West Coast Walk for Life 2013

Marjorie Murphy Campbell
I just got home from the 2013 West Coast Walk for Life.  I have posted here a “photo blog” of the event.  Two realities again dominated the visuals of the march:  the vibrant youth of the pro-life crowd and the further shrinkage of the still-horribly-angry opposition.  I will let the photos tell the story with this bit of context.
1.  From a 2010 Daily Beast article:   “NARAL president Nancy Keenan . . . considers herself part of the “postmenopausal militia,” a generation of baby-boomer activists now well into their 50s who grew up in an era of backroom abortions and fought passionately for legalization.

Today they still run the major abortion-rights groups, including NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the National Organization for Women.  These leaders will retire in a decade or so.

This past January [2010], when Keenan’s train pulled into Washington’s Union Station, a few blocks from the Capitol, she was greeted by a swarm of anti-abortion-rights activists. It was the 37th annual March for Life, organized every year on Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe. “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young,” Keenan recalled. “There are so many of them, and they are so young.”

2.  Nancy Keenan did not make it another “decade or so.”  Keenan resigned effective this month, January 2013, “to make room for a younger leader and a new generation of reproductive rights activists.”

 I suspect you will find the “new generation” of “reproductive rights activists” in the photos that follow, filled with young, exhuberant activists determined to defend the rights of the unborn to life.  Now, there’s a reproductive right you can get excited about!

The big opposition banner below reads “Fetuses are Not Babies, Women are Not Incubators.”  Some of the small opposition crowd was chanting the same.  This was an interesting shift away from “Keep your rosaries off my ovaries” and “My body, my choice” chants from prior years.


"Fetuses are Not Babies, Women are Not Incubators"

Oppostion to life: We won't go back.

SF Police have made this march possible over the years. Duty is more relaxed now. In the early years, the police had to remove bodily protesters trying to block our path.


Are All Mothers Crazy?

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

When I first got pregnant, I was amazed at how pro-life the world suddenly seemed. I remember Googling “five week old baby” and realizing shortly after hitting “enter” that I would probably have to change my entry to “five week old fetal development.” And yet, the search engine produced exactly what I was looking for: “See what your baby looks like in the womb at five weeks!” And it wasn’t just one website. All the headlines were like this. And the images—they weren’t of newborns, but of tiny little creatures curled up inside tiny little bubbles—fetuses.

And then I started looking at ultrasound pictures and videos. And I was amazed at what the parents said about their fetuses. First of all, they never called them that. They were “my baby,” “our little one,” even when only a tiny yolk sac was distinguishable on the machine (at which point, the fetus isn’t even considered a fetus yet—but an embryo.) But more than just being called “baby,” they were treated as such. The mothers and fathers—they talked to their fetuses. They interacted with them—the mother might laugh and the baby might move which would make the mother laugh again and the baby move even more. And then these ultrasound images would be taken home, maybe even framed (especially with the new 3d ultrasound technology in which you can really see the baby’s facial features—many parents frame a picture from the 3d ultrasound side-by-side with a picture of the newborn, amazed at how they can often look like the same exact picture.)

But perhaps most striking of all is how women, at their most casual, speak about their fetus. Again, they never call it that. They rarely even call it an “it.” Even before the sex is known, many will say “he/she” or switch out he and she or stick to one until they know. You hear things like “I felt the baby move,” or “I don’t think Baby would like that,” or “is it okay if I eat this cheese? Will it harm my baby?” There are countless tips on how to “bond with your unborn baby”—tips on talking to the fetus, touching the belly, playing music for it—and all of these people, they act as if they truly believe the fetus is more than a clump of tissue. They act as if they truly believe that the fetus is a child. And yet, I am sure that a good amount of them, in the political arena, would argue that it is not.

And perhaps this means nothing. Perhaps women are doing with their fetuses what anyone does with anything they desire. Wishfully thinking. Obviously, one might say, obviously they call it a baby. They want it to be a baby. It’s more emotionally satisfying to think of it as a baby. A woman who wants a baby is going to call her fetus a baby. But if you talk to a woman who doesn’t want a baby, you’re going to hear very different terminology. And this may very well be true. The inclination to treat a “clump of tissue” like a human being may be no different from the inclination to treat an imaginary friend as a real one, or an online girlfriend as more than that.

And yet, I have a feeling that it’s not the same as an imaginary friend or an exaggerated girlfriend. After all, those who tend to have these tend to have serious insecurities or wounds that incentivize such delusion. Most people don’t have imaginary friends or exaggerated girlfriends. And yet I have never met a pregnant woman who plans at the bare minimum to not abort her baby to refer to her baby as anything less than a baby. If the inclination to treat a fetus as more than a clump of tissue is a delusion, then all pregnant women who are not seeking an abortion are delusional. All have serious insecurities or wounds to incentivize such delusion. As do the family members and friends and acquaintances and nurses who deal with the pregnant woman. And this just seems so incredibly unlikely that it demands we take such an inclination seriously. That is, we must take it seriously that it is actually the norm to treat a fetus as a baby. Yes, our country may be split down the middle politically on the abortion issue. But the mother is not split. She may change her mind because she has been raped or because she conceived at an inconvenient time or because she is single, young, or for whatever reason reasonably afraid of the responsibilities of parenthood, and she may change her mind because someone close to her has fallen into or is in one of these categories. But if you take a woman at her barest, purest, unbiased self—unaffected by these ulterior motives, she will believe her fetus to be a baby. As will all those connected with and to her. And perhaps we are all delusional. But if we consider the nature of delusion, who is actually more likely to be delusional? The overwhelming majority of mothers and families and friends in their natural, stable state? Or the few, the pressured, the scared, the lonely, the very young in their anything but natural and stable state? It seems to be more likely that those in the latter group are the only ones who have any reason to be delusional. And so perhaps then, this overwhelming instinct to treat a fetus as a baby (unless that baby is no longer desired) means something and ought to be taken seriously. And if we are the delusional ones, then we had better start changing our ways—because delusion is not a healthy thing to live by. Changing our ways would mean changing every instance of “unborn baby” to “fetus,” or “embryo.” It would mean never saying “my baby” no matter how big your stomach gets—no matter how soon your due date may be—no matter the little foot you saw make an imprint against your belly button. It would even mean telling the poor families who have suffered a miscarriage that they ought not treat the loss as if it really was the loss of a child. After all, delusion would not be a healthy thing. And yet, which one of us is ready to do this? Which one of us doesn’t find such a thing to be cruel and inhumane, and quite simply, incorrect? And perhaps it is because it is incorrect. And if it is incorrect for the mother who wants her child, it is likewise for the one who does not. Our instinct matters. If our instinct is wrong, let’s resist it, in all ways, shapes, and forms. But until we are ready to resist it, we had better listen up.

Absentee Fathers and the Newtown School Shooting

Russell Nieli

Contributed by Russell Nieli

Last month’s massacre of twenty young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, prompted much public debate and soul-searching. The results were predictable. The left-liberal position went something like this:

There are too many guns in America, too many crazy people who should not have guns, and too few restrictions on the kinds of firearms that civilians may own. It’s ridiculous to allow civilians to possess military-style assault rifles with large capacity magazines that can kill dozens of innocent human beings in minutes. We need to end our national love affair with firearms and firearm violence and should learn from the Europeans and Japanese, who severely restrict gun ownership for anyone not in the military or government police forces. We also need laws mandating that privately-owned firearms be stored securely so that criminals or unlicensed users can’t get them.

Our mental health system also needs a thorough overhaul. Troubled, at-risk youth are too often left to fend for themselves because their families cannot pay for or access the professional care they need. We need to provide them this care through more outreach programs in schools and community centers that identify children and teens at high risk for self-destructive or socially destructive behavior.

While many found this view compelling, the conservative take on the Newtown horror couldn’t have differed more. It went like this:

Guns will always fall into hands that they shouldn’t, no matter how extensive our gun control laws are. These laws don’t prevent criminals from getting guns, but they disarm law-abiding citizens and render them helpless against deadly criminal attacks. Look at what happened in Norway. A country with very strict gun laws still saw one of the worst gun massacres of all time when the deranged Nordic supremacist Anders Breivik systematically shot and killed over five dozen helpless adolescents on an offshore island where only he possessed a firearm. Only a heavily armed Norwegian SWAT team stopped his attack. The bad guys prey on helpless victims who they know will never shoot back. Only good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns. To protect our school children we need more armed guards—policemen and suitably trained civilians—who know how to use firearms responsibly and how to defend the helpless and defenseless against homicidal crazies.

We also need to stop the poisonous influence of violent video games and Hollywood movies on developing young minds. Teenage youth can become desensitized to violence through an addiction to games like Grand Theft Auto, Thrill Kill, Postal, and Mortal Kombat. These games reduce people’s sense of empathy and increase their appetite for sadism and aggression. If we really want to tackle the problem of youth violence in America, we should critically examine the perverse messages that our media-saturated culture often sends to young people.

Other claims and arguments were made to bolster both positions. The Supreme Court, for instance, came under attack from both sides—from the right for prohibiting prayer in public schools, from the left for interpreting the Second Amendment to include a right of private gun ownership. The two contrasting views were fleshed out in countless op-ed pieces and news broadcasts with the usual low quality we expect of such media treatment.

The Elephant in the Living Room

Though both sides in this dispute have something sensible to say, they’ve missed an elephant in the room either because of willful blindness to anything politically incorrect or because of a lack of real-world experience. I speak of the problems associated with divorce, family breakup, father absence, and the enormous burdens placed on a single mom who must rear a troubled male child alone.

Adam Lanza was not normal. He suffered from morbid shyness and an inability to connect with his student peers and anyone else—a cold, withdrawn, hollow shell of a person to his classmates, an Asperger’s patient to professional psychologists. Even under the best of circumstances—with a loving, caring, two-parent family consisting of a husband and wife who complemented each other’s strengths and worked together as a team—raising someone like Adam Lanza would be a real challenge.

One can’t say how he might have turned out under different circumstances, but statistics show that having divorced parents, as Lanza did, plus a father who moves out of the household, remarries, and has little contact with his son for long stretches of time, is not the ideal formula for successful childrearing. Yet what sociologists call “family structure issues” were rarely discussed in the media, not even on conservative talk radio where one might have expected them to have a preeminent place. Most Americans, it seems, have so many divorced or single-parent neighbors, friends, and relatives (if they are not themselves divorced or living as single parents) that discussing family structure is simply too painful and too sensitive to be taken up in any honest or candid manner.

While we may never be able to explain fully what caused Lanza’s murderous rampage, the best speculation to date involves, besides mental health problems and gun availability, the challenges faced by a single mom trying to raise a deeply troubled youth. A Fox News reporter gathered from the Lanzas’ neighbors and others who knew the family situation that Lanza likely killed his mother because he thought that she loved the students and teachers of Sandy Hook School more than she loved him. Lanza knew that his mother planned to have him committed to conservatorship, and perceived her court petition as an effort to send him away. This enraged him to the extent that he killed first-graders who may have worked with his mother in the past year, and the school’s principal and psychologist, who were his mother’s good friends.

It’s hard to read such an account without feeling great sadness for someone like Nancy Lanza—a single mother with a deeply disturbed male adolescent on her hands and no man in the house to turn to for help or advice. Those who knew her said that she was at her wit’s end and thought she could no longer care for her son by herself. In a saner age, when people understood the palpable harms of “broken homes” and “fatherless boys” (the terms themselves have become quaint if not archaic), the “family structure issue” would have guided reflection on the Lanza killings. But now, since any such discussion of divorce’s harms, especially the harm of not having a father present in the home, would step on too many toes, we focus instead on the safer territory of gun control and our mental health system.

A preview of the current non-discussion was provided almost fifty years ago when Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote his famous report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. As Moynihan learned, however important the “family structure issue” may be to an understanding of an acute social problem, for many it strikes a raw nerve, the pain of which shuts down all serious discussion. A preoccupation with “racism” and “de-industrialization” were the equivalents in Moynihan’s day of guns and the mental health system today, as topics to raise to avoid the salient but hypersensitive issue of family breakdown.

In his book Fatherless America, David Blankenhorn writes that “across societies, married fatherhood is the single most reliable, and relied upon, prescription for socializing males. As marriage weakens, more and more men become isolated and estranged from their children and from the mother of their children. One result, in turn, is the spread of male violence.” Though we can’t ignore the other contributing factors to the Lanza massacre, this simple truth must be acknowledged in any honest assessment of the Newtown tragedy.

Russell Nieli is a lecturer in politics at Princeton University. This article originally appeared in Public Discourse: Ethics, Law, and the Common Good, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute of Princeton, NJ on January 2, 2013.  It is reprinted here with permission.

When Greed Trumps Public Health

Kathleen Sloan

Contributed by Kathleen Sloan

Myriad Genetics, producer of the world’s biggest-selling gene test for breast and ovarian cancers, has become synonymous with corporate greed. In an egregious breach of bioethics, the company refuses to share groundbreaking knowledge that could benefit cancer patients.  Myriad Genetics is deliberately withholding data that could help other scientists to understand cancer genetics on the grounds that the information is “commercially sensitive.”

The healthcare company manufactures the test for determining whether women carry potentially lethal mutations of the two genes linked with inherited forms of breast and ovarian cancer.  It has a monopoly on the tests in theUnited Statesand is beginning to engage in aggressive marketing inEurope.

Professor Martina Cornel, chair of the European Society of Human Genetics policy committee, stated: “We are very concerned that such important data is being withheld from those who need it.  It is vital that progress towards personalized medicine, which holds out so much promise, is not hindered by companies maintaining private genomic databases.”

Adding insult to injury, while Myriad refuses to share its potentially life-saving data, it simultaneously benefits from free access to public databases compiled by other scientists and researchers.  It also gives Myriad a competitive advantage over academic institutions.

Myriad uses its test data to compile a database of other mutations beyond the cancer-causing mutations on the two BRCA genes.  Known as “variants of unknown significance” or VUS, this information is important because it helps physicians correctly interpret the results of a breast cancer test.  This information withholding goes a long way to explaining why Myriad finds only 3% of its tests fall into the VUS unknown category while other testing services report a 20% VUS rate.

What this means in practical terms is summed up by Professor Cornel: “Interpreting the variants of unknown significance that may be found in analyzing the patient’s genome plays an essential part in being able to provide proper counseling and if necessary, preventative or therapeutic guidance.”

Myriad Genetics has been at the center of controversy over gene patenting and the ethical divide between genomic science for public benefit versus private profit.  Myriad founder Mark Skolnick ofUtahUniversityidentified and sequenced the gene involved in inherited forms of breast cancer, currently between 5 and 10% of all cases.  Myriad then applied for patents and control of royalties on any gene tests resulting from the discovery.

Many scientists point out that Myriad/Skolnick could not have made the discovery without the work of others whose results are public.  In the second quarter of 2012 alone, Myriad generated sales of over $105 million from its BRCA analysis test.

The situation is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. On November 30, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on the patentability of human genes.  The case began in May 2009 when the ACLU and the Public Patent Foundation filed a lawsuit charging that patents on the genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, are unconstitutional and invalid.  The suit correctly charges that the patents stifle diagnostic testing and research that could lead to cures and that they limit women’s options regarding their medical care.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of researchers, genetic counselors, women patients, cancer survivors, breast cancer and women’s health groups, and scientific associations representing 150,000 geneticists, pathologists and laboratory professionals.  In addition to the U.S. Patent Office, the suit was filed against Myriad Genetics and theUniversityofUtah Research Foundation, which hold the patents on the genes.

The lawsuit correctly charges that patents on human genes violate the First Amendment and patent law because genes are “products of nature” and therefore cannot be patented. Anyone with a sense of ethics and morality understands this basic fact of life inherently.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has granted thousands of patents on human genes; in fact, about 20% of our genes are patented.  A gene patent holder has the right to prevent anyone from studying, testing, or even looking at a gene.  As a result, scientific research and genetic testing has been delayed, limited, or even shut down due to concerns about gene patents.

What manner of society are we creating when we decide that private profit is more important than potential medical breakthroughs, scientific knowledge, and people’s health?  As all living things—from plants and animals to human beings and their component parts—are turned into commodities to generate money for the benefit of private business, we descend into a rapacious society bereft of dignity, morality and common decency.

Kathleen Sloan is a member of the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women (NOW), a consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture, and the former Program Director of the Council for Responsible Genetics.  This article is reprinted with permission from CBC, 


The Dwarven Women

Henry Karlson

C.S. Lewis, observing how Hollywood adapted novels for film, noted that books without a significant female presence often ended up having one created for the movie.  Lewis believed that the scriptwriter, in doing so, did a disservice to the story being adapted onto film.  The woman often ended up being a romantic interest to the hero, with little to no real connection to the story itself.  So why was she added?  As an appeal to women? ~the thinking being that without such a plot device, the movie would not be to the liking of females.  

While there might be some merit to the idea of adding a feminine character to an otherwise masculine film, what we get from Hollywood is rarely complimentary to women.  The woman has little to no real place in the story, and so is placed in situations which do not matter.  The woman, therefore, is unimportant to the movie and her role is denigrated as a secondary, accidental feature.  Why should such a character be introduced?  Won’t her insignificance in the story reinforce old stereotypes about women in general?   While some might applaud the idea of appealing to women,Hollywood too often appeals, not to the best qualities of women or their complementary nature with men, but rather, to qualities which make her irrelevant in the world scene. 

I find Peter Jackson’s attempt to “include women” in movies based upon Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to be not only ironic, but utterly wrong.  Tolkien’s work The Lord of the Rings certainly has prominent women.  For example, Eowyn plays a pivotal and significant role, and, through her, Tolkien provides an important statement of the value and place of women like St Joan of Arc in the world.  Tolkien shows us that there are things which men just cannot accomplish, and women, with their strengths, can.  Eowyn was able to dispatch the Witch King, the Lord of the Nazgul, the most powerful of the kings of men.  No man could do so, but her strengths, her integrity, her assurance of herself and her mission in the world allowed her to do what no man could, to overcome the supposed might of men and show it to be utterly powerless. 

Galadriel, Tolkien’s Marian figure, also held an important place in Tolkien’s world. She was able to bridge racial biases, as can be seen by the way Gimli the Dwarf ended up giving her the highest form of veneration and respect.  Dwarves and Elves were rivals and yet Gimli, in seeing Galadriel, felt a deep, pure love for her.  And it is good that he should.  Galadriel is shown to be one of the few who could and did transcend the temptation of Sauron’s Ring.  Frodo offered it to her, and she could have taken it, to become a powerful Queen over all creation – but she said no.  Deep within her and her femininity she was able to find that no, the need to reject a masculine call for dominance. 

Galadriel and Eowyn together show the integrity of women and their transcendent, complementary authority to men.  It is not that men have no value, of course, but rather, men and women need each other, and what is seen as a weakness in one is a strength in the other.   Yet, Peter Jackson, Hollywood’s Tolkien scriptwriter, felt Tolkien did not do enough to represent women.  He used Arwen, Aragorn’s beloved, as a third representation of women, having her accomplish feats in his films which were not in Tolkien’s work.  Like Hollywood writers before him, Jackson felt the need to appeal to women and provide them a platform beyond the role Tolkien gave women.  Jackson thought Arwen would provide this in his adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.  But in doing so,Jackson shows that he does not appreciate the value and strength shown in Eowyn and Galadriel.  Jackson does not see that the portrayal of strong women that he wanted had already been done by Tolkien’s female characters.  By creating a woman to act like a man (Arwen),Jackson denigrated the strength and character of women.

The Hobbit, now split into three films, once again gives us Peter Jackson’s desire to appeal to women by making up a character not in Tolkien’s works: Tauriel.  She has a brief role in the first Hobbit film, but when the Dwarves find their way into Mirkwood, she will be given a significant role.  She is a Wood Elf and the head of their guard.  Now, why is she needed? What exactly is the point of her character?  ~to say women are undervalued by Tolkien?  But by suggesting such, the women of Tolkien’s stories find their value and their purpose diminished.  By creating such a superficial role for a woman,Jackson only makes women superficial.  This is exactly the problem with the creation of feminine roles in movies and stories which do not need them.  Not every story has a place for women, just as not every story has a place for men.  It is good to desire the proper respect for both genders, but forcing a story to do so, as is seen in the world at large, often denigrates one or the other. 

Tolkien, whose works are masculine and from a masculine perspective, ascribes great value to women.  Women have their own stories and interests, which complement men and their stories. Just as it is best not to try to force men in women’s stories where they do not belong, so women should not be forced into men’s stories where they do not belong.  It is not to say men do not belong in women’s stories: clearly they do, but often in a secondary fashion, just as women might not hold a prominent place in a man’s story.  These stories must be seen as reflexive of the gender and what their values in the world, and what is needed is not the imposition of one gender in the stories of another, but the combination of stories, of men’s stories and women’s stories, allowing each to show and provide something of the human condition, showing aspects of both genders which such an imposition which deny. 

Tolkien, I think, understood this point.  He expressed it a few ways.  One way could be found in the division between the tree-herders, the Ents, with their Ent-Wives, where the two were divided from each other, looking for each other, and will only find each other in the eschaton (that is, the end of the world, if the Ent-Wives still exist).  Another can be found in his Dwarves.  We know there are Dwarven women.  We know they exist.  They have to exist, because the Dwarves, as a race, continue to propagate throughout Middle Earth.  Yet, they are mysterious and hidden.  We are given only secondary glimpses of them.  We are not given their perspective of the events in Tolkien’s world. But we are given the fact that Dwarven women are rare, and when encountered, they can be mistaken for Dwarven men, as Tolkien related in the first Appendix to The Lord of the Rings: 

Dis was the daughter of Thrain II.  She is the only dwarf-woman named in these histories.  It was said by Gimli that there are few dwarf-women, probably no more than a third of the whole people.  They are in voice and appearance, and in garb if they must go on a journey, so like to the dwarf-men that the eyes and ears of other peoples cannot tell them apart.  This has given rise to the foolish opinion among Men that there are no dwarf-women, and that the Dwarves ‘grow out of stone.’ (The Return of the King, Appendix A). 

While we know they exist, their direct voice is more or less absent.  Tolkien, in a way, cannot tell their story, because their story lies outside of the events of his histories.  Yet their story is integral to those same events.  The lack of a homeland for the Dwarves makes their plight greater; they need to be protected and kept safe, so that the Dwarven race can continue to thrive: 

It is because of the fewness of women among them that the kind of the Dwarves increases slowly, and is in peril when they have no secure dwellings.  For Dwarves only take one wife or husband each in their lives, and are jealous, as in all matters of their rights.  The number of dwarf-men that marry is actually less than one-third.  For not all the women take husbands: some desire none; some desire one that they cannot get, and will have no other. As for the men, very many also do not desire marriage, being engrossed in their crafts.  (The Return of the King, Appendix A). 

For the other races of Middle Earth, the Dwarven women are a riddle.  Their absence in the story is not because of their insignificance, but rather, their outright importance to the Dwarves and their society.  The Dwarven women have a place and a destiny, that we know is occurring – but it is a story which is not to be told to us.  Their mysterious nature, their hiddenness from ordinary view, shows their absolute value and significance. Trying to place them in the story would undervalue them.  They have a story of their own, a story which cannot be told to us, to outsiders.  That is their point.  When we don’t see Dwarven women, when we don’t encounter them on screen (or in Tolkien’s stories), it is natural to wonder , “What about the Dwarven women?”  Is their place being ignored?  The answer is “no” – their absence reflects their value, not their lack of value. And in a way, this is what we should expect. Tolkien’s story represents, for the most part, the stories of the men of Middle Earth (and the few, extraordinary women who have a significant role in that story).  Trying to put them into the story would undermine them. Silence about them represents the mystery of women to men. (This absence is not to be seen as their denigration but their exaltation.) 

The role of women in the world often differs significantly from the role of men.  Women have their own history, their own stories, which would only be denigrated if placed as some minor feature in the story of men.  To complement each other, men and women need universal stories together, but also need stories of their own.  Ignoring this, the genders, and their values, are lost. When we don’t see Dwarven women, we should resist the modern tendency to equate their absence with unimportance.   By being mysterious, even to the rest of Middle Earth, Tolkien points to the complementary nature of men and women, where one cannot even begin to tell the story of the other except by leaving space for them to tell their own tale.