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Illinois Right to Life (IRTL) was kind enough to host me on their podcast, Life Chat, with this flattering episode title “Secular Pro-Life: Crucial in the abortion debate.” IRTL Executive Director Steve Jacobs and I talked about all kinds of aspects of the abortion debate, comparing and contrasting secular versus religious pro-life perspectives; talking about biology, personhood, bodily rights; and laughing about some of the more fanciful stereotypes pro-choice people have about pro-lifers.
Listen to the full episode here or see the transcript below.
Transcript: Secular Pro-Life: Crucial in the Abortion Debate
In this episode, Dr. Steve Jacobs interviews Monica Snyder, Executive Director of Secular Pro-Life, about the foundations of the Pro-Life Movement: the right to life. They discuss how people of all religions and sects can unite on this foundational principle and fight for protecting life together.
Steve: Hello, you’re listening to Life Chat, a podcast produced by Illinois Right to Life. My name is Steve Jacobs, and I’m the program director here at Illinois Right to Life, and today I’m here with Monica Snyder. Monica, can you start by introducing yourself and sharing a bit about you?
Monica: Yes, thank you for having me. My name is Monica Snyder. I am the executive director for Secular Pro-Life, which is an anti-abortion organization run by atheists. Myself, and two other women, our board president, vice president, all atheists.
And our focus is on advancing the secular arguments against abortion, making space in pro-life work for non-religious people, not specifically necessarily atheists, but atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, even people who have some form of faith but just do not consider themselves particularly religious. We also try to form interfaith coalitions with people of any faith or no faith who prefer to use secular arguments. So that’s the main thrust for us.
And I became executive director actually last summer. I was volunteering with the group for about 10 years before that. And so that’s where we’re positioned now.
Steve: Great, so when did you start working with the organization? And would you say that you have recollection of your first like pro-life memory?
Monica: Yes, so I started working with Secular Pro-Life nearly at its inception. Our board president Kelsey Hazzard came up with the idea in 2009. And she and I–we hadn’t met in person, but we had been friends online for a couple of years already through our pro-life advocacy online. And she knew that I was secular and she asked me if I wanted to help her out. So I said sure. I thought that it was just going to basically be us arguing with people online. And it’s gotten a lot more formal than that.
But my earliest pro-life memory greatly precedes that. I have been pro-life my entire life, and my parents were occasional activists when I was a child. I do remember holding signs like along major thoroughfares, pro-life signs. And I know that my parents helped our local Crisis Pregnancy Center and so there were moments in my childhood where they talked about it, where they brought it up. And so it was sort of always with me from the beginning. Long, long before, you know, social media existed and I met Kelsey.
Steve: Mmhm. And would you say their commitment to the pro-life movement, was that more religious or secular in nature?
Monica: It was religious. They were Catholic, they raised us Catholic. My mother is still a Catholic. Most of the rest of us aren’t. That’s a different story. But I went to Catholic middle school so, 7th and 8th grade, so public school before that, public school after. And I do remember vividly receiving some literature while I went to that school about it. When I was old enough to have a better idea of what we’re talking about. And I remember just being horrified and mystified that this is even a debate at all. And to be fair, back then I’d never heard the pro-choice side, except for through the lens of, you know, passionately pro-life people. So it was a little one-sided, I think.
Monica: But it definitely got me started in that direction. And, I’ve talked to hundreds, probably, of pro-choice people since then, maybe more. And I think I have a more fair view now, but it hasn’t ultimately changed my position at all.
Steve: Right. So I’d love to ask about something. It’s a bit of an elephant in the room. Just because, and it’s something that you and I have talked about that uh–we’ll just say that some people are skeptical that there can be a secular case for life, or even a secular case for ethics, right?
Monica: Sure. Sure, sure.
Steve: We’ve went down this, we’ve talked about this. So, could you help by expounding on what the secular case for life is?
Monica: So, there’s sort of two layers to this answer. So at the first glance the secular case for life is largely similar to what you will hear Christians and other people of faith say, which is essentially, if you agree that humans have rights… If you agree that human life is valuable in a general sense, then we are just saying you should apply that before birth as well as after. And it’s just a matter of asking for consistency. And so that’s, that’s the first glance. We find that’s usually as far as we need to go in discussing this with other secular people, because secular people, the vast majority of the time, I’d say 99.5% of the time when I talk to other non-religious people, they already assume it as an axiom. That human lives are valuable. You’ll see it all the time, you can see very very pro-choice or left-leaning or secular atheist people fight very hard for human rights in other realms.
Steve: Oh, yeah.
Monica: You see lots of passionate discussions about women’s rights, and immigrants rights and transgender rights. All kinds of things!
Steve: Yeah, and they’re in the forefront on civil rights, right?
Monica: Exactly. So it’s not a question of: do human rights exist? Do we care about morality? Do we care about anything? That’s not, that’s not the direction this secular debate goes in. It’s a question of: do fetuses count? And why or why not? And if they do, how does that interplay with bodily rights? That’s–in my experience that is the secular abortion debate. Is the consistency question, not the ethics question.
However, as you said the second layer. And this for me, has almost exclusively (with maybe one exception in ten years) has almost exclusively come from pro-life Christians, is a question of why should a non-religious, and particularly an atheist person care about morality in general? Not just specific to pro-life, it could be pro-choice, because they have moral precepts too, it could be anything. But why care in the first place? And I will tell you that usually the formal response that Secular Pro-Life, that we will give is we’re not going to argue about that. [laughing] We find that that is a religious debate. There’s no way to have that conversation without starting to compare and contrast Christian and atheist and other worldviews on where morality comes from, objective vs. subjective, if it is objective what’s the best explanation for it? You could talk evolution, you could talk about the law written on our hearts, all these things. And there’s a lot of rich information and thought there. But we find it is all very tangential to pro-life activism.
Steve: Very much so.
Monica: I will say that there are plenty of secular moral theorists. And I won’t pretend to be intimately familiar with them. But, I have had people, through my work with Secular Pro-Life actually, as friendly side conversations, we’ve talked about and we’ve watched a few debates on it. And so I think there was one that was… is it… I’m going to pronounce this wrong. I think it’s Eric Weidelberg did a debate with William Lane Craig about this. Youtube that. And, you know, you have all the major names and Sam Harris and Dawkins and all these things. We don’t need to get into details of it. But suffice to say, there are several different theories about how secularists ground their morality. And we find that none of them are very relevant to anti-abortion work. They’re relevant to this sort of conversation between secular people and religious people and what makes the most sense, but that’s not our goal. Our goal, this is very important, I try to tell people this all the time. Secular Pro-Life is not looking to create more atheists. We are looking to create more pro-life people.
Monica: And so we specifically avoid getting into nitty-gritty conversations about whose worldview makes the most sense, because if we both agree that abortion is a human rights violation I don’t particularly (to be blunt) care where you think human rights come from. We are already in enough agreement, that let’s work on decreasing it.
Steve: No, I love that answer. I think you really crystallize what some of the tension is for some pro-life christians. That there is a fear that there is a conversion attempt there, right?
Monica: Yeah, no.
Steve: So really, if there is any it’s simply that there is a space for secular–given the fact that most of the rhetoric of the pro-life movement, most of the big actors of the pro-life movement, for decades have been spiritually inclined.
Steve: So we create this space to show–and I mean actually there is a lot of history suggesting that some early pro-lifers were not necessarily religiously inclined. That they were just civil rights libertarians and they were trying to fight for equality as they would in any other issue. It just so happens that it’s most hard on the hearts of the religious, you know, at least statistically speaking.
Monica: Statistically speaking. And we do not advocate for the total eradication of, you know, mention of spiritual reasons or religious reasons or any of that. We just ask for context consideration. So when you’re doing work especially within a church, or within a group that you know shares that basis of value, or when you are dealing with pro-choice Christians who are referencing Christian tenants in defense of their pro-choice views, you should definitely talk about that.
Steve: Oh, for sure.
Monica: We are not saying: never talk about it. We’re saying that we want to make space for the people who don’t want to talk about it.
Steve: And to show that there is no (at least in the form of that discussion) there is no need to ascend to any authority, biblical authority, any spiritual authority, any supernatural authority. There is this argument, a secular argument. Which I would love for you to go a little more into. You had mentioned that you recognize abortion as a human rights violation.
Steve: So could you share more about that?
Monica: Yes. Essentially our position is it is a scientific fact, it’s not just our opinion or our philosophical view, it is a scientific fact that the lifespan of a human begins with the zygote. So, zygote, embryo and fetus are all life stages of a human organism. And that’s the part that we desire for everyone to acknowledge and agree on, at a minimum.
Monica: But then we go from there, and we say in terms of personhood arguments, you know, we can all agree: oh, yes an embryo is a human organism. But is she a morally relevant being with basic rights? Or does that come later? And then you get into the whole personhood debate. What constitutes personhood? Is it heartbeat? Is it the ability to feel pain? Is it, and I think this is the most popular one, in my circles, is it certain cognitive abilities? You know, at what point from a secular perspective, do you qualify for basic moral consideration and legal protection? And it is our position that all of the personhood arguments we’ve heard so far end up having really horrific ramifications if applied consistently. What ends up happening usually is people will, pro-choice people will try to make personhood arguments but then they only want them to apply before birth. And they don’t want them to apply after. And so we have several blog posts on our website, if you go to secularprolife.org/abortion you can see the outline of what I’m describing: talking about some of the most common personhood arguments and why we think that they don’t really work out.
And we essentially conclude that the most logically consistent and fair understanding is that humans are persons. Or, if you don’t want to use the word person: humans qualify for rights from beginning to end. If they qualify for rights at all, they qualify throughout their lifespan. And so, the first premise is that we acknowledge that human organisms exist before birth. But the very important second premise is that we argue that prenatal humans–our prenatal children–qualify for at least the right to not be unjustly killed by virtue of being part of our species in the first place. And then you can get in more discussions about where human rights come from, like we just talked about (we find that to be a little bit of a tangent).
And then we think a last important point, and I find that pro-lifers don’t always address this explicitly right out of the gate, but, you could as a pro-choice person recognize the biological humanity and even agree that the personhood arguments are kind of hand waving and still be pro-choice because you are very concerned about bodily rights, and the right to refuse to have someone else use your body against your will. And we think that is a very important consideration, and in many aspects of society that applies exactly as they say. We don’t think it applies to the vast majority of abortions, because of the specific nature of pregnancy, childbirth, and all those things. So when you get into elements of consent to risks and the different entities involved in the situation, the woman who is pregnant, the child who is conceived, and you consider those different factors, we don’t think bodily rights is actually a strong enough argument to justify elective abortion.
And we like to note too, that the original court case that started this major debate in the United States, Roe v. Wade, they rejected that argument as well. They did not find it persuasive that bodily rights–Roe v. Wade was not grounded in bodily rights, it was grounded in privacy, and they even have a section where they say, as to the claims that some make that it’s about right to do what you want with your body, we don’t agree. We’ve refused to recognize unlimited rights to that in the past. Which is why it’s legal to limit abortion, at least right now in every state Roe v. Wade lets you limit abortion after viability. Which inherently implies that the right to refuse use of your body ends at some point. And this was–and Roe v. Wade didn’t even say: oh, at viability they’re a person. They just jettisoned that entire conversation and still said, whether they’re a person or not, the bodily rights thing isn’t sacrosanct. So, to recap–
Steve: The States’ right to protect life supersedes any, you know, putative right to abort, or liberty right, yeah.
Monica: Exactly. So even in that case, they recognize that there are conflicting interests here. Without even getting into the personhood argument. Which they’ve carefully avoided. So, we are saying we recognize the biological humanity. We find the personhood arguments very inconsistent and dangerous if applied consistently. And we don’t think bodily rights is strong enough to justify the conclusions that we have currently. And that’s the secular argument against–at least, we’re very United States focused–but that’s the secular argument against elective abortion in the United States.
Steve: Great, so I’d love to actually drill a little deeper into that. But first, I just want to thank you for that introduction, Monica. Next we’ll discuss this a little bit more.
But first, to our listeners: I want to thank you for your support of our podcast. If you have any feedback on the program or would like to recommend future guests to be on the show, please let us know by emailing us at email@example.com.
But Monica, I’d love to spend a little more I’m on this because… so in the pro-life movement there’s so many talking points, there’s so many ideas that we discuss, but really there is this core case, right? There’s this core line of argument, that underlies the whole pro-life movement, right? And I believe that the Secular Pro-Life argument is actually the same as the fundamental pro-life argument. I don’t see there being a distinction there, right?
Steve: Maybe some will cite the authority of the Bible, but when you look at the lion’s share of pro-life arguments, they take the same form that the Secular Pro-Life argument takes.
Steve: I just want to slow it down and go through it one more time, step by step, right?
Steve: So to start, you had mentioned that it’s a scientific fact that it is at least a human organism, right?
Steve: Which you also say that it’s a scientific fact that it is a human? Because there could be a distinction drawn between a human organism and a human. So what’s your position?
Monica: Well, my position is anytime someone says that I’m going to ask them what they mean. Because if they mean human to be human organism it’s the same thing. If they mean human to mean person it’s different. I think it’s a little ambiguous. I think it’s a scientific fact that it’s a human organism and its a strong philosophical case that it’s a human. But it depends on how you are defining the word human.
Steve: Right, so let’s say a human organism, you know, it could be argued–I’m not saying everybody argues it, right? But it has been argued that a sperm could be an organism, it could be argued that a tumor is an organism and that they would be human organisms–
Monica: It couldn’t be argued well.
Steve: What’s that?
Monica: I don’t think it could be argued well. Let me put it this way: the zygote and embryo and fetus are biological members of the species homo sapiens, and a sperm and a tumor are not. So if you want to, you know, debate definitions of organism and get to esoteric corners of the internet where you found this one blog that said a sperm is an organism, fine. It doesn’t change what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that you and I and everyone listening to this, absent intelligent alien life, we all started the same way biologically. And it was not as a sperm. And it was not as a tumor.
Monica: It was as a zygote, an embryo, and a fetus. And you don’t have to care–you don’t have to care about that.
Steve: Oh, sure.
Monica: You can find that to be unremarkable. But it is a biological fact that that is what happened.
Monica: And these other conversations about other entities I find them… some people are bringing them up sincerely because they’re genuinely trying to understand the biology, I think most people are just trying to not admit that our life cycle begins before birth. [laughing]
Steve: Oh, of course. Right. So the reason I suggest this is that it being an organism is not necessarily the thing that makes it a member of the homo sapien species, right? With, the way you put it I think is quite right. The way we’re thinking about it is: is it like us?
Steve: Is it of the same nature as us? We are organisms. But we are not just organisms, right? We are homo sapiens species. We are members of that species, right? So even if you could argue that a sperm or an egg or a tumor or a chimera or something else is an organism, it is not necessarily a member of the species because a member of the species is defined as one who is living in the human lifespan, where the egg, the sperm, and the tumor are not. Is that fair?
Monica: Right. So you could say, for example (and I’ve had this conversation or some form of it a million times), you could say well, it’s a human organism. And they’re like well, my skin cells human. Okay, but it’s not an organism. And they’ll say okay, well but an amoeba is an organism. Okay, but it’s not a human organism. It’s just like, it’s like whack-a-mole, right?
Steve: Yes, yeah.
Monica: I’m talking about a very specific thing, and if you wanted to understand me you would understand me. Not you, Steve, obviously.
Steve: Oh, sure, yeah.
Monica: But yeah, it’s not the fact of any organism is valuable. And it’s not the fact of anything with human DNA is valuable.
Monica: We are talking about members of our species within our life cycles. And individual life cycles, not the entire human race going back millions of years, okay? Come on. You know what I’m talking about. [laughing]
Steve: Yeah, ontogeny compared to phylogeny.
Steve: Not everyone is going to appreciate that these nuances matter, but when you try to come correct to certain people who want to defend abortion with their life, they are going to try to find, like you said playing whack-a-mole, they are going to try to find any nuance they could seize on, not to make a good argument, but just to frustrate you and to prevent you from moving forward with yours. That’s all–
Monica: I think that they, I think they want to, I think a lot of times they just want our argument to be less persuasive to other people.
Monica: And so the personhood arguments are more interesting, and more sincere. In my experience, and I have found that experience varies widely depending on the pro-life circles you run in and the kind of work you do, but in my experience with Secular Pro-Life, a lot of our debates wind up being about the biology, not about personhood. A lot of them. We do have a fair number of people who will grant the biology pretty easily and move on to the philosophical personhood cases. That definitely happens, but I find that that group of people tends to be more philosophically inclined, usually more higher education and more experience in the debate. But when I’m just talking to sort of your everyday people who aren’t really plugged into this debate and they haven’t really–
Steve: It’s the science.
Monica: And it’s not even just pro-choice people, either, I had someone recently telling me he was talking to a friend about the work that I do, and he said oh, she works for Secular Pro-Life oh, oh, that’s really interesting, Secular Pro-Life. Because they were both Christians, and the friend–everyone in this conversation was pro-life, okay?–and when they were talking about it, the second guy, he was like, well, it’s too bad science can’t just say definitively, oh, this is when humans begin, because then the debate would be over. And I’m just like… yes.
Steve: Well, let’s be honest. A large portion of pro-lifers do not actually recognize the fertilization view. And I’ve actually found in polls over the years–so I had found a poll from like, the year 2000 where it was like 90% of pro-lifers recognize the fertilization view, right? And then, now there are figures that show as low as 59% of pro-lifers recognize that. And part of that, actually, in my analysis of the polls: it suggested that those who used to recognize the fertilization view, they recognized the heartbeat view now, because there’s been so much heartbeat legislation–
Steve: –that they just backwards logic: if we are trying to protect them at the first heartbeat, that must when their life begin. Kind of akin to how liberals are, you know those who advocate for abortion, they have actually taken Roe v. Wade to mean that a human’s life begins at viability.
Steve: Because that is when they will first be protected. And that’s why viability is the most common response amongst abortion advocates.
Monica: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of ad hoc reasoning on all sides, and I don’t even fully blame people for that, I mean you and I do this for a living and we are really really really involved, but I think I forget frequently, how many people… how most people, this isn’t something they think about every single day. A lot of then don’t want to talk about it at all. On both sides. It’s very controversial, very unpleasant conversation. And I feel like it’s sort of a cultural osmosis were they just, they kind of hear things here and there and pick them up in the background and then all of a sudden a couple of weeks later they are repeating it themselves thinking that they read it somewhere or something.
Monica: And yeah, I think it’s also interesting to talk about the distinction between what we consider good and compelling arguments, which is important from a logical perspective.
Monica: Versus what actually moves people’s hearts. And those are not the same thing.
Steve: Yeah, those are, unfortunately, two different things.
Monica: [laughing] Totally different things. So I find that a lot of the points of entry that our group tries to hit on a regular basis are not all about, you know, biological life begins at fertilization. There’s many other things you can hit on, just to kind of tweak people a little, get them thinking more about it. Like as a starting point. And they tend to be completely different than: this is our academic outline of why, you know, we think our position makes sense.
Steve: And interestingly, I think we have different sympathies with whether or not, you know, people are genuine in their beliefs in terms of the difference between rejecting the humanity or the personhood of the preborn. So I’ll put it this way: I think, I can understand why somebody would have a difficult time looking at a single cell and fully understanding it to be a human.
Steve: I think it’s possible that there might be capacities or empathy differences there that make it that some are just one thing that it’s called cognitive decoupling, right? The ability to see things outside of their context and basically just strictly apply logic. So if you have that capacity, it’s so easy to see that single celled organism as a human. If you either have the empathy that you can see it that way, or if you have the logical reasoning that you can just say, I don’t care what my emotions say oh, I don’t care that it doesn’t look like a human, logically I know that it is, right? So I actually have some sympathy for those who have trouble with that.
For me, personhood is actually… I have a harder time connecting with that just because I cannot think of another context in which it would be socially acceptable for somebody to try to deny the personhood of a group of humans. I think abortion is a very unique space where people would openly suggest that there are non-person humans.
Monica: Sure. I think it’s interesting because oh, and I’m speaking out of turn here because I’m an atheist, but I would imagine–
Steve: Oh no, that’s fine.
Monica: No no no, what I’m I’m about to say– I’ve imagined that for anyone who believes in souls, or ensoulment, I would think personhood arguments would seem very ad hoc and hand-waving. But I have a lot of sympathy for secular people where it’s like, especially materialist secular people where it’s like, you know, we are trying to decide what it is that we value in ourselves and others. Why do we feel such strong empathy for other humans, why do we get upset at human rights violations? What it is about others. And with that, I actually do have a lot of sympathy who take sort of the cognitive personhood view, it seems like if you step back and you kind of look at what we care about in humanity, what sets us apart from the other species that we know about, it’s going to be our cognition. And so, I can see how you go from there to: okay, until we have certain cognitive abilities, should we care, or should we care as much? I have a lot of sympathy for that perspective. I don’t think it ultimately holds for the reasons I mentioned before.
Steve: Sure, yes.
Monica: It still ends up being kind of, you are looking at the prenatal development and you are kind of like picking a spot. I also think– you mentioned viability and you mentioned how Roe v. Wade sort of setting people’s minds that viability is the moment, even though the court tried to say, we won’t give in to personhood, they inherently did by picking a–by calling it, by picking a time.
Steve: Yeah, it created a proxy for it, yeah.
Monica: But I find–that I have more sympathy for, because people will vaguely think, a lot of people will vaguely think, whatever we have deemed legal must be okay.
Steve: Oh, definitely. Law as teacher.
Monica: Right. But what I have less sympathy for, and I notice this more lately, is people who will try to take the cognitive view what they want it to be consistent with the laws we already have. And so they’ll just say: oh, well the fetus isn’t conscious until 24 weeks. And I will say: well, how are you defining conscious? And they have no idea. They have no idea how they are defining conscious. They don’t know if they mean signal input, they don’t know if they mean certain cerebral thought processes, they don’t know. They just assume that must be true because they care about cognition and the law says viability is the thing. There doesn’t appear to be any biological landmark there, some of the best of them might be able to point to something to do with cortex development or different things like that. And at least then they’ll go a little bit further, but even then they can’t explain why X developmental milestone equals, you know, suddenly extremely morally valuable cognitive ability.
Monica: It’s very–it feels very retrospective, the whole argument.
Steve: And I would say those people would be disinclined from using cognitive abilities to determine rights outside of that context.
Steve: Given the fact that most are pretty anti-ableism.
Monica: Yeah, well, so they say. Anti postnatal ableism. [laughing]
Steve: Yeah, exactly. And I think you hit the nail on the head earlier. What I got from what you were saying was it’s essentially membership in the homo sapien species, right, in the human species. And one could argue that it’s a pretty simple heuristic that we’ve used to determine human rights, which is it’s an in-group out-group thing. It’s not necessarily–
Monica: Yeah, are you a human? [laughing]
Steve: What’s that?
Monica: Are you a human? You qualify. [laughing]
Steve: Yeah. Well, and part of the reason is, I mean if you’re going to go with the cognitive approach– is it possible that you have to suggest that a nonhuman animal is more cognitively developed than either a human at a certain age, or a human based on a certain ability, or lack thereof.
Steve: And no one’s going– that shows the shallowness of that argument. Because no one’s going–other than I guess, what, Peter Singer who’s willing to suggest that infants don’t have rights.
Monica: The most consistent of them all.
Steve: If you’re not willing to go down that route, then really that’s just a convenient argument for you to deny rights to the preborn. And part of the reason I think your argument about the in-group out-group (that’s how I’m framing it) is the fact that if you look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights put out by the United Nations, article 6 says all are deserving of recognition as persons under the law. And who are the “all”? If you look at the preamble, it says all members of the human family and it suggests, regardless of any distinction. So, if we’re saying that it doesn’t matter what your race, your religion, your creed, your ability, or any fathomable characteristic–but then all of a sudden, even though it’s universal oh, that only applies to the post-birth. To those who are already born.
Monica: Right. And it’s even trickier because the vast majority of abortion rights advocates do not advocate for abortion through all 9 months of pregnancy for every reason. The vast majority have their own limits they think are reasonable. And then they’re in an even more difficult situation trying to logically defend the lines they’re drawing. Because then you can have human rights before birth, but where does that start and end? And some of them will try to say it’s society’s deal and we can’t really pick a cut-off point. It kind of makes me have a little more sympathy for arguing about biology instead of personhood. Because the personhood arguments are very slippery, very slippery. And the biology might seem a little bit more straightforward. I think the biology is more straightforward to discuss.
Steve: Oh, and I think so too. I just think it makes sense why some would struggle, you know, accepting that, right?
Monica: So if we can say we don’t know when biological life begins, it makes their case a lot easier. Then if we say yes, of course we are all humans, but… and then go from there.
Steve: And that’s part of the reason they fight it so hard. Because, I mean, just the momentum of that. Once you said it as oh, it’s a human therefore it’s a homicide, now you need to come up with a justification versus if you just dispute the humanity. And that’s just a classical debate tactic, right? It’s just challenge their premises. Don’t ever accept any-you know–
Monica: Well, they want to focus so much on zygotes and single cells because it doesn’t engender a lot of empathy. There’s nothing about that sphere that looks anything like me, and I don’t actually have that reaction. And to be fair, I think that’s also why our side, some of why our side focuses a lot on the horrors, the particular horrors of late-term abortion.
Steve: Of course.
Monica: They are particularly horrible. But they also, we’re trying to get people to think: at what point are you uncomfortable? And just wrestle with the issue more. So both sides kind of go to those spectrums and try to make their points. Um, I dunno. I can see it.
Steve: Yeah, no, I mean it only makes sense. And I think–just, with the personhood–I just don’t notice… and this is something I might have talked about. I have written a piece for listeners, for the Secular Pro-Life blog before… and part of what I think about when I think about personhood, is just the notion that, at least under the law, all natural persons which are humans are considered persons.
Steve: And then there’s the second category of legal persons, which are those that are a legal fiction to ascribe humanity or personhood to. So what some do, is they try to work backwards from suggesting that because an orangutan is granted personhood based on their cognitive abilities, therefore a natural person must have those cognitive abilities to be seen as a person. And they’re mistaking the fact that natural persons are granted personhood by virtue of their humanity. It’s only non-humans who need some secondary characteristic.
Monica: And it’s always gonna be– it’s problematic to argue that well the fetus isn’t a person because the law doesn’t recognize as such, and then turn around and be okay with, for example, corporations being persons. I mean, just taking the law according to the law, it serves a specific type of function. And it’s not the same exact function as trying to work out as a society what we think makes moral and ethical sense.
Steve: Exactly. The law flows from us, we don’t flow from the law, even though the law, I mean it is–
Monica: Clearly influences us hugely. But, yes.
Steve: It really does. And that’s part of the reason why it’s so important to work on this legislatively.
Steve: When we say: work on hearts and minds, I agree with that, but working on the law is one of those principal ways you can move hearts–
Monica: Yes, they’re not wholly distinct strategies. And I find that I’m happy for people to work on whatever they are willing to work on, there’s more than enough work to do. If somebody is not interested in the law and they’d rather work on–
Steve: Yes. Many fronts, right?
Monica: Exactly. However, I am very stubborn (and Secular Pro-Life talks about this a lot) that the law does make an enormous difference. Both on hearts and minds and practically speaking.
Steve: Oh, of course. Yeah.
Monica: In the sort of corners of the pro-life movement where we exist oh, and we partner very frequently with what I call the other non-traditional pro-life groups. Democrats and liberals and feminists and everybody that the outside world doesn’t normally think of as pro-life, who can be. And we partner with all the alt- groups.
Monica: And I find that it’s a little bit more common in those corners, sometimes, for those groups to be a little less interested in the law, and more interested in the hearts and minds, which is fine. But we play that record a lot, that we are all about hearts and minds, and the law. The law makes a huge difference, the law makes a huge practical difference. You know, there are vastly less abortions when it is illegal. And this is controversial not just with pro-choice people, a lot of pro-life people don’t think that’s true either. That myth that it makes no difference has been very pervasive and very consistent, and it is a myth.
Monica: And so that’s something that we focus on regularly. It’s in my myths presentation that I do at conferences. We have a whole section in our website just about the research showing that that is a myth. And I reference it frequently. Especially when we get people who are sort of, they are pro-choice but in kind of a nominal way, like they sympathize with the ethical perspective we are coming from, and on a semi regular basis we will have people say: I kind of get where you’re coming from, what bothers me is when instead of just advocating for better education and a better understanding, you actually want to make it illegal. You know, why not focus on contraception? Why not focus on education? Why not focus on these other less harsh responses? And I’ll say: well, we agree on all of those, too. Every front is fine, but we focus on the law first of all, because it works. And by that, I mean it dramatically decreases abortion.
Second of all, because it’s correlated with lower unintended pregnancy rates. Because when people have less backup options as insurance policies–not just for abortion, for anything, pick any topic, car insurance, whatever–they take more precautions.
And third, please keep in mind (and we have to have this conversation sometimes with some of our secular pro-choice counterparts) please keep in mind that we view abortion as killing humans. And a lot of times when we’re having these secular conversations, it actually gets lost in the shuffle. And I say: so, even if the law made no practical difference (and it makes an enormous practical difference), but even if it didn’t, I probably still would advocate for the law to change, because I think as a baseline minimum premise oh, we should have a society that recognizes the right of humans to not be unjustly killed. So there’s multiple reasons that the law is fundamental to our work. And that we talk about it regularly.
Steve: Right. And the key phrase there is unjustly. Which, if you wouldn’t mind, we’ll go a little deeper into, we’ve talked about the humanity and the personhood. Where, how you come to the conclusion that it is a violation based on the balance of the rights of the preborn and their mother.
But first, I just want to shift the conversation to the fact that this year we have exciting things coming up for Illinois Right to Life. We want to announce for our 2022 Illinois Right to Life banquet keynote speaker will be Dennis Prager. So this is our banquet in April. Dennis is a best-selling author and the co-founder of Prager U, one of the most influential educational media sites around the world. Over 5 billion views since the year 2013.
The humanity and the personhood, right? So that’s almost like the preamble. Because really, it shouldn’t be that hard for anybody to come to the conclusion–I don’t even know if I need to say, that it’s morally relevant, that the preborn human is, because for me, I don’t even need to go to morality. There, you know, you could use the law. So we know that the law is something that prizes evidence–
Monica: We hope [laughing]
Steve: –that prizes reality and science. So how would we come to the determination that the pre-born human is a human? We would do so scientifically. It wouldn’t matter that one religious group suggests that human life begins at a different point. We would use an objective standard, we would use the relevant experts. Biology is the study of life. We would look at biologists, and as we know, biologists are pretty in agreement on when life begins. That it is the fertilization view. From there, we go to, if you look at the Human Rights Charter. If you look at even, the Constitution. So we talked about what Roe justices had discussed in Roe v. Wade. We’ve actually seen in subsequent cases in the 80s, they had suggested that if there is no fundamental and well-recognized difference between a fetus and a human, that they would be deserving of rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Which shows as we know with–
Monica: Yeah. How crucial this is.
Steve: Yeah. And many commentators on the 14th Amendment. 14th Amendment, when it refers to persons as being deserving of equal legal protections, that applies to all weak and helpless human beings. Any human, regardless of citizenship status, they are all equally deserving of legal protections in our society. So that’s what gets us to a question of how do we deal with the balance between a pre-born humans right to life. And whatever the rights of the, however you want to frame the pregnant woman’s right, as a liberty right to abortion, a privacy right, a bodily autonomy right… like you said, anybody who believes in any restriction of abortion does not believe in bodily autonomy. Or at least, does not consistently apply it.
Monica: Not as an end all be all. Yeah, exactly.
Steve: Because it can’t. You cannot say that a woman has a right to make decisions about her body if you say there’s even a moment in which she does not have full control over her body in terms of having an abortion. So the fact that we know the large majority of even pro-abortion people do believe in at least some restrictions on abortion, that is just not the whole kit and caboodle for them. They might claim it, but that does not mean they actually believe in it. Because we can’t even say they’re just inconsistently applying it, if they really believed it they would consistently apply it. So it is the question. And how do you come to the fact that this is a violation? Why is it not the case that the woman has let’s say, a right to self-defense, the right to kill a preborn human that resides within her?
Monica: So this question is very important and also very difficult because there’s no– I have not come up with a 30 second elevator pitch answer to it, it’s more complicated than that. But I guess the bottom line is that when we talk about bodily rights, and we talk about other situations in society where bodily rights trump the right to life, those inevitably are incredibly disanalogous to pregnancy and childbirth. So the ones that I always talk about are Judith Jarvis Thompson’s violinist and the real life (the violinist was a thought experiment) the real life court case of Shimp vs. McFall. Those are the two that we reference regularly. I actually think the violinist is not very compelling, because it required the person who is giving of their body to have had no participation or agency in the situation whatsoever.
Steve: Could you explain it for our listeners? They might not be familiar with it.
Monica: Oh yeah, of course.
Steve: Thank you.
Monica: So Thompson’s violinist thought experiment (and I’m giving you the truncated version, you can read the whole thing): essentially, there is a famous extremely talented violinist and he has some sort of life-threatening illness and he has a society of music lovers who are very devoted to him. And they want to make sure that he is okay. So– and this is where you have to accept that it is a thought experiment, so not real life– they find out that for whatever reason, you are the only person who is physiologically compatible with the violinist and you basically work as a living dialysis machine or something to keep the violinist alive until his ailment is cured, which will take 9 months. And so what they do, is they kidnap you and you wake up hooked up to this violinist. And the doctor comes in and says: I’m so sorry, this is totally unethical and it’s not okay, that said, if you unhook from him he’ll die. If you stay hooked into him for 9 months, he will live, you could disconnect, and you’ll both be okay. And then Thompson asks you, the reader, is it immoral for you to unhook from the violinist? And whether you think it’s immoral or not, do you think it should be illegal? And there’s obvious ways in which they’re trying to make this analogous to pregnancy. And the most people when they hear this, maybe they will argue that it’s immoral for you to unhook, but almost nobody says that they think it should be illegal for you to unhook. And so then she says that this illustrates that it can be true that there’s a full-fledged human person with all the rights everyone else has to live, and that doesn’t mean they can use your body against your will. That’s Thompson’s violinist experiment.
Monica: And I’m definitely not the first or even hundredth person to point out–and I think Thompson herself acknowledged some major differences in her description and the vast majority of pregnancies, the biggest one being that the violinist had nothing to do with it. Had no agency, had no decision-making capability, didn’t even know it was happening, until it had already happened. And that is very different from the vast, vast majority of abortions, which results from two people choosing to have sex. And knowing that there could be a risk. I think a better analogy–and I apologize, I did not come up with this, and I can’t remember who came up with it–but, there’s this button you press that makes you feel wonderful, and every time you press it there is a very small possibility that it could result in a baby relying on you to survive for a few months. And you know that that’s very very small possibility, super unlikely, so you don’t worry about it. Maybe you even take some extra precautions that decrease the chances, and you press the button anyway. And then one time you press the button, and this baby appears. And they will die if you don’t take care of them, and you say this isn’t my problem, I consented to pressing the button, not to a baby. Even though you knew there was a chance of a baby. When you use that analogy, most people are like, I don’t know what they think about the legal situation, but they definitely think it’s not morally okay. And that is–
Steve: Yeah, you assume the risk by pressing the button.
Monica: You had foreknowledge and you decided to do it anyway. Or something that, to be quite frank, like, we don’t want to get too much into the weeds, but there’s other ways to–maybe there’s other buttons you can press, maybe there’s other things you could do, you did it this way, and now you have this child. Oh, and you are saying that that’s not your problem and has nothing to do with you. It does have to do with you. And most people, at least on a moral level, if not a legal one, don’t feel super comfortable with the idea that this is totally not your problem, and the child should be allowed to die. That’s much more analogous.
Shimp vs. McFall was a real life court case where this man had… I don’t remember the name of the illness, but basically… oh, he was going to die unless he had a bone marrow transfer. And that does require physiological compatibility, and he found out that his cousin was compatible, and his cousin didn’t want to donate to him. I don’t know the reason specifically, but he didn’t want to donate, and so they went to court. And he tried to compel his cousin to donate to him to save his life. And the court said: you can’t do that. The court said: we find the situation morally defensible, but you can’t just take the life force from one person, give it to another because they are dying. And a lot of times, abortion-rights advocates point to that case. And they see, even though obviously he’s a full-fledged person that wants to live, and your donation is temporary, you regenerate bone marrow, and they still didn’t make him do it. And people point to that and say: see, bodily rights trump the right to life.
And the thing is, I agree. Most of the time, they do. They’re not wrong when they say that. It’s just that when you take an elements, again, of agency, it doesn’t work. This would only be analogous if the cousin refusing to donate had given him the disease, and knew that he might, and knew that he’d be the only one who could donate. Then it would be analogous. And the court still said it was morally indefensible, even without any agency at all. So again, no 30 second elevator pitch response.
The point being, bodily rights are important, and I think our side is too glib about it, I do. We don’t require people to donate their kidneys, we don’t even make people donate blood. And blood is a pretty simple donation that could save lives, that we regenerate. We don’t even make people do that. So it’s not true, I don’t think it’s true that to the right to life, just as a blanket statement, trumps bodily rights. I don’t think that’s true in a general way. But I think most people, if they really accepted that we are talking about morally valuable human beings, and then they look at the analogies, the bodily rights argument falls apart. And I talk about this and some of the blogs we’ve written, because people will say it doesn’t matter if the fetus is a person, no person can use your body against your will. But then when you dig into it more, and you get into this nitty-gritty of these analogies, often when I do this, their response is: well, none of this matters because the violinist was a real person, and Shimp and McFall were real people and a fetus just isn’t. I’m like, okay.
Steve: So they fall back.
Monica: That’s fine. But then recognize that bodily rights don’t work unless you assume the fetus isn’t a person. The personhood argument is the more fundamental argument, in my experience. People will try to claim it’s all about bodily rights, but it doesn’t really work unless you are assuming that the fetus isn’t a person to begin with. That’s what I’ve found.
Steve: Right. And I… you know, some try to draw a distinction between restricted action and compelled action, which in the law that’s a big deal. There’s a big difference between telling me I can’t do something or telling me I have to do something.
Steve: And truly, the reason why McFall… It’s McFall v. Shimp, right? The reason why I believe that they rendered the decision they did is there’s just no history for compelled action like that.
Steve: There are, you know, there are Good Samaritan laws, there are certain cases in which… you know, I’ve talked to people about: if you wake up in the middle of the forest and there was an infant with you and you just left the infant there and didn’t care for it. Even though you didn’t do anything to take on that responsibility, that could probably be seen as a judge as negligent homicide.
Monica: It’s not clear that they wouldn’t.
Steve: Yeah, exactly. And it kind of gets in the weeds. And like you said, with these analogies, so many disanalogous elements to them. And I mean, I’ve mostly heard it suggested by pro-abortion advocates that you can’t analogize anything to pregnancy or abortion, that they are so unique. And part of the reason they do that is because they don’t want to apply abstract objective moral principles. And really, analogies, that’s the main way that we do that.
Steve: Take it out of its context and try to figure out: what’s the structure of this discussion, right?
Monica: Yeah, I’m just trying to probe where your thought process is coming from.
Steve: Exactly. And one thing I think about, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned this on the podcast, so the listeners could consider this one, but, and I think I had mentioned this to you at some point. So let’s say there is conjoined twins, Tim and Tom, right? And they are, they are not conjoined at the brain or anything, it’s going to be a simple procedure to separate them. However, Tim is very healthy and the prognosis is very good if they separate. But Tom, he is morbidly obese. And he is told by the doctors that he will die if they operate today. But, they can put him on a program and in nine months, he can go through the surgery completely safely. They predict that he would survive, just like his brother Tim. However, Tim says I have a right to bodily autonomy, if I don’t want Tom to subsist on my body, you have to separate us today. And I don’t care that it’s going to kill him. My rights are sacrosanct. And I got to be honest, I have only heard one pro-abortion person ultimately say that they thought that that would be permissible. That he should be able to force a separation. Most just try to fight the analogy just like I said, they don’t want to accept it.
But I really think that that is what it comes down to. Should a person be able to commit a homicide? Because that’s what it boils down to. Like you said, is it just or unjust to engage in this abortion which kills the human? Is it a just killing or an unjust killing? So, is this homicide justifiable based on your right to your body and to make decisions about your body? And that’s why it’s somewhat akin to the violinist example.
And I just, I think at the end of the day the fact that you do not see them extrapolate these principles further, right? You don’t see them trying to deny other humans’ rights. They are very good about respecting all human’s rights, and even rights that we don’t even recognize as rights. They’re pushing the envelope on what it means to have rights. They want to say that there’s a right to housing, that there’s a right to a job. You know, things that are not necessarily typically understood. So, they’re really pushing the ontological approach. But then, when it comes to all humans, for the first 24 to 40 weeks of their lives, they want to say that there is no rights consideration whatsoever. Which that suggests to me it’s not necessarily all that genuine, all that honest, that they are working backwards from a moral intuition. And I have actually read this from many pro-abortion authors, who’ve said: even if you’re able to fully convince me logically that abortion is wrong, that abortion should be illegal, that abortion is a human rights violation, I would still side with my moral intuition that a woman should not be forced to carry a pregnancy to term.
Monica: Yeah, I think that’s not unique to the pro-choice side. I think most people, they have their gut instincts and then they have their rationalizations after. I think we all do it.
Steve: Oh, yeah. Jonathan Haidt, he talks all about this, right? The elephant and the rider.
Monica: The elephant and the rider, yes! Is that in Righteous Mind?
Monica: Yeah, I highly recommend that book, Righteous Mind. But I think that for alot of–so, you have a bell curve of activism in the abortion debate. You know, we are in the tail for the pro-life activists and there’s a tail for the pro-choice activists. And then you have this gradation, I think most Americans are in the middle and they don’t want to talk about it. But before that, the difference between the tail activists and the middle, there is kind of an in between those, and I think there are a lot of people who feel very strongly that a woman should at least have a right to an abortion in the first trimester, especially for dire reasons. And they feel very strongly about that and they want to protect that. But in order to consistently protect that, they have to keep expanding the other things they argue for. Until it gets to this very uncomfortable zone. And so I think the vast majority of people, the vast, vast majority of people are not comfortable, for example, with post viability abortions. Especially for non-medical reasons.
Steve: Absolutely. Shown in polls, surveys, yeah.
Monica: Oh, yeah. And I think also, when people know more about fetal development, which most people don’t–and why would they? They become a lot less comfortable even in the early second trimester and the late first trimester, and they might have some level of emotional empathy for concern about that. But they can’t give it up because if they gave it up, they’d have to give up the part of it that they really are comfortable with. And it’s not just that they’re cavalier about destroying embryos and fetuses, it’s that they see women and people who are in very, very difficult situations and they want them to not have to endure those situations. I do believe that the majority of pro-choice advocates are coming from places of good intentions. And I think that they, I think they are coming from their own places of empathy and concern. And sometimes if we can step through the looking glass– if you had just assumed in the beginning that we are talking about clumps of cells that are not morally relevant, if makes sense that they are horrified by us.
Monica: Because if that was true, why are we here?
Steve: We’re just trying to force them to have children, yeah.
Monica: Exactly. I don’t remember what my point was–
Steve: You were just talking, I heard it described as misplaced compassion, right? So at the end of the day, very few people think of themselves as the bad guy. You know, even the bad guy. People don’t want to think of themselves that way. And, you know, now those who work for Planned Parenthood, those who have huge financial incentives, that might be a place where they are not working from compassion. But we’ll say anybody who, you know, they’re not trying to work out their own trauma in justifying abortion, they are just giving of their time, they think about this a lot, and they focus, like you said on these hard cases. And they might even have an experience with seeing somebody who was in a dire circumstance. We have to at least assume they are not coming at it from an evil perspective.
Monica: No, No.
Steve: It’s what they think is most compassionate.
Monica: No, they are coming at it from: they don’t feel a strong amount of empathy for an embryo, and meanwhile. They say this all the time, what about the living, breathing women? They are trying to draw a distinction between, and it’s annoying to us because, like they are both living. You know what I’m saying. They are trying to draw a distinction between the woman standing right before them. Maybe she’s in an abusive relationship, maybe she, you know the laundry list of potential problems. And they want to help her. And then on the other side of the scale you have this nebulous idea, this very abstract idea. And purposely pushed that way by a lot of abortion rights advocates.
That’s why, I mean you and I have talked about this before, but I wanted to say too, getting back to the biology versus personhood thing, if it were true– if it were true that everyone already understands the basic biological facts and that’s not the crux of the argument, if that were true, then there would be no need or reason for abortion rights activists to try so hard to claim that embryos don’t have hearts, or that they’re not really organized hearts until 20 weeks in. Or that ultrasounds are measuring electrical activity, which is completely incorrect. There’s just all these things they say. And if it were true that the biology was not the crux, there would be no need to lie.
The reality is that a lot of the middle, the muddled middle not really watching this debate, they think vaguely of clumps of cells, they think of the zygote, you know? And then when they find out that a lot of these abortions are on some kind of entity that has a working circulatory system, pause for a second. Hold on, what? That is kind of the reaction. When you look at polls about heartbeat laws, they are much more even-handed than the other side would have you believe. They act like it’s this draconian terrible thing. They love every single article, it’s like: that’s before a woman knows she’s pregnant. That’s before a woman knows that she’s pregnant. They are trying to emphasize how big of an effect it will have on access to abortion, and they are right. But, when you look at the polls of people once they hear there’s a heartbeat, it’s not nearly eight in 10 Americans support, you know. It’s not nearly, it’s pretty split. In Texas, more said that they supported a heartbeat law than did not. Of course it’s Texas, I understand. But you know, there’s different pockets of this population.
My point being that I think it’s hard to empathize with an embryo, and it’s easy to empathize with the women sitting right next to you. And that makes sense. That’s totally makes sense. But the more that they do learn about human life before birth, inevitably the more they are softened towards what we are trying to say here. That’s why we say, biology is on our side. Obviously science isn’t on anyone’s side, it’s just a method of inquiry. I understand. But colloquially–
Steve: It’s just we’re more consistent with the best of science, here.
Monica: Yeah. And we find that the more we talk about it with people, the more it softens them toward our perspective, not away from it. Anyway.
Steve: And I think, you know, there is so much discussed on their side about desensitization, right? That that’s one of their main tactics to normalize that which used to be seen as abnormal, right? We just need to desensitize people, right?
Monica: I don’t think it works. I do not think it works.
Steve: And I mean, ours in a way is sensitizing them. It’s helping them understand something that naturally–I mean, little children are pretty good at being able to understand that you had a beginning and you were small and then you got bigger. And it’s just through these, let’s say, more convoluted arguments that allow them to escape the humanity of the preborn.
And just you know, one of the closing points: I just want to point out the fact that I just really don’t know how important consistency is to most people. So that’s something that’s really important in the law, right? In any well-regulated system of laws it’s that there is no special prosecution. If it applies to person A, it applies to person B. A person of this race and a person of that race. And it’s one of those things that it’s like, yeah, but I want to create a distinction that justifies what I think emotionally, this is a different situation. You know, these circumstances make it different, right? But the law is as such: no. It’s almost like a calculus. There is no emotion in the law. It is logical–
Steve: And it creates certain circumstances we don’t support, because the law hadn’t developed enough. I mean you look at the Scott and Laci Peterson case, right? So here is a case where the law had not yet developed to ensure that preborn humans were protected from non-abortive homicides. So very few States treated an attack on a pregnant woman that caused her to lose her pregnancy as a homicide. They had abortion laws, but they didn’t treat it as a homicide. But once that case came up, a majority of states have since passed these fetal homicide laws. So the law is also developing, right? And it just needs to be that we have these cases that create an awareness that our logic needs to expand, right?
But I just wonder how important it is to some people for us to be consistent. And really, them trying to build these arguments, to try and create distinctions between preborn humans and post born humans, or trying to defend bodily autonomy. Like you said, the fact that they are not consistent in protecting the abortion rights throughout pregnancy, which is what’s required if you actually believe in autonomy, I think it suggests that it’s almost a pretense. The whole argumentative dance, they already know what they believe in. They are fully committed to it, no evidence can move them either way, and they’re just kind of engaging in a game to kind of frustrate your efforts or to cast you in a bad light. I just, I really don’t know if ultimately, you know, the old adage was: you cannot reason out of a position that wasn’t reasoned into. So if they have a deep emotional commitment, I’m not saying we can’t reach them, but I just don’t know necessarily know if logic has high currency to certain people in this debate.
Monica: Oh yeah, I think that hearts and minds inevitably have to be hit. But “hit” is not the right word. That’s violent. [laughing] You have to appeal to people’s emotional intuitions, too. But we– about every 6 months on our Facebook page, we ask people: if you used to be pro-choice and now you’re pro-life, what’s the reason? And, you know, it’s sampling error, etc., etc. I can’t do a national poll, but it is interesting. And what I have found is that the most common reason cited by far is people’s own direct experiences with pregnancy and pregnancy loss. Which is a very emotional thing, but it’s also–
Steve: A sensitization process.
Monica: It’s a sensitization process, but I also think it’s giving them a more acute awareness of fetal development, and things like that. But also a major recurring theme is that it takes a lot of time. There are some people who started feeling hesitant years before they actually made a switch. Years.
Steve: I’ve heard that.
Monica: I agree that a lot of people aren’t– most people in most of their lives, they don’t approach things from a purely logical, consistent perspective. That usually won’t, for most people, that won’t be enough to move the needle for them. But it is an important tool in the kit, I think.
Steve: Oh, definitely.
Monica: I think it chips away sometimes, it makes people– we’ve had some people, some of the ones that I think are interesting for the conversion stories are when people say I just got too exhausted trying to explain why it wasn’t human life. [laughing] I just got worn out, I just couldn’t do it anymore. And so, you know. That’s not the most common response, but I have seen it more than once.
Steve: I have to echo what you said. Of all the stories I’ve heard about people who went from the pro-abortion to the pro-life side, most often, it focuses on the preborn human. You know, it’s not like they understood that women aren’t deserving of rights. You know–
Monica: No, of course not.
Steve: It’s not anything but the fact that simply put, most humans, they are capable of understanding justice, understanding equality, right? We’re, we have that bend. We’re always looking for injustice, right? And trying to address it. The prerequisite for that, which is the humanity of the preborn, you just can’t get there. So, for somebody who does cross that divide, it’s typically because they did figure out that the humanity of the preborn is the bridge to that other side.
Monica: And that is another form of a consistency argument. I found we talked earlier about points of entry. One major point of entry I’ve noticed is when people can’t handle, they can no longer deal with the total double standard of the way the pro-choice side tries to treat miscarriage versus abortion. It’s just so incoherent, and that’s difficult for people even when they haven’t gone through it, but then if you experience a miscarriage or pregnancy loss, and it’s–I think it’s difficult for… not everybody, there are plenty of pro-choice people who’ve had miscarriages, right? But I do think it’s difficult for people to grieve like they are grieving the loss of their child, not just the loss of some theoretical potential they were excited about; they’re in grief. And then to try to turn around and say, but that just applies to only my child. You know, that’s hard, that’s a hard thing for people to hold on to.
Or to even comfortably– I will say, we have, you know, not just trolls, but consistent pro-choice people on our various social media platforms who I wouldn’t call trolls, who are really just there to like, you know what I’m saying, they’re not just there to be annoying, they are trying to debate. And we have a couple that will say, you know, miscarriage is also the loss of not a child. Of potential life. And they’re not trying to be cruel, they are not trying to, you know, I’m not trying to gasp and clutch my pearls when they say that, they are trying to be consistent. But for the most part, most pro-choice advocates will try to have it both ways. And they’ll try to say that these are completely different things, and there’s no comparison between them, and then they kind of squirm as to why.
And I’ve found that to be a point of entry. I found that to be a point of entry for people converting. Where, even if they weren’t personally the one who had a pregnancy loss, they just, they can’t hold that dissonance in their mind anymore. It’s one or the other.
Steve: I think it’s part of the reason why fetal homicide laws, and discussion thereof, can be so powerful as well as, just: well, how can it be a double homicide when you kill a pregnant woman, but it isn’t a homicide when the pregnant woman has an abortion? And I think it’s because it’s just really easy to see the humanity and the personhood when you remove it, when you decontextualize it. And really, people don’t understand that when they are making the pro-abortion argument, they are basically assuming the lack of humanity, or the lack of personhood. They’re working backwards.
Monica: Oh yeah, almost all of those arguments do.
Steve: In all honesty, they are often reluctant to even just focus on the humanity, because they see it as: well, you just can’t decontextualize it. That takes away all of the moral weight. It’s like well, no, this is a genuine question that has nothing to do with abortion. If we are solely asking about, there is a man, he knows his girlfriend is pregnant. He gives her an abortion pill in her eggs to try to force a pregnancy on her–
Monica: A pregnancy loss.
Steve: Is that an attempted murder? To force, yeah, a pregnancy loss. Is that an attempted murder? Because there actually is a human he was trying to kill, or is it simply, you know, a form of assault. Because, just an action upon the woman. And then some more clever, I guess we’ll say creative people, they’ll try to say well, the mother imbues the humanity of the personhood on the preborn.
Monica: That’s not creative, that’s word salad. I don’t find it creative at all.
Monica: But I think… But it’s a good point, I think fetal homicide laws are another good point of entry, and it’s also why abortion rights advocates have been known to fight them. Because, and they’re right, they recognize that this is totally inconsistent. All of the premises of their–
Steve: So it’s inherently threatening.
Monica: Yeah. I get it. If I were, I think if I was on their side I would find it very threatening as well. Because it’s completely, it’s incoherent to have both–
Steve: The potential danger of the recognition of the preborn’s humanity in another context outside of abortion is enough of a threat to warrant what lax laws that allow a man to potentially, you know, grievously injure if not potentially kill a pregnant woman, while it only being a simple assault. I mean, when New York, when they did their Reproductive Health Act, repealed–
Monica: Oh my gosh.
Steve: –their fetal homicide law, and within days there was a man who attacked a pregnant woman, and she lost her pregnancy, and the abortion defenders in their state, they said, well, he’s still going to be subject to criminal penalty, it’s like hugely–
Monica: That’s not how that works!
Steve: He was facing a max sentence of like three months. Whereas, with the fetal homicide law, it could’ve been a 20 year sentence.
Monica: That’s a terrible argument, it’s not like all that matters is criminal penalty or no criminal penalty. Why do you think we have an entire criminal code outlining all the different responses you could have to all these different kinds of crimes and their different severity? That is a terrible argument.
Steve: But, I mean, this shouldn’t be a surprise to you, there’s a fair share of those on the pro-abortion side, unfortunately. And it’s because I think at the end of the day, the degree to which a movement’s arguments are either in bad faith or erroneous, or weak is just, it’s an index of how weak their position is. It’s that simple.
Monica: Right, so, that’s what I’m saying with the hearts. If you were confident no one cared about the biology, you wouldn’t need to lie. I’m so, with embryonic hearts, I’m starting to take a greater interest in the fetal pain debate–
Steve: I’ve noticed.
Monica: And I used to not be interested in that, because, like many pro-lifers point out every time I post about it, it doesn’t change our ultimate position. If they couldn’t feel pain throughout the entire pregnancy, it wouldn’t change that we think abortion should be illegal. And they’re right. But that is not my point.
My point is that, first of all, there is an extra additional grievance in addition to unjust killing when you cause torture and suffering.
Second of all, and I, this isn’t just an ad hoc argument to justify this debate, I actually feel very strongly about this: as a woman who has been pregnant multiple times, and just as a person who has gone through the medical community for different needs, I think informed consent is very important. And research has suggested even women who want to get abortions care about knowing: how is this going to go? They want to know.
And I think that the fact that we see so much outright lying about embryonic hearts and then willful resistance to discussion of much much newer research, newer ideas on fetal pain, and then you have what you were saying about fetal homicide laws. There are so many ways in which in order to hold together, white knuckle, the pro-choice position, you have to just obfuscate and deny and resist and ignore so many what you would think would be tangential categories. You know? In order to make this work. And it just feels like, to me, and obviously I’m very biased because I’m a pro-life activist, but to me, looking at these different ways in which they try so hard to not concede very obvious points, it just feels like it’s all cracking at the seams. That’s what it feels like.
So I actually have great hope, because I think that alot of these arguments, we are certainly not going to drop them. Ever. And so they are just going to keep pounding away until we get somewhere, I think.
Steve: I think that, you know, as the saying goes: the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice.
Monica: Yeah, but both sides say that. [laughing] They all think they’re heading in the right direction, right?
Steve: Well, but one of us is right, so I guess only time will tell.
Monica: We’ll see. We’ll see.
Steve: But I do think that there is no stop in the pro-life movement and it’s because when you have such a compelling argument, which, to this day, I have read from enough scholars, talked to enough people, that the fundamental case that it’s a human rights violation, I mean, to say it’s a solid argument is putting it lightly. I mean, if anything, some of the best evidence of the strength of that argument is the unwillingness of the other side to engage with it at all.
Steve: You know, they want to paint the pro-life side as–
Monica: They want to do all identity politics all the time.
Steve: Yeah. Old white men.
Monica: Us being secretly Christian. They accuse the progressives of being secretly Republican. And to be frank, it used to annoy me, but at this point I almost kind of hope that they just stick with that. It’s not going to work. And I think that it’s interesting to see how many many people on the other side, maybe even most, think that we have some sort of more nefarious motivation than protecting life. They think that we want to control women because of vague motivations to do with, I don’t know religion and anger and self-hate and all these crazy ideas.
Steve: I think it just sounds worse. I think it just makes us sound worse if we are trying to control women than protect… you know.
Monica: But I think that a lot of them really believe that, and then they are mystified constantly by our behavior because they have the wrong theory. And so one of the things I thought about is how you have people in this movement, a lot of people in this movement, who have been doing this their whole lives. And younger people who intend to do it their whole lives. Because they are so convicted by what they see as a grievous human rights violation. And to be quite frank, at least up until now, our side, at least culturally, is the very unpopular side. It’s not a coincidence that a lot of people who are pro-life won’t even come out about it in their regular social circles. Or they do it very very cautiously. And the other side does not have that same kind of demure approach.
Steve: Not at all. They are celebrated for it.
Monica: Right. But so you have these people who on our side I think, it’s a very unpopular position. You want to give people a lot of time to get to know you so that they know you don’t hate women before you admit to them that you are against abortion. Right? But they still won’t let it go. Our side will not let it go. And to them, I think that must be so mystifying. Because they really think that this is about some kind of control freak, you know, terrible motivation. And the fact that we’ll endure it so much for so long, doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense unless there was something more convicting than just: I don’t like women. It just doesn’t follow, I think.
Steve: Especially when you consider that, depending on the year, most pro-lifers are women. [laughing] You know, and then–
Monica: Yeah, a lot of the pro-life leaders are women, and then when they find out about that. It’s the same thing. So pro-life atheists are secretly Christian, pro-life progressives are secretly Republican, and pro-life women secretly hate themselves. It’s like they can’t, it’s like they’ve got it all figured out. No matter who you throw at them, it doesn’t alter their perception that this is fundamentally a power move by a small group of, I don’t know, angry, old, white conservative men. And it’s so misplaced that in a way, it might be to our advantage. Because it constantly surprises people when things don’t go the way that they think they will. Similar to that, in the 2016 election, leading up to the 2016 election, I remember there were a lot of articles about the wrath of the conservative woman against Trump. Because he is who he is. And they were like, this is going to be his undoing, you know, people are going to rise against him. And all these things. And then it didn’t happen. And in fact, over half of white women voted for him. And if you look at the demographics of who voted for him compared to previous Republican nominees, it wasn’t just really that different. But when that happened, I remember reading an article by someone who was talking about how she could not believe that so many women would vote for him from a laundry list of reasons, but one of the reasons she listed is that he’s anti-abortion. And all of these women voted for him.
Steve: Who would imagine, yeah.
Monica: And I was like, you know, not a surprise. The fact that you don’t see that coming, the fact that you don’t realize that half of women are also anti-abortion is definitely your fault. This has been true for decades and we say it out loud all the time. You guys act like we’re not even here, and then we vote the way we said we were going to vote. Not everybody, there’s variety, you know what I’m saying. And you are so surprised.
Steve: Well, I would put some of the blame on the feet of the pro-abortion movement. So we’ve seen their attempts to erase women from the pro-life movement. There’s the documentary on Netflix about Roe v. Wade In which–
Monica: Reversing Roe.
Steve: Yeah. Reversing Roe. And they had interviewed all of these pro-life leaders who were women. Yet, all of those interviews wound up on the cutting room floor. And instead of showcasing interviews with actual leaders of like, National Right to Life, you know, Abby Johnson, all of these like really big names in the pro-life movement, I remember one of the main interviews was of not even the head of, but like a second rung, like kind of like a program director like I am of Texas Right to Life. And it was like, this is the person who should represent the pro-life movement?
Monica: That’s all you could find? That’s the only one you could find?
Steve: Isn’t that interesting how that works.
Monica: You know, Equal Rights Institute did a fantastic video very quantifiably analyzing Reversing Roe and the way–
Steve: I saw that, yeah.
Monica: What was it, it was like 88% of the people speaking on the pro-choice side were women? And 12% for the pro-life side.
Monica: Well that’s realistic.
Steve: And doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know. So I mean, they are really good at pushing that narrative. And then second wrong, which is even worse. Hillary Clinton had suggested that the women who were voting for Donald Trump were doing so because their bosses, the male bosses, their husbands and their male sons, you know, their–
Monica: I remember that. You know what will make a woman want to support you? Is if you tell her if she doesn’t she’s an idiot. That’s a great tactic.
Steve: Well it’s just false consciousness. The woman is taking on the logic and the identity of her oppressor. So she’s just trying to ingratiate herself to the men who control her.
Monica: My husband and I joke about this, because my husband is pro-life in the nominal way. Right? He agrees with me, he’s not an activist. He supports and helps me with the work I do, I’m the one who is, you know, frothing at the mouth about it, right? And so when people (who don’t know us, obviously strangers online), when people claim that oh, you’re just trying to make sure that your husband approves of you. He thinks that’s so funny.
Steve: Oh, isn’t it?
Monica: He has nothing to do with it. Like yeah, or I have a couple of volunteers with Secular Pro-life, actually. And some of them are men who were originally pro-choice. And then they met what are now their wives who are like, how could you be pro-choice? And argued them out of it. And then people go to those women and say: oh, you’re just trying to please your husband. And the husband is like– [laughing]
Steve: If only you knew, right?
Monica: That is not what happened at all. But whatever works for you, I guess. I suppose it doesn’t hurt us if they have no idea what’s going on on our side. I mean, maybe that’s some kind of tactical advantage. But it’s very annoying. I don’t know.
Steve: It is.
Well, Monica. I just want to thank you so much for joining Life Chat today and for the riveting conversation. I have to say, I really enjoyed it. Speaking for myself and the rest of the team at Illinois Right to Life, we want to thank you for all you have done and all you continue to do to advocate for life. It’s such an important fight, and we are lucky to have you fighting alongside us. And to our listeners and supporters, if you enjoyed today’s podcast, please consider visiting our website at illinoisrighttolife.org. Consider donating to support this podcast and the other work we do to protect life. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. See you next time.