Thursday, June 30, 2011

State funds can be used to clone human beings beginning tomorrow

The following news release was issued today, June 30. Read more about the recent human cloning debate in Minnesota here and here.

ST. PAUL — Public funding of human cloning will be legal in Minnesota on July 1 without reauthorization of the state's current ban on such funding. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the state's oldest and largest pro-life organization, helped to pass the ban on taxpayer funding of human cloning during the 2009 legislative session.

A recent Gallup poll showed that 84 percent of Americans believe human cloning is morally wrong (May 5-8, 2011).

"Minnesotans, like the vast majority of American citizens, are opposed to the cloning of human beings," said MCCL Legislative Associate Jordan Bauer. "People don't want human life treated as mere raw material for experiments, and they do not want to pay for such unethical activity."

The 2009 Legislature ushered through a session law provision that provided for a two-year ban on state funding of all forms of human cloning. Because this provision expires on June 30, MCCL has supported legislative efforts to either ban human cloning (authored by Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, and Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville) or to enact a statutory prohibition on taxpayer funding of human cloning (authored by Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, and Sen. Fischbach).

Both of these efforts were ultimately included in omnibus bills and vetoed by Gov. Dayton. If no language is included in the final budget agreement, Minnesota's established pro-life policy on human cloning will end and Minnesota taxpayers can legally be forced to fund human cloning and human cloning experimentation.

The University of Minnesota repeatedly testified in opposition to these legislative efforts to protect the dignity of nascent human life. The U of M argued not only in favor of human cloning, but also for taxpayers to fund any efforts on its part to clone human beings.

MCCL provided testimony in hearings on both bills in support of legal protections from human cloning. MCCL lobbyists explained that not only do the American people strongly oppose human cloning, but also the United Nations. In addition, researchers in America and around the globe are rejecting human cloning and are turning to other forms of research that are both ethical and more successful.

"Human cloning is unethical and obsolete," Bauer said. "MCCL and the citizens of the state call upon the Legislature and Gov. Dayton to include a ban on all human cloning in their negotiations."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Deductive reasoning and the pro-life argument: Part Two

Who am I?
I recently presented five different formulations of a deductively valid argument for the pro-life conclusion that elective abortion is morally wrong. Here are two more that deal explicitly with the question of personal identity.

Philosopher Alexander Pruss offers the following:

1. "I was once a fetus."

This premise "seems innocuous," Pruss writes. "After all, is it not biologically evident that first I was an embryo, then a fetus, then a neonate, then an infant, then a toddler, then a child, then an adolescent, and then an adult? Does not my mother talk of the time when she was 'pregnant with me' and thereby imply that it was I who was in her womb when she was pregnant? Is not the sonogram of my daughter the sonogram of that daughter of mine who will be born?" Pruss defends this position well in his essay.

2. "If I was a fetus, it would have been wrong to kill that fetus."

Pruss reasons (among two other arguments he offers for premise 2): "What would make killing me now wrong is the harm it would do to me: it would deprive me, who am juridically innocent, of life, indeed of the rest of my life. Now, consider the hypothetical killing of the fetus I once was. This killing would have exactly the same victim as killing me now would [as demonstrated by premise 1]. Moreover, the harm inflicted on the victim would have been strictly greater [because the victim is deprived of more of his life when he is killed at a younger age]." What makes killing me now wrong also makes killing the fetus I once was wrong.

3. "If it was wrong to kill me when I was a fetus, it is wrong to kill anyone when he is a fetus."

Thus, killing unborn human beings is wrong. See more thoughts on abortion from Pruss here.

In a section of his recent book The Ethics of Abortion (pp. 105-120), philosopher Christopher Kaczor proposes this "constitutive property" argument for the personhood of the unborn:

1. "If an individual being has a constitutive [i.e., essential] property at one point in time, then it has that property at every point in its existence."

This is true by the definition of "constitutive property."

2. "You are the same individual living being or organism as the fetus from which you developed."

This is identical to Premise 1 in the argument above. Kaczor notes that the truth of this premise seems to be "a matter of observation and scientific data. You now, you at ten years old, you at ten days following birth, you ten days after conception and you at all stages of your life in between stand in bodily continuity."

There are different approaches to denying a continuity of personal identity throughout the life of a human being -- some of a weird dualist variety, some reflecting a radical commitment to philosophical materialism -- but all are untenable. Detailed critiques are presented in Body & Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics by J.P. Moreland and Scott Rae, Abortion & Unborn Human Life by Patrick Lee (Chapter 1), and Embryo: A Defense of Human Life by Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen (Chapter 3). See also Kaczor's critique (pp. 106-115). (These authors do not all agree about the metaphysical details; the key point is simply that there is a continuity of personal identity -- what Francis Beckwith calls the substance view of persons.)

3. "You are a human person constitutively [i.e., essentially]."

That is, each of us has the moral status of a "person" (entailing a right to life) simply by virtue of being who/what we are. It is not a status that we can gain or lose, but something that exists as long as we exist. This is roughly equivalent to Premise 2 of the argument above.

4. "The zygote from which you developed was a human person."

Another way to put the argument is this: We have a right to life by virtue of what we are (premise 3); what we are came to be at conception (premise 2); so we had a right to life from conception.

In both of the two arguments, the point is to show that (1) there is a continuity of personal identity throughout the life of a human being (e.g., I am identical to the fetus, infant, and adolescent I once was, despite growth and change); and (2) it is by virtue of our identity (the kind of being we are, not what we can do or other non-essential characteristics) that we have full moral worth/personhood/a right to life. (For defenses of point #2, see my earlier post.)

These are common-sense views that are philosophically much more plausible than their alternatives, and they lead directly to the conclusion that the fetus I once was had a right to life, and by extension, all human fetuses have a right to life, which clearly precludes intentional killing for the reasons for which elective abortions are performed.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Women's equality, abortion and the Constitution

A forthcoming (Summer 2011) article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy is titled "Embodied Equality: Debunking Equal Protection Arguments for Abortion Rights." It is authored by Erika Bachiochi. You can download the 62-page paper (for free) here.

Here's the abstract:
Within legal academic circles and the general pro-choice feminist population, it is axiomatic that women's equality requires abortion. Indeed, pro-choice legal scholars, foremost among them Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have argued that the Equal Protection Clause provides a far more appealing constitutional justification for the abortion right than the roundly criticized right to privacy offered in Roe.

This article seeks to systematically engage, on feminist grounds, the leading pro-choice feminist legal literature, detailing why sexual equality need not - indeed, should not - include a right to abortion. I critique popular scholarly equality arguments from both a constitutional perspective (i.e., why abortion ought not be protected by the Equal Protection Clause) and a philosophical perspective (i.e., how autonomy arguments fail to understand the actual biological dependency relationship that exists between mother and unborn child, and the affirmative duties of care that follow).

Erika Bachiochi
I thus challenge the assumptions underlying the idea that pregnancy and motherhood necessarily undermine equality for women. I argue instead that abortion rights actually hinder the equality of women by taking the wombless male body as normative, thereby promoting cultural hostility toward pregnancy and motherhood. In a legitimate attempt to get beyond the essentialist idea that women's reproductive capacities should be determinative of women's lives, pro-choice feminist legal scholars have jettisoned the significance of the body. In rightfully arguing that pregnancy is more than just a biological reality, they discount the fact that pregnancy is a fundamental biological reality. I will show that acknowledging this biological reality - that the human species gestates in the wombs of women - need not necessitate the current social reality that women are the primary (and, too often, sole) caretakers of their children or the social arrangements in which professional and public occupations are so hostile to parenting duties.

Easy access to abortion serves to further discharge men of the consequences that sometimes result from sexual intercourse and so places responsibility for unintentional pregnancies solely on pregnant women. Rather than making significant demands on men who sire children, current law encourages women to mimic male abandonment. Concomitant with the proclivity to view male sexual autonomy as the standard for human reproduction is an embrace of a male-centered sexuality that ignores the procreative potentialities inherent in the sexual act. I will conclude by outlining the contours of a pro-woman sexuality and an embodied equality that takes the male and the female body seriously and affirms their shared capacities for full human development.
I wrote on the topic of abortion and feminism/women's equality -- why I think abortion is incompatible with the equal rights of every human being, and with the welfare and special dignity of women -- here.

(HT: Teresa Collett)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Abortion defenders explain why Roe v. Wade was a terrible legal decision

Roe v. Wade -- which ruled that the U.S. Constitution effectively mandates a nationwide policy of abortion on demand -- is one of the most widely criticized Supreme Court decisions in America history. As Villanova law professor Joseph W. Dellapenna writes, "The opinion [in Roe] is replete with irrelevancies, non-sequiturs, and unsubstantiated assertions. The Court decides matters it disavows any intention of deciding—thereby avoiding any need to defend its conclusion. In the process the opinion simply fails to convince."

Even many scholars sympathetic to the results of Roe have issued harsh criticisms of its legal reasoning. In the Yale Law Journal, eminent legal scholar John Hart Ely, a supporter of legal abortion, complained that Roe is "bad constitutional law, or rather ... it is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be." He wrote:
What is unusual about Roe is that the liberty involved is accorded ... a protection more stringent, I think it is fair to say, than that the present Court accords the freedom of the press explicitly guaranteed by the First Amendment. What is frightening about Roe is that this super-protected right is not inferrable from the language of the Constitution, the framers' thinking respecting the specific problem in issue, any general value derivable from the provisions they included, or the nation's governmental structure. Nor is it explainable in terms of the unusual political impotence of the group judicially protected vis-a-vis the interests that legislatively prevailed over it. And that, I believe ... is a charge that can responsibly be leveled at no other decision of the past twenty years. At times the inferences the Court has drawn from the values the Constitution marks for special protection have been controversial, even shaky, but never before has its sense of an obligation to draw one been so obviously lacking.
Below are criticisms of Roe from other supporters of legal abortion.
  • "One of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found." -- Laurence H. Tribe, Harvard law professor
  • "As a matter of constitutional interpretation and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible. I say this as someone utterly committed to the right to choose. ... Justice Blackmun's opinion provides essentially no reasoning in support of its holding. And in the ... years since Roe's announcement, no one has produced a convincing defense of Roe on its own terms." -- Edward Lazarus, former clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun
  • "The failure to confront the issue in principled terms leaves the opinion to read like a set of hospital rules and regulations. ... Neither historian, nor layman, nor lawyer will be persuaded that all the prescriptions of Justice Blackmun are part of the Constitution." -- Archibald Cox, Harvard law professor, former U.S. Solicitor General 
  • "[I]t is time to admit in public that, as an example of the practice of constitutional opinion writing, Roe is a serious disappointment. You will be hard-pressed to find a constitutional law professor, even among those who support the idea of constitutional protection for the right to choose, who will embrace the opinion itself rather than the result. This is not surprising. As a constitutional argument, Roe is barely coherent. The court pulled its fundamental right to choose more or less from the constitutional ether." -- Kermit Roosevelt, University of Pennsylvania law professor
  • "Roe, I believe, would have been more acceptable as a judicial decision if it had not gone beyond a ruling on the extreme statute before the Court. ... Heavy-handed judicial intervention was difficult to justify and appears to have provoked, not resolved, conflict." -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
  • "In the Court's first confrontation with the abortion issue, it laid down a set of rules for legislatures to follow. The Court decided too many issues too quickly. The Court should have allowed the democratic processes of the states to adapt and to generate sensible solutions that might not occur to a set of judges." -- Cass Sunstein, University of Chicago law professor
  • "Judges have no special competence, qualifications, or mandate to decide between equally compelling moral claims (as in the abortion controversy). ... [C]lear governing constitutional principles ... are not present [in Roe]." -- Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor
  • "[O]verturning [Roe] would be the best thing that could happen to the federal judiciary. ... Thirty years after Roe, the finest constitutional minds in the country still have not been able to produce a constitutional justification for striking down restrictions on early-term abortions that is substantially more convincing than Justice Harry Blackmun's famously artless opinion itself." -- Jeffrey Rosen, legal commentator, George Washington University law professor
  • "Blackmun's [Supreme Court] papers vindicate every indictment of Roe: invention, overreach, arbitrariness, textual indifference." -- William Saletan, Slate columnist, writing in Legal Affairs
  • "In the years since the decision an enormous body of academic literature has tried to put the right to an abortion on firmer legal ground. But thousands of pages of scholarship notwithstanding, the right to abortion remains constitutionally shaky. ... [Roe] is a lousy opinion that disenfranchised millions of conservatives on an issue about which they care deeply." -- Benjamin Wittes, Brookings Institution fellow
  • "Although I am pro-choice, I was taught in law school, and still believe, that Roe v. Wade is a muddle of bad reasoning and an authentic example of judicial overreaching." -- Michael Kinsley, columnist, writing in the Washington Post

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Minnesota journalist receives National Right to Life award

From National Right to Life:
Dave Hrbacek of The Catholic Spirit, the paper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, has been awarded the National Right to Life 14th Annual Excellence in Journalism Award. Mr. Hrbacek received the award for his piece, "Electrician sparks life commitment by turning down abortion clinic job."

"We are proud to recognize Dave Hrbacek for his outstanding work and extend our deepest gratitude for his outstanding journalism on behalf of life," said NRLC President Carol Tobias. "Journalists working in the Catholic press community work diligently to advance legal protection for the most vulnerable members of our society. Their work is invaluable in reaching the Catholic community with the message of life." ...

The National Right to Life Excellence in Journalism Award is given annually in recognition of outstanding journalism in the Catholic press community on behalf of the most vulnerable among us – the unborn, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Can the UN explain why sex-selection abortion is wrong?

A new document from the United Nations decries the prevalence of sex-selection abortion in Asia. From the press release:
Five United Nations agencies have banded together to call for urgently addressing gender-biased sex selection favouring boys, a common practice in many parts of South, East and Central Asia that they say fuels a culture of discrimination and violence.

"Sex selection in favour of boys is a symptom of pervasive social, cultural, political and economic injustices against women, and a manifest violation of women's human rights," says a statement issued by the agencies, which have reviewed the evidence behind the causes, consequences and lessons learned regarding "son preference."

Often under intense pressure to produce a son, women seek to discover the sex of a foetus through ultrasound. The discovery of a female foetus can then lead to its abortion.

Sex selection can also take place before a pregnancy is established, or after the birth of a girl, through child neglect or infanticide, they add. Over decades, the practice has caused a sex-ratio imbalance in many countries particularly in South Asia, East Asia and Central Asia – with ratios in some places as high as 130 boys for every 100 girls.

"There is huge pressure on women to produce sons ... which not only directly affects women's reproductive decisions, with implications for their health and survival, but also puts women in a position where they must perpetuate the lower status of girls through son preference," they say.

"It is also women who have to bear the consequences of giving birth to an unwanted girl child. These consequences can include violence, abandonment, divorce or even death," according to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The imbalance between the number of men and women owing to sex selection can in some areas lead to the trafficking of women for forced marriages from other regions or the sharing of brides among brothers, the agencies point out.

"Renewed and concerted efforts are needed by governments and civil society to address the deeply rooted gender discrimination which lies at the heart of sex selection," the experts noted.
These efforts to combat sex selection are good and important. But the UN also thinks Asia must preserve access to abortion. The document explains: "States have an obligation to ensure that these injustices are addressed without ... denying [women] access to needed services such as safe abortion ..." In other words, Asian countries shouldn't overreact by prohibiting abortion, which in general (when not used for sex selection) is permissible and may even be "necessary."

So: According to the UN, abortion in general is okay (for reasons ranging from convenience, economics, relationship troubles, etc.), but abortion for one particular reason (sex selection, e.g., wanting a boy instead of a girl) is presumably wrong. Does this view make sense?

"[I]f the human fetus has no moral status, then sex-selection abortion would seem as permissible as other forms of abortion," writes Christopher Kaczor in his recent book The Ethics of Abortion. On the other hand, if the unborn is a valuable human being -- if sex-selection abortion is the killing of a real someone based solely on her gender -- then all abortions are unjust, for they are all the killing of real someones.

Perhaps a pro-choice advocate could argue that sex selection is wrong because of its harmful social consequences. But that doesn't make sex-selection abortion wrong in itself. We can conceive of hypothetical societies in which sex selection would not have damaging consequences (for example, a society in which sex selection actually helps maintain a healthy male-female ratio).

What makes sex-selection abortion so wrong is what makes abortion in general wrong. If you have serious ethical qualms about the discriminatory killing of sex-selection abortion -- as all of us should -- then you probably should have serious qualms about abortion in general.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do not forget fathers; men must not be silent

On Father's Day we honor fathers. It is a fitting time to remember two truths pertaining to an abortion discussion that is largely woman-centric:

(1) Many men are affected (negatively) by the tragedy of abortion. Many men regret lost fatherhood after a wife or girlfriend has an abortion -- often under pressure to abort from the father himself. Abortion takes its toll on both sexes.

(2) Men can and should speak out and defend what is good, right and just. They must stand against the killing of innocent, unborn human beings who ought to be cherished and protected, not dismembered for our convenience or alleged benefit. They must advocate for the true welfare of pregnant women, some of whom face coercion or have suffered abuse (see, for example, Planned Parenthood's abuse-covering abortion practices).

As Frank Pavone puts it: "Real men don't stand around with their hands at their side when innocent babies are being ripped apart. They do something to defend these children."

Friday, June 17, 2011

Deductive reasoning and the pro-life argument

An argument (in the philosophical sense) is not a shouting match, but rather a set of statements (premises) leading to a conclusion. If an argument is deductively valid, then the conclusion logically follows from the premises; that is, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true.

The logic of the pro-life position is expressed below in five slightly different (very simple) arguments, all of which are logically valid. If the premises are true, then so are the pro-life conclusions.

Argument One

1. The unborn (i.e., human embryo or fetus) is a human being.

-- This premise is confirmed by the scientific facts of human embryology, which show that the unborn from conception is a distinct, living and whole human organism -- a member of the species Homo sapiens at the earliest stages of development.

2. It is prima facie wrong to kill a human being.

-- This is difficult to deny. To those who say it is only prima facie wrong to kill some human beings (excepting the unborn and perhaps others), the SLED test shows that discrimination between groups of human beings is not justified. Since it is wrong to kill already-born human beings, and since no morally relevant difference exists between already-born (e.g., a toddler) and unborn (e.g., a 7-month-old fetus) human beings, then is is also wrong to kill unborn human beings. So the premise is true.

3. Therefore, it is prima facie wrong to kill the unborn.

-- Our conclusion tells us that as a general rule (prima facie) it is wrong to kill the unborn. Killing human beings may sometimes be justified (e.g., just war, capital punishment, self-defense), but the unborn is innocent and abortion is almost always intentional killing, so it is not clear how this particular example of killing human beings -- elective abortion -- could possibly be justified. Some abortion defenders, following Judith Jarvis Thomson, might suggest a sophisticated argument from bodily autonomy (an approach I address here).

Argument Two

1. The unborn is a human being.
2. All human beings have a right to life.
3. Therefore, the unborn has a right to life.

-- The killing of abortion clearly seems to violate the unborn human being's right to life.

This second argument is virtually identical to the first argument, since one could say that for a being to have a right to life is for it to be prima facie wrong to kill that being.

Argument Three

1. Elective abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being.

-- Facts about abortion methods show that abortion is (almost always) the intentional killing of the unborn (the extremely-rare hysterotomy procedure might be an exception, and there are failed "abortions" that do not actually succeed in killing the unborn).
-- Science shows that the unborn is a human being.

2. It is morally wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.

-- Again, it is obviously wrong to intentionally kill an innocent adult human being, so if there are no morally relevant differences between classes of innocent humans (e.g., between newborns and the unborn) that would justify intentional killing, then this premise is true. All possible contenders for being a "morally significant difference" seem arbitrary, self-serving, and have unacceptable implications -- they are degreed properties, thereby undermining the equality of persons, and they inevitably exclude obvious examples of rights-bearing persons, such as infants and the temporarily comatose. So we may conclude that there are no morally significant differences, and that human beings have moral value simply by virtue of being human. Thus, since it is wrong to kill an adult, it is wrong to kill a fetus.

3. Therefore, elective abortion is morally wrong.

-- This argument gets us to a more precise conclusion than the first two: we don't have to do any more work post-conclusion to arrive at "abortion is wrong." But notice that more work has to be done in the premises.

Argument Four

Philosopher Patrick Lee formulates the pro-life argument as follows:

1. "Intentionally killing an innocent person always is morally wrong."

-- Lee cites consequentialist moral theories (e.g., utilitarianism) as the main challenger to this premise. On such a view, for example, it might be right to lynch an innocent man in order to appease an irrational mob, given the overall consequences weighed against the consequences of not lynching him. Few people find this theory persuasive.

2. "Abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent person."

-- To defend this premise, one must show that what abortion kills (the unborn) is a human being (a scientific fact) and that all human beings are "persons," i.e., bearers of fundamental dignity and a right to life (a moral claim). Lee notes that some abortion defenders may deny this premise by denying that abortion is intentional killing; this is the bodily autonomy argument offered by Thomson.

3. "Therefore, abortion is always morally wrong."

Argument Five

Philosopher Francis Beckwith offers this argument:

1. "The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community."

-- By "full-fledged member of the human community" Beckwith means a rights-bearing person like you and me. Thus, to defend this premise, one needs to use both the facts of science (to show that the unborn is a human organism) and moral reasoning (to show that all human beings have the moral status of a "person").

2. "It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of that community."

-- This seems to be entailed by what we understand "a full-fledged member of the human community" to be -- someone whom it is prima facie wrong to kill.

3. "Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community."
4. "Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong."

However the basic pro-life argument is formulated, it uses the facts of science combined with sound moral reasoning to reach an inescapable conclusion about the correct treatment of unborn human beings. Defenders of abortion who aspire to think about this issue rationally (a necessity if one cares about the truth) have their work cut out for them.

Update: See two more pro-life arguments -- dealing explicitly with personal identity -- here.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Scientific consensus on beginning of life finally achieved -- in 1800s

Champion of Women and the Unborn
Horatio Storer
"Only in the second quarter of the nineteenth century did biological research advance to the extent of understanding the actual mechanism of development. The nineteenth century saw a gradual but profoundly influential revolution in the scientific understanding of the beginning of individual mammalian life. Although sperm had been discovered in 1677, the mammalian egg was not identified until 1827. The cell was first recognized as the structural unit of organisms in 1839, and the egg and sperm were recognized as cells in the next two decades. These developments were brought to the attention of the American state legislatures and public by those professionals most familiar with their unfolding import—physicians. It was the new research finding which persuaded doctors that the old 'quickening' distinction embodied in the common and some statutory law was unscientific and indefensible."
-- Victor G. Rosenblum

"Physicians have now arrived at the unanimous opinion that the foetus in utero is alive from the very moment of conception. ... [T]he willful killing of a human being at any stage of its existence is murder."
-- Dr. Horatio R. Storer, 1866

Monday, June 13, 2011

'Pro-abortion' vs. 'pro-choice'

Is the term "pro-choice" more accurate than "pro-abortion" when referring to those who think elective abortion is morally permissible and/or should be protected under the law? Princeton's Robert George explains:
According to the standard argument for the distinction between these labels, nobody is pro-abortion. Everybody would prefer a world without abortions. After all, what woman would deliberately get pregnant just to have an abortion? But given the world as it is, sometimes women find themselves with unplanned pregnancies at times in their lives when having a baby would present significant problems for them. So even if abortion is not medically required, it should be permitted, made as widely available as possible and, when necessary, paid for with taxpayers' money.

The defect in this argument can easily be brought into focus if we shift to the moral question that vexed an earlier generation of Americans: slavery. Many people at the time of the American founding would have preferred a world without slavery but nonetheless opposed abolition. Such people—Thomas Jefferson was one—reasoned that, given the world as it was, with slavery woven into the fabric of society just as it had often been throughout history, the economic consequences of abolition for society as a whole and for owners of plantations and other businesses that relied on slave labor would be dire. Many people who argued in this way were not monsters but honest and sincere, albeit profoundly mistaken. Some (though not Jefferson) showed their personal opposition to slavery by declining to own slaves themselves or freeing slaves whom they had purchased or inherited. They certainly didn't think anyone should be forced to own slaves. Still, they maintained that slavery should remain a legally permitted option and be given constitutional protection.

Would we describe such people, not as pro-slavery, but as "pro-choice"? Of course we would not. It wouldn't matter to us that they were "personally opposed" to slavery, or that they wished that slavery were "unnecessary," or that they wouldn't dream of forcing anyone to own slaves. We would hoot at the faux sophistication of a placard that said "Against slavery? Don't own one." We would observe that the fundamental divide is between people who believe that law and public power should permit slavery, and those who think that owning slaves is an unjust choice that should be prohibited.
The fundamental divide with regard to abortion is between people who believe that law and public power should permit the intentional killing of unborn human beings, and those who think such killing is unjust and should be prohibited -- that is, that unborn human beings are deserving of the same basic respect and protection as all other members of the human family.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

MCCL celebrates 43 years of saving lives

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the state's oldest and largest pro-life organization, today celebrates 43 years of dedication to protecting and defending human life. Many hearts have been changed, protective laws passed and lives saved due to the tireless labor of MCCL volunteers and contributors throughout the decades.

"The dedicated, compassionate work of our grass-roots members is the sustaining power of Minnesota's pro-life movement," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. "MCCL is one of the most effective pro-life organizations in the nation, thanks to these activists. They are steadily transforming our state's culture into one that respects and protects all innocent human life at every stage."

MCCL has taken a three-pronged approach to advancing its pro-life mission. First, citizens are continually educated on the threats to human life posed by abortion, euthanasia, infanticide and embryo-killing experiments. People are then mobilized to become active pro-life citizens who in turn work to educate others and to support passage of lifesaving laws. Third, MCCL members work to establish legal protection for vulnerable lives.

From a handful of pro-life activists in 1968, MCCL has grown to include more than 70,000 member families and 240 chapters across the state. Together they deliver pro-life educational messages through booths at all 93 county fairs and Student Day at the Capitol, call for protective legislation at the annual Jan. 22 MCCL March for Life and as citizen lobbyists, work with public officials to pass legislation protecting the right to life, and much more.

MCCL's innovation and leadership led to passage of the nation's first Parental Notification law in 1981, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and became model legislation for other states. MCCL also has been instrumental in passage of Minnesota's Human Conceptus law (1973), Baby Doe provisions to protect disabled infants (1985), Fetal Homicide law (1986), tightened law on assisted suicide (1992), Woman's Right to Know law (2003), Unborn Child Pain Prevention Act (2005), Positive Alternatives (2005) and a ban on taxpayer funding of human cloning at the University of Minnesota (2009). MCCL also brought national attention to the brutal partial-birth abortion method when it was uncovered in 1993.

"It is a testament to our effectiveness that the abortion issue is still front and center in Minnesota," Fischbach said. "MCCL's member volunteers refuse to allow the abortion industry to destroy the dignity and sanctity of human life, no matter how small or vulnerable. We will continue to compassionately fight for those who cannot fight for themselves."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Whether abortion is okay/wrong vs. whether abortion should be legal/illegal

The authors of a new abortion survey make this claim: "Majorities of Americans simultaneously say abortion is morally wrong and that it should be legal in all or most cases."

Apart from the question of whether the study is accurate (or misleading), it is certainly true that many people say abortion is wrong but also think it should be permitted by law. There is a very widespread sense that abortion is bad, but also a great deal of reluctance to enact legal restrictions.

Is this view coherent? If elective abortion is a serious moral wrong (i.e., unjustified homicide), then clearly it should not be permitted by law. For we all agree that the government should protect innocent persons from unjustified homicide. The proper role of government is not in dispute here.

What is in dispute, notes philosopher Francis Beckwith, is whether abortion is a "mere moral wrong" or a "serious moral wrong." Only the latter necessarily entails prohibiting abortion by law. Beckwith writes:
[B]oth in practice and public discourse many relegate abortion to a question of personal preference, something they do not do when it comes to behaviors they consider serious moral wrongs, such as spousal and child abuse, torture, and human slavery. For example, imagine the public's reaction to a politician who said the following: "I am 'personally opposed' to owning a slave and torturing my spouse but if someone thought it consistent with his 'deeply held religious beliefs' to engage in such behaviors it would be wrong for me to try to force my beliefs on that person." A politician having said that would be considered a moral monster. Yet, such language is perfectly acceptable when discussing abortion: "I am 'personally opposed' to abortion but if someone thought it consistent with her 'deeply held religious beliefs' to have an abortion it would be wrong for me to try to force my beliefs on that person." It is clear that even though a vast majority of Americans see abortion as morally wrong and believe that it is the taking of a human life, it is not clear that many in that majority actually consider it a serious moral wrong.
The educational task of the pro-life movement is to move people from seeing abortion as a "mere moral wrong" to recognizing it as a "serious moral wrong." We must show that moral relativism is false and indefensible, and that abortion is wrong because it unjustly takes the life of an innocent, rights-bearing human being, someone no different in nature or basic moral status than you or me. Abortion, in other words, is precisely the sort of practice that a decent society cannot permit.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pawlenty would sign ban on Planned Parenthood funding

Gov. Pawlenty at the 2010 MCCL March for Life
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty -- a candidate for president in 2012 -- said in an recent interview that he supports a ban on taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading performer and promoter of abortions. He is absolutely right.

Pawlenty added:
I have been strongly pro-life. In fact, the National Review Online ... did an article about the 2012 candidates and the headline was — the point of the article was — that, based on results and not just rhetoric, I'm the most pro-life candidate running in the race.

And so I don't think taxpayer money should be used to fund organizations that are involved in performing abortions. I think most Americans would agree with that and I strongly would agree with that and would lead those efforts.

Beyond that, I've got a record of results in this area in Minnesota — having proposed and signed a Women's Right to Know bill, having proposed and signed legislation on positive alternatives to abortion, a fetal pain bill, and much more. And the pro-life group in Minnesota ... [has] said I was the best governor in the modern history of the state on these issues.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

'Abortion is not chosen casually'

Pres. Obama reflects.
A pro-lifer confronted Barack Obama at a (probably 2004) campaign event, Obama recounts in his book The Audacity of Hope. He was asked how he could support the killing of innocent human beings by abortion.

"I explained my belief that few women made the decision to terminate a pregnancy casually," Obama writes; "that any pregnant woman felt the full force of the moral issues involved when making that decision."

So, the rationale Obama offers for allowing abortion (in part) is that "few women [make] the decision to terminate a pregnancy casually" and that pregnant women "[feel] the full force of the moral issues involved."

This sort of appeal seems fairly common now. But I think it shows a fundamental confusion. The confusion is between our feeling of understanding for a woman who chooses abortion and our sense of whether she bears much (if any) culpability, on the one hand, and the question of whether abortion is in fact permissible or not, on the other.

Put differently, the confusion is between the motivations of an act and the act itself. The assumption Obama seems to be making is that only the motivations of an act are ethically relevant.

It's true that motivations are important. For example, we would think much worse of an amoral mother who abandons her baby in the dumpster because she is bored than we would of a teenage mother who abandons her baby out of desperation.

But there is much more to morality than motivations. We would not say that infanticide is justified because "few parents make the decision to kill an infant casually." Those who commit murder are often tormented by the decision, but obviously that fact doesn't justify it. Nor does the fact that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both slaveholders, agonized under "the full force of the moral issues involved" thereby mean that slavery should have been kept legal.

So it simply does not work to appeal merely to motivations. If abortion is the unjust killing of an innocent human being (like infanticide), then it should not be permitted, regardless of motivations. (Note that prohibiting abortion does not mean women who choose abortion should be punished; it is widely agreed that they should not be.)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Does legalized abortion reduce crime?

One theory made popular by the book Freakonomics is that legalized abortion reduces crime because it leads to the killing by abortion of those unborn human beings who are most likely to have otherwise (being "unwanted," and given their circumstances) grown up to be criminals.

I have been asked my response to this claim. First, most importantly, it is irrelevant to the question of whether abortion is morally permissible and/or should be permitted by law. For if the unborn are valuable, rights-bearing human beings -- if abortion is wrongful homicide -- then a possible reduction in crime no more justifies abortion than it would justify the killing of any other segment of the human population that might be statistically more likely than others to engage in criminal activity. Homeless people are probably more likely (statistically speaking) to commit crimes than non-homeless people, but clearly we may not legalize the murder of the homeless on those grounds. It seems particularly disturbing to imagine authorizing the killing of our young, innocent offspring, not for anything they have done, but as a result of speculation about their future actions.

So, the claim that abortion reduces crime may be interesting and worth pursuing as a theory, but it obviously does not justify abortion. A defender of abortion must offer other reasons if he wishes to argue that abortion is okay and/or should be legal.

Second, people still want to know: Is the abortion-reduces-crime theory actually true, as the Freakonomics authors claim? I don't think so -- in fact, there seems to be more evidence for the opposite conclusion, that legalized abortion worsens crime (see links below). Here is criminology professor James Alan Fox, writing last week for the Boston Globe:
First articulated a decade ago, economists John Donohue and Steven Levitt argued that following the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, thousands of unwanted fetuses were aborted instead of being born into less-than-ideal environments, thereby producing two decades later a reduction in the pool of at-risk, violence-prone individuals. ...

Despite persuasive logic regarding a reduction in the number of children born to circumstances that would place them at-risk for growing into criminality, the significance of this effect appears to have been grossly overstated. For example, nearly 60% of the decline in murder since 1990 involved perpetrators ages 25 and older—individuals who would have been born prior to the landmark abortion decision. As shown in the figure below, there were substantial reductions during the 1990s in homicides committed by older age groups, especially those in the 25-34 year-old age range.

The abortion-crime link also cannot account for the transient surge in youth homicide during the late 1980s, if not for which the 1990s would not have witnessed such a sizable decline. The rise and then fall in youth homicide before and then after 1990 has much more to do with fast changing patterns of drug trade, gang activity and illegal gun supply than a sudden shift in abortion policy.

Finally, the abortion-crime hypothesis cannot explain the large drop in murder and other violent crime from the first six months of 2009 to the corresponding months of 2010. In fact, nothing really can.
More refuting evidence from National Right to Life here and here, and from here and here. There is also a persuasive refutation in Chapter 6 of Ramesh Ponnuru's 2006 book The Party of Death.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The death of euthanasia advocate Jack Kevorkian

Jack Kevorkian -- the notorious euthanasia advocate -- has died, ironically of natural causes. Known as "Dr. Death," Kevorkian facilitated the suicides of some 130 people, and spent years in prison for murder after killing a patient on national television.

Author, bioethicist and euthanasia/assisted suicide expert Wesley J. Smith writes:
[Kevorkian's] driving motive was always obsession with death. Indeed, as he described in his book Prescription Medicide, Kevorkian's overriding purpose in his assisted-suicide campaign was pure quackery, e.g., to obtain a societal license to engage in what he called "obitiatry," that is, the right to experiment on the brains and spinal cords of "living human bodies" being euthanized to "pinpoint the exact onset of extinction of an unknown cognitive mechanism that energizes life." ...

[W]hile the media continually described him as the "retired" doctor who helped "the terminally ill" to commit suicide, at least 70 percent of his assisted suicides were not dying, and five weren't ill at all according to their autopsies. It. Didn't. Matter. Kevorkian advocated tying assisted suicide in with organ harvesting, and even stripped the kidneys from the body of one of his cases, offering them at a press conference, "first come, first served." It. Didn't. Matter. And as noted above, he wanted to engage in ghoulish experiments. It. Didn't. Matter. He was fawned over by the media (Time invited him as an honored guest to its 75th anniversary gala, and he had carte blanche on 60 Minutes), enjoyed high opinion polls, and after his release from prison was transformed by sheer revisionism into an eccentric Muppet. He was even played by Al Pacino in an HBO hagiography.

Kevorkian was disturbingly prophetic. He called for the creation of euthanasia clinics where people could go who didn't want to live anymore. They now exist in Switzerland and were recently overwhelmingly supported by the voters of Zurich in an initiative intended to stop what is called "suicide tourism." Belgian doctors have now explicitly tied euthanasia and organ harvesting. In the U.S., mobile suicide clinics run by Final Exit Network zealots continue unabated despite two prosecutions, as voters in two states legalized Kevorkianism as a medical treatment.

Time will tell whether Kevorkian will be remembered merely as a kook who captured the temporary zeitgeist of the times, or whether he was a harbinger of a society that, in the words of Canadian journalist Andrew Coyne, "believes in nothing [and] can offer no argument even against death."

Common sense abortion policy: Helping women and saving children

The following MCCL letter was published on June 2 in The Hill.

In a May 31 post on The Hill's Congress Blog ("Common sense abortion policy"), Marianne Mollmann claims that "policy-wise, abortion is easy." She says abortion should be legal -- because the law doesn't affect the incidence of abortion anyway -- and we ought to address the root issues that cause women to "need" abortions in the first place. Mollmann is mostly off the mark.

She is right that we should address the reasons women have abortions. Look to the states for guidance.

Minnesota passed a law in 1998 to acquire various statistics relating to abortion, including information on why women choose abortion. We have analyzed those reasons each year and worked to meet the needs of women facing difficult pregnancies. In 2005 we passed the Positive Alternatives Act to provide grants to pregnancy care centers offering help and support for pregnant women and new mothers in need. Women are receiving crucial medical attention, nutrition, housing assistance, adoption services, education and employment assistance, child care help, and parenting education and support services.

Tens of thousands of Minnesota women have been helped by Positive Alternatives. It is an example of a bipartisan, abortion-reducing measure that people on both sides of the abortion debate can support.

Mollmann is wrong about the effect of abortion restrictions on the incidence of abortion. Consider abortion history in the United States. A detailed 1981 analysis estimated an average of 98,000 illegal abortions each year in the 32 years preceding total legalization in 1973. After legalization, the number of abortions skyrocketed to more than one million per year, peaking at 1.6 million.

Other countries have seen similar results. Mollmann uses a few select foreign examples (with unreliable illegal abortion estimates) to deny the link between abortion law and abortion incidence, but she fails to take into consideration low per capita income, social pathologies and other factors that can affect the successful implementation of abortion restrictions. (In any case, her specific data is very questionable: The United Nations offers no estimates of the abortion rates in Argentina or Peru, while the 2005 abortion rate in Chile, which prohibits abortion, was 0.5 per 1,000 women aged 15-44. Conversely, the 2008 rate in the United States, which permits abortion on demand, was 18.9.)

More relevant are the kind of modest abortion limitations now under consideration in state capitols and Washington, D.C. Here Mollmann is dead wrong. A wealth of social science data demonstrates that these measures -- such as informed consent laws and public funding bans -- are effective in reducing abortions. For example, a 2011 study published in State Politics & Policy Quarterly, entitled "Analyzing the Effect of Anti-Abortion U.S. State Legislation in the Post-Casey Era," concludes that pro-life legislation passed at the state level has led to a significant decline in abortions.

Minnesota enacted the bipartisan Woman's Right to Know law in 2003. The law ensures that women are informed of basic abortion facts and alternatives prior to undergoing an abortion. Together with Positive Alternatives and other abortion-reducing efforts, it has led to a 13 percent decline in abortions in Minnesota since 2002.

A "common sense abortion policy" works to both help women and save the lives of unborn children.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Thoughts on assisted suicide: Why the debate is about human equality

Most people agree that it is wrong for a normal, healthy person to kill himself (commit suicide). Even if the suicidal person is convinced that his life is not worthwhile and will only cause him pain and suffering, suicide is tragic -- because his life does have objective value regardless of how he feels. I will call this Type A suicide.

Advocates of legalized physician-assisted suicide contend that it is not wrong for some sick, disabled, physically suffering, incapacitated and/or terminally ill people to kill themselves. I will call this Type B suicide.

Advocates of assisted suicide (usually) agree that Type A is wrong, but argue that Type B is permissible and perhaps even "humane" and "compassionate." What's the moral difference?

It cannot be the feelings of the one contemplating suicide. Suicide is always the result of certain feelings. And since we reject feelings as an adequate justification for Type A suicide, feelings alone are clearly not sufficient to justify suicide (including Type B suicide).

It cannot be the suffering of the one contemplating suicide. Depression or unhappiness or extreme psychological anguish does not justify Type A suicide. Nor can suffering -- physical, psychological, etc. -- justify Type B suicide. The assisted suicide advocate could respond that suffering for Type A can be treated and alleviated, while that is not necessarily the case with Type B. But, first, the suffering of Type B can today almost always be treated -- whether it is depression (requiring counseling or medication) or physical pain (requiring better pain management). So if the ability to alleviate suffering makes Type A suicide impermissible, then it also makes Type B impermissible. ("If we treat their depression and we treat their pain, I've never had a patient who wanted to die," says William Wood, M.D., clinical director of the Winship Cancer Center.) Second, is the wrongness of Type A suicide really contingent on the availability of solutions to the suffering? We would wholeheartedly recommend against a Type A suicide even if we did not understand the nature of the person's anguish or depression -- even if we were not certain about possible solutions to that anguish. The suicide is wrong regardless -- because that human life is valuable.

Nor can the moral difference be a terminal diagnosis. Each of us will die at some time, but that does not justify intentional killing. Consider a man who is healthy and pain-free (for the sake of argument), but predicted to die painlessly from an obscure disease in 10 years -- the mere fact of his diagnosis clearly does not justify suicide (to repeat, pain does not justify suicide either -- see above). In addition, many assisted suicide advocates reject the idea that legal suicide should be limited to the terminally ill.

So what is the important difference between Type A suicide and Type B suicide? It seems to me that defenders of assisted suicide -- in order to condemn Type A but sanction Type B -- have only one appeal to make. They must argue that the physical and/or mental capacities of the suicidal person are the morally decisive factor. So it is not depression, pain, suffering or a terminal diagnosis, but rather one's physical or mental capacities that make the difference regarding whether one may rightly kill himself.

Here we have arrived, I think, at clarity. The assisted suicide debate isn't about having a "choice" to die, for we all reject the "choice" of death when we know it is wrong (Type A suicide). The debate is about the nature of human dignity -- whether those human beings with diminished capacities and abilities nevertheless maintain the sort of intrinsic moral value that precludes intentional killing.  It is about whether severely disabled or incapacitated people are in some fundamental sense equal to every other member of the human family.

To rationally accept assisted suicide (while condemning Type A suicide), it seems to me, one must reject fundamental human equality and instead base human value on certain characteristics or abilities that some human beings have and others do not (or, perhaps, claim that value is subjectively "bestowed" on a human being by others). The logical consequences of fully embracing this position are morally horrific and unacceptable to anyone but a sociopath.

In short, assisted suicide is wrong because human equality is true.

One additional point: The most extreme advocates of assisted suicide and euthanasia deny that even Type A suicide is wrong. They say that anyone should be able to commit suicide if he or she so chooses. My analysis above does not apply to them (though they are deeply wrong): it is meant only to show that those (more moderate) assisted suicide advocates who reject Type A suicide implicitly acknowledge that the issue is not about choice, autonomy, feelings, suffering, etc., and that their defense of Type B suicide is therefore based entirely on the contention that some human lives are less valuable than others, which is the point they really ought to be defending.

If Type A suicide is wrong (most of us agree it is), and human equality is true, then Type B suicide is wrong also.