Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Ann Furedi's Consistent Views [Clinton Wilcox]

Ann Furedi is a British abortion-choice advocate who is the chief executive of British Pregnancy Advisory Service. I only recently became aware of Furedi’s existence when I helped Gregg Cunningham prepare for a debate with her a few years ago. As far as the abortion debate is concerned, I don’t think she’s really contributed anything to the ongoing discussion by academics. And her arguments seem to be mainly those I encounter from abortion-choice advocates on the street level.

A website called Metro reported on Furedi’s appearance on a talk show colorfully titled Loose Women, which after a quick Google search seems to be the British equivalent of The View. However, if you have spent much time engaging with abortion-choice people, then Furedi’s comments wouldn’t seem newsworthy at all.

The title of the article says that Furedi believes abortion should be treated as contraception, but that’s not technically accurate. Furedi did not say that a couple should forgo using things like condoms and the pill and just get abortions. What she did say is that abortion should be there as a backup in case the contraception fails. A subtle, but important, difference. And when asked her thoughts on sex-selective abortions, Furedi said that while she may disagree with the woman’s reason, it should be up to the woman to decide.

Furedi’s comments aren’t anything new or novel, but perhaps the women on this talk show aren’t used to having this discussion. I don’t know where the ladies who host this show fall on the question of abortion, but many abortion-choice advocates draw the line at using abortion as birth control. So Furedi’s position that abortion should be available as a backup if their birth control fails is understandably distressing to them. Many abortion-choice advocates also draw the line at sex-selection abortion, so Furedi’s unwillingness to condemn even those abortions would understandably seem extreme. The reality is, however, that if Furedi’s support of abortion is grounded in a woman’s right to control her own body, then Furedi is being consistent in her views. If a woman has a right to an abortion on the grounds that she should not be forced to remain plugged in as “life support” for the unborn child, then no matter what her reason is for having an abortion, while we might consider it downright indecent, it’s her right and we have no right to condemn her for that. That’s where bodily rights lead, and if you’re troubled by that, perhaps you should think twice about whether or not bodily rights actually do justify abortion.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Making the Case for Life on Campus

A few months ago I published a piece explaining how to get the training necessary to become an effective pro-life ambassador over the course of the summer(if you missed it, click here).

Now, with the school season just around the corner, it may be a little bit late to pick up a book-length treatment on the subject of abortion. How can you become trained and equipped to persuasively communicate your views this fall, whether on a college campus, or even in high school? Here are some suggestions:

1. Study resources that are immediately available to you: When I first started attending college back in 2013, I was constantly studying Christian apologetics during my free time, so as to help equip myself to understand the issues I would be encountering on campus, and to be able to respond appropriately to the intellectual challenges on the campus. This proved to be invaluable, both to my education and in helping me craft my worldview while I was pursuing my academic career.

The are multiple resources available that can help you accomplish this. Websites are a great tool, and there are many pro-life and apologetic websites available. Below are a couple of my favorites:

www.abortionno.org(WARNING: There is a graphic abortion video that plays on the homescreen automatically)

While websites are good, having a book length treatment on the abortion issue handy is an even more important strategy. While reading non-class materials during the semester can be hard to accomplish, there are short, concise titles available to choose from:
Stand for Life by Scott Klusendorf
Love Unleashes Life by Stephanie Grey
Politically Correct Death by Francis Beckwith(a longer title, but a really good handbook of arguments)
Pro-life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments by Randy Alcorn.

If you just don't have the time for reading, try out podcasts. They are inexpensive(ie "Free") and can be listened to while driving, working out, doing chores, or simply relaxing. They are a great way to learn the pro-life issue, current events, and the pro-life apologetics. The Life Training Institute has started our own pro-life apologetics podcast, where we discuss ongoing events and do regular episodes on issues related to pro-life apologetics in particular.

2. Take advantage of your school library

Many universities and community colleges give free access to their online databases for students and faculty members. This is key. The online databases can help you search for academic works by pro-life scholars, such as Don Marquis, Francis Beckwith, Robert George, and others.

Conversely, many of these pieces are not normally available unless one has a subscription to an academic philosophy or legal journal, so be sure to use the database.

Many of these articles are responses to or critiques of academic pro-choice arguments; most notably, arguments from "bodily autonomy" and personhood arguments. If you are looking for a good critique, this is the place to go.

3. Present Your Case Winsomely and Effectively

Now that you have the knowledge of the pro-life view, it is time to put it to use. Join a pro-life, politically conservative, or Christian club on campus, and connect with other like minded students. Many students may be pro-life on the issue of abortion, but are not doing anything to present that view clearly, carefully, and persuasively.

That ends now. Challenge like minded students to study up on the topic(using resources listed) and then "take it to the streets" by engaging in conversations. It doesn't have to be anything big; one-on-one conversations can accomplish wonders.

However, it is important to make sure that a student group that takes the issue seriously makes an effort to present their view to the larger campus community. Consider hosting a public outreach on campus for a day during the semester. Justice For All, Students for Life, Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, and other organizations do a fantastic job of helping make the case for life on campus, and teaching students to do so as well.

Afterwards, follow the display up with an event promoting solid arguments for the pro-life view. Organizing a formal debate is a great way of accomplishing that. This will give the pro-choice advocates on campus a chance to present their case, and a chance to show how the pro-life view handles common criticisms and objections.

Doing these three things can help you become an equipped and confident pro-life case maker on your college campus and in your community at large.

Gizmodo's "War on Technology" [Clinton Wilcox]

Gizmodo is a site I rarely read. However, as I do work in the pro-life field, their articles occasionally find their way onto my radar. An article written by Kristen V. Brown asserts that new technology could threaten a woman’s right to abortion.

Brown reports that in April, scientists had a major breakthrough with artificial womb technology that may help save fetuses born extremely prematurely. Eight premature baby lambs spent the last month of their prenatal development in an artificial womb and developed normally. This technology could save the 30,000 or so prematurely born babies each year while simultaneously threatening the right to abortion in a country that secures that right upon the viability of the fetus.

Of course, fastening the right to abortion on viability was just a poorly reasoned decision on the Supreme Court’s part. First, “viability” to the medical community has nothing to do with whether or not the fetus can currently survive outside the womb and everything to do on whether or not it is capable of growing and thriving. Every embryo that implants in the womb is considered viable to the medical field. Second, Brown’s article highlights why placing the fetus’ rights on viability (as abortion-choice advocates mean it) is irrational: because viability has nothing to do with the fetus and everything to do with the current state of medical technology. As medical technology progresses, including the development of artificial wombs, viability becomes earlier and earlier. It may one day be the case that any conceived embryo is considered viable, if they are able to be transplanted to an artificial womb right away.

But of course, as the term “botched abortion” indicates and as this article in Gizmodo implies, the desired outcome of every abortion is not to make a woman unpregnant but to produce a dead baby. Brown quotes I. Glenn Cohen, a bioethicist from Harvard Law School, as saying that it’s terrifying to think a woman has a right to an abortion only up until you can transfer that fetus into an artificial womb. It’s strange that a bioethicist would say it’s terrifying to tell a mother that she can’t kill her own child, and she should take responsibility for the child she had a hand in conceiving (or at least, that she should adopt the child out to a family who will take care of her). We wouldn’t say it’s wrong to force a person into parenthood instead of allowing her to kill her toddler. Yet when it comes to a fetus, it’s suddenly okay. When it’s the same child only two years younger, it’s okay to kill her instead of taking responsibility for her. You can be sure that if artificial womb technology becomes a reality, abortion-choice advocates, including Planned Parenthood, which receives millions of dollars in taxpayer money, will be lobbying to get the law’s understanding of why women have a right to an abortion changed.

In fact, Cohen’s own words are what’s terrifying. He says, “The way the law has thus far defined it...is that a woman has a right to stop carrying a child. It doesn’t consider whether she also has a right to control what happens to the child if she is no longer responsible for carrying it.” Cohen calls the fetus a child, and yet he still thinks it’s okay to control whether or not the child dies just because she doesn’t want to raise her. This counts as an ethical position in today’s world.

It seems that everything has to be polarized around politics today. Instead of marveling at this new technology and appreciating the lives it can save, the achievement is brought down because of this author’s obsession with abortion.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Modern Human Experimentation [Clinton Wilcox]

Business Insider reports that scientists in Oregon have successfully edited the DNA of viable human embryos efficiently and apparently with few mistakes. The embryos in question were embryos with severe genetic defects that had no chance of developing into older human beings. And because these edits affect embryos at the genetic level, it will affect the genes that are produced in their sperm and ova, meaning that whatever changes are done to the embryo will also be done to any children that embryo eventually produces. This has led to fears that it may affect the course of human evolution. And of course, it has also spurred on fears that this will lead to “designer babies,” parents picking and choosing traits that they find desirable and eliminating traits that they don’t. Stanford University law professor and bioethicist Hank Greely, however, has tweeted that there’s a difference between embryos you implant and embryos that you edit which are “not to be transferred for possible transplantation.” Editing embryos you don’t intend to implant is not a big deal.

And showing us why calling someone a “bioethicist” does not mean they really are a reliable authority on ethics, legal scholar and “bioethicist” R. Alta Charo does not consider this to be unethical.

If you are a regular listener to our podcast, you heard my interview with Elijah Thompson of the Fetal Position podcast. We had a discussion about the ethics of genetic enhancement. You can listen to that if you’re interested on some of the discussion around genetic enhancement, itself. But this is tantamount to human experimentation. We rightly condemn the likes of Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed dangerous and painful experiments on Jews during the Holocaust, and we rightly condemn the United States Public Health Service for the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments on black people. This is no different. We are dealing here with human experimentation, except that doctors are allowed to get away with it, just as Mengele and the Public Health Service were, because embryos and fetuses today are not considered legal persons. R. Alta Charo is wrong when he says that this is not unethical. In fact, this might even be worse than Mengele or the Public Health Service because at least they didn’t create Jews or black people for the express purpose of experimenting on them.

If we’re talking about genetic therapy, in which we’re only trying to treat diseases, then genetic enhancement is not ethically problematic. If you’re talking about enhancing someone beyond the natural qualities of humanity, then there may be ethical concerns. But experimenting on human beings, even one you’ve dehumanized to make it easier to sleep at night, is always seriously wrong.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Down's Syndrome and What It Means To Be Human: A Response to CBS

There has been a recent headline from CBS regarding the "disappearance" of Down's Syndrome within Iceland has been making the rounds on social media as of late, and has provoked much justifiable outrage among those within the pro-life community. I will weigh in with some thoughts here.

Ironically, the title of the article happens to be "What kind of society do you want to live in?" The authors seem to imply that the virtual disappearance of Down's Syndrome within the country of Iceland is a good thing, and give a positive tone throughout the article.

The first line reads:
"With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.
It is here that we get a glimpse of what the authors are trying to hide within the piece while trying to shed this statistical outcome in a very positive light: The reason we are close to eradicating Down's Syndrome in Iceland is because we are "terminating" the individuals with the condition prior to birth.

Indeed, the article is one massive exercise in "begging the question"; that is, it assumes the unborn are not human, and can therefore be "terminated" prior to the full realization of the condition. To illustrate this concept, imagine what would happen if a story was run on the virtual disappearance of child abuse directed at disabled children within Iceland. Child abuse rates were at virtually zero. Then suppose we take a look at the reasons why the numbers were so low: Parents were being allowed to kill their children all the way up to age 8, as long as it was done quickly and quietly, with the advice of the family doctor. Would there be outrage? There'd better be. And yet, when it comes to these children prior to their births, CBS writes a piece discussing this idea as if it were good news.

In fact, one of the hospital staff members who helps counsel the women regarding the genetic test, Helga Sol Olafsdottir, makes this very point in the piece:

"We don't look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication... preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder -- that's so black and white. Life isn't black and white. Life is grey."
The "life is grey" assertion is absurd. Would anyone apply that to the idea of parents eliminating their toddlers in order to prevent "suffering" for the child or the family members? I think we would view such a person as a moral monster. And yet, we do it with the unborn human, simply because we assume that being unborn justifies killing them somehow.

There is no difference in kind between these children before birth and after birth. The only differences are the child's size, level of development(which can determine your currently exercisable abilities before birth, as well as far after), the environment that they currently reside in, and the degree to which they depend on those around them for their immediate needs. As Stephen Schwartz has highlighted, none of these differences really matter in the long run, as they all come in degrees, and can come or go through the course of our lifetimes. If these differences really do in fact matter, then human equality is a dangerous, repressive myth that needs to be abolished. That is absurd, and terrifying to think about.

How then should a civil society respond to something like Down's Syndrome? Probably by responding the same way we should for anyone else: With love, care, and respect for their shared humanity. Killing them before they are even aware of concepts like love and respect is never going to be the right answer.

In fact, a recent video titled "NOT SPECIAL NEEDS" illustrates this plainly. Advocates for those with Down's Syndrome pose a very important question to the audience: What "special needs" do these individuals really need? How about the same opportunities as the rest of us? And doesn't that include the right to live, just like everyone else? Anything less is not "pro-choice", but is instead the very bigotry that the West has worked tirelessly to eradicate, and has failed many times in doing so. Indeed, it asserts that we can know better what life with Down's Syndrome will be like than the individuals who have the condition do, and will impose our view of what it means to be human on them by killing them before they can even know what is happening.

"What kind of society do you want to live in?"

You'd better be darn sure you know the answer to that.

Professors Arguing Badly [Clinton Wilcox]

There’s a viral video going around of actor James Franco and philosophy professor Eliot Michaelson in a discussion about abortion with professor of philosophy at Princeton Elizabeth Harman. This is part of a new YouTube series by Franco, Philosophy Time.

Her argument is that if we abort the fetus before it is conscious and has experiences, then it is not morally bad to do so. How does she defend her argument for the permissibility of early abortions? She asserts that when it comes to the early fetus (and philosophers tend to use the catch-all term “fetus” to refer to the unborn organism at all stages of pregnancy, even though technically it’s not a fetus until about two months in utero), there are two different kinds of beings. Fetuses who have a future have moral status, and fetuses who don’t have a future, either because of miscarriage or because the mother kills the fetus in abortion, do not have moral status.

If you are perplexed by Harmon’s defense of her argument, you’re not alone. Franco’s expression tells it all. As Franco said, that’s something that you can only judge in hindsight. By Harmon’s criterion for personhood, that having a future as a person is what grants moral status, you can’t know whether or not any given fetus is a person because you can’t know whether or not that fetus has a future. And to argue that we know which fetuses are not persons because we know the mother is going to take her in and abort her, as Harmon does, is a clear case of ad hoc reasoning to justify her position on abortion. Her argument seems, prima facie, to be that whether or not a woman decides to abort is what determines whether or not she has moral status.

Harmon tries to save her view with a couple of caveats: 1) If you had been aborted while you were yet a fetus, then it wouldn’t have been wrong because you wouldn’t have had moral status, not being the kind of fetus that grows up into a person. So moral status is a contingent matter (i.e. contingent on whether or not your mother had aborted you). 2) It’s not looking at it correctly that each fetus has moral status which is taken away when the mother aborts him. There’s nothing about the present state of the fetus that grants it moral status. It’s not conscious and is not having any experiences. It’s derivative of its future that it gets to have moral status. Its future is what endows it with moral status. So when you abort him you’re not depriving him of something he independently has.

Neither one of these caveats save her view. It’s just as ad hoc as it was before. Caveat one, that if you had been aborted as a fetus it wouldn’t have been wrong is just another ad hoc explanation to justify her first ad hoc explanation. The only reason that fetus won’t grow up to be a person is because he is being prevented from doing so by his mother and the abortionist. If left alone, he will grow up into an infant and an adult. Even fetuses that miscarry have this same potential; it’s just being cut short by an external factor, just as an infant who dies of SIDS still has the potential to become an adult, it’s just being prevented by some unknown factor. Her second caveat, that it’s your future that grounds your moral status, abortion isn’t taking it away, again fails to take into consideration that all fetuses have that future, if not being prevented from doing so. These two caveats do not make her case any stronger.

Liz Harmon’s colleague, Robert P. George, stated on a Facebook status that Harmon’s view does have one redeeming quality: it does seem to explain the disconnect between a woman who aborts seeing her fetus as nothing but a “clump of cells” but a woman who wants the fetus seeing him as her baby, her child. But Harmon’s argument for abortion is so incoherent it’s a wonder why she doesn’t abandon it for another colleague, Peter Singer’s, better, albeit unsuccessful, argument for abortion. Ah, well. As has been well observed, there is no position so outlandish it has not been seriously defended by some philosophers.

That being said, another philosopher, Frank Beckwith, also on Facebook, pointed out that Elizabeth Harman has defended her argument in more detail in an article she's written and we should engage with the strongest version of her argument that she's put forth. So I will read Harman's article and respond to it in a future post. Stay tuned for that.

Have you seen this video? What did you think of it? Let us know below!

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Miscarriage Breakthrough [Clinton Wilcox]

A few months ago, Nathan, Aaron, and I started up a podcast called Pro-Life Thinking. If you haven't listened in yet, I'd like to encourage you to do so. You can listen to us at BlogTalkRadio, or you can find us on iTunes. We've also now got the podcast uploaded onto the website, so you can find us at the LTI homepage. Hover your mouse cursor over the "media" tag and then click "podcasts" in the drop-down menu. There's been some good news that's come out of Australia, as reported by the New Zealand Herald.

Scientists at Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney have made a breakthrough discovery that is expected to save thousands of lives by preventing miscarriages and multiple types of birth defects. Professor Sally Dunwoodie has discovered a cause not only of miscarriages but also of heart, spinal, kidney, and cleft palate problems. The researchers discovered that the lack of a vital molecule, NAD, prevents a child’s organs from developing properly while in the womb. After 12 years of research, these scientists have found that NAD deficiency can be cured by a dietary supplement of B3, also known as niacin. The next step is to develop a diagnostic test to measure NAD levels and see which women are at the greatest risk of having a baby with a birth defect to ensure they get a sufficient amount of B3. And while many women have already been treated, there is still work to do in studying the levels of niacin throughout pregnancy and when the organs are forming in the embryo. So the doctors do not recommend taking any more niacin than what is already present in a pregnancy multivitamin until further work is done.

It pretty much goes without saying that this is an exciting breakthrough. The New Zealand Article overstated its connection with vegemite, but we may be looking at a future in which miscarriages and certain types of birth defects are much less of a risk.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Katerine: Human Being or “Human Doing”? [Michael Spencer]

My daughter, Katerine, was born with Cerebral Palsy. As a result, she is unable to walk, has extremely limited use of her hands, and at 17, functions mentally at the level of a four year old.

When Barb and I take Katerine to a restaurant or anywhere in public, perfect strangers frequently open doors for her. At concerts and sporting events she is sometimes ushered to the front to take the best seat in the house. Why such preferential treatment for a child bereft of any political power or celebrity status? It is because God has placed in each of us a moral intuition that wells up when we see need, vulnerability or handicap. We naturally want to help. In fact, the greater the need, the greater our urge to offer assistance.

Unfortunately, not everyone responds to the voice of moral intuition. Katerine’s biological father didn’t. He abandoned her on the side of the road at 6:00am in Guatemala City (her birthplace) to fend for herself at 6 years of age. She was eventually discovered by a security guard and spent the entire day, until 10:00pm, in the police department before an orphanage was found to take her. This is where she spent the next 3 years of her life. Katerine’s father’s actions are revolting. In many wombs, however, she would be aborted for the very same reason strangers now open doors for her: she is handicapped. Cerebral Palsy has severely arrested Katerine’s level of development, rendering her disposable in the minds of many.

Today, many defend the abortion choice by drawing an artificial line between “humanness” and “personhood”, arguing that it is morally permissible to kill humans so long as they’re not actual “persons.” And when does a human become a “person”? According to many it is when he/she reaches a certain level of development. When does this happen? Good luck getting a straight answer from abortion supporters; they don’t agree on which “standard” confers personhood status. One says it occurs when measurable brain activity is detected. Another says it happens at viability – that moment when the embryo could survive outside of the mother. Still another insists the embryo must be free of any fetal abnormality before the honor of “personhood” is bestowed on her.

In short, these tiny womb-dwellers are only deemed worthy of life if they pass whatever arbitrary test the big and powerful establish for them. If they don’t, they’re crushed like vermin and disposed of like trash. Conveniently for the abortion industry, none of the above-mentioned milestones are compelling enough to build consensus among abortion supporters, which means none of these tests make any difference in the end. The only real “test” is whether or not mom wants her baby.

Although we undergo a myriad of developmental changes from the time we are conceived until the time we die, our nature never changes. We are the same person now as we were then. As Randy Alcorn says,  “Something nonhuman doesn’t become human by getting older and bigger. Whatever is human is human from the beginning.” He’s right. Katerine’s disabilities do not alter her human nature, nor do they diminish her value. She is intrinsically valuable and Barb and I are blessed to be her parents.

Clinton Wilcox, who serves on our staff at Life Training Institute recently wrote, “The question of when human life begins is not a difficult one. It only becomes difficult if you want to justify killing people.” How true. Katerine escaped the womb with her cerebral palsy undetected. Many others aren’t so lucky.

We’re not “human doings,” we are human beings. In other words, Katerine is valuable, not because of what she can do, but simply because of what she is: God’s image-bearer. This makes all the difference.

Let's apply our compassion consistently across the spectrum to all human beings.  Recognizing the worth of all humans as God's image bearers, may the same hands that would open a door for a young girl in a wheel chair hold back the door of death as it slams on her no-less-human neighbors in the womb.