Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Gisella Perl

Earlier this month we received an email from a supporter named Sarah, who wrote in with a suggestion for a blog topic:
I don't know if anyone's done a piece on Gisella Perl, but I find her to be fascinating. She was a Jewish gynecologist forced to work as a doctor in Auschwitz, and one of her tasks was to report every pregnant woman in Auschwitz to Josef Mengele. Of course, we know that Mengele would use pregnant women for vivisections before killing them and disposing of them because he had a particular fascination with experimenting on pregnant females (as well as twins, people with physical abnormalities, dwarves, etc). Gisella Perl revealed that she would secretly perform abortions on Jewish women in Auschwitz in order to protect them from torture by human experimentation.
My first, immediate thought was: "Yes-- this is protecting someone from cruel and unusual (as well as unwarranted) punishment, and she saved so many lives by doing so. The tragedy lies not in the fact that there were abortions necessarily (though that is a tragedy!), but in that hiding pregnancies by destroying the fetus was the only way for these women to escape vivisection and experimentation."
I felt pretty okay about this until someone commented on the post where I learned about Gisella Perl: "I want to nail this to the forehead of every anti-abortionist who uses the word 'Holocaust' when talking about legal abortions." It really got me thinking about language and Gisella Perl.
I'm in complete agreement with Sarah that Gisella Perl's actions were not immoral. The circumstances of the Holocaust were so unimaginably twisted, and its victims' options were so limited, that the normal framework of rights and responsibilities is utterly useless here. Survival comes first. I would go so far as to say that Gisella Perl didn't kill those children; Mengele did.

I'm also baffled by the abortion supporter's comment. How, exactly, does this horrible story advance the cause of "choice," when there was no real choice to speak of, no possibility that the babies would live?

Mengele's torture didn't end with pregnant mothers. He also had a sick fascination with twins and performed horrific, painful, lethal experiments on them. If Mengele were about to go after a pair of school-aged twins, would it be wrong to kill the twins quickly and painlessly? That's not an easy question.* But I know one thing for sure: the answer wouldn't tell us a damn thing about the morality of killing twins in general.

Pro-lifers are fond of pointing out that after World War II, Joseph Mengele became an abortionist. But so did Holocaust survivor Henry Morgantaler, best known for eliminating all abortion laws in Canada. I posit that, again, this tells us next to nothing.

Ultimately, Gisella Perl's story is worth learning about in its own right, rather than because it teaches us some great lesson about abortion (which it doesn't). We should learn as much as we can about the Holocaust in order to honor the memories of those who perished, and for no other reason; certainly not to gain political points.

The Holocaust is sui generis. Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, the only appropriate reaction is horror.

*I'm inclined to say no, it wouldn't be wrong.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Important news from across the pond

For those of us in the United States, November 4th is election day. Of particular concern to pro-lifers, the November 4th election will determine control of the Senate, which approves Supreme Court nominees. Given the age of some of our current Justices, both pro- and anti-abortion, there's no telling what could happen between now and the beginning of the next presidential administration.

But November 4th is a significant day for pro-lifers in the U.K. as well. On that day, a bill on sex-selective abortion will be introduced to Parliament.

According to Stop Gendercide, the bill is needed to address significant ambiguity in the law:
Recently, it has emerged that the terms of the Abortion Act have been so widely interpreted that they may even permit an abortion on ground of fetal sex.
The three biggest institutions representing those who regulate and perform the majority of abortions in the UK all disagree on sex-selective abortion. The Government argues that 'abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal'. However, the British Medical Association disagrees, arguing that there are sometimes mental health grounds for a sex-selective abortion. The British Pregnancy Advisory (BPAS) disagrees with both the Government’s and BMA’s interpretations of the law. In their literature, still available on their website, they pose the question ‘Is abortion for reasons of fetal sex illegal under the Abortion Act?' They answer 'No. The law is silent on the matter'.
The bill is designed to "remove all doubt" that sex-selective abortion is illegal.

The U.K. has a well-documented sex-selective abortion problem. A recent undercover investigation by the Telegraph found that abortion for sex selection was available "with no questions asked," and that abortion business staff "were prepared to falsify paperwork to arrange the procedures." (What I would give to have similar media-led investigations in the United States. Instead, the mainstream media is so stubbornly supportive of abortion that the pro-life movement has to conduct those investigations itself; hence the existence of Live Action.)

If you live in the U.K., Stop Gendercide encourages you to write to your MP in support of the bill. And they encourage everyone, around the world, to support the campaign on social media.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Watch Crescendo for free on YouTube

Crescendo is a pro-life short film that was produced a couple of years ago. I got to see it early and thought it was excellent, especially where production values are concerned. However, it was not made widely available initially, because the producers were screening it at fundraisers for pregnancy resource centers. (It reportedly raised over $5 million!)

They've finally made it available on YouTube. A couple of introductory notes:
  1. When I say "short film," it's very short: fifteen minutes, to be precise. So don't expect it to answer every pro-choice objection. If you're looking for something more in-depth, try 40. This is just a "get-people-thinking" type of film.
  2. Crescendo is entirely secular (hooray!) and based on a true story.
  3. We've previously criticized the pro-life argument that abortion is wrong because it takes the lives of people who would have made a great contribution to the world (a la "we've aborted the cure for cancer."). But again, Crescendo is historical, and I can't really fault them for choosing an inspirational person for its subject.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Slippery Slopes: Good for Emotions, Bad for Logic

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

Slippery slope arguments allow a person to ignore the issue being presented, and to speculate about potential consequences that will arise if their opponents win or are correct. The supposed possibilities posed are meant to emotionally move people to take a stand against their opponent. This is a logical fallacy if the person making the slippery slope comment cannot provide evidence for their theory, or if the slippery slope argument ignores the point the other party is making altogether.

There is hardly a controversial issue in which slippery-slope arguments are not used. "If we allow gay marriage," some may say, "Then soon people will be able to get married to animals!" Or, "If we label GMO foods, then soon they will be banned altogether!" 

Some slippery slope assertions may very well end up being true, but that doesn't matter--when arguing for a position, one must use evidence, not scary speculation, to prove one's point. 

Additionally, wondering whether or not a certain position will lead to other extreme or possible conclusions is absolutely valid. We live in a world where one cause being victorious paves the way for other, semi-related causes to have a go at it. But still, if no evidence is presented, then the slippery slope is being used fallaciously. Not to mention saying, "If we ban all abortions thousands of women will die!" does not address the argument of "Killing a fetus is analogous to killing a newborn". This is an example of using a slippery slope to avoid addressing an argument.  

Below are some examples that I thought of that I have seen in the abortion debate. Do you have any examples of your own?

Pro-Choice Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"Allowing for parental notifications will lead to a complete ban on abortion!"  Parental notification laws and abortion bans are two different things, and serve two different purposes. While there may be legitimate issues with parental notification laws, speculating that enacting one will lead to further degradation of pro-choice laws does not address the argument for parental notification laws.

Pro-Life Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"If we teach teenagers about sex, then they will have more sex and abortion will increase." This is speculation, not an argument against sex education. Even if it were true, would that mean that teenagers do not deserve to have knowledge about sexuality?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Justifications for Abortion are Inherently Ableist

More on the backstory of this photo here
[Today's guest post by Rebecca Stapleford is part of our paid blogging program.]

Recently, certain disabled pro-choicers have started to protest the ableist language and ableist assumptions about a disabled person’s quality of life used by the pro-choice movement in order to promote late-term abortion. Lenzi Sheible, a disabled woman writing for RH Reality Check, points out that such assumptions hurt disabled people who are already born, saying that:
When we rely on that stance, we’re trading on discourse that says, “No one would want to live if they had disabilities like those,” or “No one would want to take care of children with those kinds of disabilities.” What does that say about the people who are living with disabilities like those? That they should have never been born? 
While Sheible realizes that the ableism present in the pro-choice movement manifests itself in ableist beliefs about disabled people who are already born and alienates potential disabled supporters of the pro-choice movement, she fails to realize that the ideological structure that the pro-choice movement relies upon is inherently ableist.

The pro-choice movement insists that the unborn are not persons, for a myriad of reasons. However, all of these reasons are based on functionalism, which is the belief that what you are currently able to do is what makes you a person, not who you are. For instance, some pro-choicers will insist that the ability to have rational thought is what makes you a person. Now let’s completely set aside the fact that this would make infants non-persons, since they are not yet capable of rational thought, and let’s focus on the functionalism inherit in such a statement. It presumes that what makes us all equally human and equally deserving of human rights is the ability to think on a certain level, and excludes from the definition of a human person those who cannot. It is no different than saying that in order to be a human person, one should be able to produce insulin, and that therefore diabetics are not human persons. It should be obvious by now that functionalism is merely a certain form of ableism.

Often, the ableist reasons given for denying personhood to fetuses and embryos would also deny personhood to disabled or temporarily impaired human beings that are already born, if abortion supporters were logically consistent. For instance, a more common reason given for excluding the unborn from personhood is that fact that they cannot survive on their own. However, not only does this rhetoric degrade dignity of those who need constant assistance from others in order to survive, it also would deny personhood to a conjoined twin like Anastasia Dogaru, who cannot be separated from her twin Tatiana and who depends on Tatiana’s kidneys in order to survive. Another common reason given for excluding the unborn from personhood is the fact that they lack consciousness. However, if taken consistently, such logic would exclude a temporarily comatose patient from personhood, since a comatose person has brain damage that prevents consciousness. Even such a seemingly minimal requirement as sentience, which is defined as either the quality or state of being sentient; consciousness or feeling as distinguished from perception or thought, probably excludes most temporarily comatose patients, since they lack all awareness of their environment, lack the ability to respond to even the most painful stimuli, and many recovered coma patients say that they felt nothing at all while in a comatose state. Even saying that it is enough to have been conscious previously in order to be considered a person excludes an infant born in even a temporarily comatose state.

The entire ideology of the disability rights movement is based respecting the humanity and the rights of all people, regardless of level of functionality. Those who need extra assistance in order to survive and to have a good life have the right to that assistance, even if that means that extra effort must be taken to ensure that a public space is accessible or that a disabled person has access to the care that they need. Indeed, some disability rights activists, such as myself, would say that a person like Anastasia Dogaru not only has a right to care, but also the right not to be forced to undergo a lethal separation surgery by a person like her sister Tatiana, whose body she depends upon for survival. This contradicts sharply with the ideology of the pro-choice movement, which holds that only certain human organisms who have already achieved a certain level of functionality can be considered human persons who are entitled to the basic human right not to have their bodily autonomy violated by being dismembered or poisoned. True opposition to all forms of ableism means opposing the functionalism used to justify denying the humanity of the unborn,
and embracing the unborn’s right to life and to care.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Your answers to the difference between "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion."

In order to change people's minds, we need to understand what people think in the first place.

Many pro-lifers who insist there's no significant difference between the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion," but clearly the other side disagrees. You've probably heard people who support legal abortion get angry or frustrated if others try to label them as "pro-abortion," or insist that "no one is 'pro-abortion'." Why do they react that way?

In an effort to explore our own understanding of the other side's position, we recently asked Secular Pro-Life Facebook followers, "How would you describe the difference between someone being 'pro-choice' and someone being 'pro-abortion'?"

We had many responses from pro-lifers who believe there's no difference between the labels. However, I'm more interested in the pro-lifers trying to understand the other side's point of view. I include excerpts from those pro-lifers here, but first, a few caveats:
  • Some of the posts are edited for length or grammar.
  • I believe the people I'm quoting are pro-life, but it's possible some are pro-choice, as our Facebook page is public and anyone can comment.
  • I'm not suggesting that any one of the below answers is exactly correct. I'm only presenting the answers so we pro-lifers can consider the distinctions and so any pro-choicer reading can see how they may be viewed by those on our side who recognize a difference. It'd be interesting to see a similar compilation but with answers from only abortion rights advocates.
Anyway, on to the answers:

Clinton: Someone who believes abortion is a good thing and that there should be more abortions is pro-abortion. Someone who believes abortion is a necessary evil but that the option should be available for women is pro-choice.

Kim: I believe there are people personally opposed to abortion but who legitimately don't want to impose their beliefs on others.

Grace: "Pro-choice" means they wish abortion didn't happen a lot, but they believe that the option should be open for women in tough spots. "Pro-abortion" means they think abortion is pretty much okay no matter what. There are way fewer of the latter.

Diana: People who are pro-abortion think that abortion has value independent of what the woman wants. For example, they think there's justification for the forced abortions in China. People who are pro-choice think that any woman who does not want to have an abortion should not be pressured/forced to do so, regardless of other circumstances.

Josh: One thinks that abortion should be legal, and the other thinks abortion is a good thing and/or something that should be encouraged or in some extreme cases forced.

Conner: A pro-choice person holds that while abortion may not be a good thing, it's something that we should allow individuals to do because people should be free to make their own decisions regardless of whether or not we agree with them. Judith Jarvis Thompson's violinist thought experiment is an example of a pro-choice argument. ...

A pro-abortion argument, by contrast, justifies abortion by characterizing it as a good thing either in and of itself or because it has a positive consequence. The consequences may be positive for the woman, for women in general, or for society. Some eugenic arguments even characterize it as good for the victim: the child will be born unwanted, might have a birth defect, or there's some other reason he/she will live a life unworthy of living.

Ken: Very few people are pro-abortion, and even fewer self-identify as such. Most are pro-choice.

Nicholas: Arguing that abortion is a positive good or that it should be destigmatised and/or subsidized vs. merely thinking it should be legal.

Stephanie: "Pro-choice" is vague. It can mean someone who is personally pro-life, or supports abortion in extreme circumstances--life of the mother, for instance. It can mean someone who does not want to get involved in others' lives. "Pro-choice" can also mean someone who supports abortion in any and all circumstances.

"Pro-abortion" is someone who is very in favor of abortion and may use it as their sole form of birth control or "If I get pregnant, I will abort no matter what!"

Sanlee: "Pro-choice" is for people making their own choices about pregnancy (even if it favors abortion) and "pro-abortion" is for people who do not respect your choice if you choose life. Pro- abortion people vandalize Facebook and website pages of women who had disabled babies (because they think that those women should have aborted). They terrorize parents of Downs children and vandalize pro-life pregnancy clinics and displays. Basically pro-choice people believe that you should make your own decision and pro-aborts want to make that decision for you, and they want women to abort.

Jacob: "Pro-choice" is supporting choices including abortion but also the choices of child birth, adoption, and birth control and choices regarding your body away from abortion and child birth, such as body piercing, tattoos, and liberty of your own body. "Pro-abortion" is supporting termination of a pregnancy and the removal of a fetus from the womb.

Elizabeth: "Pro-choice" might find third trimester abortions disgusting. "Pro-abortion" says the child is not human until birth and doesn't want "defective" babies to be born.

Sarah: I would probably draw a line in what they think the options are. "Pro-choice" is someone who thinks that when a woman gets pregnant, the woman has several options, one of which includes abortion. Pro-choice people argue that, in the face of an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy, abortion should be available as an option, but they'll support the woman in whatever she chooses and fight for there to be good options for her. I think that in this way a lot of them are like pro-life people, just with one more option on the table.

"Pro-abortion" advocates argue that in the face of an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, abortion should be the first and sometimes only option. This is where rhetoric like "every child a wanted child" comes in; every child is wanted, just perhaps not immediately. If the desire isn't immediate, I would imagine that a pro-abortion advocate would consider abortion to be the best option.

Laurie: Pro-choice but anti-abortion: might include believing abortion is wrong, but also believing it is an issue that is complicated and should be left as a decision of the woman rather than banned universally by law. Pro-abortion but anti-choice would include China, with women pregnant with one child already, forced by the government to abort a child they wanted.

You can also click here to see the full range of responses on the FB page.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Report from Fordham

Me (second from left) chillin' with Respect for Life officers
Your SPL president Kelsey Hazzard here. On Saturday evening, I spoke at Fordham University in the Bronx, where I was hosted by the wonderful young men and women of Fordham University Respect for Life. Unexpectedly, the audience was entirely pro-life.* This rarely happens when I speak at a college campus—there are usually at least a few pro-choicers who are curious and/or dedicated enough to show up, which is what makes the Q & A sessions so fun—and the presentation is prepared with a mixed audience in mind. So I went off-script and we wound up having a fabulous conversation about pro-life strategy, leadership skills, and relational apologetics.

And that's why there's no video of the talk. Sorry.

This was our last speaking engagement for the fall semester. Student groups, it's never too early to start planning for the spring! If you're part of a student pro-life organization and want an SPL speaker to come to your campus (me for the east coast, my colleague Monica Snyder for the west coast), start the process by sending an email to We're very affordable: you pay travel costs only, no honorarium, and we'll even stay in the dorms so you don't have to pay for a hotel.

Our next events will be the March for Life, Walk for Life, and corresponding Students for Life of America conferences. For more information about those, visit our website under "Upcoming Events."
*We didn't expect it because, although Fordham is a Jesuit institution, it doesn't have a conservatively Catholic campus culture. (The school even hosted Peter Singer a few years back, much to the chagrin of conservatives.) The student body is fairly diverse, and Respect for Life's president is a mainline Protestant.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Abortion as a social good?

On October 13, Slate published a piece by Hannah Rosin called “Abortion is Great,” in which Rosin discusses the views of pro-choice author Katha Pollitt and explains why more pro-choicers should embrace abortion as a social good. My blog post here is my initial reactions as I read Rosin’s piece.

Rosin points out that 6 out of 10 American women who have abortions are already mothers. In my experience, many pro-lifers don’t seem to realize this, as I’ve heard so many of us talk as if pro-choice people inherently dislike kids and would be incapable of parenting. Something to think about. 
“…any woman who’s reading this piece and has had an abortion, or any man who has supported one, should go in the comments section and [tell their story], until there are so many accounts that the statement ['I had an abortion'] loses its shock value.”

She seems to neglect the many post-abortive women and men who became pro-life because of their abortion experiences. 
“…we have all essentially been brainwashed by a small minority of pro-life activists. Only 7 to 20 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want to totally ban abortion…”

Most of the pro-lifers I know, including many pro-life activists, don’t believe abortion should be totally banned. For example, nearly every pro-lifer I’ve ever interacted with agrees abortion should be legal to save the life of the mother, and a majority of self-described pro-lifers believe abortion should be legal in cases of rape. It’s a misconception to suggest that pro-life activists are only those who think all abortions in every circumstance should be illegal.

Pro-lifers may disagree on the legality of abortion in the harsher cases: when a woman’s physical health is endangered, when she was raped, when the fetus has a severe, possibly life-threatening condition, etc. But if I had to describe the common thread that pulls together most people who call themselves “pro-life,” I’d say it’s the agreement that abortion is immoral and should be illegal at minimum when it is done on healthy fetuses resulting from consensual sex and carried by healthy mothers. And the great majority of abortions today are done in such cases. Rosin alludes to as much herself: 
“Three in 10 American women have abortions by the time they hit menopause. They are not generally victims of rape or incest, or in any pitiable situation from which they need to be rescued.”

Rosin continues: 
“They are making a reasonable and even admirable decision that they can’t raise a child at the moment. Is that so hard to say? As Pollitt puts it, ‘This is not the right time for me’ should be reason enough. And saying that aloud would help push back against the lingering notion that it’s unnatural for a woman to choose herself over others.”

Rosin is asking people to be more direct about abortion, yet she describes a woman’s choice to abort as merely “choosing herself over others.” That description is not direct at all. Abortion kills a human. That’s direct. Many people don’t consider that human worth much moral consideration, and so some of them are pro-abortion, as Rosin clearly is. Fine. But pretending that a death isn’t happening means ignoring why the entire subject continues to divide Americans. Rosin wants to believe this is about being aghast that a woman would choose herself over others, but it’s not about that at all.

Consider this: if a woman feels it’s not the right time for her to have children, she can choose not to have sex, or choose to only participate in non-procreative sex, or choose to use contraception, or choose to give a child up for adoption. She could also choose to abort. All of these choices may reflect her position that she isn’t prepared to or doesn’t want to raise children, yet one of these choices is far, far more controversial and contentious than the others.

If this were really about us being upset that a woman would want to choose herself over others, we’d be against any decision that puts her education, career, or other aspects of her life above procreation. Yet, for example, the vast majority of Americans, including the majority of pro-lifers, believe contraception is morally acceptable. Rosin says there is a "fog of regret" surrounding abortion, but we simply don't see that same "fog" surrounding these other decisions. There’s a clear distinction between abortion and other choices not to raise children, and Rosin, and so many pro-choice activists, skip this distinction entirely. Abortion is not simply about reproductive freedom, healthcare decisions, or a woman choosing herself over others. Abortion is about having a very young, less developed human killed. That’s the difference.

Rosin digs in with her gender-based theory by saying we don’t apply the same standard to men. “We would never expect a man to drop everything and accept a life of ‘dimmed hope’ because of a single ejaculation.” I expect the many men who (rightfully) have to pay child support for single ejaculations would beg to differ.

Rosin also elaborates on some of Pollitt’s explanations of alleged pro-life contradictions: 
“[Pollitt] cites one poll for example showing that 38 percent of people say abortion is as ‘bad as killing a person already born.’ But in the same poll 84 percent say it’s fine to save the life of a mother. If you really think about it, this position is untenable. No one would say it was fine to kill a toddler if the mother needed its heart.”

What a strange comparison. When is abortion about the mother needing the fetus's heart? The proper analogy would be if somehow a toddler’s very presence was actively killing the mother (akin to an embryo in an ectopic pregnancy) and the only way for the mother to save her own life was to remove the toddler, and the only way to remove the toddler resulted in the toddler’s death. 

I can’t think of a scenario where that would be true – which goes to a point Rosin and I agree on: the fetus and the mother have a complicated relationship. But if there was an analogous situation with a born human, I think many people would defend the right to kill as self-defense. This isn’t about killing someone else to use their heart (when would a mother ever be able to use a toddler’s heart anyway?) This is about killing someone else to prevent them from actively killing you. Most people, and our own history of self-defense laws, see the two scenarios entirely differently.

Rosin goes on to discuss how the left and pro-choicers should advocate for abortion, especially for poor women, as part of an effort to urge women to wait to have children until they are in stable relationships. She believes promoting abortion as an extension of birth control is part of “a new era of family values.” She agrees with Pollitt, who believes “the moral high ground is in reclaiming the right to have an abortion, regardless of the circumstances.”

But I’m not sure “reclaiming” is the correct verb here. Was there ever a time when people who promote abortion regardless of circumstances had the moral high ground?

Rosin seems to think her side has descended to defensiveness by saying abortion should be safe, legal, and rare and by focusing on abortion in the extreme cases of maternal health and life or of incest and rape. But (to my knowledge) this isn’t a descent – it’s where many abortion defenders have been from the beginning. Perhaps they focus on the extreme cases and act defensive about abortion in general because polls suggest most Americans think abortion as birth control – the kind of remorseless abortion culture Rosin promotes – should be illegal.

Rosin’s piece is not the first to push back against pro-choice defensiveness, but I suspect this aggressive strategy will ultimately backfire. From what I’ve seen, the average American finds abortion problematic but sees it as a “necessary evil,” at least for the extreme cases we so often focus on. I’m dubious our society is willing to instead embrace abortion as an unapologetic good.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Appealing to Authorities

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

When we would rather trust another person's opinion over any evidence presented, we may very well be appealing to authority. Again, remember that with logical fallacies, we are focusing on nothing more than the argument being made at the time by either party: does the authority we cite have evidence to support the claim, or are we using their position, title, or experiences as the evidence?

The Balance of Expert Opinion and Appealing to Authority
In the midst of creating a case for our side in an argument, it is common to quote experts on any variety of subjects. In the pro-life arena, many people quote doctors, previous abortion directors, or women who have had abortions in an attempt to solidify their defense of their position.

But appealing to authority occurs when the person arguing either directly or indirectly uses another person's "authority" as the basis for the validity to a claim.

Experts Can Be Wrong/Biased, and Experts Can Be Misquoted
A former abortion clinic director may make a statement which is false. To assert, "Planned Parenthood has abortion quotas--Cindy Larson [fictitious former clinic director] says so" is an appeal to authority. Other evidence (preferably non-anecdotal) needs to be presented, such as an internal document or a transcript of a conversation between clinic workers--and then we can evaluate how accurate or relevant that evidence is.

Additionally, we can skew an opponent's expert's quote as a way to support our own point of view. An abortionist admitting that life begins "at conception" seems like an "aha!" kind of moment, except that what an abortionist says about when life begins isn't evidence: it's their opinion. Likewise, many other abortionists may say that life doesn't begin at conception, so where does that leave us? We can only look at the evidence for when life begins and, if there is controversy (hint hint: there is!), examine the evidence on both sides and draw a conclusion.

Appeals to Authority are Often Uncited Assertions
Most appeals to authority (at least in my experience) are just generalizations of a supposed authority's opinion, but they lack any actual detail. This is a good sign that a person is appealing to authority rather than citing to support evidence. Some examples are below.

Pro-Choice Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"Most scientists are pro-choice."  Really? Perhaps the reality shows more varying, nuanced, or apathetic opinions than mere "pro-life" vs. "pro-choice". There are also several reasons why one may be pro-choice: what is the link between science and the pro-choice position that this assertion tries to make?

Pro-Life Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"Dr. Bernard Nathanson used to be an abortionist, and he says the fetus can feel pain." This is not a citation--where is an actual quote? Additionally, what qualifications does Dr. Nathanson have to assert that fetuses can feel pain?
"The Catholic Church's position on abortion is that it is wrong." Stating the church's position in any given topic does not present evidence to show that it is wrong. Many other churches are pro-choice or neutral on the subject. 
There is a fine line between citing sources as evidence and appealing to authority. When in doubt, ask yourself if you are presenting actual evidence or simply summarizing another person's position.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Check us out on the Friendly Atheist podcast

SPL representative Monica Snyder appeared on the most recent episode of the Friendly Atheist podcast. Click here to listen, and let us know what you think!

Monday, October 13, 2014

How Do You Understand Someone's Position on Abortion?

In the past week or two, an article entitled How Do You Change Someone's Mind on Abortion? Tell Them You Had One has been making the rounds. The title is slightly misleading; the bulk of the article focuses on gay rights activism, specifically, the connection between personally knowing an LGBT person and increased support for same-sex marriage. But the article touches on abortion supporters' attempt to stretch that reasoning to their own cause (emphasis mine):
Abortion is typically considered a moral concern, about the bounds of life, or a legal one, about the nature of rights and liberties. [Planned Parenthood marketer Dave] Fleischer hypothesized it could be understood instead as a matter of personal identity, and that resistance to abortion really is stigma towards the women who have—or could have—them. “My hunch is,” he says, “talking about real lived experience is extraordinarily helpful in developing empathy and support.”
If so, perhaps American society had just never been exposed to the sustained organic contact that Allport argued 60 years ago could begin to dismantle a deeply held prejudice. After all, whites with retrograde views on race find themselves working on the same factory floor as blacks; straight people learn a beloved cousin is a lesbian. But how often does anyone, particularly among those who consider themselves pro-life, learn that a friend or relative or co-worker has had an abortion?
The validity of that hypothesis is never examined. Perhaps that's because, as one of Fleischer's door-to-door canvassers puts it in the concluding line of the piece, it's easy "to talk to strangers, because you don't care what they really think."

The irony here hits mind-exploding levels. "Those anti-choice strangers must think the way they do because they've never met someone who's had an abortion and therefore don't understand how women who have abortions really think and feel. At least, that's our best guess; we haven't actually asked the antis about their thoughts or feelings. But we totally understand how they don't understand us."

There's a lot that could be said in response. Various veteran pro-life leaders have noted that this is just the latest in a long line of I-had-an-abortion-style "stigma-busting" campaigns that invariably fizzle out, that this is basically just a cheap copycat of Silent No More, etc. They're right, and there's no point in echoing them. So for this blog, I'd just like to give Mr. Fleischer a friendly tip.

Sir, your whole premise is wrong.

I do know women who've had abortions. I know men who have been involved in abortions. I know former abortion workers. I know escorts. And I know people who are strongly pro-abortion: not merely "pro-choice," but people who have an unswerving conviction that if they were to have an unplanned pregnancy, they would absolutely without a doubt abort. 

Believe me, when you are outspokenly pro-life, you hear from all of these groups and more. You hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. You meet people who would give anything to go back in time and make a different choice, and people who hate your guts for daring to suggest that there's a moral aspect to the "minor surgical procedure" they had. It's all out there, and it's messy, and it's discouraging at times, but I try my best to treat everyone the way I'd like to be treated.

I know pro-choicers despise slavery comparisons, but what I'm about to say is not comparing the moral wrongness of abortion to the moral wrongness of slavery, so hear me out. The debate about abortion has something in common with the debate about slavery: it pits family members, friends, and neighbors against each other. Some anti-slavery campaigners came from slaveholding families. (A semi-fictionalized exploration of this phenomenon can be found in the fantastic novel The Invention of Wings.) Things got messy. Things got emotional. Things most definitely got personal. But those complications did not deter abolitionists. Even if they wanted to support their slaveholding loved ones, they could not, because they saw the slaves.

And so it is with us: we see the preborn children. That is what we think and that is how we feel. We don't hate you. We don't see you as "less than" or consider having an abortion to be a "personal identity" that we reject. We don't want to be in the conflict we're in, but we are.

And if you ask me, a campaign that fails to even recognize the nature of this conflict is pretty much doomed from the start. The same-sex marriage model just doesn't work here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Brittany Maynard and the ethics of assisted suicide

Several readers have asked me to discuss the Brittany Maynard story. Your wish is my command.

For those who somehow aren't aware, Brittany Maynard (right) is a young woman, only three years older than me, who has been diagnosed with a very aggressive form of brain cancer. Doctors informed her that she could not be cured, and even if the most advanced treatments available were pursued, death was inevitable in a matter of months. Brittany decided to move to Oregon to take advantage of its assisted suicide law, and plans to take the lethal medication on November 1. In partnership with an advocacy group, she created a video about her decision, which has been covered by media across the nation and the world over the past week. (As just one example, see this Washington Post article.)

Secular Pro-Life does not often write about end-of-life issues. Of course, we recognize that every human life is valuable, including the lives of the disabled, the terminally ill, and people considering suicide. But traditionally, abortion has been our primary focus. So forgive me if this post rambles a bit.

First of all, I would like to express my opinion that Brittany Maynard is brave. This places me in conflict with Christian pro-life commentator Matt Walsh, who writes:
If you are saying that it is dignified and brave for a cancer patient to kill themselves, what are you saying about cancer patients who don’t? What about a woman who fights to the end, survives for as long as she can, and withers away slowly, in agony, until her very last breath escapes her lungs? 
Is that person not brave? Is that person not dignified? I thought we applaud that kind of person. I thought we admire her courage and tenacity. Sorry, you can’t advance two contradictory narratives at once.
But this misses the point. I don't admire Maynard because she plans to end her life. I admire her because she is somehow able to go public about what has to be the most devastating situation she's ever encountered, knowing that she's going to be the topic of internet controversy, knowing that random bloggers she's never met are going to write about her (sorry), and somehow she recorded that video without breaking down into sobs. I definitely would not be able to do that. That takes an incredible amount of self-confidence. If she had instead chosen to fight to the end, and had broadcast that story, I'd be just as impressed.

Assisted suicide raises concerns that are distinct from those of abortion. Abortion always takes the life of someone who cannot consent; that's not true of assisted suicide. I'm willing to entertain the idea that assisted suicide in the terminally ill is not prima facie wrong, which I realize is a highly unorthodox position for a pro-lifer to take. I'm reminded of my recent article about perinatal hospice, in which I wrote that
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. 
Maynard makes an analogous point when she states:
I've had the medication for weeks. I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms.
I cannot begin to imagine what she's going through. The only positive I can see here is that she seems to have an incredibly supportive husband, family, and friends.

The problem is, not everyone does.

As I said, abortion and assisted suicide are unique issues, but we certainly can draw upon our experiences with legalized abortion to make some predictions about legalized euthanasia. We know from the abortion context that "choice" (and Maynard uses the language of "choice") can very quickly mutate into coercion.

No man is an island. We are deeply influenced by others, especially family, and especially when we are in a vulnerable state—as when we've been shocked by an unplanned pregnancy or a cancer diagnosis. We've seen women forced into abortions by the fathers of their unborn children. We've seen underage girls coerced by their statutory rapists, and sometimes, sadly, even by their own parents. We've seen mothers of all ages manipulated by abortion "counselors" who refuse to divulge accurate information about what takes place during pregnancy. And above all, we've seen women forced into abortion by economic circumstances. Legal abortion clearly has worsened those problems, not solved them.

How do we prevent similar complications from arising in the context of assisted suicide? How do we make sure that vulnerable people are not unduly influenced by family members, by overly pessimistic doctors, or by the potential financial burden of a longer life? In short: how can we create a law that allows assisted suicide for people like Brittany Maynard, without catching others in its trap?

I'm very skeptical that it's possible. And until someone shows me differently, I have to err on the side of protecting those who want to live every last day.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

New Brochure: Why Should Non-Christians Care About Abortion?

Once upon a time, pretty much all that Secular Pro-Life did was create religiously neutral brochures for other pro-life groups to use. SPL's founders were campus activists at the time and we saw a desperate need for handouts without Bible verses on them.

Times have changed—we've gotten older, and Secular Pro-Life has extended its reach into public speaking, internet outreach, etc.—but we do still offer free brochures. And now we have a new one: Why Should Non-Christians Care About Abortion? You can download it by going to the publications page on our website.

You'll notice that there's space on the back for your local pro-life group to leave a message; hopefully, a message about an upcoming meeting or event! Be prepared with our 10 Ways to Be Inclusive.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dismantling the argument that pro-life laws invite forced abortions

Protestor's sign reads "Choice is the American Way"
Raise your hand if you've heard this argument in favor of Roe v. Wade:
If a government can force women to gestate, it can also force them to abort.
There's some pathos here. It's a nice, balanced sentence that sounds good to the ear. But strip the pathos away, and what you have is "Pro-life laws invite forced abortions." I posit that this makes no sense at all.

I am a citizen of the United States. As a pure matter of military muscle, my government can do whatever it wants. To be clear, that's not a good thing. In theory, the Constitution and other laws limit the government's power. In practice, constitutional violations happen, and the primary limit on governmental power is the collective outrage of the people.

What if I told you that this collective outrage is what currently prevents my government from forcibly sterilizing people? It's true. The Supreme Court found forced sterilization to be constitutional in Buck v. Bell. Fun fact: it then cited Buck v. Bell with approval in Roe v. Wade (see section VIII). (Sorry to spoil your innocence if you still thought Roe was all about "choice.") Another fun fact: the Court has never formally revisited Buck v. Bell and overturned it. It's merely considered obsolete because the public overwhelmingly disapproves of it, and therefore as a practical matter no elected officials are going to follow it.

Thankfully the United States never adopted a policy of forced abortion, even in the forced sterilization heyday. Thus, the legalization of abortion had no impact one way or the other. It did, however, have a major impact on abortions being coerced by non-government parties, i.e., the father of the unborn child.

But let's take a look at some other nations. China is of course notorious for forcing its citizens to undergo abortions. It's also a country where abortion is freely available on demand. What about more more moderately pro-choice nations, like the U.K.? The ugly specter of government-enforced abortion has reared its ugly head there, too.

I'm sure if a pro-life government like Ireland or Chile coerced someone to have an abortion, the media would make that a front-page story. So far, silence.

In the face of these facts, why does "If a government can force women to gestate, it can also force women to abort" gain any traction? It makes about as much sense as "If a government can force people to join labor unions, it can also force people not to join them and thereby destroy the unions" or "If the government can force you to buy health insurance, it can also force you to remain uninsured."

The answer is that many abortion advocates distrust the pro-life movement's motives. They're convinced that we can't actually be in this because we see abortion as a violation of the right to life. They're certain that we're just out to control women's bodies, and if that's the case, naturally forced abortions would be part of our misogynist scheme.

As pro-choice author William Saletan, trying to talk some sense into his colleagues, put it:
[W]hen public opinion turns toward reproductive freedom and equal rights for women but continues to oppose abortion, it punctures our dismissal of pro-life sentiment as a vestige of right-wing sexism. Spin and soundbites won’t make the evidence go away. Sooner or later, you'll have to face it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Saving babies, or killing them?

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

We live in a country where doctors can elect to kill an unborn baby at her mother’s request. At the same time, some women are so dedicated to preserving the lives of their unborn children that they will do anything to save them. They will research every possible option, see specialists, and spend thousands of dollars in medical bills in order to keep their babies aliveunless it turns out that 2, 3, 4, or 5 children result, in which case, it’s off to the abortion provider to "selectively reduce" the burden of caring for all of the children they created. Other women will undergo expensive and invasive in vitro fertilization techniques, and, when a child results, guard the life of that child passionately

All this has led to a strange situation in the United States where some unborn babies are valued to the extreme and some are considered worthless. There have been cases where a doctor works to terminate the life of a baby whose mother doesn’t want him one day and then tries to save the life of a premature baby (of the same age) whose mother does want him the next. The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson, former abortionist, describes how this strange situation became a reality right after Roe v. Wade:
In the mid-70s, I would be up on one floor, putting the hypertonic saline into a woman 23 weeks pregnant, and on another floor down, I would have someone in labor at 23 weeks, and I would be trying to salvage this baby. The nurses were caught in the same bind, the same moral whipsaw. What were we doing here, were we saving babies or were killing them?
Hypertonic saline solution was a liquid containing caustic salt and other chemicals which was injected into the uterus of a woman having an abortion. It slowly poisoned the baby to death, and then the woman would go through labor to deliver her dead child. At the time, it was the most common method of abortion in the 2nd trimester. Today, most of these abortions are done by dilation and evacuation, where the baby is torn apart with forceps. You can see a diagram of this newer procedure here.

Nathanson would later become pro-life and produce The Silent Scream, a short film which is credited with changing many hearts and minds on abortion. Dr. Nathanson attributed his own conversion to the proliferation of new technologies that allowed scientists to learn more about unborn babies and observe them in the womb (i.e. ultrasound). Perhaps the “moral whipsaw” was a factor too.

Nathanson was not the only abortionist to make an observation like this. In the 1996 book Lime 5, pro-life author Mark Crutcher quotes abortionist Dr. Don Sloan saying:
On some mornings, I leave my office, and if I turn right I go down the hallway to the [abortion facility] and terminate. I am a destroyer of pregnancies. If I turn left down the same hallway, I go toward the nursery and the labor and delivery unit and take care of the myriad of complications in women who are in the throes of problem pregnanciesand I do things to help them hold on. It’s all so schizophrenic. I have a kind of split personality.
Pro-choice author Magda Denes quoted yet another abortionist who spoke in similar terms:
You have to become a bit schizophrenic. In one room you encourage the patient that the slight irregularity of the fetal heart is not importantthat she is going to have a fine, healthy baby. Then in the next room you assure another woman on whom you just did a saline abortion, that it’s good that the heart is already irregular… She has nothing to worry about, she is not going to have a live baby… Somebody has to do it. Unfortunately, we are the executioners in this instance.
Today, most abortions are done in clinics by doctors who do nothing else. But there are still gynecologists who do a small number of abortions for their established patients and also deliver children and manage pregnancies, and they may run into the same strange situation of saving a baby one day and destroying a baby the next. And just recently, a combination abortion and childbirth center opened in Buffalo, NY.

In my next article for Secular Pro-Life, I will highlight how this double standard of viewing one child as valuable and another as worthless based outside factors (typically the mother’s opinion) affects the medical profession in more subtle ways.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Join us in the Big Apple

Did you miss us the last time we were in NYC? Have no fear. We're coming back in just two weeks!

This time our host is Fordham University Respect for Life. Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard will present at Fordham on Saturday, October 18 at 6:00 p.m. The students are still working on reserving a room, so keep an eye on our website for the latest information.

The closest subway station to Fordham is the D/B subway at Grand Concourse and Fordham Road. There's also the Fordham Road Metro North station, which connects to Lower Westchester and Connecticut. More info on Fordham-area public transit here.

See you then!

P.S.: As usual, we are charging no honorarium to Fordham university Respect for Life. We were once pro-life students ourselves; we've been there. Since we don't charge student groups, we need another source of revenue: you! Please give today. We appreciate it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Ad Hominem Fallacies Derail Conversations

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

Like the Straw Man last week, this week’s logical fallacy is one of the more commonly-known logical fallacies: the ad hominem.

An ad hominem fallacy occurs when we attack our opponent for their character, actions, worldview, or other factor, and use that attack as a reason to dismiss their argument. It is very easy for everyone to engage in this fallacy, because our brains seem to say, “There's no reason to listen to this argument because this person’s a jerk!” And our brains seem to like being reassured in this way. Our predilection toward this type of strong thinking is so strong, it seems, that if you turn on any political cable news program, you're likely to find conversations consisting on little-else than ad hominem, with a little Straw Man thrown in occasionally. 

However, a person’s character has no basis in whether or not what they are saying is true. If someone is known to lie, we can only take that piece of information into account and apply other logical steps; but, we cannot dismiss the argument they are currently making based upon this alone.

Ad Hominem is Easy, Good Arguments are Hard

If you look at any Facebook thread, you’re likely to see ad hominem arguments abound. People who utilize the fallacy—intentionally or unintentionally—often seem blissfully unconcerned about the “meat” of whatever issue is being discussed, and focus instead on an irrelevant trait of the author or another person in the thread in order to dismiss their entire position. Even if other people are trying to have a good conversation, these sporadic comments often succeed in derailing everyone. 

Ad Hominem Attacks vs. the Ad Hominem Fallacy

For the purposes of this article, let’s differentiate between ad hominem attacks and the ad hominem fallacy. We know that with the fallacy, we ignore the point a person is trying to make and focus on a factor about the person. But does information about a person ever matter? Yes, of course.

Let’s say Kelsey Hazzard, president of Secular Pro-Life, was a known compulsive liar. (She is not, of course!) Let’s say that in her dealings online, she continually lied, was continually called out on it, and never directly addressed the accusations of lying. Perhaps Kelsey also is being investigated for tax fraud. Perhaps she bans everyone on her page who disagrees with her. Perhaps she attacks other pro-life advocates for the purposes of her own self-promotion. And let’s say she kills kittens.

The fictitious Kelsey Hazzard described above would not be a person that I would want to work with, nor would I want to believe a single word she says. This is relevant for me as far as figuring out, to what degree, I want to engage with her and consider what she has to say.

But—and this is the big “but”—none of these factors would have anything to do with whether or not any of Kelsey’s arguments about abortion are sound or not. I may not want to listen to her, but that, again, does not mean anything in regards to if her argument is true or logical. You must address her arguments, not her character, if you are to conclude that she is wrong. Of course, with such a sordid history as our fictitious Kelsey has, one might say, “I’m not going to bother.” 

Pro-Choice Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"Of course pro-lifers want clinic regulations! They hate women and will do anything they can to control what people do in their own lives."  Assuming that pro-lifers did indeed hate women (spoiler: we don't), that does not have any bearing on the specific arguments presented for clinic regulations. 
"Your scientific evidence doesn't matter, because you're not a biologist." Dismissing evidence put forth due to the credentials (or lack of credentials) is a classic example of an ad hominem fallacy. 

Pro-Life Examples
Fallacy Why It's A Fallacy
"What do pro-choicers know about equality? They support abortion, which disproportionately affects minorities." Supporting abortion does not mean that any point a pro-choicer is making about race is invalid. You must focus on the argument itself. 
"Senator Smith is pro-choice, so I don't care what she has to say about equal pay laws." A person's position on abortion does not have an impact on the validity of their arguments. 

Keep this question in mind: "Am I focusing on the validity of the argument and not the person?" If you're focusing on anything else about the person presenting the argument, you may very well be committing a logical fallacy. In general, attacking a person derails otherwise-productive conversations about an issue, and if we are to truly understand and appreciate the pro-choice perspective, we need to hone our skills in sticking to arguments.