Post-World War II Eugenics

Posted on March 20, 2018 By

by John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from the book The Roots of Racism and Abortion: An Exploration of Eugenics, pp. 114-116.

The dominant figure in American eugenics after World War II was a complex individual, Frederick Osborn (1889-1981). He is credited with reforming eugenics, removing the taint of racism and putting the field back on a firm scientific footing. But during his “reform,” from 1947 until 1956, he was president of the Pioneer Fund, a secretive white supremacist group. So he did not oppose racism; he opposed open racism. His reform of eugenics, then, would disguise, not remove, the taint of racism.

Osborn was a Major General. But he never made much of his military rank after World War II, perhaps because he was a little uncomfortable holding such a high rank without ever seeing combat. He was in charge of boosting troop morale during World War II, and got his exalted rank by politics. He spent most of his life boosting eugenics.

In 1956, Osborn traveled across the Atlantic to give the annual Galton Lecture at a meeting of the Eugenics Society. The speech was later published in the Eugenics Review (volume 48, number 1, April 1956). His words were well received then, and remain fascinating today.

In the address, entitled “Galton and Mid-Century Eugenics,” Osborn stated his devotion to the cause. Galton had envisaged a movement to raise the average of human intelligence and character that would “sweep the world and make man at least the master of his own destiny on earth.” But it had not happened, and the movement was reduced to “a few small handsful of men in various countries . . . not influencing public opinion.” In fact, Osborn noted, “The very word eugenics is in disrepute in some quarters.” Despite these problems, Osborn affirmed that “I still believe in Galton’s dream.”

Then Osborn posed the key question: “What have we done wrong?” He was concerned because “we have all but killed the eugenic movement.”

It is hard to imagine such moral blindness. Speaking just a decade after World War II, when tens of millions of people died fighting the savagery of a master race ideology, is Osborn concerned about the deaths of the Jews? Is he sorry about what happened so that the Nazis killed the feebleminded? Is he ashamed of the role that eugenics played in Germany and Japan, churning out death for civilians? No, he is troubled because they had almost killed the eugenics movement.

So what went wrong, according to Osborn? He said that they had “failed to take into account a trait which is almost universal and is very deep in nature. People simply are not willing to accept the idea that the genetic base on which their character is formed is inferior and should not be repeated in the next generation. We have asked whole groups of people to accept this idea and we have asked individuals to accept it. They have constantly refused . . . they won’t accept the idea that they are in general second rate.”

As you try to understand why people may have been slow to accept that they were second-rate, keep in mind that Osborn considered the upper five or ten percent of the population to have the intelligence and character that the entire human race should have.

Osborn’s response to the challenge was a proposal he called “voluntary unconscious selection.” The idea was to alter laws, customs and social expectations, so that individuals would decide for themselves that they did or did not want to have children. The way to persuade people to exercise this voluntary unconscious selection was to appeal to the idea of “wanted” children. Osborn said, “Let’s base our proposals on the desirability of having children born in homes where they will get affectionate and responsible care.” In this way, the eugenics movement “will move at last towards the high goal which Galton set for it.”

Osborn’s speech shows that the eugenics movement was hurt, but not dead. They still held to Galton’s dream, they were trying to find new ways to achieve it, and they were still making plans.


For more excerpts from this book, see:

Plato’s Words about Eugenics

The Jukes and Kallikaks “Studies”

Sterilizing the “Unfit”

One more excerpt coming: 

The Eugenics of Roe v. Wade


For more of our blog posts on racism, see:

Historical Black Voices: Racism Kills 

The Poor Cry Out for Justice, and We Respond with Legalized Abortion (Graciela Olivarez)

More than Double the Trouble: Another Way of Connecting (intersectionality)





Valentine Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

Posted on March 13, 2018 By

by Carol Crossed

These were remarks delivered by Carol Crossed at a February 18, 2018 event at the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum, a CLN member group.


This week is not only the birthday of Susan B. Anthony, but also the 200th birthday of her good friend Frederick Douglass.

Because of illiteracy, the birth dates of most slaves were not known by their families. And certainly not known by their masters. After all, as one slaver said, “Do we keep a record of when our cows birthed calves?” So Douglass knew 1818 was his birth year, but he did not know his date of birth. He chose February 14, since his mother called him “her little valentine.”

Anthony’s friendship with Douglass was portrayed on stage this fall in Rochester, NY. The performance was titled The Agitators. Colleen Janz [our executive director] and five of us on the Birthplace Museum Board of Directors attended the performance. We hung on every word.

Anthony broke with custom and tradition when she asked Douglass to give the eulogy at her father Daniel’s funeral in 1862. This was unheard of in the mid-19th century.

However, recent expansive research has given rise to questions about racism within the suffrage movement. The research is well founded to a limited extent. The Birthplace has a piece of ephemera depicting racial overtones.

Despite her friendship with Frederick, Susan was not exempt from contemporary accusations of racial bias. This primarily was because Susan opposed the 15th amendment, giving black men the right to vote. Her opposition was because voting rights did not expand to another class of human beings: She wanted rights [in the language of her day] for both the Negro and women, and would not go halfway.

Today this rift between feminists is seen in the pro-choice / pro-life divide. Pro-choice feminists want rights for women at all costs. Pro-life feminists see themselves as favoring universal rights, and refuse to deny the rights of what they consider another class of human beings. They do not want to go halfway.

Susan was the leader in this war of all or nothing: voting rights for all or voting rights for none. It was a racial split in the suffrage movement that lasted 22 years.

According to Elaine Weis, who has written about the anti-suffrage movement, this rift tried at the souls of Anthony and Douglass even after their deaths. In the final years of the passage of the 19th Amendment, their friendship was criticized by many who opposed suffrage and was used to attack Anthony in her grave. As a matter of fact, even before ratification, the first to call the 19th Amendment the Susan B. Anthony Amendment were not pro-suffragists, but the anti-suffragists, who wanted to taint the suffrage cause. They hoped that race connection, that friendship, would deter supporters of suffrage, particularly those representing the Southern states.

The connection even deterred many in the north, even in the city where Anthony and Douglass led their activist life, Rochester, NY. Yes, the state of New York voted for suffrage, but in the city of Rochester, suffrage was defeated. It brings to mind the old adage that a prophet is honored everywhere except her own home town.


Carol Crossed is President of the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Board of Directors, and a Co-Founder of the Consistent Life Network.


See all our blog posts put in categories.

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The Darkest Hour – “Glorifying” War?

Posted on March 6, 2018 By

by Rachel MacNair

All posts represent only the opinion of their authors. We pride ourselves on presenting a diversity of views, and opinions about movies are something people will have wide differences on. This is my own opinion – and only my current opinion at that, easily changed.



I recently wrote in Peace & Life Connections about how the best picture nominations for the 2018 Oscars related to our issues and mentioned that The Darkest Hour was in the “glorifying-war” category. This brought a couple of objections, on the grounds that, as Richard Doerflinger put it, the movie


portrayed the horrors of war and the horrible decisions they demand of national leaders pretty clearly.  The war in question (hardly a glorious one!) was launched by Nazi Germany against the world, and the film dramatizes a key moment when Hitler was about to take over almost all of Western Europe — and Great Britain had to decide whether to “negotiate” a deal with Hitler, which would have meant effective Nazi control of the country as the fate of France would show, or continue to resist invasion. In the middle of this dilemma is an immediate dilemma, whether effectively to sacrifice the lives of 4000 soldiers in order to save another 300,000 trying to escape from France before they are surrounded and massacred by the German army.  I don’t think anyone can watch the film and get the impression that this was glorious — it may be the best that Churchill could do in an impossible situation, but it evinces shock from other sympathetic characters and rightly so.

He later pointed out that in previous decades, a lot of the war movies, especially ones dealing with fighting the Nazis, could clearly be put in the category of glorifying war. They sanitize the violence, oversimplify, and make the victory look easier then reality would ever allow. I agree with him that anyone seeing The Darkest Hour would see it was far more mature.

I went to see it because I take an interest in good historical dramas, especially those close enough to what really happened to give some sense of what the experience was like. I especially like dramas that show what people were thinking and why. This movie certainly succeeded in doing that. And I think Gary Oldham deserved his Best-Actor Oscar win for portraying Winston Churchill. Playing actual historical characters is the most accomplished of acting skills, and he nailed it.

I’m going to offer three reasons why I (currently) think that the movie belongs in the “glorifying-war” category.

1. Portraying violence as complicated is a common way of justifying it.

Consider the case of abortion, as we often do when we connect issues of violence.

Parallel to the people who portray war positively and gloriously, as a way of turning boys into men and defeating the “bad guys,” there are people whose attitude towards abortion is “on demand, and without apology.” The very portrayal of it as a woman’s right badly oversimplifies the impossible situations pregnant women are sometimes put into.

But there are other abortion defenders who object to being called “pro-abortion” on the idea that nobody favors abortion; they only favor choice. These folks emphasize how hard it is to make the decision. Many understand how ghastly the reality of abortion is.

As with war, the group that understands things as complicated might be easier to talk into alternative methods of solving problems. So a case can be made that they’re not as bad.

But does handwringing about the violence make them any less abortion defenders? Not only do opponents of violence feel the same way about the candidate or group even if they acknowledge the complexities involved, but much more importantly, the victims are just as dead.

2. Showing how hard violence is means it requires more bravery and sacrifice.

Violence as an easy problem solver is different from violence as a difficult problem solver. When it’s easy and the “good guys” come out unscathed, then most contemporary viewers may well see that as playing at war, rather than really understanding what war is like. Portraying people in impossible situations makes the people who use violence more heroic (hence, glorious). Certainly, Churchill’s speeches in the movie were portrayed as noble speeches.

3. The very selection of the topic portrays how “necessary” war is.

The main reason I saw The Darkest Hour as glorifying war is that it showed the origin of a view that was common during the Cold War: that the depicted events demonstrated that “appeasement” doesn’t work and that therefore arms build-ups are necessary.

It’s true, of course, that appeasement doesn’t work — but pacifists at the time were arguing that this isn’t even what Chamberlain did. Chamberlain’s previous negotiation with Hitler bought time to build up arms, and building more arms is what Britain did. By the time Chamberlain made that deal, the situation had already gotten bleak.

The crucial thing about World War II is that there were so many opportunities to nip it in the bud long before it got to the point depicted in the movie.

Just portraying that time, when the available options were few and harsh, is taking the situation as a given. Therefore the protagonists are seen as brave. This interpretation doesn’t take into account all the previous actions that helped build up to the dire hour, actions and failures to act that were decried by pacifists at the time.

American political cartoon 1921

Most people watching this movie have no idea that this situation grew out of previous conditions that should have been better handled. Some people know about the problems of the Treaty of Versailles and other instances of excessive punitiveness towards Germany. Some people know about the times when the world could have stood up for the Jews early on and did not, thus emboldening Hitler. But those people did not learn about these things from watching this movie, and everyone else is left in the dark.

We have a movie with an entire focus on the events commonly cited to assert why arms buildup, including nuclear weapons, is needed. This is one side of the argument, a very conventional interpretation during the Cold War. The movie doesn’t let the viewer know that there even exists another side to the argument. We know that standing up against people like Hitler is necessary, but there’s no clue here that there’s any method to do so other than war.


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

For more of our posts commenting on movies or television dramas, see:

Hollywood Movie Insights (The Giver, The Whistleblower, and The Ides of March)

Mothers and Daughters

Three Nonviolent Lessons from Doctor Who

For more comments on war policy, see:

Rejecting Mass Murder: Looking Back on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Three Reasons for Opposing the US Bombing of Syria

Self-Defeating Violence: The Case of the First World War

War Causes Abortion

Using Empathy during a New Cold War



movie reviewwar policy

Three Nonviolent Lessons from Doctor Who

Posted on February 27, 2018 By

By Andrew Hocking of

Andrew Hocking



Andrew Hocking writes about spirituality in movies, TV, and books, frequently discussing politics and occasionally Doctor Who.




While television, and especially science fiction, typically glamorizes violence as a solution to problems, the titular Doctor in Doctor Who continually seeks peaceful resolutions and guides others to do the same. Viewers committed to a consistent life ethic can find inspiration in him, and everyone can learn key principles of nonviolence though his moral successes and even his failures.

The Doctor, a time-traveling alien who routinely changes his physical appearance (allowing for cast changes), regrets his actions between the “Classic Who” series (which ran from 1963 to 1989) and the new series, or “Nu-Who” (resumed in 2005).

During the interval, he fought in the Time War between his species, the Time Lords, and the genocidal Daleks. To save the galaxy from ongoing war, he destroyed both races, killing 2.47 billion innocent children. Since then, he helps others (including the audience) choose the nonviolent path:


“Because I got it wrong, I’m going to make you get it right.”

This quote appears in the series’ 50th Anniversary Special, in which (Spoilers!) we return to the Time War and the moment when the incarnation of the Doctor that fought in that war (the “War Doctor”) chooses to use the weapon called the Moment to kill all Time Lords and Daleks. He finds however that the weapon itself attempts to change his mind, connecting him with two later incarnations, the Tenth and the Eleventh Doctors, and a high-ranking military official on Earth, Kate Stewart. They find Stewart faced with a similar decision: whether to set off a nuclear weapon to destroy London but save the Earth from invasion by aliens known as Zygons. Three central themes flow from this situation.

1)      Identify with the Other

To foster peace, the Doctor(s) temporarily wipe Kate’s memory as well as the shapeshifting Zygon impersonating her. He comments, “The key to perfect negotiation… [is] not know which side you’re on.” Since neither knew if they are human or Zygon, they determine fair terms.

Doctor Who frequently emphasizes the message that we must identify with others and avoid an “us vs. them” mindset that dehumanizes people. The episodes “The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” involve a corporation that, to save human lives while mining for acid, created “flesh” that can be reconstituted as avatar doppelgangers, or “gangers,” for the humans to control and work through. The Doctor believes the “flesh” might have awareness, and a solar storm removes any doubt, making the gangers completely autonomous.

As always, the Doctor exhorts everyone to work together, but they fear one another. The originals first refuse to acknowledge the personhood of the “flesh,” calling them monsters and mistakes that must be destroyed. While these episodes speak to peacemaking, they also reference abortion, as the originals dehumanize the gangers as only “flesh,” referring to individuals as “it” instead of “he” or “she.” Furthermore, they use a euphemism for killing, “decommission.” The Doctor rejects this: after one original kills a ganger, the outraged Doctor exclaims, “You stopped his heart. He had a heart! Aorta, valves, a real human heart!” Following his reasoning, the heartbeat of an unborn child is a powerful sign of life in the womb.

As the episodes continue, the originals and the gangers realize they think and feel like one another. One character laments the idiocy: “We’re at war with ourselves” (the realization we all need.) In seeing their common interests, they seek to help one another and find a win-win solution. In the end, the original who started the conflict seeks systemic change and justice for gangers.

In personal and political conflict, learn from the Doctor and seek to identify with others. Reject dehumanizing terms. How can you work towards the rights of others and yourself at the same time? Try the mental exercise of pretending your identity is wiped and you don’t know which side you are on. For instance, if you did not know if you would be the mother or the child, could you support legalized abortion?

2) Who do you want to be?

In the 50th Anniversary Special, the Moment asks the War Doctor if he’s willing to live with himself after killing two species and shows him his future regret. In this, we find a selfish but powerful reason for doing the right thing: to feel better about ourselves.

The question, “who do you want to be?”, however, asks more than “how do you want to feel about yourself?” Our choices transform us. In the episode “Dalek,” the Ninth Doctor discovers a Dalek who survived the Time War. In a panic, he immediately attempts to torture it to death. Later, even as the Dalek turns from violence, the Doctor still seeks to kill it. His companion asks, “What are you changing into?”

We must grasp the political ramifications of the question, “Who do you want to be?” because you are what you vote. The episode “Kill the Moon” addresses the topic of voting on matters of life or death. The Doctor’s companion learns Earth’s moon is actually an egg and the creature inside it is hatching, which might lead to the death of humanity. From the moon, the companion asks the world’s populace to vote—by turning their lights on or off—if she should kill the innocent life. While humanity unanimously votes to kill, she cannot do it herself. Our conscience appears more active in our direct actions than in our voting habits.

If you looked at your political stances, what kind of person are you? Could you personally do the actions you tell the government to do on your behalf?

3) Find the Nonviolent Choice

While people typically limit their options to passive surrender and proactive fighting, the Doctor exhorts us to proactively seek peace. In the two-part “Zygon Invasion / Zygon Inversion,” a splinter group of Zygons break the peace treaty signed in the 50th Anniversary Special. The Doctor gets Kate Stewart and the Zygon leader back at the negotiating table.

Is it naive to believe that peace is always possible? Though peacemaking is not guaranteed to succeed, neither is violence. At the negotiating table, both human and Zygon have boxes with two buttons that will either bring success to their race or destruction. They just need to press the right one. As the Doctor explains:

“This is a scale model of war. Every war ever fought, right there in front of you. Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot, no matter how right you feel, you have no idea who’s going to die! You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn… How much blood will spill before everyone does what they always were gonna have to do from the very beginning. Sit down and talk!”

He continues to expose the naiveté that violence brings peace:

Doctor: “When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect and just and fair, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

Zygon: “We’ll win.”

Doctor: “Oh, will you? Well, maybe. Maybe you will win. But nobody wins for long. The wheel just keeps turning. So, come on. Break the cycle.”

Be a peacemaker in your personal and political lives. This requires hard work, determination, and creativity. Seek win-win solutions and support politicians willing to do the same. For instance, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we need leaders who will seek a just agreement that satisfies both sides. In responding to the violence of abortion, we can find policies that both support women in crisis pregnancies and their children.

Applying the Three Lessons

Returning to the Special, the three Doctors have the choice again: do they kill all Daleks and Time Lords? The Doctor’s companion, Clara, reminds him who he is, who he wants to be, and who he promised to be: a Doctor. They imagine the Time Lord children, afraid and suffering, and they choose to give those who they would kill a face. In hope, they determine to find a new path, rejecting violent or passive options. Working together, they save the Time Lords, and the aggressing Daleks destroy themselves.

How can you apply the three lessons in this essay to your political beliefs and actions? To personal interactions with others?

Let’s follow the Doctor’s example: identify with others, be the type of person you want to be, and strive for peace. Then, let’s help others do the same.



For more of our blog posts commenting on dramas, see:

Hollywood Movie Insights (The Giver, The Whistleblower, and The Ides of March)

Mothers and Daughters


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.

movie reviewnonviolence

Sterilizing the “Unfit”

Posted on February 20, 2018 By

by John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe

Editor’s note: this is an excerpt from the book The Roots of Racism and Abortion: An Exploration of Eugenics, pp. 64-66


In the 1920s, eugenicists in the United States and elsewhere pressed hard for sterilization laws, to give physicians and the heads of institutions the authority to sterilize their patients, with or without their consent. With (and sometimes without) these laws, they sterilized tens of thousands of vulnerable people. Most of the operations were salpingectomies [cutting the Fallopian tubes] and vasectomies.

American laws permitting sterilization of the feebleminded began in Pennsylvania, in 1905. Fortunately, the governor vetoed the law immediately. But other states passed laws and began to implement them. The push for sterilization did not gain full steam, though, until after World War I. Then, with the IQ tests available, the mental health lobby began promoting eugenic sterilization. By 1930, 27 states had started sterilization campaigns.

Other countries that passed or at least debated similar laws included Britain, South Africa, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Finland and Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.

In the United States, eugenic sterilization continued for decades. In some states, laws permitted the operation, but few were done. Some states ended the practice. But by the mid-1950s, 27 states reported almost 60,000 sterilizations performed. California led the way, with . . . 19,985. More women than men were sterilized: 23,667 men compared to 35,519 women.

Buck v. Bell

The statistics do not show the inhumanity of the sterilization campaign. To understand what the eugenics movement did, it is important to look at specific examples.

One of the most destructive dramas in the eugenics movement played out in central Virginia. Virginia’s forced sterilization law was challenged in court immediately. The case involved a young woman named Carrie Buck, who lived in an institution for the feeble-minded near Lynchburg. The head of the hospital was enthusiastic about eugenics, and many women were sterilized there without their knowledge, let alone consent. The hospital decided to sterilize Carrie Buck openly, under the new law. There was a trial in Amherst, Virginia, and “experts” testified that she was feeble-minded. In fact, the experts testified that she was from a family of immoral degenerates. Carrie and her mother and her “illegitimate” daughter were all judged to be unfit.

The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the decision that opened the floodgates of forced sterilization and permitted 30 states to assault 60,000 people over the next 40 years. The key sentence in the decision was simple: “Three generations of imbeciles is enough.” The Court voted 8-1 (with only Pierce Butler dissenting) to allow the states to sterilize the dysgenic.

Carrie Buck with her mother Emma Buck; her baby Vivian


Who were these “three generations of imbeciles”?

Generation of imbeciles #1.

Emma Buck was not a model citizen. She lived in Charlottesville, with no fixed address, and got in various kinds of trouble. At some point, social workers decided that the time had come to get her off the streets, and there was a hearing to determine whether she was feeble-minded. The hearing was little more than a formality, but it was still degrading. Her inquisitor tested her ability to carry out simple tasks by demanding that she pick up a book and deliver it to someone else in the room. She ignored this demeaning request. Her refusal—dignified or spunky or sullen, take your pick— was taken as evidence of feeblemindedness, and Emma Buck was locked up in a hospital near Lynchburg.

Generation of imbeciles #2.

Emma had three children: Carrie, Doris and Roy. Carrie became pregnant when she was a teenager, so the Commonwealth sterilized her. Doris was also sterilized, although she didn’t even know what they had done to her until a reporter showed her and her husband the hospital records decades later. Finally understanding why they had no children, she wept. Roy had three children, so the Buck family may have survived despite the grim determination of the eugenicists.

When the mother, Emma, was locked up, Carrie was placed in foster care in Charlottesville. Things worked passably until she became pregnant. Years after the event, when she had no reason to lie (although there was no way to corroborate her story), she said that she became pregnant when her guardian’s nephew raped her. Her guardian, whether or not he knew the father’s identity, was apparently mortified by her pregnancy and swept her out of society along with her mother. Carrie was institutionalized because she was pregnant, which indicated to some people that she was an immoral, feebleminded, syphilitic Jukes & Kallikaks epidemic in the making. After some years in the hospital near Lynchburg, she wangled her way out as a domestic worker, and made her way in the world. She married a local sheriff named William Eagle. After his death, she moved north to Front Royal, Virginia, where she picked apples and married Charles Detamore, an orchard worker. She did some cleaning and nursing. Her life was not extraordinary, but no one who knew her after she left Lynchburg ever considered her feebleminded.

Generation of imbeciles #3.

Carrie’s child, Vivian, was declared feeble-minded because she did not smile and coo at a social worker who visited her as an infant one afternoon. Vivian went to school in Charlottesville, and was a normal student. Despite her failure to coo as an infant, she was on the honor roll one spring. She died of the measles when she was eight.

Three generations of imbeciles: a street person who didn’t jump when ordered to do so, a rape victim, and an honor student.


For more excerpts from this book, see:

Plato’s Words about Eugenics

The Jukes and Kallikaks “Studies”

Post World War II Eugenics

One more excerpts is coming: 


The Eugenics of Roe v. Wade


For our post on the Buck v. Bell case in the context of other US Supreme Court decisions, see Our Experience with Overturning Terrible Court Decisions

See The Tragedy of Carrie Buck for our book review of Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck.




Amnesty International’s Blind Spot

Posted on February 13, 2018 By

by Julia Smucker

Julia Smucker

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International is well known for its advocacy on behalf of vulnerable and marginalized people around the world. Amnesty’s goal is a worthy one, and  many of its efforts are to be commended.  The organization’s laudable work in defense of human rights makes it all the more unfortunate that in recent years it seems to have fallen into an all-too-frequent dichotomy in today’s political climate, one that pits advocacy for a particular category of vulnerable human beings – namely, the preborn – against many others, and perhaps especially women.

In 2015, they launched a petition calling for what they termed a “life-saving abortion,” in response to a situation that was harrowing enough (which I addressed here) even without them suggesting that the mother’s life had been in danger (falsely, as it turned out). Now they’ve issued a similarly reflexive response to a proposed change to abortion laws in Poland.  The petition is briefly worded and designed to evoke automatic outrage, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that there are two major flaws in its assumptions.

First, the proposed bill that Amnesty is responding to is one that would remove the “fetal impairment” grounds for abortion as currently allowed under Polish law.  It’s unclear how removing these grounds would pose a risk to women’s health as the petition claims.  Furthermore, such a leap may easily distract from the implicit prejudice in using impairment as a determining factor in deciding whether someone’s life will have value.  The implications, especially in the context of human rights, should be particularly concerning for disability rights advocates.

Second,  there’s an implication that legal restrictions of abortion necessarily entail criminal sentences for women who obtain them.  Such an approach in fact garners little support, including among pro-life advocates.  CL board member Rachel MacNair addressed the question of who should be targeted by laws restricting abortion in a previous post, noting that the moral responsibility for abortion, as with other kinds of large-scale state-sponsored violence such as capital punishment and war, is shared by many.

Aimee Murphy, executive director of member group Rehumanize International, made the case in an October 2017 video for a restorative justice approach to abortion laws, explaining why she favors legal protection for preborn human lives and why this does not mean “punishing women who have abortions”:

Aimee Murphy

I think that our current model of justice, based on retribution and punishment models that see justice as a balance of harms, is actually contrary to human dignity…. If we seek to build a truly human-centered model of justice, a truly personalist model of justice, a truly pro-life model of justice, then our justice system should be restorative. Our justice system should seek to achieve three ends: firstly, to respect the inherent dignity of both the offended and the offender; secondly, to acknowledge the harm done; and thirdly, to make reparation for the harm done. We acknowledge that violence creates a rift between the offender and the offended, between the offender and the community. We should not seek to further disintegrate our human community through the continued harms against the offender for their violence, like the death penalty or incarceration or an eye for an eye. We should seek instead the reintegration of the offender to the community, to make our community as whole as is possible, to respect the dignity of all.

I support restorative justice models across the board, especially because our system of justice has currently led to inhumane and often racist structures of mass incarceration for nonviolent crimes. But I support restorative justice most particularly when faced with the case of abortion. As someone who was told at 16 that if I didn’t get an abortion my rapist would kill me, I understand that abortion coercion is very real on personal, familial, economic and societal levels. Those who have abortions are very rarely the sole guilty party.

When Amnesty calls for “a feminist response, working to … save women rather than harm them,” consistent-lifers can easily agree with this goal on the face of it, precisely because we believe that abortion harms women.  To save women and their children (before and after birth) means seeking to repair and prevent harm, to restore wholeness and to respect human dignity, both through outside-the-box approaches to the justice system and by going well beyond laws to support and empower nonviolent choices whatever the circumstance.


Editor’s Note: Back in 2007, the Consistent Life Network ran a petition drive and presented petitions at an Amnesty International conference in hopes of dissuading the leadership from moving away from abortion neutrality and adopting a new stance that abortion is a “human right.” When Rachel MacNair tried to pass out leaflets to conference-goers, she was forbidden to, and when she asked point-blank if she was being censored, the answer was a point-blank “yes.” The previous fall Amnesty had asked the membership to vote on this new stance, but the results of the vote were never released. At the 2007 conference it became clear that the stance had nevertheless already been adopted by the leadership.

 Click here for the full story and a list of abortion-neutral human rights organizations as alternatives for donations. 


See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.



“Is It Too Late?” 1971 Speech of Fannie Lou Hamer

Posted on February 6, 2018 By

In honor of Black History Month, we offer a speech by civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977).



Fannie Lou Hamer was a leading civil rights activist in the 1960s and 1970s. Among her many accomplishments was co-founding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the right of the all-white segregationist Democratic Party to be seated at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. She also co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971




Speech archived in the Lillian P. Benbow Room of Special Collections, L. Zenobia Coleman Library, Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, Mississippi

Is It Too Late?

I am here tonight to express my views and to attempt to deal with the question and topic of, “Is it too late?”

First, as a black woman, 54 years of age, a mother and a wife, I know some of the suffering and the pain mothers must feel for their children when they have to face a cruel world both at home and abroad. In the streets of America, my home and land where my fathers died, I have taken a stand for human rights and civil rights not just for my sake but for all mankind.

I was born and raised in a segregated society, beaten for trying to act like all people should have a right to act. Denied access to the ballot until I was 50 years old, but things are a little better now.

God is in the plan; He has sounded the trumpet and have called the march to order. God is on the throne today. He is keeping watch on this nation and marking time.

It’s not too late. There is still time for America to change. God have delayed destruction on this nation to test the hearts and consciousness of us all. Believe me, there is still time.

The war in Vietnam must be ended so our men and boys can come home—so mothers can stop crying, wives can feel secure, and children can learn strength . . .

The methods used to take human life, such as abortion, the pill, the ring, etc., amount to genocide. I believe that legal abortion is legal murder and the use of pills and rings to prevent God’s will is a great sin.

As I take inventory of the past ten years, I see the many tragedies of this nation: Medgar Evers’ death in my state [Mississippi], John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Kennedy, and more recently Jo Etha Collier in Drew Mississippi, and countless of thousands in Vietnam and the streets of our larger cities and towns. For these sins this country should pray. Because we have been spared a little longer. Miles of paper and film cannot record the many injustices this nation has been guilty of. But there is still time.

Maybe if all the ministers in this nation, black and white, would stand up tonight and say, “Come earth’s people, it is not too late, God have given us time!” Perhaps we can speed up the day when all men can feel as I do. I am not afraid tonight. Freedom is in my soul and love is in my heart.

While here tonight I have a special message to my black brothers and sisters. As we move forward in our quest for progress and success, we must not be guilty of misleading our people. We must not allow our eagerness to participate lead us to accept second class citizenship, and inferior positions in the name of integration. Too many have given their lives to end this evil. . . .

The front of our card on Fannie Lou Hamer; see our full collection of cards. 


Also from her life story:

“One day in 1961, Hamer entered the hospital to have ‘a knot on my stomach’—probably a benign uterine fibroid tumor—removed. She then returned to her family’s shack on the plantation to recuperate. But in the big house, ominous tidings circulated. The owner’s wife, Vera Alicia Marlow, was cousin of the surgeon who had treated Hamer. Marlow gossiped to the cook that Hamer had lost more than a tumor while unconscious—the surgeon removed her uterus, rendering Hamer sterile. The cook repeated the news to others, including a woman who happened to be Hamer’s cousin, and thus Hamer was one of the last people on the plantation to learn that she would never have a family of her own.

‘I went to the doctor who did that to me and I asked him, ‘Why? Why had he done that to me?’ He didn’t have to say nothing—and he didn’t. If he was going to give me that sort of operation then he should have told me. I would have loved to have children.’ But a lawsuit was out of the question, Hamer recalled. ‘At that time? Me? Getting a white lawyer against a white doctor? I would have been taking my hands and screwing tacks into my casket.’ ”


Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

by Harriet A. Washington. New York: Doubleday, 2007, pp. 189-190



A  previous post for Black History Month had multiple voices:

Historical Black Voices: Racism Kills

See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.



Seeking Peaceful Coexistence: The Varied Ways of Supporting a Consistent Life Ethic

Posted on January 30, 2018 By

by John Whitehead

That consistent ethic of life advocates are at odds with more conventional American political categories—conservative, liberal, libertarian—is well recognized. Less often recognized are the ways different consistent life ethic advocates diverge from each other and the tensions this can cause. People can understand the consistent life ethic in different ways and have different reasons for opposing various threats to human life. Treating this diversity as a source of strength rather than division for the movement is vital.

The Consistent Life Network’s mission statement speaks of the need to defend life against six main threats: abortion, the death penalty, euthanasia, poverty, racism, and war. Others might define consistent life ethic concerns more broadly or narrowly, but defending life against these six threats provides broad parameters for a consistent life ethic movement. (I should stress that while I use this statement as a guide, the analysis here is strictly my own.)

Within this consistent life ethic movement, I would identify at least four broad categories or schools of thought:

  1. Those who hold that killing is inherently wrong in all cases and that the six major threats to human life should be opposed for that simple reason.

In contrast to the absolutists, the other categories of people within the consistent life ethic movement do not necessarily oppose all killing in all cases, although they typically believe all six major threats to life should be ended or dramatically reduced. Moreover, they draw distinctions among the different threats to life, opposing these threats for different reasons and taking an absolutist stance against some of the threats but not others.

  1. Innocent versus Guilty. People in this category draw a distinction between the killing of people who are “innocent,” in the sense of not harming others, and the killing of people who are “guilty,” in the sense of harming others. The first group would include unborn children targeted by abortion or elderly and disabled people targeted for euthanasia. The second group would include people guilty of murder or other serious crimes who are now targeted by the death penalty and enemy combatants in a war who are targeted by lethal military force. Consistent life ethic advocates who make this “innocent versus guilty” distinction would argue that killing innocents is inherently wrong in principle while killing the guilty is theoretically justified. Nevertheless, these consistent life ethic advocates argue that the death penalty and war should generally not be used because of various practical problems: they too often kill innocents by mistake, they are costly and inefficient, and so on.

3. Forced versus Chosen. People in this category draw a distinction between killing other people against their will and killing in which the person being killed agrees to having her or his life ended. This distinction separates euthanasia or assisted suicide from the other five threats to life, as euthanasia is the only threat in which the target theoretically consents. Consistent life ethic advocates who make this distinction would argue that the other threats to life are inherently wrong in principle but euthanasia is theoretically justified as it respects the targeted person’s wishes and personal freedom. Nevertheless, these consistent life ethic advocates argue that euthanasia should generally be opposed because of practical problems: subtle coercion and discrimination against elderly or disabled people can too often creep into the practice of euthanasia.

4. Oppressor versus Oppressed. People in this category draw a distinction between killing carried out by a powerful group in society as part of larger systemic oppression and killing that is carried out by a far less powerful group that is the target of oppression. This distinction separates abortion, which is generally done at the request of an oppressed group, women, from threats to life such as the death penalty, poverty, and racism, which can be seen as supporting oppression by powerful groups such as men, corporations, or a racist criminal justice system. (Euthanasia or sometimes war could also be classified as killing done by oppressed groups, although I see people in this category making this argument less often.) The distinction drawn here is less clear-cut than those in the other categories. Advocates of this understanding of the consistent life ethic do not argue that abortion can be theoretically justified but instead generally oppose abortion because it takes human life. Rather, their attitude toward abortion differs from that toward the other threats to life because they argue that the women who seek abortions are targets of a larger oppressive system and deserve sympathy and support that those responsible for poverty, the death penalty, or other threats to life do not.

The differences among these categories can lead to tension and conflict. This friction is partly the result of the real philosophical differences among the four groups. The latter three groups can criticize each other for not properly understanding the moral significance of the different threats to life while the first group, the absolutists, can criticize the other three for qualifying or making exceptions to the prohibition on taking life.

Friction among different types of consistent life ethic advocates also results from differences in emphasis and rhetoric. People tend to focus on the threats they view as unambiguously wrong and will condemn them in the strongest language while being more careful and muted in their criticisms of other threats. Those in the “Innocent vs. Guilty” group may well talk about abortion more and condemn it more fiercely than the death penalty or war while those in the “Oppressed vs. Oppressor” group will do the reverse.

Such differences can even lead to a kind of “Is the glass full or half empty?” split: one group will frame their concern as “Too often people who say they are concerned about peace and social justice ignore the lives of the unborn” while the other group will frame their concern as “Too often people who say they are concerned with human life ignore people’s needs after they are born.” Such characterizations are not inherently contradictory but can irritate people on the other side.

If consistent life ethic advocates are to form an effective movement, we need to manage these different approaches to the ethic. We need to recognize these differences and agree to disagree. This means not trying to convert or expel those with different understandings. This also means not being excessively concerned with emphasis and rhetoric. Different emphases and rhetoric are a strength of the movement. They allow different types of consistent life ethic advocates to engage outside audiences who are with us on some but not all issues.

In spite of our differences, these four categories of consistent life ethic advocates can find a great deal of common ground. We can all agree that the six threats to life are serious problems that should be ended or at least dramatically reduced and probably even can agree on some steps to end them. As long as we have those points in common, we can accept and even benefit from differences


John Whitehead is President of the Consistent Life Network

abortioncommon groundconnecting issuesconsistent life ethicdeath penaltywar and peace

Reconstruction of a Nation: Resilience in the Face of Terror

Posted on January 16, 2018 By

Aneeza Pervez

by Aneeza Pervez


Research Associate – Department of Psychology, Government College University Lahore, Pakistan




The resounding echo of gunshots created a symphony of chaos on the cold and dreary December morning. A nation stood still in their steps while a cold deeper than dropping temperatures penetrated their bodies, wreaking havoc in their hearts and minds. December 16, 2014 is a day Pakistanis are unlikely to forget. The brutality and viciousness of humans reached unknown peaks as six heavily armed gunmen entered and attacked the students of Army Public School Peshawar.

The country held its breath as news of the attack and its components reached the ears of the public. As the toll of the martyred and injured rose, the hopes of a staggering nation fell. The over 150 victims ranged from nursery children all the way to high schoolers and staff members. The gruesome manner of the attack and the dauntless bravery displayed by the victims were unheard of in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, this horrendous scenario was one of many Pakistan has been facing since 2007. According to the Global Terrorism Database developed and updated by researchers at the University of Maryland, US, beginning in 2007 until 2016 a total of 870 terrorist attacks have been aimed at educational institutions in Pakistan. These attacks have resulted in the death of over 400 students and staff members with over 800 injuries.

Due to escalating threats and fear amongst people, in the summer of 2016 the Government of Punjab shut down all educational institutions for a period of 3 months. Students were prohibited from entering the premises, whilst teachers and researchers were asked to report as per schedule. Every institute in Punjab, whether it was public or private, was instructed to vamp their security by elongating school and university walls and installing emergency sirens around the campus.

I can still remember the day as if it were yesterday. I was sitting in my office working on the upcoming issue of the Pakistan Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology when I heard the screeching and terrifying sound of the emergency siren going off. I have never felt such fear in my life. For the first time ever, I found myself in a state of complete panic. In the sixty seconds it took for the department’s clerical staff to come and inform us of the drill, my mind had come up with a million scenarios. From visualizing an agonizing death to summing up the space in my office to seek shelter in, my mind was in complete chaos.

Despite the scare, despite the fear and despite the continuing reports of terrorist activities in Pakistan, I found myself in the following days getting up at 6 am every day to perform my job as a researcher and educationist. It was not just me. The University had over 100 staff members coming in everyday, risking their wellbeing in the hope of helping our country prosper. Regardless of the occurrence of these horrid attacks, the people of Pakistan, especially educationists and students, have remained steadfast in their pursuit of knowledge.

The image of Pakistan a foreign individual holds is that Pakistan is a country riddled with lies, corruption and terrorism. Quite recently the country was blamed for fostering and promoting terrorism. What I would like to convey in my post is that irrespective of the power-hungry agendas of politicians, the people of Pakistan have paid a great price in the war against terrorism. We have lost family members and loved ones, and have been scared emotionally and physically. However, we still stand strong in our commitment to promote the betterment of a global world.

sisters Naila Alam and Yasmeen Durrani

The average Pakistani’s resilience and strength against these negative forces can be seen in the achievement of people such as Dr Anam Najam, Rafia Qaseem Baig, sisters Naila Alam and Yasmeen Durrani, , and Ali Moeen Nawazish. Despite the adversities and negative press Pakistan seems to have faced, the country has excelled in the fields of technology, education, social welfare, etc.

We have people like Aitezaz Ahsan (a school boy who sacrificed his life to help his peers live), Muhammad Wali Khan, (a survivor of the Army Public School Attack in Peshawar), and Malala Yousaf Zai, (a Nobel peace prize winner and survivor of a terrorist attack), to help us realize that no matter how great pain and fear are, we will rise above them. We will not only survive, but live a life dedicated to wellbeing and betterment of those around us.

On a lighter note, if you ever find yourself visiting the country, let me warn you, the hospitality of the Pakistani people is second to none. Not only will we embrace you as our own, we will treat you like royalty!

Aneeza Pervez and Rachel MacNair in Lahore, Pakistan, December 4, 2017


Note from Rachel MacNair: I can confirm the last paragraph from personal experience.  See my story on my visit.  



Healing for the Perpetrators: The Psychological Damage from Different Types of Killing

Posted on January 9, 2018 By

Sarah Terzo

by Sarah Terzo

Violence harms not only its victims but in some cases also harms its perpetrators. Consistent Life Network Vice President Rachel MacNair has written extensively on how those who kill (in war, in abortion clinics, in execution chambers) are psychologically damaged by their actions, a situation she calls “Perpetration-Induced Traumatic Stress (PITS).” Recent accounts by a woman involved in abortions and men who killed people with drone strikes offer further—and noticeably similar—examples of the psychological harm caused by killing.

The pro-life group Live Action ran an article about a former Planned Parenthood worker who left the abortion industry. The woman, identified only as Gail, gave a heartbreaking account of what she witnessed at Planned Parenthood.

After describing how the fetal remains from abortions were put in little dishes to be examined, she says:

I would look at that dish, and the little arms and legs…and I always wondered who they would have grown up to be. I would pray for them, and try not to vomit because it smelled bad and was so gross. Then, all the abortion products of the day went into a biohazard bag all clumped together, and into a deep freezer. It would be collected, and I think sent off to be incinerated.

Gail was traumatized by the tiny body parts she saw. But she was also troubled by the fact that other workers at the clinic did not seem to share her feelings of horror—specifically her concerns about when the unborn babies could feel pain: “One doctor said, ‘I don’t know why its [sic] a big deal. It’s good money!’ Another doctor would pump her breast milk for her newborn baby in between killing other peoples’ babies. I never knew how she could do that!”

Finally, one day, she had had enough: “Once, I saw tiny fully developed hands in the little pyrex dish. Tiny, tiny hands perfectly formed…that was one of the last straws for me…I gave up my whole belief system for money. I was paid $70,000 and they offered more when I quit!”

Despite Planned Parenthood offering her more money, Gail left the clinic. Later, she described the emotional toll assisting in abortions took on her:

I used to be really happy, loved life, saw beauty everywhere before I started working there. Then, I started working at Planned Parenthood, and I was always sad, always tired, and really depressed. …How I felt coming home each day from the abortion center was like a soldier who had come back from war. The emptiness. That’s how I felt. Empty. I don’t believe we were created to see so much death.

Gail compared herself to a soldier on the battlefield. And, indeed, there are some striking similarities between her story and one of a drone operator who left the military.

Former drone operator Brandon Bryant describes the horror of his first kill:

So we’re looking at this thing, these people, and it was like almost instantaneous that someone was like, “Confirmed weapons. Here’s the nine line. You’re cleared. You’re cleared hot.” And we fire the missile. And the safety observer is counting down. He counts down to zero, and he says, “Splash!”

And I watched this man bleed out. The missile had taken off one of his legs right above the knee. And I watched him bleed out of his femoral artery. And he’s rolling on the ground, and I can—I imagined his last moments.

I didn’t know what to feel. I just knew that I had ended something that I had no right to end….It was like my image of myself was cracking and breaking apart.

And the safety observer laughs, and he slaps me on the back, and he says, “You should have seen how you jumped when I said, ‘Splash.’”

Bryant too saw the graphic aftermath of violence against a human being. He saw the violence and knew that he was one of the perpetrators. Bryant recalls the terrible damage the missile inflicted on his target, with part of the man’s leg blown away. This description echoes Gail’s words about dismembered body parts. Both the killings Bryant carried out and the abortions Gail participated in were bloody and gruesome.  Neither Gail nor Bryant could deny the fact that they had killed (or helped kill) human beings.

Another parallel between the two accounts is the presence of other perpetrators who seemed immune to the horror. In Gail’s case, it was the two doctors, one of whom casually pumped breast milk for her own child in between killing other people’s children. For Bryant, it was another member of the military who turned the drone strike into a joke. Both these people were so hardened by the violence they were inflicting on others that they horrified Gail and Bryant. The abortionists and the safety observer may have repressed their consciences to the point where they no longer had normal human feelings. Gail and Bryant had not yet reached that stage. To Bryant and Gail, the killing hadn’t yet become normalized. When they saw the hard-heartedness of the people they worked with, they glimpsed what would happen to them if they continued killing.

Seeing the carnage inflicted on their victims led to terrible feelings of guilt and trauma in Gail and Bryant, and this prompted them to quit. Perhaps seeing the complete lack of remorse and human feeling in their colleagues was another factor in their decision to leave.

The emotional trauma of another drone operator provides another parallel with Gail’s experience. Former drone operator Stephen Lewis, who quit after one kill, says:

It makes any kind of relationship difficult. I can’t—I can’t communicate properly with my friends. I have to preface it with “I’m sorry, guys. I can’t hang out with you tonight. There’s too much going on right now.” It’s, in effect, killed every single relationship that I’ve had afterwards.

Unfortunately, Lewis does not appear to find the Department of Veterans Affairs to be a source of help for his psychological distress:

I’ve been to the VA, but it seems useless. It seems useless for me. It’s been six months. They’ve said, “Hey, you need an MRI.” It’s been six months without an MRI. It’s “Hey, you need medication to manage this pain.” It’s been six months without medication to manage pain. If they’re not going to take care of you, then why should you even go?

One can only hope that Lewis is able to find help for his emotional trauma.

Abby Johnson

There is a place former abortion workers can go for support after they leave the industry. Former Planned Parenthood manager Abby Johnson set up the organization And Then There Were None which holds healing retreats for abortion workers who have left the industry. They are able to find healing and a sense of camaraderie that would otherwise be elusive. One former clinic worker, Shelley Guillory, RN, describes why And Then There Were None is so important to her:



A lot of people tend to look at us as bad guys. We’re not bad guys. We’re human. We’re doing a job. For a lot of us to come out of the industry, we’re embarrassed. We don’t feel comfortable or safe speaking to anybody. It puts us in a very, very dark place. For a lot of us, we go into deep depressions. You’d be very surprised [at] the suicide rate that is very prevalent among abortion workers once they come out because sometimes you feel alienated. But with [And Then There Were None], we don’t have that feeling. We are loved even when we don’t love ourselves.

Former Planned Parenthood manager Sue Thayer also says:

I would say my favorite thing about [being involved with And Then There Were None] really, is just being able to be with other people who have had similar experiences and you can say anything, really, and they’re not shocked. Whereas some of the stuff that we did, or said to clients, if we say that out in public, you know, people either wouldn’t believe it or really think you’re a horrible person. But when all of us are together, it’s like “yup, we all did that.” So that’s really the only place that I’ve ever been that you can really be open about our experiences.

Those of us who value life and seek to relieve human suffering need to advocate for the victims of violence, but we also must promote healing for the perpetrators who change their minds. Compassion for all who are hurt by violence, whether guilty or innocent, is part of the Consistent Life Ethic.


For more blog posts from Sarah Terzo, see:

Abortion Doctor Says: We are the Executioners

The Vital Need for Diversity



See the list of all our blog posts, put in categories.


abortionabortion workersdrone warfareperpetration-induced traumapsychology