Podcast Teaser: “We don’t want people to think, ‘the only way you can be pro-life is to register Republican and convert to Catholicism’. We want people to think ‘everybody can be pro-life’. You can be pro-life right where you are right now. You don’t have to change anything about the rest of your life to recognize that we shouldn’t be dismembering babies in the womb. That’s like a very basic thing that you can believe, in conjunction with everything else that you care about.
– Monica Snyder
Listen to the podcast, or read the transcript below!
MIKE: Hi again everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Narrative. I am Mike Andrews, Communications Director at the Center for Christian Virtue, and I get to greet you and kick off this program all by myself today because, as you’ll soon find out, Aaron Baer completely hijacked the conversation that we have for you. He makes mention of it: but he told me, as we were sitting down for our interview, that he hadn’t done much to prepare and he was going to lean on me, and then he just ran with it the whole time, folks. So I’m at least getting my vocal work in for the day by greeting you for this podcast. And I’ll say, it kind of sets up a bit like a joke – two Christians and an atheist sit down for a podcast – there’s just no punchline. That’s actually our show for the day. We’re talking with Monica Snyder, the Executive Director of Secular Pro-life, and it’s a really interesting conversation.
You may be asking yourself, ‘why would the Center for Christian Virtue be talking with a secular group?’ Quite frankly, we’re at a time here with Issue 1 coming up next week where we are hearing a lot of the backlash and a lot of strong pointed arguments against the fact that our faith doesn’t form our stance on life and on abortion. But we also know there are people out there who don’t agree with us politically or religiously and yet still hold to a pro-life position. We just really wanted to have that conversation and it turned out to be a fantastic exchange of ideas and a really robust conversation. So, with that, we’re going to turn it over to our conversation. Aaron will be here to have his chat with Monica Snyder and I will just kind of sit here off to the side smiling politely. So stick around and enjoy it on The Narrative.
AARON: We are pleased to welcome Monica Snyder, who is the Executive Director of Secular Pro-Life. Monica considers herself a political conservative. She’s got a scientific background – a BS in Chemical Biology from UC Berkeley, an MS in Forensic Science from UC Davis. She started volunteering with SPL in late 2009 and became Executive Director in 2021. She takes a particular interest in the biological facts surrounding the abortion debate, which we are smackdab in the middle of here in Ohio, with issue 1 coming up next week for a vote. Monica, we are so thankful for your insight and for your time today.
MONICA: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.
AARON: Well, one of the reasons that we wanted to talk to you or, I should say, the primary reason is – we’re kind of getting beat up in Ohio right now as a Christian conservative organization. We’re getting all these claims about imposing the Bible on women’s bodies, and things like that. But you’re approaching the pro-life position from a secular worldview. And so we just wanted to have the conversation about where there is overlap and where this is not, actually, just a Biblical issue, but an issue of humanity, and things like that. So I’d love to hear a little bit more about Secular Pro-Life and how you arrived at your pro-life position.
MONICA: Sure. So, I will say there is an enormous overlap that I have found between the secular position and the pro-life position that most Christians are putting forth. There might be some selection bias there because Secular Pro-Life has a lot of followers who are Christian, and I assume that the kinds of Christians who follow us are interested in putting forth a secular argument. So it’s kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the Christians that we interact with, their arguments are extremely similar to our own.
Basically, biologically, we recognize that: the zygote, the embryo, the fetus, are human organisms. They are earlier life stages of the human life cycle all of us have been through. That’s the biology. And then, philosophically, we argue that all human organisms have moral value and that consistency demands that we recognize worth in all of us. Basically, there are a lot of personhood arguments – I’m sure you see this all the time – where pro-choice people will say, ‘well, yes you have a human being, but are we talking about a person?’ And then they have different ideas of what additional qualifications someone needs beyond being a human being to qualify for rights. There’s a lot of different arguments about what these are. Some people will say they need a heartbeat. That’s falling out of favor now that we have heartbeat laws. Some people will say that they need to be viable. Some will say, with increasing popularity in my circles, consciousness/sentience, you know, some kind of cognitive-based criteria [is necessary]. There’s different criteria. But the point is, human being plus something [is necessary], before you have rights, That’s the personhood argument.
We find that the personhood arguments, so far without exception once you dig into them, end up being very ad- hoc. They end up being very inconsistently applied or, potentially worse, they end up being applied consistently and leading to really horrific conclusions about groups of humans that society already recognizes as people, such as newborn babies or people with disabilities, or things like that. So all of that is to say that the Secular Pro-Life position is, we think the most consistent and the kindest and the safest approach is to argue that, if you are a human being, you should get human rights. At a minimum [you should have] the right to not be unjustly killed, and that would mean that elective abortion is a problem and we think that you should not…
AARON: So, Monica, I really just wanna….even just hearing Mike go through your bio a little bit, not only did you sort of go through the scientific track in your university studies, but you went through the UC system on top of that. So I’ve just got to know, how did you come to your views on human life? How did you get to where you are? And did you have these views going through your education? And what was that like?
MONICA: Yes, so I spent most of my life in California – both my early childhood and then all of my adulthood, until quite recently. But I have always been pro-life. I was raised pro-life and my parents were, maybe not activists, maybe not to the level of pro-life activists, but they were pretty passionate about it. And they instilled that in my siblings and me. And I was raised Catholic. It’s interesting, I know a couple different people that work at Secular Pro-Life that are also ex-Catholics. But when I left the church, which was quite a long time ago, and eventually left Christianity entirely, I did have certain stances that changed because of my change in my worldview – most notably my views on gender roles and things to do with sexuality actually changed a lot, in a lot of ways – but not this. Because, from my perspective, the biology on this is very clear if you are just trying to assess it objectively and not trying to make it fit your political stance. It’s not confusing.
Biologically, as human beings, we begin as zygotes. And, I think, that’s not enough to dictate what you need to think about abortion because biology doesn’t tell you philosophical views. Biology doesn’t tell you what you have to consider to be morally right or morally wrong. There’s more to it than that, but it is a very strong starting point. We started a year or two ago an interview series of pro-life atheists and agnostics. It’s very simple – we just asked them four questions and one of them is “what made you pro-life/ why are you pro-life?” Some of them were raised that way. A lot of them weren’t. And for some of them, it’s as simple as learning more about the biology, and starting to have major problems with the inconsistency.
So, yeah, I came up in the UC system but I was pro-life before I started there. And I think it was very helpful to me because I think it’s helpful for everyone to interact a lot with people who don’t agree with you. I think it’s helpful for everyone not just to interact with, but to develop friendships and relationships with people who don’t agree with you. I think that it tests your arguments; you’re either right or you’re not. And it doesn’t do us any good to mostly stay within our own circles of agreement, because then we don’t know what the other side is thinking, we don’t know what they’re saying, we don’t know what the weak points are in our arguments. I think it’s much better for us to be surrounded by people who disagree with us, hopefully smart, interesting people who disagree with us, who can challenge us, and we either get stronger or we quit. I think it was very good for me to spend most of my adulthood in the UC system – and not just related to abortion.
This is my passion. I’m very passionate about this specific issue, but I am a political conservative. And to be a political conservative, especially at Berkeley – it wasn’t as intense at Davis – you get to hear exactly what they think is wrong with everything that you think. And that can be awkward, but it’s also useful. I want to know; what’s the best you’ve got? Tell me. And I should be able to come up with some kind of answer. If I can’t, I need to know that; that’s important for me to know. So I would say, overall, I enjoyed it. There were other aspects of my life besides politics anyway, but I enjoyed it. I thought it was very good for me and I am interested to see how it goes now that I have moved to a totally different part of the country that’s more purple than bright blue, and if that will change anything. So much of our work is online that where we move almost doesn’t matter, honestly, because you still are talking to people from all over.
AARON: I’m curious, Monica. You bring up some great points there and, on our side I would say, as Christian pro-lifers we’re going to find a lot of common ground in the religious beliefs that we share, and I would say to a large degree the political views that we share. I would imagine that’s a lot more varied in the Secular Pro-Life community. Can you just kind of talk about that and how you all unite around the idea of life?
MONICA: That’s actually a really important point. So, Secular Pro-Life, as a policy, is a single issue group. We are specifically anti-abortion. We are not a whole life group; we are not a consistent life group. And this is interesting because the people who have founded it, and over the years that have taken leadership positions, and the people leading it now – as private individuals – a lot of us are pretty close to a consistent life ethic (I wouldn’t say perfectly). But we keep Secular Pro-Life single-issue because it is tricky to build coalitions. And the more criteria you require, the harder it gets. And so, we are trying to build coalitions of people regardless of their faith or lack of faith, or whatever they personally believe in terms of religion or politics. We don’t actually care. We like to say ‘It’s Secular Pro-Life, it’s not atheist pro-life’. We don’t really care what you think about religion or politics. We care if you have a problem with abortion and you want to help us. And the easiest way to build that coalition is to focus on abortion and leave the rest aside.
So we have people who are pro- and against the death penalty, and who are pro- or against different kinds of government programs, anti-poverty things, or [have] different views on immigration, or all kinds of things. I don’t care; I don’t care. I care about this issue and so we do have a lot of variation. We have people come to us who feel alienated by more religious pro-life groups – that’s true, because our name is Secular Pro-Life. But we also have people come to us who are just more left-leaning or like – we had a donor one time who donated to us simply because we never say anything about LGBT issues one way or the other, because we don’t care and it’s not our thing. And this person was transgender. They felt like they care a lot about this issue; they’re very anti-abortion, but they didn’t feel like they could support a lot of other groups who couple their anti-abortion advocacy with a lot of other traditional conservative things that seem to go against the transgender issue. We aren’t pro or anti-trans stuff; it’s just orthogonal to our purpose. So they came to us, not because they were secular – in fact, I think they were Christian – but because they just felt like we leave all that aside to try to build a coalition around just this. So there is a lot more variation politically and, in order to accommodate that, we try to keep it very narrowly focused on the abortion issue specifically.
AARON: So Monica, that’s fascinating and brought up a bunch of questions in my mind. I think the first is – you know – from your all’s perspective then, is the solution for ending abortion… if you guys, for example, don’t get into a sexual ethics conversation, right, how are you going about trying to end abortion? Is it purely a public policy, sort of, legal matter – ‘we want to see abortion banned’? What’s the nature of the conversations you’re having in terms of, let’s say, a cultural engagement trying to change society’s mind, and ultimately behaviors that lead to a crisis pregnancy situation.
MONICA: It’s multifaceted. So, if you picture the pro-life movement sort of like a high school cafeteria, and I think that we are sitting at, like, the alternative table..
AARON: Like sitting with the nerds…
MONICA: Ya. Or the goths/emo kids, whatever…
We’re friendly with other groups like Democrats for Life and Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising and the Rainbow Pro-Life Alliance – all these different groups that are doing the same kind of thing we are. But instead of focusing on non-religious people, they just have different target audiences in mind. But it’s the same kind of strategy where you’re taking a non-traditional pro-life demographic and trying to amplify and plug them in. And so we sit amongst the alt pro-life groups. And because of that, I always want to make a point of saying this because I am unequivocal on this, we definitely think the law matters and that elective abortion should be banned. I’m unequivocal on that for multiple principled reasons and also for the practical reason that the reality is that abortion restrictions absolutely decrease abortions.
I have an entire presentation called Deconstructing Three Pro-Choice Myths that I’ve been doing for years, and one of the myths is that abortion restrictions don’t affect total abortion rates. And they do. So I will say that, first and foremost, we do agree that the law is a crucial piece of this puzzle. I don’t know of any pro-life groups that think the law is the only piece of this puzzle. At least I have never met any. I think everyone recognizes that the law is a part of it, but that you have to deal with cultural changes as well. But I do think it’s important to note that there is A LOT of research to show abortion restrictions decrease total abortion rates. There is SOME research – it’s not as unequivocal but – there is some research to suggest that abortion restrictions have an inadvertent effect on pregnancy rates. They decrease pregnancy rates because people are forward thinking – not every single person, but talking about populations on aggregate – they recognize the options they have. And when they have fewer options, they are more cautious. So the law is important because it decreases abortions in two ways: the more obvious way of making abortion more difficult to access and more people who are pregnant are less likely to abort, and the less obvious, more indirect way of changing population level behavior, where people are more cautious to not get pregnant in the first place. There’s research to show that women in pro-life states and states with restrictions are more likely to use highly effective contraception than women in pro-choice states. There’s research to show that if you have fewer abortion providers, if you have less abortion funding, things like this have a correlation with greater use of the pill – things like that. So I don’t think it’s as simple… I would not be so glib as to say that someone is like, ‘I’ll just do whatever I want. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll get an abortion’. I mean, there might be somebody saying that, but that’s not really what I mean. I mean, probably there are people thinking, ‘I’m going to take these precautions, I’m going to make these decisions. I’m not going to get pregnant. But, if I did, I know that I have options’, in pro-choice states. And when you take away some of those options, some people get a lot more cautious.
We saw this after the Texas heartbeat law. There was all this flurry of articles talking about urology clinics in Texas seeing a big uptick and guys deciding to get vasectomized. And it’s the same mentality. In fact, they interviewed some of them – and these are anecdotes, of course – but they interviewed some of them and they said, ‘well, you know, if we’re not going to have this option and we know we don’t want kids, I should probably do this’. And part of me is like, you know, you were allowed to do that the whole time, right? (laughter) You didn’t have to wait until it was illegal, but…
AARON: Ya, and it drives home the point – we talk a lot about how the law impacts culture here…
MONICA: Ya, yes.
AARON: … and when abortion is legal, it changes the way you relate to sex. (again, the low hanging fruit…)
MONICA: Well, and also…I think this is very important; I feel very strongly about this – it changes the way people relate to sex [but] it also changes the way people relate to a pregnant woman in a crisis. And so there are plenty of situations… Do you guys ever read the Shout Your Abortion account?
AARON: Oh, yeah.
MONICA: So I’ve been following it more closely in the last year or two, and it strikes me…
AARON: You wanna explain what it is though? I’m sure a lot of our listeners don’t know what that is. Do you wanna explain what it is…
MONICA: Oh, sorry. Okay, so Shout Your Abortion is an abortion advocacy effort. They’re trying to normalize abortion; they’re trying to normalize the fact that lots of people have abortions in lots of different circumstances and that there’s nothing to be ashamed or quiet about. And the moniker for it, Shout Your Abortion, makes it sound like you’re going to read all these stories about people who feel empowered and emboldened and freed by having abortions. And there are stories like that – I’m not saying there’s not. But what’s remarkable about the Shout Your Abortion account – I follow it on Instagram but they have a website and I’m sure they’re on [other] social media channels – what’s remarkable about them is that so many of these stories are stories of grief and heartbreak. And, actually my hat goes off to them a little bit because – the Shout Your Abortion account – whoever runs it, they’re intellectually honest. They will publish all of the stories, not just the ones that make it sound like this was a wonderful thing, because their goal is to normalize all reactions to abortion. They will publish all of the stories. I’ve read some stories they published that were just brutally heartbreaking and there would be comments underneath it that said, ‘why are you publishing this right-wing poser, you know, propaganda’ and they would [answer], ‘we publish all the stories; everyone has a voice here about their abortion experience’. So they’re intellectually honest; they’re consistent.
That’s not actually not my point in bringing them up. My point is, it strikes me how many of these stories involve women who were not at all sure that they wanted to get an abortion, and still now, after it’s over, are not sure that they wanted to get an abortion. But the narrative involves people – usually the man, but often also parents or sisters, their best friends or employers, or professors or whoever – saying, ‘just take care of it; just do the responsible thing’. Just, just, just… And don’t get me wrong, there will always be voices like that, but they are much more common and much more casual when they look to the law as a guide for what is ethical, and when they think that abortion is this destigmatized fundamental woman’s right/fundamental human right, as opposed to this, sort of, necessary evil. You know, there’s a gradation of ways pro-choice people can look at abortion and still think it should be legal. And there are some people who have a big problem with it and they’re just uncomfortable with government intrusion. And there are some people that think that it’s just this morally neutral thing you can do. And, the thing is, if you destigmatize abortion, you increase the pressure for women to abort because there will always be voices that say, ‘well, why not just do the easy thing’. You have to justify now why you would carry a pregnancy in this difficult circumstance, where you will need help from the people around you, from the communities around you. You’re demanding resources of them. You have to justify that when you could just “take care of it”. And so the law affects things that way too. It affects our approach to sex, yes. But it also affects our approach to these women because, if it’s not legal, right off the bat there are a whole bunch of people that just would never suggest you do something illegal. Straight up! If it’s not legal, they’re less likely to say, ‘just take care of it’, because they wouldn’t tell you to do something illegal. They just wouldn’t…
MONICA: And also there are people who look to the law for what is and isn’t okay and they’ll start to be less comfortable with something that’s illegal because…
AARON: Or what is and isn’t accessible…
AARON: If there’s not an abortion clinic right down the street….it gets back to the whole Charlotte Lozier stuff we’ve talked about this year before, that seven out of 10 women report to being coerced into an abortion. And again, even those stats can’t fully take into account what you’re saying like….you know, it was that thing right after Roe when all these employers started putting up, ‘Hey, we’ll pay for you to go out of state’…
MONICA: Yes! The perfect example…
AARON: Imagine if you’re a young attorney at a law firm – one of these firms that makes you work 80 hours a week and everybody’s trying to get ahead – and you’ve got a big case coming up and you get pregnant. And you know you’re going to court in 6 months and your employer looks at you and says. ‘Hey, here’s four grand plus three weeks of PTO right now, of time off for you to get an abortion’…
MONICA: And speaking, by the way, as a woman who’s been in a professional context… and this has nothing to do with abortion; forget abortion for a second. [This is] just talking about being in higher education and being in the first few jobs you get after you get your degree and working with a lot of other women in similar situations. I cannot over-emphasize to you – and these are women with stable jobs, with healthy relationships, with reasonably decent income, not in some kind of crisis situation – how cautious and demure so many women are about the possibility of letting their employers, or the professors, or whoever know that they are pregnant and that somebody will have to accommodate them. And – this is a bigger issue; it’s beyond abortion and we could not possibly fit into the scope of this podcast. But I don’t think people are fully grasping the way that our mentality and approach about abortion affects even people who have no intention of getting an abortion. When they think about the demands they will need to make to carry their wanted, planned pregnancies, it just changes the entire calculation. It should not be difficult for people to understand. If you can recognize that stigmatizing abortion decreases the likelihood of someone aborting, which I feel everybody recognizes, then you should be able to recognize that, by definition, the opposite is also true – destigmatizing abortion it increases the likelihood of someone aborting. This is not just because they no longer feel stigma against it, but because everyone in their lives doesn’t either.
I just read a story very recently – another really sad story on Reddit – where this woman was talking about how she’s unexpectedly pregnant after she and her husband already have two kids. And they totally agreed that they were done having kids, and he made it very, very clear that he does not want to have any more kids and they talked about this and they agreed on this, and then she got pregnant by mistake.
Quick side note: Could’a gotten a vasectomy the whole time! But, I’ll leave that out…
She gets pregnant by mistake and he wants her to get an abortion and she doesn’t want to. And she posted this thing on Reddit, ‘I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid he’ll leave if I don’t, but I really don’t want to. I’m afraid I’ll leave if I do’… and a lot of the feedback was people saying, ‘it’s not his choice; it’s her choice’. They weren’t like, ‘oh, get an abortion’. They were like, ‘it’s your choice, not his’. But she’s put in this really difficult situation. And then she posted a follow-up a week or two later where she essentially told him, “I am not getting an abortion”. And he calmed down and came around and he’s like. “We’ll figure it out”. There was this initial panic, “I can’t do this; I don’t want to do this!”. And she was like, “Well, we are doing it”. And he was like, “well, we’ll figure it out”. And I felt like that was a microcosm of what I’m talking about, where he reacts one way when he thinks that there’s this “easy” option. And she took the option off the table, and he calmed down and he’s gonna figure it out.
AARON: So, outside of the legal aspect of this, what are the cultural things that Secular Pro-Life advocates for, the cultural changes, the changes in attitude? What are the strategies that you guys do and work on to help eliminate abortion?
MONICA: The biggest ones are that we are pro-contraception, particularly pro-highly effective conception, and we think that contraception access is important. We don’t take the specific policy stances on what state legislatures must do. You know, now there’s this increase in – Democrats mostly – demanding that they enshrine the right to contraception in the state constitution and then when the Republicans decline to do so, they claim they’re trying to ban contraception, which is obviously not the same thing. So we don’t take specific policy positions on whether it has to be in the state constitution or not. But we do think contraception is important and we think people who are going to choose to have procreative sex anyway should use contraception. To a lesser extent, we….
AARON: Even contraception that could work as an abortafacient? Because a lot of pills, most of them, have a failsafe that could cause an abortion after a child has been implanted…
MONICA: We basically – we have this on our website, by the way: secularprolife.org/conception – we recognize that that’s very controversial among pro-lifers. We think that, if it can cause a failure to implant that is a problem because, from zygote on you have a human being. But we also don’t believe that the evidence is convincing that Plan B and the pill cause failure to implant, and we don’t demand that anyone agree with us on that. This is one of those things in our single issue where, if you have a problem with Plan B or you are super pro-Plan B, or whatever, it’s not a hindrance to you working with us. We don’t think the evidence is convincing though.
AARON: That would be a place we disagree but this is fascinating. Keep going…
MONICA: Right. And we respect that disagreement. In fact, I’m pretty sure we have a link on that page to AAPLOG talking about how the evidence is mixed and it’s a complicated thing. And so, if people disagree with us on that, it’s ok. We don’t find it to be the central issue.
AARON: I’ll say, we have disagreements about contraception even within CCV, even within the Christian community.
MONICA: Ya, so I do have friends that are pro-choice and even friends who would self-describe as pro-abortion. And since Dobbs, I’ve tried to talk to them about this – there are a lot of people on the other side that think that our side, once we finally accomplish banning abortion everywhere, which I feel like there’s plenty of room to work on that! (laughter), we are going to then try to ban contraception. And I try to explain to them that, that ferocity and endless intensity and persistence that the pro-life movement has on abortion, there’s just no equivalent for that on contraception. They’re just two different issues…
AARON: Even here in Ohio, in our constitutional amendment fight right now, they put a protection for contraception in there. And I’ve said to the media multiple times, “you know this is a smoke screen?” Because the media is covering this as, ‘oh, they’re protecting contraception’….
MONICA: Protecting it from who!?
AARON: I’m like, nobody is advocating to ban contraception and I keep saying, “You know how I know nobody is doing it? Because we are the most conservative group in the State, and we’re not doing it! If it were anybody, it would be us, and it’s not us!” No one’s doing this. This is insane.
MONICA: So, here’s the interesting thing. It’s always, you know, a fraught thing to speculate on other people’s workings of their mind or their motivations but, I think that the upper echelons of the other side know this. And I think the lower ones don’t. I think there are a lot of people who are sincerely afraid, with reasonable reasons. You know, most people aren’t as obsessed with this as you and I are, and I don’t expect them to have encyclopedic knowledge of everything that’s going on. They just vaguely see some headlines, hear some things, kind of have this vague idea and they’re nervous. I respect that; that’s how I am about plenty of other issues. I get it. But the people who are paying attention the most, especially the more political actors than necessarily the activists, they know! There’s no appetite for banning contraception! Even the most Catholic followers we have that think that it is deeply immoral – even condoms are a problem – they will tell you that. They’re still not trying to ban it. They’re just saying they have major moral problems with it. Now the best argument the other side has is, maybe if you get into this issue of abortion-inducing – does it? does it not? But what I try to explain to them is, the lower echelons on our side that are nominally pro-life or whatever, if you look at any Gallup poll on moral issues, like 20 moral issues every year, and ask people if they think this is morally acceptable or not, consistently they have found that contraception is the most morally accepted issue among the population by 90-92%, every time. There is no appetite for banning contraceptives!
AARON: I have to say Monica, you’ve got one of the Catholics on our staff who’s listening in to nod her head so, yeah.
MONICA: She knows what I’m talking about!
It depends on who I am talking to. Some people on the other side I get more irritated with because I think they know this, and they’re using it as a fear-mongering tactic. But most people on the other side, I think they trust their people just like we trust our people, and their people are fear-mongering. And I try to explain over and over again. We said this, I think the day after Dobbs, “Nobody’s going after contraception. Here are the reasons why. This is not a thing”.
And even a couple weeks ago, a pro-choice account I follow on Twitter posted a New York Times article, and it said something like, In the Wake of Abortion Restrictions, States try to Protect Contraception, or something like that. And the first two paragraphs of the photo that they posted were like, ‘Democrats are trying to enshrine this and Republicans are voting against it’. And they posted this like, ‘See, I told you’. But if you read, even the [same] article in the New York Times, a couple paragraphs down, they interviewed different Republicans that were like, ‘nobody really cares about this; we thought it was a symbolic vote. Nobody’s against contraception’. And then the New York Times listed three different Republican Governors who have expanded access to contraception in their states since Dobbs. It’s not a thing! Anyway, this is a tangent.
AARON: It just seems to me like this gets to part of the issues surrounding abortion where people just logically see abortion as an extension of failed contraception. And when you threaten abortion, they think the next logical step is to come back and also get rid of contraception.
MONICA: I have a different theory.
AARON: Ok, love to hear it…
MONICA: I think it’s that people are bad at biology. You’ve heard people say, ‘oh, if abortion is murder, then I guess eating eggs is eating chickens?’ You’ve heard people say, ‘oh, if abortion is murder then I guess masturbation is genocide?’. That’s them saying, “I don’t know what a zygote is. I don’t know the difference between gametes and zygotes. I don’t know the difference between sex cells that multiply by meiosis and then when they’re fertilized they switch to an organism that’s going through mitosis. I don’t know any of that.’ That’s them not understanding that, in terms of biology – not in terms of the Catholic catechism – we begin at fertilization as organisms and pro-life people care about THAT. And they don’t care about BEFORE that. And the other side does not understand this and so they conflate what we care about, accuse us of conflating it, and try to make fun of us. So they say, “If abortion is murder, then masturbation is genocide! Ha, ha!”. I’m like, “no, that’s you not understanding what I think”.
AARON: No, that’s not actually!
MONICA: Nobody cares, guys! Nobody cares! So I think an extension of that conflation and that lack of biological education, is them thinking, ‘well, if abortion, then contraception’. Now part of it, to be fair to them, is that we do have robust conversations on our side about which kinds of contraception aren’t actually contraception but actually failure to implant. We have that and I don’t think they understand the nuances there.
And I don’t think they understand the difference between someone thinking something is immoral and should be illegal. This is another conflation. They think this goes back to what you originally brought up – they think being against abortion is pushing your religion. And if it’s just pushing your religion then by extension, if your religion says contraception is immoral, you should be pushing that too. They don’t notice that you’re not, because they are stuck on the whole idea that this is just pushing religion. If anything, it’s helpful for pro-life Catholics to be able to say this, ‘I totally understand why you are confused; let me clarify for you. My religion….’ – if you’re a pro-life Catholic; this is not me Monica talking. I’m an atheist, but if you’re a pro-life Catholic – ‘my religion says that both contraception and abortion are immoral. You know how you can tell that this isn’t about my religion? I want abortion to be illegal and I’m not trying to make contraception illegal? What’s the difference there, guys? If they’re both against my religion, why do I care so much about banning abortion and basically nothing at all about banning contraception? What’s the factor there that’s causing the different reactions? I’ll leave you to ponder it.’
Or you don’t leave them to ponder it, ‘I’ll tell you what the factor is!’ There’s a difference between my religious tenants, which I hold very dearly for myself, and human rights violations, okay?’ Freedom of religion does not justify human rights violations. You have the satanic temple, which is basically a bunch of atheists trying to be ironic. And you have certain people within Jewish communities, you have these different groups that are saying, ‘my religion says that abortion is a fundamental part of my religion, so HAHA!’ They think they’ve got you because they think you’re pushing religion. The thing is they don’t, because we’re not. I don’t care what your religion says, okay?
AARON: It’s my favorite thing – the Satanic groups – we used to deal with them all the time especially on the prayer before public meetings and it was, without fail, everytime they would show up. Because they’re not actually Satanists; they’re just atheists that wanna be a bummer and make a point…
MONICA: They’re trying to make a point…
AARON: … and they would always say, ‘we want to come to a satanic prayer before a school board meeting’, and these elected officials would freak out and say. ‘We can’t let them have…’. And we would say, ‘Guys, listen. Let them do it. They’ll do it once, maybe try to come back twice. But they’ll get bored once you don’t freak out at them anymore’.
MONICA: Ya, their whole point of it is your reaction…
AARON: Ya, just don’t give them the reaction. Let ‘em make their scene and they’re gonna move on with their lives. Because they don’t actually believe this. They’re just…
MONICA: What I try to say when we’re talking about the religious freedom thing if I’m talking to, say, a nominally pro-choice person – they’re secular, you know, they’re spiritual, but not religious, so they’re agnostic or whatever they are, they’re non-religious-ish and they’re pro-choice-ish and they are sincerely concerned about this whole idea of pushing religion, which is fine – I say, ‘Listen, forget abortion.’ This is easy to understand if we’re talking about something less controversial than abortion. If you have someone immigrate to our country and their religion says that they are allowed to marry a 12-year old, are you going to say, ‘well, I wouldn’t marry a 12-year-old but that’s part of their religion’. No, you’re going to say, ‘tough, man. In this country we don’t marry 12-year-olds. I don’t care what your religion says; that’s a human rights violation’. Or you could do female genital mutilation, you know? If their religion says that they need to do this thing to these pre-pubescent or adult women, as part of their religion, in this country, we’re like, ‘no’…
AARON: Ya, that’s not how that works….
MONICA: And so bringing it around, from my perspective as a pro-life atheist, when you say, ‘well, my religion says that I have to be allowed access to abortion’, I say, ‘I don’t care what your religion says because abortion is killing vulnerable, innocent human beings and it’s a human rights violation, and freedom of religion doesn’t justify human rights violations’. And we can just skip the whole freedom of religion conversation. The real conversation you want to have, I think, nominally pro-choice person, is ‘when do human beings have human rights?’ and ‘why’? That’s the conversation you want to have. It’s not, ‘is abortion a religious freedom issue?’ We can’t answer that until we answer the question I just said.
And some of them will say, ‘well, it’s a human right – bodily autonomy is a human right. And the United Nations, blah, blah, committee said this and we all have to do what that committee says all the time. And then I’ll say, ‘okay, well I’m going to pause it [because] probably you (the person I’m talking to and certainly most of Americans) and, in fact, most of the world does not agree that bodily rights justifies abortion, generally speaking, You know how I know? This isn’t even speculation. This isn’t mind reading. Every single poll in the United States consistently finds that the strong majority of Americans think that there should be gestational limits on abortion. And as soon as you have a gestational limit on abortion you have now described a situation where you think the fetus has a right to the mother’s body. If you think that abortion should be limited to 24 weeks, that means, at 24 weeks and one day, a fetus has the right to the mother’s body. Why is that? It’s because now they think it’s a real baby. So, bodily rights – out the window! As soon as you think it’s a real baby, bodily rights doesn’t work anymore. And this is internationally true too. It’s something like 94% or 95% of all the countries in the world have gestational limits on abortion including everybody – not everybody, but almost everybody – in the UN. So if it’s true that abortion restrictions – we’re seeing this talking point more and more – or any restrictions on abortion is a violation of human rights according to the UN or whoever, that’s immediately self-defeating because almost everybody in the UN has gestational limits on abortion. How much could they mean it?
AARON: The vast majority of European countries have like 20 week bans, things like that…
MONICA: …or earlier!
AARON: Or earlier…ya, 15 week bans…
MONICA: Pro-choice people just take that as, ‘Well, obviously BY THEN you can have a limit’. Well, why dude? Like, why?
There are bodily rights, pro-choice people who are consistent and who have thought this through and we’re seeing a rise in this too. In the United States, I think the polls have shown now something like 20% of pro-choicce people will say there should be no limits on abortion at any stage in pregnancy. Now, there’s other polls that show that, usually when people say ‘no limits’, if you ask them follow-ups, they’ll caveat it a little bit. But there’s still been a significant increase in the last 10-20 years of people saying, ‘yeah, no limits at all’. And they might be bodily rights – I don’t know – extremists I guess, where they’re really like, ‘yeah, anytime, any reason; it’s her body. But at least they’re consistent; they thought it through. Most of the people saying bodily rights, they just mean, ‘I don’t think this is a person yet and so I’m comfortable’.
AARON: And I would even go so far though, in those cases, [to say]: they’re consistent, they thought it through, but if you actually were to show them what it would look like… you know, like the whole Abby Johnson experience, you actually show them the experience of tearing apart a child limb from limb, doing a partial birth abortion where you deliver the child halfway and crush the skull and suck out brains…
MONICA: Oh, they don’t want to believe it.
So I told you before that I have that presentation, Deconstructing Three Pro-choice Myths, and one of them is about the law. One of the other myths is the idea that later abortions are only for medical emergencies. Definitely a myth. And there’s not a ton of data on it but there’s enough data on it to show that it’s a myth. Certainly, more importantly, there is ZERO quantifiable data to suggest that most later abortions are for medical emergencies. Anytime anyone says that to you, anywhere, anytime, just ask them for any source, anything – they’ll give you nothing …
AARON: This is the kick I’m on right now, especially leading up to the vote on Tuesday – the press, every time we keep saying this amendment’s going to allow abortion all the way up to birth, the press will come back to us and say, ‘well, that’s such a small percentage of abortions’…
MONICA: How many are you ok with?
AARON: Exactly. Well, one, you are saying you’re okay with it. The other campaign is running their ENTIRE effort – like, they bought four ads this week, and it’s all about rape and incest abortions! Well, but wait a minute! And I thought, ‘that’s an even tinier percentage of abortions’ – rape and incest. So wait, which time are we allowed to talk about the minority
MONICA: Yeah. Is the small percentage important or not? And when people bring up a small percentage, are they doing it out of sincere concern over this particularly difficult case? Or are they doing it as a political point to win points? If you can understand that pro-choice people could bring up rape and incest because they’re sincerely concerned about this particularly horrific situation, they can understand how I would bring up a post-viability abortion for the same reason! For the same reason – it’s not hard; it’s a mirror image thing. It’s very frustrating.
But back to your point you were saying earlier – you have these bodily rights, consistent people until you try to make them really look at it. And some of them will still hold the line; I’ve met them. But a lot of them – this is exactly how the conversation will go:
- ‘Well, it’s her body; it’s her choice’.
- ‘Okay, so do you think abortion should be legal at any stage, for any reason?’
And most people will demure and they’ll try to change the subject. But some people will say, ‘Yes, I do’.
- ‘Okay. just to be super clear, hypothetically if someone wanted to abort after viability because of a non-medical reason – it doesn’t have to be a glib reason; it could be your husband died. It could be that you lost your house. It could be something very serious or it could be that you didn’t know you were pregnant sooner. That also happens. But if they wanted to abort after viability for a non-medical reason, you think that should be legal?’
And then they will say, ‘that never happens’. And I’ll say two things.
- ‘First of all, you didn’t answer the question. Secondly, YES it does.’
And then I will tell you, man, I can show them anything. I can show them interviews from abortion providers saying it does. I could show them abortion clinics advertising that they do it. I can show them stories of women saying that they have done it. I can show them anything and they will say that I’m lying. And I take that as a hopeful sign because they don’t want to believe it. Now cynical me says they don’t want to believe it because, even though they don’t care about it one way or the other, they know the American public will hate it and so they don’t want us to tell it. But more optimistic me says they don’t want to believe it because of their own humanity, because they don’t want to believe that anyone would do that and they don’t want to imagine it.
Maybe it’s all of the above but…
AARON: Literally, Monica, I had the exact same experience here a few weeks ago. There’s a liberal blogger here that loves to follow me around the State House and Tweet videos. And last time…
MONICA: You guys are best friends? Best frenemies?
AARON: Last time he did, I said, “Hey, why are you okay with tearing apart unborn children limb from limb in their mother’s womb?” He was like, “oh, that doesn’t happen; that’s a lie.” Literally, because it was just right after the Ohio Department of Health put out their annual abortion report that showed we had about 1200 D&E abortions last year. I was like, “Do you not know what a D&E procedure is?”
MONICA: That is what that means.
AARON: That’s exactly what… that percentage… so he posted the video of us and I tweeted, ‘look, here’s the… like, literally man, I don’t know what to tell you. The abortion clinic that does these…
MONICA: I’m not mad; I’m just flabbergasted!
AARON: Yeah. Okay, so two things here real quick, Monica, because we’re running out of time and Mike is laughing at me. Just to show a sign behind the scenes here at CCV – I’ve been working on this Issue 1 stuff all day and I didn’t have much time to prep for this interview. I sat down today before you came on Zoom and said to Mike, ‘hey you’re going to need to carry this conversation more today than I am because…
MONICA: (laugh) Good job, Mike!
AARON: … I didn’t really prep for this. But this has been really interesting and,,,
MIKE: Yes, glad I could be here for your conversation with Monica, Aaron.
AARON: Ya, this has been a really interesting conversation.
MONICA: We have to have a part two, guys!
AARON: Seriously! We’ll have to have you back. Again, there’s so many other places – I want to talk about Canada and end of life stuff with you, and all that. We’ll save that for another one. But, you know, here in Ohio – I’ve been running CCV about 7 years now – you know, we kind of had the tail end of pro-life Dems in the General Assembly. Now there are zero, right.
MONICA: That’s sad.
AARON: And, again, where I’m from in Youngstown-Warren area, Tim Ryan was my state Senator and he was my Congressman. He followed Jim??? there, and he was a pro-life Democrat. That was who he was and then, when he ran for Senate last, he completely changed his position there. What’s been your guys’ experience, as we wrap here and, again, we’ll have to have you back but, what’s been your experience with the Democratic party? What’s that been like, especially over the last few years? Are you seeing this too, where the Democrats are just, sort of, pushing all pro-lifers either to the side, or…?
MONICA: Oh yeah, for sure. It’s frustrating because…So, I’m a political conservative, like I said, and the Executive Director. Our Board President, Kelsey Hazard, is a political moderate. And our Board Vice President, Terrisa Bukovinac, is a political liberal. And so it’s kind of like the Neapolitan, you know, version of politics. For us it works really well because we are quite good friends, despite some significant differences, especially between Terrisa and me. We’re quite good friends and it helps us keep the content for Secular Pro-Life non-partisan, authentically.
That said, we do talk about this and it is very frustrating because Terrisa works very hard in terms of advocating for space for Pro-life Democrats, and polls show that four out of 10 Democrats think abortion should be restricted to either the first trimester or only the hard cases, or never. I think it’s like 1 out of 5 think it should be the hard cases or never. It’s definitely a minority; obviously it’s a minority. But it’s not a vanishingly small one. It’s a lot of Democrats who are not comfortable with the party platform that has gotten more and more radical over years. So we make a distinction, in our work, between politicians and voters. There are a lot of people who are Democrats (voters) who have struggled with this problem because they’re passionate about the abortion issues. Some of them just abstain from voting. Some of them vote third-party. Some of them will still vote Democrat for other reasons. We, again, don’t make it a prerequisite you have to vote a certain way or get out. In fact, we’ve tried to make it a point of avoiding that. I wish that the Democratic party would make some space for so many of their constituents that don’t agree with them on this issue. But I can’t do a lot about it except to keep talking about it. And, in the meantime, I think it’s important for pro-life people (and by that I mean more conservative, more Christian pro-life people) to understand that it’s not all or nothing.
You could have, for example, a pro-life Democrat who chooses to vote Democrat but continues to advocate for life in other venues. They could volunteer at a pregnancy center. They could be talking in their social circles about why this is a problem, why this is extremist, why they’re uncomfortable. They could be making the case in venues that traditional pro-lifers are not going to be in. Or you could have a pro-life Democrat who votes Democrat and shuts up about the pro- life issue, or converts entirely. We see the same thing with atheists.
Don’t get me wrong! I want everyone to vote the way that I want to vote. I want everyone to think the way that I think. I get it, but it’s not all or nothing. And I get very frustrated when more traditional pro-life groups will say things like, ‘you can’t vote Democrat and be pro-life’, because – I get their point, I do. The Democratic policies are extreme. But I don’t ever want to be telling people they can’t be pro-life. I want every single person I meet and talk to, and everyone I didn’t meet and talk to, to be pro-life. And a lot of times, people’s progress into pro-life activism is not in a single moment. We’re like the fishing net, capturing the people that are slipping through other places, and we capture people who thought that there was no way for them to plug in or activate and now they’re activating with us. And I don’t ever want to tell people they can’t be pro-life. So there are plenty of Democrats who are passionately anti-abortion. Maybe they don’t vote the way we want, maybe they do. Sometimes they do and sometimes they just don’t vote. There’s other ways that they can contribute and when you tell them. ‘You’re not in our club and we hate you’, then all you’re doing is, you’re not pushing them to become Republican, you’re pushing them to become pro-choice.
We don’t want people to think the only way you can be pro-life is to register Republican and convert to Catholicism. We want people to think, ‘everybody can be pro-life’. You can be pro-life right where you are, right now. You don’t have to change anything about the rest of your life to recognize that we shouldn’t be dismembering babies in the womb. That’s like a very basic thing that you can believe in conjunction with everything else that you care about, okay? And so I really encourage the pro-life movement to – I’m not saying be quiet about the things you care about but – just don’t tell people they can’t be pro-life. Another thing is I ask people, when you’re talking about pro-choice people, don’t call them Democrats. Don’t call them leftists; don’t call them feminists. Don’t call them pagans, whatever. Call them pro-choice or pro-abortion, because there are pro-life feminists and leftists and Democrats, and I want them to know. “Same team, man, same team”. Our opposition is the people that are advocating for abortion, whoever they may be. It’s not leftists. I understand there are correlations, but you get what I’m saying.
AARON: Yeah. And that’s, I think, a great spot for us to land the plane today. Monica, this was such a great conversation. I’m glad we had the opportunity to connect with you and really have those conversations across the political and religious beliefs, and those types of things. And I hope that this is ultimately beneficial for our listeners – that they have people in their lives that they can share this with and maybe help build that coalition around the issue of life and against abortion. And for that reason alone, we’re thankful for your time and we’re thankful for the work that you’re doing with Secular Pro-Life. Where can people find you online if they want more information about the work you’re doing?
MONICA: Our website is secularprolife.org and we are also under the username secularprolife on most social media channels. We have a TikTok; it’s kind of snarky, if you like that.
AARON: We love snark here at CCV. So Monica Snyder, thank you so much for joining The Narrative today.
MONICA: Thanks for having me.