Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Abortion Speakout and the Abortion Religion

The 1 in 3 Campaign, an abortion lobby group, is holding its annual "Abortion Speakout" today at 3:00 p.m.

There is a lot I could write about this event. I could start by pointing out that the very name is a lie; "1 in 3" is a reference to the thoroughly debunked talking point that one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. This was never true, and it certainly isn't true now that the abortion rate is at its lowest level since Roe v. Wade. (Some pro-choice groups have quietly conceded the point and now claim the correct number is "nearly one in four.")

I could write about how women have organically come together to share their stories of abortion regret for decades, and how the abortion lobby's latest efforts to put a happy face on abortion fall flat. I could write about how abortion celebration stories hurt women who have experienced miscarriage and infertility.

But instead, I want to share a single story from the 1 in 3 campaign's website. The story was submitted by a woman known only as Michele. It is peak Abortion Religion—which we've previously defined as "a set of supernatural beliefs which justify abortion on the ground that the victim of an abortion isn't really dead." Abortion Religion comes in various flavors, but typically adopts unproven ideas about reincarnation or ensoulment and uses them to rationalize violence against unborn children. (Of course, there is no logical reason why Abortion Religion couldn't be extended to rationalize infanticide or violence against older children.)

Michele writes (emphasis mine):
It may seem paradoxical, but I had two abortions because of how deeply I care about children. I had my first abortion years ago with my first boyfriend, before I had my daughter, and the second, many years later, with my daughter’s father.
I listened to a heated exchange between two women on the radio, the talk of how “each child is a flower.” This represents a fundamental misunderstanding, of life. First, life does not begin with a mere beating heart, with DNA exchanged between two cells, the inception of procreation. Life is not merely physical. Life is only life when the spiritual component enters into the biology. This is something I learned only as an adult. Yet, this recognition is essential in order to address the issue of abortion. A fetus is a vessel for the soul to enter. It is the human soul that enlivens the body. And there is a world of souls, preparing to enter our physical world. We ourselves in our bodies are the souls here on our Earth, here to learn from and to teach one another, in our various journeys. When does the soul enter the body? Well it depends, but when there is going to be an abortion, I believe a soul does not enter. The world up there is a world of knowing, and they are always trying to help us learn and grow. We ourselves are flowers, down here. We are here not only to bring children into the world, but to grow our own capacity for service to God.
"Life is only life when the spiritual component enters into the biology" echoes Justice Kennedy's widely mocked proclamation in Planned Parenthood v. Casey that "at the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existing, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of life." This should terrify anyone who cares about basing public policy on objective reality.

Michele is, of course, free to believe whatever she likes, however unfounded and irrational it may be. That's her First Amendment right. But historically, American courts have held that people do not have the right to impose their dangerous religious beliefs onto their children. This is why an adult Jehovah's Witness may refuse a life-saving blood transfusion, but a child in the Jehovah's Witnesses is entitled to receive a blood transfusion in an emergency without regard to parental objections. The same principle applies here. The Abortion Religion imposes death onto children who have no say in the matter. That is intolerable, and will one day be viewed as a barbaric practice rightly condemned to the ash heap of history.

Monday, February 26, 2018

On the Single-Issue Struggle

Secular Pro-Life is a single-issue organization, and that issue is opposition to abortion. However, we frequently partner with multi-issue organizations on pro-life projects.

CLE activist Aimee Murphy
Some of those multi-issue organizations, such as Rehumanize International and Consistent Life, embrace what's known as the "consistent life ethic" (CLE) opposing all acts of violence against human beings. CLE groups typically advocate against unjust war, capital punishment, and various social ills in addition to abortion.

Other multi-issue organizations we've worked with have a more specialized focus, such as the numerous groups that combine opposition to abortion and opposition to physician-assisted suicide. And then, of course, there are those whose anti-abortion advocacy is one small part of a broader religious mission or political philosophy.

This can sometimes be a challenging landscape to navigate. Making it even more difficult, abortion itself has, tragically, become thoroughly entangled in our society. If you strive to be single-issue, as Secular Pro-Life does, where does the issue of abortion begin and end?

A few months ago, when a draft tax plan proposed elimination of the adoption tax credit, pro-lifers voiced near-unanimous displeasure and the credit was swiftly reinstated. The argument was straightforward: adoption is a key abortion alternative, and reduced funding for adoption could lead to more abortions. I happen to agree with that argument and think it fair to say that a pro-life organization could, in that situation, remain "single-issue" while taking a position on tax reform. To give another example, Students for Life of America has a terrific program called Pregnant on Campus that (among other things) educates students about their Title IX rights; those legal protections help pregnant students stay in school, which in turn reduces the pressure for abortion. I do not believe this advocacy transforms Students for Life of America into a multi-issue, "pro-life and pro-Title IX" organization. And of course, the pro-life movement's constant struggle against pro-choice censors has led many of us to become stalwart defenders of freedom of speech, which is fundamentally necessary for us to continue our activism.

How far does this logic extend? If a pro-life organization pushed for a higher minimum wage, arguing that most abortions are committed for financial reasons and that higher wages will therefore prevent abortions, would that organization still be considered single-issue? I suspect most readers will say no, but why not? What about paid maternity leave? What about an organization that (like Secular Pro-Life) promotes contraception and sex education as abortion prevention tools? Conversely, what about pro-life organizations that believe contraception has the unintended effect of increasing risky sexual activity, leading to more unplanned pregnancies, and therefore oppose contraception and emphasize abstinence?

The debate about what is and is not "single-issue" becomes even murkier due to recurring communication failures. For instance, I have observed that non-CLE pro-lifers often view CLE pro-lifers with suspicion because they associate CLE with the infantile pro-abortion taunt that "you're not really pro-life unless you also [fill in the blank]." Knowing so many CLE activists personally, I can tell you they most certainly do not view themselves as the only true pro-lifers—but in our sound-bite-driven world, perceptions trump intentions.

And then there is the tendency—so universal that I'm willing to bet I've been guilty of it myself—to treat those causes you personally care about as having an obvious connection to abortion, while those you do not care as much about are obviously unrelated.

The single-issue debate is hot at the moment, but it's been ongoing for longer than I have been alive. I certainly don't expect to solve it single-handedly. What I can do is name some categories that I hope will make the debate a bit clearer going forward. (Note that all of these categories apply to pro-life organizations and to individuals in their capacity as pro-life advocates.)

Category 1: Standard anti-abortion activism. This includes lobbying for pro-life laws, protesting abortion enablers, and educating the general public about abortion. Most pro-life organizations engage in these activities, which are unquestionably abortion-related.

Category 2: Direct aid to women. Sidewalk counselors, pregnancy resource centers, the Pregnant on Campus initiative, post-abortion support groups, and adoption-focused organizations belong in this category.

Category 3: The pro-life auxiliary. These are the lawyers protecting pro-lifers' freedom of speech, the consultants helping pregnancy centers target their advertising to reach women in need, the debate trainers teaching student activists how to make the case against abortion effectively, etc. They may be a step removed from the front line, but their work is incredibly valuable.

Category 4: "X causes abortion." Unlike Category 2, which involves reaching individual women in crisis and addressing the problems they cite as contributing to their consideration of abortion, Category 4 takes on a broader perspective. If you believe that the root cause of abortion is poverty, you might treat anti-poverty efforts as fundamentally pro-life. If you believe that the root cause of abortion is society's abandonment of traditional Christian sexual morality, you might preach the Gospel as part of your pro-life outreach. If you believe that the root cause of abortion is lack of respect for human life in general (not only preborn human lives), you might start by encouraging people to see similarities between themselves and others who do not look like them.

Category 5: "The same thing that causes abortion also causes X." This builds upon Category 4. Taking our earlier examples, a Category 5 organization might say:
  • "Abortion is caused by poverty. Poverty also causes homelessness. Therefore, we volunteer at homeless shelters as part of our pro-life mission."
  • "Abortion is caused by society's abandonment of traditional Christian sexual morality. Same-sex marriage also arises from society's abandonment of traditional Christian sexual morality. Therefore, we officially oppose same-sex marriage."
  • "Abortion is caused by lack of respect for human life. Unjust war also demonstrates a lack of respect for human life. Therefore, our pro-life advocacy encompasses opposition to unjust war."
Category 6: No substantive relationship to abortion. Here we have pro-life organizations that clearly are not single-issue and would never claim to be. For instance, the 66-page Republican Party platform addresses everything from federal dairy policies to cybersecurity, in addition to life issues.  

In my opinion, any organization whose work is limited to Categories 1, 2, and/or 3 is single-issue. Those in Categories 5 and 6 are unambiguously multi-issue. I see ample room for debate about Category 4.

Whatever category or categories of advocacy you're involved in, I hope we can understand one another better and stand united for the cause of preborn children. Our tactical and strategic differences should not overshadow the tragic destruction wrought by Roe v. Wade.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Volunteer Opportunity: Project Advisory Board

Secular Pro-Life is embarking on a new project to launch this June, and we are looking for volunteers to serve on our project advisory board. You'll get to hang out with the same awesome folks who were on the #HelloHyde advisory board, gain valuable activism experience, and contribute to a wonderful cause.

We can't share all the details of the project in a public forum yet, but we can tell you that it has a special appeal to pro-life feminists and people with an interest in the justice system. This volunteer opportunity is open to pro-lifers of every gender, race, creed, and political persuasion. We are particularly in need of people with a background in any of the following areas:
  • Signature-gathering, canvassing, and other campaign experience
  • Public relations and connections to news media
  • Job/internship experience on Capitol Hill
  • Web design
  • Graphic design
  • Marketing and social media 
  • Webcast production
This is a very flexible volunteer position and you can live anywhere in the United States. The time commitment will vary depending upon the role you adopt on the board.

If you are interested, send an email to with the subject line "Advisory Board." Include your name, a bit about yourself, and two or three pro-life references. We look forward to working with you!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Fixed that meme for you

Secular Pro-Life does not take an official position on what gun control measures are best suited to end the scourge of school shootings in America. We do, however, take an official position on ignorant bullshit memes: we are opposed. So when we saw this questionable meme comparing gun policy to abortion policy, we felt the need to make a few corrections:

Let's break this down, shall we?

Gun purchase waiting periods are already a thing. Like abortion waiting periods, the specifics vary from state to state. In my home state of Florida, the gun purchase waiting period is three business days. Want a longer waiting period in your state? Contact your legislators!

Rather than imposing parental consent laws, most states outright ban minors from buying guns. There are some gaps here, as detailed by The Guardian, because states have different laws for different types of guns. I expect this to be an area of significant focus for gun policy reformers in the coming months. Nevertheless, laws on guns for minors are already stricter than laws on abortions for minors, because Supreme Court precedent prevents enforcement of any age requirement for abortion.

What does informed consent for guns look like? The closest analogue is mandatory training. About half of states require gun owners to take a class before they can obtain a concealed carry permit. Slightly more than half of states require informed consent for abortion. Both pro-life advocates and gun safety advocates have a way to go in this area.

Whoever made the original meme clearly has no idea what pre-abortion ultrasounds are for. Abortion vendors use ultrasound to determine how far along the pregnancy is, which is how they decide which abortion method to use and how much to charge. Ultrasound is also used to detect ectopic pregnancies. Ultrasound laws have nothing to do with whether or not an abortionist will do an ultrasound; they will, as standard procedure. Rather, ultrasound laws exist to stop abortionists from hiding the ultrasound images from their patients. None of this "turn the screen away from her, it's just a clump of cells, ho-hum" nonsense.

Oh, and the wand is optional; you can get an ultrasound with no penetration of any bodily orifices.

Abortion businesses are, sadly, plentiful. There are over 700 abortion businesses in the United States. Only a handful of states are down to one abortion facility. But the number of abortion businesses has decreased substantially in recent years. One factor is decreased demand: fewer women are having unplanned pregnancies, and of those who do, more are choosing life. Another factor is enforcement of the health and safety regulations that shoddy abortionists routinely violate.

Gun control advocates are more than welcome to follow the pro-life movement's example. Want to decrease demand for guns? Educate people on gun hazards and offer alternative self-defense methods. Want to close gun shops? Investigate potential legal violations by your local firearms vendor, and if current laws aren't stopping bad actors, lobby for stricter standards.

On that note, why not emulate sidewalk counselors? There is nothing stopping you from protesting on public sidewalks outside gun shops. Hold up those victim photos. Plead with firearms customers to reconsider. You have the right to freedom of speech... at least until gun vendors respond by enacting "bubble zones" to censor your advocacy. These laws are unconstitutional and the pro-life movement has been fighting them in court for decades.

Abortion is lethal. No doubt, a gun in the wrong hands can be incredibly destructive in a very short period of time. In responsible hands, a gun is unlikely to kill anyone at all. Abortion instruments won't slaughter a room full of people all at once, but abortion consistently takes lives one or two at a time (except in the very rare case of abortion survivors). Over 60 million human beings have lost their lives to abortion since Roe v. Wade. It's not "health care."

Asking whether it makes more sense to stop abortion or to stop gun violence imagines a zero-sum game where none exists. It cynically pits victims of different injustices against one another for no reason.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review: I Lived On Parker Avenue

The adoption documentary I Lived On Parker Avenue will be released on March 8—less than three weeks away! I got a sneak peek, and it is an incredible film.

In 30 minutes, I Lived On Parker Avenue traces the lives of 19-year-old David; his adoptive parents and grandparents; his biological mother, Melissa, and her family; and his biological father, Brian, and his family. Home video footage, interviews, and reenactments combine beautifully to tell a moving story of life and love.

As Melissa states in the trailer: "David was seconds, literally, from not being here." I won't give away the details of how Melissa came to reject abortion and preserve David's life, but I will say this: hardly anyone, pro-life or pro-choice, comes out of it looking good. Melissa deserved so much better.

David grew up with full knowledge of his adoption, and upon reaching adulthood, he decided he wanted to communicate with Melissa and Brian. After some time getting to know one another from a distance, David's two families finally come together in person. The filmmakers were there to capture that emotional moment.

As great as that is, it's not even the most emotional part of the film. That comes at the very end, which I will not spoil.

Is this a pro-life movie? Without a doubt. But it does not shy away from how difficult adoption can be, and the sacrifices birth parents make to give their children the opportunity for a better life. It's also a film that pro-choicers can watch without getting defensive. And it avoids the dreaded pitfalls: there's no religious proselytizing, the production values are superb, and the life-affirming message comes through organically.

Like the I Lived On Parker Avenue facebook page, or sign up for emails at the film's website, to be notified when it's available to watch!

Friday, February 16, 2018

We asked, you answered: the politics of unfriending

Last week we asked our facebook fans: "Do you unfriend people who disagree with you about abortion? Why or why not?"

The overwhelming majority answered no. A few said they would unfriend a pro-choicer under specific circumstances. No one gave an unqualified yes.
Jennifer B.: No. For lots of reasons, including: (1) Those people are still my friends. If I can engage with them, even better, but I'm also interested in *why* they're pro-choice. (2) Turning Facebook into your own personal echo chamber doesn't make you better at arguing your points. (3) You don't change minds by trying to silence people. Unfriending them, to me, would make it seem like I'm afraid of what they might say.
John B.: Nope. They're the people I'm trying to reach.  
Maureen E.: I would have to unfriend my own husband.
Jane C.: I try not to unfriend people with different beliefs unless they are consistently unkind to me or my loved ones.
Jonathan S.: It would be dumb and insular to unfriend someone because they disagree with me on an issue; even an issue as important as the abortion issue. We won't change hearts and minds by ostracizing anyone who disagrees with us.
Scott C.: I have to a few. They just said things I found reprehensible. One told me that not only do men have no say, women have the right to keep it a secret from the fathers. Another nicknamed her baby “parasite” on some pregnancy tracking app.
Sarah G.: No. For the same reason I lift weights: Resistance makes me stronger. I could never fortify my arguments against abortion unless I had opposition. I can't defeat the enemy unless I know him. I can't gain allies if I can't talk to them into switching sides first.
Andy A.: I only unfriend/block stalkers and people who creep me out. I like keeping people who disagree with my ideology because it paves the way for good conversations and debates.
Owen E.: No, in the hope that keeping lines of communication open may lead to them changing their minds. Also knowing what your ideological opponents think and feel is good - both to understand their view and to humanize them.
Sean H.: I mean I used to be the guy I disagree with and I changed my mind, why block people?
Unprompted, a secondary theme quickly emerged...
Arkadiusz K.: Unfriending them is just like giving up. Usually they unfriend me.
Sarah T.: No. Never once have. But a lot of them have unfriended me. Including, recently, a friend I've know for over 30 years. My crime was posting a picture from an embryology textbook of a 20 week preborn baby in the womb on her status supporting late term abortion. My words were "this is what a baby/fetus looks like at 20 weeks. I oppose late term abortion." This was apparently enough to get me unfriended and blocked.
Joanna W.: Typically not, although I make an exception if they are behaving badly on my wall (name-calling, profanity, etc.) and won’t knock it off. I have been unfriended by many pro-choicers, though, and likely unfollowed by many more. 
Jason B.: Never had to. They usually unfriend me first.
Anna S.: I only unfriend people if they’re disrespectful. I make a point to follow groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood. I have been unfriended hella times, though.
Sharyn T.: No, but I've been unfriended and blocked before for opposing abortion (even if we agree on everything else.) 
Donna M.: No, but they've unfriended me. I lived.
If pro-lifers are keeping pro-choice friends in order to give them a new perspective on abortion, while pro-choicers are unfriending pro-lifers and retreating into an echo chamber, that could be a major factor in the success of the pro-life movement in the social media era.

Joshua M. commented: "Studies actually show that liberals are more likely to unfriend because of politics." He's right. We'll be the first to affirm that liberal/pro-choice and conservative/pro-life do not map over each other completely, but the anecdotal evidence above suggests that the unfriending pattern does carry over into the abortion debate.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Got a story to share? These two organizations want to hear it.

The pro-life movement has science and logic on its side, but that's not enough to persuade everyone; we mustn't discount the power of storytelling. Life-affirming stories have always played a crucial role, and today, I want to highlight two organizations that focus on this area.

(1) You may remember Pro-Life Champions as the organization that brought us the documentary film 40. Released in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2013, 40 includes interviews with Secular Pro-Life president Kelsey Hazzard and many others. Five years later, Pro-Life Champions has a new project: Shout Your Story, an online catalog of unplanned pregnancy stories offering hope to women in crisis. Unlike 40, Shout Your Story features shorter video clips that are easily shared on social media. If you'd like to contribute to Shout Your Story, contact them here.

(2) I just learned about Orange Socks when I stopped by March for Life Expo last month, and I'm so glad I did. Orange Socks is an incredible resource for parents whose children are diagnosed with serious genetic conditions. When diagnosis is made prenatally, parents face tremendous pressure to abort. As Orange Socks puts it: "Advice and guidance from medical professionals and internet searches can only go so far, and the information and images are often scary. The best source of information, to know what it’s really like to have a child with a disability or life-long condition, is from another parent who has a similar child."

Orange Socks collects those accounts of what it's really like, and organizes them by diagnosis so that parents can quickly find compassionate information about their child's condition—everything from ADNP Syndrome to ventriculomegaly! If you are the parent of a child with a disability, I encourage you to submit your story to Orange Socks here.

Finally, if you have a life-affirming story that doesn't quite fit either of the above, you are welcome to submit it to Secular Pro-Life! We are always accepting guest blog posts.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Are viruses "alive?"

The fetus is a living human organism.

When I state this long-standing and (at least in the field of biology) undisputed fact, pro-choicers usually have one of three reactions:

Reaction 1: They argue the point based on ignorance of basic biology. “A single cell is not an organism.” “A zygote is no different than your skin cells—they’re both human.” "Human life doesn’t begin at fertilization; it began millions of years ago." (Here is our summary post dispelling these and other common pro-choice misconceptions.)

Reaction 2: They concede the point and get philosophical. “Sure, biologically the fetus is a ‘human being,’ but philosophically, morally, the fetus is not a person, i.e. a human of value who merits protection.” (Here are a few of our past posts about different concepts of personhood, and I highly recommend the Equal Rights Institute's Zoo Shooting analogy testing people’s intuitions regarding personhood.)

Reaction 3: They argue the point by getting philosophical. “There’s no consensus on what it means to be ‘alive.’ By some definitions advanced artificial intelligence is alive. Is the Earth ‘alive?’ What about viruses? Are viruses ‘alive’?”

In my opinion this third type of response is actually pretty interesting, in a way. It’s true that we don’t have one universal definition of “life” that applies to all fields of inquiry and accounts for all of our intuitions about what might be considered alive and what probably isn’t. Here is a great video by “Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell” exploring these questions:

The video explicitly addresses the conundrum of whether viruses are alive:
This is where viruses make everything more complicated. They are basically strings of RNA or DNA in a small hull and need cells to do something. We’re not sure if they count as living or dead, and still there are 225M cubic meters of viruses on Earth. They don’t seem to care what we think of them.
The video doesn’t offer a definitive answer, only (fascinating) questions to ponder. But in terms of the abortion debate, this response is hardly the “gotcha!” argument some pro-choice people seem to think it is.

The fetus is a living human organism just as you and I are living human organisms. If we can’t know whether living human organisms are “really” alive because of deeply philosophical questions about viruses and the earth and aliens and AI, then we can’t know if you and I are “really” alive. Just like the fetus, we too are organisms made up of living cells that are made up of non-living microscopic machines.

So, at least as far as I can see, the pro-choice person making this argument has two options:

A. Assert that because we have no universal philosophical definition for “life,” we can’t really know if any human anywhere is truly “alive.” This strange premise leads to two implications that undermine the pro-choice argument:
  1. We don’t have to know if a human is “alive” in order to assert that human’s rights. The pro-choice person is asserting the right to an abortion even though the same person doesn’t seem sure whether the women seeking abortion are “alive” (since the pro-choice person isn’t sure what “alive” means in the first place).
  2. Uncertainty about whether a human is “alive” is not justification for killing that human. The pro-choice person is not (we hope) arguing that it’s okay to kill anyone at any time since we don’t really know what “alive” means.
B. Explain why these questions about “life” are profound only when it comes to the fetus and irrelevant when it comes to born humans. I strongly suspect this route will just lead us back to Reaction 2 above, but if anyone knows of a different response, I’d be curious to hear it.

In any case, when I say that the fetus is a living human organism, I am not implying that biology has answered all of life’s mysteries. I’m explaining that—to the extent you and I are biologically “alive”—so is the fetus. This statement is not a pro-life belief; it’s a long-standing well-established biological fact, and in stating it pro-lifers aren’t “twisting science” any more than are the countless biology and embryology texts which have explained for decades that, as organisms, we humans begin as zygotes.

The pro-choice people who are firm in their stance don’t tend to have a problem with this concept, because they believe merely being a living biological human is not enough to merit human rights. That’s fine—that’s a worthy discussion which we’ve tackled before (see above links). But I’ve long suspected that many pro-choice people are not nearly so confident in their position. How fragile does your view have to be if it only works as long as we can't really know if anything at all is "alive"?

"Viruses may or may not be 'alive,' so abortion is probably fine I guess."

Monday, February 12, 2018

What's wrong with killing?

Suppose a cute toddler is playing in front of us, riding on a toy truck, laughing and having a great time. She may be my child, or she may be anyone’s child. And suppose I kill that toddler before your eyes. You will all be shocked, certainly.

What I want to dig into here is what exactly has shocked us. I would like to submit that we would not have been shocked if not for our expectations that the life of that conspicuously alive child would continue in the next moment – and the moment after that, and the moment after that. Our shock will, by definition, consist simply of emotion and a pre-logical sense of wrongdoing. Logical analysis will not constitute any important part of our initial experience. And yet that gut experience, though it does not include analysis, can be subjected to analysis. We are shocked by the violence and the gore, but the violence and the gore mean what they do to us because subconsciously we understand their consequences. Their consequences are that I have deprived that child of her future. I have deprived all of us, but above all the child, of the life she would have had. Underlying our sense of wrongdoing, this was the real wrong.

(Evolutionary psychology would explain our response as a successful adaptation. I think the two explanations are not inconsistent.)

Suppose I killed that child with a sudden blow from behind. She did not experience pain. She did not experience fear. Yet nevertheless what I did was wrong. Some would say that I frustrated the child’s desire to live, but in fact her desire to live was “cured” in the moment that it was frustrated, so that the child never actually experienced frustration. The frustration that those people (such as Peter Singer) claim to be crucial was in fact purely theoretical. My brutal act did not result in any frustration, will not result in any frustration, and could not result in any frustration. The real wrong was that I deprived the child of the life she would have had, her future.

Everyone agrees that to cause suffering is a form of harm, and if that harm is unnecessary, it is wrong to cause it. But if to cause suffering is wrong, then to deprive of pleasure, or the chance for pleasure, is also wrong. A “potentiality account” of the wrongness of killing is to be found in Indian philosophy, and has been developed in the West by Don Marquis.

As mentioned, we expected that the life of that conspicuously alive child would continue in the next moment (let’s call it moment A) and for many moments after that. I deprived that individual of all that living, thus irreparably harming her, with a blow struck at moment A minus 1. But how else could I have caused that same harm to that same individual – or let’s say, how else could I have caused that same harm and even more to that same individual?

Obviously I could have caused that same harm and even more to that same individual with a blow struck at moment A minus 2, or at moment A minus 3. I could have caused that same harm and even more with a blow struck just after the child’s birth.

And, just as obviously, I could have caused such harm with a blow struck at the individual before the individual’s birth. I could have caused such harm with a blow struck at the individual just after fertilization. Whether or not we call that individual a “person” or a “human being” is completely irrelevant. I would be very comfortable calling it a “thingamajig.” The point is, whatever we may call it, if we kill it we clearly deprive it.

When I kill the toddler playing with her toys, the deprivation of moment A is in the future only by a moment, and when I kill the zygote, the deprivation of moment A is in the future by a couple of years, but what difference does that make? The deprivation is farther removed in time, but would not the toddler killed while still a zygote have lived moment A, soon enough, just as intensely as the toddler killed while a toddler? Of course she would have.

At either moment of killing, I have deprived that same individual of moment A and of a long string of moments, typically about eighty years of moments. They would not all have been moments of joy, certainly. Some would have been moments of great pain. But some would have been moments of joy, and all would have been moments of moral training and search for meaning.

Could I also have caused such harm to that same individual earlier than fertilization? No. Because before fertilization there was no such individual. There was a sperm, and there was an egg. The maximum possible harm that I can do to a sperm is to deprive it of some moments of sperm life. (And the maximum possible harm that I can do to an egg is to deprive it of some moments of egg life.) I don’t think that we should kill a sperm just for the fun of killing it, but the moments that we deprive it of, in killing it, cannot be compared in value to the toddler’s moment A, B, etc.; so we can kill it for any utility of human beings, whereas there is very little that can justify depriving any individual of moments such as A and B.

A sperm is an individual biological entity for whom, as an individual entity, there is no expectation that it will ever experience a moment like moment A. An egg is an individual biological entity for whom, as an individual entity, there is no expectation that it will ever experience a moment like moment A.

Of course if I kill a particular egg or the particular healthy sperm that is ahead of the pack in racing toward the egg, I prevent our toddler from coming into existence and thus prevent her moment A, B, etc. from ever occurring. But have I harmed anyone, have I wronged anyone – and if so, whom? Our moral intuitions say that harms can be done only to actual individual entities, not to theoretical individual entities. I have only harmed a theoretical individual entity, not any actual individual entity. (That is, the only actual individual that I harmed was the sperm or the egg, and as mentioned it had little to lose, so the harm wasn’t great.) By killing the individual toddler, or that individual toddler while still a zygote, did I take away from her that moment she was going to have, riding on the truck and laughing? Yes. By killing a sperm or an egg, did I take away from any individual that moment riding on the truck and laughing? No, the individual we’re talking about, the individual who can be deprived of a moment on a toy truck, and of many more moments of pleasure and pain over the 75 years that follow that moment, never exists if the meeting of sperm and egg does not occur.

It is to be observed that those who argue “If killing zygotes is wrong, then killing sperms and eggs is also wrong” invariably think that it is not wrong to kill sperms and eggs. And yet they agree that we cannot kill toddlers, and as we have seen, the wrongness of killing toddlers cannot be explained by pain, fear, or desire to live. So they are left with no explanation as to what is wrong with killing a toddler.

Of course it is only moral intuitions that can ultimately determine a correct moral principle, so if someone says they really have a moral intuition that depriving a theoretical individual is as harmful to that individual as depriving an actual individual, we cannot completely disprove the correctness of that moral principle with rational argumentation. But everyone agrees that “we have to draw the line somewhere,” and before no other line except fertilization can a serious argument even be made that killing does not deprive an individual of moments like moment A – that the prevention of moment A is not major deprivation for the individual who is killed. (I know there are arguments about “psychological personhood” and about continuity, but I don’t find them to be philosophically serious, and they seem to be ad hoc theories designed only to justify abortion.)

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

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Science/Philosophy Distinction

Last year I read and reviewed Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by abortionist Willie Parker (you can read my review of the book here). I posted my review on Goodreads and it actually garnered me more nasty responses than my reviews on Amazon, which surprised me somewhat. I gave a pretty thorough explanation for why his book doesn't add anything to the discussion on the moral argument over abortion. One thing in particular I mentioned was that the scientific evidence shows that human life begins at fertilization, yet Parker relies on pseudo-philosophical claims, as well as making himself out to be the only authority anyone needs, and passes them off as scientific claims. One of the commenters who responded to my review, who goes by Anna, wrote the following:
I read "Life's Work" and found it an entertaining biography and inspirational. I admire anyone who can overcome their fundamentalist religious upbringing and come into the 21st Century, where women are no longer under the boots of clergy or men. 

Re: "embryologists are, and they consistently agree, without significant controversy, that human life begins at fertilization.": You must not have had a graduate level biology class. Your statement is totally false. For example, the most world renowned embryologist, Dr. Lewis Wolpert, is pro-choice:

“What I’m concerned with is how you develop. I know that you all think about it perpetually that you come from one single cell of a fertilized egg. I don’t want to get involved in religion but that is not a human being. I’ve spoken to these eggs many times and they make it quite clear … they are not a human being.”--Dr. Lewis Wolpert, developmental and evolutionary biologist, author of "Principles of Development" and “Triumph of the Embryo”

“I’m also confident that the freshly fertilized zygote is not human, either. There’s more to being human than bearing a cell with the right collection of genes.”--Dr. Paul Myers, developmental biologist

Developmental biologists view reproduction as a cycle, not a starting point with fertilization:

“The idea that "life begins at conception" is not a scientific one. Since the disproof of 'spontaneous generation' (1668-1859), we have known that life only derives from life. Life arose billions of years ago and has continued since as a cycle. Assigning a beginning to a cycle (like the year) is arbitrary.”--Dr. Robert Wyman, neurobiologist 
This comment illustrates why all pro-life people need to be aware of the difference between a scientific claim and a philosophical claim, because random commenters and even scientists will confuses these two types of claims, such as what is going on here.

Of course, it's difficult to give a short definition of what a scientific claim is. But we can understand a scientific claim to mean something akin to an observation about the physical world. Science can only investigate physical reality. So any claim that tries to explain or investigate a non-physical aspect of reality is not a scientific claim. The scientific method is a physical method that allows us to investigate certain aspects of the universe. As it is a physical method, it can only investigate physical things. Any claims made about ethics or metaphysics is stepping outside the bounds of science. A claim that cutting a tree down will kill it is a scientific claim -- a claim that it is wrong to cut down a tree is an ethical claim, not a scientific one, even if it is a scientist who is making that claim. So saying that the field of embryology, as embryologists are the relevant experts, has a consensus that human life begins at fertilization is significant. Pointing out that there are pro-choice embryologists is not, because being pro-choice is about making an ethical claim. So an embryologist who tries to claim that abortion is wrong or right is stepping outside his field of expertise to make this claim. He may or may not be right, but he is not a relevant authority any longer.

Now let's look at Anna's comment. Her first paragraph implies the oft-repeated claim that being pro-life is a religious position held by neanderthals who never made it into the 21st century. This is, of course, complete hogwash that isn't worth time responding to. This is Cathy Newman-level bad engagement with your interlocutors' position.

Her second paragraph is interesting, in that she calls Lewis Wolpert an embryologist, and yet after quoting him refers to him as a developmental and evolutionary biologist. The latter is, of course, correct. Doctor Wolpert is a developmental biologist, not an embryologist. This means that he's not an expert on embryology and is not a counterexample to the claim that embryologists are in agreement that human life begins at fertilization.

But this quote doesn't say anything interesting. I would imagine Dr. Wolpert makes a more intelligent case elsewhere (Anna doesn't even source the claim, just alludes to two books that he's written, so I can't check the quote for accuracy). Doctor Wolpert makes the same mistake as Anna does, assuming the idea that life begins at fertilization is a religious claim as opposed to a scientific one. Then he says something bizarre in which, having never read the quote in context, I can only assume he's being condescending toward pro-life people. I doubt he's making a serious argument with his flippancy, which makes it all the more bizarre that Anna would quote it. It certainly doesn't make her case.

The quote from Paul Meyers (also a developmental biologist) more adequately expresses what I'm trying to relay here. Doctor Meyers is making a philosophical claim, that there is more to being human than bearing a cell with a right collection of genes. But that's exactly what you need if we're speaking biologically. If you can't tell what species something belongs to just by looking at it, you can take a blood sample and determine its species by its unique DNA. Of course, philosophically speaking, there's a lot more to being a human than simply having human DNA. Humans are also the kinds of things that can engage in rational thought, have relationships, hold religious and philosophical views, etc. Humans are more than the sum of their parts. But their parts are important in determining what, exactly, they are.

The final quote from Robert Wyman (a neurobiologist) makes the most bizarre claim I've ever seen a pro-choice person make. Life doesn't begin at fertilization, they claim, it began billions of years ago. And that is somehow supposed to show that we can't know when an individual human life begins. Not only in this argument simply wrong (I did not exist in the Jurassic period; there was a definite beginning to my existence), but it proves way too much. If we can't tell when human life begins because human life began billions of years ago, then Dr. Wyman can't prove that he is a human. Perhaps life doesn't begin until you're 80 years old. If we're to take Dr. Wyman's argument seriously, then you can't tell when anyone's life begins. This is clearly absurd, as is this argument.

These are just a few examples of people who not only make bad arguments, but confuse philosophical claims with scientific ones. It's true that embryologists are in constant agreement with this, but in case you encounter the occasional person who tries to refute this claim, knowing this basic distinction will be helpful as you attempt to show the person where he has gone wrong.

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

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

We asked, you answered: creative ways to contribute to the cause of life

Last week, we asked our facebook followers: "If a pro-lifer has little disposable income and lives in a remote or rural area (assume no nearby CPCs, abortion clinics, or pro-life-related events), what are some ways he or she could still contribute to pro-life work?" Here are some of our favorite answers. (You can read all of them here.)

Katherine L.: Compile a list of the nearest pro-life resources in the area that would be helpful for a mother considering abortion (throw in some online resources, too). Then send that resource list to every church in your area, as well as any local clubs, and go post it around at laundromats, libraries, or any community bulletin boards you can find.

Karen T.: Start a support network among her/his neighbors. Include non-traditional support such as emergency babysitting, car mechanics, home maintenance. Traditionally, rural areas hang together in the tough times. Use that motivation for pro-life efforts

Francesca P.: Live the movement and love all. Support those in your community (however small) who are struggling. Celebrate life in all stages, and be joyful. Reach out to individuals who may be hurting due to poverty, physical or mental illness, unplanned pregnancies, abusive relationships, or ANYTHING. The opportunities might not be fun or glamorous — they may be thankless and difficult — but still a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Pamela M.: Get involved in foster care — become foster parents or support those who are foster parents. Organize a drive — diapers, formula, wipes, etc. for the rural health department (if there isn't a different organization that would benefit more).

Erin G.: I live in a rural area and have zero dollars to donate. I drive an hour or so downtown to the Planned Parenthood to protest. And almost every county has a Right to Life chapter. If yours doesn't, start one! Ask friends, family and like minded people to get involved. You could write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. There's a lot of different ways. At the VERY least, you could use social media to speak for those who can't speak for themselves. I see a lot of pictures of cats, food and dumb jokes on facebook, but almost no one I know says anything about 3,000 innocent babies being killed every day.

Anita B.: Start a new-mom donation closet and make some flyers to post at local high schools and WIC offices. Ask friends and churches to donate diapers and maternity clothes and baby stuff for any mom in need.

Maria M.: Volunteering for pro-life politicians/candidates. A lot of campaigning stuff can be done by phone.

Beth W.: Mail flyers from "And Then There Were None" to an abortion clinic. This is an organization which provides assistance to abortion workers who want out.

Julia E.: Write columns/blog posts.
  • Editor's note: Secular Pro-Life is always looking for guest bloggers! More info here.
Meredith K.: Offer the spare bedroom as a place for pregnant women to stay if they need it.
  • Editor's note: I have done this and highly recommend it.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Students for Life leadership fellowship applications now open

It's that time of year, when I rave about the Wilberforce Fellowship and Stevens Fellowship offered through Students for Life of America (SFLA) and encourage you to apply.

The Wilberforce Fellowship brings together a select group of pro-life college students—who are already leaders of their campus organizations—and trains them to take their leadership skills to the next level, with an eye toward the possibility of full-time pro-life advocacy. The program kicks off with a weekend in the D.C. area (on SFLA's dime), and the friendships formed there are the stuff of legend. Each Wilberforce Fellow is paired with a mentor, and there are also regular readings and phone conferences throughout the year. The Stevens Fellowship is similar, but serves high school students.

I'm intimately familiar with the program: I was one of the inaugural Wilberforce Fellows, 2010-2011 class, and I later served as a mentor. (For those who are curious, my mentor was Dan McConchie, who was then an Americans United for Life attorney and is currently a state legislator. My mentee was Maria Oswalt, a University of Alabama graphic design student, who interned with Rehumanize International and just started a position with a pro-life organization in Ireland.) [EDIT: Maria informs she hasn't started yet, and is currently in Ireland as a tourist. We regret the error.] I've also given a presentation to the Stevens Fellows.

I owe so much to the solid advice, personal connections, and confidence-building encouragement I received through the Wilberforce Fellowship. I cannot recommend this program enough. If you qualify, what are you waiting for? The application deadline is April 1.

Learn more about the Wilberforce Fellowship

Learn more about the Stevens Fellowship

Monday, February 5, 2018

Kindness for Lobsters and Humans

Switzerland has recently banned the practice of boiling lobsters alive, on the grounds that they might feel pain. And while we can easily accuse Switzerland of hypocrisy for being preoccupied with lobsters after they've deemed it okay to kill innocent humans through abortion and euthanasia, let's not be dismissive.
Fetal development at 20 weeks

No one really knows if crustaceans can perceive pain because their bodies are so different from ours. But there is a possibility that being placed in boiling water will make them suffer. And based on that Swiss lawmakers have decided to spare lobsters their eventual pain – which is how it should be. Just because lobsters can't communicate what they feel (if anything) doesn't mean it's okay to do to them whatever big powerful humans want.

Meanwhile, 46 U.S.A. senators have just voted in favor of keeping abortion legal after 5 months of gestation, when multiple medical doctors think fetuses may be able to feel pain. Because that possibility (which was enough for the lobster-friendly lawmakers) is not important enough for the big powerful politicians committed to ensuring access to abortion. Because they want to believe it doesn't hurt anybody. This is why the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act was met with such strong opposition and failed to pass: it makes people think about the atrocity of abortion. It can make them care. What laws like this one and the ban on boiling lobsters do is create a society where a helpless creature has to be considered with a little bit of kindness.

Kindness for the weak sounds like something we should strive for, doesn't it? I myself can't make laws (and never had any contact with lobsters). But here is my writer's contribution: a poem about what it might mean to be a boiled lobster. Or an aborted human.

We can't ask lobsters if they feel pain

It's not screaming, they say, when there are
no vocal cords to scream with.

But sometimes when we can't hear anything
it's because we are the kind of planet
where death sounds don't travel very far.

Every creature's death sounds differently.
A lobster's is air escaping a body
that has never learned how to shrink.
Like plants, lobsters always keep growing.

This is not supposed to be relevant.

It's just that someone's crustacean is
another one's human – or was it the other
way around? Yet we can't put aquatic animals
and humans in the same sentence.
We'll say this is what our bodies will do

and with her body someone might
choose to boil a lobster.
Because no one knows if lobsters really feel
pain when they die, just because they can live
for almost as long as we do, getting bigger
and bigger,

like trees. Like diligent bodybuilders.
They only stop growing when you kill them.

[Today's guest post by Alexandra Moldoveanu is part of our paid blogging program. Alexandra is a pro-life poet who writes and promotes literature on abortion and other human rights issues at She is the "wanted" sister of an aborted Romanian and the niece of many other aborted Romanians.]

Friday, February 2, 2018

Supporting women with unplanned pregnancies: can we find common ground with the pro-choice side?

(Shop artist Alisha Vernon on Etsy.)

A few weeks ago the New York Times ran "The Women the Abortion War Leaves Out," a refreshingly objective op-ed about the high costs of motherhood that drive many to choose abortion. Author Michelle Oberman, a law professor and self-described feminist from California, wanted to better understand the goals of the American pro-life movement, so she decided to go to crisis pregnancy center in Oklahoma--Birth Choice--and interview the women who run it.

Despite her initial nervousness, Oberman found that the ladies who run Birth Choice were more than willing to show her their work. She said the Birth Choice employees spoke with "deep compassion" about the women they serve, many of whom are grappling with unplanned pregnancies in dire circumstances, including:
  • Violent partners 
  • Living out of a car 
  • Children lost to foster care 
  • Mental illness 
  • Addiction 
  • Undocumented status and unable to speak English 
Birth Choice works hard to support these women, offering services such as pregnancy tests, registration with Oklahoma's Medicaid, weekly meetings with case workers, counseling, drug abuse treatment, and vocational training. For women with particularly trying circumstances, Birth Choice also has Rose Home, a shelter which can house up to five pregnant women and up to 13 children at a time.

As Oberman learned of all Birth Choice does for these women, she realized, as she puts it, that the abortion debate involves us "[hurling] rhetoric about choice and life, while remaining distracted from the reality that so many women have far too little of either."
The rhetoric of “choice” and “life” encourages us to see a pregnant woman as if she’s balancing a scale, with abortion on one side and motherhood on the other. Which will she choose? Tilt her one way and she might get to finish high school or college, gaining time to plan for the child she wants. Tipped another way, she might become a mother or allow a childless couple to adopt.
The women living at Rose Home reveal the shallowness of that metaphor.
Women face the surprise of an unplanned pregnancy as if on train tracks, with a locomotive barreling toward them. The only variation lies in how many other trains are coming from other directions. Homelessness, violence, addiction and the biggest of all: poverty.
I don’t mean to suggest money is the only factor that shapes many women’s response to an unplanned pregnancy, but let’s be clear about how much it matters. One of the largest research studies on the question of why women choose abortion surveyed about 1,200 abortion patients and found 73 percent said they could not afford a baby at the time.
Oberman is describing the part of the abortion debate that should be common ground for the pro-choicers who want to support and liberate women and the pro-lifers who want to protect fetal life. As we have said many times over, many women get abortions precisely because they feel they don't have a choice, and that should be a problem for activists on both sides of the debate. The pro-choice side is quick to point out the many ways unplanned pregnancy can devastate a woman's life, but if the implication is that she is choosing abortion because of these external reasons--and not because she specifically doesn't want children--these are precisely the situations when even pro-choicers should see abortion as a travesty, not a panacea. If most women choose abortion because they feel they have to, then it's backwards and even a bit grotesque to model abortion as women's liberation. As the stats Oberman quoted suggest, for most women abortion is the result of fear, not freedom.

Pro-choicers and pro-lifers can hopefully agree that women who don't actually want abortions shouldn't feel pressured, economically or otherwise, into getting abortions. Broadly speaking, from the pro-choice view, it is wrong for women to be pressured into abortion because that pressure takes away their agency over a life-changing and fundamentally important, intimate decision. From the pro-life view, it is wrong for women to be pressured into abortion because they are being pressured to destroy innocent human beings. Both sides can recognize that this decision can have grave consequences (emotionally, psychologically, socially) for the woman; the pro-life side also recognizes the decision has grave consequences for the fetus. So while the two sides should be able to come to a similar conclusion--we want a society in which women never feel pressured to abort--the thought processes that lead us there mean coerced abortion is where our common ground ends.

This distinction is crucial and often misunderstood. A few years ago I did a brief interview for The Friendly Atheist podcast to discuss the secular pro-life posistion and what it's like for us secularists to work with a predominantly Christian movement. I emphasized that SPL cares about education and resources for women as methods of decreasing abortion, and the hosts asked me if that's where SPL's advocacy ends. I know we would be much more palatable to the pro-choice side if we advocated for decreasing abortions in every way except legally, but it would be dishonest to suggest that is SPL's full position. So I explained that no, we do not end at education and resources; we also believe that abortion should generally be illegal and we support some legislative efforts to that end. I explained that for many pro-lifers, education and resources--even if they prevented nearly all abortions--would still not be enough, because killing innocent human beings should be illegal in itself, as a baseline position.

I can't count how many times the pro-choice side has misunderstood this basic pro-life premise. They often assume no one truly cares about fetal life and then try to understand pro-life efforts from that flawed lens. Even Oberman, who I believe wishes to be objective and fair in her descriptions, misunderstands pro-life motivation in her op-ed when she claims that pro-life laws aimed at closing abortion clinics are "designed to drive up the costs of abortion." We aren't trying to close clinics to make abortion more expensive; we are trying to close clinics to make abortion impossible, because abortion kills innocent human beings. (It's also worth noting that Oberman seems to believe the pro-lifers trying to close clinics are distinct from the pro-lifers trying to support women facing unplanned pregnancies. I'm not sure there's such a bright line there.)

But even as the two sides sharply disagree about the legality of abortion, we can agree that we should decrease abortion by increasing support for women facing unplanned pregnancies. (And given Live Action's recent work demonstrating that, contrary to common assertions, Planned Parenthood rarely provides prenatal care, it's more obvious than ever how much work we have ahead of us.) If you believe the best way to support these women is through government-run programs such as WIC or Medicaid, fight for those. If you believe the best way to do it is through private charitable efforts such as the work of CPCs like Birth Choice, contribute to those. I care less about how you think we should increase support and more about whether you are working to make it happen.

More reading:
7 things pro-lifers wish our pro-choice friends understood about us.
So I met some sidewalk counselors.
In-depth interview with a millennial sidewalk counselor.
In-depth interview: Kristi Burkhart, Executive Director, Pregnancy Care Center