Monday, November 19, 2007

God Still Kills Mommy

Here's the second of my two long overdue items on women's issues. This one relates to another point I brought up in the Carrier-Roth Debate. But it's my interview in the "Special Features" section of The God Who Wasn't There that needs correcting. That's where Brian Flemming shows a larger chunk of his interview of me on the UC Berkeley campus (since many ask, we filmed by Sather Tower). Over the past year or two I've been asked several times about my claim there that without modern medicine 1 in 5 women die as a result of childbirth.

This statistic I had second-hand from several sources I'd read long ago and simply took for granted. Following my usual practice, when someone leads me to doubt my sources, I dig deeper to check, and correct myself if I'm wrong. Though I've already responded to several people on this already, going back more than a year now, it eventually occurred to me I should just blog it. So here you go.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Birth Control & Abortion

Here's an enormous change of subject for you!

I've been sitting on two topics on women's issues that I've long had in the queue for my blog. I've now found the time for them. I'll do one today, the other sometime later. Both relate in one way or another to my old debate with Jennifer Roth: Is There A Secular Case Against Abortion? The Carrier-Roth Debate (2000), which I blogged about a few months ago (in The Abortion Controversy).

The first of these issues is a claim I made in that debate, which I reproduce in full here (emphasis added):

However, abortion statistics, such as appear in any World Almanac, only measure medical procedures, including the use of prescription abortifacients like the "Abortion Pill." What is rarely understood in this issue is the fact that the most popular means of birth control actually partly relies upon inducing early abortion, and is very likely responsible for many times as many abortions as occur in counted procedures. Hormonal medications of this sort include "The Pill," and Norplant, as well as the numerous herbal solutions which share the same or similar chemical properties and are thus employed in third world countries as a less expensive alternative to the manufactured pharmaceuticals that they mimic. All these chemicals operate simultaneously on many levels, primarily by preventing ovulation and hindering sperm, but also by preventing implantation (and thus causing expulsion) of an egg that, despite all else, is fertilized anyway. In other words, all chemical forms of birth control, including the pill, cause abortions--and no one can know whether or when they have worked by their primary means or in this last-resort manner. This means that any discussion about the morality or legality of abortion necessarily entangles us in the morality and legality of the use of the pill and related implants and injections. This is all the more true given that women can deliberately cause this early-abortion effect up to three days after intercourse by taking a double or triple dose of their ordinary birth control pills.
In response to this, many years ago someone wrote to me that they had found a scientific article claiming there was no evidence of this. Though they knew there had to be something fishy about that (since they, like me, had read literature claiming the contrary) they wanted to know what was up with this article. The paper in question, by doctors Roberto Rivera, Irene Yacobson, and David Grimes, is "The mechanism of action of hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine contraceptive devices," in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 181.5 (November 1999): pp. 1263-69.

I'll now tell you more or less what I told this inquirer.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Antony Flew's Bogus Book

I'm mentioned considerably in a recent article in the New York Times Magazine about Antony Flew's new book. Fans will want to know about this, and hear some of the backstory from me, filling in some of the blanks left by the article, which was good but inevitably brief for so complicated a story. So here you go.