Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Two incontestable truths; two possibilities for defending abortion

Two truths seem incontestable:

(1) The human embryo or fetus is a living organism of the species Homo sapiens, and elective abortion entails the killing of this unborn human being.

(2) It is wrong to kill an already-born (or at least developed past the infant stage, so that Peter Singer-types will agree) human being for the reasons people have elective abortions. For instance, a father may not kill his five-year-old daughter to relieve himself of the burden of caring for her.

The first is a plain factual matter. The second is a moral truth so basic that it is only rejected by psychopaths.

Given these incontestable truths, I think there are two ways elective abortion could be morally permissible. Sophisticated defenders of abortion tend to claim one or both of the following:

(1) There is a morally significant difference between the unborn human being and the already-born human being such that killing the former is permissible.

(2) The unique circumstances surrounding abortion (the unborn is inside of and connected to the pregnant woman for nine months) are relevant in such a way that the killing of abortion is morally justified.

A defender of the permissibility of abortion rationally must take one of these two approaches, it seems to me.

Most philosophers who defend abortion argue for option one. The problem is that there simply are not any morally significant differences between unborn and already-born human beings; size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency don't make a difference in terms of one's moral value and right to life. Indeed, all attempts to distinguish members of our species who merit full moral respect from those who do not, fail, for the proposed criteria are arbitrary, undermine human equality, and exclude obvious examples of valuable human persons. So the only remaining option -- given incontestable truth number two -- is that all human beings are fundamentally equal, and thus the unborn, like a five-year-old, deserves to be respected and protected. Option one fails.

A few philosophers argue for option two, offering some famous thought experiments. But it is not clear how any such approach can justify intentional killing, which is what abortion almost always entails. Moreover, even if the death of the unborn is foreseen but not intended (e.g., a hysterotomy), the special circumstances of pregnancy -- the child's vulnerability and dependency, the parent-child relationship and attendant moral obligations -- seem to make elective abortion impermissible. I have written about this second option -- a sophisticated argument from bodily autonomy -- here.

In short, both possibilities for defending abortion fail. Killing unborn human beings by abortion is wrong, just like killing older human beings for the same reasons.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A 'barbaric' act: Time to redouble our efforts

Minnesota is getting nationwide attention -- but not in a good way. Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, writes:
I am sickened by what happened yesterday [May 25], and every decent American should be, too.

Years of hard work by pro-lifers has slowly nudged the Supreme Court to allow more and more laws that protect unborn children. Our analysis is that the Supreme Court will now allow us to pass laws to save unborn babies who are old enough to feel pain. No baby should be aborted, but since the Supreme Court won't allow us to protect all babies yet, we must protect the ones we can.

With National Right to Life's expert help, some states have passed laws banning abortion after 20 weeks – the time by which scientists know an unborn baby can feel pain. Other states are working on such laws.

The moral duty to these little babies is so obvious that these laws are passing in legislatures by wide margins. But yesterday, for the first time, we had a governor say no. Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota vetoed the bill that would have saved these babies' lives and prevented their most horrible, painful deaths.

The governor's act was barbaric, and will allow a brutality to continue that should never happen in a civilized society. But it teaches us that passing even this most modest of abortion restrictions will never be accepted by the pro-abortion lobby and those politicians who are their lap dogs. To protect babies' lives, we will have to re-double our efforts to fight them every step of the way. ...

No unborn baby should ever die by choice. No baby should suffer in this brutal way.

Some embryologic terminology

From Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects, 7th edition (2007), by Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud:
Human development begins when an oocyte (ovum) from a female is fertilized by a sperm (spermatozoon) from a male. … Embryology is concerned with the origin and development of a human being from a zygote to birth. ...

Embryologic Terminology

Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an oocyte and a sperm, is the beginning of a new human being.

Embryo. This term refers to the developing human during all of its early stages of development (e.g., zygote, morula, blastocyst).

Fetus. After the embryonic period (8 weeks), the developing human is called a fetus. During the fetal period (ninth week to birth), differentiation and growth of the tissues and organs formed during the embryonic period occur. Functional maturation of the organs and the rate of body growth are remarkable, especially during the third and fourth months, and weight gain is phenomenal during the terminal months.

Trimester. This period consists of 3 calendar months. Obstetricians commonly divide the 9-month gestation period into three trimesters. The most critical stages of development occur during the first trimester, when embryonic and early fetal development is occurring.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Gov. Dayton vetoes pro-life legislation

The following news release was issued today, May 25.

ST. PAUL — Minnesota's pro-life majority today is lamenting Gov. Mark Dayton's vetoes of legislation that would have protected pain-capable unborn children and ended taxpayer funded abortions. Both bills are strongly supported by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the state's oldest and largest pro-life organization.

"We are very disappointed that Gov. Dayton prevented these mainstream measures from becoming law in our state," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. "These are reasonable provisions, not extreme, and have overwhelming support from Minnesotans and legislators."

The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would have prohibited abortions after the point in pregnancy at which an unborn child can feel pain, which medical evidence demonstrates is (conservatively) 20 weeks from conception. This legislation is based on the landmark Nebraska law that passed in 2010. H.F. 936 was authored by Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, and Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville.

The ban on taxpayer funding of abortion, H.F. 201, was authored by Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, and Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover. The legislation would have prohibited taxpayer funding of abortion. The Legislature passed such a ban in 1978, but it was overturned by Doe v. Gomez, a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling in which the Court established an absolute "right" to abortion in the state Constitution and required taxpayers to fund elective abortions for women on public assistance. Since the Doe v. Gomez decision, taxpayers have paid more than $17 million to abort 54,802 unborn babies, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

The future of these pro-life provisions is uncertain. MCCL is hopeful that one or both will be part of any special session agreement reached between the Legislature and the governor.

"We want to see Gov. Dayton work together with all Minnesotans, including the large majority who are pro-life and expect to see these protective measures become law," Fischbach added.

May we 'legislate morality'? When pro-choice advocates manipulate the ground rules

Some pro-choice advocates say pro-lifers are illegitimately trying to "impose" or "legislate" their moral view on others by working to enact laws that restrict abortion. There are three related points I wish to make in response.

(1) To say that one should not "impose" morality is self-defeating, for the one making the statement is seeking to impose his morality -- that we should not impose morality -- on others. Perhaps he could claim that he is not using "should" in a normative or ethical sense, but is speaking merely about legal or political requirements. But what legal rules prohibit legislating morality? There are none (the First Amendment's establishment clause does not apply, because we are not talking about religious claims), and in any case legal rules themselves are examples of legislating morality (see point #2). The "you should not impose morality" objection is at bottom a normative, moral objection about the way government ought to operate, and thus it contradicts itself and cannot be true.

(2) As President Barack Obama (a staunch defender of legalized abortion) has written, "To say men and women should not inject their 'personal morality' into policy debates is a practical absurdity; our law is by definition a codification of morality." Most every law reflects some moral view and serves some moral purpose. Laws against murder, rape and abuse are based on moral judgments. Even speed limits reflect a determination by society that human lives are valuable and ought not be put recklessly in danger. (Of course, the fact that law concerns morality does not mean that every moral matter ought to be addressed in law.)

Law is fundamentally a moral enterprise because it concerns how society ought to be governed. If this is not the case, then objective morality apparently does not exist (there is no "ought"), and the law is merely a tool for those in power to wield however they wish.

(3) Both the pro-choice and pro-life positions seek to enshrine a particular moral view into law. By permitting elective abortion, our government is (very controversially) taking the view that the unborn human being dismembered and killed by abortion is not deserving of basic moral respect and protection. Likewise, by permitting slavery, our government took the view that slaves are not persons, but rather mere property that can be used and abused. Necessarily, the government "imposes" one view or the other of the unborn and the slave, respectively. Neutrality is not possible.

Francis J. Beckwith writes:
[T]o say that a woman should have the right to choose to terminate her pregnancy without public justification is tantamount to denying the pro-life position that the unborn are human persons who by nature are worthy of protection by the state. And to affirm that the unborn are human persons with a natural right to life that ought to be protected by the state is tantamount to denying the abortion-choice position that a woman has a fundamental right to terminate her pregnancy, because such a termination would result, in most cases, in an unjustified homicide. Consequently, when abortion-choice advocates, in the name of tolerance and religious liberty, call for pro-life citizens to completely cease employing the legitimate avenues of our constitutional democracy for the purpose of protecting the unborn from harm, these abortion-choice supporters are in fact instructing their fellow citizens to silently, politely, and without resistance acquiesce to the metaphysical status quo, namely, that the unborn are not full-fledged members of the human community and therefore are not entitled to protection by the state. To the opponent of abortion, this request hardly seems tolerant or liberating.
So: The claim that we cannot "legislate" or "impose" morality, or that the government ought to remain "neutral," does not withstand the slightest bit of scrutiny. Law reflects moral viewpoints. People on both sides of contentious political issues are trying see their moral viewpoints reflected in law. As Micah Watson puts it, "The real question is not whether the political community will legislate morality; the question is which vision of morality will be enforced and by what sort of government."

In recent blog entries, local law professor David Schultz -- after attacking the notion of "legislating morality" -- concedes that he "do[es] not think there is no connection between law and morality," and says that the government should "establish certain basic values regarding liberty and equality [i.e., 'legislate morality'], for example, but much beyond that individuals are left to their own to define the good for themselves [itself a moral view about the proper limits of government]. This is what a free and pluralist society does."

Okay. But Schultz still tries to disqualify the pro-life position (that elective abortion should not be permitted) from public consideration. His claim is that regardless of whether abortion is morally permissible or not, abortion is not appropriately the subject of legislative restrictions according to the ground rules of a pluralist society.

Why? Because "we do not know what is right" about abortion, and the issue is "contested." That is the key difference Schultz offers between dismembering unborn human beings by abortion, which he says must be permitted as dictated by pluralism, and something like spousal abuse, which should, he agrees, be illegal. (At least, that is how I understand him -- if he reads this and my interpretation is wrong, I hope he will correct me.)

Schultz's effort here to disqualify the pro-life view out of hand hardly seems defensible. First, Schultz's view -- that "contested" matters should not be legislated upon -- is highly contested, yet he wants to impose it upon everyone else. Second, as I note in point #3, legal abortion itself imposes a "contested" moral view. Finally, may we not restrict a practice unless there is widespread agreement to do so (even beyond the agreement obviously necessary for the legislation to be passed and enacted into law)? If that is true, then abolishing slavery was not legitimate. Nor was the Civil Rights Act.

It is unfair and incoherent to manipulate the ground rules to exclude one particular position from political consideration.  To counter our view, Schultz and other pro-choice advocates will have to do the hard work of actually showing that it is false.

Send comments to blog@mccl.org.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Gov. Dayton vetoes cloning ban legislation

The following news release was issued today, May 24.

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed legislation that would have prevented the cloning of human embryos in Minnesota, and the funding of such experiments. Both pro-life measures were strongly supported by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the state’s oldest and largest pro-life organization.

"MCCL was hopeful that Gov. Dayton would act to ban the senseless cloning of human beings," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. "Human dignity demands that life be respected and protected, not treated as mere raw material in laboratories."

Legislation to ban human cloning in the state, authored by Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, and Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, was included in the Health and Human Services omnibus bill. The language was very simple: ban all human cloning, regardless of the intended purpose for the resulting human being. Opponents of the ban, primarily the University of Minnesota, claimed that producing a human organism by cloning and then destroying it after five to 10 days, is not cloning. However, the National Institutes of Health defines cloning as the process of combining an enucleated egg (oocyte) with a somatic (i.e. body) cell nucleus to make an embryo. Whether the cloned embryo is destroyed or allowed to live does not change the definition of cloning.

Minnesota's 1973 Human Conceptus statute (MN Statute 145.422) prohibits "the use of a living human conceptus for any type of scientific, laboratory research or other experimentation." Dr. John Wagner, director of the U of M's Stem Cell Institute, admitted in testimony on March 17 that cloning creates a human conceptus: "Once you insert a nucleus into that oocyte you get an embryo." A cloned embryo cannot be destroyed or used for experiments without violation of the statute.

Pro-life lawmakers also added a ban on taxpayer funding of human cloning to the Higher Education omnibus bill. The Legislature passed a similar ban in 2009 after learning that the U of M was considering conducting human cloning experiments with state funds (the 2009 ban must be reauthorized every two years). The human cloning funding ban would permanently prevent state taxpayer funds from being used to clone human beings.

A 2005 International Communications Research poll showed 75% of Americans strongly oppose the use of human cloning for any reason. For years, poll after poll has shown overwhelming opposition to human cloning in the United States. North and South Dakota, Michigan and Iowa are among the states that have banned human cloning.

Dayton's vetoes today mean that the cloning of human embryos (but not their destruction) remains legal in Minnesota.

"MCCL and the state's large majority who oppose human cloning will continue to work to establish a ban on all forms of human cloning," Fischbach said. "Our hope is that Gov. Dayton will listen to the people and their elected officials, who want to prevent this unethical treatment of human life in our state."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tim Pawlenty announces candidacy for president; has strong pro-life record

"We must take it upon ourselves to protect all individuals in every stage of life, from the unborn to the elderly."

Our former governor, Tim Pawlenty, officially announced today his candidacy for president of the United States.

Gov. Pawlenty addressing the 2009 MCCL March for Life
Gov. Pawlenty compiled a strong pro-life record during his time in office. He advocated and signed into law pro-life bills including Woman's Right to Know, Positive Alternatives, the Unborn Child Pain Prevention Act and a ban on state funding of human cloning. He vetoed a bill to sanction human cloning and fund embryo-destructive research.

Abortions in Minnesota dropped a remarkable 13 percent after Pawlenty took office. The total number of abortions in 2009 (the latest year for which data is available) was the lowest in our state since 1975.

There is no doubt that Gov. Pawlenty's actions have saved human lives. He is a faithful pro-life friend, and a friend to the unborn and other vulnerable persons in our society who need our advocacy and protection.

More details about Pawlenty's pro-life position and credentials are available here and here from LifeNews.com editor Steve Ertelt.

'Jane Roe' tells her story

Friday, May 20, 2011

13,000 more women helped by Positive Alternatives program

By Scott Fischbach
MCCL Executive Director

A couple of weeks ago, my wife Michelle and I were able to tour a pregnancy care center in greater Minnesota. It's one of the centers that receives a Positive Alternatives grant from the Minnesota Department of Health. The center was extremely well set up – almost like a cross between a doctor's office and the baby section at Walmart. Clean, professional and very welcoming. As we walked around and saw the exam room, the counseling room and the wealth of diapers and formula, we ran into a young attractive couple holding a blonde-haired blue-eyed little guy who was almost two years old. Michelle gave the little guy a high five, and I could not resist asking how they were involved with the center.

The mom and dad got a little emotional, but their story is actually fairly common. When they discovered they were pregnant they did not know what they were going to do. Abortion was looking pretty good. Their parents were no help and told them to "take care of it." Both mom and dad were out of high school, but under-employed and not attending college. All options in life were looking pretty bad. Then they called the pregnancy care center and it all started to turn around.

Relying on its Positive Alternatives grant, the care center helped this young couple in every way imaginable. They decided to keep their baby and try to make a go of it. Today, this young couple – with their good-looking little two year-old – are back in the game of life. The dad is working a good job that will allow career advancement, and the mom just got her two-year degree and is enrolled this fall to finish up her 4-year degree. They are making it, and Positive Alternatives helped it all come together.

Today the Minnesota Department of Health released its evaluation of the program. You can take a look at it here.

It truly is an amazing report – over 13,000 more women in Minnesota have been helped by the Positive Alternatives program! Over 13,000! We have always said that it is not enough to just be against abortion – we must be for life. The Positive Alternatives program says YES to life!

Pro-life legislation headed to Gov. Dayton following bipartisan approval in House, Senate

The following news release was issued today, May 20.

ST. PAUL — Bipartisan majorities in the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives passed several measures this week aimed at protecting nascent human life. Gov. Dayton has several days to decide whether he will sign the lifesaving legislation, which is strongly supported by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL).

"Governor Dayton said at the start of the session that he would not sign any extreme measures concerning abortion, and these mainstream bills are anything but extreme," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. "MCCL is hopeful that Dayton will move to protect unborn children capable of feeling excruciating pain from abortion, and to end the tyranny of forcing taxpayers to fund elective abortions."

Two pro-life bills have advanced in both chambers. The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would prohibit abortions after the point in pregnancy at which an unborn child can feel pain, which medical evidence demonstrates is (conservatively) 20 weeks from conception. This legislation is based on the landmark Nebraska law that passed in 2010. Similar laws have passed in three more states this year, and none have been challenged in court by the abortion industry. The pain-capable bill passed the Senate on Monday on a vote of 42-24 after being approved by the House on May 6 by a vote of 82-46. H.F. 936 is authored by Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, and Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville.

The ban on taxpayer funding of abortion passed the Senate Monday on a 40-26 vote. The ban was approved by a vote of 80-44 in the House on May 6. H.F. 201, authored by Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, and Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, would prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion.

The House passed the conference committee report for the two bills yesterday. The Senate approved the ban on taxpayer funding of abortion this morning; it is expected to approve the pain-capable legislation later today, which would send the two bills to the governor.

The conference committee report on the Health and Human Services omnibus bill was approved late Wednesday in the House and Senate and sent to Gov. Dayton. It includes a ban on human cloning, which would prevent the cloning of human life for laboratory experiments.

In addition, the Higher Education omnibus bill includes a provision to ban taxpayer funding of human cloning. The Legislature passed a similar ban in 2009 after learning that the University of Minnesota was considering conducting human cloning experiments with state funds. Both the House and Senate passed the Higher Education conference committee report this week.

"MCCL is pleased to see these common-sense measures approved by the Legislature," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. "Minnesotans established a solidly pro-life Legislature in the November election, and they expect their elected officials to pass greater protections for unborn babies and other vulnerable human lives."

New analysis of maternal mortality confirms health care, not abortion, key factor in saving lives

The following was released yesterday, May 19, by MCCL Global Outreach.

Call for renewed WHA focus on improving women's health care in developing world

GENEVA, Switzerland — Improved medical care, not abortion, is the solution to the problem of maternal deaths in the developing world, according to a new analysis of research from the World Health Organization, United Nations, The Lancet and other resources. The analysis was released today at the World Health Assembly (WHA) in Geneva by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Global Outreach (MCCL GO) and National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund (NRLC), based in Washington, D.C. Leaders of both organizations called for a renewed emphasis on improving health
care for women as the only sure means of reducing maternal mortality.

"We have known for decades that most maternal deaths can be prevented with adequate nutrition, basic health care, and good obstetric care throughout pregnancy, at delivery, and postpartum," said Jeanne Head, R.N., National Right to Life vice-president for international affairs and U.N. representative. "Yet some in the international community have focused their resources primarily on legalizing abortion at the expense of women's lives."
New Maternal Mortality Brochure 2011
"Our analysis presents clear, factual evidence to repudiate the claim that legalized abortion reduces maternal mortality," said MCCL Global Outreach Executive Director Scott Fischbach.

The analysis, "Why Legalized Abortion Is Not Good for Women's Health," compares the impact of improved medical care and legalized abortion on maternal mortality rates in several countries. Maternal deaths declined sharply in the United States, England and Wales through the 1930s and 1940s, for example, coinciding with advancements in maternal health care, obstetric techniques, antibiotics and in the general health status of women. This occurred long before the widespread legalization of abortion. Chile sharply reduced its maternal mortality rate even after its prohibition of abortion in 1989, and now has the lowest maternal mortality rate in Latin America. Of the four countries that reduced their maternal mortality rate the most from 1990-2008, three have maintained bans on abortion.

In the developing world, the danger of legalized abortion is profound, the analysis found. Ms. Head explains: "Women generally at risk because they lack access to a doctor, hospital, or antibiotics before abortion's legalization will face those same circumstances after legalization. And if legalization triggers a higher demand for abortion, as it has in most countries, more injured women will compete for those scarce medical resources. The number of abortion-related maternal deaths may actually increase."

MCCL GO and National Right to Life called upon the WHA to focus its resources on the improvement of women's health care in the developing world.

"We urge the World Health Assembly to adopt measures to significantly reduce maternal mortality in the developing world by improving women's health care," Mr. Fischbach added. "We call upon the WHA to save lives, not expend endless energy and resources in areas where there is profound disagreement, such as the legalization of abortion."

The analysis is available in English, French and Spanish at the MCCL GO website.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A response to the Star Tribune regarding MCCL-backed legislation

The Star Tribune yesterday editorialized against the MCCL-backed Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and the MCCL-backed bill banning taxpayer funding of abortion, both of which have passed the state House and Senate but face a possible veto from Gov. Mark Dayton.

The editorial offers nothing very substantial. It does provide some misleading rhetoric.

The editorial board writes that the two pro-life bills "would radically restrict reproductive rights in the state." That claim seems wildly unjustified. The taxpayer funding ban, for example, would not affect the legality of abortion -- so-called "reproductive rights" -- in any way. It would only affect the use of government funds to pay for private citizens' abortions. And the Pain Capable bill, which prohibits abortions on unborn children capable of feeling pain, would affect only a tiny fraction of abortions in our state (eight out of 12,388 Minnesota abortions would have been prevented in 2009 -- about 0.06 percent). That is hardly a "radical restriction."

The editorial says the Pain Capable law "could cruelly compel a woman to carry a stillborn to term." No, that's simply false. Removing a child who has died of natural causes in the womb is not an abortion, and it is explicitly not prohibited by the legislation. (If only the editorial writers had read the bill!)

The editorial cites Prof. David Schultz (not the best advocate to have in one's corner), who claims both MCCL-backed bills are unconstitutional. The authors fail to mention any scholars who disagree -- such as constitutional law expert Prof. Teresa Collett, who also testified at the state Capitol.

Are the bills unconstitutional? It is evident upon reading the U.S. and Minnesota Constitutions -- and understanding them in their historical context -- that they do not contain a right to abortion (much less a right to abortion when the developing unborn human being can experience pain) and a right to government-subsidized abortion, respectively. The bills are clearly constitutionally permissible. Will the U.S. and Minnesota Supreme Courts agree? There is a good chance they will. But we are on solid legal ground nonetheless.

Yesterday's editorial also complains at length about proposed cuts to family planning funding. We (MCCL) do not take a position on family planning funding, but we do oppose sending funds to organizations that perform or promote abortion. The editorial calls the denial of funds to abortion providers "a ludicrous gag rule," and writes:
How can the [Republican] party that decries big government rationalize a measure that restricts speech and inserts the state between providers and patients?
This objection doesn't make sense to me. We are not talking about restrictions on speech or on what happens at family planning clinics. We are talking about the allocation of government funds. We are talking about what kinds of organizations/work deserve to be subsidized by taxpayers. If anything, the editorial (not us) is advocating "big government" by trying to "insert the state" into a controversial matter, using taxpayer dollars and government approval to support otherwise-private practices. Removing government from the situation (denying state funds) can hardly be considered "big government."

The editorial claims that denying abortion providers state money would undermine our "overarching goal" of "stopping abortions." On the contrary: Evidence shows that the more money abortion providers and promoters receive, the greater the number of abortions they perform or help facilitate. In addition, studies have concluded that restrictions or prohibitions on public funding of abortion -- like the MCCL-supported bill -- are the most effective type of (current) legislation in reducing the number of abortions.

The editorial claims it is "cruel" and "heartless" toward low-income women to deny public funds to abortion providers like Planned Parenthood. That's not true. Better alternatives for women are available -- we need not subsidize an already-wealthy and ridiculously scandal-plagued abortion industry.

What is perhaps most noteworthy about the Star Tribune piece is that it includes no defense at all of the permissibility of dismembering and killing unborn human beings who have developed to point at which they are sensitive to pain ("cruel" and "heartless," anyone?). Nor does it include a defense of requiring taxpayers to subsidize other people's abortions. MCCL and others have marshaled evidence and sound reason on behalf of our pro-life bills (see posts linked below). The Star Tribune offers us nothing.

Wesley J. Smith discusses euthanasia and human exceptionalism

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Adult stem cells are treating thousands of patients now

The following is by David A. Prentice, Ph.D., an internationally-recognized expert on stem cells.

Stem cell research continues to move ahead. Not embryonic stem cell research, however, which relies on the destruction of young human life.

After over 30 years of embryonic stem cell research, first with mouse and then human embryonic stem cells, not a single patient has been helped. And while over the past year, three experimental trials have been approved in the U.S., even many embryonic stem cell scientists believe the practical dangers of embryonic stem cells (tumors, incorrect tissue growth, immune problems) make such trials preliminary; simply using patients for experiments. Embryonic stem cells fail on both ethical and practical aspects, and have contributed only hype to the debate and false hope to patients.

Adult stem cells are both successful and ethical. They can be isolated and used without harming the stem cell donor. They can be taken from a host of tissues—bone marrow, muscle, fat, umbilical cord blood—and already have proven success at saving lives and improving health on a daily basis. Over 50,000 people around the globe are treated each year with adult stem cells. The diseases and conditions successfully treated by adult stem cells, as shown by published scientific evidence, continue to expand, with published success for numerous cancers, spinal cord injury, heart damage, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia, and many others.

Here are just a few examples of adult stem cell advances over the past year.

* Several studies now document that adult stem cells can stimulate repair of damaged heart tissue, including damage from heart attack as well as chronic heart failure.

For example, scientists at the University of Miami reported that they had reversed heart damage in a small group of patients with the patients' own bone marrow adult stem cells, reducing scar tissue and improving function to injured heart areas, up to eleven years after initial heart damage. And doctors in Germany published evidence from a large study showing that patients treated with adult stem cells for chronic heart failure showed a significant improvement in heart function and a significant decrease in long-term mortality, with no side effects. In another example, doctors in Brazil and Florida found that adult stem cells injected directly into the heart could relieve angina.

* Italian doctors reported that they could successfully treat corneal blindness using the patient's own adult stem cells. They treated 112 patients who had been blinded by chemical burns. Over 77% of patients recovered normal vision. Patients with superficial damage were able to see within one to two months, while more extensive injuries took several months longer to recover. One of the successful transplants was a man who had been blind for 50 years. The doctors grafted adult stem cells from a small section of his left eye to both eyes. His vision is now close to normal.

* Multiple sclerosis (MS) treatment with adult stem cells also showed multiple positive results over the past year. A team of scientists from Thessaloniki, Greece, showed that chemotherapy followed by adult stem cell transplant can stop progression of aggressive MS. The team observed a group of 35 patients who received transplants of their own bone marrow adult stem cells after being treated with chemotherapy to wipe out the rogue immune cells that were attacking their nervous system and causing their MS. An average of 11 years after their transplants, 25% of the patients in Greece have not seen their disease progress. And a U.K. team led by Dr. Neil Scolding showed that a simple intravenous infusion of the patient's adult stem cells, without using chemotherapy, could work to improve MS patient symptoms.

The groundbreaking report of the first six patients found that the simple treatment stabilized the patients' conditions and improved their nervous systems. The whole procedure, from extracting the bone marrow adult stem cells to re-infusing them into the bloodstream, was accomplished in a few hours at the hospital, and the patients were then followed for one year to observe the positive benefits.

* Scientists used donor adult stem cells from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood to successfully treat children with a fatal genetic skin disease called epidermolysis bullosa (EB), that causes skin to blister and scrape off with the slightest friction and chronic pain; the slightest touch or hug hurts them. All 10 children treated so far have responded positively, easing their conditions. According to the doctors who treated the children, "Bone marrow [adult stem cell] transplantation is one of the riskiest procedures in medicine, yet it is also one of the most successful. Patients who otherwise would have died from their disease can often now be cured. It's a serious treatment for a serious disease."

* Scientists at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston published preliminary results of a Phase I clinical trial showing the safety of bone marrow adult stem cells in treating traumatic brain injury in children. A total of ten children from 5-14 years old were treated within 48 hours of their injury with their own adult stem cells; the cells were collected from their bone marrow, processed and returned to them intravenously. Six months after their adult stem cell treatment, all of the children showed significant improvement. The team is also testing use of umbilical cord blood, another type of adult stem cell, for these treatments.

While many adult stem cell treatments are still experimental, the results continue to flow for thousands of patients a year, and many new applications are being developed. This makes it all the more important that we direct our health care resources toward the proven, ethical, and successful solution—adult stem cells.

For a visual sample, see the three patient videos at www.stemcellresearchfacts.org.

Roundup: What you need to know about Planned Parenthood and its taxpayer funding

Planned Parenthood -- the leading performer and promoter of abortion in Minnesota and nationwide -- has been prominent in the news for the last several months. Lawmakers at both the federal and state levels are seeking to deny Planned Parenthood taxpayer money (it receives some $360 million from the government each year).

We have repeatedly made the case that Planned Parenthood must be denied funding, and we have answered the objections of those who say otherwise. Below are recent posts:

recent interview with Dr. Randall K. O'Bannon explains the centrality of abortion to Planned Parenthood and clarifies the often-repeated but misleading "3 percent" claim.

Also see this excellent report from the Chiaroscuro Foundation, titled "Does Planned Parenthood Need or Deserve Federal Funds?"

Monday, May 16, 2011

Abortion-related bills approved by Minnesota Senate

Two key pro-life bills were approved Monday by the Minnesota Senate and are expected to be sent to Gov. Mark Dayton soon. Both are strongly supported by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL).

The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act passed the Senate on a vote of 42-24. S.F. 649 / H.F. 936, authored by Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, and Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, would prohibit abortions after the point in pregnancy at which an unborn child can feel pain, which medical evidence demonstrates is (conservatively) 20 weeks from conception.

The Minnesota House of Representatives passed the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act by a vote of 82-46 on May 6.

This legislation is based on the landmark Nebraska law that passed in 2010. Similar laws have passed in three more states this year. None have been challenged in court by the abortion industry.

The ban on taxpayer funding of abortion passed the Senate today on a 40-26 vote. S.F. 103 / H.F. 201, authored by Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, and Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, would prohibit taxpayer funding of abortion. The ban was approved by a vote of 80-44 in the House on May 6.

Minnesota taxpayers paid $1.6 million to the abortion industry for 3,933 abortions in 2009 — nearly one-third of all abortions performed in the state that year. Minnesotans are forced to pay for elective abortions because of a state Supreme Court ruling in 1995 that established a "right" to abortion in the Minnesota Constitution and required taxpayer funding of elective abortions for low-income women. Since the ruling, taxpayers have paid more than $17 million for 5,208 abortions, approximately 99 percent of which were elective.

A conference committee will work out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bills. The two bodies will then vote on final passage and send them to Gov. Dayton, who has a pro-abortion record and is supported by the abortion industry. The 2011 legislative session will adjourn by May 23.

Help for those facing crisis pregnancies

If you are pregnant in difficult circumstances -- or if you know someone who is -- help is available. There are dozens of pregnancy care centers across Minnesota offering services and support for pregnant women and new mothers; they are listed with contact information here. Most offer 24-hour phone hotlines.

Nationwide, women can call any of the following numbers:

Care Net toll free: 1-800-395-HELP
Birthline Hotline toll free: 1-800-786-0200
Birthright Hotline toll free: 1-800-550-4900

Pregnant women can chat online with counselors here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Science, religion, and the question of when life begins

Prof. David Schultz writes:
When it comes to the issue of abortion, this is not a scientific issue but instead a matter first of theology and then ethics. There is no scientific answer to when life begins. This is a matter of religious faith and I may not choose to agree with the theology that another holds.
Is there no scientific answer to when life begins? That depends, of course, on what one means by "life." I and most people (in this context) generally mean biological life, specifically the life of a human organism. That is indeed a scientific question, and the answer is well-established and scientifically uncontested. Presumably Schultz is using "life" to mean a particular moral status (e.g., being a "person," having a right not to be killed), so "when life begins" is when the human organism acquires (if she does not have it by nature) that moral status, not when the human organism actually comes to be.

Is the moral status of unborn human beings "a matter of religious faith"? Not really -- no more so than the moral status of law professor human beings. The question is whether unborn humans, like toddlers, adolescents, grandparents and law professors, deserve full moral respect and ought not be killed for the convenience or benefit of others. Ultimately this question rests on the nature of human value and dignity. It is a moral and philosophical question. (As with any issue -- poverty, capital punishment, the environment -- many people have religious motivation or grounding for their ethical principles, but that does nothing to disqualify those principles from public consideration.)

Schultz adds:
To say life begins at conception is a meaningless and empty statement. Just because something is alive and human does not give it moral rights. My kidney is alive and human, does it have moral rights?
It's true that merely being alive and human -- like a kidney, or the skin cells on the back of my hand -- does not say much. But Schultz misses one more biological fact about the unborn (i.e., the human embryo or fetus), a fact that makes the unborn radically different from a human kidney or skin cells: the unborn is a whole (though immature) organism, not a mere part of another. The unborn, from the beginning of his or her existence at conception, is a member of the species Homo sapiens, the same kind of entity as you and me, only at a very early stage of development.

We know this from the science of human embryology. The moral question, as Schultz notes, is separate, and it is what the debate is really about: How should we treat human beings at their earliest developmental stages? Do all human beings, at all stages and in all conditions, have a fundamental right to life, or only some?

In the womb: Development of the human face

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Why abortion should not be legal (what justice requires)

Justice requires that governments protect the basic rights of every member of the human family. The facts of science demonstrate that the unborn (i.e., the human embryo or fetus) is a distinct, living and whole organism of the species Homo sapiens, like each of us, only at a very early stage in his or her development. Further, it is a basic moral principle—affirmed in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights—that all human beings are equal in fundamental dignity and ought to be respected and protected. Therefore, the law should protect unborn human beings just as it protects each of us. Any policy that permits the killing of unborn children for elective reasons is gravely unjust.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

The following is from MCCL President Leo F. LaLonde.

Mother's Day is that special day set aside every year to acknowledge the part that mothers play in our lives and in our culture. Pregnancy, birth and child raising call for vast resources from the lives of women.

This year, make a point to express your thanks to your own mother—the one who gave you birth and/or the one who raised you—and to honor the other mothers in your family, church and community.

It is through a mother's generosity that we experience life and love. Motherhood requires great sacrifice, even when a woman decides to place her child into the arms of a loving family. Whether motherhood was planned or unplanned, whether the mother placed her baby for adoption or adopted a child, all mothers are held in our hearts and prayers.

Moms—who love deeply and bring a new life into the world—deserve the best on this, their special day. Happy Mother's Day today and every day!

Friday, May 6, 2011

MN House approves measures to protect pain-capable unborn children, end taxpayer funded abortions

The following news release was issued today, May 6.

ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House of Representatives approved two pro-life bills today after lengthy floor debate. Both measures are strongly supported by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the state's largest pro-life organization.

"These bills represent the will of a large majority of Minnesotans, who oppose the inflicting of suffering upon unborn children and the forced funding of elective abortions," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach.

The Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, H.F. 936 / S.F. 649, is authored by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, and Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas. The bill would prohibit abortions from the point at which the unborn child can feel pain, which medical evidence demonstrates is (conservatively) 20 weeks from conception. The legislation is based on a landmark Nebraska law passed last year, which has not been challenged in court. Three other states have passed similar legislation this year.

The ban on taxpayer funded abortions, H.F. 201 / S.F. 103, would end taxpayer funding of elective abortions, which resulted from the Minnesota Supreme Court’s 1995 Doe v. Gomez decision, in which the court established a "right" to abortion and required taxpayers to fund elective abortions for women on public assistance. The ruling overturned a law passed by the Legislature in 1978 that prohibited taxpayer funded abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. The legislation is authored by Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, and Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville.

"These mainstream measures enjoy broad bi-partisan support in the Legislature and among the people of Minnesota," Fischbach said.

The Minnesota Senate is expected to take up these bills before the session ends on May 23. The Senate Judiciary and Public Safety committee heard and passed these two initiatives on Tuesday, advancing them to be considered by the full Senate.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A response to Meri Firpo and John Wagner on human cloning

In a new article published by the Minnesota Medical Association, University of Minnesota researchers Meri Firpo and John Wagner argue against the proposed human cloning ban. Their case is exceedingly weak and should offend anyone who cares about the truth. This may seem like hyperbole, but please let me explain. I will divide my critique into four categories.

Issue #1: Definition of cloning

Firpo and Wagner write:
On the surface, the bill ... proposes banning reproductive cloning—that is, outlawing science that culminates in the creation of a human that is a replica of another. Banning human reproductive cloning is a move that every reputable biomedical scientist would wholeheartedly support. But proponents of the bill have admitted publicly at hearings in St. Paul that this legislation attempts not only to prevent human reproductive cloning but also to ban somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), which has been referred to in the lay press as "therapeutic cloning," and restrict embryonic stem cell research.
Both on the surface and in reality, the bill proposes banning not so-called "reproductive cloning" but "human cloning," defined as using SCNT to create a new human organism at any stage of development who is genetically virtually identical to the donor of the somatic cell (read about the SCNT process to understand). The bill does not make use of the misleading distinction between "reproductive" and "therapeutic" cloning, but simply bans human cloning itself, whether for "reproductive" or "therapeutic" purposes.

Firpo and Wagner suggest that "reproductive cloning" and SCNT are two different things. They neglect to mention that reproductive cloning requires SCNT. Indeed, SCNT is the cloning process. The question is then whether the new human organism (created by SCNT) is implanted in a woman's uterus and helped to develop toward maturity ("reproductive" cloning) or killed in the embryonic stage for research purposes ("therapeutic" cloning). The cloning process itself is the same, and the result -- an embryonic human being -- is the same. "If you create an embryo by nuclear transfer [SCNT], and you give it to somebody who didn't know where it came from, there would be no test you could do on that embryo to say where it came from," explains the famous stem cell researcher Dr. James Thomson. "It is what it is."

Firpo and Wagner say concerns about SCNT are "based on a misunderstanding of the intent of medical research." No, our concern is with human cloning regardless of the intent of the one doing the cloning. Firpo and Wagner think cloning is okay because their "intent" is not to let the cloned human organism live very long, but rather to harvest its useful parts.

Firpo and Wagner say, "SCNT ... is not human cloning." That's simply a lie. SCNT is a way to create a cloned human organism. It is absurd to say that "cloning" only happens if the cloned organism develops to a particular stage.

Issue #2: Product of cloning

Appallingly, Firpo and Wagner are unwilling to use even the term "embryo." They call the product of successful SCNT "a formless group of cells that is smaller than the cross-section of a human hair."

That is an intentionally insufficient description. The product of SCNT is not just any group of cells. It is an embryo -- a self-integrated, self-directing organism at the embryonic stage -- from which embryonic stem cells can theoretically be derived. (Stem cells 101: Embryonic stem cells come from embryos.) Firpo and Wagner value (purely instrumentally) the product of SCNT so highly precisely because it is an embryo and not a mere group of cells. If SCNT does not result in an embryo, then it didn't work!

An uninformed reader of Firpo and Wagner's article would be puzzled by opposition to human SCNT. No one cares about "a formless group of cells." But people do care about living members of our species, even at the earliest stages of life.

Firpo and Wagner also write:
The bill's supporters argue that SCNT could lead to the creation of a baby. This is not feasible because cells [embryos] created through SCNT cannot survive for long in culture (they survive only long enough for extraction of their inner mass, from which a new cell line can be derived).
No, that's not the main argument. It's true that SCNT could theoretically be used to grow children ("reproductive" cloning), if huge scientific obstacles to their successful development are overcome, and we (along with Firpo and Wagner) oppose this. The debate isn't about that. The debate is about using SCNT to produce new human organisms to kill while they are still in the embryonic stage of development. That's what Firpo and Wagner want to do. We oppose that practice, not because the cloned embryos are "babies" (that term generally refers to a particular stage of human life -- embryo, fetus, baby, toddler, etc.), but because science tells us they are distinct, living and whole organisms of the species Homo sapiens, and because human beings at all stages and in all conditions deserve basic moral respect.

A clarification: Firpo and Wagner say cloned embryos "survive only long enough for extraction of their inner mass." That's how long Firpo and Wagner want the embryos to survive. To my knowledge scientists have not gotten cloned embryos to live that long. No one has successfully derived stem cells from cloned human embryos.

Issue #3: Ethics of cloning

After misleading the reader about what cloning is and what it produces, what justification for human cloning do Firpo and Wagner offer?

They talk about hypothetical scientific and therapeutic benefits (see Issue #4). But those are beside the point if I am correct about the moral status of the embryo who is created, used and killed in "therapeutic" cloning, for it is obviously wrong to kill some members of the human family for the possible benefit of others.

Other than misleading the reader about the biological nature of the embryo, Firpo and Wagner offer no ethical defense of human cloning for embryo-destructive research. They have given us no reason to think it is permissible. (We have good reason to think it is not.)

It is worth mentioning that many advocates of embryonic stem cell research (using the current source -- embryos "left over" from in vitro fertilization) oppose human cloning. Dr. James Thomson, who pioneered embryonic stem cell research, notes that research with "leftover" embryos is "separate from creating embryos [by cloning specifically to be killed for research]. That [cloning] offends a lot more people, and I can understand why. You're creating something that's a tool, and you're making a tool out of this thing."

Thomson says: "From a public policy point of view, it makes a lot of sense to separate these two issues. ... Part of ... the reason why things kind of stalled, is that nuclear transfer and therapeutic cloning was intermixed with trying to make new cell lines from pre-existing embryos. They're very separable." The University of Minnesota is hell-bent on keeping them together.

Issue #4: Therapeutic potential of cloning

The subtitle of Firpo and Wagner's article reads: "A bill moving through the Legislature threatens to disrupt progress on therapies that are already helping patients." It is difficult to see how that statement could be justified. The bill cannot "disrupt" anything because nothing the bill prohibits is actually happening in Minnesota, as Firpo and Wagner have admitted. So it certainly cannot "disrupt progress on therapies that are already helping patients." Nothing the bill prohibits is helping or has ever helped a patient. (Perhaps Firpo and Wagner are not responsible for the subtitle. They should complain to the publication.)

Firpo and Wagner's argument that ethically-uncontroversial induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) are not sufficient in the goal of making patient-specific pluripotent stem cells -- that stem cells from cloned human embryos may also be needed -- is not particularly convincing. Even the slightest moral qualms seem enough to tip the balance against cloning. Firpo and Wagner assume there are no such ethical problems.

Firpo and Wagner say the lack of any therapeutic success from embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) is a result of "severe funding restrictions put in place under the Bush administration along with other local restrictions." But (1) the federal government has funded research on some human embryonic stem cell lines for the last decade; (2) the private sector has been free to invest in whatever research it considers promising; and (3) many states have invested heavily in ESCR and even human cloning for research.

California poured billions into ESCR, without any therapeutic success. In fact, several years later, the state decided to "concentrat[e] its vast financial resources on projects that could cure conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, AIDS, sickle cell disease and various types of cancer" by "boosting therapies that ... rely on less glamorous adult stem cells," according to the Los Angeles Times. In other words, California decided to direct its resources to the kind of stem cell research that is actually helping patients and offers the greatest potential for helping more patients in the future -- ethically-uncontroversial adult stem cell research.

Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the National Institutes of Health, goes as far as writing that "embryonic stem cells are obsolete." In any case, it should be noted that current ESCR would not be affected by the bill under consideration. In fact, no ESCR that has ever happened could be affected, since scientists have yet to derive stem cells from cloned human embryos.

Finally, Firpo and Wagner criticize MCCL for "citing remarks taken out of context from Professor Ian Wilmut  ... and Professor Rudolf Jaenisch." We said this:
Many eminent stem cell researchers are turning away from human cloning in favor of alternatives that offer greater therapeutic promise. Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute conducted embryonic stem cell research on mice for years before abandoning it. "With nuclear transfer you never get normal embryos," Jaenisch told The Scientist magazine. He said SCNT is "of no practical relevance" and that he would never use it in dealing with human embryos. Prof. Ian Wilmut, who cloned Dolly the sheep, has decided to give up his efforts to clone human life.
Can Firpo and Wagner explain how we took anything out of context? We did not say that Wilmut and Jaenisch have ethical objections to human cloning. We said they decided not to pursue it. That is true. According to the UK Telegraph story:
Prof Ian Wilmut's decision to turn his back on "therapeutic cloning" ... will send shockwaves through the scientific establishment.

He and his team made headlines around the world in 1997 when they unveiled Dolly, born July of the year before.

But now he has decided not to pursue a licence to clone human embryos, which he was awarded just two years ago ...

Prof Wilmut, who works at Edinburgh University, believes a rival method pioneered in Japan [iPSCs] has better potential for making human embryonic cells which can be used to grow a patient's own cells and tissues for a vast range of treatments, from treating strokes to heart attacks and Parkinson's, and will be less controversial than the Dolly method, known as "nuclear transfer" [SCNT].

His announcement could mark the beginning of the end for therapeutic cloning, on which tens of millions of pounds have been spent worldwide over the past decade. "I decided a few weeks ago not to pursue nuclear transfer," Prof Wilmut said.

Most of his motivation is practical but he admits the Japanese approach is also "easier to accept socially." ...

"Given the low efficiency, you wonder just how long nuclear transfer will have a useful life." ...

Instead, Prof Wilmut is backing direct reprogramming or "de-differentiation" [iPSCs], the embryo free route pursued by Prof Yamanaka, which he finds "100 times more interesting."

"The odds are that by the time we make nuclear transfer work in humans, direct reprogramming will work too."

What can we take away from Firpo and Wagner's article? They mislead the reader about human cloning/SCNT. They mislead the reader about human embryos. They make a dubious case for the therapeutic potential of human cloning. And they offer no reason to think that human cloning is ethically permissible.

For more about the human cloning debate, see the following posts:

U.S. House passes permanent ban on federal funding of abortion

Yesterday, from National Right to Life:

WASHINGTON -- The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the nationwide federation of right-to-life organizations, today commended the 251 members of the U.S. House of Representatives who voted to pass the landmark No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3), but directed sharp criticism at President Obama and at the 175 House members (all of them Democrats) who voted against the bill.

"There are over one million Americans who are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment policy – but President Obama, although he claims to seek abortion reduction, continues to work against that policy," said NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. "The White House veto threat demonstrates yet again that President Obama is determined to expand federal subsidies for abortion on demand – despite his verbal smokescreens. The 175 House Democrats who voted against the bill will be firmly marked as supporters of federal subsidies for elective abortion."

The bill was supported by 235 Republicans and 16 Democrats. It was opposed by 175 Democrats.

In a candid opinion piece titled "Time to Stand Up for Abortion Funding," published today on a blog operated by The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, Jessica Arons – who is director of the Women's Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress (a nonprofit organization with very close ties to the Obama White House) – called on pro-abortion members of Congress to drop the pretext that they do not seek to establish federal funding of abortion. "First, stop referring to the Hyde Amendment as an 'historic compromise' or 'settled law,'" Arons advised. "Such language only reinforces the misconception that abortion funding restrictions are necessary and proper. They are not. ... Finally, mount a full-throated defense of public funding for abortion – or rather of comprehensive health care that includes abortion coverage, regardless of the funding source."

For many years, federal funding of abortion has been limited by a patchwork of laws – many of which expire annually, because they are incorporated into annual appropriations bills. The best known is the Hyde Amendment, but this law applies only to funds that flow through the annual Health and Human Services appropriations bill, and it expires annually. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) ("Obamacare"), enacted in 2010, opened new pipelines for federal funding of abortion, which are not governed by the Hyde Amendment or any other statutory restriction (see here). H.R. 3 would codify the principles of the Hyde Amendment on a permanent, government-wide basis, applicable to both longstanding federal health programs and to the new programs created by the PPACA.

Further details on specific components of H.R. 3, including conscience protections for pro-life health care providers and a provision applying to the District of Columbia, are found in NRLC's May 3 letter to the House of Representatives, and in a Q&A factsheet issued by the office of Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), the prime sponsor of H.R. 3.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Uncertainty about fetal pain?

Perhaps the most common response offered by those who oppose the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act is to question whether the unborn at 20 weeks can really feel pain. This response treats the factual question of fetal pain as the decisive issue. Opponents of the bill seem to be conceding that if the unborn does feel pain, then killing him or her should not be permitted. But if that statement is true, then it also seems true that if the unborn might feel pain, killing him or her should not be permitted, for it would risk killing a being who can experience pain and suffering.

Yet, to my knowledge, no one is claiming that we know for certain that the unborn at this stage cannot feel pain. Therefore, it seems that those who argue against the bill by questioning fetal pain are terribly misguided. Uncertainty about pain is actually a reason to support the bill.

So: If one is to rationally persist in opposing the Pain Capable legislation, he must justify his opposition on other grounds. He must argue that the question of whether the unborn can feel excruciating pain does not matter in any truly significant way. That's a difficult argument to make.

NRLC letter in support of No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act

From a letter sent today from National Right to Life to members of Congress:
The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the nationwide federation of right-to-life organizations, urges you to support the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (H.R. 3) when it comes before the House of Representatives on May 4.

For many years, federal funding of abortion has been restricted by a patchwork of overlapping laws – many of which expire annually, because they are incorporated into annual appropriations bills. The best known of these is the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits both direct federal funding of abortion and federal payments into any health plan which covers abortion (with narrow exceptions). These same principles have been applied, through separate laws, to the Federal Employees Health Benefits program, SCHIP, military health programs, and other federal health programs. These principles have broad public support – as recently as April, a CNN poll found that 61% of respondents opposed public funding for abortion.

Regrettably, however, the 111th Congress enacted the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). During consideration of that legislation, language was proposed (the Stupak-Pitts Amendment) to apply the principles of the Hyde Amendment to the multitude of programs created by the bill, and the House initially approved that language – but no such provision was part of the enacted law, due to opposition from President Obama and the Senate majority. Consequently, the enacted PPACA contains multiple provisions authorizing funding of abortion and funding of health plans that cover abortion. For documentation, please see NRLC's February 9, 2011 testimony before the Health Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, here and here.

H.R. 3 would codify the principles of the Hyde Amendment on a permanent, government-wide basis, applicable to both longstanding federal health programs and to the new programs created by the PPACA. A Member's vote on H.R. 3 will essentially define his or her position, for or against federal funding of abortion, for the foreseeable future. NRLC will include the vote on final passage of H.R. 3 in our scorecard of key right-to-life votes of the 112th Congress. Moreover, we reserve the right to also score the roll call on the Motion to Recommit, which we anticipate will be an attempt to make the bill far narrower than the traditional Hyde Amendment – an attempt consistent with the Obama Administration's ongoing attempts to "reinvent" the Hyde Amendment and to preserve legal authorizations for federal funding of abortion. Certainly, the veto threat on H.R. 3 issued by the White House yesterday provides additional graphic evidence that President Obama is opposed to meaningful statutory limitations on federal funding of abortion – notwithstanding his past attempts to obfuscate this issue.

We would like to comment on two additional components of H.R. 3. The bill would codify the principles of the Hyde-Weldon Amendment, which has been appended to the original Hyde Amendment on every Health and Human Services appropriations bill since 2004. This provision would solidify important protections for health care providers who do not wish to participate in providing abortions – which is especially important in light of the Obama Administration's February 23, 2011 action rescinding the conscience protection regulation issued by the Bush Administration.

H.R. 3 would also codify the "D.C. Hyde Amendment," which is the prohibition on the use of government funds to pay for abortion in the Federal District (except to save the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest), recently restored by enactment of the FY 2011 omnibus appropriations bill (Public Law 112-10). Most of the objections to this section misconstrue or misrepresent the constitutional status of the District of Columbia. Under the Constitution, the District is exclusively a federal jurisdiction. Article I says that Congress alone exercises "exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever" over the Federal District. The local administrative government is a component of the federal government. It is constitutional nonsense to speak of "non-federal funds," because all government funds in the Federal District are federally controlled, federally appropriated funds – and that is why H.R. 3 applies the Hyde Amendment principles to these funds.

Over one million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment. In order to preserve and extend this lifesaving policy, NRLC respectfully urges you to reject the anticipated Motion to Recommit, and to vote to pass the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. Thank you for your consideration of NRLC's positions on these critical issues.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Cloning is cloning is cloning

Two recent articles on the MCCL-backed human cloning ban legislation are refreshing for their honesty. The first is by Justin Kinney. The second is by Gene Tarne of Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics. A lengthy excerpt from Tarne's piece:
Those who oppose the ban are offering the same deceptive arguments designed to confuse and mislead that were used when Congress considered a similar ban on the federal level and whenever other states have debated a comprehensive cloning ban.

Their argument begins and ends with the false, unscientific assertion that there are two kinds of cloning: "reproductive" cloning and "therapeutic" cloning. The first, they assert, is meant to produce a cloned human being and should be banned. "Therapeutic" cloning, on the other hand, produces stem cells for use in research and therefore should not be banned.

Prof. John Wagner, clinical director of the University of Minnesota's Stem Cell Institute made the same distinction when he rather hysterically asserted that the proposed ban is "not just an attack on human reproductive cloning, it is a full-scale assault on stem cell research." Commenting on Minnesota's cloning debate, an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News flatly declared "therapeutic" cloning to be "an entirely different practice" from reproductive cloning. The editors at the Minneapolis Star Tribune agreed, writing that the procedure that would be banned is "a method used to generate patient-specific stem cells."

And here is Minnesota State Sen. Kathy Sheran, according to the [Minnesota] Independent's report: "I think we are really in danger of confusing the public about the difference between human cloning using stem cells for the creation of another human being and stem cells used for therapeutic purposes," said Sheran. "They are very different and very separate, and this rolls them all in together and confuses the public into thinking this is all about human cloning when it isn't."

These remarks border on gibberish. There surely is a "danger of confusing the public" in a public policy debate such as this, but that danger is coming from opponents of the ban

Cloning is the process of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, or SCNT. During SCNT, a donor provides a somatic cell, such as a simple skin cell. The nucleus of that cell, which contains all the genetic material, is then inserted into an egg cell that has had its own nucleus removed. The cell is then stimulated and if the process is successful, a cloned human embryo is produced that is genetically almost identical to the donor of the somatic cell.
Thus, all cloning is reproductive cloning because, if successful, it always reproduces another human being. There are not different types of cloning - cloning is cloning; the only question that arises is what one intends to do with the newly created cloned embryo - implant him or her in a womb to try for a live birth, or destroy him or her for research purposes.

But whatever one decides to do with the cloned human embryo, cloning has already occurred at that point. To conclude that because other people may intend two different fates for the cloned embryo, therefore there are two different forms of cloning is unscientific and specious. The distinction between so-called "therapeutic" cloning and "reproductive" cloning was invented by cloning proponents for purely political, not scientific, reasons.

The point is made by James Thomson, one of the two individuals credited with first isolating human embryonic stem cells for use in research. Asked in an MSNBC interview about those who make this distinction, Thompson responded:

"See, you're trying to define it away, and it doesn't work ... [B]y any reasonable definition, at least at some frequency, you're creating an embryo. If you try to define it away, you're being disingenuous."

Understanding how important terminology was to the public policy debate on human cloning, the President's Council on Bioethics (President Bush's council) took up this subject early on when it turned its attention to cloning. The Council agreed that the terms "reproductive" and "therapeutic" cloning were inadequate and misleading, and were based on the intentions of the cloner, not on any real distinction in the act of cloning itself (SCNT). Therefore, the Council replaced those terms and unanimously adopted "Cloning to produce children" and "Cloning for biomedical research." Because this terminology was adopted unanimously, it means that even those members of the Council who endorse human cloning for research purposes, endorsed this language and rejected such usages as "therapeutic" and "reproductive" cloning.

Sen. Sheran's remarks also show that she is thoroughly ignorant of the SCNT process. Human cloning does not use "stem cells for the creation of another human being"; it uses an egg and a somatic cell to produce an embryo. Nor does cloning produce "stem cells used for therapeutic purposes." Cloning produces an embryo which can then be destroyed to obtain stem cells. Where do Sen. Sheran, the editorial board at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and others of like belief think embryonic stem cells come from if not from an embryo?

The term "therapeutic" cloning is also deceptive because (1) it is certainly not therapeutic for the embryo that is destroyed and (2) no therapies exist or are even near development as a result of human cloning. In fact, scientists have not yet even successfully produced a cloned human embryo and grown it to the point where its stem cells could be harvested, much less derived therapies. So much for the proposed ban being a "full-scale assault on stem cell research": without ever having derived stem cells from a cloned embryo, scientists both here and abroad are somehow managing to continue with research using adult, embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCS).

Moreover, one can support hESC research and oppose cloning, as, e.g., syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer does. He has written:

"What makes research cloning different from stem cell research -- what pushes us over a moral frontier -- is that for the first time it sanctions the creation of a human embryo for the sole purpose of using it for its parts. ... It is the ultimate commodification of the human embryo. And it is a bridge too far."

The tired, deceptive arguments now being heard in Minnesota were used by cloning proponents in California in 2004 when they achieved passage of Prop. 71, to provide $3 billion in state bonds for cloning and embryonic stem cell research.

In a court affidavit, Dr. Stuart Newman, a professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy at New York Medical College, made short shrift of these arguments (Dr. Newman supports both abortion rights and human embryonic stem cell research).

"The assertion that the viable product of nuclear transfer is not an embryo is equivalent to the assertion that organisms that develop from these products, such as Dolly the sheep, are not animals," Newman said.

He continued:

"Whether or not a scientist or physician intends to implant a cluster of cells does not determine whether or not it is an embryo. If it is a cluster of liver cells, for example, the intention to implant it does not make it an embryo. Correspondingly, if it is a blastocyst capable of giving rise to embryo stem cells, the lack of intention to implant it does not cause it not to be an embryo.

"To believe that the material nature of a biological entity changes depending on the intention of the investigator is an example of magical thinking, which is antithetical to modern science."

Just so. Opponents of a comprehensive ban on human cloning in Minnesota are free to engage in their "magical thinking." Just don't claim it's science.