Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Take the quiz: where do you stand on abortion?

This quiz isn't designed to convince anyone to become pro-life. It's just designed to show what you currently are: strongly pro-life, lean pro-life, lean pro-choice, or strongly pro-choice. You might be surprised! We've made it as neutral as possible, so please feel free to share with your friends.

More information about public opinion polling can be found here, and more information about the reasons abortions are done can be found here (see page 4 in particular).

Monday, September 29, 2014

The feminist movement cannot afford to ignore pro-life concerns

Emma Watson at the United Nations, via CBS News
[Today's guest post by Victoria Godwin is part of our paid blogging program.]

Emma Watson. Who doesn’t love her? Emma Watson seems to be strong lady who has carried herself with poise and grace even whilst being in the spotlight. I love her acting, applaud her drive to get her university degree, and truly respect her quest to make a difference in this world by serving as the U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador. Needless to say, she has certainly always been at the top of my “celebrity girl crush” list! So when I started listening to her HeForShe speech at the U.N. headquarters, I was very excited and was nodding enthusiastically (watch/read the transcript here). But when she said the line, “…I should be able to make decisions about my own body,” my heart and excitement plummeted.

Now, in theory, that line could have many innocuous meanings. Decisions about one's body might include, for instance, the decision to abstain from sex until you feel you are readya serious international concern, given the startling number of child marriages. It might also refer to decisions about contraception, confidential mental health treatment, and even what clothing to wear. But in practice, "decisions about my body" is coded language for the dismemberment of unborn children.

Assuming she is referring to the legal right to abortion, I’m going to also assume that she does not realize that over 200 million girls are missing in the world due to legal abortion and infanticide, a phenomenon explored in depth in Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky. I’m not here to lecture you all on how I feel about the legality of abortion, but I firmly believe that gender equality can only be reached if we address what is occurring worldwide: prenatal sex-selection and female infanticide. Gender equality begins at conception, but on this, Ms. Watson not only has missed the mark, but has ignored what the anti-abortion feminists have been fighting for for years.

As Emma points out later in her speech, “…not all women have received the same rights that I have. In fact, statistically, very few have been." However, this statement doesn’t necessarily only cover inequalities in wages, education, and general respect for women. This especially rings true in countries such as China and India, whose regional birth sex ratios can reach discrepancies of ~120+ male births for every 100 female births. This skewed ratio of male to female births is not just seen in countries such as India and China where in some parts cultural traditions have made it preferable to have male children; it is seen in the US and the UK as well. Sex-selective abortion is currently illegal in the United Kingdom, where Emma calls home. Despite its illegality, studies have discovered a skewed birth sex ratio among the second children of some immigrant families in the UK. It is currently estimated that between 1,400 and 4,700 girls are missing from the UK.

On the other end, sex-selective abortion is legal in the majority of the states in the US, where a woman can get an abortion on-demand and for any reason. Unfortunately, prenatal gender discrimination is evident in the US. Forms of gender preference were shown in a 2011 Gallup poll where 40% of Americans reported that they would prefer a boy if only allowed one child, in contrast to the 28% who would prefer a girl, statistics that are shockingly similar to those found in 1941. This opens the door wide to sex-selective abortions that are still legal in 42 states. Also in the US, parents are allowed to choose embryos by sex through in vitro fertilization, an option that 40% of Americans believe is appropriate. This suggests once again that gender preference is a serious issue that ought to be addressed as IVF technology advances and abortion remains on-demand.

Now that being said, do I think that making sex-selective abortion and IVF sex selection illegal is (by itself) going to fix this issue? No, it’s much more complex than that, as shown by attempts to restrict sex-selective abortions in India. But after listening to Emma’s speech, I was left wondering why the “hard questions” like sex-selective abortion and female infanticide are frequently left out of feminist discussions. While her efforts are indeed commendable, discussions on the gender wage gap and gender stereotypes tend to be much more palatable than discussing why being a girl can mean a death sentence. Most of all, I want to see more “nontraditional” feministsnamely men and pro-lifersstep up, get involved, and talk about these uncomfortable issues and to push the boundaries of what it means to be a feminist. Using Emma’s words, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

At the end of the speech, Emma invites men to participate in the fight for female equality. But in her comment alluding to abortion rights, she has perhaps inadvertently excluded anti-abortion feminists from this “HeForShe” discussion for gender equality, exactly the opposite of what she claims her goal is: a united front. My fellow anti-abortion feminists and I desire the same things that Emma Watson states in her address. We fight for maternity leave, we fight to close the wage gap, we volunteer our time at domestic abuse shelters and pregnancy centers, and we spread awareness about gender discrimination across the world and close to home. We want females to have the same rights as males; but first, we have to let them be born.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Straw Men Make For Poor Arguments

[Today's guest post by Nate Sheets in the second of a series. The next post in the series will arrive sometime next week.]

The Straw Man

One of the more commonly-known logical fallacies is the Straw Man Fallacy. This fallacy occurs when we set up an argument in a negative or exaggerated way, in order for us to easily take it down. (This should not be confused with the ad hominem logical fallacy, which we will cover next week.)

From Dinosaur Comics
Straw Men are Easy, Good Arguments Are Hard

It makes sense that mostly everyone engages in Straw-Man-thinking, even if we know intellectually that such reasoning doesn't stand up. Our brains evolved to sort what we encounter into categories for survival--these stereotypes often stick around and impact our thinking as we go throughout our lives. If we utilize Straw-Man-thinking innocently, I believe this is because of our stereotypes toward an opposing viewpoint. Of course, in the course of arguments, people tend to Straw Man intentionally or lazily, because they do not want to invest time investigating the reasoning of their opponents further. 

Buzz shows Woody a typical Youtube comment thread.
How Straw Men Play Out

If I set up an argument in my favor--for example, "The pro-choice side wants to make contraception available because they want to promote a culture of promiscuity"--then I do not need to do much to make my case. If such a thing were the real reason why many pro-choicers favor contraception access, then it would be apparent to the average listener that such reasoning was foolish. But, as any reader of this blog will know, "promoting a culture of promiscuity" is not the reason pro-choicers (or pro-lifers who also favor contraception) want contraception available. 

I sometimes experience Straw Men on my own opinion on abortion (on the rare occasions I bring it forth) from both sides of the debate. If I say "I'm against abortion", pro-choicers may respond with, "Making abortion illegal will kill women through back-alley abortions!" That is a straw man because I said I was anti-abortion, not that I wanted to make abortion illegal. 

Additionally, when we talk about making the pro-life movement secular-friendly, many pro-lifers defensively react with statements such as, "We have a right to our religion! Without the religious, the pro-life movement would be nothing! That is a straw man because SPL never said we should take away the rights of the religious, nor have we said we should remove religion from the abortion debate entirely


Pro-Choice Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"Pro-lifers are against equal rights for women." This misrepresents the pro-life stance. Generally, pro-lifers are in favor of equal rights, however the specific issue of abortion brings up unusual circumstances not covered in other areas of feminism.
"Forced gestationers tend to engage in all sorts of complex arguments, when occam's razor dicates that all their positions (until fairly recently) are far better and more simply explained by wanting to punish people for sex." The term "forced gestationers" misrepresents the pro-life position and forces the reader to imply a variety of false assumptions about what the movement stands for. Additionally, the pro-life movement does not promote punishment for sex directly, so evidence would be required that it promotes it indirectly.

Pro-Life Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"Pro-choicers think that the unborn baby isn't alive. They obviously don't know about science." Unless specifically stated, pro-choicers understand that the fetus is alive.
"Pro-choicers are against clinic regulations because they do not care about women's health and safety." Pro-choicers are against pro-life bills relating to clinic regulations, not all clinic regulations.
"Abortion is murder, and pro-choicers support murder." Abortion is not, legally, murder. Pro-choicers obviously disagree that it is murder, so it misrepresents their position to say that they are "for" it.

So What Should We Do?
Again, it is much easier to disprove our opponent's argument if we take it upon ourselves to frame it. If we took the time to take their arguments at face value, we might actually find that we agree on several points, and can work together to create some solutions that benefit all. 

In the end, in order to maintain a fruitful and honest discussion, we should aspire to describe our opponents position in such a way where they would say, "Yes, that is what I believe."

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The calm before the storm

Four months from now—in late January—I know exactly where I'll be.

Via Wikimedia Commons, actually. I don't
know who took this photo.
Like I said: people notice!
I'll be on a plane to Washington, D.C. to carry the bright blue, massive, you-can't-miss-it banner in the March for Life. Then I'll be at the Students for Life of America conference, where roughly 2,500
on-fire campus pro-life leaders will converge, showing them how they can reach their classmates of every faith and no faith. On the West Coast, my colleague Monica will lead the SPL contingent at the Walk for Life in San Francisco, followed by yet another Students for Life conference for western schools.

I call it Roe season. It's hectic, it's non-stop, and it's my favorite time of the year. It's when I get to connect with all of you in person, recruit more young people to Secular Pro-Life, and give students the tools they need to save lives.

Roe season is also, by far, the most expensive part of SPL's year.

When we speak on college campuses, we don't charge an honorarium. We know that pro-life student groups usually have limited budgets. Some student leaders have told us that our events would not have been possible if we didn't have our no-honorarium policy.

When we share pro-life news and commentary on this blog, we don't bug you with advertisements. And when our pieces are reprinted in outlets like, we don't charge for that, either.

Our #1 priority is to spread the secular pro-life perspective as far and wide as we possibly can, because we know that many people can only be reached by us. That often means foregoing potential sources of income.

We need you.

Yes, it's only September. But Roe season is looming on the horizon, and we're already making plans for this to be our best year yet!

If you benefit from Secular Pro-Life—if we've shown you that you aren't alone, if we've helped you talk to your friends about hard topics, if we've stretched your mind—then please chip in at Our goal is $5,000. I know we can do it!

Thanks so much for everything.
Our exhibit booth at least year's SFLA conference.
The cost of an exhibit booth has gone up. Please help!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fun with Demographic Data

[EDIT: A prior version of this article stated abortion rates "per 100,000 women of reproductive age." The Guttmacher Institute actually uses a rate per 1,000 women. We regret the error. Unfortunately, it's too late to change the graphic.]

Last week, Hemant Mehta (the Friendly Atheist) spotlighted an interactive map from the American Values Atlas, which makes it easy to compare the religious affiliations of people in various states. He noted that "[n]ext year, it’ll expand to include data on state-by-state views on topics like immigration, abortion, and LGBT issues." On abortion, I quickly put together a sneak peek.

To indicate state policies on abortion, I'm using Americans United for Life's most recent Defending Life rankings (in which #1 has the greatest protections for prenatal life).* As we live in a democracy, this is a rough proxy for public opinion in the state, albeit not a perfect one.

To measure pro- or anti-abortion behavior, I'm using two statistics, both from the Guttmacher Institute. One is the percentage of pregnancies in a state that end in abortion. The other is each state's abortion rate per 1,000 women of reproductive age. This second figure is influenced not only by whether or not a woman decides to have an abortion, but by the decisions she and her partner make before conception (e.g. abstinence and contraception).

The national average for no religious affiliation is 21%. The national average abortion rate is 16.9 per 100,000 women of reproductive age. Nationwide, 18% of pregnancies end in abortion.

Without further ado: what does that tell us? Not much, I'd posit. The problem is that this data provides ammunition to anyone, including both extremes.

A fire-and-brimstone preacher inclined to paint atheists as baby-killing (if not baby-eating) menaces to society could point to Massachusetts and cry A-ha! They have 5% more heathens than they should, and it shows with awful state policies, higher-than-average abortion rates, and women with unplanned pregnancies gravitating toward abortion. Compare that to Louisiana, AUL's #1 state in the country with very low abortion rates; no doubt that's thanks to the fact that by the grace of God, only 12% of the state is unaffiliated. Similar stories in Mississippi and North Dakota. A heaping dose of religion must be what's keeping the babies safe.

But wait!, says the caricature of a pro-choice atheist who's eager to prove that abortion is correlated with religion-based ignorance when it comes to preventing unplanned pregnancy. Wyoming has 7% more unaffiliated residents than the national average, and it has the best abortion statistics in the nation! And look at Maine, Colorado, Montana, New Hampshire: their policies may be in the middle of the pack, but they keep their abortions down through other means. (My hypothetical abortion advocate would probably leave out Arizona, which is more than a quarter unaffiliated and ranks #4 on AUL's list; it, too, enjoys low abortion rates,) Meanwhile, the abortion rates for the deluded people of Georgia are almost exactly the national average, and Maryland is slightly more religious than the national average but its abortions are through the roof. Pray on that.

None of which is productive, obviously.

Is there some correlation? Probably (there's no deeply religious state with sky-high abortion rates), and I look forward to the full analysis from the American Values Atlas, but I suspect it's a pretty weak one. Abortion is much more strongly influenced by economic factors and education than by levels of religious affiliation.

*I realize that most of our pro-choice readers will dislike this phrasing ("protections for prenatal life"), but because I interned at AUL, I know that more goes into the rankings than pure abortion restrictions; they also look at policies respecting treatment for pregnant mothers with substance abuse issues, etc.

Monday, September 22, 2014

VIDEO: Saturday's pro-life conference at Yale

Above: Feminists for Life president Serrin Foster,
SPL president Kelsey Hazzard, and John Whitehead of
Consistent Life, at the second annual Vita et Veritas
conference at Yale University
On Saturday, Secular Pro-Life participated in the second annual Vita et Veritas conference at Yale University. The students of Choose Life At Yale did a fantastic job putting this together, and we're excited to see this conference grow year over year in the future!

SPL president Kelsey Hazzard represented the non-religious perspective in an interfaith panel discussion that also included a Protestant and a Muslim, with a Catholic moderator. Check it out:

Friday, September 19, 2014

New Englanders: join us tomorrow at Yale University

Last year, we attended the first annual Vita et Veritas conference at Yale University (photo above), bringing together pro-life leaders throughout New England. It was a great success, so here we go again!

SPL president Kelsey Hazzard will once again be part of an interfaith panel (last year's included a Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew). The conference kicks off tonight with a keynote speech by Students for Life of America president Kristan Hawkins. We'll be there starting tomorrow morning, and our panel is at one in the afternoon.

Get all the details and register at

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Critical Thinking and Avoiding Logical Fallacies

[Today's guest post by Nate Sheets in the first of a series. The next post in the series will arrive sometime next week.]

One pattern I often see online is that people shape their worldviews in black and white. It doesn't matter what the subject is: abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, Dr. Who, the President, or pumpkin spice lattes--everyone seems to have an opinion, and that opinion seems to rarely declare: "there is grey area here!"

This is striking--at least in my mind--because at no other time have the majority of people (in the US) had virtually all of the wealth of human knowledge literally available at anytime, in virtually any place. We have the internet, with countless dissenting opinions and information, and yet we cling to our perspective with such clarity and confidence, often with little desire to dig into the thoughts of those whose opinions differ from ours. 

I have only recently begun to think critically using certain logical skills. While I have been an atheist for at least 5 years, and a pro-lifer since being a teenager, I only began to recently understand what it means to really think critically. What I found was a whole new world of perspective, leading me to fewer sure opinions, more "I-don't-know"s, and increased wonderment at the universe. 

Over the next few weeks, I will be working out the concept of logical fallacies with all of you. I am by no means an expert in logic or critical thinking, but one thing is clear to me when I read any abortion-related article, blog post, or comment thread on the internet: people revel in their own logical fallacies. If you point it out to someone, they likely will not care, or they will change the subject. I used to react this way myself when my own logical fallacies were pointed out, because I was not familiar with the big-picture of logic and critical thinking, nor was I appreciative of them. 

Assertions and Evidence
It is easier to assert without evidence than it is to assert with evidence. Because of this reality, we often employ logical fallacies to "enhance" our assertions. What ends up happening is that assertions are made that the other side can quite easily take down. So we scramble and move on to the next argument, or we try and enhance our position with another logical fallacy. (Sometimes we don't respond or we block people from our Facebook pages, because those things are easier to do than to abandon our original assertions.)

Politicians often rely on logical fallacies and making assertions without evidence. (From xkcd)
We need to make Arguments, not assertions. 
The difference between an argument and an assertion is probably obvious: arguments give reasons for why we believe our position. Logical fallacies come into play here as well--our brains often justify our positions using seemingly-reasonable lines of thought. However, when closely examined, these lines of fault end up being fallacious, and we have to start again. Unless we're on the internet, in which case we're already 200 comments in and it's too late. 


"Abortion is wrong."
This is an assertion. There is no argument, nor is there any evidence. In other words, it sucks.

"Abortion is wrong because God says so." 
This is an argument with unacceptable evidence. There are many gods, many versions of his supposed writings, and many interpretations of those said writings. It is not a compelling argument.

"Abortion is wrong. Many biologists and doctors believe this."
This is an argument with a logical fallacy. Do you know which one? We'll talk about it in the coming posts!

I am writing these posts just as much for me as for those of you who are interested in critical thinking. Personally, I enjoy having my worldview, my beliefs, and my strategies challenged. This series of posts isn't meant to reach out to pro-choicers, nor to every pro-lifer. My hope is that when you encounter a bad argument on either side, you can identify it and (hopefully!) correct it in an effective way. My bigger hope, however, is that you begin to see these logical fallacies in yourself. 

I invite other pro-lifers with more seasoned abilities to contact me with corrections, clarifications, or other thoughts you have. You can reach me by email at

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

SPL on the Atheist Analysis podcast

On Sunday night, SPL appeared on Atheist Analysis for what was intended to be a one-hour podcast. It wound up being closer to two hours. Nobody had any sudden pro-choice to pro-life conversions (or vice versa), but it was a great discussion and we found a lot of common ground. Watch/listen below, and let us know how we did!

Your next chance to catch Secular Pro-Life will be this Saturday at the second annual Vitae et Veritas conference at Yale. Details and registration here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

How does the pro-life movement look to LGBT pro-lifers?

Secular Pro-Life strongly encourages pro-lifers from different backgrounds to seek to understand one another and form coalitions in the fight against abortion. SPL’s main focus, obviously, is on different religious backgrounds. We ask our allies in the pro-life movement to help SPL create space for pro-life secularists and give secularists a stronger voice in the movement. In turn, we feel it’s important that SPL helps give a stronger voice to other non-traditional pro-lifers.

Today’s blog post focuses on the perspectives of LGBT pro-lifers. We interviewed four pro-lifers who identify as follows:

Deanna Unyk, a queer atheist.
Nate Sheets, a gay atheist.
Albany Rose Saindon, a pansexual atheist.
Rachel E., a bisexual Roman Catholic.

SPL does not necessarily agree with every view expressed in this post, but we leave the content unedited in order to give a voice to an element of the pro-life movement that is frequently ignored. We hope the perspectives here will help all of us gain better insight into how the pro-life movement looks to pro-lifers of different sexualities.

How would you define the term "pro-life"?

Deanna: I would define "pro-life" as the position that abortion, in general, ought to be illegal.

Nate: People who are pro-life think that there are better alternatives to ending life in the womb. They have a variety of reasons for believing this.

Albany: “Pro-Life,” to me, is knowing all innocent life is valuable, born and pre-born. I think being pro-life means never being cruel, condemning, or saying harsh words towards abortion-minded or post-abortive men and women. We cannot fit into the stereotype that we simply care about the fetus. We must always show love, kindness, and patience. Without that we won't get very far.

Rachel: Generally, I think being pro-life means respecting the right to life of human beings from fertilization to a natural death.

Some people believe abortion has relatively little effect on the LGBT community. Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

Deanna: I guess my shortest answer would be yes and no. Yes, because those in monogamous homosexual relationships would be less likely to have to deal with unintended pregnancy for obvious reasons. On the other hand, though, bisexuals can be engaged in monogamous heterosexual relationships. Lesbians can still get pregnant from rape and gay men can suffer from the past abortions of former lovers. Trans men who haven't had bottom surgery can still engage in procreative sex and end up pregnant and trans women can get others pregnant if they are having procreative sex. So, the LGBT community is not necessarily immune to unintended pregnancy and thus the legal option of abortion.

It is important to consider also that when LGBT people have an experience with unintended pregnancy they may face different challenges than their straight counterparts. They may view the pregnancy as a blow to their personal identity and there are unique challenges that come with that.

Furthermore, from a pro-life standpoint, abortion is the biggest human rights violation in our society, and I believe anytime one group is being mistreated in a particular society it affects all members of that society. In that sense abortion affects all of us, LGBT people included.

Nate: I guess I can understand that perspective. In some ways, abortion has little to do with us, but you could say the same thing about any other civil rights issue. LGBT people have experienced a history of violence, discrimination, and oppression, and so have the unborn, though in a different way. But no, I don't link the issue of abortion to LGBT rights normally. 

Rachel: I definitely disagree with the notion that abortion has little effect on the LGBT community. I think there’s a general principle that we as people are not insular. We can’t simply say “Oh, that’s someone else’s issue.” Injustice against one community of the human family is an injustice against all people. We are LGBT people and we can help change the world.

Beyond the ideas of solidarity with the entire human community, I think there are a few issues that affect the LGBT community specifically:

If there was a “gay gene” that could be detected before birth, I believe some people would take advantage of that. Some people would have abortions simply because the unborn person would grow up to be an LGBT adult.

Transgender men (people designated at birth as female who identify as men) are a particularly vulnerable population in the current climate. Because many of these men have not transitioned physically, they are capable of being pregnant. This poses so many problems for the individual – most do not feel that, as a man, there should be any pregnancy involved. The result of pregnancy in a transgender man can be extremely dysphoric; their body is performing processes that they’ve tried to escape.

Because of the heteronormative nature of most sexual education programs, LGBT people are far less likely to use forms of protection in their sexual activities. The lesbian and bisexual teen pregnancy rate is 12% higher than heterosexual peers, and they experience twice the risk for unintended pregnancy. It’s not what’s usually expected, but LGBT people do get pregnant.

Additionally, many don’t realize that LGBT people are just as susceptible, if not more susceptible, to rape as heterosexual people are. According to 2013 data from the CDC, lesbians and gay men report lifetime levels of sexual violence equal to those of heterosexuals, and bisexual women actually experience significantly higher rates of sexual violence. We cannot forget the very real fact that LGBT people can also experience pregnancies that result from rape.

Finally, many LGBT people are waiting to adopt children. I don’t think this is the first reason to be pro-life, but I think it’s a good supplementary reason.

How would you describe your own position on abortion? How long have you held that position and how did you arrive at it?

Deanna: I would describe myself as pro-life, because I believe most forms of abortion ought to be illegal. Until about 6 months ago, I was pro-choice and I wrote a blog called "Restringing the Violinist" where I focused on defending bodily rights arguments. So I'm pretty new to the movement.

I’ve long thought that unborn children are valuable human persons, but I remained pro-choice because of my view of bodily autonomy. Changing my mind took time and involved many different factors. I still believe that women have the right to refuse to allow other people to use their bodies as life-support. As a result, to me, abortion is an issue that involves a conflict of rights: the mother’s right to refuse and the unborn child's right to (a) not be killed and (b) not have his or her bodily rights violated by being dismembered.

When I was pro-choice my view was similar to David Boonin’s view in his book “A Defense of Abortion.” I believed abortion did not violate the right to life of the unborn child because I believed (and still believe) the right to life does not include the right to use someone else's body to survive. However, I also believe the right to life does include the right to not be killed, and most abortions do actively kill the unborn. Thus, abortion does violate the unborn’s right to life in most cases. Additionally, in surgical abortions the unborn child is often dismembered, and I think bodily rights should really include the right to not be dismembered. In the end I couldn't justify legalized abortion to protect the mother’s bodily rights when the bodily rights and the right to life of the unborn child are violated during an abortion.

Even then I didn't immediately convert to the pro-life side. Being pro-choice was a big part of my personal identity. I identify as a liberal person. But what kind of liberal is against abortion? I think I had this fear in my mind that there wasn't a place for a queer atheist in the pro-life movement. I think deep down I worried that if I wanted to be active in the movement I would have to be surrounded by a bunch of religious old men that would constantly harass me to convert or tell me that my "lifestyle" makes God want to vomit.

So, in addition to the pro-life arguments, my friendship with Josh Brahm was also instrumental in my conversion. Josh and I had been friends for about a year and he remains one of the kindest and most open-minded people I know. Being friends with Josh helped break down the pro-life stereotypes in my mind. Although he never told me explicitly, I knew that I would have an ally in the pro-life movement who would love and accept me for who I was. So I ended up "coming out" again, this time as a pro-lifer. 

Nate: I have a very conflicted opinion on abortion. The issue is framed so there’s a dichotomy between a woman's bodily integrity and a fetus' right to not be dismembered. I am conflicted because I believe strongly in both, and yet there often seems to be an impasse between the two. To me, abortion addresses the issue of bodily autonomy, but in all the wrong ways. 

I used to have a more typical pro-life stance, but now as an atheist and lover of science, my position is much less firm as I see all of the grays that this issue presents. In many ways, I do not blame a woman who gets an abortion because, at least on the surface, there appears to be no alternative that will not ruin the woman's life. People do what they feel like they have to do. Pro-lifers try and present other options, but the pro-choice movement also works with a different agenda.

But, when push comes to shove, I simply cannot fathom the logic that leads people to be okay with dismembering a fetus. As a society, we should be beyond this--we are killing our own children, with the excuse that they are occupying our space? Who the hell do we think we are?

Albany: When it comes to abortion I am no exceptions Pro-Life. Outside of ectopic pregnancies, which most pro-lifers I know do not consider abortions, I do not agree that a situation can justify taking an innocent life. I have held my pro-life beliefs for almost three years now, after being pro-choice for almost my whole life before converting. Shortly after turning 16, I was coerced into an abortion, which lead me down a destructive path and ultimately made me feel like I had to be pro-choice to justify what I had allowed to happen. I ended up becoming pro-life after seeing the ultrasound of our first daughter. Her heartbeat, her little movements, it was like everything I had believed prior about the fetus and abortion came crumbling down all around me.

Rachel: I was raised in a pro-life family, and I don’t know if I ever had any sort of eureka moment. I think as I got older, my views became more mature and nuanced. I learned about the larger complexities of the issue. I certainly believe that when I started blogging about the issues my views became much more firm and I was far more knowledgeable about abortion and the pro-life movement in general.

Have you interacted much with the overall pro-life movement (e.g. walks, rallies, meetings, protests, political activities, sidewalk counseling, pregnancy centers, etc.)? If so, how has that gone? If not, why not?

Deanna: In the time that I've been pro-life I've gone to the Alberta March for Life and I went to an apologetics seminar put on by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform.

The March for Life made me feel somewhat alienated. I wore a shirt with a short pro-life argument on the front and "Atheist for Life" on the back. Most of the speakers were quite religious and a number of them said things I really found offensive. For example, one of the first speakers (I believe he was a priest) said something along the lines of, "The pro-life position is religious in nature, so in order to recruit people to our cause we need to work really hard to convert as many people as we can!" The most disheartening part about that statement was the thunderous applause it elicited from my fellow pro-lifers. Another speaker said something like, "Concepts like the right to life and intrinsic human value are grounded in Christianity, so we can't appeal to them when talking to secularists." Towards the end of the rally they included about 20 minutes of a Ukrainian Catholic mass (translated to English).

In some ways this March was pretty difficult for me. I see religion and sexuality as somewhat connected. A big part of what made coming out as queer difficult for me was my parents’ reactions, and their reactions were grounded, at least partly, in religion. So religion in general, and the Ukrainian Catholic faith in particular, can trigger my anger over unfair judgment toward my sexuality and fear I once had that God hated me. It was already difficult to be new to the pro-life movement and not having anyone in my city to go to this pro-life event with me. To then be surrounded by triggers and to see speakers act as if pro-lifers like me don't exist made the experience even more exhausting.

However, the March for Life wasn't entirely a negative experience. A man behind me saw my shirt and went out of his way to tell me that he was glad I was there. One speaker mentioned the importance of including secularists in the movement and trying to appeal to them. I was also texting Josh at the time and he was very encouraging and he seemed to be exited that I was already getting involved in the movement. I was also encouraged by the number of young people who attended. A girl, who appeared to be in high school, gave me a sign that looked homemade and read "A Person's a Person No Matter How Small" and I held it up while I longboarded alongside my fellow pro-life marchers.  I was also invited to go to an apologetics seminar put on by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform, which was exciting for me.

A few months after the March I ended up attending the seminar. This was a much more positive experience for me. The speakers were extremely gracious and they emphasized the importance of finding common ground and treating pro-choice people with the respect that all persons deserve. It was also secular, which I appreciated. The tone of the seminar leaders was incredibly kind. I like to say "they oozed kindness" but oozing is clearly the wrong word. I disagreed with some of the arguments they taught, but I did learn a lot and it was helpful just to be surrounded by like-minded people who are passionate about helping others. 

Nate: I have not participated in a mainstream pro-life event for several years. As an atheist, I don't want to feel like I'm at a church service. As a lover of science, I get frustrated with how many pro-lifers say "We have science on our side!" when, in reality, the majority of them have little understanding or interest in "science" beyond some fetal developmental milestones. The irony of the religion with the science rhetoric being all in the same place is too much. So I don’t participate in the mainstream movement, but I currently admin a large Atheist/Agnostic (and LGBT-friendly) pro-life group on Facebook. [If you'd like to join this Facebook group, please read the About section first.]

It is also difficult to participate in one issue with a group of people who you know fight against you on another. In some cases, anti-LGBT rhetoric peppers the conversations at these events. Pro-lifers have this idea that the Right to Life trumps everything else, so any other conflicts are considered secondary. But the fact is, my equal rights and protection under the law are important to me, and to have people who claim to stand up for the rights of "everyone" (meaning, fetuses) while they have disapproval in their hearts and discrimination in their votes against people like me is not something I can easily get past. Thankfully, I am seeing more and more pro-LGBT pro-lifers these days.

Albany: The greatest interaction I have in the pro-life movement (as I'm a stay at home mom with few ways to travel) is that I have become a YouTube vlogger. It has allowed me to reach tens of thousands of people all from my own home. I did participate in one walk for life here in Denver, but truthfully it was disappointing. Right after I told my story and shortly before we began the walk, speakers starting talking about traditional marriage and, "don't forget to vote against [a marriage equality] bill." It was disheartening how they so easily shunned people at an event that had nothing to do with one’s sexuality. The pro-life movement should be about coming together to protect life and should not be used as a billboard for other beliefs. I do enjoy, however, going out to the Planned Parenthood in the next town up and holding a sign that reads, "I Regret My Abortion." While there are negative comments, the overall reaction is positive, and it is clear when it makes someone think.

Rachel: My first activism for the pro-life movement was when I was about seven or so. My mom brought me to a “rosary rally” event, and we passed out the “precious feet” pins and bumper stickers. Right now my biggest activism is done through my blogging on Tumblr. I’ve got about 1,095 followers now. I’ve been to the March for Life in 2013, and over the summer I had an internship with Life Matters Journal.

How accessible is the pro-life movement for you? How could it be more accessible? What are some ways other pro-lifers could make LGBT people feel welcome? 

Deanna: I feel like the pro-life movement needs to work on welcoming LGBT people. Being more inclusive in their language and maybe turning down the volume on the religious aspect could be really helpful. Even saying things like "although I think homosexuality is morally wrong, we welcome everyone into the movement including those from all sexual orientations. We appreciate you being here" would go a long way. Using arguments that appeal to all people regardless of religious or sexual identity would also be extremely helpful. Having other LGBT pro-life role models would be great, so I think those who are already in the movement need to work on finding each other and being more visible. 

Nate: The movement is somewhat accessible. Thanks to social media, there are many smaller groups that you can join that fit what you're looking for. However, if the pro-life movement started leaving their religion at home instead of bringing it to the events, that would be a good start, as well as sticking to abortion and not bringing up gay marriage or other non-related issues. More room for nuanced views--or at least discussion--of abortion would be awesome, too. 

Albany: Truthfully, the pro-life movement isn't very accessible to me outside of my home. While there are some speakers that travel occasionally in the area, and groups go to pray outside clinics, there are not many options for me. However, going back to my vlogging and public pro-life speaker page, it allows me to connect in a more accessible way. I do wish I knew more people in the area who were open to simply traveling short distances to hold signs with me, to sidewalk counsel, or even pro-life chalk.

I firmly believe that if more religious pro-lifers would stop tying in outside beliefs of the church to abortion, such as views on homosexuality or competition with other religious beliefs, it would allow more in the LGBT community to open up and listen. I think many in religion have dug themselves into a hole by perpetuating the stereotype that they want nothing to do with someone who is gay, when in reality many religious people will happily work alongside the LGBT community to help end abortion. The movement simply needs to vocalize that more through love.

Rachel: With the pro-life circles I associate with, it’s been no problem for me. However, when I venture out from more secular and open groups, people can become less than accepting. Some are outright hostile, but many are just patronizing about the LGBT community. Many of the traditional Christian pro-life groups seem to pity us or think that somehow they’re better. I think if many people thought “Let’s leave the sexuality out of it and work on the commonalities,” we could feel more included. We’re queer, and we’re pro-life. I don’t see why there should be any contradictions there.

Friday, September 12, 2014

VIDEO: Monday's presentation at College of Wooster

I had a great time at College of Wooster. It's a very, very small school, so I wasn't expecting a University of Georgia-sized crowd (which is good, because I didn't get one). But what the audience lacked in quantity, they more than made up for in quality. It was a mixed group—pro-life and not, secular and not—and the Q & A session was seriously fantastic. We discussed everything from IVF to adoption, and all with the utmost respect for one another. These students are a definite credit to their school.

Anyway, enough of my rambling. Enjoy the video:

And if you can't get enough of Secular Pro-Life, we'll be live on the Atheist Analysis podcast this Sunday at 11pm Eastern.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How abortion is like anti-rape nail polish

[Today's guest post is by pro-life feminist Caitlin Fikes.]

Recently there’s been a lot of media attention on a group of male college students who invented a nail polish that changes colors when it comes into contact with the most common date rape drug. Various media outlets have hailed the invention as an incredible breakthrough that will protect women from being raped.

However, many feminists and anti-rape activists have raised some very valid criticisms of the nail polish, its implications, and the kind of attention it’s getting. While the nail polish may indeed prevent some women from getting raped (and obviously, every rape avoided is a Good Thing), examining this invention in the context of rape culture still raises important concerns. For example, every precaution that places the onus on women to employ an ever-growing anti-rape checklist raises the possibility of victim-blaming: should this product become widespread, whenever a woman is drugged and raped there will invariably be voices saying, “This could have been avoided if only she was wearing her anti-roofie nail polish. How irresponsible.”

What does this have to do with abortion, you ask? You may be surprised to find that there are many parallels between the criticisms feminists levy against this nail polish and the criticisms pro-life feminists raise about the prevalence of abortion.

1. It fails to address the root causes of the problem. 
The anti-rape nail polish is a reactive, not a proactive, attempt to solve the problem of rape. The ultimate cause of rape is—shocker—rapists; more specifically, men (and yes, while both women and men can be victims of rape, the great majority of rapists are male) who are raised to believe that they are entitled to sex with whomever they choose and that it’s not really “rape” if the other person isn’t kicking and screaming. We live in a culture in which rapists are almost never punished for their actions in any way, and therefore they learn that they can coerce, rape, and sexually assault without consequences. The new nail polish won’t change our society. It just tries to make sure rape happens to someone other than you. The fact that this nail polish exists and is felt necessary is a sign that rape culture is rampant—not a way to fix it.

Abortion is also a reactive, not a proactive, attempt to solve the problems women face. Women feel driven to abort for many reasons: financial concerns, lack of emotional support, lack of adequate parental leave and childcare, an inflexible work schedule or class schedule, bosses that are unsympathetic to parents, lack of welfare programs, lack of societal support for teenage parents or unmarried parents... the list goes on.

Abortion doesn’t solve any of those problems. Abortion doesn’t change the fact that the United States is one of the only countries in the world without guaranteed paid maternity leave, or that women are much more likely than men to be in poverty, or that single mothers face disproportionately large financial difficulties. Pushing abortion as a solution for one woman’s crisis pregnancy won’t stop other women from facing the same situation, just as using nail polish to prevent one rape won’t stop other women from being raped. As Feminists for Life of America like to say, abortion is a symptom of the problems women face, not the solution.

2. It has existed throughout history and hasn’t solved anything yet. 
Anti-rape devices are not new. Anti-rape tampons and anti-rape condoms made the rounds of the Internet a while ago, but really anti-rape devices have always existed and go all the way back to metal underwear and chastity belts. Thousands of years later, rape still exists and is going strong in our “modern and civilized” society.

Abortion, too, has always existed. Women who become pregnant in a situation that is hostile to that fact have always found ways to terminate the pregnancy—and obviously, some ways are more unsafe than others. Abortion activists use this fact to say “Abortion has always existed and always will, so all we can do is make it safe and legal.” But when I hear that, it sounds suspiciously similar to when rape apologists say, “Rape has always existed and always will, so all we can do is give women ways to stay safe and protect themselves.” And to both statements, my answer is the same: “Yes, it has always existed, but it doesn’t have to. We don’t have to give up and accept defeat. We can make a change. We can do better.”

3. It detracts from real efforts to enact widespread change. 
There are many anti-rape activists working their asses off to make a change. They strive to educate about consent, that “Yes means Yes” and silence means “No.” That “We’ve had sex before!” doesn’t mean “Yes.” That “But she was flirting with me!” doesn’t mean “Yes.” That “But she wanted to make out!” doesn’t mean “Yes.” That bullying, harassing, or coercing someone into sex doesn’t mean “Yes.” There are so, so many great programs across the nation working to educate, to empower survivors, to push for rape survivors to be believed and for rapists to be punished, to dispel myths about “legitimate rape” and the “stranger in a dark alley” stereotype. Did you hear about the new law in California defining rape as the “absence of a Yes” instead of the “presence of a No”? Good stuff!

But somehow, none of these great efforts seem to get the same media attention and praise as that damn nail polish. And then when feminists speak out and say “Hey, this isn’t going to solve the real problem, let’s focus most of our effort on ultimate solutions,” they face vicious backlash and accusations of wanting women to be raped! The truth is, our society is much more comfortable centering conversations about preventing rape on which measures the potential victims ought to take instead of how to make a society in which such crimes almost never occur at all, and that’s frustrating.

Similarly, when feminists spend so much time and money fighting laws that protect women against coerced abortions or require higher safety standards for abortion clinics or prohibit abortions after a certain point of fetal development, they are drawing attention and energy away from the real solutions. There are groups such as Feminists for Life of America, for example, encouraging college campuses to provide better resources to pregnant and parenting students so that young women won’t have to choose between abandoning their education or getting an abortion.

But not all of the organizations working to solve the problems women face in our society are pro-life. Many feminist organizations fight for things pro-lifers and pro-choicers can agree on, such as better financial support for mothers and less discrimination in the workplace (i.e. putting women on the “mommy track” and passing them by for promotions).

One of the most important ongoing efforts, I think, is the one to sever the parental rights of rapists/abusers. When a woman becomes pregnant by rape and her rapist can threaten to sue for custody if she doesn’t drop the rape charges, or be part of her life via their shared child for 18 years, or legally block her attempts to give the child up for adoption, then abortion really does seem like her only choice. There are dedicated feminists working right now to change this.

But none of those other causes seem to be as well-known or praised as the effort to keep abortion legal in all circumstances. In fact, I would never have known about all of the important work feminists are doing on a variety of fronts if I had not been introduced to the idea of pro-life feminism. I initially saw feminism as a staunchly pro-choice movement, frighteningly so, and that turned me off from finding out any more about them or what they do. Once I became aware that there is a place in feminism for the pro-life prospective, I began to investigate and was astonished to find that I am fully on board with mainstream feminism on literally every other topic. I now am proud to call myself a feminist and am proud of what our movement has accomplished and seeks to accomplish, but the truth remains that the boldly pro-choice face that feminism wears publicly covers up the good they are doing.

I am a passionate pro-life feminist, but I long for the day when the descriptor “pro-life” does not have to be included to clarify the term “feminist.” It seems clear to me that feminism, with its main principles of nonviolence, justice, and nondiscrimination, naturally lends itself to a pro-life position.

I hope that some of my fellow feminists will read this post and perhaps reconsider their position on abortion, especially if they are already critical of the anti-rape nail polish. The comparison is not perfect, of course, but at its core I believe they are comparable. Women need real, permanent solutions, not temporary band-aids that do not address the heart of the matter.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Primer on Perinatal Hospice

[Editor's note: Texas gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis recently disclosed that she had an abortion after her daughter was prenatally diagnosed with a neurological disorder. This post had already been written and the timing is a coincidence.]

Last week, in 8 Things "After Tiller" Left Out, we made the point that although the film emphasizes cases in which the unborn baby has an extremely serious health condition and is unlikely to survive long after birth, such extreme circumstances are not the majority of late-term abortions.

One our readers responded:
I am continuously disappointed in the pro life movement that supposedly "cares so much about women" for not taking a second to recognize these devastating situations and the heart break the families endure. Everyone is so quick to dismantle every shred of compassion they felt during the film, but that does a great injustice to the brave people who bared their soul in order to show us what these experiences are really like. . . . [You can] still be pro life, uphold the unborn, and show love to families who also wanted life and love for their babies but that chance was ripped away from them, and they will never be the same again.
Of course, she's 100% right. Pro-lifers were right to be angry about the pro-abortion misrepresentations being propagated with their tax dollars on PBS, but the needs of families hit with a lethal prenatal diagnosis got lost in the shouting.

As pro-lifers, we naturally focus on the fact that abortion kills; the assumption is that in the absence of abortion, the child's life is saved. That assumption is usually valid—but, tragically, not always.

I am not speaking here of prenatal diagnoses like Down Syndrome or cystic fibrosis; people with disabilities deserve the chance to live and the pro-life movement is right to condemn the high rates of abortion for such conditions. But in situations where the child is bound to die within days, hours, or even minutes of birth, abortion may be viewed not as homicide, but as a mere matter of timing. You can still argue that it's wrong, but at the very least, we must acknowledge that abortion in such cases is ethically murkier than the typical abortion chosen for socioeconomic reasons.

Society writ large has failed to appreciate the unique struggles of families facing lethal prenatal diagnoses. In these situations, the societal pressure to have an abortion can be immense:
The Children’s Hospitals [perinatal hospice] program here [in Minneapolis] is called Deeya, Sanskrit for “a small light.” Since 2001, Deeya has served six to eight families a year, who mostly hear of it from genetic counselors and midwives. At the Birth Center of United Hospital in St. Paul, about 24 families a year choose the perinatal hospice approach.

The numbers are growing but small, said Jody Chrastek, Deeya’s director, because many health care workers do not know the program exists, and some doctors are hostile to families continuing the pregnancies.

“Some have been told they’re wasting their time for a baby that would be dead anyway,” [author and perinatal hospice advocate Amy] Kuebelbeck said. “Some have been told they’re wasting the doctor’s time.”
People often say painful things to the family without even realizing it:
Many have family and friends who are mystified as to why a couple would continue a pregnancy knowing their child will die. Loved ones often fear that by continuing on, the parents are simply delaying their grief or torturing themselves. What will they say to strangers who casually ask if the nursery is ready? And what if bringing the baby into this world causes the child suffering?
But for some, the pregnancy feels precious because it may be the only time they’ll get to be with that child, says [genetic counselor Cheri] Schoonveld. “I think most people who have continued want to experience as much time with the baby as possible and want to hopefully meet the baby.”
Other families may have religious reasons that guide their choice. Sometimes parents may hold out a hope that somehow the terminal diagnosis was wrong. And others just don’t want to be the one who decides when their baby dies.
“Don’t assume we’re Luddites or religious fanatics,” Kuebelbeck says. “Don’t assume we’re saints. We’re just parents doing the best we can.”
In addition, parents may reject abortion because giving birth to the child allows the family to arrange for organ donation; although the child's life is brief, he or she can leave a tremendous legacy by saving the lives of other newborns.

The chief way to meet these families' extensive needs is through perinatal hospice programs. These programs are much like a regular hospice, but specialize in patients who have not yet been born. They help parents make arrangements for the birth and death of the child so that they can maximize their one-on-one interaction with the child for whatever short time they have. They help parents, the baby's siblings, and other family members grieve. They help arrange for organ donations. In a word, they practice compassion.

For more information, I highly recommend Although not officially a pro-life project, the website collects crucial resources for parents who reject abortion in these tragic circumstances.