most Planned Parenthood breast fund donors are not abortion-loving extremists. They're just regular people who saw something in the news about reduced funding for breast cancer detection, and wanted to respond. And Planned Parenthood took advantage of them. Where that $3 million actually went is anybody's guess.

I'm not clairvoyant. Planned Parenthood is just that damn predictable. I hate to say I told you so.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It's that time of year

Secular Pro-Life big plans for 2014. Between now and the end of the year, every dollar raised will be used to empower women with information that could save their lives and the lives of their children.

That information is the malpractice record of her local abortionist.

We launched in the spring of 2012. Since then, it has had tens of thousands of page views. And thanks to SPL supporters like you, we were recently able to hire an intern to update the site, adding even more lawsuits and health code violations from across the country.

But an updated site is useless if the information doesn't reach those who need it. That's why we plan to kick our online advertising campaign into high gear for 2014.

No doubt you are being flooded by charitable appeals right now. I ask that you include Secular Pro-Life in your year-end giving to the extent you are able. Many groups are working to shut down dangerous abortion facilities through the legal process. That's a worthy effort, but it takes time. While these dirty clinics remain open, we, as pro-lifers, have a duty to warn women and offer life-affirming alternatives.

Please give between now and December 31st to bolster this critical project. Thank you for your generosity.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trial Begins Today in Pro-Life Free Speech Case

Today is the first day of a three-day federal trial in the case of The Radiance Foundation v. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Coincidentally, it also happens to be International Human Rights Day. The pro-life movement fights every day for the rights of the preborn. This case serves as a sad reminder that in the process, we often must fight for our own rights as well.

The Radiance Foundation is a
pro-life group led by Ryan Bomberger (right). Bomberger is a vocal critic of the NAACP. In particular, he criticizes its support for abortion and alliance with national abortion groups. In the course of this criticism, Bomberger created videos and graphics referring to the NAACP as the "National Association for the Abortion of Colored People." [Update: To clarify, Bomberger's criticism was not limited to videos and graphics. This LifeNews article in particular appears to have rankled the NAACP.]

The NAACP then sued the Radiance Foundation for trademark infringement.

Bomberger argues (in my opinion as an attorney, correctly) that his political satire is not trademark infringement, and has counter-sued for a judicial determination of the Radiance Foundation's free speech rights.

The First Amendment has long protected parody and satire. Perhaps you've seen this entertaining Tumblr full of altered corporate logos:

Pictured: Not a federal case.
And when the speech in question is about a political subject, which the Radiance Foundation's speech clearly is, the First Amendment protection is even greater.

The sad thing is that the NAACP used to be a First Amendment champion. In fact, one of the landmark Supreme Court cases on the freedom of association is National Association for the Advancement of Colored People v. Alabama, in which the NAACP successfully protected its members' right to remain anonymous (an important consideration for NAACP supporters in Alabama in the 1950s, for obvious reasons).

Now, the organization that once boldly stood for equality and freedom has been corrupted by opposition to the basic human rights of the most vulnerable members of the human family, and with it, the pro-choice movement's love of censorship. They could certainly use some constructive criticism. But whether they use it or not, Bomberger will continue to offer it!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Join us in January

Secular Pro-Life just released our comprehensive calendar of January activities. Between January 18 and January 25, you can meet fellow advocates in Louisiana, the D.C. metro area, and California. We'd love to see you! Want to march under the SPL banner in San Francisco? Chat up our president and meet campus activists in Maryland? Get all the details here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Abortion & Maternity Leave

This CNN piece by David Frum implies that better maternity rates and other social support for mothers causes abortion rates to drop.
A woman who enjoys the most emotional and financial security and who has chosen the timing of her pregnancy will not choose abortion, even when abortion laws are liberal. A woman who is dominated, who is poor and who fears bearing the child is likely to find an abortion, even where abortion is restricted...
Frum pushes the point by looking to Germany, which provides 14 weeks of paid maternity leave and a temporary replacement wage for women who leave the workplace after giving birth. And Germany's abortion rate is about one third of the US abortion rate.

Does this prove maternity leave decreases abortion? No. That may be true. Germany's lower abortion rate could also be due to other factors--what are their abortion laws like? What's their typical sex education like? How about their access to birth control? How do German people culturally view abortion? View the fetus? What are their average religious and political beliefs?

Frum can show some correlations and try to imply causation (like so many people try to do), but we certainly can't say for sure, at least not from the information Frum gives us.

Still, would you be surprised to find that better financial and social support for mothers would make women less inclined to seek abortion? Some of the most common reasons women cite for getting abortion are financial concerns and concerns about how the pregnancy will disrupt their jobs.

I think sometimes we read that reasoning and we picture a financially secure woman concerned about her career for purely ambitious purposes. No doubt there are some women who choose abortion for that reason. However, a disproportionate amount of women who seek abortion are below the federal poverty level. How many women seek abortion because they're afraid they can't afford to go unpaid for weeks in order to have the child? How many job-hunting women fear no one will hire them if employers find out they're pregnant? In most cases, we aren't talking here about a woman who gets an abortion because she is vying for her next promotion; we're talking about a woman who is afraid she won't be able to pay rent.

Inability to pay rent doesn't justify having another human being killed. But my point here is not to justify women getting abortions, it's to understand why they do it and try to find solutions beyond legislative change. I am all for swaying hearts and minds to see unborn children as members of our species worthy of protection. And I believe it is easier to sway those hearts and minds if, at the same time, we assuage concerns about how restrictive abortion laws would negatively impact abortion-minded women.

With that in mind, I leave you with this NPR graphic to consider. As NPR describes it:
Sweden and Norway have among the best parental leave in the world — more than a year paid for the mother and father combined. Contrast that with Tunisia, which only gives women 30 days to recover from childbirth. And the U.S. is the only industrialized nation that doesn't mandate that parents of newborns get paid leave.

(Click to enlarge)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wednesday, December 11: Pro-Life Documentary Premiere

Next week, the pro-life documentary film 40 has its world premiere. This great film examines the abortion debate from 1973 to the present, with a special focus on those young pro-life advocates who have grown up in the shadow of Roe v. Wade. Unfortunately, Secular Pro-Life is unable to send a representative—but we'll be there on the big screen!

Date: Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Time: Doors open 6:30 p.m. for 7:00 p.m. showing
Location: Pickwick Theater, 5 South Prospect Ave., Park Ridge, IL (near Chicago)

Get all the details from the facebook event, and learn more about 40 here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Objections to Biological Humanity from Fertilization

I would now like to address several arguments which are commonly raised against the life and humanity of the unborn. See my previous article for arguments that support biological humanity from fertilization.

1) Human life doesn’t begin at fertilization, it began millions of of years ago.

“We are concerned...with what embryo science has to say, ultimately, about the origins of human beings. By this we do not, obviously, mean to ask when the human species, or human life in a generic sense, arose. And so our question is not answered by talk of the continuity of human life through the last few millions of years. We are instead concerned with the origins of individual human beings -- human beings like those reading this book, right now. This is the crucial question: when did those human beings begin to be, and what were the characteristic features of their growth and development?” (Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, Doubleday, 2008, p. 28.)

This is a rather bizarre objection. I’m including it here because I’ve now heard it three times. It’s simply semantic nonsense. A new, unique, genetically distinct human being is created at fertilization (as is attested by the science of embryology). In fact, the quote by O’Rahilly and Muller (see last article) even attests to the fact that life is a continuous process. The mother and father are alive, the sperm and the ovum are alive, and the resulting human organism is alive. Human reproduction is a continuous process of life, this is true. However, fertilization is that critical landmark that establishes the creation of a new, genetically distinct human organism.

2) Viruses and crystals are alive, yet they don't have a right to life.

It is actually not clear whether or not viruses are alive. Louis P. Villareal explains that viruses consist of nucleic acids (DNA or RNA) enclosed in a protein coat that may also shelter viral proteins involved in infection. When a virus enters a cell, it sheds its coat, bares its genes and induces the cell’s own replication machinery to reproduce the intruder’s DNA or RNA and manufacture more viral protein based on the instructions in the viral nucleic acid. Through this process other viruses are replicated. So in a sense, viruses lead "a kind of borrowed life." Viruses seem to more closely resemble a chemistry set than a living thing, so scientists consider them inert chemicals. But whether or not they are alive, it's the differences that matter. Human beings begin life at fertilization and direct their own development, which doesn't end at birth. If it can be said that a newborn is a human being, then there are no grounds to exclude the human zygote from the human community. Even if viruses were alive, it's not simply being alive that makes a human being valuable, but the kind of thing it is.

Secondly, crystals are not alive. They do grow, but they grow through a process called nucleation. In this process, they grow by combining the molecules already present with molecules from other sources, called "solute" molecules. So they are not alive; they do not grow as living organisms grow, through cell division and reproduction.

3) Skin cells/hair follicles/sperm and eggs are human.

A pro-choice advocate who claims that zygotes/embryos/fetuses don’t have a right to life because we would have to give a right to life to cells, sperm, eggs, etc. because they are also human makes the elementary mistake of confusing parts with wholes. The embryo from fertilization is a unique entity that directs its own development from within. Left alone, a skin cell will not develop into a mature human, but that’s exactly what a zygote will do. All of the embryo’s parts work together for the good (survival and flourishing) of the whole organism.

Once the sperm and egg unite, they cease to exist and a brand new human organism exists. It makes no sense to say you were once a sperm or somatic cell. It makes complete sense to say you were once an embryo. The sperm and egg merely contribute genetic material to the creation of a new human organism.

4) Freezing/Twinning/Recombining.

A pro-choice advocate I debated with once claimed that you can’t freeze an adult human, but you can freeze an embryo and it will come back to life, so the embryo cannot be human. This is faulty reasoning. First, embryos can only be frozen up to seven days after fertilization, but the embryonic stage lasts up to two months. After that, it is a fetus. But embryo and fetus are just stages of human development, like infant, toddler, adolescent, teenager, adult, and elderly.

Second, even though a very early embryo can survive the freezing process, it doesn’t follow that they are not human. This just means that early embryos can do one more thing that more mature humans can’t. They can also survive without a heart or a brain (I owe Josh Brahm for this observation via personal correspondence). Consider Han Solo, who was frozen in carbonite in The Empire Strikes Back and later thawed out in Return of the Jedi. Does it follow that Han wasn't human because he was able to be frozen?

When it comes to twinning, it doesn’t follow that because some embryos twin, there wasn’t one whole human organism before that. As Patrick Lee points out, “if we cut a flatworm in half, we get two flatworms.” (Patrick Lee, Abortion and Unborn Human Life, Washington, D.C.: Catholic University Press in America, 1996, p. 93.) However, can you seriously argue that prior to the split, there wasn’t one distinct flatworm? Also, admittedly, we aren’t entirely sure what happens during twinning. Does the original organism die and give rise to two new organisms, or does the original survive and engage in some sort of asexual reproduction? Either way, it does not call into question the fact that there was one distinct organism prior to the splitting.

5) Not all products of conception are human and won’t develop into human beings, and not all human beings may result from conception.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson distinguishes three types of nonhuman entities that result from a union of sperm and egg: the hydatidiform mole (“an entity which is usually just a degenerated placenta and typically has a random number of chromosomes”), the choriocarcinoma (“a conception-cancer resulting from the sperm-egg union is one of gynecology’s most malignant tumors”), and the “blighted ovum” (“a conception with the forty-six chromosomes but which is only a placenta, lacks an embryonic plate, and is always aborted naturally after implantations”). (Bernard Nathanson, Aborting America, New York: Doubleday, 1979, p. 214, as discussed in Francis Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 2007, p. 74.)

As Dr. Beckwith explains in his book, pro-choice advocates often confuse necessary and sufficient conditions. The sperm-egg union is a necessary condition for conception of a human, not a sufficient one. Not everything that arises from the sperm-egg union is a human conception, but a sperm-egg union is necessary for conception of a human.

Conversely, human clones arise without the benefit of conception. Just as the sperm-egg union is a necessary condition for conception and not a sufficient condition, conception itself is a sufficient condition for a human being to come into existence, not a necessary one. (Paraphrased from Francis Beckwith, ibid., pp. 74-75.)

Doctor Maurine Condic also provides a wonderful analogy to show that even though non-human conceptions may occur, it does not follow that all conceptions are non-human:

"Despite an initial (superficial) similarity to embryos, hydatidiform moles do not start out as embryos and later transform into tumors, they are intrinsically tumors from their initiation. Moreover, they are not frustrated embryos that are “trying” (yet unable) to develop normally. Just as a CD recording of “Twinkle, twinkle little star” is not somehow thwarted in its attempt to play the “Alphabet song” by a deficiency of notes in the fourth measure ..., hydatidiform moles are not “blocked” from proceeding along an embryonic path of development by a lack of maternally-imprinted DNA. Rather, hydatidiform moles are manifesting their own inherent properties—the properties of a tumor. Even in the optimal environment for embryonic development (the uterus), hydatidiform moles produce disordered growths, indicating they are not limited by environment, but rather by their own intrinsic nature; a nature that does not rise to the level of an organism...If the necessary structures (molecules, genes etc.) required for development (i.e., an organismal level of organization) do not exist in an entity from the beginning, the entity is intrinsically incapable of being an organism and is therefore not a human being. Such entities are undergoing a cellular process that is fundamentally different from human development and are not human embryos." (Maurine Condic, "A Biological Definition of the Human Embryo," Persons, Moral Worth, and Embryos: A Critical Analysis of Pro-Choice Arguments, as quoted by Jay Watts in his article Condic on the Difference Between Embryonic Humans and Hydatidiform Moles, emphasis Condic's.)

6) Miscarriages.

People often point to the high number of miscarriages that occur (many of which are flushed out of the woman’s body). However, how does it follow that just because the woman’s body may miscarry, that the unborn isn’t human? How does it follow that because nature spontaneously aborts unborn humans that we may deliberately kill them? People die of natural causes, but that does not justify murder. Natural disasters (e.g. tornadoes and earthquakes) kill many people at once, but this does not justify nuking cities.

Also, it should be noted that 100% of all humans conceived die. Whether you die as an embryo, a fetus, a teenager, or an adult, why would that affect your status as a human being?

The fact of science is that biological humanity begins at fertilization. None of these arguments work to undermine that basic fact of embryology. The sooner we stop arguing over a question that's essentially been settled by scientists, the sooner we can get to the heart of the matter and keep the conversation focused where it needs to be: in what situations is it ever morally permissible to kill an innocent human being?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Today's irony brought to you by Rolling Stone

Last month, Rolling Stone published a fascinating article on the infamous serial killer/cult leader Charles Manson. The author got to know Manson fairly well in the course of doing research for the piece, even visiting him at Corcoran State Prison. Unsurprisingly, Manson is still as disturbed as ever:
"Look, here's how that works," he says. "You take a baby and" – here he says something truly awful about what you could do to that baby, worse beyond anything you could imagine – "and it dies," and here he says something equally wretched. Then he goes on, "I know what you're thinking. I can see your brain rattling and running back and forth. But what happens when that baby dies?" He breathes in and he breathes out, he breathes in and he breathes out. "A dog would have done it, kill to take another breath. So, was it wrong to do it to those people?" And it's at moments like these that you realize prison is the only place for him, and hope to hell he never puts his hand on your skin again.
I have to wonder what abhorrent act Manson proposed that was too gruesome to even write down. Twisting off the baby's limbs? "Snipping" the baby's spinal cord with a pair of scissors? Shredding the baby's body to pieces with a vacuum? Starving the baby of oxygen? Chemically burning the baby alive?

Must have been worse than all that, because Rolling Stone is a
"pro-choice" magazine.

Monday, December 2, 2013

What is the Unborn? A Case for Biological Humanity from Fertilization

Aside from the sourced quotations and arguments in this article, it has been heavily influenced by Justice for All.

I have written before on h0w we know the unborn are persons from fertilization. But now I'd like to address how we know the unborn are biological members of our species from fertilization. This is a basic, undeniable fact of science and yet I still encounter many people who deny this reality.

Before you can even answer the question of whether or not abortion is moral, you must first decide what the unborn is. For as Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason observes, if the unborn is not human, then no justification for elective abortion is necessary. It would be no different from having a mole removed or a tooth pulled. But if the unborn is human, then no justification for elective abortion is adequate.

If it’s true that no one can tell when human life begins, then the benefit of the doubt should go to life. We should not be aborting the unborn because there’s a chance we could be aborting living human entities. If a hunter hears a rustling in the woods, does he shoot right away or does he make sure the rustling wasn’t caused by another human? Unless he’s Dick Cheney, he’s going to make sure it’s a deer he’s aiming at and not a human (I owe my friend Josh Brahm for that joke). Or if you’re driving down a road in the dark and you see the outline of something that may be a child or may simply be the shadow of a tree, do you drive into it or do you slow down? Or if you’re about to blow up a condemned building and you’re not sure if someone’s inside, do you blow it up anyway or send someone in to make sure?

However, it’s not true that no one can tell when human life begins.

The unborn from fertilization are alive because they exhibit the properties of living things. They grow through cellular reproduction and division, they metabolize food for energy, and they respond to stimuli. In fact, the only thing the unborn need to survive are adequate nutrition, a proper environment, and an absence of fatal threats. That’s all any of us need. There is no point in human development at which the developing entity goes from non-life to living.

The unborn are also human from fertilization. We know that everything reproduces after its own kind; dogs have dogs, cats have cats, and humans have humans. They have separate human DNA from, and often a different blood type than, the mother. A white human embryo can be created in a petri dish, implanted into a black mother, and be born white. In fact, if the unborn organism were simply a “part of the mother’s body,” then following the law of transitive property (if A is a part of B, and B is a part of C, then A is a part of C), every pregnant woman would have four arms, four legs, two heads, four eyes, two noses, and roughly half the time male genitalia. But this is absurd. At no time during human development does the unborn ever go from non-human to human.

Finally, the unborn from fertilization are organisms. They are living human entities separate from the mother, with their own functional parts that work together for the good of the whole, developing themselves from within into a more mature version of itself, along the path of human development. Zygote, embryo, and fetus are not non-human entities, they are early stages of development in human life.

Philosopher Richard Stith once made a valuable observation. He discovered that the reason pro-choice people tend to think pro-life people are absurd is that they tend to think of the unborn entity as being constructed in utero, like a car on an assembly line. When does a car become a car? Is when when the frame resembles a car, or when the tires are attached, or when it drives off the lot? It requires an outside builder to put all the pieces together into what we understand is a car. A car is not present from the beginning, because the parts that make a car can be used in the construction of something else (such as a boat or a plane).

However, the unborn’s development is different. He or she directs his or her own development from within. He or she does not have an outside builder, he or she directs his or her own internal growth and maturation, and this entails continuity of being. Professor Richard Stith illustrates the difference with the following analogy:

“Suppose we are back in the pre-digital photo days, and you have a Polaroid camera and you have taken a picture that you think is unique and valuable — let’s say a picture of a jaguar darting out from a Mexican jungle. The jaguar has now disappeared, so you are never going to get that picture again in your life, and you really care about it. (I am trying to make this example comparable to a human being, for we say that every human being is uniquely valuable.) You pull the tab out and as you are waiting for it to develop, I grab it away from you and rip it open, thus destroying it. When you get really angry at me, I say blithely, ‘You’re crazy. That was just a brown smudge. I cannot fathom why anyone would care about brown smudges.’ Wouldn’t you think that I were the insane one? Your photo was already there. We just couldn’t see it yet.” (Richard Stith, “Does Making Babies Make Sense? Why So Many People Find it Difficult to See Humanity in a Developing Foetus,” Mercatornet, September 2, 2008.)

As pro-life philosopher Scott Klusendorf notes, “The science of embryology is clear. From the earliest stages of development, the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. Therefore, every ‘successful’ abortion ends the life of a living human being.” (Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life, Crossway Books, 2009, p. 35.)

Embryologists, who are the experts in the field on human embryos, consistently agree that the unborn are alive and human from fertilization. Consider the following from the most-used textbooks on the issue:

“Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a ‘moment’) is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte.”
 (Ronan O’Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd ed., New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001, p.8.)

“A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).” (Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th ed., Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003, p.2.)

There are many more examples I could give. In short, you didn’t come from an embryo, you once were an embryo. Sophisticated pro-choice philosophers also know that human life begins at fertilization:

“It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo sapiens.’ Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” (Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp.85-86.)

“Perhaps the most straightforward relation between you and me on the one hand and every human fetus on the other is this: All are living members of the same species, Homo sapiens. A human fetus after all is simply a human being at a very early stage in his or her development.” (David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003, p. 20.)

In fact, Alan Guttmacher, former president of Planned Parenthood, in 1933 (a full forty years before Roe v. Wade was passed), wrote:

“This all seems so simple and evident that it is difficult to picture a time when it wasn’t part of the common knowledge.” (Alan Guttmacher, Life in the Making: The Story of Human Procreation, New York: Viking Press, 1933, p. 3.)

Additionally, a Planned Parenthood brochure from 1964, when answering a question about whether or not abortion is birth control, states: "Absolutely not. An abortion ends the life of a baby after it has begun."

In my next article, I will address objections to biological humanity from fertilization. But the facts of science are clear: human life begins at fertilization.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thanksgiving hiatus

Secular Pro-Life is briefly pausing this week so that our American volunteers can travel and spend Thanksgiving with their loved ones.

Take this opportunity to recharge your batteries, because we are about to enter the busiest season of the year, getting ready for 2014! That includes all the Roe v. Wade anniversary activities in January, a major update to our database of abortion malpractice, some serious fundraising, more campus presentations in February... and stay tuned to learn about another big project in the pipeline.

I am very thankful to YOU for your continued support of Secular Pro-Life. So eat some comfort food, watch some football, and I'll see you in December!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Three announcements

1) The newest issue of the Life Matters Journal is out! It includes a short story by Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard. As always, the LMJ is free online.

2) The pro-life documentary film 40 premieres on December 11 at the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge, IL (just outside of Chicago). Kelsey was interviewed for the film, as was Kristine Kruszelnicki of Pro-Life Humanists. I've had the opportunity to view a rough cut, and it does a great job of portraying the diversity and youthful energy of the pro-life movement. Trailer below:

3) We can now confirm that we will be present at the Students for Life of America West Coast conference! That will take place on Sunday, January 26, 2014 in San Francisco, the day after the West Coast Walk for Life. Registration is required, but very affordable at $30 per student, $40 per adult.

We'll be at the Walk for Life too... and the March for Life in D.C. on January 22... and the SFLA main conference in D.C. on the 21st. January is a crazy month in general, but it's worth it to connect with our supporters in person, reach campus pro-life activists, and start the year off right. (Donations are appreciated!)