Thursday, 27 September 2007

You're only as good as your information

I have been either a marketing research practitioner, or a teacher and consultant of same, since 1970. As a result of that lifetime of experience, I often say to decision-makers, "You're only as good as your information." Decisions can end up being very wrong not because the decision-making process was flawed, but because not all of the information necessary to making a good decision was available.

Which is why I have developed this new mantra with respect to the pro-choice people: Why, oh why, oh why do you call yourself pro-choice and then suppress information?

I would not be surprised if pro-abortion people were to want to keep certain information from pregnant women. There is very big money to be made in providing abortions. But pro-choice people are supposed to stand for women making up their own minds without any inappropriate pressure or restrictions. Surely they would be the most likely to want to encourage all studies, all data, all experiences, to be assessed and made available. But they aren't!!

Why do I say that? Look at the exchange of letters to the editor below as published in the National Post. A Dr. Paul Ranalli is associated with a research organization called the deVeber Institute and is pro-life. His critic, a Dr. Gail E. Robinson, appears to be pitching for the pro-choice team. I'll give my critique following the letters.

A. Re: Depression And Abortion Not Linked, letter to the editor, Sept 25.

The headline given to the letter from Dr. Gail Erlick Robinson overstates the content. Rather than attempt to deny the link between abortion and depression, Dr. Robinson gives a meandering discursive about the whys and wherefores -- in effect, a non-denial denial. She is wise not to attempt to deny the link between abortion and depression because it is an epidemiologic fact, repeatable in large population studies on three continents. A California study of low-income women found they were 160% more likely to commit suicide in the first four years after an abortion, compared to women who delivered their babies. A British study revealed a 225% increased rate and a Scandinavian study showed a catastrophic 518% increased rate of suicide. It is important to note that these were record-linkage studies, which collated recorded, real events (abortion, suicide), and thus were not subject to interviewer bias, faulty memory or editorial influence.

Dr. Robinson gives away her own bias by using the absurdly partisan term "anti-choice" to describe the deVeber Institute; in fact, the only bias of the de-Veber group is toward asking the tough questions avoided by the politically correct mainstream that dominates institutional science funding.

Dr. Paul Ranalli, FRCPC, Toronto.

B. Re: Depression And Abortion Are Linked, letter, Sept. 26; Depression And Abortion Not Linked, letter, Sept 25.

If Dr. Paul Ranalli (a member of the deVerber Institute, which he defends) reviewed the abortion research critically, he would realize that there is a danger in making absolute statements about the link between depression and abortion. For example, women who are depressed, have a history of psychiatric illness or have to have an abortion because they have been sexually assaulted or are in an abusive relationship are more likely to also have emotional problems after an abortion. However, there is no good evidence that all women are depressed and suicidal after an abortion, as Dr. Ranalli would have us believe.

I know the studies he quotes: The California studies are by David Reardon's group. Dr. Reardon, who has been quoted as saying, "if abortion is evil, then nothing good can come of it," is hardly an unbiased researcher. His California studies look at large numbers, but he does not know whether the women who have abortions are married, in stable, non-abusive relationships, are depressed, have a psychiatric history, etc.

It is impossible to make statements about the consequences of abortion without looking at the reasons that women have to make this choice. The conclusions of this study are, therefore, akin to saying that people who have operations for cancer are more likely to die and blaming the operations for the deaths rather than the cancer.

Dr. Gail Erlick Robinson, Toronto.

Now, what is my problem here? First of all, Dr. Robinson attempts to discredit the data by questioning the values of the researchers. While care must be taken to look at any interviewer or other biases in research, the best indication of whether the research is valid is the methodology, not the proclivities of the researchers. Her comments about what Dr. Reardon in California believes are largely a smoke screen.

Secondly, where she does question methodology she limits herself to just one of the studies cited by Dr. Ranalli, making no reference to either the British or Scandinavian ones.

Thirdly, she does not actually deny the findings, but rather cautions as to how data should be interpreted.

I gather that Dr. Robinson is trying her best to discredit the notion that there is a link between abortion or depression. But with several studies arriving at similar conclusions, I would expect an honest researcher to say that she would like to see further clarification given her methodological concerns. Why does she prefer instead to sweep the issue under the rug through largely spurious argumentation?

Look, I have said before that I could call myself pro-choice if it meant giving pregnant women all of the information they require to make a good decision. Full information, coupled with public policy that would provide the support that women in difficult pregnancies need, would drop the abortion rate drastically without any necessity for changes in legislation.

Do the pro-choice people want the abortion rate to stay the same? Or increase? Then they are not pro-choice--they are pro-abortion pure and simple. Either change your approach or change your name.

I couldn't have said it better myself

I contacted a number of churches in my home area recently and received a reply from one of the local ministers, Dr. Warren Schatz. Warren was a student of mine about 20 years ago. Since I was a business professor, I didn't have too many of my grads go into the pulpit (just two that I know of in over 25 years). But Warren did, and judging by his email he is no doubt giving very insightful guidance to his congregation.

I asked him if I could post his thoughts on life issues, a request to which he readily agreed provided I give it a bit of editing (very little was needed). His comments follow.
John: I was intrigued by your thoughts on the pro-life issue - I have been thinking over how pro-life groups approach this issue in Canada and wondered if perhaps a different approach is needed.

It so often seems that there are two different arguments going on, and neither one really speaks to the other. For pro-life groups the issue is all about protecting the right of the baby and so is focused on showing that a baby in the womb is still a baby. [The movement] does a pretty good job of that.

The only problem is, the other side isn't necessarily all that concerned with the rights of the baby. They are totally focused on the rights of the woman; and somehow thousands of years of male dominated society have all become focused on this one issue. Therefore to argue for pro-life is to be seen as wanting to negate all the gains women have made in our society.

It just somehow seems to me that the two sides are often simply talking past each other. The pro-choice side doesn't really say anything about the rights of the baby (or come up with any scientific reason to say it's not a real baby) and the pro-life side doesn't say anything about how this issue speaks to the rights of women. I think this is seen in the opposites in the debate - those who are pro-life are not really anti-women's choice and those who are pro-choice aren't really pro-death.

I wondered how it would re-frame the debate if the pro-life side were to concede that women should have the right to choose, since in a practical sense they always will--legalities aside--and then focus on trying to create an environment where women can feel free to choose to have the baby.

It seems appalling to me (and probably has Satan laughing with glee) that women our 'forced' to take a stand for their freedom by killing their own offspring--what a tragedy. I guess I'm wondering if shifting the debate from the current legal focus on what is allowed, to a women's health issue might work better. I do worry that this may not be feasible because it would require some concession on the part of the pro-life movement in terms of recognizing that some abortions would probably always happen, and I'm not sure if the movement is open to any kind of compromise or even if it should. It just seems to me that cutting down on abortions has got to be better than what we have now.

Your comments on Warren's thoughts are welcome. I'll publish any that bring value-added to the debate (in other words, that aren't rants). But please keep them short.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

I am and I am not

I am going to try to take the place of a pro-choice person for a minute. This won't be easy because what I mean by pro-choice is--no big surprise here--that any decision-maker should have all of the information available to make an informed choice. In that sense, I am already pro-choice.

But what I observe among those who like to label themselves as pro-choice is something decidedly different. Information is not nearly as important as ideology. Ideology dictates what information will be shared, and which will be suppressed. The consequence of this is that decision-makers can't make a fully informed choice (or give informed consent) because someone else has decided to keep information from them for their own good.

So in this sense, I am not pro-choice.

If pro-choice people understood the term the way that I do, what would they have to do differently than they do now? As I indicated above, they would have to re-examine the ideology that makes them want to muzzle voices that they don't happen to like. What are the elements of this ideology?

That's a bit hard to say as it comes out in sound bites and dismissive statements. But one does encounter certain common themes:

1. Women are not to be threatened with profound discrimination. No one disagrees with this statement on its face. We all concur that neither women nor men of any age, creed, race, origins, educational attainments, etc., etc. should ever be threatened with discrimination.

The issue of what constitutes discrimination always has to be balanced with another right, that of free speech. With respect to abortion, anything that suggests that it is wrong for a mother to abort is dismissed by definition as hate speech--profound discrimination to be sure-- by pro-choice groups such as the Capilano Students' Union (see my posts Secular fundies and the Cap College pro-life club, and Give me a good atheist any day!). Free speech loses to a certain definition of hate speech.

2. Women should have control over their own bodies. This is another way of stating an important human right with which we all agree, that of the liberty and security of the individual, regardless of gender. As the pro-choice people apply it to the abortion issue, of course, they mean that a woman should be able to choose for herself whether or not to abort, the assumption being that the fetus is, in some sense, part of her body rather than an independent life with its own rights to security of the person.

3. There is no religious argument against abortion. This may be expressed in a variety of ways; e.g., Religious considerations of public policy must simply be dismissed as inappropriate. Or, counseling centres should not make religious or moral judgments. Some pro-choice groups make a point of saying that they don't take any donations from religious/moral sources.

As a variation on the above theme, Planned Parenthood in the U.S. tells the clergy that they have a special responsibility to bear witness in support of reproductive rights so that the public and their elected representatives may understand the theological and moral basis for reproductive rights. Then, having established and helpfully advised the clergy that their opinion should be identical to Planned Parenthood's, they assert that ultimately the decision about abortion is between a woman, her conscience, and/or her God (link to quoted material).

One could go on, but these seem to me to be essential components of the pro-choice ideology as I hear it expressed routinely in the media and political circles.

Wearing my own version of the pro-choice hat, as I am trying to do in this post, I have to say up front that I have no argument with the first two principles. No one should be discriminated against, and no one should violate the body of another. The difficulty for me is that pro-choice groups want to place restrictions, or special meanings, on these human rights so as to eliminate anything contrary to their presupposition; i.e., that abortion (or more broadly, reproductive rights) are sacrosanct.

If I decide that access to abortion is so critical that any conceivable (no pun intended) medical or moral objection is odious, dangerous, and evil, then I am bound to label any such objection as hate speech. But this is putting the ideological cart ahead of the informational horse.

For instance, the deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research reports that there are seventy-seven articles, nearly all from European scientific journals, supporting the conclusion that there is a strong link between abortion and mental health issues (National Post, September 19, 2007, p. A17). A research organization called the Elliot Institute claims that women who abort are six times more likely to suffer depression, substance abuse and suicidal tendencies than women who see the birth through.

Are they right? I'm not competent to judge, and I doubt if most pro-choice people are either. But one thing is certain--I wouldn't dismiss such findings out of hand because the researchers have come to different conclusions from mine, or because the scientists have faith-informed views (I have no idea what their religious views are, if any). I certainly wouldn't label these findings as hate speech. That would be a deliberate decision on my part to keep information from women that might be relevant because I have decided in advance that it is discriminatory.

Am I trying to set up a straw man here? Not at all. Listen to this very clear demonstration of a medical person deciding that keeping information from a woman who was considering an abortion was quite acceptable, a decision backed by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

A woman named Rosa Acuna found herself to be pregnant and consulted her doctor about the abortion option. Specifically she asked whether (at eight weeks pregnant) she was carrying a baby. The answer was either, "Don't be stupid; it's only blood." (the patient's version), or "What's inside you is just tissue at this time." (the doctor's version). An abortion ensued.

You can look up the further events ("N. J. Supremes Issue Flawed Abortion Ruling," Frank Diamond, The Bulletin: Philadelphia's Family Newspaper, September 19, 2007 at, which included post-operative bleeding, and post-traumatic stress disorder for Ms Acuna. The upshot of it all was that Acuna took the gynecologist to court for misleading her about the fetus. He failed to indicate that there were differing views on whether a fetus represented independent life, and he did not warn her that some women suffer depression, even very serious depression such as she did, as a result of having an abortion.

To quote the reporter: What the New Jersey Supreme Court last week found important was that "she understood that without some intervening circumstance or medical procedure, a child would be born, but what she needed to hear on the day of her visit to [the doctor's] office was that she was carrying 'an existing living human being.'" Well, the court ruled, maybe Acuna needed to hear that, but Turkish was under no obligation to say that "an abortion results in the killing of a family member."

The court went on to say: "We are not unmindful of the raging debate that has roiled the nation and of the sincerely and passionately held beliefs by those on opposite sides of the debate." The court added that "Acuna must demonstrate that Dr. Turkish withheld medical information that a reasonably prudent pregnant woman in like circumstances would have considered material before consenting to the abortion."

This is Big Brother/Sisterism at its worst. The gynecologist, who is presumably aware of debates within the medical community concerning when life begins, and of the physical and emotional impact of abortion on some women, can pick and choose what to tell the young mother. The completely non-expert young woman is supposed to drag out of the good doctor whatever he has deemed not to be relevant to this ideal reasonably prudent pregnant woman.

I'm trying to think of any other field of human endeavour where we reasonably prudent citizens would countenance such censorship of information. But pro-choice people seem to accept this approach on an ideological basis. If I'm wrong, I will expect to see the pro-choice groups lining up to condemn the New Jersey Supreme Court decision.

Thus, if pro-choice people in the life vs. abortion debate want the word choice to mean the same thing as it does when we discuss democratic choice, or consumer choice, or career choice, they don't have to overhaul all of their principles. But they mustn't arbitrarily limit them by deciding in advance that some information is not apropos. This is censorship, pure and simple.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

My name is Friday--I'm a cop

My earliest memories of television programs include Captain Kangaroo, The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason, the Mickey Mouse Club, Davey Crockett and, last but hardly least, the police drama Dragnet. I trace my near obsession with mystery novels back to that last-named show.

The hero of Dragnet was a detective sergeant named Joe Friday, who always introduced himself with, "My name is Friday--I'm a cop." Sergeant Friday is also famous for another saying that never really passed his lips--"Just the facts, Ma'am." He actually uttered the somewhat more pedestrian "All we want are the facts." But like Sherlock Holmes with his stereotypical (but never really stated) "Elementary, my dear Watson", "Just the facts, Ma'am" will always be associated with my childhood police hero.

As I have become more involved in the pro-life vs pro-abortion scene, I have been struck by the need for a Joe Friday-type character to grab the players by the throat and insist on just the facts. What I have encountered is a good deal of rhetoric, sweeping generalizations, unexamined premises, political correctness and incorrectness, ideology, painting of oneself into a corner--almost everything except for an objective, scientifically rigorous examination of all the relevant facts and the compelling arguments that should come from them.

I can already hear your objections: "What do you mean, we ignore the facts!", followed by emails listing pages of information, references, and conclusions. I'm not suggesting that certain medical, historical, legal, political and other types of information are lacking. But as a layperson in this field, reacting in a "person on the street" way, I find that the key arguments tend to be more ideological than factual, with facts used as a battering ram to buttress preferred points of view (what in biblical interpretation circles we call proof-texting).

Perhaps I had better give a few examples. I received a most interesting email message recently from an American doctor, who is also involved with a secular pro-life medical group, describing the life vs abortion debate in his country. He told me in part,

"On a professional level we are aware that the long-term complications of abortion on the woman are often very devastating. And this is bad medicine--particularly because these women get practically no benefit from 'informed consent'. For starters, in the American system, there is practically no record of who got an abortion, so there is no practical way to link later complications...We get a lot of good information from Europe's socialized records system, but our medical people basically ignore it, since the results are politically incorrect." Compare this with a statement I read on the website of an organization that calls itself pro-choice but which provides abortions, "Abortion does not interfere with your future fertility." Somebody is either lying or is badly misinformed.

I see billboards proclaiming the clear link between induced abortion and a greater likelihood of breast cancer. I hear an equally strong denunciation of this alleged link by cancer agencies and other groups. Either there is a medical argument for it or there is not. Like so many other positions taken (e.g., living under hydro wires), people line up on both sides. If the alleged link is true, or quite possibly true, then this is very serious and should be part of any young woman's education. If it is not true, or most probably not true, then demonstrate that fact. But we have pro-life people saying that it is an established fact, and others who favour a pro-abortion position saying that it is not. The pro-choice people, who should want this allegation clarified if they really want women to have all the information necessary to make a fully informed choice, simply state the position of one side (the naysayers).

The politicians are the worst. I can remember as if it were yesterday former New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent laying out his party's principles in a speech to the faithful. Some of the biggest cheers were reserved for his statement, "Every child a wanted child."

[The statement made me think of other leaders who took similar positions with groups of individuals currently out of favour: e.g., Adolph Hitler, "Every Jew a wanted Jew". Since they weren't wanted, they were killed off as non-persons. Or former Governor of Alabama George Wallace, who ran on a pro-segregation platform in the 1960s, "Every black a wanted black" (except that Wallace didn't call them blacks). But I digress.]

Is there any way to measure wanted-ness? Wanted when?--when the woman first knew she was pregnant? How she felt six months in? How she felt today vs yesterday? Is there any evidence to show that wanted-ness makes any long-term difference in the well-being of a child? Was Einstein wanted? Martin Luther King Jr.? Me? What would one say if the mother of Idi Amin or Pol Pot or Joseph Stalin said that she really, really wanted that baby? Ed didn't linger on these matters. What he was really saying, of course, was "Every pregnancy a convenient pregnancy", but that doesn't make for good campaign rhetoric.

One of the worst arguments of all (I say worst because it sounds so plausible on the surface) goes something like this: "Whether to have an abortion is a very personal matter that should be decided between a woman and her doctor." What do we know about a doctor's knowledge of fetal development? We hear time and again from women who have had abortions and then regretted it that the doctor told her that she wasn't carrying anything other than a mass of cells.

A mass of cells?

Before the mother could even know that she is pregnant, that mass of cells already has the foundations of the brain, spinal cord and nervous system. On day 21 the heart starts beating. By four weeks the backbone and muscles are forming and the arms, legs, eyes and ears have begun to show. By the time week five rolls around and the mother is beginning to wonder if she might be pregnant, five fingers can be discerned in the hand, and in week six, when she might be told that she is carrying a mere mass of cells, brain waves can be detected. At the end of eight weeks, when the woman might be scheduled for surgery, the fetus' heart has been beating for more than a month, the stomach produces digestive juices and the kidneys have begun to function.

The medical community is in agreement that life begins at conception. The issue now is not whether the fetus represents life, or even that it is human life, but whether it is a person. The "mass of cells" argument is meaningless. What the mother should be told is, "If you have an abortion, you are ending a life. What you have to decide is whether you are killing a person or not."

The people who grieve me the most are the ones who delight in calling themselves pro-choice. I have never met a group who talked about being for choice more while encouraging it less. Our western liberal democratic societies view choice as one of our foundational pillars. We encourage people to inform themselves fully, whether it is to vote, purchase, choose where to live or go to school, etc., etc., etc. But on the life vs abortion issue, full information is squelched.

There is a member of Canada's Bloc Quebecois party, for instance, who often speaks during question period. She is a big lady with a florid complexion who argues in various degree of loud. I watched her once lambaste the Minister of Heritage of the day because she allowed funding for a women's organization called REAL Women, her objection being that they are pro-life (the L in REAL stand for 'for life').

Shouldn't funding all sides of an issue be a good thing? Her own political party argued long and loud for representation in the leaders' debates at election time to ensure that Canadians know what they stand for. Why is life vs abortion different?

Joe Friday would never put up with this fuzzy-headed argumentation. Neither should we. Those who are pro-life must be sure to give compelling arguments based on a rigorous evaluation of the facts... and to ask the same of all opponents. So should those who like to call themselves pro-choice. Nothing but the facts, Ma'am.

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

It's time to come clean

I've been slamming some pro-choice groups pretty hard lately for being driven not so much by well thought out principles as by a combination of political correctness, ignorance, and mental laziness, which I labeled secular fundamentalism . How else does one explain the nonsensical reasoning of the Capilano Students' Union (see earlier posts), or of pro-choice groups who want to muzzle anything emanating from one of the choices?

In fairness, I should at this point trot out some of my own convictions for others to examine and critique if desired. What follows, in no particular order, are some of the things that I believe and don't believe, and why.

First and foremost, I derive my life principles from the Judeo-Christian heritage. What I find, not surprisingly, is that many of these principles are common to other faiths, and even to some people of no particular faith.

[Theological aside: This is what I would expect, given my belief that all of humanity is created in the image of God.]

I can't begin to list all of these principles and their implications for living in our society in our time, but I'll mention a few prominent ones.

1. Life is intended to be lived to the full, to be lived with meaning and purpose. The central teaching of my heritage is that life has purpose and direction, that it is not ruled by randomness or what is sometimes called darwinianism (nothing to do with my belief in human origins). A truly full life is characterized by economic justice and balance, human connectedness, and loving one's neighbour as oneself. My philosophy as a school board trustee for twenty-one years was that education should prepare a student for a life worth living (as opposed to the careerism that has beset education in recent decades).

A life of purpose and meaning will, of necessity, be one that is lived according to broad and flexible principles that reflect one's beliefs and values and can be applied consistently in varying situations, as opposed to rules that apply only to some situations. As I discussed in an earlier post, political correctness may reflect the flavour of the month with respect to some issue, but be turned on its head in a few years. I think, for instance, of how what constitutes feminist views has flipped and flopped around depending on who is doing the defining.

2. The family is the building block of society. Many cultures hold this principle highly; regrettably, North American culture has become increasingly individualistic. A "me first" ethos has predominated in our culture now for at least forty years. Canadian rock lovers of a certain age will remember BTO's big hit, "Looking Out for Number One."

And you'll find out every trick in the book, that there's only one way to get things done. You'll find out the only way to the top is looking out for number one.

3. Life is sacred. Humanity is made individually and collectively in God's image, endowing it with a dignity and worth beyond comprehension. The big difference between the pro-life groups and the pro-abortion groups is setting the time when that dignity and worth begin. In Canada, where abortion at any stage is legally permitted and publicly funded, all but a baby's head could be clear of the birth canal and its life could still be taken (partial birth abortion).

4. Humanity, individually and collectively, is not perfect. Darwinians would say that we are evolving towards a better state; most people of religious faith would say that we have "devolved", fallen from grace, and so on. Those in the former camp see the evolutionary process, by and large, as positive. The social contract, as it is constituted at any particular time, should guide political and ethical decision-making. The latter group (including myself) believe that we have given up much of life's meaning and direction and need to recapture it.

This is why scriptures play such a key role in most faiths. The problem is that even if they are viewed as infallible and inerrant, they are still susceptible to the vagaries of human interpretation. There is no comparison between the scriptural beliefs of mainstream Islam, for instance, and those of the Taliban and other Islamic terrorist groups. Or of the Christian fundamentalists and the Unitarian Church.

To understand scripture aright, one has to break through cultural conditioning and let the scriptural principles speak for themselves. Our worm's-eye approach to discerning the will of the Deity, embedded as we are in our respective cultures, makes taking a bird's-eye view, above and unimpeded by culture, very difficult. But if we are to discern eternal principles that apply to all cultures in all time periods, we have to get beyond cultural applications from any particular period.

5. God's long-term goal for humanity is one of peace, security, and happiness. In the Old Testament this is sometimes referred to metaphorically as "Jacob's rest." This goal is reflected in His many Old Testament laws having to do with strong, stable families, mutual accountability, and a major emphasis on justice, particularly for the marginalized in society. It is seen in his command that should punishment be necessary, that said punishment should fit the crime (which is what "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" means).

Taking all of the above together, I arrive at pro-life conclusions. Life is sacred. There is enough evidence from the Bible to satisfy me that life begins in the womb. [I'll spell this out in another post.]

Life has dignity and worth. There is nothing in my heritage that would suggest that these attributes are in anyway lessened by gender, race, age, state of health, creed, education, or any physical or mental challenge.

Therefore, those who are strong do not exploit the vulnerable, marginalized, exploitable, whether economically, politically, sexually or otherwise. Women, for instance, should have control of their own bodies, and no one should ever violate that right.

But should some odious man actually violate that woman, the punishment should fit the crime. But the baby has not committed any crime, nor in many cases has the woman. Let the punishment fall where it should.

Given my principles of mutual accountability, justice and the centrality of the family unit, public policy and private action must be geared to full support for a woman who has been entrusted, even against her will, with a sacred life in her womb. If the family is the building block of society, people should not be penalized for putting family first. If life is sacred, then individuals should not be penalized for giving birth. There are a host of policies that flow out of this that I can deal with at another time.

I should mention one last principle, not a scriptural one, but developed from a long life of advocacy and political involvement--politics is a blunt instrument for accomplishing moral objectives. The pro-life movement, if it wants to accomplish its long-term objectives, must become much more sophisticated than it is now. It can't overcome major challenges by simply waving signs and calling for quick political fixes. This too is a form of fundamentalism.

[The views expressed above are my own and do not necessarily reflect any pro-life person or organization with whom I am associated.]

Monday, 10 September 2007

Give me a good atheist any day!

I had a seminary professor of the Lutheran persuasion who had no use for agnostics. While he was completely opposed to atheism, he was prepared to give atheists the credit that they had taken the time to look at whatever evidence was available to them, and had come to a personal conclusion that they were prepared to stake their life on. Of course, he had gone through the same process and staked his life on his conclusions as well--only his were theistic, not atheistic.

Agnostics, on the other hand, were people who either didn't take the time to examine the evidence, develop consistent principles, or bother to come to any conclusions that would affect their lives. They were simply content, open-minded puffballs with no convictions. While the theist might hold up a Bible (or other scripture if of another faith), and the atheist a copy of a book written by a Huxley, the agnostic would simply shrug and wash his/her empty hands of the matter. As Charles Colson might say, they are comfortably numb.

I often think of my former professor when I read or hear the utterances of many pro-choice groups. What a bunch of puffballs they are--the theological equivalent to agnostics.

What do I mean? Well, think about the nonsense at Capilano College where the local students' union (SU) denied official club status to a group identifying itself as pro-life. I read through the students' union press release (, which I have to assume correctly represents that body's position. What fluff! And so typical of what one reads from various groups (including university campus groups) when trying to explain why one of the choices they purport to represent (life vs abortion) is muzzled.

First of all the SU claims that in coming to a decision about formally recognizing clubs, "they have to represent what the law says....and the human right of all of us to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly." Obeying the law is a good thing. Most commendable. The pro-life group would be on safe ground here.

The SU adds that they must also represent what the Capilano Students' Union constitution says. Parts of that constitution that are cited in the press release include the following:

1. "To provide a common framework within which students can communicate, exchange information, and share experience, skills and ideas." I daresay that this is exactly what the pro-life group was hoping to do.

2. "Clubs may not perpetrate conduct inciting hatred towards other persons or groups including, but not limited to, racist, sexist, misogynist, or homophobic/heterosexist behavior." Most of these concerns are covered by human rights legislation already, and I don't know many people who would argue for misogyny. Again, the SU is only saying that the law must be obeyed. No issue for pro-life groups surely. They are also legal and exist (or have existed) on many campuses including UBC, SFU, TWU, U Vic, UCFV, UNBC (Cariboo campus) and the Kelowna campus of UBC.

I note with interest that officially approved clubs at Capilano College include two based on race (Chinese and Latin American), one based on politics (Liberal) and one based on religion (Christian). It could be that the Chinese club members have opinions about Taiwan or the Falun Gong or Communism that mirror the Chinese government's, or they might have the opposite convictions. But we don't leap to the conclusion on the basis of their name that they are inciting hatred or anything else. I'll bet that both the Liberals and the Christians would be happiest if everyone with whom they come in contact would convert to their respective opinions, but they are nevertheless not considered discriminatory. How does a pro-life group fall into a different camp from the Chinese, the Liberals and the Christians?

This is where I would expect the SU to give a definitive answer, some kind of principled response that reflects what they claim to stand for--pro-choice. What does pro-choice mean, after all? Surely it means that there are two positions on the issue of pregnancy (give birth or have an abortion). Given that the choices dictate very different results, and that these results have lifelong implications, one would expect that students would want to give every consideration to the varying views before making the decision itself. As long as the pro-life people and the pro-abortion people did not display hatred toward each other, the SU's constitutional requirements would be met.

Instead we get the very illogical argumentation that in no way reflects a pro-choice perspective.

1. "[The SU] recommended that Heartbeats work through the CSU Women's Collective on the issue of a woman's right to have a supportive environment and access to information on all reproductive options available." Why didn't they tell the Christian club to work through the local churches near the campus? Or the Liberal club to work through the Political Science department of the College? Why not have the Chinese students provide a shuttle service to the corner of Keefer and Main (i.e., to Chinatown)? A club is a club. It has a variety of purposes, including fellowship, fundraising, professional development, etc. People of strong common interests like to come together to fraternize internally and publicize externally. Should the pro-life group be denied the opportunity freely extended to others?

2. "The Heartbeat club was (and continues to be) listed on a pro-life network website ( as an official student club at Capilano without approval from the CSU or the College." Actually, this is not true. I looked up the website in question and found that the club was listed under the heading NCLN Campus Groups. Nowhere does it say that these are "official clubs" of the institutions in question.

3. "The site offers resources and suggestions for campus club constitutions and activities...." What follows is a list of suggestions from the NCLN that the SU finds objectionable, although every one of them is legal and none violate human rights. I don't happen to like some of these suggestions myself, but that is beside the point. Being listed on that site does not necessarily prove that the Capilano pro-life groups agrees with these suggestions or intends to adopt them. This is simply a "guilt by association" ploy by the SU that leads them to the following illogical conclusion: "This clearly indicates the Heartbeat's anti-choice agenda." Nonsense.

I submit that the only anti-choice group is the Capilano Students' Union. Their reasoning is not at all what one would expect given their professed pro-choice position. I don't think that they have ever examined what pro-choice means.

Give me a good atheist any day!

Thursday, 6 September 2007

More sinned against than sinning

I watched a very thought-provoking video clip on You Tube today entitled the Libertyville Abortion Demonstration. A group of pro-life supporters with posters depicting aborted fetuses was interviewed by a reporter who asked the demonstrators two questions:

1. Should abortion be illegal? Of course, they all said yes.
2. If it were illegal, what penalty should be applied to the mother?

Amazingly, and regrettably, no one questioned had thought about that matter. What followed was a pretty embarrassing display of stammering and stuttering. I must add for balance, however, that some of the respondents did show a good deal of compassion for the women in question.

Naturally the video got me thinking about how I would have answered the same two questions. With my thoughts still somewhat in a jumble, here is my stab at some answers. I invite y.m.f.r. (you, my faithful reader) to respond with your own great thoughts.

First the question of the legality and illegality of abortions. Whether abortions are legal or illegal, the following pertain:

a. Many women, especially the younger ones, get pregnant without benefit of a marital partner or at least a stable, long-term relationship. [75% of abortions are performed on unmarried women, mostly in their teens and twenties. Well over half of pregnant teenage girls in Canada abort their babies.]

b. Many of these women are manipulated into having the abortions through misleading information (e.g.,it's just a mass of cells; abortion will never interfere with your future fertility; abortion is a routine operation), threats of abandonment, pressure from embarrassed parents, boyfriends, and so on. In other words, the mother is not necessarily the one pushing for the abortion to happen.

c. Those counseling women to have an abortion may be in a conflict of interests. There is big money in abortion provision. Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider in the U.S. Their revenues for 2006 amounted to some $900 million USD, of which $305 million was provided through government grants and contracts, and another $345 million in "clinic income."

d. The often sexually irresponsible movie industry displays physical intimacy as largely a recreational activity where no one ever suffers emotionally or physically and women seldom get pregnant. The kids swallow this stuff whole. A 2003 study of Canadian youth done by the Council of Ministers of Education and funded by Health Canada found that adolescents in Canada are sexually active but have relatively low levels of contraception and condom use. Although many young people know about contraception and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), they often fail to take necessary precautions. They are frequently too embarrassed to purchase condoms, for instance. They also believe many myths, such as this astonishing one: a woman can't become pregnant or contract an STI the first time she has sex.

Is it any wonder, then, that STIs for young people under 18 are nine times higher than the overall Canadian rate. They don't feel comfortable to talk to their family doctor about such matters, and have no idea to whom else they can turn.

Given such realities as these, I believe that women who abort their babies are often more sinned against than sinning. To address the problem of unplanned pregnancies and subsequent abortions by simply making them illegal and punishing the mothers lets the real perpetrators off scot free (like jailing the sex trade workers and ignoring the johns).

Therefore, rather than talk about illegalities, let's discuss the multitudinous alternatives to abortion that are on offer from many agencies and churches. Let's discuss proper sex education that emphasizes more than so-called safe sex (which the kids are ignoring at any rate). Let the alleged pro-choice groups begin to encourage the life arguments that lead to healthier lifestyles for young women and men, rather than opposing pro-life groups at every turn. If you are really pro-choice, then encourage all of the arguments--don't stifle them.

Now for the issue of penalties. When the U.S.A. introduced prohibition (i.e., of the legal sale of alcohol), they simply spawned a huge underworld industry that provided criminals with enormous income. We have seen something like that with increased taxes on cigarettes--as the price of smokes went up so did the incidents of tobacco smuggling. The government has learned from this and turned to remedies such as appropriate education concerning the results of smoking and support for those who want to quit. The result has been a precipitous drop in the number and percentage of smokers in Canada and the U.S.

I believe that if women (and men) had access to the full and truthful information about fetal development, the dangers of careless sexual intimacy, alternatives to abortion, the amount of support available to those in crisis pregnancies and so on, that we would see a similar drop in the incidents of abortion.

But there are at least two groups who have shown little interest in such remedies. One is Hollywood of course. The big money in entertainment is by appealing to base instincts. The other is a large chunk of the pro-choice movement. They seem to want to squelch the expression of opinion and information on the pro-life side, argue for open season on unborn babies, and wash their hands of the whole business. Pilates all.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Secular fundies and the Cap College pro-life club

I grew up in a fundamentalist church, emphasis on damn (i.e., damning everything that was fun). We were raised with the notion that the Christian religion was composed of one very big DO (do get saved), and an extensive list of DONT'S (don't drink, smoke or chew, or go with girls that do). Faith was not a combination of devotion and a group of broadly-based principles that were applied consistently to life in all of its facets, but rather the simple adherence to a set of moral rules that dealt with only certain areas of one's life. In other words, morality was a very limited concept.

This approach led to a remarkably inconsistent lifestyle. For instance, one didn't go to movies (because we would be supporting the repugnant lifestyles of movie stars), but one could attend hockey games (fortunately, no hockey player ever made morally repugnant choices). One couldn't smoke or drink, but obesity and lack of physical fitness never got you in trouble. Certain churches were ruled out as bible-believing because they forsook evangelism for helping the poor, exploited, hungry and oppressed. That Jesus advocated helping the poor, exploited, hungry and oppressed was conveniently overlooked.

I could go on, but my point is that only certain activities were viewed as moral imperatives, almost all to do with lifestyle choices. The idea that there was some underlying principle that might have wide and consistent application beyond the limited menu was never thought about.

I often think of my upbringing when I listen to the points of view expressed by certain secular and politically correct groups. Let's take some pro-choice spokespeople, for instance. The label 'pro choice' to me means that one is tolerant of various points of view and allows for individuals to make up their own minds. That is not to say that one does not have a personal preference or conviction, but that one allows for the fact that there are differences of opinion and does not insist that only one choice be permitted.

But what makes me want to label such people as secular fundamentalists is because we find an inconsistent tolerance (which is to say, we find intolerance), and an undermining of one's own position through the arbitrary application of choice.

Therefore we see this set of remarkable positions all taken by the same pro choice groups:
1. Abortion is a viable option. There should be no limits placed on a woman's right to choose. We gave Henry Morgantaler an honourary doctorate for espousing just this principle.
2. The emotional, physical and economic circumstance of the pregnant woman trump any right to life of the fetus. Woman are persons and unborn babies are not. Therefore the rights are stacked on one side and can't be questioned or restricted. This is the current legal state of affairs in Canada.
3. Abortion is OK even when the reason for the abortion is that the child will be born with physical/mental challenges. This applies equally to male and female babies.
4. Abortion is not OK if the reason for having the abortion is to avoid giving birth to a female child, as is often the case in certain communities such as in China, which has a one baby per family policy. I can't afford a baby right now--fine. My emotional health couldn't handle giving birth--no problem. The baby has Down's Syndrome--abortion will look after that. But, I don't want a girl because a boy will be better able to look after me in my old age--no way. You must have that baby.

If you can see any consistent application of principle in that list, you are employing an approach to logic that escapes me. No, it's secular fundamentalism.

I see the same inconsistent and intolerant approach taken by the pro-choice Students' Union at Capilano College in North Vancouver, British Columbia. A pro-life group that rejoices in the name of the Heartbeat Club has twice been denied official club status because of their alleged goal of advancing a "pro-life/anti-choice political agenda" (Vancouver Province, Sept. 4, 2007).

Now surely the Students' Union can't be opposed to something having a political side to it. They have a gay and lesbian group on campus. Who is more politically active than the various pro-gay groups? Doubtless there have been feminist groups with a political agenda on the Cap campus. I suspect that they would receive a full students' union endorsement. I note that there is a Liberal club. A club aligned with a political party is by definition political. Or is political activism acceptable for all but one sort of group--pro-lifers? But that would be inconsistent, wouldn't it?

So if it's not the political aspect that is bothering the Students' Union, is it the pro-life one? But isn't a pro-life group simply expressing a preference (like the pro-Liberal club)? Is having a pro-Liberal club anti-choice? Surely, we're not all supposed to be Liberals are we (as much as the club members might like that)? Is having a pro-gay group anti-choice? Presumably we're not all supposed to be gay? Why are preferences like Liberal, gay, feminist, or chess versus checkers all acceptable expressions of preference, but pro-life is not?

Did the Heartbeaters say that they wish that women would not resort to abortion? So did Hilary Clinton, and she will probably be the next Democratic president of the United States. Would the Capilano Students' Union allow Ms Clinton on campus? I am only speculating here, but I'll put up good money that they would leap at the opportunity.

Come on, students' union fundies. If you are pro-choice, prove it. Allow for expressions of preference for everyone, not everyone but...