Monthly Archives: July 2011

C Rulon: Elective abortions will remain common

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College
([email protected])

(Elective abortions will remain a significant post-con­ceptive birth control method regardless of our contraceptive efforts, our anti-abortion laws and our conservative religious beliefs)

Can abortions ever become rare?

Globally, supplying all sexually active fertile people with excel­lent birth con­trol remains a critically impor­tant goal, since half of all preg­nancies in the world are still unplan­ned and mostly un­wanted. About half of these unplanned pregnancies will be aborted, legally or not. But regardless of the world’s birth control efforts and regardless of its anti-abortion laws and religious beliefs, there are many reasons why elective abortions will continue to remain common:

a. Fallible humans: We are very sexual primates. We want sex all the time, not just when females can become pregnant. We are also quite fallible and careless. We make mis­takes. We are into denial, sexual guilt and embarrassment. Then there’s alcohol and other drugs which lubricate sexual behavior, while reducing respon­sibility. In addition, the world is filled with hundreds of millions of young sexually aggressive, deter­­mined, macho males.

b. Contraceptives fail: Some contraceptives that are implanted are close to being perfect. But most con­tra­cep­tives today are not. Any sex­ually active fertile woman who uses a con­tra­cep­tive method that’s 90% effective (which is better than the success rates for foam, condoms, the sponge, the dia­phragm, spermi­cides, withdrawal, and periodic abstinence) still has a one-third chance of an un­wanted preg­nancy after only four years.[1] Even women who use a con­tra­ceptive method that’s 97% effective have a 60% chance of at least one un­plan­ned preg­nancy by age 50.

c. Obstacles: There are also major political, relig­ious, patriarchal, educational and financial obsta­­cles to providing birth control services and education to every­one in need through­out our world. One major obstacle remains the Roman Catholic Church, which continues to block global birth control efforts. The Church has also made it clear that any official attempts to force any of its over 300,000 health facilities world­wide to provide con­tra­cep­tives would result in it with­drawing its vitally need­­ed financial sup­port from these facili­ties.

How about a global “miracle”?

Let’s assume that the planets align, that all major relig­­ious, patri­arch­al, social, finan­cial, and educational obsta­cles to contra­ceptive use suddenly vanish­, and that all of the one and a half bil­lion sexually active fer­tile women worldwide had easy access to birth control. Let’s further assume that this birth control had only a 3% human failure rate/year (much lower than most methods currently in use). Would abortions finally become rare? Hardly! Three per­cent of one and a half billion women still trans­lates into about 45 million women every year with unplanned pregnancies. If his­tory is any guide, roughly half will choose to abort, legal or not. Now 20+ million abortions/year is cer­tainly a big improve­ment over our current 40-45 mil­lion, but hardly rare. And this is only with a worldwide “miracle”!

Western Europe’s effort to reduce unwanted pregnancies

Most countries in Western Europe remain determined to lower their teen pregnancy rates, fight poverty, increase the health of their women and child­ren, and promote strong families. Con­tra­­cep­tive services (often free of charge), plus in-depth sex edu­ca­tion are pro­vided to all. Early abor­tions are mostly viewed as a health issue (certainly not a sinful or criminal act) and are often paid for by the state. But they are also viewed as a last resort to be prevented if possible. To minimize the financial pressure to abort, many West­ern Euro­pean coun­tries also provide consid­erable finan­cial aid, child-care services and job security to pregnant women. The result is that, although European teens are as sexual as American teens, they are much more responsible when it comes to using excellent birth control. Teenage preg­nancy rates in West­ern Europe range from one-fourth to one-tenth of ours.

Still, with all their efforts, unwant­ed pregnancies and abor­tions are not rare in Western Europe. France, for exam­ple, still has roughly 340,000 unplanned pregnancies and over 170,000 abortions a year. Contraceptives are not perfect and humans are still….well, human. So even if the U.S. copied France with the same success rate, this still translates into over 700,000 abortions a year. Now, 700,000 elective abortions a year is certainly an improvement over our current number of around 1.3 million, but hardly rare. And this is only if we did everything France is doing.

Now if we also aggressively promoted the “morning-after pill” ( which conservative religious/political powerful men continue to try to outlaw), the U.S. could potentially cut its number of un­inten­ded pregnan­cies in half. But that still means, at best, sever­al hun­dred thousand abortions a year, hardly rare.

Is the U.S. effort a disgrace?

With our wealth, science, educa­tional oppor­tunities and excellent contra­ceptive options, un­want­ed preg­nancies should now be at least as low as in W. Europe. Yet, instead, about half of all preg­nancies in the United States are still unplan­ned. This is as bad as the global average. So every year over one fifth of all pregnancies in the U.S. are electively termi­nated. That’s roughly 1.3 million abortions. The abortion rate for Black women is five times higher than among White women; for Latinas it’s three times higher. Poverty is a major factor.

So, why is our teen pregnancy rate and birth rate so much higher than in other developed nations? Mostly because ever since the marriage of the Christian Right to the Repub­li­can Party in the late 1970s, conservative Repub­li­cans in the U.S. Congress and the White House have consist­ently and effectively oppos­ed sex education and the distri­bution of con­tra­ceptives to teens. Funding for contra­ceptive re­search was dra­ma­tically reduced and birth control ads on television have been blocked for decades. Teens were (and continue to be) taught to “Just Say No” — an approach repeatedly proven to have a high failure rate.

Birthrate per 1,000 girls ages 15-19
U.S. 42.5
Canada 13.3
Spain 11.5
Germany 10.1
France 7.8
Italy 7.0
Sweden 5.9
Japan 5.1
Switzerland 4.5
Netherlands 3.8

(TIME, March 30, 2009)

Some concluding thoughts

Elective abortions continue to be one of the most common surgical procedures in the U.S., terminating over one in five pregnancies, not count­ing miscarriages. Over one-fifth of all women in the U.S. have had at least one abortion by age 48. Pro-choice politicians refer to their goal of making abor­tion safe, legal and rare by greatly improving birth con­trol educa­tion, plus the availability of contraceptives and emer­gency contraception.

Yet, because humans are quite fallible, because contraception is far from perfect, and because power­ful patriarchal, anti-birth control religions continue to exist, abortions are not going to become rare in the foreseeable future anywhere on our planet. Instead, short of something like a reversible anti-fertility vaccine administered to all girls before puberty, abortion will remain a significant post-con­ceptive birth control method — a method essential for insuring female equality and the birth of only wanted children. As mature adults, we must learn to deal with this reality.

Now for the first time ever in our extremely long evolu­tionary history, more and more women through­out the world are finally able to control their own repro­ductive futures instead of having fate, or patri­archal/religious forces decide. In many ways, this reproductive control is as impor­tant for the survival of the human species as our learning to control fire.

[1]0.9 x 0.9 x 0.9 x 0.9 = 0.66= 2/3rds chance of not becoming pregnant in 4 years = 1/3 chance of becoming pregnant.

C Rulon: Anti-choice efforts are almost entirely driven by men

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College

HUMAN FEMALE (def.): A recently evolved homi­nid who, through no discern­ible divine plan, inherited two X-chromo­­­somes in life’s genetic coin toss and thus was destined for unwanted pregnan­cies, sexual oppression & servitude to human males.


Even though a sizable minority of (mostly very religious) women oppose abortion choice[i], the overwhelming majority of anti-choice voices in power (in our pulpits, media and political machines) have always been voices that will never have to experience an unwant­ed preg­nancy — powerful male voices — voices from cardinals, bishops, priests, televangelists and ministers — voices from U.S. congressmen and state assemblymen — powerful male voices coming from thousands of religious radio stations, mega-churches and television stations. These are the same male voices that one hundred years ago opposed suffrage for women and outlawed all birth control information. In fact, throughout history women’s repro­ductive rights have been legislated, adjudicated and religious­ly controlled by men.

Throughout history men justi­fied their control of women by promoting the belief that males were in­her­ently superior, more intel­li­gent and more capable of running the world than were females. It was in their nature to be more political, aggres­sive and moti­vated. To survive, we’ve been told, societies needed both dominant, pro­duc­tive men and depen­dent, nurturing and reproductive women. Women served best in the home. It wasn’t natural for women to com­pete with men for jobs, money and power. By referring to both the biblical god and to our perceived bio­logical natures, the Reli­g­ious/Political Right has brought in both religion and science, (society’s two deep­est sources of authority about human nature) to justify patri­archy.

Today, women make up less than 20% of the U.S. Congress and 25% (on average) of state legis­latures.[ii] Furthermore, the large majority of politicians opposing choice belong to the Republican Party, the same Party which supported the Equal Rights Amendment back in 1972 before the Catholic Church became actively involved and the Party became “born-again”. The weapons used by these powerful anti-choice men include nomi­nating conservative judges, introducing endless anti-Roe legislation, quoting selected biblical passages to “prove” that God is on their side, and threatening excommu­nication and hellfire for those who are pro-choice. Truck­loads of dishonest incen­diary propaganda, written and printed by men, elevate mindless, sense­less embryos to almost demigod status.

These powerful men are aided by millions of American males who want to “keep women in their place” and by a woefully inadequate educational system, which grad­uates tens of millions of scientifically ignorant male and female biblical creationists and “end-times” true believers.

“Our nation has had a long and unfortunate history of sex discri­m­ination rationalized by an attitude of ‘romantic paternalism’ which in practical ef­fect puts woman not on a pedestal, but in a cage.”

—Supreme Court Justice Wm. Brennan, 1973

Patriarchal motivations

Why are these powerful men so intent on overthrowing Roe v. Wade? Do they really believe they are God’s soldiers doing His work, even though tens of millions of Christ­ian pro-choice Americans disagree and even though the biblical silence regarding both elective abor­tions and the time of ensoulment has been called “deaf­ening”?

Do these men really “anguish over the murder of innocent pre-born babies,” given that they oppose all attempts (except abstinence) to reduce the abortion rate and since very few actually want to imprison women who abort? Do these men really support strong families, given that they often oppose government supported child care services and strive to pass laws that trample on the bodies of women — the same women who actually hold families together?

Or, as has been the case historically, is this strong male opposition really more about men with awe­­some politi­cal and religious power using “God & Nature” arguments to increase their power? Is it more about the Roman Catholic Church refusing to relinquish its power over women’s wombs? After all, the Catholic Church still opposes all “artificial” birth control based on ancient theo­logical arguments and “reveal­ed truths”.

Is it also more about fundamentalist Protestant churches run by powerful men who are trying to prevent any further weak­ening of antiquated relig­ious dog­mas already devastated by hundreds of years of scien­ti­fic and ethical advances? Is it more about fighting against the spread of secular humanism and the teaching of “atheistic” evol­u­tion? Is it about wanting to turn the U.S. into a Christian theocracy, with the anti-abortion effort being the key-stone, an essential cog in their movement?

And finally, is it more about men wanting to punish “loose, nar­ci­ssis­tic, irrespon­sible women who are trying to avoid their natural roles of motherhood” — more about men wanting to keep women subservient and at home where “God wants them”? After all, disapproval of women’s sex­uality is a historical constant. (Punishment and suffering are very important to the conservative Christian mind, especially the punishment and suffering of “loose” women.)

“No nation has established democracy and ensured human rights without overcoming conservative resistance from men clinging to their power. No traditional religion has supported the change.”

—Robert Tapp, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, University of Minnesota, 2009

Men don’t get pregnant

Since men don’t get pregnant, but merely aggress­ive­ly inject sperm and write anti-abortion laws, they aren’t personally forced into reproductive servitude.[iii] However, if men could get pregnant — if they knew they would have to undergo many months of considerable discomfort and even danger just because of one careless night or because a condom broke, I wager that the right to excellent birth control and to elective abortions would be written into our holy books, our laws and our constitutions and would likely be no more controversial than having an appendec­tomy.

“A system that enforces the agenda and value system of a 65-year old male legislator onto my young patients is cruel.”

—Michael Berman, MD; Why I Provide Abortions.

In closing

We have not yet adequately docu­mented the extent of human suffering caused by con­ser­vative religious teachings about wo­men and sexuality. Attitudes derived from cen­turies of male Christian influ­ence have been driven deeply into our collec­tive uncon­scious and into the structure of our in­stitutions in ways that make it very dif­fi­cult for us to grow up with our sexu­ality in­te­grated in a healthy man­ner with the rest of our personality.

Contra­cep­­tives are far from fool-proof and humans are depressingly fallible, superstitious and irrational. Thus, in spite of our best efforts, abor­tions will remain relatively common into the foreseeable future — legal and safe in those countries that value science, rationality and women freed from reproductive enslavement . . . or illegal and danger­ous in those patriarchal relig­iously fundamen­talist countries that don’t.

“The anti-choice concern is not for the zygote, nor the blastocyst, nor the embryo, nor even the fetus. The concern is for the continued health and well­being of the patriarchy.”

—Sherry Matulis, a survivor of an illegal abortion and a national spokeswoman for abortion rights

[i] Women’s groups that oppose abortions include Con­cerned Women of America (CWA), Feminists for Life (FFL), the Eagle Forum, and the American Life League (ALL), with a total combined membership of roughly one million members.
The CWA opposes all abortions except to save the life of the mother. They also oppose emergency contraceptive pills, even in cases of rape, most forms of birth control, and sex education except to teach abstinence. The mission of CWA is to protect and promote biblical values among all citizens – first through prayer, then education, and finally by influencing our society.
FFL is opposed to all forms of abortion, including cases of rape, incest, birth defects, or to preserve the mother’s health. FFL believes that basic human rights, including the right to life, start at conception. It does not take an official stance on contraception.
The Eagle Forum is anti-choice, anti-same sex marriage, anti-vaccinations, anti-sex education in the public schools and anti-Equal Rights Amendment. The ALL, a Catholic organi­zation, opposes birth control, embryonic stem cell research, and all abortions without exceptions.
Unlike the tens of millions of pro-choice Catholic, Protestant and Jewish women, these anti-abortion women mostly grew up being taught that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and the final authority on faith and practice, that only God can give or take life, that abortions are opposed by God, that the “Will of God” takes ultimate prece­dence over all else, and that to do “God’s Will” is to devote one­self to out­lawing abortions.

[ii] Eighty-four nations have a greater percentage of female legislators than the U.S., including Canada, Mexico, Vietnam and Cuba. The U.S. also insisted that 25% of the seats in the new Iraq legislature be held by women.

[iii] Of course, one could also argue that 18 years of child sup­port pay­ments because a girl lied, or was careless, or the condom broke is a form of male enslavement.

C Rulon: Roman Catholic Church and Emergency Contraception‏

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College

Every year in the U.S. over three million unin­tended preg­nancies occur. About 1.3 million end in abor­tions. But with emergency contraceptive pills (EC) taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex the number of un­intended pregnan­cies might actually be cut in half. Thus, the wide­spread easy availability of EC could consti­tute one of the most important advances in birth control in the last 40 years.[i]

Yet, there remains strong religious opposition to EC, mostly from the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican long ago created its own pict­ure of re­ality with all sex being designed by Nature/God for repro­duction in marriage. Any form of sex that does not end in the possibility of pregnancy is, according to the Church, “unnatural, disor­dered and immoral.” The Church’s immense power, coupled with its teach­ings on con­tra­ception, abortion, ho­mo­sexuality and sex in general have strongly influenced the leaders and rulers of entire nations for cen­turies.

A 1991 report by Dr. R. Ravenholt, former director of the Glo­bal Popu­la­tion Pro­gram of the U.S. Agency for In­ter­national Devel­op­ment (1966-1979), said:

“…The current code of si­lence with re­s­pect to iden­ti­fy­ing the main adversary of repro­duc­tive free­dom, the Roman Catholic Church, is fo­men­ting a world disaster analo­gous in scope to that which would have ensued if leaders had fail­ed to identify Rus­sia as the main adversary of demo­cra­tic politi­cal free­dom.”

Ravenholt went on to detail how Catholic bishops and Catholic presidential appointees plan­­ned and largely achieved the sabotage of a num­ber of U.S. family planning programs.[ii]

U.S. bishops continue to be vocal and consistent oppo­nents of EC (plus being opposed to all domestic and inter­national fam­ily planning programs). Also, Vatican officials have aggres­sively used their Church’s of­ficial govern­mental sta­tus (which no other reli­gion has) to block pro­grams and poli­cies that would make contra­cep­tion and EC more ac­cessible in the poor­er parts of the world.

For example:

1994: The third major Overpopu­la­tion and Develop­­­ment Con­fer­ence was held in Cairo, Egypt. Be­cause of the unrelent­ing political efforts of the Catholic Church, the con­fer­ence became bogged down over the role that EC and early abortions should play in fam­ily plan­ning and female repro­ductive health issues. Only a seri­ous watering down of the pro-choice posi­­tion allowed the con­fer­ence to finally con­tinue. “God’s laws are abso­lute,” maintained the Pope. “They cannot be changed by a vote.”[iii]

1998: The Vatican attempted to stop the distribution of EC to those Bos­nian women in Kosovar refu­gee camps who had just been bru­tally raped and had already lost every­thing, including their loved ones. Arch­bishop Flynn referred to those aid workers offering EC to raped women as perpe­tra­tors of vio­lence.[iv]

2007: Leaders of Amnesty Inter­nat­io­nal, a global human rights organi­zation, sup­ported the right of those women in Darfur refuge camps who were brutally gang raped to have access to EC and early abortions. In response, the Vatican sus­pen­d­ed all financial aid to Amnesty International and called upon Catho­lics world­wide to boycott the organization.[v]

Today, there are some 600 Catholic hos­pitals in the U.S. servicing about 50 million patients a year. One-sixth of all admit­tances are to Catholic hospitals. About 80% of these hos­pitals don’t offer EC to those rape victims who are admitted, nor refer them to hospitals that do supply EC. Doctors at Catholic hospitals are often over-ruled by bishops. In recent years a growing number of non-sectarian hospitals and HMOs have been taken over by Catholic health organi­za­tions.[vi]

In addition, the Roman Catholic Church has made it clear that if any govern­men­tal agency attempts to force any of the Church’s over 300,000 health facili­ties for the poor to offer contra­cep­tives, steri­lization proced­ures or EC, the Church would with­draw its vitally need­ed financial sup­port from those fa­cili­ties.

Some final thoughts

Today, most American and Euro­pean Catho­lics pay little atten­tion to their Church’s birth control prohi­bi­tions and are us­ing mod­ern means of con­tra­­cep­tion and EC in about the same mea­sure as are Protes­tant and Jewish couples. Also, as early as 1979 a major poll found that 64% of all Cath­olics felt that the “right of a woman to have an abortion should be left entirely to the woman and her doc­tor.” And by the late 1980s Cath­o­­lic women in the U.S. were actually having abor­tions at a slightly higher rate than were Pro­tes­tants.

Yet, the Vatican continues to insist that we can’t believe in social justice if we also believe in abortion. But since most birth control is far from perfect and humans will always make mistakes, where is the social justice in forcing women to stay pregnant against their will? Where is it written that God wants women to be unwill­ing embryo incubators, obligatory breed­ing machines? Where is the religious wisdom and social justice in placing women in a permanently subor­dinate position to men and essentially in repro­ductive bondage to the state?

The ability of women to have re­productive control over their own bod­ies has long been an essential goal in the never-ending battle for global fe­male equality, stronger families and reduced poverty and disease. To quote Claire Short, a Roman Catholic and former Inter­na­tional De­velopment Secretary for the United King­dom:

“My church is playing a deeply obstructive role where, if it had its way [regarding contraceptives and abortions], a mil­lion more people would get the HIV virus, there would be more and more un­wanted pregnan­cies, more and more illegal abor­tions, and more and more mothers dying as a result of il­legal abor­tions. That is the position they are trying to work for. And it’s a morally destruc­tive course.”


[i]EC was finally approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1999 for women 18 and over with a doctor’s prescription. In 2006 it became available without a prescription and in 2009 the age was dropped to 17. Girls under 17 can obtain a prescription. In France EC is dispensed to high school girls by the school nurse. See
[ii] ;
[iii] For example, see
[iv] For example, see
[v] For example, see
[vi]See Rob Boston’s article, “Medical Emergency: Catholic Hospitals Usurp Patient’s Rights” in The Humanist (March-April 2011). One organization fighting Catholic hospital mergers is Merger Watch (

Philosophy and Secular Humanism

Question: Does the study of philosophy result in a secular humanistic outlook?

Sometimes it does, as a good number of humanists came from a formal study of philosophy. But sometimes it does not; many other students of philosophy do not adopt “humanism” as their philosophy of life. Let us consider a summary of the relationship between philosophy (specific areas) and humanism.

I. A view of Philosophy (vis-a-vis Humanism)

First, consider three areas of philosophy, which many students encounter early in their philosophical training:

• History and survey of different philosophical traditions;

• Ethics (moral philosophy);

• Critical, analytical philosophy.

When we study the history of philosophy and survey different philosophical traditions, we learn that there are (and have been) many views about our world and human’s place in that world. So we are less inclined to accept unquestioningly any single philosophical, political, or religious view as the absolute truth. Many of us develop a healthy skepticism regarding all claims about universal, absolute truth.

When we study ethics we learn that people can have an adequate moral philosophy that is independent of all religious doctrines and belief in a deity. We learn that authoritarian, Biblical-based morality is only one alternative among different ethical orientations, and that from a rational perspective this alternative is very problematic, although it may be emotionally reassuring for some believers.

In the area of analytical, critical philosophy, we try to clarify our terms and concepts. We practice close analysis and logical evaluation of our presuppositions and beliefs. We distinguish between opinion and knowledge and, as much as is practical, we try to base our beliefs on observation, experience, scientific fact and rational inference from established truths. In this context, traditional, venerable religious claims about the world and human existence do not enjoy a privileged status and are likely to be rejected as lacking any scientific or rational grounds.

II. A Brief Statement of Humanism

Some of us who call ourselves “humanists” accept the following as characterizing important aspects of humanism.

Humanists focus on existence within a natural and social realm, and reject all doctrines and speculations about supernatural realms and entities. Hence, many humanists reject the theism of the major religions (belief in a deity who plays an active role in human life) and are generally skeptical about supernatural claims. Some general points of this view of humanism include the following:

• Humans are on their own; i.e., they build their world for better or worse, without any help or hindrance from deities or demons; and

• We gain knowledge of our world and our existence by our experience, reliance on reason, and use of scientific methods;

• Such knowledge informs us that there is no basis for the reality of a “supernatural realm”, including all gods, angels, or demons of much traditional religious culture.

Historically, precursors of modern humanism turned attention to human reality and away from theologians’ speculative, doctrinal focus on God and the supernatural.

• Early humanistic writers, artists and philosophers, of the Italian Renaissance, turned their attention more to human achievement, the sciences, the arts, human society and secular values.

• The Enlightenment and scientific revolution of the seventeenth century further helped to degrade the dominance of religion and theology in favor of scientific approaches and free thought.

• In Western tradition, two early “modern” philosophical trends set the stage for what would come to be a naturalistic, humanistic style of thinking. Rationalism emphasized that the human mind alone, without divine assistance, can discover truth. Empiricism stressed that careful observation and study of nature are the ways of learning about our world.

• In general, “humanistic” thinkers and writers turned attention away from theological doctrine and metaphysical speculation to focus on this earthly life.

Given my brief statement of three areas of philosophy and my emphasis of humanism as a secular philosophy, the connection between philosophy and humanism seems obvious.

However, there are those who disagree.

III. Reason for hesitation.

Other considerations cast doubt on the view that philosophy clearly leads to secular humanism:

• Traditionally and historically, philosophy encompasses more than the critical, secular brand of philosophy that I favor. Philosophy has been long associated with theological and religious training. Many philosophers are religious people (priests, theologians, Christian scholars) and many religious people have philosophical backgrounds. In short, significant areas of philosophy are compatible with theistic religion.

• Many who work in the area of philosophy regard it as a strictly academic, scholarly activity that does not translate into a way of life or personal outlook on things. Many of these people do not regard a secular outlook as being emotionally fulfilling or supportive in times of crises.

• Some use the “tools of philosophy” to defend and bolster the political or religious views that they held prior to studying philosophy. Such philosophers do not focus attention on the many questionable doctrines of Christianity, but instead use arguments in formal logic to show that the secular thesis has not been proven or shown to be totally, rationally compelling. (E.g. Alvin Plantinga and William L. Craig).

• The study and work in the field of philosophy does not always lend itself to effective organizational work and advocacy of a cause, so valued by an organization like the American Humanist Association. Some “philosophical” types are more interested in study and analysis than in working to improve the organization and attract new members to the group. We could imagine “philosopher” still pondering, reflecting and re-assessing the issue, while the secular warriors are preparing their defenses against the latest onslaught from the forces of dogmatic, supernatural religion.

Thus, training in philosophy does not always result in advocacy of secular humanism. Although philosophy has given us great humanists like John Dewey and great secular thinkers like Bertrand Russell, others from the field of philosophy have not been advocates or even friends of humanism, e.g. a former professor of philosophy, William Bennett, a leading conservative spokesman and advocate for traditional, religious values.

IV. Affirm the connection.

Nevertheless, the better part of philosophy, viz. critical philosophy, tends to point us in the direction of secular humanism. Critical philosophy requires that we seek scientific, rational, and naturalistic explanations for everything, including religious and mystical experiences. As such, then, critical philosophy is a strong antidote to the supernaturalism, superstitious folly and false assumptions taught by established religions. The study of critical philosophy and appreciation for scientific methods, along with the habit of rational skepticism and an empirical attitude, help the student resist the enchantment of priests and ministers. I find that this is very much in keeping with important principles of secular humanism, as I understand them.

To this extent, then, the study and practice of critical philosophy can bring the student directly to the entrance of secular humanism. Should she then take the extra step and join the society of secular humanists? The answer is “Yes,” if our “philosopher” sees that secular humanism emphasizes the importance of enlightened, progressive thought. However, if she finds that secular humanism is just another form of partisan ideology, the “philosopher” might not be comfortable among secular humanists.

Corliss Lamont suggests that humanism is a natural fit for persons who practice philosophical thought and analysis. His tenth principle of Humanism reads as follows:

Belief in the unending questioning of basic assumptions and convictions, including those held by Humanists. The corollary belief that Humanism is not a new dogma, but is a developing philosophy ever open to experimental testing, newly discovered facts, and more rigorous reasoning.

(The Philosophy of Humansim, Corliss Lamont, 1972, Ungar Publishing, New York, NY, page 14,)

This suggests a brand of humanism that should be very inviting to the student of critical philosophy, and gives us more evidence for claiming a close relationship between secular humanism and at least one area of philosophy, viz., critical, analytical philosophy.

C Rulon: Are Abortions Psychologically Harmful?

By Charles L. Rulon
Emeritus, Life & Health Sciences
Long Beach City College


Anti-choice literature depicts abor­tions as being psy­cho­­logi­cally devas­tating, with women suffering night­mares, feelings of guilt and even suicidal tenden­cies following an abortion. This raft of supposed emotional problems has even been given a name, “Post-Abortion Stress Syndrome.”

“I had an abortion in 1978. It was the worst mistake of my life. It not only destroyed the life of my baby, it destroyed my life as well. It is time we looked at abortion for what it really is—the death of your own child.”

—Letter to the Editor

But are abortions really psychologically devastating for the large majority of women?

Scientific findings

Presi­dent Ronald Reagan once said: “We cannot sur­vive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be aban­doned to abortion…”[1] So Reagan ordered his Surgeon General, Dr. C. Evrett Koop, to prepare a report documen­ting the psycho­logically harm­ful effects of abor­tion. But Dr. Koop’s dedication to the scientific method got in the way.

Koop’s thorough review of the scientific literature revealed that the psycho­logi­­cal prob­lems following an abortion appear­ed to be “min­iscule from a public health perspective,” affect­ing very few women. Although many women experienced some sadness following an elective abortion, the predom­inant sensation was one of relief. In fact, given the fail­ure rate of most con­tra­­ceptives, many women actually appreciated the psycho­logi­cal as­sur­ance of know­ing that safe, le­gal abor­tions were avail­able, if ever needed. Those few women who were suicidal following an abortion were mostly found to be suicidal before becoming pregnant in the first place. Since Koop’s findings did not serve Reagan’s goals, a govern­ment report was never pub­­lished.[2]

Several studies since then have con­firmed Koop’s findings.[3] Recently, a major 12-year study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in Jan. 2011 found that having an abortion did not increase a woman’s likelihood to seek psychiatric assistance, although delivering a baby did.[4] (The tens of thousands of auto deaths each year emotio­nally deva­state people “in­fi­nitely” more than early elective abor­tions ever did. Yet no one talks about outlawing cars as a result.)

Anti-choice rhetoric is psychologically harmful

Ironically, if there is psycho­log­ical harm following an abortion, it mostly comes from (or is exacerbated by) the dishonest anti-abor­tion rhetoric, itself. There can be much guilt and self-hatred experienced by those women who truly believe that they went against God’s Law and “murdered their own babies”. In addition, when medical person­nel, minis­ters, friends and/or family members are religiously or morally judgmental toward those women who decide to termi­nate a preg­nancy, the result can be emotion­al distress. Thus, many women who choose to abort still keep it a secret from friends and family. This effort of concealment and lying can also a source of psychological distress.

Helping women psychologically

If our society was really con­cerned about the psychological health ef­f­ects on women who choose to abort, it would be paying much more attention to the fact that:

—The world’s anti-abortion laws have never worked anyway, but instead have proved to be a major public health and social disaster, with millions of women every year ending up in hospitals hemorrhaging, badly in­fected and in debilitating pain from botched abortions. Often left behind are young, unattended children whose chances for survival are bleak.

—Laws that attempt to force women with unwanted pregnancies to stay pregnant against their will—to be unwilling embryo incu­bators—are laws that demean, endanger, and essentially psychologically and physically enslave women.

—Over 30 million women each year are pressured into actually carrying unwanted pregnancies to term, often leading to physical and psychologically harm to these women, their families and to society at large. Furthermore, studies have revealed that psy­cho­logical pro­blems, drug abuse and delin­quency are more common among the offspring of those mothers who were coerced or forced into carrying to term.[5]

The psychological effect on our nation

Have our pro-choice laws really had a devas­ta­ting psychological effect on our nation as Presi­dent Reagan once warned? Hardly! Most Americans and most Western Europeans have healthy families grow­ing up in safe surround­ings. In stark contrast, in almost all countries where abor­tions are still il­legal, there are high infant mortality rates and little com­mitment to either women’s rights, or to the health of children. Yet, anti-abortion activists want the U.S. to have the same anti-abor­tion laws as countries like Afghanistan and El Salvador.

Societies have never been threat­ened by laws that per­mit early safe elective abor­tions. Instead, societies are most threaten­ed by WMD, poverty, virulent national­ism and racism, economic crises, accelerated ecological des­truc­tion, wars, terrorism and religious extremists.

Some concluding thoughts

The abortion bat­tle has never really been about the civil rights of mindless, senseless embryos, or about protecting women from psychological devastation. Instead, it’s been a Catholic right-wing, Pro­tes­tant funda­­­­men­talist, moral zealo­try issue, mixed in with political and financial power issues, male domi­na­tion issues and unwar­ranted fears of God’s wrath. We have not yet adequately docu­mented the extent of human suffer­ing caused by our conser­vative religious teachings about wo­men and sexuality. Attitudes derived from centuries of Christian influ­ence have been driven deeply into our collec­tive uncon­scious and into the structure of our in­stitutions in ways that make it very diffi­cult for us to grow up with our sexu­ality in­te­grated in a healthy man­ner with the rest of our personality.

Charles L. Rulon is an emeritus of Long Beach City College where he taught courses in Biology and Society for 34 years. He can be reached at [email protected]

[1]Human Life Review, Spring, 1983.

[2](HRIRS, 1989) Human Resources and Intergovernmental Relations Sub­committee of the House Committee on Govern­ment Operations. “The Federal Role in Determining the Medi­cal and Psychological Impact of Abortion on Women.” (Report 101-392, 101st Con­gress, 1st Session). This report is summa­riz­ed in the tHumanis, March /April, 1990. “What Koop Didn’t Tell Reagan.”

[3] See “Examining the Association of Abortion History and Current Mental Health: A Reanalysis of the National Co-morbidity Survey Using a Common-Risk-Factor Model,” by Julia Steinberg and Lawrence Finer (2010), currently available online in Social Science & Medicine. For more information on the body of research addressing this issue, see Evidence Check: Advisory on the Mental Health Impact of Abortion.
See also the 2010 reports from the Guttmacher Foundation (

[4] New England Journal of Medicine, Jan. 27, 2011.

[5]David, H. et. al. 1988. Born Unwanted.

Robert Richert: Strong Doubts about “God’s Intervention”

By Robert A. Richert – [email protected]

The following letter from me to the editor was published unedited in the Long Beach Press-Telegram March 21, 2004

Dear Editor, Long Beach Press Telegram,

I am sure that most of your readers are uplifted by the stories of American soldiers whose spirituality has been strengthened by their experiences in Iraq (“Five who found Faith”, USA Weekend, March 12-14). I strongly disagree with the prevailing view of the group, summarized by corporal Luten’s statements;

“God healed my leg” and “has been with me every step of the way”.

The following true story is a graphic illustration of my objection.

In 1969, I served as an infantry soldier for the U.S. Army in Vietnam. One day my squad was on patrol near a small hamlet, when suddenly we came under heavy machine gun fire.

Fortunately, the barrage did not last long and no one was injured. The enemy hit us and fled. One of my squad members, visibly shaken, related that during the firefight he was literally dodging bullets, just like John Wayne in one of his old war movies. Like some of the soldiers in your article, he was adamant that God must have intervened to save his life. He thought he was the recipient of a miracle.

Several months after the above incident, our unit was working with a South Vietnamese Army Company. We bivouacked at their base camp; a crude assembly of buildings and hooches perched atop a small hill. The South Vietnamese soldiers lived there along with their families. One day, while most of our platoon went out on light patrol, a medic and I stayed behind to guard our gear. At midday I was relaxing in the shade at the side of a building when suddenly, I heard a loud explosion. I jumped up and as I rounded the corner, I witnessed a scene of horror that I will never forget.

A young Vietnamese woman came running carrying her infant boy, about two years old, in her arms. Both were drenched in blood. The shiny wet blood soaking into her black shirt turned it a nauseating deep maroon color. Unfortunately, it was her child’s blood. Our medic came, placed the infant on a blanket on the ground, and attempted a frenzied resuscitation. Meanwhile, the boy’s mother, her face twisted in agony, screamed hysterically. Near the center of the child’s chest, just above his tiny heart, was a hole the size of a nickel. I watched helplessly as the last of his blood oozed out of the hole, his lips turned blue, his eyes glazed over, and his life ebbed away.

So, what caused this terrible tragedy? Apparently, two South Vietnamese soldiers had a fight. One threw a hand grenade at the other and the explosion killed him instantly. In a terrible quirk of irony, a piece of shrapnel from the grenade struck the child in the center of his chest and pierced his heart.

My bullet-dodging comrade left for home before this incident occurred. I would like to ask him and the soldiers in your article, “Where was that poor child’s miracle? Why are you deserving of god’s divine intervention, and not this helpless, innocent child? What kind of God acts in so capricious and cruel a manner?”

Only the survivors of wars and other tragedies are around to tell tales of their miraculous experiences. However, this atheist in a foxhole will always speak up for one dead child of war who never had a chance…or a “Miracle”.

Do Materialists Commit a Blatant Contradiction?

Recently a respectable fellow argued that materialists blatantly contradict themselves when they take a materialist view of reality and yet affirm that free, independent action is possible.

The argument presented relied on three premises:

1) Materialism affirms that reality in nothing but matter-in-motion.
2) Materialism implies affirmation of determinism, the metaphysical idea that all physical reality is causally determined.
3) Free, independent action requires action free of determinism.

To draw the conclusion:

4) Hence, when materialists affirm that human freedom is possible they contradict themselves. (They affirm that all reality is determined and affirm that some reality (human free action) is not determined.)

The argument fails because it relies on very questionable, if not downright false, premises with regard to (1) ‘materialism,’ (2) ‘determinism,’ and (3) ‘free action.’

Materialism: Defining “materialism” as the view that the only reality is matter-in-motion is not at all consistent with the materialist philosophy held by scientific materialists. At best the idea that materialism is the metaphysics which claims nothing exists but matter-in-motion is the philosophy of the ancient Greek atomists such as Democritus and Epicurus.

One plausible version of modern materialism is one that proposes that everything real ultimately has a physical base. For example, the living entities of biology and the thinking entities of psychology, sociology, and culture are entities that exist at such a level of complexity that calling them mere matter-in-motion amounts to a caricature of that level of reality. Yet, the materialist claims that ultimately each of these has a physical base. This is a viable form of realism and far removed from the simplistic notion that only matter-in-motion is real.

It would be a gross distortion to claim that the sub-atomic reality studied by quantum physics and the atomic reality studied by atomic and nuclear physics is a study of matter-in-motion, as the sub-atomic particle-waves and the atoms are the basis for matter. It would be a gross distortion to say that electro-magnetic band, which includes visible light, radio waves, ultra-violet waves and other forms of energy, is just matter-in-motion. No knowledgeable scientific materialist would ever claim that such physical realities as electrical and magnetic energy is simply matter-in-motion.

To claim that the realities of living organisms, of beings with a complex central nervous system, and of persons with culture (language, science, art, mathematics) are nothing but matter-in-motion is to commit a gross reductionism, one which scientific realists (materialists) do not commit. To say that all living organism have a physical-chemical basis is not to say that the reality of living organisms is nothing but the sub-atomic particles, the atoms, and molecules which make up that living organism. Likewise to say that all beings with a complex central nervous system and those with complex, large brains have a physical-chemical basis is not to say that the reality of such beings reduces to a set of sub-atomic particles, atoms, and molecules which make up those beings. In short, the complexity of existence at the biological and psychological levels is not reducible to mere matter-in-motion.

Determinism: The claim that all materialists must accept the truth of determinism is a false claim.

Universal determinism is a metaphysical philosophy that is not held by many scientific materialists. There is no compelling reason for holding that all physical reality is held together by a universal net of causal determinism. This view of a universal determinism is an old metaphysical philosophy that modern scientific thinkers have mostly abandoned because a number of factors that question that universal determinism; e.g., the indeterminism of quantum physics, the randomness that is found in physical and social reality, the chaotic aspects of much of physical reality and the complexity the characterizes much of physical reality, making claims of causal determinism to be claims of academic philosophy at best.

The fact that many of the sciences utilize a from of causal explanation, i.e., explain phenomena in terms of the conditions and processes that caused the phenomenon in question, does not imply that those sciences entail a metaphysics of universal determinism. When we consider human reality (action, behavior) at the cultural-sociological-historical level, claims of universal determinism governing human behavior are not at all tenable, since the ability to predict human behavior is very limited at best.

Freedom (“free will”): The statement that a materialist philosophy implies the impossibility of free, independent action by human beings is a false statement.

The belief that materialism negates the possibility of free, purposive, and autonomous human behavior is a belief that rests on a particular, philosophical notion of ‘freedom,’ one which identifies free action with free will, and sees freedom and free will as being independent of all conditioning factors. Accordingly, if human behavior can be causally explained as arising from neurological factors, psychological conditioning, and such, it is held that such behavior is not free behavior. Only action that would take place in absolute independence of any determining factor would be considered free action or action indicative of free will.

There are good reasons for rejecting that notion of ‘freedom,’ which turns out to be a concept of metaphysical freedom held by many traditional philosophers, but one which has nothing to do with our ordinary, effective concept of freedom. A rough statement of our ordinary, effective notion of freedom is that one acts freely when one acts in accordance with one’s desires and self-interest. In other words, one is not coerced or compelled to act by some determining force, external or internal. A modern materialist does not have any trouble accounting for the fact that humans make ‘free’ choices and rational decisions which are not just the outcome of factors beyond their control.

Even if one accepts some version of metaphysical determinism (and there are many reasons for rejecting such), many philosophers have developed views of human ‘freedom’ which are compatible with determinism. In other words, it does not follow that if one accepts determinism, the implication is one that denies human free, ‘independent’ action.

Robert Oppenheimer and Andrei Sakarov

Two Nuclear Scientists, Robert Oppenheimer and Andrei Sakarov, played leading roles in the development of nuclear bombs (A-Bomb for R.O. and the H-Bomb for A. S.) for their respective governments, and then experienced similar reversals in their views of the wisdom and morality of the nuclear weapons programs in their respective nations.

Robert Oppenheimer, who led the Manhattan Project which developed and built the first Atomic bomb in the mid 1940s, later became a voice of moderation and opposed development of the even more powerful thermonuclear bomb (H-Bomb). He felt that US superiority in stockpiling A-Bombs was sufficient for national defense, but he was opposed by strong voices in and out of government who favored the H-Bomb project; he was eventually discredited, lost his security clearance, and had no further influence on US nuclear arms policy. The US government took the advice of Edward Teller, one of Oppenheimer’s scientific colleagues, and proceeded to develop the H-Bomb. Meanwhile (in the 1950s) Oppenheimer’s loyalty to the United States was questioned and he was generally discredited as a leading scientist and adviser to the government. His contributions both for defense and as a spokesman for moderation were not given due recognition until much later (1990s) during the time of the Clinton administration.

The leading scientist in the Soviet development of the thermonuclear bomb was Andrei Sakarov, known as the “father of the H-Bomb” in the Soviet Union. After successful above-ground testing of the most powerful nuclear device ever exploded, he also had second thoughts. He criticized the whole arms program of the Soviet Union, argued strongly for bilateral nuclear treaties with the United States, criticized Soviet policies, and the Soviet authorities. In 1975 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but the leaders of the USSR were not pleased. Eventually he was arrested and sentenced to “internal exile.” But with the later developments and moderation in the Soviet Union, Sakarov was recognized for his work on behalf of Human Rights. I believe that the American Humanist Association named him “Humanist of Year” in 1980.

It is ironic to note that in each case we have two leading scientists, whose moral, social conscience got them in trouble with the authorities in their respective countries. Each came out as a spokesman for moderation and opposed his respective nation’s mad dash into the nuclear arms race. Both paid the price that is often exacted on anyone who raises moral questions about his country’s weapons programs and anyone who opposes the military policies of their governments, especially when officials claim that national security hangs in the balance.

“Donkeys, Angels, Jugheads, and Jerks” (Sociological Taxonomy, or just plain Name-Calling?)

Benjamin, the Donkey, in George Orwell’s, Animal Farm

When the animals were all excited about the revolution on the farm:

“Benjamin, .. seemed quite unchanged since the Rebellion. He did his work in the same slow obstinate way as he had done it in Jones’s time, never shirking and never volunteering for extra work either. About the Rebellion and its results he would express no opinion. When asked whether he was not happier now that Jones was gone, he would only say “Donkeys live a long time. None of you has ever seen a dead donkey,” and the others had to be content with this cryptic answer.” (37-38)

When Snowball and Napoleon were vying for leadership of the animals:

“Benjamin was the only animal who did not side with either faction. He refused to believe either that food would become more plentiful or that the windmill would save work. Windmill or no windmill, he said, life would go on as it had always gone on — that is, badly.” (55-56)

Later in the story after the revolution had been betrayed:

“…their life, so far as they knew, was as it had always been. They were generally hungry, they slept on straw, they drank from the pool, they laboured in the fields; in winter they were troubled by the cold, and in summer by the flies. Sometimes the older ones among them racked their dim memories and tried to determine whether in the early days of the Rebellion, when Jones’s expulsion was till recent, things had been better or worse than now. They could not remember. . . they had nothing to go on except Squealer’s lists of figures, which invariably demonstrated that everything was getting better and better. The animals found the problem insoluble; in any case, they had little time for speculating on such things now. Only old Benjamin professed to remember every detail of his long life and to know that things never had been, nor ever could be much better or much worse — hunger, hardship, and disappointment being, so he said, the unalterable law of life.” (119-120)


Good old Benjamin, the donkey in George Orwell’s classic social satire, Animal Farm, represents one class of people, the gentle cynic who is not much excited by those things that excite others. He is the type of person who has lived a long life, has seen too much to hope that things will change for the better, and does not jump on the latest bandwagon. Call his class the ‘donkey class’ and ask yourself, who among your acquaintances falls into this class? Working out an answer would be a useful exercise.

Some people are incurable classifiers; they’re inclined to divide people into classes; and some people are not. I try to avoid the temptation to classify people and refuse to join those are always ready to stereo-type people into derogatory. But this implies that would I list myself outside the class of those who put people into different classes; and this, in turn, implies a distinction between those who classify others into classes and those, including myself, who don’t. So, despite my intention to avoid classifying others, I have done exactly that.

Eric Hoffer, in his book, The True Believer, spends some time describing the personality type who is a “true believer” in a cause, whether religious, political, or any other ideology and life-style. It is interesting to note that Hoffer classifies people such as atheists and skeptics as embracing their own form of ‘true belief,’ and thus falling into the class of ‘true believers.’ Presumably, he does not see himself as a true believer; he calls himself a gentle cynic and has some of the qualities of Benjamin, the donkey.


There are many old and contemporary ways of dividing people up into contrary classes.
Here I list a few.

Liberals, Progessives, and Political Conservatives
Democrats and Republicans
Rich and Poor
Religious and non-religious
God believers and non-believers
Europeans and Non-Europeans
Men and Women
Married and Single
Parents and Childless
City dweller and lovers of the country life
Dog lovers, and cat lovers
Lovers of pets and those who prefer to be without pets

Cowboys and Indians
Ranchers and Sheepmen
Motorists and Bicyclists

Those who love silence and sounds of nature
Those who cannot exist without electronic noise

Those who like coffee and those who prefer tea
Those who have money and those who don’t

Those who like fresh air and the windows open
Those who prefer to keep the windows closed

Those who like jazz and those who prefer the classics.

Those who love camping and those who cannot stand it

Those who like the sounds and activities of their neighbors
Those who are annoyed by the noise of their neighbors

Those who hear too much; those who don’t hear enough
Those who love spectator sports; those who consider them a waste of time

Now for some griping: Some people are angels; some are ‘jugheads’; and others are ‘jerks.’

Angels are the kind-hearted, optimistic type who find good in everyone and everything. They are people who don’t just talk about the Golden Rule, but live their live according to that principle as much as anyone is able to do that. (Believe it or not, there are such people among us.)

Jugheads are people who are rude, inconsiderate, nuisances because they don’t know any better. Consider a common jughead act that we often experience out there in the social world: the guy who plays his auto stereo at highest volume and has never thought of the effect the sounds have on others within fifty yards.

Jerks are people who are rude, inconsiderate, nuisances because they don’t give a damn. Consider a common jerk act that we often experience out there in the social world: the guy who plays his auto stereo at highest volume, knows it bothers others within fifty yards, but could not care less.

(These three classes do not exhaust the classes of human beings.)

Appearances are Deceiving or the Perils of Stereo-Typing:

(A few years ago an old friend told me this story, which I shall recount as he told it me: in the first person.)

My first meeting with the Department Chairman

Early in the 1970s I made first visit to the philosophy graduate program office at the University of California. This happened in late summer when I had an appointment with the Department Chairman, call him “Professor Morehead.” This was my first meeting with him. I told the secretary up front who I was and why I was there. She had me wait for a few minutes.

A skinny, raggedy, somewhat unkempt man was emptying out the trash cans at the secretary’s area in front of the faculty offices. I took him to be the janitor. Another person, well-dressed man, walked through the entry to an office. When the secretary told me that Morehead was ready to see me, I assumed that he was the stylish dresser and headed for the room that he had entered. As I started to pass by the chairman’s office, the raggedy, unkempt man stuck his head out the door and motioned me over there. “That other guy,” he told me, “was a graduate student taking a summer class,” before heartily shaking my hand and telling me with a smile, “I’m Morehead.” To my surprise, the “janitor” was Professor Morehead, Department Chair and Professor of Philosophy! He enjoyed a good laugh at my confusion.

Morehead was a great guy, very informal in attire, who later encouraged me with my dissertation project and helped me to achieve my dream, a graduate degree in philosophy!