Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Truth-ly Loving Encounter [Megan]

            The thing about defending the pro-life view is that it’s something you have to always be prepared for, because opportunities present themselves — more times than not — out of the blue.

   Yesterday, it was in a car following lunch with classmates. “Abortion” was spoken, and the assertions began. The first went something like this:  “I already know what I think. It is up to a woman to make that kind of decision, and I’m not going to demonize her for making it.”

            Because I knew this individual to be a professing Christian studying to be a minister, I was surprised to hear that from him.

            My reply was quick, and because I knew him, I felt a little more comfortable making an assertion of my own — thus bearing the burden of proof myself — instead of beginning with a question. I said something to the effect of:  “I agree it’s wrong to demonize someone for making a difficult decision, but I don’t agree that that kind of decision is one that anyone is free to make. The issue is the humanity of the unborn, and it’s wrong to take any human life without justification.”

            He countered with an appeal to his upbringing, a series of tragic circumstances and being passed from foster home to foster home. He said he’d kept up with several individuals he’d grown up with who had been unwanted at birth, and who had fallen into grim realities such as drug and sex trafficking. He then tried to say that such a reality could be avoided with the ability to choose abortion.

            I could have (tactically) asked him to clarify what he meant by this, or (since I’d already set the precedent for the conversation by centering it on the humanity of the unborn), I could have asked what his background and present situations of those he knew had to do with whether or not it’s okay to take a human life. But — again, since I knew him — I felt very comfortable taking a more direct approach. I simply repeated back to him what he said to me.

            Something like:  “Let me see if I understand. You’re saying that on the off chance a child might come into the world unwanted, or might wind up being involved in tragedies like drug and sex trafficking, we should just avoid such possibilities by killing them at the outset?”

            “No! That’s not what I’m saying at all,” was his quick response.

            But instead of explaining, he switched his approach once again, with something like:  “I just think that if Christians are so concerned about saving these unborn children, they should me more open to adoption.”

            Once again, the topic had veered from whether or not the unborn is human. Interestingly enough, such an assertion points to the fact that they are human, and deserving of parents who want them.

            I did not want this man to think I did not consider his background valid and reason to be concerned for children who wind up in such tragic situations. I told him as much. But I couldn’t leave it at that. Let me give my response, then I’ll explain why.

            I said, “I agree with you. Adoption is a good thing that I wish more families would consider. But I don’t really see how that is relevant to our conversation.”

            The conversation ended shortly after, and we parted amicably. I hope, at the very least, he won’t be so quick to assert women’s “right to choose” abortion next time.

            To be in a situation like this — one in which someone brings up something intensely personal and difficult — makes it hard to trudge forward, looking someone in the eye, with the objective truth. If you’re a “soft-hearted” person like me, it’s hard to see anyone frustrated or vulnerable in any way, especially when the subject matter is already uncomfortable for either of you.

            I wanted to speak of what helps me in situations like that. Two words:  truth and love.

            Both truth and love flow directly from God as parts of His nature. But a proper understanding of what that means — the fact that these things deal with God’s nature — shows us that truth and love should not be mathematically expressed when it comes to God. In other words, He is not 50 percent truth, and 50 percent love. He is FULLY both. To say that, however, points to God being 100 percent love and 100 percent truth. That doesn’t make much sense — unless you understand it is, in fact, one of the many paradoxes (two truths that are seemingly contradictory) that make up Christianity and much of reality. Thus, as philosopher and theologian Dr. William Lane Craig said, it might be more fitting to say that God is TRULY truth and TRULY love, much in the same way that God’s Kingdom is already here (introduced through Christ, “The kingdom is in you”) and not yet here (thus we are to pray, “Your kingdom come...on earth as it is in Heaven”).

            My point is, pointing out truth to my friend was a greater act of love than letting him continue on in a false reality of inconsistent ideas.

            To see truth and love in “equal” measure, as both flow from God’s character, helps us as Christians to better be like Christ to others. Sometimes revealing truth, even when it’s difficult, is the most loving thing you can do.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Case for Life Website

Scott's book The Case for Life now has it's own revamped website. It's simple, clear, and easy to navigate.

Stop by for a visit.


LTI Podcast #20 - Sex, Lies and Abortion Part 1 [Serge]

Rich, Jay, and Bob discuss a recent article by Dinesh D'Souza regarding pro-life strategy. Should we continue to educate others on the humanity of the unborn, or should we go "back to the drawing board" and speak out about sexual libertinism? How about both? Rich also comments on an article in the medical literature about the emotions that a woman doctor has when performing second trimester abortions.

Dinesh's article can be found here. Dr Harris' article is reproduced here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tonight's Debate with Nadine Strossen at UNC [SK]

Good debate tonight at The University of North Carolina with Nadine Strossen, former President of the ACLU. I like Nadine and we get along just fine, though of course I think she's mistaken on the issue at hand.

There were no substantial surprises in this debate, though as you will see below, I did alter my rebuttal speech a bit from our previous encounters.

As true in our previous three debates, Nadine tried to frame the debate with an appeal to reproductive freedom. To paraphrase her case, reproductive freedom means the ability to choose whether or not to have children according to one's own personal religious beliefs. That freedom is necessary if all persons are to lead lives of self-determination, opportunity, and human dignity. She repeatedly stressed our need to work together to reduce the high number of abortions, by which she meant pro-lifers should support tax-funded birth-control programs.

As I point out in The Case for Life, Nadine's claim is question-begging. She simply assumes the unborn are not human beings. Would she make this same claim for human freedom and self-determination if the debate were about killing toddlers instead of fetuses?

Thus, I began my own opening speech, as I often do, by saying the following (paraphrased for brevity):

Men and women, I agree completely with everything Nadine just said. She's right that abortion is a personal, private matter that should not be restricted in any way. She's right that we shouldn't interfere with personal choices. She's right that pro-lifers should stay out of this decision. Yes, I agree completely IF. IF What? If the unborn are not human beings. And if Nadine can demonstrate that the unborn are not members of the human family, I will concede this exchange and so should everyone else who is pro-life.

Contrary to what some may think, the issue that divides Nadine and me is not that she is pro-choice and I am anti-choice. Truth is, I am vigorously "pro-choice" when it comes to women choosing a number of moral goods. I support a woman’s right to choose her own health care provider, to choose her own school, to choose her own husband, to choose her own job, to choose her own religion, and to choose her own career, to name a few. These are among the many choices that I fully support for the women of our country. But some choices are wrong, like killing innocent human beings simply because they are in the way and cannot defend themselves. No, we shouldn’t be allowed to choose that. So, again, the issue that separates Nadine and I is not that she is pro-choice and I am anti-choice. The issue the divides us is just one question, What is the unborn? Let me be clear: If the unborn is a human being, killing him or her to benefit others is a serious moral wrong. It treats the distinct human being, with his or her own inherent moral worth, as nothing more than a disposable instrument. Conversely, if the unborn are not human, killing them through elective abortion requires no more justification than having your tooth pulled.

In short, I was willing to buy her argument for freedom and self-determination, but only after she demonstrated that the unborn were not human beings. I then argued scientifically that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings, and that differences between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today do not justify killing you at that earlier stage of development. (You can read more about that case here and here.) I also showed this video.

During my rebuttal speech, I gave the audience three key reasons why Nadine's overall case was not persuasive.

1. She assumes the unborn are not human, but doesn’t argue for it.
2. Her appeal to moral and legal neutrality is not neutral.
3. She provides an insecure foundation for human rights

1) She assumes the unborn are not human.

A. Let me make an observation. I laid out a scientific case and Nadine responded with an appeal to religion. She said religious leaders don’t agree on whether the unborn is a human being. She even cited the YWCA to prove her point. This is flawed thinking for 3 reasons:

1. It’s a category mistake. That is, the question of when life begins is not a religious question, but an empirical one. To get the answer, we don’t go to the Bible or church tradition, we go to the science of embryology. And the science is clear: From the earliest stages, each of us was a distinct, living, whole human.

2. How does it follow that because people disagree, nobody is right? People once disagreed on whether the earth was flat or round, did follow nobody was right? They also disagreed on slavery, but it didn't follow there were no right answers. As Hadley Arkes points out, the absence of consensus does not mean an absence of truth.

3. If we don’t know if the unborn are human, we shouldn’t kill the unborn because we might be taking a human life. As Ronald Reagan allegedly once said, "If you are out hunting and see bushes rustling in front of and you are not sure if it's the deer you've been after or your best buddy, are you going to open fire?" Not unless you are Dick Cheney! (That got a big laugh.)
B. At the same time, Nadine says we should work together to reduce the need for abortion. But why? If there is nothing wrong with abortion, who cares how many there are? But if elective abortion unjustly takes the life of a human being, that’s a very good reason to legislate against it.

Of course, Nadine says our public policy should focus more on reducing the need for abortion by getting at the underlying causes rather than legislating protection for the unborn. I find this an odd claim. Suppose I said the “underlying cause” of spousal abuse is psychological, so instead of making it illegal for husbands to beat their wives, the solution is to provide counseling for men.” There are “underlying causes” for rape, murder, theft and so on, but that in no way makes it “misguided” to have laws banning such actions.

C. But most importantly, notice how many of Nadine’s comments simply assume the unborn are not human. She doesn’t argue for this, she simply assumes it. We call this begging the question, and it’s a logical fallacy that lurks behind many of her claims. Here are 4 examples:

1. “Laws against abortion impose religious beliefs on others.” Setting aside for the moment that the claim the fetus has a right to life is no more religious than saying it doesn’t, would Nadine argue this way if we were talking about killing toddlers? Never. Only by assuming unborn are not human does her reply work. But that is precisely the point she must argue for and so far hasn’t.

2. “We must respect freedom of conscience that allows women a right to choose.” Well, maybe. But choose what? But what if the topic were locking teenagers up until age 30? (Some of you are tempted.) Would Nadine argue for freedom of conscience for those parents who wish to unjustly incarcerate their kids? Again, only by assuming the unborn are not human can we argue denying them a right to life based on conscience.

3. “Our individual principles of morality cannot control our judicial decisions. Our obligation is to liberty.” Is that true or just her individual moral view? But again, notice she assumes the unborn are not human. Would she argue for individual liberty if the choice before us was the right to kill toddlers? Again, only by assuming the unborn are not human can she argue this way. But that’s a point she must prove, not merely assume.

4. “The State should not enter the private realm of family life.” Really? What is a family wants the right to rough up a toddler in the privacy of the bedroom. Should we allow this in the name of respecting the private realm of families? Only by assuming the unborn are human can we justify taking the lives of the unborn in the name of privacy.

2) Nadine’s appeal to state and moral neutrality is not neutral.

A. Very simply, state neutrality is impossible. The law either recognizes the unborn as valuable human beings and thus protects them or it does not and permits killing them. By agreeing that human embryos are fitting subjects for abortion, the federal courts are taking a public policy position that the unborn do not deserve the same protections owed toddlers or other human beings. This is hardly a neutral position; it’s an extremely controversial one with deep metaphysical underpinnings. Why, then, is it okay for Nadine to legislate her own view on the status of human embryos but not okay for pro-lifers to legislate theirs?

B. Nadine’s appeal to moral neutrality also is not neutral. Notice what she says. “Our individual principles of morality cannot control judicial decisions. Our obligation is to liberty and we must respect freedom of conscience.” Really? Is that morally true or just her individual principle of morality? It’s like she’s saying morality is personal, but here’s some objective rules everyone must follow—“We must respect freedom. We must respect conscience. We have an obligation to liberty.” Says who? Notice she seeks to impose, through law, her own controversial view of morality on pro-lifers who disagree.

Now let me be clear! I have no problem with grounding our laws on objective moral principles. Indeed, if we don’t, law is reduced to mere power. However, what I do take issue with are those who pretend they are neutral regarding morality and the law. No they are not. Nadine wants to legislate her position every bit as much as I want to legislate mine. There is no neutral ground here. Everyone takes a position. And I am fully prepared to accept Nadine’s position on abortion if she can demonstrate the unborn are not human. But a faulty appeal to neutrality just won’t do the trick.

3) Nadine provides an insecure foundation for basic human rights.

She cites the infamous Mystery Passage in Casey by Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." That is, human nature is not fixed, but determined subjectively. But if that is true, there can be no fixed rights that arise from that nature, including a fixed right to an abortion. So why can’t a future Court just arbitrarily decide that women don’t have a right to an abortion? The Court didn’t say.

So what are left with? The Court has affirmed the right of a person to define his own concept of existence, the meaning of the universe, and the meaning of human life. But, writes Hadley Arkes, “was there any reality or truth attaching to him? And what was there about him that commanded the rest of us to respect these decisions he reached about himself and the universe?” Why can’t we just make him up to be someone who has no rights if that fits our own concept of meaning and human life? In short, the Court’s infamous “mystery passage” assumes the very thing it denies. By demanding that we respect a person’s judgment about human life and the meaning of the universe, the Court assumes that the human being in question actually exists, whether my own concept of the universe admits him or not.

With that, you have the main points we covered.


Un-settling Law [Elizabeth]

Is the right to an abortion settled law?

Our newest U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said so during her confirmation hearings in July.

Hadley Arkes, a professor and pro-life advocate, explores this issue in his book, Natural Rights & the Right to Choose. He argues that the majority of Americans think that when a law has been in place for some time, it cannot be revisited.

But, citizens need to be reminded that slavery was once considered settled law.

On October 1, The New York Times published the article “Support Appears to Drop for Abortion Rights” after the Pew Research Center released findings from a recent poll.

While a 2008 Pew poll found that those in favor of keeping abortion legal outnumbered opponents, 54 percent to 40 percent, the new Pew poll suggests that that gap has narrowed. Now, 47 percent of those surveyed said abortion should be legal in all or most cases — a difference within the poll’s margin of sampling error.

According to the article, the study did not find the reason for the shift in opinion, which has occurred since the election of President Barack Obama.

“The size of the shift is modest, but the consistency with which we see it occurring and the implications it has for the overall dynamics of the debate make it significant,” said Gregory Smith, a senior researcher at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

And yet, the poll also found that only 15 percent of respondents said abortion was a critical issue, compared with 28 percent in another survey conducted in 2006, according to the article.

Could it be that these respondents — many of whom don’t think abortion should be legal — don’t think it’s a critical issue because they subscribe to the belief that the law is settled?

Here’s what I took out of the poll results: We have an opportunity here to capitalize. The health care debates and the words of our president have forced Americans to reevaluate the issue of abortion.

The political climate is perfect for pro-lifers to reenergize with a common goal. More people are getting involved in politics because of issues like health care that have created polarization among Americans.

But, with more people paying attention, much more can be done. Talk to people. Communicate our message persuasively one person at a time.

Maybe Arkes is right, while we may not be able to overturn Roe v. Wade, we can certainly seek out middle ground and get the ball rolling by pushing for legislation that would make late-term abortion illegal.

After all, this isn’t an all-or-nothing type of issue. With every unborn child we save from abortion, we fulfill our purpose.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pro-Life Math, or How To Shut Down Dialogue REALLY Fast [Josh Brahm]

I had the privilege of joining with a pro-life exhibit at the College of the Sequoia’s this week. Some pro-life activists from Sacramento put together a small display, similar in many ways to Justice For All’s wonderful exhibit, brought it to COS and invited me to dialogue with the pro-abortion-choice people there.

Overall, it was a great day with many fruitful conversations. I want to share one memory that stuck in my mind. While I was talking with one of the pro-life volunteers, I overheard one of the younger pro-lifers engage with a frustrated pro-choicer. We’ll call the pro-lifer “Charlie,” since I’m not here to embarrass him, and overall he did a wonderful job at the exhibit, and I expect great things from him in the future. He could have just handled this particular confrontation a bit better.

The pro-choicer made a comment along the lines of, “I don’t like abortion, but if it’s made illegal, women will be hurt in back-alley abortions.”

Charlie’s response? “So you think we should legalize murder?” (Add a hint of combative attitude to the tone, and you’ve got the picture.)

Now, I know where Charlie was going with this - he wanted to explain that we shouldn’t make or keep immoral things legal to make the crime safer for the felon. For example, we wouldn’t make murder legal to make things easier and safer for murderers, because murder is wrong. Unfortunately, our pro-choice friend who had probably never explored that logic, misunderstood where Charlie was going with this.

Instead, he responded, “Now, that’s called a strawman argument. That has nothing to do with what I just said.”

So to be clear, Charlie hadn’t made a strawman argument; he just wasn’t very clear in his argumentation.

I wasn’t able to hear all of Charlie’s response, but it was basically a second try at responding to the original pro-choice objection, and it still had that same combative tone. Then the pro-choicer starts talking about red herrings. He obviously wasn’t getting it, and he stormed off before I could catch him to continue the discussion.

Several hours later I was eating lunch with Charlie and another young volunteer, when the subject of effective dialogue came up.

I started by explaining how sometimes we hear an argument that we’ve heard over and over, like the back-alley thing, and we want to zero in for that “gotcha” moment. I added, “But in one-on-one conversations, we need to remember to take people slowly through our argument, making sure we make a clear case, and avoid asking pointed questions that will make the person feel defensive.” As Steve Wagner brilliantly put it in one of his recent newsletters, sometimes it’s more important to have “I get you” moments than “gotcha” moments.

Charlie responded that it can be easy to lose track of where you’re going. I agreed, and responded that we need to be careful not to get pulled down rabbit trails. I said,

“This morning you spoke with someone who was concerned about back-alley abortions. Now, that’s a legitimate concern that we should be willing to talk about. While I think it will be a lot rarer than some people say, I do think that illegal abortions will probably happen in one form or another, and it’s a valid concern worth discussing. So, stay focused on that for a while.

Sometimes I start by explaining that while illegal abortions happened before Roe vs. Wade, the vast majority of them were performed in doctors’ offices, not back alleys. That’s according to the former medical director of Planned Parenthood. Also, Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the co-founder of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), admitted to exaggerating the statistics about how many women were dying from illegal back-alley abortions!

Sometimes it’s after explaining this that I’ll bring in the more important point: As Scott Klusendorf has said, this argument begs the question. It assumes that the unborn are not human, or else the pro-choicer is saying that because some people will die attempting to kill others, the state should make it safe and legal for them to do so. That just doesn’t make sense.”

So to sum up:

A gracious answer +
knowledge of the issue at hand +
common ground questions
pointed questions
will often =
fruitful dialogue

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Pro-Abortion Choice Tolerance at McGill University

It used to be that a university campus was a place for a thoughtful dialogue about the most important issues of the day. It seems like that is not the case for neighbors to the north. A presentation by Jojo Ruba of the Canadian Center for Bioethical Reform was interrupted for two hours while "tolerant" pro-aborts chanted children's songs (a fantastic irony if there ever was one) and blocked the screen. Here is a video of the beginning of the presentation.

I interviewed Jojo for the LTI Podcast #8&9. You can find them here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Making N.I.C.E. [Bob]

In the third installment of his Space Trilogy series, That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis' main character (Mark Studdock) was seduced with the promise of joining the inner ring of a powerful English society that used questionable tactics to establish an "efficient" state bureaucracy run by controllers who saw themselves as being a cut above the rest of the world. The name of the society Mark yearned to join was the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments -- N.I.C.E.

Lewis described N.I.C.E. as:
"the first fruits of that constructive fusion between state and laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes for a better world. It was to be free from almost all the tiresome restraints ... which have hitherto hampered research in this country. It was also largely free from the restraints of economy ..."
This, in fictional form, was the epitome of what Lewis feared would become a socio-political reality. Some of his reviewers begged to differ. The New York Times described That Hideous Strength as "superlatively nonsensical excitement, challenging implications," while Time magazine called it a "well-written, fast-paced satirical fantasy." That was in 1946.

Fast forward to 2009.

John C. Goodman, writing in National Review (September 21, 2009), reports on the contemporary British health commission:
"which currently recommends against any treatment that costs more than $45,000 to save a year of life. Because of [the commission], British cancer patients are denied access to drugs that are routinely available in the U.S. and on the European continent, and thousands die prematurely."
The name of the commission is the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, but the Brits refer to it by the more commonly recognized acronym: N.I.C.E.

I wish I could make this stuff up. In fact, when I read it I assumed that Mr. Goodman had made it up. He didn't. But the creepy stuff doesn't stop there.

The reason Mr. Goodman cited this fact was because N.I.C.E., according to former Senator Tom Daschle, is the model on which we should base American health care reform. He says so in his book, Critical: What We Can Do About The Health-Care Crisis. And, barring the inconvenience of paying those pesky income taxes that only those of us who are not driven to work in a limousine should have to bear, the good Senator would have been the one overseeing our American N.I.C.E. guys. Instead, we have HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who, under the plan being offered, will not only fill that role but also be the one to decide which pool of federal funding may, or may not (?), be used to fund abortions.

So, yes, Sarah Palin's hyperbolic comments about "death panels" in the health care reform bill being considered were not accurate. But that said, and given the ideology and bureaucratic impulses of our current cast of political characters, does anyone truly doubt that, as Jay and Serge pointed out in Podcast #19, there will be rationing? When resources are limited and controlling costs is the reason the reform is being pushed in the first place, this will be the inevitable result. Someone will be charged with responsibility of deciding who gets what. Someone like Mark Studdock.

And that is a hideous strength for anyone to wield.