Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Word About One Issue Voting (Part 2) [Jay]

My wife and I were watching Citizen King, a documentary about Martin Luther King , Jr, on public television the other night. Early in the program they were chronicling the Birmingham demonstrations of 1963, a specific moment struck me as telling on this discussion. The demonstrations are not going well. The black citizens of Birmingham are not rallying to the cause and the faithful few are dwindling. The city had just delivered an injunction that all those who march will be arrested. A strategy session with the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference is called to discuss how to proceed. Many of these men are ministers and pastors, and with Easter coming and the demonstrations going poorly a growing sentiment is expressed. It is time to go home and tend to our flocks for the Easter service. Even Martin Luther King Sr. is telling Martin Jr. to go home to Ebenezer Baptist Church and lead his congregation in the holiday service.

The next thing that happened as described by those in attendance was this. Dr. King stood up and went into his room. A few moments later he emerged from the room wearing blue jeans. Everyone in the room understood what the choice in pants meant. Dr. King intended to go out and march. More importantly, he intended to defy an unjust law knowing that he was going to be arrested and spend some time in jail. So he wore the jeans instead of his suit. The declaration of purpose by Dr. King was clear to everyone in the room. There may be other things that I can be doing. They may even be important things, as a pastor clearly takes shepherding his flock as vital to his calling. But there is no job that I can be doing more important than this job right here right now. There were good reasons to turn away and go home. There was a better reason to stay. Our job is not done, and only injustice will be served by going elsewhere. Other important things must wait while we attend to this evil today.

There are two things highlighted by this anecdote. The first point is that the answer to slow progress is not always to take a step back. The problem is not that we have tried electing pro-life officials and it has failed. My estimation of the problem is that after electing the officials we have not been vigilant enough to make certain that they are fulfilling their pro-life promises. We are not suffering from a job tried and failed. We are suffering the results of a job half tried at best. We give them support and then let them off of the hook. Our pro-life elected officials need to see that WE care about the issue of life outside of election cycles. They need to hear from US that their current efforts are not sufficient, if they are not, and that we have higher expectations for them than to be ready to vote accordingly when someone else has the courage to propose legislation.

The second point is that this and the Frederick Douglas example in part 1 demonstrate a tragedy. In the past when a group of people in our nation were categorized as either less than human or not worth the full protection of human rights under the Constitution of the United States, a polarizing and articulate member of that oppressed group has arisen to defy the caricatures. How can anyone read My Bondage and My Freedom and still assert that Frederick Douglass by virtue of being black is less a man than any other? When I saw the film of Dr. King walking out of the strategy meeting into the streets and being arrested, it was impossible to take seriously the wild and hateful accusations of his detractors that he did not deserve the full rights of citizenry. Susan B. Anthony asked in the court of law in 1873, "Are women persons?" As one group tried to dehumanize another, there has always been a member of the oppressed group that stood as a living counter argument to the lies that were used to justify injustice. Sadly, there is no such hero of the unborn coming. Those who look to minimize others have found in the unborn the perfect victim. We are left with images and argument to fill the silence from those whom by virtue of their age and development can not argue for themselves.

I am a one-issue voter, if by that you mean I will not vote for any man or woman who believes that it is a basic right of American citizens to take the life of an innocent human being for elective reasons. I confess that the lives of the unborn are important to me because I believe that they are important to God. I further assert that those who believe that the unborn are human beings have an obligation to speak out on their behalf. There is no hero coming this time. It is left to us to defend them with all of the passion and resources we have available. We are the only voice they have.

More Evidence that Plan B is Not Effective After Ovulation [Serge]

This is only a pilot study, and I will be very interested to see the results when more patients are studied. However, the preliminary results seem to support the theory that Plan B is not effective after ovulation. Of course, if this is true, it means that Plan B does not effect implantation of an embryo.

Background

Although widely used, the mechanisms of action of the levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive pill (LNG ECP) are still unclear. There are increasing data to indicate that LNG is particularly effective as an ECP by interrupting follicular development and ovulation. An important outstanding question is whether it has any effect on fertilization or implantation.

Method

Ninety-nine women participated; they were recruited at the time they presented with a request for emergency contraception. All women took LNG 1.5 mg in a single dose during the clinic consultation. A blood sample was taken immediately prior to ingestion of the ECP for estimation of serum LH, estradiol and progesterone levels to calculate the day of ovulation. The specimens were analyzed in a single batch. Based on these endocrine data, we estimated the timing of ovulation to be within a ±24-h period with an accuracy of around 80%. Women were followed up 4–6 weeks later to ascertain pregnancy status. The effectiveness of ECP when taken before and after ovulation was determined.

Results

Three women became pregnant despite taking the ECP (pregnancy rate, 3.0%). All three women who became pregnant had unprotected intercourse between Days −1 and 0 and took the ECP on Day +2, based on endocrine data. Day 0 was taken as ovulation day. Among 17 women who had intercourse in the fertile period of the cycle and took the ECP after ovulation occurred (on Days +1 to +2), we could have expected three or four pregnancies; three were observed. Among 34 women who had intercourse on Days −5 to −2 of the fertile period and took ECP before or on the day of ovulation, four pregnancies could have been expected, but none were observed. We found major discrepancies between women's self-report of stage of the cycle and the dating calculation based on endocrine data.

Conclusion

These data are supportive of the concept that the LNG ECP has little or no effect on postovulation events but is highly effective when taken before ovulation.

Monday, January 29, 2007

A word about one issue voting. (Part 1) [Jay]

This phrase came up in an earlier post, and I have a knee jerk reaction to reading it. I have heard some Christian leaders over the years lament the one issue voting of pro-lifers because they believe that I (using first person singular for clarity) ignore other issues and it makes me easy prey for the Republican party to take advantage of me during elections. They do not have to work for my vote, so the theory goes, and now they are free to victimize the poor and down trodden with my vote in their pocket because of abortion. Abortion is at best an intractable problem and no politician is going to change it by virtue of winning an election. (House, Senate, Presidency, take your pick) Furthermore, this subject is upsetting and divisive. It only serves to confirm the worst notions about the political agenda of evangelicals and undermines political and social peace.

Let us move the problem to another time and see if the accusation makes sense. It is 1858 Frederick Douglass and I are sitting at a table and discussing politics, specifically the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas. Frederick Douglass is all worked up about slavery. This is understandable because he was a former slave that lived under the terrible yoke of human bondage and suffered the destruction of his family, attempted forced illiteracy, and the humiliation of public beatings. I am fairly certain that he is overlooking the devastating effects civil unrest will have on the poor in the South and northern immigrants. Also, there must be other issues worth consideration. It is terrible that a whole race of human beings is daily being dehumanized and murdered, but we run the risk of marginalizing our political sway if we align ourselves too strongly with antislavery and abolition politicians. Consider the cost, I tell him, of fueling the emotion of an issue that breeds such rancor. Your views are too extreme and you are increasingly isolating yourself from the mainstream. What would he say?

I can tell you what he would say. I can tell you because he said it. He said that God taught that all men and women by virtue of what they were, human beings, ought to be free from the violence and indignity of slavery. He said that liberty and slavery were as opposite as light and darkness and could not dwell in the same nation forever. Finally, he said one of my favorite quotes of all time. "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning."

Even if Stephen Douglas was an otherwise fine politician, his views on slavery and the humanity of the "Negro," as he put it, were ample reason not to want him in office representing a constituency. Do you seriously ask Frederick Douglas to set aside those things and look at a broader picture?

I think those that ask pro-lifers to do the same miss the point. I am convinced that the unborn are innocent human beings. I can not overlook the willingness of a candidate to support the killing of innocent human beings, even if that candidate is someone I might otherwise endorse. Other issues are important, but at the core of this issue is the fate of millions of lives. You either believe that we are sanctioning the killing of over 1,000,000 innocent human beings every year through surgical abortion alone or you do not. But if you do, it is insane that you would place the candidate’s position on debt relief in Africa or the welfare system on the same level. They are not equally urgent issues. The other issues involve complex bureaucratic processes and alternative political and social theories. This issue is easier. We just have to stop killing these human beings.

Frederick Douglass did have the power of being a living counter argument to the caricature of American slaves that was put forth by the anti-abolition forces. That is what I intend to explore more fully in part 2 of this post.

Post Elective Cosmetic Surgery Syndrome [Serge]

Yes, I made that term up, but I wish to make a point regarding the conversation about women centered pro-life advocacy that Scott and Jay covered here and here.

Imagine that we had evidence that a large number of women (>50%) who had undergone cosmetic surgery later regretted that choice. Some of them were harmed by the procedure, some had regrets about how it turned out, and some had no problems but simply missed the way they used to look. Some who were concerned about the effect of cosmetic surgery began to call this situation the post elective cosmetic surgery syndrome (PECSS).

Here's the question. The presence of PECSS would certainly call for more stringent informed consent practices as well as increase patient education about the risks of cosmetic surgery. This information would be helpful for anyone considering cosmetic surgery. But would anyone advocate that we should make cosmetic surgery illegal because a significant number of patients had regrets after surgery? Do you think this would be an effective and convincing strategy to convince the public of an outright ban on all cosmetic procedures? No way. In fact, the proponents of cosmetic surgery would simply point to all of the patients that were greatly satisfied with the results.

If that is the case, why do we believe that focusing on the effects of abortion on the mother will change hearts and minds?

What is the difference between the cosmetic surgery situation and abortion that makes the difference? The humanity of the unborn, which is exactly my point. If we discount speaking about the humanity of the unborn, our argument loses most of its persuasive power.

I'm not saying there is no place for discussing the negative impact that an abortion will have on the mother. However, we cannot allow that thought to replace the tradition pro-life argument.

More Sticker Madness [Serge]

The message on this sticker is one that has always creeped me out. Of course, the main problem with the slogan is that it begs the question regarding the humanity of the unborn. Since the unborn is unquestionably a human being, the "choice" that the slogan speaks of is something that we would never "trust" a woman to do to her born offspring. Our argument is that abortion itself is an act which kills a human being, not something that avoids harming a child.

However, the implication of the slogan is very creepy. If you allow me to kill my offspring at an early stage of development, and then you can trust me not to harm any of my surviving children when they are older. If you don't allow me the choice to kill it when it's young, how can I be trusted to take care of any other children?

It also seems that the slogan is missing a question mark.

Sticker Nonsense [SK]

Liberals were out in force this weekend demanding an end to the war on terror. In response, I thought of designing a bumper sticker which reads, "Don't like war? Don't Join the Marines."

As you might imagine, the peace loving crowds would be outraged. They were not chanting that President Bush's military action against terrorists was distasteful. They said it was evil. Suppose I reply, "You're just motivated by your emotional disgust for war--a mere subjective opinion about something personally offensive. It's fine with me if you don't like war, but don't force your personal views on everyone else." No doubt, the marchers would insist my rejoinder was question-begging and mischaracterizes their true position on the war. That is, they would insist opposition to war was grounded in objective moral principles binding on everyone.

Now consider this popular bumper sticker: "Don't like abortion? Don't have one."

I'm sure many of those same peace marchers accept the message of that sticker uncritically, believing, as they do, that pro-lifers are just trying to force their personal distaste for abortion on everyone else.

However, pro-lifers don't oppose elective abortion because they find it distasteful. They oppose it because it violates rational moral principles. Their negative emotional reaction follows from the moral wrongness of the act. Most people, for example, find rape and murder offensive, but it doesn't follow they have no good moral reason to oppose them.

It seems liberals have no problem imposing a moral view--even a controversial one--as long as it's their own. If that's the case, they shouldn't pretend that moral statements on abortion carry no more weight than one's taste for ice-cream.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Re: Woman-Centered Pro-Life Advocacy [SK]

I somehow missed this earlier, but Frank Beckwith has a post questioning the new pro-life strategy--a strategy which focuses more on women than their unborn offspring.

Frank writes in part:

Although there is clearly something attractive about this strategy, there are good reasons to call it into question

(1) From a strictly moral point of view, abortion is not a serious moral wrong just because the woman suffers as a result of choosing or having one. For many abortions do not result in gratuitous suffering or harm to the women who have them, and clearly no prolifer would want to say that those abortions are morally benign. Thus, to offer consequentialism as a strategy for prolife victory is to concede the first premise of the abortion-choice movement: the self-interest and well-being of an autonomous adult (in this case, the pregnant woman) trumps any other interests. It seems, therefore, counterintuitive for the prolife defenders of the consequentialist strategy to want to provide a cultural environment hospitable to the moral primacy of consequentialism.

(2) Even if the NPS’s approach reduces the number of abortions, it does not follow that the culture is becoming more accepting of the prolife perspective. Although an appeal to self-interest may persuade some women not to have abortions, the choice not to abort for this reason is not the same as a moral conversion and intellectual assent to the prolife perspective. If a 19th-century American slave owner chose to free his kidnapped Africans because he was persuaded to believe that it was not in his self-interest to continue owning them, such an act, though good insofar as sparing the slaves a tremendous indignity, would not be equivalent to his being converted to the belief that no person by nature is property and thus ought not to be owned by another.

It would be, in other words, wrong to conclude on the basis of the slave owner’s act of liberation that he had become a converted abolitionist. The case is the same with a woman who decides that having an abortion is not in her best interest. Since the prolife position is based on the belief that fetuses are full members of the human community and ought not to be killed by anyone without justification, being persuaded not to have an abortion is not the same as moral conversion and intellectual assent to the prolife perspective.
Read the whole piece. The comments from readers are also great.

Edward's Two Americas [Serge]


During the last presidential campaign, John Edwards frequently stated that we are living in two Americas, one consisting of those with money, and one with those that are wanting. Of course, he also believed that his embryonic stem cell policy would make Christopher Reeves walk again, but that's a separate post.

Looking at this 28,000 square foot house that Edwards is building from the money he earned from suing doctors, I wonder which America he believes that he lives in?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Do No Harm (Except for That Killing Thing) [Serge]

Note: The following entry was deleted when Scott accidentally blew up the blog on Dec. 22 (shame on him). It's being reposted here so we can link to it in future posts.

Frequently, abortion choice activists are arguing for a woman's right to abort her child based on the principle of bodily autonomy. That is, they claim that even if the fetus is a human being, she has no right to use the biology of another human being for their survival. The most famous example is Judith Jarvis Thomson's argument about the violinist, recently updated and defended by Eileen McDonaugh and David Boonin. A poster at the blog Ourword states this thesis succinctly:
At the cornerstone of western philosophy, morality, and jurisprudence is the concept of individual sovereignty. It is the notion that free individuals have the fundamental right to self determination, the right to go about their lives and choose their courses of action without interference...

Inherent to individual sovereignty is the recognition that an individual has domain over their own body. A corrollary to the principle that "your right to swing your arms ends at the tip of my nose" is the concept of consent. Your arms can only have contact with the tip of my nose if I give my consent. An individual is not required to give up any part of their body without consent. Thus, your right to life ends at the moment you require the use of my kidney to live. I may choose to donate my kidney, or the temporary use of it, to you but the law cannot require me to do so. No individual has a greater right to my own body than me. At the moment you have a greater right over my body than I do, I am enslaved.

Thus, even conceding for the sake of argument that life begins at conception, the right to life only begins at the moment an individual can survive without the biology of another sovereign individual. While i can donate my blood and organs for the use of another, they cannot be taken from me, or used by another, without my consent. To insist otherwise is to deny my sovereignty...

Those who would deny a woman the right to terminate a pregnancy deny that woman's sovereign right to control her own body.
The issue of bodily sovereignty is a very important one and something I deal with every single day of my practice. It is the basis for informed consent. Before anyone allows a surgeon to cut into their body, they must be informed of the risks and give their permission for the procedure. If a surgeon performs on operation without consent it is considered assault.

Conceding that this is a very important right, the question is whether or not a mother's obligation to her offspring in any way infringes on her right for bodily sovereignty. After the child is born, there is no question that the mother's obligation to her child is such that she either provides for the child herself or she has the responsibility to give the child up to someone who is willing to care for the child. A mother who lets her child starve to death because she refuses to feed or to seek help for her child is clearly considered responsible for the child's death.

In the case of pregnancy, however, the mother does not have an opportunity to give the child up to anyone else. The child is completely dependent on her. For this reason, pro abortion choicers argue that she has the right to kill the child since she is the only one that can be responsible to provide nutrition, oxygen, and a safe environment for that child. Since she is unwilling to perform those functions that occur within the confines of her body, and no one else is able to do it for her, it is OK to kill the child on the basis that she has the right to control her own body. Anything other than the right to have an abortion for any reason wrongly impinges on her bodily sovereignty.

This argument may be compelling if and only if we recognize that a woman's right to control her own body is so absolute that carrying another human being inside of her has absolutely no bearing on that right. In other words, pregnant mothers have the absolute right to do whatever they want with their bodies regardless of what it does to the child they are carrying.

It is easy to demonstrate that that last paragraph is clearly false. In fact, the story that I detailed in my first post here is evidence to that fact. Would I be wrong to give a pregnant woman a medication with known teratogenic effects? What if she insisted that I do just that? What if she refused to consider local anesthetic or general anesthesia in the hospital for the procedure, and insisted that I sedate her right away in my office? The safest time to perform surgery on a pregnant Mom is the second trimester - what if a patient did wish to wait until that time to have an elective procedure performed? A physician has the responsibility to take into account the health of the fetus in determining the care for a pregnant woman. We have no obligation to treat the pregnant Mom in a way that can harm her offspring, even if she insists that we do.

Let me offer another example. Lets say a woman has intractable nausea and vomiting, and insists on taking thalidomide to help her symptoms. After having explained the horrific risks of birth defects that have arisen due to this medication, she still insists on taking it based on the fact that the fetus has no right to her body anyway. After being refused thalidomide from her physician, she aquires some and takes it, resulting in her child developing no arms. Do we believe that she did anything wrong? Would we excuse her actions based on her right to bodily autonomy? The fetus after all is an uninvited guest, and has no right even to life let alone an environment free from pathogens.

What about a pregnant patient who wishes to continue her Accutane therapy for her acne? Speaking of reproductive rights, the government actually insists that a woman of child-bearing age use two forms of contraception if she is sexually active before taking that medication. Before she fills the prescription, she must verify the type of contraception she is on via the internet or telephone. I have yet to hear anyone question this as an invasion of her right to control her own body.

In each of the above examples the mother is seeking a medication that does not harm her, has a beneficial effect that she desires, and yet she has no recognized right to be given them because of her bodily autonomy. The only reason these medications are denied to a pregnant mother who may be seeking them is the effect on her fetus. The pregnant mother's right to autonomy is easily recognized not to be absolute in the cases in which she chooses an action that could harm her child. We simply recognize in these scenarios that not every choice that a pregnant Mom makes is a right choice, and have taken steps to protect unborn children from these decisions. What our society recognizes is that in the case of pregnancy, there is a special relationship that exists between a mother and her offspring. Her right to bodily autonomy, albeit very important, does not supercede her responsibility to her child.

Lastly, these scenarios create a very strange situation for physicians. With our current system there is one glaring example to the general rule that the health of the fetus needs to be taken into consideration. That, of course, is elective abortion. Although no OB-GYN would ever consider prescribing accutane or thalidomide because it may harm a human being, they can and do prescibe RU-486, which actually kills a human being. In the above examples, the doctor could (and some would argue should) give the mothers the advice that they could kill their offspring, and then continue whatever medical treatment they would otherwise desire.

When I treat a mother that is pregnant, I often state to them that I have two patients to worry about now, not just one. If I knowingly recommended using a medication that would potentially cause harm to the "second patient" - I would be guilty of malpractice and would have performed a very unethical act. However, if I recommend that she kill the second patient, I am a great defender of women's rights. What a strange world we live in.

Same Old Back-Alley Abortion Lie [SK]

Jivin J comments on an Oakland Press story which quotes Kris Hamel, founding member and organizer of DANFORR (Detroit Action Network For Reproductive Rights). Hamel states that before the 1973 Roe ruling, "an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 women died each year in the United State as a result of a million unsafe, illegal abortions."

The argument has strong emotional appeal. Who in their right mind wants women to die? Indeed, no sooner did justice Sandra Day O’Connor announce her retirement from SCOTUS (2005) when the National Organization for Women published a banner on its homepage (July 5) which read, “These are the faces of women who died because they could not obtain safe and legal abortions. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, these pictures could include your daughter, sister, mother, best friend, granddaughter. Don’t let George W. Bush and the U.S. Senate put another anti-abortion justice on the Supreme Court.”

In short, we're told women will once again be forced to procure dangerous illegal abortions if abortion is regulated or restricted. Besides, the law can’t stop all abortions, so why not keep the practice legal?

That's the argument. Here's what's wrong with it.*

First, it begs the question. That is, unless you begin with the assumption that the unborn are not human, you are making the highly questionable claim that because some people will die attempting to kill others, the state should make it safe and legal for them to do so. Why should the law be faulted for making it tougher for one human being to take the life of another, completely innocent one? Should we legalize bank robbery so it is safer for felons? As abortion advocate Mary Anne Warren points out, "The fact that restricting access to abortion has tragic side effects does not, in itself, show that the restrictions are unjustified, since murder is wrong regardless of the consequences of forbidding it." Again, the issue isn't safety. The issue is the status of the unborn. (You should always start and end with that question.)

Second, the objection that the law cannot stop all abortions is silly. Laws cannot stop all rape—should we legalize rape? The fact is that laws against abortion, like laws against rape, drastically reduce its occurrence. Hilgers and Horan argue that prior to Roe v. Wade (1973), there were at most 210,000 illegal abortions per year while more conservative estimates suggest an average of 89,000 per year. Within seven years of legalization, abortion totals jumped to over 1.5 million annually! True, no law can stop ALL illegal behavior, but that’s not the point. At issue is the status of the unborn: Are they human beings? If so, we should legally protect them the way we would any other group that is unjustly harmed.

Third, women aren’t forced to have illegal abortions; they choose to have them. Yes, pro-lifers mourn the loss of any woman who dies needlessly, but I refuse to accept the premise that women MUST seek illegal abortions. Greg Koukl writes, “A woman is no more forced into the back alley when abortion is outlawed than a young man is forced to rob banks because the state won't put him on welfare. Both have other options.”

Finally, the claim thousands died annually from back-alley abortions prior to 1973—when Roe. v. Wade legalized abortion in the U.S.—is just plain false. Dr. Mary Calderone, former medical director for Planned Parenthood, wrote in 1960 that illegal abortions were performed safely by physicians in good standing in their communities. True, this doesn't prove no woman will ever die from an illegal abortion, but it does put to rest NOW's claim of high mortality rates for the years prior to legalization. Here's Calderone's quote in context:

"Fact No. 3—Abortion is no longer a dangerous procedure. This applies not just to therapeutic abortions as performed in hospitals but also to so-called illegal abortions as done by physicians. In 1957 there were only 260 deaths in the whole country attributed to abortions of any kind. In New York City in 1921 there were 144 abortion deaths, in 1951 there were only 15; and, while the abortion death rate was going down so strikingly in that 30 year period, we know what happened to the population and the birth rate. Two corollary factors must be mentioned here: first, chemotherapy and antibiotics have come in, benefiting all surgical procedures as well as abortion. Second, and even more important, the conference estimated that 90 per cent of all illegal abortions are presently being done by physicians. Call them what you will, abortionists or anything else, they are still physicians, trained as such; and many of them are in good standing in their communities. They must do a pretty good job if the death rate is as low as it is. Whatever trouble arises usually comes after self-induced abortions, which comprise approximately 8 percent, or with the very small percentage that go to some kind of non-medical abortionist. Another corollary fact: physicians of impeccable standing are referring their patients for these illegal abortions to the colleagues whom they know are willing to perform them, or they are sending their patients to certain sources outside of this country where abortion is performed under excellent medical conditions. The acceptance of these facts was such that one outstanding gynecologist at the conference declared: “From the ethical standpoint, I see no difference between recommending an abortion and performing it. The moral responsibility is equal.” So remember fact number three; abortion, whether therapeutic or illegal, is in the main no longer dangerous, because it is being done well by physicians."

Source: Mary S. Calderone, “Illegal Abortion as a Public Health Problem,” American Journal of Public Health, July 1960.

In addition, the Centers for Disease Control report 39 women died from illegal abortion in 1972, the year prior to legalization, not 5,000 to 10,000 as claimed by abortion advocates for each year prior to Roe. (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Centers for Disease Control Surveillance Summaries, 9/4/92, p. 33)

In short, if you think a particular argument begs the question regarding the status of the unborn, simply ask if this justification for abortion also works as a justification for killing toddlers or other humans. If not, the argument assumes the unborn are not fully human. Again, it may be the case that the unborn are not fully human and abortion is therefore justified. But this must be argued with evidence, not merely assumed by one's rhetoric.

(For more on the status of the unborn as THE question in the debate, go here.)

*Portions of the above post were published earlier--before I accidentally deleted the LTI Blog on Dec. 22.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Links [SK]

Wesley J. Smith discusses the religion of Transhumanism.

Jivin J picks apart the shoddy reporting of the New York Times on post-abortion disorder.

Lee Silver still doesn't get it. Patrick Lee and Robert George try yet again to correct his faulty understanding of basic embryology.

Part III of Greg Koukl's Truth is a Strange Kind of Fiction is now available. (Registration required but worth it!)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What place for the woman's suffering then? [Jay]

In light of the earlier post concerning Dr. Beckwith’s public statements about the mistake in arguing that abortion is wrong because of the emotional impact on post abortive women, I hoped it would not be inappropriate to comment on this issue a little further.

Let me start by saying I think that abortion is wrong because it is immoral to terminate the life of an innocent human being for elective reasons. The unborn are innocent human beings, therefore it is morally wrong to terminate the lives of the unborn for elective reasons. That is my argument for why abortion is wrong. A friend of mine who is wicked smart and passionately pro-life gave a presentation where she discussed the many negative consequences of abortion. The problem with this line of argument in my mind is that stipulating that all of those things are true (post abortion stress, abortion/breast cancer links, etc) none of them speak to the question of, "Why is abortion wrong?" If they are incontrovertible facts, they do not make abortion more wrong. If they were proven to be absolute fabrications abortion is no more acceptable. Even if there were no negative emotional side effects, even if abortion produced improved physical health in women, and if every woman who ever had an abortion felt self satisfied and complete all the days of her life, abortion is morally wrong. The action against the unborn and the identity of the unborn are the issues. If the other assertions are true they only serve to demonstrate that abortion is an immoral action with terrible secondary consequences.

So what place for the suffering of women then? I do think that there is a strong argument that the proper place to discuss the suffering of women as a result of abortion in the United States is in an appeal to the uninvolved masses that are only sympathetically pro-life. I am not advocating the championing of the specifics of PAS, but I do think it is vital to focus those who see this as a women’s issue or an election issue on the inescapable fact that an alarming number of American women are personally touched by abortion. The restoration of these women is an issue that must be addressed not because their emotional state proves abortion morally wrong, but because they are valuable human beings themselves. As to my use of the broad term "suffering" being used to describe the women of America on this issue, I admit that I categorize suffering differently than others. Some women suffer psychologically from abortion while many others will attest that they feel it was the best decision that they ever made in their lives. I do categorize a woman who considers the killing of her unborn child as her greatest moment of decision making as suffering from something terrible.

Many people tell me that they see abortion as an issue unrelated to their daily living. I hope that pointing out to those who are, as yet, unmotivated to action that they are seeing the face of abortion every day in their churches and personal lives might stir them to consider it more frequently than every election cycle. I could be wrong, though.

The Case for Incrementalism [SK]

...by Michael New is worth the read.

Briefly, the best argument in support of an incremental strategy is that it saves lives.

New writes:

Overall it seems that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that incremental legislation has been effective at protecting the unborn. Furthermore, the evidence also indicates that and that the decline in the incidence of abortion since the early 1990s is in large part due to the fact that more and more states were enacting incremental pro-life legislation. One can safely say that unborn children are alive today due to the passage of these laws.

Now, the best reason for pursuing incremental legislation is its demonstrated ability to protect the unborn. However, incremental legislation serves an important educational purpose as well. Many people pay little attention to politics and are unaware of the permissive nature of abortion laws in this country. For instance, many are unaware the abortion is legal through all 9 months of pregnancy and that in some states minors do not even need to notify their parents before having an abortion. Campaigns to enact incremental pro-life legislation highlight the permissive nature of these laws and cause many people who consider themselves “pro-choice” to rethink their beliefs. Indeed, the campaign to ban partial birth abortions during the mid to late 1990s was effective in shifting public opinion toward a more pro-life position.

Furthermore, the pursuit of incremental legislation gives pro-life activists the real prospect of short term victories which are important for sustaining and building a large scale social movement. Indeed, a noble cause by itself is often insufficient to keep people interested and motivated. If people are going to remain active, they need to be convinced that their continued support has a good chance of making a tangible difference in the future. As such, pro-lifers would do well to highlight the success that we have had in passing incremental legislation. It clearly demonstrates how our movement has enjoyed success in the past and how progress is certainly attainable in the future.

Indeed, when I present my research at pro-life gatherings, the most important point I try to make is that the time and treasure of pro-lifers has not been wasted during the past 34 years. Superficially some people think that the pro-life movement has not been successful because we have not succeeded in overturning Roe vs. Wade. And it is true that progress has not come as fast as we would like. However, the votes cast for pro-life candidates at both the federal level and state level has led to the passage of legislation which has been effective at protecting the unborn. Overall, incremental legislation has saved lives in the past and will continue to save lives in the future – if we stay the course.
Read the whole post here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Incredible Offer From Stand to Reason! [SK]

From the STR Website:

Through the generosity of a select group of donors, Stand to Reason is making our interactive training product, Making Abortion Unthinkable, available at no charge. This multi-media resource is the result of many months of work in development and testing.

Making Abotion Unthinkable is an easy-to-follow, well-reasoned, interactive tool that contains everything a small group needs for training in the art of pro-life persuasion. From one-on-one discussions to public debates, this careful, effective resource will give you confidence in representing the pro-life position from a solid, fair position.

The complete, five-session series (VHS only) is available at no charge other than the cost of shipping and handling -- $5 per series. To take advantage of this free offer, you must be a pastor, youth leader, small group leader, CPC director, or an educator, or a friend who will commit to sending any series you order to an individual in one of these positions. There is a limit of 5 series per person.

Click here to order.

Or, call 1-800-2-REASON today!

Me--This is a great offer! I know of no other curriculum that equips pro-life advocates like this one does.

Gradual Descent [Bob]

It is not uncommon, while sitting at the gate before scheduled departure time, for passengers boarding my airplane to stick their head in the cockpit and ask if they can take a look. Most often those who do so are nervous flyers (who want to see if they trust us), aviation enthusiasts (who want to take pictures), or a fascinated little kid (who wants to push some buttons). But on occasion, the cockpit visitor is a seasoned veteran or frequent flyer who simply wants to ask a favor. They have a cold or a sinus infection and they are having trouble clearing their ears. They want to know if we can take it easy on the descent toward our destination. As long as operational necessity does not prohibit it, I am always happy to oblige.

With no conflicting traffic or weather to prohibit it, and minimal throttle movement to affect the pressurization system, we can actually make it hard to tell the airplane is descending at all. And though the pressure change from the top of descent to landing is exactly the same as it would always be, the result is a happy passenger who arrives at our destination pain free -- and nobody else is the wiser.

As "Sanctity of Human Life" Sunday approached, some of my reading reached a "harmonic convergence" that struck me with the applicability of this simple practice to the attitude our society holds on the abortion topic. Two issues in particular jumped off the pages of history.

The first regards the American Medical Association. Serge can address this issue better than I could but a review of Frederick Dyer's book, The Physicians Crusade Against Abortion, chronicles the efforts of the AMA toward stricter abortion laws during the mid-nineteenth century. Though the contemporary conventional wisdom holds that doctors' concerns have always centered on the safety and welfare of the mother, Dyer shows that it was a different issue that led Harvard Medical School's David Storer to write and lecture against abortion. Storer and his son Horatio encouraged the AMA to study the subject of when life begins.

As reviewer John F. Quinn notes, their work led the AMA to call on their colleagues to do all in their power to: enlighten the general public about the fact that fetal life begins at conception; urge doctors to press state legislatures for stronger anti-abortion laws, and offer rewards for the best anti-abortion essay published by a doctor.

That was in 1864. Today, the AMA's position is as follows:
H-5.990 Policy on Abortion
The issue of support of or opposition to abortion is a matter for members of the AMA to decide individually, based on personal values or beliefs. The AMA will take no action which may be construed as an attempt to alter or influence the personal views of individual physicians regarding abortion procedures. (Res. 158, A-90; Reaffirmed by Sub. Res. 208, I-96; Reaffirmed by BOT Rep. 26, A-97) [emphasis mine]
Why the difference? Since the AMA held its mid-nineteenth century stance on abortion, the practice has been legalized. In addition, medical technology has certainly improved, lessening the risk of both pregnancy and abortion to both mother and baby. In other words, the much-touted concern for the life of the mother is not the AMA's real issue. At the same time, ultrasound technology has only added further confirmation to Storer's archaic assertion that life begins at conception.

No, the difference between the AMA's contemporary abortion policy and the one it held in 1864 is not medically based. It wasn't then and it isn't now. It was grounded in the moral case that the fetus was a human being from conception. Instead, the AMA's change in policy is a reflection of the false notion of moral neutrality that has fermented within the culture since then -- the notion that the issue is a matter of "personal values or beliefs" which should never be allowed or construed "to alter or influence the personal views" of another.

I can only imagine the horror with which Dr. Storer would have viewed what is euphemistically described today as "the rare procedure opponents call partial-birth abortion." Storer, still cruising along at a mid-nineteenth century moral altitude, would have felt within his bounds to see "partial birth abortion" for what it really is -- infanticide -- and rallied his professional association to put and end to it.

Which brings me to the second observation.

Anne Barbeau Gardiner, Professor Emerita, Department of English, at John Jay College, CUNY, offers what for me is a stunning synopsis of the views of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger -- most notably her view of "evolution."

I expend great effort in my attempt to understand evolution. In that pursuit I have found it to be essential to first define what one means when we use the term. When it comes to "evolution," precise definitions make a world of difference. Sanger's definition proves the point. In her mind, birth control, primarily manifested as infanticide in the ancient world, reflected the progressiveness of a society. As the civilization became more advanced, infanticide increased. From there, Sanger extrapolated that, because infanticide could not be stopped, it would lead to even more advanced methodologies. After condoning infanticide, enlightened societies would move more toward abortion which, for Sanger, consisted of:
a woman fulfilling her "highest duty" by her choice to use "the surgeon's instruments" instead of "sacrificing" all that is "highest and holiest in her -- her aspiration to freedom ..."
In the final stages of progress, society would embrace contraception as the most "evolved" form of birth control.

While there is an obvious distinction to be made between infanticide/abortion and non-abortifacient contraception, Sanger would have been unmoved by it. Her view served only to see the "evolution" of killing babies as a methodological advancement whereby the practice is simply moved farther up the birth canal. Invisibility promotes acceptability.

It is instructive that Sanger believed the "art" of killing babies was enhanced by making it harder to see. To view this as a "progressive" form of evolution is to unwittingly shed light on what has always been one of humanity's most common proclivities -- the ability to rationalize otherwise repugnant behavior by obscuring its consequences. This is why Scott believes it is so important for people to actually see the reality of abortion -- and the reason pro-abortionists so vehemently oppose his doing so.

When Scott shows his pictures, those who view them are jerked out of the lazy, gradual descent they have been experiencing and back into the reality of what is happening around them. They are forced to recognize that they are passengers on a cultural airplane ... The person who requested the descent is still sick ... The entire airplane is headed for the ground ... and nobody seems to notice.

Ultrasound: For Some CPC Clients, It's not Enough [SK]

Lots of optomistic talk today at NRO and other sites about ultrasound changing the debate over abortion. I agree: it's a great tool, but are we too optomistic? I'm reposting the following for consideration.

Friday night I spoke to a gathering of pro-life crisis pregnancy center directors (and staff) in Naples, Florida. One of my points was this: Although ultrasound is a wonderful tool for reaching abortion-minded women, sometimes it's not enough. Stronger, more provocative images may be needed (with the client's consent, of course) if we are to save lives. I no sooner made that point when this appeared in yesterday's New York Times:

Kori, 26, who was having her third abortion, asked to watch the procedure on the ultrasound monitor. "I wanted to see what it was like," she said. "It was O.K. to watch. Once you had your mind made up to do it, you just suck it up and go with it."
And this:
Venetia Grunder, 21, viewed an ultrasound image of the fetus in her womb. She was 12 weeks pregnant, though she had taken birth control pills as directed. "I feel pretty messed up," she said after seeing the image. "It's different, just knowing. My husband told me not to look. This changes my feelings, but I'm sticking by it. Damn it, $650, I'm sticking by it."
Problem is, her feelings didn't change quite enough.

Admittedly, the use of abortion pictures by pro-life pregnancy centers is a controversial subject. So, let me be clear about two points: First, I'm not claiming that graphic images work in every case. Sometimes a client is so hardened that we simply cannot reach her. Second, I don't think for a moment that every woman visiting a CPC needs to view these pictures. However, it doesn't follow from this that CPCs should never offer them. Sometimes abortion pictures do what ultrasound cannot: reawaken a client's moral intuitions.

As former CareNet center director Suzanne Genit points out, there are five types of abortion-minded clients:

Type #1: Responds to loving support, chooses life.
Type #2: Responds to information on fetal development—chooses life
Type #3: Responds to descriptions of abortion techniques—chooses life
Type #4: Remains unmoved by love, facts/information, and verbal descriptions of abortion techniques, but responds to graphic abortion videos—chooses life.
Type #5: Hardens her heart to all information—chooses abortion.

Genit’s point is that clients 1 to 3 do not need graphic depictions of abortion. For those women, it's true: Ultrasound and/or clinical descriptions are suitable alternatives. Client #4 is different. In her case, ultrasound misses the mark because it does not speak to the truth about abortion. It speaks to the humanity of the unborn, not the inhumanity of abortion, which is the act she contemplates. True, clinical descriptions of abortion address this concern, but it’s a stretch to assume that in a visual society like ours, they communicate the brutal reality of abortion as effectively as pictures. Gregg Cunningham is correct: If client #4 is not more horrified of abortion than she is terrified of her own crisis pregnancy, her baby will die. Given what’s at stake, it’s not enough for her to simply imagine this horror. We must at least offer her the chance to see it.

Nationally, pro-lifers have struggled for years to reach African-American women, a group that represents 12% of the population but has 35% of all abortions. You would think that if anyone would take offense at graphic pictures, it would be these women.

That’s not the case. According to a study conducted by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Dayton (OH) and commissioned by Dayton Right to Life, graphic abortion pictures resonate powerfully with black women. Those with abortion experience are especially determined in their opinion, stating they would have never aborted had they seen the images first. Dayton Right to Life summarizes the research as follows:

One of the most interesting revelations of the research clearly demonstrates that graphic images of aborted unborn babies are highly effective within the African American community. This comes as a surprise to veteran pro-lifers who have seen the movement shy away from using this tool. There has been a concern that they are inflammatory and that they burden the consciences of women who have had abortions. Researchers found none of these negative reactions among African Americans….

[Researchers] were so struck by this finding that they repeatedly tested this, using various methods of testing. The results were always the same. The final focus group resulted in 100% of the participants feeling that graphic pictures were the most effective element in the literature.
***
The second piece [of literature] is geared toward pregnant women facing an unexpected pregnancy, with additional information that gives it a broader appeal. This brochure includes graphic pictures of aborted babies which have proven so effective when working within the African-American community. Researchers frequently noted a dramatic shift in attitudes after such photographs were viewed.
Nonetheless, some pro-life leaders insist that CPCs should never risk using these pictures. A CPC staffer once told me that he would not allow them because "our job is not to upset the client, but to meet her emotional and spiritual needs.”

I agree, but only in part. While the staffer is correct to say that CPCs must address the woman's emotional concerns, he is wrong to assume this means categorically rejecting graphic visual evidence. Are we to conclude that women can't be trusted to look at abortion objectively? As feminist author and abortion advocate Naomi Wolf points out, this view is condescending to women and treats them as less than full moral agents:

The pro-choice movement often treats with contempt the pro-lifers' practice of holding up to our faces their disturbing graphics....[But] how can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for pro-lifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real? To insist that truth is in poor taste is the very height of hypocrisy. Besides, if these images are often the facts of the matter, and if we then claim that it is offensive for pro-choice women to be confronted with them, then we are making the judgment that women are too inherently weak to face a truth about which they have to make a grave decision. This view is unworthy of feminism.
If clients are looking to us for help exploring all of their options, we should honor their wishes and respectfully offer visual evidence, including abortion pictures. That is the compassionate thing to do. After all, what is worse: a client seeing an abortion or actually having one because we prejudged her ability to handle all the relevant facts?

Tim Wiesner, Director of Choices Medical Clinic, underscores Wolf’s insistence upon truth. Choices Medical Clinic is adjacent to Dr. George Tiller’s notorious late-term abortion center in Wichita, Kansas. Nonetheless, Choices has a solid reputation for reaching abortion-minded clients. Part of its strategy includes graphic visual aids. Wiesner explains why gruesome pictures--when used appropriately and with the client’s consent--are not manipulative. Rather, they save lives and impact clients positively:

We tell each woman what [counseling techniques] we offer. These include items some CPCs may find objectionable, such as the “Harder Truth” video, abortion instruments, and a suction machine. We let the clients choose what items to view. You can't predict what will strike a chord with them. Sometimes the ultrasound does the trick, sometimes not. Sometimes it’s the abortion instruments. Sometimes it’s the “Harder Truth” or the suction machine. The point being that we need multiple points of influence to grapple for the life of that baby. Clients sign an informed consent prior to viewing the “Harder Truth.” They hold the remote and can stop it at any time. We’ve had only one person who agreed to watch it resent us for it. Meanwhile, there are countless stories of women choosing not to abort because they did watch it. Sometimes, it may not influence the client, but it may influence her friend who accompanied her to our clinic. That friend will then begin trying to influence the client not to abort.

Every client completes an exit interview prior to leaving the clinic. Over 99% say they would return, that they trust us, and that they would recommend us to their friends if they were in similar circumstances. If it’s their choice to have an abortion, let them choose what intervention may help them avoid one as well.
In short, graphic visual aids are appropriate (and powerful) tools of persuasion when the client consents to view them. It simply does not follow that because pictures are graphic, they are intellectually dishonest and manipulative. First, the clients are not coerced in any way but choose for themselves the kind of counseling they want. Second, far from being traumatized, the clients respond with trust in virtually every case (99%). Third, many women choose not to abort specifically because of this approach. Simply put, Wiesner’s “multiple points of influence” approach works, and I think that CPCs should give some careful thought to why it’s so effective.

I conclude with these suggested recommendations for CPCs using graphic visuals:

1. The CPC/medical clinic should have a written policy (protocol) on the use of graphic pictures and videos. The policy should instruct CPC staff volunteers to remain in the room with a client who is viewing a graphic video. This will allow the pregnant woman to ask questions and protect the center against false claims of what transpired.
2. A simple consent form should be used with any client who agrees to see a video. The form should state that the client is free to turn off the video at any time. It’s a good idea to actually place the remote control device in the hand of the client and instruct her where the on and off buttons are located.
3. CPC staff members should be trained to discern which (if any) videos will best meet the needs of the client. These videos should be respectfully offered and, if rejected, the client must still be treated with deference and compassion.
4. CPCs must choose adequately trained people to counsel women contemplating abortion. If a prospective counselor is too tenderhearted or emotionally sensitive to offer graphic videos in appropriate cases, she is not a good candidate for a counseling position. Thankfully, she can serve the CPC in other ways.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Frank Beckwith Quoted in NY Times [SK]

From Sunday's issue regarding post-abortion syndrome:

Francis Beckwith, a professor of church-state studies at Baylor University who is anti-abortion, has criticized abortion-recovery activists for their “questionable interpretation of social-science data” and for potentially undermining the absolutist moral argument against abortion. “For every woman who has suffered trauma as a result of an abortion, I bet you could find half a dozen who would say it was the best decision they ever made,” he told me. “And in any case, suffering isn’t the same as immorality.” Beckwith speaks at churches and colleges, and he says that most anti-abortion leaders don’t want the woman-protective argument to supersede the traditional fetus-centered focus, “because that’s where the real moral force is.”
Me: Exactly. The real moral issue is not so much "Does abortion harm women?" The issue that counts most is "What is the unborn?"

My own experience tells me Frank is also right to say that for every woman who has suffered trauma from abortion, many others would say it was the best decision they ever made. To cite just one example, my first ever debate (at Cal State Northridge, 1991) involved a panel discussion with three pro-lifers and three abortion-choicers. Our first pro-life speaker, a young woman, got us off to a very bad start. Instead of making a case for the humanity of the unborn and the inhumanity of abortion, she spent 10 minutes rattling off all the alleged symptoms of post-abortion disorder. She was met with boos and hisses. When the abortion-choicers had their turn to speak, two of them simply said (one after the other--paraphrase,) "Well, I've had multiple abortions and each was a great decision. I don't regret a single one of them!"

Response from the audience: sustained standing ovation for the women.

That's what happens when you frame the debate around the subjective experiences of individuals instead of the nature of the unborn.

Lessons learned: 1) Never participate in panel-style debates (you'll spend your time bailing out your partners who make unfortunate remarks), and 2) Get the moral question straight before talking personal experiences.

Frank says more about the dangers of subjective experience here.

Welcome, Jay! [SK]

Jay Watts joins our blog team as a contributor. Jay is the development director for Cobb Pregnancy Services (Atlanta)and you've already seen some of his thoughtful posts from last week.

Glad to have you aboard, Jay!

Pro-Life Sunday Audio [SK]

...from my sermon at First Baptist Church of St. Johns (MI):

Highspeed

Lowspeed

Re: "So What?" [SK]

Good post, Jay. I've never thought these "Who are you going to save" examples do much to justify embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). The most famous is the "burning research lab" oft mentioned by Ellen Goodman and others. It goes like this: If you are in a burning research lab and you have time to save either an infant or a container of frozen embryos, which are you going to save? Since most people, even pro-lifers, opt for the newborn, we're told that's prima facie evidence that even we don't believe human embryos count for much.

The illustration is wrongheaded from the start. As Ramesh Ponnuru points out, ESCR is not a question of who to save, but who we can selectively kill. If I'm in a burning building and I have a choice between saving my daughter or ten other people, I'm going to leave the ten behind. But I wouldn't slit their throats on the way out, even if it increased my chances of survival.

The force behind these examples (whether they be burning research labs or flooded fertility clinics) is more intuitive than rational. Sure, intuitions are important indicators of right and wrong, but they are not infallible. At the end of the day, intuitions must give way to superior facts and arguments.

And those facts say that from the earliest stages of development, the human embryo is one of us--regardless of how I feel or behave.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Skeptic Magazine Not Quite Skeptical Enough [Serge]

I found this quite funny. Last week Michael Shermer's Skeptic Magazine published an article that claimed that the US Park Service at the Grand Canyon told their employees that they were not to tell visitors the age of the Grand Canyon. Here is the article in question, which starts like this:

If you thought that censoring talk about global warming and suppressing the free speech of government scientists was bad enough, last December the government reached a new low. According to documents released on Dec. 28, 2006 by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Bush administration appointees will not allow rangers at Grand Canyon National Park to mention that the earth is more than a few thousand years old.
When I read this I was far more skeptical than Skeptic magazine. It turns out that Shermer did pretty much nothing to verify this claim before he published it. Here is him eating some serious crow:

Unfortunately, in our eagerness to find additional examples of the inappropriate intrusion of religion in American public life (as if we actually needed more), we accepted this claim by PEER without calling the National Park Service (NPS) or the Grand Canyon National Park (GCNP) to check it.
Oops.

Friday, January 19, 2007

So what? [Jay]

William Saletan, the Human Nature correspondent for the on-line magazine Slate, posted this in his ongoing web log of articles that apply to science, technology, and life:

An embryo rescued after Hurricane Katrina has become a baby. Police used boats to evacuate 1,400 frozen embryos from a hospital that had lost electricity; the first one to become a baby was born Tuesday. Father's reaction: "I thought the only thing you could freeze [and revive] was a crab." Pro-life view: See, embryos are babies. Skeptical view: Which would you put in your boat first—the patients or the embryos
Let me first say that I enjoy reading Mr. Saletan’s articles, although I strongly disagree with his methods of determining the value of another human being. This is typical of his approach in presenting the opposing side’s interpretation of any newsworthy item he has posted. What particularly bothers me about this blurb is the irrelevancy of the “Skeptical view.” It attempts to undermine the value of the unborn based on how I feel about them in relation to another life. The fact that I might pull a ten-year-old drowning child into the boat at the cost of a container with 100 or even 1,400 embryos proves, in this line of reasoning, that I do not really believe that the embryos are equal in value to the ten year old boy.

This proves nothing of the sort. How I feel about someone and how my subjective emotions may cause me to react in pressure situations says absolutely nothing about the actual value or nature of a being. It tells us something about me. You may conclude, if you wish, that I am inconsistent in what I espouse and how I live. But if there were two boys drowning, my four-year-old son and a stranger, I assure you that I would rescue my son first. My emotional and biological ties combined with the overwhelming fatherly love I feel for my son would compel me to make certain he was safe. This does not mean that the other boy is less valuable or human than my son. At most, it means that my son is subjectively more important to me.

In determining the value of another life or the nature of it’s being, it simply is not an issue how any of us feel about that life. Are the unborn human beings? How are we to treat the unborn by matter of public policy and law? Those questions are not tied to how any pro-lifer may or may not behave if faced with a life or death decision involving two parties that inspire different levels of affection and loyalty. Those questions are moral questions about the nature of human life and our responsibilities as a society to that life. The other is simply a matter of admitting that we humans are inconsistent in our behavior. So what?

Preach AND Equip [SK]

My advice about what to say on "Pro-Life Sunday."

A few years ago, journalist Michael Kinsley wrote a piece rich in sermon material, but I doubt you heard anything about it from the pulpit.

That's too bad, because church leaders are putting the cart before the horse. They're keen on preaching the gospel to human beings (as they should be), but what happens to that gospel when the very definition of what it means to be human is lost in the culture? It's hard to preach that man is a sinner and that man needs grace and that man can be saved when nobody knows what a man is anymore. Kinsley apparently doesn't. Defending destructive research on human embryos, he writes that "Human life is a label we confer, and the uncertainty is in how we choose to define it." He continues:
A goldfish resembles a human being more than an embryo does. An embryo feels nothing, thinks nothing, cannot suffer, is not aware of its own existence. Embryos are destroyed routinely by the millions in the natural process of human reproduction. Yet opponents of stem-cell research would allow real people, who can suffer, to do so in service of the abstract principle that embryos are people too. If faith takes you there, fine. Reason can't.
Kinsley's take resonates with a whole lot of folks and merely quoting Psalm 139 once a year on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday will not refute it--not in today's culture.

Here are two points that should be made from the pulpit. First, the stem cell debate is not a clash between "faith" on one hand and "science/reason" on the other. It's a clash of metaphysical worldviews: Christian versus secular. Briefly, Christian bioethics is not opposed to scientific progress provided that progress is tied to moral truths. Chief among those truths is that humans have value (and hence, rights) in virtue of the kind of thing they are, not some function they perform. They may differ in their respective degrees of development, talents, and accomplishments, but they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature that bears the image of their creator. Conversely, secular bioethics asserts that humans have value (and hence, rights) not in virtue of the kind of thing they are, but only because of some acquired property like self-awareness or sentience. Because embryos and fetuses cannot immediately exercise these properties, they have no right to life. Both views--Christian and secular--are asking the exact same question: What makes humans valuable in the first place? Hence, Kinsley is wrong to dismiss his critics with the wand of faith.

Second, the Christian view of bioethics is rationally superior to its rivals. (If Kinsley wants to call it "faith," so be it, but it's faith based on evidence, not faith in spite of evidence.) That is, it better explains human dignity and equality.

Indeed, can Kinsley's secular bioethics tell us why anything has a right to life?

Here's the problem: Kinsley never tells why certain value-giving properties are value-giving. He appeals to sentience and self-awareness, but isn’t that just question-begging since the issue is whether one has a right to life even if one does not have desires or self-awareness? Kinsley might reply that it squares with our basic intuitions to say that adults and children have a right to life. But why is that intuition any more powerful than the one that tells me that embryos and fetuses are owed protection due to their vulnerability and dependency? If pro-life advocates are begging the question by starting from our intuitions that human beings have intrinsic value, why can’t we ask Kinsley to give us a reason why intrinsic value exists for anyone? If he says it’s an “intuition,” we can play the skeptic and ask: “Why your intuitions rather than mine? And why is it okay for you to appeal to ‘intuitions’ but when I do so, it’s question begging?” (Thanks to Frank Beckwith for that question.)

Put simply, secular bioethics cannot account for human equality or human dignity. If humans have value only because of some acquired property like self-awareness or sentience and not in virtue of the kind of thing they are, then it follows that since these acquired properties come in varying degrees, basic human rights come in varying degrees. Do we really want to say that those with more self-awareness are more valuable than those with less?

Christians who ignore questions like this may soon face even tougher ones. An aggressive transhumanist movement within bioethics rejects the notion that human nature is constant and seeks to alter it through genetic engineering (adding different genes to a human organism to change its biological makeup) and the creation of chimeras (animal/human hybrids). There’s an implicit warning here for church leaders: Equip your people to engage the biotech culture or risk the prospect of a truly post-human future. After all, what good are seeker-friendly, purpose-driven churches when the humans in them have been engineered out of existence?

Cedarville University Pro-Life Chapel [SK]

My presentation to 3,000 students at this fine school is now on-line. (Note: The file takes a moment to load--I suggest downloading it to your desktop, then listening.)

The talk is a mix of pro-life apologetics, gospel, and tactical suggestions.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Look Who's Advocating Illegal Abortions [Serge]

Pro-abortion choice groups often claim that restricting abortion would make illegal, unsafe abortions more common. For this reason you would think that if abortion were ever made illegal, they would strongly recommend that women do not have abortions. After all, if illegal abortions are unsafe, and the concern is for women's safety, then you can imagine huge campaigns to warn pregnant mothers not to abort their children.

Instead, you have this. This article int he American Prospect describe that women's groups are trying very hard to find another use for RU-486 other than causing an abortion. They are very open and brazen about the prospect:

Although only about 10 percent of the 1.29 million abortions performed in the United States every year use the medication method, the battle over the drug has been particularly bitter. While a woman must obtain mifepristone at a clinic, the actual abortion happens in the privacy of her home. Currently, medication abortion is common in many countries where the procedure is illegal, because it’s decidedly less risky than using a wire hanger. In fact, in the absence of a doctor, it’s the safest and easiest way for a woman to perform a do-it-yourself abortion. Which is another reason why pro-choice groups would like it approved for alternate uses and see its availability increase. If abortion were ever outlawed in the United States, mifepristone would become perhaps the most important -- and the most common -- abortion option.
In other words we should try to find another use for this drug so that it would become more available in case abortion ever becomes illegal.

Amazing.

At one point in time, RU-486 has great promise for pro-abortion choice activists. They believed it would allow family practice physicians and even PAs the ability to cause abortions. This would avoid the need for abortion clinics and limit the potential for any stigma to be associated with the procedure.

Unfortunately for them, it turns out that ending the life of a human being is just not that simple, both medically and emotionally. Anyone who has a medical abortion may experience significant bleeding, which is why any physician who gives this medication must have the ability and surgical privileges to treat this complication. This rules out most family practice docs.

Now they are trying to find other uses for this drug in order to ensure its availability for illegal abortions. They are placing their ideology over the health and safety of women.

HT: Bush V Choice blog

MADD About Moral Incrementalism [Serge]

This is a reposting of something that was lost in the nuclear explosion in Valencia (sorry, I've been watching lots of 24 on the TIVO). I plan on contributing a post for the Blogs4Life symposium soon, and this will be a bit of a warm up.


I was listening to the radio show Stand to Reason recently when host Greg Koukl was discussing Dennis Prager's views on abortion. Prager questions the real views of pro-lifers, stating that if we really thought unborn children were valuable human beings, we would insist on the death penalty for mothers and doctors who perform abortions.

On the other side, Judie Brown of the American Life League does not understand why any pro-lifer would ever support a law that does not go all the way to make every abortion illegal. She claims that since South Dakota voters rejected the ill-timed and poorly written law that would have restricted abortion up until the time the pro-abortion choicers made their way to the nearest courtroom, they must "approve of virtually unrestricted abortion on demand. Any one who would support a law with an exception for rape and incest is not understanding that it is about "the babies".

Both of these views reject the idea of moral incrementalism. In short, moral incrementalism understands that for most moral issues, individual moral change happens not by leaps by by slower steps. Incrementalist strategy uses the small steps described by Hadley Arkes to initiate moral change.

To be clear, I believe that human beings are intrinsically valuable and that does not change if they are the circumstance of the immoral acts of rape or incest. However, would I support a law (after Roe is overturned) that has a rape and incest exception? Absolutely. And then I would continue to educate the public to change those exceptions. In the meantimes, children would be saved and there would be increased opportunities for hearts to be changed.

We can look to an example of how this strategy has played out regarding another issue: drunk driving. MADD began in 1980 and has had a very impressive impact on how our culture views drunk driving. Back in 1980, the culture simply accepted drunk driving as a matter of course. The penalties for driving intoxicated were often very lenient and not even enforced by our court system.

MADD's goal is very clear:

We want to completely eliminate drunk driving. With your help, we plan on making drunk driving the public health equivalent of polio.
To do so have they have embarked on a strategy to make many small changes in our laws that have had a significant effect over time: changing the national drinking age to 21, decreasing the legal blood alcohol limit to .08%, and hundreds of other small changes. The results are impressive: annual deaths due to alcohol related crushes have decreased from 30,000 to less than 17,000 from the initiation of these measures.

Clearly there is more work to do, but they have been successful by changing the hearts of individuals by their incremental legislative victories. Now imagine if back in 1980, the leaders of this organization were told by the alcohol companies that they didn't really want to decrease drunk driving deaths unless they supported the death penalty for drunk drivers. Clearly, that would be nonsensical.

Imagine also that some of those who were against drunk driving only supported legislation that went all the way in an effort to curtail drunk driving. Those who supported the MADD philosophy would be labeled compromisers and unsupportive of the overall cause. This also would make no sense.

Yet in the words of Judie Brown, this is what supported of this strategy in saving unborn human beings are guilty of.

We are not looking for an avenue that justifies the "lesser of two evils." We are looking for the chance to save every single preborn child without exception. Why? Well, because it's the babies, stupid!
She's got one word right.

Embarking on a winnable strategy that understands that human hearts of sometimes changed more slowly than we would like. To continue to speak the truth about abortion without compromise, but to support effective legislation (and legislators) willing to take small steps to change our culture. In this we are not compromisers, but effective Christian ambassadors.

Who You Calling Arbitrary? [Serge]

Sorry for the light blogging for a while. I've been enjoying my little daughter and helping with her siblings. New life is wonderful, amazing, and some of the best evidence of God's majesty.

Daniel stated in this comment that he although he sees that my view is internally consistent, it is arbitrary "from a gut perspective". I really can't argue against Daniel's gut, which is why a consistent argument using science and philosophy is so important. Although it may be arbitrary to his internal organs, he has not shown why it is arbitrary to our current understanding of science or philosophy.

I pointed out a concern with Daniel's "consciousness capable" human person argument for human value. His response simply shows that he is unable to apply his principles in a, excuse me, non-arbitrary way.

In the scenario you propose then, I would say that if it is neurologically possible that the child would at some given point regain consciousness, and if there is no other reason not to, he/she should be allowed to live. In the scenario you propose then, I would say that if it is neurologically possible that the child would at some given point regain consciousness, and if there is no other reason not to, he/she should be allowed to live. Head trauma always makes for difficult diagnosing (contrary to, for example, oxygen deprivation), and so I think it's better to err on the safe side. This is, however, different from euthanizing someone in anoxic PVS (e.g. Nancy Cruzan, Terri Schiavo)--since there is in the latter case no possibility for the recovery of consciousness. and so I think it's better to err on the safe side. This is, however, different from euthanizing someone in anoxic PVS (e.g. Nancy Cruzan, Terri Schiavo)--since there is in the latter case no possibility for the recovery of consciousness.
In other words, a newborn child with injured anatomy who may have a very small chance of developing consciousness should be allowed to live, but a human embryo with a perfectly normal anatomy and a very high likelihood of continuing its normal development should be killed. If you are not basing this on the present capacity for consciousness, what else is it based on? Let's not forget that we are talking about life and death decisions here.

As far as communitarian moral theory goes, our view is that every member of the human community should have moral value and thus should not be killed without justification. Yours is that a subset of human beings, those which do not the certain present capacities, are dismissed from the human family and can be killed without justification. Which view is arbitrary and discriminatory?

Lastly, you have repeatedly tried to use biology to support your views, especially with the conjoined twins scenario. A misinformed view of biology has an extremely detrimental effect on the ability to think clearly about these issues. So when you make statements like "Head trauma always makes for difficult diagnosing (contrary to, for example, oxygen deprivation)" you reveal your lack of knowledge in these areas. Anoxic brain injuries, especially in a newborn child, are not always easy to diagnose, and even more difficult to render an accurate prognosis for neurological recovery. Given a child with a suspected anoxic brain injury, and having all of our modern methods of diagnosis (MRI, CT, EEG), how will you determine their potential for recovery? I'd be interested to know.

Bottom Line: Scott and I have offered arguments that are the opposite of arbitrary. We have argued for basing intrinsic rights on an intrinsic property (being a human being), and have shown the difficulties of basing them on graded properties. I have shown how your mistaken biological description of conjoined twins does not support your view, and have shown the logical implication of your view, which you cannot apply consistently.

The supporting pillars of your argument seem to have taken some serious blows here. I'm interested to see the effect that this conversation has had on your conclusion.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Re: "Taking Theology Seriously" [SK]

Ed Feser from How to Mix religion and Politics:
It is true, of course, that there are many philosophers who do not accept the arguments [for rational theism] described above. So what? What that shows is that arguments for the existence of God are no different from every other argument in philosophy, including arguments for atheism, or arguments for abortion and same-sex marriage for that matter: they are controversial, matters about which intelligent people can and do disagree. Do secularists demand that those in favor of legalized abortion and same-sex marriage refrain from advocating their positions in the public square simply because their arguments are nowhere near universally accepted? Of course not, nor should they. So why do they demand that religion and politics be separated not just in the constitutional sense that no one ought to be forced to belong to a particular denomination or to accept a particular creed, but also in the stronger sense that religious considerations, however well supported by rational arguments, ought to get no hearing in the public square and have no influence on public policy? Why the constant harping on about the separation of church and state, but not, say, the separation of naturalistic metaphysics and state, the separation of feminist theory and state, or the separation of Rawlsian liberalism and state?

There is a peculiar tendency for contemporary intellectuals to apply to arguments for theism a standard they do not apply to other controversial arguments. This is, I am sorry to say, no less true of philosophers (at least if they are not specialists in the philosophy of religion) than it is of other intellectuals. A secularist can argue for the most offensive and intuitively preposterous conclusions -- that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with bestiality, necrophilia, or infanticide, say, as Peter Singer suggests -- and even philosophers who disagree with those conclusions are prepared to treat them with the very greatest seriousness, insisting that such views must, however prima facie implausible, at least get a respectful hearing. This attitude is, more defensibly (and in my view entirely appropriately), even more common where less inflammatory topics are concerned -- the nature of causation, say, or of knowledge, mathematical truth, the relationship between mind and body, and countless other well-known objects of philosophical inquiry. In every other area of controversy, virtually no argument is ever considered decisively refuted: the common attitude is that there is always some way a defender of a particular position might reply to the standard objections, so that the position must be considered still on the table. Yet the classical arguments for the existence of God are, almost alone among philosophical arguments, commonly held (again, at least by philosophers who do not specialize in the philosophy of religion) somehow to have been decisively refuted long ago.
Feser has lots to say about alleged liberal neutrality, all of it worth reading:

1. The Metaphysics of Conservatism
2. On Legislating Morality: The Anti-Conservative Philosophy
3. The Trouble with Libertarianism
4. The Myth of Libertarian Neutrality
5. How to Mix Religion and Politics
6. Contract Schmontract
7. Liberal Neutrality: So-Called
8. Libertarianism and Moral Neutrality Part II

More on "Taking Theology Seriously" [SK]

I'm away at Cedarville University (OH) where I spoke to 3,000 students and faculty at chapel today. One of my points was a question: Do religious and moral truth claims count as real knowledge?

Secular critics insist that because pro-life metaphysics are, for the most part, grounded in Christian theism, they’re beyond the pale of reason. Rather, they are "faith" based. (Translation: They're mere preferences.) I dealt with the topic briefly last week, but here are some additional thoughts.

Yes, pro-life advocacy squares nicely with an overall Christian worldview, but it doesn't follow pro-lifers can only defend their case with an appeal to that worldview. Nevertheless, let's assume the pro-life view is essentially religious: Why should anyone suppose that religious truth claims don’t count as real knowledge? What’s the evidence for that metaphysical claim?

Let’s start with definitions. Note that "faith" in the context of secular thinking does not count as real knowledge, but only an irrational leap into subjective experience. But do informed Christians really think that? As my friend Greg Koukl points out, true biblical faith is not belief in spite of evidence, but knowledge (trust) based on evidence. Greg cites many scriptures to support this very point(emphasis added):

--Acts 2: 32, 36—"This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses... Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified."
--Acts 17: 2-4 (Paul)—"And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, saying ‘This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.’"
--Acts 1: 3—"To these apostles he also presented Himself alive, after his suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of 40 days, and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God."
--Mark 2: 10-11 (Jesus healing the paralytic man) —"In order that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I say to you ‘rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And he rose immediately, took up the bed, and went out in the sight of all, so that they were amazed and were glorifying God, saying, ‘we have never seen anything like this.’"
--Hebrews 11: 1— "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen."

In short, the Christian faith is historical and places a high value on realism. The Apostle Paul says it well: If Christ did not rise from the dead bodily and historically, Christianity is one big joke. (1 Cor. 15: 1-15) Of course, it’s possible Christian theism is mistaken in part or in whole (though I think that’s highly unlikely), but to say that believers can’t defend their views with anything but blind faith is simply false.

I'll say more on this topic between events.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Conjoined Twins: A Response and a Question [Serge]

Daniel states in the comments:

While it's true my biological formulations may be undersophisticated, I nevertheless feel like you have failed to address my primary question, so let me see if I can 'tweak' the conjoined twins scenario to better bring out my question.
I believe I did, but I'm happy to clarify.

As you probably know, fetal development can really go wrong. While some conjoined twins are conjoined at the hips, or the liver, or whatever, others are almost entirely fused (e.g. up to their upper-torso). I'll have this be case A.
Agreed. There are sometimes two human organisms that have their bodies fused together.

You probably also know that in some cases, one of the twins can be underdevelopped--to the point of lacking a heart, a brain, or simply being underweight. In some cases, a baby can be born with odd extra limbs (e.g. a leg sticking out of the side, or teeth in the back of the neck), even though the second 'twin' has been subsumed back into the first (or never really developed in the first place). Let's have this be case B.
OK. You are speaking of the (horribly titled) parasitic twin or rare inclusion twin. I need some more information to address this, but you state that the dependent twin "never really developed in the first place". Let's go on.

Since you seem to be more up-to-date on your biology than me, make whatever modifications to the two above scenarios for them to be medically plausible.
So far, so good.

In case A, I affirm that it is morally wrong to cut off the second twin's head. This is murder.
Agreed. It is wrong to cut off the head in case A because that action would result in the death of a human organism. The same would apply if you poisoned the twin. Performing an action that results in the death of a human being without justification would be morally wrong.

In case B, I affirm that it is morally acceptable to cut off the second twin's limbs (the leg sticking out of the first twin's torso).
Generally you are correct if the second "twin" is not a human organism. If the "twin" is unable to guide its own development and to integrate its bodily functions as a biological organism, then there is no moral qualms about its removal even though it is made up of human cells. Human organisms and teratomas begin as a single totipotent cell. However, there are distinct differences which maked the former a human organism and the latter not. Robert George mentions one:

If the embryo were not a complete organism, then what could it be? Unlike the spermatozoa and the oocytes, it is not a part of the mother or of the father. Nor is it a disordered growth such as a hydatidiform mole or teratoma. (Such entities lack the internal resources to actively develop themselves to the next more mature stage of the life of a human being.)

The former develops and integrates its own bodily systems, the latter does not. It is immoral to kill the former and not immoral to remove (and kill the individual cells of) the latter. This is true whether they are fused together or not.

Now, what accounts for this difference in ethical decision making? Both case A and case B are fused human organisms (two or one depending on how you look at it).
I think I covered this, but you are wrong here. Case A involves two human organisms fused together. Case B involves one human organism. Just like a human being with a teratoma that is removed, the fact that the extra part was once a totipotent cell makes no moral difference. If there was another human organism fused in case B, it would be immoral to kill it.

If killing a human organism is always wrong (which is what I understand you and Scott to be saying), then chopping off limbs in case B is murder.
Nope. Chopping off limbs in case B would be immoral if and only if it resulted in the death of a human organism. It does not. My logic is consistent.

To me, this is counterintuitive. Which is why I'll stick with my view: destroying a functional brain is murder, because the brain is the seat of the soul (they go hand in hand).
I hope I answered your questions, for I have one of my own. My example is a realistic one that could happen. Lets say there are two xiphopagus conjoined twins that are born. This means they are joined by the xiphoid cartilage in the ribcage and thus can be easily and safely separated surgically. However, as the twins are being delivered, one of them suffers head trauma and is born comatose. We have no way to determine when , if ever, the one twin will come out the coma, and what lasting effect the coma will have on his future development.

Question: should we perform a separation procedure on the twins or simply kill the one in the coma?

Using my analysis, it would be wrong to kill the comatose twin because he is a living human organism, albeit one who has suffered an injury. However, under your view, I don't see why it would be wrong to kill the other twin off. It has never experienced consciousness, and does have a "functional brain" (using your terminology). It seems to lack the working neural structures that would otherwise enable it to have moral value in your view.

What do you think? Thanks again for the interaction.

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