Special thanks to Caris Li for transcribing! Want to join in? Learn more about becoming a Secular Pro-Life volunteer.
SUSAN PENNER: Hi Monica! Thank you so much for being here today.
MONICA SNYDER: Thank you for having me!
SUSAN PENNER: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself: where you’re from; what you do?
MONICA SNYDER: Sure. So, my name is Monica Snyder. I am the Executive Director of Secular Pro-Life, which is an anti-abortion organization that focuses on secular arguments against abortion. I am an atheist. The president and vice president are also atheists. But you do not have to be an atheist to be a part of the organization. We have a 3-part mission. The first part is to advance secular arguments against abortion. The second part is to create space for atheists or agnostics, or humanists or otherwise not particularly religious people to do anti-abortion work. And the third part is to build interfaith coalitions with anyone who shares our goal of advancing secular arguments against abortion. So, we work, among our volunteers, among our donors, among our supporters, yes atheists, agnostics, also Catholics, also protestants, also Mormons and Buddhists, and Reformed Jewish People and all types. And I like to emphasize that we don’t frankly care what your religious views are or even what your political perspectives are on other issues. We just care if you are with us in the fight against abortion. And so, while we are advancing secular arguments, you do not need to be secular to join in. We’ll work with, we want everybody to be Pro-Life regardless.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, I really love that. With our organization as well, we want to gain broad public support for life. So, let’s keep focused on what we want to be focused on, rather than let these other peripheral things get in the way. Um, you are very educated in science, I understand. Bachelor of Science in Chemical Biology and a Master’s in Forensic Science?
MONICA SNYDER: Yes.
SUSAN PENNER: I’m just wondering, was your goal always to be involved in the Pro-Life movement?
MONICA SNYDER: No [laugh]
SUSAN PENNER: Or is that something that just kind of fell, kind of came to you?
MONICA SNYDER: It was truly unexpected for me. I have always personally been Pro Life, but it was not a career goal or anything. It’s something that has grown over time and almost every new phase and new extension for me has been a surprise. My goal was to go into Forensics, and I was actually working in a Forensics lab before I took the position of Executive Director of Secular Pro-Life. And I loved that job. It was a great job. Forensics is fascinating and very justice oriented. But in my view, so is Pro-Life work. So, I got my education, and I got my experience, always intending to go into a scientific field explicitly. And while I was doing that, which took many years. In the background, I was volunteering for Secular Pro-Life and getting more and more drawn into Pro-Life work on a voluntary basis. And it came to a head, where I had started doing that while I was in community college, and I didn’t have any children. I didn’t have a full-time job and I had time to devote to guest blogging and things like that. Over the years, that shifted a lot and I found myself with young children at home and a husband and I’m trying to work and I’m trying to do all these things and I just couldn’t keep volunteering. I just didn’t have the time and the money to dedicate to volunteering anymore. And then there was this hybrid phase where some of my sort of advisers suggested that I could keep doing work for Secular Pro Life and just ask to be compensated for the limited time I was doing. And so, I became sort of like an independent contractor, briefly. It wasn’t something that ever occurred to me before because it’s a work of heart. It felt weird to ask people for money to do it. I would gladly do it for free if I didn’t need money to keep my family going. [laugh] And so there was this hybrid phase where I was doing maybe a weekend every other week or something like that and it was so fulfilling to me. Sometimes when I was feeling stressed out, my husband would watch the kids so I could just go do Secular Pro-Life work and it would re-set me. But I was working in the Forensics lab and eventually we had a donor come to us who basically said, “listen, I’m willing to give a substantial donation to the organization under the premise that you go full time, and that you raise your funding after my donation runs out from there on out. Like it’s not a never-ending thing. It’s just to get you to do this, fully dedicated.” And to be frank, I probably would have said ‘no’. That’s very intimidating to go from a very stable job to fundraising your own salary and things like that. My husband encouraged me to try it. And without going into too much detail there were a lot of things going on in our life, where the timing kind of worked out well. And he said, “you know, if it doesn’t work out and the funds run out, you can go get another forensics job, maybe.” Maybe – that’s a big assumption. But that was two and a half years ago and we’re still here, so I’m as surprised as anyone else.
SUSAN PENNER: Still here and gaining traction, I would say.
MONICA SNYDER: Yes
SUSAN PENNER: So, the audience listening to this podcast would be primarily Evangelical Christian and there’s sometimes this perspective that to care about life, you have to be Christian or that only Christians care about life and I just want you to tell us why people who are not religious care about life. I really want our audience to be educated that this isn’t necessarily a faith issue. Why does someone who’s an atheist care about life? Yeah, that’s really what I want you to talk about here.
MONICA SNYDER: So, first I want to emphasize that atheists and most people in general, whatever their religious beliefs by default, strongly care about human rights, in general. You can see secular communities fighting very hard for huma rights when it comes to things like Immigration or Transgender issues. And you can see it in the abortion debate. Pro-Choice people care strongly about human rights, and they are fighting for the human rights of bodily autonomy and women’s equality and things like that. So, it’s not really an issue of getting people to care about human rights. In the vast majority of cases, they already do. Whatever their religious or ethical premises are that brought them there, that’s usually a common starting point. The secular abortion debate is really more about talking about when they consider a valuable human being having started and why. So, you can start to talk about fetal personhood discussions. When does a human organism become a person with the right to live and under what circumstances. And you’ll get lots of different responses – viability. Some people will say birth. And you need to get familiar with the different common responses and how to interface with them. It’s not that you need to get them to immediately agree that from conception onward you have a valuable child. It’s that you want to start getting them to think about how they’re conceptualizing valuable people and how they’re bringing them into play. So, I find in the secular abortion debate, a lot of people don’t talk about fetal personhood almost all. They just talk about bodily rights and leave it at that. But if you get into fetal personhood and you get them thinking about it, I think that’s a good place to start. So, it’s not about getting them to care about life in general. They already do. It’s about getting them to be consistent and expand their understanding of who is a valuable human being to include us before we’re born.
SUSAN PENNER: You know, and I think that’s really important from the faith side. I sometimes feel like Christians need to interact with people who, people of different views more often because they maybe make assumptions that you know, “if you’re not Pro-Life, you don’t care about life, et cetera.” But really no, it’s just a different perspective on what life, on which life has the value. But people do care about life in general, and are generally trying to fight for the things they believe in.
MONICA SNYDER: Oh yeah
SUSAN PENNER: So, on your website, you deconstruct three Pro-Choice myths. The first one: biologically we don’t know when human life begins. Second one: Most or all later term abortions are medical emergencies; and three; abortions restrictions don’t stop abortions. So, I want to just start with the first one and maybe just kind of present your arguments on those.
MONICA SNYDER: Sure. The first one is quite simple, in fact. There’s not a lot to elaborate on. In terms of biology – I’m not talking about philosophical personhood – I’m just talking about biological humanity. In terms of biology, it is a scientific fact that the first stage of the individual human organism’s life cycle is the zygote. So, when Christians say, “life begins at conception”, they might be referring to a soul, or they might just be talking about middle school level biology. This is not an anti-choice propaganda proposition. This is a widely understood, readily recognized fact by science communicators outside the abortion debate, very easily. So, when people say, “we don’t know when life begins”, often they just mean “when does a valuable person begin?” And they’re having a philosophical debate. Often that’s what they mean. But sometimes, they are actually trying to say that biologically we don’t have information here and we absolutely do. It’s not the same thing as a sperm and egg. At fertilization you have two gametes that combine. They switch from meiosis to mitosis and it’s a paradigm shift in biology. And it’s been recognized and known for decades. So, we need to start with the same understanding of the facts before we can really debate the philosophy, and so a lot of times, I will emphasize that at bare minimum, whatever your ethical views are of this, abortion does kill human organisms. Whether they are valuable people, that’s a separate debate, but we need toa least recognize at bare minimum: abortion is not killing skin cells. It is not letting die, you know, your snot or something. It is a human organism. It is a different thing entirely. And I find that a lot of people either flatly deny that or more often, they just don’t recognize that it’s important to Pro-Lifers. That’s why you get the skin cell and the sperm and all these things. They’re making all these equivocations, and they think that we’re making these equivocations that we’re not.
SUSAN PENNER: So, the second thing I wanted to talk, er wanted you to comment on is that all or most later term abortions are medical emergencies and that is a very common perception. Maybe, like in Canada, late terms abortion is legal, and I regularly hear from people, like, where this is happening, so it can be a full-term healthy baby. I spoke in Vancouver recently and a nurse came up to me and said their hospital had just done a late term abortion on a baby that had a cleft palate.
MONICA SNYDER: [shakes head] That’s terrible.
SUSAN PENNER: As if that’s, you know, legitimate.
MONICA SNYDER: Medically necessary.
SUSAN PENNER: As if that’s medically necessary.
MONICA SNYDER: Nobody ever survived a cleft palate.
SUSAN PENNER: Right. So, I’m just wondering if you can comment on that. I feel like there are so many misconceptions out there. So maybe, the later term abortion question.
MONICA SNYDER: I will caveat by saying that all my research here is United States specific.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah
MONICA SNYDER: That said, it is a very very persistent myth that later abortions. And here I mean 21 weeks and on, so the second half of pregnancy, that they’re pretty much exclusively done for medical emergencies. I think it’s a persistent myth because it’s a comforting fiction. And people don’t want to contemplate the idea of abortion that late unless it’s for some really dire emergency. So, for Pro-Lifers this is important to understand because this is common ground. People who are Pro-Choice generally speaking, also find this thought horrifying. This is common ground between us that we can use a as a shared base of understanding to start a conversation. That said, yes. It is a myth. We have providers int h United States who will talk candidly about how even into the third trimester they will perform and abortion without medical emergency. This is all listed on our website, by the way: secularprolife.com/later abortion. So, you have providers who will talk about doing it. You have clinics that will say on their website, you can go look at their websites right now that they will do later abortions. The Dupont Clinic in Washington D.C. has a section about abortions after 26 weeks and they emphasize that they do not require a fetal indication or any particular reason to do it. There’s not gestational limits on abortion in Washington D.C. so it’s legal for them to do and they do. You also have, it’s more rare, but you do have cases published in the press of women getting later abortions without medical indication. This is not to say, they’re doing it casually. This isn’t to say it’s a wanted pregnancy and then they randomly wake up at six or seven months and decide they want to abort. I’m not saying there could be other reasons. The research suggests that a lot of people seek abortion later in pregnancy because they wanted to get one earlier and lacked the resources. It could be the time, the money, the transportation and in the United States, that’s going to increase with restrictions that we’re allowed to put in place now that Dobbs has happened. So, it could be they lack the time, money, transportation to get an abortion earlier and it pushes them later than they wanted to. It could be that they had a change in circumstances, and it doesn’t have to be a medical emergency. It could be something like a problem with the father, some horrible unexpected financial situation. It could also be that they just didn’t know they were pregnant sooner. And a lot of people scoff at this, and they shouldn’t. It’s really a lot more common than people realize. Depending on the kind of contraception you use, depending on medical conditions you might have that could mask or mimic symptoms of pregnancy. And you’re not trying to get pregnant. Or you’re trying not to get pregnant. There’s also denial and you just don’t realize. And so, there’s actually one study on our website that talks about how of all the women getting abortions in the second trimester, one out of five don’t find out they’re pregnant until after 20 weeks. By definition, they’re getting a late abortion and it’s because they didn’t know they were pregnant sooner. This has nothing to do with the law. This is a different problem. There’s a study called “Is Third Trimester Exceptional” by Katrina Kimport who’s an abortion rights advocate. And she emphasizes, yes; sometimes it is for a fatal fetal anomaly. Sometimes it’s for a non-fatal fetal anomaly like Downs Syndrome, or like what you were saying a cleft palate or something. And sometimes it’s for another medical emergency. Sometimes it’s for lack of resources. Sometimes it’s because she didn’t know she was pregnant. She concludes, Kimport concludes that because it’s not feasible for us to have perfect medical foresight about these anomalies. And because it’s not feasible that people will always realize they’re pregnant sooner, we should not have gestational limits on abortion at all. Similar to Canada, I suppose. And so, there’s a lot of evidence. It’s very difficult to find quantitative evidence. Everything I’m talking about is qualitative. It’s very difficult to find quantitative evidence. However, the State of Arizona collected pretty detailed public health statistics about abortion. They still do, they’ve just changed their laws. But if you look at their Department of Health website, they will have reports every year about abortions and they will break it down by gestational age. And they will include statistics for how many are for fetal anomaly, excuse me, fetal health or maternal health. And if you do all the math on that, you find that even at 21 weeks or later it’s something like 75-80% of the abortions done 21 weeks or later are not with fetal or maternal health indication. So even then, it’s still, it is true that the further you go along in pregnancy, the more likely it is to be for some kind of medical issue. That is true. But people confuse that with thinking it’s almost always or always for medical issue. Those are not the same statement. So, it is simultaneously true that the further along you go in pregnancy, the more likely some is abortion because of a medical issue and also true that most of the time, at 21 weeks or later, it’s still not for a medical reason. And I think people don’t want to thank bout that and don’t want to grapple with it because it’s horrifying.
SUSAN PENNER: Absolutely. I know Florida collects stats on the reasons women choose abortion and like, 95% are elective. And when you include things like rape, fetal abnormality, mother’s health at risk, in total that equals five percent or less of abortions according to Florida stats. And people, the general public seems to think that, like, the hard cases are the majority of abortions. But they’re not.
MONICA SNYDER: Yes
SUSAN PENNER: And hard cases make for terrible laws because, the exception should not be the basis for the broad sweeping laws.
MONICA SNYDER: You know, I think about this a lot because no matter what laws we create, Pro-Choice or Pro-Life, there will be some non-zero amount of effects that the people creating the laws don’t’ desire.
SUSAN PENNER: Right
MONICA SNYDER: that is true on both sides. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the general public’s imagination has very much been captured by the worst possible cases for pro-life laws with zero discussion of the worst possible cases for Pro-Choice ones. And so, for example, the general public is well aware of horrifying stories lie children pregnant through rape, 10, 11, 12 years old (something like that). Well aware of horrifying stories of mothers with wanted pregnancies with a fatal horrific fetal anomaly and because of some other laws and some other states, they carry to term when they didn’t want to. Those are true stories and we need to talk about them because those represent the hard edges of the Pro-Life stance. What exactly are our parameters for when abortion should be legal or not? I’m not trying to answer that question. I’m just saying it’s a fair question to ask. However, what bothers me is then we never get to ask the questions on the other end of the spectrum. So, for example, I don’t know if you heard about this, but just in the last week or so, there’s this story of Carla Foster out of the U.K. Did you hear about this?
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, yeah, I’ve been following that story. Full term baby – she took abortion pills…
MONICA SNYDER: Yup
SUSAN PENNER: …that she got prescribed over the phone without seeing a doctor.
MONICA SNYDER: Yes. So, for the listeners to be very clear, she led the abortion, basically, the British Planned Parenthood. She led them to believe she was seven weeks pregnant. She was in fact, somewhere between 32 and 34 weeks pregnant. She took the abortion pills and gave birth to a stillborn daughter. The whole case is horrifying. But it’s important to recognize because the reaction from abortion advocates. And I do not mean generally, Pro-Choice people. I mean, nominally Pro Choice or moderate Pro-Choice people. Most Pro-Choice people are moderately comfortable with abortion in the first trimester. They’re very comfortable with abortion for these hard cases outside of that it gets iffier. That’s not who I’m talking about. I’m talking about advocates fighting for expansion of abortion rights. If you watch their responses to this case, they have been trying to suggest that the suggest to an eight-month elective abortion is to get rid of the U.K’s 24 week limit. And to say that there should be no gestational limits. They’ll say, “we’re decriminalizing it. It’s the same thing.” Their response to aborting a healthy eight-month baby girl is to say that should not have been a criminal issue and this should be legalized. And I think Carla Foster’s story is very important because there are also people in the United States saying the same thing. Like I said, Katrina Kimport says there should be no gestation limits cause some women won’t know they were pregnant until the third trimester. And if you look you can see others advocate. This is also why abortions rights advocates refuse to answer these questions. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked people on our social media, wherever, “do you think abortion should be legal in any stage for any reason?” And the vast majority of the time, they don’t want to answer me. They just don’t want to answer at all. And I think some of them, they don’t think it should be legal at any stage for any reason. They just feel like I’m trying to poison the well or make them look bad. Which is strange because they could just say, “No, I don’t.” But I think a lot of them, they kind of do think that. Especially in the United States, I think it’s becoming a more common position. And they know that that is abhorrent to most of the general public, so they don’t want to discuss it. And I get that. It’s the same way that Pro-Life people don’t’ want to discuss an 11-year-old rape victim. But these are realities that are happening. And if we’re going to explore the hard edges of the Pro-Life side – which we should – we should also be exploring the hard edges of the Pro-Choice one.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, and you know, the other. Talking about these issues from a bigger perspective, one thing I’ve noticed is medical assistance in dying is increasing, gaining steam in Canda as well.
MONICA SNYDER: Yeah.
SUSAN PENNER: The thing is, when it’s either abortion or when it comes to framing them as personal autonomy, people are realizing how it’s actually impacting the overall level of care. Because now there’s a fallback plan. So, women, her baby will get diagnose with Downs Syndrome or something in the womb and she’ snot even offered support or resources should she choose to have the baby.
MONICA SNYDER: Oh yeah.
SUSAN PENNER: The abortion appointment’s made before she even leaves the office.
MONICA SNYDER: Or she’s offered termination 15 times. Or she’s
SUSAN PENNER: Absolutely
MONICA SNYDER: Or they’re saying that she’s being selfish if she doesn’t choose to terminate. I have said many times and it’s something I feel very passionate about. It is true that stigmatized abortion increases the pressure for women to carry their pregnancies. I think everyone understands that. It’s a pretty obvious relationship. But then they don’t recognize the reverse of that which is destigmatized abortion increase the pressure for women to abort.
SUSAN PENNER: Yes.
MONICA SNYDER: And it is frankly axiomatic. It’s difficult for me to understand how anybody including Pro-Choice people cannot see that relationship. There are countless stories of women who get pregnant in less than perfect circumstances. Sometimes it’s really difficult circumstances. And sometimes it’s just a slightly less than perfect circumstance. And they have people in their lives saying, “well just take care of it.” And we have created that environment by only legalizing abortion but also by having movements like “Shout Your abortion” and so forth where we’re going beyond “Safe, Legal and Rare.” We’re going beyond “Oh it’s a necessary evil” to “It’s a morally neutral thing. Maybe it’s a morally good thing.” And frankly if abortion is just removing this neutral clump of cells that is not important yet, but could be one day important, then, it’s difficult to explain on what basis a woman who doesn’t want to abort can ask of her family, of her community, of her society to help her with this pregnancy that she could totally nix and start over another time. If that’s what we’re trying to say is happening, you’ve left countless women in a position to try to be asking for, begging for help and be seen as irresponsible or selfish or naïve or sentimental if they don’t’ just “take care of it.” And I think that Pro-Choice people need to reckon with that. Pro-Life people know that if you stigmatize abortion, you increase the pressure for women to carry their pregnancies. Do Pro-Choice people know that destigmatizing it causes pressure in the other direction? I don’t think most of them do. I don’t think it has even crossed their minds. But we have plenty of women who have talked about it. Teenage mothers, mothers in poverty, mothers of children with disabilities may be the most preeminent example and I can show them many stories of women talking about the pressure and the derision they received when they loved their child with disabilities even before they were born, and they were treated like it was some kind of archaic hysterical thing. It’s ridiculous.
SUSAN PENNER: It’s very eugenic that as soon as you talk about bringing up eugenics, people get all defensive about it.
MONICA SNYDER: Good. You should be defensive. It’s terrible.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, you’re discriminating against the very people we’re always told to include and you know, support, right. Like, diversity, etc. And so, on the one hand, we’re promoting that and on the other hand, it’s like, “well actually, you should just take care of that.”
MONICA SNYDER: They want to separate the two and you cannot. Even if you believed that abortion is preventing a life from coming into existence as opposed to ending a life that exists. Even if you believe that (and many people listening to this maybe do), it’s not possible to say “oh, better for this life to never come into existence than to have to live with X,Y,Z factors,” without also saying “all you people living currently with X,Y,Z factors would be better off not existing.” Those are the same statements. So, I sympathize with prochoice people who fight for the right to abortion on behalf of the pregnant woman and all the difficulties that come with it. Having children is a huge deal. Pregnancy and childbirth are a huge deal. The postpartum period is very difficult. And raising children is a huge responsibility. We cannot undersell that. So, I understand Pro Choice people feeling that we need to have this option for the sake of the pregnant woman. But I have very little sympathy for Pro Choice people arguing that we need this option for the sake of the child. And there is no way to argue quality of life arguments for abortion without undermining the lives of countless people who can hear you saying this right now. There are lots of people who went through foster care. There are lots of people with disabilities. There are lots of people with poverty and they still are glad to be alive. And don’t necessarily agree that tit would have been better to never exist, than to have been born into these circumstances. It’s a terrible argument.
SUSAN PENNER: Well, I even just look at my dad and his family. They grew up very poor: like six or eight kids; eight kids in a two-room house, basically. And if I think of the logic that’s given now, that essentially wipes out my dad, all his siblings…
MONICA SNYDER: Yeah
SUSAN PENNER: …all my cousins, everything because, life does have suffering and like, that is something I’m noticing in our culture too, like any potential suffering, we need to eliminate.
MONICA SNYDER: It’s such a first world mentality.
SUSAN PENNER: But we can’t avoid it. Like that is a part of the human experience.
MONICA SNYDER: I have had people overtly tell me that we should have abortion if we can’t guarantee our children all of these resources and this suffering-free life. It’s absurd, ridiculous. And you know what, this kind of transcends the abortion debate, to be honest. It’s just an insane standard. And it’s also kind of nihilistic because it ats as if no one ever overcome suffering. It acts as if women in difficult circumstances never get through that. It acts as if so many different kinds of people have worthless lives. I mean, I don’t think the people making these arguments consciously overtly think these things most of the time. I don’t think that. But the implications of what they’re saying are often very nihilistic.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, I agree. One thing I wanted to ask you from the human rights perspective: you know, okay, human rights really are based on ‘Do No Harm’, in a way. My question is: how do people rationalize the violent act of abortion, or do they just literally not know? So, we’re talking about later term abortions. How do they think that babies get…
MONICA SNYDER: Oh, I think most people have very little knowledge of the process of later term abortions. Very little knowledge. I’ve had increasingly seen just in the last year or two, people claim to me that later abortion is just induction of labor with the intent and the result of live birth and then they will transfer the child to the NICU. I’ve increasingly had people tell me that which is frankly insane. That is not what later abortion is at all.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, it’ just real lack of education
MONICA SNYDER: Yeah
SUSAN PENNER: Total lack of education in this area, both when it comes to human development in the womb.
MONICA SNYDER: Yeah
SUSAN PENNER: But also, in terms of what actually happens during an abortion and I’m like, if this is no big deal and it should be a woman’s right, why don’t we want to talk about it?
MONICA SNYDER: Oh, There’s so…
SUSAN PENNER: Because it’s very hard to defend.
MONICA SNYDER: There’s so much white knuckled desperation, I feel like to control these narratives. That’ why they can’t stand the concept of embryonic hearts. They can’t’ stand to talk about the actual procedures. So twice a year, at Secular Pro Life, if you use dot be Pro Choice and are now Pro Life, tell us why. And there’s a recurrent themes and one of the themes (it’s not one of the main themes, I’d say fifth or sixth), but one of the themes has been, Oh I looked up what an abortion procedure entails. And that, it’s not in that instant they immediately converted, but they were like “whoa! What?” It’s too much.
SUSAN PENNER: Yup, yea. Alright. I know you’ve quoted this study quite a bit, as have I, The Turnaway Study. When it comes to if women have their baby… So, first of all, there’s this, I guess myth that abortion restrictions don’t stop abortions. They do. More babies will be born if there’s abortion restrictions.
MONICA SNYDER: More babies will be born, and fewer people will get pregnant because they get more careful.
SUSAN PENNER: Right, yeah, exactly. But having said that, people are under the impression that if unplanned pregnancy, a woman carries that baby to term, that baby is not gonna be loved, it’s gonna be bused, it’s gonna end up in foster care, it’s gonna be unwanted for the rest of their life. That is not actually the case. Most women are happy after a few years that they had their baby and just wondering if you can speak to that a little bit, that perspective.
MS Yea, so, the two biggest takeaways from The Turnaway Study that most people hear about are One) that the vast majority of women who had abortions ultimately said they did not regret I and Two) the women who sought but were denied abortions ended up having worse economic outcomes and metrics compared to the women who got abortions. Those are the two big takeaways. You’ll see them covered in many, many articles over the last, I don’t’ know, five years or more. But what nobody mentions that The Turnaway Study also asks the women who were denied abortions about their emotions. And they found that five years after being denied an abortion 96% of women say they no longer wish they had gotten one. And when I point this out the first most common response is that people say I’m lying. Because they’ve heard the first two factors, I told you about and they’ve never heard this one because nobody talks about it. The researchers themselves, if you go to their website that summarizes The Turnaway Study, they never mention it at all. So, I get why people don’t know about it. So that’s the first response. But then after that they’ll say, something like “well of course once you have, you know, a four-and-a-half-year-old child sitting in front of them, you’re going to love them.” And I have two responses to that. First of all, that still matters. The fact that that’s how they feel. You’re talking as if denying people abortions ruins their lives and yet the people who were denied, almost universally say, going back now, they wouldn’t have gotten one. That’s relevant. If you want to talk about how abortion or abortion denial affects women, how the women feel about it is relevant. It’s ridiculous to act as if you’re advocating for women and then you don’t want to talk about what they say about their own experiences, first of all. But secondly, really interestingly in The Turnaway Study, most of the change in sentiment about being denied an abortion happened before the child was born. So only one week after being denied an abortion, already over a third of the women say they no longer wish they’d gotten an abortion. And I thought that was shocking because we aren’t talking about women who simply googled, maybe I’ll get an abortion and they were considering. These were women who physically showed up at a clinic intending to get an abortion that day. And a week later a third of them already said they no longer wisht they’d aborted. And by the time of the child’s birth, I believe it was 88% I might be getting that slightly wrong. But the vast, vast majority had already decided, before the child was born that they no longer wisht hat they had aborted. Now there are competing theories about hat that means. And you could say it’s because some of them might have been more ambivalent about the abortion than you thought. You could say it’s because you took this option away from them so they’re reconciling themselves to their fate. There’s a lot of theories as to why. But the fac that we won’t even discuss this phenomenon at all is telling in and of itself. And then importantly also, importantly also, o the women who gave birth after being denied an abortion, over 90% of them raised their children themselves, instead of adoption and I think it was 91 or 92% of those women emotionally bonded to their children within totally normal bounds, the same way that women who have children and wanted children. So, the idea that when a woman cannot get an abortion, she will despise her child, is ridiculously overblown and actually a little bit misogynistic. And it doesn’t just come from Pro Choice people. It comes from Pro Life people too. You’ll see Pro Life people say, “if she wanted an abortion and couldn’t get it, CPS should come and take that kid away.” That’s ridiculous. Please never say that again. The fact that someone has an unwanted pregnancy does not mean they’ll have an unloved child. Those are actually quite different in almost every case. And both sides of people on the abortion debate need to understand that.
SUSAN PENNER: And you know, the studies that show this too, most women face external pressure to abort. And what I’ve noticed is that if a woman has support, or at least eh women who come through our office. If the father, if her family, if people are supportive, they want to have that baby. So, the way it’s always framed, like it’s a woman’s’ choice, you know, personal autonomy, pure personal autonomy. It’s not really reflected in the reality. There’s a lot of women that are choosing abortion who don’t actually want to have an abortion or would choose to have the baby if they had external support.
MONICA SNYDER: Yes
SUSAN PENNER: So, I think there’s a real lack of understanding of that part.
MONICA SNYDER: What does it mean to be Pro Choice if you’re only aborting because you feel you don’t have a choice.
SUSAN PENNER: Right.
MONICA SNYDER: Now I do believe that a lot of abortion rights advocates genuinely care a lot about women and want to support whatever choice they make. I do believe there are a lot of people like that. But I also think there are a lot of people, more casual observer-type Pro Choice people who are not heavily in the debate. And for a lot of people, it’s just a copout. It just means you don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to figure anything out. You don’t have to look into these difficult and heartbreaking situations and think, “do I have a role to play here?” You can just say “Oh, it’s up to her.” And then walk away. Um, not all Pro-Choice people, again I will say. I have met plenty of Pro-Choice people who care very very much. But even on their side, the descriptor Pro Choie is a little controversial because of what you just said. How much is it really a choice?
SUSAN PENNER: And it’s too bad that it’s such a polarized definition like Pro-Life, Pro-Choice because really there’s in between, that there’s’ a lot of people who are on some spectrum and they’re forced to choose either all…
MONICA SNYDER: The binary
SUSAN PENNER: Right, the all or nothing. It’d be nice if there’s kind of another term for people who are somewhere, who want to have reasonable discussions about this. So, um, I want to talk a little bit about sex. You mentioned misogyny. I know it’s like, no uterus, no opinion. There’s often this, it’s interesting, women can get pregnant one or two days a month A man can get a woman pregnant every day. And yet things like birth control, um, solely fall on women. Or…
MONICA SNYDER: Pretty much
SUSAN PENNER: …Or women are left, really, so men can say “it’s part of a woman’s right to choose” but it’s really sexual freedom for him.
MONICA SNYDER: We call them Bro Choicers
SUSAN PENNER: Bro-Choicers. That’s really good. That’s really good. I like that. So I just want you to talk a little bit about that Because maybe you’ve read Louise Perry’s book “The Case Against the Sexual Revolution.” It’s really interesting.
MONICA SNYDER: I have not.
SUSAN PENNER: Well, that’s a really interesting book. And one of the things she says there is that sexual freedom for women is supposed to be empowerment: hookup culture, casual sex, but what the studies she’s citing say that women actually prefer, you know, long term monogamous relationships. They don’t want as much casual sex, but they’re kind of forced into this. So, she’s saying this type of thing, this whole movement is actually for men, not as much for women. Would you agree with that and what are some of your perspectives maybe on the men/women dynamic.
MONICA SNYDER: I think there are some arguments there, but I think it’s more complicated than that because I definitely agree that there is. So, I don’t think all men who are Pro Choice are Bro Choice. I want to make that clear, first off. I think there are men who are Pro Choice because they genuinely care about the women in their lives and believe this is the best way to protect them. I also think there are a lot of the men who are Bro Choice. I have unfortunately, I have, relationships with men who are Bro Choice, and by that, I mean, they don’t really care about this issue. They just hope that if they ever accidentally got a woman pregnant that she would just take care of it. That’s Bro Choice. And so, of course, they want abortion to be legal. So, there is an argument there that abortion often benefits men, yes. I think it’s taking it too far to act as if abortion only benefits men. It erases the women who very much don’t want to have kids and do want to have access to abortion. And there are some non-zero amount of women who want to have this kind of sexual lifestyle, want to have this kind of dynamic. There’s also people, you know, one out of seven women who get abortions, is married. And that’s still an element depending on what’s going on int eh marriage, depending on what’s going on in their lives. So, I do think that we overlook generally Bro Choice element, the element of how much it benefits men. And if you ever read the Shout Your Abortion account, which is, it’s emotionally difficult, but it’s very instructive in my opinion. And one of the things I like about the Shout Your Abortion account, despite their name, they do not exclusively produce sort of, “oh this was great, and I have no problems with it” stories. They have stories like that, but they publish everything. I’ve even seen them publish stories where their own followers push back and say “you shouldn’t publish this because it gives ammo to Pro Lifers” and they say “we publish everything. We want to normalize all experiences.” So, I applaud their intellectual honesty. But if you read their account, it is remarkable how many stories come from women who weren’t sure what they wanted to do and then the nail in the coffin was the guy being either uninvolved or wanting her to abort, or just generally being terrible, honestly. And I’m not saying in every case, and I’m not saying ever case is a man’s fault. I don’t think that’s really realistic. But it is common. I read one recently where the woman met a man at a bar and they had a one-night stand, she really enjoyed it. She was hoping to see him again. And then when she went to text him, her text bounced bac because as soon as they were apart, he blocked her. And this is all pre-her knowing she was pregnant. It was just a very, she was very sad about that and upset. And then she finds out that she’s pregnant. She wouldn’t have even had a way to tell him even if she wanted to. And of course, she goes to get an abortion. And don’t et me wrong. I’m not saying every decision she made along the way was the best decision. But the flip side is, if he was even remotely around, it might have been different. And I’ve also, we actually just published a poem by one of our followers – a Pro Life agnostic – who has been Pro Life her whole life and she wrote a poem about her experiences several decades ago. She was unexpectedly pregnant. I think she was 20, 21, something like that. And she let her boyfriend know she was pregnant and the first thing he said was “you know you don’t have to go through with it.” And she felt devastated. And she wrote a poem about how what she hears is “I expect you to do the right thing and by that, he means abortion. And I don’t want to be a part of this.” And what she wanted to hear was “that’s so amazing! We created a life together! I can’t believe you’re carrying my son or daughter. We will figure this out.” And she was really sad and felt really lonely. Now they did work it out and she had her son who is now a full-grown man and she’s very happy. But she was trying to reflect the experience of women even in decent relationships where you’re feeling very vulnerable, you’re feeling very unsure. Even well-meaning men, not Bro Choicers. Well meaning men, who have been taught that the appropriate response from them is to say “I’ll support whatever you will do.” Sometimes how tragic is it, when a man actually doesn’t want her to abort but he feels he must be supportive. And she doesn’t hear “I’ll support whatever you do.” She hears “I don’t want to do this.” You know, it’s in short, I think often abortion benefits men. I think sometimes it also benefits women, but I think a lot of times it hurts everybody involved.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah. You know with that account, Shout Your Abortion, Often I’ll go read it and I notice a lot of cognitive dissonance in terms of women sharing kind of heart-breaking stories and then always the caveat, but I stand by my decision. “It’s the worst thing that ever happened to me! But I stand by my decision.”
MONICA SNYDER: “But I don’t regret it at all” is a verbatim quote from one story.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, I really notice that I’m just like there’ this loyalty. Do they feel like they’re being loyal to women. Or how come they can’t acknowledge that really… it’s not the best thing…
MONICA SNYDER: I think the most generous interpretation is that there’s a difference between regret and grief. There’re related but they’re not exactly necessarily the same. So there probably are some women who feel deep grief and also resolute about it. But I think the more, my speculation is, the more common this is it’s a coping mechanism.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah
MONICA SNYDER: They can’t really do it now. And you’ll never know what it was like if you had done something different, and you can’t now. So psychologically, it’s better for you if don’t regret it. And you can just move on.
SUSAN PENNER: I mean, there’s no political will in Canada to change our abortion laws, but there was what, one woman who said to me after Roe V Wade was overturned in The States. She just said, like, “I need abortion to be okay because if the laws change, what have I done?” So, the fact that abortion is allowed here is somehow this “okay what I did was ok”, but if that would change, it would be like “I can’t live with myself.”
MONICA SNYDER: I think the trauma we have inflicted on our own selves as a society, on ourselves as a society is almost incalculable. And that’s’ not even talking about the lives lost from abortion which I obviously care about a lot. But even apart from that. If it’s true, that one in four women experiences an abortion in her lifetime. And if it’s also true as we believe that that means that the death of her valuable human child, I understand that there are a lot of women who get abortions who don’t believe that and who don’t necessarily feel traumatized by it. But I do see think the other side grossly underestimate the number of women how are. And then they feel that they aren’t supposed to be traumatized by it. And they’re stuck between one side that says “there’s’ nothing to see here” and another side that condemns them often. Our side often condemns them and where do they go from there? And and and, a lot of people for better or worse they look to the law as a shortcut for what is and isn’t moral, for what is and isn’t acceptable and then you have what we already talked about with the pressure from you family, from your employers, from your boyfriend, from whoever to do the responsible thing. You make a decision. Humans in general are very bad at anticipating how we will handle difficult changes. (This is not specific to the abortion debate). There’s research to show that if we have to predict how happy or unhappy, we will be based on theoretical major changes in our lives, we predict a much bigger swing than is actually the case. There was some study, I have to find it now, where they actually measured the differences in emotions for people who became para-pelagic and for those who won the lottery in the other direction. And in both cases, I’m not saying it didn’t matter – it mattered – but in both cases, it didn’t matter nearly to the magnitude they thought it did. But if you have to predict and you have to make a choice quickly now about this life-changing situation that’s very scary, you know, it’s not surprising that you might opt for what you think is a safer choice and then later not be so sure. And I think that goes back to The Turnaway [Study] stat where, when the choice was taken away, almost without exception, they ended up being satisfied with the fact that they didn’t do it.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah
MONICA SNYDER: Because they had the time, they had the experience. They were resilient and then they have, in fact… I forgot to mention this earlier. In that study from The Turnaway Study, in that particular finding, they cited the women bonding to their children as a major reason they no longer wish they had aborted. And to many of us that sounds so obvious – of course, of course. But it’s still important to point out because you’re looking at all the frightening scariness of an unintended pregnancy and you have no idea what it’s going to be like to bring that child into these circumstances, but you’re not holding the baby.
SUSAN PENNER: Mmhmm
MONICA SNYDER: And for those of us who have children. And I’m not pretending every single parent everywhere always feels that way, but I think that the vast majority. For those of us who have children: how you measure your quality of life. Yes, part of it will be your credit scores and part of it will be how much debt you have and part of it will be if you get along with your partner. All of those are important, but how do they weigh against how you feel about your bond to your children?
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah
MONICA SNYDER: And so, it frustrates me so much when people cover The Turnaway Study and they are very happy to talk about the adverse economic outcomes for women who couldn’t get abortions and then they are mute on the fact that these women say they no longer wish they’d aborted in part due to the bond with their children. How dare you! It’s like if a woman came to you and said “yes, I wanted an abortion and I couldn’t get one. I no longer wish I got one because I love my daughter so much” and you say “Ok, but did you know your credit score is worse?”
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah
MONICA SNYDER: Is that a joke?
SUSAN PENNER: How big is your bank account? I know. Brutal.
MONICA SNYDER: Yeah. How presumptuous and paternalistic. It’s ridiculous.
SUSAN PENNER: It is ridiculous.
MONICA SNYDER: I keep saying ridiculous, but it is.
SUSAN PENNER: You know it’s interesting, a study recently came out in Canada, and it says that 46% of women when they get to their 40s, between 40 and 45 wish they’d had more children.
MONICA SNYDER: Really?
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, so. I could even send you that study. But it’s interesting because they kept putting off their fertility, right. Because when you’re young, you’re a teenager, you’re in your 20s, you know, women tend to be more feminist: gonna do the career, gonna do the…
MONICA SNYDER: Yeah.
SUSAN PENNER: Well, I don’t know if you even call that Feminist.
MONICA SNYDER: So, say we all yeah.
SUSAN PENNER: This is, this is the plan. I’ve gotta get all these ducks in a row now before I can have children. So, they hit 35 and 40 and it’s like all of the sudden they can’t have the kids they want.
MONICA SNYDER: Yup
SUSAN PENNER: And your priorities in your 20s are different than your priorities as you get older and so in our country now the government is spending more money to increase abortion access again. Um
MONICA SNYDER: Right
SUSAN PENNER: Even though it’s private health, it’s already universal healthcare.
MONICA SNYDER: Like, how can we go harder now.
SUSAN PENNER: How can we do even more, but we’re trying to do more and yet overlooking some of these barriers that are preventing women from having the families they want. But I wanted to mention, so in Canada, some positive things, we have. You know, we have the monthly child tax benefit.
MONICA SNYDER: Ok
SUSAN PENNER: So, you get a tax benefit for each child you have. And there’s also paid maternity leave. Women can do maternity leave or paternity leave.
MONICA SNYDER: We need to catch up to that.
SUSAN PENNER: Ok yeah, so you get 12 or 18 months depending on how you want your income to be distributed. Here’s the thing. The abortion rate isn’t much different. So, I see Pro Life advocates say that we need to have these Pro Life policies which is true, but the abortion rate is only different by maybe one per thousand in Canada. So, I know, those things are good things, but at the same time, it’s not really changing the actual abortion rate. at least in our country.
MONICA SNYDER: Yeah, yeah.
SUSAN PENNER: So, I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that.
MONICA SNYDER: I haven’t done, I haven’t looked at a lot of research on that to speak with any authority, but my impression is that the main changes in abortion rate come from better prevention of pregnancy and outlawing abortion. Those seem to be the two biggest ones. The rest of it, I think, is still important to do because it’s the right thing to do.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, exactly.
MONICA SNYDER: I think that it’s right on behalf of, from a more conservative perspective, it’s pro-family. From sort of a more liberal perspective, it’s pro feminist. I just, it frustrates me that this isn’t very easy common ground in my country. I feel like it should be so obvious. But even, it may not change the abortion rate a lot, but it’s still appropriate, I think, regardless. But yes, I think a lot of times – and Pro Choice people say that and so do a certain subset of Pro Lifer people will say “well the law doesn’t actually make a difference.” Actually, that’s kind of going out the window since Dobbs. I’m seeing way fewer people claiming the law makes no difference. But now they’re saying it’s not the best way to do it because it’s by force and it’s very draconian and you could accomplish the same ends with all of these different policy positions. And of all this stuff they list, my impression is the one that is true is preventing pregnancy better. That’s the one that I see actually moving the needle. Most of the rest of it, it sounds nice and I’m not necessarily against it, but I am deeply skeptical that it’s been shown in any kind of literature to decrease the abortion rate.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah. And you know, like you said, these are still good things. These are still, you can have…
MONICA SNYDER: Yeah
SUSAN PENNER: … Pro Life policies without explicitly calling them Pro Life policies.
MONICA SNYDER: No, they should just be common sense.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, they’re good for society, good for our culture. So, I think there’s a lot of ways, you know, people who support life can be more strategic. That way, instead of kind of always making it into a battle round. But I know our cultures are a little bit different when it comes to this.
MONICA SNYDER: They are only a battle ground down here. I will tell you that.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, we get so much of your media and are influenced, influenced by that. OK. We’ve covered a lot of stuff already. There was something else I wanted to, um, cover. Ok so from your perspective and experience, what are some of the mistakes that I’ll say faith-based people, like Christian conservatives, for example, make when we’re representing life views to people outside. And you know, I don’t think this is necessarily just a Pro Life issue, but specifically with this, how could it be better approached. The reality is we live in a pluralistic secular culture, so how can…
MONICA SNYDER: Fair
SUSAN PENNER: …Christians do a better job of engaging on this issue.
MONICA SNYDER: So, I have a couple of ideas. The first one is a very simple thing that anyone can do to further advocacy and that is when you are talking about our opposition in the context of the abortion debate, refer to them as Pro Choice or Pro Abortion or some descriptor that is very specific to abortion. Do not refer to them as Leftists, as Liberals, as Feminists, whatever. Don’t do that because there are Pro Life leftists. There are Pro Life Liberals. There are Pro Life Feminists. There are Pro Life Democrats. There are Pro Life Atheists. And those nontraditional, as I call them, Pro Life people, they tend too already feel very beleaguered. They tend to feel alienated and misplaced. If we want everyone to be Pro Life, everyone to be Pro Life, then we need to work on making sure we are being cognizant and inclusive of everyone and not unnecessarily alienating everyone that isn’t a Conservative or a Christian or whatever. So, very simple quick thing you can do is when you are talking about this issue, try to be aware that you should just speak of the opposition as Pro Choice or if you prefer Pro Abortion. I prefer Pro Choice, but either way, specific to this issue, and try to find little switches you can do to just show that you are keeping in mind anyone who’s with us on this issue, is with us. And it’s not as if — this is important to me for people to understand. It’s not as if Conservatives and Christians own being Pro Life and they’re letting the rest of us in as guests at the table. That is, that is better than actively attacking us, but it’s still not ideal. It’s as if we all are Pro Life. We all, human rights violations are everybody’s business. We are all here with a job to do. Try to work together. That’s the first thing. Try to make that little language switch, Ok. Second thing, to be fair, the Christians and the religious people who follow Secular Pro Life are already usually very good at this, so I actually don’t see this problem myself directly. I just hear about it indirectly. But, if you are doing Pro Life advocacy and you are in mixed company or unknown company, try to only speak from shared basis of understanding and by that, I mean, don’t quote scripture. Don’t reference the Bible. Don’t say “God made us in his image”. Theres’ nothing wrong with any of those things when you are talking to people you know share that faith with you. In that case, do it. It’s actually very helpful. I’m not saying never speak of your faith. But keep in mind your context and as much as possible, always be emphasizing common ground, wherever you are. So there are a lot of contexts, probably most contexts, where it is not helpful. And it’s not specific to religion. Anytime you are talking to someone across the aisle on an issue, you want to avoid throwing up a bunch of signals that you are very different from them. You want to try to give off the signals that actually we are more similar than you think. This transition is not as hard as you think. That’s what you want to do. It’s not specific to religion but with religion it comes up a lot in this particular issue. And then finally, this doesn’t come off nearly as often, but it’s a personal pet peeve of mine. If you are interfacing with non-traditional Pro Life people, you don’t need to emphasize your difference with them either, at least not right then, at least not while doing Pro Life work. So, when I do in-person Pro Life work: speeches, conferences, walks, whatever, without exception, there is at least one and sometimes multiple Pro Life Christians who come up to me and want to ask me why I’m atheist, why don’t’ I believe in God, what do I think is the reason for morality. And a lot of them are asking innocently, not necessarily aggressively. Some of them are aggressive. But a lot of them they’re just curious and I don’t’ begrudge their motivations, but for me, it’s exhausting because it’s every single time I try to do this. And it’s emphasizing our differences. And it’s putting me in an awkward position because if I answer you bluntly, I have to explain why I think what you think isn’t true. And I don’t really want to focus on that right now. And so, when you are interfacing with nontraditional – whether it doesn’t’ have to be atheists, it could be different politics than you, different sexuality than you. That’s not the appropriate time usually to focus on those differences and ask them to explain themselves. If you become friends with them and/or you’re in a context where you’re not specifically doing Pro Life work, there might be places to do that. Again, I’m not saying never speak of difficult things. We’re Pro Life advocates. We speak of difficult things all the time. But read the room. And be considerate about if you are making them feel othered when they’re already pretty othered to begin with. So those are my tips.
SUSAN PENNER: That is really excellent. I spoke in a school at an ethics class – a high school ethics class. It was grade 11, recently. And after, the teacher had sent me an email. One of the girls had written, she said like “I was Pro Choice before this,” but she said, “For the first time I’ve heard like a non-religious case for life, and I really appreciated that the speaker didn’t talk about it from a Biblical perspective. Just talked about it from scientific, philosophical.”
MONICA SNYDER: And how many people like that are out there?
SUSAN PENNER: Right, and they’re not getting that.
SUSAN PENNER: And as a Christian myself, I don’t need to bring up the Bible or faith all the time. Science is a part of that. So, it’s not being, it’s not that I’m not being a Christian or my faith. I believe that science is a part of that. So, by talking about that, I am. I mean, if I believe that God created everything, then I believe that God created science too. So, I don’t need to always explicitly talk about the Bible or that perspective. I just bring it up from a scientific, and I’m getting way more attraction than I think, a lot of maybe Pro Life groups are, because of that. So…
MONICA SNYDER: Yeah, I would love it if more people started that, and if you’re not sure – anybody listening – if you’re not sure how to, how to phrase your arguments in a more secular way, our website has so much content. In particular, check out our abortion debate index. That’s secularprolife.org/index and it’s just a list of dozens of Pro Choice talking points and the material we have addressing them directly.
SUSAN PENNER: It’s excellent. I love your website. And I think, again, just emphasizing, to see everybody as a human first. Like let’s not create somebody’s ‘the other’. We are all in this together. There is not ‘the other’. There’s human beings with different opinions who need to respect each other and work together on something. That’s so important.
MONICA SNYDER: Yeah
SUSAN PENNER: Like this
MONICA SNYDER: Yeah
SUSAN PENNER: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this. I’m a huge, huge fan of the work you’re doing. So, this is really special for me to be able to have you on here and talk about this stuff. And it’s just…
MONICA SNYDER: Thank you for having me.
SUSAN PENNER: Yeah, really great content. So, thank you so much for that and hopefully we’ll have you up here one of these days.
MONICA SNYDER: That would be great.
SUSAN PENNER: To do one of our events. That would be awesome.