Monday, April 29, 2019

Baby Chris is Five Weeks Old

[This is part 6 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

Animation via Virtual Human Embryo
Five weeks after his or her conception, Baby Chris is rapidly developing new organs. The kidneys have appeared, the liver is producing blood cells, and the yolk sac is providing germ cells for the nascent gonads (ovaries or testes). In the digestive system, the stomach, esophagus, pancreas, and intestines are present.

Although Baby Chris has no access to air, respiratory system development is nevertheless underway. The airways repeatedly branch off to form the "bronchial tree" structure in the lungs. Key structures are also forming in Baby Chris's eyes: the optic cup, optic vesicle, and primitive retina. You can also see four limb buds, which will become Baby Chris's arms and legs.

Sadly, babies at 5 weeks are at a high risk for abortion. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank allied with the abortion industry, approximately two-thirds of abortions in the United States occur at or before 8 weeks of pregnancy as measured by the last menstrual period (LMP) method—which is equal to 6 weeks post-fertilization (actual age).

Thankfully, Baby Chris's mother has rejected abortion and has a supportive pro-life community to care for her through the rest of Baby Chris's nine-month journey to birth and beyond. Keep following their progress by downloading the free "See Baby" app on your smartphone!

Friday, April 26, 2019

Nathan Nobis' Summary of Pro-Choice Arguments

Nathan Nobis is an associate professor of philosophy at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. He published an article on 1000 Word Philosophy summarizing the arguments in support of abortion. His article is called "The Ethics of Abortion." Nobis clearly has a good grasp on the philosophical literature by pro-choice thinkers. While his summary of pro-choice arguments is admirable, he makes some basic mistakes that cause him not to correctly represent the debate on abortion (and granted, as he only had 1,000 words, it's not like he could present a very complex overview, anyway). I was going to comment on his article but comments are closed, so I decided to write a response article here in case anyone comes across Nobis' article.
Photo by Jonathan Sharp on Unsplash

He begins by agreeing with pro-life people that the unborn are human beings. So we're off to a good start. Then he presents five arguments that despite the unborn being human beings, abortion is still permissible.

Argument #1: Human Organisms?

Nobis briefly expounds the argument that since adults are biologically continuous with the fetuses and embryos they were in the womb, abortion is wrong. He then calls the argument dubious because you obviously have properties now, like being over three feet tall, being able to reason morally, and having the right to make autonomous decisions about your own life, that you obviously didn't have when you were too young. This shows that just because we have some property or some right now, we didn't always have that right. Then he states, "[t]his argument's advocates need to plausibly explain why, say, the right to life is an exception to this rule."

This is a very bizarre way to end his point. Defenders of this argument have plausibly explained that. In fact, in Nobis' own second footnote, he explains that this argument can be interpreted in just such a way that plausibly explains why the right to life is an exception to this rule.

At any rate, Nobis is simply ignoring the difference between an essential property and an accidental property. My being 5'11" tall is accidental to who I am as a person. I could have been 5'6" or 6'3" and I'd still remain the same person. My growing taller, gaining the ability to reason, or gaining the right to have autonomy over my own body are accidental to me as a person. They didn't change my nature, or make me a fundamentally different person than I was before. However, my right to life is an essential property of me. I could not lose my right to life and still be the same person. But having a right to life is grounded in my rational nature, which all humans possess. So that's the plausible difference -- the right to life is essential to who I am, and the other properties Nobis lists are accidental to who I am.

Argument #2: (Human) Persons?

He begins this section by describing John Locke's view of personhood, that a person is a being with personality (e.g. having thoughts, feelings, memories, anticipations, etc.). This argument is to be preferred, Nobis says, because it has explanatory power: It helps us understand how we are persons and cease to be persons, and it justifies a belief that some non-human animals, extraterrestrials, and/or divine beings (if they exist) are persons. Early fetuses would not be persons on this view, but late fetuses would be, since they are "sufficiently developed" enough for consciousness and personhood. They don't become that developed until, at least, midway through pregnancy.

However, I would contend that his view of personhood should be abandoned for at least two reasons: The pro-life view, that all human beings are persons because one's personhood depends on what that thing is, has greater explanatory power than Nobis' personhood view. Additionally, Nobis' view is too ambiguous to be useful.

2a. The pro-life view has better explanatory power

Nobis gives four reasons for believing his view has explanatory power (although his last three points are basically the same point). But the pro-life view doesn't lack in explanatory power in these areas. Plus, it has explanatory power in other areas.

His first point is that his view of personhood helps us understand why we are persons and how we cease to be persons. But the pro-life view of personhood does this, too: we are persons because we have a rational nature. And we never cease to be persons. Nobis assumes that one can cease to be a person, but this obviously has to be argued for (and he probably has in other articles he's written).

His second through fourth points are that his view helps justify a belief that some non-human animals, extraterrestrials, and divine beings would be persons. However, this is simply a question-begging argument. You have to first assume that these beings are persons in order for your argument, that it justifies your belief that these are persons, to even get off the ground. But that's exactly what's at issue here. You can't start from the premise that some animals, extraterrestrials, and divine entities are persons and then use that as an argument to show that your view has explanatory power. Plus, this argument assumes that no pro-life people believe that non-human animals, extraterrestrials, or divine beings have rights, but this is clearly false. My view of human personhood would exclude non-human animals, but some pro-life people believe that some non-human animals have rights. But you can't use this explanatory power to show why the rational nature view of human personhood fails. You first have to see which view succeeds and then use that view to extrapolate which types of entities have rights. Nobis is simply putting the cart before the horse here.

So not only does the pro-life view of personhood share explanatory power with the pro-choice personhood view regading these points of explanatory power, but the pro-life personhood view also has better explanatory power for why racism and sexism are wrong. Racism and sexism have, traditionally, led to some serious tragedies. But what accounts for the view that it's wrong to judge someone as a non-person based on their skin color or their gender? It's not the fact that they're self-aware, or are able to perform some function that white people can perform. Not only does this conflict with our deeply held intuitions that all human beings have equal value, but it also doesn't get to the heart of the matter. Arguing that racism or sexism is wrong because of self-awareness, or ambitions, or some other thing, is to simply trade on one form of unjust discrimination for another. It's just as wrong to kill or torture someone because they lack ambitions or because they lack self-awareness as it is to kill or torture someone because they're black or because they're female. So the pro-life personhood view has better explanatory power as to why racism and sexism are wrong than the pro-choice personhood view.

Considering how powerful the explanatory power of the pro-life view is over the pro-choice view, if we take Nobis' argument at face value, we ought to reject the pro-choice view for the pro-life one.

2b. The pro-choice view is too ambiguous to be useful

One of the major issues with arguing a point that personhood is established as anything other than fertilization is that it is too ambiguous. The problem is that many philosophers disagree over what property is necessary to bestow personhood. David Boonin argues that it's when cortical brain activity begins, which occurs at around 30-32 weeks in utero. Michael Tooley believes you have to be sufficiently self-aware such that you can see yourself as existing through time, which happens well after you're born. Nobis apparently believes that the late-term fetus is a person, but not before "their brains and nervous system [are] sufficiently developed and complexly interconnected enough for consciousness and personhood." But he never tells us how much development and interconnectedness is sufficient. He just assumes that there is some sufficient amount which justify our achieving personhood status. But other philosophers would disagree. Tooley doesn't believe our brains are sufficiently complex or interconnected enough until after we're born. So not only does he have the pro-life advocate to contend with, he has other pro-choice philosophers to contend with.

So the pro-life position not only has the advantage in explanatory power, it also has the advantage in placing the demarcation line between non-person and person in an objective line (fertilization/conception) while also being able to provide a solid reason for why, exactly, that point is the point at which personhood is established.

Argument #3: Potential Personhood?

Nobis now considers the claim that if he is correct about personhood, fetuses are, at least, potential persons. So is that potential personhood enough to justify a right to life since they will one day become persons? Nobis says no, because potential things don't have the rights of actual things. I am a potential judge, but I do not have the right to rule on criminal court cases because I do not have the qualifications. I am also a potential doctor, but I do not have the right to perform surgery. So just because a fetus is a potential person that does not mean it has the right to life as actual persons do.

Here, Nobis is correct. A potential X does not have the same rights as an actual X. And while there have been some pro-life thinkers who have argued that a fetus is a potential person and therefore should be treated as an actual person, I find these arguments to be extremely weak. But that's okay because the strongest pro-life arguments do not argue from potential personhood -- they argue that human embryos and fetuses are actual persons with great potential. Sperm and ovum cells are potential persons in the same way that flour, sugar, and milk are a potential cake (though, if we want to be super technical, they are not, strictly speaking, potential persons since they will cease to exist once they contribute their genetic material to the new human embryo). Being potential persons does not grant the sperm and ovum cells a right to life as they are not actual persons. But the human embryo that results from the sperm/ovum fusion are actual persons, not potential persons. So I grant Nobis' response here, but with the qualification that these arguments are not very strong and we should focus on discussing the stronger arguments.

Argument #4: Valuable Futures?

Here Nobis refers to Don Marquis' famous argument against abortion, the argument that what makes killing an adult human being wrong is that you are preventing their future of valuable experiences from obtaining. You are basically robbing them of their future. Since fetuses have a future of valuable experiences as adult humans do, so, too, is it wrong to kill a human fetus because you are also robbing her of her future of valuable experiences.

Nobis has two brief responses to this argument: 1) Our futures are plausibly valuable, in part, because we can, at present, look forward to them. Since fetuses have no conscious awareness of their futures, this makes an important difference between the adult human's future of value and the fetal human's future of value. 2) His second argument is a reductio ad absurdum against this argument: An ovum and sperm cell both arguably have a future akin to the fetus' future. But using contraception (even by abstinence) would be wrong, since it robs the sperm and ovum cells of that valuable future.

And my response would be: slow down, Turbo. There are a couple of fatal errors being made by Nobis in these responses.

Regarding response 1, Nobis says our futures are valuable in part because we can presently look forward to them. Nobis, himself, concedes that this is only part of what makes our futures valuable. The fact that we have this future also makes it valuable, and one does not always have to be consciously aware of something in order to be harmed by being deprived of it (e.g. a child who is set to inherit a fortune from his dead father is surely harmed if the executor of his estate squanders the inheritance and never tells the child about it).

Regarding response 2, Nobis is just mistaken that the sperm and ovum cells have a future of value. The future of the sperm and ovum cells are to die. They will not become a human organism, they will simply make a human organism. When the sperm contributes its genetic material to the ovum, it ceases to exist. And even though the embryo inherits certain structures from the ovum cell, such as the zona pellucida, the ovum cell, too, ceases to exist once the new human organism comes into existence. The sperm and ovum cease to exist, they are not biologically continuous with the new human embryo as the embryo is biologically continuous with the adult she will become. So using contraception does not deprive anything of a future of value, it simply prevents a human being, with a future of value, from coming into existence.

Argument #5: The Right to Life?

Finally, Nobis considers the possibility that all the previous answers may be wrong, but abortion may still be impermissible because the fetus has a right to life. But Nobis rejects this argument, channeling Judith Jarvis Thomson in arguing that if I had need of your kidney to stay alive, do I have a right to it? No, and you don't violate any right I may have by refusing to let me use it, even if refusing it means I will die. This shows that the right to life does not include a right to the use of someone else's body, even if it's necessary for you to stay alive.

The problem here is that organ donation is not relevantly like abortion. In the case of abortion, the embryo/fetus plausibly does have a right to the use of the uterus, considering that the woman created the fetus and placed the fetus in a state of dependence upon her (in the vast majority of cases), which grounds an obligation of care from the pregnant woman to her child.

This is a much different case than organ donation. If you need my kidney and I refuse to give you one, I am not actively killing you. This is certainly not nearly as wrong (if it is wrong at all) as actively killing someone, even if you need my kidney. Your kidney ailment is. I may be letting you die, but I am not actively killing you.. By contrast, you must actively kill the fetus in order to deprive her of the use of the pregnant woman's uterus. So organ donation is not an apt metaphor -- more apt would be to consider that you already received a kidney transplant (which is a more similar situation regarding the fetus who already has obtained use of the uterus). In this situation, the abortion would be analogous to killing or maiming the other person to get your kidney back because you have revoked consent regarding the kidney. But once the kidney transplant has already been made, you can't get your kidney back because you would have to operate on someone against their will to retrieve it. So it is with the abortion; it is wrong because the fetus has already obtained the use of the woman's uterus, so she can't revoke consent because she would have to kill the fetus in order to revoke that consent.

So a right to bodily autonomy does not carry with it the right to kill innocent people who are in the way of something you want (e.g. financial independence, a college education, etc.). Killing a human embryo or fetus violates its right to life because it is not violating the woman's bodily autonomy by existing.

I appreciate people like Nathan Nobis who are able to have a reasoned discussion about abortion, even though (or perhaps, especially because) we disagree on the issue. I believe I've made a sufficient, brief case for why these arguments in support of abortion are mistaken and why the pro-life position should be seen as superior. I'm of course willing to continue the discussion in the comments, so long as the discussion is kept civil.

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

Monday, April 22, 2019

Sources for SPL's "The case against abortion" presentation

Today at the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Malcolm Potts will be hosting his bi-annual point/counterpoint-style lecture on abortion for his public health class. This year, Monica Snyder of Secular Pro-Life will be presenting the antiabortion case. We hope to have video of her presentation later--EDIT: you can now watch the full presentation here--but meanwhile here are all of the sources she used to create the presentation, plus some additional reading for anyone interested.

If you're interested in becoming a bone marrow donor, please go to to join the national bone marrow registry. If you are between the ages of 18 and 44, it costs nothing to join.


Do bodily rights justify abortion?

The fetus is a human organism.

Biology and Embryology textbooks and relevant quotes:
  • Scott Gilbert, Developmental Biology, 11th Edition. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2016: “Fertilization accomplishes two separate ends: sex (the combining of genes derived from two parents) and reproduction (the generation of a new organism).”
  • T.W. Sadler, Langman's Medical Embryology, 10th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2006:"Development begins with fertilization, the process by which the male gamete, the sperm, and the female gamete, the oocyte, unite to give rise to a zygote."
  • Erich Blechschmidt, Brian Freeman, The Ontogenetic Basis of Human Anatomy: The Biodynamic Approach to Development from Conception to Adulthood, North Atlantic Books, June 2004: "We talk of human development not because a jumble of cells, which is perhaps initially atypical, gradually turns more and more into a human, but rather because the human being develops from a uniquely human cell. There is no state in human development prior to which one could claim that a being exists with not-yet-human individuality. On the basis of anatomical studies, we know today that no developmental phase exists that constitutes a transition from the not-yet-human to the human." & "In short, a fertilized egg (conceptus) is already a human being."
  • Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003: "Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon development) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual." And "A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo)."
  • Scott Gilbert, Developmental Biology, 6th Edition. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 2001:“When we consider a dog, for instance, we usually picture an adult. But the dog is a “dog” from the moment of fertilization of a dog egg by a dog sperm. It remains a dog even as a senescent dying hound. Therefore, the dog is actually the entire life cycle of the animal, from fertilization through death.”
  • Ronan R. O'Rahilly and Fabiola Müller, Human Embryology & Teratology, 3rd Edition, New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001: "Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte."
  • Ida G. Dox, B. John Melloni, Gilbert Eisner, The HarperCollins Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 2001: “An Embryo is an organism in the earliest stages of development.”
  • Human Embryology, William J Larsen, 3rd Edition, 2001: “In this text, we begin our description of the developing human with the formation and differentiation of the male and female sex cells or gametes, which will unite at fertilization to initiate the embryonic development of a new individual.”
  • William J. Larsen, Essentials of Human Embryology. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1998: "Human embryos begin development following the fusion of definitive male and female gametes during fertilization... This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development."
  • Bruce M. Carlson, Patten's Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996: "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."
  • Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993: "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. The common expression 'fertilized ovum' refers to the zygote."
  • Clark Edward Corliss, Patten's Human Embryology: Elements of Clinical Development. New York: McGraw Hill, 1976. "It is the penetration of the ovum by a spermatozoan and resultant mingling of the nuclear material each brings to the union that constitutes the culmination of the process of fertilization and marks the initiation of the life of a new individual."
  • E.L. Potter and J.M. Craig, Pathology of the Fetus and the Infant, 3rd edition. Chicago: Year Book Medical Publishers, 1975: "Every time a sperm cell and ovum unite a new being is created which is alive and will continue to live unless its death is brought about by some specific condition."
  • J.P. Greenhill and E.A. Friedman, Biological Principles and Modern Practice of Obstetrics. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1974: "The term conception refers to the union of the male and female pronuclear elements of procreation from which a new living being develops. It is synonymous with the terms fecundation, impregnation, and fertilization."
  • Leslie Brainerd Arey, Developmental Anatomy, 7th Edition. Philadelphia: Saunders, 1974: “The formation, maturation and meeting of a male and female sex cell are all preliminary to their actual union into a combined cell, or zygote, which definitely marks the beginning of a new individual. The penetration of the ovum by the spermatozoon, and the coming together and pooling of their respective nuclei, constitutes the process of fertilization.”

Which human organisms are morally relevant?

Abortion and infanticide.

Further Recommended Reading
Relevant Secular Pro-Life blog posts:

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Baby Chris is Four Weeks Old

[This is part 5 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

Photo via Visible Embryo.
This is a dorsal (rear) view.
Four weeks after his or her conception, Baby Chris is growing rapidly. Last week's circulatory system development has enabled a burst of activity. The heart is now beating between 105 and 121 times per minute. "Pacemaker cells" have developed to control its rhythm.

Baby Chris's skin is only one cell thick and translucent (right), allowing researchers a mostly unobstructed view of his or her many organs. The kidneys, gonads, and endocrine system are all developing. The left and right hemispheres of the brain are starting to emerge, and Baby Chris's head is about a third of his or her entire body size. He or she also has "lung buds" and mainstem bronchi, the beginnings of the respiratory system. Placental connections are still forming, so Baby Chris continues to rely on the yolk sac for nourishment.

Remember to download the See Baby app on our smartphone for more information about Baby Chris's 9-month journey from conception to birth!

Friday, April 19, 2019

We Asked, You Answered: Who Inspires You?

Earlier this month, we wrote on the Secular Pro-Life facebook page: "Tell me stories about people in the pro-life movement who have inspired you." And boy, did you ever. Here are a few of the most popular responses:

Cheryl F.: My birth mom... she could have aborted me, but didn’t.

Violet M.: The two wonderful women who adopted my children. I was not ready to be a mother. I am extremely grateful they have kept me in their lives and allowed us to have contact so I am never left wondering.

Dr. Mildred Jefferson
Della V.: Serrin Foster of Feminists for Life. I was so encouraged by the information she provided about our early pro-life women in American History!

Multiple commentersDr. Mildred Jefferson

Stephanie S.: Julie Borowski is a libertarian commenter who has been great at promulgating the pro-life message as it pertains to the NAP (libertarian keystone).

Natalie Q.: Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa, and New Wave Feminists! As a mid-thirties woman who has always been pro-life, it has been so awesome to come across NWF message of consistent life ethic and non-violence. We have to love and support women first and foremost, and demand that society respect women as mothers and start accommodating our superpower! Love NWF's messaging this; I think it's incredibly timely and necessary!

Nancy B.: Dr. Bernard Nathanson comes to mind

Kimberly S.: I met Dr. Bernard Nathanson at a pro-life conference in Chicago sometime in the 80s. An honest man he was—and humble enough to do a 180 when he saw that ultrasound of an abortion and realized he had been wrong. Most men of his status and intelligence would not have done that. I had nothing but respect for him—and anyone else willing to see truth and act on it

Herb G.: I’m inspired by Monica, Kelsey, & Terrisa of SPL who have paved the way for atheist representation and participation in pro-life action! [Editor's note: Thanks, Herb!]

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Recent headlines roundup: abortion pill reversal, billboards, pro-life Democrats, "cryptic" pregnancies

Abortion will be considered unthinkable 50 years from now  Vox, 4/4/19. Didn't expect an article like this from Vox.

Kansas lawmakers OK mandating notice on abortion ‘reversal’ News Tribune, 4/7/19. Notice they never say research led by "an abortion-rights doctor" or even "a pro-choice doctor" when the situation is reversed. They just say "doctor" and leave out implications of political bias.
They base their arguments on a 2018 study led by an anti-abortion doctor and medical school professor in California and note progesterone has been used for decades to prevent miscarriages.
With ‘Unplanned,’ Abortion Opponents Turn Toward Hollywood New York Times, 4/8/19. Decent summary. We tip our hats to all the people who worked hard to get this film out there.
Molly Livingstone, a social media marketer in Dallas, organized about 170 people from her church to attend an early screening of the movie. It so struck her, she said, that she was moved to volunteer for an anti-abortion pregnancy center.
New billboard: "Welcome to Illinois, where you can get a safe, legal abortion" CNY Central, 4/8/19. Hope Clinic of Illinois put up this billboard on the border between Illinois and Missouri as commentary on Missouri's more restrictive abortion laws. According to Guttmacher, Illinois' abortion rate is 87% higher than Missouri's (Illinois has 15 abortions per 1,000 women age 15-44 while Missouri has 8).

Is our political divide, at heart, really all about abortion? Yahoo News, 4/9/19. It's frustrating when your primary social circles don't share your pro-life views. I'm glad we at least have online communities to help the pro-life "non-traditionals" (secularists, LGBT, Democrats, liberals, feminists, etc etc) coalesce.
A 2008 study in the journal Political Research Quarterly found that while [political] defections were uncommon, when all else was equal, a “pro-life” Democrat was more than twice as likely to switch parties than the average. A “pro-choice” Republican, over time, was three times as likely to re-identify as a Democrat, the researchers found. “[I]t is difficult to think of many other issues that would rival [abortion] in the capacity to influence partisanship,” they wrote.
Louisiana Introduced A "Heartbeat" Abortion Ban That's Sponsored By A Democrat Bustle, 4/9/19. Always happy to see Democrats take pro-life action. If you're in Louisiana consider dropping Senator John Milkovich a thank you note:

The White House Is Hosting a Screening of the Gory Anti-Abortion Film Gosnell Slate, 4/9/19. For those of you who saw Gosnell, did you consider it "gory"?

The Women Who Gave Birth Without Knowing They Were Pregnant Vice, 4/10/19. These stories about "cryptic pregnancies" (pregnancies that are wholly undetected until either very late or when the woman actually goes into labor) are really bizarre. This quote caught my eye:
All three women are surprised at how well they’ve taken to parenting, shushing cries, mopping up dribbling mouths and tending to bumps while I interviewed them, despite never wanting to have children and using birth control to actively stop that from happening. They all say that things definitely would have been different if they'd had a detectable pregnancy. “I would have had an abortion to be fair,” Beth says. “But I couldn’t imagine that at all now.
Fresno State Students for Life club helps save unborn baby from abortion The College Fix, 4/12/19. Three good stories wrapped into one: (1) a college student chooses life and (2) in the process becomes a pro-life advocate, and (3) a pro-choice professor's aggression toward's the Fresno State Students for Life ironically leads to the group's expansion and renewed commitment. Oh, also the professor paid $17,000 in a settlement over the incident, so there's that.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Baby Chris is Three Weeks Old

[This is part 4 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump. What's that sound? Three weeks after fertilization, Baby Chris has reached a significant developmental milestone: his or her heart is beating! The embryonic heart is currently tube-shaped, but already performing the critical function of delivering nutrients throughout the body to allow continued growth. Baby Chris's heart will beat 54 million times before he or she is born.

Khan Academy has a nice summary of what has happened in Baby Chris's life so far:

Last week, we mentioned that Baby Chris's body was beginning to divide into three sections known as germ layers: the endoderm, mesoderm, and ectoderm. That process, known as gastrulation, is now complete. The endoderm will become the liver, pancreas, bladder, digestive tract, and respiratory tract. The mesoderm is home to the heart, kidneys, bones, cartilage, muscles, and blood vessels. The ectoderm will become the brain, spinal cord, nerves, skin, nails, and hair.

Illustration of an 18-day-old human embryo
In the ectoderm, the nervous system is starting to take shape. The neural tube sets the stage for the spinal cord, and three brain structures can be seen: the forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain. Many pregnant mothers supplement their diets with folic acid, which has been shown to reduce the risk of neurological developmental problems.

Don't forget: you can learn more about Baby Chris's 9-month journey by downloading the See Baby app on your smartphone!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Strange Planet, Stranger Politics

People’s views on abortion are all over the twittersphere again this week, due to a tweet from 2017 by “Strange Planet” creator Nathan W. Pyle, sharing his gratitude that his girlfriend, Soojin, had not been aborted. The vitriol being hurled at him is fairly predictable, with him being called a misogynist and a forced birther, among other things. Many people visited his social media pages to state that while they loved his comics, they were unfollowing him on the basis of one tweet.

The story swung quickly in the other direction, when Mr. Pyle shared a post that while he and his wife help personal convictions based on their faith, they believed in separation of church and state, and that they voted Democrat because they did not like the current direction of the Republican party. This highlighted two important issues facing the pro-life movement: first and foremost, the common misconception that opposing abortion is driven by religious reasons rather than knowledge of fetal development; and secondly, that many people who oppose abortion have no viable political home. Invitations were extended to Mr. Pyle to visit such organizations as Democrats for Life, Secular Pro-Life or the American Solidarity Party; while I saw no response from him, we can hope that this will draw more attention to pro-life organizations outside the mainstream.

When I sent him a tweet of support, I was told (by complete strangers, of course) that I am “pro-birth, not pro-life.” Setting aside the fact that when it comes to already concieved humans, I *am* pro-birth, given the alternative, it’s usually clear that the people making such accusations have decided they know my viewpoints on every subject based on my opposition to abortion. Such people are almost always wrong.

On almost every social issue, my views fall far left. This includes the obvious stances, such as being strongly pro-LGTBQ+ rights, pro-environment, equal pay, paid family leave, and pacifism. But I add the descriptor “far left” because many of my views are outside the mainstream, although becoming more popular: I believe in universal health care, a living wage much higher than those currently adopted (with a minimum wage as high as $20), free college and day care, and open borders. I consider myself a Democratic Socialist, although when they find out I oppose abortion, many Democrats tell me I can’t be one of them. These views are not in opposition to my pro-life stance: they are informed by my whole life beliefs, and my belief in the inherent dignity of every living human.

Not surprisingly, this can make voting and political action challenging and lonely. I’m perfectly happy to work alongside people with different views on abortion to feed the hungry or advocate for immigrant rights, but the feeling is not always mutual. Voting is even harder: many abortion opponents feel that should always be the deciding issue, and excoriate those who vote for a pro-choice candidate. I try to choose the candidate that will help the most people live free from violence and illness, and to me this means making environment my deciding factor. I would love dearly to vote for a candidate who believes both in limits on abortion and policies addressing the issues that drive women to abortion—but our current polarized political system makes such a candidate unlikely.

In regards to entertainment, I haven't seen anyone I know personally declaring that they're done with Strange Planet (as of this writing), which is nice. But I think in general, pro-choice people are used to creatives also being pro-choice, and they aren't used to that feeling of disappointment when someone you admired holds a view that invalidates your lived experience in regards to abortion. Being pro-life and far left, I have a lot of experience with that feeling, and I have rarely decided to stop following a creative based on their views on abortion.

I have to wonder how the authors of the Nylon article feel about ensemble casts—do they vet every actor before deciding to watch something or not? Is there a percentage involved in their decision? (Am I boycotting the last Avengers movie because in Mark Ruffalo's view, by all accounts I’ve read, my mother would have been better off with an abortion? No. Am I boycotting it because Chris Pratt's church has offensive anti-gay rights views? Also no.) While I will always support someone deciding they can’t follow a person based on their beliefs, I feel the people unfollowing Nathan Pyle are missing out on one of life’s great lessons: that it’s possible to disagree with someone, yet still find inspiration and comfort in their words.

[Today's guest post by Jenna Carodiskey-Wiebe is part of our paid blogging program.]

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Pro-Life Events This Weekend

Two events that caught our eye:

(1) Starting Friday, Rehumanize International is launching its first ever "Go Rehumanize" initiative. In their words:
We want to encourage our affiliate communities and supporters to participate in volunteer events and mutual aid projects several times throughout the year.
The theme for the first ever #GoRehumanize Weekend (April 12-14) is Pregnancy & Maternity support. 
All you have to do to participate is get some friends together and plan a fundraising or volunteer opportunity to support this cause in your community. For example, in our home base of Pittsburgh we will be holding a Karaoke for Life fundraiser to benefit a local maternity home for pregnant people who need shelter. You can organize a similar event for an organization in your community, hold a diaper and baby supplies drive, or simply offer to volunteer at a local pregnancy center for a day! 
While participating make sure to snap pictures and tag them with #GoRehumanize on social media! 
Pro-life people have always been active volunteers in their communities; we're roughly half the U.S. population, after all. (In a total coincidence, I've already signed up for a beach cleanup this weekend, so I will be off-theme.) By doing good with our pro-life convictions on our sleeves, perhaps we will finally put the "they stop caring after babies are born" slander to rest... nah, just kidding. Facts don't matter. 

(2) On Saturday, capitalizing on the momentum of Unplanned, pro-life advocates will hold candlelight vigils at Planned Parenthood abortion centers throughout the country. So far, 136 vigils have been scheduled in 36 states. Find yours here, or if there isn't one in your community, you can sign up to lead one.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Baby Chris is Two Weeks Old

[This is part 3 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for other parts.]

Two weeks after conception, Baby Chris is now fully implanted in the uterine lining and the placenta is forming. The placenta will eventually provide all necessary nutrients to Baby Chris through the umbilical cord. For the time being, however, Baby Chris still relies in part on a yolk sac.

Baby Chris has started producing the pregnancy hormone hCG at levels which can be detected in his or her mom's urine. Around the same time, Baby Chris's mom has likely missed a menstrual period and may be wondering if it's time to take a pregnancy test. She can purchase one at most drug stores, or get one for free at her local pregnancy resource center. Either way, she's about to get some huge news!

Developmentally, Baby Chris continues to grow and is now approximately 0.15 - 0.2 mm in diameter. His or her body is more complex, with cells beginning to split into three sections, known as germ layers: the ectoderm, endoderm, and mesoderm—about which, more next week!

Diagram via the Visible Embryo project
If you haven't already, download the See Baby app on your phone for more information and graphics on life in the womb.

Friday, April 5, 2019

I usually don't think my pro-life work makes much difference, so why do I keep doing it?

In my dad's MBA program they said you need three factors to motivate someone to take an Action X for Reward Y:

  1. The person has to actually want Reward Y.
  2. The person has to believe if they take Action X, they really will receive Reward Y.
  3. The person has to believe they are capable of Action X.

This layout makes sense to me and I think about it surprisingly a lot. In particular these factors explain why someone might genuinely care about Reward Y and still not go for it: either they don't believe Action X will result in Reward Y or they don't believe they can do Action X.

For example, suppose Action X is using a car as little as possible, and Reward Y is significantly preventing destructive climate change. I expect there are a lot of people who care about climate change but don't believe personally not using their car will really make any difference, so they don't bother. Or suppose Action X is convincing your entire town to stop using cars; people might be more likely to believe this will make a dent in climate change, but they just don't believe they are really capable of convincing their whole town, so they don't bother. Etc.

I bring this up because the same issues arise in my pro-life work. Some of the activists I've crossed paths with are bewildered and frustrated that there seem to be so many people who say they think abortion is wrong but are unwilling to make even the smallest gesture to oppose it, such as a phone call to a political office or even admitting to their closest friends or family that they hold this opinion. If you really believe something is wrong, how can you do nothing to try to resolve it?

But that lack of action makes sense to me, actually. Sure, sometimes it may just be a lack of courage, but I think a lot of times it's a feeling of futility. Sacrificing social standing, straining relationships, or even taking any time or emotional effort—those are all costs, and what is the reward? If people don't believe it's going to make any difference, why pay those prices?

I think about this a lot in terms of my own activism, because frankly I almost never think the work I do really makes any big picture difference (i.e. state-wide or nationally). I am repeatedly impressed/overwhelmed/jealous of the seemingly enormous resources and superior coordination of our ideological opponents on this topic. I see the pro-life movement as the mom & pop shop to the pro-choice movement's corporate sponsorship, basically, and I don't really believe there's much I can do about it.

Wednesday was a quintessential example of this situation. For the first time I went to testify against legislation (specifically SB 24, the bill that would mandate California public universities provide medication abortion on campus). We knew going in that we were very unlikely to stop the bill from going through committee. These things tend to fall along heavily partisan lines and, as expected, the vote was 2 Republicans opposed, 6 Democrats in support (1 Democrat was absent).

I didn't find the vote particularly disheartening because I fully expected it to happen. It's California. But by the end of the day I realized I was more tired/disheartened than I expected, and I further realized it's because of (1) the seeming asymmetry in resources between our side and the other and (2) the immense popularity of what I consider incredibly poor arguments.

For a given bill before committee, the order of events goes as follows:
  • a senator explains their bill to the committee, 
  • witnesses in support give testimony for a few minutes, 
  • people in support line up and say, basically, "My name is X and I'm with Y group and I support this bill," 
  • witnesses in opposition give their testimony, and finally 
  • people in opposition line up to say the same (only of course they say "I oppose this bill.")
The room was filled with people almost all there for SB 24, and when it was time for people in support to speak, nearly the entire room rose and lined up. Many of them were wearing matching t-shirts and many of them were from the same or similar student groups. It took quite a while for them to each very briefly state their support, and as it was happening I was thinking about the kind of communication and coordination it takes to get that many people in the same place at the same time (wearing the same clothes) for the same purpose, especially since they are from all over a rather large state. It's really impressive.

To be fair, I expected our side to have only 2-5 people to stand in opposition, and we actually had far more than I thought. Perhaps 20-30 people? Roughly guessing, our side had maybe half or a third of their numbers, but that's still a more even distribution than I'm used to. That was touching.

Anyway, I went into this expecting to lose, spoke to a state senate committee (and larger audience) who were by far mostly against us, and then we did lose. And I go home and think "Why do I do this?" I mean it does cost me. Frustration or despondency aside, it costs me time I would otherwise be earning money and supporting my own family, which I always feel very conflicted about. And if I don't believe my actions can get me Reward Y (in this case, stopping a bill I disagree with), why bother? It has to be that, for me, Reward Y isn't stopping the bill.

It's the same when I take the time to write a long heavily sourced blog post, knowing that even our best blog numbers (say perhaps 10,000 readers) are dwarfed by the voices we're arguing against. And yet I find publishing such a post really fulfilling anyway. Why?

Part of it is wanting to stand by people I admire. The students on our side who traveled from around the state to stand in front of a room that overwhelmingly disagreed with them and say publicly (into a microphone and on video) what in this state is an incredibly unpopular viewpoint—that's courage. I deeply admire that. I feel some sense of obligation there—if they have the courage and take the time, how can I give less?

Part of it is that I hope if I speak out, it will give courage to other people to speak out too.

But actually I think the bigger reward for me is the relief of saying what I think. That's really it. One of the senators in support of the bill asked me a question I wasn't prepared for, and that was frustrating. But I tried to answer, and I know that if I had been home watching the meeting from my laptop, I would have been a lot more frustrated thinking of what I wanted to say and not having the chance to try. Even if no one listens to me or believes me, at least I got the chance to try to say what I want to say, and a lot of the time that's reward enough for me. Good thing, since a lot of the time that's all you really get.

Some of the students (and other activists) who came to the Capitol to oppose SB 24.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Misconceptions of foster care in discussions about abortion

A common route of discussion about abortion, at least in the online world, goes something like this: Person “A” will talk about all the unwanted children in the world. Person “B” will point out that there are millions of people who want to adopt. “A” will then talk about all the children in foster care, and if people who are concerned about abortion were serious then why aren’t they adopting all those children (often with accusations of hypocrisy)?

I have spent much of my career working with children and youth in government care (including foster care and group homes). I also have been part of the pro-life movement. I see the assumptions inherent in this argument as problematic.

The matter of children being present in foster care is a separate issue from the morality of abortion. There are millions of children and youth, both in foster care and not in the system, who have a lot of needs. but people being in need is not a reason to deny life to totally different human beings. If there are ethical arguments to be made about whether or not unborn humans have a right to life, these arguments do not rest on whether or not there are other humans with needs.

What are we saying when we imply abortion is a solution for the problems that can come with being in foster care? That it is better to be dead than be in foster care? Do foster children see themselves as people whose lives are not worth living? Do we? How do we have compassion and hope for people if we make these implications about their worth?

People who ask why all the children in foster care are not being adopted have a basic misunderstanding of foster care. Its primary purpose is not to take children away from their birth families in order to release them for adoption. Its main purpose is to give children safety and health when there are serious problems in their birth family that prevent their well-being, while biological family has time to address issues. According to one report, three out of five children in foster care return to birth parents or other family. In my own province, even children designated as being in permanent care (the parent no longer has legal rights) might not be released for adoption. This could be for many reasons. Although policies direct that a child welfare agency has to go to court for permanent status after the child has been in care for a certain time period, the agency might still hold out hope that the birth family will be able to reapply for custody at some point in the future. It can be difficult to tell who can make changes to enable them to provide adequate care in time. Some agencies have policies simply not to release any children in their care for adoption. In other cases, children might be doing well in their foster homes, and there is no benefit to the child to break that attachment and put the child in an adoptive home. Foster parents, for many reasons (the financial costs due to special needs of children being one), may not be at a place where adoption of the child in their care is possible, even if it is desired.

Another thing to keep in mind is the needs of foster children ought to be met with adequate knowledge and skill. Simply wanting to be a caregiver and being a compassionate person is a start, but it is not enough. I used to do home studies for prospective foster parents, and there were applicants we did not accept. Children in government care have been through neglect or abuse and sometimes their emotional states and behaviours can be extreme. Foster parents need to have an extra something that matches them with the requirements of the children who will be placed in their homes.

When I have pointed this out, I have been accused of devaluing foster children, of saying they are too damaged to be adopted. Far from it. I value foster children highly, which is why I think it is vitally important that they be in homes or other places where there is a match between their characteristics and what caregivers provide. A simple, “Well everyone who is pro-life should foster” is a foolish idea.

However, it is apparent that there are tons of people who are pro-life who do adopt and foster children, even children who come to their homes with very high needs. Research doesn’t seem to reveal links between views on abortion and tendency to adopt and foster, but it seems that Christians are more likely to adopt and foster, and Christians are more likely to be pro-life. This does not imply that all foster parents are Christian or pro-life. I have known foster parents with a variety of religious and ethical beliefs. However, abortion proponents will sometimes state their opinions as if pro-life people are doing nothing for children in care, and that is inaccurate.

There are also arguments that if women have fewer abortions, an already taxed system will be overwhelmed. This ignores a lot of factors. First of all, there is not automatic link between not having an abortion and a child going into foster care. If women decide not to abort, their next options are generally parenting and adoption. Foster care is usually not a consideration, or if it is, it can be for a brief period of time while a parent increases their capacity to parent. Many children go into kinship care as well. Second, if abortion is less available, women and men might not view it as a failsafe and demonstrate behaviours less likely to result in an unintentional pregnancy, such as exercising discernment in sexual decision making and using effective birth control methods. We can work together at decreasing the amount of pregnancies in situations where the parents are unprepared to engage in the task of parenting.

Clearly, foster children deserve to be loved and well-cared for, as do all children, including unborn children. Rather than trying to make arguments that use foster children to argue for deaths of the unborn, we can advocate for things that will help biological families, foster children and foster parents, such as:
  • Addictions services that are easily accessible and reduce barriers (such as access to child care while in treatment). 
  • Counselling and support services for all groups: birth parents to address issues leading to apprehension, foster children for trauma, and foster parents for support and resources in the difficult job they have undertaken. 
  • Adequate financial support. Poverty is a huge stress for birth families and can lead to highly stressed households, which can be a factor in abuse and neglect. Foster parents could be more adequately compensated in order to enable more families to foster. For example, a family may want to foster but may not be able to afford a home with more bedrooms. 
  • Health care access and coverage, including effective contraception. 
What foster children do not need is to have their lives and experiences devalued by those who want to score points in an abortion debate. We can love all children

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

Monday, April 1, 2019

Baby Chris is One Week Old

[This is part 2 of a multi-part series chronicling a pregnancy through the lens of "Baby Chris." Click here for part 1.]

In one short week, Baby Chris has grown from a single cell to several hundred. Baby Chris is now known as a blastocyst. He or she is made up of stem cells, which have the power to produce over 200 cell types.

This is the one week in pregnancy where "ball of cells" is a reasonably accurate description—but don't be an "April Fool" and think that's a good defense of abortion! In fact, abortion never occurs during the blastocyst stage. Week-old Baby Chris is completely safe from the abortion industry, because there is not enough hCG (pregnancy hormone) yet to return a positive result on a pregnancy test.

The bigger challenge for Baby Chris is to accomplish implantation. He or she has traveled from the fallopian tube to the uterus and is now implanting into the endometrium (uterine lining), which will provide critical nutrients throughout pregnancy. Blastocysts who fail to implant will miscarry.

Graphic via the Endowment for Human Development
At conception, Baby Chris was about 1/4,000 of an inch (or 0.006 mm) long. Today, he or she is just under half a millimeter long—an 82-fold increase! Of course, this is still too small for quality photographs. The best available images come from blastocysts who died after being conceived in vitro. The Virtual Human Embryo project has several such images from the first week of human life:

6-day-old human blastocyst

7-day-old human blastocyst

8-day-old human blastocyst
You can learn more about Baby Chris's journey by downloading the See Baby app, available for free on all major app marketplaces.