Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Bro, do you want someone to do that to you?"

Some religious people believe you can't have morality without God, and therefore atheists have no reason to act morally. Some atheists respond by saying they don't need the threat of eternal damnation to get them to act like decent human beings.

As an agnostic, I don't see why a belief in God is necessary in order to want to live a moral life. I can see the benefits of the Golden Rule regardless of whether you think someone will eternally reward (or punish) you depending on how you behave.


And I have secular friends that I think are perfectly lovely people, so I'm obviously not convinced that without God we are all just awful.

I will say, though, that when people insist religion is the only reason anyone would be pro-life, they sure do reinforce the "atheists have no morality" stereotype.

I'm against abortion because I recognize the fetus as a member of our species and I believe human beings should be valued and protected; at minimum, I think it should be illegal to non-defensively kill someone. I don't consider any of what I just said to be radical, and I don't see why any of what I just said would require religious faith in order to make sense. From the pro-life perspective, when people insist you have to be religious to be pro-life they're insisting that you have to be religious to value humanity and/or think it's wrong to kill others. Great.

But I understand that there's a disconnect here. Many pro-choicers make a distinction between human beings and people, and while the fetus is a human being, they will insist the fetus is not a person. A pro-choicer could believe that all people should be valued and protected while all fetuses can be killed, and there would be no inconsistency in that stance. So, from a pro-choice perspective, the idea that you must be religious to be pro-life is really the idea that you must be religious to believe the fetus is a human being of moral value.

I still think it's kind of sad that some secularists believe you have to be religious to value all members of our species...but I guess it's better than thinking you must be religious to think, you know, killing others is bad.

Unborn Parasite?

Disclaimer: I know both pro-choicers and pro-lifers who understand fetal development. The following post is not meant to address everyone, but to specifically address the people who remain ignorant.

Mary Elizabeth Williams at wrote a piece explaining that she understands abortion takes a human life, but that "some lives are worth sacrificing." Obviously I disagree with her general take, but I thought this paragraph was quite true:
I have friends who have referred to their abortions in terms of “scraping out a bunch of cells” and then a few years later were exultant over the pregnancies that they unhesitatingly described in terms of “the baby” and “this kid.” I know women who have been relieved at their abortions and grieved over their miscarriages. Why can’t we agree that how they felt about their pregnancies was vastly different, but that it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside of them wasn’t the same? Fetuses aren’t selective like that. They don’t qualify as human life only if they’re intended to be born.
It's no secret that most people make decisions based on emotions more than rational thought. One side tends toward the vague and impersonal (clump of cells, products of conception) or hostile (parasite, invader) while the other side goes with the personal (daughter, son, child) and helpless (preborn, unborn, baby). And so on.

I've seen pro-choicers mock pro-lifers for using photos of full grown babies, pointing out that the majority of abortions take place before 8 weeks gestation, and accusing pro-lifers of playing emotional manipulation by confusing everyone as to what's actually being destroyed here. I've heard pro-lifers loudly wonder why pro-choicers never depict fetal development at all, pointing out that pro-choicers tend to leave the fetus out of the equation entirely, and claiming pro-choicers deceive people with a "nothing to see here, folks" approach.

Of course what the fetus "looks like" should have about zero bearing on whether the fetus deserves rights or protection, but for the record:

If pro-lifers only used pictures of actual embryos and early-stage fetuses, do you think it would change the abortion debate? Do you think it would be a good idea? Is it more important to be emotionally captivating or precisely accurate?

[Re-posted on Secular Pro-Life]

Monday, January 28, 2013

My Ideal America: Careers vs. Child-rearing

I think people should be careful not to confuse biological drives with social requirements.

Specifically, I believe women are more likely than men to have a biological urge to stay at home and raise children, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. My problem is when society (the ever ambiguous "society") pressures individual women to sacrifice their careers and be stay-at-home moms whether they happen to have that biological urge or not.

Similarly, I think men are more likely than women to have a biological urge to go out and build careers and financially support their families, and I think that's great. My problem is when society pressures individual men to go out in the work force and not stay at home with their children whether they happen to have that biological urge or not.

I think we have biologically-based gender differences that are socially reinforced. I'm not sure how acute those differences would be if society didn't reinforce them, though I still think the differences would exist. I would prefer that each couple decides between themselves how they want to balance careers, financial concerns, and child-rearing without having to factor in how the vague "society" will react to those decisions.

I expect a mind-your-own-business society would mean more stay-at-home dads and more bread-winning moms than there are right now, though overall there would still be more stay-at-home moms than dads, and more bread-winning dads than moms. Either way, people should be able to play to their strengths regardless of whether their strengths follow typical gender norms.

Also, this movie is really funny. I love Michael Keaton.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thoughts on polling and labels.

Even as Planned Parenthood moves away from the "Pro-choice" label, more Americans are adopting it. Again. 

According to Gallup 48% of Americans describe themselves as "pro-choice," compared to 44% who describe themselves as "pro-life." Yet only last year Gallup reported a record low number of self-described pro-choicers (41%, compared to 50% "pro-life"). That's a lot of fluctuation, and (again according to Gallup's trends) the labels have been fluctuating for several years now.

Depending on which way the percentages move, one side of the other will emphasize the poll and talk about long-term, big-picture changes in the never-ending national abortion debate. Maybe they're right, but I don't think we can really see that from these polls. 

Labels like "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are not as well-defined as abortion activists like to suggest. I suspect people's reasons for choosing one label or another have to do with a lot of factors beyond their perspective on abortion specifically. For example, some pollsters suggest recent changes may be due to ignorant Republican comments about rape and pregnancy, or due to last year's contraception debates. I also suspect adherence to pro-choice and pro-life labels have a lot to do with how people feel about the Democrat and Republican parties at a given time, even if their feelings about the parties change due to topics other than abortion.

And of course there's a lot of ambiguity about what the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life" imply. To my mind, a pro-choice person is someone who believes, at minimum, that women should be able to get abortions for any reason during the first trimester, and for severe reasons (rape, life/health of the mother, fatal fetal abnormalities) in the second two trimesters. A "pro-life" person is someone who believes, at minimum, that abortion should be illegal throughout all stages of the pregnancy except for those severe reasons. There are more "pure" pro-choicers and pro-lifers who may argue that the above definitions compromise too much, but my point here is not ideological purity. I'm trying to summarize what I think the majority of people in the abortion debate would consider "pro-choice" or "pro-life."

Yet I've met people who think that they are technically pro-choice because they believe in exceptions for rape and life of the mother. And I've met plenty of "personally pro-life" people who think abortion is a necessary evil that should be legal. How do people like these respond to polls?

Meanwhile, as Secular Pro-Life has pointed out, a recent Pew Research Poll found only 62% of adults knew Roe v. Wade was about affirming a woman's right to an abortion. In fact, 17% of adults thought the case had to do with school desegregation, the death penalty, or environmental problems. I don't really blame them--if you're not passionate about abortion I can understand not knowing anything about Roe v. Wade. I'd be hard-pressed to name a landmark SCOTUS decision about the environment.

Still, I wonder how much national ignorance plays a roll when Gallup asks people whether they thought Roe v. Wade should be overturned (53% said no, 29% said yes, and 18% said they don't care).

It's also interesting how the "pro-choice" and "pro-life" demographics break down:


Having no religion is the biggest predictor for being pro-choice--bigger, even, than being liberal. Note, though, that the intense correlation doesn't cut both ways: 80% of the nonreligious are pro-choice, yet only 50% of non-Catholic Christians and 45% of Catholics are pro-life. In fact, more Catholics called themselves pro-choice than pro-life! And yet we're allegedly a Catholic movement?


73% of liberals and 63% of Democrats call themselves pro-choice. 63% of conservatives and 67% of republicans call themselves pro-life. I never have been that clear on the distinctions between liberal/Democrat and conservative/Republican. They seem to generally follow the same polling trends. In any case this still leaves roughly 1/3 of Democrats who don't consider themselves "pro-choice" and 1/3 of Republicans who don't consider themselves "pro-life." If the labels weren't so strongly associated with specific political parties, how might that change peoples' self-descriptions?


The more college education a person has, the more likely they are to say they're pro-choice. Other polls have shown the more college education a person has, the less religious that person tends to be. And it's no surprise that education is positively correlated with income. In other words, while it's clear that education and the "pro-choice" label are correlated, it's not clear whether (a) increased education causes people to be pro-choice, (b) being pro-choice makes it easier for people to increase their education (how many women cite disruption to their education as a reason to get an abortion?), or (c) being pro-choice and being well-educated are both correlated with some third causal factor, like being non-religious.


I think this factor surprised me the most. According to Guttmacher, 73% of women who get abortions cite financial problems as a major reason. Yet the less income a person has, the less likely they are to say they're "pro-choice." I'm not sure what to make of that.

I would love to see a poll that asks more about the legality of abortion, and less about labels. It should also ask not just whether abortion is moral or immoral, but why respondents think it's moral or immoral. Maybe that would shed more light on the national perception of the abortion debate.

Re-posted at Secular Pro-Life

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

NY's New Gun Law

According to NBC:
Under current state law, assault weapons are defined by having two "military rifle" features such as folding stock, muzzle flash suppressor or bayonet mount. The proposal reduces that to one feature and includes the popular pistol grip. ...
Ammunition magazines will be restricted to seven bullets, from the current 10, and current owners of higher-capacity magazines will have a year to sell them out of state.
I think most people hear the term "assault weapon" and have a vague idea of something much more insidious than what we're really talking about. I'm not convinced, for example, that a rifle with a folding stock is substantially more dangerous than a rifle with a one piece stock. I don't see why a shotgun with a pistol grip is more dangerous than a shotgun with a straight stock. It seems like legislators picked some fairly meaningless distinctions when defining "assault weapons." Then people hear "assault weapon" and assume it's some kind of considerably more dangerous, ominous firearm.

And how does limiting the magazine capacity further protect law-abiders? Now legally registered gun owners will have to turn in their firearms for having 10-cartridge magazines. I'm sure the people who own guns illegally will be lining right up with the law-abiders to hand the weapons over. -.-

NBC quotes Governor Cuomo asking, "At what point do you say, 'No more innocent loss of life'?"

What a loaded question! I understand the motive of every day gun control advocates (though I don't trust politicians for anything), but I get a little tired of people asserting that banning guns will inherently save lives. It's clear that some people have used guns to do horrible things, and other people have used guns to protect themselves and others. It's not at all clear that more gun control = less innocent loss of life.

According to the New York Times:
Mr. Cuomo, saying that gun violence constituted an emergency requiring immediate action, waived a constitutionally required three-day waiting period between the introduction of legislation and a vote to allow speedy action on the gun-law package.
I didn't realize Governors had the power to waive constitutional requirements. I assume they're referring here to a state constitution? That's a lot of pressure, if you can't even wait three days to discuss something like this.

Monday, January 14, 2013

PP moves away from "pro-choice" label.

Planned Parenthood is moving away from the term "pro-choice" in response polls showing dissatisfaction with abortion debate labels.
"I'm neither pro-choice nor pro-life," said one woman in a focus group commissioned by Planned Parenthood. "I'm pro-whatever-the-situation is." Said another, "there should be three: pro-life, pro-choice and something in the middle that helps people understand circumstances [...] It's not just back or white, there's grey."
Over at Slate magazine, Amanda Marcotte was frustrated with this response.  She claims that people who are "pro-whatever-the-situation-is" are pro-choice.
But if the women mean, as I suspect they do, that they are not pro-abortion but rather pro- a woman being able to make her decision based on her circumstances, that is the very definition of pro-choice.
This is also my understanding of the term "pro-choice." And I expect it's the understanding of most pro-choice activists. But is that how the term "pro-choice" translates to the general public--to people who aren't particularly involved in the abortion debate? Based on Planned Parenthood's research and response, it seems a lot of people hear "pro-choice" and feel it implies something more, a stronger stance.

It'll be interesting to see whether Planned Parenthood can transcend abortion debate labels. I think labels help people succinctly explain their perspectives; it just gets cumbersome trying to impart all the nuance every time you speak on a topic. I think the labels "pro-life" and "pro-choice" are going to be around for a long while still, but if they're not, I'm interested to see what takes their place.

 [Re-posted at Secular Pro-Life]

Sunday, January 13, 2013

On Raising a Daughter

Kaitlyn of The Abortion Gang writes about why she is terrified to have a daughter:
I thought about what I would like to say in a letter to a someday-daughter – I’m surrounded by children now, in my office, in my personal life, they’re everywhere – and I got a little stuck because, try as I might to think of something inspiring or powerful or comforting, something that I would have liked to read during the difficult years in my life, all I could think, the one sentence thundering through my head, was sad and resigned:
“I hope the world doesn’t fuck you up too badly, sweetie.”
 Kaitlyn explains that she feels having a daughter would be a greater challenge than having a son because of "the vicious things visited upon young women from infancy through adulthood." Kaitlyn wonders, "How can I fairly bring a girl into this world knowing that the odds of her being raped, assaulted, and abused are so very, very high? What of the smaller daily humiliations and their physical manifestations, like the high rates of eating disorders?"

The whole piece irritated me.

Maybe I've just been very lucky. My parents raised my brothers and sisters and me with high standards regardless of our gender. For example, I was expected to get A's in math classes, and so I did. I didn't even know there's supposed to be a gender distinction in math performance until I reached college. My brothers and sisters and I were taught to stand up for ourselves, and each other, if anyone picked on us. And as we've grown into adults we've all learned well that life can be hard, that people can be awful, and that we should face it head on, tolerating as little bad behavior as possible. But I didn't really start thinking about any of this from a gender-specific perspective until I was much older, a couple years into college.

In the last few years I've gone from seeing things generally as an adult to seeing things more specifically as a woman. My interest in politics, especially the abortion debate, has probably played a role, but I think the bigger factor has been the women I've met. I know plenty of smart, hard-working women who actively build their own lives, but here I'm writing specifically about women who frequently speak out on gender issues. These women have drawn my attention to problems I hadn't really considered before; they've got me thinking a lot more about gender inequality.

Back to Kaitlyn's ideas. I agree that there are certain challenges unique to women and that women face more of an uphill battle in certain arenas. However, the way Kaitlyn describes the life of a woman makes me think (a) in comparison, life is a cake walk for a man and (b) most women go through life so battered by society that they can barely hold their heads up.

I think life can be hard for everyone, albeit in different ways. I have brothers, close male friends, my boyfriend--I've seen them go through really hard times. I'm not saying life is perfectly equally difficult for everyone; as I said, I agree that there are certain areas that are more difficult for women (sexual relations, career-building, balancing career and family all come to mind). But I am saying I think Kaitlyn's descriptions exaggerate the divide into a chasm.

It's good to highlight problems and work toward solutions, but it's defeatist to build those problems into seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Kaitlyn describes bringing a daughter into the world as if we're in the zombie apocalypse--as if there's nothing but cruelty and suffering waiting for a female from birth to womanhood, as if life is so terrible for females it's downright irresponsible to give birth to one.

Lori Grimes knows what I'm talking about.

I think our odds of not just surviving, but thriving, are quite a bit better than that. And I think this aversion to having daughters reflects a pretty dim view of women. Are we so weak and helpless? Such victims? My mother, sisters, aunts, and friends aren't. I'm not.

I like the idea of writing letters to future children. I've actually done it a handful of times. (For me it doesn't work to sit down and try to think of what to say. It works much better when a life lesson enters my mind for some other reason, and then I sit down and write it.) I've written letters to my future children generally, and specifically to my oldest child and my daughters.

I intend to raise all of my children to be smart, confident, and empowered. My brother once said "Dad didn't give us tools to deal with life--it was more like weapons." I hope to impart the same sense to my kids someday--to be fighters, not victims. But throughout my letter-writing process I've realized I have more lessons particularly for my daughters. (I suppose this makes sense. After all, I am a woman and I've gathered a lot more information about being a woman than a man.) I've also realized I'm especially looking forward to raising daughters. I'm looking forward to increasing the number of self-respecting, capable women in the world.