It would give me pause if my causes required lies to be persuasive


It’s unfortunate that that doesn’t seem to be the case for abortion opponents. Even if I were sympathetic to their cause, I’d recoil from the dishonesty.

This has always been the case. There is no argument against abortion that doesn’t rely on misrepresentation and dodgy associations. Every one of those signs plastered all over my region that declares “My heart started beating at 28 days!” is fundamentally dishonest, relying on a false association between a heart beat and humanity. My zebrafish embryos’ hearts start beating at about 22 hours, does that make them human?

Further, they love to mangle history. Poor Margaret Sanger. She was a true believer in eugenics, but so were many Americans, including many Christians, before World War II. It was a bad idea that relied on an extraordinarily naive view of genetics and devalued the importance of diversity, but keep in mind that she was not a scientist and was working to improve the lives of people in ways that did not depend on the Nazi-like tactics the anti-choicers ascribe to her.

Sanger was actually anti-abortion.

Sanger was pro-birth control and anti-abortion. This may surprise you, considering that Planned Parenthood opponents frequently accuse Sanger of erecting abortion clinics in Black neighborhoods, a practice they claim the organization continues to this day.

But this is simply not true.

Sanger opposed abortion. She believed it to be a barbaric practice. In her own words, “[a]lthough abortion may be resorted to in order to save the life of the mother, the practice of it merely for limitation of offspring is dangerous and vicious.” Her views are, ironically, in keeping with the views of many of the anti-choicers who malign and distort her legacy.

Sanger was also explicitly anti-Nazi.

Sanger herself wrote in 1939 that she had joined the Anti-Nazi Committee “and gave money, my name and any influence I had with writers and others, to combat Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.”

She also said books of hers had been destroyed and that she had intellectual friends who were sent to concentration camps or put to death. Sanger did not have a connection to the Nazis, but a loose association comes through her involvement in the eugenics movement.

The facts don’t matter if you’re anti-choice, however; they have invented a monster, and that her primary goal was self-determination for women isn’t going to influence them at all. If they were honest, they’d have to admit that that was probably another stigma, as far as they’re concerned.

But the latest lie that ought to fill anti-choice advocates with shame is the doctored collection of Planned Parenthood videos, made by the “Center for Medical Progress”, which was neither a center, nor interested in medicine, nor an advocate for progress — it is, in fact, connected to Live Action and Operation Rescue, a couple of creepily ideological groups that are most definitely not driven by science or evidence.

The videos were not only edited dishonestly, but CMP provided transcripts (because the videos are so long and tedious that few are going to watch them — I haven’t) that include transcripts containing invented dialog and major omissions.

That’s just bizarre. There are facts that are not in dispute: Planned Parenthood does take donated fetal tissue and process it and ship it off to biotech, pharmaceutical, and research institutions. This is not hidden or lied about anywhere; you don’t need to fake anything to get the information; you can also talk to scientists or read papers and discover that fetal cells are used all over the place. You don’t need costumed phonies ala James O’Keefe to make up lying cover stories to get this information on video.

So why did they?

That’s what really bugs me. If you want to make a case for something, do it forthrightly and honestly. Passion is important, too, but emotional appeals are not synonymous with lies…except when the anti-abortion crowd tries to make them, it seems. If you’re convinced that you’re right about something, you ought to be able to make your point without cheating.

This principle, that the process is more important than the conclusion and that how you arrive at that conclusion ought to be open and transparent, is fundamental to how scientists are supposed to think. That the histrionic religious loons who rage against Planned Parenthood can’t follow it is a deep indictment of their cause.


  1. Doubting Thomas says

    “My zebrafish embryos’ hearts start beating at about 22 hours, does that make them human?” would make a good billboard.

  2. Nick Gotts says

    Sanger was actually anti-abortion… Sanger was also explicity anti-Nazi

    Ah! Ah! See, that just proves that anyone who’s not anti-abortion is a Nazi!!!!!11!eleventy!!

  3. martha says

    Maybe the vegetarians should get in on the act. When does a chicken’s heart start beating?

  4. erichoug says

    This issue really should be a choice that an individual woman makes. Not some politician, not some religious fanatic, not some lunatic on a street corner but a woman and here doctor. The same goes for contraception and any other medical choices surrounding sexuality.

    Anti-choice people don’t give a flying F*&k about children or women, their entire purpose is to suppress female sexuality and to punish any woman who dares to have sex for any reason other than to create a child.

    These people are sick and need to be taught to mind their own dog gamn business.

  5. martha says

    Nothing against vgetarians. I’ve been one myself. I just think it would be hysterical to see a sad-eyed billboard with the human embryo, the chicken embryo, the cow embryo and the pig embryo announcing days of first heartbeat.

  6. mithrandir says

    If I recall correctly, a lot of feminists were anti-abortion through the 19th century and into the early decades of the 20th – in part because abortion in those days was a dangerous medical procedure, and so having an abortion for the purpose of birth control put the life of a person (the woman) in danger for the sake of a mere inconvenience.

    Of course, the idea that women were people was controversial in those days, but it was the feminists who supported the position that they were, so.

  7. martha says

    One of my daughters went through a stage where she was attacked by some excess of nurturing instinct and was prepared to defend anything that a four year old might imagine as baby. As in (no kidding) “Don’t eat the little baby muffin crumb.” If we were all four, we could have billboards decrying the murder of baby muffin crumbs, baby trees, etc.
    OK, I’m done. Sorry about the multiple posts.

  8. A. Noyd says

    martha (#3)

    When does a chicken’s heart start beating?

    Like 42 hours or something. They’re still mostly see-through globs at that point with only some basic ideas sketched in.

    I have an idea. Let’s throw a barbecue for the stupid fucking forced-birthers. A really nice one about honoring their convictions. They sign up in advance saying what cuts of what animals they want, but the day of the fête they arrive to find out what arrives on their plates is only bits of the embryos of those beasties extracted at the stage their hearts had just started beating. Bits analogous to the requested cuts, of course. But it’s all the same to them, so they should be just as happy with a half a thimble-full of embryonic chicken jelly as a half of a grilled chicken, right?
Literally make them eat their false equivalence.

  9. says

    Well here’s a scientific fact, which also presents a reductio ad absurdum. If human life begins at conception, and the gamete is a person with the same value and rights as James Dobson, then the greatest public health catastrophe and most urgent medical crisis confronting us is the more than 50% of unborn babies that die naturally, God being the most prolific abortionist of all time, by many orders of magnitude. 100% of NIH funding should be diverted immediately to saving those millions of innocent lives that God is murdering every year in this country alone.

    Or maybe you don’t really believe what you say you believe after all?

  10. borax says

    Sanger was a radical. She thought women were equal to men. King was a radical. He thought poc were equal to whites. I love every radical that’s for equality. We need more of thrm.

  11. Gvlgeologist, FCD says

    The basic dishonesty of forced birthers is the same basic dishonesty of climate change denialists and creationists. If they had honest arguments for these, they could use them, but I have only seen dishonesty from them.

  12. consciousness razor says

    This principle, that the process is more important than the conclusion and that how you arrive at that conclusion ought to be open and transparent, is fundamental to how scientists are supposed to think. That the histrionic religious loons who rage against Planned Parenthood can’t follow it is a deep indictment of their cause.

    That’s not just science. It’s how moral philosophers should think too. Go all the way back to Socrates or Epicurus, or wherever you want really. For a long time, the blindingly obvious point has been that religions are not in business of giving you valid reasons why particular things are supposedly bad or sinful or impious or whatever the case may be. Never mind that religions do nothing to prevent people from behaving badly. Religious beliefs themselves simply have nothing to do with morality or moral reasoning. They are just different subjects. (Indeed, ask a random Catholic on the street, or the pope himself, about transubstantiation, for example. They’ve got nothing, or maybe somebody else supposedly has an answer, but generally they don’t give a shit about any actually theological subjects. That crap doesn’t matter even to them.)

    What religions do (instead of giving actual reasons) is tell you the church says so, that it’s tradition, that it’s what sacred texts say, that a god commands it, and so forth… None of that is a simple explanation, which basically any child could understand, about what makes something wrong, like “murder is bad because it causes the victim harm, it causes harm to people who care about the victim, and more generally it’s destructive to society.” Of course you can say a lot more about it than that, but it’s a place to start that at least makes some fucking sense, is based on concepts people actually comprehend and can use in their own lives, and isn’t deliberately constructed to be mysterious-sounding bullshit that’s meant to confuse others so you can avoid coming up with a real answer.

    And if you can’t tell me a reason (why it’s bad, how anybody could or should come to that conclusion, etc.) then you’re not being reasonable, so there is nothing for me to take seriously about it. If you’re acting like that, there is no reason for me to even think about it, whether that means thinking scientifically or thinking any other way. You’re just whining and making shit up, not thinking. Come back when you have something better, or if you care so much about authorities commanding things for you, let the rest of us adults take care of it on your behalf and shut the fuck up already. Because your basic story is that you’re not even competent enough to know what’s good or bad for yourself, because you need a ridiculous book of myths or an undetectable wizard to reveal the answers you. The rest of us don’t need that kind of bullshit guidance, so thanks but no thanks. We’ll obviously get by just fine without your “help.”

  13. drst says

    cervantes @ 10

    Even better, point out to the forced birthers that neither they nor James Dobson nor any fully grown human being can use another person’s body against their will even if it’s to keep themselves alive. If Dobson was dying of kidney disease and I was the only tissue match, he still can’t take my kidney without my consent, any more than we can compel people to donate blood or tissue.

    So if a full-grown human who is on the point of death can’t use my body without my consent or against my will to keep himself alive (right to life), why should the government be able to forcibly use my body against my will for the sake of keeping a 6 week old embryo “alive”? If a fetus is the same as a person, in neither case do they have the right to use my body against my will.

    (They will then pull out the “but but INNOCENT LIFE!” argument, which you can then ask “OK but how is a 1 day old baby not innocent? What about a 10 year old kid, surely that kid is still innocent?”)

  14. MadHatter says

    Ah, but drst @ 17 their response to that (and I use that point often) is, “but it’s not my fault that Dobson/you/10-yr old kid needs a kidney”. I once asked if they were going to work to change the law to force any parent to give up necessary organs if their child needed it since obviously both were “at fault” for the child’s existence and therefore health. I got crickets.

    It’s never ever about actual life, it’s just about punishing those horrid women who dare to have sex.

    I wish it was just about the religious people arguing this either. I’ve gotten the same arguments and reaction from self-described “libertarian pro-life atheists”. Many may have been trolls, but I know some of them in real life so they’re not entirely fabrications sadly.

  15. LicoriceAllsort says

    This principle, that the process is more important than the conclusion and that how you arrive at that conclusion ought to be open and transparent, is fundamental to how scientists are supposed to think. That the histrionic religious loons who rage against Planned Parenthood can’t follow it is a deep indictment of their cause.

    This brand of dishonesty that prioritizes the outcome over the methods took me a long time to unlearn after I deconverted. Bearing false witness is clearly prohibited by the Ten Commandments, but, in practice, lying for Jesus is acceptable to many Christians. It’s one of the first things I was called out on by atheists when I started poking around the dark corners of the interwebs. At that point, it was such an ingrained habit that it took me quite a while to understand that I *was* being dishonest, let alone that it was wrong.

    Many of them don’t understand how transparent and distasteful this type of lying is to outsiders, because within their circles it is acceptable and pervasive.

  16. consciousness razor says

    Thanks, Caine.

    Now I got to thinking about where these divine commands came from, according to Christians…. Exodus is such a ludicrous bunch of crap. You had these Israelites who supposedly just didn’t get that murder was bad, until Moses came down from the mountain after having a chat with a burning bush. But forget about the magic talking shrubbery for a minute — I know that part’s awfully suspicious too, but never mind. Suppose it really went down that way. Who could seriously entertain the idea that real humans beings just didn’t get that murder is wrong (or lying, stealing, etc.), especially ones who had been through slavery themselves and knew that they were right to escape from it, until a god gave them a fucking commandment to that effect? You really think that’s why they were supposedly being such sinners? Do you really think all the prisons are full of atheists too? Have you ever checked?

    I don’t think those people were that stupid, and I don’t think they believed they were that stupid when they told themselves stories like that. That’s presumably not what their story is about. It’s actually pretty explicit, if you’re paying attention, that this was the deal they made to get their own piece of land — so, in a way of speaking, it’s intended to be supporting their nation’s claim to political or legal authority. They don’t just have human police who will arrest you or punish you if you break the law. They’ve got the biggest, baddest bully ever on their side, who knows every crime that happens, can’t be bribed or tricked, etc., so it looks like there’s no way you can get away with these bad things that you apparently want to do. Which I guess is fairly persuasive, if you get duped into believing the bully exists.

    But that’s nothing like where morality itself comes from or what it consists in…. Why should we think it’s telling us anything like how people actually came to learn murder is wrong? That’s bizarre. Didn’t they know that already, and didn’t they know that they already knew it? What good could it have possibly done for them, if the creator of the universe himself actually carved that into stone tablets and handed it directly to Charlton Heston? If you’re such a hopeless case to begin with, or behaving like a psychopath or whatever we’re supposed to imagine about them now, how is that supposed to be convincing to a person like that? Or if you are a fairly reasonable, decent person who knows the first fucking thing about anything, how is it supposed to be convincing? Maybe I just don’t get it. What the hell are people even trying to say, when they claim gods or religions or any of it has anything to do with morality? I’m starting to suspect they have no clue what the fuck they’re talking about.

  17. says

    My response to “Abortion stops a beating heart” is “So does baiting a fishhook. What’s your point?”

    I’m still trying to figure out how you could stop a non-beating heart unless maybe it was rolling down a hill.

  18. Reginald Selkirk says

    My zebrafish embryos’ hearts start beating at about 22 hours, does that make them human?

    The question is personhood, not humanness. The answer is still no, but let’s at least get the questions right.

  19. says

    MadHatter @ 19

    And never mind their religious rights to raise their children as they see fit, however horrific their method may be, (or, you know, do other terrible abusive things to them as well) or to deny them medical treatment because god provides. The woman doesn’t matter, and little also the child after birth. Those people are in the anti-abortion crowd too.

  20. damiki says

    The anti-choice view is so simple-minded — the moment when a sperm permeates an egg is seen to be infused with magic.

    Before fertilization, there’re viable gametes, after, there’s a single viable zygote. That transition only represents some sort of discontinuity if you introduce a sky fairy to make it so.

    Also, as a 30+ vegan, I can’t help notice the speciesism rampant in their definition of “pro life”.

  21. Reginald Selkirk says

    damiki #26: Also, as a 30+ vegan, I can’t help notice the speciesism rampant in their definition of “pro life”.

    Of course. Your own kingdom-ism makes much more sense.

  22. damiki says

    Reginald Selkirk #27: Of course. Your own kingdom-ism makes much more sense.

    That would be a valid criticism if I ever stated that no one should kill to eat.

    Personally, I’d kill and eat animals if I was stuck starving in the forest (ignore my pathetic hunting abilities for this argument). Hell, I’d have joined the soccer players who were forced to eat their dead teammates, were I in the same situation.

    I’ve had the luxury of living in a time and place where I can satisfy my nutritional needs without the downsides of consuming animal products. I’m not claiming plants don’t die in the process (or even that they shouldn’t).

    I was pointing out the hypocrisy of those who claim to be “pro life”, but use a conveniently selective definition of “life” in their arguments (which don’t usually include children, soldiers, or people with too much melanin).

    I don’t see any such contradiction in my argument (although I’m open to being enlightened to any).

  23. says

    I have strong feelings about abortion that are probably very different from most of the people who read and/or post here. My reasons for being against abortion are very personal, and I feel comfortable with my reasoning.

    I used to think that because I was sure about MY feelings, that others should feel the same, and act accordingly.

    But I have come to understand (through 1) reading here and 2) conversations with my young adult daughter) that my feelings have to do only with me.

    It would be wrong, wrong, wrong for me to impose my views on any other person. How can I possibly judge another person’s needs, or situation, or beliefs? I can’t.

    A decision about abortion can only be made by the person whose body is affected; that, is, the person who may be pregnant.

    Regardless of what I personally think and feel about abortion, I cannot impose my feelings on others, especially on those who are immediately affected. Therefore, I must be pro-choice. To be otherwise would be irrational.

    Over the past several years, I have come to feel comfortable with the seeming contradiction of my own feelings about abortion and my conviction that I can’t/mustn’t impose my feelings on others. It is possible (for me) to abhor abortion, yet be pro-choice. I vote pro-choice and pro-reproductive rights, and against any restrictions thereto.

    I guess I wanted to post this to make clear that it IS possible to be pro-choice even if one does not ascribe to all the same reasons and rationale of many pro-choice people. The important thing is not our reasons for being pro-choice, but how we act: how we vote, how we support or criticize laws that affect reproductive freedoms, how we support our neighbors’ rights, etc. Personal and individual feelings can (and often should) be set aside in consideration of ensuring better access and unabridged rights for all people. (Poorly written – sorry; hope I made my point clearly and without offense.)

    Thanks to those who have written cogently here on these topics – you have helped me.

  24. mikeym says

    consciousness razor @21

    “Suppose it really went down that way. Who could seriously entertain the idea that real humans beings just didn’t get that murder is wrong”

    Exodus itself supports your argument, Razor. In an earlier chapter, Moses fled Egypt to avoid punishment for killing a slavemaster.

  25. Rob Grigjanis says

    damiki @28:

    Hell, I’d have joined the soccer players who were forced to eat their dead teammates

    They were rugby (union) players. Soccer has goalkeepers, so cannibalism would be much less problematic.

  26. McC2lhu is rarer than fish with knees. says

    The problem lies with rationalization, or complete lack of. How do you get across to a group of people that are embarrassingly clueless about science matters and think that life begins at the sound of a zipper being pulled down in the back of their daddy’s Chevy. They couldn’t care less about sociology concerns with orphans and foster homes, young women unprepared for raising children, rights of women to govern their own bodies and not become clients of the state forced into a full pregnancy for the sole purpose of delivering children for other people at the expense of their own time, money, education/career.

    Their concerns aren’t about these poor, defenseless unborn babies (which they typically aren’t, unless you consider a mindless gummy bear of cells – which have barely decided which organ they want to be – a baby already, which is a silly hilltop to find oneself trying to defend). The more despicable and very UN-christian ones are completely unbothered by having a woman die when ending a pregnancy could have saved her life. Zombie-like they will mutter how all abortion is wrong and stare off into that distant point that zombies often like to stare into.

    Only marginally less evil are arguments about the women abstaining, the ignorant mooing of people that think sex is something evil. Many argue women/poor/minorities shouldn’t be having sex anyway, if they can’t afford care. It’s all conservadrivel conceit based on white privilege, racism and classism.

    The worst barrier is overcoming the superstition and the reason it’s so strongly defended. You have to flail pointlessly against a wall built by personal guilt making the anti-choicer feel they have to atone for something, even if it’s as insipid as the concept of ‘sins of the father’. I would say it’s a fair bet, however, that more often it’s some personally manufactured guilt created because the ridiculous idea of ‘sin’ makes it abhorrent to engage in everyday human behavior – or worse, something they actually did that was far worse than the evils of abortion. You end up with the person thinking they have to engage in a proverbial never-ending blowjob to Jeebus to gain forgiveness, or else they face Hell, which ironically is something that their gentle and loving Jeebus invented. Then the religious conceit rears it’s viciously ugly head again wherein they believe that to appease their guilt they have to make everyone else follow the rules THEY have decided to follow. It’s the religious conceit that is probably the worst aspect of the overtly religious; thinking that everyone else is bound by the same rules, and reinforced by the (again conceited) delusion that the country was founded on their religion and built to spread their religion through the cosmos.

    Ultimately counter-protesters simply have to start holding up signs that tell these deluded ignoramii (is that a word?) to fuck their conceit, fuck their delusions of guilt, fuck their childish inattention to social realities, fuck their anecdotal evidence and fuck their outright lying to deny everyday women the ability to navigate their own lives and not have some asshole’s ridiculously anachronistic patriarchal bullshit infringing on a real modern day society’s laws.

  27. johnhodges says

    Re. abortion, My short argument is:
    (1) A potential person is not a person yet.
    (2) Before a living being can be a person, it must have a cerebral cortex.
    (3) Before we object to someone killing that being, purely for their own convenience, it should have a cerebral cortex larger than those of the beings we regularly kill for food.

    So, by this argument, vegans can object to abortion, but most omnivores cannot. The obvious theist objection is to assert vigorously that “Fertilized eggs have souls!!!” But there is no evidence, even in “Holy Scripture”, that that is true.

    Re. Vegans…. my favorite comment, admittedly pure snark, is from Woody Allen. “I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals. I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants!”

  28. dianne says

    If fertilized eggs have supernatural, immortal souls, doesn’t that make abortion less morally difficult? The eggs just go back to heaven or maybe get another chance in another body. What harm is done? If anything, they’re spared the temptations of life and the risk of hell. Isn’t that a good thing? Or does this line of thinking lead to madness?

  29. says

    Dianne @ 35:

    Isn’t that a good thing?

    Sure. The evil, however, is in not being able to punish those awful sluts – this is the all important bit.

  30. doublereed says

    @29 Quodlibet

    This is a common argument by pro-choice politicians, like Joe Biden at the vice presidential debate in 2012:

    My religion defines who I am, and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life, and it has particularly informed my social doctrine. Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves. People who need help.

    With regard to abortion, I accept my Church’s position on abortion as a de fide doctrine. Life begins at conception. I accept that position in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians, and Muslims and and Jews…I just refuse to do that, unlike my friend here, the Congressman. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people, women that they cannot control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor in my view, and the Supreme Court. And I’m not going to interfere with that.

    That is, after all, why it’s called pro-choice and not pro-abortion.