Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Christian pregnancy centers and "sexual integrity"

A message from Ms. Gibson's pregnancy center

LifeNews recently published an article about Kathy Gibson, a woman who faced an unplanned pregnancy as a teenager and went on to lead a pregnancy resource center. The title of the article: She Was a Preacher's Kid. They Told Her: "Your Dad Will be Fired if They Find Out You're Pregnant.
In a culture of secrecy that can, unfortunately, tend to thrive in the Bible Belt, even the nurse at her pregnancy test appointment reminded Gibson of her dire straits.
“The one thing that the nurse told me was, ‘Your dad could be fired if people find out you’re pregnant,’” Gibson said. “I think, still in this generation, the way the church looks at them—or for parents, the way the community will look at them if their daughter gets pregnant—there is still a huge push to abortion.
“If she has an abortion, the church never finds out, and you don’t have to worry about your standing in the community. That’s still huge in our area.”
THANK YOU, Kathy Gibson, for speaking up. This is a huge problem, and it's important for people of faith to work within their own communities to solve it.
While Gibson has watched her client visits skyrocket as she and her board have re-envisioned and adjusted their ministry’s approach—which has encompassed even the details of the look and feel of their waiting room—she and her staff are also seeing a growth in the scope of clients they’re reaching.
Keying in on college students through an ideal location and the addition of STI services, Gibson told the story of one student—a young man who identifies as both gay and an atheist—her center definitely would not have reached prior to the changes over the past three years.
Today, however, he’s part of a mentoring process and Bible study, as he explores both the claims of Christianity and the vision for sexual integrity First Choice holds out for its clients.
And we've come to the point where as a secular person, I have to sigh and shake my head. That "vision for sexual integrity" is exactly the attitude that put so much pressure on Ms. Gibson to abort as a teenager!

Think about what "sexual integrity" means. It's a loaded phrase. It goes way beyond informing a patient that certain sexual behaviors are risky, or teaching your child that the family's religion reserves sexual intercourse for marriage. "Sexual integrity" says that a failure to observe sexual norms is a sign that you lack integrity. No one wants the neighborhood thinking that they lack integrity. Wonder where that Bible Belt culture of secrecy comes from? Here's your answer.

I don't know where that patient will come down on the claims of Christianity, but if Ms. Gibson is hoping to change his sexual orientation, I would advise her not to hold her breath. He's going to remain gay. Which is fine! The world can always use another gay pro-life advocate. Send him over.

I don't want to sound mean. Ms. Gibson doesn't seem like the fire-and-brimstone type. She probably treats her patients with love and respect (would the gay atheist stick around if she didn't?), and that's a credit to her. But when abortion and unplanned pregnancy prevention take a back seat to promotion of the Christian worldview, you're bound to make some counterproductive decisions.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Utah's 72-hour waiting period prevents abortions

Photo via Pro-Life Utah

Pro-choice author Christina Cauterucci has an article up at Slate entitled Study: Utah’s 72-Hour Waiting Period Doesn’t Dissuade Women From Having Abortions. It is an excellent example of "Headline Contradicted By Actual Article,"* because buried in the fourth paragraph is a testimonial from a woman who said "About two days after the [information] appointment, I canceled the [abortion] appointment. I couldn’t do it."

Two days is, you'll note, more time than is allowed under the typical 24-hour waiting period found constitutional in Casey. And obviously, in a state with no waiting period at all (which is what Cauterucci wants), there's a good chance this abortion would not have been prevented.

But let's take a few steps back.
Researchers from Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco surveyed 500 women presenting for abortion information visits at four abortion providers [in Utah] in 2013 and 2014; 309 completed a follow-up survey three weeks later.
The fact that nearly two-fifths of the study participants disappeared made me want to dig deeper. It's worth noting that the journal in which this study appeared—Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health—is operated by the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion think tank that makes full text articles freely available when it supports their agenda (here's an example). But this time they used a paywall. My curiosity got the best of me; I sucked it up and paid so you wouldn't have to.

It turns out that the researchers got advance authorization to ask the abortion facility whether participants lost to follow-up had had an abortion. Sadly, they confirmed that seventy-two percent aborted. As for the remaining 28 percent, the researchers believe that some had their abortions at other facilities, because they assume that the non-respondents were no more likely to have rejected abortion than those who followed up.

Moving on to the women who did complete the follow-up survey, eight percent had definitively rejected abortion. (85% aborted; the rest miscarried or were still deciding.) Cauterucci reports that of those who had changed their minds, "the most common reason given was that they’d been conflicted about abortion from the start." That's incorrect. The most common reason given was that they "just couldn't do it," regardless of whether or not they were conflicted from the start.

Women giving this answer fell into three groups. The first group, consisting of 11 women, never wanted abortions. Before receiving informed consent and before the waiting period, they indicated that they wanted to keep their babies. The obvious question of who or what forced them into the waiting room of an abortion facility is left unresolved, but the fact that nearly one in ten study participants reported violence from the father of the baby may have something to do with it. ("Choice" my foot.)

The second group, consisting of 9 women, wanted abortions but expressed some ambivalence on the researcher's scale. And the third group, consisting of 7 women, "had [initially] preferred abortion and had low conflict"—meaning that they had a complete change of heart during the waiting period. Which is, of course, the whole point!

Cauterucci reports that aside from deciding that they "just couldn't do it," the next most common reason for rejecting abortion was financial. Cauterucci omits the third most common reason:
The next most common reason women gave for not having had the abortion was that other people had come through for them. A 30-year-old nulliparous woman said, “My boyfriend got his shit together.” And a 24-year-old, who had had two births, responded, “I talked with my family more about it, and they support me and they are willing to help me.”
That's very encouraging. It would have been informative to know when they came through—right away, or in the 71st hour? The study doesn't say. Regardless, it's an important reminder of the importance of supporting the pregnant mothers in our lives.

The researchers also asked women what the "hardest part" of the waiting period was. About one in five reported just wanting to get it over with, which Cauterucci characterizes as a "tax on the mind." But eight percent reported "questioning the decision" and six percent reported "dwelling on the decision" as the hardest part, which again indicates that women are using the waiting period for its intended purpose.

Returning to Cauterucci's article:
In a statement about the new research, lead author and UCSF assistant professor Sarah Roberts recommended abortion providers offer additional counseling for the minority of women who aren’t sure about their decision or feel personal conflict, rather than states imposing a mandatory waiting period for all women, the majority of whom have already made up their minds.
Additional counseling? Yeah, because the abortion industry's record on informed consent laws to date suggests that they'll totally embrace that idea.

I can already imagine the uproar that would ensue from a requirement that women who express ambivalence in the initial appointment receive a second round of counseling. "You're punishing women for saying how they feel!" Oy vey.

Here's what this really comes down to. Which do you believe is more tragic: the failure to prevent an unwanted abortion that the mother will regret, or a burden on "access" for no-second-guessing abortions? The researchers asked about the cost burden of having to go to the abortion facility twice; the average was $44. Is preventing the abortions of wanted babies worth $44 to you?

The fact that a large contingent of the voting public would answer that question in the negative depresses the hell out of me.

*Credit for this phrase goes to Drew Curtis of and is discussed at length in his book.

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Busy Week for State-Level Pro-Life Legislation

The Indiana state capitol

At the national level, things look bleak for the pro-life movement. The Supreme Court hangs in the balance. It appears increasingly likely that the presidential contest will be between Trump and Clinton, neither of whom would be a friend to preborn children and their mothers. Abortionists continue maiming women with impunity. It's easy to get depressed.

And yet...

All politics is local, and pro-lifers are doing amazing work in their communities. Here's what happened just in the last week:

40 Days for Life announced that its recently concluded campaign saved 471 babies saved from abortion, that they know of.

Indiana banned discriminatory abortions targeting the baby because of disability, race, or sex. It also instituted an admitting privileges requirement for abortionists.

Florida prohibited state agencies from contracting with abortion businesses (including Planned Parenthood), strengthened abortion record inspections, and like Indiana, enacted an admitting privileges measure. 

Several pro-life measures made progress in the Arizona legislature, including a requirement that the abortion pill regimen be used only as approved by the FDA, in an effort to curb abortionists' dangerous practice of prescribing the regimen during the fetal (rather than embryonic) stage.

Abortion industry, take note: we are not backing down.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Biology textbook writer claims we need emotion to answer "When does human life begin?"

Last Wednesday, SPL published this blog post about an embryologist who conflated a scientific question with a philosophical question. Two years prior, the writer of the college biology textbook “Life,” Dr. Ricki Lewis (PhD), wrote a stunningly similar article called “When Does a Human Life Begin? 17 Timepoints.

I want to begin by pointing out that this question absolutely has a scientific answer. Embryology textbooks state that a new human organism exists upon formation of a zygote. This organism has a continuous life cycle which will eventually end at death. You, as a human organism, were once a zygote. In a biological sense, that's when your life began. 

Or did it begin here?

So look at how Dr. Lewis begins this article. She quotes a commentator who said, "Um…when life begins is a pretty basic idea in biology," to which she replies, "Actually, no." Right off the bat, she denies the possibility that this question has a biological, scientific answer. 

She touts her scientific credentials ("I’m the author of an intro college biology textbook called 'Life,' my having nabbed that title before Keith Richards did."), and immediately after claims that the question of when human life begins is "a question not only of biology, but of philosophy, politics, psychology, religion, technology, and emotions." Yes, emotions. Apparently when human life begins is partly based on how we feel.

She also says that "textbooks list the characteristics of life, leaving interpretation to the reader."

The embryology textbooks (linked above) would seem to disagree:
This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being
The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote. 
At the moment the sperm cell of the human male meets the ovum of the female and the union results in a fertilized ovum (zygote), a new life has begun
Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being
Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)... The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual.

There are many more, but you get the point. There absolutely is a biological definition of life with which we can confidently, factually state that a "new human life begins" as a zygote. Dr. Lewis is incorrect when she claims that the beginning of a new human life must include not only biology but also emotions, religion, psychology, etc. 

Interestingly, in any other area of the hard sciences, the notion that we need all these non-scientific fields to answer a scientific question would be laughable. If we want to find out if a woman is pregnant, we don't need to conduct a vote; we need enzyme immunoassays. If we want to find out which alleles a child carries from his parents, we don't need prayers; we need PCR and gel electrophoresis. If we want to find out the percent composition of erythrocytes in blood, we don't need to reconcile our emotions; we need centrifugation. But apparently when the question is "When does a human life begin?" things are different.   

"But how do you feel about E. coli?"

Dr. Lewis goes on to list 17 points in a human organism’s development (such as implantation, heartbeat, viability, and birth) and implies these are all valid answers to “when human life begins." She ends with this:
My answer? #14. The ability to survive outside the body of another sets a practical limit on defining when a sustainable human life begins. Having a functional genome, tissue layers, a notochord, a beating heart … none of these matter if the organism cannot survive where humans survive.
Did you catch the switch? Dr. Lewis started off claiming we're discussing "when human life begins,” but then ends by talking about when human life is sustainable or can survive independently. Those are not the same topic

"Just here to remind you that you're no longer a human life."

This problem arose when Dr. Lewis used one phrase ("When does human life begin?") to imply two very different questions. "When does a human organism's life begin?" is a scientific question that does not require philosophy. "When does a human organism's life have moral relevance?" is a more complicated philosophical question, one which science cannot answer. The question itself ("When does human life begin?") is worded perfectly as a scientific question. But people on both sides of the abortion debate assume it represents a philosophical question, without clearly articulating philosophy in the question itself with words like "personhood" or "value."

To be fair, this isn't all the pro-choicer's fault. Experience has showed me that pro-lifers often make the same mistake. Specifically, pro-lifers sometimes talk about when a human organism's life begins (scientific) and use that to imply value (philosophy) without articulating or arguing it. So perhaps Dr. Lewis is responding to these cases. However, this does not absolve her from her lack of clarity; she is still using a scientific question to make a philosophical argument. There's a difference between saying "Science can't tell us when human life begins," which is exactly what she said, and saying "Science CAN tell us when human life begins, but it can't tell us about a human's value," which is what she answered. 

I expect Dr. Lewis, like most scientists, strives to be objective, but none of us are immune to our biases—including politics. The result in this case is cherry picking. Countless scientific questions have scientific answers, but Dr. Lewis is cherry picking this particular question (“When does human life begin?”) for additional requirements before it can be answered. If she personally thinks the philosophical question “When is human life valuable?” requires emotions and religion to sort through, that’s fine. But the scientific question “When does human life begin?” doesn’t require those additional fields of inquiry. Biology has it covered.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Misogyny in pro-life states? Study suggests otherwise.

Researchers have long struggled to quantify prejudice, and no method of measurement is perfect, but the housing app Abodo came up with a neat approach. Refraining from the use of slurs is a bare minimum of social decency. So Abodo tracked tweets by their state of origin and established a rate of tweets containing derogatory language per 100,000 tweets.  If you see that a region has a high rate of tweets containing slurs, it's a red flag that the community might be unwelcoming to racial minorities.

Abodo conducted this analysis for a number of categories, including prejudice against racial minorities, women, LGBT people, and people with cognitive disabilities.

The results make for interesting reading, and I encourage you to check out the full analysis. For our purposes, I'm encouraged to see that despite the "war on women" rhetoric, there is no indication that states with pro-life policies are more prejudiced toward women. Check out this map, where high concentrations of sexist tweets are indicated by warmer colors:

Here's that same map, with each state's rank on Americans United for Life's 2016 Life List added (#1 being the most pro-life; click to enlarge):

With the exception of #10 Texas, the top ten most pro-life states are more pro-woman than average. Conversely, seven of the ten most pro-abortion states have high concentrations of tweets containing gendered insults (the three exceptions being Vermont, Wyoming, and Hawaii).

A similar pattern emerges on the map of derogatory language against people with cognitive disabilities, who are frequently targeted for abortion. "Hot spots" appear in pro-abortion New England and West Coast states, while tweets from the pro-life Midwest and South express more tolerance:

The pro-life community should always strive for improvement, but it's nice to see evidence that we are taking feminist and anti-ableist messages to heart.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Embryologist Moonlights as Philosopher. SPL calls BS.

What’s the most common argument you get into in the abortion debate? Do you argue about whether bodily rights justify abortion? Whether adoption is a better choice? Do you discuss the pros and cons of paid maternity leave, or maybe get into philosophical discussions about coma patients?

There are plenty of complex topics and worthy ideas to dig into regarding abortion. And wouldn’t it be nice if the debate always came down to those? If we could all recognize a few basic facts first, and then move on to how we develop a moral framework around those facts?

But no. The reality, at least for me, is that the number one abortion debate I get into is “When does human life begin?” But this debate usually boils down to an inappropriate conflation – a bad choice of words. Specifically, pro-choicers conflate “when does human life begin?” with “When should human life matter?” They’re switching out a scientific question for a philosophical one, often without even noticing the swap.

The unarticulated question “When should human life matter?” has so many potential answers, with both laymen and embryologists giving a variety of opinions. They look at this chaos, somberly shake their heads, and lament: “See? No one really agrees on when life begins.” But that’s not the same question.

Recently a pro-choicer sent me this article written by an embryologist, Dr. Gilbert. Of course it’s published in Huffington Post, not a biology textbook or some kind of scientific publication. Why? Because the content isn’t scientific. It’s philosophical. And yet the author opens with a pretty bold scientific claim:
As an embryologist and the author of embryological textbooks, I can say with absolute assurance: There is no consensus among embryologists as to when an individual human life begins.     

Wow, that seems to contradict a core piece of my pro-life stance. Let’s see where he takes it.

He begins by citing those embryologists that say human life begins at fertilization. But he says, “These scientists see the genome as the essence of life, and they often talk about DNA as if it constituted some sort of soul.” Gilbert offers a single hyperlink to some obscure book to represent what is actually an impressive amount of evidence from textbook after textbook, which attests to the fact that fertilization is the beginning of new human life. And by making assertions about “souls,” Gilbert successfully moves the conversation from a biological claim to a philosophical one, the latter giving him much more room to waffle about in uncertainty.
Presenting an alternative stance, he says:
The view that gastrulation is the beginning of an individual life has been popular in Great Britain, where embryologist Lewis Wolpert has forcefully commented, "It is not birth, marriage, or death, but gastrulation which is truly the most important time in your life." 

Notice the switch here? Somehow we went from talking about when life begins (recall his opening claim) to talking about which phase of your life is the most important one. Why would an embryologist opining on the beginning of a living human organism draw contrasts to birth, marriage, or death? The quote seems to be about something quite apart from when life begins, yet Gilbert used it for his article about “when an individual human life begins.” Nice bait and switch, sir.

Moving on from souls and important life phases, Gilbert explains a third view: 
A third group of embryologists claims that human life begins around week 24-28, when the human-specific electroencephalogram (EEG) waves are seen. This marks the physiological states necessary for consciousness. In America, we say that the loss of the EEG (i.e., flat-lining) is the end of a human life, even though other organs are still functioning. Thus, according to this view, if we are willing to accept the loss of the EEG pattern as the death of a person, such personhood would arise when the EEG pattern was established. This period of EEG acquisition is also the period where the fetus becomes viable were it to be born prematurely.

But this is another philosophical swap. Good luck finding embryologists who, when pressed, will say that for the first 24-28 weeks the fetus is either not human or not alive (a scientific matter). Rather, Gilbert is clearly alluding to what makes a living human being morally relevant—that is, what makes someone a “person.” This is very different than asking whether that entity is a living human. Again, we are swapping science for philosophy here, without even acknowledging the change.

Remember when these human beings weren't "people"?

Keep in mind, there’s nothing wrong with the philosophical discussion regarding human life. In fact, it’s a crucial topic. But there is something wrong with claiming scientists don’t know “when an individual human life begins” and then talking about everything except the science.

Gilbert presents more stances: that human life begins at birth because before that the embryo (really, fetus) isn’t “functioning on its own.” And, oddly, he brings up the fact that many fertilized eggs (zygotes) die before birth. Presumably, you’d have your answer right there: if they’re dying before birth, that means they were once alive.

In the end, he says:
Finally, there is the fifth position that finds the question about when individual human life begins to be unscientific, if not silly. One of America's foremost biologists, Theodosius Dobzhansky, put it this way, "The wish felt by many people to pinpoint such a stage probably stems from the belief that a soul, conceived as a preternatural entity, descends upon a formerly soulless living stuff, and suddenly transforms the latter into human estate. I hope that modern theologians can accept the idea that the transformation is not sudden, but gradual."

And there we have it. Gilbert starts off as if he’s addressing a scientific question (“When does an individual human life begin?” or, in other words, “When does a human organism’s life cycle begin?”), but actually Gilbert wants to talk about theology, philosophy, influential life phases, and souls. All of these may be important topics in their own right, but none of them are science.

At best, this conflation is incredibly sloppy. At worst, Gilbert is misrepresenting modern scientific consensus in order to promote a political agenda. In either case, it needs to stop. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Regret after choosing life?

It's common for pro-life advocates to point out that while many women regret abortion, it is unheard of for women to regret choosing life. Parenthood is no walk in the park, but the rewards are great, and surely no one would be cruel enough to publicly wish their child was dead... right?

An SPL supporter recently sent us the latest missive in the campaign against "abortion stigma," an article entitled Why I Sometimes Wish I'd Had an Abortion. The person whose death is wished for is a preschool-aged girl, who I hope never stumbles upon her mother's writings.

In fairness, I don't think the author, Sara Burrows, is a monster. I think she's just overwhelmed. It sounds to me like she's set an unrealistically high bar for parenting, and feels that anything short of that bar is practically child abuse. Burrow opens the piece by claiming she knows people who were abused as children and wish they had been aborted (a claim entirely at odds with my own experience in which people who have faced abuse are some of the strongest advocates for defenseless children in the womb, but anecdotes are anecdotes). From there she discusses how she feels she's deprived her child:
Because parenting in this fucked up modern world is the hardest shit ever. Because I suck at it. Because I don’t like it. Because my kid sits in front of her tablet all day watching terrible crap, so I can work to feed her…
Because I’m not a kid person. I don’t know what to do with kids. I have zero patience for or interest in typical kid activities. Sure, I occasionally play chase with her, smother her with tickles and kisses or dance to loud music with her in wild ecstasy, but for the most part, I’m hoping she keeps herself entertained in her room long enough for me to finish a blog post without interrupting me. Just tonight she asked me to come play toys in her room with her and the very idea of it filled me with dread.
I guess my point is, parenting is not my talent. My talent is researching stuff, trying to figure out what is wrong with the world and how to fix it… and then writing about it. That’s what I want to spend my time doing, not playing Barbies and begging my kid to eat real food.
If I could meet Sara Burrows, I would give her a hug and tell her:

  • It's okay that your kid plays games on a tablet.
  • It's okay that you, an adult woman, have interests that differ from those of your preschooler.
  • It's okay to encourage your child to entertain herself. Great, actually.
  • It's okay if you can't get your kid to eat healthy food. Hell, I still don't eat my greens and I'm 27 years old.  
  • You are being way too hard on yourself. You are good enough.

She concludes that "at the end of the day, I would never, ever give her up," which is a strange way to end such a piece. I don't want to underestimate anyone's intelligence, so I assume she understands that abortion would have been permanent. I hope she's able to work through her ambivalence and find a healthy balance between work and family.

Ironically, the problem I have with Ms. Burrows' perspective is that it's not pro-choice enough. She assumes that her daughter would have been better off aborted. But whose choice should that be? The only legitimate judge of the worthiness of a life is the person living it.

A preschooler playing games on a tablet, playing Barbies, and pestering her mother sounds like a developmentally and emotionally normal person. There's no indication whatsoever that the child thinks her life is not worth living, or even that she's at all unhappy. Similarly, Ms. Burrows' friends, who said they wished they'd been aborted because they suffered abuse, apparently haven't committed suicide; they've chosen life for themselves. Good! Their parent's opinions don't dictate their worth. Nor does Ms. Burrows' ambivalence about parenthood say anything about her daughter's value as a human being.

I am so very glad Sara Burrows didn't have an abortion. I hope she comes to feel the same way, unequivocally.

Friday, March 11, 2016

“But You Don’t Tell Men What to Do With Their Bodies…”

[Today's guest post is by attorney Sean Cahill. She says: "Because it changes the way my voice is heard when it comes to life issues, I feel compelled to state that I'm a woman, despite what my name suggests."]  

Often regarding the issue of abortion, from the pro-choice side, I hear rallying cries along the lines of “but we would never do this to men and their bodies!” Often these claims are reinforced by satirical suggestions to regulate men’s erectile dysfunction medication, choices to undergo vasectomies or countless other aspects of male reproductive health. (A couple examples are here and here.) I understand the point they are trying to make and these would be persuasive if Viagra or vasectomies were at all comparable to pregnancy. In actuality, these comparisons, while clever, fall short of being persuasive and devalue our (biologically female) anatomy and the potential our reproductive systems hold.

They attempt to compare the incomparable. Women get pregnant and men don’t! There is absolutely no way, no matter how hard one tries, to force the female experience of pregnancy into the mold of the wombless male default. No aspect of a biologically male’s existence comes close to the experience of carrying and sustaining another human life. Instead of claiming this as an asset or even accepting it as a distinct difference, pro-choice feminists continue to try to speak in male terms, as if female existence is only valid, in the ways it can be analogized to the male experience.

A choice such as whether to undergo a vasectomy is obviously incapable of comparison to a woman’s decision whether to continue her pregnancy and to make the comparison devalues what pregnancy is and the work of pregnant women. A vasectomy involves a man’s decision whether to reproduce. When we’re talking about a pregnancy, reproduction has already occurred, a human life exists. While there may be a philosophical debate about when that life becomes valuable, a human being is present. Therefore, the difference between a vasectomy and an abortion is apparent: one ends a life and the other doesn’t. (Not to mention, women are free to take advantage of female-oriented sex aids and tubal ligation, the actual female counterparts to Viagra and vasectomy.)

I would passionately defend a woman's reproductive rights but in fact abortion does not concern a woman's right to reproduce or not to reproduce (rights all women should have), abortion concerns a mother's rights once she already has reproduced and a new human being has come into existence. To continually downplay what pregnancy is, by comparing it to Viagra or a vasectomy, belittles our biology and the way our bodies work. This just makes a vicious cycle. Because pregnancy will never be truly appreciated as long as people view it as a mere “reproductive” choice, equivalent to Viagra or a vasectomy, instead of the sustenance of a new human being, women will continue to "need" abortion since their pregnancies are not appreciated and seen as inconveniences to be terminated. As long as abortion is "no big deal", the work of pregnant women will also be "no big deal." Men are not the benchmark, and we do not and should not need to define our existence on male terms to be taken seriously. Whether pro-choice or pro-life, we need to be clear about this: Pregnancy is distinct and different from anything a man experiences and we must refuse to devalue and re-define what pregnancy is, in order to deal in male terms.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Yes, even in the first trimester, abortion kills

Human embryo at 7 and a half weeks of age, via the Endowment for Human Development. Abortions are commonly committed at this stage of pregnancy.
People looking for a middle ground in the abortion debate often settle on being pro-choice, "but just for the first trimester." In fact, Gallup polling suggests that about three-fifths of American adults take this position (although the survey is a few years old).

One-third of the way through pregnancy is an arbitrary point to be sure. It stands to reason that whatever or whomever is in the womb is either alive the whole time, or it isn't. But the first trimester does nicely as a get-out-of-the-debate free card. After all, who wants to choose between the "every sperm is sacred" bigots and "abortion on demand without apology" nutjobs? The former is of course a wildly inaccurate caricature, and not every pro-choicer is a nutjob either. But those who trust the media wouldn't necessarily know much beyond the headline-grabbing extremes. In a storm of extremists, people look for the high—middle—ground.

I don't say that with condescending intent. After all, nobody has the time to be fully informed about every issue. I only know what I know because I've been actively involved in the pro-life movement for close to a decade. I shouldn't expect the general public to be experts on the first trimester of prenatal development, any more than my international relations-focused little brother should expect me to know all about Chinese foreign policy.

So let's talk about what's happening in the first trimester, shall we? Here are some facts from the Endowment for Human Development, obviously much condensed:
  • Conception: The unique DNA that will guide lifelong development and determine physical characteristics is established.
  • One week old: The embryo has attached to the uterine wall.
  • Two weeks old: The embryo develops three germ layers that will give rise to the organ systems: the ectoderm (nervous system and skin), mesoderm (circulatory system, kidneys, and muscles), and endoderm (liver, pancreas, bladder, and other organs). 
  • Three weeks old: The heart beats and a rudimentary brain has formed.
  • Four weeks old: Intestines, cerebellum, and limb buds appear.
  • Five weeks old: Cerebral hemispheres, pituitary gland, kidneys, and eyes begin to form.
  • Six weeks old: Hands and bones begin to form.
  • Seven weeks old: Reproductive organs appear; the embryo moves its head and legs; the embryo hiccups. 
  • Eight weeks old: All organ systems are present; this is the traditional dividing line between "embryo" and "fetus."
  • Nine weeks old: The fetus sucks his or her thumb, drinks uterine fluid, and reacts to light touching of the face, hands, and feet.
  • Ten weeks old: Fingernails and toenails begin to grow, and the child's unique fingerprints appear.
  • Eleven weeks old: The nose and lips are formed, and with them, the fetus begins making facial expressions; weight increases by 60%.
  • Twelve weeks old: The fetus, now 12 centimeters long, is ready for the second trimester.
Abortion in the first trimester is extremely common. Here's former abortionist Dr. Anthony Levatino, teaming up with Live Action, to show you how it a typical first trimester abortion is committed (all animated, no gore; you can see first trimester abortion victims here):

Life begins in the womb, and abortion is a tragic human rights violation. Yes, even in the first trimester.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

My Almost Abortion Experience

[Today's guest post is by Claudia Turcott.]

I looked at the plus sign on the pregnancy test in disbelief… This couldn’t be happening. Just a short month before, I’d been told by an ob/gyn that I would need fertility treatments to ever be able to conceive. I had been having the time of my life, partying and just enjoying life as a career college student with no responsibilities. I was in a relationship with a guy that made my heart race and my stomach do flip-flops. Neither of us thought much past the next party, pack of cigarettes, or 12-pack of beer. Life was easy and fun. Until this.

I had always been pro-life in theory, but now this was ME, MY life. I decided I wanted an abortion. No way was I ready to parent a child. I was a slacker extraordinaire. My main interest: fun. My boyfriend said he needed to give it some thought. After taking a day or two, he came back and agreed it was for the best.

I went to the university clinic and took another test to confirm my pregnancy. They gave me two pamphlets, one dealing with adoption, and the other with info on how and where to get an abortion. I called the number in the pamphlet and made an appointment for later in the week.

I took a good friend with me, as well as my boyfriend. It was a three hour drive to Houston and no one said much. As we neared the abortion facility protesters with large, grotesque signs came into view. I averted my eyes. I had a sick feeling as I sought to push away the reality of what I was about to do.

Once in the facility, I checked in and my boyfriend and friend sat down with magazines.

I was asked to provide a urine sample. The bathroom was on the other side of the large waiting room and every so often, a woman would emerge with a plastic cup full of her urine. This struck me as very humiliating. I wrapped my cup with a paper towel.

There were so many women there of every age, race, and seemingly socio-economic class. We were grouped together as we made our way through the process. At one point, I was given an ultrasound, and the tech matter-of-factly declared, "5 weeks." Then it was on to group "counseling." A young woman explained the process and then opened the floor to questions. I knew the answer to mine before I even asked, "Is it alive?" The response was, "It's a clump of villi." It was what I wanted and needed to hear, but I knew better.

Then it was back to the waiting room where we all sat until we were called, one by one, to do the actual procedure. I was struck by the tea party like atmosphere. Most women chatted seemingly nonchalantly. At one point, a woman tapped her foot impatiently, glanced at her watch and said, "How long is this going to take, I have stuff to do." I was shocked, and wondered to myself, "Does she not have any idea of the significance of what she's about to do?" A pretty brunette suddenly offered, "My husband keeps saying we're going out tonight. He just doesn't get it." She told us she was 13 weeks pregnant and had a three year old daughter. Again, all I could think was, "You're married with a child, why are you here?"

I found myself talking to a woman to next to me. At 38, she was older than most of us. Inexplicably, I began trying to convince her that she could do it, raise her baby. She gave me all the reasons why she couldn't.

Out of all of us present in our group that day, there was only one woman who, in my view, was having the appropriate response. She never stopped crying, never made eye contact with anyone, never spoke. She just sat there, curled up in a fetal position, as she stared off into space, and wept.

One by one we were called. I sat there, stomach churning, knowing in my heart of hearts that this was SO wrong. I had not been able to quiet that inner voice that kept gently telling me, "No, you must not do this." I argued back and forth with that voice. It was so gentle, so serene, but also very persistent. My name was called. I got up and made my way to the table. "Take everything off below the waist and lay on the table, feet in the stirrups." I reached for my pants.

I hesitated. I stood frozen. The nurse noticed my reaction and advised me to go back to the waiting room and let a few more go ahead of me, until I felt more ready. Ready never came. When I was called a second time, the same thing happened. The nurse looked at me and said, "You don't really want to be here." I replied, "Does anybody really want to be here?"

She told me I was early and had lots of time to come back. Plenty of time. I knew I was walking out of that place and NEVER going back.

The author and her daughter
I made my way back to the waiting room where I had to deliver the news to my boyfriend that I was not going to have an abortion. To his credit, he didn't react negatively, but just accepted my decision and we all left.

I was definitely NOT happy about being pregnant. I didn't want to be anyone's mom. I went home feeling trapped. I knew I couldn't go through with an abortion, but I did NOT want a baby. Telling my conservative Hispanic parents was hard. They were deeply disappointed, but at the same time, there was no question that I had their support. Reality set in for my boyfriend and he broke up with me. Told me his feelings had changed. He promised to help me, but did not want to get married or even be with me anymore. Thankfully, this turned out to be his knee jerk reaction, made out of panic. We stayed together.

I sometimes wished that I would die, get hit by a car. Anything to be out of this situation. This was truly the worst thing that could have ever happened to me... or, so I thought.

Over time, things slowly fell into place. Little by little, day by day. Things that seemed insurmountable (like finances) worked themselves out. My boyfriend had just graduated from college, but couldn't find a job in our small college town paying more than $5 an hour (which he took). I still had a year to go to get my degree.

I worried a lot during the course of my pregnancy that I would not love my child because I did not want her. I agonized over what kind of mother I would be. I resolved to talk to and sing to my unborn child every day. To act "as if." The old "fake it til you make it." It was quite an experience to feel the baby moving and then eventually for her dad to feel her, too. I read all the books I could get my hands on about pregnancy and babies. My boyfriend worked hard every day at whatever job the temp agency assigned him to. In the meantime, I was also very afraid of the actual labor and delivery process.

Finally, the big day arrived. I went into labor and accompanied by my mom and boyfriend, checked into the hospital. Seeing our baby girl, Taylor, for the first time melted our hearts. Oh, the joy, the love, welled up inside of us both. She was a perfect, easy baby and we were absolutely crazy in love with her. All of my fears and reservations melted away the minute I laid eyes on her. Twenty years later, I can still say she was the beginning of everything good in my life. Her arrival ushered in an era of blessings that continues to this day. She is a treasure. How wrong I was to think she was anything but a precious gift.

When she was three months old, her dad and I got married. We have been married for 20 years and have three other children, ages 17, 11, and 7. They are each a treasure and a blessing in their own right, none of whom would exist had I ended my first pregnancy. Words will always fail to express the true depth of my gratitude that my inner voice would not be silenced that day in the abortion facility.

My husband and I struggled mightily with when/how/if to tell our daughter our story. We agonized over the effect it might have on her. In the end, after years of grappling and consideration, we felt the time had come. She was home from college her freshman year. We sat her down and with great trepidation, told her our story. Her story. To our tremendous relief, she reacted with wisdom and maturity. She told us it didn't surprise her that people in our situation would react that way and that there was never a time she felt unloved or unwanted by us. Years of fear and dread evaporated for me, just like that.

One of the blessings that has emerged from our revelation is that Taylor was galvanized to become a pro-life activist. This fills my heart with joy, as I know that her activism will save lives. For my part, my heart's desire is that no other woman ever make the same mistake I came so very close to making. My heart breaks for every woman out there who has had an abortion. I want to save others the grief, regret, and pain that comes with the decision to end a pregnancy.

I can't think of a single woman who regrets having her child, but there is NO shortage of women who regret their abortions. There is always a better option than abortion. It is NEVER the answer.

The author with her family

Monday, March 7, 2016

This is what an ambulatory surgical center looks like

On Friday, I had the unique opportunity to tour an empty ambulatory surgical center. The facility has been built in compliance with regulations, but the clinic is still in the process of raising funds for surgical equipment. So I got to see purely what the law requires, before the ambulatory surgical center is specialized for the types of surgery to be done.

My tour had nothing to do with abortion directly. As I've mentioned on this blog before, I am a graduate of the University of Miami and now live about an hour and a half away. The world-renowned Bascom Palmer Eye Institute is part of the university health system and houses the medical school's department of ophthalmology. Bascom Palmer recently opened a satellite facility in my area and the local alumni club (of which I'm a board member) took a tour.

You can get basic eye care at Bascom Palmer, but its focus is on chronic eye diseases, like glaucoma, and rare cases, like pediatric cancer of the eye. The goal is to provide local access to top-notch specialty care so that the neediest patients don't have to travel to Miami.

Thus the ambulatory surgical center, where Bascom Palmer doctors will perform a variety of eye surgeries. Complications are rare, but risks of eye surgery include infection, retinal detachment, and in the worst-case scenario, loss of vision. An internet search reveals only one person who died from eye surgery, and that occurred at a troubled facility that had recently killed two other patients in cosmetic procedures.

Bascom Palmer's ambulatory surgical center takes up most of the second floor of the two-story building. The non-surgical portion of the building is already open and treating patients.

Without further ado, here's that horribly burdensome wide hallway you've heard so much about:
Oh my gawd, it's like you could fit two stretchers in here.

An operating room:

And the recovery area, sans beds and curtains:

Aesthetically, Bascom Palmer has gone above and beyond with things like sleek wood cabinets and doors that open by sensor, in keeping with the modern look of the building overall. But the basics of the ambulatory surgical center struck me as unremarkable. Of course outpatient surgeries should be performed in a place like this. This is what the abortion lobby is fighting?

As I said before, risk-wise, eye surgery compares favorably to abortion. Not once did our tour guide complain that the regulatory standards were too stringent. Fundraising is part of her job description, but apparently it didn't occur to her to motivate us as potential donors by framing ambulatory surgical center regulations as part of a war on kids with eye cancer. She and everyone else we encountered were very proud of the facility (as they absolutely should be) and eager to give Bascom Palmer's patients the best possible care.

It isn't cheap. Bascom Palmer is a not-for-profit, and it took on a multi-million-dollar loan to build the facility (including the non-surgical parts). But they're willing to do it, because the profit motive is secondary; their primary motivations are concern for patients, and professional pride.

File under "abortion is not health care."

Friday, March 4, 2016

Free training to help you identify and prevent honor violence

I live at the intersection of the pro-life and atheist worlds, which often gives me access to information that a good chunk of my contacts would not ordinarily come across. In this case, allow me to introduce Christian pregnancy care center workers and volunteers to outspoken atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and her organization, the AHA Foundation.

The AHA Foundation works to prevent female genital mutilation, forced marriages, and honor-based violence around the world. The foundation recently released an online training module that teaches people how to identify red flags for honor violence and how to respond without making the situation more volatile. The training is completely free. The target audience is "those professionals who are most likely to encounter cases of honor violence," including law enforcement, social workers, and teachers.

I would add pregnancy center workers to that list. If a teenager is trying to hide her pregnancy from her parents, is she simply embarrassed or dreading a disappointed reaction? Or does unwed pregnancy "dishonor" her family and put her at risk for abuse or murder? In the former situation, the girl's advocate may naturally want to reassure her that everything will be okay, help her gently break the news to her parents, and get the parents' support. But in the latter situation, that response is dead wrong. As the training puts it: "Girls in danger from honor violence may have only one chance to reach out for help before abuses escalate into murder." Knowing the red flags is crucial.

I took the training myself, even though I'm unlikely to come across victims of honor violence in my day job as a business litigator, because it can't hurt to be educated and prepared. As I said, it's free, and takes less than an hour. I was already familiar with AHA's work but I still learned a few things. (One quick tip: people at risk for honor violence and forced marriage can reach a crisis counselor at any time by texting FREE to 741741.)

Please share this life-saving course far and wide, especially to your friends who are in a position to encounter victims of honor violence on a regular basis.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tomorrow: Rally at the Supreme Court for major abortion case

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt, an abortion business's challenge to an admitting privileges requirement and safety regulations in Texas. We desperately need Justice Kennedy to rule in favor of the legislation. The lives of women and unborn babies alike depend on it.

There will be a ton of media outside the Court, and Students for Life of America is on a mission to make the pro-life generation impossible to ignore. The image of a sea of pro-life youth advocates bearing "Protect Them Both" signs, versus middle-aged abortion advocates and extremists from Stop Patriarchy, is sure to make an impression.

Here are the details:
1 – Come to the US Supreme Court (1st Ave NE, Washington, DC) THIS Wednesday, March 2nd, when the Court will hear the case, by 8am, where we will rally until Noon. Sign up here on Facebook and start inviting your friends.
2 – Bring your energy and your friends! We’ll have free signs for everyone!
3 – If you can't make it to the event please use #protectthemboth on your social media accounts to show your support.
The two nearest Metro stops are: Union Station (Red Line) and Capitol South (Orange and Blue Line).
This is the law against which Wendy Davis in Texas did her famous filibuster in Texas three years ago. It’s the same law that we rallied for in Austin and encountered an enormous number of pro-choice advocates rallying against it and screaming “Hail Satan!”
This law has the potential to not only protect women and their preborn babies but also close unsafe abortion clinics, like that of Kermit Gosnell. It is so important that we make our voices heard on Wednesday, March 2nd.
Some of the speakers plan to pray, so if you happen to be secular, please bring signs identifying you as an atheist, agnostic, etc. to counter the abortion advocates who will doubtless seek to frame common-sense abortion safety legislation as a church-state violation.