Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Message to Pro-Life Advocates in Light of Gosnell's Shop of Horrors [Josh Brahm]

This guest post is provided by Josh Brahm, a contributor to this blog. Josh is the Director of Education at Right to Life of Central California’s Fresno/Madera office, and host of the vodcast “Life Report: Pro-Life Talk | Real World Answers.” Get more of Josh’s unique perspectives on pro-life topics at www.ProLifePodcast.net.

This has been a really bad publicity week for abortion providers. First the national controversy over the horrors that went on behind the scenes at “Doctor” Gosnell’s abortion facility. Now an Associated Press story is implying that Live Action is getting ready to release videos exposing several Planned Parenthood employees of covering up sex trafficking with various PP health services. All of this while Abby Johnson’s tell-all book “Unplanned” has been on Amazon.com’s Top 100 Bestselling Books List for two weeks. Abby’s book is hardly the first book to be written that exposes what goes on at many abortion facilities (see here, here, and here), though it will probably forever be the most notable.

As atrocious as Gosnell’s barbaric acts were, and as bad as covering up sex trafficking is…those things are not what make abortion wrong.

Abortion is wrong because it unjustifiably takes the life of a human being.

The shocking nature of these stories is precisely the reason that pro-life advocates must be especially careful in the next few months to consider what they will say if their friend asks, “so, why are you pro-life?”

The lazy way out would be to reply with something like, “have you heard about the freaky abortionists in those places? They keep fetal body parts in jars! How could I not be pro-life?”

This strategy is dangerous even though it may sometimes work.

It is not news to the regular readers of this blog that many people in the postmodern world are more quickly moved by emotional stories and pictures than by logic and good arguments. Thus, you may make some impact on the person you’re talking to with just the above statement about yucky abortionists. You say your piece, they react emotionally to Gosnell’s disgustingness, and you go your separate ways.

“But, why would that be bad, Josh? The whole point is to make the person rethink their pro-abortion-choice views, right?”

Yes, and this is where wisdom comes in. It’s not necessarily a choice between bad and good. It’s a choice between good, better and best.

While you may make a marginal impact on that person, if he later considers the issue more carefully, he will realize that Gosnell’s checkered past does not make or break the case for abortion rights. It just proves that some people do really sick things when they’re not kept accountable.

(Gee, I thought Christians already knew that…)

Instead, if you had made a stronger case for life, (I like to start with Steve Wagner’s 10-second soundbyte,) that person would have left, put the same amount of thought into the issue later, and would have been unable to dismiss your argument so easily.
An important clarification: this does not mean stories about Gosnell and the Live Action investigations have no significance. It takes stories like this to awaken the moral sensibilities of people in the mushy middle.

I believe there are minimally-committed pro-abortion-choice people that will read the Grand Jury Report on Gosnell, and learn that the reason he was left alone by the state authorities that already knew about the conditions of his clinic was because they didn’t want to put any “barriers up to women seeking abortions.” The pro-abortion-choice person may be shocked to see the effect legal abortion has on well-meaning people, and then (here’s the key) look closer at the abortion debate. Ideally they will compare the best arguments the pro-life side has to offer, and the best arguments the pro-abortion-choice side has to offer, and then change their thinking.

I make a similar argument when defending pro-lifers that utilize graphic pictures in their pro-life presentations. Abortion is not wrong because pictures of it are gross and bloody. But the pictures are true and they awaken our sensibilities, restoring meaning to the word “abortion.” This is important, because many people hear the word “abortion” and think of a benign medical procedure that makes a woman “unpregnant.”

However, we must remember the most effective way to use graphic pictures. It’s not just taping a huge graphic sign to the front side of your house and waiting for people to become pro-life. It’s using them in an environment where you can also offer a scientific and philosophic case for life. I do this regularly with pro-life presentations and while participating in a Justice For All or GAP exhibit. (Warning: links include graphic images.)

That’s my point. Stories about current events are some of the most effective ways for pro-life advocates to start conversations with their pro-abortion-choice friends in a way that is neither awkward nor forced. If using a story like Gosnell’s will get a non-weird conversation started on abortion that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, by all means use it!

But don’t stop there.

Make sure you get a chance to make a strong philosophical case for life before the conversation ends.

What I am recommending to my fellow pro-life advocates is to not get lazy and primarily use gruesome stories like Gosnell’s when making a case for life. Your argument will fall short every time.

Abortion is not wrong because many men and women regret their abortion later. Abortion is wrong because it unjustifiably takes the life of a human being.

Abortion is not wrong because one of the babies killed may have eventually cured cancer or written the next great Broadway musical. Abortion is wrong because it unjustifiably takes the life of a human being.

Abortion is not wrong because it may have a negative effect on our economy or may have helped cripple the Social Security program. Abortion is wrong because it unjustifiably takes the life of a human being.

Abortion is not wrong because the nation’s leading abortion provider Planned Parenthood does many other icky things, including promoting promiscuity in teens, promoting violence against pro-lifers and selling fetal body parts. Abortion is wrong because it unjustifiably takes the life of a human being.

Abortion is not wrong if some of the people working for Planned Parenthood help to cover up statutory rape or alleged sex trafficking, or if they lie about the facts of fetal development. Abortion is wrong because it unjustifiably takes the life of a human being.

And abortion is not even wrong because some of the people who perform abortions commit horrific acts only paralleled by the scariest of horror movies.

Abortion is wrong because it unjustifiably takes the life of a human being.

NOTE: At the author's request, the post above was edited slightly @1:26 PM for clarity sake. The phrase "human person" was replaced with "human being."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Pro-Life Statesman [Scott]

A colleague of mine asked what adjustments pro-life advocates should make to better position themselves for 2011 and beyond.

That's a loaded question that's best left to brighter minds, but my general reply was as follows: Pro-life Christians should bring God glory. At the practical level, that means they must not only state their case persuasively, but transform themselves into winsome statesmen without sacrificing the intellectual content of their ideas.

I then sketched out a rough (and very incomplete) outline of what that transformation might look like, including those principles that I strive to live by as a pro-life apologist.

Thesis: The pro-life statesman completes five key tasks:

I) The pro-life statesman presents a persuasive case for life in forums where our message most needs a hearing:
A. in Catholic and Protestant high schools
B. in presentations to clergy
C. in debates at high schools and universities
D. in training seminars for lay people
E. in talks to elementary age children
F. in worldview courses for high school students

II) The pro-life statesman engages the debate in the academy:
A. in philosophy:
1. He defends the substance view of human persons
2. He challenges naturalism as a foundation for human rights and ethics
B. in Law: refutation of moral and legal neutrality
C. in Ethics: He helps Christians think biblically about medical technology related to the edges of life (beginning and end of life)

III) The pro-life statesman clarifies theological misconceptions
A. in Evangelical theology: He challenges the mistaken belief that we should only preach the gospel and never do politics--but he does so without sacrificing fidelity to the gospel or Scripture
B. in Catholic theology: He confronts the mistaken belief that social justice requires that all moral issues carry equal moral weight
C. in Pastoral theology: He engages clergy who mistakenly think the gospel of grace means ignoring sin
D. in personal theology: He challenges the mistaken view that individuals must get a personal assignment from God to do pro-life work
E. in youth ministry theology: He challenges the claim that today's twitter generation can't handle serious pro-life content

IV) The pro-life statesman connects the dots
A. in churches: He helps pastors win connecting biblical truth to abortion
B. in politics: He graciously explains why all political parties are not equal in their defense of human life
C. in pregnancy center ministry: He inspires staff and volunteers to minister to women AND impact culture

V. The pro-life statesman functions with intellectual integrity:
A. in his study: He masters the moral logic of the pro-life view
B. in his speaking: He cites sources for ideas and illustrations not his own
C. in his tactics: He graciously engages critics with questions designed to gather information and reverse the burden of proof
D. in his presentation: He avoids bad pro-life arguments
Admittedly, this is a very sparse outline, but stay tuned. I sense a talk may be developing.

Friday, January 21, 2011

It is All About Abortion [Jay]

“People die.” Christine Dutton, Chief Legal Counsel of The Pennsylvania Department of Health

I apologize for the length of this post. My only defense is that I am enraged and have to get this off my chest. You see someone suggested to me that the recent events in Philadelphia were not about abortion and I just have to respond.

The incredible evil that Dr. Kermit Gosnell (that will be the last time in this post I put the title “Dr.” before his name) and his staff worked over the last several decades at The Women's Medical Society in West Philadelphia has now been exhaustively detailed in Grand Jury Report filed on the 14th of January. The report is full, and I do mean full at 261 pages plus appendices, of unconscionable acts described as every day occurrences.

Gosnell did not perform “late term abortions” (no veneer of clinical justification here today) He induced labor in heavily tranquilized women and then killed their children as they were born. He called this practice “ensuring fetal demise.” He did not anesthetize women properly, but gave them uncontrolled doses of drugs such as Demerol administered by non-medical staff in preset amounts determined by how out of it they wanted the woman to be. The more a woman complained, the more they dosed her until they accidentally killed a woman. Cats ran free and defecated where they liked. The exam table and the recovery room were stained with blood, the halls were too narrow to get emergency patients out on a gurney, the emergency exit was permanently locked with a chain and padlock, and by all accounts the facility reeked. Perhaps the most bizarre and ghoulish of all were the random body parts and collections of the products of his unspeakable acts that he kept and displayed under the pretense that the genetic material may one day be necessary for paternity tests (insane!). This included jars with pairs of feet that he severed from the babies he killed. Gosnell acts like a character from Criminal Minds keeping trophies of his victims and it is hard to imagine that he is not a clinically disturbed individual.

It might end with Gosnell's insanity except that he had a staff that worked with him and complied with all of this barbarity. These people did it all as well including dosing women with drugs they did not understand, helping to cover up the many life threatening and ultimately deadly mistakes Gosnell made, the horrifying practice of “snipping” the spinal cords of newborns, and the illegal trafficking of prescription drugs.

In fact, were it not for that last offense Gosnell might still be in business today. Why? Was he a mastermind that so cleverly covered up what was happening that state agencies could not make charges stick? Was he so brilliant as to build a web of deceit that took years for dedicated public servants to untangle? No, he was an evil and obvious mad man. The reason he got away with it, and perhaps the most horrifying fact of all, is because the people that should have stopped this all didn't care. Not even when several independent and respectable sources filed official complaints. Not even when an organization that supposedly operates to protect the rights of women to have safe abortions walked in the door, evaluated the practice, and determined it to be the worst abortion facility they had have ever seen. They all knew something bad was happening and all of them did nothing to stop it.

This is where it becomes inconceivable to hear anyone say that this is not about abortion. It is all about abortion. Gosnell is clearly insane and no hero to the abortion rights groups and is a criminal with no regard for the lives of the women he hurt or the children he murdered. People like him are why we have oversight from agencies empowered to shut medical facilities down in the first place. Gosnell does not represent every doctor that performs abortions in the sense that he is not normal, but this is inescapably about abortion and the nature of protecting brutality as a right.

Lets look at some of the text from the report to support this claim. Starting on page 8 under the title See No Evil:

Pennsylvania is not a third-world country. There were several oversight agencies that stumbled upon and should have shut down Kermit Gosnell long ago. But none of them did, not even after Karnamaya Mongar’s death.

What agencies? End of page 8 and top of 9:

The first line of defense was the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The department’s job is to audit hospitals and outpatient medical facilities, like Gosnell’s, to make sure that they follow the rules and provide safe care.

Per the report, they issued a license in 1979 to perform abortions, showed up for on-sight inspections in 1989 (10 YEARS LATER!!), 1992, and 1993. Every visit produced violations and in every instance he was allowed to continue as long as he promised to “fix it.” But in 1993 all sight inspections stopped so no follow up was done. Why? Page 9:

Instead, the Pennsylvania Department of Health abruptly decided, for political reasons, to stop inspecting abortion clinics at all. The politics in question were not anti-abortion, but pro. With the change of administration from Governor Casey to Governor Ridge, officials concluded that inspections would be “putting a barrier up to women” seeking abortions. Better to leave clinics to do as they pleased, even though, as Gosnell proved, that meant both women and
babies would pay.


Here is where the lie that it is not about abortion abruptly ends. Oversight was stopped and Gosnell continued his evil because the main agency in charge of monitoring people like him feared doing their job would produce barriers to abortion. That is sick and an outright betrayal of public trust motivated by dedication to abortion over law.

So they weren't looking actively but they would still respond to complaints, right? If someone had just told them there was a problem they would have stepped in. Page 9 & 10:

Except that there were complaints about Gosnell, repeatedly. Several different attorneys, representing women injured by Gosnell, contacted the department. A doctor from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia hand-delivered a complaint, advising the department that numerous patients he had referred for abortions came back from Gosnell with the same venereal disease. The medical examiner of Delaware County informed the department that Gosnell had performed an illegal abortion on a 14-year-old girl carrying a 30-week-old baby. And the department received official notice that a woman named Karnamaya Mongar had died at Gosnell’s hands.

Yet not one of these alarm bells – not even Mrs. Mongar’s death – prompted the department to look at Gosnell or the Women’s Medical Society.


What finally prompted action?

Only after the raid occurred, and the story hit the press, did the department choose to act. Suddenly there were no administrative, legal, or policy barriers; within weeks an order was issued to close the clinic. And as this grand jury investigation widened, department officials “lawyered up,” hiring a high-priced law firm to represent them at taxpayer expense.

If only some other group could have known and stepped in to pick up the slack of the tragically disinterested Department of Health. Still page 10:

Another agency with authority in the health field, the Pennsylvania Department of State, could have stopped Gosnell single-handedly... Like their colleagues at Health, however, Department of State officials were repeatedly confronted with evidence about Gosnell, and repeatedly chose to do nothing.


So they probably did not have as much to go on as the Department of Health, though. What kind of good information could they have that the others did not? Pages 10 & 11:

Indeed, in many ways State had more damning information than anyone else. Almost a decade ago, a former employee of Gosnell presented the Board of Medicine with a complaint that laid out the whole scope of his operation: the unclean, unsterile conditions; the unlicensed workers; the unsupervised sedation; the underage abortion patients; even the over-prescribing of pain pills with high resale value on the street. The department assigned an investigator, whose investigation consisted primarily of an offsite interview with Gosnell. The investigator never inspected the facility, questioned other employees, or reviewed any records. Department attorneys chose to accept this incomplete investigation, and dismissed the complaint as unconfirmed.

Well certainly once they found out a woman died they sprung into action! I mean they could not still do nothing when Gosnell's practice finally killed an adult woman could they? Page 11:

Shortly thereafter the department received an even more disturbing report – about a woman, years before Karnamaya Mongar, who died of sepsis after Gosnell perforated her uterus. The woman was 22 years old. A civil suit against Gosnell was settled for almost a million dollars, and the insurance company forwarded the information to the department. That report should have been all the confirmation needed for the complaint from the former employee that was already in the department’s possession. Instead, the department attorneys dismissed this complaint too. They concluded that death was just an “inherent” risk, not something that should jeopardize a doctor’s medical license.

Oh, it gets so much worse. The State Department dismissed further complaints as not part of a pattern after failing to check the litigation database to see that five other women had been paid for serious injuries while under the care of Gosnell. The State only mustered up the outrage to yank his license after the story went public. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health had employees that visited the facility frequently to pick up blood samples and later responded with a sight inspection when they were informed he was storing dead fetuses in the refrigerator, and did nothing. One public servant, ONE, tried to do something. Page 12:

By asking questions and poking around, she was able to file detailed reports identifying many of the most egregious elements of Gosnell’s practice. It should have been enough to stop him. But instead her reports went into a black hole, weeks before Karnamaya Mongar walked into the Woman’s Medical Society.

Karnamaya Mongar was the second woman Gosnell's practice killed. And the public institutions in place to protect our citizens had all of the information that they needed to stop this insanity before she died. Read the report. It is a mess of every possible group that could have done anything to stop the butchering of human lives and the mistreatment and medical torture of women turning their heads and acting like it was not happening. The National Abortion Federation had a representative evaluate the facility and failed to report the outrageous conditions to the authorities (not that they would have cared). The University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center apparently failed to report multiple incidences of trauma treatment as a result of a botched abortion including, according to the report, when a woman showed up almost dead. It is depressing.

Why? Certainly the socio-economic level of the patients in question is in play. Even Gosnell understood that reality and instructed his staff to treat white women from the suburbs differently than his normal clientele, explaining to his employees that this was just “the way of the world.” There is more to it than that, though. The report summary ends with the following on page 13:

Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that. But we think this was something more. We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.

I apologize again for the length of this post, but it could have been so much longer if I wanted to labor you with the details of the incredible inactivity of those responsible for stopping madmen like Gosnell. We expect monsters to act like monsters. We expect those we pay with our taxes to stop them to actually stop them. Gosnell behaved as moral monsters do, and the people empowered to limit his evil failed to act in response. Why? Because it is about abortion, and only a simpleton or a committed pro-abortion zealot would claim anything else.

Clarity, not Gadgetry: Pro-Life Apologetics for the Next Generation [Scott]

Are students today too distracted by twitter to care about serious pro-life content? And how should youth pastors respond? That's the topic of my short post at the Gospel Coalition site.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Infanticide, Pakistan, and the lack of Good Old Days [Jay]

My friend and LTI Board member Chad Holland forwarded this story about unwanted children in Pakistan being abandoned and murdered. There are various societal and cultural pressures offered to explain why such a thing is happening, although I am very comfortable with merely accepting that man is fallen and prone to the most vile behavior as Paul reminds us in Romans Chapter 3. We do not murder infants because they are the products of immoral relationships or because they are girls (90% of the dead and abandoned children in relation to this article are girls) and will carry the burden of a future dowry. Such brute facts do not necessarily compel such brutal action.

Whether it is a matter of inconvenience to have a child or whether they fear they will be stoned to death by others for being pregnant but not married, they choose to do a great evil to make things better for themselves. We look to avoid consequences by performing an act that will leave us materially and physically intact at the small cost of our immortal souls, which we convince ourselves may not be real anyway. A trifle to consider when our present well being as we understand it and the current plans we have for our future are on the line. We become secret killers to avoid being publicly exposed and even sometimes so that we can merely continue to do the things we are currently doing uninterrupted. That is the sinful selfish behavior of the fallen and that is explanation enough for me.

It is natural to wish to see this as the barbarous acts of an evil people removed from our own way of life . I read comments of outrage, “How can we ever expect to get along with these beasts?” or “these people are monsters!” While I think that there are legitimate concerns that must be addressed in the radically different worldviews of Islam as it is practiced in much of the world and the Christian West, this situation does not demonstrate that so clearly. In fact, prior to the age of surgical abortion, infanticide was common enough in less foreign places.

In Joseph Dellapenna's Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History, he confronts the idea that abortion has always been common in civilization. This is an argument from the defenders of abortion, and part of the task of demonstrating the error in this line of thinking was showing that abortion was considerably less attractive given its inherent risks (in many societies it was synonymous with suicide) than good old fashioned infanticide. To quote:

While western societies seem to suffer amnesia regarding the frequency of the practice of infanticide in their own pasts, in fact much of the evidence for infanticide or abandonment in England and throughout Europe shows these to have been common practices even during the Christian era... Throughout history until the emergence of abortion as a real alternative reduced the incidence of infanticide, making the latter a relatively minor legal problem, infanticide remained the most common crime in Europe and probably in the rest of the world.

Does this include sex selection killing, a practice we condemn as particular to the barbarous Chinese and Muslims? You bet.

While low rates of birth per women might have had a number of explanations, the skewed sex ratios, absent any prenatal means of sex-selection, can only indicate female infanticide (including abandonment and neglect)... Historical demographers have identified sex ratios as high as four-to-one in favor of male children in areas of medieval Europe.

Boys just are not naturally born 4 times more often than girls. He reports the natural sex ratio at birth is 106 boys/100 girls. So if medieval Europe, ancient Greece, and Rome all had unusual sex ratios then one can be certain they were arrived at about as naturally as China's is.

So infanticide is not a Muslim thing, and it appears to be prevalent in places where abortion is not an option (it is strictly forbidden in Pakistan). This proves abortion is a good thing, right? Why would anyone say that? Whether or not abortion or infanticide are morally wrong depends upon the identity of the unborn and the newborn. Are they full members of the human family? If the answer is yes for both, then it is truly bizarre celebrating the killing of unborn human beings to spare them being killed as newborn human beings as progress. The difference is not in the kind of action, but in the developmental stage of the human life. If that is a philosophically relevant difference then someone will have to explain why. That we are better able to conceal one over the other is not a great place to start, by the way.

I have been studying the history of abortion for about a year now, and one thing that I have confronted is that there are no “good old days” when people treated other human beings, unborn or born, with the dignity and respect those bearing the image of God deserve. Our history is filled with violence upon the young for the sake of the mature, it is just a different kind of violence to a slightly older human being. If anything, modern abortion is a sanitized version of an old evil. If the garbage bins of public streets were littered with the bodies of newborns rather than the “medical waste” of the unborn perhaps it would be unnecessary to explain to a self-professed “pro-life” gentleman why that identification impacts his daily life as I recently had to do. Perhaps the grim reality of the world we live in would be clearer to him. Seeing the daily killing of newborns is harder to live with than hearing about the statistics of the daily deaths of the unborn.

Though the past offers us no refuge to which we can point and say,“if only we could get back there”, we can at minimum remind our friends and adversaries that the laws once served to limit evil and inform our people of the nature of abortion. It would be easier to say that abortion has always been around so lets make it safe, but we would scoff at the person that made the same claim about infanticide, rape, or slavery. So we move forward calling the people around us to become something better than what we are even as we acknowledge that we do not fully know what that will look like. The alternative is to walk away and let the practice of abortion move forward without restraint or protest. If the unborn are fully human, that is just not an option no matter how much easier it would be.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Raw Statistics: Not a Substitute for Evidence [Serge]

I couldn't agree with Scott more that we need to be extremely careful when evaluating statistics. As ones who should be primarily concerned with truth, abusing stats to make our points is short-sided and in the long run ineffective. We have to be better than those who use statistical data without warrant to make a point.

Like our opponents.

Here is a press release from the Guttmacher Institute discussing the leveling out of the long-twerm drop in the number of abortions:

The steady decline in the U.S. abortion rate since 1981 appears to have stalled, new Guttmacher Institute research finds. The 2008 rate stood at 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44, significantly below the 1981 peak (29.3 abortions for every 1,000 women). However, the 2008 abortion rate was virtually unchanged from the 2005 rate (19.4 abortions). Likewise, the total number of abortions in 2008 (1.21 million) was essentially unchanged from 2005.

I have no qualm with these numbers. However, check out the next paragraph:

“In this time of heightened politicization around abortion, our stalled progress should be an urgent message to policymakers that we need to do more to increase access to contraceptive services to prevent unintended pregnancy, while ensuring access to abortion services for the many women who still need them,” says Sharon Camp, president and CEO of Guttmacher.

Sharon decides with absolutely no evidence that the reason why the drop in abortion has declined is a lack of contraceptive services. Really? How did she come to that conclusion? Does she have evidence that most unplanned pregnancies are the result of a woman attempting to get contraception but being unable to do so? This surprises me, for I live in a medium sized city and can think of, oh about 30 places where one can get contraception within a 5 minute drive. Maybe there are other reasons? In fact, just recently pro-abortion choicers were claiming that the economy was going to be responsible for increased abortions. So what is it?


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Statistics: Need for Caution, Part 2 [Scott]

Not only must pro-lifers be careful with statistics; we must also be careful to define our terms. This is especially true if we want to convince reluctant pastors to take up our cause.

A Facebook message received yesterday is a case in point. "Speaking of statistics, do you know the number of women identifying as [born-again] evangelicals who are getting abortions?"

The question is a fair one. In response, pro-life advocates predictably hammer pastors with a Guttmacher study allegedly indicating that nearly one in five women who abort identify themselves as "born-again" protestants. If that doesn't do the trick, they pound the pastor with a Center for Reason study claiming that Christians have as many abortions per capita as non-Christians. (Go here for a summary of both studies.) The poor fellow is then told, "See, babies are dying in your church because born again Christians are getting abortions at alarming rates and they're getting them because you aren't preaching on the issue." To further close the deal, George Barna's research is often cited to show that born-again Christians in general live much like non-believers in terms of giving, the sexual practices of teens, and racial attitudes.

Really?

Well, that depends on what we mean by "evangelical" or, "Christian" or, more importantly, "born-again." A sharp pastor will eat a pro-life advocate alive who shows up quoting these alleged numbers and it has nothing to do with the numbers themselves. It has to do with how terms are used in the respective studies.

Let's assume for the sake of discussion the stats above are reasonably accurate. As John Piper points out, the Bible and Jesus run in the opposite direction of so-called carnal Christians who claim to be "born again", but who live just like the World. Indeed, Scripture is clear that those who are “born again” have an inner awakening from spiritual death to spiritual life and are radically transformed as a result. They are by no means perfect, but they don’t make peace with sin:

--John 3:20-21—whoever lives by truth comes to the light
--1 John 2:29—everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him
--1 John 3:9—No one born of God makes a practice of sinning
--1 John 4:7—whoever loves has been born of God
--1 John 5:4—everyone born of God overcomes the world
--1 John 5:18—everyone born of God does not keep on sinning
--Romans 6: 1-14--believers die to sin

In short, Barna’s carnal Christians aren’t worldly; they aren’t Christians!

So, how many "born-again Christians" have abortions? I don't know, but I doubt it's anywhere near the numbers presented above. It all comes down to what we mean by the term. If you aren't prepared precisely define what you mean, don't bother hammering your pastor. You'll only make pro-lifers look worse.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Statistics: Proceed with Caution [Scott]

Jill Stanek's excellent blogsite has a discussion over an article in the journal Contraception. The article covers contraception policy in Spain and the abstract for the study concludes as follows:
STUDY DESIGN: Since 1997, representative samples of Spanish women of childbearing potential (15-49 years) have been surveyed by the Daphne Team every 2 years to gather data of contraceptive methods used.

RESULTS: During the study period, 1997 to 2007, the overall use of contraceptive methods increased from 49.1% to 79.9%. The most commonly used method was the condom (an increase from 21% to 38.8%), followed by the pill (an increase from 14.2% to 20.3%). Female sterilization and IUDs decreased slightly and were used by less than 5% of women in 2007. The elective abortion rate increased from 5.52 to 11.49 per 1000 women.

CONCLUSIONS: The factors responsible for the increased rate of elective abortion need further investigation.
The ensuing discussion about the study (in the comments section of Jill's blog) contains some fiesty exchanges about contraception in general, with some pro-lifers insisting this study proves increased contraceptive use results in more abortions. At least one post claims the pill itself is abortifacient.

What follows is what I said on Jill's blog:

Admittedly, I’m no statistican. However, I have two concerns: First, statistics are slippery things and it’s tempting to quote them when they seem to support our view and downplay them when they don’t. With any study involving the extensive use of stats, it’s best to withhold a declaration of victory until 1) the internal numbers are fully analyzed for strengths and weaknesses, and 2) the methodology of the study is subject to further peer-review. To cite one example, in 1994 (some) pro-lifers went crazy citing a statistic from the Daling study which allegedly indicated that women undergoing first trimester abortions were 800% more likely to develop breast cancer by age 35. Not long after, the alleged statistic was shown to be a fluke, a random statistical error that sometimes creeps up in large samples. Applied to the study in question, I’m not suggesting that pushing contraceptives on unmarried couples has no impact on abortion rates. I’m only appealing for caution while we await further commentary.

Second, regarding some comments above on BC pills functioning as abortifacients, my own organization takes a cautious view while we await further evidence. That is, while we don’t think there is sufficient evidence to say for certain that the pill functions as an abortifacient in the event of breakthrough ovulation, we do think there’s sufficient evidence to indicate it may function that way. Thus, given human life is at stake, we should err on the side of caution while we await further evidence, meaning we do not endorse its use. But we are careful not to overstate our case and claim certitude when the evidence is still open to debate. (We have dealt with that debate on our blog, so I won’t go into it here.)

In short, it’s important that pro-lifers function with intellectual integrity, meaning we go only so far as the evidence allows. Perhaps the Spain study is in the main accurate; if so, it’s useful for confronting the lies of PP. But while we await further review, I think we should hedge our conclusions just a bit.


Kevin DeYoung has helpful posts on being cautious with statistics here and here.

You may also want to read this.

News on the Matter

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