Author archives: Anna Shafer

Is America More Pro-life than Ever?

by Anna Shafer

October 10, 2013

The gap between the percentage of Americans who self-identify as pro-life and who identify as pro-choice may be smaller than ever, according to reports from Rasmussen and Gallup. In fact, pro-life arguments may be shifting the American people toward protecting the unborn.

Cheryl K. Chumley reports for The Washington Times that Gallup found in a survey of over 1,500 randomly-chosen adults that 3 percent more identified as pro-life than pro-choice, whereas Rasmussen found in a survey of 1,000 likely voters that 3 percent more identified as pro-choice than pro-life. The gaps, in both cases, were within the margin of error.

Rasmussen reported that the percentage of respondents identifying as pro-choice is the lowest it has been in three years, whereas the percentage of respondents identifying as pro-life ties with “the highest finding [in that category] to date.”

The Littlest Pitchers Have Big Ears!

by Anna Shafer

August 28, 2013

Fascinating new research from University of Helsinki researchers shows that a fetus in utero can hear sounds outside the womb during the last trimester of pregnancy. These children were found to recognize, after birth, a word that had been repeated to them while in the womb. (So: Watch your mouth, think before you speak, etc.) Read on!

It may seem implausible that fetuses can listen to speech within the womb, but the sound-processing parts of their brain become active in the last trimester of pregnancy, and sound carries fairly well through the mother’s abdomen. “If you put your hand over your mouth and speak, that’s very similar to the situation the fetus is in,” says cognitive neuroscientist Eino Partanen of the University of Helsinki. “You can hear the rhythm of speech, rhythm of music, and so on.”

… Partanen and his team decided instead to outfit babies with EEG sensors to look for neural traces of memories from the womb. “Once we learn a sound, if it’s repeated to us often enough, we form a memory of it, which is activated when we hear the sound again,” he explains. This memory speeds up recognition of sounds in the learner’s native language and can be detected as a pattern of brain waves, even in a sleeping baby.

The team gave expectant women a recording to play several times a week during their last few months of pregnancy, which included a made-up word, “tatata,” repeated many times and interspersed with music. Sometimes the middle syllable was varied, with a different pitch or vowel sound. By the time the babies were born, they had heard the made-up word, on average, more than 25,000 times. And when they were tested after birth, these infants’ brains recognized the word and its variations, while infants in a control group did not, Partanen and colleagues report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Babies who had heard the recordings showed the neural signal for recognizing vowel and pitch changes in the pseudoword, and the signal was strongest for the infants whose mothers played the recording most often. They were also better than the control babies at detecting other differences in the syllables, such as vowel length. “This leads us to believe that the fetus can learn much more detailed information than we previously thought,” Partanen says, and that the memory traces are detectable after birth.

Before you rush out for headphones wide enough to fit your expectant abdomen or decide whether your child should learn Spanish or Arabic first, keep in mind that it’s not clear that “stimulation beyond normal sounds of everyday life offers any long-term benefits to healthy babies.” These findings may, however, have implications for treating children “at risk for dyslexia or auditory processing disorders.”

Despite grim prenatal diagnosis, Rep. Herrera Beutler has a (miracle) baby girl

by Anna Shafer

July 30, 2013

Abigail Rose Beutler’s birth has been met with significantly less fanfare than that of the royal baby, Prince George Alexander Louis Mountbatten-Windsor, but it was every bit as miraculous: Despite being given a prenatal diagnosis generally considered a death sentence, Abigail was born weighing two pounds, 12 ounces at 28 weeks’ gestation and has survived two weeks.

Abigail, the daughter of Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), was diagnosed with Potter’s Syndrome in utero. Her condition was characterized by kidney problems, and the resultant total lack of amniotic fluid would normally mean that a baby would be born with underdeveloped lungs. When the strongly pro-life Herrera Beutler announced on her Facebook page that their baby had been diagnosed with Potter’s Syndrome, she stated that “there is no medical solution available to us.”

The Beutlers were told by “multiple doctors” that Abigail’s “condition was incompatible with life and that, if she survived to term, she would be unable to breathe and live only moments after birth. [They] were also told that dialysis or transplant were not possible. The options [they] were offered were termination or ‘expectant management,’ that is, waiting for her to die. Instead, [they] chose to pray earnestly for a miracle.”

After this frightening diagnosis, Herrera Beutler received saline injections into her uterus once a week for five weeks, a therapy called amnioinfusion, atJohnsHopkinsHospital. The saline injections seem to have helped baby Abigail’s lungs “practice,” removed pressure from her head and chest, and allowed her clubbed feet to straighten.

In short, it would appear that the congresswoman and her husband have gotten their miracle. Two weeks ago, Abigail Rose was born with no kidneys but well-formed lungs. She is currently receiving dialysis and will eventually need a kidney transplant, but Huffington Post reports that her doctors are “cautiously optimistic about her future” and that she may be the first child to survive after a diagnosis with Potter’s Syndrome.

Little Abigail’s case should give pause to those who advocate the abortion of unborn children with physical problems. And thanks be to God for this happy ending and beginning!

Cohabitation: Preferred? Maybe. Productive? Nope.

by Anna Shafer

July 16, 2013

In Friday’s Best of the Web Today, James Taranto referenced a RAND report showing that men and women entering cohabiting relationships have widely differing expectations and attitudes. Among cohabiters aged 18 to 26, 13 percent more men than women lack “near-certainty” about the permanence of their relationship, and 15 percent more men than women reported they weren’t “totally committed” to their partners. However, Taranto notes that among both married men and women, equal (and markedly lower than cohabiting) numbers lacked “near-certainty” that their relationship was permanent.

Clearly, this gap in desires and expectations is problematic. Taranto says that “[i]f cohabitation is better suited to male sexuality … as the RAND study suggests, then one would expect the most attractive men—those with the widest options—to be most able to exercise their preference for the former.” He mentions that this selection of the “best” men into cohabitation would bode ill for the well-being of marriage, as well.

I’ve already blogged for Marriage Generation about why I consider cohabitation the “margarine” of relationship arrangements. I wrote there from a generally theological and personal perspective. My personal essay aside, the data make it very clear that men benefit substantially from marriage, and that non-marriage (avoiding and delaying marriage, which may or may not involve living unmarried with a partner) is harmful to the U.S. economy.

The proofs for these two points (think “proof” in the sense that you used it in tenth grade geometry) exist in the form of a MARRI publication, “Non-Marriage Reduces U.S. Labor Participation: The Abandonment of Marriage Puts America at Risk of a Depression.”

The short version of the explanation is this: unemployment among men across all sorts of employment classes (service-sector workers, sales workers, unskilled laborers, professionals) is lower among those who are married than among those who are single or cohabiting. This gap in unemployment between men of different marital states has persisted across 50 years of labor history, recessions included.

Furthermore, this isn’t a matter of less-employed men being unable to get married (i.e., a so-called selection effect­); it’s a matter of fewer men being trained through the institution of marriage to straighten up, fly right, and hang onto their jobs. Men who are already inclined to work less or who are only able to work less aren’t just shifting into cohabitation or singleness. Were that the case, as marriage declined and as less-employed men dropped out of the highly-employed group of married men, married unemployment would drop even further.

Finally, the difference in the labor habits of those men who are and those who aren’t married, and our culture’s shift away from early and lasting marriage, should be cause for concern—if we’re at all concerned for the health of our economy. These two factors alone account for about half the fall-off in men’s labor participation since the 1960s.

Marriage is a formative institution—to say nothing of the courtship process leading thereto. Speaking as a recently-married twenty-something, I can attest to the fact that there’s something about a girl ruling out the prospect of living together before he puts a ring on it that tends to weed out the slackers and commitment-phobes. And the guy who marries a girl, formally and legally, will become more productive as he works to provide for her and their children than he ever would have otherwise.

So perhaps RAND is right: Perhaps “cohabitation is better suited to male sexuality”—or, at least more appealing to short-term thinking and libido. But the data make clear that marriage is better suited to increasing male productivity; that is, to men developing professionally. Perhaps it’s time we stop treating cohabitation and marriage as though their outcomes for the economy and personal financial well-being (and other matters) are six of one, a half-dozen of the other.

Can’t afford an abortion? Lie to a friend or family member to get their money or take on credit card debt.

by Anna Shafer

May 17, 2013

If you don’t work in policy or the pro-life movement, or if you’re not particularly passionate about the issue of abortion, you may never have heard of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions (with the usual exceptions of cases of rape or incest or where a mother’s life is at risk).

Regardless of whether or not you’re familiar with the ins and outs of this federal policy, you probably appreciate the logic behind it. Many of us consider abortion nothing less than taking the life of an innocent person. Not using federal tax dollars to fund it is a no-brainer.

And then there is the National Network of Abortion Funds.

Apart from repealing Hyde, the folks over at NNAF have lots of suggestions for women who cannot afford to procure an abortion. Here are a choice few:

  • Do I have a credit card? Does a friend or family member have one? (If I have time, can I apply for a new card? Could I request a limit increase, which can often take effect on the next business day? I can put just a portion of the cost on a credit card if my limit isn’t high enough.)
  • Can I get a line of credit at my bank?
  • Is there an emergency fund at my church?
  • Can I use my cable bill money toward my abortion and then ask someone else for help with my cable bill?
  • Are there people who might not help me cover the cost of an abortion, but would help me cover other costs? Am I comfortable lying to a friend or family member, telling them that I had an unexpectedly high electric bill or gas bill due to heating or A/C costs?
  • Are there bills that I can pay late or skip this month? Can I talk to the electric company about changing the due date for my bill? (Note that it’s illegal for utilities to shut off the heat source for non-payment during the coldest winter months.)

So: there you have it. Taking on credit card debt, not paying your bills in the knowledge that your utility company may still have to supply you with their service, dipping into the emergency fund at your church (which may or may not strongly oppose abortion), or lying to a friend or family member are all acceptable solutions if you are struggling to pay for an abortion.

P.S. If you have a moment, consider contacting the NNAF’s board members and the organizations that these individuals represent to see if they’re actually comfortable encouraging women to use all these strategies. See the list below:

Sarah Audelo, Senior Manager, Domestic Policy, Advocates for Youth; Washington, D.C.

Veronica Bayetti Flores, Assistant Director, Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program, Hampshire College; Member, New Leadership Networking Initiative; Amherst, MA

Margaret Chapman Pomponio, Executive Director, WV FREE; Charleston, WV

Carol Cohan, Consultant, Women’s Emergency Network; Miami, FL

Marlene Gerber Fried, Senior Advisor to the President and Faculty Director of the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program, Hampshire College; Abortion Rights Fund of Western Massachusetts; Amherst, MA

D. Lynn Jackson (President), Assistant Professor/Field Coordinator, University of North Texas; Network National Case Manager; Texas Equal Access Fund; Dallas, TX

Karen Law, Executive Director, Pro-Choice Resources; Minneapolis, MN

Shanelle Matthews, Communications Manager, Forward Together; Oakland, CA

Eesha Pandit, Executive Director, Men Stopping Violence; Member, New Leadership Networking Initiative; Atlanta, GA

Sue Steketee (Secretary/Treasurer), Director of Surgical Services and Operations, Planned Parenthood of New Mexico; Abortion Assistance Fund of Planned Parenthood New Mexico; Albuquerque, NM

The 112-Lb. “Newborn”

by Anna Shafer

February 18, 2013

In case you missed it, the TODAY show recently reported a heartwarming story about a baby photo shoot that went viral. If you’re wondering why infant photos are national news—many people get irked just seeing them fill up their Facebook news feed—it’s because the “baby,” Latrell Higgins, is the 12-year-old adopted son of Kelli Higgins and her husband.

Kelli and her husband already had six children, but chose to adopt Latrell and his sister Chanya after deciding to adopt older children. When Latrell expressed feelings of loss at not having any baby pictures, one of his adopted sisters jokingly suggested that they do an infant photo shoot. Kelli, a professional photographer, took the photos herself. The result is precious and utterly hilarious and speaks of a family that deeply understands love and belonging.

TODAY also reported that, in 2011, over a hundred thousand children were in foster care and awaiting adoption and that the median age of children awaiting adoption is seven. The Marriage and Religion Research Institute, in its Research Synthesis paper Adoption Works Well: a Synthesis of the Literature, has shown adoption to be “life-alteringly beneficial for children.” Though adoption in the first year of life tends to produce the best results for children, “all children will benefit, regardless of their age at placement. Adopted children outperform their non-adopted peers and non-adopted siblings.”

For more on the importance of strong families and belonging, see MARRI’s Mapping America series.

The Boys at the Back”: Could stable marriage be what’s lacking?

by Anna Shafer

February 14, 2013

Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute published an opinion piece in the New York Times earlier this week entitled “The Boys at the Back.” In her interesting and well-written article, the author addresses the classroom gap boys are witnessing today. The problem isn’t one of intelligence—boys’ test scores are on par with girls’. The problem boys face at school is behavioral: teachers factor behavior into grades, and the classroom structural deck is stacked against boys. Hoff Sommers cites “boy-averse trends like the decline of recess, zero-tolerance disciplinary policies, the tendency to criminalize minor juvenile misconduct and the turn away from single-sex schooling” as culprits.

Ms. Hoff Sommers addresses three policy reasons to care about boys’ performance: the long-term effects of grades (not merely education, but grades) on children’s future well-being and happiness, the need to keep up in the global economic race, and the fact that male educational performance is lagging particularly in black, Latino, and low-income communities. The author makes several valid suggestions for how to engage boys, but as at least a partial explanation (and remedy) for her third reason for concern about boys’ poor performance, I would point to weak family structure.

As the Marriage and Religion Research Institute’s (MARRI) Second Annual Index of Family Belonging and Rejection shows, family intactness (growing up with both biological parents married to one another) is dishearteningly low among blacks and Latinos in the U.S.: only about 17 percent of black children and 41 percent of Hispanic children reach age 17 in an intact household. This matters for children’s educational performance: children in intact married families are significantly more likely to earn mostly A’s in school. Perhaps this is because parents in always-intact married families are more likely to help their children do their homework than are parents in stepfamilies or single-parent families, but more likely it is because children from married households have higher cognitive scores and more self-control. (For these and more educational benefits of marriage, see MARRI’s 162 Reasons to Marry.)

Certainly the fact that boys are falling behind can be traced to many issues. Hoff Sommers notes that “[a]s our schools have become more feelings-centered, risk-averse, collaboration-oriented and sedentary, they have moved further and further from boys’ characteristic sensibilities.” But doesn’t it stand to reason that stable homes produce more disciplined children? And as the author notes, “If boys are restless and unfocused, why not look for ways to help them do better? As a nation, can we afford not to?”

Planned Parenthood: Raking in Government Money, Driving Up Abortion Numbers

by Anna Shafer

January 9, 2013

Following the release of Planned Parenthood’s annual report yesterday, the Susan B. Anthony List  issued a press release reporting the following facts:

  • During fiscal year 2011-2012, Planned Parenthood reported receiving a record $542 million in taxpayer funding in the form of government grants, contracts, and Medicaid reimbursements. Taxpayer funding consists of 45% of Planned Parenthood’s annual revenue.
  • In 2011, Planned Parenthood performed a record high 333,964 abortions.
  • Over the past three reported years (2009-2011), Planned Parenthood has performed nearly one million abortions (995,687).
  • Cancer screening & prevention services and contraceptive services provided by Planned Parenthood continue to drop. Contraceptive services have dropped by 12% since 2009, and cancer screening & prevention services have dropped by 29%.
  • Planned Parenthood reported a total of three million clients in 2011, meaning that 11% of all Planned Parenthood clients received an abortion.

Though the Hyde Amendment prohibits the federal government from funding elective abortions, the simple fact is that money is fungible. As the FRC pamphlet America’s Abortion Provider: What Everyone Should Know about Planned Parenthood states, “By funding non-abortion services, the federal government essentially allows Planned Parenthood to cover overhead and other expenses, as it pursues a more lucrative and lethal business—abortions.”

In the Chart 1 from America’s Abortion Provider, we first show the correspondence between Planned Parenthood’s government funding and the number of abortions it performs.

However, in Chart 3, we show the almost perfect co-variance between annual increases or decreases in federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the following year’s increase or decrease in the number of abortions they perform.

The only exception to the very close correlation between present-year funding and next-year abortions is 2007-2008. At this point, we see a shift to correlation between present-year funding and present-year abortions.

As America’s Abortion Provider notes, “[i]n the end, the operating model of Planned Parenthood is such that its abortion activities require the overhead and general funding support of the federal government.”

Marriage May Promote Safer, Healthier Pregnancies

by Anna Shafer

January 7, 2013

U.S. News and World Report reports via HealthDay that “[c]ompared with unmarried women, married women are less likely to experience domestic abuse, substance abuse or postpartum depression around the time of pregnancy,” according to a study published last month in the American Journal of Public Health by Dr. Marcelo L. Urquia, Patricia J. O’Campo, and Joel G. Ray.

The study, entitled Marital Status, Duration of Cohabitation, and Psychosocial Well-Being Among Childbearing Women: A Canadian Nationwide Survey, was conducted with data on over 6,400 women from the 2006-2007 Canadian Maternity Experiences Survey. According to HealthDay’s report, the study found that 67 percent of separated or divorced women and 35 percent of always-single women dealt with domestic abuse, substance abuse, or postpartum depression. Twenty percent of cohabiting women and 10 percent of married women did so, though these problems diminished with duration of cohabitation.

Urquia stated, according to HealthDay, that “30 percent of children in Canada are born to unmarried couples, up from 9 percent in 1971,” and that the distinctions between married and cohabiting families were important, given out-of-wedlock birth’s rise.

The study’s abstract also noted that “[r]esearch on maternal and child health would benefit from distinguishing between married and unmarried cohabiting women, and their duration of cohabitation.” In fact, many studies do not distinguish between cohabiting households and married households and merely label these “two-parent families.”

For more on the benefits of marriage relative to other family structures, see the Marriage and Religion Research Institute’s 162 Reasons to Marry.

Mormon Church Retools Discussion of Same-Sex Attraction

by Anna Shafer

December 10, 2012

The Mormon Church (“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”) has launched a new site to equip its members to have “kind and reasoned” conversation about homosexuality.

The site defines the Mormon Church’s official stance on same-sex attraction:

The experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

CNN’s report notes that “Mormons believe that family relationships survive after death, as long as individuals live in accordance with the teachings of Jesus Christ. The practice – called sealing – ‘refers to the joining together of a man and a woman and their children for eternity,’ according to the church.” Thus, the concept of family carries eternal significance for Mormons. Their site states that “[f]rom a public relations perspective it would be easier for the Church to simply accept homosexual behavior. That we cannot do, for God’s law is not ours to change.”

The site segment entitled “An Eternal Perspective” states, “Though some people, including those resisting same-sex attraction, may not have the opportunity to marry a person of the opposite sex in this life, a just God will provide them with ample opportunity to do so in the next. We can all live life in the full context of who we are, which is much broader than sexual attraction” (emphasis mine). Though as Christians, we disagree with the doctrine of the former statement, we can wholeheartedly agree with the truth of the latter.

For more, the Washington Post carries the AP’s report here.

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