Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Infanticide of disabled newborns: Issues and options

Back in 1991, J.P. Moreland wrote an article in the Criswell Theological Review titled "Infanticide: Issues and Options," which can be read online here. Moreland is a prolific author (his many books include The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism and Body & Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics) and is currently Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology.

From Moreland's article:
Infanticide is not new; various cultures throughout history such as China, Greece, and India have permitted it. Historically, a number of reasons have been offered to justify infanticide: 1) the absolute authority of the father over his family, 2) an abnormal child facing little prospect for a happy life, 3) an unwanted female child, 4) economic considerations, 5) social pressures (e.g., the child was conceived and born out of wedlock) and 6) a child not judged fully human (e.g., seen as a subhuman parasite).

While infanticide has been considered morally permissible in various cultures down through history, it still could not be practiced without justification, and there was a general respect for the human life of infants. This is especially true in cultures which were affected by the Judeo-Christian faith. The first century Jewish philosopher Philo was an opponent of infanticide, and the coming of Christianity, with its emphasis on the inherent value of all human beings since they are made in the image of God, moderated much of the infanticide in the cultures it penetrated.

Today, most of the moral dilemmas regarding the treatment of defective newborns occur in the neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) of hospitals. Increased medical technology has heightened our ability to sustain life and increased the need to sharpen our moral focus regarding the withholding or withdrawing of medical treatment from newborns. ...

Two main issues are involved in the debate about infanticide. First, is it morally permissible to allow a defective newborn to die, and under what conditions is this permissible? Second, if it is morally permissible to permit a defective newborn to die, then is it also morally permissible actively to take the life of that newborn? ...

This article will focus on the first question. Is it morally permissible to permit a defective newborn to die, and if so, what conditions make such an act morally permissible? There are five major views which present different answers to this question. In what follows, each view will be presented followed by an evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses.
The five views regarding the treatment of disabled newborns are these: (A) withhold treatment in light of third-party harms, (B) withhold treatment in light of quality-of-life judgments, (C) withhold treatment judged not in the child's best interests, (D) withhold treatment for defective nonpersons (i.e., newborns are not "persons" and so they do not have a right to life), and (E) treat all nondying infants.

As Moreland shows in his critiques, the first four views suffer from tremendous difficulties and ought to be euthanized. Only the fifth, what Moreland calls the "sanctity-of-life view" (i.e., the pro-life view), withstands serious scrutiny. This position "holds that all infants have equal intrinsic worth and dignity simply because they are human beings, that if it would be wrong to withhold a treatment from a nondefective infant then it is wrong to withhold it from a defective infant, and the only cases where foregoing treatment is justifiable are those where [withholding treatment] in general would be justifiable."

Moreland further explains:
[C]hildren should not be judged as to whether they are defective or not; rather, treatments should be judged as to whether or not they are effective and beneficial. If [withholding treatment] were justifiable in general, then it would be justifiable for a defective newborn: if an infant is terminal or death is imminent; if treatment is judged excessively burdensome, heroic, and extraordinary; and if death is not directly caused or intended, it can be permissible to allow an infant to die. [In such cases we do not kill, but rather allow someone to die a natural death while respecting his or her human dignity.] However, we should not ground nontreatment decisions on the basis of a handicapped condition by itself. That would be discrimination of the worst sort.
The pro-life view, notes Moreland, "preserves our intuition that all human beings have equal and intrinsic worth and dignity by grounding that intuition in membership in the natural kind, humankind"; "avoids the counterexamples, vagueness, and subjectivity inherent in the quality-of-life and the nonperson views"; "places the proper focus of infanticide on the infant alone while preserving the principle of justice which requires that we not discriminate against the weak and helpless"; "accords with the basic conviction that it is simply wrong to kill infants"; and "preserves the respect for life in the family, medicine, and society at large."

Let me briefly mention the second question Moreland posed, which he does not address in his article: whether it is permissible to actively kill a disabled newborn. Given the impermissibility of causing the death of newborn babies by withholding care/treatment on the grounds of disability (explained above), it is clear that actively causing death (such as with a lethal injection) is also impermissible. This second practice, though obviously wrong, is actually advocated for by a number of thinkers, and is disturbingly and openly used in the Netherlands.

Both practices -- killing disabled infants both passively and actively -- are a form of infanticide that is sometimes called child euthanasia. And both are grave moral wrongs in light of the equal dignity and fundamental rights of every member of the human family, regardless of health, disability or "defect."

I recommend reading Moreland's helpful ethical analysis of this crucial life-or-death issue in our culture.

MCCL News now accessible online

The latest issue of MCCL News (Nov.-Dec. 2011) was mailed to members shortly before Christmas, and is also available for members online.

Stories cover topics including the upcoming Jan. 22 March for Life, the upcoming legislative session, the upcoming Feb. 7 precinct caucuses, the closing of the Regions Hospital abortion clinic, RU486 and "webcam" abortions in Rochester, and the anniversary of the Doe v. Gomez decision. Also included is a "pro-life conversation guide for the holidays" (which should be helpful year-round), posted separately online here.

Become a member to get a subscription.

Friday, December 23, 2011

When Jesus came into the world—and its implications for abortion

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. But the incarnation—when "the Word became flesh" (John 1:14)—didn't happen in the manger. It happened some nine months earlier. We know this not just because that's how human biology works, but because the Bible itself says so. (All Scripture below is taken from the English Standard Version).

Mary is said to be "with child" (Matthew 1:18) upon Jesus being "conceived ... from the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 1:20). Earlier, Mary is told she will "conceive in [her] womb ... a son, [to be named] Jesus" (Luke 1:31), who even before birth is called a "child ... [who] will be called holy—the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). In Luke 1:41-44, the unborn John the Baptist (probably near the end of his second trimester in the womb) "leaped for joy" in his mother's womb when he entered the presence of the unborn Jesus (who was probably a several-days-old embryo at the time). Many other passages in Scripture affirm a continuity of personal identity through the life of a human being, from conception until death.

So Jesus was once an embryo and a fetus, just as he was once a newborn baby, a toddler and a teenager. By extension, all adult human beings are the same beings as the fetuses from which they developed, just as they were once also infants, adolescents, etc. To have killed the fetus growing in my mother's womb would have been to kill me.

This has implications for abortion and for how we treat unborn human beings. For each of us has a right to life, and merits basic moral respect, by virtue of who/what we are by nature, and so we have that right to life at all stages of our lives. I matter simply for being me. Thus, it would be wrong to kill my prenatal self by elective abortion, just as it would be wrong to kill my adult self for those same reasons.

Put differently: Given that there is a continuity of personal identity throughout the life of a human being (as shown biblically in the case of Jesus, and as is consistent with our common-sense intuitions), and given that each of us has a right to life simply by virtue of who we are (which is also a biblically-supported position), it follows that each of us has a right to life from the time human beings come into existence at conception.

And that's why abortion is wrong.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Planned Parenthood begins performing abortions at new St. Paul mega-center

Planned Parenthood's new Minnesota headquarters has now officially opened. Located on Vandalia Street (near University Avenue) in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood, the $16 million, three-story, 46,000-square-foot facility is the largest abortion center in the state and the third largest in the nation.

Thousands of abortions will be performed there every year.

Planned Parenthood's new abortion center
Planned Parenthood has also announced that it will expand the hours at its Uptown (Minneapolis) clinic, which does not perform abortions but refers women to the St. Paul center. The change in hours "allows us to serve even more men, women and teens in the area," says Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

Earlier this year Planned Parenthood began offering "webcam" RU486 abortions at its Rochester, Minnesota, clinic -- a particularly dangerous method of abortion for pregnant women, but one that is sure to increase Planned Parenthood's abortion total and revenue. (MCCL's just-updated brochure on RU486 webcam abortions is now available online; to order copies, contact us by email or call 612.825.6831.)

Planned Parenthood in Minnesota increases its abortion numbers to record highs virtually every year, even as the total number of abortions in Minnesota has slowly declined.

What Christmas tells us about human dignity

Last Christmas I posted excerpts from a piece by Carson Holloway in Public Discourse. They are worth re-posting. Holloway writes:
I would suggest that the ethical core of Western Civilization—or at least a key principle by which it distinguished itself from what it regarded as savagery and barbarism—is respect for the dignity of humanity and of the individual human person. This is the moral principle underpinning the more obvious institutional characteristics such as the rule of law, constitutionalism, limited government, and division of social authority among various centers of power. All of these expedients share a common aim: limiting the power of some people over others, and especially limiting the power of the strong over the weak. This aim in turn is informed by the sense that all people deserve such protection, that they all possess a certain dignity that ought not be abused.

The celebration of Christmas has been a powerful teacher of the dignity of the human person. For Christians, Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation—the celebration of the moment when God became a man in order to live among men. It shows that God thought of human beings as worthy of being saved, and that he sought to save them by taking on humanity in a perfected form, thus opening the way to their own perfection. Christian belief in the Incarnation is thus inseparable from belief in the objective, and even transcendent, value of the human race as a whole, and of each human person as an individual.

Belief in the Incarnation further implies a certain egalitarianism that has also been important to Western Civilization. According to Christian teaching, all are sinners, and none can claim to be fundamentally superior to others in this important respect. Conversely, and more positively, God wanted to save all people, of all ranks, from their sins and to open the way to a lofty destiny for them all. Thus the Christian understanding of the Incarnation has been important in fostering the West's sense that, whatever social order may require in terms of hierarchy and rank, there is an irreducible moral equality of all human beings: all are owed a certain respect, even the lowliest among us.

Moreover, the story of the Incarnation, the Christmas story, emphasizes this equality and powerfully presents it to the imagination. As the story goes, the God who became man chose to be born into a family of no outstanding social importance, one supported by a man who had to work with his hands. Jesus was born in circumstances of poverty, and his birth was first announced not to the princes of the earth but to the ordinary shepherds to be found at hand. As he grew to manhood and carried out his public mission, Jesus chose to continue to live, work, and teach primarily among the common working people of the world. According to the Christian story, God teaches not only by his doctrines but by his actions that all men are equal in their fundamental human dignity.
Another observation: Jesus came into the world in the same condition all of us do, first as a zygote, embryo and fetus, then as a newborn baby in the manger. He came into the world in the most vulnerable and needy condition imaginable -- evidence, I think, that dependency is completely irrelevant to the dignity of human beings, who deserve profound respect and protection at all stages of life and in all conditions.

In implementing ACA, vulnerable lives need to be protected

The following news release was issued yesterday, Dec. 21, 2011.

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) supports efforts for Minnesota to create the health insurance exchange required by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

"We firmly believe that an exchange created by our state, for our state, will be immensely better than one imposed on us by the federal government," said Scott Fischbach, MCCL Executive Director. "The time is now to get this work done."

The ACA allows states the flexibility to make determinations about the health insurance exchange required under the law, so it best fits the state’s needs as well as complies with federal law. To avoid being forced into the federally-administered exchange, Minnesota must prove by Jan. 1, 2013, that it will have an operational exchange by the Jan. 1, 2014, deadline.

Detailing part of the exchange requirements, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a bulletin on Dec. 16 providing guidance on establishing an essential benefit set for individual and small group plans. The guidance allows states to choose the essential benefit set from among the largest existing insurance plans in the state. By selecting one of the state-specific plans, Minnesota is afforded the opportunity to set the benchmark of essential health benefits for our state.

According to the ACA, maternity and newborn care must be included in any package of essential health benefits. By also excluding abortion coverage, Minnesota would move in a positive direction toward offering protections for the unborn that the ACA does not. Additionally, safeguarding against denial of care based on age, "quality of life" or degree of disability would protect Minnesota's elderly and disabled citizens from the threat of rationing.

When the ACA was passed in 2010, MCCL and other pro-life organizations opposed it because of its disregard of reasonable protections for our nation's most vulnerable citizens, including the unborn, the disabled and the elderly.

"Despite our opposition, the ACA has become law, and while we hope that it will be repealed or struck down, we believe it is vitally important to continue our efforts to protect our state's most vulnerable citizens, even under the confines of this deeply flawed law," Fischbach said. "By ensuring that no one is denied care because of age, disability or quality of life, we can work to build a health care system that doesn't discriminate against our state’s oldest and most vulnerable citizens."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

University wins award for fending off human cloning limitations

The University of Minnesota has won a national award for its efforts to defeat legislation that would have prohibited human cloning for biomedical research (or for any other reason). On its website, the University boasts:
On October 4th the University of Minnesota Stem Cell Institute was awarded a prize for Public Advocacy at the World Stem Cell Summit, Pasadena, California.

The prize was in recognition of the role the Institute played in defeating legislative attempts in the State of Minnesota to ban somatic cell nuclear transfer: a technique used in certain types of stem cell research.

The prize was accepted by Stem Cell Institute Director, Dr. Jonathan Slack. He said "This is an award for the whole University of Minnesota. The Communications Office of the Academic Health Center did great work organizing the campaign, and there was good backing from the leadership of both the University and the Mayo Clinic. The role of patient advocacy organizations and the business community in Minnesota was also critical, and we are very grateful to them."
The University is referring to MCCL-backed legislation to prohibit the cloning of human organisms (via the cloning technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT), which easily passed the Minnesota Legislature this spring but was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton. (Also vetoed was legislation to continue an existing ban on state funding of human cloning.)

The University did indeed work vigorously against the proposed human cloning ban. But it did not do so admirably, honestly and ethically -- the way one would hope an important public institution would advocate for its views. Rather, it did so very dishonestly and apparently without shame. That sounds like hyperbole or wild political rhetoric, but it's not, as we've documented here repeatedly throughout the course of the debate.

For example, University researcher John Wagner claimed in a Star Tribune op-ed that legislation banning human cloning was "a full-scale assault on stem cell research" and would "criminalize lifesaving work at the University of Minnesota." But the bill would not have affected any stem cell research -- or any other current or pursued work -- at the University, as the University had admitted in testimony and even to the media. And to call the University's non-existent cloning work "lifesaving" is simply absurd, as anyone familiar with the failure to date of so-called "therapeutic" cloning knows. Never in his op-ed did Wagner explain what the bill actually did. He clearly led readers to believe it would prohibit existing embryonic stem cell research (it would not, as he elsewhere admitted). He never mentioned SCNT (cloning), the sole subject of the legislation.

In his op-ed and in a longer piece with his colleague Meri Firpo, Wagner carefully avoided using the correct scientific term for the entity from which embryonic stem cells are derived. (It's called a human embryo -- that is, a human organism at the embryonic stage of development.) The University misled regarding the nature of somatic cell nuclear transfer and cloning -- at least, those few times when it admitted that SCNT was involved. And never did the University offer a serious ethical justification for human cloning or embryo killing. That, I suppose, would first require being honest about the practice whose ethical status we are evaluating.

On its website today, the University makes some of the same obviously false statements, claiming that defeat of the bill preserved "lifesaving research." And in its announcement of the award for "public advocacy" (quoted above), the University says SCNT is "used in certain types of stem cell research," a misleading claim at best. The University is not pursuing SCNT, and stem cells have never been successfully derived from SCNT-produced human embryos -- though researchers recently derived (therapeutically useless) stem cells from abnormal cloned embryos produced using a modified SCNT process.

Jonathan Slack, the Stem Cell Institute director, said at a University event opposing the human cloning ban: "It isn't the business of legislators to decide what researchers can do." Arrogant. Ridiculous. Utterly thoughtless.

So how did the University win its award? Persistent deception of the taxpaying, University-supporting public in order to preserve the possibility of deciding at some point in the future to create cloned members of the human species to then kill by harvesting their useful parts, a practice that seems less and less to have any potential therapeutic value whatsoever. As the University boasts of an award for its slimy politics, no benefits of embryo-destructive cloning research are in sight.

In this regard, Minnesotans can only be ashamed and embarrassed of our state's flagship University.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A pro-life conversation guide for the holidays

Note: A shorter version of this piece appears in the current (Nov.-Dec. 2011) issue of MCCL News. Included in the text are numerous hyperlinks to other blog posts and articles that provide further information.

The holiday dinner table offers a natural forum for congenial (hopefully!) conversation about current events and issues. Defenders of unborn human life should be prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Here are some suggestions to help you effectively discuss abortion with family members and friends who may not share the pro-life view.

(1) Know how to clarify the issue

When faced with an argument or reason for abortion, ask yourself whether it works to justify killing obvious examples of rights-bearing human beings, such as newborn babies, toddlers, teenagers and adults. If not, it assumes that the being killed by abortion, the unborn (i.e., the human embryo or fetus), is not an intrinsically valuable human being, like toddlers and teenagers—that is, it simply assumes the very conclusion it must defend.

For example, a woman should not have a "right to choose" to drown her toddler in the bathtub. The question at hand is whether the unborn, like a toddler, deserves full moral respect and ought not be killed for the convenience or benefit of others. If so, killing the unborn by abortion, like killing a toddler for the same reasons, is a serious moral wrong.

(2) Know how to articulate the pro-life argument

The pro-life position is that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being. This position is supported by modern science (showing that what abortion kills is a human being, a member of our species) together with a foundational moral principle (the equal fundamental dignity and right to life of every member of the human family).

The science of embryology tells us that the unborn from conception is a distinct, living and whole human organism—a member of the species Homo sapiens, the same kind of being as each of us, only at a much earlier stage of development. This fact is uniformly affirmed by embryology textbooks and leading experts.

Morally, no relevant difference exists between human beings before and after birth. Unborn humans differ from older humans, such as newborns, in their size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency—remember the helpful acronym SLED—but none of those differences are significant in a way that would justify killing the former. For example, a five-year-old child lacks the physical and mental abilities of a 10-year-old, but she is no less valuable and deserving of respect and protection.

Each of us has a right to life by virtue of what (i.e., the kind of being) we are, rather than because of acquired characteristics or abilities that only some human beings have and others do not. So all human beings, including the unborn, are equal in having basic dignity and a right not to be killed without just cause.

(3) Know how to respond to common objections

Rape and incest account for less than one percent of abortions, so they cannot be used to justify the vast majority of abortions. Regardless, the circumstances of someone's conception have no bearing on his or her moral status as a human being; an innocent child should not be killed for the crime of her father. Moreover, evidence shows that abortion only worsens the psychological trauma of a sexual assault victim.

Claims by abortion advocates about the number of women who died from illegal abortions are wildly overstated, as NARAL co-founder Dr. Bernard Nathanson frankly admitted. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 39 women died from illegal abortion in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade, while 24 died from legal abortion (abortion had been legalized in some circumstances in some states). Maternal mortality improved in the decades preceding Roe as a result of advances in modern medicine having nothing to do with legal abortion.

If you cannot answer a challenge, don't let it fluster you. Be honest and say you will get back to the challenger after thinking and reading more about the issue. Contact MCCL for help.

(4) Know facts about fetal development

In addition to knowing that the life of a human organism, a human being, begins at conception (see above), it is useful to know some details about the development of human beings in the womb. These facts bring home for many people the humanity of the unborn child. For example, the heart begins to beat about three weeks after conception, before many women even know they are pregnant. At about six weeks, brain waves can be detected. By 20 weeks, a wealth of evidence indicates that unborn children can experience excruciating pain.

The stunning complexity of prenatal human development is "beyond any comprehension of any existing mathematics today," says renowned medical imaging expert and mathematician Alexander Tsiaras.

(5) Know how abortion can hurt women

The health risks of abortion, both physical and psychological, are very well documented. Familiarize yourself with a few facts.

For example, many studies suggest that abortion can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer. Moreover, while no one ultimately regrets not having an abortion, many, many (though of course not all) women now deeply regret their decision in favor of abortion. A 2011 meta-analysis published in the prestigious British Journal of Psychiatry—"the largest quantitative estimate of mental health risks associated with abortion available in the world literature"—found an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems among women who have had abortions.

(6) Know about alternatives to abortion and compassionate support for women

Both motherhood and adoption are ethical, life-affirming options. Some 3000 pro-life pregnancy care centers across the United States stand ready to help pregnant women in need. Many programs are available to help women and others deal with the aftermath of abortion.

(7) Be winsome

Pro-lifers must be kind, respectful, fair-minded and willing to listen and respond thoughtfully to those who disagree. Don't call someone "pro-abortion" in conversation, since it is usually inconsistent with how he sees his position and can turn him off to productive dialogue. Show compassion toward pregnant women facing difficult circumstances and women who have undergone abortions.

(8) Ask questions

Instead of relying just on blunt assertions—and putting the burden of proof on yourself—ask strategic questions to poke holes in someone's position and get him thinking. Make him defend his claims. For example, if he says a baby becomes a person after birth, ask how a mere trip through the birth canal, a shift in location, can change who/what someone is or whether or not she has a right to life. If a pro-choice advocate says he is personally opposed to abortion but thinks it should remain legal, ask why he is opposed; note that the reason for personal opposition (abortion kills a human being) is precisely the reason abortion should not be permitted under law. (I recommend the "tactical approach" developed by Greg Koukl and used in Ch. 9 of Scott Klusendorf's The Case for Life.)

You probably won't change someone's mind on the spot. But you can have a friendly conversation and give him or her something to think about. That should be your goal.

Send comments and questions to

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pro-life news in Minnesota: December 2011

A few facts that every pro-life Minnesotan should know (especially as families gather for the holidays, sometimes discussing current events and issues):

  • Among the major candidates now competing for the 2012 Republican nomination for U.S. president (Romney, Gingrich, Perry, Santorum, Bachmann, Paul and Huntsman), all take a pro-life position. By contrast, the future nominee's opponent in the general election, Pres. Barack Obama, is a committed advocate of abortion on demand and has compiled a lengthy track record of policies promoting and expanding abortion.
  • Regions Hospital in St. Paul stopped performing elective abortions this month. This good news is tempered by the fact that other abortion providers, particularly Planned Parenthood, are eager to make up the difference.

  • Planned Parenthood's new headquarters in St. Paul is scheduled to open this month. It will be the state's largest abortion center, and the third largest abortion center in the nation.
  • Planned Parenthood this summer began doing "webcam" abortions at its Rochester, Minn., clinic. It marked the first time that Planned Parenthood in Minnesota has performed abortions outside of St. Paul. The webcam abortion method is particularly dangerous for pregnant women and will allow Planned Parenthood to expand its reach and increase the number of abortions it performs. (MCCL's just-updated brochure on RU486 webcam abortions is now available online; to order copies, contact us by email or call 612.825.6831.)
  • Embryonic stem cell research company Geron Corp. recently abandoned its work with human embryos. It is the latest setback for unethical research that requires the killing of embryonic human beings; such research has resulted in no medical benefits, while ethically-derived adult stem cells have successfully treated many thousands of human patients.
  • The annual MCCL March for Life will be held on Sunday, Jan. 22, at 2 p.m. at the state Capitol in St. Paul. It is the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that imposed a nationwide policy of abortion on demand. If you live in Minnesota, please make sure to attend.
  • Other upcoming events include the start of the 2012 state legislative session in January (MCCL will be there advocating for pro-life legislation) and the precinct caucuses on Feb. 7 (attend to elect pro-life delegates and offer pro-life resolutions). Both are previewed in the new (Nov.-Dec. 2011) issue of MCCL News.

To stay informed, be sure you are receiving MCCL News (become a member to get subscribed) and are following this blog.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sixteen years of state-sponsored abortion in Minnesota

The following news release was issued today, Dec. 15, 2011.

Doe v. Gomez, MN Supreme Court's abortion-on-demand decision, costs taxpayers $17 million for abortions

ST. PAUL — More than 54,000 unborn babies have been killed in Minnesota with taxpayer funds since a Dec. 15, 1995, Minnesota Supreme Court ruling required taxpayers to fund abortions, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services (MDHS). The Doe v. Gomez ruling established the most extreme abortion-on-demand policy in the nation.

"The Doe v. Gomez ruling by a handful of activist judges has been disastrous for Minnesota women and their babies," said Scott Fischbach, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL). "On this 16th anniversary of the decision, Minnesotans continue to believe it is not the mission of the state to abort thousands of innocent unborn children each year, yet that is exactly what is happening under this radical ruling."

The Supreme Court's Doe v. Gomez decision established a new state constitutional "right" to abortion on demand. This supposed right would remain protected by the state Constitution even if Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion in the United States, were to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Doe v. Gomez allows abortions for reasons such as "stress" or "discomfort." It forbids the state to "interfere" in any way with a woman's "decision making" about abortion.

Doe v. Gomez also obligates the state—and thus, taxpayers—to pay for abortions, something not required by the U.S. Supreme Court. From June 1994 (under a previous ruling) through 2009, state taxpayers paid more than $17.2 million for 54,802 abortions, according to MDHS. In 2009 alone (the most recent statistics available), state taxpayers paid $1.58 million for 3,933 abortions (MDHS). The state does not report how many women have been hurt or killed from these abortions.

While the total number of abortions in the state is declining slightly, taxpayer funding of abortions has risen nearly every year since 1995. Minnesota taxpayers now pay for almost 32 percent of all abortions performed in the state.

"This is not the will of the majority of Minnesotans, who oppose abortion on demand, and it is not the function of state government to fund the destruction of its most powerless innocent citizens," Fischbach said. "The Court took away the people's ability to decide whether they want abortion on demand in the state and whether they should be required to pay for others' elective abortions. It's time for change in Minnesota."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

No relevant difference: A simple argument against abortion

Since you, me, toddlers, teenagers, etc., have basic rights, and since there is no morally relevant difference (that is, relevant to whether one has basic rights) between us and human beings at earlier, prenatal developmental stages, it follows that unborn humans also have basic rights. This precludes killing them for the reasons that people have elective abortions ("unwantedness," convenience, economics, disability, etc.), just as our rights-bearing status precludes killing us for those same reasons.

The disputed premise is that there is no morally significant difference between unborn and already-born human beings. But consider the differences. Size doesn't matter, since big people are not more valuable than small people. Development doesn't matter, since a five-year-old girl is not less deserving of moral respect than her more-developed older brother. Location (in the womb or out) doesn't matter, since one doesn't become something or someone different by driving from Minneapolis to St. Paul. Dependency doesn't matter, since we may not kill breast-feeding newborns, parasitic uncles or people reliant on kidney machines or pacemakers. Intelligence doesn't matter, since smart people don't have more rights than dumb people. Appearance doesn't matter, since the "elephant man" was still, after all, a man. The sentiment of others doesn't matter, since a shunned and reclusive leper ought to be treated with dignity.

Philosophers who defend abortion offer more sophisticated criteria for excluding unborn human beings from the community of rights-bearing persons. But these differences don't matter morally either. The capacity to suffer doesn't matter, since people with congenital insensitivity to pain are still people. The possession of desires doesn't matter, since a Buddhist who succeeds in eliminating every desire retains his right to life. The capacity for self-awareness doesn't matter, since infants and temporarily comatose people should be respected and protected, not killed when we think it is in our best interest.

The strenuous intellectual efforts in recent decades to find some plausible exclusionary criterion have simply failed, as the recent work of philosophers like Francis BeckwithPatrick LeeChristopher Kaczor, Christopher Tollefsen and Robert George makes clear. Unless someone can find reason to think there is some actually relevant difference between unborn human beings and older, unquestionably-rights-bearing human beings, this "argument from no relevant difference" holds, and elective abortion is wrong.

What babies learn in the womb

At, Annie Murphy Paul, author of Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives, writes:
Starting a few years ago, I began noticing a dazzling array of findings clustered around the prenatal period. These discoveries were generating considerable excitement among scientists, even as they overturned settled beliefs about when we start absorbing and responding to information from our environment. As a science reporter -- and as a mother -- I had to find out more.

This research, I discovered, is part of a burgeoning field known as "fetal origins," and it's turning pregnancy into something it has never been before: a scientific frontier. Obstetrics was once a sleepy medical specialty, and research on pregnancy a scientific backwater. Now the nine months of gestation are the focus of intense interest and excitement, the subject of an exploding number of journal articles, books, and conferences.

What it all adds up to is this: much of what a pregnant woman encounters in her daily life -- the air she breathes, the food and drink she consumes, the chemicals she's exposed to, even the emotions she feels -- are shared in some fashion with her fetus. They make up a mix of influences as individual and idiosyncratic as the woman herself. The fetus treats these maternal contributions as information, as what I like to call biological postcards from the world outside.

By attending to such messages, the fetus learns the answers to questions critical to its survival: Will it be born into a world of abundance, or scarcity? Will it be safe and protected, or will it face constant dangers and threats? Will it live a long, fruitful life, or a short, harried one?

The pregnant woman's diet and stress level, in particular, provide important clues to prevailing conditions, a finger lifted to the wind. The resulting tuning and tweaking of the fetus's brain and other organs are part of what give humans their enormous flexibility, their ability to thrive in environments as varied as the snow-swept tundra in Siberia and the golden-grassed savanna in Africa.

The recognition that learning actually begins before birth leads us to a striking new conception of the fetus, the pregnant woman and the relationship between them.

The fetus, we now know, is not an inert blob, but an active and dynamic creature, responding and adapting as it readies itself for life in the particular world it will soon enter. The pregnant woman is neither a passive incubator nor a source of always-imminent harm to her fetus, but a powerful and often positive influence on her child even before it's born. And pregnancy is not a nine-month wait for the big event of birth, but a crucial period unto itself -- "a staging period for well-being and disease in later life," as one scientist puts it.
Read the rest.

(HT: Right to Life of Michigan)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The exceptional Tim Tebow is a testament to the exceptionality of human life

Tim Tebow might be the most talked-about and "polarizing" figure in professional sports right now. It stems from experts' criticism of his unorthodox throwing technique, his remarkable ability to lead comeback victories week after week regardless, and perhaps above all the startling (for so many) authenticity of his faith, and commitment to living those convictions and upholding those admirable principles in every area of life. (Tebow's habit of giving thanks on the football field has sparked an enormously popular internet meme called "tebowing.")

Tebow also stirred quite a bit of controversy almost two years ago, when he was still in college, by appearing in a subtly pro-life Super Bowl commercial with his mother, Pam Tebow. The short ad itself is completely innocuous,* but behind it is Pam's story of how a doctor in the Philippines (where she and her husband were missionaries) urged her to have an abortion after she contracted amoebic dysentery, a potentially deadly condition. The Tebows refused to have the abortion, and Pam and her unborn child both almost died at various points during the very difficult pregnancy. "Your child is a miracle baby," said the attending physician after the child was born. "I can't explain how it happened, but despite all odds, he beat them. Only a small part of the placenta was attached, but it was just enough to keep your baby nourished all these months."

Tim Tebow, right, with Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder

That baby, Tim, went on to win the Heisman trophy (given to the most outstanding college football player in the nation) and two national championships as quarterback for the University of Florida. Now he's compiled a 7-and-1 record this season as starting quarterback for the NFL's Denver Broncos, including five come-from-behind victories. The team started the season 1-and-4 before Tebow took the reigns (he began the season on the bench). As a recent New York Times editorial puts it: "Tebow has made his team believe in winning and has forced commentators to backpedal ... Tebow is lowly rated statistically except in the fourth quarter. Then he delivers miracles after unabashedly citing Proverbs 27:17 to his mates in the locker room."

Meanwhile, Pam Tebow has been speaking all across the country, using her personal story and national platform to advocate against abortion and for the sanctity of human life in the womb. She recently spoke at a banquet for New Life Family Services, a pro-life pregnancy center network here in Minnesota.

The Tebows' story is powerful, in part, because it focuses our attention on the fact that the fetus developing inside Pam Tebow in 1987 was the very same being who, for example, defeated the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 4, 2011. So to have killed that fetus, as the doctor recommended, would have been to kill Tim Tebow. Indeed, each of us was once a fetus, and then a newborn, a toddler and so forth. And as Pam says: "A child's right to life begins at conception, not at birth. From conception, all children are people, made in the image and likeness of God."

Abortion isn't wrong because Tim Tebow became a great person and a famous athlete (some of us become terrible people). Abortion is wrong because it kills an innocent human being, the unique kind of being who by nature has the capacity to love, to learn, to think, to achieve, to do good works, to be creative -- whether or not that capacity is developed and actualized. The exceptional life and success of Tim Tebow merely exemplify the exceptionality of humanity itself.

* Guess who weirdly called for a boycott of the Tebow Super Bowl ad? Mark Dayton, unswerving abortion advocate, now governor of Minnesota.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The University of Minnesota should take an ethics class

The University of Minnesota is set to offer a new undergraduate course dealing exclusively with stem cells. Although it will be a science class, one part will be about stem cell history and probably touch on the ethics of destroying human embryos for their stem cells. From the Minnesota Daily story by Rachel Raveling:
Discussion of using human embryonic stem cells for anything is naturally going to attract moral concerns, [Jeffrey Simon, a genetics, cell biology and development professor who will teach the course] said.

But he said the cells never come from an embryo that was fertilized in a woman.

Simon explained that most human embryonic stem cells used in research were donated and created in culture dishes in a lab, similar to how in vitro fertilization centers make fertilized embryos for couples who struggle to get pregnant naturally.
To clarify: There is no such thing as a "fertilized embryo" (that's like calling a 16-year-old a "fertilized teenager"). An egg is fertilized, resulting in a new human organism at the embryonic stage of life. The human embryos used for research are created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) for infertile couples, but are then donated to researchers. The embryos are destroyed in order to derive embryonic stem cells.

I'm not sure if Simon is stating an ethical position, as the author implies. If he is, he appears to think that the fact that an embryo is created through IVF somehow changes what it is and/or how it may be treated. But whether created through natural fertilization or IVF, the resulting organism is exactly the same. And location (inside a woman's body or out) is utterly irrelevant to whether an embryonic human being may be intentionally killed and instrumentalized for the possible benefit of others.

The University of Minnesota itself, as an institution, has taken a bold position on the ethics of killing human embryos. Not only is the University currently conducting embryonic stem cell research, it has strongly supported legislation to provide taxpayer funding for that research and to sanction human cloning (a different means of creating human embryos for destructive research). This past spring the University vigorously opposed both a proposed ban on human cloning and a measure to continue the existing ban on taxpayer funding of human cloning. Both bills easily passed the legislature but were vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton.

But never, to my knowledge, have University scientists and spokespersons offered a serious ethical justification for embryo killing and human cloning, the latter of which would entail the creation of young members of our species specifically in order to kill them for research purposes. Rather, the University has persistently -- indeed, shamelessly -- misled the public about legislation, cloning, embryos and therapeutic potential.

Perhaps a new ethics course would be helpful.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The moral status of unborn human beings

The following first ran in the Sept.-Oct. 2011 issue of MCCL News.

Many sophisticated defenders of abortion concede that the unborn (the human embryo or fetus) is a living organism of the human species (as a matter of scientific fact), but deny that he or she bears a right to life. That is, unborn human beings do not have the moral status of a "person," as you and I do—someone with intrinsic moral value and basic rights who ought not be killed without just cause.

To have such a status, these abortion defenders argue, one must possess certain acquired properties and/or be able to function in a particular way. Philosophers have proposed a variety of different criteria, including consciousness, self-awareness, sentience, desires and rationality. But such criteria fail to justify excluding some human beings from the community of rights-bearing persons.

Function v. being

The fundamental mistake is basing human value on characteristically-human functions rather than on simply being the sort of entity from which those functions arise (i.e., a human being). People who are asleep or unconscious do not function as persons generally do (in many respects), but they are still persons with dignity and a right to life. Abortion defenders typically reply that it is the capacity to function in particular ways (e.g., self-awareness, rationality) that is morally important, not that one is currently functioning in those ways, and unborn human beings lack such a capacity.

But there is a sense in which unborn humans do have a capacity for higher mental functions, albeit in radical or "root" form. By virtue of being a human being—a member of our species—they have the natural capacity to develop themselves by a self-directed process to the stages at which the functions characteristic of persons can be exercised, whether or not that development is obstructed by injury, disease or death. Humans have this capacity by nature.

To exclude the unborn, then, abortion defenders contend that inherent human capacities must be developed (to some extent) and perhaps immediately (or nearly immediately) exercisable in order for a human being to merit full moral respect. But this position is untenable.

Three fatal flaws

First, the proposed criteria seem inescapably arbitrary and ad hoc. The present capacity for any particular function is merely the development of a human being's underlying basic capacity for that function. But what degree of development of a basic capacity is necessary, and why? How can a mere difference in degree, rather than in kind, serve as the basis for radically different treatment (i.e., whether one has a right to life or not)? Moreover, what qualities (self-awareness, rationality, ability to feel pain, etc.) are morally relevant in the first place? Why do some qualities matter and not others?

Second, the properties that are said to confer moral worth come in varying degrees, and this entails that moral status is also a matter of degree: since some people possess more of the requisite higher mental functions than others (e.g., have developed those capacities to a greater extent), some people are more valuable than others. A 10-year-old child, then, probably has greater worth and a greater claim to life than his four-year-old sister. This position destroys any basis for equality among persons.

Third, the proposed criteria—whatever they are—inevitably exclude obvious examples of valuable persons, as many thought experiments and real-life examples confirm. They may, for example, exclude mentally handicapped or temporarily comatose people. And because newborn babies lack the immediate capacity for various higher mental functions, a number of thinkers who defend abortion also defend the permissibility of infanticide. Some believe that babies do not become "persons" meriting full respect until months or even years after birth, when they finally acquire the property or ability that the thinker in question deems relevant. But this conclusion is clearly wrong.

Conclusion: Human equality

For these three reasons, among others, it is false that we have our fundamental dignity and right to life by virtue of acquired properties possessed by some human beings but not by others. Rather, we have our dignity by virtue of what (i.e., the kind of entity) we are, and thus we have that dignity from the time we come into existence at conception. So every human being, irrespective of age, size, ability, stage of development and condition of dependency, ought to be treated with full moral respect.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A look at Planned Parenthood's new MN abortion headquarters

The new headquarters of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota is scheduled to open this month. Located near University Avenue in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood, the $16 million, three-story, 46,000-square-foot facility will be the largest abortion center in the state and the third largest in the nation. Planned Parenthood will perform both surgical and non-surgical (RU486) abortions there.

Here's how the new abortion center currently looks (click the photo to enlarge). Probably more than a third of all abortions in Minnesota -- some 4,000 per year -- will take place in this building.

Pro-lifers don't have the money that Planned Parenthood and other abortion advocates have (much of it from us taxpayers), but we will work that much harder to educate Minnesotans, change hearts and minds, help pregnant women in need (Planned Parenthood certainly doesn't), and pass legislation that will save lives from abortion. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Misguided, shamefully deceptive push for embryo-destructive research collapses

A new Daily Caller story by Neil Munro provides a very good overview of the political debate over embryo-destructive research, including the "utter disgrace" (to use the words of Princeton's Robert George) of those who wildly overhyped the therapeutic potential, the increasingly-obvious failure of that research, and the triumph of ethical stem cell alternatives that have treated many thousands of patients. Here's how it begins:
The Democrats' decade-long strategy of hyping embryo stem cell research crashed into a hard fact on Nov.15. That's when Geron Corp., the world's leading embryo research company, announced it was closing down its much-touted stem cell program, despite the guarantee of more government aid from Democratic-affiliated sources.

The political battle waged over embryonic stem cell research burst onto the front pages in 2001, when many reporters and scientists began touting stem cells as medical miracles that would offer cures for Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinson's and other diseases.

From 2000 onwards, "Democrats and liberals were hyping the research absurdly," Princeton professor Robert George, a member of President George W. Bush's Council on Bioethics, told The Daily Caller. "There was no real prospect of therapeutic uses of [Geron's] embryonic stem cells."

University of Pennsylvania bioethics professor Art Caplan [who supports embryo-destructive research] agreed. "Companies like Geron tried to attract investors by over promising."

Social conservatives and some liberals were appalled by the prospect of companies, such as Geron, manufacturing embryos so their parts could be sold to the highest bidder. Democrats, however, eagerly used the prospect of miracle cures to lure sick voters and retirees, flatter professionals and stigmatize conservatives as being anti-science.
Read the rest.

Just recently, Dr. Ian Wilmut, the scientist who famously cloned Dolly the sheep, suggested that new, better (and, I would add, ethical) stem cell approaches are making embryonic stem cells obsolete.

Despite all the clarifying developments of recent years, scientists at the University of Minnesota used worn-out scare tactics and misinformation last spring to argue that taxpayer funds should be available for human cloning for the purpose of embryo-destructive research. Because of a veto by Gov. Mark Dayton, a human cloning advocate, the University won that battle, for now.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Stuck on the slippery slope

In defense of late-term abortion, Ann Furedi, head of Britain's largest abortion-providing organization, says:
There isn't any profound point at which you can say there is a difference between one kind of fetus and another. ...

So if we think [early abortion is] a morally wrong or morally coarsening thing to do, then I think we should oppose abortion right from the very earliest weeks. If we don't think that, then we have to ask ourselves, very clearly, who decides when late is too late? ...

I would really question why, if there is no objective reason, no objective sudden value change, we need to intervene and create a point at which we apparently have the right to override a woman's own subjective decision-making process. Because actually, any definition of late abortion is arbitrary and subjective.
Furedi seems to be saying that because there are no morally significant differences between human fetuses at different stages in the womb, and since (she thinks most people believe) the abortion of early fetuses is morally permissible, then it is also the case that the abortion of late fetuses is permissible.

But one could also argue that because there are no morally significant differences between fetuses at different stages, and because (most people do in fact believe) the abortion of late fetuses is impermissible, then it is also the case that the abortion of early fetuses is impermissible.

Furedi herself, I assume, believes there is a point in human development at which a human being ought not be killed. That point is probably birth. Furedi would surely not want to legalize the killing of toddlers or teenagers for the reasons that people have late-term abortions. But if it is wrong to kill toddlers, and if there is no morally significant difference between toddlers and human beings at earlier developmental stages, such as fetuses, then it is also wrong to kill human fetuses.

Thus, to hold both that killing toddlers is impermissible and killing fetuses is permissible, Furedi must hold that there is some relevant difference between the two. She has already said that there is no morally significant milestone at any point in prenatal development. But it's not clear how any point in early post-natal development is any more plausible as a moral dividing line. (There is no essential change, but rather a seamless continuum of development of an enduring organism.) And birth can hardly be said to be relevant, since it is merely a change in location, not in the nature of the developing human being. As abortion/infanticide-defending philosophers Peter Singer and Helga Kuhse write, "The pro-life groups are right about one thing: the location of the baby inside or outside the womb cannot make such a crucial moral difference. We cannot coherently hold that it is all right to kill a fetus a week before birth, but as soon as the baby is born everything must be done to keep it alive."

So, ironically, Furedi's argument undermines her position of support for abortion. Her opposition to killing toddlers and other already-born human beings must rationally lead to opposition to killing unborn human beings, for birth is clearly "arbitrary and subjective" as a criterion for deciding who we may and may not kill.