Thursday, February 28, 2013

Last chance!

Today is the last day of February, which means that our book sale fundraiser is about to come to a close. This is your last chance to purchase Cultivating Weeds and have the proceeds go to Secular Pro-Life! (After today, proceeds will benefit the author. A girl's gotta eat.)

Click here for the print version ($8) or get it on Kindle ($4). On Monday, we'll post the grand total raised by sales of Cultivating Weeds. We're a small organization with a shoestring budget, so seriously: if you like what we're doing, buy the book! And buy some copies for your friends, while you're at it.

To recap, here's what people are saying about the story:
Stand for Life: This is not your typical "defending the pro-life position" book but delves into both the abortion and pro-life world. The in-depth personalities of the characters, along with the fascinating theme, draw you in, and before you know it you've read the book in one sitting.
Live Action News: Cultivating Weeds is a story of redemption and hope. It’s an inspiring picture of what can happen when a person grabs hold of life-changing truths... [A] quick read with a powerful message... Cultivating Weeds' unique plot left me wishing this fictional tale could become a reality. Take the time and read it for yourself!

Jewels: Her rich characters are fully developed and change and grow in unexpected ways. Readers will be intrigued by this unique story and will leave asking themselves, "What if?..."

Melanie Z.: The story has a very unique idea, and the author is very good at drawing the reader in and making her care about the characters. One thing I really liked about the story is that, even though it was written by a committed pro-lifer, it does not demonize abortion providers. rather, it characterizes them as decent human beings who mean well and may be misguided rather than evil. There is no attitude of "all pro-choicers are evil baby killers" to be found here. The book is great for pro-life readers, but I also think that open minded pro-choice readers would also enjoy it, because it is a good and captivating story.

Josh Brahm (Life Report): Cultivating Weeds is gripping. It handles ethically complex issues without being preachy. Its deeply human characters are a refreshing change from the caricatures that so often plague the abortion debate. This book has the potential to start a new, productive conversation on one of the most emotionally charged issues of our generation.

Abby Johnson: Hazzard has successfully captured the unique psychology of abortion work. As a former abortion clinic worker myself, I couldn't help but be moved by this beautiful story about new beginnings and the true meaning of heroism. I wholeheartedly endorse Cultivating Weeds.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Pro-Life Example

Dr. C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States, recently died at the age of 92. He lived a long, healthy life, fitting for a steward of a nation's health.

Pro-life groups have heaped praise on Dr. Koop, who was an outspoken supporter of the right to life. As a medical professional, he understood the humanity of the unborn child. He also established the first neonatal intensive care unit in the United States, at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, saving countless babies.

His concern for human lives did not end with the unborn and newly born; Koop was pro-adult-life as well. He campaigned strongly against the dangers of smoking. He deserves special praise for his response to the AIDS epidemic, at a time when many Americans were uncomfortable even discussing sexually transmitted diseases. Although he was a devout Christian, he served the nation from a secular standpoint, setting aside any personal feelings about sexuality and condom use in order to prevent the spread of a lethal disease.

Pro-lifers' compassion cannot end at birth. Dr. Koop's legacy is an example to us all.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Today's abortion provider skeeviness

Yesterday, a coalition of pro-life groups launched a new petition site, The petition signatures will be used "in support of the February 19 official complaint lodged by Operation Rescue against late-term abortionist Leroy Carhart," in response to the deaths of Jennifer Morbelli and baby Madison on February 7th. The complaint asks for "immediate emergency suspension of Carhart’s Maryland medical license, followed by a permanent license revocation."

Jury selection in the Kermit "House of Horrors" Gosnell trial is set to begin on Sunday. Gosnell is charged with multiple counts of murder for cutting the spinal cords of infants born alive; he is also charged in the death of an adult victim, Karnamaya Mongar. In addition, authorities say he was running a pill mill from his "clinic."

Operation Rescue reports that Maryland abortionist Abolghassem M. Gohari has had his medical license placed on probation for a year:
Operation Rescue obtained documents from the Board that show Gohari admitted last December that he allowed an unlicensed, unqualified employee to conduct ultrasound examinations and prescribe RU486 abortion pills to patients. The disciplinary documents contained the account of Patient A, who was handed the abortion pill in a cup and told her that Gohari was “around the corner” when in fact he was not at the clinic at all. Suspicious, Patient A refused the pills and sought a second opinion from another doctor that told her she was too far along to safely take the abortion pill.
Both Patient A and another woman were verbally abused by Gohari during profanity-laced tirades, according to Board documents. Gohari admitted that he “lost his temper” with the women.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pro-life internship & summer academy

Two non-sectarian pro-life groups have asked us to share their upcoming programs.

Feminists for Life is seeking unpaid interns for the summer and fall:
Feminists for Life has telecommuting internship positions available for select pro-life feminists. FFL's interns have the opportunity to work closely with FFL staff on exciting projects such as The American Feminist and other publications, pro-woman legislative initiatives, and our College Outreach Program.
Interns will also help organize our Annual Capitol Hill Intern Briefing in Washington, D.C. and experience our office in picturesque Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. 
Applicants must be committed to our mission. 
To apply, send a resume and cover letter to (subject line "Internship Application) stating why you are a pro-life feminist and include any particular skills including organizing, research, writing, editing, etc. 
We can't wait to hear from you! 
Are you a college student? Applications are now open for the annual summer academy at National Right to Life Committee:
Have you finalized your plans for the summer break yet? Would you like to spend your summer living in our nation's capital, gaining the pro-life education of a lifetime? You may wish to consider attending the National Right to Life Academy in Washington D.C., June 27 - August 3, 2013.
The National Right to Life Academy is a five-week intensive course on the complete spectrum of pro-life issues. In addition to a rigorous course of study, the curriculum provides unique oral advocacy training. If you'd like more information about the Academy, email  Academy Program Director Megan McCrum at (And if the Academy interests you, don't be dismayed by the tuition cost. The money to support young pro-life leaders is out there, its just a matter of finding it!)
Graduates from past summers are making a difference in the pro-life movement in diverse ways today, which you can read more about at LifeNews.

Please spread the word with other pro-life college student leaders you know, as we all work together to build a bridge to a pro-life future

Friday, February 22, 2013

Defending Life 2013 is here!

Every year, Americans United for Life puts out its pro-life legal guide, Defending Life. It contains state-by-state data, pro-life model legislation on dozens of subjects, thoughtful commentary, and lots more. It's written with state legislators in mind, but if you're at all interested in law or public policy, you should check it out. Click here to download the whole thing for free.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

In one week...

Above: the author and a fan at last
month's Students for Life of America
annual conference

If you're new around here, you may not know that the president of Secular Pro-Life, Kelsey Hazzard, has written a book! It's called Cultivating Weeds, and it's a short fictional piece with pro-life themes. We're selling copies as a fundraiser. So far, it's gotten great reviews:
Stand for Life: This is not your typical "defending the pro-life position" book but delves into both the abortion and pro-life world. The in-depth personalities of the characters, along with the fascinating theme, draw you in, and before you know it you've read the book in one sitting.
Live Action News: Cultivating Weeds is a story of redemption and hope. It’s an inspiring picture of what can happen when a person grabs hold of life-changing truths... [A] quick read with a powerful message... Cultivating Weeds' unique plot left me wishing this fictional tale could become a reality. Take the time and read it for yourself!

Jewels: Her rich characters are fully developed and change and grow in unexpected ways. Readers will be intrigued by this unique story and will leave asking themselves, "What if?..."

Melanie Z.: The story has a very unique idea, and the author is very good at drawing the reader in and making her care about the characters. One thing I really liked about the story is that, even though it was written by a committed pro-lifer, it does not demonize abortion providers. rather, it characterizes them as decent human beings who mean well and may be misguided rather than evil. There is no attitude of "all pro-choicers are evil baby killers" to be found here. The book is great for pro-life readers, but I also think that open minded pro-choice readers would also enjoy it, because it is a good and captivating story.

Josh Brahm (Life Report): Cultivating Weeds is gripping. It handles ethically complex issues without being preachy. Its deeply human characters are a refreshing change from the caricatures that so often plague the abortion debate. This book has the potential to start a new, productive conversation on one of the most emotionally charged issues of our generation.

Abby Johnson: Hazzard has successfully captured the unique psychology of abortion work. As a former abortion clinic worker myself, I couldn't help but be moved by this beautiful story about new beginnings and the true meaning of heroism. I wholeheartedly endorse Cultivating Weeds.
The proceeds from all copies sold by the end of February benefit Secular Pro-Life. And the end of February is just a week away! So please, get your copy before this fundraiser ends. Click here for the print version ($8) or get it on Kindle ($4).

And if you like what Secular Pro-Life is doing but don't want the book, you can make a direct donation to our efforts.

P.S.: Already read it? Join the Cultivating Weeds facebook page and share your review!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Secular Pro-Life by the numbers

Over the weekend, our facebook page crossed the 2000-fan threshold! We're now up to 2,011 members. Here are our stats from Facebook (click to enlarge):

Just over 60% of our membership is female. This doesn't surprise me at all. Although abortion advocates like to paint the anti-abortion movement as male-dominated, in my experience, women are the driving force. (I actually expected the percentage of women to be higher-- for instance, this pro-life facebook page is 72% women. In our case, the percentage was probably tempered by the fact that women tend to be more religious than men.) Also unsurprisingly, most of our members are in their twenties and early thirties.

What did surprise me is Secular Pro-Life's vast geographic span. SPL was founded in the United States, but about a quarter of our members live in other countries. Twenty different nations are represented.

I am so grateful for your support. Whatever our backgrounds, wherever we live, and whatever stage we're at in life, we are united to defend the lives of preborn children!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Does Abortion Harm the Preborn?

In my last article, I gave a discussion of various arguments against fetal personhood, including the Functionalist view. I presented a detailed analysis of why presently exercising self-awareness does not make one inherently valuable. This will be a follow-up to my last article, presenting a detailed analysis on whether the ability to feel pain or exhibit consciousness makes an entity inherently valuable, followed by a discussion on whether the unborn is actually harmed by being aborted.


Usually when I discuss what makes us valuable with a pro-choice person, I’ll receive one of three responses (often used interchangeably): sentience, consciousness, and self-awareness. Self-awareness is usually understood as the awareness of oneself, and to perceive of oneself as existing through time. I responded to this in my previous article. Consciousness is usually understood as having an awareness of your environment and your needs. Sentience is usually understood as a combination of self-awareness and consciousness. I have already shown that self-awareness is not a criterion that makes one valuable. But what about consciousness?

First, the unborn exhibit a limited amount of consciousness. Unborn twins have been observed fighting in the womb, the unborn have been observed sucking their thumb, and learn to recognize their mother’s voice in the womb. So if consciousness makes us valuable, then you would have to reject late-term abortion (which isn’t usually a problem, since even most pro-choice people don’t believe in late-term abortion). If you want to support abortion-on-demand, then you would have to take argue that there’s a “threshold” of consciousness one needs, but this would just be an ad hoc determination for the express purpose of allowing abortion. [1]

If consciousness is what makes us valuable, then it’s subject to the same problems as self-awareness. You lose consciousness whenever you fall asleep, enter a reversible coma, or go under general anesthesia before surgery. So in that case it would be permissible to kill you for any reason when you are in those states. And again, if you argue that you once exercised consciousness so that’s why it would be wrong to kill you, then we can just return to Frank Beckwith’s case of Uncle Jed. [2] If Jed enters a coma but has severe brain damage to where he loses all of his abilities so that he has to re-learn them (he’s essentially in the same position as the standard fetus), then you would have to say it would be permissible to kill Jed in such a state. However, I don’t know anyone who would say it would be okay to kill Jed in that state.

It seems that a lack of consciousness is not adequate criterion to allow us to kill you.


I don’t think there’s any real solid evidence as to when the unborn can feel pain. To be safe, I say it happens around 20 weeks. Some pro-life advocates insist it happens much earlier, and some pro-choice advocates insist it happens much later. I take the happy medium. For me, it’s irrelevant because my argument rests on what the unborn is, not on whether it can feel pain. But what about the argument that it is permissible to kill the unborn because they can’t feel pain, or that it’s at least humane to kill them when they can’t feel pain, so if you’re going to kill them it should be before that point?

This objection also fails due to clear counterexamples. If it’s permissible to kill the unborn because they can’t feel pain, then it is permissible to kill anyone, as long as you do it painlessly. And what about a case like Gabby Gingras, who was born with congenital inability to feel pain? [3] If the lack of pain made it permissible to kill someone, then someone with Gabby’s condition would never be safe.

So it seems that pain, likewise, is not appropriate criterion for making one valuable, or at least is not adequate criterion for removing someone from protection.

The Next Question

So this raises a question: does abortion harm the unborn entity? In most cases, it seems, it doesn’t cause them pain. But I’ve shown how that’s irrelevant to the question of whether we can kill someone. In their now infamous essay supporting after-birth abortion (they prefer this term over infanticide, to illustrate that a newborn and a fetus are morally equivalent), Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva claim that you don’t harm an unborn human being (or a newborn!) when you extinguish their life. They write,

“Failing to bring a new person into existence cannot be compared with the wrong caused by procuring the death of an existing person. The reason is that, unlike the case of death of an existing person, failing to bring a new person into existence does not prevent anyone from accomplishing any of her future aims...Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life.’ We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.” [4]

But this definition of “harm” is lacking. Robert Wennberg offers an analogy to show us why:

“If I were cheated out of an inheritance that I didn’t know I had, I would be harmed regardless of whether I knew about the chicanery. Deprivation of a good (be it an inheritance or self-conscious existence) constitutes harm even if one is ignorant of that deprivation.” [5]

Or consider a man who cheats on his wife. If he decides never to tell her, has she been harmed by his infidelity? Of course she has.

One does not have to be aware that they are being harmed, in order to be harmed. [6] Plus, as Patrick Lee points out, there are certain times in which someone may not have any interests but it would still be wrong to kill, such as a slave who was indoctrinated not to have any interests or desire to live. It would still be wrong to kill this person, even if he has no conscious longing for, or interest in, a right to life. [7]

So it seems that one does not need the present desire to live in order to have a right to life, and one does not have to be presently aware of their harm in order to actually be harmed. While the definition of “harm” has been debated, it seems to me the most basic, and accurate, definition of harm is simply “to leave someone worse off.” The unborn are certainly made worse off by being killed. First, they are deprived of their future of valuable experiences. But second, to kill anyone, even one who is unaware of being killed, is a grave harm. Probably the gravest harm that can be done to an individual.

It seems that the most reasonable answer to the question is that yes, unborn human beings are most definitely harmed by being killed.

[1] I addressed threshold arguments in my previous article.
[2] See the Self-awareness section of my last article.
[3] Note that the article is a little graphic.
[4] I plan on addressing “after-birth abortion” sometime in the future.
[5] Robert Wennberg, Life in the Balance: Exploring the Abortion Controversy (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 98, as quoted in Frank Beckwith, Defending Life: The Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, NY, 2007), 145.
[6] Giubilini and Minerva try to get around this problem in their article, unsuccessfully. I’ll expound more on it in my future article.
[7] Patrick Lee, Abortion and Unborn Human Life, as mentioned in Beckwith, Defending Life, p. 145.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pro-life Presidential Quotes

Happy President's Day! In honor of the occasion, here are some pro-life quotes from previous occupants of the White House. [Note: I realize that some of these quotes are pro-life only in a broad sense, and not specifically about abortion, because they predate the modern abortion rights movement. So sue me.]

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government." ~Thomas Jefferson

"This country will not be a permanently good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in." ~Teddy Roosevelt

"Provision for others is a fundamental responsibility of human life." ~Woodrow Wilson

"I've noticed that everyone who is for abortion is already born." ~Ronald Reagan

"Renewing the promise of America begins with upholding the dignity of human life." ~George W. Bush

Friday, February 15, 2013

Embracing cognitive dissonance?

The abortion rights movement has long struggled with a fundamental problem of cognitive dissonance. Most “pro-choice” people are nice, well-meaning folks; they certainly don’t view themselves as the sort of people who would condone violence against helpless human beings. But abortion always requires the violent destruction and disposal of a human being. How, then, to support abortion while staying true to humane values? This is the question.

Abortion advocates begin with the conclusion—support for abortion on demand—and then try to work their way backwards to a justification. For a long time, the dominant solution was to deny the humanity of the unborn child and the violence of abortion. “Clump of cells” was the key phrase. But the denial of scientific facts couldn’t last forever, and as sonogram images became more and more ubiquitous, pro-abortion leaders struggled to maintain a hold on public opinion.

Abortion advocates are now in the midst of a large-scale attempt to reinvent themselves. Their new take? Don’t try to resolve the cognitive dissonance—embrace it!

The idea is to reach out to middle-of-the-road people by acknowledging that unborn children are alive and that abortion kills them—without, of course, reconsidering the premise that abortion on demand must be preserved at all costs. I call this the “abortion is great, as long as we sort of feel bad about it” movement, or the “batshit crazy” movement for short.

The subscribers to this view actually seem to believe that this cognitive dissonance is a sign of intellectual achievement. They like to think that they grasp the great complexity of abortion, unlike those narrow-minded, plebian “antis.” (Why settle for just being wrong, when you can also be obnoxious?)

This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon—it goes back at least as far as Naomi Wolf’s “Our Bodies, Our Souls” piece in the mid-nineties—but it’s been resurgent lately.  From Planned Parenthood’s abandonment of the phrase “pro-choice” (in favor of talking about how golly, abortion sure is morally complex), to Mary Beth William’s infamous “So what if abortion ends life?” article in Salon last month, the batshit crazy movement is getting lots of press.

Abortion advocates appear convinced that this is the way to bring middle-of-the-road people into the fold. They’d love to embrace abortion; all this time, they’ve just been looking for permission to have ambiguous feelings! So the thinking goes.

But the American people don’t merely want to feel bad about abortions—they want to stop abortions. Polling shows that a majority of Americans—and even a slim majority of self-described pro-choicers—would like to see a ban on abortion in the second trimester (a limitation that cannot happen until Roe v. Wade is overturned). In the third trimester, 79% of self-described pro-choicers join the pro-life side in wanting abortion illegal. And all the various restrictions proposed short of a ban, such as informed consent, waiting periods, parental consent for minors, also enjoy majority support from middle-of-the-road Americans.
All of these limitations are vehemently opposed by the abortion lobby, whatever messaging of the day they’re using. To those who truly understand the tragedy of abortion, they can offer nothing more than lip service. That is why the pro-life movement will continue to win people’s hearts and minds until all human life, born and preborn, is protected.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Video: Pro-life panel at University of Mary Washington

On Tuesday night, I had the pleasure of speaking at the University of Mary Washington. The Students for Life club deserves major credit for putting together such a diverse panel.

I went first, and was immediately followed by a devout Catholic who talked about the virtue of chastity and how life is a "gift from God" (quite the contrast). Third up were the Hanrahans, five-time adoptive parents from Richmond. They have a wonderful story, and their actions speak very loudly indeed.

Side note: the Hanrahans mention in passing that they're Christians, but it's not a focus of the talk. In a conversation I had with them, they described themselves as "drinking Protestants" (meaning mainline, non-evangelical Protestant), which I found amusing. And the pregnancy resource center they run? It's not faith-based, which means anyone can volunteer. Go Hanrahans!

Fourth was Kristen Day of Democrats for Life, who challenged us to think beyond petty political alliances. And finally, Susan Jaramillo spoke about her three abortions and working through her grief and guilt. She found healing through religion, so her comments are in that vein.

Enjoy the video! And for those of you who can't watch, a transcript of my introductory comments is below.

Thank you so much, and thank you for the warm welcome here at UMW. As she said, I'm the president of Secular Pro-Life. Many people think that the pro-life position is simply a religious position, that it's just a "religious issue" or a "social issue." That's not actually the case.

At this point in our forty years of debate, it's actually pretty settled what the science and biology of the problem is. "Clump of cells" has kind of gone out of style now. If you look at the people who are really active in the pro-choice movement, the people who are leaders of organizations or are working in the abortion clinics, they will say very openly that a fetus is a human life and that abortion ends that life.

So the basic facts of the matter are pretty much settled. The question then becomes an ethical question: is it okay? And I firmly believe that you don't have to be a Christian to have a position on that issue: to say that, in these circumstances-- where a fetus is helpless, relying upon the rest of us as a community for survival-- killing is wrong. I do not think that is at all a religious position. It's certainly a debatable thing, people of various views can have honest disagreement. But you do not have to be religious to be pro-life. So that's the bottom line of Secular Pro-Life, and I welcome your questions on that.

The subtitle of this panel is "A discussion of what's best for the woman and the child," and I thought a good way to start looking at that question would be to look at the reasons women have abortions. There's been quite a lot of research on that question, particularly from the Guttmacher Institute, which very strongly supports abortion, in fact. And the findings are pretty much what you would expect: it's largely financial, "I can't afford a baby right now." "Having a baby would interfere with my education" is another dominant reason. A disturbingly high number cite pressure from the father of the child or the grandparents of the child, which is very common, actually, and raises the question of how much of it really is "her choice."

But what I find interesting about these findings is what's not there. Because you will never see, on this list of reasons for having an abortion, "I feel like an alien parasite has invaded my body." It's not even a fraction of a percent of women, who have abortions for that reason. Which is so funny, because you're always hearing about, you know, "my right to my body," "my body, my choice." It has really nothing to do with bodily autonomy. You know, the reasons women have abortions, have nothing to do with pregnancy! They have everything to do with the baby that will be born.

And so, what do we do with that information? If any of those reasons were to be given after pregnancy, as a justification for infanticide, we would think "Oh my gosh. This woman needs real help, if she feels so desperate that she thinks she has to kill her infant to get by. We've got to help her out." And it should be the same way with abortion, because abortion is happening for those reasons. If we're going to end abortion, we have to provide support for pregnant women in crisis. Thank you very much.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Bro, do you want someone to do that to you?"

Some religious people suggest you can't have morality without God, and therefore atheists have no reason to act morally. Some atheists respond by saying we shouldn't need the threat of eternal damnation to inspire us to act decently.

As an agnostic, I don't see why a belief in God is necessary in order to want to live a moral life. I can see the benefits of the Golden Rule regardless of whether you think someone will eternally reward (or punish) you depending on how you behave.


And I have secular friends that I think are perfectly lovely people, so I'm obviously not convinced that without God we are all just awful.

I will say, though, that when secularists insist religion is the only reason anyone would be pro-life, they sure do reinforce the "atheists have no morality" stereotype.

I'm against abortion because I recognize the fetus as a member of our species and I believe human beings should be valued and protected; at minimum, I think it should be illegal to non-defensively kill someone. I don't consider any of what I just said to be radical, and I don't see why any of what I just said would require religious faith in order to make sense. From the pro-life perspective, when people insist you have to be religious to be pro-life they're insisting that you have to be religious to value humanity and/or to think it's wrong to kill others. Great.

But I understand that there's a disconnect here. Many pro-choicers make a distinction between human beings and people, and while the fetus is a human being, they will insist the fetus is not a person. A pro-choicer could believe that all people should be valued and protected while all fetuses can be killed. So, from a pro-choice perspective, the idea that you must be religious to be pro-life is really the idea that you must be religious to believe the fetus is a human being of moral value.

I still think it's a little sad that some secularists believe you have to be religious to value all members of our species...but I guess it's better than thinking you must be religious to think, you know, killing others is bad.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Three SPL members featured in MORE magazine

In "Roe v. Wade: Still Controversial After All These Years," the women's magazine MORE features women who changed their positions on abortion. Reporter Melinda Dodd came to us looking for some diverse voices, and we delivered! Three of the ten stories come from Secular Pro-Life members. They're reprinted below, with emphasis added.

On page three, Angel Armstead, 32 (Muslim):
I’m from a predominantly liberal, Democratic area. Being pro-choice was the accepted belief in my household. I figured that since women are the ones who are stuck with the baby, we should be the ones to choose. I probably would have considered abortion if I had gotten pregnant as a teenager. I had my own dreams and goals that I didn’t want thwarted.
In college, people challenged my beliefs, especially during my second year—2008—when there was a presidential election. A lot of my friends were Catholic. Most were pro-life. I thought, I should be more open-minded and at least read up on the issue. In my biological-anthropology class, I held the skull of a fetus I’m guessing was three to five months old. I was shocked by how developed it was. It made me wonder what a fetus goes through when aborted. It made me sick to think of inflicting that on anyone.
I went through a hard, slow transition. I don’t like the idea of telling other people what to do. I’m black and Muslim. As a child, I thought the pro-life movement was mostly white and Christian. But on the Internet, I saw that all kinds of people were pro-life. If being pro-life were only about religion, I wouldn’t be so outspoken about it.
In some ways, my decision has made things harder. I know that some pro-life people are judgmental, but I’m annoyed if others see me that way. To me, a true pro-lifer is someone who cares not only about unborn babies but also about pregnant women who need better resources to choose life.
On pages four and five, Albany Rose, 21 (spiritual but not religious):
Abortion was never brought up in my family until I got pregnant at 15.My dad told me that if I did not get an abortion, I would be kicked out of the house. So I went into the clinic and had it done. For 15 days after that, I didn’t get out of bed. I felt numb and angry, and I didn’t know why, as abortion had seemed to be the best option. Rather than facing what happened, I decided to be pro-choice. I felt that being pro-life, after what I’d done, would have made me a hypocrite.
I became pregnant again at 19. And it was different from the very beginning. My boyfriend was ecstatic, thrilled. He said, “We’re going to make this work.” Then came the eight-week ultrasound. My expectation was that I was going to see a little fuzzy thing, but this was one of the clearest pictures I’ve ever seen. I could see the baby’s head, the stubs of its arms and feet, and the heart beating away, clear as day.
Seeing that not only made the pregnancy more real but also made everything else more terrifying. Because when you see a sonogram, you can’t deny there’s a life. Whether you think it’s human or not is a different story, but it’s obviously alive. Now all I could think was, What happened before? Did I kill something?
The next few months were the hardest of my life. At 16 weeks I felt my baby move for the first time, and at 20 I found out I was having a girl. I’m thinking, I’m going to meet my daughter, and then I’ll know what could have been. I lost a child that I chose to lose. Ultimately I became pro-life with no exceptions for rape or incest.
On pages five and six, Diane Geiger, 43 (atheist):
If you had told my 25-year-old self that I would end up identifying as pro-life, I would have said, “No way.” I’m an urban gal, well traveled, adventurous, secular  . . . People tend to assume I’m liberal when they meet me and are surprised by my views. But by way of two experiences, I stumbled upon what was inside my heart.
In 2008, I began taking care of my dad. He was diagnosed with lung cancer at 82 and beat it, but the stress on his body from the chemotherapy really wore him down. My maternal grandmother, who was 92 and frail, developed ovarian cancer two years later and also needed care. It brought out a lot of love in me, as well as a strong protective urge and a desire to ease their suffering. 
I was with them the moment each passed in February 2010. Except for having been present when my cat died five years earlier, I’d never experienced death so firsthand. I became conscious of the limited amount of time people have and of the finality of death. My father and grandmother had both been remarkable people with long lives full of love and significant relationships. The more I thought about it, the more I realized: A baby in utero has the same potential. Just because we have the ability to cause conception doesn’t mean it’s OK to cause a death. To end a life before it has an opportunity to draw a breath suddenly seemed unjust, unfair and uncivilized.
Thanks for your contributions, ladies!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Today's news

Don't forget that tomorrow evening, SPL president Kelsey Hazzard will be giving a presentation at the University of Mary Washington. All are welcome. Details are here. Facebook event is here.

On Friday, Operation Rescue reported yet another maternal death at the hands of late-term abortionist Leroy Carhart. The victims have been identified as kindergarten teacher Jennifer Morbelli and her daughter Madison Leigh. Unlike most abortion victims, Madison was named by her family; this is because she was wanted, and Jennifer only resorted to abortion when she discovered that her daughter had a "fetal anomaly" (we don't know more than that).

A new pro-life campaign urges everyone to change their Facebook profile picture starting February 13. The campaign corresponds with 40 Days for Life. While 40 Days is a religious, prayer-based event, this Facebook campaign is not; anyone can join in! Learn more and get the profile graphic here.

At LifeNews, SPL member Sarah Terzo provides an excellent backgrounder on the battle over access to ultrasound before abortion.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Unborn Parasite?

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

Disclaimer: I know both pro-choicers and pro-lifers who understand fetal development. The following post is not meant to address everyone, but to specifically address the people who remain ignorant.

Mary Elizabeth Williams at wrote a piece explaining that she understands abortion takes a human life, but that "some lives are worth sacrificing." Obviously I disagree with her general take, but I thought this paragraph was quite true:
I have friends who have referred to their abortions in terms of “scraping out a bunch of cells” and then a few years later were exultant over the pregnancies that they unhesitatingly described in terms of “the baby” and “this kid.” I know women who have been relieved at their abortions and grieved over their miscarriages. Why can’t we agree that how they felt about their pregnancies was vastly different, but that it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside of them wasn’t the same? Fetuses aren’t selective like that. They don’t qualify as human life only if they’re intended to be born.
It's no secret that most people make decisions based on emotions more than rational thought. One side tends toward the vague and impersonal (clump of cells, products of conception) or hostile (parasite, invader) while the other side goes with the personal (daughter, son, child) and helpless (preborn, unborn, baby). And so on.

I've seen pro-choicers mock pro-lifers for using photos of full grown babies, pointing out that the majority of abortions take place before 8 weeks gestation, and accusing pro-lifers of playing emotional manipulation by confusing everyone as to what's actually being destroyed here. I've heard pro-lifers loudly wonder why pro-choicers never depict fetal development at all, pointing out that pro-choicers tend to leave the fetus out of the equation entirely, and claiming pro-choicers deceive people with a "nothing to see here, folks" approach.

Of course what the fetus looks like should have about zero bearing on whether the fetus deserves rights or protection, but for the record:

If pro-lifers only used pictures of actual embryos and early-stage fetuses, do you think it would change the abortion debate? Do you think it would be a good idea? Is it more important to be emotionally captivating or precisely accurate?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Videos: medical experts discuss abortion risks

These three videos are from a medical-legal-political symposium that was hosted by Americans United for Life on Thursday, January 24 (the day before the March for Life). I was there, and I was very impressed by many of the speakers. But the symposium lasted all afternoon, so in this post I will just showcase the talks that I think are of the greatest interest to our readers; namely, the medical talks. All three are completely secular and very well-sourced, so bookmark them for use in debates!

First, Dr. Donna Harrison explains how chemical abortions work and what risks they entail:

Next, Dr. Monique Chireau moves on to surgical abortion, with a focus on long-term risks, and explains some of the limitations on abortion research:

And finally, Dr. Priscilla Coleman presents data on adverse psychological outcomes after abortion, and the factors that put women and girls at greater risk:

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"A story of redemption and hope"

At Live Action News, Christina Martin reviews Cultivating Weeds, the novella by Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard.  It's already gotten positive reviews from Abby Johnson, Josh Brahm, and Stand for Life; now, Live Action adds its voice in support:
Cultivating Weeds is a story of redemption and hope. It’s an inspiring picture of what can happen when a person grabs hold of life-changing truths. As I read about Stacey’s life I saw similarities to my own. I too have a heart for justice, desire to help the needy, and burden to change the world for the better. Reading the book made me wonder how many people in the abortion industry are there because they wrongly believe abortion is the best way to help needy women. 
Cultivating Weeds is filled with suspense and an intriguing plot that keeps the reader curious. Through a series of events Stacey ends up involved in a top secret, controversial medical study. If successful the study has the potential to change the issue of abortion as we know it.
The 54 page book is a quick read with a powerful message.
Read the entire review here. And if Christina Martin has you convinced, get your print copy here or your Kindle version here! Remember: you have until the end of this month for the proceeds of your purchase to benefit Secular Pro-Life.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

In one week: Pro-life event at University of Mary Washington

On Tuesday, February 12, Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard will speak at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA.

"Pro-Woman, Pro-Life: A panel discussion about what's best for the woman and the child" will take place in the Great Hall in Woodward Campus Center from 7:30pm to 9:00pm. The panel will also include local pro-life advocates and adoptive parents, as well as Kristen Day of Democrats for Life of America. The event is sponsored by the University of Mary Washington Students for Life.

If you are in the Fredericksburg area, you are welcome to attend! There is no charge. And if you aren't in the area, don't fret: we will record video and post it as soon as we can.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Arguments Against Fetal Personhood

In my previous article on Personhood, I explained that what makes us “persons” (if you must use the term) is our inherent nature as rational, moral agents. While I tend not to focus on personhood arguments unless the topic is broached by the other person, I can only see one reason for disqualifying the preborn from personhood: in order to justify killing them. Any definition for personhood given by a pro-choice advocate works equally well to disqualify some born people from that same status (most notably, infants). But most pro-choice people would not follow their definitions to the logical conclusion and support infanticide.

The best way to see personhood is based on what the nature of personhood is, and on who qualifies as agents who have that nature (which includes the preborn). I will now turn to arguments against fetal personhood. I will address four different arguments: Speciesism, Gradualism, Threshold Arguments, and Functionalism.


First I’ll address Peter Singer’s charge that the pro-life position is a speciesist position. Frank Beckwith explains, “Just as racism is arbitrary because color and ethnicity are irrelevant to assessing a human being’s intrinsic worth, those who charge pro-lifers with speciesism argue that preference for the species Homo sapiens is just as arbitrary.” [1]

However, this argument misses the point entirely. The pro-life position is not grounded in the fact that human beings belong to the biological species, Homo sapiens. The pro-life position is grounded in the nature of human beings. Beckwith continues, “However, this charge is a red herring. For the pro-life position is based on the personal nature of human beings and the presence of that nature from the moment a human being comes into existence regardless of whether it has the present exercisable capacity for, or is currently engaging in, personal acts.” [2] Because human beings are intrinsically valuable as rational, moral agents, and because they have a personal nature, they are intrinsically valuable. And because the preborn share this human nature when they come into existence, they are equally intrinsically valuable.

Christopher Kaczor adds, “...even if speciesism is ethically problematic, a commitment to the dignity of all human beings does not involve a denial of dignity to any other class of non-human beings simply because they are not human. Defenders of the dignity of all human beings need not believe, and characteristically do not believe, that only humans have dignity.” [3] As I mentioned in my previous article, simply considering someone a person does not automatically disqualify non-persons from dignity or from possessing a right to life.

In fact, the very fact that humans are uniquely valuable means that racism and sexism are inherently morally wrong because race and gender are arbitrary distinctions. It’s wrong to discriminate against someone based on race and gender because simply being female or of a different nationality has no bearing on someone’s capacity as rational, moral agents. But since that is what makes us valuable, then if another species does not share that inherent nature with us, they are not on par with us as far as intrinsic worth (but it may still be wrong to kill them for other reasons).

Clearly, the pro-life position does not entail speciesism. [4]


This is the argument that pro-life philosopher Trent Horn referred to as Golden Retriever Reasoning. [5] This position essentially states that the unborn don’t have the same value that we do, but they do have some value, just like dogs do. It would be wrong for me to kill my neighbor’s Golden Retriever, not because he’s as valuable as humans but because he belongs to my neighbor. Additionally, you shouldn’t just kill them for a trivial reason, but if circumstances get very tough, then you are justified in killing them.

But as Trent points out in the video, this doesn’t account for why we treat the unborn as no different than infants in some situations (for example, in some states if you kill a wanted unborn child you are charged with murder, not animal cruelty, such as when Scott Peterson killed his pregnant wife and unborn child in California several years ago; he was charged with two counts of murder). In fact, many pro-choice people do treat the unborn as babies if they’re wanted.

We don’t become “more human” by developing further, we just develop more of the traits that humans possess. Similarly, we don’t become “more of a person” by developing further, we just develop the capacity to perform the functions that persons can perform.

So the Gradualist position just doesn’t account for why abortion should be available, especially on demand as we currently have it in the United States now.

Threshold Arguments

Threshold arguments are similar to Functionalist arguments in that they essentially state that you don’t become valuable until you pass a particular “threshold” of an ability that they deem as morally relevant to your right to life. For example, fetuses in the third trimester have a limited degree of consciousness, but not enough to grant them a right to life like people outside the womb.

A problem with this argument is almost always immediately apparent: they can never articulate just how much of a particular quality is needed to make you valuable. It is usually an ad hoc requirement. As pro-life advocate Josh Brahm points out, pro-choice people often try to draw a line on the spectrum of functionality that makes one a person. But if you define it too strict, then you disqualify infants. Conversely, if you define it too broadly, then not only do you include late-term fetuses but also many animals, like squirrels.

There’s just no reasonable place on the spectrum of functionality that isn’t simply an ad hoc requirement specifically to disqualify the unborn from personhood. More than that, however, if it can be shown that it’s not our presently-exercisable capacity to perform a function that makes us valuable, then it would seem that threshold arguments would automatically fail as a result.


This is the argument most commonly supported by pro-choice advocates. Pro-choice philosophers (e.g. David Boonin, Peter Singer, and Mary Anne Warren) argue that the unborn are not persons because they can’t perform many of the same functions as you and I can. More than that, pro-choice philosophers differ on what it is that makes us “persons,” so they have different criteria as to when the unborn become valuable:

David Boonin believes that we don’t have a right to life until cortical activity begins in the brain. This is because cortical brain activity is needed for an entity to have desires, so before the entity can be said to possess desires, then you are not harming anything because you are not frustrating anyone’s desires to live.

Peter Singer argues that self-awareness is what makes one valuable, self-awareness being the ability to perceive of oneself and to recognize oneself as existing through time. Since you have no future plans to be thwarted and you don’t value your life, it can’t be said that you are being harmed if you are taken out of existence.

Mary Anne Warren has five different criteria for personhood, and while she concedes that you don’t need all five to be a person, if you possess one or two (which the unborn do not), then you may possibly possess personhood. But if you don’t possess one of Warren’s criteria for personhood, then you definitely are not a person.

Some philosophers, like Peter Singer, follow their arguments to their logical conclusion and support infanticide, since infants are fundamentally no different than late-term fetuses. Other philosophers, like Mary Anne Warren, don’t. Rather than reject her criteria for personhood, Warren take the ad hoc approach. She argues that since infants are close enough to being persons, we should consider them persons rather than support infanticide (though she would say infanticide if the child is severely deformed may be permissible).

In the future, I will write article on where exactly these different pro-choice philosophers stand and why their arguments ultimately fail, but for now I’ll just write a brief rebuttal of the Functionalism criteria in general.

So is it a particular function that you can perform that makes you valuable? There are two types of capacities we can be said to have. One is the presently-exercisable capacity, and the other is the radical, or inherent, capacity. If you have the presently-exercisable capacity to perform a function, that means you can perform it now (such as you have the presently-exercisable capacity to read). The inherent capacity is one in which you can’t presently exercise, but you can or will do it if you develop enough or learn how to do it (infants have the inherent capacity to read). I also have the presently-exercisable capacity to speak English. I have the inherent capacity to speak German, which would become presently-exercisable if I ever decide to learn the language.

The problem with requiring a presently-exercisable capacity to perform these functions is that we occasionally lose the ability to perform these functions, and we once lacked the ability to perform these functions.

For example, what of Singer’s argument that self-awareness is what makes us valuable? We begin life out of the womb without being self-aware. We don’t become self-aware until about sixteen to eighteen months after we’re born. So if that’s your criterion, then you would have to support infanticide. Now, if you’re like Peter Singer, that’s not a problem (because he bites the bullet). But if you can’t bring yourself to concede infanticide is morally permissible, then you must reject this criterion as one that makes us valuable.

So what if you’re a fan of Peter Singer? Well, we also know that we lose the capacity for self-awareness at times. We are not self-aware when we fall asleep, enter a reversible coma, or go under general anesthesia before surgery. So is it morally permissible to kill us for any reason during those times? Yes, if we must be self-aware to be valuable.

But, you might respond (as Peter Singer does), if you fall sleep, go under anesthesia, or enter a reversible coma, you once were self-aware. So as long as you once exhibited the capacity for self-awareness, it would be wrong to kill you. Frank Beckwith offers the following thought-experiment:

“Suppose your Uncle Jed is in a terrible car accident that results in his being in a coma from which he may or may not wake. Imagine that he remains in this state for roughly two years and then awakens. He seems to be the same Uncle Jed that you knew before he went into the coma, even though he’s lost some weight, hair, and memories. Was he an [intrinsically valuable human being (IVHB)] during the coma? Could the physicians have killed Uncle Jed -- the living organism we refer to as ‘Uncle Jed’ -- during that time because he did not exhibit certain functions or have certain present capacities? If one holds that IV depends on capacities that are immediately exercisable, it is difficult to see why it would be wrong to kill Uncle Jed while he was in the coma. Yet it would be wrong, precisely because Uncle Jed is identical to himself through all the changes he undergoes and that self, by nature, has certain basic capacities.

“Consequently, the [Anti-Equality Advocate] cannot reply by arguing that Uncle Jed’s life was intrinsically valuable during the coma because in the past he functioned as an IVHB and probably will do so in the future. For we can change the story a bit and say that when Uncle Jed awakens from the coma he loses virtually all his memories and knowledge including his ability to speak a language, engage in rational thought, and have self-awareness. He then would be in precisely the same position as the standard fetus. He would still literally be the same human being he was before the coma but he would be more like he was before he had a “past.” He would have the basic capacities to speak a language, engage in rational thought, and have self-awareness, but he would have to develop and learn them all over again for these basic capacities to result, as they did before, in present capacities and actual abilities.” [6]

So it really seems that it’s not our present capacity to perform a function, but our inherent capacities, that make us human. This way we can lose our present ability to function but still be seen as a valuable human being that is wrong to kill, whether in the embryonic stage or in a case like Uncle Jed (whom a Functionalist would have to admit would not be wrong to kill while he’s in the coma).

Additionally, as philosopher Stephen Schwartz points out, claiming that one must perform functions that make one a person before one can be considered a person commits the fallacy of confusing cause and effect. Philosophers like Singer, Boonin, etc., confuse functioning as a person with being a person. [7] You must be a person first before you can function as one, just as you must be a human first before you can function as one.

Finally, what of people who fail to develop a capacity that other human beings can perform, like the seriously disabled? Singer would admit that they are not persons, but is it truly permissible to kill them? As Christopher Kaczor would note, just because a human being or person fails to develop a capacity that makes one a “person” (say because of a disability), he is still a person because he still has the inherent capacity to fulfill these functions. If a dog loses the ability to bark, does he cease to be a dog? If a person becomes blind, does he cease to be a “person” or “human,” even though this is a function that human people can perform? Of course not.

It seems that the best explanation for what makes us valuable human persons is not the functions that we develop to perform, but the functions that are in our inherent nature as human beings to perform. The unborn share our common human nature, and the inherent capacities that make us valuable as human persons.

[1] Frank J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 2007, p. 161.
[2] Ibid, pp. 161-162.
[3] Christopher Kaczor, The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice, Routledge, 2007, p. 92.
[4] In fact, Don Marquis mentions in his article Why Abortion is Immoral, that if his Future-Like-Ours argument succeeds, it likewise avoids the charge of speciesism because if animals had the same type of future we do, it would also be wrong to kill them.
[5] Trent starts to talk about this at about fifteen minutes into the video.
[6] Beckwith, Defending Life, p. 135.
[7] Stephen D. Schwartz, “Personhood Begins at Conception” from The Abortion Controversy, ed. by Louis P. Pojman and Frank J. Beckwith, (Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998, p. 260.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Embracing my son

[Today's guest post is by SPL member and adoptive mom Nicole Wood.*]

Early in 2011, I met my son. He was scared, he did not speak, his appearance was unkempt, he cowered in a corner making little eye contact. I was told that he was thought to be deaf and I would need to learn sign language to communicate with him. He was a child of a child. His mother didn't know how to care for him properly, not being cared for as a young girl herself. She left him with a man she was dating while she worked. He was too young to remember everything that happened while he stayed with this man so we will never really know. Eventually, he was abruptly taken from his home when he had to be life flighted for fatal injuries to his abdomen. Doctors saved his life via emergency surgery to removed part of his bowels that had ruptured and were spilling into his abdominal cavity creating septic shock. The man in charge of him admitted to physically abusing him. This all happened in a few months after his second birthday.

This child was not only born to a mother who couldn't care for him, he was created out of rape as well. If any child was a case for abortion, he would be a solid one. If pro-choice advocates had a poster child for why we need abortion, he was it. He would be their champion for what happens when woman can't choose abortion. Surely he would have been better off to never have been born.

Fast forward two years. This little boy talks very well, and he is reading at age four. He has the biggest smile I've ever seen and he lights up a room. He introduces himself to everyone he meets with pride. He has a big sister who annoys him, but he loves her dearly. He has a little sister whom he is so tender with. He tells everyone about his precious little sister and how he is her big brother. His favorite super hero is Spider Man and he puts on his costume at least once a day. He really loves super heroes and I wonder some times if it is normal boy stuff or if it's because he feels like there were super heroes in his life in the form of doctors, nurses, CPS caseworkers, big sister (who definitely taught him to just jump for joy without being scared), his mom and dad, his grandmothers and grandfathers, his cousins, and all the friends of the family who love him. 

It makes me sad some times when I hear pro-lifers talk about abortion should be okay in the case of rape. I can't help but to think of my little man. Does he not deserve life? Was he any less human because of what his biological father did? It makes me sad when I hear the pro-choice side say that women who cannot financially support their children should have the right to not bring them up in bad circumstances. Do these children not deserve a voice? After all my child went through, what would he say? Did he wish his mother would have not given him life? Surely not! He would have missed out on a lot of pain but he would have also missed out on a lifetime of happiness. These children, just like any human being, do deserve life. 

Rather than giving the mother a "pass" in these circumstances to commit abortion, why not find ways to help them?  If we truly want to be loving to unborn children, shouldn't we love their mothers, too? I believe that we, as a society, can work together, to not just help children, but also help their parents. After all, they will ultimately be in charge of the care for the children we save (either by finding them an adoptive home or by raising them themselves). To show dignity to all human life, we must embrace ALL human life.

*Name has been changed to protect her children's identities.