Friday, September 28, 2012

Oh, Canada! (No Debate Allowed)

Welcome to Canada.   We're a land of freedom and democracy.   Unless you want to discuss the question of when human life begins.    We don't debate abortion.  

Oh it's not that we're all agreed on abortion.    Depending on the polls and the phraseology of the questions, a significant percent of the population disagrees with status-quo - once they are made aware that abortion is legal here throughout all nine months, for any and all reasons, and is paid for by Canadian tax dollars.    Since 1988, when the Supreme Court struck down the unevenly applied abortion laws that had been introduced in Prime Minister Trudeau's 1969 Omnibus bill,  Canada has remained one of few countries in the world to have absolutely no laws on abortion.    Most Canadians don't know this is our dark reality, because we're Canadians - we're polite.  We will kill 115,000 preborn boys and girls annually, but please don't ask us to talk about or even question it.   We don't do that.

When the Supreme Court struck down the faulty laws in 1988, every last one of its judges said that there should be a law governing abortion in Canada, and that it was up to parliament to determine what this law should be.  Nearly twenty-five years later, Canadian parliament has remained largely silent on the issue of abortion.    A handful of private member's bills have been introduced, (including an unborn victims of violence bill that would have made it a separate crime to kill a woman's wanted fetus in an act of violence against her)  but none have ever been moved into law.

This year, a private member’s bill (motion 312) was introduced by conservative MP Stephen Woodworth.   The bill merely asked that a committee be put into place to study modern prenatal knowledge and re-examine Canada's 400 year-old definition of a human being.  While the motion does not directly address abortion,  the findings of such a committee would be of utter importance, due to the fact that the Canadian Charter of Rights grants life and personhood to all human beings.   Currently, the Criminal Code of Canada states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth.   Who needs to study science when we have magical lines like these? 

Motion 312 has now been defeated twice.   On September 26 2012, Woodworth's final appeal was rejected again, with 91 Members of Parliament voting  in favour of allowing debate on the question of when human life begins, and 203 asking  that the issue not be reopened at all.   While one MP, Rona Ambrose, Minister For The Status Of Women,  has caught a LOT of flak  for having dared to vote in favour of a debate on fetal rights (apparently she's "unfit to defend the rights of women" if she questions sex selection abortions in Canada), other MP's have argued  that “society has moved on” and decried the “blatant attack on a woman’s right to choose.”    

The decision hardly comes as a surprise.   In fact, it's almost certainly an admission of guilt.   Opponents of the bill seem to already know that an inquiry into the science of fetal development will threaten "the right to choose."    After all, if supporters of abortion were confident that life began at birth and  that nothing new has been added to scientific understanding of human fetal life in 400 years, why should this inquiry frighten them?      

Parliament is not the only place that refuses to debate abortion in Canada.    In 2008, the Canadian Federation of Students, a body that represents all student federations across the country, enacted a pro-choice policy that enables campus student federations to ban pro-life clubs from even existing.    One after another, universities from coast to coast have denied and revoked tuition-paying pro-life students their right to assemble as official clubs on campus, while abortion advocates, like Canadian Abortion Rights Action League Joyce Arthur, compare pro-life clubs to "neo-Nazis and white supremacists".  Pro-life presentations that do take place are drowned out with shouts or daycare songs (video: St Mary's University in Halifax, video: McGill University in Montreal) or brazenly vandalized  (video: University of British Columbia) , with campus police intervening by shutting down the presentation (not the violent protestors) as the source of conflict.  

Student groups that continue to run pro-life events without the official sanction of their student union, find themselves silenced by formal complaints,  and further restricted by official university orders and legal threat.   Pro-life students at Carleton University and at the University of Calgary were arrested and charged with trespassing on their own campuses, after violating orders to cease their presentations.   (video: Carleton University, video: U of Calgary)   This is Canada, where the majority's "right to not be offended" or challenged with an opposing view trumps a minority's right to free speech.   At least on this issue.

More arrests are made outside of Canada's abortion clinics, where 500 foot bubble-zones in several provinces make it illegal to protest, stand or pray within blocks of an abortion clinic.   The elderly Linda Gibbons has spent more than nine years in jail over the past couple decades, for repeatedly standing outside a Toronto clinic with a simple sign featuring a baby and the words: "Why Mom, when I have so much love to give?"   Young adult Mary Wagner has also done jail time for interacting with abortion-minded clients or for handing women roses  as they entered the clinic.    Canadian protestors can stop traffic, get angry, even get violent without necessarily facing charges.   The right to protest is a highlight of Canadian democracy!   Unless you're asking for fetal rights.   That's not cool.   Off to jail you go!     

So welcome to Canada.  Please feel free to express yourself here, for we are proud of our diversity.   We will boast of Canada as a mosaic, a beautiful blend of cultures, values and beliefs.   We will herald our democratic government where we are free to petition our representatives and trust that all our voices will be heard.    But please be sure your beliefs tow the majority line and that your views aren't  controversial or offensive to anyone else.   Because this is Canada.   We don't debate abortion here.  


I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong...  This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.
— John Diefenbaker;   13th Prime Minister of Canada.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

News briefs

Senators Jean Shaheen (pro-choice D-NH) and Bob Casey (pro-life D-PA) have introduced a bill, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, to improve conditions for pregnant mothers in the workplace.  The Act stands little chance of passage due to opposition from anti-business-regulation conservatives in the House.

Pro-lifers are understandably skeptical of President Obama's newfound interest in stopping human trafficking, in light of past actions that put abortion ahead of the needs of trafficking victims.

On the election front, Americans United for Life laments the millions of pro-abortion dollars being spent on advertising.  Meanwhile, the Susan B. Anthony List is running a new ad in the swing state of Ohio:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gonzales v. Carhart: What can you see?

Gonzales v. Carhart is a 2007 Supreme Court case in which the Court upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.

Both the pro-life and pro-choice communities reacted strongly to the case, seeing it as a shift in the Court's perspective on abortion.  As the New York Times explained, the decision was "the first in which the Court has upheld a ban on a specific method of abortion."  Planned Parenthood describes the case as follows:
April 18, 2007: The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the federal abortion ban, which criminalizes abortions in the second trimester of pregnancy that doctors say are safe and the best to protect women’s health.
While it may be true that Gonzales represented a shift in philosophy, the abortion method it banned was so specific as to make the Court decision almost meaningless on a practical level.
First, since the doctor must "vaginally delive[r] a living fetus," the Act does not restrict abortions involving delivery of an expired fetus or those not involving vaginal delivery,e.g., hysterotomy or hysterectomy. And it applies both previability and postviability because, by common understanding and scientific terminology, a fetus is a living organism within the womb, whether or not it is viable outside the womb. Second, because the Act requires the living fetus to be delivered to a specific anatomical landmark depending on the fetus' presentation, an abortion not involving such partial delivery is permitted. Third, because the doctor must perform an "overt act, other than completion of delivery, that kills the partially delivered fetus," the "overt act" must be separate from delivery. It must also occur after delivery to an anatomical landmark, since killing "the partially delivered" fetus, when read in context, refers to a fetus that has been so delivered. Fourth, given the Act's scienter requirements, delivery of a living fetus past an anatomical landmark by accident or inadvertence is not a crime because it is not "deliberat[e] and intentiona[l]." Nor is such a delivery prohibited if the fetus [has not] been delivered "for the purpose of performing an overt act that the [doctor] knows will kill [it]."
Okay, let's review. Gonzales does not ban all intact dilation and extraction (D&E) procedures.  The case bans procedures in which:

  1. A living fetus is vaginally delivered
  2. To a specific anatomical landmark ("either the fetal head or the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother") and is then
  3. Killed by an "overt act" (i.e. inserting scissors into the fetus's skull) and
  4. The vaginal delivery was "deliberate and intentional."
In other words, it is still legal to perform a D&E as long as the fetus is not purposefully delivered to a certain point.  It is still legal to perform a D&E on a fetus purposefully partially delivered but with the navel still inside the mother's body.  It is still legal to perform a D&E on a fetus wholly but accidentally delivered.  Indeed, the Court specifically addresses this possibility:
[Respondents] contend--relying on the testimony of numerous abortion doctors--that D&E may result in the delivery of a living fetus beyond the Act's anatomical landmarks in a significant fraction of cases. This is so, respondents say, because doctors cannot predict the amount the cervix will dilate before the abortion procedure. It might dilate to a degree that the fetus will be removed largely intact. To complete the abortion, doctors will commit an overt act that kills the partially delivered fetus. Respondents thus posit that any D&E has the potential to violate the Act, and that a physician will not know beforehand whether the abortion will proceed in a prohibited manner. 
This reasoning, however, does not take account of the Act's intent requirements, which preclude liability from attaching to an accidental intact D&E.
This case bans an abortion procedure based on how far the fetus's body is removed from the woman's, and the doctor's intent on how far the fetus would be removed.  The ban is not based on fetal development, and I argue it's not based on humanity or dignity for the fetus.  After all, the doctor may legally tear the fetus apart so long as the fetus is mostly in the womb.  The Court tries to clarify the incoherent rationale of the case:
The Act's stated purposes are protecting innocent human life from a brutal and inhumane procedure and protecting the medical community's ethics and reputation. The government undoubtedly "has an interest in protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession." Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702, 731. Moreover, Casey reaffirmed that the government may use its voice and its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman. See, e.g., 505 U. S., at 873. The Act's ban on abortions involving partial delivery of a living fetus furthers the Government's objectives. Congress determined that such abortions are similar to the killing of a newborn infant. This Court has confirmed the validity of drawing boundaries to prevent practices that extinguish life and are close to actions that are condemned.
Do you follow all of that?  Innocent human life is protected from the brutal and inhumane procedure of being partially birthed and then killed.  The act does nothing about the presumably equally brutal and inhumane procedure of killing in the womb and then extracting.  Apparently brutality and inhumanity are increased depending on whether the fetus's navel is outside the mother's body.  Apparently it's much more disrespectful to the "life within the woman" to physically remove that life before killing it than it is to kill it and then remove it.  Partially removing a fetus and then killing it is "similar to the killing of a newborn infant" but, apparently, killing the same fetus first and then removing it is dissimilar enough to be accepted.  The Court continues:
The objection that the Act accomplishes little because the standard D&E is in some respects as brutal, if not more, than intact D&E, is unpersuasive. It was reasonable for Congress to think that partial-birth abortion, more than standard D&E, undermines the public's perception of the doctor's appropriate role during delivery, and perverts the birth process. 
Ah.  Here is the difference.  It's not about brutality, humanity, or dignity.  It's about how one version of brutality affects the public's perception more than another version.  It's alright to rip a fetus apart, as long as it's not so visible.

It's amazing to me how much what people think is moral or should be legal is based on what they can see.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pro-life Democrats remain optimistic through struggle

The Democratic Convention was heavy on pro-abortion messaging, to put it mildly.  Pro-life Democrats attempted to moderate the party platform and push a "big tent" strategy on abortion, but were rejected at every turn.  In light of that disappointing experience, various commentators have wondered where, if anywhere, pro-life Democrats can go from here.

Kristen Day, the president of Democrats for Life (disclosure: I know her personally) responded to these rumblings in a recent email to supporters:
When I read an article about the alleged "death of the pro-life democrat" following our event at the Democratic National Convention, I chuckled. It is wishful thinking by Republicans, but not the truth. Pro-life democrats are not dead. In fact, we are more alive, more motivated, more united, and growing!

There are 21 million pro-life Democrats, and we have only scratched the surface of bringing this large coalition together to bring change to our party. The momentum from our convention event has not brought death, but re-birth. We had a historic number of hits on our Facebook page, increased activity on Twitter, an increase in the number of inquiries, and a record number of new memberships!

This convention has given us the energy and the legitimacy to advance the cause of life consistently, effectively, and proudly as pro-life Democrats.
I think that the article she refers to is this one, by Dan McConchie (who I also know personally).  Although McConchie is a good deal more conservative than Day, I do not consider McConchie's article to be "wishful thinking"-- on the contrary, I believe that he is genuinely saddened by the plight of pro-life Democrats.  He fondly remembers the good old days, when "in 1992, five anti-abortion governors addressed the Democratic convention."  That would be unthinkable now.

McConchie is particularly concerned that "anti-abortion Democrats in state legislatures complain that the national party actively blocks their efforts to move up the ranks, instead favoring those who toe the party’s radical line on abortion."  Day shares his concern, insisting: "Pro-life Democrats cannot and will not be marginalized or silenced by our party."

In light of pro-life public opinion trends, I agree with McConchie that the Democratic Party is shooting itself in the foot with its unyielding loyalty to the abortion industry.  Day and others like her are the solution-- but will the party leadership ever embrace them?

Monday, September 24, 2012

California enacts law allowing non-doctor abortionists

Last week, I went to a CVS MinuteClinic to have a funny-looking mole checked out.  MinuteClinics are staffed by nurse practitioners and physician's assistants, rather than doctors, which makes them a relatively inexpensive way for patients to take care of minor health issues like a cold or pink eye.  Unfortunately for me, the nurse practitioner on duty was not allowed to scalpel off my mole; that was beyond her expertise.  But she didn't charge me for the visit, so I can't complain.

In light of that recent experience, I was floored when I read about a law that abortion supporters in California just enacted
California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill into law that makes it so nurses in California can do abortions, even though they do not have a valid medical license certifying them as a physician.  [. . .]  Senate Bill 623, by Sen. Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, was supported by Planned Parenthood and opposed by pro-life groups. Introduced by Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), it extends a program run by the University of California, San Francisco, in which nurse practitioners, midwives and physicians assistants are trained to perform abortions.
Remove a tiny bit of skin from a patient's arm: not okay for a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant.  Remove an unborn child from the womb?  Be my guest.

California has officially gone off the deep end.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cutting-edge science: womb transplants

From CNN:
Two Swedish women have received new wombs donated by their mothers in the first mother-to-daughter uterine transplants, officials said.
The first woman had her uterus removed years ago because of surgery for cervical cancer, according to the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. The second woman was born without a uterus. Neither woman was identified by the university.
The operations were conducted Saturday and Sunday at the university's Sahlgrenska Hospital, said Dr. Michael Olausson, surgeon and professor.
"So far, the procedures have been a success, but the final proof of success will be the birth of a healthy child," Olausson told CNN.
The two recipient patients are trying to become pregnant through in vitro fertilization (IVF).  IVF has been criticized by many pro-lifers, because doctors often create "excess" embryos who are not permitted to grow.  However, as the technology of uterine transfer progresses, I expect that it may be possible to connect the donated womb to the recipient's own fallopian tubes.  That would allow conception to occur naturally, with the assistance of fertility drugs, and/or with artificial insemination-- none of which pose the pro-life concerns that IVF does.

So I won't venture to guess what this medical advancement means for the interests of preborn children over the long term.  I just find it fascinating.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Her Story: "I do have the strength to raise this child."

According to Michelle at Big Blueberry Eyes, in 2006 an anonymous poster shared the following story on a "termination for medical reasons" board:
I have lurked here for years, and although my story may not be welcomed with open arms, I feel compelled to share it none-the-less. Like many of you, I received a pre-natal diagnosis that our precious baby had Down syndrome and a heart defect. It was completely unexpected and devastating, obviously. Like many of you, my first concern was for my daughter. What would having a sibling with special needs mean for her future? I didn’t want to burden her with a brother who would never be anything but a drain on our family. We didn’t have the resources of money, time, family support, etc. to be good parents to my daughter and a child with Down syndrome. I didn’t want to bring a child into the world only to suffer. These feelings were substantiated by the medical professionals involved in my care. They universally agreed that terminating was the right decision. So we made the choice, and I had the procedure. My grief was overwhelming.
About one year after the termination, I was again pregnant. I thought that perhaps we could finally move past the pain of losing our baby. The pregnancy was smooth, an amnio proved that the baby was healthy and that there were no chromosomal abnormalities. Everything seemed great. But at 22 weeks I went into labor, and the drs. were only able to stop it for a few weeks. My precious son was born at 25 weeks due to incompetent cervix, and both my OB and the perinatologist agreed that it was a direct result of the termination procedure. There was no other explanation. After months in the NICU, too many complications to recount, various surgeries and painful procedures, my son finally came home. And I was reminded everyday of the fact that my baby’s health issues and delays, his numerous special needs, were a direct result of trying to prevent having a baby with special needs. The irony continues to astound me.
But what I have learned in the 5 years since he was born amazes me more. I have learned that I do have the strength to raise this child. That yes, the drs. appts. and therapies which at the beginning seemed all encompassing, fade into the past as he grows older. I have seen my daughter grow beautifully into a compassionate and loving person. The experience of having a brother with special needs has exposed her to something that I always said I would teach my children. That different isn’t bad…that what makes a person beautiful isn’t what you can see with your eyes. In the NICU, and since then at the children’s hospital, in specialists’ offices, at the early intervention center, in school…I have seen that children with Down syndrome, and other special needs are not burdens to their parents. These families have challenges, sure, but they also have joy. Their lives are more “normal” than not. I have seen the pride on parents faces (and felt it myself) when a goal that comes easily to others is finally mastered. I have heard stories and witnessed myself marriages and families strengthened and enriched. I have seen that kids with Down syndrome, one of whom is now my son’s best friend, are absolutely not suffering. My son’s friend runs and laughs and plays, tells jokes, and is reading. He loves freely and fully. He had the same heart defect as the baby I terminated…and after surgery he was out of the hospital in a week and has never had any other complications.
I am not sharing my thoughts to cause pain to any members of this board. But I have nowhere to go with the guilt and pain I feel for the decision I made. I do not just regret being put in the situation; I deeply, and painfully, regret the choice that I made. And I think that even though the majority of people who post here seem not to struggle with that feeling, I know that I can’t be alone. I wish that I would have actually talked to parents of children with Down syndrome. Because one thing I know for sure—as capable and helpful as my son’s drs. and therapists are, not one of them can really know what it is like to be his parent, and to see the love that he brings to our family. My son’s needs in fact are greater and more complicated than most of the children with Down syndrome that I have encountered, but his life still has value. I never would have imagined myself in this position…and I didn’t think that I, or my marriage, or my daughter, could come out stronger for it. But we have. And now after the time I have spent with these children and their families, I don’t at all consider them fanatics. But advocates for the kids who have brought so much love to their lives. And I can also say unequivocally that these children and adults with Down syndrome “have a life”. As far as what NICU nurses and neonatologists would advise, after practically living in the NICU for over 3 months, I have no doubt what they would, and do say…Down syndrome is nothing compared to what so many families experience. These children can and do have a great quality of life and contribute to their families and communities, and are not considered a burden even by their adult siblings after the parents are gone.
I am not posting this to cause pain to anyone on this board. But I also cannot just sit back and not express my views on this subject. I do not judge anyone here, including myself…I know that we all made the best possible choices with the information we had. But I have lived both sides of this issue. I have terminated for T21 and now am raising a child with special needs. I wish I had known then what I know now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Students don't have "right not to be disturbed"

[Today's post comes to us from The Charlatan, the student newspaper of Carleton University in Ottowa, Canada.  Carleton Lifeline president Taylor Hyatt responds to an abortion supporter on campus who was "disturbed" by photos of abortion victims.]

I would like to commend Ms. Campbell for voicing her opinion, and her honesty in doing so. I will gladly admit that Lifeline’s strategy is jarring, and sympathize with the many people who are uncomfortable with our pictures. They are not easy to show, discuss, or see while one is going about their day.

However, I must ask whether using graphic imagery is in itself the same as forcing the student population to look at such imagery.

Ms. Campbell is correct when she says that people should be free to disregard our message, and that one’s own rights being exercised should not negatively impact the rights of others. In essence, my rights end where your rights begin. Yet nowhere in Canadian law is there a right not to be disturbed or offended. Anyone who is unsettled by a display on campus is always free to look away — no matter how compelling the content. Section 2 (b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that we have the “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.”

We need to ask ourselves why Lifeline’s pictures are upsetting. They depict the decapitation, dismemberment, and disemboweling of some of the 300 humans in-utero aborted every day, as noted in 2004 by Statistics Canada. The act — whose results the pictures show — should bother us more than the signs themselves. According to CBC News, abortion has been decriminalized (legalized) in Canada since 1969, and completely unrestricted since 1988. The current state of affairs does not automatically make this procedure a right.

I agree that women should be able to control their reproductive capacities, but that control ends when a new life enters the equation at conception. The woman’s pre-born offspring also have a right not to be killed. Abortion is a sign that society fails to take care of all people — not only unborn children or their mothers. It is horrific that pre-born children, the most vulnerable of human beings, can be killed for any reason or no reason in our country. Just as appalling is the fact that their parents may feel there is no way to continue their lives without consenting to a death. It is time for society to step up and take care of these people on a large scale, though that does not excuse us from raising awareness of the issue and its gravity.

Ms. Campbell also states that if pro-choice advocates hypothetically had to force their way into an area to get their point across, it would be a church. The pro-life view transcends spirituality (or lack of it).

Instead, abortion should be examined in light of science, human rights and the definition of a human being. In fact, Section 223 (1) of Canada’s Criminal Code states that “a child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.”
Surely most people who identify as pro-choice will agree with me and find something wrong with that statement. There are plenty of non-religious and even atheist pro-lifers, who acknowledge the pre-born child’s humanity and rights from conception.

Some of these people can easily be found on campus. Many pro-lifers — including myself — hold the view that our different faiths are not vital to this debate. Such things are not necessary to prove that pre-born children do, in fact, belong to the species homo sapiens and therefore deserve protection.

Above all, anyone entering the abortion debate needs to weigh two factors, and judge them based on how long they last. Which is worse — a temporary feeling of offense, or the deliberate (and of course, permanent) ending of a human life?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Photo of the Day

On Friday, the Virginia Board of Health approved new safety regulations for abortion centers in the Commonwealth.  I was among the supporters gathered outside as the 13-2 ruling was announced.  We stood holding signs with information about troubled abortionists and abortion centers in Virginia.

As a pro-abortion group streamed out of the building, one young man yelled at us: "I can't wait for all you old men to die off!"  I had to chuckle at his less than spectacular grip on reality.

Five points to whomever can find all the old, about-to-die-off men in the photo!
That's me on the far left.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Case for the Rape Exception (Sort Of)

[Guest Blogger Nathaniel presents a nuanced perspective on the rape exception.  Secular Pro-Life takes no formal stance on the rape exception, but encourages discussion on the issue.  For more information, see here.]

It's hard to make nuanced arguments in the abortion debate because folks on both sides tend to see a debate primarily as a chance to prove their commitment to their cause to themselves and their friends. This is where you get the concept of symbolic beliefs, which are extreme beliefs people claim solely as a way of demonstrating their passion.

Secular Pro-Life does a very good job of raising the bar when it comes to the debate, and so I want to take a shot at making an argument about abortion and rape that hinges on the kind of fine distinction that wouldn't survive most ordinary arguments.

The distinction I want to make is between active and passive abortion.  The vast majority of abortions performed today are active.  They use surgical instruments or drugs to actively and directly kill the developing human being.  But at least one kind of theoretical abortion is passive.  According to some pro-life arguments, the emergency contraceptive Plan B can act to block a fertilized egg from implanting into the uterus without doing it any direct harm.  This is a passive abortion, and I called it "theoretical" because there's not a lot of clear evidence that it actually works this way.  For the purpose of my argument, however, what matters is that it could.

To see how this distinction matters in the case of rape--and why I support legal access to abortion in the case of rape (sort of)--I'm gong to dredge up the (in)famous 1971 article by Judith Thompson: A Defense of Abortion (full text).  Thompson assumes for the sake of argument that the unborn human being has full ethical and legal status as a person, and so will I. (If you think that the unborn human doesn't have human rights, then obviously abortion should be legal not only in cases of rape but in all cases, and so I'm setting that aside.)

One of the central thought-experiments in the paper is to imagine that a woman wakes up one morning to find that during the night someone has surgically attached her to a concert violinst to save him from being poisoned.  No one asked the woman for her opinion on this decision, she was simply kidnapped and the violinist was attached.  This makes the thought-experiment incredibly poor for talking about abortion generally (unless you think pregnancy happens by kidnapping, I guess), but it's clearly relevant in cases of rape.

So the question Thompson asks is--starting with this scenario--does the woman have a legal right to refuse to donate her body to support the innocent concert violinist?  Thompson argues that she does, and therefore abortion ought to be legal in cases like this.  But wait: does Thompson mean active abortion, or passive abortion?

Here's why it matters.  Suppose that the woman says "I don't have a legal obligation to be attached to this concert violinst, so I'm cutting the cord", and with that she takes scissors and severes the connection between the two of them, leaving the concert violinist to die.  This, Thompson argues, is permissible.  Maybe so, but would it also be permissible for the woman to say "I don't have a legal obligation to be attached to this concert violinist, so I'm killing him." and then take her scissors and stab the violnist in the throat?  I don't think so.

There's a serious disconnect between the philosophical abstraction of abortion, in which a woman merely says "I refuse to donate my body", and the specific reality of abortion, in which a doctor carries out that wish by first ending a life, and then only afterwards removing the unborn human being from the woman.  The ordering might not be so clear-cut because the fetus is removed in pieces and it's not clear when death occurs vs. the first limb being extracted, but you get the picture--there are clearly two activities here: killing and removing/withdrawing support.  Thompson's argument supports the latter, but not the former.

The end result of all this is that, in the case of rape, it is arguably permissible to end a pregnancy by passive abortion (which, for all intents and practices, does not presently exist) but not through active abortion.  This is why I support a rape exception... sort of.

The practical problem is that if we start changing the way we do abortions--for example, carefully snipping the umbilical cord rather than dismembering the fetus--then we've made the fatal mistake (from the pro-choice standpoint) of acknowledging that the unborn human being deseves some consideration.  Once we start that kind of deliberation abortion as it currently exists in the United States simply cannot survive, because any genuine consideration of the interests of the unborn human being kickstarts our sense of empathy, and it's all downhill from there for abortion-as-birth-control.  This is a reason why I suspect that virtually no pro-choicer would ever agree that we ought to restrict abortion to passive abortions, even in theory and even if they are the kind of pro-choicer who can agree that the unborn human being is, in fact, a person.  It's a Pandora's box that they do not wish to open.

There are a couple of additioanl perspectives I want to consider, however.  The first is the perspective of the woman herself.  If the critical flaw of the pro-choice perspective is to refuse to acknowledge the humanity of the unborn human being at all, the corresponding flaw of the pro-life perspective (though perhaps not as widespread) is to refuse to think seriously about the costs of unwanted pregnancies on women.  Too many pro-lifers just don't want to talk about it because to acknowledge the pain and sacrifice is to introduce ambiguity into the discussion.  No activist likes ambiguity.

In Thompsons's article the violinist is just attached in the middle of the night in an apparntly painless procedure.  That's not a very good description of rape.  (I can't overstate how different they are, so I'm not going to try.)  The legal health exception as defined in Doe v. Bolton is a joke, but there is a real self-defense argument to be made on health grounds.  You are authorized to use deadly force to protect yourself not only from a threat to your life, but also from serous injury (including rape).  If a pregnant rape victim's suffering is severe enough and if an abortion will alleviate that suffering--or if the pregnancy is seen as a continuation of the rape, for example--then there is an argument to support even active abortion.  Since I don't know the answer to whether or not abortion can help rape victims in the long run, I don't feel qualified to weigh in on the issue one way or the other, but it's certainly a reasonable position.

On the other hand, there is the concept of necessity as a justification for otherwise criminal acts.  To give credit, I first read this argument in a post by Rebecca Kiessling--who was conceived by rape herself.  This is how she explains it:
In tort (personal injury) law, we have the long-standing "necessity doctrine."  This doctrine allows, for example, a boat in a storm to dock in someone else's "safe harbor."  The right of the individuals on the boat need not be granted or bestowed by the dock owner -- it exists independently, regardless of whether or not a sailor in peril has permission to be in the private harbor.  The reasoning here makes sense:  the lives of those on board are valued more than the right of the dock owner to have his property free from intrusion.  That right, along with any inconvenience the dock owner suffers (even to the extent that the private dock is thereby destroyed) is subsidiary to the right to life at stake here.  This remains true even if those on board the boat were in such a predicament because they had themselves been incredibly irresponsible in ending up out on the water in a treacherous storm in the first place.  Likewise, an unborn child cannot ever be found to have been irresponsible in any capacity for ending up in such a vulnerable position and should, therefore, be granted at least the same consideration nd should be afforded his or her right to life.
Of course property isn't the same thing as a person's body, but this is a philosophical basis for the idea that even passive abortions ought to be banned in cases of rape, because the unborn human being's life is in danger (they can't survive outside the womb), and that danger will pass once they are born. How solid is this legal/philosophical basis?  As with the question of the mental health of rape victims the honest answer is that I'm just not an expert and so I don't really know.

So what's the final verdict?  Is abortion permissible during rape?  The answer is still just "sort of".  I'd say that passive abortions should be legally permissible, but I can also see good arguments that active abortions should also be allowed or that not even passive abortions should be allowed.  Here's the thing: I don't really care that much.

In terms of scale, the vast majority of abortions have nothing to do with rape, incest, life of the mother, fetal abnormality, or any of the other edge cases.  95% or more of abortions are done on healthy women who have healthy pregnancies with a healthy unborn human being developing normally.  In terms of both the scale of the problem (lives lost) and also the moral and ethical outrage: that's where the problem lies and that's where I think the pro-life side needs to focus, rather than becoming distracted with infighting or leaving our case vulnerable to soundbites by taking a hard line on cases like rape or incest or fetal abnormality.

The other thing to keep in mind is what I alluded to earlier: abortion can't survive as it currently exists in the US (on demand and endemic and used as birth control) in a context where we as a society have started to genuinely consider the perspective of the unborn human being.  I'm not sure what the right answer to the rape question, but I actually have a lot of confidence that our society will reach a good conclusion once we can move past the ideological logjam caused by the Roe v. Wade regime.  Everything changed when Roe v. Wade was implemented, and everything can change again once it is overturned.

Until then?  I support a rape exception.  Sort of.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Be heard. Be counted. Take action.

Americans United for Life Action has just launched, an interactive site for pro-life voters across the United States.  Signing up is easy and free.  When you join Team Life, your avatar is added to an interactive map, highlighting our pro-life strength in numbers in a clear, visual way.  (Washington, take note!)

The site also offers valuable information on key races, voter registration, and other important topics.  I encourage you to check it out.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Attention Virginians!

This Friday, the Virginia Board of Health will once again consider safety regulations for abortion centers.  Perhaps the most important of these is a requirement that hallways and doorways be wide enough to accommodate a stretcher in cases of emergency (for why, click on the photo at right to enlarge).  Pro-choice groups are strongly opposed to the requirements, arguing that the expenses involved are high enough to drive abortion centers out of business.  They'd rather have an unsafe, open clinic than a closed one.

The state legislature passed a comprehensive abortion clinic regulation statute last year, setting forth minimum standards and directing the Board of Health to work out the details.  In June, the Board of Health came back with something below the statutory minimum, and the Attorney General's Office sent them back to the drawing board.

There will be a hearing, open to the public, this Friday morning.  Last time, abortion supporters were out in full force.  We need plenty of pro-life bodies to show that this measure DOES have grassroots support, and that pro-life is pro-woman!

The address is 9960 Mayland Drive, Richmond, VA (boardroom 2).  The earlier you get there, the more likely you are to get a space in the room itself; first come, first served.  If you do get there later, you can help simply by being a pro-life presence in front of the building, where there are sure to be plenty of news cameras.  If possible, wear a pro-life shirt or button, or carry a pro-life sign.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, September 10, 2012

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.  According to the World Health Organization, 3000 people commit suicide every day.  Untreated or inadequately treated depression is a major cause.

Please take the time to read this article on recognizing signs of mental illness, which also gives helpful tips on what to do if you are concerned about a loved one.

Friday, September 7, 2012

FOIA request confirms: PP lying about mammograms

Planned Parenthood supporters (including CEO Cecile Richards) have repeatedly claimed that the abortion business does mammograms. Pro-life advocates, particularly Live Action, have challenged the claim each time.

This letter from the Department of Health and Human Services should clear things up once and for all.  Not a single Planned Parenthood in the country has a mammography machine.

H/T Townhall

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Today's briefs

Kristi Brown of Live Action News dissects a recent Planned Parenthood rally for Obama.  The highlights:  Newark Mayor Cory Booker's outrageous claim that pro-lifers cannot love women ("Thank you, Mayor Booker, for being ever-present in my life, at every moment, and assuring me that my brothers, father, and husband do not truly love me"), and tacky anti-GOP condoms ("[C]learly there is nothing wrong with condoms or with responsible adults acquiring them. However, condoms have nothing to do with either Romney’s or Ryan’s policies and serve only to demonstrate Planned Parenthood’s obsession with all things sexual").

Planning to watch Obama's speech tonight?  You should-- especially if you live in Charlotte.  Jill Stanek reports that the Susan B. Anthony list is airing a hard-hitting anti-Obama ad tonight in the Charlotte market, featuring abortion survivor Melissa Ohden.  While I'm not thrilled by her comment that she's alive today "by the grace of God" (where was that grace for the other babies aborted that day?), the ad does a great job in getting extremely important information to the voting public: President Obama had the opportunity to protect infants born alive after abortion, and chose not to.

An "I Vote Pro-Life First" webcast, hosted by a coalition of pro-life organizations including Students for Life of America and Pro-Life Action League, takes place tonight at 9pm Eastern.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


I believe that abortion should be far more legally restricted than it currently is, but I don’t think it should be illegal in every circumstance.  I think abortion should be legal if the mother’s life is threatened, for example, or if the mother was raped (see more here.)

Because of my particular perspective, I’ve had both pro-choicers and pro-lifers tell me that I want to punish various people.  Some pro-choicers insist that being anti-abortion is about punishing women.  Some pro-lifers insist that having a rape exception is about punishing the fetus conceived in rape.  I disagree on both counts, and for the same reason.

To punish is to “subject to pain, loss, confinement, death, etc., as a penalty for some offense, transgression, or fault.”  [Emphasis added.]

This is a claim about motivation, not effect. 

There’s no denying that restricting abortion is restricting options for women, and would serve to prevent women who greatly desire abortions from obtaining them.  There’s no denying that having a rape exception allows the death of fetuses conceived in rape.  But in order for these situations to constitute punishment, they must be enforced with the goal of penalizing.  It’s not just the effect that matters—the motivation matters as well.  

It’s possible—indeed, it happens all the time—for people with completely different motivations to desire the same effect, as I’ve discussed before.  If you want to punish women you may want stricter abortion laws.  If you want to protect fetal life you may also want stricter abortion laws.  If you want to punish babies conceived in rape you may want a rape exception.  If you want to protect bodily integrity you may also want a rape exception.

Step outside the abortion debate for a moment, and consider this line of thinking as applied to other situations.  If you want everyone to know that those who support homosexuality are going to hell, you may support the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to protest.  If you want to protect free speech, you may also support that right.  If you want hothead motorists to feel frustrated having to drive less than 80 mph on the highway, you may support speed limits.  If you want safer driving conditions for everyone, you may also support speed limits.  Imagine telling someone you support speed limits on highways, and they tell you “You just want to punish people who like to drive quickly!” 

In every case, there are some people who may desire the outcome because they see it as a punishment, and other people who may desire the same outcome because they see it as a protection.  Someone may view the outcome as a punishment, but that doesn’t mean every person seeking that outcome wants to punish.

Assigning false motivations, and trying to get people to defend motivations they don’t even hold, is just a distraction.  This disconnect (or, in some cases, purposeful misdirection) prevents a true understanding of the opposition’s stance.  For those who just want to troll, I guess that works out.  But for those who want to have meaningful dialogue or proper debate, I have a suggestion: don’t tell people how they feel, or why they do what they do.  Let them tell you instead.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Is Abortion Permissible for Fetal Deformity?

[Today's post is the first in a three-part series on "hard cases" by SPL member Clinton Wilcox. For the second post, on the rape exception, click here. For the third post, on life-threatening pregnancies, click here.]

Now we get to the really tough questions about abortion. Can we justify abortion in the really hard cases? Some might say that certain situations are so bad that even if we grant that the preborn are full human persons, we should still allow abortions to be legal (either for the sake of the woman, or because it is assumed that a child would not want to grow up in one of these situations).

Each of these situations are powerful emotionally. These are all very tragic situations in which we really feel for the woman and/or the child in this situation. However, the preborn are full human beings. Therefore, what the question really boils down to is can we justify killing a human being in this situation?

A couple of things need to be said. From a philosophical point of view, these arguments all fail because they commit a very specific logical fallacy, the appeal to pity. An appeal to pity is made when someone tries to win support for an argument or idea by exploiting your feelings of pity or guilt. An appeal to pity does not address a legitimate argument made. Despite this, I don’t recommend shouting out “appeal to pity!” whenever you encounter someone who asks one of these questions. First, if you’re out on the street it’s not really a formal debate setting, but second, the person bringing this up may be asking due to some painful event that occurred in their past or in the past of a loved one. Winning the person should always be more important than winning the argument, so we must use tact whenever we discuss these issues.

Additionally, if any of these hard cases justifies abortion, then we should note that abortion would only be justified in that case alone. None of these cases justifies abortion on demand being legal, which is what we currently have in the United States. [1] In this article I’ll respond to the case of fetal deformity. In a future article, I’ll respond to rape/incest and life of the mother cases.

I. Fetal Deformity

If we were to justify abortion for cases of fetal deformity, that would only justify it for cases of fetal deformity. So this argument does not justify the general right to abortion.

Even given that, this argument does not work to justify abortion. As I have written previously, the preborn from fertilization are living human organisms (even those who have some kind of deformity). So if we can’t justify killing a human outside of the womb due to having a handicap, then we can’t justify abortion for that reason, either. The issue is not whether the preborn entity in question is handicapped or how severe the handicap, but whether the preborn entity is fully human or not.

As Frank Beckwith writes, “ is not clear that we can make sense of the notion that certain human beings are better off not can one compare non-existence with existence when they do not have anything in common? How can one be better off not existing if one is not there to appreciate the joy of such a ‘state’ (whatever that means)?” [2] Beckwith further notes that Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, who worked for years with severely deformed infants as a pediatric surgeon at Philadelphia’s Children’s Hospital, observed that ‘it has been my constant experience that disability and unhappiness do not necessarily go together.’” [3]

The simple fact of the matter is we don’t know what constitutes happiness for others. We have no right to kill a preborn child because we assume that they would rather die than live with that deformity, even if we, ourselves, would rather die in that case (though it’s really impossible to accurately make that claim, not actually being in that situation). Indeed, as Randy Alcorn notes, doctors’ diagnoses are even sometimes wrong: “Many parents have aborted their babies because doctors told them that their children would be severely handicapped. Others I have met were told the same thing, but chose to let their babies live. These parents were then amazed to give birth to normal children.” [4]

Of course raising a handicapped child is difficult. They require special care and attention. But we cannot morally justify killing someone just because they are a burden. It is better to suffer evil rather than inflict it. [5] If this moral precept were not true, then in our world the antidote would be worse than the poison, for people would have the right to harm another if it relieved them of a burden. All moral dilemmas could be solved by appealing to one’s own relief from suffering. [6]

But what about a preborn child with a very serious handicap, like anencephaly? According to the American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine, anencephaly is the “absence at birth of the brain, cranial vault (top of the skull), and spinal cord. Most affected infants are stillborn or survive only a few hours.” It is important to remember that even in tragic cases like these, the preborn anencephalic human is still a fully integrated human organism (albeit a severely damaged one). Stephen Krason compares an anencephalic fetus to someone who has had their head blown off by a gunshot (a gruesome analogy but an apt one). This person is human and remains one until he dies. [7] As such, we are not morally justified in aborting this unfortunate child. The ethical thing to do is to allow nature to take its course.

As Edwin C. Hui notes, “In the event that such an unfortunate one is born alive, she is born a human person, and her short life as a person must be respected and treated with dignity as we would treat any irreversibly dying person. No heroic or futile treatments need to be provided, but neither should her organs be harvested for transplant. She dies and rests in peace as a person.” [8]

Christopher Kaczor would add that the expected lifespan of a human does not justify our killing them. We are not justified in killing death row inmates before their scheduled date of execution (be it for harvesting organs or other reasons). “The fact that a person at the end of life may have only a short time to live does not imply the permissibility of killing that person.” [9]

The solution to a serious medical problem is not to kill the patient, but to study the problem and come up with a solution. The problem should be eliminated, not the human (born or preborn) who suffers from it.

In my next article I will address the circumstances of rape and incest.

[1] Due to Roe v. Wade and its sister case Doe v. Bolton, abortion is legal during all nine months of pregnancy for essentially any reason.

[2] Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against

Abortion Rights, (Cambridge: Universtiy Press: Cambridge, New York, 2007), p. 101.

[3] C. Everett Koop as quoted in Bernard Nathanson (with Richard Ostling), Aborting America, (New York: Doubleday, 1979), p. 235, as quoted in Beckwith, p. 101.

[4] Randy Alcorn, Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Questions: Expanded & Updated, Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2000, p. 223.

[5] Peter Kreeft, The Unaborted Socrates, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1982), p. 40.

[6] Beckwith, p. 102.

[7] Stephen Krason, Abortion, p.387, as cited in Beckwith, pp. 103-104.

[8] Edwin C. Hui, At the Beginning of Life: Dilemmas in Theological Bioethics (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), pp. 366.

[9] Christopher Kaczor, The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice, (Routledge: New York, New York, 2011), p. 181.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Technical problems

Comments are disappearing.  Blogger shows them as published, not withheld as spam, so the cause of the problem is not immediately obvious.  We will work on resolving this over the weekend.

Update: We are switching over to Disqus as our comment posting system.  It may take up to 24 hours for our archived comments to transfer to Disqus.  Until then, comments are not visible.  We apologize for the inconvenience.

Thalidomide victims continue to be disrespected

From the Associated Press:
The German manufacturer of a notorious drug that caused thousands of babies to be born with shortened arms and legs, or no limbs at all, issued its first ever apology Friday -- 50 years after pulling the drug off the market.
Gruenenthal Group's chief executive said the company wanted to apologize to mothers who took [thalidomide] during the 1950s and 1960s and to their children who suffered congenital birth defects as a result.
"We ask for forgiveness that for nearly 50 years we didn't find a way of reaching out to you from human being to human being," Harald Stock said. "We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate caused in us." 
The drug is a powerful sedative and was sold under the brand name Contergan in Germany. It was given to pregnant women mostly to combat morning sickness, but led to a wave of birth defects in Europe, Australia, Canada and Japan. Thalidomide was yanked from the market in 1961 and was also found to cause defects in the eyes, ears, heart, genitals and internal organs of developing babies.
By now, of course, those developing babies are middle-aged adults.  They reacted as you might expect:
Freddie Astbury, of Liverpool, England, was born without arms or legs after his mother took thalidomide. The 52-year-old said the apology was years long overdue.
"It's a disgrace that it's taken them 50 years to apologize," said Astbury, of the Thalidomide U.K. agency, an advocacy group for survivors. "I'm gobsmacked (astounded)," he said. "For years, (Gruenenthal) have insisted they never did anything wrong and refused to talk to us." 
[. . .]
A German victims group rejected the company's apology as too little, too late.
"The apology as such doesn't help us deal with our everyday life," said Ilonka Stebritz, a spokeswoman for the Association of Contergan Victims. "What we need are other things."
Stebritz said that the 1970 settlement in Germany led to the creation of a (EURO)150 million fund for some 3,000 German victims, but that with a normal life expectancy of 85 years the money wasn't enough. In many other countries, victims are still waiting for compensation from Gruenenthal or its local distributors.
In July, an Australian woman born without arms and legs after her mother took thalidomide reached a multimillion dollar settlement with the drug's British distributor. Gruenenthal refused to settle. The lawsuit was part of a class action and more than 100 other survivors expect to have their claims heard in the next year.
Attorneys for Lynette Rowe said in a statement released Saturday that Grunenthal's apology rang hollow.
"To suggest that its long silence before today ought to be put down to `silent shock' on its part is insulting nonsense," the statement reads. "For 50 years Grunenthal has been engaged in a calculated corporate strategy to avoid the moral, legal and financial consequences of its reckless and negligent actions of the 1950s and 1960s."
During the 1960s, the early American pro-choice movement exploited "hideously deformed" thalidomide victims as a justification for abortion.  Fifty years later, society has still failed to fully respect the humanity of people with disabilities.  I agree with victim advocates that this "apology" is woefully inadequate.