Catch me on Shared Sacrifice, March 13

I will be on the Shared Sacrifice BlogTalkRadio show this Saturday, March 13, to discuss pro-life progressivism. If you want to listen live, the show starts at 12pm Mountain Time (UTC−7), and I will be calling in around 12:30. The show takes listener calls, and there is also a chat room. If you can’t listen live, it’s also available as a podcast — just follow the link on the web page or search for “Shared Sacrifice” in the iTunes Music Store.

(ockraz, you had some questions in comments to this post, and hopefully in this long format I’ll be able to explain my views in more detail.)

Consistent Life Action Alert

From Consistent Life (in a roundabout way: I’m the one working on this project for them):

The Center for Reproductive Rights is beginning a campaign to end the Hyde Amendment and bring back Federal funding of abortion. One of their tactics is a series of videos in which supporters question why tax dollars can’t be spent on abortion but can be spent on things they disagree with, such as war.

This would be a great chance for Consistent Life to counter with a video pointing out all the different ways in which the destruction of life is promoted by our tax dollars, and emphasizing that we can and should oppose all of them.

To contribute, record a video of no more than 30 seconds in which you discuss what life-destroying programs you don’t want your tax dollars spent on, and/or what life-affirming programs you would like them spent on instead. Preferred format is .mov, although .avi is also acceptable. Then, contact for uploading instructions.

Letter to “This Week in Science”

I have a comment on the disclaimer that ran at the beginning of the December 8 show (I’m a bit behind).

You said,

“The following hour of programming contains language of a scientific nature, which may be offensive to some people.

If you believe that evolution is an attempt to undermine your creation;
if you are sure that the moon landing was a government hoax;
if you are certain of the age of the earth and that it is less than 10,000 years;
if you know global warming is fake because of an email you haven’t ever read;
if you think developing cures to human disease from ten-celled blastocysts shatters human dignity;
then you are listening to the right show.”

One of these things is not like the others. Evolution, the moon landing, the age of the earth, and global warming are matters of verifiable — if, in some cases, interpretable — fact. The question of whether it is ethical to destroy human embryos is not. It’s a philosophical matter, and it’s one on which scientifically literate people differ.

The construction and tone of the intro suggest that you consider your perspective on the status of human embryos to be the scientific one. There’s no such thing. Science can inform our views on philosophical questions, but it can’t resolve them. Calling those who disagree with you “sheeple” doesn’t do much to resolve them either.

In case you’re wondering, my perspective is that throughout human history, attempts to divide the human species into those who count and those who may be exploited or killed have always been destructive of human dignity.

Is she serious?

There were maybe two quotes in this article about Obama’s “common ground” participants that didn’t make me want to scream. This wasn’t one of them.

Tiller’s death is a “massive setback” in the search for common ground, said Cristina Page, a New York City author and abortion rights advocate. “It’s sort of like having a family member murdered and then being asked to make nice with the assassin’s family. It’s unnatural.”

I understand that this is an emotional time. Nobody’s doing their best thinking when someone on “their side” has just been murdered. But does Cristina Page honestly believe that the kind of person who feels any kinship with murderers of abortion providers would sit down with pro-choice advocates in Barack Obama’s White House? Really?

I hate to break this to her, but the kind of person who feels any kinship with murderers of abortion providers wouldn’t even sit down with the kind of person who would meet with pro-choice advocates in Barack Obama’s White House.

Hitchens? Really? Nat Hentoff wasn’t available?

Lisa Miller writes about pro-life atheists in this week’s Newsweek. (h/t JivinJ) I was all excited — then I read the article.

Miller asserts, regarding atheists who are pro-life, “Few of them are.” This may or may not be true, but just try determining it from the evidence she offers:

Abortion has been a wedge for more than 30 years because its moral volatility has forced Americans to choose sides: religious vs. secular, right vs. left, traditional vs. progressive. Atheists have generally aligned with the left.

Which, I feel compelled to point out, does not necessarily translate into support for abortion.

In a three-year-old Gallup poll, nearly 40 percent of Christians who attended church weekly said they believed that abortion should always be illegal.

What does this tell us about what atheists believe?

Meanwhile, nearly 40 percent of people with no religion (not atheists necessarily) said that abortion should be legal in all circumstances.

OK. How do the other 60% break down? Miller doesn’t say, because she doesn’t know.
The poll she’s citing only analyzes those respondents who said that abortion should be legal “in all circumstances” or “in no circumstances”; many self-identified pro-choicers don’t fit in the former category, and many self-identified pro-lifers don’t fit in the latter.

Wallace is likely one of the very few atheists who voted against Barack Obama, largely because of his abortion views.

I don’t know how to parse this. Is she saying it’s likely that Matt Wallace voted against Barack Obama, or likely that very few atheists did? Either way, she could have found out instead of just making an assumption.

It doesn’t get better. Miller holds up Christopher Hitchens as an exemplar of pro-life atheistic thought. Hitchens, who thinks RU-486 is a solution because “that will make abortion more like a contraceptive procedure than a surgical one.” I can only hope that’s a misquote. Worst of all, Miller apparently considers Hitchens’s incoherence a feature, not a bug:

One of the most sympathetic and intriguing aspects of the Hitchens plank, as he outlines it, is how little the atheist talks about fetal science (terms like “viability” and “neural development” rarely come up) and how much he cedes to his squeamishness on the matter […]

It’s inconsistent and imperfect, for how is a pharmaceutical abortion any different from a surgical one? But as he says, “I’m happy to say some problems don’t have solutions.” In the abortion wars, such honest reflection is progress indeed.

Yes, it’s helpful to recognize that sometimes our most fiercely defended views are based less on carefully considered arguments than on emotion and pre-logical gut feelings. On the other hand, one reason it’s helpful to recognize that is so that we can use reason to check our emotions and gut feelings lest they lead us to positions that harm ourselves or others. Not only does Miller not demand that Hitchens take that second step, she applauds him for not doing so.

I don’t want to be completely negative. It really is good to see a departure, any departure, from the standard narrative that all opposition to abortion is motivated by religion. Still, this was disappointing.

(While we’re on the subject, allow me to take this opportunity to promote the Pro-life Nonbelievers group on Atheist Nexus.)

Stephen Zunes on Blog Talk Radio

Professor Stephen Zunes, co-editor with Rachel MacNair of Consistently Opposing Killing: From Abortion to Assisted Suicide, the Death Penalty, and War is on the
Shared Sacrifice show on Blog Talk Radio right now. I’ve submitted a question about the consistent life ethic, and one of the hosts said he’d ask. I believe the show will be archived for later listening.

How to get the result you want from a poll

Keep an eye out for news articles reporting overwhelming support worldwide for human embryonic stem cell research.

An online questionnaire was prepared asking 60 questions about IVF ethics; it was anonymous and in a multiple-choice format. For this study, two of the sixty questions were examined: 1) “I believe it is morally WRONG to use embryonic stem cells for research”; and 2) “I believe it is morally WRONG to use embryonic stem cells for medical treatment”. The respondent answered the questions based on their current knowledge. The questionnaire was available online at #### as well as the patient support sites #### and #### .

Let me get this straight:

* The questions don’t specify human embryonic stem cells (though I’ll grant that was probably assumed by most respondents);
* The questions don’t mention that embryos are typically destroyed to obtain stem cells;
* The survey was conducted on three IVF support/advocacy sites. IVF doesn’t have to be done in a way that deliberately destroys embryos, but in many countries it is, so this selects for a group of people who are not opposed to the destruction of human embryos;
* It’s an online survey, and there’s no indication that data were weighted to account for the difference between this self-selected sample and a random sample.

That pounding noise you hear is George Gallup headdesking from beyond the grave.

Overall, we can conclude that people who responded to the survey expressed an overwhelming support for the use of embryonic stem cells for both medical and research purposes, independent of their background.

Sure. What they can’t conclude is that this has any relevance to anyone except the population who took their survey.

This finding is not reflected accurately in public communications or in the socioeconomic environment.

I’m not quite sure what it would mean for a survey finding to be reflected accurately “in the socioeconomic environment” — I think they’re bothered because “It is widely perceived that the public is equally divided in their views toward this controversial subject.” Mostly, it sounds to me like the authors would like to generate media reports claiming that “78% of people worldwide support human embryonic stem cell research!”

And look, they’ve already gotten some.

Abortion literacy

Dave Andrusko of NRLC has been asking for examples of abortion illiteracy — things many people don’t know, but should if we’re to have a meaningful public debate. As he puts it:

But how can people participate in the abortion debate without a more-than-passing acquaintance with the basics? Indeed, if people know next to nothing about abortion–what it is, its impact on the wider culture, what led us to where we are today, to name just three– how can they meaningfully participate in the public square?

My question to you is this: what precisely are those basics? Put another way, if you were able, what fundamentals would you weave into the intellectual warp and woof of our culture in order to raise the public’s literacy on abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia?

I figured that his readers would cover the more usual topics such as the facts about fetal development, so here’s what I sent in:

* I’ve run into people who believe that Roe v. Wade ruled that the right to privacy is so broad as to include the killing of a person in the case of abortion. That is not what the Supreme Court ruled. They specifically stated that if the unborn child were considered a legal person, that the right to privacy would not apply. They then decided that the unborn child is not considered a legal person with human rights.

* Most prominent “right-to-life” politicians aren’t actually running on a “right to life” platform. They’re instead running on a “pass laws against abortion” platform. On the national level, they propose to overturn Roe vs. Wade by appointing “originalist” or “strict constructionist” justices who will rule that since the right to abortion (and/or the right to privacy) is not specifically spelled out in the Constitution, that it’s up to states to decide. This would then allow states to pass laws against abortion even without declaring the unborn child a legal person with human rights. Of course, it would also allow states to keep unrestricted abortion.

No major presidential candidate in either party ran on a platform of getting the unborn child declared a legal person with human rights. [I later amended this to note that Mike Huckabee did.]

* The abortion issue is not a battle of the sexes. There is no statistically significant difference between the views of men and women on abortion.

* Most people oppose the legality of most abortions. The cases in which a majority of people believe abortion should be legal account for fewer than 10% of abortions. When they claim to have a “pro-choice majority”, abortion advocates are counting people who believe that abortion should be legal in some circumstance as “pro-choice”. When people with the same beliefs run for office, they are “anti-choice extremists”.

* About 80% of self-identified pro-lifers are pro-contraception.

* Countries in Western Europe where children receive comprehensive sex education, and where responsible use of contraception is encouraged and expected, have achieved much lower rates of abortion and teenage pregnancy than the United States.

* Pro-life is not strictly a conservative, Republican, Christian, or religious position.

He hasn’t written the follow-up column yet, so he might still be taking submissions. You can reach him at if you have any suggestions.

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.

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.

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.

Duck and cover! It’s the Feingold-Reid Amendment!

When it comes to war, torture, abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and other matters of life and death and human dignity, the dominant U.S. media can be counted upon to portray those advocating for the violent option as serious, realistic, and willing to make the hard decisions. Meanwhile, their opponents who favor nonviolent (or even just less violent) solutions are extreme, out of touch with the mainstream, and unwilling to face the facts.

Case in point: David Broder’s latest column, “Candidates Lacking A Real-World Clue”.

After praising both parties for having an abundance of appealing presidential candidates — an assessment with which I would take issue for a variety of reasons, but nevermind that now — Broder cautions:

But the dynamic on both sides is trending toward extreme positions that would open the door to an independent or third-party challenge in 2008 aimed at the millions of voters in the center.

The danger may be greatest for the Democrats, even though President Bush’s failings have put them in a favored position to win the next election. Prodded by four long shots for the nomination and threatened by the rhetoric of former senator John Edwards, a serious contender, the two front-runners, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, have abandoned their cautious advocacy of a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces and now are defending votes to cut off support for troops fighting insurgents in Iraq. [emphasis added]

Those Democrats are crazy! They’re for Congress using its Constitutional power over appropriations to end a war the American public has turned against — and they’d only give us ten months to safely withdraw our troops! (Why, that’s not even two whole Friedmans!) I’ve never heard of anything so extreme!

And what are the Republicans advocating? You know, the ones who aren’t as extreme as the Democrats?

Meantime, they see nothing wrong with raising the possibility of using a nuclear weapon — for the first time in more than six decades — as a bargaining tool in dealing with the ticklish situation in Iran.

It’s nice, I guess, that nukes still make David Broder a little uneasy. But anyone who finds nuclear threats less disturbing than ending a failed war doesn’t get to lecture anyone else about “lacking a real-world clue”.

Those wacky kids baffle The New York Times

Ann Hulbert, in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine, is at a loss to figure out why 18-to-25-year-olds don’t have the expected pre-fab package of social views:

Given that 18- to 25-year-olds are the least Republican generation (35 percent) and less religious than their elders (with 20 percent of them professing no religion or atheism or agnosticism), it is curious that on abortion they are slightly to the right of the general public.

It seems that these kids today are generally liberal and pro-gay-rights — and yet, tend pro-life. How mysterious!

It could simply be, of course, that some young people are pro-gay marriage and others are pro-life and that we can expect more of the same old polarized culture warfare ahead of us.

She’s right, of course; no doubt there are plenty of people in this age group who support the rights of the unborn but not gays and lesbians, as well as vice versa. But if about 65% of “Generation Nexters” support limits on abortion and about half support gay marriage (and since support for gay marriage tends to lag behind support for other gay rights such as partner benefits, civil unions, and employment non-discrimination, this generation must be pretty pro-gay in general), there has to be a significant overlap. Hulbert scrambles to find possible reasons for that overlap, but the most obvious one (to me) never seems to occur to her.

Liberals could take heart that perhaps homosexual marriage has replaced abortion as the new “equality issue” for Gen Nexters, suggested John Russonello, a Washington pollster whose firm is especially interested in social values;

Oh, so close! And yet, so far. Looked at a certain way, they are both “equality issues” — one concerns the unborn human being’s equal right to life, and the other concerns GLBTs’ equal civil rights. It’s just that many pro-choicers (want to bet money on Hulbert’s and Russonello’s positions?) have never looked at it that way, and have no idea that we do. If the only reason you can think of for anyone to be pro-life is that they are conservative moralizers who want to control other people, then you have to come up with some pretty convoluted theories indeed to explain these poll results. I prefer to think that the younger generation may be coming around to the idea of embracing our common humanity — and not a moment too soon.