Friday, June 28, 2013

"How could she not know she was pregnant?"

Slate has a short piece on women who go into labor without even realizing they were pregnant to begin with:
For a woman who doesn’t think she could be pregnant, many of the classic signs can be explained away. Fetal movement? It could be gas or indigestion. Morning sickness? A stomach virus. Weight gain? Bad diet and lack of exercise. Obese women may not gain noticeable amounts of weight during pregnancy.
Slate points out some problems with women not realizing they're pregnant:
[F]ailing to detect a pregnancy presents risks to the health of both the mother and the child. For one, it means missing out on important prenatal testing, monitoring, and vaccinations. It also means the mother doesn't know to avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, or doing drugs during the pregnancy.
What implications does this have in terms of abortion?

Proportionally, few abortions are late term abortions. According to the CDC, in 2009, 98.7% of abortions were performed before 21 weeks gestation, with 91.7% of abortions before 13 weeks. Of course, even with the CDC's relatively low estimate of 784,507 abortions for that year, that means 65,114 abortions were performed at 13 weeks gestation or later, with 10,198 of them at 21 weeks or later.

At 13 weeks gestation, the fetus looks something like this:
Image from

Why does this happen? People often talk about wanted pregnancies in which something goes wrong, or about conditions that can threaten the life of the mother late in pregnancy. Those are both factors, to be sure, but they aren't the only ones. Live Science summarizes a 2011 study which found that women were more likely to have second-trimester abortions if they lived under the poverty line, had less education, were black or Hispanic, or were under the age of 19. Women obtaining second-trimester abortions were more likely to have been physically abused or raped, or to have gone through other disruptive life events like job loss.

These factors are all correlations, not causations. Several of these factors could themselves increase the odds that a woman doesn't realize she's pregnant. The study found that "the majority of patients who had second-trimester abortions indicated they would have preferred to have them earlier."

From a pro-life perspective, how much does gestational age matter, and in what ways? As pro-lifers, we acknowledge that whether we’re talking about a zygote, embryo, 8-week fetus, or 21-week fetus, we are talking about a human being. Abortions at any stage kill human beings. Does that mean all abortions are equal? Or are some worse than others? Are late-term abortions morally worse than early-term ones? If so, by how much? Is one abortion at 21-weeks gestation as bad as two abortions at 6-weeks?

I ask because the two might be related. The 2011 study suggests second trimester abortions could be decreased by increasing access to first trimester abortions. The idea is that many women would have preferred first trimester abortions but were unable to set up an abortion within their first trimester. This could be because they had trouble getting together the funds for an abortion, or finding the time to get to the nearest abortion clinic, which might still be hours away. The timing could be particularly tricky if the local laws require waiting periods, counseling sessions, and so forth, meaning multiple separate days out of a daily schedule. If these measures decrease the overall number of abortions, but increase the number of later term abortions, how do you feel about them? What ways do you think would be best to decrease the number of late term abortions while also decreasing the overall number of abortions?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A secular meditation on the beauty of life

[Today's post by guest author Alycia Hartley is part of our paid blogging program.]

As a resident of the Midwest, I have come to appreciate the seasons and seeing what was once dead or bare, come to life during the spring and summer.  With some hesitancy, small financial investment (this means a lot for a graduate student!), and a little courage, I decided to garden this summer by planting my own seeds. I wouldn’t say I have a green thumb, but the thought of making fresh vegetables and flowers from a couple of seeds, dirt, and water intrigued me.  My first experiment was with an early planting of carrots. I was happy but still a bit disappointed to see only nine of the thirty pods growing. A little bummed about the carrots, I didn’t feel very excited about planting the green bean and sunflower seeds I still had. After a bit of self-coaxing I finally got around to planting the rest of the seeds.

If anything helps you to feel a bit closer to nature, it is definitely working with potting soil and seeds. Even though I bought the seeds and potting soil at a store, there is something that makes me feel pretty raw when working with these materials. I filled all the planters with soil, planted the seeds, placed them on a large tray, watered them with care, and then hoped and waited.
Photo provided by the author

My not-so-hard work started to show only a few days later, when I began to see the first signs of seedlings, a little green stem starting to push out of the dirt. I have to say I was pretty thrilled, seeing the beginnings of new life on my front porch.

During my daily activities, I would pass by the tray with my planters on a pretty frequent basis. It was during one of my outings out of the house, passing by my beloved seedlings, that I began to think of the beauty of life. All I did was plant a few seeds, and in return small but thriving green bean plants and sunflowers were starting to grow. It seems so simple, but the power in making a living thing out of dirt, a seed, water, and sun, seems pretty amazing when you meditate on it.

As a pro-life, grassroots activist, I often have the holocaust of the pre-born on my mind, and what could possibly turn our whole nation around to defending the rights of the pre-born. The remarkable occurrence of life is the same with the pre-born; through the sexual act, simple parts have come together to make a new human being.  I began to meditate how if I was in such amazement at the creation of a few simple plants, how much more amazing the creation of a new human life in its mother’s womb.

Over the last few years, I have become a fan of Dr. Scott Klusendorf, the president of the Pro-Life Training Institute. I remember in one of his talks he explained (or re-explained; I zoned out a lot in my high school science classes) the Law of Biogenesis. The law simply states that living things make after their own kind, meaning my green bean seeds cannot make watermelons, or a cow cannot (crazy science experiments aside) birth a pig. The same can so easily be said of the pre-born. They are human at the moment of conception, and all they need is time to grow.

I feel that if our societies and nation were also in awe of life in the human womb, then we wouldn’t have such a huge issue with so many accepting and having abortions. As a young woman, I can say that I would be delighted to get married and to experience the awesome miracle of life inside myself through pregnancy. It seems that we need to take into account that we are dealing with what may seem simple, but very powerful forces. We are indeed dealing with the profound notion of life, and its cousin, death. Whatever our belief systems may be, meditating on this miracle of something coming from practically nothing is enough to keep us pondering for eternity. I think our response needs to be a humble amazement at the beauty that is life, and doing our best to protect it in all circumstances. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Supreme Court grants review of Massachusetts "buffer zone" law

"Free speech for me-- but not for thee." That's the title of a 1993 book by pro-life atheist Nat Hentoff. It's also the principle at work in "buffer zone" laws, which essentially ban sidewalk counseling outside of abortion facilities. The following video gives an example of the type of speech that is banned in many states, including Massachusetts:

Happily, the Supreme Court recently decided to hear a challenge to the Massachusetts "buffer zone" law. Mind you, these are the same Justices who ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church nutjobs have the right to protest at funerals. If they hold that the pro-life message is entitled to less constitutional protection than disgusting posters condemning "fags"... well then, it will be time for us to take to the streets!

The Life Legal Defense Foundation, a non-profit legal group that specializes in representing pro-lifers whose free speech rights are violated, has more on the significance of this case:
In McCullen v. Coakley, seven Massachusetts residents who engaged in pro-life counseling outside of abortion clinics challenged a state statute creating a thirty-five-foot fixed buffer zone around driveways and entrances of abortion clinics. The law prohibits everyone except clinic patients or employees from “entering or remaining” in the zone. The lower court upheld the buffer zone despite its prejudicial intent and application. Life Legal Defense Foundation filed an amici curiae (friends of the court) brief in the Supreme Court arguing that this buffer zone is unconstitutional.
“We are delighted that the Court is going to weigh in on this clear case of viewpoint discrimination,” stated Dana Cody, Executive Director of Life Legal Defense Foundation. “Activists who make disturbances at military funerals, animal rights protests, and ‘occupy’ demonstrations are not bound by the sort of restrictions applied to peaceful pro-life witnesses who invite women to learn about abortion alternatives,” Cody explained, “It’s a true double standard and an unbelievable violation of First Amendment rights.”
Adding insult to injury, the First Circuit justified singling out pro-life speech for disfavored treatment by analogizing it to sexually oriented businesses. Just as “adult” bookstores and theaters have harmful “secondary effects” that allow cities to impose special zoning restrictions, so too, according to the First Circuit, pro-life sidewalk counseling and picketing have harmful “secondary effects” that governments can mitigate by imposing buffer zones and other restrictions. Cody explained, “In fact, what governments most fear about pro-life speech is not any 'secondary effect.' It is that women heading into clinics are hearing the truth about abortion.”
“Just the fact that the Court has taken the case should give pause to San Francisco, Chicago, and other cities that have recently imposed more draconian restrictions on pro-life speech,” Cody said. “We are optimistic that the Court will not only strike down the Massachusetts law, but also revisit some of its own prior precedents that have led lower courts to believe that, as a matter of law, pro-life speech is less deserving of protection.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Life, Choice, and the Science of Altruism

[This post comes with a massive disclaimer: I realize that the development of altruism is not a settled topic. Indeed, evolutionary psychology in general is a controversial field. But that's what makes it so interesting!]

I recently came across an NPR article entitled "Why Those Who Feel They Have Less Give More." The piece examines the social phenomenon that poor people tend to give more to charity, as a portion of their incomes, than their wealthy counterparts. However, wealthy people can be primed to act more charitably in situations where they are reminded of others' need.

NPR business journalist Paul Solman then dives deeper into the science of altruism in an interview with UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Kelter:
Dacher Keltner: For a long time, I've been interested in a question that has confounded people who have thought about human evolution, and this goes back to Alfred Russel Wallace, Thomas Huxley and Charles Darwin, which is: Why in the world are people good to other people? Why are we kind? Why do we give things away? . . . What is it about the species we are that produces a lot of striking generosity in our social behavior?
Paul Solman: And your answer is...?
Dacher Keltner: My answer is hyper-vulnerable offspring that are born very dependent, taking years, decades to reach the age of viability. And that just changed everything. That meant we had to cooperate with each other; we had to share things.
Keltner's use of the word "viability" caught my attention. Of course, he is not referring to viability in the 24-weeks-of-pregnancy sense. But I was struck by the idea that caring for non-viable children (that is, those who need help to survive) is the evolutionary basis for human altruism and compassion.

Contrast that to the pro-choice message: "You have no obligations to those who are not viable."

If we accept Keltner's theory, then the pro-choice philosophy stands in direct opposition to the way we as a species have learned to act selflessly. This is, essentially, the scientific version of Mother Teresa's observation that "any country that accepts abortion is not teaching the people to love, but to use violence to get what they want."

An aside: if Keltner is correct, and if we accept the data showing that low-income people are more inclined to be altruistic, then we might also expect low-income people to reject the pro-choice message regarding non-viable children and embrace the pro-life position. Sure enough, Gallup polling from 2011 shows that poverty is linked to pro-life views. This is especially true in the Democratic Party; Democrats earning less than $30K a year are a whopping 29 percentage points more pro-life than those making $75K or more. (In the GOP, which is more "unified" on the abortion issue, low-income Republicans are 2 percentage points more pro-life than wealthy Republicans.)

Monday, June 24, 2013

A message from the president

Over the next week, you will see frequent messages and updates from Secular Pro-Life regarding the number of people who like our Facebook page. Here's why.

A few months ago, we asked for your input on the future of Secular Pro-Life. You spoke clearly. You are in favor of expansion, and would like for SPL to have paid staff within the next five years. (And you offered some great programming suggestions that would provide plenty of work for such staffers!)

But you also want us to approach this prudently. You pointed out that non-profits that try to expand too quickly often crash and burn. By taking it slow, SPL can establish lasting progress.

SPL leaders are taking your advice, and have determined that step one has to be increasing our membership. To that end, we have set a goal of doubling our Facebook fans to 5,000 by the end of June. This goal is ambitious, but we believe that it is doable.

Of course, new likes don't appear out of thin air. We need you to invite your pro-life friends! With your help, Secular Pro-Life can take the first steps to expanding our life-saving mission.

Thank you for your support.

For life,
Kelsey Hazzard
President of Secular Pro-Life

P.S.-- Later this summer, we will be unveiling some cool new projects, including a total redesign of our website. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 21, 2013

News of the week

The House of Representatives passed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. But unsurprisingly, it's unlikely to get anywhere in the Senate. (Elections have consequences.) Also unsurprisingly, the mainstream media coverage has been pretty sad.

Mormon SPL supporter Nathaniel Givens responds to Dan Becker, who proclaims the wrath of God on all incrementalist pro-lifers:
"It has been openly stated within the movement that we need to distance ourselves from the 'rape/incest' debate by giving up the argument. This is a total abdication of duty and a grave moral failure that will incur God’s judgment."
The first sentence is a little strong, but it represents a genuine belief on the part of some within the pro-life community, and I sympathize with their sense that they alone will speak for the innocent and voiceless. But the second one? We’re going to start calling down God’s judgment on fellow pro-lifers? I believe that lacks discretion, to put it mildly. Of course, according to Becker, if you allow a rape and incest exception you aren’t really pro-life at all.
Yesterday, pro-life leaders held a press conference demanding the closure of Douglas Karpen's abortion center. Karpen's former employees allege that he ran a Gosnell-like infanticide operation. State authorities are investigating, but Karpen remains in business in the meantime. That's unacceptable, say LEARN, National Black Pro-Life Union, Black Pro-Life Coalition, and Operation Rescue.

Ohio Right to Life condemns a high school that refuses to let a student with Down Syndrome participate on the cheerleading squad.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Is Masturbation Mass Murder?

As a conservative Christian, this is a topic that used to embarrass me. Five years ago I never would have even considered writing an article on this topic, but ever since becoming a pro-life advocate, it was a topic that I’ve had to become comfortable with. Mostly because this is an argument that just doesn’t seem to go away.

There are good pro-choice arguments. There are also really lame arguments. This one falls under the latter category. It’s probably made as much for the shock value as it is to argue against pro-life people. Like the silly acorn argument, this argument is not a serious objection to the pro-life position. In fact, it’s a strawman against it. Not only does this objection reveal an ignorance of basic science on the part of the pro-choice person who uses it, it also reveals an ignorance of philosophy. As Scott Klusendorf says, this argument makes the elementary mistake of confusing parts with wholes.


The sperm/egg cell (spermatozoon/ovum)

I’ve decided to begin this article with a basic embryology lesson. I’m not an embryologist, but this is basic information that anyone should know. So I don’t presume to speak as an expert, but this information will become important when I reach the philosophy section of this article.

The egg and sperm cells are individual cells produced by the mother and father’s bodies, respectively. They are called haploid cells, each cell containing 23 chromosomes. When the two combine and the fertilization process begins, each contributes their 23 chromosomes and form a diploid cell, a zygote, which contains 23 pairs of chromosomes for a total of 46 (a combination of the chromosomes from the sperm and the egg). The sperm cell is a product of the father, containing genetic information that will be contributed to the new zygote, and the egg cell is a product of the mother, containing genetic information that will be contributed to the new zygote. Although the fusion of the sperm and the egg develop into a zygote, the sperm and the egg technically cease to exist at fertilization. They lose their identity as a sperm and egg and become a brand new human individual. If left alone, the sperm and the egg will eventually die.

The zygote

We all began life as a human zygote. Embryologist Keith L. Moore, in his textbook The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition (Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. p. 16), states: "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.” A human zygote begins as a single diploid cell, but as with all living things, her cells soon start to divide and she grows, developing along the path of human development into a more mature version of herself. If left alone, she will continue to grow and develop as all human beings do.


Law of Identity

There is a fundamental law of philosophy, a First Principle, called the Law of Identity. Aristotle wrote of the Law of Identity as follows: "Again, if 'man' has one meaning, let this be 'two-footed animal', by having one meaning I understand this -- if 'man' means 'X', then if A is a man 'X' will be what 'being a man' means for him" (Metaphysics, Book IV, Part 4). J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae (Body and Soul, InterVaristy Press Acadmic, Downer's Grove, Il., 2000, p. 56) explain it this way: “Everything is identical to itself and thus shares all properties in common with itself. If we can find one thing true (or possibly true) of x not true (or possibly not true) of y or vice versa, then x is not identical to y."

A property is just an attribute, characteristic, or quality of a thing (ibid., p. 51). There are different kinds of properties, but that is unimportant for this article. Take a particular property I have, being Caucasian. The Law of Identity states that if I, Clinton Wilcox, am Caucasian, then if Clinton Wilcox is the same person as Suzanne DeMarco’s oldest living son, then Suzanne DeMarco’s oldest living son is Caucasian (I have adapted the previous example from Moreland and Rae’s book, Body and Soul).

Put simply, if there is something true of x (say, a given sperm) and y (say, the zygote that will result from the fertilization), then the sperm and the zygote cannot be the same entity. There is at least one thing true of the zygote that is not true of the sperm, which is the property of having 46 chromosomes. A sperm only has 23, whereas the single-celled zygote has 46, so they cannot be the same entity (and there are other differences, as well).

Pro-choice philosopher David Benatar (Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2006, p.134) also finds the following problem with this argument: “Prior to conception there is only a sperm and an ovum. As these are both necessary for bringing somebody into existence, but because they are distinct entities prior to conception, they cannot be identical with the being that will be brought into existence. Two cannot be identical with one. Thus we cannot speak of a new organism as having come into existence prior to conception. Put another way, each one of us was once a zygote, but none of us was ever a sperm or an (unfertilized) ovum.” Anyone who makes this argument not only defies science, but pro-choice philosophers, as well.

Parts vs. Wholes

As mentioned above, Scott Klusendorf makes the observation that this argument commits a very elementary mistake of confusing parts with wholes. The sperm and egg are parts of the parent organism, the mother and father that conceive the new human being. They are produced by the parent organism for a very specific purpose, procreation.

Conversely, the new human organism that results from fertilization is her own unique individual, with her own functional parts that work toward the good of the whole organism, even from the single-cell stage.

So in no sense of the word are unborn human beings and sperm or eggs comparable. This is just another silly pro-choice argument that is not likely to die but is easy to rebut. If we could do away with the bad arguments and stick to the good ones, there would be many more productive conversations on the issue.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

When did feminists abort the pro-life position?

[Today's primer on abortion and feminism in history is by guest blogger Frank Ludwig, and is part of our paid blogging program.]

While the idea of woman’s equality is probably as old as male-dominated societies and has been promoted by writers from Plato to Mary Woolstonecraft, the first notable feminist movement didn’t come into being until the mid 19th century, following a number of publications from authors such as Margaret Fuller, Caroline Norton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Henrik Ibsen. The aims of First-Wave Feminism were mainly their right to own property, woman’s suffrage (the right to vote) and equal rights in other areas such as education and divorce. None of them demanded the right to abortion – on the contrary, abortion was seen as a crime that was forced upon women by men who were unwilling to face up to their responsibilities, and they believed that woman’s equality would end abortion for good:
"Perhaps there will come a time when... an unmarried mother will not be despised because of her motherhood... and when the right of the unborn to be born will not be denied or interfered with." – Caroline Norton
"Every woman knows that if she were free, she would never bear an unwished-for child, nor think of murdering one before its birth." –  Victoria Woodhull 
"When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." – Elizabeth Cady Stanton 
"There were four hundred murders annually produced by abortion in this county alone… There must be a remedy to such a crying evil as this. But where should it be found, at least begin, if not in the complete enfranchisement and elevation of women?"–  Elizabeth Cady Stanton 
"Enforced motherhood is a crime against the body of the mother and the soul of the child... But the crime of abortion is not one in which the guilt lies solely or even chiefly with the woman... I hesitate not to assert that most of this crime of child murder, abortion, infanticide, lies at the door of the male sex." - Matilda Joslyn Gage
"Abortion is the ultimate exploitation of women." – Alice Paul 
"I deplore the horrible crime of child-murder… No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; But oh! Thrice guilty is he who... drove her to the desperation which impels her to the crime." – Susan B. Anthony 
From the beginning of the 20th century, feminists also started promoting birth control, the main protagonists being Marie Stopes in the UK and Margaret Sanger in the US. And while they campaigned for the right to use contraceptives, both of them were firmly opposed to abortion:
"We explained what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way - no matter how early it was performed, it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way - it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not yet begun.’ – Margaret Sanger 
‘I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.’ – Margaret Sanger 
‘When motherhood becomes the fruit of a deep yearning, not the result of ignorance or accident, its children will become the foundation of a new race. There will be no killing of babies in the womb by abortion, nor through neglect in foundling homes, nor will there be infanticide.’ – Margaret Sanger 
‘I was glad you gave space to the fact that the Queensland Medical Association is planning an extensive educational campaign against the evil of abortion.’ – Marie Stopes. (When Stopes found out that her contemporary Avro Manhattan had pressured one of his lovers into having an abortion, she called him a murderer to his face. And when William Carpenter named his abortion shop after her, she took legal action against him. But today, the largest abortion business in the UK bears her name since it was founded in 1976, eighteen years after her death.)
During and after the World Wars, some of the feminists’ goals were achieved, but the position of women was still far from being equal. In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in which she pointed out that many women were unhappy and unfulfilled as mere housewives and mothers. This was the beginning of Second-Wave Feminism.

The first abortion activists were Pat Maginnis, Rowena Gurner and Lana Phelan who travelled and campaigned as the Army of Three in the early Sixties. In 1966, they founded the Association to Repeal Abortion Laws (ARAL). At that time gynecologist Dr. Bernard Nathanson and journalist Lawrence Lader promoted abortion rights and decided to involve feminists in order to give their agenda a wider platform ("We're going to have to recruit the feminists; Friedan has got to put her troops into this thing," Lader said.)  They approached Betty Friedan who in 1968, together with Pauli Murray, wrote the NOW Bill of Rights (NOW being the National Organization of Women which she had co-founded) and which claimed in point VIII "the right of women to control their own reproductive lives by removing from penal codes the laws limiting access to contraceptive information and devices and laws governing abortion." This was the first time that the demand for abortion appeared in a feminist context.

In 1969 Friedan, Nathanson, Laden and others founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) which succeeded the ARAL. (In the late Seventies Nathanson, having been one of the most prolific abortion performers in the US, saw an abortion on ultrasound imaging and, after watching the fetus suffer and struggle, became a pro-life campaigner. He stated that "I am one of those who helped usher in this barbaric age," wrote the book Aborting America in which he confessed to the deceitful beginnings of the pro-abortion movement, and made the documentary The Silent Scream which shows a real-time abortion on ultrasound.)

Also in 1969, a young woman in Dallas fabricated a rape story in order to obtain an abortion (in Texas, abortion was legal in case of rape). She was turned down, and her child was born and placed for adoption. The attorney handling it referred her to two female attorneys who were looking for an opportunity to challenge the US’ abortion laws, and her case went before the Supreme Court. With its infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, abortion became legal in the US. (After seeing a fetal development poster two decades later, Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in the case, became a pro-life campaigner and has since unsuccessfully tried to have the decision overturned.)

The demand for legal abortions became the mainstream position of the vast majority of feminists, which often was (and is) expressed in a militant way. Those who hold other views are (depending on their gender) considered chauvinists or traitors by many, and men are told they have no right to an opinion unless they support abortion. Some even claim that one can’t be a feminist without being pro-abortion, but fact is that feminists before Betty Friedan strongly opposed abortion as the taking of a human life. In light of the developments of the past 45 years, the remaining pro-life feminists started organizing themselves in groups such as Feminists for Life (FFL) who were founded in 1972 but "stand on more than two hundred years of pro-life feminist history."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

An inspirational young woman

Your president Kelsey Hazzard here. Since most of my interactions with Secular Pro-Life supporters take place online, people are often surprised to learn that I'm 24 years old. This is usually followed by a compliment--"You're so impressive! You've done so much for the pro-life cause at such a young age! You're so amazing!"
Katie and Tyler

To that, I say: not compared to Katie Farrell, I'm not.

Katie and I were the same age; in fact, she was born very close to my due date. (I arrived three weeks late.) In 2010, at the age of 21, she became pregnant. Despite tremendous pressures, she chose life for her son Tyler. Not only that, she enrolled in a community college to further her education and create a brighter future for herself and her baby.

Tragically, in March of 2012, Katie was murdered. Her killer, an ex-boyfriend with serious mental health issues, subsequently committed suicide.

Katie's mother, who follows Secular Pro-Life on facebook, reached out to us. She invited Secular Pro-Life to share Katie's essay on abortion, which she wrote for a college English class just a month before she died.

And so I leave you with Katie's story, in her own words:
I got pregnant at 21, unwed, young, and with a minimum-wage paying job. All my options were laid out in front of me, messily, like an opened bag of bird seed scattered out onto the bare ground. To keep, adopt, or abort. I knew abortion wasn't the choice for me, but like adoption, the choice crossed my mind. Abortion would have been the easiest route; I could've gotten rid of my son like he was just an insignificant flu symptom. I had health professionals insisting I have an abortion and that raising my child was simply something I couldn't do at this point of time. Abortion was convenient, but I rejected the idea. I had no support, but I stood my ground to keep and raise my child; I chose to continue my baby's life, what I believe he should inevitably have the right to. Abortion is chosen everyday by women, unwed and even younger than I, with health professionals everywhere promoting this idea that abortion should be used as a form of birth control. You made the "mistake", now let's abort the "consequence", is what I hear when these professionals are telling confused women that abortion is the most logical choice. I don't believe getting pregnant with my son was a mistake; it may have been unplanned, but that is no reason for me to kill the unborn child growing inside me that I had yet to meet.
Continue reading at Katie's Way.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The merits of fetal pain legislation

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which bans medically unnecessary abortions after 20 weeks, is expected to come to a vote this week in the House of Representatives. Several states have enacted similar bans (some of which are tied up in legal challenges), but this one would apply nationwide.

The legislation has prompted a broader discussion within the pro-life movement about the wisdom of the "pain-based" approach. Without naming names, I have noticed that some pro-life leaders are skeptical. I ultimately come down in favor of 20-week bans, but the concerns are legitimate and thoughtful. Below, I outline what I perceive the major concerns to be, and my responses.

1. It shouldn't be about pain.
Pro-life advocates naturally do not believe that only babies who feel pain should be protected from abortion. But some have expressed concern that this legislation sends the wrong message. By focusing on the ability to feel pain, they say, we do a disservice to younger babies. We do not want to give the impression that it is morally acceptable to kill as long as the victim doesn't feel it.

History may be a guide here. Similar concerns were expressed about the partial-birth abortion ban; after all, we don't think that abortion is acceptable when the baby's entire body is in the womb, either. But the PBA ban got people to think about the brutal nature of abortion in general, and changed a lot of hearts and minds. The PBA ban admittedly didn't prevent many abortions, and neither will a 20-week ban, since most abortions occur earlier. The real value is educational value.

Rep. Franks referred to the Gosnell trial, which prompted the legislation, as a "teachable moment." The legislation itself is likewise a teachable moment.

2. 20 weeks isn't the right cutoff.
There is a lot of debate about when babies begin to feel pain. The 20-week mark is based on a wealth of scientific studies, which can be found here.

Of course, abortion advocates have their own experts, who put the ability to feel pain later. It's worth noting that they disagree substantially with one another. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which is openly pro-choice and includes abortionists in its membership, says that fetal pain is "unlikely before the third trimester," or 28 weeks. The British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, by contrast, points to 24 weeks as the key. And many abortion advocates like to cite a single 2011 study which put the ability to feel pain at a whopping 35 weeks, suggesting that even many premature infants are numb to pain. At the end of the day, all they can agree on is that those mean anti-choicers are definitely wrong about the science.

Meanwhile, some pro-lifers are concerned that as research tools improve, we will find evidence that fetal pain begins much earlier than 20 weeks. In fact, one neurobiologist testified that unborn babies may be able to feel pain late in the first trimester. What happens if we pass the bill, and then a few years down the road learn that it isn't actually protecting all pain-capable unborn children?

To that I say: I hope that's exactly what does happen. The pro-life movement should be prepared to educate the public if strong new evidence arises, and amend the legislation. Being pro-science means you may not get it right the first time, every time. We should be willing to admit the mistake and fix it. Done right, that can go a long way toward earning the public's trust.

3. This is a waste of time because it won't pass the Senate.
True, it probably won't pass the Senate, which is not majority pro-life. But we can use this to highlight how extreme these "pro-choice" politicians are; most pro-choice Americans support bans on late-term abortions. And again, the getting-people-to-think component is there whether or not it passes.

4. This is a waste of time because the courts will strike it down.
Don't be so sure. People said the same thing about the partial-birth abortion ban, and the Supreme Court wound up finding that the interest in distinguishing between abortion and infanticide was strong enough to justify the legislation. The Supreme Court has never heard the fetal pain argument; it could very well find that this, too, is a strong enough interest. It all comes down to the highly unpredictable Justice Kennedy.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Live Action releases "What is Human?" video?

[Today's post is a news release from Live Action. The original can be found here.]

Live Action has unveiled the fifth video in its new investigative series, Inhuman: Undercover in America's Abortion Industry. The video, found at, exposes a host of abortion doctors nationwide equivocating on the humanity of the child in the womb, and then describing in graphic detail the late-term abortion procedure that would end these children's lives.

The video features newly released recordings from Dr. Carmen Landau, of Southwest Women's Options in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a counselor employed at the same facility.

Over the past two months, Live Action has held rallies in several of the cities in which the Inhuman footage was captured. The most recent rally, in Phoenix, Arizona, brought forth upwards of 400 people, not counting over a dozen legislators and a score of media outlets, in one-hundred-plus degree weather.

Live Action president Lila Rose said:
Every human being is unique and precious from the moment of conception. But abortionists will not give even these babies--24 weeks, 27 weeks, viable, capable of surviving outside the womb--the dignity of humanity. So we want to put the question in every abortionist's head: if not even these babies are worthy of humanity in the abortionist's eyes, then what is human? What does "human" even mean?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Logic versus Storytelling

The abortion lobby is has found its latest poster child: a Salvadoran woman, known only as Beatriz, who allegedly needed an abortion to save her life. The reality, as usual, is more complicated.

El Salvador protects unborn life, and recognizes the lives of mothers as well. Balancing these concerns, El Salvador has legal abortion in cases of self-defense, but elective abortions are outlawed. The Salvadoran courts determined that Beatriz's condition was stable, but that she should continue to be monitored and doctors could proceed with an abortion if an emergency arose.

A short time later, Beatriz went into labor. Doctors performed a Cesarean section, and her baby was born alive. Sadly, the baby died a few hours later, as was expected due to a serious neurological problem the baby had developed in utero.

But in the parallel universe inhabited by hard-core abortion supporters, Beatriz did not give birth. She had an abortion, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

On Tuesday, a consortium of pro-abortion groups held a rally for Beatriz. (Side note: our polar opposites, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, got involved, and the rally became a prayer vigil. Apparently the God of Crowds was unresponsive, since it reportedly drew only thirty people.) Abortion advocacy groups are essentially reusing the template of Ireland: find a sympathetic woman of color (Beatriz in El Salvador, Savita in Ireland), play fast and loose with the facts, hold rallies, earn media, and try to change the country's laws on abortion.

Tonya Reaves
I'll believe that abortion advocates are the great champions of women of color when they start holding rallies for Tonya Reaves and Karnamaya Mongar. Who are they? Tonya was a black woman who died after an abortion at a Chicago Planned Parenthood. Karnamaya was a Bhutanese refugee who overcame unimaginable obstacles in life and emigrated to the United States, only to die in an abortion at Kermit Gosnell's "clinic."

Gosnell was convicted of manslaughter for Karnamaya's death. So far there has been no justice for Tonya, but her family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

Karnamaya Mongar
I appreciate hard facts, and I believe that the facts are on the side of the pro-life movement. But facts alone don't always win policy arguments, even if they should. The pro-choice movement has done a much better job of sharing (some would say exploiting) the emotional, personal stories of women with the media.

We need to do a better job of balancing logic with emotion. It's not enough to debunk their stories; we must also tell our own. The moderate publicity received by Tonya and Karnamaya is a start, but we have a long way to go.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

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

For part one of this series, you can go here. For part two, this is where you should be. For part three, follow this link. And here’s part four.

7. Do parents have a special responsibility to their offspring?

Throughout this series I have engaged Thomson’s analogies and found all of them to be lacking. I have established that Thomson, though she believes she does, really is not granting the pro-life view of personhood. I have argued that the violinist analogy (and the others) do not establish that women have the right to an abortion. And while I do believe abortion is still wrong and should be illegal in the case of rape, even if we grant that it should be legal in the case of rape you can’t get from “abortion should be legal in the case of rape” to “abortion should be legal under any and all circumstances.”

So she argues that the pro-life position doesn’t follow, that even if we grant the unborn is a person that doesn’t mean that abortion is wrong or should be illegal. But considering that her argument only works in the case of rape (which she admits several times in the article), I have shown that it does, in fact, follow that if the unborn are full human persons, then it is wrong and should be illegal to kill them. Of course the next step would be to argue that the unborn is not a person, but Thomson doesn’t take that route so I have not defended the position that they are.

So she takes one final stab at justifying her position, arguing that parents don’t actually have any sort of obligation to their children at all, only if they assume it. I am actually planning a future article on parental responsibility and how it pertains to the abortion issue, so I won’t say too much about it here. But I will say that her position here is simply reprehensible. I consider it quite obvious that a parent has a moral obligation to care for their children. She says they could assume responsibility, then once they take it home they cannot revoke it at the cost of her life because they now find it difficult to provide for it. But it’s not clear why they should be able to do this. If a parent could have their child killed while inside the womb, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t allow a child to be killed outside the womb. Presumably if a mother decides to keep her child but two months later while still in utero decides to revoke her parental obligation, I’m sure Thomson would have no problem with allowing her to have an abortion. So again, it goes back to bodily rights (since the only reason Thomson would say we should allow the death of the child in utero is because it is dependent upon her body and she is under no obligation to allow it continued use of her body). So again, the issue here is not one of parental responsibility -- either parents are responsible for their children inside and outside the womb, or parental responsibility is irrelevant and she should be allowed the right to refuse whether or not she assumed responsibility for it. And if we’re going to say that inside the womb one can revoke responsibility to care for a child at the cost of the child's life, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t allow it once the child is outside the womb.

Parental responsibility is not assumed, it is inherent by virtue of biology. As my friend Josh Brahm likes to say (and I’m paraphrasing), if your neighbor’s kid raids your fridge, you can have him arrested. But it makes no sense to call your own kid a thief if he raids your fridge.

That’s all I’ll say for now. I will say much more on this in the future.

8. Is Thomson’s position truly reasonable?

Thomson finishes off her essay with an appeal to our emotional side. She argues that her position is reasonable because she doesn’t argue that all abortions are permissible. Some would be positively indecent, such as a woman in her seventh month of pregnancy who wants the abortion just to avoid the nuisance of postponing a trip abroad. So we have some common ground there.

She argues that pro-life people are suspect because we treat all abortions where the woman’s life is not at stake (and some pro-lifers won’t even make that concession) the same. But think of what she’s saying. What if I was to criticize laws against murder because it treats all murderers the same, whereas while not all murders are permissible, there may be genuine times where we need to take a life in cold blood (say to make an example of would-be criminals for minor crimes)? If abortion truly is murder, if abortion is the intentional taking of innocent human life, then it is not unreasonable to argue that all, or at least the vast majority, of abortions are impermissible and should be illegal.

But there is another aspect to her statement. She says that we consider all abortions performed as morally on a par, but I really don’t think that’s true when you boil it down. For example, a woman who knows what her unborn child is but goes in for an abortion because she just doesn’t want kids, certainly is not morally on a par with the girl in Thomson’s example, the desperately frightened 14-year-old schoolgirl, pregnant due to rape. Not all killings are equal. That’s why our laws distinguish between murder and manslaughter, between different degrees of murder, premeditation and crimes of passion. Not all women who abort are morally on a par, but all abortions morally amount to the same thing -- the intentional killing of an innocent human being.

Finally Thomson makes the statement that once you unplug, you are not guaranteed the death of the violinist. If he miraculously survives the unplugging, you do not have the right to slit his throat. She, in effect, argues that the right to abortion carries with it the right of separation from the child, not the right of termination of its life. I disagree that there is a right to an abortion, but it seems reasonable that if a mother could separate herself from the child without killing her, then that would be better than killing her to have her removed. Christopher Kaczor discusses this at greater length in his book The Ethics of Abortion. But it seems to me that what Thomson is advocating is the right to slight the violinist’s throat before the separation, since Thomson supposedly endorses surgical abortions. Now as I have argued elsewhere, this isn’t the strongest rebuttal since there are methods of abortion that are more literally like unplugging than direct killing, such as the drug RU-486. But that drug didn’t come about until the 90’s, and to my knowledge there were no drugs that would simply “unplug” in the 70’s, when Thomson wrote her essay. So it seems that this confession equally works against her position.

Thomson finishes up by saying that she’s only been pretending (her word) that the unborn is a person from conception. She dismisses early abortions by claiming that it’s not a person at that time (though of course, she doesn’t support her assertion). So early abortions are not dealt with by anything in her essay. This is just strange, considering that she has been arguing that even if the zygote/embryo is a person abortion would still be permissible. This last statement just amounts to question-begging, by assuming that an early embryo is not a person.

I hope I’ve made it clear that Thomson’s essay certainly doesn’t justify abortions, especially abortions on demand. Her analogies do not hold up under scrutiny, especially the violinist analogy, which she is most well-known for. The reason that so much is written in the literature about whether or not the unborn is a person is because that is a crucial question that the abortion issue hinges on. If the unborn is not a person, then a woman should be able to get an abortion whenever and for whatever reason she wants to. If the unborn is a person, and has all the basic human rights you and I do, then abortions are impermissible and should be illegal.