Tuesday, January 31, 2012

'The Stem Cell Debates: Lessons for Science and Politics'

An excellent new report, "The Stem Cell Debates: Lessons for Science and Politics," is published in the Winter 2012 edition of The New Atlantis. It is authored by the Witherspoon Council on Ethics and the Integrity of Science, comprised of a number of distinguished scholars and scientists from institutions such as Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Columbia.

The report is lengthy (146 pages, including endnotes) and well-documented, an up-to-date resource regarding stem cell research and its science, ethics and politics. And it is available in its entirety online.

From the preface of the report:
In this inaugural report, the Witherspoon Council considers the proper relationship between science, ethics, and politics by examining the most prominent science-related controversy of the past decade: the stem cell debates. These debates touched on fundamental questions concerning the governance of science and the moral status of embryonic human life. More than just a scholarly assessment of those debates, this report seeks to improve the public understanding of how science and democratic politics relate, including the responsibilities of scientists and policymakers. We consider the inevitable interplay between science and ethics and the conflicts of interest that arise when scientists are both advisors to policymakers and petitioners for their allocations. Among the report's most crucial lessons is that, in our system of participatory republican government, we are responsible for considering not only the potential benefits of scientific research but also the ethical implications of that research.
The report covers the following:
From Discovery to Debates
Science, Policy, and Politics
The Bush Funding Policy: How Science Informed Ethics and Politics
Ten Common Misrepresentations
  • Embryonic stem cells are superior to adult stem cells, or adult stem cells are superior to embryonic stem cells.
  • Somatic cell nuclear transfer is not cloning and does not produce embryos.
  • As a result of the Bush funding policy, the United States fell behind other countries in stem cell research.
  • Opposing embryonic stem cell research means opposing cures for suffering people.
  • Opposition to embryonic stem cell research is a matter of religious ideology.
  • The Bush stem cell funding policy was an illegitimate politicization of science.
Case Studies from the Stem Cell Debates [including Ron Reagan, California's Proposition 71, and more]
Lessons of the Stem Cell Debates
Beyond the Stem Cell Debates
In addition, lengthy and detailed appendices cover these topics:
The Science of Embryonic Stem Cell Research
The Promise of Stem Cell Therapies
Ethical Considerations Regarding Stem Cell Research
Stem Cell Research Funding: Policy and Law
Overview of International Human Embryonic Stem Cell Laws

Friday, January 27, 2012

Assessing Pres. Obama's statement on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade

President Barack Obama issued an official statement on the Jan. 22 anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that (together with companion ruling Doe v. Bolton) struck down the democratically-decided abortion laws of every state and imposed on the entire nation a policy of legal abortion for virtually any reason throughout all of pregnancy. Applauding the decision, Obama emphasized his commitment to "a woman's right to choose" and said abortion is a "fundamental constitutional right."

Women at the 2012 MCCL March for Life,
disagreeing with Pres. Obama
It is revealing that Obama so staunchly supports Roe, a constitutionally indefensible ruling that even legal scholars who support legal abortion (including Obama friend, adviser and member of the administration Cass Sunstein) think was badly decided. As Timothy Carney notes in the Washington Examiner, Obama "either shows a strikingly poor understanding of constitutional law (especially for a Harvard Law grad), or he buys into the dishonesty that pervades the opinion and its defenses." Law professor and legal-abortion advocate Kermit Roosevelt put it well in a 2003 Washington Post column:
You will be hard-pressed to find a constitutional law professor, even among those who support the idea of constitutional protection for the right to choose, who will embrace the [Roe] opinion itself rather than the result.

This is not surprising. As constitutional argument, Roe is barely coherent. The court pulled its fundamental right to choose more or less from the constitutional ether.
In any case, let's consider two claims Obama offers in his short Roe statement, both of which are typical of pro-choice rhetoric. The first is this:
As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman's health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.
He uses three key phrases here: "women's health," "reproductive freedom," and "government should not intrude on private family matters." Let me briefly take them one at a time.

First, Roe wasn't about women's health -- it was about legalizing elective abortion. (Laws before Roe allowed abortion to save the life of the mother.) That is what Obama supports. That is the issue in dispute.

Second, "reproductive freedom" is a vague term, but in this case Obama means the freedom to have an abortion, which, as a plain factual matter, is the killing of a member of the species Homo sapiens at the fetal stage of development. Of course, Obama agrees that "freedom" doesn't justify legalizing acts that assault the dignity and rights of other persons, such as intentionally drowning one's toddler in the bath tub. (Obama also opposes "freedom" -- to at least some degree -- with regard to a wide range of issues, including economics, health care, gun ownership, and so on.) The issue, then, is obviously not freedom, but rather whether abortion is or is not the kind of act, like drowning a toddler, that should not be permitted. And this depends, in turn, on whether the being dismembered and killed by abortion counts as someone deserving of respect and protection, as human beings at later developmental stages do. On that matter -- that is, the matter of whether his position on abortion is correct or not -- Obama has exactly nothing to say.

Third, to say that "government should not intrude on private family matters" is likewise to beg the question as to whether elective abortion is really a "private family matter" or is instead a fundamental human rights violation, like when a man abuses his wife or strangles his child in the privacy of his own home, both practices that are wrong and should not be permitted.

So Obama has not offered any reason to think that abortion is morally permissible and ought to be legal (much less subsidized by taxpayers and exported to developing nations, as Obama advocates). To my knowledge he never has.

The second claim is this:
And as we remember this historic anniversary, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.
The freedom to have an abortion, then, is necessary for women to have "the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities" as men. It is true that, as a fact of biology, only women can become pregnant, and so the "burden" of not killing human beings in utero falls disproportionately on them. It is also true that the burden of not killing five-year-old children falls disproportionately on parents who have five-year-old children, so we might say that such parents do not have the same freedoms and opportunities as non-parents. But we would not then legalize the killing of five-year-old children, whose own "rights, freedoms, and opportunities," indeed very lives, are at stake.

Everyone is equally morally prohibited from killing innocent persons. This prohibition is not gender-specific. The question at hand is whether it includes the killing of the unborn. Pro-life advocates point to the scientific facts of human embryology and fetal development, which show that the unborn is a living member of our species, a human being, and then argue that all human beings, irrespective not only of gender, race, class, religion and ethnicity, but also of age, size, ability, dependency and cognitive function, ought to be treated with basic moral respect and protected by law.

Some thoughtful pro-choice advocates have engaged and responded to that case, and/or have seriously argued for the moral permissibility and legality of abortion. Most pro-choice activists have not, relying instead on intellectually superficial rhetoric. Pres. Obama is firmly in the latter category.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

'The unbearable wrongness of Roe'

Michael Stokes Paulsen, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas here in Minnesota, wrote recently for Public Discourse about Roe v. Wade and its consequences.
After nearly four decades, Roe's human death toll stands at nearly sixty million human lives, a total exceeding the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin's purges, Pol Pot's killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide combined. Over the past forty years, one-sixth of the American population has been killed by abortion. One in four African-Americans is killed before birth. Abortion is the leading cause of (unnatural) death in America.

It is almost too much to contemplate: the prospect that we are living in the midst of, and accepting (to various degrees) one of the greatest human holocausts in history. And so we don't contemplate it. Instead, we look for ways to deny this grim reality, minimize it, or explain away our complacency—or complicity.
Paulsen discusses what Roe held, why constitutionally it was an "utterly indefensible" decision, and how morally its results are simply catastrophic. Below are some notable excerpts.

On what Roe actually did:
The right created by the Supreme Court in Roe is a constitutional right of some human beings to kill other human beings. I do not mean for my description to be provocative, but simply direct—blunt about facts. One need not presume that the human fetus has a right not to be killed in order to recognize that, as a descriptive matter, Roe creates a right for one class of human beings to kill other human beings.
On the constitutional basis for Roe:
If the U.S. Constitution actually protected such an extreme personal legal right to kill the human fetus, that would be troubling enough, but the trouble would be with the content of the Constitution. The further problem with Roe is that it has absolutely no basis in the text, structure, or history of the Constitution. No rule or principle of law fairly traceable to the text, discernible from its structure, or fairly derived from evidence of intention or historical understanding of an authoritative decision of the people, remotely supports the result reached in Roe. In terms of fair principles of constitutional interpretation, Roe is perhaps the least defensible major constitutional decision in the Supreme Court's history.

Roe's reasoning, distilled to its essentials, is that the Constitution creates a "privacy" right to abortion, on the premise that the right not "to bear" a child is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. No serious constitutional law scholar thinks this is a plausible reading of the Due Process Clause. That clause forbids government to "deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law." Without due process of law are crucial words. The Due Process Clause does not say that government never may deprive a person of life, liberty or property. It only says that government may not do so "without due process of law"—that is, arbitrarily, lawlessly, not in conformity with duly enacted laws and accepted procedures for their application. [PS note: The government rightly deprives people of the "liberty" to murder, rape and steal.]
On Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which reaffirmed the constitutional right to abortion invented in Roe:
If Roe was radical, Casey was craven. A majority of the Supreme Court apparently believed that Roe was wrongly decided, fully understood the moral and human consequences of the decision, and deliberately adhered to it anyway. Stare decisis has never been thought required by the Constitution, before or since. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) famously repudiated Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) on the question of whether racial segregation was consistent with "equal protection of the laws." The Court has overruled scores of its own precedents. Indeed, it overruled two cases in Casey. Casey's reaffirmation of Roe, in the name of stare decisis, was a sham—perhaps the most transparently dishonest major judicial decision since Dred Scott.
On what makes Roe unbearable:
Roe is a radical decision and a legally indefensible one. But what really makes Roe unbearably wrong is its consequences. The result of Roe and Doe has been the legally authorized killing of nearly sixty million Americans since 1973. Roe v. Wade authorized unrestricted private violence against human life on an almost unimaginable scale, and did so, falsely, in the name of the Constitution.
Our our response:
Here is the problem, undressed: If human embryonic life is morally worthy of protection, we have permitted sixty million murders under our watch. Faced with this prospect, many of us—maybe even most—flee from the facts. We deny that the living human embryo is "truly" or "fully" human life, adopt a view that whether the embryo or fetus is human "depends," or can be judged in degrees, on a sliding scale over the course of pregnancy; or we proclaim uncertainty about the facts of human biology; or we proclaim moral agnosticism about the propriety of "imposing our views on others"; or we throw up our hands and give up because moral opposition to an entrenched, pervasive social practice is not worth the effort, discomfort, and social costs. The one position not on the table—the one possibility too hard to look at—is that abortion is a grave moral wrong on a par with the greatest human moral atrocities of all time and that we passively, almost willingly, accept it as such.
Read the whole piece.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thousands join MCCL March for Life; women speak out against dangerous RU486 abortions

Members of Congress, Legislature participate in March commemorating 39 years of abortion on demand

ST. PAUL—Over four thousand Minnesotans marched at the State Capitol today to urge lawmakers to establish inspections of abortion centers and to ban "webcam abortions."

The 2012 MCCL March for Life marked the 39th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions that have resulted in the deaths of more than 567,000 unborn Minnesota children (Minnesota Department of Health), and more than 53 million unborn babies nationwide.

MCCL's 2012 legislative agenda calls upon lawmakers to require abortion centers to be inspected. A legal abortion center in Philadelphia was inspected for the first time in more than 20 years recently. The state found not only filthy conditions, but evidence that a significant number of babies had been born alive, then killed by the severing of their spinal cords. At least two women died after going to the facility. Minnesota has no way of knowing whether abortion centers in the state are safe for women, because they remain unregulated and uninspected.

Webcam abortions are done without a doctor physically present. Instead the doctor administers the RU486 abortion drugs remotely via an Internet-based webcam video connection. This increases the risks of RU486, which can be severe: At least 14 women have died in the U.S. after taking the drugs. Canada has banned the abortion method due to safety concerns. Yet Planned Parenthood offers it to young Minnesota mothers without a doctor available to physically examine the woman prior to administering the drugs.

"Governor Dayton, Speaker Zellers and Majority Leader Senjem, hear us loud and clear—ban webcam abortions now!" MCCL Development Director Jennifer Kistler told the huge crowd of citizens from across the state.

Mary Johnson of Silent No More Minnesota, a post-abortion recovery group, shared her horrific experience with RU486. Not only was the pain of the abortion excruciating, but she was left alone in her regret and grief. "If I could talk to a woman considering the RU486 method, I would encourage her not to have an abortion because she will regret it and they are misleading women into believing it is a better option," Johnson said. She now serves as the director of Alpha Pregnancy Resource Center in Savage.

Congressman John Kline encouraged pro-life citizens to persevere. "We've got to be here year after year, week after week, day after day fighting the fight," he said. "Push back to save those lives!"

Congressman Erik Paulsen said, "Let's work and promise that we will communicate and organize and vote to protect the unborn."

In her first public appearance since leaving the presidential race, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann told the crowd, "We will never forget those little ones who were taken from us—over 50 million strong! … We will never give up! Join me this year—choose life!"

Congressman Chip Cravaack reminded people to mourn the lives lost to abortion. "We must do everything to protect the unborn and now, our senior citizens. ... Keep up the fight, Minnesota!"

In a written greeting, Congressman Collin Peterson pledged to continue to work on passage of pro-life policies.

View photos from today's 2012 MCCL March for Life on the MCCL website.

MCCL is Minnesota's oldest and largest pro-life organization with more than 70,000 member families and 240 chapters across the state.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Roe v. Wade: Absurd, deadly, catastrophic

In Roe v. Wade the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the right to liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution includes an unstated "right to privacy" that is in turn "broad enough to encompass" a right to abortion (which is also never mentioned in the Constitution) and this entails that states are constitutionally required to permit abortion on demand. Got it?

There was no reason to think the Constitution contains a right to abortion, and every reason to think it doesn't. Most obviously damning are all the state abortion bans enacted in the latter half of the 19th century, about the same time the Fourteenth Amendment was put into place. As Justice William Rehnquist wrote in his Roe dissent, "To reach its result, the Court necessarily has had to find within the scope of the Fourteenth Amendment a right that was apparently completely unknown to the drafters of the Amendment."

Absurd? Completely.

The consequence of Roe (and its companion decision, Doe v. Bolton) was a Court-mandated, nationwide policy of abortion on demand at virtually any stage of pregnancy. Thirty-nine years later, this policy has resulted in the legal and deliberate killing of some 53 million unborn human beings. That's 53,000,000 innocent members of the human family.

Abortion, under the Roe policy, is the leading cause of human death. The number of Americans killed because of Roe dwarfs the number of American casualties from every war in our history combined. More Americans die from abortion each day than died on that horrific day in September of 2001.

But those comparisons can be misleading. Abortion isn't death in the service of national defense, freedom and justice, or death as a result of natural causes, like heart disease (as tragic as those deaths are). Abortion is intentional killing for the convenience or supposed benefit of others; it is the elimination of those very young, defenseless and voiceless human beings who get in the way of what we want. Abortion, in other words, is precisely the kind of injustice that our soldiers have fought and died to defeat.

Tomorrow, Jan. 22, is the 39th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand nationwide. At 2 p.m. we will hold the annual MCCL March for Life at the state capitol in St. Paul. We will commemorate the lives lost and women hurt. We will call for legal protection for unborn children and introduce MCCL's pro-life legislative agenda for the upcoming session. If you live in Minnesota, please join us.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

NARAL attacks Minnesota pregnancy centers and Positive Alternatives

NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota has released a report titled "State-Funded Deception: Minnesota's Crisis Pregnancy Centers," a supposed exposé of our state's pro-life pregnancy care centers (also called crisis pregnancy centers, or CPCs). NARAL hopes to get rid of the Positive Alternatives program, which provides modest state grants to a select number of pregnancy centers in Minnesota, by discrediting these organizations. NARAL also hopes to slap certain legal restrictions on them, but laments that "not all of the harmful practices CPCs engage in can be remedied through legislation."

What are these horrible places that perpetrate "gross injustice" (as the NARAL report puts it)? Pregnancy care centers help pregnant women and new mothers in need (and their families) without advocating the wrong of abortion as a solution to the difficulties of life. Rather, these pregnancy centers offer the information, counseling, medical referrals, adoption help and various other kinds of assistance (e.g., parenting training programs, baby supplies, housing and employment assistance) necessary to become a prepared parent or to place a child for adoption in a loving home. They are a one-stop location for pregnant women who may lack resources and support, feel desperate, or feel that abortion is their only option. (Such women will not find what they need at the typical abortion clinic.)

The Positive Alternatives program, created in 2005 through MCCL-backed legislation, helps counteract the $1.5 million-plus of state taxpayer money each year that directly pays for abortions, in addition to all the taxpayer money that funds organizations that perform and promote abortion. MCCL has compiled some stories of women helped and unborn lives saved through Positive Alternatives. More than 25,000 women statewide were helped through the program in its first four years (July 2006-June 2010). The program correlates to a four-year trend of declining abortions in Minnesota. (This is not to say that Positive Alternatives is solely responsible for the abortion decline, but there is no doubt that lives are saved through the program.)

NARAL investigated 15 pregnancy centers (of the nearly 100 in Minnesota) via in-person visits, website analyses and phone calls. The resulting report doesn't offer much substance. It is, however, full of ideological rhetoric. Those who oppose abortion are called "anti-choice," a purely ideological term if there ever was one. Pregnancy centers are said to "frighten and intimidate women," a ridiculous charge to those who actually know the staff and volunteers at such centers. Pregnancy centers are blasted for "promot[ing] their own agenda," which is really just the intention to help women, better lives and rescue young human beings from the killing of abortion.

The report claims: "Perhaps the most damaging and memorable practice CPCs engage in are the emotionally manipulative tactics CPCs use to scare and shame women out of exercising their right to choose abortion." How do pregnancy centers do this? They "scare and shame women" by doing things like "telling personal stories, crying [abortion has often been a very personal issue], using fetal models ... or videos to show fetal development." Such emotional appeals are not bad -- in fact, they can be good and important -- as long as they are grounded in truth. (Consider, in contrast, the emotion-based appeals that form the bulk of popular pro-choice rhetoric and argument. They either obscure sound reasoning, are based on false claims, or both.)

The most absurd statement in NARAL's report is this: "By using the key words such as 'pregnancy' or 'help' or 'choices' in web searches, the CPCs deceive women seeking guidance." What?

More substantively, the report attacks as false certain statements about the effect of abortion on women. First, the report says there is no link between abortion and a higher risk of developing breast cancer. Really? Check out this list of studies pertaining to the relationship between abortion and the development of breast cancer. Learn more about the evidence here and here.

Second, the report denies that there is an increased risk of mental health problems following abortion. A 2011 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Psychiatry -- "the largest quantitative estimate of mental health risks associated with abortion available in the world literature" -- strongly suggests otherwise. Third, the NARAL report downplays any increased risk of future infertility and miscarriage following abortion. Evidence suggests that the risk is real (go here for the infertility risk and here for miscarriage).

The irony is that abortion advocates are unfairly targeting pregnancy centers at a time when the abortion industry itself has been exposed. From the horrifying and illegal practices of abortionists Kermit GosnellSteven Brigham and Nicola Riley to Planned Parenthood's cover-up of apparent statutory rape and underage sex trafficking -- abortion defenders are eager to deflect attention. And to undermine the lifesaving and woman-helping work of pregnancy care centers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Should there be judicial retention elections in Minnesota?

Blogger Walter Hudson provides some helpful background information for the debate about how judges ought to be selected in Minnesota:
Judges in Minnesota are currently subject to contested elections with one or more names on a ballot. However, in practice, few judges ever face a challenger, and fewer still have lost to one. A number of explanations have been offered as to why judges have not been effectively challenged. There were some odd rules about campaigning and fundraising which were, in recent years, struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. What has emerged since is a debate between those who seek additional measures to strengthen contested elections and those who seek to amend the state constitution so that judges would instead face a retention election.

The options in a retention election are "yes" and "no." You vote to either retain the judge or not. Under MSRE [merit selection retention elections], judges who lost a retention election would be replaced by a gubernatorial appointee selected from a list provided by a merit selection commission.

Got all that? Let's make it a little harder for you. Under MSRE, in addition to the Merit Selection Commission (which already exists in order to facilitate appointments when judges retire early or otherwise vacate the bench between elections), there would also be a newly formed Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission whose job would be to advise voters on whether or not to retain judges under the new election system. The performance commission would look at factors like punctuality, timely decision making, and respectful treatment of litigants -- not how judges ruled on particular cases -- and grade incumbents as well qualified, qualified, or not qualified.

This is pretty wonky stuff. It's nonetheless important when you consider how much power the judicial branch holds. Judges need to be held accountable. The question these proposals attempt to answer is how best to do so. Do we leave the "performance evaluation" and "merit selection" to the voters? Or do we create commissions to do the job for us?
Why are judicial retention elections a bad idea? Hudson continues:
The effect of MSRE would be to insulate the judiciary from political consequences. "Every one of these processes is political ..." Franklin said of proposals for reform on The Late Debate. "[Our goal is] to make sure that hot button issues don't dominate the bench." Of course, what makes an issue a hot button is the fact that voters care about it. So the translated goal is to make sure voters don't dominate the bench.

It's important to clarify that we are talking about "the bench" in the collective sense, not a particular judge, but the judiciary as an institution. Understanding that distinction is critical. MSRE advocates stress that retention elections "empower the voter" to oust sitting judges. This is true. However, retention elections bar voters from ever directly determining who will sit on the bench. So while a particular judge might be voted out for one reason or another, his or her replacement will not be vetted by the same voters. This allows the judiciary as a whole to withstand the wrath of the electorate, letting particular judges take it on the chin while enabling a political clone to replace them.

The euphemism for this political insulation is "impartiality and stability." Whenever you hear someone talk about impartiality, your next question should be "by whose standard?" The choices presently offered are the standard of the voters and the standard of a 24-person commission appointed by a given political establishment. If you're going to assert that the voters as a whole aren't qualified to determine a judge's impartiality, it seems strange to turn around and argue that 24 appointees somehow are. We're not dealing with separate species here, voter sapien and voter superior.

As for stability, well, dictatorship is pretty stable. Justice seems a higher consideration. ...

Contested elections result in an elected judiciary. Retention elections do not.
Read the rest.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Relativism, abortion, and Calvin and Hobbes

Hobbes: "How are you doing on your New Year's resolutions?"

Calvin: "I didn't make any. See, in order to improve oneself, one must have some idea of what's 'good.' That implies certain values. But as we all know, values are relative. Every system of belief is equally valid and we need to tolerate diversity. Virtue isn't 'better' than vice. It's just different."

Hobbes: "I don't know if I can tolerate that much tolerance."

Calvin: "I refuse to be victimized by notions of virtuous behavior."
-- Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes (Jan. 2, 1995)
Often a defender of legal abortion will say something like, "If you don't like abortion, don't have one." But this seems to be a misunderstanding. For opponents of abortion are not saying they don't like abortion; they are asserting that abortion is wrong, whether they like it or not. (It is true that we dislike abortion, but that stems from the wrongness of the act, not the other way around.) To clearly see the error, imagine someone saying, "If you don't like spousal abuse, then don't abuse your spouse." That's absurd.

The pro-choice advocate has misconstrued the pro-life position as a subjective claim, rather than a claim of objective morality. He has reduced abortion to a question of personal preference -- e.g., "If you don't like Pixar, watch Dreamworks instead" -- rather than objective fact.

Consider another claim: "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but I don't want to force my view on everyone else by telling them they shouldn't have abortions." Again, the person making this statement sees opposition to abortion as a mere personal preference. Imagine someone saying, "I'm personally opposed to slavery, but I don't want to force my view on everyone else. So if you want to enslave the Canadians, go right ahead."

Underlying these statements is an idea called moral/ethical relativism. It holds that no objective standard of right and wrong exists; rather, morality is relative to each individual or culture. "What is right (or wrong) for me," the explicit relativist says, "might not be right (or wrong) for you." The alternative view is called moral objectivism or realism, which holds that morality is independent of what any particular person or culture thinks, feels or decides.

Relativism is more prevalent than some people realize. New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote recently about an in-depth study of the moral views of young people, detailed in the new book Lost in Transition (authored by the team that conducted the study, led by distinguished Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith). Brooks explains:
The default position, which most of [the young people interviewed] came back to again and again, is that moral choices are just a matter of individual taste. "It's personal," the respondents typically said. "It's up to the individual. Who am I to say?" ...

Many were quick to talk about their moral feelings but hesitant to link these feelings to any broader thinking about a shared moral framework or obligation. As one put it, "I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn't speak on behalf of anyone else as to what's right and wrong."
Mona Charen, an author and nationally syndicated columnist, reviewed the same book:
Six out of ten [young people interviewed] told the authors that morality is a "personal choice," like preferring long or short hair. "Moral rights and wrongs are essentially matters of individual opinion." One young woman, a student at an Ivy League college, explained that while she doesn't cheat, she is loath to judge others who do. "I guess that's a decision that everyone is entitled to make for themselves. I'm sort of a proponent of not telling other people what to do." A young man offered that "a lot of the time it's personal. It changes from person to person. What you may think is right may not necessarily be right for me, understand? So it's all individual." Forty-seven percent of the cohorts agreed that "morals are relative, there are not definite rights and wrongs for everybody."
Often, it seems to me, moral relativism is less a rationally held position than it is an attitude that is thoughtlessly absorbed, the result of intellectual movements that have shaped the way our culture thinks about moral matters. In any case, we must ask whether relativism is true. Advocates offer two main arguments.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Video: Attend the 2012 March for Life

Please note: The video (since it was created last year) mistakenly says the March begins at noon. It begins at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 22, at the State Capitol in St. Paul.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The state of the pro-life movement in Minnesota

Even as Planned Parenthood advances its agenda of more abortions through whatever means possible, and even as pro-abortion Gov. Mark Dayton vetoes every piece of lifesaving legislation that reaches his desk, the pro-life movement in Minnesota is making progress. As a result of public education, compassionate support and alternatives for pregnant women in need, and pro-life laws enacted in recent years (notably Woman's Right to Know and Positive Alternatives), the number of abortions has slowly but consistently declined in Minnesota.

Two new articles discuss the state of the pro-life movement in Minnesota. In the Northern Cross, Kyle Eller writes:
Someone scanning headlines about tax-funded abortion and conscience protection and the platforms of the president and governor might imagine the pro-life movement as downcast and dwindling.

But 39 years after Roe v. Wade, the reverse is true. Although it often comes with the caveat that the movement has a long way to go, prolife leaders feel the wind squarely in their sails. ...

"Pro-lifers and activists should be very encouraged," said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of Minnesota's bishops.

He says public attitudes are changing, and presents polling to back it up. A May Gallup poll analyzed by National Right to Life shows 61 percent of Americans taking a generally pro-life position that abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances. Only 37 percent took a position generally in favor of legal abortion.

It's true at the state level too, Adkins said. "I think Minnesotans are nice people, and it's not nice to kill babies."

Fewer babies are being killed in Minnesota—and in cities like Duluth and in the United States as a whole.

Bill Poehler, communications director for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, said that numbers are going down across the country, that the rate of abortions in Minnesota is the lowest since 1975, and that teen abortions are the lowest ever recorded. ...

Poehler said for the first time in 20 years an abortion facility in the state closed—at Regions Hospital in St. Paul. On the other hand, Planned Parenthood is building the third largest abortion facility in the country in the same city, within walking distance of seven college campuses and right on the rail line.

Joanne Martens, director of the Lake Superior Life Care Center, which served more than 2,300 clients (including 138 abortion-vulnerable women) at locations in Duluth and Superior last year and materially assisted many more, said the organization is getting more volunteers, including younger people. She said the center, which will soon offer ultrasounds for expecting mothers, is also seeing increased referrals from social service agencies that don't identify as pro-life, in part because the Positive Alternatives law passed in Minnesota several years ago has given it more visibility and credibility. ...

Among pro-life groups, there is also an improved sense of collaboration, according to many of those interviewed—something that is not always easy given the number of different organizations and approaches in the pro-life community.

Many leaders explain the change in cultural attitudes simply: Young people have grown up seeing amazing ultrasound pictures of life in the womb, and many have also seen the effect of 50 million abortions since 1973 on women. ...

There have been political victories. Poehler said both the United States and the European Union banned patenting of human DNA, and one large corporation involved in such research ceased operations.

But at the State Capitol, it's tough going. Five pro-life bills were passed last year, some with large, bipartisan majorities, and sent to Gov. Mark Dayton.

"Unfortunately, the governor vetoed them all," Poehler said.

Lacking a veto-proof majority for those measures, Poehler said the 2012 legislative focus will be on the safety of women.

For instance, cases in other states have drawn attention to a lack of regulation for abortion facilities, a situation pro-life leaders say is present in Minnesota. MCCL will be pushing legislation to address that.

Another issue is "webcam abortions," where a pregnant mother is given the abortion medication RU-486 after consulting with a provider in another city by video link, with no physical examination.

Poehler said Planned Parenthood has rolled out the practice to every facility in Iowa and in 2011 started doing them in Rochester, raising concerns that it will also expand in Minnesota and increase the number of abortions.

Poehler said the practice is unsafe, noting RU-486 has already been banned over safety concerns in Canada and that 14 women have died from it. Not being observed means still greater risk, he said, and may involve clients who lack nearby emergency medical care in case of complications.

Read the whole article here. Meanwhile, Scott Noble writes in the Minnesota Christian Examiner.
Number of abortions in the state at record lows, the closing of the abortion clinic at Regions Hospital and the continued move of more people to the pro-life position. These and a host of other factors give Minnesota's pro-life leaders encouragement for the movement and its future.

Two of the state's most well-known and effective pro-life groups—Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) and Pro-Life Action Ministries (PLAM)—have played key roles in advancing pro-life legislation and providing prayer support for the pro-life movement. ...

Even though the closing of the abortion clinic at Regions was good news for pro-life groups, it also highlighted what Scott Fischbach, executive director of MCCL, referred to as a "consolidation" of abortion services in Minnesota.

"Regions shutting down was good," he said. "But it's kind of like the corner grocery store that you had for years and then a big Cub moved in and now the corner grocery store is kind of a waste of time. Regions should have never been involved in abortions. They are a hospital. There's been a consolidation that we've seen in the abortion reports that come out every July. There has been a consolidation in the abortion industry. Planned Parenthood's numbers continue to go up and up and up. Everybody else's are going down." ...

"I think you are seeing, as the younger generation now matures, that they've lived through their friends and their brothers and sisters having gone through or experiencing close at hand people who have suffered from abortions," he said. "And they know it's not the route to take."

One of the reasons for the movement toward more pro-life support, Fischbach believes, is the advancement in technology.

"When Roe v. Wade was decided, we didn't have the neo-natal intensive care units, we didn't have the 3-D ultrasounds, we didn't have the audio of the unborn child's heart beating, we didn't have all of these studies of all of these women for the last 40 years who we now can study the effects that having had an abortion has," he said. "When you begin to put all of that together and you see the effects, different people, different arguments, different facts are going to bring people to the movement."

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Dear Abby highlights solution to problem of frozen embryos

In yesterday's "Dear Abby" column, "Deadlocked in New Jersey" asks for advice about the fate of her frozen human embryos. She and her husband used in vitro fertilization and gave birth to two children, and two "excess" frozen embryos remain. Her husband does not believe they can financially accommodate any more children, but "Deadlocked" has moral concerns about having the embryos destroyed.

Abby responds:
This isn't an either/or question. I discussed it with Diane Goodman, the past president of the Academy of California Family Formation Lawyers, who suggests a third option. Your embryos could be donated for embryo adoption by a couple who have been unable to conceive, and who would love to raise them. For more information, you should contact an attorney who specializes in family formation, or contact the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption and Donation Program. Its phone number is 714-693-5437 and its website is www.nightlight.org.
The biological fact is that human embryos are human beings in the embryonic stage of development. I was once an embryo, and so were you, the reader of this post. Destroying embryos, or donating them to be killed for scientifically dubious research, are not ethical options. Those practices treat intrinsically valuable members of the human family as mere raw material to discard or dissect in order to harvest useful parts.

Embryonic human beings should be given the chance to grow up. But an embryo's genetic mother need not gestate the embryo herself. Embryo adoption, as Abby rightly notes, is a life-affirming alternative, just as regular adoption is a wonderful alternative to the killing of abortion.

I wrote about a personal story of embryo adoption in the January 2010 issue of MCCL News. The article is reprinted below (I have changed the names for privacy).
John and Nicole, a married couple from St. Paul, struggled with infertility. They considered traditional adoption, but felt God leading them to another alternative: the adoption of human embryos.

Embryo adoption offered John and Nicole a chance to experience the joys of pregnancy and birth—and also to rescue young human beings trapped in a frozen state from possible destruction.

Some 400,000 human embryos currently reside in a state of suspended animation, frozen in liquid nitrogen (a process called cryopreservation) and stored in fertility clinics across the United States. They are "left over" from in vitro fertilization (IVF); the genetic parents may choose to implant them at a future date, store them indefinitely, discard them, donate them for destructive research, or donate them to an adoptive couple.

These embryos are not mere tissue, but distinct, living and whole human organisms—members of the species Homo sapiens, like the rest of us, only at a much earlier stage of their development. They are "created in God's image," as Nicole puts it, and ought to be treated with dignity and respect, not farmed for their useful parts for research or simply thrown away.

Through the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program (www.snowflakes.org), John and Nicole were matched with a couple willing to donate their surplus embryos after IVF. John and Nicole agreed to accept all 10 of the couple’s leftover embryos.

The process was similar to that of a traditional adoption, involving a home study and a visit by a social worker. Two embryos were transferred into Nicole in October of 2007. One survived and, after a normal pregnancy, was born as a healthy baby boy the next year. John and Nicole hope to implant more embryos in 2010.

Unlike a traditional adoption, Nicole explains, "There was no guarantee of a baby at the end." Embryos must successfully implant in the mother's uterus and avoid miscarriage; many do not make it.

As with traditional adoption, embryo adoption can be "open" or "closed." To honor the wishes of the genetic parents, details about John and Nicole's son are withheld from this story.

Advocates of embryonic stem cell research, which requires the killing of human embryos in order to derive stem cells, often tout the existence of leftover IVF embryos as a reason to proceed with destructive research. Such embryos would be "discarded anyway," proponents claim.

But they need not be. They can now be adopted by loving families like John and Nicole and allowed to grow up. As Dr. Micheline Mathews-Roth of Harvard Medical School explains, "We should offer these extra embryos to infertile couples to implant and allow them to be born, and not kill them either by experimentation or by disposal."

Embryonic research faces serious scientific obstacles and has yet to benefit human patients; ethical, adult stem cells have already successfully treated patients with more than 70 different conditions.

Couples who have used IVF and now have extra embryos have an "awesome option," John says, to place their embryos for adoption. And couples burdened with infertility can choose to adopt these embryos and give them a chance at life.

"We've had a fantastic experience," Nicole says. "We have a wonderful child because of [embryo adoption]. He was just waiting [in a frozen state]."

She adds: "He's who God had for our family."
For more information about embryo adoption, visit snowflakes.org, embryoadoption.org and embryodonation.org. (HT: Embryo Donation and Adoption Awareness Center)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Responding to the case for legalized abortion in Africa

Alexis Okeowo argues at the International Herald Tribune that African nations should legalize elective abortion in order to prevent the death of women from illegal abortions ("Africa's Abortion Wars," Dec. 15). The argument fails on two levels.

First, only by assuming that abortion does not unjustly take the life of an innocent human being can Okeowo's case hold any water. For if the human fetus killed by abortion is a rights-bearing member of the human family, like each of us, Okeowo's argument is tantamount to saying that because some people will endanger themselves trying to kill other people, the government ought to legalize such killing. Mary Anne Warren, the distinguished American pro-choice philosopher, explains: "[T]he fact that restricting access to abortion has tragic side effects does not, in itself, show that the restrictions are unjustified, since murder is wrong regardless of the consequences of prohibiting it."

Thus, in resolving the legal question of abortion, the decisive factor is whether abortion is unjust or not. Most Africans believe it is—a position firmly supported by modern embryology together with sound moral reasoning about the dignity and rights of human beings at early developmental stages. African countries have good reasons to maintain laws against elective abortion.

Second, Okeowo is wrong to suggest that legalizing abortion can "solve" the problem of maternal mortality. She offers two statistical examples. "Just two years after abortion became legal in South Africa [in 1997]," she claims, "the number of deaths among pregnant women who underwent the procedure fell precipitously." But whatever the number of abortion-related deaths, the maternal mortality rate as a whole has not improved in South Africa. In fact, it has gotten much worse. According to the 2010 South African Health Review (SAHR), 625 mothers died per 100,000 live births in 2007. This is up from 369 in 2001, and it is double the 1990 rate. The SAHR explains, "South Africa … is actually in the small group of countries where the [maternal mortality ratio] has increased since 1990."

Okeowo says efforts in Ghana (where abortion is broadly legal) to make abortion more accessible led to a "slow" drop in the maternal mortality rate between 1990 and 2008. But she offers no reason for attributing the supposed decline to abortion efforts (abortion accounts for only a small percentage of maternal deaths in Ghana), and the numbers she cites are themselves contradicted by other estimates, which tend to vary significantly. The truth is that despite its long-time policy of legalized abortion and serious efforts in recent years to make abortion "safer" and more accessible, Ghana faces an enormous maternal health challenge. In 2003 the Ghana Health Service developed a strategic plan for the provision of abortion with the goal of reducing maternal deaths, and in 2006 that plan was fully implemented. More than four years later, DailyGuideGhana.com reported, "The country's stringent efforts at reducing [the] maternal mortality rate seem to be failing miserably, as reports indicate that the rate is soaring across the country."

Evidence from around the world shows that maternal mortality is determined mainly by the quality of maternal health care, independent of the legal status of abortion. For example, Chile prohibited abortion in 1989, and subsequently the maternal mortality rate continued to decline significantly; the rate of maternal deaths due specifically to abortion also dropped. Today Chile has the lowest maternal death rate in Latin America. In the developed world, the decline in maternal mortality rates coincided "with the development of obstetric techniques and improvement in the general health status of women" (from about 1935 to the 1950s), according to the World Health Organization. This took place well before the widespread legalization of abortion.

Legalizing abortion in African countries that lack adequate maternal health care would only increase the number of abortions and thereby increase the number of pregnant women exposed to the dangers of abortion. For the sake of both women and their unborn children, abortion should not be legalized and promoted throughout Africa.