Friday, February 28, 2014

How do mental health professionals deal with abortion?

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

Many mental health providers in Westchester County, New York, censor speech about abortion in day programs, outpatient or inpatient therapy, group therapy, one-on-one therapy, social clubs and half-way houses.

I have a mental illness. I also believe strongly that abortion is a form of genocide (broadly defined). Discussion of this view is simply not tolerated in the mental health field. When I tried to express by feelings on abortion on many occasions, I was told by the mental health field to shut up.

I find prebirth infanticide to be intolerable, even a crime against humanity. I first heard the word “abortion” in the 1970s, when I was in elementary school. I accompanied my mother on a feminist march in New York City. She refused to participate in all the chants and I asked why. My mother explained she did not want to defend everything the feminists were advocating, saying that, when a pregnant woman did not want to remain pregnant, she could go to a doctor to make the child “go away.” Sometime later, I learned what she meant. I came across a magazine photograph of the severed hand and tiny feet of an unborn child. Part of my innocence was lost.

Years later, after I came to oppose abortion, my view was strongly reinforced by the documentary Eclipse of Reason, narrated by former-abortionist-turned-pro-life-advocate Dr. Bernard Nathanson. A laparoscopic camera inserted through a pregnant woman’s naval depicted a beautiful unborn boy in the fourth month of pregnancy. Another camera fixed on the woman’s groin graphically depicted the boy as he is ripped apart and removed from the mother’s vagina in bloody pieces. Something inside of me broke. I watched Eclipse repeatedly to make up for those in denial. I often woke up thinking about mangled, broken, unborn children and went to bed thinking of the same. I felt like I lived in a village outside Auschwitz during World War II. I had to speak out.

When I told my therapist about my anguish over prenatal homicide, she silenced me. She was a young, female therapist at St. Vincent’s Psychiatric Hospital in Harrison and she said she did not want to “get political.” She threatened to throw me out if I mentioned abortion again. I asked how she would respond if a patient wanted help dealing with the 9/11 attack or wars in the Middle East. She would not tolerate such questions and kicked me out of her office. My therapist’s superior said I had yelled at her, which was absurd (and he took it back), but then he permanently banned me from the outpatient clinic. (Disclosure: other conflicts with that psychiatrist may have also played a role.) Ironically, I had chosen treatment at a Catholic hospital because it did not perform abortions and I had assumed they would be more sympathetic to pro-lifers.

Another incident occurred when I lived in a half-way house in Scarsdale. I posted photos of unborn children on my bedroom wall, but a staff member tore them down. My roommates had not objected to the pictures. Frustrated, I wrote to the administrators explaining that the pictures were not graphic and disturbing; I had discovered the award-winning pictures in Life magazine, which originally published them in 1965 before the abortion war had gotten underway. I was allowed to put them up again, and the woman who tore them down apologized. I later learned the staff had been instructed not to discuss abortion with me, which seems to me to be very unprofessional: I needed to communicate about prebirth infanticide. Years later, I lived at an apartment run by the same agency. I put an antiabortion poster in my window and was ordered to take it down. I put a pro-life sticker on my door, and my case manager ripped it down, saying it was not allowed.

In 2009, I attended a group therapy program at New York Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains. The group focused on current events from the local newspaper. I spoke about three articles, providing insight as how they could pertain to abortion. The group leader forbade me from talking about the topic again. When I got a letter published in the paper, I was not allowed it aloud because it addressed the matter of cutting up babies.

When I was inpatient, and then a couple of times when I attended an outpatient program, I participated in a role-playing game that I found objectionable. We were given a scenario where we had to pretend to save some people and let others die. The game told us the fictitious persons’ race, religion, handicaps, etcetera. I tried to explain that the game was immoral under pro-life theory because some people were seen as having more right to live than others. Staff never seemed to try to understand what I was objecting to, and they did not defend me when my peers got annoyed. I was told I should simply not participate, but I wanted to ruin the game, which I did each time I played it.

I’ve even been censured for speech that did not occur in an area under the purview of psychiatrists. I spoke to a woman about abortion in the cafeteria of a mental hospital. She was from the former Soviet Union and she told me her mother had had ten abortions, and that she herself had had two. I told her, perhaps too bluntly, that she had had no right to kill her babies. She reported me to staff and I was called into my therapist’s office. My therapist had already made clear that she disapproved of my vocal protests. Shortly after this event, I was ejected from the program and I have no doubt my speech was a reason.

The Sterling Community Center in White Plains is a social club for the mentally ill. I expressed my concerns about prebirth infanticide in a group therapy session. I was told to not bring it up again. At Hope House, another social club for the mentally ill, a woman friend and I read aloud to each other essays I had written about prenatal homicide. After a while, a woman member of the club asked us to go into another room. I told her I did not want to, but that I would have no objections if she moved into another room. A few minutes later, a staff member asked me and my friend to stop talking about abortion. We refused. Later, another staff and then a third asked us to be silent. We refused. The senior staff member made a phone call to the woman who ran the social club. I was asked to come to the phone but I wanted to keep reading and refused to come to the phone. I was then told by the senior staff member that her superior on the phone had said that if I did not stop discussing abortion, she would call the police. For talking about abortion. I left.

Censorship regarding unborn human rights is not unbiased; it helps the dominant side (which is pro-choice-to-kill) and the side that would suffer under fair debate (again the pro-choice-to-kill side). This phenomenon of avoiding discussion of abortion hurts the thousands of post-abortive women who regret their abortions and may search the field of psychologists in vain for someone willing to discuss their suffering. Men whose children have been killed need help too. Psychiatric censorship also leads to more abortions because people fail to learn how bad prebirth infanticide is. Another area where abortion and mental health overlap involves the possibility of future eugenic abortion of mentally ill unborn. Many Down syndrome children are killed before birth, and if the genes leading to mental illness are discovered, thousands of such children could be chopped up before birth.

This dishonest attitude in the psychiatric community should be taken in context. We live in a society where few individuals or institutions want to deal candidly about unborn child evisceration. When pro-choice-to-kill activists do speak, they use code language with terms like “choice issue” or “reproductive rights.” I have been censored by pro-choicers in two college campuses. Many members of my family and friends have let me know they will not tolerate my attempts to talk to them about abortion. Two cousins and numerous former friends have “unfriended” me on Facebook because they object to my frank language about the child killings they support and collude in. The problem is that prebirth infanticide is tolerated not because it is acceptable, but because it is so dreadful people cannot easily wrap their minds around it. 

Abortion is insane. Thinking it is not insane is insane. Not thinking about it is insane. When I consider the people in the mental health care system who wanted to silence me, I think, Who is the crazy one here?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

"What if she's lying?"

Preface: Many pro-life activists argue that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape. While SPL does not take a position on the rape exception, we do agree that the rape exception should be discussed with particular sensitivity. Whenever you are discussing topics related to sexual assault, whether in the context of abortion or any other context, please take the time to understand how your comments could affect sexual assault survivors.

Additionally, please note that the following blog post originally arises from a conversation about rape and pregnancy, so the ideas are expressed in terms of male attackers and female victims. However it's important to be aware that men can also be sexually assaulted.

Recently I posted this paper to the SPL Facebook page, and quoted from it as follows:
A victim of acquaintance rape in North Carolina became pregnant and carried her child to term. The man she accused of raping her threatened to assert his parental rights unless she agreed not to file charges against him. Another woman from North Carolina became pregnant as a result of rape and placed the baby for adoption. To complete the adoption, she needed the rapist to terminate his parental rights. The rapist, who was in custody awaiting trial, told her that he would terminate his parental rights only if she agreed not to testify against him.
I thought this passage would inspire a conversation about how our society can better support survivors of rape who want to carry their pregnancies and parent their children. To my dismay, this was one of the first comments:

There were also comments like this:

Similarly, the other day, a casual FB friend of mine tagged me in a post asking what I thought of this photo:

Never before have I so wanted to punch a puffin.

Okay, class. What's wrong with these ideas?

People who haven't looked much into rape culture (or worse, who don't believe rape culture exists), may argue that, underneath some of the harsh verbiage, there are valid points to be made here. They muse, "Yes, of course, we all care about rape victims. But if our interest is justice, we must also care about people falsely accused of rape. The wrongfully accused deserve consideration too." 

We want people to pay for the crimes they commit, but we also don't want innocent people to be punished, right? Right! So why would anyone have a problem with focusing on false rape accusations?

In order to explain the problem, I need to give you a quick quiz. Don't cheat now! See how you do without scrolling ahead.
  1. How many rapes and sexual assaults happen per year in the United States?
    • Thousands
    • Tens of thousands
    • Hundreds of thousands
    • Over one million
  2. What percentage of these attacks are not reported to authorities?
    • Less than 50%
    • 50-60%
    • 60-70%
    • Over 70%
  3. How many accusations of assault are false?
    • 1-2%
    • 2-8%
    • 8-20%
    • 20-40%
    • Over 40%
Curious how you did? Let's review. 

According to the US Department of Justice, in 2012 there were 346,830 rapes and sexual assaults, and 72% of these attacks were not reported to authorities. In other words, an average of 684 attacks went unreported each day, for a total of 249,717 unreported attacks in 2012. And we aren't even touching on how few reported attacks result in charges filed, or how few charges filed result in convictions.

In contrast, the most methodologically sound research suggests between 2% and 8% of rape and sexual assault accusations are false. 

So if 28% of attacks are reported to authorities, and there were 346,830 attacks in 2012, how many reports did authorities receive? That's right! Authorities would have received 97,112 reports of rapes and sexual assault. Please note we are again talking about reports, which are, again, not the same as charges filed, much less convictions.

Research suggests that 2% to 8% of these reports are false. To be conservative, let's assume it's 8%; so 8% of 97,112 reports means 7,769 false accusations. (And we are being very conservative. Read the previous link for issues with the way "false accusations" are often defined. Read here (trigger warning) for an example of a woman marked down as a "false accusation." I would especially like the people who wax poetic about how we're not harsh enough with women who lie about rape to read that link.)

So we have (at least) 249,717 unreported attacks and (at most) 7,769 false accusations. That comes down to at least 32 times as many unreported attacks as there are false accusations.

I'm going to go ahead and repeat that, just to be super, super clear:

Now, does this situation mean we should never talk about the injustice of false accusations? No. Falsely accusing someone of a crime is horribly wrong, and it wreaks havoc both on the person falsely accused and on the criminal justice system as a whole. That deserves a conversation.

But what I am seeking is a sense of proportion here. Do you hear people talking about unreported rape 32 times as often as you hear them talk about false rape accusations? Because I sure don't. If anything, I hear people discuss false rape accusations more often than they ever talk about how many attacks go unreported. Our public discourse on rape is hugely disproportionate to the reality of the situation.

And having such a skewed public conversation about rape isn't just misleading--it's horribly damaging. Sexual assault survivors are frequently surrounded by an atmosphere of suspicion and even hostility, and we promote that atmosphere every time we jump to, "But what if she lied?" When survivors think they won't be believed, they don't speak up. When they don't speak up, unreported rapes rise, both because less people are reporting their attacks and because the attackers can continue their behavior without repercussion.

So remember this idea? "Yes, of course, we all care about rape victims. But if our interest is justice, we must also care about people falsely accused of rape. The wrongfully accused deserve consideration too." 

I'm going to explain the disproportionality of this response by way of analogy*. Let's pretend "justice" is a big house we want to upkeep. Whenever injustice happens, it damages the house. So false rape accusations look something like this:

A smashed window in the House of Justice.

And unreported rapes look something like this:

Now consider this conversation:

Me: "Oh my god! The House of Justice is on fire, please help me to save it!" 

Other people: "Yes, of course, we all care about the house being on fire. But if our interest is in keeping up the house, we must also care about smashed windows. Smashed windows require repair too."

How does that sound to you?

And really, this analogy doesn't even cover it, because it doesn't account for how, every time you focus disproportionately on smashed windows, you actually throw gas on the fire. How? Because every time you emphasize not trusting women who say they've been raped, you make it harder for survivors to come forward with their incredibly painful stories. And that means more rapes go unreported.

So if you're not going to help me put out the fire, could you at least stop throwing fuel on the flames? That'd be great.

*Thanks to my friend Mishy for the analogy.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Best "parasite" I've ever heard of!

Today's blog post serves as a place to compile sources for the assertions in the above graphic. As an initial matter, let me note that it is not Secular Pro-Life's position that unborn children must "earn their keep" to have the right to life. (In the same vein, the fact that infants sleep and poop and don't do much in the way of making immediate contributions to society does not justify infanticide.) This is simply an attack on the pro-choice movement's misuse of the dehumanizing term "parasite." So, moving right along:

"If a baby is carried to term, his or her mom will have a decreased risk of ovarian cancer."
According to the American Cancer Society, "Women who have been pregnant and carried it to term have a lower risk of ovarian cancer than women who have not. The risk goes down with each full-term pregnancy. Breastfeeding may lower the risk even further." The protective effect of pregnancy can last twelve years or more. The spacing of births does not appear to be a factor.

"If she's under 30, add a decreased risk of breast cancer."
Although women's heath groups agree that giving birth at a young age decreases a woman's lifetime risk of breast cancer, the exact maternal age limit is hard to pinpoint. states "Women who have never had a full-term pregnancy, or had their first full-term pregnancy after age 30, have an increased risk of breast cancer," while the Susan G. Komen Foundation reports that childbirth protects first-time mothers as old as 35. The underlying hormonal mechanisms are not fully understood; see this Science Daily piece for a recent study on mice that may provide some answers.

"And preliminary research suggests that some of the baby's stem cells will stay behind to repair her injuries for years or even decades after the child's birth." 
Much research remains to be done concerning this phenomenon, which is known as fetomaternal microchimerism. "Fetal cells exhibit a remarkable ability to migrate across the placenta into the mother and to integrate with diverse maternal tissues and organs, apparently homing in particularly to sites of damage and disease." Recent studies of mother mice who suffered from strokes and heart failure indicate that fetal cells have a healing effect.

P.S.-- Many thanks to SPL supporters Natalie and Andrew V. for allowing their son Bennie to model for the picture.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Intrinsic vs. Instrumental Value

Discussion of the concepts of intrinsic and instrumental value goes back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. It has pretty much gone unchallenged for all that time until the last hundred years or so, but even then there really haven't been any major challenges to the concept. The concept of human beings as intrinsically valuable is important when it comes to the discussion of abortion, and the concept of human rights, themselves, only make sense insofar as human beings are seen as intrinsically valuable. As was the case with my recent article about capacities, this is only a very basic discussion of these concepts. You can see this article here for a more in-depth treatment of these concepts.

Intrinsic value

When we say that something is intrinsically valuable, this means that something is valuable in itself. These are things that are pursued for their own sake, not to acquire something else. Things like happiness, truth, and goodness are all intrinsically valuable. You do not, or at least should not, pursue these things to get you something else, but they should be pursued because they are good in themselves. You don't need a reason to pursue truth; the fact that truth is good in itself is enough.

Human beings are likewise intrinsically valuable. They are valuable because they are rational agents. As intrinsically valuable entities, human beings are good in themselves and to use them as a means to an end (or, at least, merely as a means to an end) is wrong.

Now the question usually comes up, how does this apply to someone who provides us a service, such as a car mechanic or a musician? Aren't we using them as a means to an end when we hire them to perform a service? The answer to this is most definitely no. If you were to force a mechanic to fix your car against his will or to refuse to pay him after he performs that service, then that would obviously be wrong. But if you hire someone to fix your car (or provide music, or to operate on you, etc.), then you are using your money as a means to an end (see below), not the person. In this case, the mechanic is providing you with his time and expertise, and you are compensating him by providing him with money.

Instrumental value

Instrumental value is a type of extrinsic value because its value comes from outside itself. Something that is instrumentally valuable is valuable as a means to an end. So money and video games are instrumentally valuable. They are only valuable because we place value on them. If we did not value dollar bills, they would be worth no more than the paper that they're printed on (or the metal that they're minted with). We use things that are instrumentally valuable as a means to get us something else, usually something that's intrinsically valuable.

Animals are a controversial example. Animal rights activists consider animals to be intrinsically valuable, but I don't. As non-rational entities, they are not valuable in themselves but they are valuable only insofar as humans have need. As rational agents, we can recognize right from wrong and act accordingly. We can recognize duties and obligations that we have to others, duties and obligations that animals don't have to each other or to us because they simply cannot recognize when something is right or wrong. If a human kills another human, it is murder. If a lion kills a gazelle, it is not murder, because neither lions nor gazelles are rational agents.

Flora is another example of instrumental value. Plant-life and trees are not valuable in themselves, which is why it is not wrong to pluck roses to give a significant other or to chop down trees to make furniture or paper. These entities are only valuable insofar as people value them. They are valuable to us because they add beauty to our planet, they take in carbon dioxide and provide oxygen, they provide shade, they provide the raw materials for building fires, furniture, houses, and other things. But their value comes from without, not from within.

The difference between intrinsic and instrumental value is an important one for the abortion debate, because all human beings are intrinsically valuable. It is wrong to kill a human being for the sake of convenience, or because we find ourselves in a difficult situation (the difficult situation should be eliminated, not the human person). Not only does abortion kill an innocent human being, but it also treats them as a means to an end, something to be eliminated to make our lives easier. This is also one reason why comparing the unborn to an acorn (as is often done) is not only biologically inept, but a false analogy when comparing value. An acorn is the same entity as the oak tree it will become, but it is not seriously wrong to kill an acorn or an oak tree, whereas it is seriously wrong to kill a human being unjustly at any stage of development.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Radical Islam and Sex-Selective Abortion

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

I wrote recently on this blog regarding the connection between religious chauvinism and sex-selective abortion, using reactionary Hinduism as an example. Sadly, this phenomenon extends to the Muslim world as well. Extremist Islamic subcultures devalue women, and sometimes this devaluation is accomplished under the guise of policies that would ostensibly appear benign to a Western feminist.

This phenomenon is illustrated well in Great Britain, which has both significant immigration and few abortion restrictions. National Review reports:
Though a government investigation in 2013 determined that girls were not being targeted for abortions, the Independent's investigation found that some ethnic communities in Britain did not have the natural balance between males and females, and that the abortion of somewhere between 1,400 and 4,700 female fetuses best accounts for that imbalance. The Independent reviewed the census statistics — particularly statistics of immigrant families, such as those from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan — finding that in two-child families, having a girl as the first child significantly increased the chances of having a male as the second child. When these immigrant couples already have a daughter as their first child, in other words, they sometimes abort girls to ensure the second will be a boy.
This feeds into the chauvinistic and deeply misogynistic views held by adherents of radical Islam, views that create a degrading environment in which women struggle to survive, let alone thrive. Criticism of this is often blunted due to fears of being deemed a racist or Islamaphobe. The latter term, while accurately applied to those who indiscriminately foment hate against peaceful Muslim groups, is unfortunately also used to quell legitimate criticism of undesirable aspects of a religion, even when those aspects produce deplorable outcomes.

In his book "Why I am Not a Muslim" (which is a play on Bertrand Russell's famous "Why I Am Not a Christian"), Pakistani atheist Ibn Warraq says the following:
Indeed a large part of the blame lies with the attitudes inculcated by Islam, which has always seen woman as inferior to man. The birth of a baby girl is the occasion for mourning. Hundreds of baby girls are abandoned every year in the gutters and dust bins and on the pavements. An organization working in Karachi to save these children has calculated that more than five hundred children are abandoned a year in Karachi alone, and that 99 percent of them are girls.
Sex-selection abortions in the West, the Muslim world, and elsewhere of course take place for a multiplicity of reasons. But we discount the enormous clout of patriarchal norms, and their success in generating hatred towards females, at our own peril. These questions should be debated forthrightly, without the obscurantist cliché of pro-lifers being invariably god-fearing. If the previous examples have showed anything, it is that abortion is far more than merely a hedonistic example of supposedly decadent Western culture.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Secular Pro-Life Position - Stanford University Presentation

On Wednesday evening, SPL gave a presentation to the Stanford Students for Life discussing why we need secular arguments against abortion and what some of those secular arguments are. The presentation was followed by a great question and answer session with the students. To see the presentation and most of* the Q&A, click here, or search "February 19, 2014 Stanford presentation" on Youtube.

(One of the slides from the presentation)

*Note: some of the Q&A was omitted upon request from students involved, for privacy reasons.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Why I am Agnostic and Pro-life

Today's blog post is by guest blogger Nick Reynosa.

In a 2010 survey, Americans stated that the group of people that they trust the least is people of no religion. The study went on to say that Americans see irreligion as more suspect than other controversial lifestyles, including homosexuality. In this less than welcoming climate, it is easy to see how, for some young people, opening up about their lack of faith is akin to coming out of the closet, so to speak.

Being an atheist or agnostic in America isn’t the easiest of tasks. Likewise being a pro-life college student on a campus where the key age demographic (18-24) accounts for 44 percent of abortions performed isn’t a cake walk either. Yet I remain steadfastly pro-life and agnostic; as one secular person I know has described it, we are a minority within a minority.

So why do I hold both positions? Let me attempt to explain. Because the abortion debate is so extensively peppered with red-herrings and distractions, an interesting way for me to explain myself is to state issues that are NOT the reasons I am pro-life.

I am not pro-life because I am “anti-choice.” I believe in the maximum amount of just choices between consenting adults. I think women and men should have the right to choose to have sex or not. They should be able to choose whom they have sex with and when and how often they have sex. They should be able to access whatever scientific sexual education materials they are interested in and whatever types of birth control they prefer. Men and women who are not ready should be able to choose adoption and whether the adoption is open or closed. Women and men who are struggling as new parents should be able to choose to apply for government assistance for the sake of their new child.

But men and women should not be able to choose to take the life of their child. Not all choices are moral; the choice to own slaves is immoral, the choice to discriminate against minorities is immoral; choice is only the embodiment of freedom when those choices do not harm others.

I am not pro-life because I am against “women’s health.” I support the right of any woman to abort a pregnancy that poses a risk to her physical well-being. According to the Guttmacher Institute, only twelve percent involved issues with the mother’s health. In contrast, half of all babies aborted are female, and one-hundred percent of innocent female fetuses’ health is affected when they are intentionally killed. As the late and renowned atheist Christopher Hitchens stated, In order to terminate a pregnancy, you have to still a heartbeat, switch off a developing brain . . . break some bones and rupture some organs.” Therefore I ask: is the purpose of women’s health to keep women’s hearts beating or intentionally stop them? I support women’s health by opposing the 1,750 baby girls that were unjustly killed yesterday, are being unjustly killed today, and will be unjustly killed tomorrow; that’s opposing a real “war on women.”

I am not pro-life because I against bodily autonomy. I believe that men and women should be able to put whatever they want into their bodies so long as they are willing to accept the consequences. Pregnancy is not applicable to this principle because both parents should accept the risk of parenthood by engaging in consensual sex. In rape cases, because consent is not present, I do believe a bodily autonomy argument is compelling and therefore I do support an exception for rape cases.

I am not pro-life because I am a clueless, sexist man who will never get pregnant. I consider myself a male feminist. I do not want to send all women back to the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant. On the contrary I have an equal amount of respect for women who wish to focus on their education or careers, for women who wish to be stay at home as mothers, or for those who wish to do both at some point in their lives. I hope my future spouse is an intelligent, accomplished, and independent woman; likewise I wish to live in a world where my future daughters have the same opportunities available as my future sons. In fact I hope the day Roe v. Wade is overturned, we have a pro-life female chief justice and a pro-life woman as our president. And on that beautiful day I would love to have pro-choicers lecture me about sexism.

I am not pro-life because of religion or politics.  I am an agnostic and a registered independent. I hold some liberal, some conservative, and some libertarian viewpoints. I am certainly not pro-life because I want to create a wedge issue to divide people. I wish people would naturally recognize the dignity of the unborn. This would save me the time and money trying to persuade them; however if they don’t recognize fetal humanity I have a moral obligation to try to show them.

I am not pro-life because I want to restrict people’s freedom. If I am a “culture warrior” in any sense I would not be on the conservative side. In fact I am very socially libertarian on every issue except abortion. The right to an abortion perverts the very notion of freedom. As the classic libertarian quote states, the freedom to swing your arms stops at the tip of someone else’s nose. Likewise our sexual and reproductive freedom stops at the tip an innocent’s baby nose.

I am pro-life because it is the pre-eminent moral and legal dilemma of our time. In determining which side to take I’m often reminded of the famous quote of Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart who said he did not know how to define obscenity, but he added, “I know it when I see it”. Well as an agnostic and social libertarian, I don’t have a definition of barbarism but I know it when I see it. For anyone who has ever seen an abortion, it’s hard to imagine how they could describe it as anything but barbaric. The founder of NARAL himself, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, became a fervent pro-life activist as the development of ultrasound technology opened his eyes to horror of the procedure. Before his death he wrote his autobiography, in which he stated, “I am one of those who helped to usher in this barbaric age.”

Thankfully for Dr. Nathanson, he spent the last thirty-two years of his life attempting to make things right. We are equally fortunate to use our lives to end this great injustice. Whether you’re a secularist, believer, man, woman, Republican, Democrat, or even a former pro-choicer, we can all wear the label “pro-life” proudly.

Pictured: guest blogger Nick.
Stand up and be counted as a pro-life secularist! Send us your photo.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Tonight: Secular Pro-Life presentation at Stanford University

Tonight at 6:00 p.m., Secular Pro-Life's Monica Snyder will give a presentation at Stanford University. This event is free and open to the public. All the details you need, you'll find on the facebook event page. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"To me, it was not an act of murder..."

[Today's guest post is by Sarah Terzo of]

There are many good reasons for pro-lifers of faith to familiarize themselves with secular reasoning against abortion. Christian pro-lifers often cite religious texts and doctrines to oppose abortion. And while "God hates abortion" may be a compelling argument for fellow Christians, we need to recognize that pro-choicers can use religion too. People's interpretations of scripture differ, of course. And apart from scripture, "my personal religious beliefs" can be manipulated by a creative person to justify practically anything.

I stumbled across an example of this in the book Our Choices, Our Lives: Unapologetic Writings on Abortion [1]. I was reading the story of a woman who had three abortions. The woman, who gave her name as Chandra Silva, was a rape survivor who had her first abortion as a teenager when she was well into her second trimester. Her baby, at this point, was highly developed. Chandra describes the injection of prostaglandin, and the pain she experienced as her body tried to expel her child:
I felt the need to use the bathroom when something started descending and my mother, who was trying to help me to the corner store style bathroom, kept forcing an orange bedpan underneath me. At one point, in desperation, I glanced between my legs and I saw a head. It was dark and bluish, and seemed to have little dark hairs. In that split-second instant there was a nurse on the floor searching between my legs. She was in a bit of panic herself, fumbling with gloves and clamps, then whisking away the bedpan contents.
When reflecting on this abortion, as well as her other two abortions, Chandra wrote:
What I experienced was unique to me and my evolving self. To me, it was not an act of murder, as the religious zealots and right-wing oppressors would condemn, because I believe the soul and personality (which includes the body) are separate energies. I believe that we can check in and out of our physical vehicles when the situation requires it – or desires it. And I think that in cases where a woman chooses to terminate her pregnancy, there is an agreement between her soul self and that of her child. There is always agreement.
Chandra’s talk of the “soul self” and “separate energies” and unborn babies agreeing to be killed are obviously religious ideas, in the sense that they rely upon supernatural assumptions. Her claim that the soul of the baby makes an agreement with the soul of the mother, and that the baby somehow agrees to be aborted, can never be proved – but is a justification of abortion that makes sense to her, in the same way that “If you have an abortion, you’ll go to hell” makes sense to Christians. I doubt that Chandra could be argued out of her religious beliefs, any more than most fundamentalist Christians or devout Catholics could be argued out of theirs. If a Christian were to come up to her and tell her that God had intended her to have her baby instead of aborting, I doubt that Chandra would listen.

Perhaps it is too late to reach Chandra, but the point I’m trying to make is that religious arguments can be used by either side. It is just as easy to support abortion with religious arguments as it is to oppose it. Pro-lifers are not the only ones who use religious beliefs to support their position. From a secular standpoint, religious arguments often seem nonsensical. No doubt, most Christians would find Chandra’s beliefs absurd. Yet people who are not a part of the Christian faith may find the concept of an unborn John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb after encountering the unborn Jesus just as absurd.

Christian pro-lifers should take note that as nonsensical and unconvincing as Chandra’s rationalizations are, when they put forth their Christian religious arguments against abortion, they sound just as unconvincing to those who do not share their religious beliefs. The result is that pro-lifers and pro-choicers who do not share the same religious background end up talking right past one another. By focusing on areas of consensus, like human rights and the science of prenatal development, pro-lifers are far more likely to reach someone like Chandra.

[1] Krista Jacob, editor Our Choices, Our Lives: Unapologetic Writings on Abortion (Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2002, 2004) 32 – 34

Monday, February 17, 2014

Confronting the Gruesome Reality of Abortion

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

[WARNING: As the title implies, this blog post is highly disturbing. You should not read it if you have a weak stomach.]

Most people who see nothing wrong with abortion have that belief because they don’t think an unborn baby is a person. They don’t even like the term “unborn baby” because it lends to the idea that what’s in the womb is a person. They usually stick with the term “fetus” because the emotional response generated from discussion of killing a fetus is more palatable than that of killing a baby. But even if they were right about the absence of humanity in a fetus, it doesn’t change the fact that aborting a fetus is a horrific, senseless tragedy. 

Just for the sake of the argument, let’s use the term “fetus” and disregard that a quick overview of basic human embryology tells us fetuses are people. But before we can move on, we need to classify fetuses as something else if they aren’t people. So if a fetus is not a person, what is it? Fetuses are alive, no one can deny that. They’re obviously not plants, insects, or bacteria, so the only possibility left is that fetuses are animals.

So, let’s pretend a fetus is a non-human animal. Now that it's settled, allow me use an example to demonstrate why killing a non-human animal in a similar fashion as one used in a human abortion is still deplorable. 

Let’s say I have a puppy but I can’t afford one at this stage in my life (lack of money is a common reason for wanting to abort). What do I do with this puppy?

Since it's still small, I'm going to cram it in a blender while conscious and liquefy it to a bloody soup, disposing of the concoction in the trash.

That might work for a small puppy, but what about an older dog? It won't fit in a blender.

How about this then: Without using anesthesia, I'm going to chop each of the dogs legs off, one by one, with a pair of bolt cutters. But the dog is still alive at this point, so the job isn’t over yet. Now, I’m going to pick up a giant rock, slam it down on the dog’s head to crush it, and then throw the dog’s mangled body in a bio hazard bag.

Do you think the methods of getting rid of the dog were disturbing? Who wouldn’t?

If I got caught getting rid of just one dog with either of the two described methods, not only would I be jailed because it’s illegal, my mug shot would be all over the internet accompanied by hateful epithets demanding my torturous death. In my defense, I could argue that it was my right and choice to kill my dog. I could say what I did to the dog was none of the government’s business.  I could say the dog was better off dead than leading a less-than-ideal life. However,  not one of those excuses would sway a single person. 

But unfortunately, those two methods are basically the same used to kill thousands of fetuses every day.  Sound familiar? The first procedure I described was very similar to an aspiration abortion, commonly performed in the first trimester of pregnancy. Don’t believe me? See the diagram: 

The second method I described was akin to a "dilation and evacuation" abortion used in the second trimester:

There are other methods of abortion besides these. Not one of them could be described as non-violent, and they all obviously result in death.

Now let’s bring ourselves back to reality where fetuses are people, and virtually no one actually kills pets like that. However, it’s still true that abortion is not much different than the way I described it. 

If doing what I described to animals is so bad, why is it legally acceptable to do it to a fetus? Most people’s pets are treated better and have more legal protection than fetuses. Considering how terribly violent abortion is, it should still shock a society’s conscience even if the life being taken is demoted to a non-human status. It’s a sad state of affairs when the status of a human being isn’t even equal to that of a dog.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

So I met some sidewalk counselors.

Note: All of the quotes in this blog post are paraphrases, not actual quotes.

Meeting at the sidewalk.

A couple weeks ago, during the SFLA conference, I met a woman named Wynette who also lives in my area. She asked me to get in touch if I was interested in doing any local pro-life work.

Up to this point, almost all of my pro-life activism has been online (pretty convenient, fighting the good fight in my pajamas in bed, isn't it?) I've never done sidewalk counseling, and SPL isn't large enough to have local chapters (yet!). But I got in touch with Wynette and she invited me to see what their sidewalk counseling is like, so I decided to check it out.

I really wasn't sure what to expect. I vaguely imagined a dozen or so pro-lifers outside the "buffer zone" of some clinic with young women (and their escorts?) walking in and out of it regularly. I imagined women my age in scary situations, feeling very intimidated and alone and desperate, asking me why they shouldn't get an abortion. What would I say? Most of my discussions (okay, arguments) about abortion have been through the anonymity of the internet. I'm exchanging highly philosophical ideas with (for the most part) other people not in crisis pregnancies. Most of us are arguing from the comfort of our homes about situations we aren't experiencing. That's very different then standing face-to-face with a frightened woman and telling her she will be glad she chooses life. Can I say that? Do I know that? I only want to be completely honest with this hypothetical woman, and that may not necessarily mean she'll refrain from abortion. What then?

So all this was going through my mind as I drove to the clinic. I arrived, and it was very quiet. I was expecting the buzz of basically a mini-protest, a back and forth between opposing groups. I guess I'm too used to San Francisco! Instead, I saw a single elderly lady, standing outside the driveway to the clinic. She looked like this:

Meet Susan. Please note her homemade apron specifically designed to hold all her sidewalk supplies.

As soon as she saw me she smiled and waved. That's because she smiles at waves at pretty much every single person or car she sees. She's just a smiling and waving kind of gal. I walked up to her and told her I was looking for Wynette who, as it turned out, was just pulling up. 

Susan started telling me all about the literature they hand out, the people she meets, how she ended up doing sidewalk counseling in the first place, how some people in her family reacted to that, and many other stories. And she is a great storyteller. Great enthusiasm, vocabulary, emphasis, she even does the voices of other people in her stories. I was impressed with her on those grounds alone. :)

Clinic escort.

Susan mentioned that the sidewalk counselors are not allowed to step beyond a certain boundary on the sidewalkbasically they can't enter the parking lot of the clinic, they must stay on the public sidewalk next to it. There was a clinic escort that stayed in the parking lot to ensure this; she was a woman who looked to be about my age. I thought it would make for a very interesting blog post to speak to the escort and get her perspective on the sidewalk counselors and on her job as an escort, so I started walking towards her to ask her if she’d be interested in an interview. But I hadn’t gotten within 20 feet or so when she said (politely, but firmly), “You actually can’t go past that line.” I said, “If you want me to leave I’ll leave, but I’m not with them [gesturing to Susan and Wynette]. I was hoping to do a sort of point-counterpoint blog post about this situation and wanted to get your take.” But she said no, once I associate with the protesters I can’t go past the line.

So I went back to the sidewalk. Susan told me they’ve had situations where mothers drop off their daughters for abortions, and while the daughters are in the clinic, sometimes the mothers come out and talk to the sidewalk counselors. She said she’s seen mothers change their mind and want to go back into the clinic to talk to their daughters, but once the mothers associate with the sidewalk counselors, the clinic workers won’t let them back inside. I didn’t see anything like that while I was there, but Susan said she’s seen it happen more than once, and seen mothers get quite distraught about it.

From time to time the clinic escort would take a camera out of her satchel and take photos of the sidewalk counselors. The counselors told me the escorts do this to be intimidating, but I’m not so sure. If I wanted to intimidate people by taking photos, I’d be ostentatious about it; I’d walk close to them and hold the camera at eye-level. This escort kept her distance and had the camera about at waist-level. I don’t know why though—perhaps they want to make sure all the clinic employees know what all the sidewalk counselors look like, in case any of them try to enter the clinic? Not sure. In any case, if Susan or Wynette noticed getting their picture taken, they would just smile and wave.

Saving lives.

Susan told me that only the day before I showed up, they had a young woman (I’ll call her “Mary”) park in the clinic parking lot, but go toward the sidewalk to have a cigarette. Mary stayed within the buffer zone, maybe 4 or 5 feet from Susan. Susan stepped over the line to ask if Mary was all right, but the clinic escort (a man this time) told Susan to stay back. So she did.

Susan began to ask Mary questions about her situation and to offer her a list of alternative resources. The clinic escort came over and stood between Susan and Mary, trying to block Susan from Mary’s sight. So Susan just kept sticking her head to one side of the escort and then the other, continuing to talk. Mary told Susan she believed she had a life inside her, but she was scared to have a child. Susan talked to Mary about the resources available. The escort spoke too, telling Mary that she didn’t have to listen to Susan, and that she was free to make whatever choice she wants and she could still get an abortion. Somewhere in all of this, Susan gave Mary her business card, which includes her cell phone number.

Eventually Mary got up from the curb, and, instead of going into the clinic, she walked back to her truck. The escort followed her, continuing to remind her that she need not listen to Susan, and she could still have her abortion. Even so, Mary got in her truck and left the clinic, with Susan signaling for Mary to call her if she wants to talk more.

Caring for the born and unborn.

I’m glad Mary chose not to get an abortion, but I hope she does call Susan. It sounds like she was in a pretty tough situation, and Susan works very hard to help the women who decide to carry their pregnancies.

Susan and Wynette and their fellow sidewalk counselors meet at the sidewalk every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning (those are the times the clinic performs abortions). But on the days they aren’t at the sidewalk, Susan drives all around delivering diapers and car seats and other supplies to the women she’s met from sidewalk counseling. Susan works with various groups to support women in crisis pregnancies, and she told me those groups get a lot of donor support (go pro-life team!). Apparently it’s not uncommon for strangers walking down the street to see the sidewalk counselors and just hand them cash. They tell Susan, “Here, help the mothers. Help their babies.” So she does.

Susan does this work so often, in fact, that random strangers in her day-to-day life have gotten to know her for it. For example, for a long time Susan would go to a local McDonald’s drive thru each morning to get an unsweetened iced tea. She would chat with the drive thru lady (who I will call “Liz”) while she waited, and they got to know each other. Liz asked why Susan’s car was filled with signs and pamphlets about abortion, and Susan explained her sidewalk counseling. Other days Liz asked why Susan’s car was filled with baby supplies, and Susan would explain the follow-up care she does with the women she’s met.

Then one day, Susan got a cryptic voicemail from Liz (who found Susan’s phone number in the phone book—how old school is that?) Liz left a message about how she was in a bad place and needed Susan’s help. Susan tried to call back but couldn’t get through, so finally she left a message saying “Liz, I’m going to be at your McDonald’s tomorrow at 6:30am. I hope you’ll be there.”

Susan showed up at McD’s the next morning, and Liz came running out from behind the counter to her, smiling and exclaiming “Susan! Susan! I made the right choice!”

Susan, confused, said, “Oh that’s great, honey! …what choice is that?”

“I just found out I’m pregnant and I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I am choosing life for my baby!”

And then Susan and Liz cried and hugged, and everyone else in the McDonald’s hugged (according to Susan). 

Liz explained that her boyfriend didn’t want her to carry the pregnancy, but she had decided to anyway. She said, “I know you’ve talked a lot about how you help women in need, and I don’t know if you’re for real, but…here I am! I need help!” And Susan was glad to help.

Fast forward to the delivery. Susan went to visit Liz in the hospital. When she got there, she realized Liz’s boyfriend was also there. He approached Susan and asked, “Are you the woman that helped Liz keep the baby?” “Yes,” Susan answered nervously. Then he smiled and shook her hand. “Thank you so much!”

Liz is now a big proponent of the pro-life movement. She gave Susan permission to use a picture of her newborn son in one of Susan’s signs: 

Apparently, they are celebrating this l’il guy’s first birthday in the next couple weeks! And of course, Susan will be there.

Sidewalk pamphlets.

Susan showed me the list of resources the sidewalk counselors give out. It includes STD treatments, mammograms, OB-GYN care, maternity homes, financial assistance, adoption agencies, and post-abortion counseling. They even have a handout specifically for women going to the clinic for services other than abortion; it’s called something like “I’m Not Here for An Abortion,” and it explains why the sidewalk counselors protest abortion and which local clinics provide all the same services without doing abortions. Susan says many women have thanked her for the information and turned right around to go to those other clinics.

Susan, Wynette, and the other sidewalk counselors offer pamphlets to every car driving in and out of the clinic. Many times the drivers will stop and take the information and then be on their way. There’s often no time for dialogue, which is why it’s great that they have all their information printed and ready to send home with people.

However, some parts of their literature made me hesitate. For example, they had a brochure called “Before You Choose…” A lot of the brochure was great. It had information about fetal development and hotlines to call for counselors “to help you locate food, money, shelter, and more in your local community.” But on the other side, the brochure had a lot of information about the risks of abortion for women.

Now, I understand that abortion does include risks for women, and I believe women should be aware of those risks before they make a decision. That’s basic informed consent. However, I think informed consent means informing women of the risks in an objective way, and I worry this brochure overstates the case. For example, the brochure talks about how “13 major studies in the U.S. and 27 worldwide show that women who have an abortion increase their risk of breast cancer.” I’ve written extensively on the abortion breast cancer link before, and I understand pro-lifers diverge on this issue, but I do think the strongest case we can honestly give is that studies have conflicted. An honest assessment of a woman’s risk would include acknowledging the many studies that have not found a correlation between abortion and breast cancer.

The brochure also talked about the emotional effects of abortion on women, the problems with how well abortion clinics are regulated, and other physical risks of abortion. I think there are arguments worth making for all of these (we need look no further than Gosnell to see that), but again, I want to make sure that anything pro-lifers tell women is factual. We have truth on our side; we need not diverge from it.

I wanted to tell Wynette and Susan about my hesitations, but I was worried I would hurt their feelings. I also worried I had little right to say anything, considering they are out there for hours every week trying to help women in desperate situations, and I’m comfortable in my apartment, blogging away. Even so, ours must be the side of facts, so I went ahead and let them know I had concerns about the pamphlet. Happily, they were completely receptive to my thoughts. Wynette pointed out that the pamphlets hadn’t been updated in ages, and that she’d love to have updated literature. So that’s something I hope to help them with (and if anyone reading is interested in that project, please email and let us know!)

Go team!

Overall it was a very informative and inspiring experience! If you’re interested in helping with social support work, consider the following opportunities:
  1. Help SPL create secular sidewalk counseling materials that objectively inform women about fetal development, the risks of abortion, and the resources available to them.
  2. Raise money or gather supplies for local pregnancy resource centers. Check out NationalBaby Shower Day’s website for some ideas on how to do this.
  3. Contact local PRCs and find out if anyone involved does sidewalk counseling. See if there are peaceful counseling groups you can join to try to reach women with crisis pregnancies. I expect most sidewalk counselors would be happy to have any additional people come support them, and this may be especially true if you are a secularist. Wynette told me she thinks the presence of young, secular people can really help diversify the counselors’ approach—you never know what type of person a woman may most want to talk to.
If anyone reading this has sidewalk stories to share, please email us at so we can arrange a guest blog post. And to all the people out there who put in the time and resources to help women with crisis pregnancies: a very big thank you!

(Check out the list of ways you can support sidewalk counselors from

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why NARAL is mad at President Obama

Judge Boggs
NARAL has been flooding my Facebook feed with paid advertisements for a petition to thwart the nomination of Judge Michael Boggs to the federal bench. This is a little strange, since you may recall from high school civics class that federal judges are nominated by the President; you might also recall that the current President of the United States is such a diehard abortion supporter that he was unwilling to get on board with the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act. So what's going on here?

According to NARAL, when Boggs was a Georgia state legislator more than a decade ago, he "tried to channel funds to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers and make a parental consent law even more extreme." In oldspeak, that means that Boggs 1) supported the creation of a Choose Life license plate, which facilitates pro-life people donating their own money to pro-life causes, and 2) supported a requirement that minor girls be accompanied to the abortion facility by a parent. It's worth noting that this parent-must-accompany rule is designed to combat sexual abuse.

So the pro-choice lobby is twisting the facts, which is hardly news. But this quote by NARAL president Ilyse Hogue blew me away with its sheer nonsensical stupidity:
"Michael Boggs actually believes that there is one definition of what it means to live your life as an American. The thing is, that’s anti-American," NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. "We cannot risk having someone like that on the bench when we know we have so many cases coming down the pike that will define the very fabric of who we are as a nation and we are not only a nation that supports diversity, but we’re actually a pro-choice nation."
What. The. Hell?

First of all, no rational human being would make the leap from "X supports Choose Life plates and parental consent laws" to "X believes that he is the arbiter of what it means to be an American." What makes this really rich is that Hogue then goes on to "define what it means to live your life as an American" when she declares, wrongly, that America is "a pro-choice nation." Seriously, does she even read her statements before she sends them to the press?

The truth, of course, is that NARAL is very much in the minority. In particular, 60% of pro-choicers support parental consent laws.

I have a theory about what's really going on here. Boggs is a pro-life Democrat. The abortion movement has a deep interest in maintaining its stranglehold on the Democratic Party, which will become harder to do as the Millennial generation ages into positions of influence. NARAL is willing to spend a good deal of money to send a message to Obama: maintain your party's pro-abortion ideological purity, or suffer the consequences.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Secularists and Pro-lifers, Unite!

Today's post was contributed by guest blogger Nick Reynosa.

Some people think the terms "secular" and "pro-life" are mutually exclusive, or even oppose each other. In fact it seems that both the secular and pro-life movements have come to view each other as foes, and not friends.

For example the Secular Coalition of America has stated that it opposes “policies that impose ideological views of gender roles, contraception, abortion, and other reproductive matters.” In the same vein the prominent pro-life group LifeSiteNews has argued that the abortion debate has been instigated by, “Secularists attempting to eliminate Christian morality and natural law principles which are seen as the primary obstacles to implementing their new world order.” The site further contends that abortion, homosexuality, and all “other moral life and family issues are interconnected in an international conflict.”

Why do we have this division? On the pro-life side I believe it’s because many pro-lifers are not exclusively anti-abortion; rather they espouse a greater Christian worldview, of which opposition to abortion is a pillar. Therefore, for some Christian pro-lifers, the conversion of the pro-choice mind is not the end in itself but rather a means to a greater end of helping people in need of a savior. And while pro-lifers tend to be pleased when secularists oppose abortion, they may see our varying positions on gay marriage, contraception, sex education, and pre-marital sex as problems, perhaps even threats, to the Christian worldview. 

But such positions are not the point of Secular Pro-Life; while many secularists are socially libertarian, we need not be libertines. In fact I expect the majority of non-religious pro-lifers, myself included, see monogamy and sexual responsibility as key aspects in ensuring the safety of the unborn.

And then on the secular side many, many secularists have distanced themselves from the just cause of fighting abortion, in large part because of the religious zeal associated with the pro-life movement. Some secularists see faith as intellectually and morally bankrupt, and so they have taken an ideological and contrarian view to values they associate with religion, regardless of the arguments involved. 

But being secular does not require being anti-religion. On the contrary, secularism can be wonderfully agnostic and pluralistic, while being unabashedly pro-empirical evidence. The only thing we need to be intolerant of is policy influenced by unsubstantiated facts. In this sense the secular movement should be just as open to people of faith as we are to fellow secularists, because we should be open to anyone making objective arguments.

What’s more, history shows us people of faith have a great deal to contribute to human rights causes. The main proponents of the British and American abolitionist movements, William Wilberforce and William Lloyd Garrison, held deeply Protestant beliefs. Dr. Martin Luther King, the leader of the civil rights movement, was a fervent Baptist minister. The catalyst of the Indian Independence movement, Mohandas Gandhi, was a devout Hindu. All of these men were greatly influenced by their faith, but the justness of their causes was validated by reason and the facts. Likewise, through science and reason, secularists must come to see the great human rights injustice being committed against the unborn.

As a movement we have much to look forward to. The arc of the moral universe, as Martin Luther King stated, is long, but it "bends toward justice.” We must always remember that only when members outside a disenfranchised group speak up is social change possible. It was a 100 percent male legislature that granted women the right to vote. It was nine white Supreme Court justices that overturned Brown v. Board of Education. Likewise, abortion in this country will change only when we who are born start standing up for the unborn. Here’s to pro-lifers of any faith and no faith standing up together.