Don’t Like Abortion? Then Support Sex Education.

There’s a reality disconnect within the pro-life community. They reject abortion while they also reject the solution to abortion, sex education. Is abortion an American Holocaust, as Ray Comfort says? If so, then join forces with the pro-choice camp and teach teens how to avoid it!

Being against abortion but rejecting sex education is like being against deaths through unclean water but rejecting sewer systems.

Here’s an excellent infographic on sex education from  Pass it on.

Reproductive Health Education
Created by:

Related posts:

16 Arguments Against Abortion, Addendum

Novel explores Christianity atheism apologetics themesThanks to the Prime Directive blog, I belatedly came across a long list of “Questions for Pro-Choice People” by Prof. Michael Pakaluk.  I’ve already responded to most of them with the spectrum argument, but here are three extra questions taken from this list that explore new ground and are worth highlighting.

17. Imagine a woman seeing an ultrasound of her unborn baby.  Sometimes the hands and feet are visible, and the baby is sometimes sucking its thumb.  Why aren’t such images shown to women considering abortions as part of informed consent?

Works for me.  But let’s add conditions to make this practical.

  • This should be an option rather than part of a mandatory gauntlet forced on women considering abortion.
  • This should not be the first time the woman has seen this information.  That is, education should teach about the stages of fetal development as part of comprehensive sex education that would minimize the chances of her having this unwanted pregnancy in the first place.
  • The woman’s choices should be made available as soon as possible.  Putting obstacles in her way—by closing down nearby clinics, encouraging pharmacists to refuse to offer morning-after pills, and so on—increases the age of the fetus she must consider aborting.  If an abortion is to happen, let’s make it early so that the woman doesn’t see a fetus sucking its thumb.

18. “Does anyone wish that his mother had chosen abortion for him? And, if not, then how can he consistently wish that any mother choose abortion for anyone else?”

This is a more eloquent version of my question 4, in an earlier post.

In the first place, if I’d been aborted, I wouldn’t be here to care.  In the second, this thinking isn’t far removed from the Quiverfull movement (my thoughts on that here), which encourages no restraint on birth and childishly “lets God decide” how many children to have.

Where do you draw the line?  If we are morally obliged to bring to term a 2-week-old fetus, are we also morally obliged to bring to term the thought, “Gee, I wonder if we should have another baby …”?

Seeing life as a spectrum is the only way to make sense of this.  Yes, that leaves unanswered the question of where to draw the line for abortion, but let’s first agree that a spectrum exists.

19. Let’s suppose that we’re doubtful that the unborn child is a human being with human rights (there is no doubt, but let’s imagine there is).  Given this uncertainty, shouldn’t we err on the side of the child?

I agree that there’s no doubt, but I’m sure my confidence is the opposite of yours.

A fetus is not a person.  Play games with the name all you want (“The fetus is a Homo sapiens, ‘human being’ is simply a synonym, and if a fetus is a human being, it must have human rights!”), but there’s no ambiguity here.  Despite your word games, a newborn baby is still not the same thing as a single cell.  There is a spectrum.

Photo credit

Related posts:

Related links:

  • The text of the opinion in Roe v. Wade is available here.  Though written in 1973, it gives a thorough analysis of both sides of the issue.  Anyone who objects to this decision should probably know what this decision actually says.
  • William Saletan, “The Pro-life Case for Planned Parenthood,” Slate, 12/11/08.

Ray Comfort’s Anti-Abortion Video “180”

Was Jesus the son of God?“A shocking, award-winning documentary!”  “Changing the heart of a nation.”  “33 minutes that will rock your world.”  Ray Comfort lavishes his work with superlatives, but does it hold up?

I watched 180 so that you won’t have to.  Spoiler alert: didn’t rock my world.

Motives are immediately suspect when the video opens with Hitler and Nazi rallies.  Right out of the gate, Godwin’s Law is in force, and Comfort makes clear that you’re either on his side or giving Hitler back rubs.

With that dichotomy clear, Comfort interviews people hanging out on a sunny day at some Los Angeles beach.  He begins by asking, “Who was Hitler?”  The snippets introducing us to the (typically) 20-somethings who we’ll see throughout the video all show them clueless in response.  If it was unclear before, it’s now obvious that he cherry picked only those interviews that gave him what he wanted.  This is a poor foundation on which to show us a half-dozen people at the end who are convinced by his message.  (Okay, Ray, but out of how many?)

We connect the present with Hitler through a long interview with a young American neo-Nazi with a tall blue Mohawk and a dashed “Cut here” tattoo across his throat.  And then, videos of concentration camp aftermath.

Comfort primes his interviewees with moral puzzles such as “Would you shoot Hitler if you could go back in time and do so?” or “Would you kill Jews if told that, if you didn’t, you would be killed and someone else would do the job?”

About a third of the way in, the conversation finally turns to abortion.  The use of Hitler and the Holocaust is justified when Comfort declares abortion to be the American holocaust, with killing fetuses equivalent to killing Jews.  His arguments are nothing new to many of us, but they were to this crowd:

  • Finish this sentence: “It’s okay to kill a baby in the womb when …”
  • What if a construction worker was about to blow up a building but wasn’t sure if there was a person in there or not.  If we’re not sure, we should always err on the side of life, right?
  • What if someone had aborted you?

I’ve already discussed these and other arguments.

Next, he brings up the sixth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”  In the first place, he’s done nothing to show that there is a god behind these commandments and that it has any more supernatural warrant than “Use the Force, Luke!”  Additionally, the commandment is usually translated as “thou shalt not murder.”  If the correct word is “kill,” I need to see Comfort walking the walk by campaigning against capital punishment and war.  And if it’s an undefined “murder,” what is murder?  The commandment becomes a tautology: Thou shalt not do what is forbidden.

Granted, but how is this helpful?

Our interviewees seem a little off balance with a camera in their faces and are apparently not that sharp to begin with given their widespread ignorance of Hitler.  Ray picks snippets that give him what he wants to hear, that killing fetuses is equivalent to killing Jews.

The lesson is that you can make an effective emotional pro-life argument to people who haven’t thought much about the issue.  But people who change their minds so easily (Comfort brags about how quickly they changed) aren’t well established in their new position.  How many of these, after thinking about these ideas at leisure and discussing it with friends, are still in Comfort’s camp today?

There’s a fundamental confusion in his interviewees, and Comfort is not motivated to correct it.  There’s a big difference between “Abortion is wrong for me” and “Abortion is wrong for everyone, and we must impose that on society.”  People give him the former, but he hopes we’ll take away the latter.

We’re two thirds through the video now and are just hoping to get out with our sanity intact, but Comfort has saved the best for last.  The anti-abortion argument is dropped, and he falls back to his old favorite, the Ten Commandments challenge.  (One reviewer suggested that Comfort’s compulsive use of this argument is his personal form of Tourette’s.)  This is where Comfort ticks off the commandments: Have you ever lied?  Stolen?  Looked on someone with lust?

He concludes: “By your own admission, you’re a lying, thieving, blaspheming fornicator and must face God on Judgment Day™.  How do you think God should judge you?”  Again, of course, he ignores that we haven’t established the existence of God or the afterlife.

I did applaud one aspect of the movie, the text at the end that read, “We strongly condemn the use of any violence in connection with protesting abortion.”  At least, I applauded this until I realized that this was probably a legal demand since Comfort had pushed his interviewees to consider shooting Hitler early in the documentary.

Given Ray Comfort’s easy success with emotional appeals, what if someone did a rebuttal video?  It could open with stories of illegal and dangerous back-alley abortion clinics.  Then talk about Americans rejecting oppressive government—“the land of the free,” “no taxation without representation,” and all that.  Paint a picture of medieval Europe with the heavy hand of the church on every aspect of life for the poor peasant.  Overlay some stirring patriotic music on waving flags and eagles.

The interviews would focus on intuitive arguments like those I’ve discussed in Five Emotional Pro-Choice Arguments.  Here are several brief examples.

  • Suppose a building were on fire, and you could save either a five-year-old child or ten frozen embryos.  Which would you pick?  If you picked the child, what does that say about the argument that equates embryos with babies?
  • If you’ve seen anti-abortion videos or posters, you may have seen the bloody results of late-term abortions.  Why do you suppose they showed you that rather than a woman swallowing an emergency contraceptive (“morning after”) pill?  Do you suppose they really think that it’s a “baby” all the way back to that single cell?
  • Given that half of all pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion, do you suppose that God has much of a concern about abortion?
  • A week-old human blastocyst has fewer cells than the brain of a fly.  Does it make sense to equate that with a one trillion-cell newborn?  The newborn has eyes, ears, legs, arms, a brain and a nervous system, a heart and a circulatory system—in fact, all the components of the human body that you do—while the blastocyst has just 100 undifferentiated cells.  Does it make sense to equate them?
  • Who better to weigh the impact of a child than the mother herself?

Do you think we’d get similar results with this video?

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Related posts:

Related links:

5 Recommendations to the Pro-Life Movement

Christian apologetics, Christianity, and atheismIt’s easy to assume that pro-life proponents are decent people who honestly want to see good done in the world.  The problem is that their arguments are out of touch with reality, so let me make some suggestions that I think will make the movement more effective.

I’ll admit that it’s odd for a pro-choice advocate to offer suggestions to the pro-life movement, but I want them to be more in line with reality, and I can critique from a very different perspective than an insider can.

1. Don’t Deny the Spectrum; Embrace It.  When trying to shock someone with the downsides of abortion, would a pro-life advocate discuss the horrors of the “morning after” pill rather than talk about a late-term abortion procedure?  Of course not.  There is a spectrum of personhood from a single cell to a newborn baby, and pro-life advocates know it.  Their “it’s a baby” claim for the fetus at every stage of development ignores the glaring fact of the spectrum.

Today, the pro-life movement minimizes information and discourages all abortions.  The result is that the abortions that happen are often delayed, resulting in the death of an older fetus.  If the pro-life movement acknowledged the spectrum and worked with it, they would instead encourage early detection of pregnancy and a prompt discussion of next steps so that any abortion is done as early as possible.  An early abortion is better than a later one from every angle.  Of course, pro-lifers could put forward their argument against abortion, but making abortion a taboo subject delays addressing the problem and makes any abortion later than it needs to be.  Instead of a zero-tolerance approach to abortion, they would focus instead on minimizing the harm.

Recognizing the spectrum would also free stem cell research from nonsensical constraints.  (You’re delaying research into treatments that could improve public health because of a worry over the rights of cells?!  Get serious.)

2. Embrace Allies.  While I’m pro-choice, I don’t like abortion.  The pro-life advocate doesn’t like abortion.  In fact, the scared teenage girl going to the clinic doesn’t even like abortion.  No one ever said, “Gee, I’m feeling kinda gloomy today.  I think an abortion would perk me up.”  Some people see abortion as the greater of two evils and others see it as the lesser of two evils, but everyone sees it as a bad thing.

Why focus on the disagreement when both sides of the debate are actually in agreement?  And here’s the really important agreement: no one likes the primary cause of abortion, unwanted pregnancy.  Instead of the current conflict, all sides should be marching arm in arm toward a better way to minimize unwanted pregnancy.

3. Focus on Education.  Whatever we’re doing to discourage unwanted pregnancies in the U.S. isn’t working.  Half of all pregnancies are unintended, and evangelical young adults are about as likely to have had sex as any other group.

Among countries in the West, the U.S. compares poorly.  In the U.S., the annual birth rate was 56 per 1000 women aged 15–19.  Compare this to 8 in the Netherlands.  The U.S. abortion rate for that group of women was 30 per 1000, while it was 4 in the Netherlands.  Clearly, there’s tremendous room for improvement.

The goal of the pro-life movement has been to stop abortion.  Instead of swimming against the current with this approach, they should work with the current by stopping the need for abortion.

Teen sex is a bit like teen drinking.  When a kid gets to be 15 or 16, the parent warns the kid against underage drinking.  But the wise parent gives a part 2: “If you do drink, or the driver of your car has been drinking, call me.  I’ll pick you up anytime, anywhere, with no questions asked.  Your safety is the most important thing.”  The lesson: drinking is bad, but getting hurt while drunk is really bad (and avoidable).

Likewise, if a parent wants to tell the kid that sex is bad before marriage, that’s fine.  Just give the part 2: “If you do have sex, you need to know how to have sex safely and use a condom.”

The results show that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work:

A 2007 Congressionally mandated report found that, on average, students who participated in abstinence-only education had sex at the same age as students who had comprehensive sex education.  They also had similar rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and used birth control at similar rates as students who had comprehensive sex education.

As children grow into adulthood, they get adult bodies.  Wishing it weren’t so doesn’t help.  Why wouldn’t we want to give them the owner’s manual that goes along with those new bodies?  It’s like kids having access to the car keys without being given driver’s education.

Don’t our children deserve the best training for minimizing unwanted pregnancy?  Abstinence-only training has been given a shot and doesn’t work.  If you oppose the frank teaching of how to not get pregnant in Health class, avoiding abortion must not be the critical issue you say it is.

4. A “Pro-Life” Movement Should Treat Threats to Life in Priority Order.  There are roughly one million necessary abortions per year in the U.S.  But around the world there are ten million deaths per year of young children that are not necessary.  You want to protect life?  Then do so by focusing on this much larger number of children in the developing world who die of mostly preventable causes.  Jesus said nothing about abortion, but he did talk about helping the poor and sick.

5. Tell Politicians to Leave You Alone.  Politicians buzz like flies around the pro-life cause, eager to solve the problem.  At least they say they want to solve the problem, but they have little motivation to do so.  A solved problem doesn’t get votes, and as long as it’s unsolved, the problem remains a vote getter.  Politicians benefit from the controversy, not a resolution, and they would stand in the way of the pro-life movement working in harmony with pro-choice advocates.

The Christian can become a marionette to the politician who can say “If you’re truly a moral person, you must vote for me.”  Christians should just say no.

Photo credit: macropoulos

Related posts:

Related links:

  • Maia Szalavitz, “What We Can Learn From the Dutch About Teen Sex,” Time, 11/14/11.
  • John Blake, “Why young Christians aren’t waiting anymore,” CNN Belief Blog, 9/27/11.
  • Tyler Charles, “(Almost) Everyone’s Doing It,” Relevant magazine, 9/11.
  • Nancy Gibbs, “Why Have Abortion Rates Fallen?Time, 1/21/08.
  • “Rick Perry Struggles To Answer Question About Sex Ed: ‘Abstinence Works,’” Huffington Post, 8/23/11.
  • Gregory Paul, “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions,” Evolutionary Psychology (2009) 7(3): 398–441.

16 Arguments Against Abortion, with Rebuttals (Part 2)

Atheism and Christianity discussionHere are the remaining arguments against abortion, with rebuttals. See part 1 here.

10. Why is murder wrong? Because it takes away a future like mine. If we found intelligent humanoids like us on another planet, killing them for sport would be wrong for this reason. And this is why abortion is wrong—it takes away a future like mine. This is Glenn Peoples’ Argument from the Future (podcast episode #29, 8/3/09).

Why focus on the future? Assuming these humanoids are largely unchanging month to month, like people, killing them for sport takes away a present like mine. I assume that Peoples focuses on the future only because he has no argument otherwise.

But let’s take the path that Peoples points us to. Killing a fetus would deprive it of a future like mine, but so would killing a single skin cell, once they are clonable into humans. Would it then a crime to scratch your skin? Or, let’s take it further back. Suppose I have two kids. Was it criminal to not have three? Or four? Or fifteen? I’ve deprived those people-to-be of life.

Extrapolating back to the twinkle in my eye, saying that we have a person deserving of life at every step is ridiculous. But the facts fit neatly and logically into the spectrum argument.

11. But a fetus has a soul! Does it? If the zygote has a soul and then it splits into twins, does each twin have half a soul or do they get another one as needed or did they get two to begin with? What about conjoined twins? Do they share a single soul like a shared body part? What about babies with terrible birth defects that leave them with very little brain function? What about a person cloned from a cell—would they have a soul? And if the story for the soul has a happy ending for the 50% of pregnancies that end in spontaneous (natural) abortion, why not for an artificial abortion?

This mess vanishes if we don’t insist on a soul. As Daniel Dennett said, “What isn’t there doesn’t have to be explained.”

12. “Abortion is much more serious than killing an adult. An adult may or may not be an innocent, but an unborn child is most definitely innocent.” These are the words of an archbishop from Brazil. He was outraged at the abortion done on a nine-year-old girl, raped and impregnated by her stepfather. In response to the abortion, the church excommunicated the family of the girl and the doctors who performed the abortion.

Wow. Let’s leave this example of how religion makes you do crazy things and focus on the claim. First, a fetus is not a child. Second, the spectrum argument defeats this claim.

Variations on this argument are popular, and they all have pretty much the same response. Here are a few.

12a. Abortion kills a human life (at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy) to help with another human’s self-actualization (higher on the hierarchy). That’s the opposite of the way it’s supposed to work. The two “human lives” are not comparable. This ignores the spectrum of development from single cell to trillion-cell newborn.

Killing a blastocyst with fewer cells than the brain of the fly troubles me less than killing a civilian in another country due to war or killing a criminal on death row.

12b. Don’t we normally go out of our way to defend the defenseless? Again, this ignores the spectrum. Defenseless people are more important than defenseless cells.

12c. Haven’t we been through this with racial minorities? Declaring that single cells aren’t human is like declaring that African-Americans aren’t human. Nice try. Spectrum argument.

12d. In response to your abortion clinic example: you argue that, if given a choice between saving a child and ten frozen embryos, you’d save the child. Okay, and if given the choice between your wife and a stranger, you’d save your wife, but that doesn’t mean that you can kill strangers. Spectrum argument.

13. Haven’t you heard of adoption? That’s the answer to an unplanned pregnancy. No, it’s clearly not the answer. Two percent of all births to unmarried women in the U.S. are placed for adoption. “Just have the baby and release it for adoption” is a pat on the head. It might make you feel good, but it doesn’t work.

14. You say that a trillion cells is definitely a person. Okay, how about a trillion minus one—is that a person? And if so, how about a trillion minus two? And so on. This same game could be played with the blue/green spectrum. If this color is “green,” what about just a touch more blue—isn’t that green as well? The point remains that the two ends of the spectrum are very different—green is not blue! Similarly, a single cell is not a newborn with arms, legs, kidneys, brain, and so on.

15. The woman who got pregnant knew what she was doing. Let’s encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. She didn’t necessarily know what she was doing—sex education is so poor that many teens become sexually mature without understanding what causes what.

But let’s assume that the woman knew what she was doing and was careless or stupid. What do we do with this? When someone shoots himself accidentally, that was stupid, but we all pay for the medical and insurance system that puts them back together. Let’s educate people, demand responsibility, and have a harm-reduction approach where we find the best resolution of problem. For a woman whose life would be overturned with a pregnancy, that resolution might be abortion.

16. If you’re so smart, where do you draw the line? I don’t. I find that pro-life advocates quickly turn the conversation to the definition of the OK/not-OK line for abortion, hoping to find something to criticize. I avoid this, both because it diverts attention from the spectrum argument—the main point I want to make—and because I have no opinion about the line and am happy to leave it up to the experts.

Barack Obama answered that question, “That’s above my pay grade,” which satisfies me, since he was running for Commander-in-chief, not Obstetrician-in-chief.

Next time: 5 Recommendations to the Pro-Life Movement

Photo credit

Related posts:

Related links:

Why is it Always Men Advancing the Pro-Life Position?

Christian apologetics and atheism meet hereIt’s Blog for Choice Day!

On this, the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision making abortion legal in the U.S., Pro-Choice America (NARAL) asks, What will you do to help elect pro-choice candidates in 2012?

I will make it easier to be a pro-choice politician by spreading the word about the sensible arguments in favor of the pro-choice position.  My approach has been to post this series of articles on this topic.

Today let’s ask why it’s always men advancing the pro-life position.  It does seem unfair that the gender that isn’t personally inconvenienced by pregnancy is the one pushing the restrictions.  (Okay—it’s not always men who are the vocal pro-life advocates, but it often seems that way.)

I remember a podcast by a popular Christian apologist during which a woman caller asked this question.  The apologist (a man) seemed annoyed.  He said that murder was murder.  (I argue that abortion isn’t murder.)

More to the point, he said that his moral opinion was relevant regardless of his gender.  I’ll agree with that, as far as it goes.  But I think that the woman had an important point that is rarely acknowledged, since only a woman can have an abortion.

Let me try to create a symmetric male-only example.  This apologist is of the age where he might have been in the draft pool during the Vietnam War.  So let’s suppose it’s 1970, and this guy comes back from a tour fighting in Vietnam.  Readjusting to life in America is tough, and he has nightmares and other symptoms of what we now call PTSD.  His wife is sympathetic and, after some prodding, he shares the problem with her.

“Oh, you should go see Dr. Jones about that,” she says.  “I’m part of a community of veterans’ wives, and I’ve heard all about that.  He does wonders with returning soldiers, and he’ll fix you up in no time.”

Our hero hesitates, not comfortable discussing his demons with a stranger.  “I don’t think so.”

“No, really.  I’ve heard a lot about this, and that treatment should work for you.”

Tension increases as they go back and forth.  Finally, he says, “Honey, I really appreciate your sympathy.  I know you want to help.  But you must understand that you will never, ever understand what I’ve been through.  Put in 18 months in Vietnam and then we’ll have something to talk about.  Until then, you really don’t get it.”

Similarly, our 60-something male apologist will never, ever completely understand what it’s like to be 15 and pregnant, faced with disapproving parents and ridicule from classmates and pro-lifers shouting “murder!” at the suggestion of an abortion, wondering how she’s ever going to get her life back on track.

If the male apologist wants to comment on the topic, that’s fine, but a big dose of humility (and sympathy) would make his position easier to take.

Next time: 16 Arguments Against Abortion, with Rebuttals (Part 2)

Photo credit: tsand

Related posts: