Friday, March 29, 2013

We want your opinion

In the coming weeks and months, Secular Pro-Life leaders will be taking a review of where we are and how we should move forward. We would like your input on our long-term plans. Please take just a minute to answer this simple two-question survey. Thank you!

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world's leading questionnaire tool.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tonight: SPL at University of Richmond

Tonight at 8:15pm EST, Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard will give a presentation at the University of Richmond. This event is free and open to the public.

Tyler Haynes Commons Room 348
28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA 23173

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Abortion is Not a Religious Issue

[Today's post is by Christian pro-lifer Sean Sullivan. It was originally posted on the Students for Life of Michigan blog and is reprinted with permission.]

In a recent editorial titled “Abortion Focus Will Cost GOP Michigan,” esteemed writer Nolan Finley argued that the abortion issue should be avoided by Republicans and should be relegated to religious groups.

He writes, “If some Republicans see ending abortion as their main mission, they should get out of politics and join a religious group, where they can concentrate on changing hearts instead of laws.”

I completely disagree. And here’s why. In its most basic form, the role of government is to uphold justice. Abortion, while certainly a religious issue, is also an issue of justice.

The government has laws prohibiting murder. Murder is certainly an issue opposed by religious groups but it does not make it a purely religious issue. It is an issue for which both religious and non-religious people can rally behind and pursue justice.

However, when murder is convenient for a large number of people and its impact is minimal, then murder/abortion is allowed. The child’s death is not felt by relatives or family or friends who have never gotten to know the child, thus making the emotional devastation of a death more confined.

Abortion is supported because it makes some people’s lives easier at the expense of a people group (small children) who cannot advocate on their own behalf.

How incredibly selfish and unjust!

Two hundred years ago, William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament, fought to abolish slavery. While certainly motivated by his religious convictions, he recognized it as an issue demanding justice for those enslaved.

Through “back door” tactics and laws, he managed to abolish slavery in Great Britain 31 years before Lincoln signed the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in America.

Slavery was both a religious issue and an issue of justice for an oppressed people group. Abortion is no different though perhaps more dire since it is always a choice between life and death.

People today who accuse those opposed to abortion of establishing religion make one of two potential mistakes: Either they think that the separation of church and state is actually something in the Constitution when it is not, or they think that what the Constitution does say about establishing religion is in some way related to the abortion topic when it is not.

Yes, religious people oppose abortion. We think it is morally wrong, but we also think adultery is wrong and taking God’s name in vain is wrong. We aren't pushing for laws regarding those things since they are religious issues and between mankind and God.  Abortion is more than a religious issue. It is an issue of justice for children and we oppose it on those grounds.

In conclusion, I think it is great that some Republicans see ending abortion as their main mission. They are champions of justice. Not religion.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Reminder: Human Beings Are Not Commodities

[Today's guest post is by SPL member Nathaniel Givens. It was originally posted on his personal blog and is reprinted with permission.]

Earlier this month, the New York City Health Resource Administration unveiled a series of posters designed to combat teen pregnancy. The posters have drawn widespread criticism, including drawing fire from both sides of the abortion debate. The primary complaint is that they stigmatize pregnant mothers, and that’s valid. There’s an even more sinister message, however, but it’s not drawing as much attention because it’s much more subtle.
2013 03 15 I'm Less Likely To Graduate
Think about the logic of that statement: “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.” The unstated question is: As opposed to what? By waiting, could you have had this child at a later stage in your life, a stage when this child–this particular curly-haired kid–would have had a better shot at life? No. You couldn’t have had this child at any other time. You would have had a different child.

What the poster is implying is that human beings are interchangeable. If you get pregnant at 17 your kid is more likely to have a bad life. If you get pregnant at 27 they have a better chance. But it’s not the same child. Conception is the moment when a new organism is created. Unless you save that particular sperm and that particular egg for 10 years, we’re not talking about improving the life of a specific child. We’re talking about two entirely distinct children.

Does that matter? Yeah, I think it does. I think it does because Madonna going around and adopting children like they were Pokemon (“Gotta catch ‘em all!”), parents in India and China sex-selecting their children by killing off the girls, the fact that 95% of babies with Down syndrome get aborted, the entire industry of IVF that tends to treat children as an upgraded model of those purse-dwelling toy dogs, and the looming bioethical quandary of designer children all contribute to the commodification of human beings.  Implicit in all of this is the idea that–as long as you terminate the pregnancy before birth–you can have a do-over. As though a human being were like a laptop or a car or a cup of coffee: a purchase you can postpone by returning the merchandise or a transaction you can unravel if the situation changes.

Yes, I’m pro-life, but you don’t have to be pro-life to be troubled by this trend. Even those who think abortion should be legal can recognize that a living human organism has some moral value, and that we ought to treat them as something qualitatively distinct from products. I’m not saying that these posters are creating that perception, but they sure are disturbing reflections of it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

April 8: Leave the Abortion Industry Day

And Then There Were None (ATTWN), the pro-life outreach founded by former abortion worker Abby Johnson, helps abortion center employees leave their grisly jobs, find new work, and get counseling. Although it's been described as a "ministry," ATTWN is officially non-sectarian. (For religious ex-workers, ATTWN does provide a spiritual adviser of his or her own faith, upon request.)

ATTWN is sponsoring Exodus 2013: Leave The Abortion Industry Day on April 8. Already, many abortion workers have contacted ATTWN for help. But just as there is a National Coming Out Day even though LGBT people can come out any time, a designated "exodus day" can bring particular attention to the issue and give someone that little extra push they might need.

Help get the word out by changing your facebook cover picture to this graphic!
A weird aside: When this event was announced, several people noted that the Bible verse of Exodus 20:13 is "Thou shalt not murder." The organizers tell me that this was a complete coincidence. I believe them, because they plan to make it an annual thing, and Exodus 20:14 doesn't work nearly as well.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Cumulative Case for the Pro-Life Position

I'm taking a brief break from my current series of articles on Thomson's Defense of Abortion. Currently in Tasmania, lawmakers are considering decriminalizing abortion. I was asked to compose a letter making as strong a case as possible for the pro-life position and send it to the lawmakers, hopefully causing them to think twice about doing so. I would like to share my letter since I think it could be helpful. 

When I discuss or debate abortion, I tend to prefer to make a cumulative case for the pro-life position. That's what this letter has been based on. Now granted, I don't cover any pro-choice arguments in this letter, but it was getting lengthy as it is. Besides, I have written articles critiquing and responding to these arguments in the past (with more to come in the future). The body of the letter is in full below. I will add footnotes with additional information and comments that I'd like to add.
To whom it may concern:

I understand that lawmakers are trying to change the law in Tasmania to allow what is euphemistically called “termination of pregnancy” (but is, in reality and practicality, allowing the killing of innocent human beings). Doing so would be a mistake, and a huge leap backward for human rights. I can list at least five reasons as to why allowing the “termination of pregnancy” would be a human rights disaster.

First, we know that the unborn are biologically human. If it is wrong to kill a human being without strong moral justification, and the unborn are human beings, then it is wrong to kill the unborn without strong moral justification. Any reason that would be wrong to kill someone outside the womb would, by extension, be wrong to kill someone inside the womb. I have literally dozens of quotes by embryologists (who are the experts on human embryos) that speak to human life beginning at fertilization, but I will offer just a few, in the interest of space.

"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 Müller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001. p. 8.

"Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual.”
--Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition, Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. p. 16.

"We talk of human development not because a jumble of cells, which is perhaps initially atypical, gradually turns more and more into a human, but rather because the human being develops from a uniquely human cell. There is no state in human development prior to which one could claim that a being exists with not-yet-human individuality. On the basis of anatomical studies, we know today that no developmental phase exists that constitutes a transition from the not-yet-human to the human."
--Erich Blechschmidt, Brian Freeman, The Ontogenetic Basis of Human Anatomy: The Biodynamic Approach to Development from Conception to Adulthood, North Atlantic Books, 2004, p. 7.

We know that the unborn are alive. They exhibit all the necessary qualities of living things (they grow through cellular reproduction, they metabolize food for energy, and they respond to stimuli). Scientists agree that anything that exhibits those three qualities is biologically alive.

We know that the unborn are human. Biological beings reproduce after their own kind. Dogs produce dogs, cats produce cats, and humans produce humans. There is no essential injection of DNA at any point after fertilization that “adds” humanity to the unborn organism. They are human right from the start, from when the male sperm meets the female ovum, and two haploid cells contribute genetic material to the new resulting organism.

Finally, we know that the unborn are organisms. They are not merely a “part of the woman’s body,” unless you take the position that a pregnant woman has four arms, four legs, twenty fingers, two heads, two noses, and half the time, working male genitalia. As philosopher Richard Stith points out, human beings do not develop piece-by-piece like a car; rather, they develop themselves from within like an old Polaroid picture. [1] They are individual, separate organisms on a self-directed path of human development. We did not “come from” zygotes, we once were zygotes (and embryos, and fetuses, just like we were once infants and adolescents, rather than coming from infants and adolescents).

So the unborn are living human organisms. Euphemistically calling an abortion “reproductive health” is absurd. A “reproductive health” procedure does not kill human beings. They are intended to protect life, not take it.

Second, as philosopher Frank Beckwith points out, the unborn are full-fledged members of the human community. [2]

The unborn are essentially the same kind of organism that I am. They’re human beings with the same rights and value that I have. (I’m using the term “value” here to indicate that the unborn have intrinsic value as members of humanity due to their inherent nature as rational, moral agents -- an inherent nature means that while they can’t yet exercise that capacity, they have that capacity within themselves to actualize it). There is a continuity of human existence. I was the same as the toddler and as the newborn that was born from my mother, even though I can’t remember what it was like to be a toddler or a newborn, and I wasn’t even self-aware at the newborn stage. I was still that same individual. If you had killed me then, I would not be here to write this letter to you now.

Similarly, I was that same embryo that developed in my mother’s womb. I did not develop from an embryo, I was that embryo, even though I can’t remember what it was like and I did not actualize the same things that are in human nature to actualize. A substance is an entity that maintains its identity through change (e.g. I am the same entity I was when I was younger, although I’ve matured, grown taller, etc.). I am the same person I was through all points in my life, even though I had not yet developed the abilities that I would one day develop (I was still the same person, even before I hit puberty). There is no break in life or in development. If I was the same entity through all points of my development, this includes when I was a fetus, embryo, and zygote.

Because of this, an equally strong moral justification was needed to kill me then as it is now.

Third, the unborn, themselves, are persons.

Number one, the only reason to disqualify the unborn from personhood is if you want to justify killing them. In fact, the term “person” has been used in the past in many countries to disqualify certain groups of humans from protection by the government.

Number two, many people try and argue that what makes a person a person is when you can perform certain functions. And different pro-choice people disagree on what functions makes one valuable. Generally, self-awareness and consciousness are the ones you hear the most. But as philosopher Stephen Schwartz indicates, this actually confuses being a person with acting as a person. [3] For example, we can think rationally, not because thinking rationally makes us valuable, but we think rationally because we are persons. Thinking rationally is what persons do. You have to be a person before you can think rationally. So trying to indicate that our functions are what makes us a person confuses cause and effect. We can act as persons because we are persons.

And number three, even if you argue that the unborn are not “persons”, you are still begging the question (a logical fallacy) by assuming that only “persons” have a right to life. It’s conceivable that there are “non-persons” that it still might be wrong to kill. So even if you disqualify the unborn from personhood, you have not proven that you are morally justified in killing them.

Fourth, philosopher Don Marquis argues that what makes it wrong to kill us is not its effect on the person killing you. It’s not that it brutalizes you. While it could make it habit-forming, that doesn’t explain why that particular habit, in itself, is wrong. And it’s not wrong to kill us because of its effects on others because that doesn’t explain why killing a hermit is wrong, or why killing someone who has friends who can make friends easily is wrong. What makes killing the unborn wrong (as well as what makes killing us wrong) is that you’re robbing them of all of their future experiences. He calls this a Future of Value. If you kill the unborn, you’re robbing them of a Future of Value, too. A future of experiences like love, sex, eating great food, having close friendships, those kinds of things. So what makes killing the unborn wrong is the same thing that makes killing us wrong. We’re robbed of all of our future experiences and things that are common to us as humans.

Finally, even if it were true that we can’t tell when human life becomes valuable to the point that we can’t kill it (which is a very dubious claim), we should still err on the side of caution. It’s hugely irresponsible to kill something if you don’t know whether it’s something that is a valuable living entity. If you’re blowing up a condemned building and someone runs up to you, telling you that there may be someone inside (but they’re not sure), it would be very irresponsible of you to blow the building up anyway, assuming that everyone has made it out safely.
So even if it were true that we don’t know whether we should be killing the unborn, we should err on the side of not killing them. As philosopher Peter Kreeft argues, there are only four possibilities when you kill the unborn. That the unborn are valuable human beings and you know it, that the unborn are valuable human beings and you don’t know it, that the unborn are not valuable human beings and you don’t know it, or the unborn are not valuable human beings and you know it.

-- If the unborn are valuable human beings, you know it, and kill them anyway, you are guilty of murder.
-- If the unborn are valuable human beings, you don’t know it, and you kill them, you are guilty of manslaughter.
-- If the unborn are not valuable human beings, you don’t know it, and you kill them, you are guilty of criminal negligence.
-- If the unborn are not valuable human beings, you know it, and you kill them, then you are not guilty of any crime. You are no more guilty than someone who fries a fish or steps on a cockroach. [4]

No one has ever conclusively proven that the unborn are not valuable human beings, so option four is off the table. And as for option three, as Kreeft himself wrote, “Such negligence is instinctively and universally condemned by all reasonable individuals and societies as personally immoral and socially criminal, and cases [1] and [2], murder and manslaughter, are of course condemned even more strongly. We do not argue politely over whether such behavior is right or wrong. We wholeheartedly condemn it, even when we do not know whether there is a person there, because the killer did not know that a person was not there. Why do we not do the same with abortion?” [5]

It seems that the only reasonable position anyone can take is that abortion is gravely immoral and should not become legal in any civilized society.
Thank you for reading,
Clinton Wilcox [6]

[1] 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.
[2] This is the central thesis of Francis J. Beckwith's book, Defending Life: A Legal and Moral Case Against Abortion Choice.[3] 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.
[4] Peter Kreeft has adapted this argument from Pascal's wager, found in Blaise Pascal's famous work Pensees.
[5] Peter Kreeft, Human Personhood Begins at Conception.
[6] When in a full-blown debate, I will, of course, take more time to really flesh out the arguments. But my basic cumulative case is as follows:
1) The unborn are human beings.
2) The Substance View: The unborn are full-fledged members of the human species.
3) The unborn are persons.
4) Future-Like-Ours: What makes killing anyone wrong is that you are robbing them of a valuable future (incidentally, this is also why it's seen as a greater tragedy when children die than adults, because they had more of their life ahead of them). Since the unborn have this same future of value, it is equally wrong to kill them (in fact, maybe even more so).

5) Even if it could not be proven the unborn are valuable human beings, the benefit of the doubt should go to life.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Give thanks for happy news

Last week, we reported that the facility used by a long string of abortionists (most recently, the notorious Reginald Sharpe) was for sale. The sale has gone through, and the buyer is a pro-life businessman! What the facility will now be used for is still up in the air, but it will not be an abortion site.

Local pro-life activist Lynn Mills suggests that supporters write the buyer a quick note of thanks and encouragement to celebrate the new future of the building. Cards can be mailed to:
ATTN: New Owner Bill
27549 Six Mile
Livonia, MI 48152

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Pro-Life Legal Event in DC this Friday

Are you a law student? A lawyer? Just interested in abortion law and policy? Then come out to Making a Difference for Life this Friday, March 22, from 1pm to 5pm.

This free legal conference will be held in room 204 at Columbus School of Law, 3600 John McCormack Rd NE, Washington, DC. (Columbus School of Law is affiliated with the Catholic University of America, but the presentations will be secular in nature.) The location is easily accessible from the Brookland metro station.

Making a Difference for Life serves two purposes. It is a regional conference for Advocates for Life, the law student outreach of Americans United for Life. But it is also a stop on the Law Students for Life 2013 tour, "Is Roe v. Wade a Legal Anomaly?" As an attorney, I find this topic fascinating. The preborn are, in fact, recognized by the law in all sorts of ways. The legal acceptance of abortion stands out as a lonely (albeit colossal) exception.

With big-name speakers from multiple organizations, this is sure to be an excellent conference. I hope to see you there!

Can't make Friday's event? Don't fret. The Law Students for Life tour hits three more schools this month:
  • Northeastern University School of Law, March 25 at 12:30pm, Boston, MA
  • Dartmouth College, March 26 at 4:30pm, Hanover, NH
  • Bentley University, March 27 at 7:30pm, Waltham, MA

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Case in point

If you recognize that abortion is an act of violence against a human being, like and share this picture on facebook.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Pro-life March Madness!

Students for Life of Illinois is bringing back their awesome March Madness fundraiser. Sign up now at!
Here’s how it works:
  • You make a donation and get access to the bracket system (be sure to check your email!).
  • Create a profile on our bracket system.
  • Fill out your bracket between March 17 (when the teams are selected) and March 20 at 12:15pm (when the tournament begins).
  • Track your wins and losses in the March Madness tournament!
Brackets will be electronically scored and the winner will be announced after the NCAA Championship is over. If you win, you will get the grand prize of $250!
It only costs $15 to enter. This is a great cause. Illinois has a thriving abortion industry that has injured thousands of women. The young people who are fighting back definitely deserve our support. So please, sign up now and submit your bracket for the cause!

P.S.As a alumna of the U, I'm predicting that the on-fire Miami Hurricanes will win it all this year.

Got some CANES over here! Whoosh, whoosh.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Melissa Ohden, Abortion Survivor

In 1977, Melissa Ohden was born alive after a failed abortion. Her biological parents arranged for her to be adopted. Melissa describes her adoptive parents' reactions when they met her:
My parents saw the inherent beauty that existed in me. I want everybody to see that. If we look behind words, if we look behind numbers, this is what abortion looks like. This is what tens of millions of other children would look like, in one way, shape, or form, if only they were given the opportunity to live. It's not just a word, it's not a statistic, it's not just a choice, just a right. It's a human being.
Check out the full video here:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Upcoming events in New York, Virginia

Via our latest e-newsletter:
You are invited to personally see the work that Secular Pro-Life is doing to educate people about abortion. In the coming weeks, I will present the secular case for life at two universities:

University of Richmond
Thursday, March 28 at 8:15pm 
Tyler Haynes Commons Room 348
28 Westhampton Way
Richmond, VA 23173

Columbia University
Thursday, April 4 at 8:00pm
Hamilton Hall 313
116th Street and Broadway
New York City, NY 10027

These events are free and open to the public, and no RSVP is required. I hope you will be able to come. Your support of Secular Pro-Life means a lot to me, and I would love to meet you in person.
Kelsey Hazzard
President of Secular Pro-Life

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Critique of Judith Jarvis Thomson's A Defense of Abortion, Part I

Probably the most famous argument against the pro-life position is Judith Jarvis Thomson’s Violinist Analogy, in which you are attached, against your will, to a famous unconscious violinist to prevent his dying from a kidney ailment. I have already responded to the violinist analogy in previous articles. But within the original essay where the violinist argument appeared, A Defense of Abortion, there are also other arguments against the pro-life position. I would like to take a look at the entirety of her essay and show why it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. I’ll look at it in sections, divided up as she divided her original essay.


Thomson immediately talks about the majority of pro-life arguments, which rely on the fact that the unborn is a human being, a person, from conception. I do find it ironic that she, a professional philosopher, would say that our arguments for that are not argued well, and we accept them uncritically, but then uses one of the worst analogies that pro-choice people use to illustrate that. She says that acorn development is similar to human development, but it does not follow that acorns are oak trees. For why this reasoning fails, see these two articles.

She argues that to place a line on the “slope” of human development as to where it is now considered a person commits the “slippery slope fallacy,” but like most fallacies it is not always a fallacy. As long as there is warrant for it, then it is not a fallacious argument. It is not fallacious to argue that a fetus five minutes from being born is fundamentally no different than a newborn five minutes after being born. The only difference between the two is the birth event, and there is nothing mystical about the birth event that suddenly grants personhood or “humanity.” If you’re going to draw a line, then you need a strong enough argument as to why the line should be drawn there and not five minutes, five hours, or even five days before.

She then asserts that it is not clear how we get from “the unborn is a person” to the impermissibility of abortion. I’m surprised a professional philosopher can’t see it, but if we have the premise “it is immoral to kill a person without strong justification”, then it is easy to get to the conclusion “abortion is immoral without strong justification.” Any reason that would be immoral to kill someone outside the womb would also be immoral to kill someone inside the womb.

So Thomson claims to accept the pro-life person’s premise that the unborn are persons from conception, but as Frank Beckwith points out, she’s really not making this concession. He writes, “What Thomson is granting, then, is a view of personhood consistent with the pro-life position only insofar as it is aligned with a minimalist understanding of autonomy and choice. That view isolates the individual from other persons -- generationally, contemporaneously, and institutionally -- except as those relationships arise from the individual’s explicit choice. But that is not the pro-life view of personhood.

“The pro-life view is that human beings are persons-in-community and have certain obligations, responsibilities, and entitlements as members of their community that arise from their roles as mother, father, child, sibling, citizen, neighbor, etc. These roles are informed by institutions and ways of life that arose over time to account for, among other things, one’s proper relationship to others, which depends on a person’s degree of development (i.e. whether or not one is a child or an adult), the geographical proximity of those with whom one shares a common life, and what we owe those who cannot care for themselves due to age or infirmity. This also includes one’s responsibility for protecting and nurturing vulnerable and defenseless human beings who come into being as a result of one engaging in generative acts that have the intrinsic purpose of bringing such beings into existence” (emphasis in original).

Thomson is
not granting our minor premise because her article assumes that human beings have no moral obligations toward each other, or at least only obligations that are chosen. But people have all sorts of responsibilities thrust upon them without free choice. Parents are expected to take care of their children, even when they don’t want to. That obligation does not begin at birth.

Here Thomson goes into her famous analogy of the violinist. I have critiqued this specific argument in the past, and a wealth of articles have been written critiquing it in print and on-line, so I won’t go into that here, save a few remarks that I think are valuable to keep in mind. [1]

John T. Wilcox argues that the weirdness of the violinist analogy (and Wilcox tells us that weird is a technical term, and does not use it in any way to minimalize the unique aspects of pregnancy) and the commonality of pregnancy “is significant. Some people try to look at this matter very abstractly, and say that right is right, whether it happens one time or billions of times; but in a serious sense, something that happens all the time and is necessary is different, by virtue of that fact, from what is rare or impossible. So it will be plausible to regard them differently from an ethical point of view. It is at least arguable, and many theorists believe, that the moralities we have represent some ways of dealing with the realities and and regularities of human life; and they may not fit well the irregularities or impossibilities. Our teaching methods, when they work, fit the kinds of students we ordinarily have; they might not be suitable for Martians or Venusians. And vice versa. Similarly for our moral principles. So what is appropriate for kidnapped kidney bearers and their violinist parasites might not be appropriate for mothers and the babies in their wombs.” [2]

While we can’t ordinarily dismiss an analogy simply because it’s weird, I think there’s a lot of merit to Wilcox’s argument. Our moral obligations may be different in a normal situation like pregnancy than in a case of abduction and being forced into a medical situation like being “plugged in” to a famous violinist. The fact that the situation with the violinist is essentially a medical impossibility may confuse our intuitions on the topic.

As I indicated in my last article, the responsibility objection is the most powerful objection to the violinist analogy. In fact, pro-life philosopher Trent Horn talks about a thought experiment he devised with his colleague Tony George, based on Thomson’s violinist analogy. He says, “imagine you wake up in a hospital and you’re connected to Thomson’s violinist. You decide, ‘you know what? It would be nice to stay plugged in but I’m going to unplug from this guy. I can’t stay here for nine months.’ So you unplug, you start to walk out of the hospital, and start to feel really nauseous and light-headed. The director of hospital runs in and says, ‘oh my goodness! Plug back in or you’ll die!’ So you scramble into the bed and you plug in to the guy. The director says this to you: ‘I”m terribly sorry, but last night you were kidnapped by the Society of Musical Pranksters (unlike Thomson’s Society of Music Lovers). And these Pranksters, of which the violinist is a member, have a lot of fun together. But because they’re pranksters, every now and then they’ll end up plugged into an innocent person. And when that happens, it destroys the innocent person’s kidneys. But don’t worry. If you stay plugged in to the violinist in nine months your kidneys will heal, and then you can go on your way.’ And you pass out, because this is just crazy.

“The violinist wakes up. He looks over at you and says, ‘hey...he doesn’t have a right to use my body without my consent. I’m not going to let him use my kidneys without my permission.’ He unplugs from you, walks out of the hospital, and you die of kidney failure and you’re thrown into the hospital incinerator. Now the question is does the violinist in that case have the right to unplug from you?” [3] As Trent points out, it seems strange to suggest that the violinist, who is a member of the Society of Musical Pranksters, has the right to unplug from you, since he’s the reason you’re in the predicament in the first place. He’s responsible for you needing that life support.

In fact, Trent mentions that philosopher Peter Unger has shown that thought experiments sometimes twist our moral intuitions based on the point of view we have in the experiment. Thomson's violinist analogy is from the perspective of the pregnant woman. But Tony and Trent’s Reverse Violinist thought experiment is from the perspective of the unborn child.

Now admittedly, the responsibility objection to Thomson’s violinist does not work in the case of rape. In fact, Thomson even mentions as much. She concedes that the analogy works because you’re kidnapped (which is more analogous to the case of rape), and goes on to state, “Surely the question of whether you have a right to life at all, or how much of it you have, shouldn’t turn on the question of whether or not you are a product of a rape.” I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I believe abortion to be immoral even in the case of rape. However, there are pro-life people who argue that abortions can be justified in the case of rape specifically because of bodily rights, and the position that if you consent to the act of sexual intercourse, you waive your right to bodily autonomy. Thomson doesn’t take this potential objection into consideration.

Thomson then suggests that pro-life people would not make an exception for a woman who must stay in bed for the entire pregnancy, or for a woman whose pregnancy, miraculously, lasted nine years or the rest of her life. I think that extending the length of pregnancy in this example is utterly unhelpful. The reality is that a woman isn’t pregnant for her entire life, nor could she ever be. In fact, this is one way in which Thomson confuses intuitions. To the medical community, an abortion just is the act of expelling the separation of the fetus from the mother. As Bernard Nathanson has noted, “The fundamental misunderstanding here corrupts the entire debate. Though in practice death has become the aim as well as the result of separating the fetus, the medical term does not imply any intent to destroy it.” [4] If the pregnancy were to stretch out too long, the doctor could simply remove the fetus intact and, presumably, healthy. Considering that later in her essay she indicates that the right to an abortion does not entail the right to the fetus’ death, this is particularly puzzling.

When it comes to a more extreme medical case, such as the mother being bedridden, I am not sure this would be grounds for killing the human fetus. As Dr. Nathanson argues, “In morality, life can only be equated with life, not with convenience or sociology or politics or economics or poverty...In arguing an issue of life, one can only invoke issues of life to counterbalance it.” [5]

Her last paragraph of the introduction references pro-life advocates who do not believe abortion is justified even to save the mother’s life. I believe that abortions in those cases are morally justified, so I don’t need to respond to that particular point.

In the interest of space, I’ve only critiqued the introduction here. I’ll try to critique as many of the individual sections as possible in each part of this series. The violinist was just the tip of the iceberg. Later in her essay, she uses even more bizarre scenarios in an attempt to justify abortion, but so far Thomson’s essay is not off to a very promising start.

[1] See also Frank Beckwith’s books Politically Correct Death and Defending Life, as well as Christopher Kaczor’s The Ethics of Abortion.
[2] John T. Wilcox, Nature as Demonic in Thomson’s Defense of Abortion, from The Ethics of Abortion: Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice, Third Edition, ed. by Robert M. Baird and Stuart E. Rosenbaum, (Prometheus Books: Amherst, New York, 2001), p. 260.
[3] The relevant section starts at about 6:45 on the video.
[4] Bernard N. Nathson, M.D., with Richard N. Ostling, Aborting America, (Doubleday: New York, 1979), p. 177.
[5] ibid., p. 240.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

For sale: notorious abortion facility

A tip of the hat to Secular Pro-Life supporter Lynn Mills, who has tracked down this story. Recently, abortionist Reginald Sharpe closed down his Livonia abortion business after he began bankruptcy proceedings (possibly to avoid the medical malpractice claims that had been filed against him).

Last night, Lynn informed me that the facility was for sale. Asking price: $120,000. A deal could happen within a few short hours. Would the winning offer come from a pro-life organization? A storefront business owner? Or would someone come forward to maintain the building as an abortion center?

Today, she has an update:
The offer has been submitted. I was told there would be a clause in the lease "NO ABORTIONS EVER!" So I wait. It could be minutes, hours, or another day.
I'll let you know when we hear more, but it sounds like the pro-life movement in Livonia got the best possible outcome.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Get up to speed on the Kermit Gosnell trial

The jurors have been selected for the trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell. Pro-life potential jurors were dismissed out of fear that they would a) convict no matter what, and/or b) in the event of a conviction, refuse to vote for the death penalty. 

The dismissal of pro-life jurors doesn't trouble me too much. If anything, I think that supporters of "choice" will feel compelled to take this case very seriously, lest they be perceived as letting Gosnell off too easily. You certainly do not need to be anti-abortion to be horrified by the evidence in this case.

Gosnell is standing trial for eight counts of murder. Seven of the deceased are infants who were born alive before Gosnell allegedly cut their spinal cords. One is an adult woman who received an abortion from Gosnell and died in the process. He is also charged with "conspiracy, drug delivery resulting in death, infanticide, corruption of minors, evidence tampering, theft by deception, abuse of corpse, and corruption."

The story of Gosnell's "house of horrors" abortion mill broke over two years ago. If you need a refresher, watch the excellent documentary 3801 Lancaster, embedded below. Warning: graphic and disturbing content.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Can I be a feminist too?

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

I consider myself a feminist. I’m a big proponent of women going to college and building their own careers (and I’d like to see more female scientists). I’m very big on a balance between our relationships and the rest of our lives; you should not be made or broken by whether you're single or dating or married. I think society concentrates far too much on our looks, too little on our minds. I’m a huge advocate of expecting and demanding respect from others, particularly from romantic interests. I believe empowered women include women who value themselves, and expect their partners to value them as well. Cruelty, indifference, derision, dishonesty—I hate seeing people tolerate poor treatment, especially due to a fear of being single. I also hate victim-blaming. I’m grateful my boyfriend, brothers, and guy friends understand that the standard is not "it's okay as long as she doesn't say 'no'" but rather "it's not okay unless she says 'yes.'" I’d love for a lot more people to understand this.

I consider myself a feminist. I’m humbled by the women who’ve gone before me, who helped create the opportunities I enjoy today. I’m proud of and inspired by the women who fought for my ability to vote, get an education, own property, access birth control, serve in the military, hold political office, stand up to sexual harassment, graduate from college, and on and on. I feel grateful to modern role models who speak out against ridiculous body expectations, or sexual expectations, or what have you.

Oh, Jennifer Lawrence :-)

I consider myself a feminist and my heart and mind go out to fellow feminists in many respects. I'm glad to be a part of our movement toward equality, making the world better for my daughters. I feel a kinship with the men and women who also work toward that goal.

But then we turn to the topic of abortion, and suddenly I’m shoved right out of the feminist movement and into an ill-fitting stereotype. Apparently pro-life women hate sex and (simultaneously, somehow) think women have a duty to procreate. Apparently, because I'm pro-life I don’t believe our gender can or should make our own decisions. Supposedly I don’t think women should have their own educations, careers, or lives outside of the kitchen (or the bedroom). I'm told I don’t even care if women die. I'm told, in fact, that I hate women, including myself. All of the gender issues I care about so deeply are a farce, smoke and mirrors to hide my backward, misogynistic, sinister agenda of reducing my gender to a bunch of baby incubators.

In reality, I'm pro-life because I believe the non-defensive killing of other human beings is wrong. How sad that this perspective is enough to destroy my credibility as a feminist. 

The truth is I think women should have control over their bodies, and that their sexual decisions should be their own. I think consenting adults should be free to have sex with whomever. I'm glad we live in a society in which birth control is legal and common, and I'd like to see better sex education so more people will use birth control effectively. I really dislike the double standards society has regarding men and women's sex lives. (For example, the phrase "man-whore" irritates me because it seems to imply that normally women are "whores," so in this case we have to clarify.) I can't stand the "slut vs. prude" dichotomy, as if women can only be one or the other, and we sure can't win either way. 

Choose your stereotype.
I also don't believe anyone has a duty to procreate, and I would love it if no one got pregnant who didn't want to be pregnant.

I do believe, though, that once a woman is pregnant, things have changed. I see a huge moral difference between preventing a pregnancy and terminating one, because I recognize the human fetus as part of our species, warranting protection. 

I don't take this position lightly. I understand how dramatically pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing alter women's lives. Indeed I think part of feminism is transforming society so that procreation doesn't affect women so disproportionately. We need better maternity leave and childcare options. We need to break down stigmas surrounding single, student, and working mothers. I'd love to live in a society where employers understand that supporting their pregnant and parenting employees means supporting productive citizens and healthy families. If our society had better support for pregnancy and child-rearing, I believe less women would feel compelled to choose abortion in the first place. 

But in any case, I reject the idea that only when women are able to have their offspring killed can we have the same opportunities as men. If that's equality, it's an abysmal form.

I consider myself a feminist, and I'm pro-life. I know I'm not the only one.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Working Mothers

Licia Ronzulli at work with her baby girl in tow.

A woman's decisions about bearing children are influenced by how much social support she can expect as a mother. With that in mind, and in honor of Women's History Month, today we consider some historical examples of support (or lack thereof) for working mothers in the US.

In 1903 Oregon made it illegal to require women in certain industries to work more than 10 hours a day. In the 1908 Supreme Court case Muller v. Oregon, the Court ruled the law constitutional, pointing out that "healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring" and citing a public interest in "the physical well-being of order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race."

The flip side of forcing employees too work too much is forcing employees to take time off. In 1952 Ohio school boards required a pregnant schoolteacher to take mandatory unpaid maternity leave from the 5th month of her pregnancy until the beginning of the semester after her baby was 3 months old. The teacher wasn't promised re-employment, only priority in being reassigned to a position. The 1974 Supreme Court case Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur found these requirements unconstitutional. Justice Stewart, writing the opinion of the Court, explained:
This Court has long recognized that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause ... By acting to penalize the pregnant teacher for deciding to bear a child, overly restrictive maternity leave regulations can constitute a heavy burden on the exercise of these protected freedoms.
The Court found the Ohio requirements infringed on this freedom, and called out the Ohio school boards for "unnecessarily penaliz[ing] the female teacher for asserting her right to bear children."

Two other 1970s cases (Geduldig v. Aiello & General Electric v. Gilbert) ruled that it was not discriminatory for insurance programs to exclude pregnant women from medical benefits. This caused an uproar and, apparently, a backlash. In 1978, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, explaining that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. The Act requires employers to treat their pregnant employees the same way they treat any other employee with similar abilities, including providing pregnant employees with the same fringe benefits.

Of course non-pregnant employees don't usually receive fringe benefits like extended time off to look after their children. In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) into law. Among other things, the FMLA entitles eligible new mothers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks to care for their newborns within one year of the birth.

It's good to look back and see how social support for pregnant women has improved over time, but we still have work to do. Many women can't afford to go 12 weeks without pay, regardless of whether they want or need to care for their newborns. Some employers are very supportive of their new mom employees, but national averages suggest we still have a ways to go in getting working mothers more support.

What have your experiences been regarding employment and pregnancy? How can we pro-lifers help create more social support for working moms?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

NYC Teen Pregnancy Prevention Ad Campaign

As pro-lifers, how should we approach teen pregnancy? On the one hand, it's important to keep teens informed about risks of pregnancy, ways to prevent pregnancy, and challenges they will face if they become pregnant. On the other hand, teens should know what resources are at their disposal during pregnancy and, at least as important, that choosing life is the right thing to do. We need to consider both pregnancy prevention and pregnancy support.  

Balancing these can be tricky. It’s the same challenge parents face when they want to keep their teen from engaging in sex (often with good reasons) but also want their teen to know how to be safer if the teen does decide to have sex. Finding that balance isn’t always straightforward, but it's still necessary.

Consider the New York City Human Resource Administration (HRA) teen pregnancy prevention program in which ads will be displayed in subways and bus shelters citywide. The HRA site says:
HRA’s new Teen Pregnancy Prevention campaign shows the high costs teen pregnancy can have for both teen parents and their children. The campaign features ads with hard-hitting facts about the money and time costs of parenting, and the negative consequences of having a child before you are ready.
Obviously teen pregnancy isn’t a walk in the park. But people who advocate for messages like this:

and this:

don't seem concerned with how this affects the abortion rate. HRA intends these ads to be preventative, but how do they look to a teen who is already pregnant, or has already gotten someone pregnant?

Imagine a pregnant teen. She feels as if the rug has been pulled out from under her. She's completely frightened, and unsure where to turn. Will these ads encourage her to choose life?

Preventing abortion means preventing pregnancy and supporting mothers. Ad campaigns like this ignore half of the equation--probably because the goal is just to prevent birth. I understand trying to prevent pregnancy, but how can we do that while still supporting those who are already pregnant? What are the best methods to warn teens about the challenges of pregnancy without inadvertently pushing them to get abortions? 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Pregnant Woman Fired for Premarital Sex

BackgroundA former employee at San Diego Christian College (SDCC), Teri James, 29, was fired for engaging in premarital sex. She was pulled into her supervisor’s office, asked if she was pregnant (she was), and then let go. Despite signing a contract which included a provision agreeing not to engage in “sexually immoral behavior including premarital sex,” Teri is suing.

What’s rich about this story: SDCC then offered the job to her now-husband, even though they were aware he had premarital sex as well.

I understand wanting employees who can serve as role models, especially in religious schools where the code of conduct is held in high regard. And perhaps Teri won’t win the suit because of the contract she voluntarily signed. But still the question remains: are “lifestyle contracts” that tie pregnancy to your career and finances a good idea from a pro-life perspective?

Teri said, “I was unmarried, pregnant and they took away my livelihood.” This disturbs me. Because of her pregnancy, Teri was stigmatized and she lost her job. That’s not exactly a “Choose Life!” message, is it? If we aren’t going to actively help pregnant women in need, we could at least try not to hurt them. And does anyone else see the irony in throwing pregnant women under the bus in the name of setting a good example?       

That’s assuming example-setting was the true reason for Teri’s termination. In a Florida case last year, the court determined that a school may have fired a woman not because she got pregnant while unmarried, but because the school didn’t want to find a replacement for her while she would be on maternity leave. Considering SDCC hired Teri’s fiancé right after firing her for premarital sex with her fiancé, dodging maternity leave costs seems all the more likely.  
But let's assume the school is truly concerned with the example Teri has set. In that case I ask you: is it more pro-life to discourage premarital sex or to encourage support of pregnant women?