Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thoughts on polling and labels.

[Today's blog is re-posted from "Yeah, but..."]

Even as Planned Parenthood moves away from the "Pro-choice" label, more Americans are adopting it. Again. 

According to Gallup 48% of Americans describe themselves as "pro-choice," compared to 44% who describe themselves as "pro-life." Yet only last year Gallup reported a record low number of self-described pro-choicers (41%, compared to 50% "pro-life"). That's a lot of fluctuation, and (again according to Gallup's trends) the labels have been fluctuating for several years now.

Depending on which way the percentages move, one side of the other will emphasize the poll and talk about long-term, big-picture changes in the never-ending national abortion debate. Maybe they're right, but I don't think we can really see that from these polls. 

Labels like "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are not as well-defined as abortion activists like to suggest. I suspect people's reasons for choosing one label or another have to do with a lot of factors beyond their perspective on abortion specifically. For example, some pollsters suggest recent changes may be due to ignorant Republican comments about rape and pregnancy, or due to last year's contraception debates. I also suspect adherence to pro-choice and pro-life labels have a lot to do with how people feel about the Democrat and Republican parties at a given time, even if their feelings about the parties change due to topics other than abortion.

And of course there's a lot of ambiguity about what the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life" imply. To my mind, a pro-choice person is someone who believes, at minimum, that women should be able to get abortions for any reason during the first trimester, and for severe reasons (rape, life/health of the mother, fatal fetal abnormalities) in the second two trimesters. A "pro-life" person is someone who believes, at minimum, that abortion should be illegal throughout all stages of the pregnancy except for those severe reasons. There are more "pure" pro-choicers and pro-lifers who may argue that the above definitions compromise too much, but my point here is not ideological purity. I'm trying to summarize what I think the majority of people in the abortion debate would consider "pro-choice" or "pro-life."

Yet I've met people who think that they are technically pro-choice because they believe in exceptions for rape and life of the mother. And I've met plenty of "personally pro-life" people who think abortion is a necessary evil that should be legal. How do people like these respond to polls?

Meanwhile, as Secular Pro-Life has pointed out, a recent Pew Research Poll found only 62% of adults knew Roe v. Wade was about affirming a woman's right to an abortion. In fact, 17% of adults thought the case had to do with school desegregation, the death penalty, or environmental problems. I don't really blame them--if you're not passionate about abortion I can understand not knowing anything about Roe v. Wade. I'd be hard-pressed to name a landmark SCOTUS decision about the environment.

Still, I wonder how much national ignorance plays a roll when Gallup asks people whether they thought Roe v. Wade should be overturned (53% said no, 29% said yes, and 18% said they don't care).

It's also interesting how the "pro-choice" and "pro-life" demographics break down:


Having no religion is the biggest predictor for being pro-choice--bigger, even, than being liberal. Note, though, that the intense correlation doesn't cut both ways: 80% of the nonreligious are pro-choice, yet only 50% of non-Catholic Christians and 45% of Catholics are pro-life. In fact, more Catholics called themselves pro-choice than pro-life! And yet we're allegedly a Catholic movement?


73% of liberals and 63% of Democrats call themselves pro-choice. 63% of conservatives and 67% of republicans call themselves pro-life. I never have been that clear on the distinctions between liberal/Democrat and conservative/Republican. They seem to generally follow the same polling trends. In any case this still leaves roughly 1/3 of Democrats who don't consider themselves "pro-choice" and 1/3 of Republicans who don't consider themselves "pro-life." If the labels weren't so strongly associated with specific political parties, how might that change peoples' self-descriptions?


The more college education a person has, the more likely they are to say they're pro-choice. Other polls have shown the more college education a person has, the less religious that person tends to be. And it's no surprise that education is positively correlated with income. In other words, while it's clear that education and the "pro-choice" label are correlated, it's not clear whether (a) increased education causes people to be pro-choice, (b) being pro-choice makes it easier for people to increase their education (how many women cite disruption to their education as a reason to get an abortion?), or (c) being pro-choice and being well-educated are both correlated with some third causal factor, like being non-religious.


I think this factor surprised me the most. According to Guttmacher, 73% of women who get abortions cite financial problems as a major reason. Yet the less income a person has, the less likely they are to say they're "pro-choice." I'm not sure what to make of that. Thoughts?

I would love to see a poll that asks more about the legality of abortion, and less about labels. It should also ask not just whether abortion is moral or immoral, but why respondents think it's moral or immoral. Maybe that would shed more light on the national perception of the abortion debate.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Our best week yet

Today's e-newsletter recaps everything that Secular Pro-Life has done over the past week. And what a week! We appeared in numerous media outlets, marched on two coasts, hit a major YouTube milestone, and more. Click here for all the details.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Walk for Life West Coast 2013

(You should be able to click on the photos to see larger versions. See additional photos here.)

Several SPL supporters and I attended San Francisco's annual Walk for Life West Coast last Saturday. The WFLWC includes an hour long rally at the Civic Center before marching down Market St. through the center of San Francisco's financial district. We arrived at the Civic Center about half an hour before the rally was to begin, so I had time to explore the huge crowd.

See here for a better shot.
As with years past, the crowd included the spectrum of ages: elderly couples, families with multiple young children, and high school and college students.

I'm also continually struck by the strong Hispanic presence; I expect this is due to the region of the country (California has a much higher Hispanic population than the national average) and due to the heavily Catholic presence at the Walk (Catholics are disproportionately Hispanic).

"Choose Life"
This of course implies, also as with years past, that the Walk had strong Catholic overtones. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:
This year's event not only featured the archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, but also Archbishop Carlo Maria ViganĂ², the papal nuncio, who is the equivalent of the Vatican's ambassador to the United States.
As Secular ProLife has previously mentioned, some abortion proponents have tried to purposely paint the pro-life movement as exclusively Catholic and based on religious convictions. However, in this case the Chronicle's focus on the heavily Catholic aspects of the Walk confirmed my own observations.

During the rally SPL supporters prepared our own banner across the street from the main square.

While setting our banner up, a man from the rally crossed the street to tell us that we are very welcome to join the rally, regardless of belief system. It was incredibly sweet. We told him we fully intended to join as soon as we had our banner put together, and he shook our hands and returned to the main square.

Meanwhile, as the speeches continued a small group of pro-choice counter protesters gathered near the rear of the crowd and began shouting chants and slogans such as "Get your Bible off my body!" 

I'm not even sure what that last one means. In any case, as you can see some of the counter protesters were clearly responding to the religious aspects of the movement. Most of the pro-life crowd near the counter protesters ignored them, but a few people stood near the counter protesters and began praying the rosary. Some just silently stood near the counter protesters and held up their signs.

Soon the actual walking part of the Walk began. SPL supporters cut around the outside of the square to get near the beginning of the column, and I'm glad we did. As ABC reported, "the crowd was so large that it took the better part of an hour for it to clear the plaza."

I am so grateful for the SPL supporters that came to walk with us. We had more than enough help such that two of us were able to run ahead of the SPL banner and take photos of other sections of the Walk.

I thought Life Matters Journal would be happy to see this!

Go Bears!

Interestingly placed Obama quote.
Eventually the pro-life crowd found themselves marching past another group of pro-choice counter protesters, this one larger than the group we saw at our rally. They had a lot of megaphones.

Most of them shouted chants, but one woman spoke into her megaphone just as if she were having a conversation with the entire pro-life group: "Why can't you just let us make decisions for ourselves, guys? You live how you want to live and we live how we want to live. I'm not telling you what to do, guys, so don't tell me what to do..." I don't agree with her perspective, but I thought it was a refreshing approach compared to some of the rest of it:

Meanwhile, I was pretty pleased with the visibility of our SPL banner.

Throughout the Walk we had many people run ahead to read our banner, laugh, and take photos. At one point a man with a video camera asked me to explain what SPL is all about, although I don't know if that will get posted anywhere. The Walk was pretty enjoyable with our enthusiastic supporters:

This is my 6th Walk for Life West Coast. The first time I attended was only the 2nd year they had the WFLWC. The organizers of the Walk explained they wanted to demonstrate that even in one of the most left-wing areas of the country there is a strong pro-life presence. It's a brilliant idea. I know people from around the country that travel to Washington DC for the March for Life, but for many pro-lifers such a long distance isn't feasible. Now we are growing a west coast counterpart that has increased in attendance every year--in 2005 they estimated 7,000 attendees, and this year they estimated over 50,000! I'm grateful to the thousands upon thousands of pro-lifers who converge to strengthen our voice, and I'm grateful for the chance to stand among our religious counterparts and represent the secular viewpoint.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Join us for Roe v. Wade memorial events

As a reminder, here's where you can find Secular Pro-Life this weekend:

Tomorrow, Friday, January 25: March for Life
Washington, DC
We will be part of the "For Peace & All Life" march group, alongside such awesome organizations as Feminists for Life, Consistent Life, and others. We will meet at 11:30am in front of the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall. Look for our brand new, 14-foot tall, bright blue Secular Pro-Life teardrop banner; you can't miss it! (And neither will the news cameras.)

Saturday, January 26: West Coast Walk for Life
San Francisco, CA
Secular Pro-Life walkers will meet in front of the Asian Art Museum at 1:15pm. Look for our classic "Call me an extremist, but I think DISMEMBERMENT is WRONG" banner. (With smiley face, of course.)

Saturday, January 26: Students for Life of America conference
Bethesda, MD
If you're signed up for the conference (sorry, registration is now full), find Secular Pro-Life among the sponsor tables. Our president Kelsey Hazzard will be there all day, signing copies of her pro-life book!

Due to our busy schedules, the blog will be hiatus for the next few days. We'll be back on Tuesday with pictures!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Audio: Appearance on WBEZ

If you missed Secular Pro-Life's appearance on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio yesterday, you can listen to it below. The segment begins at 5:35 with some background information from a university professor. SPL's Kelsey Hazzard and abortion supporter Erin Matson come in around 12:00.

It was a short piece, so there were a couple of things I didn't have the chance to say.

First, around 15:40, Matson trotted out a poll showing that approval of the Roe decision is at a record high. The host noted, rightly, that polls are contradictory. But a pattern does emerge: namely, that it depends on how you ask the question. If you ask when abortion should be allowed, large numbers of people say that they want abortion only to save a mother's life, or in cases of rape and incest, or in the first trimester. When you put these various pluralities together, you get a strong majority. But then you also get a strong majority saying they support Roe, when Roe is what stops these majority-favored restrictions from being enacted! There's a simple explanation for this: people don't know what Roe v. Wade actually is.

Don't believe me? In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 17% of adults over the age of 30 thought that Roe v. Wade had to do with school desegregation, the death penalty, or environmental protection. (If I confused Roe with Brown v. Board of Education, I'd tell the pollster I supported it too!) Another 20% admitted that they had no idea what the case was about. Among those under 30, the ignorance is even worse.

Second, I didn't get to respond to Matson's great sky-is-falling moment. After noting that she is 21 weeks pregnant, she said: "Knowing the restrictions that are out there-- we recently had a woman die in Ireland because they said this is a pro-life country, here, um, in the United States [...] we've created this situation where pregnant women no longer have full civil and human rights in this country. And that is truly behind the meaning of the anti-abortion rights movement."

First of all, the Irish case she's referring to is a case of media gone amok; the reporter who "broke the story" later admitted that Savita Halapannavar may not have requested an abortion in the first place. But the admission came too late; Savita had already become a poster child for abortion. Because who cares what she really would have wanted, right?

I am not in any way motivated by a desire to deprive pregnant women of human rights. As for Ms. Matson's belief that she is a second-class citizen, I wish I could have asked her: why do you feel that way? Just because you might have to jump through some hoops before you could kill your (presumably wanted) late-term son or daughter?

I can't understand the psychology behind needing that lethal power over your child, but I find it sad.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Choice, rights, and consensus

[Today's post is part of the national "Ask Them What They Mean by 'Choice' Day," a response to NARAL's "Blog for Choice" event.]

The argument for "choice" is simple. The abortion debate is unending. Since people will never come to a consensus, we should just leave it to the individual conscience.

"Now that I'm safe, I'm pro-choice"
It's an appealing position, because there are many issues where a "choice" approach is completely appropriate. Take religion, for example. There is a huge diversity of opinion on religious matters, beginning with the basic question of whether or not a deity or deities exist, and continuing down to the tiniest doctrinal detail. Many communities and nations have tried to force a consensus, with disastrous results. A religious consensus is extremely unlikely, if not impossible. Therefore, the founders of the United States wisely took a pro-choice stance on religion in the First Amendment.

But freedom of religion has its limits. If the Westboro Baptist Church crazies ever progress from picketing to outright violence against gays and lesbians, they will not be able to avoid criminal penalties on the ground that it was a "matter of individual conscience." Choice does not extend that far. Every human beingmale and female, young and old, citizen and non-citizenhas a fundamental right to be free from violence.

And that is why abortion cannot be defended on the basis of "choice." We cannot simply ignore the harm to the unborn child. That harm exists whether or not a majority consensus acknowledges it. 

Of course, the pro-choice argument on abortion has another fatal flaw: as soon as a pro-life consensus does emerge, its premises collapse. For several years in a row, pro-life Americans have outnumbered pro-choice Americans. This trend is especially strong in young adults, the builders of our future national consensus. No doubt these polls were a factor in Planned Parenthood's recent decision to drop the phrase "pro-choice."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Secular Pro-Life joins the PIE Project

What is the PIE Project, you ask? PIE stands for Pro-life Information and Experience. The idea is to document the cumulative knowledge of the pro-life movement, so that people don't have to re-invent the wheel. This is being done with short videos (under 5 minutes) in which pro-life leaders share their perspectives on key topics.

I am proud to announce that the very first video posted to the PIE Project comes from Secular Pro-Life! In it, SPL president Kelsey Hazzard addresses the topic "I don't believe in God. Is that okay?"

More videos will be added soon, so bookmark and check back frequently!

Tomorrow: SPL prez on Chicago NPR

Tomorrow morning, Secular Pro-Life founder and president Kelsey Hazzard will appear on The Morning Shift with Tony Sarabia on WBEZ, the Chicago affiliate of National Public Radio. The Morning Shift will begin at 9:50 am EST (8:50 am CST) and Hazzard will join in about twenty minutes into the program. The topic will be how the pro- and anti-abortion movements have changed their tactics in the forty years since Roe was decided. Hazzard, who is 24 years old, will be representing the younger generation of pro-life activists.

The program will stream online live at And if you live in the Chicago area, you can listen in on radio channel 91.5.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rape & Pregnancy 101

The Susan B. Anthony List is working with pro-life politicians to develop talking points about pregnancy from rape. The always reasonable Amanda Marcotte sees this as evidence of malfeasance, declaring: "The SBA List isn't interested in discouraging Republican politicians from holding ugly, sexist beliefs about domestic and sexual violence. They're just here to help politicians avoid giving reporters easy soundbites that expose exactly how backwards they are." But this is based on the false premise that the sole purpose of talking points is to communicate with the media and voters. In reality, politicians, who do not have time to research everything themselves, often rely on primers and talking points (whether from staffers or from outside groups like the SBA List) to become educated on an issue. Talking points, in other words, tell politicians what to believe, not just what to say. And I can't think of any way the SBA List could possibly review rape and pregnancy talking points with politicians without along the way mentioning the fact that, yes, people can get pregnant as a result of rape.

But it's not just politicians who need educating. I think that everyone could use a primer on this. So, without further ado:
  • There is some evidence that stress hormones can mess with the menstrual cycle, making ovulation somewhat less likely. "Somewhat less likely" does NOT equal "the female body has ways of shutting that whole thing down." Comments like Akin's are extremely offensive: to all women, to rape survivors in particular, and also to people who were conceived in rape (because it's basically suggesting that their moms lied about having been raped).
  • While trying to make sense of a sexual assault is obviously very stressful, the sexual assault itself might not involve stress hormones. We tend to think of rape in a dramatic, Hollywood sort of way, a woman being abducted in the night and forced at gunpoint. But rape can happen in any number of ways. A woman might be drugged, or she might be assaulted while she is sleeping. And then there's statutory rape: a fourteen-year-old girl is not capable of meaningful consent to a sex act with an adult man, even though she might perceive the sex as consensual at the time. 
    • Note: there is absolutely no excuse for pro-life activists/politicians to be ignorant of the connections between statutory rape, teen pregnancy, and abortion.  No excuse.
  • An unfertilized egg can live in the womb for up to 24 hours, waiting for sperm to arrive. If ovulation has already occurred, no amount of stress hormone will stop it. (Rep. Phil Gringey actually made this point himself, but once he said that Akin was "partly right," people understandably stopped listening.)
  • False reports of rape are rare. Any crime can be falsely reported, of course-- but as far as I know, no politician has ever used the phrase "legitimate theft." Reporting a crime takes courage, particularly when the crime is of a very personal nature, so we should not automatically treat reports with suspicion.  
  • Bottom line: Pregnancy from rape can and does happen. Women cannot exercise mind control over their reproductive systems. And when a woman reports that she has been sexually assaulted, she deserves nothing but compassion.
Until everyone grasps these points, we can never have an intelligent conversation about rape, pregnancy, abortion, and the lives of children conceived in rape.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

We remember

It's hard to believe that Roe v. Wade is turning 40 years old next week. Over 55 million unborn babies have died since January 22, 1973. Abortion supporters will be celebrating this as a triumph. Many Secular Pro-Life members will be gathering at the March for Life in D.C. or the Walk for Life in San Francisco to protest this ongoing injustice. But if you can't make it to those events, fear not! There are several ways to contribute from your own home.

1)  NARAL will once again be sponsoring a "Blog for Choice" day-- and for the third year in a row, pro-life bloggers will counter their propaganda with the "Ask Them What They Mean by 'Choice' Day." Secular Pro-Life Perspectives will be participating. If anyone has thoughts on this topic, send them to info[at] (no later than January 21, please!) and we may reprint them.

2)  The Students for Life of America conference will take place all day Saturday, January 26, and the whole thing will be streamed at Listen in for some great pro-life activism tips! (Note: while SFLA is open to people of all creeds, some conference guest speakers take an explicitly religious approach.)

3)  Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. The Guiding Star Project suggests putting it in the form of an obituary.

4)  Finally, please make an online donation to Secular Pro-Life if you are able. SPL is not a big-budget organization, and this time of year presents what are, for us, some major expenses. Anything you can contribute is greatly appreciated.