Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Quick Hits 4-27-2010 [Jay Watts]

Here are a couple of quick links I wanted to share. I may come back and try to comment more on a couple of aspects of these articles, but I am hopelessly behind right now on other posts I wanted to write and some needed study so this is probably the best I can do.

First is an article by Marisa Meltzer at The Slate on abortion doulas that I found particularly disturbing. Doulas generally work to serve an expectant mother as she approaches delivery, through delivery, and even afterward with recovery. The inspiration for pursuing the abortion doula project was that these people felt compelled to be a part of the entire pregnancy process. An excerpt from the article:

Abortion doula services were unheard of until three years ago, when pro-choice activists within the birth community decided that they should serve the full spectrum of pregnancy choices, whether it's birth, adoption, or abortion. Mary Mahoney and Lauren Mitchell created New York City's Doula Project, a volunteer-based service that provides free doula services to women in New York City. They work with pregnant women who can't afford doulas, expectant birth-mothers at a pro-choice adoption agency, and provide abortion doula services in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Abortion is the unnatural and violent end to pregnancy and not “a part” of pregnancy at all. It is a separate act. That it requires the precondition of a pregnant woman and the presence of an unborn child in order to have a human life to kill does not make abortion part of pregnancy. It just makes pregnancy necessary for this immoral act. This further confusion of two radically different decisions, to carry your child to birth or to have an abortion, as if they were somehow both natural occurrences that flow from pregnancy is dangerously misleading. That doulas are now serving both capacities seems a twisted and grim reminder of how morally confused our society has already become.

From that article, here is a link to an interesting piece at The Daily Beast by Stephen Farber about abortion in film especially its presence in a new Ben Stiller film Greenberg. I do not agree with Mr. Farber's analysis as a whole as to why abortion is largely absent from mainstream films (it is no great mystery, movies are made to make profit and abortion is not usually a profitable subject), but the article gives interesting insight on abortion in film.

One thing I truly appreciate is the recognition that Dirty Dancing is a movie that champions legal abortion. A fact that has always been so obvious to me that I have been stunned at the beloved standing that this movie still maintains with many of my friends and others my age. In fact, the film's creator acknowledges openly in this article that the movie was made to support Roe v. Wade at a time that she and others feared the landmark Supreme Court decision might be overturned.

Mr. Farber amazingly implies that the relative absence of abortion in films contributed to the majority of Americans identifying themselves as pro-life in last May's Gallup poll. The reasoning seems to be if we just saw more movies where women get abortions and it is "no big deal" we would all finally stop worrying about the humanity of the unborn and look at abortion as the “no big deal” that it really is. After all, we oppose abortion because we just don't see enough of it on TV and movies, right? What nonsense.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Further thoughts on a recent question [Megan]

            I was recently asked about the Christian Worldview class I am co-teaching with Jay Watts each week at a home-school co-op in Peachtree City, Ga. We’ve had a few questions about curriculum for the class, what kinds of environments the class could be taught in, and how it might be incorporated into public schools. The first two questions have fairly straightforward answers, though a set “curriculum” is a work in progress. As for the question concerning public schools, a Christian Worldview class isn’t something we’re going to see on the agenda anytime soon.

            But upon further reflection, I wanted to post a few more thoughts here in answer to that question. How do we get this “curriculum,” so to speak, into public schools? Or better yet — into the public square?

            We begin by training up our children and youth with a firm grasp of truth and an intact and working Christian worldview. From birth. Christianity has basic tenets that even the youngest of us can understand.

            One very basic example deals with a huge question, one of the questions we at LTI both answer and defend. What makes human beings valuable?

            Imagine a world in which children navigate the ins and outs of every day with the understanding that humans are inherently valuable because they are made in God’s image.

When properly understood, such a view is a permeating force that touches every interaction, not the least of which is the way we view and treat unborn human beings. Young boys would understand why it’s wrong to think their value rests in who is the toughest kid on the playground, at least when it manifests itself in beating up the opposition. And young girls would understand that value does not rest in hair, makeup and a Cosmo body. Such a view makes sense of why it’s wrong for young girls to hide behind layers of makeup and strive to cover as little of themselves as possible.

            The world will not come to a cataclysmic end (seemingly so, anyway), when one’s boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with them, or when an exam is returned with a “C” instead of an “A.”

            Please understand, I am not saying that hair and makeup are evil (I enjoy feeling like I look nice), or that we shouldn’t strive for the highest grade. Nor am I saying we should never feel disappointment over circumstances. But for the young person who understands that their true value lies in Christ, there is a dramatic perspective-shift that takes place, especially in terms of how other human beings should be viewed and treated, what suffering really is, wisdom in decision-making… The list is endless.

            What does it look like to train your child up in this way? I don’t claim to be an expert, but I have a few ideas from what I’ve learned in bringing up my own daughter, and what I’ve seen as I’ve worked with the teenagers in class.

            My daughter just turned 4. When asked what kind of thing she is, her automatic response is “I’m a person, made in the image of God.”  I don’t actually think that she fully understands what that means, but my hope is that she’ll grow to.

When opportunities arise, she is reminded of what makes a person valuable — and they arise more often than you may suspect. A person without legs is still valuable, because he or she was made in God’s image. A person unable to see or speak is still valuable, because he or she is made in God’s image. We shouldn’t speak unkindly to another person, because he or she is made in God’s image, and when you tear that person down with your words, you’re tearing into the image of his or her Creator.

            And on the flip side of the same coin, we should portray that image appropriately. She should obey Mommy and Daddy, who in turn should obey their authority — and understand that there are consequences — for her, and for us — for disobedience. We should choose healthy foods to eat and activities to do to maintain our bodies. We should strive to overcome challenges, to build up God’s image in ourselves and in others, to be more like Jesus (In the words of my little girl’s favorite children’s book series Fancy Nancy, “That’s fancy for sanctification.”)

            As for the teens we’re working with, the greatest strides I’ve seen in them come from expecting great things from them. Several of the students are challenged by the class because it forces them to leave scratching their heads, and — more often than not — frustrated over the depth (and height) of the material. I’m often reminded of the thought-provoking and often convicting questions Jesus asked his disciples. As if he didn’t know the answers! Ha! But he did know that his questions tapped into the heart of the issue(s), and that his disciples — by being challenged to grow in wisdom themselves — would learn lasting, gut-level lessons.

I think we do something very similar when we ask the students questions like, “How does the fact that God is immutable (unchanging) affect you on a personal level?”

            The exciting part is that such questions lead into enlightening conversations (and further though-provoking questions) on how God’s immutability assures us we can find ultimate rest and satisfaction in Him, and makes sense of why satisfaction in worldly things (such as the latest fashion trend) is shallow and short-lived. Another Christian worldview truth test-driven and road-ready as these students prepare to navigate the world. Another small battle won.


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Nebraska Bill Now Nebraska Law [Jay Watts]

The Nebraska Fetal Pain Bill (discussed here) is now law, officially signed by Governor Dave Heineman on Tuesday . Starting in October, it will be illegal to perform an abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy except where the mother's life or permanent physical health are directly threatened by the pregnancy. The legal challenges are already being planned and so let the court cases commence.

I wanted to highlight one particular aspect of the discussion that interests me again. Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights is quoted as saying the following:

"It absolutely cannot survive a challenge without a change to three decades of court rulings,"

This sort of indignation is silly as she knows very well that this is exactly the point of the legislation in question. It intends to challenge previous court rulings. But Ms. Northup's statement misrepresents the facts as well. You see, we are not looking at three decades of unmodified legal language as to when the state is allowed to restrict abortion in the interest of the protection of the unborn human life.

In fact, the Supreme Court has already revisited this and modified its stance before. In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) Justices O'Connor, Kennedy, and Souter wrote the majority opinion and overturned the strict trimester language used in Roe v. Wade (1973) as to when states might be allowed to restrict the practice of abortion. Justice Harry Blackmun had written in Roe that a state could not restrict abortion at all in the first trimester, and then could restrict second trimester abortions in balance with the health of the mother, and could prohibit third trimester abortions with exceptions to the health of the mother. The “health exception” in Doe v. Bolton (1973) made all of this language meaningless because it so broadly defined the criteria for health of the mother, but the supporters of Roe/Doe never seem to acknowledge that. So these restrictions were felt as genuine, or at minimum have been repeatedly championed as legitimate in abortion debate. The plurality in Casey, while insincerely wringing their hands about “stare decisis” and a need to abide by precedent forcing us to accept unpopular decisions, threw out the trimester language altogether and established a broad right to an abortion up to viability without any “undue burden” being placed upon women by the State. This was a change that is celebrated by the abortion rights supporters, but it is undeniably a change.

So this proves that the Supreme Court can review its previous decisions and modify its language if given compelling reason. Any claim that three decades of established law on when it is permissible to restrict abortion stands against this new law is just flat out wrong. This law challenges the restriction limits of Casey which challenged the restriction limits of Roe.

In addition, as I said in my previous post the reasoning behind the throwing out the trimester criteria was because they wanted to establish a single, recognizable, and non arbitrary line. They reasoned that viability was that line because it is “the time at which there is a realistic possibility of maintaining and nourishing a life outside the womb, so the independent existence of the second life can in reason and all fairness be the object of state protection that now overrides the rights of the woman...” So the basis for restriction must not be arbitrarily set and it must arguably establish that the independent existence of the second life can reasonably be the object of state protection beyond the rights of the mother. Will the 20 week limit based on the ability of a fetus to experience pain meet that criteria? Who knows? But there looks like there is room to work in my opinion. Supreme Court cases on abortion routinely appeal to the latest evidence in consideration of the rights of the unborn, so introducing new evidence to them for consideration is certainly legitimate.

Keep in mind as well, that even in Casey, there is a peculiar line that indicates women are consenting to restriction from the state when they wait too long to obtain an abortion. “In some broad sense it might be said that a woman who fails to act before viability has consented to the State's intervention on behalf of the developing child.” This is certainly not language that closes the door on reasonably argued restriction at a later point and further fuzzies our understanding on what “undue burden” objectively means.

Legal language on abortion is weird and unclear. Justice Scalia discussed that at length in both his dissent on Casey and his dissent on Stenberg v. Carhart(2000). In the latter he wrote:

“In the last analysis, my judgement that Casey does not support today's tragic result can be traced to the fact that what I consider to be an 'undue burden' is different from what the majority considers to be an 'undue burden' – a conclusion that can not be demonstrated true or false by factual inquiry or legal reasoning. It is a value judgement... There is no reason for anyone who believes in Casey to feel betrayed by this outcome. It has been arrived at by precisely the process Casey promised – a democratic vote by nine lawyers, not on whether the text of the Constitution has anything to say about this subject... but upon the pure policy question whether this limitation upon abortion is 'undue' - i.e., goes too far.”

So what will happen when this law is challenged should it reach the highest court in the land? Your guess is as good as mine. The problem is that the Supreme Court has repeatedly proven that they are capable of and willing to bizarrely rationalize any and every decision they make in reference to abortion. I could say more, but I would rather end with one more excerpt from Scalia in his dissent on Stenberg:

“ I cannot understand why those who acknowledge that, in the opening words of Justice O'Connor's concurrence, '[t]he issue of abortion is one of the most contentious and controversial in contemporary American society,' persist in the belief that this Court, armed with neither constitutional text nor accepted tradition, can resolve that contention and controversy rather than be consumed by it. If for only the sake of its own preservation, the Court should return this matter to the people – where the Constitution, by its silence on the subject, left it – and let them decide, State by State, whether this practice should be allowed. Casey must be overruled.” (emphasis his)

So while I find the moral principle undergirding this law tragically flawed, that human life ought to be protected because it can feel pain, I am optimistic whenever a legitimate shot can be taken at the status quo. I look positively on any and all assaults by the State's on Casey & Roe/Doe, as I do any opportunity to hear our opponents defend their grisly position in the public square. The Supreme Court through judicial fiat took something that did not belong to them. Our right to decide locally what kind of moral community we wish to craft. They took that right while smugly acknowledging that they haven't the slightest clue what the unborn humans truly are. (more on that in a later post) It was not their's to take, and we must wrestle it back. So I say let the challenges continue and never let them be left alone.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Monsters, Victims, Evil, & Teaching My Son [Jay Watts]

I love this article by Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online, The Monster-Victim Mix-Up. Mr. Goldberg addresses his concern that modern stories explain monsters and bad behavior through understanding the events or misunderstandings that caused the behavior. I have read both popular and academic treatments of this idea for years, but what I love about this article is how it personally relates the problem to how I deal with my own child. Mr. Goldberg saw How to Train Your Dragon twice with his daughter and his reflections on this problem are rooted in his concern about what his child is learning about the world.

I understand his concern as I am a father of three beautiful children. My wife and I decided to shield them from the brutality and evil of this world for as long as we could, so we monitor what they watch, set rigorous standards on their reading material, and protect them from the burden of age-inappropriate knowledge. That may seem excessive, but if you heard some of the things that first graders talk about when their parents are not around you might be stunned to learn what some of them already know.

And this leads me to my problem. My son is now 7 years-old and is a sweet and friendly little boy who has been sheltered on purpose up to now from the evil of this world. But statistics say that on average children see internet pornography for the first time between 8 and 12 years-old. He was already the target of organized bullying over a year ago by a group of 6 year-old boys that acted like a gang (they were all of one ethnicity) and attacked him because they outnumbered him and they could get away with it. And then there is the question of what daddy does for a living. My job exists because people kill other people when they are inconvenient and all of the friendlier ways to express that point only serve to clean up the ugly truth. There is a good word for pornography, bullying, and abortion. That word is evil.

When we chose to shelter our children we did so knowing that at some point they would have to be told about real evil. My son is at the age where the depravity of our world and the corrupt nature of our culture demand that I begin to acquaint him with the idea more directly. I want our children to join the ranks of those who stand up against evil and are not afraid to call it what it is. I want them all to know that pornography, bullying, and abortion are not choices. Our children need to stay close to us when we are out because there are people that hurt and kill children to gratify their prurient and vile desires, a lesson I first learned as a child when we started locking our doors at night because of the Atlanta Child Murders. All people do evil things, but there are people that have given themselves over to evil altogether and we must face that truth. In fact, there can be no grace without recognizing that we have sinned and repenting of our evil acts.

I am reminded of someone I met after speaking to a men's conference. This man worked for the facility and as he was removing my microphone he asked if he could talk to me about something I had said in my speech. Specifically he took exception to my condemning the “daddy defense” which I characterized as blaming a poor relationship with my earthly father for a failure to properly respond to my heavenly Father. He had struggled with violence throughout his life and had hurt many people, but none of this was his fault. Years of counseling had helped him to understand that he was a victim of sexual abuse and not responsible for the things that he had done. “My father put me through unspeakable things and that was why I did what I did to those people.”

I asked him to first understand that my statement while speaking had a specific focus on salvation and a proper relationship with God and did not address what he was saying at all. “That said,” I continued, “What your father did to you was evil and I am more sorry than I can express to you for what you were forced to endure from someone who should have protected and loved you. I understand how that completely derailed your understanding of your relationships as a whole with your fellow men. But what you did was evil as well and you did not HAVE to do that as a result of what happened to you. It simply is not true that the things that happened to you somehow sanitized your own acts of evil. The good news is that God offers grace to cover all earthly acts of evil and needs only for us to recognize them for what they are and seek repentance. Whoever taught you that in order to move beyond the pain of your past you must absolve yourself from blame was flat out wrong.”

Evil is what it is and our need to clean it up and explain it away says more about us than it does about the nature of evil. Is there any question as to why our culture is as it is? Sins are mistakes, choices, and weaknesses. We cannot clean our garden of the weeds that threaten to choke out all the good that was planted because we refuse to call them weeds anymore. That seems such an unfair judgement upon those weeds to us. Pornography and drug abuse are victimless crimes. Don't like abortions? Then don't have one. It is no one's business what I do in private and if my “problems” spill into public or hurt someone else it wasn't like I wanted to hurt others. I was hurt by someone long before I hurt you. There are no monsters only victims. The only “evil” is the close minded judgement of that which we do not understand.

There is real evil. Abortion is evil. It may be sterilized, legal, medical, and often secret but it is also quite simply evil. In fact, the “legitimate” and “private” nature of abortion makes it more monstrous. Abortion exists because we tolerate it, and we tolerate it because we do not have to face it in all of its gory truth on a daily basis. Fathers, mothers, and grandparents can quietly and cleanly purchase the death of their unwanted children and go back to work, go home and play with their other children, or go and play golf and no one else has to be any the wiser for what they have done. These quiet and personal sins are pernicious and endemic to our society and it is the very fact that my son will be able to so successfully hide his sin that I am driven to educate him early on the realities of this world.

In a manner that is respectful of their ages and their capacities but mindful of the urgency, my children must learn that there are real monsters in this world. And the defining characteristic of those monsters is their devotion to evil acts against their fellow men. They need to understand that evil is a reality of our lives and must be fought within our own hearts and in the culture around us. As God told Cain, “sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Otherwise, what is their daddy doing with all of his time?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fetal Pain Bill in Nebraska [Jay Watts]

ABC News reports (here and here) that a fetal pain bill is advancing in Nebraska that would set the legal limit for abortions in that state at 20 weeks. The bill proposes that after 20 weeks the fetus is capable of suffering pain in the abortion process and therefore the state has a legitimate interest in restricting abortion to protect unborn human life from unnecessary cruelty.

The bill's sponsor, Nebraska state Senator Mike Flood recognizes that this bill challenges current abortion legal language as established by the Supreme Court. The current standard for where the state can have a legal interest in protecting the child against the right to privacy of the mother is viability. To be clear, it is not necessary for a state to protect a child at viability. States are just restricted from placing any “undue burden,” to use Planned Parenthood v. Casey language, on any woman's right to an abortion in any manner prior to that point. The Nebraska bill does not use viability as a standard at all and introduces the unborn child's ability to feel pain as a new consideration. That directly challenges the current standard.

The second significant aspect of the bill is a more narrowly defined understanding of the health exception. Doe v. Bolton, Roe's companion decision, so broadly defined the standard for health exceptions that it rendered the limit of viability essentially toothless. Any and all considerations of a woman's health could be factored in to justify going beyond viability limits established by the states including the mental health of the mother. That means that as long as a woman can find a doctor willing to perform an abortion for mental health considerations, for instance the mental stress endured by having a child at a time in her life that she was not planning to be a mother, then abortion is legally protected as a right through all nine months of pregnancy by the federal government. This new Nebraska bill would redefine health restrictions to save the life of the mother or "avert serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function." That represents a dramatic shift from the standard set in Doe.

The idea behind pursuing a law that blatantly challenges the language of the Supreme Court decisions on abortion, a contention opponents of the bill characterize as intentionally advancing unconstitutional legislation, is to pursue the opportunity to submit new medical and scientific evidence to the highest court pertaining to the nature of early human life. This is a legitimate legal tactic as the Supreme Court has consistently ruled that it takes no position on the identity of the unborn as "persons" even characterizing the question itself in some pretty bizarre language. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's famously odd passage from Planned Parenthood v. Casey illustrates this point perfectly:

“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. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.”

If the Supreme Court rejects the view of the personhood of unborn humans (which disqualifies the unborn from equal protection under the 14th Amendment) based on the previously and repeatedly defended position that good people disagree on the identity of the unborn, then offering substantive scientific evidence would be a legitimate challenge. The proposed restriction is not based on differing personal opinions on the “mystery of human life” but on proposed facts of the developmental capabilities of unborn humans after the 20 week threshold. I have not seen the evidence that they will be using to defend their position, but stipulating that it is solid then the tactic itself is legitimate.

For the opponents of the bill that cry foul based on the claim that Planned Parenthood v. Casey rejected any hard line other than viability and prevents any state from using any other standard, they might want to read Casey again. Casey's language justifies viability as the only legitimate line based on the claim that all other lines are arbitrary and not empirical in nature. If one is submitting an argument that they have an equally non-arbitrary and empirically established point at which to draw a line then they could have a point that is worthy of review by the courts. In my opinion, it is not the slam dunk some of the bill's opponents seem to characterize it as.

Let me state clearly, abortion is wrong even if the unborn feel absolutely no pain at all and restrictions on abortion ought to be pursued because of the immorality of destroying another human life without extreme justification. So when I say that I think this bill holds some potentially intriguing challenges to the status quo as it pertains to abortion language, I am not saying I think this bill adequately addresses the full moral offense abortion. It is woefully deficient if that is the goal.

But why would I suppose that this was the goal? The incremental approach seeks to find basic points of agreement with a culture that has clearly lost its moral moorings in relation to our treatment of nascent human life. I do not read this proposed legislation as declaring that abortion is wrong when and only when it causes pain to the unborn child and other cases of abortion ought to proceed unimpeded by law. Rather I read it more charitably asking two simple questions. Can't we at least agree that tearing an unborn human being to pieces while it is capable of experiencing the agony of that gruesome death is wrong and that viability is not the end all be all of our legal limits to restrict abortion? Can't we at least agree that the current definition of health exceptions is so broad as to render them not “exceptions” in any meaningful sense of that word? That is also asking a broader question. Can't we all agree that this is worth looking at again because the price for being wrong on this one is incalculably high? At least we can attempt to put to rest Justice Sotomayor's assertion that abortion is “settled law.”

This post represents my initial reaction to the articles I have linked above and should not be taken as an exhaustive endorsement. I have not read the bill in question and am merely responding to the very basic points made from both sides in the articles. I for one am interested to see how this plays out and will keep an eye on it.

HT: Drudge Report

Alan Shlemon's Survey in Oregon [Jay Watts]

Alan Shlemon of Stand to Reason has shared the results of a street survey that he conducted for a training seminar with Oregon Right to Life. The results and his thoughts on the questionnaire are well worth a look.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Lopez on Boehner as a Pro-Life Politician with Principles [Jay Watts]

Here is a great article on John Boehner (R, Ohio) by Kathryn Jean Lopez at National Review Online and the battle to stop the new healthcare law. I was also impressed that the Republicans held the line and however they are cast in hindsight as “obstructionists” it is a feat to hold your coalition together as Boehner did.