PBS, After Tiller, and unpleasant conclusions

No small ruckus has been raised among the pro-life community over PBS’ decision to air the documentary After Tiller on Labor Day.  They have already faced resistance to their decision and have stood by it.

Others, such as Matt Walsh, have argued against the wisdom of airing a deeply controversial film on a network that accepts grants from the federal government that uses taxpayer money.  There is some wisdom in this critique, since an awful lot of Americans might have misgivings about their tax dollars funding the airing of something they deeply disagree with.  Personally, I am inclined to say that PBS’ TV schedule is their own prerogative.  But since they felt resistance to airing After Tiller, they thoughtfully put out a twenty-nine-page guide and discussion booklet about the film for use by groups that choose to air the film themselves.

Except the reasons they give for allowing third-trimester abortions put them on a collision course with some profoundly controversial conclusions espoused by some abortion-choice proponents.

Continue reading

The President’s reckless rhetoric

 […] This is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams.

–From the Statement by the President on Roe v. Wade Anniversary, January 22, 2014

So end President Obama’s remarks about Roe v. Wade and his administration’s official stance on abortion, released on the 41st anniversary of the decision.  Unfortunately, the President’s remarks are deeply problematic, for reasons he probably didn’t intend.

The problem lies with the rhetoric: it is broad.  Too broad.  Much too broad.  So broad that an aircraft carrier can be parallel parked in the gap it leaves.  The logic of the statement is quite simple: abortion is a good thing because it helps women maintain equal footing and allows them to pursue their goals.  What could possibly be wrong with such a statement?

In his article for the Christian Research Journal, bioethicist Scott Klusendorf quotes several ethicists who defend the position that newborns and infants may be terminated on the basis of disability or a simple lack of development, or simply because they are not considered persons who have human rights until a given point after birth.  Klusendorf quotes Singer:

“Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons”; therefore, “the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”

Consider also, from his textbook Practical Ethics:

When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of the happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the hemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.

To be fair, Singer says that in most cases infanticide may be morally wrong–but that claim seems dubious in light of his much earlier claim about the moral worth of the lives of newborns.  But Singer is not alone.  Other ethicists have echoed Singer and have gone farther than him.  Klusendorf quotes Michael Tooley from 1972, the year before Roe, and draws the logical conclusion:

“[A human being] possess[es] a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self as a continuing subject of experiences and other mental states, and believes that it is itself such a continuing entity.”  Infants do not qualify.

Klusendorf’s discussion of another ethicist’s comments deserve attention as well.

More recently, American University philosophy professor Jeffrey Reiman has asserted that unlike mature human beings, infants do not “possess in their own right a property that makes it wrong to kill them.” He explicitly holds that infants are not persons with a right to life and that “there will be permissible exceptions to the rule against killing infants that will not apply to the rule against killing adults and children.”

So with these philosophers in mind, let’s revisit the President’s remarks.  The logic is unambiguous: if abortion can allow a woman to achieve her goals, it should be permissible.  But the President’s rhetoric is careless: these ethicists have given reasons why they think infanticide should be permissible, and all of them are grounded in the same defense of abortion that Obama has appealed to.

Which raises some uncomfortable questions for President Obama.  What reasons can he give for his stated defense of abortion that do not equally apply to Singers,’ Tooley’s, and Reiman’s defenses of infanticide?  If abortion–the act of ending a human life–is acceptable at one stage based upon the physical attributes of the unborn, as far as the ambitions of women or families are concerned, then Singer’s point that the newly born are developmentally similar to the unborn means that Singer and company can (and has)  use that very same rhetoric in the defense of infanticide on the basis that it will allow for the very same goals and opportunities to be pursued.

Which is surely not what the President meant to say, but the logic of his statement is unavoidable.  Why not follow Singer, Tooley, and others in their arguments about abortion and infanticide?  Would not more goals and ambitions be pursued by allowing infanticide?  Surely the good would outweigh the bad in such a scenario.  If size, location, or degrees of dependency or development can be appealed to to terminate a human being so that another can achieve a particular objective, why not grant more achievement?

But Singer is right in pointing out that newborns are developmentally similar to their unborn counterparts, and there is something of a circular firing squad within pro-choice philosophy.  To quote Christopher Kaczor, “Arguments against infanticide often apply equally well to abortion while arguments in favor of abortion often apply equally well to infanticide (The Ethics of Abortion, p. 41).”

And it is into this disturbing philosophical tempest that the President deploys his remarks.  Surely President Obama does not mean to allow such an application of his statement, but his sentiments are not used by defenders of abortion alone.  When his rhetoric can be used–and is used–by those defending infanticide, that rhetoric needs to be critically examined.

Faith Aloud only tells half the story

Zen question of the day: What is the sound of a narrative only telling half the story?

That’s the conclusion I came to after leaving a comment on the Faith Aloud blog and watching it never get approved.  That blog post, entitled “The Bible Says So,” was written and touted as a distinctly Biblical response to the backlash against Faith Aloud’s prayer campaign. Continue reading

Faith Aloud’s November 2011 Newsletter, and reasons for life

Welcome back.  This time, we’re going to be taking a look at the November 2011 newsletter from Faith Aloud, the creators of the 40 Days of Prayer campaign.  I would like to use this as a springboard, of sorts, to look at the 40 prayers themselves.

In the section entitled “Pray to End Sidewalk Bullying,” we find:

This campaign was a direct response to an anti‐choice group called “Operation Rescue” (or “Operation Save America”) who semi‐annually plans 40‐day intensive protests on clinics in hopes of bullying patients and doctors out of a woman’s right to choose. During the “40 Days for Life” campaign, the amount of protesters often doubles outside of clinics. Parents pull their children out of school to picket, buses of youth groups are dropped off, and large congregations appear, sometimes to scream at women that they are murderers going to hell, other times trying to offer them inaccurate information, while endlessly harassing the clinic staff members.

Wait a minute…what’s this?  Created in direct response to 40 Days for Life?  What was that that Rev. Rebecca Turner said in her interview with Focus on the Family?

Focus on the Family:  Reverend Rebecca Turner says the title of the prayer campaign is named after Lent, and has nothing to do with the 40 Days for Life event.

Rev. Turner: During Lent, to say that there is, um, that there is a compassionate voice out there with religious people who are supportive of women in difficult situations.

So was it created in response to FDFL, or not?  Am I supposed to believe the interview, or the newsletter?  I presume that this is a case of confusion, because if it’s a case of dishonesty, that would not be good.

Side note: 40 Days for Life was not created by, and is not even endorsed by, Operation Save America.  That is simply factually incorrect.  Also, I think the 40 Days for Life folks would be interested to know if their participants really are engaging in bullying or harassment, contrary to the stated principles and goals of their campaigns.

Contradiction aside, all we see here are sweeping assertions: of bullying (when? where?  documentation?), inaccurate information (what?), hate (what constitutes hate?), among other things (lollygagging comes to mind).

I am not going to pretend that it is not stressful to be picketed.  I have been on both sides at different times: picketed some times, picketing others.  But to simply complain about the presence of people who disagree does not answer the reasons they have for doing so.

Moving along…

Victory in Mississippi!
“Eggs are People”
Initiative Defeated!
We thank Mississippi citizens who voted down legislation that would have given full personhood rights to fertilized eggs. Not only would all abortion have been banned, but also many forms of birth control and in‐vitro fertilization. Although many news outlets expected the proposition to pass, the bill was defeated by a significant margin, with 58% against, and 42% for.

Anyone notice anything wrong with this paragraph?  It is biologically incorrect to speak of embryos as ‘fertilized eggs,’ because such a term is a contradiction in terms.  If an egg gets fertilized, it ceases to be an ‘egg’ and becomes a ‘zygote.’

There’s something else here that needs attention: the “given full personhood rights” language.  What constitutes a person?  For the record, I don’t much like the language of ‘personhood’ because it frequently avoids the bigger, more fundamental, question: what makes us human?  This question gets to the heart of the matter: what is the unborn?  If humanity is not determined by size, location, degree of dependency, or degree of development, or other accidental properties, then we are always human, from the first unique cell, and therefore the subject of human rights by way of being members of the human family.  The measures of personhood are often contrived (consciousness, viability, sentience, capability, wantedness, etc) and are not essential attributes of human beings.

Before I continue, and certainly before I look at the prayers themselves, I need to set out my rationale for opposing abortion.  Specifically, the claim that abortion is a moral action.

This rationale is really quite simple.  If the unborn are not fully human, then abortion is morally acceptable.  The unborn are fully human, therefore, abortion is not morally acceptable.

When I say that the unborn are fully human, I am not saying that they are fully developed humans.  I am saying that from the first cell, that a new individual has come into being, that has everything he or she needs to develop into an adult, provided that that process is not interrupted.  Humanity is not determined based on non-essential characteristics like size, location, degree of development, or degree of dependency; therefore, even if a human being does not have the capability to immediately exercise a particular act, it does not make him or her less than human–in other words, it is what we are, not what we can or cannot do, that determines our humanity. This means that we are all morally equal.

But if we are all members of the human family by virtue of essence, rather than accident, it means that all the members of that family are subject to certain rights based upon their moral status.  Historically, this has been the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and these rights are not contingent upon our ability to immediately exercise certain capabilities (like the right to vote or drive), but upon our nature.

This moral status is also an objective one; that is, it cannot be the case for one person that the unborn has this status and true for another that the unborn does not: either both of them are wrong, or one of them is wrong.  This status is not religiously derived, either: this is well within the bounds of philosophy and embryology, so the “this is just a religious thing” line doesn’t really work here.

But it means that how we frame the discussion has to change.  What I mean is that when abortion proponents use the language of “choice,” one important question gets begged: what choice, exactly?  The language of ‘choice’ is only valid if and only if abortion is morally equivalent to the alternative.  But if abortion is not morally equivalent to its alternatives, then the language of choice does not apply. Does this indeed mean that the “anti-choice” label sticks?  No.  There is nothing wrong with making choices where the alternatives are morally equal.  Abortion is not one of those choices, because it infringes upon the most basic rights of all humans.

That’s all I’ll say for now about why I think and act the way I do about abortion, but this should lay a decent framework for looking at the content of the prayers suggested by Faith Aloud.

Suggested reading for pro-life ethics and philosophy:  The Case for Life, by Scott Klusendorf; Defending Life, by Francis Beckwith; Embryo by Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen.

Faith Aloud interview with RH Reality Check

I had planned on making my first substantive blog post on the November 2011 newsletter of Faith Aloud, but checking Twitter caused me to push that back to a somewhat later date.  It seems that Faith Aloud did an interview with RH Reality Check, and they were quite pleased with how that interview turned out.

It became readily apparent that this interview needed an answer before I posted my thoughts on the prayers themselves, or even looking at the 2011 newsletter, because it makes some…interesting claims about the “anti-choice” crowds at abortion clinics, though it mentions none by name.   The Reverend Rebecca Turner, who is the Executive Director for Faith Aloud (hereafter FA), was interviewed.  This was not the only interview they have given recently, and FA has otherwise been unhappy with how those interviews turned out.

So on to the interview itself.

Why did you write the 40 Days of Prayer?   

I wrote some prayers and offered them to abortion providers to use whenever and however they wanted to. We’ve since made a full poster of the prayers that is on the walls in many clinics across the country. We were angered by the swarms of protesters that regularly took siege of abortion clinics and would hurl hateful remarks at the women arriving. As a Christian minister, I was especially angered that most of these protesters who were so hateful and judgmental actually call themselves Christian. I wanted women to know that many Christians are compassionate and supportive, and to help them find strength in their religious faith instead of condemnation.

Before I say anything else, I would like to say that I have seen some groups who do exactly this: who hurl condemnation, judgment, and are the equivalent of a verbal trebuchet.  They are making a very, very, bad impression on everyone, not just those inside the clinic.  So I’ve seen how not to do pro-life counseling in front of clinics.

But something is missing from this evaluation: namely, do the ‘judgmental’ have a point?  Sure, they might be terrible messengers, but do they have a real message in there somewhere?  (They might not.  My interaction with them seems to indicate a lack of sophistication when it comes to the finer details of pro-life ethics.)  On that note, what about the 40 Days for Life folks: do they have a point?  Is simply standing with a sign (and/or rosary, or cross, or whatever) a ‘hateful’ act of ‘judgmentalism?’  Hateful?  Not necessarily.  Judgmental?  Yes–but judgment in and of itself is not a sin: they might well be right, and we have tools to determine the rightness of that judgement.    But since all we get from the interview is “these people are hateful,” we have no interaction with the case for life that we make.  Simply dismissing them as with the slur-du-jour isn’t enough.

I’m curious, though.  What is said that constitutes “hate?”  Can we see some examples?  “These people are saying X, Y, and Z” would be a very quick way to effectively engage the claims themselves.

Many websites are claiming that we’re praying for more abortions, which is silly. They can read the prayers and see that isn’t the case. Most of the prayers are really all about women and their reproductive lives. We pray for gender discrimination to cease. We pray for women who are abused. We pray for women who are infertile. We pray for women to have confidence. How can they be upset by this? Really I think the only objection to these prayers comes from a deep misogyny that refuses to acknowledge women as autonomous beings with their own spiritual lives.

When asked about the impetus for the prayers, these were the reasons given–but they perhaps missed a good opportunity to ‘seek common ground’ (a complaint that shows up later).

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.–Galatians 5:22-23, ESV

“Against such things there is no law.”  I think I speak on behalf of an awful lot of Christians who peacefully oppose abortion in saying that we are seriously interested in pursuing the truth of the matter of abortion, to follow the facts where they lead, and doing so with the fruit of the Spirit.  We pray, and invite, those aligned with FA to do the same.  See?  Common ground.

But there’s a little more to this paragraph than that.  A few prayers very much do pray that abortion is at least left untouched or made more available–as we will see when I post my thoughts on the prayers themselves.  On that note, I will give a bit of a preview and say that I heartily agree with at least a few of the prayers as they are written…and could well have been written (and written better, but I digress) by pro-lifers.

But it is beyond absurd to claim that the only reason pro-lifers are getting their dander up about these prayers is “deep misogyny.”  Slander by any other name smells just as bad.  But the theme reappears: what if they have a point?  Could it possibly be that they have well-thought, conscientious reasons to find such prayers offensive (and most of them simply wrong things to pray for)?  We don’t know.  Instead, we’re told we just hate women.

Hint: With language like this, don’t complain that you can’t find common ground.

How would you characterize the main reactions you have received since this flurry of publicity?  

The media to date has been from anti-choice groups, so most of the people calling and writing to us are their constituents. They are quite hostile, usually rambling, callers are often screaming. They accuse us of pretending to be ministers or Christians. They accuse us of baby-murdering. Emails quote a lot of scripture and tell us we’re going to burn in hell.  We have had some new supporters find us through this, though. And we’ve begun a campaign called “Hate-into-Love” which allows our supporters to pledge donations for each hostile contact we receive.

“Baby-murdering”–that’s sort of an interesting phrase in light of the interview with Focus on the Family.

Focus on the Family interviewer: And is that fetus a baby?

Turner: That answer’s gonna be different for every person who calls themself pro-choice, but for me personally, that, uh, significantly depends on the stage of development. […] I cannot equate that early embryonic life with, with your life.

Interestingly, this represents the first time that FA has actually tried to defend their stance on abortion.  But it is hopelessly flawed: is humanity simply a matter of what each individual person thinks?  Can it really be the case that the unborn are “human for you, but not for me?”  Such a claim is a violation of the law of non-contradiction; a fetus cannot both be human and not-quite-human at the same time. Even granting that the interviewer and an embryo are not developmentally equal, their moral equivalency is not mentioned.  Are they morally equal?  Why or why not?  I would argue that based on embryology, and philosophy, that all humans, even embryos, share an essential nature that makes us all human and thus makes us subjects of human rights.  So: If we are to take Turner seriously, then for the pro-lifers, it is true that Faith Aloud is abetting ‘baby-murderers,’ but for Turner, it is not.

On that note: why determine humanity with development?  Where at in development, for that matter?  Modern embryology does not allow for development to determine when we ‘become’ human–we either are or we aren’t.  Side note: David Bereit did not do that good of a job trying to answer Turner.  And the interviewer from Focus set, and walked into, his own trap by asking if “a fetus was a baby.”  This is otherwise technically imprecise; ‘fetus’ and ‘baby’ are terms for stages of development.  A pro-lifer can say without blinking that a fetus is not a baby, but–and this is the point that Focus missed–the fetus is fully human.


In the several days that news of the “40 Days of Prayer” has gone viral, you have received much hate mail. Have you received anything from any anti-choice individual or group that suggests some common ground? 

No.  The hate mail tends to fall into these camps “You have no right to call yourself a Christian or pray” or “I’m praying for God’s vengeance on you.” We’re getting some love mail, too, with people finding us for the first time and saying thank you for being a religious voice of compassion and reason.

Well, I’d sure like for this to be the first.  As a pro-lifer I think that our positions, and even our prayers, are worth subjecting to scrutiny in the court of public opinion.  Unfortunately, I do not see much acknowledgement of the really good pro-life positions (think Stand to Reason, Life Training Institute, etc.).  I’d like to see what Faith Aloud has to say about their claims, since there is no shortage of information at either site regarding the ethics of abortion.

Next up will probably be a look at FA’s November 2011 newsletter since it makes some interesting comments that are worth taking a look at.  Then will be a closer look at the prayers themselves.