Terminology confusion

I keep seeing people claiming that pro-lifers have their own made-up, unscientific definition of “pregnancy”. For a representative example, see “A Christian Intra-Religious Translating Dictionary” at religioustolerance.org.

It goes like this:

  • Pro-choicer points out that pro-lifers say pregnancy begins at conception.
  • Pro-choicer then points out that medical professionals say pregnancy begins at implantation.
  • Presto! Pro-choicer gets to claim that pro-lifers are at odds with medical professionals. All those pro-lifers running around talking about conception are just ignorant.

Seriously, I see this all the time. And people fall for it, because it fits into what they want to believe about pro-lifers — that we’re backwards, anti-science, etc.

I assume anyone reading this who is pro-life has spotted the flaw. In reality, what pro-lifers say is that the life of an individual human being — not pregnancy — begins at conception. I don’t think I’ve ever once heard a pro-lifer actually say “Pregnancy begins at conception.”

Pregnancy is a particular type of relationship between a mother and her child, a relationship in which the child is living inside the mother, physically connected to and dependent upon her. That relationship begins at implantation. But life precedes pregnancy. The embryo that implants is already a living human organism.

The beginning of life is not the same as the beginning of pregnancy. But planting that equivalence in the audience’s mind works in pro-choicers’ favor in a couple of ways. First, it lets them pretend there are no ethical questions about the prevention of implantation.* Second, it lets them distort pro-lifers’ arguments. If life = pregnancy, then discrediting the strawman statement that “pregnancy begins at conception” both makes pro-lifers look bad and prejudices the audience against the true statement that “life begins at conception”.

Where are pro-choicers even getting the notion that pro-lifers say “Pregnancy begins at conception”? Follow the bouncing ball again:

  • (Some) pro-lifers say that hormonal conception is abortifacient, because they believe that it prevents implantation and thus ends the life of the embryo. They’re using a colloquial definition of abortion that means “killing an embryo/fetus”.
  • Medical professionals say that even if it does prevent implantation, it isn’t abortifacient because pregnancy hasn’t begun yet. They’re using a technical definition of abortion that means “the premature ending of a pregnancy”.
  • Pro-choicers ignore the obvious fact that there are two different definitions in play, and conclude that to call something abortifacient is to imply that pregnancy has begun, ergo pro-lifers are claiming that pregnancy begins at conception.

I’d argue that the colloquial usage of the term “abortion” is justifiable in this context, in that it’s closer to the way the word is used by the general public. Still, it might be time to find better terminology when referring to something that might prevent implantation.

* Regardless of what you might have heard, it is not a known fact that hormonal birth control prevents implantation. I’ve just had that argument recently, and I don’t feel like rehashing it right now. But pro-choicers tend to argue that even if it does happen, it doesn’t matter because the pregnancy hasn’t started yet.

“Women Deliver” global maternal health conference

I was just reading about the “Women Deliver” conference. It sounds wonderful, and badly needed. Most of it.

Promoting the health of mothers and children is something that should naturally be a part of the pro-life cause. I mean, I shouldn’t even need to say that. We should be all over a conference like this. We should be holding it! And yet, it appears to be run by the type of advocates who consider expanding access to abortion — all abortions, not just those done out of medical necessity — as part and parcel of improving women’s health. It makes sense if you accept that women will always have abortions, and that the best that can be hoped for is to replace unsafe abortions with safe(r) ones.

Of course, people who consider abortion violence against a human child (not to mention violence directed toward the mother as well) can’t accept that, any more than death-penalty opponents can accept capital punishment as part of the agenda for reducing crime. But just as death-penalty opponents can work with proponents on crime-prevention measures such as improved policing, pro-lifers should be able to work with pro-choicers on improving womens’ access to medical care, safe delivery options, HIV prevention, family planning, and many other measures.

I say “should”, because I don’t believe it’ll actually happen. Too many pro-lifers seem to think that working with pro-choicers on anything is tantamount to being complicit in promoting abortion. And too many pro-choicers are unwilling to ever work on issues like women’s health and family planning without bringing abortion access in as part of a package deal.

There is a scheduled plenary session called “Working on Common Ground”:

Ensuring that women and newborns are healthy and are able to contribute their full potential is both a social and an economic investment. How can various disciplines and movements work together and advocate more effectively to realize this potential?

I think that would be a fine venue for promoting the idea that pro-lifers and pro-choicers ought to be able to work together on nonviolent means of improving women’s and children’s health, don’t you?

Of course, given the agenda of the “Addressing the Controversies in Reproductive Health and Rights” plenary:

1994 ICPD marked a paradigm shift in population policy to a woman-centered, reproductive health and rights approach. It also led to controversy. This plenary will examine four areas where action has not matched international commitments:

* Are religion and culture positive or negative forces in influencing reproductive health policy?
* Do young people have a right to access a full range of reproductive health services as well as information?
* How best can the public health goal of eliminating unsafe abortion be achieved?
* Are women’s rights human rights?

…well, my hopes aren’t high.

(And damn it, I hate that the term “reproductive health and rights” throws up red flags for me, because reproductive health and rights are vitally important! Access to medical care, choice in childbirth, contraception, the right to be educated about how one’s own body works, the right to be free from sexual violence and coercion — it’s a tragedy that so many women, hell, probably most women, don’t have these things. And yet, and yet, and yet… the violence of abortion always creeps in. As if we can’t even imagine our lives free of pain, free of violence, free of destruction.)

Pieces of Flair

The “Happy Human” over there in the sidebar is a secular humanism logo, by the way; I don’t know if it’s something most people would readily recognize.

I thought about altering it to be a pro-life happy human, maybe with another tiny little happy human curled up inside of it. On the one hand, it would be nice to have a little more visibility for pro-lifers within the humanist community and humanists within the pro-life community. On the other hand, the way I see it, the logo shouldn’t have to be altered: humanism should include unborn human beings by definition. Also, my graphics-fu is weak.

The two badges below it are pretty self-explanatory. In addition to Blogs By Women, I also applied to ProLifeBlogs. TTCF would definitely be the answer to a game of “one of these things is not like the others” over there, but I can’t be the only one who keeps scouring their aggregator in a desperate attempt to find other pro-life bloggers who aren’t conservative Christians.

Other suspect people

To: Lisa Boyce, Vice President of Public Affairs, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin

Dear Ms. Boyce:

An article in last week’s Shepherd-Express attributed the following to you:

Boyce also noted that while WRTL condemned Paul Hill Days, its press release provided enough information about the event and its organizers to allow supporters to seek out more information and attend it.

You seem to have been implying that Wisconsin Right to Life actually covertly supported Paul Hill Days, and that their statement of denunciation was just for show.

If in fact that is your position, I wish to bring to your attention some people who provided even more information about Paul Hill Days than WRTL did, usually in the form of linking to the event’s web site:

Better keep an eye on all of us.

The best way to deal with the violent fringe: confront or ignore?

So, “Paul Hill Days” has* come and gone. I’m pleased, though not a bit surprised, to learn that turnout was poor: the murder cheerleaders were able to scrape up sixty people for their parade only by dragging along their children. The re-enactment of Hill’s crime was even more sparsely attended. I’ve seen video online, and there appeared to be about twenty-five people there. Maybe a few more if you count the gawkers in the background.

I’ve discussed this subject with many very reasonable, absolutely anti-violence people who argue that Hill’s admirers should be given as little attention or acknowledgment as possible. The people behind this event are a tiny fringe, they say. They have a martyr complex that we probably feed by speaking out against them. They have a desire for publicity that we definitely feed by speaking out against them.

All that is true, and if these were just people spouting off ugly opinions on the Internet, I might agree that the best thing to do is ignore them. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. The organizers of “Paul Hill Days” celebrate and associate with people who have proven their willingness to kill. It would only take one of them being inspired to action by this rally for more murders to take place.

Wisconsin Right to Life (the Wisconsin affiliate of National Right to Life) issued a press release denouncing “Paul Hill Days”. (You can thank them here.) Pro-Life Wisconsin (an associate of American Life League) did not:

When asked why Pro-Life Wisconsin did not denounce the event, Hamill said her organization did not want to get involved.

“We only speak on what our organization is doing,” Hamill said. “We’re not about to comment on what other organizations are doing.”

That’s just wrong. As I mentioned above, there are perfectly good reasons why not every pro-life organization issues a statement every time some marginal figure says something crazy enough to make the news. But this was a celebration of the murder of two people that was taking place in PLW’s own backyard, in the name of their cause. To refuse to speak against it even when asked point-blank goes beyond merely “not commenting on other groups” and comes dangerously close to tacit approval.

To Pro-Life Wisconsin: your representatives could have refused to comment on any specific activities while emphasizing your own group’s stand against violence. They could have gone further and stated that since using violence against abortion providers is contrary to the goals of your organization, people who support it should neither join nor donate money to Pro-Life Wisconsin. All this, without once mentioning any other group.

[Planned Parenthood spokesperson Lisa] Boyce also noted that while WRTL condemned Paul Hill Days, its press release provided enough information about the event and its organizers to allow supporters to seek out more information and attend it.

That’s also just wrong. Wisconsin Right to Life’s statement may not have been as strong as I might have liked. (Personally, I think an in-person protest would have been appropriate.) But, well, National Right to Life has a pretty stodgy institutional personality, and WRTL’s statement is actually more strongly worded than I’d expect from one of their affiliates. They’re just not fire-breathers, you know? There’s absolutely no reason to believe that the statement was anything but sincere. For Boyce to hint otherwise is just a cheap attempt to score political points by implying that the pro-violence forces actually have a lot of secret support among regular pro-lifers — a falsehood which some of the pro-violence forces believe as well, and which gives them aid and comfort.

The danger of condemning something loudly and publicly is that by doing so, we bring more attention to it. I’ve long been opposed to the disproportionate press coverage given to certain figures who are famous for promoting the “justifiable homicide” theory. I feel that interviewing these people and treating them as though they’re a major force in the pro-life movement just gives them more of a platform for spreading their views.

So, for WRTL to provide specific information about “Paul Hill Days” in their press release (and really, they didn’t provide very much), or for me to link to their web site, may have been a tactical error. Maybe it would be better to follow the example of many anti-racists, who refuse to link to sites such as Stormfront when discussing them. I’m not convinced, though. I believe it’s vital for pro-lifers to denounce violence, and to do it not just in general terms but to confront promoters of violence with our opposition, so that they know they don’t have our unspoken support. That might be worth giving them a little more attention in the process.

* Grammarians, please advise: “have” or “has”? “Days” is, of course, plural, but the overall event is singular**.

** And thank goodness it is.

Pro-life: it’s not just for Catholics anymore!

Is anybody besides me tired of seeing all the news about the Catholic Church vs. Amnesty International? As soon as the Vatican weighed in, the fact that anybody besides the Catholic Church opposes abortion was completely forgotten in all press coverage.

I don’t want to say that the Vatican shouldn’t have weighed in, because they have both the right and responsibility to do so. It’s just unfortunate that their involvement in the controversy has made it all too easy for the usual suspects to dismiss any opposition to abortion as solely a religious issue.

Bear with me

I’ve recently returned to work after maternity leave, and am trying to figure out how to juggle working, spending time with my family, and finishing my Master’s degree. Blogging’s been just a teeny bit slow, and that might continue for a while, but I’ll do my best.

Monday lazyblogging

In which I piggyback on the brilliance of others.

The first post in this series was written over two years ago, but I just found it, so as NBC used to say, it’s new to me: The AmbivAbortion Rant (part 1, part 2, and part 3).

Amba writes about the humanity of the unborn, the humanity of women, the precariousness of women’s lives, and her own abortion in powerful, passionate language. She’s pro-choice, but reluctantly so, and believes that the culture must change to acknowledge what’s at stake in every abortion — the death of an individual human being. I’ve seen the ideas she discusses here before, but I have rarely seen them expressed with such grace. Some passages will be uncomfortable for pro-lifers, others for pro-choicers, and that’s good. Whatever conclusion you ultimately reach, I think that if you haven’t grappled with the issues Amba raises, you haven’t thought your position through as fully as you could.

Just a bit more recently, Fred at Slacktivist compared U.S. society’s acceptance of prison rape with the despicable practice of “extraordinary rendition”.

One thing that both posts have in common is the idea that we should avoid violent acts not only because they harm their victims, but also because they degrade those who engage in or tolerate them.

Amba writes:

In a way I think we do more harm to ourselves, and to the fabric of reality, than we do to the individual who will never be. How desensitized do we have to be to destroy this astounding, tiny thing, a complete human being rapidly spinning itself out of next to nothing? If you’re not ready to keel over in awe of that, for Godsake get yourself a shot of Depo-Provera.

[…]
Accepting abortion as no big deal requires regressing rather than advancing in our higher qualities, awareness and gratitude. It is definitely a part of the Darwinist culture that takes pride in our being nothing more than fancy animals driven by brute self-interest.

Fred, meanwhile, quotes Hilzoy:

But sympathy is not our only reason for not torturing and raping people. There’s also self-respect: the thought that whatever someone else might choose to be like, and even if that person has chosen to be Jeffrey Dahmer, there are certain things that I will not choose to do, because I do not want to be the sort of person who does them.

So, great posts. Go read ’em.

Concerned TV Networks for America

Even Fox feels the need to pander to the 10% or so of the population who oppose birth control. I told you their influence was all out of proportion to their actual numbers!

Trojan recently tried to place an ad for its condoms on the four major networks. ABC and NBC accepted the ad, but Fox and CBS rejected it. Fox’s response was particularly telling:

Fox and CBS both rejected the commercial. Both had accepted Trojan’s previous campaign, which urged condom use because of the possibility that a partner might be H.I.V.-positive, perhaps unknowingly. A 2001 report about condom advertising by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that, “Some networks draw a strong line between messages about disease prevention — which may be allowed — and those about pregnancy prevention, which may be considered controversial for religious and moral reasons.”

Representatives for both Fox and CBS confirmed that they had refused the ads, but declined to comment further.

In a written response to Trojan, though, Fox said that it had rejected the spot because, “Contraceptive advertising must stress health-related uses rather than the prevention of pregnancy.”

So the networks either don’t think they’ll get flak, or they’re willing to take it, for promoting condom use to prevent disease. But not to prevent pregnancy. Hmm. What could account for the difference?

“There’s a utopian view that women ought to be able to have sex any time they want to without consequences” [emphasis added]

— Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America, explaining her groups’s opposition to legislation that would promote contraception and comprehensive sex ed

Oh yeah.

Oh, HELL no.

From Frederick Clarkson comes word of Paul Hill Days:

Planned events include:

  • Activities at our two remaining killing centers
  • Literature distribution
  • Ministry at the Federal Courthouse
  • Reenactment of 7-29-1994
  • Paul Hill March
  • Ministry at other public forums
  • This needs to be protested. Vigorously. By pro-lifers.

    EDIT: I realized not everyone necessarily knows who Paul Hill was. On July 29, 1994, he shot and killed two people, and wounded another, at an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida.

    This rally in Milwaukee is cheerleading for murder.

    Women for Women International

    Following up on the previous post: Women for Women International responded to my query.

    Dear Jen,

    Thank you for your email and interest in our organization. Women for Women International does not advocate for or against abortion. During our rights awareness training session on women’s reproductive health, we focus on educating women about standard health practices for themselves and their children. We discuss prenatal care, infant and child care, nutrition during pregnancy, natural family planning methods and other topics designed to reduce the maternal and infant mortality rates in the communities where we work. I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact us.

    I’m very glad to hear that. WWI seems like a great organization. Their stated purpose is “Supporting women in war-torn regions with financial and emotional aid, job-skills training, rights education and small business assistance so they can rebuild their lives.” You can become a “sister” and sponsor another woman, or just donate to WWI, who will use the funds for their educational programs and administrative costs. There are also other, non-monetary ways to get involved.

    They are highly rated by Charity Navigator and the American Institute of Philanthropy.

    For those of you leaving Amnesty

    Marysia asked for links to human rights organizations people can support if they feel compelled to leave Amnesty International due to Amnesty’s new abortion policy. I commented over there, but thought I would post them here as well.

    Consistent Life are suggesting the following:

    Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC)

    National Religious Campaign Against Torture

    Human Rights First

    Friends Committee on National Legislation

    I sent a donation to FCNL, with a note explaining that I was coming over from Amnesty and why. I also let AI know that I would be supporting other organizations and why.

    Additionally, I have been looking into Women for Women International, for people who want to offer women in war zones such as Darfur life-affirming, nonviolent assistance.* I don’t think that WWI is involved with abortion advocacy, but I have written to them for a clarification.

    * I was particularly infuriated this week by the Amnesty spokesperson who cited a World Health Organization estimate that 68,000 women die annually as a result of abortions, and said, “Once we looked at that figure, neutrality would have meant essentially saying it’s okay that 68,000 women a year die because of criminalization of abortion.” That is a monstrous claim, and the exact equivalent of warmongers accusing those of us who opposed the Iraq invasion of saying it was okay for Saddam Hussein to murder his own people.

    “The poor cry out for justice and equality…”

    “…and we respond with legalized abortion.”

    Graciela Olivarez, separate statement to the Rockefeller Commission on Population Growth And The American Future, 1972. (Some things never change. Unfortunately.)

    I was working on a post about this, then JivinJehosaphat went and beat me to it: Katha Pollitt’s first blog post is soliciting funds for a pregnant Tennessee woman.

    She’s a single mom with a 19 month old; co-conceiver skipped town; no child support because that dude skipped town; she is clinically very depressed and extremely desperate.

    Naturally, the funds are being collected not for legal aid or mental health care, but for an abortion. To Jivin J’s points, I would add this: although there is much debate over the exact incidence of post-abortion emotional health sequelae, one thing on which virtually everyone agrees is that certain factors make it more likely that a woman will have problems. Those factors include pre-existing mental health issues, and feeling pressured into having an abortion. So, not only is this woman impoverished, abandoned, and depressed; but the abortion that Pollitt and her readers are buying her will leave her impoverished, abandoned, depressed, and at risk for further mental health problems.

    But hey, at least she won’t have her son or daughter.

    I’ve said it before — the reason we still have abortion is not because our society isn’t conservative enough. It’s because we’re not progressive enough. Not progressive enough to ensure social and economic justice, especially for women. Not progressive enough to embrace all human beings as members of the human family for whom we are responsible. And not progressive enough to renounce violence as a means of solving problems.