Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Defending the Indefensible: Closing Arguments in the Gosnell Trial

[Today's post originally appeared on the Americans United for Life blog.]

Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for Kermit Gosnell, is a friendly guy. Before the trial began, he chit-chatted with pro-lifers in the gallery. He couldn’t discuss the case, of course, but he shared funny stories and talked golf. He seemed like a nice man.

Only he knows his motives for taking this case. Maybe he’s in it for the money. Maybe he truly believes in Gosnell’s innocence. Or perhaps he felt that he could handle it emotionally, and therefore had an obligation to take the case. (If no attorney were willing to represent Gosnell, the court would have conscripted someone, to fulfill Gosnell’s right to counsel.)

For whatever reason, when the court session began, he proceeded to defend the indefensible.

At the core of his closing argument was the assertion that no babies were born alive; they were all injected with the lethal drug digoxin in utero. But this raises an obvious question: if the babies were dead, why would Gosnell’s employees “snip” their spinal cords?

McMahon’s answer was confused: “Maybe to end the pain, some remote pain left in there.” Apparently the jurors are supposed to believe that dead babies can feel pain.

And why, if the babies were born dead, did Gosnell’s co-conspirators plead guilty to murder? McMahon had an answer for that, too: they were terrified by the “tsunami” of public opinion against them. (How this tsunami comports with the media’s month-long absence from the trial remained unexplained.) He also accused the government of “manipulating” the jury and alleged that the case was an “elitist, racist prosecution.”

The commonwealth’s closing argument was thorough. Prosecutor Ed Cameron carefully reviewed the evidence presented by the fifty-four witnesses in the case.

Medical testimony showed that the newborn babies’ movements and whines were not “cadaver spasms,” but signs of life.

Eyewitness testimony showed that, contrary to the defense argument, Karnamaya Mongar’s death was not a freak accident. Her death could have been prevented if there were trained medical professionals at the scene and the clinic was well-maintained. Instead, she was cared for by a woman with an 8th-grade education, a woman with serious mental health problems, and a 15-year-old girl, in an unsanitary house of horrors.

Most important, the prosecution reviewed voluminous testimony showing that digoxin was not used, or was improperly used, as a matter of course. The four infant victims were born alive.

Americans United for Life is hopeful that justice will be done, and that this case will bring public attention to the need for born-alive infant protections and abortion clinic regulations. The profit-driven abortion industry cannot be trusted to police itself.

Monday, April 29, 2013

"We don't use the word 'kill.'"

Live Action just released their latest undercover video from a Women’s Health Center in the Bronx. In it, a woman 23 weeks pregnant questions Health Center employees about what would happen should her child be born alive. The response is chilling.

One employee tells the pregnant woman that a born-alive infant would be killed with a toxic solution. Specifically, “it won’t be able to breathe anymore.” The pregnant woman asks the employee what she should do if she goes into labor and births her child at home. “Flush it.” Does that sound a lot like infanticide? If so, that might be because it is infanticide.

Such a matter-of-fact response to a “post-birth abortion” begs the question: how common is infanticide? What happened to the “rare” in the pro-choice trinity of “safe, legal, and rare”? The employee confirms our fears when she gleefully announces that even late-term abortions are a “daily” occurrence.

So Live Action’s video suggests employees regularly encourage mothers to commit infanticide. Are we even surprised? Both pro-choicers and pro-lifers can see that there’s no difference between the same child inside or outside the womb. As Nathaniel wrote in his excellent piece on abortion rhetoric and cognitive dissonance, Gosnell and Abortion, Part 2 of 3
The reality is that as much as pro-choicers protest that Gosnell crossed some kind of bright, clear line: he didn’t. There’s no bright, clear line between killing a 24-week fetus in her mother’s womb and killing a 24-week fetus outside her mother’s womb. It’s the same damn thing.
If killing a fully-developed fetus is acceptable, ultimately this means killing the same viable infant outside the womb is acceptable. Combine that with the apparently nonexistent legal oversight, and law-breaking becomes trivial; there goes “legal”.

So we are left with, “safe.” How comforting.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the second Health Center employee bristles when the pregnant woman uses the word “kill.” The employee uses phrases like “pregnancy tissue” (what, we can’t even say “fetus” anymore?), “it” (the fetus is definitely a “he” or a “she” at this point), and “removes the pregnancy” (now that’s just sloppy). She also insists that what’s really happening is a termination – not a killing –  because life in the womb is an interpretive concept as opposed to a rigorous, scientifically defined one. I guess she believes when it comes to fetal development, we should just “teach the controversy.”

Finally, notice the contrast between the two employees: one employee is strikingly insensitive, laughing and joking about the child’s limbs coming out in pieces, or the child suffocating in toxic solution. The other employee can’t even bring herself to use appropriate terms like “fetus.” The comfortable acceptance of the first employee is repulsive, but is the second employee’s discomfort to the point of denial any better?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Oregon: Abortion Lobby Ramps Up Attack on Pregnancy Centers

[Today's post was originally published at LifeNews.]

Oregon’s state senate is considering an unconstitutional bill that would interfere with the vital work of pregnancy resource centers—and if the legislation passes, it could create a precedent for even worse attacks on pro-life charities and individuals.

Pro-abortion groups have been attempting to legislate against pregnancy centers for years, usually through laws that require pregnancy centers to disclose that they do not provide abortions. Such legislation never requires abortion facilities to disclose what services they don’t offer (e.g., support for women who give birth). The pro-abortion objective is to give pregnant women the false impression that abortion centers offer everything that pregnancy centers do and more. By driving women away from supportive pregnancy centers and toward abortion businesses, they hope to increase abortion profits.

Fortunately, the courts have held that these laws are unconstitutional. Under the First Amendment, states can only require disclosures in a commercial context, to protect people from fraud. Since pregnancy resource centers aren’t trying to part anyone from their money—they are charities that offer all their services free of charge—the government has no legitimate reason to interfere with their speech.

But that isn’t stopping abortion advocates in Oregon, who have proposed yet another bill, SB 490, attacking pregnancy centers. On top of its unconstitutionality, SB 490 has three provisions that are especially outrageous.

First, SB 490 would require pregnancy centers to give disclosures not once, not twice, but up to five times for every client: on advertisements, on the center website, at the door, in the waiting room, and once more before she can receive services. Abortion supporters are arguing that SB 490’s five-time disclosure rule merely implements “standard, uncontroversial health-care requirements.” These are, of course, the same abortion advocates who abhor informed consent laws that require just one disclosure of abortion’s nature and risks before a woman undergoes an irreversible procedure.

Second, SB 490 is full of vague language that will put pregnancy centers in constant fear of legal problems. Disclosures must be “conspicuous” enough for regulators. And if the pregnancy center gets it wrong, there are fines of up to $10,000 a week!

Third, SB 490’s purported exemption for medical centers is practically non-existent. To qualify, the center must “employ” a medical professional, even though pregnancy centers typically rely on volunteers so that they can offer free services.   

Moreover, this non-volunteer medical professional must be on site whenever a medical service is administered, and SB 490 defines “medical services” to include pregnancy options counseling. That’s right: simply talking to someone about parenting, adoption, and abortion—what caring pro-life people across the country do on a regular basis—is a “medical service” requiring the presence of a doctor or nurse!  

Oregon has attempted anti-pregnancy-center legislation before. But this time around, it is dangerously close to passage. SB 490 has left the Health Care and Human Services Committee and is now in the Senate Rules Committee, which has the authority to work on Senate bills outside of the usual timeframe.

Americans United for Life will continue to keep a close eye on this legislation and work alongside other pro-life organizations to defeat it. You can help by contacting Oregon state senators in opposition to SB 490.

For Americans United for Life’s complete analysis of SB 490, click here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gosnell trial updates

A lot happened in the last couple of days. In case you missed anything, here's where the trial currently stands.

After the prosecution rested its case, the judge dismissed three of the eight counts of murder for insufficient evidence, then reinstated one. Several lesser charges were also dismissed. At the end of the day, though, Gosnell is still looking at multiple counts of murder and other felonies. If convicted, the death penalty is still on the table.

Which makes it that much more surprising that the defense was over soon after it began. Gosnell did not testify, and they called no other witnesses. 

Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday, and then the jury will begin deliberations.

Meanwhile, we also have word that Fox News will be broadcasting a documentary on the Gosnell case on Sunday, May 5 at 9pm. This is not a broadcast of 3801 Lancaster, but a special report produced by the network itself. We need to show the media that the public wants serious coverage of the horrors of abortion, and to do that, we need this special to get high ratings. So mark your calendars and tune in!

[Editor's note: This piece has been corrected to show that the documentary will air on Fox News, not Fox. We regret the error.]

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The most depressing thing you'll read today

When you hear the phrase "abortion survivor," you might think of someone like Melissa Ohden, who was born alive after an attempt to kill her with saline. She survived with no serious health problems and is now a prominent pro-life speaker.

Tragically, most abortion survivors do not survive very long. In that vein, you might think of the victims of Kermit Gosnell's gruesome operation, babies who were born prematurely and killed with scissors to the back of the neck. (Although Gosnell's trial is still ongoing and he maintains his innocence, employees of his "clinic" have confessed to participating in numerous infanticides and entered guilty pleas.)

But suppose they hadn't brought out the scissors. Suppose that they had simply taken the premature babies and hid them away in a closet, with no medical intervention, until they died of natural causes. Would Gosnell and his employees still have been charged with murder?

In a civilized society, that would be a ridiculous question. Let me posit that we do not live in a civilized society.

Recently, SPL member Sarah Terzo, writing for Live Action News, did a three-part series on the issue. From numerous reliable sources, she has gathered the stories of abortion victims who died outside the womb. They received no justice.

Americans United for Life dove deep into the murky data of the Centers for Disease Control and discovered that, based on 2003 and 2005 numbers, there are about forty reported cases of newborns dying after botched abortions every year. Reported cases.

I still have a little faith in humanity, so I'm going to assume that most pro-choicers are decent people who have no idea that this is going on. Let's educate them. Share this post on your facebook and twitter accounts.  If anything is worth the potential awkwardness of losing a facebook friend, it's this. Frankly, I don't want to be friends with someone who supports infanticide anyway.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Empathy in the Abortion Issue

I’m taking a bit of a break from my critical series on Thomson’s famous essay, A Defense of Abortion, to present an article that was inspired from a conversation I had with my friend, Linda, on Facebook. I am a speaker and mentor for Justice for All, which is an organization that trains people to make the pro-life case persuasively and effectively (by making good arguments and avoiding bad ones while avoiding the common pitfalls the people tend to fall into while discussing controversial topics, such as yelling and name-calling, and have good, respectful dialogue). So I have a vested interest in helping pro-life people make good arguments and avoid bad ones, including helping them see the other side as people and not as any manner of unkind thing they may think about pro-choice people. This article will be a bit of a departure from my normal output, as this will be a bit more personal.

This is a word that draws a lot of confusion in the abortion issue, and like the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” themselves, can be misused to make the other side look like uncaring fascists. The word I’m referring to is empathy. As a philosophically-minded thinker, I find it’s always important to define our terms. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” This is to be differentiated from sympathy, which the same dictionary defines as “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.” In short, sympathy looks at a hurting person and says, “poor guy.” Empathy looks at a hurting person and says, “how can I help?” Sympathy helps you feel bad for someone but empathy drives you to action.

Linda made an observation that I thought was quite poignant. Her observation was that pro-choice people tend to empathize with the mother because they place much value and emphasis on the capacity of an individual. After all, I often hear them say the pregnant woman deserves our respect, not the fetus, because she is a “living, breathing person.” (As I have written numerous times, the preborn qualify as persons. I am simply using language I constantly hear from the pro-choice side.) I have found that this generally tends to be true. It’s true in my own life. I was pretty mercilessly tormented and bullied when I was in elementary school, all the way up until my high school days. No one would stand up for me. Not my teachers, not other students. My own mother would laugh about it because she apparently thought it was funny. This ended up giving me severe emotional trauma, to the point where I did contemplate suicide for a long time. I did eventually overcome these thoughts, largely due to my Christian faith, but now that I can look back at it I think (aside from my Christian convictions) that my past of being tormented and bullied has given me a perspective on the issue that many people lack. I view the abortion issue as the ultimate act of bullying -- big, powerful people who place their own priorities over that of an innocent, defenseless child in a situation that was forced upon them. To kill them because they’re in the way of something we want seems like the height of cruelty to me.

Each side believes the other side lacks empathy. Pro-choice people believe pro-life people lack empathy because they feel we care more for a fetus than for a “living, breathing person.” Pro-life people believe pro-choice people lack empathy because in order to help a woman “not be pregnant,” they are willing to support and/or go through with a procedure that ends the life of an innocent human being, a procedure that ends their life in a pretty gruesome way. But I think both the pro-life and the pro-choice person are wrong. Both sides obviously have empathy, it’s just that the subject of their empathy is different. The pro-life person, driven by empathy, is trying to end abortion because it unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being. The pro-choice person, driven by empathy, is trying to keep abortion legal so that it can be safe and rare, in case a woman finds herself in a situation in which she needs it. (Again, I’m using language from the pro-choice side. Abortions are not as safe and rare and pro-choice people often make them out to be.)

However, I would argue that the pro-choice person’s sense of empathy in this case is misguided. We should all have empathy for pregnant women and help them as much as we can. But the preborn human being is in an intrinsically vulnerable state, and needs the protection of those stronger than themselves to take care of them. To kill them when they exist in such a vulnerable state makes us no different than bullies, especially in the vast majority of cases in which sex was consensual between the man and the woman.

Pro-life people do have much empathy for the pregnant woman. We don’t live in a fantasy world in which pregnancies are easy, and fun, or anything of that nature. We recognize that pregnancies can be difficult. But empathy does not mean allowing a woman to kill her child to escape pregnancy. Quite the contrary, true empathy means helping the woman through her pregnancy as much as is possible.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Linguistic Sabotage, Part II

Last week's piece on terms that pro-lifers should avoid got a great response. Many of you had suggestions for additional phrases that we should remove from our vocabulary. Others had comments on the original three.

Secular Pro-Life member Sarah Terzo kicked things off with a suggestion so clearly right, I'm embarrassed that I didn't include it in the original article: "I would also say that pro-lifers should refrain from referring to babies or unborn children as 'it.' Use he or she."

Above: a fitting shirt for the child of a pro-life
advocate. Used with mommy's permission.
Speaking of which, several people said that they don't like the term "unborn" child, for various reasons. They prefer "preborn." I myself don't find "unborn" to be dehumanizing at all, and would note that this is how people typically refer to their own children in the womb when abortion is not on the table. But I like "preborn" too.

LifeNews picked up the piece, which got lots of comments on their facebook page. I'll highlight four.
  • Cherie Brewer pointed out that "some of this phrasing would help those of us who have experienced a miscarriage as well. Often, we are made to feel that our loss is viewed as less of a loss because of the wording often used to describe pregnancy or unborn babies."
  • Jim Burke had three additions to the list: "Avoid 'doctor' when referring to an abortionist. Avoid 'clinic' when referring to an abortion facility. Avoid 'telemed' when referring to webcam abortions. Although many people working in the industry have good intentions, it's hard to use terms associated with affirming life and healing with abortion."
  • Daina Alise Reynolds shared the story of how after her third child was born, "I was filling out some form in the hospital that read (in part) 'x days of life.' I don't know if I'd filled out a similar paper before or not, but for some reason, it really pissed me off. I scratched out 'of life' and wrote 'after birth.' Life doesn't begin at birth, after all."
  • Shannon Elizabeth Abdul also had a story of pro-life language in action: "This is why my daughter wears a 'Big Sister' shirt and not 'I am going to be a Big Sister' shirt. I am pregnant with our second child and the moment that I conceived this baby, she became a big sister."
Christian blogger J. Warner Wallace came across the piece on LifeNews and responded with an argument that we should not use the word "fetus." Although "fetus" is scientifically accurate (unlike "x days of life" and "going to be a parent"), Wallace says that it is not emotionally accurate.
It’s like the difference between “metacarpal appendage” and “hand”. I can accurately say that I held my wife’s metacarpal appendage last night on the way home from dinner, but most people will have difficulty seeing this as an act of affection. My language has abstracted her hand and the nature of my actions. If I want to accurately (and emotively) communicate my actions to folks without a scientific background, I need to pick words that are rooted in our common experience rather than scientific concepts.
Finally, I reached out to several people I know who were conceived in rape for their thoughts about the phrase "rapist's child." They unanimously agreed that pro-lifers should not use it. Pro-life speaker Rebecca Kiessling compared it to other dehumanizing and outdated terms, such as "bastard" and "illegitimate child." And Ryan Bomberger of the Radiance Foundation added, "I also hate the phrase 'child of rape' or 'product of rape' (because it especially reduces one's humanity). 'Born of rape' or 'conceived in rape', I feel, are better descriptors. I've evolved, too, on some of the language. I may even have some of these phrases in old articles."

May our language continue to evolve in a pro-life direction! Many thanks to everyone who contributed to this important conversation.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Gosnell and Abortion, Part 3 of 3

In the first post, I introduced the theme that pro-choice journalists are unconsciously avoiding directly covering the Gosnell case because it would cause cognitive dissonance and provided the first example: the Gosnell case would reveal just how liberal and out-of-touch the abortion status quo is in this country. In the second post I got to the heart of the issue: the extreme laws on abortion make it impossible to distinguish between abortion and infanticide, leading not just Gosnell but also pro-choice leaders (including President Obama) to openly call for infanticide. Gosnell’s problem: he followed through on the logic.

There’s one last myth that cannot survive the Gosnell story, and in some ways its the hardest for the pro-choice lobby to accept but also the most important to understanding the pro-life perspective. So here goes.

3. Abortion is not good for women 

As a commenter to my second post noted, the pro-choice lobby is trying to spin the Gosnell story and they are trying to spin it hard. The most egregious example of this is a completely astounding article from The Atlantic running with the headline: Kermit Gosnell and the Anti-Abortion Movement’s Intelligence Failure. The sub-title really says it all:
An anti-abortion group says it spent 20 years praying outside his clinic. Why didn’t any of the women tell them what was going on?
In other words: you pro-lifers were right outside the clinic. Why didn’t you do something? Here’s the problem with that accusation: the pro-life protesters might have been right outside, but the pre-eminent National Abortion Federation had already been inside the facility. Arguing that the pro-lifers should have known only highlights the fact that the pro-choicers did know. Not only did they come and inspect Gosnell’s facility (they denied him admittance into their group), but he worked part time at an NAF facility.
The Atlantic piece alleges that it was fear of pro-life protesters that drove women to the squalid and lethal house of horrors:
In a March piece for the Huffington Post, Kate Michelman, the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Carol E. Tracy, the executive director of the Women’s Law Project, wrote that one reason that poor minority women went to Kermit Gosnell’s house of horrors was that they were driven there by fear of anti-abortion protestors outside Planned Parenthood facilities in Philadelphia.
But there’s no reason to have to speculate that pro-lifers may have driven some women to Gosnell’s clinic because we already know how quite a few of the women ended up there: the NAF sent them. As RealChoice documents (citing the grand jury report):
The Grand Jury in the Kermit Gosnell case found that at least six young women and girls, including the mother of Baby Boy A, had never intended to end up in the hands of Dr. Gosnell They had sought out a member of the most reputable organization of abortion practitioners in the world: the National Abortion Federation (NAF).
For more on the Gosnell / NAF connection, Shannen Coffin reports that:
Gosnell worked one day a week at the now-defunct Atlantic Women’s Medical Services in Wilmington, Del., which was an NAF member. Many of the witnesses for the prosecution were employees of that NAF-member facility. The grand-jury report found that he routinely referred women who were too far along in their pregnancy to get an abortion under Delaware law to his West Philadelphia clinic, and the patients paid the NAF-member Delaware facility for the abortion services at the Philadelphia clinic. At least one of the abortions at issue in the indictment was started (given the need to induce labor, late-term abortions often take place over several days) at the Delaware NAF-certified facility and the unborn child was finished off at the Philadelphia clinic.

So, just to recap, not only did the pro-choice lobby fail miserably to stop Gosnell when they knew exactly how bad things were, not only did they allow him to work at their clinics and start abortions there that he finished at his own clinic, but on top of their egregious and callous disregard for the plight of the women they abandoned to that butcher, they have the audacity to complain that the pro-life protesters should have done more. The sad thing is that, inadvertently, the pro-choice lobby seems to be admitting in the end that the ones with genuine concern and compassion for women are not the pro-choice lobby who created and sheltered Gosnell, but the pro-lifers. (Check out  the first Friedersdorf piece again for a recap of the ways in which the pro-choice lobby protected Gosnell from audits, inspections, and investigations for years while his grisly reign continued unabated.)

It seems hard to believe that the pro-choice lobby would put abortion ahead of the welfare of women, but it’s not actually news. They’ve been doing it for years when they oppose common-sense regulations on abortion clinics, such as requiring the buildings to meet the same standards as surgical outpatient facilities or requiring abortionists to have admittance privileges with local hospitals for when something goes wrong. The ideal of total access to abortion has become so extreme that they have forgotten their own rhetoric, that abortion is supposed to be a means to feminist empowerment and not an end in itself. But that’s exactly what it has become. Partially this is due to the precarious position that Roe v Wade has put them in. Just as the abortioneers would rather silence a fellow abortionist’s plea for help in staying the course despite the trauma of daily homicide, the abortion movement generally believes that if poor and minority women have to deal with dangerous and substandard care to preserve maximum access to abortion for everyone: so be it. Necessary sacrifices, and all that. Partially it may also be due to the unresolved trauma some pro-choice women feel as a consequence of their own abortions. Different women react in different ways, but for many it leaves a scar that never heals, a wound that never fully closes.

The pro-choice movement has been locked into a precarious, volatile, and absolutist position ever since Roe v. Wade. Because they had their political victories handed by fiat rather than earned on the battleground of public opinion, a single supreme court opinion could undo all of the “progress” they ever made. Unlike civil rights, “abortion rights” was not a case of the SCOTUS successfully getting out ahead of an inevitable cultural shift. They gambled at social engineering, and they guessed horribly wrong, and now the pro-choice lobby has no choice but to defend their misbegotten political turf by hook and by crook.

The American people would not tolerate the reality of our current regime for a single day if it was presented to them plainly. The Gosnell case threatens, if not to pull the cover off the whole enterprise, to at least give a glimpse of what abortion in American is really about today.

And you know what? It’s not so much that pro-choice journalists can’t abide the thought of the American people taking a look at that, as it is that they can’t stand the possibility that they themselves might be forced to see the reality of their own political views. They aren’t hiding something they’ve seen from us; they have their hands covering their own eyes.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Gosnell and Abortion, Part 2 of 3

[Today's post by guest blogger Nathaniel is reprinted with permission from his blog, Difficult Run.]

Yesterday I wrote the first in a series of 3 posts discussing why the mainstream media has been reluctant to cover the Kermit Gosnell case. Rather than suggest that there’s some kind of conspiracy or willful deception, my belief is that journalists (who are overwhelmingly pro-choice) are simply unable to confront a case that threatens to upend the misconceptions and doublethink required to support the status quo of abortion in America. For example, most people do not realize how radical the current laws are. The vast majority of abortions are for birth control. They are elective. And, while late term abortions are rare, they are effectively unregulated. Only in the most extreme circumstances–where a doctor injures or kills a pregnant woman–is there any really legal danger to the abortionist.

But there’s a simpler and much more dangerous truth that the Gosnell case would threaten to drag into the limelight. Before I introduce it, however, I ought to include a warning that I will be quoting from some very graphic accounts of abortion. There are no photos or videos or audio, and my source is an abortion doctor who remains adamantly pro-choice to this day and was writing in defense of her career, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read. Having thus warned you, let’s get right to the simple reality:

2. Abortion is a violent way of killing human beings

The success of abortion rhetoric depends on focusing exclusively on the plight of pregnant women. Although committed pro-choicers will debate about why the rights of the women outweigh the rights of the fetus, rhetorically that’s not how the movement operates. Instead, the movement just pretends the unborn human being does not exist at all. Abortion terminates pregancies, not human beings. The “contents of the uterus” are evacuated, not the tiny broken arms and legs of a fetus, and so forth.

This was all fine and good in the 1970s, but the advent of ultrasound and in utero videography have put serious strain on the position and created a precarious doublethink in American society. If your child is wanted, then you go and pin the ultrasound on the fridge and use the term “baby”. But if abortion is the topic, then you absolutely, unequivoally oppose ultrasounds, or at least anyone seeing them. And you never use the term “baby”.

This strain is most acute on abortionists, as evidenced by the declining numbers of new doctors who are willing to take up the calling and also by this incredible article: Second Trimester Abortion Provision: Breaking the Silence and Changing the Discourse. In it, an abortionist describes in absolutely horrific detail performing a second-trimester abortion while she herself was pregnant. She writes, in part:

I went about doing the procedure as usual. I used electrical suction to remove the amniotic fluid, picked up my forceps and began to remove the fetus in parts, as I always did. I felt lucky that this one was already in the breech position – it would make grasping small parts (legs and arms) a little easier.
With my first pass of the forceps, I grasped an extremity and began to pull it down. I could see a small foot hanging from the teeth of my forceps. With a quick tug, I separated the leg. Precisely at that moment, I felt a kick – a fluttery “thump, thump” in my own uterus. It was one of the first times I felt fetal movement. There was a leg and foot in my forceps, and a “thump, thump” in my abdomen. Instantly, tears were streaming from my eyes – without me – meaning my conscious brain – even being aware of what was going on. I felt as if my response had come entirely from my body, bypassing my usual cognitive processing completely. A message seemed to travel from my hand and my uterus to my tear ducts. It was an overwhelming feeling – a brutally visceral response – heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics. It was one of the more raw moments in my life.
 At this point you might think that this is a conversion story. It’s not. She continues:
Doing second trimester abortions did not get easier after my pregnancy; in fact, dealing with little infant parts of my born baby only made dealing with dismembered fetal parts sadder.

So the author remains a committed and practicing abortionist. In fact, her purpose in writing this piece was (as the title indicates) to change the discourse for the purpose of generating comfort for the awful emotional toll she suffers in carrying out routine, legal homicide. The brutal violence of her work is so emotionally traumatic, that she feels the need to reach out to pro-choicers for support to help her carry on in her grisly task.

She must have been sorely disappointed by the reception. I discovered this piece from a pro-life blog called Real Choice which had in turn discovered the paper at a pro-choice blog for supporting abortionists called The Abortioneers. The interesting thing, however, is that by the time I found the pro-life blog, the link to the pro-choice blog was already dead. The Abortioneers had taken their fellow abortionist’s plea for support and scrubbed it completely from their website. At first I suspected a hoax, but after investigation I found enough evidence from the archives of The Abortioneers to conclude that the story was genuine. In case you have remaining doubts, you can still find the paper listed on SSRN. It’s for real.

It’s real, but pro-choicers want it buried. They don’t want to change the discourse by admitting the humanity of the unborn and the violence of abortion. Talking about dismembered arms and legs is the last thing that they want to do, but it’s exactly what the Gosnell story would bring into focus.

The reality is that as much as pro-choicers protest that Gosnell crossed some kind of bright, clear line: he didn’t. There’s no bright, clear line between killing a 24-week fetus in her mother’s womb and killing a 24-week fetus outside her mother’s womb. It’s the same damn thing, which is precisely why the abortionist author of that article was crying out for some kind of help. Taking human life is never easy, but doing so again and again and again, when that life is tiny and vulnerable? I can’t imagine how terrible that must be to live with, which explains why the only people left who do this kind of word are ultra-committed ideologues and sociopaths. And the line between the two can be quite blurry. As Melinda Henneberger writes:
Gosnell himself seemed confused, when he was charged with so many counts of murder, as to how that could be. Because even at that point, he didn’t appear to see the children he’s accused of beheading as people.
Buried deep beneath layers and layers of horror and repulsion, I have a kernel of sympathy for Gosnell. He is a monster, but he’s a monster created by the abortion movement, and he clearly doesn’t understand why he has suddenly been betrayed. After all, the National Abortion Federation refused him admittance, but they also let him work in their facility and use that work as a source for his own patients. The RealChoice blog notes that:
The Grand Jury in the Kermit Gosnell case found that at least six young women and girls, including the mother of Baby Boy A, had never intended to end up in the hands of Dr. Gosnell. They had sought out a member of the most reputable organization of abortion practitioners in the world: the National Abortion Federation (NAF).
What’s more, the basic moral blindness that led Gosnell to kill born babies is prevalent within the pro-choice movement. Quoting Henneberger again:
Planned Parenthood’s Snow was similarly obtuse, either willfully or out of habit, in testifying against a Florida bill that would have required medical care for babies who survive abortions. “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion,” she was asked, “what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?”
Her answer was a familiar one: “We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family and the physician.”
Though it pains me to say so, that’s the same stand Barack Obama effectively took when he voted against a similar Illinois bill — even after the addition of a “neutrality clause” spelling out that the bill would have no bearing on the legal status of the (you say fetus, I say unborn child) at any point prior to delivery, and thus could not be used to outlaw abortion.
 Whether it’s Planned Parenthood, the President of the United States, or pro-choice ethical philosopher Peter Singer, all of them admit publicly that infanticide is logically equivalent to and implied by their legal arguments for sweeping abortion freedoms. Let me reiterate: not all pro-choice positions lead down a slippery slope to this conclusion. But the actual laws and practices of the actual abortion industry and the lobby that supports it in this country right now? They don’t need to travel down a slippery slope because they are already at the bottom. There’s really no way to cover this case without risking the revelation that Gosnell practiced what the pro-choice (due to the precarious and extreme nature of the Roe and Doe rulings) lobby has been maneuvered into preaching.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Gosnell and Abortion, Part 1 of 3

[Today's post is by guest blogger Nathaniel, re-posted with permission from his blog, Difficult Run.]

Less than a week after Kirsten Powers’ USA Today piece, the concerted pro-life effort to get the Gosnell trial the media attention it tragically deserves has succeeded. Sort of.

There are a lot of articles being written about Gosnell, but the vast majority are focusing on the coverage of the trial, not the trial. To be fair, some of these pieces delve into the grim details. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic pointed out that in addition to dead babies, the story included: “The Exploited Women. The racism. The numerous governmental failures.” And yet Washington Post reporter Sarah Kliff still thinks this is a “local crime” story, at least as far as her Twitter feed is concerned. 

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones concurs, dismissing the pro-life outcry as “working the refs” and “a hustle”. The Daily Caller even covered an attempt to delete Kermit Gosnell’s Wikipedia page because it was just a “local multiple-murder story in Pennsylvania.” (The attempt failed.) According to Drum, the lack of coverage doesn’t even need an explanation. Why wasn’t it covered? “Beats me. I’ve often wondered just what it is that causes some local crime stories to become media sensations and others to molder in obscurity.” Just one of those things, right?

Friedersdorf, also pro-choice but possessed of some journalistic integrity, tried a little harder and came up with 14 theories. The most interesting comes near the end of the list:
13. Horrific as It Is, This Case Doesn’t Speak to Anything Larger About Abortion.
Is Friedersdorf claiming that it was horrific enough to be covered, but that was cancelled out because it says nothing about abortion? Try that logic out on other horrific stories: “Yeah, we were going to cover a school shooting, but then we realized it wasn’t related to abortion so we packed up and went home.” It sticks out on the list because it doesn’t even answer the question. Or make any kind of sense at all.

The reality is that the Gosnell story isn’t ignored because it says nothing about abortion, but because it says a lot about abortion. Friedersdorf had previously dismissed the idea that “Pro-Choice Journalists Are Willfully Ignoring the Story to Avoid Giving an Advantage to Pro-Lifers” (theory #9 on his list), but that’s not how cognitive biases work. Their entire function is to pre-empt the pain of cognitive dissonance by filtering out the uncomfortable evidence before you’re aware of it. They lead people to do and say irrational things like, I don’t know, propound entirely senseless theories just because they are reassuring. Pro-choice journalists (a close synonym for just “journalists”) aren’t willfully ignoring the story, but they were definitely ignoring it, and now that they can’t do that they are mostly changing the subject by going meta.

The Gosnell case isn’t threatening because it’s intrinsically pro-life,but it’s definitely kryptonite to the pro-choice status quo. Starting today and continuing to posts on Thursday and Friday, I’ll do a run-down on how the Gosnell story is a clear and present danger to the myths and doublethink necessary to preserve America’s abortion status quo.

1. America’s Abortion Laws Are Very Extreme

Most polls reflect that there is wide, popular support for the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States: Roe v. Wade. Most polls also reflect, however, that Americans are fairly moderate on abortion and believe it should be available only in limited circumstances and not, for example, as just another method of birth control. (Wikipeda summarizes some of the relevant polls.) The problem is, that’s exactly what Roe, and a lesser-known ruling handed down the same day, did.

Most people who are familiar with the abortion debate know that Roe set up a trimester system. Here it is:
(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.
(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.
(c) For the stage subsequent to viability the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.
 This sounds perfectly reasonable, but note that an exception for “health” is always required. What does “health” mean? The answer lies with that lesser-known ruling: Doe v. Bolton. In that decision, the majority opinion wrote:
Whether, in the words of the Georgia statute, “an abortion is necessary” is a professional judgment that the Georgia physician will be called upon to make routinely. We agree with the District Court, 319 F. Supp., at 1058, that the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.

This opinion makes two things clear. The first is that the definition of “health” is incredibly broad. The second is that the person who gets to make the decision about “health” is the woman’s doctor which is to say, the abortionist. Practically speaking, the combination of Roe and Doe come very close to making abortion available on-demand throughout the 9 months of pregnancy. How close? Well the first person to be charged with an illegal abortion in the United States (since Roe) was Dr. Jose Higuera, who was charged in 2001 in Michigan. As far as I know, Gosnell will be the second. Both of these cases are very, very exceptional, however. In Higuera’s case, he was charged after performing an abortion on a 28-week fetus for a woman who cited only “personal reasons”. He botched the abortion and as a result his patient “suffered a perforated uterus, small bowel obstruction, peri-uterine abscess, and needed a hysterectomy, salpingectomy, and small bowel resection.” Notice that if he hadn’t seriously injured his patient, however, she wouldn’t have been likely to testify against him. And without her testimony that the abortion was not for her “health” there would be no way to charge him. That would be like saying that speeding is illegal, but also saying that you can only convict a driver if one of the passengers is willing to testify that they were speeding.

Interestingly enough, Pennsylvania’s abortion law actually doesn’t include the health exception, which arguably makes it unconstitutional. When Planned Parenthood sued to stop the 1989 law from going into effect, however, they didn’t raise that issue and so the Supreme Court didn’t rule on it. In the absence of a ruling, the law, which bans abortions after the second trimester unless “pregnancy would result in irreversible impairment of a major bodily function”, remains in effect but also subject to possibly being overturned in a future legal battle. But even in the interim, what kind of effect is it? By all accounts, Gosnell violated that law with impunity–performing literally hundreds of illegal abortions over more than a decade–while every responsible oversight agency intentionally turned a blind eye. It was only after he committed numerous murders (both children and pregnant women) that he was finally arrested, and charging him with the illegal abortions seems like little more than an afterthought.

The reality is that late-term abortions are rare in the US, but not because of the law. (More on why they are rare tomorrow.) The health exception loophole is too broad to be of any use except in the most egregious of circumstances. Even when there are stricter laws on the books, however, they are almost never prosecuted, as Gosnell’s case illustrates clearly. And that’s one major reason why pro-choice reporters don’t want to touch the case. Late-term abortions are supposed to be rare hard-cases. For Gosnell they were routine. He carried out hundreds or even thousands of late term “illegal” abortions, and faced absolutely no consequences. Just as Higuera wouldn’t have, if he hadn’t grievously injured and lied to his patient. Late term abortions may represent only a small fraction of all abortions (about 1.5%) but that still means we’re talking more than ten thousand every year. That’s not supposed to happen.

But it does. And not just at Gosnell’s clinic. Stories of horrific late-term abortion / murders abound. Here’s the HuffPo admirably covering murder charges against Maryland doctors accused of killing viable fetuses as late as 26 weeks. Note that, once again, charges were only filed after the abortionists botched an abortion and seriously wounded a patient. The case was always a long shot, relying on applying a law that was originally designed to protect pregnant women from violent attackers and that had an exemption for abortions, so it’s no surprise prosecutors dropped the charges last month.

Far from being unique, Gosnell’s case highlights that the problem of murdering babies who survive the initial stages of a late-term abortion could be widespread. LifeNews has additional stories.

And that’s the iceberg underneath the Gosnell case: that here in this country the laws about abortion are not moderate. They are not reasonable. They are not, most Americans would agree if they knew the reality, acceptable. Pro-choice journalists absolutely do not want to start down that road, not because it’s a political strategy, but because they don’t want to see the reality for themselves, either. It’s just too hard to live with.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Linguistic Sabotage

I believe that language plays a huge role in the abortion debate. And while the terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice" have been analyzed to death (no pun intended) by countless authors, there are many words and phrases, used in everyday life, that affect our cause in more subtle ways. Many are unwittingly used by pro-life advocates who don't realize how it undermines our message. Without further ado, I present my top life-related linguistic pet peeves.

"First days/weeks/months of life" (referring to newborns)
This one is pervasive, and I've heard it from awesome pro-life people who should know better. If a baby boy was born three weeks ago, he is not in the "first weeks" of life; he's in about the 43rd week of life. The life of a human individual begins at fertilization, and those months in the womb should count.

Fortunately, there's an easy fix. If you catch yourself about to say this, just change "of life" to "after birth." Speaking about the first days, weeks, or months after birth is perfectly accurate, doesn't sound weird, and doesn't erase the prenatal period of life.

"Rapist's child"
This phrase bothers me in a specific context: "It's so brave of you to raise your rapist's child." Really? Did the rapist help change the child's diapers? Sing the child to sleep? Take the child to soccer practice? Yes, of course the rapist is a biological father. But the child also has a mother, who is clearly the superior influence. The phrase "rapist's child" is degrading.

We absolutely should honor women who choose life in the difficult situation of a pregnancy caused by rape. All I'm saying is that we need to do so in a way that does not suggest that the child "belongs" only to the scumbag rapist source of sperm.

"Expectant parent/going to be a parent"
This is a fine phrase for people who are trying to conceive or adopt. It is a very poor phrase for people who are pregnant or whose partner is pregnant. If life begins at fertilization, so does motherhood and fatherhood. This also applies to other family members; siblings are siblings at conception (no "You're going to be a big brother," tell him he IS a big brother); aunts and uncles are aunts and uncles at conception, and so on.

Got any more examples of inaccurate language that sabotages the pro-life message? Share them in the comments or email them to

Monday, April 15, 2013

Trip to Liberty University this week

This Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, Secular Pro-Life will have a table for the pro-life emphasis week at Liberty University. The pro-life emphasis week is a project of Lifeline, the school's pro-life student organization. Come by any time between 8:00am and 4:00pm for information, conversation, and goodies.

This will be Secular Pro-Life's fourth campus outreach this semester! The other three were secular colleges: University of Mary Washington, University of Richmond, and Columbia University. (We also participated in the Students for Life of America conference in January, interacting with students from universities across the country.)

This will also be our second visit to Liberty University. You may remember that we were there in 2010; SPL president Kelsey Hazzard spoke about the changing demographics of the pro-life movement, and SPL member Heather spoke about her decision to keep her son after a sidewalk counselor shared the science of prenatal life with her.

Thank you for your support as we equip young people to make abortion unthinkable for all!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Pro-lifers challenge media silence on Gosnell trial

You wouldn't know it from the major network coverage, but abortionist Kermit Gosnell is currently facing trial for multiple counts of murder. Witnesses are giving horrifying testimony of Gosnell beheading live newborns. Kirsten Powers puts it better than I can in this USA Today piece:
Infant beheadings. Severed baby feet in jars. A child screaming after it was delivered alive during an abortion procedure. Haven't heard about these sickening accusations?
It's not your fault. Since the murder trial of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell began March 18, there has been precious little coverage of the case that should be on every news show and front page. The revolting revelations of Gosnell's former staff, who have been testifying to what they witnessed and did during late-term abortions, should shock anyone with a heart.
Read the whole thing. It's worth your time.

For the Cliff's Notes version of Gosnell's criminal enterprise, watch the incredible documentary film 3801 Lancaster (it's free). In addition, Operation Rescue has regular updates from the courtroom; more revelations are coming forward every day.

Yes, this story is extremely disturbing and likely to upset most people. But that hasn't stopped news networks from reporting on newsworthy stories before. So let's rise up and demand that the media cover this scumbag! (And not like this.)

Students for Life of America recommends the Twitter hashtag #Gosnell. This can be as simple as tweeting your preferred media outlet to ask: "Who is Kermit #Gosnell?" Or, you can tweet a link to the USA Today story, 3801 Lancaster, etc. Whatever form it takes, make sure your voice is heard. If we don't get this story out, it appears that no one else will.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Ex-abortion workers speaking out

And Then There Were None's "Exodus" campaign this Monday was a great success, with five people reaching out for help to leave the abortion industry!

And speaking of ex-abortion workers, two former nurses have some illuminating things to say about Planned Parenthood in Delaware:
Jayne Mitchell-Werbrich, former employee said, "It was just unsafe. I couldn't tell you how ridiculously unsafe it was."
Werbrich alleges conditions inside the facility were unsanitary.
"He didn't wear gloves," said Werbrich.
Another former employee, Joyce Vasikonis told Action News, "They were using instruments on patients that were not sterile."
The former nurses claim that a rush to get patients in and out left operating tables soiled and unclean.
Werbrich said "It's not washed down, it's not even cleaned off. It has bloody drainage on it."
"They could be at risk of getting hepatitis, even AIDS," added Vasikonis.
Both of these nurses said, they quit to protect their own medical licenses, stunned by what they called a meat-market style of assembly-line abortions.
Vasikonis said, "I felt I could be held liable if a patient was harmed."
Note: this is the same Planned Parenthood affiliate that was the site of an assault against a pro-life grandmother who was recording an ambulance call.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

New Issue of the Life Matters Journal

Our dear friends at the Life Matters Journal have just released their latest issue. The lead stories are on anti-war activism, and particularly the recent rise in prominence of opposition to drones. There are also several abortion-related stories:
  • Feminists Choosing Life of New York breaks down Governor Cuomo's proposed abortion expansion legislation on page 6.
  • Lauren Enriquez explains North Dakota's newly enacted pro-life legislation on page 10.
  • Rose Evans' essay on pro-life Democrats can be found on page 12.
  • Finally, Rebecca Kiessling shares her personal story of having been conceived in rape on page 28.
You can view it online for free here, or purchase a print copy here. Happy reading!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Video: Our visit to the Ivy League!

Last Thursday, Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard visited Columbia University to give a presentation on secular opposition to abortion. To date, Secular Pro-Life representatives have given talks at eight colleges: Liberty University, Carnegie Mellon University, University of San Francisco, University of Virginia, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, University of Mary Washington, University of Richmond, and now Columbia University, our very first visit to an Ivy League school!

Above: Columbia Right to Life students organize a
"When Does Life Begin?" display on Thursday afternoon
Kelsey's presentation was attended by the members of Columbia Right to Life as well as visitors from the broader New York City pro-life community. Videos of the presentation and the Q&A session are below. Enjoy!

Friday, April 5, 2013

"Reproductive Rights are Human Rights"

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

Stumbled upon this Elle story about men who don't want to be fathers but are "forced"* to by their pregnant partners.
Dubay's argument was that while his girlfriend was permitted by the Constitution to end her pregnancy for any reason, he had no comparable right, in violation of the Equal Protection clause. As a result, he contended, he shouldn't have to be financially responsible for the child.
As the public face of the case, Feit duked it out on CNN with then–National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy, who argued that once a child is born, the rights of the child supersede those of the parents. Since this was the law in all 50 states, men had to accept their financial obligations, Gandy said. Elsewhere on the airwaves, Dr. Phil chastised Dubay—he'd exercised choice, all right, a choice to practice condomless sex. And Fox's Bill O'Reilly bullied Feit with declarations about what it means to be a man and taking responsibil­ity for one's own actions.
As Feit points out, this reasoning is ironically similar to that often used against women's reproductive rights: Abortion encourages sexual promiscuity and irresponsibility; the right of the fetus should override a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy that could've been avoided with birth control; women should have to suffer the consequences of their sexual dalliances.
Interesting conundrum. Do the men have a point? Do abortion rights and child support laws create a sexist standard? I say it depends. It comes to this: Why do pro-choicers think abortion is justified?

If abortion is justified because of bodily rights, then the double standard between the genders makes sense. When it comes to procreation, men and women don't have the same bodily responsibilities at all, so of course they don't have the same rights either. If it's about bodily rights, you can just say "no one can use your body against your will" and that is as true of men as of women. Sure, it never actually comes up for men in terms of pregnancy, but if it did they'd presumably have the same choice to abort; it's a consistent standard.

But if that's all abortion is about, why do we hear so much about reproductive rights? People sometimes use the phrases "reproductive rights" and "bodily rights" interchangeably, but they aren't the same.

When we talk about reproductive rights, we talk about women being able to choose whether and when they want to become mothers. We talk about each woman carefully considering her responsibilities to her other children, or her educational and career goals, or her concerns over a bad relationship, or her financial issues. What does any of that have to do with her body? Planned Parenthood's motto (Every child a wanted child!) isn't about bodily autonomy--it's about whether people want to be parents, whether they want to reproduce. It's about reproductive rights.

I'm assuming "humans" include "men," right?
 Even in Roe v. Wade itself, the Court created a right to abortion based on much more than bodily concerns:
Specific and direct harm medically diagnosable even in early pregnancy may be involved. Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved.
So the Supreme Court considered:
  • Other offspring;
  • Psychological harm;
  • Mental health;
  • Distress of other people involved;
  • Preparedness to care for a child; and
  • Stigma of unwed motherhood.

None of that is about bodily rights.

But the Court didn't leave bodily rights out entirely. In the above passage, they also cited concern over  direct medical harm during a pregnancy and physical health during child care. Then again, the Court disagreed with the idea that the right to abortion is absolute or has much to do with unlimited bodily rights.
...some amici argue that the woman's right is absolute and that she is entitled to terminate her pregnancy at whatever time, in whatever way, and for whatever reason she alone chooses. With this we do not agree. ... The privacy right involved, therefore, cannot be said to be absolute. In fact, it is not clear to us that the claim asserted by some amici that one has an unlimited right to do with one's body as one pleases bears a close relationship to the right of privacy previously articulated in the Court's decisions. The Court has refused to recognize an unlimited right of this kind in the past.
So this isn't just about bodily rights. Wouldn't all the non-physical reasons a woman might be unwilling to raise a child apply equally to an unwilling man? If pro-choicers believe in not just bodily rights, but reproductive freedom, why do so many of them apply that freedom to women only?

*I put the word "forced" in quotes because, unless you were raped, no one made you get a woman pregnant, and therefore no one made you become a father. You took that risk yourself. The difference between me and most pro-choicers, though, is that I apply the same logic to both genders.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Tonight: SPL at Columbia U

Tonight at 8pm Eastern, Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard will give a presentation at Columbia University. It's the same presentation as last week at the University of Richmond, but this time it will be recorded, so look out for video next week! Of course, nothing beats being there in person, and we'd love to see you. The event is free and open to the public.

The Columbia University campus is located at 116th & Broadway in New York City, and is easily accessible via subway. The presentation will take place in Hamilton Hall room 313.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Aborting to protect our bodies?

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

We hear a lot about bodily rights during the abortion debate. Moving beyond the abortion debate to society in general, I think it's clear that bodily rights are fundamental. It seems most other pro-lifers think it's clear too. You'll be hard-pressed to find a pro-lifer that says they'd be fine with laws forcing drivers to donate blood to people they hit with their cars, or even requiring parents to donate kidneys to their sick children.

Yet when we are discussing abortion, it seems to me a lot of pro-lifers tend to avoid the bodily rights argument. They brush off the "my body my choice" assertion as a cop out, a cover up for less noble justifications. I've seen many pro-lifers respond to the bodily rights argument with disgust or bewilderment, claiming it's a bunch of mental gymnastics, a twisted, desperate attempt to justify a horrible act. After denouncing bodily rights as a red herring, they see no reason to consider or discuss it.

Of course this doesn't apply to the entire pro-life movement; there are plenty of pro-lifers who try to explore the moral distinctions between pregnancy and allegedly analogous situations. Still, in my experience it seems too many pro-lifers haven't seriously considered--and in some cases refuse to consider--how much bodily rights do play into the abortion debate. Sometimes I'm surprised by this, because the issue of bodily rights weighs heavily in my consideration of my abortion stance.

I wonder if pro-lifers dismiss the bodily rights argument partly because it's not usually why women get abortions in the first place. While bodily autonomy is a commonly cited reason for keeping abortion legal, it's not a commonly cited reason for actually getting an abortion.

According to Guttmacher:
The reasons most frequently cited were that having a child would interfere with a woman's education, work, or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%).
Not mentioned is a concern for bodily health, or a frustration or fear over sharing her body with another.

The Guttmacher report elaborates:
In a 1985 study of 500 women in Kansas, unreadiness to parent was the reason most often
given for having an abortion, followed by lack of financial resources and absence of a partner. In 1987, a survey of 1,900 women at large abortion providers across the country
found that women’s most common reasons for having an abortion were that having a baby would interfere with school, work or other responsibilities, and that they could not afford a child.
Again, the main reasons women choose abortion have nothing to do with their bodily autonomy.

Still, that doesn't mean bodily autonomy is irrelevant to these women. Guttmacher found that 12% of women cite concerns over their health as cause for an abortion, including "from chronic or debilitating conditions such as cancer and cystic fibrosis to pregnancy-specific concerns such as gestational diabetes and morning sickness."

Why is there such a divergence between the reasons people insist abortion should be a right and the reasons women actually get abortions? Does the difference matter? Are there parallel differences between the reasons people protect other rights vs the reasons people exercise those rights?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

News round-up

A big story out of Florida broke late on Friday, so you might have missed it. Florida is considering legislation to provide care for babies who are born alive in failed abortions. (A federal Born-Alive Infant Protection Act was enacted during the Bush administration, but pro-life legal eagles have encouraged the passage of state-level versions to improve enforcement.) A Planned Parenthood lobbyist testified against it. She actually said that the fate of a born-alive baby should be determined by "the patient and the health care provider." In other words, infanticide is just part of a woman's precious right to choose. Read the transcript and watch the incredibly disturbing video here.

Infamous abortionist Reginald Sharpe just started working at a new abortion facility, and it didn't take him long to injure yet another woman. Unfortunately for the victim, it appears that Sharpe does not carry medical malpractice insurance.

Know any pro-life law students? Americans United for Life is sponsoring a legal writing competition. The prompt requires participants to write a mock opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. “Americans United for Life believes that challenging the next generation of attorneys to envision the language of life in the law is an important step in building a legal framework for reversing Roe and returning this issue to the 50 states.”

Monday, April 1, 2013

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

For part one of this series, click here.

Section 1. The “extreme” pro-life view. [1]

I agree with Thomson that the view that abortion is impermissible even to save the mother’s life is an extreme pro-life view. I believe that abortions are justified if the mother’s life is in immediate jeopardy. [2] She does wonder how we are supposed to weigh the mother’s life against the unborn child’s when the mother’s life is at stake, but at that point her right to self-defense should be asserted.

Thomson modifies the violinist thought experiment to illustrate this: “ cannot seriously be thought to be murder if the mother performs an abortion on herself to save her life. It cannot seriously be said that she must refrain, that she must sit passively by and wait for her death. Let us look again at the case of you and the violinist. There you are, in bed with the violinist, and the director of the hospital says to you, ‘It’s all most distressing, and I deeply sympathize, but you see this is putting an additional strain on your kidneys, and you’ll be dead within the month. But you have to stay where you are all the same, because unplugging you would be directly killing an innocent violinist, and that’s murder, and that’s impermissible.”

This presents a problem that I have written about in a prior article. Abortion is an act of direct killing (because you dismember, kill through poisoning, etc.) the unborn child. The case of the violinist is not direct killing, you are letting someone die without violating their rights. The violinist scenario is only analogous to abortions in which you literally let the child die, such as RU-486 (which is more literally like “unplugging” from the child). However, as I indicated in my linked article, I agree that life-saving abortions are permitted, and frankly I think they’re permitted for much stronger reasons than Thomson argued.

But there is a difference between what someone may do to save themselves, and what a third-party may do to save someone else (again, I address this in my linked article). Thomson considers this as well, and presents another science fiction scenario to test our intuitions. [3] She writes, “Suppose you find yourself trapped in a tiny house with a growing child. I mean a very tiny house, and a rapidly growing child -- you are already up against the wall of the house and in a few minutes you’ll be crushed to death. The child on the other hand won’t be crushed to death; if nothing is done to stop him from growing he’ll be hurt, but in the end he’ll simply burst open the house and walk out a free man. Now I could well understand it if a bystander were to say, ‘There’s nothing we can do for you. We cannot choose between your life and his, we cannot be the ones to decide who is to live, we cannot intervene.’ But it cannot be concluded that you too can do nothing, that you cannot attack it to save your life. However innocent the child may be, you do not have to wait passively while it crushed you to death.”

The problems with this analogy should seem obvious. First, certainly there are things that can be done to avoid killing the child. A window could be broken, or a door bust open to save the person inside who is about to be crushed. Life-saving abortions (that is, abortions which result in the child’s death) are only permissible if nothing can be done to spare the child’s life.

But second, as John T. Wilcox indicates, there are other unknown variables. He writes, “ did you get ‘trapped’ in such a tiny house? Did you walk in and give the child a growing potion, though you knew that this potion would cause such growth as to ‘threaten’ your life? If so, you would not be justified in subsequently killing the child and pleading self-defense; you got yourself into the predicament, you did not just ‘find’ yourself there. Or is it that the child himself, knowing he would grow in that way, locked the door and swallowed the key? Then it is self-defense when you kill him, for he has evil intentions and it is he who trapped you there. But pregnancy is not like that. Who is it who traps you, in ordinary pregnancy?” [4]

Thomson arrives at a conclusion, that a woman can defend her life against the threat to it posed by the unborn child, even if doing so involves her death (which I agree with, as long as her life is genuinely threatened). But ironically, it doesn’t seem that her arguments and analogies actually justify her position.

Section 2. Weakening the “extreme” pro-life view.

Thomson weakens the “extreme” pro-life view to say that it may be impermissible for a third party to intervene, but it would be permissible for her to go through with the abortion, herself. I have already indicated that it would be permissible for a third party to intervene against an innocent aggressor. She uses an analogy to show that the third party can’t remain neutral when it comes to choosing between the woman and the unborn child (which I agree with). She writes, “If Jones has found and fastened on a certain coat, which he needs to keep him from freezing, but which Smith also needs to keep him from freezing, then it is not impartiality that says ‘I cannot choose between you’ when Smith owns the coat.” If Smith owns the coat that Jones is wearing and needs it to survive, he has the right to take the coat back because the coat belongs to him. It is not impartiality to claim we can’t choose between the two, so we let Jones keep the coat. You are, in effect, choosing Jones over Smith.

She writes in her essay that even if one particular person does not feel justified in acting to retrieve Smith’s coat from Jones, that doesn’t mean that no one can. Someone in a position of authority, with the job of securing peoples’ rights, can order Smith’s coat returned. So even if a given “extreme” pro-life advocate would not perform an abortion out of a sense of moral irresponsibility, that doesn’t mean that someone in the position to do so should not act to save the mother’s life (namely, the physician).

She ends this section with the following claim: “...the arguments against abortion we are looking at do grant that the woman has a right to decide what happens in and to her body. But although they do grant it, I have tried to show that they do not take seriously what is done in granting it. I suggest the same thing will reappear even more clearly when we turn away from cases in which the mother’s life is at stake, and the vastly more common cases in which a woman wants an abortion for some less weighty reason than preserving her own life.”

The claim that a woman has a right to do whatever she wants in and to her body is a very extreme claim, and difficult to justify. No one has the right to do just anything in and to their body, especially if there is an innocent human being residing in there. Pro-life people do take seriously the right to bodily integrity, but not at the expense of innocent human life. [5]

Section 3: Is the right to life problematic?

She begins this section by stating that the right to life is problematic. Bernard Nathanson once wrote, “In morality, life can only be equated with life, not with convenience or sociology or politics or economics or poverty; not even (in the truly hard cases) with the burden of responsibility for a seriously retarded or handicapped child, or of bearing a child resulting from rape or infidelity. In arguing an issue of life, one can only invoke issues of life to counterbalance it.” [6] Thomson disagrees, of course.

Thomson writes, “In some views having a right to life includes having a right to be given at least the bare minimum one needs for continued life.” I’ve honestly never heard anyone give this explanation as to what constitutes the right of life. I think she may have set up a strawman argument here. To me, the right to life entails the negative right not to be intentionally killed unjustly. But it also seems that while it does not entail the right to the bare minimum one needs for continued life (as in the violinist’s continued use of your kidneys), it does, actually, entail the positive right to the bare minimum a child needs to live. This includes adequate nutrition and an adequate environment. It seems that this obligation does not begin at birth, but as soon as the child comes into existence (and indeed, even pro-choice people believe that pregnant women have an obligation to care for their unborn child if she “consents” to its presence in the womb). Since children can’t take care of themselves, and their dependence on their mother doesn’t end at birth, it seems that the obligation to give the bare minimum one needs to live doesn’t begin at birth, either.

She gives another scenario, equating Henry Fonda with Jesus, “If I am sick unto death, and the only thing that will save my life is the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow, then all the same, I have no right to be given the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow. It would be frightfully nice of him to fly in from the West Coast to provide it. It would be less nice, though no doubt well meant, if my friends flew out to the West Coast and brought Henry Fonda back with them. But I have no right at all against anybody that he should do this for me.” Again, Fonda may not have a moral obligation to come and touch her forehead to save her, but that doesn’t mean that parents don’t have the obligation to give their children the basic necessities of life. In fact, John T. Wilcox argues that the parental obligation is very important in the violinist scenario. He wrote in his essay, “I’ll grant that Henry Fonda had little or no obligation to save Judith Thomson. But if Jane Fonda had been the one Henry could have saved, surely it would have been monstrous to refuse.” [7]

She does talk about those who take the right to life to mean that one has the right not to be killed by anybody, but again this is a subtle strawman. The right to life does not entail the right not to be killed. [8] It’s the right not to be intentionally killed unjustly. She argues that if you have the right not to be killed, this means you would be obligated to remain plugged in to the violinist (on top of not having the right to slit his throat or shoot him), but that doesn’t follow at all. When you unplug from the violinist, you are not the active agent in his death; he is dying from a prior kidney ailment. Plus, the intention is not to kill the violinist. The intention is to unplug from him, for whatever reason.

She does clarify that she believes in the natural right to life, just that it does not guarantee having either a right to be given the use of or a right to be allowed continued use of another person’s body -- even if one needs it for life itself. However, this seems to be incorrect. At the very least, if a man and woman engage in the act of sex which is intrinsically ordered toward procreation, then since they are responsible for creation of that naturally needy child, they bear a responsibility to care for that naturally needy child. By engaging in the act that creates the child in the first place, the woman waives her right to bodily integrity.

So far, her analogies don’t seem to be supporting her position. At the very least, they don’t seem to hold up to scrutiny. But her more bizarre thought experiments are yet to come.

[1] The individual sections of Thomson’s essay are not titled. I have given them titles to summarize the section.
[2] Remember that the right to an abortion does not automatically entail the right to the death of the embryo/fetus, as Thomson even writes later in her essay. So if the child can be delivered without death occurring, then the child should be delivered whole, intact, and alive to save the mother’s life.
[3] I’m a science fiction fanatic myself but the problem with science fiction scenarios is that they don’t accurately test our intuitions. To test our intuitions we should use examples that are “closer to home,” so to speak, such as the example used in my article about an innocent aggressor who drinks his beverage when, unbeknownst to him, it was spiked with a mind-altering substance. I’ll go into more detail regarding the problem with science fiction scenarios, fun as they are to think about, when I come to her more implausible thought experiments.
[4] John T. Wilcox, Nature as Demonic in Thomson’s Defense of Abortion, from The Ethics of Abortion: Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice, ed. Robert M. Baird and Stuart E. Rosenbaum, (Prometheus Books; Amherst, NY, 2001), pp. 266-267 (emphasis in original).
[5] Some pro-life advocates actually do believe that abortion is justified in the case of rape specifically because of the right to bodily integrity, as the responsibility objection does not hold in that particular case.
[6] Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D., with Richard N. Ostling, Aborting America, (Doubleday: NY, 1979),  p. 240. Keep in mind that although converting to Catholicism later in life, Dr. Nathanson was an Atheist at the time he wrote this book.
[7] John T. Wilcox, p. 261 (emphasis in original).
[8] This is a topic for another essay, but there are times in which one could forfeit one’s right to live, such as if they commit murder in cold blood.