Transcription below the fold!
Transcription below the fold!
In an op-ed for the New York Times, former news anchor Campbell Brown has some advice for Planned Parenthood:
Once again, Planned Parenthood is potentially making an enemy of someone who has failed to pass its purity test. It’s gotten to the point where, in this election cycle, the group’s political arm (while proudly claiming to be nonpartisan) has not endorsed or directly given money to a single Republican. As a person who believes abortions should be safe, legal and rare, I support many of Planned Parenthood’s goals. But the militancy must go. Demanding a perfect record from candidates it supports has already left Planned Parenthood marginalized. So does an attitude that doesn’t ever seem to take into account that abortion is a morally complicated matter or that those on the anti-abortion side are often decent and well-intentioned people.
Putting aside Brown’s ideas about what would be the most pragmatic way for Planned Parenthood to build political support, the claim that they need to “take into account that abortion is a morally complicated matter” is puzzling, to say the least. Descriptively speaking, yes, it’s “morally complicated” – lots of people have different and conflicting views on abortion. What else is new? Normatively speaking, “abortion” as a whole is certainly morally complicated, but only because it encompasses a wide variety of acts.
Among these, some appear to be morally questionable, such as late-term abortion of viable fetuses when no one’s health is at risk. But others, such as earlier-term abortions for any reason, are generally considered acceptable by almost everyone – even the most vocal opponents of elective abortion. While many of them will say that the tiniest embryo is no different from a newborn, they definitely don’t act like they believe millions of children are being slaughtered at abortion clinics every year. At most, their church’s youth group will go on a road trip to the capital once a year and put duct tape on their mouths to protest what they purportedly believe is tantamount to another Holocaust. Doesn’t that just scream sincerity?
Those who do act on this belief, and kill or injure real people in the process, are universally condemned by the wider anti-abortion movement. Paul Jennings Hill fell on the wrong side of this question when he killed a doctor and his bodyguard, but he had quite a bit to say to those who call abortion murder while doing very little to stop it. Consider that if Dr. George Tiller had instead been a serial murderer of children and was shot by an ordinary citizen to prevent him from killing his next victim, people who oppose abortion likely wouldn’t see anything objectionable about this. They would not protest that he should only have been stopped through “peaceful, legal means”. Many of them characterize the actions of abortion doctors as murder, but are unwilling to follow this principle to its uncomfortable conclusion. The belief that abortion is a kind of murder does not accord with or explain their behavior. (The desire to control women does.)
So let’s not be fooled by the idea that abortion is “morally complicated”. Almost all of the time, it’s really not, and just because people may disagree about it, that doesn’t mean their arguments are equally compelling or that the ethical acceptability of abortion is actually unclear. Merely having lengthy and intricate debates about it does not make it complicated. Casting aspersions on abortion by simply making reference to its supposed moral complexity, while failing to explore, explain or endorse any specific arguments about it, is just a way of dodging accountability for your insinuation that abortion is unethical.
But regardless of the moral status of abortion, what does Brown expect Planned Parenthood to do about this? They aren’t in the philosophy business. Patients don’t go there for a crash course in applied ethics or a sermon on moral theology. They provide medical services, and that’s why people come to them. To whose advantage is it for Planned Parenthood themselves to state openly that the abortion services they provide may be immoral? Certainly not Planned Parenthood. But for the country’s largest abortion provider to describe its own work as morally ambiguous is exactly what the anti-abortion movement wants.
The purpose of Planned Parenthood is to offer reproductive health services, and to maintain its viability as an organization so it can continue to fulfill that mission. If a certain strategy helps or hinders them, then it should be examined, but Brown has given no explanation of how recognizing the alleged moral complications of abortion would advance Planned Parenthood’s goals. And however decent they may be, how have the “good intentions” of abortion opponents ever assisted Planned Parenthood in any meaningful way?
I’m going to Women in Secularism 3 this weekend, and I feel like this is a good time to get into something relevant: my experiences as a woman in the secular community. Particularly, my experiences as a woman whose gender is often considered debatable.
When Dave Silverman went to this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the secular community raised a lot of questions about some of the statements he made: Why, exactly, would the president of American Atheists suggest that abortion is the one human right that there’s a secular argument against?
But during the much-needed uproar over this, Silverman’s other statements were largely ignored. Yes, he implied that opposing reproductive rights can be a valid difference of opinion within the atheist movement. And that’s really not okay. But he also gave the impression that, unlike abortion, the issue of gay marriage was a settled and “clean cut” question for atheists.
Silverman later defended this on Twitter, saying:
How many anti gay atheists do you know? I can’t name any off top of my head. I know a few anti choice atheists.
School prayer, Death with Dignity, LGBT equality are 100% religious. That was my contrast.
There weren’t quite so many secular voices pushing back against the idea that opposition to LGBT equality is “100% religious”. Chris Stedman, a Humanist chaplain at Harvard, was one of the few to respond to this, saying:
I’ve heard from atheists who say that I’m too “effeminate,” that my being gay makes atheists seem “like freaks,” or that my “obvious homosexuality” makes me an ineffectual voice for atheists.
What does LGBT equality really mean?
It would be easy to think that support for the LGBT community is nearly universal among atheists. What reason would they have to dislike us, when they’re free of any religious dogma marking us as an abomination?
And polling data would seem to confirm this. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 88% of those with “no religious identity” supported the legality of same-sex marriage. A 2014 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute similarly found that 73% of the “religiously unaffiliated” were in favor of legalizing gay marriage. And the internet-based Secular Census, consisting of a self-selected convenience sample of secular Americans who volunteered to respond, found even higher rates of support: 97.3% of those who participated said that gay couples should be allowed to marry.
It does look pretty open-and-shut: support for marriage equality is apparently the norm among non-religious people, and most of that demographic has indeed settled on this as their answer.
There’s just one little problem. “Marriage equality” and “LGBT equality” are not synonyms. Believe it or not, equality for LGBT people does not begin and end with marriage. And a person’s support for marriage equality tells us nothing about their views on:
While there are plenty of polls focusing on marriage equality and the opinions of different demographics on that issue, far less attention is given to these other areas. And that’s a pretty serious gap, because many of these issues are of far more immediate importance to us than marriage. Certainly, marriage does matter – my partner and I are getting married this summer. But living in this society as a trans woman is something I have to deal with every day.
One thing I’ve often had to deal with is the opinions of other atheists on just about every aspect of my existence. Chris Stedman is far from the only one who’s faced hostility from atheists for what they perceive as a deviation from gender norms. Long before I came out, before I transitioned – before I ever talked about trans issues at all – just about the only thing I covered was atheism, and atheists comprised most of my audience. But even back then, plenty of people were already under the impression that I was trans. Here’s what some atheists had to say about my earlier work:
You can clearly see that these atheists have very positive attitudes toward the LGBT community – assuming the T stands for Thunderf00t. Really, what is going on here? From what I’ve been told, atheists should have no reason to treat us this way. And yet, here they are. So, does this mean that their transphobia is due to some failure to let go of religious views on trans people? Is it just a Judeo-Christian cultural value that they’ve absorbed, and haven’t yet overcome?
I don’t think so. When you look at what these atheists are actually saying, their claims have nothing to do with religion. If you’re wondering how they can be transphobic despite being atheists, you’re asking precisely the wrong question. They aren’t transphobic in spite of their atheism. They’re transphobic because of their atheism.
“Merely in the mind”
And I don’t mean that their atheism has made them merely indifferent. No – it’s actively made their transphobia worse. As unlikely as that might sound, it’s pretty obvious from the way they structure their arguments. It’s not an appeal to faith – far from it. They appeal to the values of science, observation, and reality, because they feel that these values support their transphobia. In many cases, they actually compare being trans to believing in God. They’re not speaking the language of religion, they’re speaking the language of secularism.
Here’s a really good example of this – from my YouTube comments, naturally:
The odd thing about having a transgender identity is that your mind does not match your biology. If you think you’re a dolphin but you’re not, your belief does not match reality and you’re delusional. If you think you’re a man and you have XY chromosomes, testes, and a penis, then your identity matches reality. How can you have disdain for the religious having no proof of the Divine and yet defend those with no evidence that their gender doesn’t match their genitals?
And another one:
I understand that people can perceive gender and sex to be different. But like an anorexic’s self image vs. her actual body, one is merely in the mind with no empirical evidence to back it up. When your belief crosses the line where you are willing to mutilate yourself because of it, it’s usually called a disease.
And then there’s this person:
THERE ARE TWO SEXES; MALE AND FEMALE. SOMEONE WHO THINKS THEY ARE THE OPPOSITE SEX IS CALLED MENTALLY ILL.
Notice how this is closely related to the tendency to conflate religious belief with “delusion” or “mental illness”. That itself is a problem – do these people not realize that atheists can have mental illnesses too, and that this isn’t anything like being religious? It’s not like I can just pick up a Dawkins book and decide to deconvert from having depression and anxiety. This alone shows that these people don’t have a very good grasp of what mental illness even is.
So it’s not surprising that they’re prepared to dismiss just about anything that they label a “mental illness” – in this case, being trans. But when they go on and on about this, it comes off as more of an expression of a stigmatizing attitude, not an articulation of some uncomfortable truth. They’re not rocking the boat here. They’re not being edgy, they’re not upsetting the status quo. Instead, the sheer redundancy of such a declaration exposes their total unfamiliarity with the medical consensus.
So what’s your great idea?
Since 1980, three editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders have included some kind of diagnosis related to being trans, under names like transsexualism, gender identity disorder, or gender dysphoria. “What the hell is the diagnostic manual of whatever?”, my bewildered atheist YouTube commenters might ask. Oh, it’s just a little book by the American Psychiatric Association. It’s generally considered authoritative by doctors, researchers, insurance companies, and other delusional folks like that.
So, let’s say you’ve been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. What happens now that you’ve been diagnosed with this “mental illness”, as my friends in the comments put it? Well, I already know what happens, because I’ve actually been diagnosed with this!
Spoiler alert: I transitioned.
And this wasn’t some original idea of mine that I had to convince anyone to go along with. There are millions of trans people around the world – it’s so common that there’s an established treatment protocol for us. It’s called the Standards of Care, published by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Here’s what it has to say about our condition:
Some people experience gender dysphoria at such a level that the distress meets criteria for a formal diagnosis that might be classified as a mental disorder. Such a diagnosis is not a license for stigmatization or for the deprivation of civil and human rights. … Thus, transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals are not inherently disordered. Rather, the distress of gender dysphoria, when present, is the concern that might be diagnosable and for which various treatment options are available.
“Stigmatization” – how about that. Maybe it’s not such a good idea to spout off about how we must be “delusional”? I assume that all the decent people out there already understand this, but apparently some of you need it spelled out.
And what about those various treatment options? Let’s take a look at section VIII:
Medical Necessity of Hormone Therapy
Feminizing/masculinizing hormone therapy – the administration of exogenous endocrine agents to induce feminizing or masculinizing changes – is a medically necessary intervention for many transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming individuals with gender dysphoria.
And section XI:
Sex Reassignment Surgery Is Effective and Medically Necessary
… While many transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming individuals find comfort with their gender identity, role, and expression without surgery, for many others surgery is essential and medically necessary to alleviate their gender dysphoria. For the latter group, relief from gender dysphoria cannot be achieved without modification of their primary and/or secondary sex characteristics to establish greater congruence with their gender identity. … Follow-up studies have shown an undeniable beneficial effect of sex reassignment surgery on postoperative outcomes such as subjective well-being, cosmesis, and sexual function.
“A medically necessary intervention”. “Effective and medically necessary”. “An undeniable beneficial effect”. And now you know how this particular “mental illness” is treated.
By the way, that’s from version 7 of the Standards of Care. There were six editions that came before it, dating back to 1979. This is not experimental – it’s an everyday medical treatment. So I really don’t know what these people expect from me when they start yelling about how I’m “mentally ill”. I already saw a therapist about this. And then they referred me to a gynecologist. And pretty soon they’ll refer me to some surgeons.
On the one hand, there’s the constellation of medical professionals who are working with me on this little upgrade, and the hundreds more who’ve worked to develop protocols for this over several decades. On the other hand, there’s FluffyFeralMarmot, esteemed YouTube commenter. Tell me again who I should be taking medical advice from?
Transphobes call us mentally ill because they think it’s an easy way to try and shame us for who we are. The problem is that they didn’t give a moment’s thought to what would come after that. They didn’t bother spending five minutes learning about how this is treated, because they were too busy calling us “delusional”. We don’t need medicine to certify who we already know we are, any more than cis people do – but if you’re going to bring science into this, you should make sure the science actually says what you think it does.
Again and again, I see this pattern being repeated by atheists who think they’re equipped to debate trans issues. They assume that science and evidence support their position, when actually this most often supports the exact opposite of their position.
I’ve seen atheists argue that trans women shouldn’t be allowed in women’s restrooms, public facilities, or other spaces, because we’re supposedly going to rape everyone. After all, nothing says “rapist” like testosterone blockers, suppressed libido, genital atrophy, and erectile dysfunction. In reality, a majority of trans people have been harassed just for trying to use public restrooms. Have a majority of cis people been harassed by trans people in restrooms? I haven’t seen any studies suggesting that this is the case. Do you know of any? 55% of trans people in homeless shelters or domestic violence shelters have been harassed while residing there. Have 55% of cis people been harassed by trans women in shelters? I’m not sure if there are any studies on that either, but feel free to find them, if you can.
I’ve seen atheists argue that it’s unfair for trans women to be allowed to compete as women in professional sports, or that this gives them a competitive advantage. Actually, the Association of Boxing Commissions, the NCAA, USA Track & Field, the UK Football Association, and the International Olympic Committee all allow trans people to compete as their declared gender after medically transitioning. Obviously the International Olympic Committee has to ensure that no one has an unfair advantage – but have they consulted that dude on Facebook who won’t shut up about trans women’s “bone structure”?
And in the midst of all this, it’s practically a cliché for them to say “it’s 8th grade biology!” whenever they’re enlightening us with yet another tautology about chromosomes. I guess the American Psychiatric Association just needs to go back to middle school, right? You’d think that these science enthusiasts would realize that early education isn’t a core of foundational truths upon which all later knowledge is built. It’s a rough approximation designed to be understandable to grade schoolers, and it becomes progressively more nuanced as students advance. But instead, they’re doing the equivalent of citing “4th grade science” to claim that plasma isn’t real, the sun is a myth, and who are fluorescent bulbs trying to fool, anyway? Personally, I’m glad that the surgeon who’s going to cut my balls off decided to stay in school after junior high.
So, why would people who engage in this transparent nonsense claim that they have science behind them? They don’t exhibit any honest interest in the process of science and its actual findings about reality. They only seem to have a selective interest in the idea of something concrete that would back up their preconceived beliefs. If I didn’t know these people were atheists, I don’t think I would have been able to tell.
What else do you call it when someone knows nothing about science and thinks they can blather on and on about it anyway? What do you call it when someone refuses to change their beliefs when faced with evidence? What do you call it when they try to tell us there’s some nonexistent “controversy” to be debated? What do you call it when they think their own intuition and baseless conjecture are more reliable than any research? And what do you call it when they don’t even care that this lack of acceptance makes life so much worse for trans people? I sure wouldn’t call that a secular value.
How is believing I’m a woman any different from believing in God? Really? Here’s a question: How is believing that transitioning is “mutilation” any different from believing that vaccines cause brain damage? How is believing that trans people have an unfair advantage in sports any different from believing the earth is 6,000 years old? How is believing in an epidemic of transgender rapists any different from believing in “irreducible complexity”? And how is believing that trans people are “deluded” any different from believing that atheists are just angry at God?
Sorry, but you’re not Neil deGrasse Tyson giving a science lesson to middle America. You’re Ken Ham telling an audience of faithfully ignorant sycophants how Adam and Eve rode around on a T. rex. Science and observation and reality should matter to everyone, and I hope they matter to you. But if you’re leaving out the science, the observation, and the reality, you suck at being a skeptic.
Guest post by Trinity Pixie
Trigger warnings: Abuse, isolation, transphobia, homophobia, racism.
My previous post, Green, which I presented without comment, was actually a piece of creative nonfiction. It was about my family’s response to my transition: taking advantage of my disability to isolate me.
I lived in a place somewhere between rural and suburban. Many houses, few businesses, no public transit. There was a convenience store about a mile and a half away, a grocery store about ten, and in between were a number of people who would likely recognize me from pre-transition – many of whom were happy to attack me previous to transition, without the excuse of queerness thrown in.
I was explicitly not invited to family functions, and forbidden from telling anyone, even my siblings, of my trans status. I had access to medication and health care used as a bargaining chip, was told that I was faking the severity of my disability. I had my own father threaten me with physical harm and make me fear for my life, all the while being told I was the one harming the family.
My parents are atheists. They have used labels like secular humanist to define themselves. They don’t believe in a god, a savior, or a holy book. The reasons, the arguments they would use to defend what they did, how they treated me, are secular. They are also just as valid as any secular arguments against abortion, so why is it that a leader of the secular movement will acknowledge those arguments, but not acknowledge my parents? Aren’t these the type of people you’re trying to attract to the movement?
Why are you comfortable with violations of the rights of cis women, but not with people like my parents? My parents, who vote Republican, choose to give their money to companies like Chick-fil-A, and likely (I’ve admittedly never discussed it with them) are anti-abortion. Who believe slavery should have been a state-by-state issue, and have a secular argument for that. You need to ask yourself: why are you comfortable drawing the line there?
Trinity Pixie is a member of the Secular Woman advisory board.
American Atheists president David Silverman recently attended this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) with the intention of reaching out to non-religious conservatives. CPAC, if you aren’t familiar with it, has featured such illustrious moments as:
All of that, by the way, happened within the past week alone. So, how did Silverman go about sharing the word of atheism at this most respectable of political conferences? Roy Edroso of Raw Story reports on his strategy:
“I came with the message that Christianity and conservatism are not inextricably linked,” he told me, “and that social conservatives are holding down the real conservatives — social conservatism isn’t real conservatism, it’s actually big government, it’s theocracy. I’m talking about gay rights, right to die, abortion rights –”
A simple enough idea: conservatives can continue to uphold (some of) their political values without any need for religious faith. Silverman, understandably, didn’t seem very interested in legitimizing homophobia or the deprivation of terminal patients’ medical autonomy. Anyway, where was he going with that last part?
Hold on, I said, I think the Right to Life guys who have a booth here, and have had every year since CPAC started, would disagree that they’re not real conservatives.
“I will admit there is a secular argument against abortion,” said Silverman. “You can’t deny that it’s there, and it’s maybe not as clean cut as school prayer, right to die, and gay marriage.”
Taken literally, the statement that secular arguments against abortion do exist isn’t a very controversial one. Yes, there are anti-abortion arguments that do not rely on supernatural or theological claims. These arguments can instead rely on concepts like “rights”, “human life”, “personhood”, and so on, without introducing any explicitly religious elements.
Of course, the mere existence of such arguments says nothing about their soundness. Silverman himself stated that he was simply recognizing these arguments even as he disagrees with them:
and please understand this is not support. I’m vehemently pro choice. Just acknowledging they exist. They do.
But whether such arguments exist, and whether they have any merit, is beside the point. What really stands out as notable here is Silverman’s more open-minded approach to this particular issue, even as he dismisses other issues outright.
Silverman is not interested in reaching out to conservative CPAC attendees who oppose marriage equality, oppose end-of-life decisionmaking, or support prayer in schools. However, when it comes to conservatives who oppose the right to abortion, he takes a rather more tolerant stance. While he sees homophobic conservatives as having no place in organized atheism, he’s more willing to recruit anti-abortion conservatives to the secularist cause.
Whether he would actually agree with this or not, that’s how his special exception for abortion opposition comes across. To him, homophobes don’t have a place in our movement – but abortion opponents do?
Is this necessarily a demographic worth reaching out to? JT Eberhard argues:
We must be willing to work with people with whom we disagree on some subjects. …So if you acknowledge that someone need not be right on all subjects for them to be right on the one you’re working on together, this can’t be a reason for you to be upset with Dave Silverman.
But this does nothing to explain why abortion rights should be a subject on which disagreement is acceptable, while LGBT rights, for example, should not. Drawing a line at that particular point seems arbitrary. JT continues:
I don’t think it’s fair to expect someone to avoid telling the truth (that a secular argument exists for being anti-choice, lousy though it is) in order to not give a hat tip to the people Silverman has said multiple times he opposes on that subject. That seems a bit like getting exacerbated at scientists whenever they acknowledge the existence of complexity in the universe because they’ve given a “tip of the hat” to creationists. … If you acknowledge as atheists we shouldn’t shy away from stating facts even though we know there are people out there who will twist them toward an inaccurate or unethical position, then you can’t really be upset with Dave Silverman.
Here is another truth that we, as atheists, need not shy away from stating: there is a secular argument for the elective infanticide of healthy newborn humans. It is not even a very complicated argument, and it is one that is perhaps especially well-suited to atheistic naturalism, scientific empiricism, and the rejection of mainstream Christianity.
Suppose that we abandon the idea that the human species occupies a uniquely privileged or “sacred” place among all organisms. Our ethical considerations in how we treat human life – from blastocyst to infant to elder – should not lean on an assumption that humans are special simply for the mere fact that they are humans. Ethical questions should take into account actual substance rather than just a name: the features that actually constitute an individual human. These features can include the extent to which they can experience pain and pleasure, their level of awareness of the world around them, their ability to possess distinct desires and goals, and their level of awareness of themselves as a sentient being.
When we recognize that questions of ethical treatment should consider such features, two conclusions emerge: First, humans are not the only organisms that merit our ethical concern – various animals are also capable of suffering pain, having desires, and possessing different degrees of awareness and self-awareness. And second, not all humans are identical by these metrics; depending on their degree of development, some may be more or less aware, more or less capable of experiencing pain, and so on.
Therefore, instead of a model wherein all humans occupy a special ethical category meriting unique concern, we can conceive of a spectrum of ethical concern along which all organisms fall – humans and other animals alike. One potentially uncomfortable fact is that some animals may be more well-developed than some humans in their capacity for self-awareness, desires, and so on. As Kate Wong notes in Scientific American:
Human babies enter the world utterly dependent on caregivers to tend to their every need. Although newborns of other primate species rely on caregivers, too, human infants are especially helpless because their brains are comparatively underdeveloped. Indeed, by one estimation a human fetus would have to undergo a gestation period of 18 to 21 months instead of the usual nine to be born at a neurological and cognitive development stage comparable to that of a chimpanzee newborn.
Similarly, MRI scans of dogs suggest that they are capable of experiencing emotions on a level similar to human children:
Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.
The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.
Dogs may also possess mental capabilities on par with those of 2-year-old humans:
According to several behavioral measures, Coren says dogs’ mental abilities are close to a human child age 2 to 2.5 years. … As for language, the average dog can learn 165 words, including signals, and the “super dogs” (those in the top 20 percent of dog intelligence) can learn 250 words, Coren says. “The upper limit of dogs’ ability to learn language is partly based on a study of a border collie named Rico who showed knowledge of 200 spoken words and demonstrated ‘fast-track learning,’ which scientists believed to be found only in humans and language learning apes,” Coren said. … Dogs can also count up to four or five, said Coren. And they have a basic understanding of arithmetic and will notice errors in simple computations, such as 1+1=1 or 1+1=3. …
Through observation, Coren said, dogs can learn the location of valued items (treats), better routes in the environment (the fastest way to a favorite chair), how to operate mechanisms (such as latches and simple machines) and the meaning of words and symbolic concepts (sometimes by simply listening to people speak and watching their actions). … During play, dogs are capable of deliberately trying to deceive other dogs and people in order to get rewards, said Coren.
So: Humans are not the only organisms capable of emotion or developing accurate mental models of the world, and we’re certainly not the only organisms capable of experiencing pain or a desire to continue to live. Indeed, some animals possess these capabilities to a greater degree than newborn humans.
And yet, despite their possession of these capabilities, there exists a widespread disinterest in recognizing a “right to life” of animals. Instead, people commonly consider it acceptable to kill animals if we simply decide it is necessary. Cows “exhibit behavioral expressions of excitement when they solve a problem”, but all that’s needed to justify killing a cow is our mere preference that it should become several delicious steaks rather than continue existing as a feeling, thinking organism. Dogs exhibit intelligence and emotions similar to toddlers, but people leave healthy dogs to be euthanized at shelters every day.
In a society that accepts such treatment of animals as a norm – and accepts even the most trivial of human desires as a justification for such treatment – it should be similarly acceptable for the custodians of any newborn human to have that infant killed, for no reason other than their simple desire that this baby no longer be alive. Newborns have lesser abilities of thinking, modeling, perceiving, feeling and wanting than animals, and probably an equal capacity to experience pain. Yet the presence of even greater capacities in many of these areas has largely failed to convince us to recognize a “right to life” of animals. So why should the life of a human embryo, fetus, or infant be seen as always worth preserving and protecting?
Scientific findings support the facts underlying this argument for infanticide rights. This argument also has strengths which other common pro-choice arguments lack. For instance, one such argument contends that whatever right to life an unborn fetus may have, it is always outweighed by a person’s right to bodily autonomy – their right not to be compelled to provide sustenance, in the form of their own bodily resources, to another organism.
However, this “competing rights” argument opens the door to debate over just how important these respective rights are, and whether a fetus’s right to life really is small enough to be overridden. It implicitly agrees with abortion opponents in recognizing that a fetus actually does have, to some degree, a right to exist. And it requires proponents of a pro-choice position to maintain that a person’s right to bodily autonomy is, in all circumstances, the more important right in this situation. Abortion opponents, like Kristine Kruszelnicki of Pro-Life Humanists, may in turn contend that the fetus’s rights carry overriding weight.
In contrast, the pro-infanticide argument presented here does not have this vulnerability. It does not recognize an embryo, fetus, or even a newborn human as possessing a “right to life” to any degree whatsoever. And so it is not even necessary to argue that a person has a right to bodily autonomy which overrides a fetus’s supposed rights.
Clearly, there is a secular argument for infanticide. One does not have to support it or agree with it, and one may feel that it is far from decisive or clear-cut, but it does indeed exist. Others might twist this argument to make atheists look bad, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid recognizing this truth.
I’ve met David Silverman before, and he was a really nice guy – I hope we get to meet again. I don’t have any problem with believing that he certainly meant well with his outreach efforts at CPAC, as idiosyncratic as his views on acceptable political differences may be. And a few isolated quotes expressing a nuanced position – albeit a potentially disagreeable one – aren’t necessarily cause to dismiss and ignore a person entirely.
What I would ask is this: What is American Atheists doing to reach out to pro-infanticide atheists and bring them into the cause of organized secularism? Is our conception of the parameters of a “right to life” any less worthy of being courted than that of abortion opponents? If we’re really seeking to expand the tent of atheist activism, why extend it only in their direction, and not ours? I’d contend that if anything, those of us who are pro-infanticide can bring much more of value to the atheist movement than anti-choice conservatives would, such as our evidence-based approach to secular ethics. And if you think it would be distasteful to reach out to us, ask yourself: is it really more distasteful than inviting people who would legally force a person to give birth against their will?
In early 2011, Dr. Kermit Gosnell was arrested on charges of murder related to his abortion services: one charge for the death of a woman who had sought an abortion at his Philadelphia clinic, and seven additional charges for the killings of infants that had been born alive. The grand jury report on Gosnell’s clinic contained a variety of emotional appeals that were largely irrelevant to the actual charges, and at the time, the sensationalized report received wide coverage and was frequently used to attack abortion generally. My partner Heather analyzed the report and its subsequent coverage, and found many arguments by the grand jury and the media to be lacking. Many magazines and publications refused to print her analysis, and now that the trial of Gosnell has begun and these same arguments have flared up once more, we’ve chosen to republish her piece here. -Zinnia
Looking Gosnell in the Eye
by Heather McNamara
In the wake of the release of the grisly grand jury report and the media firestorm surrounding the atrocities at Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s abortion clinic, we, as pro-choice feminists, have been posed a difficult question. Basted in gruesome quotes, the emotional appeals from the pro-lifers (and more reserved pro-choicers) who read the report are everywhere and seem to ask, “Did you know it was this gruesome?” The responses from pro-choice advocates have been reserved – usually articles featuring calming, tranquil images of very pregnant women in silhouette standing by windows, presumably contemplating all the trials and joys ahead of her, and certainly not crying on the bathroom floor with a positive pregnancy test. “Think of the women!”, we say, “think of the babies”, they say, and nobody seems to be answering the question: well, did you know it was that gruesome?
The difference between flashing the grand jury report and flashing large poster images of aborted fetuses in front of clinics is subtle but effective. Gosnell broke the law. He kept an unsanitary facility; he performed abortions that were so late term that they should have been done, assuming they were legal, in hospitals where better monitoring was available; he did not properly care for his patients; and he was arguably negligent with the way he prescribed drugs. These things are absolutely wrong, and no doctor, no matter how much good they intend, should be recklessly endangering lives. Each and every woman who sought the help of Dr. Gosnell deserved a safe, clean, well-staffed clinic. It’s difficult to argue that the abortions Gosnell performed were not wrong, because there were clearly so many things he did that were wrong.
However, there is no connection between the lives Gosnell endangered and the ethicality of abortion, and some of the things in the grand jury report that disgust us – jokes about the fetuses being “so big they could walk me to the bus stop”, for example – are things that could happen in clean, professionally staffed clinics. There is no law against bad taste. So why were they even mentioned in the grand jury report? Among the shocking and frankly manipulative language contained within, we find outright misleading quotes such as “these women were giving birth” to refer to the induced contractions to dilate cervices, “he played with the baby” to refer to his touching the fetus’s hands, and “he stuck the scissors into the back of their necks” to refer to a method of terminating a fetus that has long been widely recognized as entirely valid and comparatively humane. The proper vernacular is “intact dilation and extraction”. Quotes like these, considered rationally, should not compel us to question abortion, but instead should make us question the state of mind and competency of the grand jury. In legal contexts, emotional appeals are out of place.
The reality is: medical procedures can be violent, visceral events. Every day in hospitals everywhere, people are bruised, broken, and cut open. Ribcages are cracked open, skin sliced open, veins burned and yanked out, sensitive areas cut, and burns scraped. These things are done to help and save people. The inner workings, procedures, ethics, and yes, tasteless jokes in any clinic could be detailed in such a way as to turn you off the idea of healthcare forever, but that does not make anyone’s need for it any less valid.
Dr. Gosnell ended the lives of some fetuses, which, left alone, would have become cute little bouncing pink babies in adorable little outfits. He cut into the backs of their necks and severed their spinal cords. Legitimate abortion providers also do this. They dilate women’s cervices, which can be painful, they terminate fetuses, and they cut flesh. And so what? Does the weakness or strength of your constitution, or anyone else’s, comprise a valid basis for granting or removing a woman’s control over her most precious domain – her body?
These arguments exist for one purpose: to desensitize us to the plight of the presumably healthy, if scared and distraught pregnant women we imagine, and turn our attention instead to the horror we can observe. They’ve caught us at a vulnerable time when several states are introducing bills to limit and outright deny access to abortion. Now is not the time to be squeamish. Now is the time when we, as feminists, can show we’re not afraid to confront the difficult and unpleasant realities of abortion – the disturbing bloody images, the fact that sometimes women don’t actually have a Very Good Reason to be seeking one, and even the unfortunate physical and emotional consequences that sometimes follow. Once we acknowledge that these things are there and real and unpleasant, we can continue to assert our right to do it anyway, and in doing this, remove their power over us.
Heather McNamara writes about indie literature, politics, and civil rights at HeatherMcNamara.net.
I have more respect for the Westboro Baptist Church – barely – than I do for disingenuous fools like Mike Huckabee and Bryan Fischer, who beat around the bush when it comes to school shootings because even they realize that the implications of what they’re saying are too repulsive to be stated openly. Consider Mike Huckabee’s simultaneous backtracking and doubling-down on his earlier remarks:
…it’s far more than just taking prayer or Bible reading out of the schools. It’s the fact that people sue a city so we aren’t confronted with a manger scene or a Christmas carol. That lawsuits are filed to remove a cross that’s a memorial to fallen soldiers. Churches and Christian-owned businesses are told to surrender their values under the edict of government orders to provide tax-funded abortion pills. We carefully and intentionally stop saying things are sinful and we call them disorders. Sometimes, we even say they’re normal. And to get to where… we have to abandon bedrock moral truths, then ask, “Well, where was God?” And I respond that, as I see it, we’ve escorted him right out of our culture and we’ve marched him off the public square, and then we express our surprise that a culture without him actually reflects what it’s become.
To Huckabee, it is a “bedrock moral truth” that LGBT people are not even “disordered” but sinful, that businesses providing insurance to their employees ought to be able to pick and choose whether those employees can have their birth control covered, and that the government should provide its official stamp of approval to the Christian religion. And when we no longer regard sexual minorities as abnormal and condemned by God himself, we’ve somehow created an environment conducive to the mass killings of children. In the twisted mind of Mike Huckabee, LGBT rights and women’s rights and the Establishment Clause are part and parcel with school massacres. Either we side with Huckabee’s God, a God that hates gays and contraception and secular government while also supposedly providing some measure of protection from tragedies, or we must accept the inverse: gaining our freedoms at the cost of children’s lives, which Huckabee’s God allows murderers to take freely. Where was God? Oh, he would have helped out somehow, if only we’d kept paying our dues of misogyny and homophobia and theocracy.
It doesn’t sound so “rah rah God and country, amen!” when you put it that way, does it? But that’s what Huckabee means. Hate the queers, crush women’s reproductive freedom, disrespect the faith of everyone who’s not a Christian, or God will let your children be gunned down in their schools.
Contrast that with the Westboro Baptist Church, who share this opinion but make no effort to hide it whatsoever. To them, the shooting was a direct act of God to punish an insufficiently homophobic nation, and they’re ready to tell the world. No evasions. No prettying it up. No circuitous, long-winded explanations to try and dance around what they really mean to say. They just say it: God sent the shooter. God hates fags. God will kill your children because you accepted gay people. So deal with it.
They’re all scumbag religious vultures feeding on the still-warm corpses of children. But it’s even more insulting that some of them would try to disguise themselves as anything other than the revolting, merciless opportunists they are.
A nightmarish ethical dystopia that succeeded in slowly and painfully killing an innocent woman for the sake of nothing.
Savita Halappanavar, 17 weeks pregnant, was miscarrying. There was no chance that the fetus would survive. In excruciating pain, Savita asked for an abortion. The hospital, University Hospital Galway in Ireland, refused. Why? There was still a fetal heartbeat, and as Savita and her husband were told, “this is a Catholic country”.
They forced Savita to wait, “in agony”, for another two days until the fetus died. By that time, she had to be taken into intensive care, and died a few days later of septicemia and E. coli infection.
Where Sister Margaret McBride made the choice to ignore the rules of her church and order a life-saving abortion at a Catholic hospital for a woman who was otherwise going to die, the doctors at Galway evidently could not bring themselves to do the same.
The fetus was certain to die. At that point, the staff’s only concern should have been ensuring Savita’s well-being. There was no justifiable reason whatsoever to allow an already doomed fetus to survive a couple more days while its presence made her so ill that she required intensive care.
Yet they were willing to stand by, watch her condition deteriorate, and do nothing, for the sake of a fetus that was not going to survive anyway.
This should have been the simplest moral decision in the world. Even if they consider the fetus a “life”, or a “person”, that life was already going to be lost. So, should one person die, or should two people die? Any one of us could have made the right choice here. But Savita’s life was in their hands, and she died because of their perverted ethics.
She died because of a faith that values adherence to a rule over saving a life, a religion that thinks its laws are more important than whether she lived or died.
And they would have been willing to put any one of us in the same situation as Savita. That should scare us. Catholic hospitals should scare us. Catholic countries should scare us. Here, they’ve shown that their beliefs are more than just an empty expression of piety. They’re willing to put our lives on the line for their church. Are you okay with that?
It’s over. Finally.
Now that the first sitting president to endorse marriage equality has been re-elected, after a campaign that was unbearably tense and exhausting, we can relax and stop spending all day worrying about how every little development will affect his chances of victory. It’s done. We did it.
And that’s not all. In Florida, we managed to defeat Amendments 1 (which would have prevented any penalties against individuals or businesses that refuse to comply with a health care mandate), 6 (which would have barred public funds from being used for abortion services) and 8 (which would have repealed the ban on giving public funding to religions). We also retained three Supreme Court justices who had come under attack by the Republican Party and Americans for Prosperity for being too “liberal”.
Elsewhere, Tammy Baldwin became the nation’s first openly gay senator. Elizabeth Warren defeated Scott Brown, following his ridiculous claims that he could determine her Native American heritage or lack thereof by sight. Todd Akin, who said that women’s bodies would somehow prevent pregnancy in the case of “legitimate rape”, lost to Claire McCaskill – after alleging that her campaign was “trying to make me look like some kind of a weirdo or something” and “thinks you should vote based on what people say” (nah, really?). Richard Mourdock, who considered pregnancy from rape a “gift from God”, was also defeated. And Iowa Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins survived efforts by anti-gay groups to oust him following his ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in 2009. This is especially notable because three of the other justices had previously been removed by a similar campaign.
But the other really big story of the night? Marriage equality measures in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington.
State-level gay marriage bans have a long, ugly, depressing history. Until now, the result was completely predictable whenever it was put to a popular vote: we lost. 30 to 0. Then 31 to 0. Then 32 to 0. It had become a crushing regularity for us, and our opponents knew it. This became their talking point: “every time same-sex marriage is on the ballot, the people vote against it.” And it hurt because of how true it was. It wasn’t entirely unexpected when North Carolina and Maine were the most recent states to vote against equality. But when California passed Proposition 8, that really stunned us. If even the people of California wouldn’t vote in favor of gay marriage, then who would?
Quite honestly, it was looking pretty hopeless. State marriage measures had become something many of us dreaded, because we just knew in the back of our heads that we were almost certainly going to lose, no matter how hard we fought. There was always the quiet dread as we watched the poll numbers, initially in our favor, plummet in the days before the vote when anti-gay groups packed the airwaves with ads claiming we were going to teach children how to be gay. And then there was nothing to do but wait for the inevitable blow to land. I stopped getting my hopes up, and so did many others. It was too painful to be that emotionally invested.
We knew that public opinion was trending upward for us, and that the day had to come when this would be reflected in the popular vote, and we would be the victorious ones at the polls. As I said in 2009 after Maine voted to repeal marriage equality:
The margins are narrowing, and the support for gay marriage is still growing. There was a time when it was unthinkable that 47% of any state would stand up for gay marriage. We’ve come this far.
I knew that day would come, but I didn’t quite believe it – I couldn’t let myself. I’m still not sure I believe it.
But yesterday was that day.
In Maine, LGBT rights groups succeeded in placing a same-sex marriage referendum on the ballot. This time, we were the ones on the offense, taking the initiative to seize our equal rights. And in a state which only 3 years earlier had voted against our equality 53-47, we won – 53% to 47%. Marriage equality is the law of the land in Maine by the people’s vote.
In Maryland, a statute legalizing gay marriage was put on hold after anti-gay groups petitioned to put it to a referendum. And last night, we won, 52-48. Marriage equality is now law in Maryland, by popular vote.
In Minnesota, a constitutional ban on gay marriage was proposed, in addition to the statutory ban already in place. The failure of this amendment wouldn’t mean allowing same-sex marriage – its proponents simply wanted to make it even more difficult to repeal the ban, in what was nothing more than a bitter and spiteful thumbing of their nose to future citizens who would overturn their bigotry. And while same-sex marriage is still not legal in Minnesota, voters rejected this amendment 51% to 48%. Enacting marriage equality will now be that much easier.
And in Washington, a marriage equality law was likewise delayed as our opponents worked to force it onto the ballot. While the final results won’t be in for some time due to mail-in ballots that still need to be counted, it’s currently looking good for equality, and CNN has called it for same-sex marriage.
I really was not expecting this. I figured that, if we won any of these, it would have been in Washington. That alone would have been phenomenal – our first victory at the ballot box. But I had no idea we would win all of them. I didn’t think it was possible. And while I steeled myself for defeat, I completely neglected to prepare for victory. I just don’t know what to think, and the reality of it is still soaking in.
For the first time – ever – they’re the ones who are left reeling the day after. They’re the ones who will have to struggle to explain how they lost. They’re the ones who were rejected by the people. And we’re the ones who can rejoice. Their winning streak is over, and so is our losing streak. Their talking point is dead – marriage equality doesn’t lose at the ballot box every time. They can’t take state-level victories for granted anymore, and we can’t take our defeat for granted either. They told us the only poll that matters is the one on election day. Well, here it is.
Make no mistake, the opponents of LGBT rights gave this their all. They said marriage equality was a step on the road to communism. They said “the future of the family” is at stake and “our religious liberty is in jeopardy”. They said “this issue will destroy and undermine the church”, and marriage would “disintegrate”. AND THEY LOST.
The Catholic Church, the Knights of Columbus, and NOM donated millions of dollars to the campaigns against equality. A reverend described homosexuality as “worthy of death” at an official Maryland Marriage Alliance event. A Catholic archbishop went so far as to tell the mother of a gay son that her “eternal salvation” depends on believing homosexuality is a sin. AND THEY LOST.
A former Maine bishop said that Catholics “cannot justify a vote for a candidate or referendum question that opposes the teachings of the Church”. A Maine representative used his own gay brother’s death as an opportunity to claim that “we have no right to redefine marriage”. Minnesota students posted dozens of pictures of themselves citing the exclusively religious reasons for why they voted against our equality. AND THEY LOST.
Their ads featured a man who considers homosexuality a disease, compared families with gay parents to gangs, claimed schools are teaching children “how to sodomize”, and said “the heart of transgenderism is a lie”. AND THEY LOST. They compared gay rights activists to Hitler. AND THEY LOST. They called homosexuality “highly promiscuous”, “centered around anonymous sexual encounters”, “largely predatory”, and that “many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse”. And they lost.
They lost. Homophobia lost. Racism lost. Sexism lost. Ignorance lost. Bigotry lost.
We won. And so did our country.
Justice Scalia offers up some of his usual legal wisdom:
“The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state,” Scalia said at the American Enterprise Institute.
Yes, I’m sure deciding on this sort of thing is a breeze when the extent of your reasoning is “it’s illegal, therefore it should be illegal – QED.” The Supreme Court is the end of the line. It’s where cases go when all of the formalized decision processes at the lower levels of the judiciary have failed to resolve them adequately. These questions are not sent to the highest court in the land just so that they can benefit from the previously unknown perspective of “well, the founders would have meant for it to be illegal, problem solved!” – something which obviously no one else could have come up with, without deferring to the brilliant reasoning of Scalia.
The Supreme Court is not there to fire off “easy”, ill-considered, poorly-thought-out conclusions like this. It’s there to reach carefully developed and well-supported conclusions which are not always readily apparent. So don’t pretend that all nine of you could just as easily be replaced by the average gay-bashin’ clinic-protestin’ yokel, when you really only mean yourself.