Many of you may have recently come across the pro-choice conversion story of Libby Anne, her passionate article about how and why she changed from being pro-life to pro-choice and why the pro-life movement is defunct. She writes:
“As a child, teen, and college student, I sincerely believed that personhood, life, rights, and the soul all began at fertilization. I was honestly opposed to abortion because I believed it was murder. It had nothing to do with being anti-woman or anti-sex. I thought that the pro-life movement writ large – the major pro-life organizations, leaders, and politicians – were similarly genuine. I thought that they, like myself, simply wanted to “save the lives of unborn babies.”
I have come to the conclusion that I was a dupe.
What I want to share here is how I came to this realization.”
This article has been posted here, there and everywhere by the pro-choice crowd as if it’s the argument to finally silence pro-lifers for good. It has many ‘original’ points such as claiming that “Banning abortion does not actually affect abortion rates” and that it only leads to more dangerous, clandestine abortions and that “conservatives want to penalize a poor woman who chooses to carry a pregnancy to term by making it harder for her to make ends meet,” and in the end the pro-life movement is “not about babies. It’s about controlling women. It’s about making sure they have consequences for having unapproved sex.”
Right… sound familiar?
This is the same old stuff that pro-choice advocates have been peddling for decades, and there are the same old obvious flaws with her line of argument. Why has this particular blog post suddenly been championed with new flare? I would like to thoroughly go through and explain just where her arguments have gone wrong in every respect but there are too many knots to untie to do all that in one go, so instead I want to address a few key points.
First of all, one of the reasons I think that this particular post has been supported with such newfound rigour, is that it’s got that sort of unquestionable conversion story flavour to it. The sort of “she knows what it’s really like, she was on the inside” kind of scandal, “there’s nothing you can deny now that she’s come out”. Of course, if a woman who was pro-choice comes to see things from a pro-life perspective, the pro-choicers are quick to downplay the validity of personal testimony.
So what can we say that contradicts her testimony? Actually, we needn’t say anything, she’s already contradicted herself. When she’s explaining what her experience of being in the pro-life movement was like she says:
“As a child, teen, and college student, I sincerely believed that personhood, life, rights, and the soul all began at fertilization. I was honestly opposed to abortion because I believed it was murder. It had nothing to do with being anti-woman or anti-sex.”
Right, so that’s her inside leak? So when she was on “the inside” as a pro-life campaigner she was genuine but then once she’s become passionately pro-choice and done all her “scientific” research she somehow comes to realise that everyone else was deceiving her and it was all a façade? Somehow it sounds like this isn’t an inside scoop but a case of cognitive dissonance. All her views about the corruption and deceit of the pro-life movement came about from the outside looking in; she changed her beliefs to fit her attitudes. There’s nothing to see here.
Speaking of her “scientific research”, it’s important to point out that her sudden epiphany occurred over her lunchtime reading of the New York Times, which I was unaware was an infallible source of scientific evidence.
“My journey began one blustery day in October of 2007 when I came upon an article in the New York Times… As I sat there in the student union reading over my lunch, I found that making birth control widespread and easily accessible is actually the most effective way to decrease the abortion rate.”
My own perusal of scientific evidence has lead me to believe that this is completely wrong, for example, a recent Chilean study showed that illegal abortion is not associated with maternal mortality and this was written extensively about in a previous blog on this page. As the lead author of the study explains:
“there is a rigorous analysis controlled by multiple confounders. It is not a matter of circumstantial or anecdotal evidence, but a matter of scientific data representing real, vital events whose methodology has been published for the first time in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.”
Yet somehow she has the audacity to accuse the pro-life movement of “cooking up “scientific facts”” with the New York Times as her witness. Anyone else confused?
To be fair, the one thing I did find to be a relatively interesting angle was to explain that (by quoting another infallible scientific source – Sarah’s blog) “a woman’s body naturally rejects at least 18% of fertilized eggs”. She later does her own research stepping that number up to between 30-50%. I’m not going to do a critique here of exactly which figure is right and what the current knowledge of this natural phenomena is, but I’m happy to agree that it does happen a decent percentage of the time. She then decides that it’s her responsibility to tell the pro-life movement how it should achieve its aims, not that she would do it because after all she’s decided:
“I no longer believe that abortion is murder because I no longer hold that a zygote, embryo, or fetus is a “person.”… For a variety of reasons, I see birth as the key dividing line.” [A pretty radical position. Birth? Really? Where’d that come from?]
Anyway, so, by her logic, if the pro-life movement is about saving babies (zygotes included) then we should be campaigning to fund-raise for research into this natural phenomenon of failed implantation. Therefore, seeing as we don’t do that, then what we really must be doing is trying to control women’s sex lives.
Here she has missed a stark distinction. There is a big difference between death by natural causes and death by deliberate killing. In law there’s even a big difference between accidental and deliberate killing. But that’s not even what we’re talking about; this is the difference between death by natural causes and deliberate, state sanctioned, medical, surgical killing. They are completely different moral objects.
The purpose of the pro-life movement is not to end all causes of child death in the womb. It’s more specific and it regards the moral actions of individuals, not medical research. Opposing abortion is about saving the lives of children who would be given the full natural chance to live and fulfill their potential, but instead are deliberately cut off from life for psycho-social reasons. Campaigning for research into the cause and prevention of miscarriage is an admirable project, but it is a distinctly different project to ours.
By her logic, we should also be campaigning for research into every other natural cause of death, say including malaria and HIV in African countries. Again, these are of course extremely admirable causes, but that is not ours. By extension of her logic again, she would have to concede that it’s ethical to kill people in parts of the world where dying of natural disease is highly imminent, if you have some psycho-social reason to, as, well, there’s a good chance they would die anyway. The logic here is clearly flawed.
There is of course much more that could be said about claims she has made in her article but I feel I’ve addressed some of the main ones here. At the end of the day, it’s clear that this story is nothing strange or new. At the end of the day, for whatever reasons, Libby Anne changed her mind because, as she said, “I no longer believe that abortion is murder because I no longer hold that a zygote, embryo, or fetus is a ‘person.’” She has no inside story or original criticism. Her strong conclusions about the motives of the pro-life movement came about completely ad hoc to her changing her mind on the central issue and as a result of her unquestioning susceptibility to fallacious “scientific evidence”.
Same old, same old, folks – if this is the best that they’ve got, then time may well prove us the victors.