Thursday, October 31, 2013

Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Some Provisions of Texas Abortion Law

[Today's guest post by Rebecca Downs is part of our paid blogging program.]

As you have no doubt heard by now, a federal judge struck down a challenged provision of the Texas pro-life omnibus bill as unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the requirement that abortionists have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles was unconstitutional because it placed an undue burden on women seeking abortions. The ruling came on Monday, just one day before the provision was set to go into effect.

The opinion also modified the requirement that abortionists follow FDA protocols when dispensing abortion drugs. From USA Today:
In a 26-page opinion, Yeakel also blocked a provision requiring physicians to strictly follow follow U.S. Food and Drug Administration protocols when prescribing "off-label" doses of pregnancy-ending drugs, limiting their treatment options. He called the lawmakers' action "an undue burden on those women for whom surgical abortion is, in the sound medical opinion of their treating physician, a significant health risk."
. . .

Regarding so-called medication abortion, Yeakel ordered that one provision "may not be enforced against any physician who determines, in appropriate medical judgment, to perform the medication-abortion using off-label protocol for the preservation of the life or health of the mother." But Yeakel, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, upheld as constitutional other FDA-required procedures, which require additional doses and doctor visits, even though they are "assuredly more imposing and unpleasant for the woman."
Considering that this is the same judge who issued the ruling that Texas had to continue funding Planned Parenthood, this ruling may not come as such a surprise. But as Judge Yeakel himself admitted, the case is likely to find its way to the Supreme Court.

From The Washington Post:
In a statement, Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean said "we appreciate the trial court’s attention in this matter," but made it clear Yeakel would not have the last word on the matter.

"As everyone – including the trial court judge – has acknowledged, this is a matter that will ultimately be resolved by the appellate courts or the U.S. Supreme Court," Bean said.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott—who is also a gubernatorial candidate on the Republican ticket against Wendy Davis, famous for filibustering the law—appealed the case to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

An ambulance transports a patient
from a Dallas abortion business.
Image via AbortionDocs
Judge Yeakel has said that requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals would be an undue burden. His opinion states that "the admitting-privileges portion of House Bill 2 lacks a rational basis and place an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion." Actually, what seems to be lacking a rational basis is why groups like Planned Parenthood would bring about a lawsuit on a provision that actually protects women getting an abortion and ensures that clinics take necessary precautions when it comes to such a procedure. Abortion advocates like to refer to an abortion as a typical medical procedure. Well, those have risks associated with them, and abortion does as well. When patients from botched abortions are taken to the hospital, the doctors there often do not know what they are dealing with, and trying to figure out what is wrong with the patient wastes precious time in treating her.

Oftentimes women getting an abortion may not know whether or not their abortion provider has admitting privileges. They may be desperate and vulnerable, and such valuable information is not on their mind. Such a state of mind should not mean that abortionists get to take advantage of these women and flaunt commonsense medicine. Would you want to see a doctor who was performing an abortion, or any other invasive procedure on you, without them having admitting privileges?

As Deanna Candler writes for Live Action News, admitting privileges could also help prevent further cases like Gosnell, whose patients were primarily poor and desperate. Happily, Judge Yeakel did uphold part of the requirement to follow FDA protocols for abortion drugs. But his comment that the FDA-required doctor visits are "assuredly more imposing and unpleasant for the woman" shows a disturbing lack of understanding on this issue. The FDA is not some pro-life organization with an agenda against abortion. They do not issue protocols for no reason. If abortion clinics and providers truly cared about the health and safety, they would have little or no problem complying.

With their opposition to such commonsense regulations, it is becoming more and more clear that groups like Planned Parenthood, and others who were part of the lawsuit, don't take safety regulation seriously. It is these pro-choice groups that really are engaging in a war on women and playing politics with women's health. The laws they oppose are not against women; rather, they are against unregulated abortion. For what, rather than for whom, groups like Planned Parenthood have loyalty and allegiance really comes out here. That "what" is abortion.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

#BeTransparent about abortion subsidies

You've no doubt heard about the computer programmer's worst nightmare that was the launch of That was a newsworthy story, to be sure. But in all the media coverage, something important got lost: once you've gotten past the technical glitches and logged onto the website, how do you pick the right plan? At that point, there's another setback. And unlike the programming snafus, this setback is deliberate.

Abortion was a huge issue back when the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was being debated in Congress. The ultimate outcome was a requirement that every exchange contain at least one pro-life health insurance plan, allowing people the choice to not subsidize abortions through their premiums.

But good luck figuring out which plan is the pro-life one. The information is absent from relevant websites, and the Charlotte Lozier Institute found that even calling a live representative often gets you nowhere. CLI isn't shy about their suspicion that this is by design:
The asserted purpose of exchanges in the first place is to provide an unbiased forum so that consumers can quickly and easily compare plan costs, provisions, and providers. But what if governments and insurers think that some points of comparison are of little consequence? If they can’t eliminate them by law, they may just as effectively make those points all but invisible.
Pro-life members of Congress are trying to address this subterfuge with a bill called the Abortion Insurance Disclosure Act. To pass it, we must be too loud for the media can ignore.

The #Gosnell tweetfest succeeded in forcing the media to cover the gruesome trial of an abortionist and infanticidist instead of sweeping it under the rug. It's time for pro-lifers to rally again! The hashtag today is #BeTransparent. You can get sample tweets here.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Return of the Scourge, Part I

As my conclusion, I will now respond to certain objections that Ord anticipated. I was hoping to get this done in one part, but due to the length, it will contain two parts. See here and here for my previous parts.

Empirical Objections: The first empirical objection Ord responds to is the fact that critics of his argument could contest the numbers. I did not do this because while I believe the numbers are greatly skewed, it's really irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of the argument.

A related objection he looks at is that there may be studies we can look at that show a much lower rate, but the studies Ord used are from fertilization, whereas many studies count from implantation on, and would account for the lower statistic. I am pointing this out merely for completion's sake. Like the first objection, it is irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of the argument, so I will let it pass.

The next objection he anticipates is similar to what I pointed out earlier, but not the same. He anticipates the objection that there may be nothing we can do to prevent spontaneous abortion, and support for this fact may come from cases of chromosomal abnormalities. This still does not address my concern that many spontaneous abortions are from hydatidiform moles, choriocarsinomas, etc. rather than just from human beings with chromosomal defects. If this has not been accounted for, then the numbers have been seriously skewed.

But what about humans with abnormal defects? Ord continues with the anticipated objection, that chromosomal defects (such as trisomies, which means the affected person has a third copy of particular chromosomes). Because such defects are present since conception, occur in every cell, and are often fatal, there may seem to be little hope for reducing the incidence of spontaneous abortions. But Ord argues this is not enough to undermine his argument. Let's look at his objections to this argument.

First, he argues that some chromosomal defects are non-fatal, such as Down's syndrome. We rightly value people with Down's syndrome, so if The Claim is correct, we should value and protect embryos with similar abnormalities. I agree with this, and I don't see it as an absurd conclusion. If we could develop a way to treat people with chromosomal abnormalities, I think that we should take it. But this doesn't reply to the objection, in that it may never be possible to treat these people, especially since many preborn humans (as Ord, himself, argues) are spontaneously aborted before implantation even occurs. Arguing that we may have an obligation to save people that we can help does nothing to undermine the argument that we may never be able to help these early miscarried humans.

Second, he argues that we may be able to make great progress in curing chromosomal diseases through gene therapy or similar techniques. I agree, but again, this fails to respond to the objection. If we are able to help these unborn human beings with chromosomal defects, it seems patently obvious to me that we should! But again, this does not respond to the argument that we may never be able to help these unborn human beings who spontaneously abort so early in life.

Third, he argues that we may be able to use techniques such as sperm sorting to avoid some of the chromosomal defects occurring in the first place. The problem with this argument is that now we're crossing into the realm of eugenics, which has many moral implications on its own. Needless to say, this response begs the question by assuming that there is nothing morally wrong with eugenics.

So these responses may show us that if we are able to treat unborn human beings, then we should. But it may never be possible to save most of the unborn human beings who miscarry. I don't think there's anything wrong with the implication that if we can save unborn humans, we should. He does mention cancer, that although it is very difficult to find a cure and we cannot even be certain there is a cure, it is so critically important we still have a moral imperative to continue the research. But for one thing, notice how he does not consider it so critical that we should put aside all other concerns to only find a cure for cancer, but it is also a false analogy because cancer has dangers to society that Natural Embryo Loss just doesn't have; for example, cancer kills those who currently contribute to society, leaving behind dependents.

Ord's last anticipated objection is that there are many other factors, like maternal smoking, hormone deficiencies, etc., that contribute to spontaneous abortions. This is true, and the fact that we try to prevent those things shows that we actually do care about the unborn and try to protect the unborn from harm. But Ord argues that 90 to 150 million unborn children would still be dying if we remove these other reasons that are amenable to treatment, so those who accept The Claim should still be pushing to find a cure for Natural Embryo Loss. I have already argued why this is incorrect. We have an obligation not to kill or cause unnecessary harm, but we do not necessarily have an obligation to save from natural death, and it may not be possible to save from natural death. We can extend life, but we cannot stop people from dying altogether. Great strides are made in science and medicine, which means it's now possible to save unborn children that it wasn't possible to save 50 years ago. This is a good thing, and it also gives us an obligation to save these children, if we can. I don't think we actually do have an obligation, as Ord alleges, to make a huge global push to see if it's possible to save every single unborn human being.

Also, as commenter Jameson Graber noted, and I believe is worth pointing out, there are economic concerns that must be taken into account. Allocating resources is never a morally neutral act since you must distribute valuable resources which could be taking away from other activities that may save more lives in the long run. You also have to understand a problem before you can invest in its solution. Since we live in a time of legalized abortion, scientists are under no pressure to explain their studies on spontaneous abortion to the general public. So it seems disingenuous for Ord to claim that no one cares when people of his level of knowledge hasn't explained it to people. (I have paraphrased, but I owe the thoughts in the preceding paragraph to Jameson).

I think it's clear that Ord's example of The Scourge does not give us the moral implications he thinks it does. In my next part, I will respond to philosophical objections that Ord anticipates.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Murder suspect uses pro-choice viability argument as defense

[Today's post by Sarah Terzo is part of our paid blogging program. Sarah is a pro-life atheist, a frequent contributor to Live Action News, and the force behind] 

Apple Valley, Minnesota prosecutors allege that Roger Holland killed his pregnant wife Marjorie and their 15-week-old unborn baby. Holland's lawyers are defending him using the argument that the murder of the baby was, in fact, an illegal abortion. They claim that the killing of the baby fits the criteria for abortion rather than murder.

At 15 weeks, the baby in this case would have had all the organs in place and fully developed feet and hands. However, over 450 legal abortions are performed between 13 and 15 weeks' gestation every day. Holland and his legal team are trying to exploit this inconsistency in the law that allows abortionists to kill unborn babies legally, but punishes non-medical-practitioners who kill these babies during the commission of a crime. Marsh Halberg, Holland's attorney, contends that the unborn babies have no inherent right to life. He says that rather than murder, Holland should be tried for performing an illegal abortion, which carries a much lighter sentence.

Halberg attempted to have the murder charge for the baby dismissed, saying "The exact conduct [Holland] is being accused of is chargeable under a separate, less severe statute… If there are different statutes that can be used to penalize criminal conduct, then you should use the statute that most accurately depicts the crime involved."

Halberg said of the unborn victim, "It's not a separate interest at this point, because it's not viable."

Halberg also uses as part of his argument the case of Donald Wickstrom, who was convicted of illegal abortion after he beat his pregnant girlfriend and caused a miscarriage. In Wickstrom's case, the mother survived the attack, but her 8-month-old baby died. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom, who is prosecuting Holland's case, moved to dismiss Halberg's argument on a technicality, saying that the laws were different when Wickstrom’s crime was committed. Backstrom said that the use of the "illegal abortion" defense was "offensive and legally unsupported."

If convicted of the death of Marjorie Holland, Roger Holland faces life in prison. The murder charge pertaining to the unborn baby would, therefore, not greatly affect the punishment that he is already facing. Even if his “abortion is not murder” strategy succeeds, it will not save him from life in prison if he is found guilty of the separate charge of murdering Marjorie Holland. Still, the use of this defense is appalling, and could have ramifications for future cases.

Friday, October 25, 2013

THIS WEEKEND: National Community Baby Shower!

It's time to help stock the baby supply closets at your local pregnancy resource center! It's easy to participate. First, check to see if there is a baby shower in your area. If so, contact that location's leader and multiply your impact with superstore drives, yard sales, etc.

No nearby baby shower? No problem! Buy some baby supplies, snap a picture for the SPL facebook page, and deliver them to a local charity.

Since I try not to ask anyone to do things that I am unwilling to do myself...

Together, we can help provide the necessary practical support that women need to keep their babies. Let's make this weekend a great one!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

November 16: Presentation at MIT

On Saturday, November 16 at 6pm, SPL president Kelsey Hazzard will speak at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on the secular reasons to oppose abortion. The talk will take place in Room 3-333. This event is free and open to the public, so if you live in the Boston area, mark your calendar!

In the past year, Secular Pro-Life representatives have had the opportunity to speak at such elite institutions as Yale and Columbia. Now we can add MIT to the list! The students at these top universities are the future leaders of American politics, business, and advocacy. Our outreach to them is critical, which is why Secular Pro-Life never charges an honorarium to student groups.

Of course, we don't limit our influence to college campuses. In January, SPL's Monica Snyder will speak before an audience of tens of thousands at the West Coast Walk for Life in San Francisco.

For a complete list of upcoming events, please visit our website.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Europe Rejects "Human Right to Abortion"

Yesterday, in a move heralded by pro-life advocates, the European Union declined to adopt a measure that would have declared abortion to be a human right. If adopted, the proposal would have approved a violation of the right to life, marring the very concept of human rights. Moreover, abortion advocates sought to use this opportunity to step on the rights of pro-life medical professionals, compelling them to commit or refer for abortions.

This is great news, not only for unborn children in EU nations, but for unborn children everywhere. Human rights expert Bill Saunders, speaking at last weekend's Vita et Veritas conference at Yale University, emphasized that abortion advocates have been trying for decades to manufacture an "international custom" against the prenatal right to life. He predicted that when Roe v. Wade is overturned in the United States, pro-abortion legal groups will immediately file lawsuits arguing that abortion is a "right" under creative interpretations of international treaties, even if it is not a right under the United States Constitution. The EU's decision makes this argument less persuasive. So does the adoption of pro-life human rights documents in many Latin American countries, as Saunders pointed out.

Europe still has a long way to go, no question. But, despite the stereotyped liberal reputations of many European countries, most are far ahead of the USA when it comes to life issues. Few allow abortion after the first trimester, and European rates of abortion, unplanned pregnancy, and maternal mortality are relatively low. Europe's rejection of a so-called "right" to kill babies is another feather in its cap. (It is also an illustration that abortion need not be a religious issue; most European countries are considerably more secular than the United States.)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Scourge Strikes Back

In my previous article, I responded to Toby Ord's thought experiment that was meant to parallel miscarriages. In this article, I'll respond to his arguments regarding what he sees as absurdities that result from the pro-life position.

The Claim: Ord, for the sake of brevity, refers to "The Claim," which is the claim by pro-life advocates that from the moment of conception (a misnomer, as conception takes more than a "moment," which is an ambiguous term, anyway), the resulting embryo has full moral status. The ethical debates surrounding abortion, in-vitro fertilization (IVF), and embryonic stem cell research all revolve around The Claim. I agree with this, and Ord accepts this conclusion for the sake of argument to show that this leads to absurdities, a simple reductio ad absurdum.

Natural Embryo Loss: Ord begins his next section with a discussion of Natural Embryo Loss (NEL). Most respected studies, he says, show that the majority of embryos die within a few weeks of conception. The riskiest time is before implantation, when 50% will not implant; the majority past that point will survive until birth. An immediate problem is that the studies he quotes from (two from the 60's, and one from the late 70's) are all forty to fifty years old. Medical advancement happens constantly, and someone who would not have survived fifty years ago may now have an excellent chance of survival. Besides, a number of entities conceived from the sperm-egg union are not actual human organisms but other non-human entities (e.g. hydatidiform moles); if the studies did not account for this then their conclusions are greatly skewed.

On top of that, even if the majority of conceived embryos will not survive until birth, that really doesn't add anything to the discussion. One hundred percent of all conceived embryos die, some just die sooner rather than later. But even if we could draw a moral conclusion from the percentage of embryos who survive until birth, it should be that life is even more precious than we thought. Embryos should be helped to survive, not have their lives cut short because other embryos don't survive past that point anyway.

Ord concludes this section by drawing the parallel between The Scourge and miscarriage. Using three graphs that he has included in his essay, he shows that if we allow the unborn to be granted full moral status, then our view of human mortality should be drastically altered. But I disagree. I think it shows the actual state of affairs, but there is no reason to actually have to change our conception of human mortality. The problem with this argument is it's of the same nature of the arguments that we count our age based on our birthday, so obviously we don't count until we're born. But this argument fails because it's only a function of society. Some Asian countries count their age from the approximate point of their conception.

So if the majority of human beings die in the unborn stage, there is no need to count them in our consideration of average human life span since not only may it be impossible to save those early embryos (just as it's impossible to stave off death by natural causes indefinitely), but we count average human lifespan for health purposes. Knowing how long the average person lives helps us understand how we should live to keep ourselves healthy, and to know whether or not certain health issues are natural for someone of our age, as well as other reasons that have no bearing on how many embryos survive until birth. The fact that the majority of embryos die before birth (or before implantation) has no bearing on determining how healthy I am, so there is no need to factor them in to our consideration of average lifespan. Similarly, just because the unborn are not counted in our census or pregnant women can't legally drive in the carpool lane does not show that the unborn lack full moral status, as these are also societal concerns that have no bearing on the issue of when human life begins. Still, it would not be wrong to factor the unborn stage into our average life expectancy. If we did that, then perhaps we would agree there should be greater urgency in protected possibly miscarried children (though I think we are already doing that to pretty great extent, anyway).

At any rate, none of this shows that we are permitted in taking unborn human life intentionally.

An Unwelcome Conclusion: In this section, Ord gives an examination of the similarities between The Scourge and NEL (e.g. it kills the majority of people, it affects everyone around the world equally, both reduce life expectancy, etc.). But it seems to me that now The Scourge actually works against Ord. If there were a Scourge, that would not justify mass murder. So why should a Natural Scourge justify elective abortion?

He aruges that the only difference between them is that The Scourge struck immediately and so brings with it a sense of urgency, whereas NEL has been with us since the dawn of time. I agree with his examination of this claim, that this is not a morally relevant disanalogy since the fact that cancer has been with us since the earliest days does not make it less bad or instill any less need to find a cure. So even if this was the only difference, the thought experiment does not do the work he needs it to. However, it is not the only difference, as my next paragraph will illustrate.

Ord uses the conclusion of The Scourge, that all other projects had to be put on hold and a major international effort directed toward curing it, to argue that the same conclusion follows for NEL. But does the same conclusion follow? Hardly. The Scourge is a serious threat to the future of humanity. If it kills 200 million people every year (and adding all other deaths, the number comes up to 255 million people dying every year), this presents a significant threat to the future of the human race. People who could otherwise reproduce are dying off, and people who are contributing to society are dying off. I don't think it unreasonable to say that while the death of children in miscarriages is tragic, it is not a global disaster on the same scale that The Scourge is. This is a significant difference between the two cases. Miscarriages are tragic, but they do not threaten the future of the human race. So one could reasonably believe that we should work toward saving more unborn children who will otherwise be miscarried without believing that the entire world needs to grind to a halt in order to do it.

So it seems evident that not only does the thought experiment of The Scourge not do the work Ord needs it to do, he is grossly overstating the importance of finding a solution. But Ord is not finished yet. He anticipates some objections to his arguments. In the next article, I'll examine his responses.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Report from Last Weekend's Conference

Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard here. On Friday and Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the Vita et Veritas (Life & Truth) Conference 2013 at Yale University. On Friday afternoon I was part of the panel "Converging Paths: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Abortion," along with representatives from the Center for Muslim Life, Christian Union, and Jewish Pro-Life Foundation.

We attempted to live stream the talk, but as you know if you tried to tune in, the video did not work. Only the audio was recorded. On top of that, the presentation did not start at the scheduled time, creating a large chunk of dead space in the recording. And on top of that, my later attempts to embed the recording for you (or, in the alternative, download and re-upload it) resulted in cascading technological headaches with no success.

So: if you'd like to listen to the panel discussion (and I do highly recommend it), you need to click here and then start the video at 21:27. Also, there will be advertisements. I apologize for these inconveniences, and I promise that Secular Pro-Life has learned from this experience. Which is to say that I have canceled the subscription and SPL will never attempt to live stream anything ever again.

Technical difficulties aside, though, it was a great event. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting pro-life student activists from Yale and many other schools across New England. I leave you with some photos, featuring friends old and new:

A visitor to the Secular Pro-Life table, who is 13 weeks
pregnant, holds our 12-week fetal model.

Meeting the incomparable Mary Meehan.

Dinner with Aimee Murphy of the Life Matters Journal,
who moderated the panel, and co-panelist Suzy Ismail.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pro-Choice Thought Experiment: The Scourge

Philosopher Toby Ord wrote an article called "The Scourge: Moral Implications of Natural Embryo Loss" (The American Journal of Bioethics, 8(7): 12-19, 2008). This is an argument that comes up somewhat regularly, but Ord concocted a thought experiment to illustrate the argument. The argument usually goes as follows: Some 50% of pregnancies end in miscarriages, which means that thousands of "unborn humans" die naturally. So to be consistent, you should advocate that doctors try and find a cure for miscarriages so that you can save all those lives that are lost. Ord begins with a thought experiment:

"The Scourge struck swiftly and brutally. This terrifying new disease, more deadly than any before it, left no part of the world untouched. From the poorest countries in Africa to the richest countries of the West, it killed with equal, horrifying, efficiency. It struck quickly, killing most of its victims within a few weeks of onset, and silently, for there were no detectable symptoms prior to death. Before the Scourge, the global death rate was 55 million per annum. That is, all causes of death -- old age, war, murder, disease, and so on -- conspired to take 55 million lives each year. The Scourge changed this dramatically. It alone killed more than 200 million people every year. From that time on, more than three quarters of the deaths each year were due to the Scourge. Where life expectancy in the West had risen steadily over the past century to 78 years, it had now dropped to just 29. Perhaps worst of all, the effects of the Scourge were not felt equally across all members of society. It killed only the very young and innocent -- those who were completely powerless to prevent it.

Compared with the Scourge, all other problems seemed insignificant. The Scourge was the major issue of the age, and there was an overwhelming obligation on society to fight it. Other projects had to be put on hold and a major international effort directed towards loosening the Scourge's grip upon humanity."

Ord uses this thought experiment as an analogy to natural miscarriage. But right away, some disanalogies become apparent.

For one thing, not every union of sperm and egg results in an actual human child. Other entities can result from the sperm-egg union, such as a hydatidiform mole, a choriocarsinoma, or a "blighted ovum" (see my linked article for a brief description of each of those, and the source I drew those from). In that case, they will either be flushed out with the woman's next menstrual cycle or they must be surgically removed.

Also, we do attempt to prevent miscarriages! Our society tells pregnant women not to smoke or drink while pregnant, and advancements in medicine allow us to help unborn children now that it wouldn't have been possible to help fifty years ago.

But most strikingly, we are not necessarily obligated to save someone who dies naturally. And even if we were, the fact that people die naturally does not justify our killing them intentionally. People die of old age, but that doesn't justify murder. As my friend Josh Brahm likes to say, people die in natural disasters but that doesn't mean we can nuke cities.

So doctors should work to cure humanity of "the Scourge." But it doesn't follow from this that we have an obligation to save miscarried children (and frankly, it may not even be possible, as while we can extend someone's life through medical treatment, it is not possible to prevent anyone from ultimately dying).

I'll respond to the rest of the article in a later post, as he does argue further from his example of the Scourge. In fact, he argues that if we consider the unborn to be full human persons with full moral status that it leads to an absurd conclusion. For now, these responses are enough to show why Ord's thought experiment fails, and it's enough to show to the average pro-choice person why pregnant women miscarrying certainly does not justify killing the unborn intentionally.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tomorrow: Vita et Vertias conference at Yale University

Tomorrow and Saturday, Yale University hosts the Vita et Veritas (Life and Truth) conference. This conference will bring together pro-life youth leaders from across the United States, as well as more experienced veterans of the pro-life movement, to learn from one another.

Secular Pro-Life's Kelsey Hazzard will be on a panel tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 p.m. EST. The topic is "Converging Paths: Religious and Secular Perspectives on Abortion." Co-panelists include Suzy Ismail of the Center for Muslim Life, Cecily Routman of Jewish Pro-Life, and Matt Bennett of the Christian Union. The panel will be moderated by the lovely Aimee Murphy, a longtime friend of Secular Pro-Life and the Editor-in-Chief of the Life Matters Journal.

This promises to be an exciting and informative event, but we understand that many of you cannot just pack up and drive to New Haven. So for the first time, Secular Pro-Life will live stream this at When 3pm tomorrow rolls around, click that link and it should take you LIVE to the event! No pre-registration required. You can even submit questions through the chat feature. (Bear in mind, though, that this will be our first time using this system, so please forgive any technical difficulties.) Once the panel is finished, we will have a video recording for you in short order.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Planned Parenthood's latest attempt to improve its image (without actually changing anything)

In the past week or so, I've been exposed to this facebook advertisement constantly:
You might think: "Hooray! Planned Parenthood is finally focusing on breast health instead of just being an abortion business!"

Not so fast. I visited the website, and was dismayed (but not at all surprised) to discover that this is a public relations stunt.

Planned Parenthood is soliciting videos containing "personal stories about why breast health matters" and "why breast health is important to you, your community, and your family." First of all, nobody disputes that breast health is a good thing. Reams of articles have been written about why breast cancer "awareness" is a waste of time and money that could be spent instead on actual help for breast cancer sufferers, and on research.

Second, the contest is promoted with the hashtag #ppbreastpartyever, which has the effect of associating Planned Parenthood with the submitted stories—even though the stories need not involve Planned Parenthood at all. They are trying to become synonymous with breast health by appropriating the stories of women who may have never even stepped foot in a Planned Parenthood. This goal is reinforced by the fact that the winner will be announced "at the Breast Party Ever in Atlanta, GA, presented by Planned Parenthood and Black Entertainment Television" and featuring various musical performers.

Third, the entries are not just judged on how well they convey the importance of breast health; they should also demonstrate "support of Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood’s breast health work" (emphasis added). Not just the breast health work—all of Planned Parenthood.

The assignment, essentially, is to create an advertisement that associates Planned Parenthood with breast health. This is despite the fact that Planned Parenthood's provision of breast health services has dropped 20% since 2009, according to its own annual reports. (Of course, PP's annual abortion numbers are constantly on the rise.)

But hey, why actually increase your breast care services when you can just pretend to do mammograms and whip together a meaningless video contest?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

TODAY: Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity

Today is the annual Pro-Life Day of Silent Solidarity, during which pro-lifers—primarily students—give up their voices to honor the victims of abortion.

Although Secular Pro-Life is not an official co-sponsor of this event, we strongly support all the courageous young people who are participating this year. In past years, some students have faced ridicule from their
pro-abortion peers. But they have also seen incredible conversions from pro-choice to pro-life (Silent Day participants distribute cards explaining why they are not speaking), and some have even persuaded their classmates to cancel abortion appointments!

So far, students from over 750 schools have registered. If you are sacrificing your voice for the unborn today, Secular Pro-Life applauds and encourages you! You are more than welcome to share your experiences on the Facebook page. And if you do encounter a classmate who needs pregnancy help, whatever her religious beliefs, please share our resource page with her.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Late-Term Abortion to Save a Mother's Life: Two Doctors' Perspectives

[Today's post by Sarah Terzo is part of our paid blogging program. Sarah is a pro-life atheist, a frequent contributor to Live Action News, and the force behind]

Pro-choice activists sometimes claim that late-term abortions need to be legal in order to protect women’s lives. These abortion activists know that many people shudder at the thought of killing a fully formed baby who could survive outside of his or her mother’s womb. They know that the simple “woman’s body, woman’s choice” slogan is not enough to convince the public that aborting full-term babies should be legal. In order to justify these abortions, pro-choicers sometimes say that if late-term abortions were banned, women’s lives would be at risk; in other words, women have late-term abortions in order to save their own lives.

Is this true? Common sense seems to indicate that it isn’t. A third trimester abortion is performed by injecting poison (usually dioxin) into the baby, then inducing labor. A woman essentially “gives birth” to a dead baby.

In both a third trimester abortion and a traditional live birth, the woman has to go through labor. The only difference is that in an abortion, the baby is injected with poison, killing him or her. This is done for no other reason than to prevent a live birth. It seems to be common sense that injecting deadly poison into a woman’s body would carry some risk. It is hard to believe that it is safer to inject poison and induce labor rather than to simply induce labor without the injection.

Way back in 1972, when abortion’s legality was still being debated, the medical director of the Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood, Dr. Rose R. Middleman, was quoted as saying:
“It’s extremely rare, if nonexistent, for a physician to have a medical reason to abort a woman in the 7th or 8th month.”(1) 
Middleman’s statement is very revealing. It comes from a pro-choice Planned Parenthood administrator, who had every reason to stick to the pro-choice talking points. In 1972, Planned Parenthood was just as pro-abortion as it is today. This doctor's admission probably did not sit well with those who were advocating for late-term abortion, because it revealed the truth.

If in 1972, late-term abortions were not needed to save the lives of women, it is highly probable that they are even less necessary today. There are been many medical advances in the past 40 years.

A more contemporary quote comes from a practicing abortionist, Dr. Don Sloan. When Sloan wrote his book “Choice: a Doctor’s Experience with the Abortion Dilemma” in 2002, he had already performed over 20,000 abortions. He said:
“If a woman with a serious illness- heart disease, say, or diabetes- gets pregnant, the abortion procedure may be as dangerous for her as going through pregnancy … with diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis, even breast cancer, the chance that pregnancy will make the disease worse is no greater that the chance that the disease will either stay the same or improve. And medical technology has advanced to a point where even women with diabetes and kidney disease can be seen through a pregnancy safely by a doctor who knows what he’s doing. We’ve come a long way since my mother’s time….The idea of abortion to save the mothers’ life is something that people cling to because it sounds noble and pure- but medically speaking, it probably doesn’t exist. It’s a real stretch of our thinking.”(2) 
Dr. Sloan is of the opinion that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life at any time in pregnancy. He believes that “life of the mother” argument is a smoke screen, a useful argument, but not based on fact. It is true that in some cases, pregnancy can complicate illness, but even this abortion provider admits that in most cases, a competent doctor can see a woman through even the most difficult pregnancy.

When pro-lifers make the claim that abortion is seldom necessary to save a woman’s life, especially in the last trimester, people might be inclined to doubt them. When pro-choice doctors say the same thing, it is not as easy to dismiss.

1. “Doctor Refutes Abortion Claim” Reading Eagle June 14, 1972 
2. Don Sloan, M.D. and Paula Hartz. Choice: A Doctor’s Experience with the Abortion Dilemma. New York: International Publishers 2002 P 45-46

Friday, October 11, 2013

PP Throws Concern for Women out the Window with Webcam Abortion Lawsuit

Last week, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a lawsuit against a recent regulation issued by the Iowa Board of Medicine. That regulation declares that webcam abortions cannot be conducted in that state. A webcam abortion (sometimes called telemed abortion) is exactly what it sounds like: a doctor who never examines the patient in person prescribes the abortion pill via a system like Skype.

In a sane world, the common reaction would be "Wait, you mean webcam abortions were allowed before?" Alas, we do not live in a sane world.

Planned Parenthood's position is clearly out of line with its professed commitment to women's health. The real motivation is expansion of abortion profits.

Pro-life states, unsurprisingly, have relatively few abortionists per capita. For instance, famously pro-abortion New York has 61 known abortionists and a population of about 19.5 million, which is about one abortionist for every 320,000 people; pro-life Iowa has 7 known abortionists and a population of about 3.1 million, which is about one abortionist for every 443,000 people. If you're an abortionist in a pro-life state, and have a mind for business, you'll see the opportunity for expansion. But how to expand, when you can't be everywhere at once? That's the purpose of webcam abortion. As National Right to Life points out:
Planned Parenthood’s sprawling Midwest affiliate introduced the web-cam abortion to Iowa in 2008. PPH has since metastasized. One by one it has swallowed up nearby smaller local affiliates. PPH announced a merger with PP of Nebraska and Council Bluffs in August 2009, another with PP E Central Iowa in December 2010, a merger with PP SW Iowa in May 2011, and in 2012 last year merger with PP of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma. It’s announced plans to open six new clinics in Nebraska and another six in Iowa.
Expansion is the short-term goal. In the long term, they want to use webcam abortions to "solve the problem of graying abortionists." Most new doctors would rather heal than kill, which causes serious migraines for the abortion lobby.

Allow me to propose a hypothetical. Suppose an organization like And Then There Were None crops up in the weapons industry. They convince people to stop manufacturing guns. As a result, gun access becomes severely restricted, and in many areas, law-abiding people find it difficult to exercise their Second Amendment rights. Would the NRA respond by demanding that people be allowed to purchase guns online, to be shipped in the mail, and with no background checks?

...well, maybe it would. But it would be wrong. It would be abandoning all common sense about safety. And Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has done the same with this ridiculous lawsuit.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Help Secular Pro-Life Without Spending a Dime

Secular Pro-Life has been approved by GoodSearch, which harnesses the value of your internet searches to raise money for charity. Each search raises about one cent. That may not sound like much, but think about how frequently you Google things, and you'll understand how it can quickly add up!

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1. Sign up with Facebook or with your name and email address.
2. You'll then be prompted to pick a cause. Type "Secular Pro-Life."
3. GoodSearch will send you a confirmation email. Open it and confirm your account.
4. Make GoodSearch your homepage and use it for all of your searches!

Once you've created your account, you can also use GoodSearch to raise money for Secular Pro-Life in connection with your online shopping. You can even raise money by taking surveys and playing games. Who knew that online boredom and procrastination could do so much good?

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pro-Choice Thought Experiment: The Burning IVF Lab

Dean Stretton imagines a case in which an emergency arises and a person is faced with the choice of rescuing ten frozen human embryos or five adult patients. Since virtually everyone would choose to save the adult patients rather than the embryos, this indicates that the patients have a higher moral status than the frozen human embryos. [1]

On the surface this seems to make sense. After all, the pro-life case is that from fertilization unborn human beings are morally equivalent to adults. You would think the ethical thing to do would be to rescue the greatest amount of humans possible, in this case the ten embryos. But if we would allow embryos to die in the fire by rescuing another human, how does that justify our intentionally killing them through abortion?

In Dean Stretton’s argument, the embryos in question were conceived through in vitro fertilization. That means we have no idea what’s going to happen to them. They may be implanted into a woman hoping to conceive (or several different women), or they may be used for research. This is tragic, but we simply don’t know the ultimate fate of these embryos. On top of that, even if they are scheduled for implantation, there’s no guarantee that all of them, or even any of them, will take. They may not implant. Therefore you would be morally justified in rescuing the adults, even over a greater number of human embryos.
Consider it like a case of triage. Two people are in mortal danger and a doctor can only save one. The doctor will save the person with the greatest chance of survival. Does that mean the other person is less valuable than the person she saves? Of course not. But if she tried to save the person with the most extensive injuries, she may end up losing both. In this case, since the fate of the embryos is uncertain (nor could it ever be certain), saving the adults would be morally justified because they have a 100% chance of survival if you rescue them.
But what if you modified Stretton’s argument to make it stronger? What if you knew for certain that all the embryos would be given to women, and technology has advanced to the point now that we can guarantee that all, or at least the vast majority, would implant?
I still would not change my answer. How would choosing to save one entity over another prove that the entities I didn’t save aren’t human (or are not human in a “morally relevant” sense)? In fact, we could change the conditions of the scenario. Say you’re in a burning building. In one room is your mother, and in another room is a complete stranger. You only have time to save one. I would almost guarantee you would save your mother. But does that mean the one you didn’t save wasn’t human? What if you were faced with the choice of rescuing your spouse or child or a room full of people? If you save your spouse or child over the roomful of people, that does not mean the people in the other room were not human.
Third, even if we were told ahead of time that these embryos were scheduled for implantation, we would still be morally justified in saving the adults. As Christopher Kaczor explains,
“…killing a regular person and killing the President of the United States are equally wrong as killing. The regular person and the President have equal rights to live. However, unlike killing a regular person, killing the President may also generate global instability, upset millions of people, and perhaps even prompt massive retaliation or world war. These factors make the assassination of any world leader more grievously wrong than killing a private citizen, but, nevertheless, killing the President and killing a private citizen are equally wrong with respect to the violation of the right of life…we have moral justification for treating human beings enjoying basic equal human rights in different ways. If forced to choose between saving the President of the United States and four other national Presidents and Prime Ministers, rather than ten unknown patients, most people would choose the Presidents and the Prime Ministers. To choose to save Presidents and Prime Ministers rather than plain persons is not a denial of the equal basic rights of those not saved, but rather a recognition that deaths of world leaders adversely affects many more people than the deaths of regular patients. Similarly, in virtue of the fact that the adult patients have received an ‘investment’ from their parents and society in terms of education and upbringing, have future plans that would be thwarted, have responsibilities to discharge, and have strong relations with others, it makes sense to choose to save five adult persons rather than ten frozen embryos. In choices about who to save, various circumstances can determine who is chosen without a denial of the fundamental equality of the human beings involved. The embryo rescue case does not show that human embryos lack basic human rights.” [2]
Pro-life philosopher Scott Klusendorf notes,
“…moral intuitions are important, but they are not infallible. We must examine them in light of reason. A little over a century ago, many whites thought it unthinkable that anyone would consider black slaves human beings…Thus, it’s no stretch to imagine a proponent of slavery putting the following challenge to a northern abolitionist: ‘Your barn is burning. You have the choice of saving a Negro slave or a white schoolboy. Which would you choose?’ If a majority of abolitionists leave a black kid behind, does that change the kind of thing he is…?” [3] In other words, is the black slave non-human even if a slavery abolitionist would leave him behind to save the white schoolboy?
This burning IVF facility scenario may seem like a silly situation but that’s the nature of thought experiments. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines a thought experiment as “devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things.” We can’t just dismiss a thought experiment because it’s “too weird.” We must engage with it intellectually.
That being said, the thought experiment doesn’t seem so bizarre when we consider the real-life example of Noah Benton Markham, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans in August of 2005. He was an embryo contained in a canister of liquid nitrogen, frozen along with fourteen hundred embryos, which police officers rescued from a hospital. He was later implanted into his mother, Rebekah, and born on January 16, 2007 in Covington, Louisiana, some seventeen months later. When Noah becomes an adult and looks back over his life, he can say with all certainty that he was rescued from the flood in 2005. If he had not been rescued, he would not be with us today.
As Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen point out, there could even be circumstances in which people agree that it would be reasonable for a particular person to save the embryos, even if other people, including people with no personal attachment to either the embryos or the girl, might be drawn to rescue the girl. For example, say a doctor in the clinic is a father or grandfather to the embryos. Most people would not consider it immoral for that doctor to rescue the embryos over the little girl. And by contrast, it would be seen as immoral for a parent or grandparent to kill someone else’s child to harvest organs to save their own child. [4]
The authors further suggest that if someone, connected to the embryos or not, were rescued from that facility and grew up to be adults, if they got together on their 21st birthday to honor and thank the person who had rescued them while they were embryos, could the rescuer in good faith accept their praise and gratitude for rescuing them? Of course, as surely as it was Noah who was rescued from the flood following Hurricane Katrina. Finally, what if the choice were three comatose patients or a five-year-old girl? Many people would agree that the comatose patients are humans deserving of full moral respect. Yet no doubt many of these same people would opt to save the girl over the comatose patients. Does this mean, in a different situation, these same people would consider it justifiable to kill comatose patients to harvest organs for a five-year-old girl in need? [5]
The very fact that pro-life advocates recognize this as a moral dilemma shows that we do, in fact, consider these embryos to be valuable human beings. However, even if we were inconsistent by rescuing the adults over the embryos, this would do nothing to negate our arguments against abortion. So as we see, allowing these embryos to die in the fire to rescue another human does nothing to show that we don’t believe embryos are full human persons, and it certainly doesn’t justify us taking their lives through abortion.
[1] Stretton, Dean, Critical Notice–Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice by Francis J. Beckwith. [review article]. Journal of Medical Ethics, 34(11), p. 795, as cited in The Ethics of Abortion by Christopher Kaczor, (Routledge: New York), 2011, p. 139.
[2] ibid., p. 139.
[3] Klusendorf, Scott, The Case for Life, (Crossway: Wheaton, Illinois, 2009), p. 42
[4] Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen, Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, Doubleday, 2008, p. 140.
[5] Ibid., pp.140-142.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Today's Pro-Life News

The federal government shutdown is entering its second week, and one of the programs it is impacting is WIC: the nutrition program for low-income women, infants and children. We can argue all day about whose fault that is, but SPL is not a liberal or conservative organization. The important thing is that while this shutdown lasts, pro-life individuals need to stand in the gap. So please, make a special effort to donate to your local food pantries, pregnancy resource centers, community clinics, etc. (Happily, the National Community Baby Shower is coming up in just a few short weeks. But you don't have to wait until then!)
Photo of Jaiden, via IDSC

October is National Down Syndrome Awareness Month. The sad truth is that as many as ninety percent of babies who are prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome never see the light of day. The International Down Syndrome Coalition is working overtime to change the hurtful stereotypes that too often lead people to believe that these children's lives aren't worth living. To see and share positive images of people with Down Syndrome, like IDSC on facebook!

Democrats for Life of America has filed an amicus brief in McCullen v. Coakley, a challenge to an anti-pro-life-speech "buffer zone" law that will soon be heard by the Supreme Court. This case will give the Court the opportunity to reverse its horrible Hill v. Colorado precedent, which allows pro-abortion states to effectively silence sidewalk counselors.

Pro-lifers have launched a new campaign in support of a proposed Albuquerque, NM ordinance to ban abortions in the second half of pregnancy (after 20 weeks).

Monday, October 7, 2013

No, pro-choice women aren't unfit mothers

Recently, in a divorce and custody case in New York, a wife argued that she was under great stress caused by her soon-to-be-ex-husband. In cross-examination, the husband's attorney asked whether some of that stress might instead have been caused by a recent abortion.

I happen to be an attorney, and while this line of questioning may have been intimate and embarrassing, it wasn't legally improper. She raised the issue of her stress; he was entitled to offer an alternative explanation. That's how it works. (Same result if the recent medical event were something other than an abortion.)

Still, abortion advocates were furious. I want to respond, in particular, to something Robin Marty wrote:
Allowing a woman’s abortion to be used in a custody battle, regardless of whether it occurred before or after the divorce, is an absolute new low when it comes to the idea of shaming women for choosing not to carry a pregnancy to term. The idea being presented is simple: A good mother would never seek out an abortion, so if she ends a pregnancy, she must be an unfit one. ... [T]hat’s a whole lot of women out there to be painted as “bad moms” who shouldn’t be allowed to have custody of their children.
First of all, this completely erases all the women out there who are pro-life because of their past experiences with abortion. I know many post-abortive women who are also amazing moms, including many who are active in Secular Pro-Life.

But setting that group of women aside, do pro-lifers believe that women who have had abortions (and don't feel bad about it) are unfit mothers? Likewise, do we assume that men who have supported a partner's abortion are bad fathers to their living kids?

I can't speak for every pro-lifer, but my answer is a firm no.

Most people who have abortions don't do so "in cold blood." They do so because they are coerced by partners, and/or lied to by abortion counselors and doctors who they thought they could trust. Pro-lifers should have nothing but compassion for these women. There is absolutely no reason to think that they would be unfit parents.

Yes, there are a few who have/support abortions despite knowing the facts of life in the womb and having realistic alternatives. I still think they can be good parents. Never underestimate the ability of human beings to compartmentalize. I fully believe that a bank robber can shoot a teller and consider it "just business," but love his children deeply. Surely I should give post-abortive parents at least as much credit!

Ideally, every parent would love all of their children unconditionally. In the case of an unapologetically pro-abortion (and not "personally pro-life") parent, there is a condition: namely, that the child's conception occur at a convenient time. But once that condition has been met and the child has been born, a parent's beliefs about the worth of the unborn are of no practical importance for the child's well-being.

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Brief History of Pro-Life Medicine

[Today's post by Sarah Terzo is part of our paid blogging program. Sarah is a pro-life atheist, a frequent contributor to Live Action News, and the force behind]

Recently, Live Action ran two articles about the stigma that abortion providers face from other doctors in the medical profession. In one article, late-term abortionist Susan Robinson says:
Being an abortion provider is very stigmatized. Other doctors look down on you and think of you as like the lowest of the low. 
In the other article, retired abortionist Robert Livingston described the chagrin of his children, who were doctors, when he spoke about writing his memoirs:
Livingston said he thought the stigma of being an abortion doctor is greater now than it was in the 1960s and that public opposition is stronger than he’s ever seen — including during the 1970s, when his office was surrounded by protestors on a daily basis… and when he broached the idea of writing an autobiography with his children, they asked him not to because they worried it would ruin their medical practices (they’re all doctors) and anger some of their anti-choice spouses.
Stigma aimed at abortion providers has been prevalent in the medical profession for many, many years. In 2005, Frederick N Dyer wrote The Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion, a book which quotes from many pro-life papers and articles written by doctors from the mid-1800s to the early 20th century. Abortions were illegal at the time, except to save the life of the mother, but they were still being performed in secret by midwives and doctors as well as by unscrupulous nonmedical providers. Dyer maintains that abortions were actually common, particularly among married Protestant women who did not want more children. However, back then, it was the medical profession that led the pro-life fight.

Many pro-life doctors condemned abortion providers in extremely strong terms. For example, Detroit physician Morse Stewart wrote the following in 1867:
What language can express the utter baseness of that man, whose education has been that of a physician, whose standing in society is that of a physician (a word, which should be held by every man in the profession as synonymous with honor, honesty, integrity, and an earnest, single hearted purpose to preserve human life) what shall we say of such a man, dishonoring his profession, making it a stench in the nostrils of society, debasing his own conscience, by becoming a murderer? Stimulated to murder by no hot and fiery passion, he breaks the 6th commandment for what? For greed! He sells his own soul; he demoralizes all with whom he comes in contact; he sells that boon which no wealth can buy, for 30 beggarly bits of silver. May the doom of the arch traitor fall upon him! “Let his days be few, and let another take his office, – let his posterity be cut off; and in the generation following let their name be blotted out. (1) 
The Committee on Criminal Abortion, initiated by pro-life doctors, researched the number of illegal abortions being performed and analyzed the effectiveness, or lack of, of antiabortion laws. The goal of the committee was to reduce the numbers of illegal abortions taking place. Their 1871 report minced no words:
… he [the abortionist] stands by the bedside of his victim, with poisoned cup or instrument in hand, ready to proceed to the work of destruction. Does any compunction assail his corrupt soul, as he gazes on the field of his labors? Does he measure the extent of the foul deed he is about to commit? Or does he not fear that the uplifted hand of an all avenging God will suddenly fall on his guilty head? No; Judas-like, he solaces himself with the prospect of 30 pieces of silver, and this forms the climax of his aspirations! (2) 
In late 19th century, medical societies across the country publicly condemned abortion even while some physicians secretly performed hundreds of them. William Henry Parish wrote an article in the Medical and Surgical Reporter saying the following:
The medical profession looks upon this crime as one of the most heinous, and as closely allied to infanticide. He who is believed guilty of such a crime could never be received into membership in this or any other medical society; or if a member should so far forget his high calling to be guilty of this crime, his expulsion would quickly follow upon the presentation of adequate evidence of his guilt. (3) 
There were few physicians calling for unrestricted abortion in the early 20th century. It was not until many years later, when abortion laws would be challenged and doctors would begin performing abortions more openly. While the American Medical Association now supports legalized abortion, pro-life sentiments in the medical community have a long tradition and may run more deeply than the public is led to believe.

(1) Morse Stewart, “Criminal Abortion,” Detroit Review of Medicine and Pharmacy 2 January 1867 6 in Frederick N Dyer The Physicians’ Crusade against Abortion (Sagamore Beach, Massachusetts: science history publications, 2005).
(2) “The Abortion Business,” MSR 25 (October 14, 1871): 348 – 49.
(3) William Henry Parish “Criminal Abortion,” MSR 68 April 29, 1893 644 – 649.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Value of Asking Questions

I would like to write a follow-up to my recent article about an event that happened while I was at College of the Sequoias for a pro-life outreach, which was picked up at LifeNews. So I wanted to take a moment to explain exactly why I believe that asking questions is so important to having good discussion.

The reason that I spend time asking questions is simple: rather than telling people what they should think, I help them connect the dots for themselves. While debating can be fun and intellectually stimulating (and occasionally I meet someone on a college campus who enjoys verbally sparring), it's usually not conducive to changing minds if you meet someone who doesn't enjoy it so much. So rather than lay out a philosophical case for them, I ask questions to help them see these things for themselves. Rather than argue that the unborn are valuable human beings, and it's wrong to kill innocent human beings unjustly, I help them see that what the issue really boils down to is what is the unborn? If the unborn are valuable human beings, then we can't justify killing them through abortion.

A very important reason for asking questions is to get clarification of their views. It won't do if I just go around assuming other peoples' views and misrepresenting them. If someone tells me they're pro-choice, that could mean a hundred different things to them. If they tell me that they believe abortion should be legal, that doesn't necessarily mean that they believe all abortions should be legal. In fact, most people in the United States actually think that late-term abortions should be illegal. This fact, alone, gives us some common ground to work with because I, too, believe that late-term abortions should be illegal. This gives me a chance to ask them why they believe late-term abortions should be illegal, and ask them what the difference is between an early-term embryo and a late-term fetus that would justify our killing one but not the other. I've found this style of conversation to be much more effective in changing hearts and minds than just presenting the evidence and never straying from that evidence. We should treat the other side as human beings. We need to understand that they have concerns that need to be addressed, and we should be willing to address them on top of keeping the conversation focused on the nature of unborn human beings.

This doesn't mean that I never present evidence. Asking questions of the other person doesn't mean that I only ask questions. I present my case, as well, when appropriate. In fact, two people that I convinced to become pro-life did so just after I presented them with the biological information about human development.

So asking questions is the best way to get people to realize the answers for themselves. It's much more effective if you can lead them through the thought process to arrive at the correct answer, rather than just giving them the answer. If someone tells me that abortion should be legal because some women can't afford it, I can help show them that we can't justify abortion for those reasons if the unborn are valuable human beings like we are. If someone says they don't believe late-term abortions should be legal, I can ask them questions about what they see as the relevant difference between an early embryo and a late-term fetus that would justify killing one and not the other, and ask them pointed questions to see if their view holds up. This is much more effective than just telling someone how wrong they are. If you are abrasive with someone, it will usually cause them to stop taking you seriously. You can win the argument, but lose the person. Winning the person is much more important.

To illustrate this a little more, last year I had a conversation with a pro-choice guy, whom I'll call Scott. Scott had a pretty bizarre belief about abortion. He was pro-choice throughout the nine months of pregnancy, but he didn't think we are human until we take on human appearance. As I mentioned, it's important to ask clarification questions because there are a hundred different reasons someone may be pro-choice. It's important not to assume what they mean. So I asked him if he means we're not biologically human, or if we're not human in a more philosophically "morally relevant" sense. He clarified that he meant the latter. He did see that he had an internal inconsistency in his view since we take on human appearance early on in the pregnancy, to say nothing of the fact that even at the single-celled zygote stage, it does actually look like all human beings do, at that stage in their development. However, he didn't seem very concerned about the inconsistency. I sometimes like to bring up the example of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man, when examining whether human appearance matters morally to a human being's value. But this time, I decided to use a reductio ad absurdum, which means assuming the premises of an argument and taking it to its logical conclusion, thereby showing that if it leads to absurdities then the argument should be rejected.

I asked him if someone loses a body part, say a soldier loses an arm in a war, does that person become less human? He said no. I also asked if someone loses a human function, like eyesight, or perhaps just loses their eyes, do they become less human? He said no again, even telling me a story about someone he knows in a wheelchair, and how he doesn't consider her any less human for it. He admitted that his views are logically contradictory, but he's still pro-choice. I ended up talking to him for a while, not thinking I had made any leeway.

However, the next day he came back to talk to me. He told me that the previous day I had given him a lot to think about. He appreciated the great conversation we had. And here, I'd like to reiterate from my previous article that I'm not a great conversationalist. I was just using the essential conversational skills that we teach, to actually listen to his position and ask questions, rather than assuming what he believes and what he means. By the end of the conversation that day, he told me that he was definitely pro-life now.

And the story doesn't end there. At my recent pro-life outreach at Fresno City College, Scott showed up again. I was mentoring another pro-life person, and he came up to talk to me. We remembered each other, and to the pro-life person I was mentoring, he mentioned he was pro-life, but unsure of the situation of rape. So we talked to him a bit about it, and I wanted to give him a thought experiment, formulated by Steve Wagner, Tim and Josh Brahm, as well as having input from other pro-life advocates. You can find this argument laid out in a paper here in a big link on the left side of the page. I am still new to the thought experiment, so I didn't just want to muddle through it. Josh was on campus with us, so I called him over to give the thought experiment to Scott. I had to step away to talk to other people, but after Josh and Scott had finished talking Josh told me that the thought experiment had convinced Scott that abortion should be illegal in the case of rape.

I think that Scott is a perfect example of why we should concentrate on asking questions, and not just beating people over the head with facts. Everyone is different, and believes different things. We can't just assume one size fits all in the abortion debate. In fact, Abby Johnson is a former president of Planned Parenthood, who was convinced to quit the organization and become a pro-life advocate by the efforts of pro-life advocates who treated her kindly. She wrote a book called Unplanned (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 2010), in which she talks about her conversion from pro-choice Planned Parenthood president to passionate pro-life advocate. On page 40 of her book (emphasis hers), she writes:

"On my first day as a Planned Parenthood volunteer, the confrontational and hostile demeanor of a few in the pro-life crowd not only colored my perception of their movement but solidified my commitment to Planned Parenthood. Though my first day had been baffling, one thing was clear to me: those on my side of the fence were defending and helping women, as we protected them from those on the other side of the fence."

It was the belligerent pro-life people who solidified her commitment to Planned Parenthood, and the efforts of kind pro-life advocates like Shawn Carney who convinced her to change. If we want to be more effective in the abortion issue, we need to be willing to meet people where they're at, and not just try and badger them into becoming pro-life. Yes, the unborn are valuable human beings, but we also need to remember that the person who disagrees with us, even on the issue of abortion, is just as intrinsically valuable a human being as the unborn we seek to save.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Big announcement!

Last year's West Coast Walk for Life featured a lot of this:
...and this:

The organizers of the Walk took note of this unproductive exchange, and they're doing something about it. I am thrilled to announce that the 2014 West Coast Walk for Life speaking lineup includes Secular Pro-Life's very own Monica Snyder!

Monica has coordinated SPL's presence in the crowd for several years, and I know she will do a fantastic job up on the stage. This is an incredible opportunity for Secular Pro-Life to spread our vital message, both to religious pro-lifers and to atheist counter-protesters. In fact, it's hard for me to think of a more important place for SPL to have a representative.

The Walk will be held on January 25, 2014 in San Francisco, CA. Please plan to come out and cheer for Monica!