Monday, December 26, 2016

Ten simple ways to make a difference in 2017

In the effort to protect the unborn, their mothers, and other vulnerable human beings, even little things make a difference—things that anyone can do.

These things don't take much time out of your busy schedule. They don't require a wealth of knowledge or expertise. They don’t demand a lot of initiative or planning.

Here are just a handful of concrete ways you can partner with MCCL to make a lifesaving difference in 2017.

  1. Attend the MCCL March for Life on Jan. 22, and bring your friends and family.
  2. Connect with MCCL on social media to stay abreast of the latest issues and to share pro-life articles and graphics with your social networks.
  3. Come to the MCCL Legislative Dinner on Feb. 15, and invite your state legislators to attend.
  4. Contact your representatives in the Legislature and urge them to support MCCL's legislative agenda during the 2017 session. Pro-life legislation saves lives.
  5. Invite your pro-life friends and family to join MCCL. Membership is the foundation of everything that MCCL does.
  6. Encourage students (your own or others in your community) to be part of MCCL's Student Day at the Capitol in March and Life Leadership Camp in July.
  7. Volunteer for a shift staffing your local MCCL county fair booth next summer.
  8. Volunteer for a shift at the MCCL booth at the State Fair at the end of August.
  9. Participate in the MCCL Fall Tour meeting nearest you next September or October to be informed and equipped—and bring others with you.
  10. Give financially to MCCL. Only with your ongoing and faithful support can we continue (and expand) our pro-life educational, legislative and political work.

Stay tuned to for more information about these and other upcoming opportunities. MCCL appreciates every little thing you do—everything we can do together—in defense of the right to life of all members of the human family.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

My body, my choice? Why bodily autonomy doesn’t justify abortion

A version of the following article first appeared in the November-December 2016 issue of MCCL News.

Abortion is justified, many of its defenders argue, because women have a right to control their own bodies. "My body, my choice," signs and bumper stickers proclaim. The bodily autonomy argument takes a few different forms. None, however, are successful.

Some people think that the unborn (the human embryo or fetus) is a mere part of the woman's body. But science, of course, has established that the unborn—though physically dependent on and inside of the mother—is a distinct, self-developing individual with his or her own DNA, brain, arms and legs, etc. Abortion attacks and kills the body of someone else.

Other people believe that even though the unborn is a distinct human organism, a pregnant woman should be able to decide what happens in or to her body. Whereas many arguments for abortion contend that the human being in utero is not a "person" with intrinsic value and rights, this argument holds that abortion is permissible regardless of whether or not the child is a valuable person.

The Sovereign Zone argument

Trent Horn helpfully distinguishes between two variations of this approach. The first version, which he calls the "Sovereign Zone" argument, claims that a woman has an absolute right to do whatever she wants with anything that is inside her body. And the unborn child—even if she is a human person—is currently within that sovereign zone.

But sovereignty cannot be absolute. Consider an analogy: May we do whatever we want with anything that is on our private property? May we attack or kill innocent people who are passing through or seeking refuge? No, we must respect the rights of other people. "Mere ownership," acknowledges pro-choice philosopher Mary Anne Warren, "does not give me the right to kill innocent people whom I find on my property." And so it is with pregnancy.

May a pregnant woman ingest drugs that she knows will cause her child to be deformed or disabled? Clearly not. And if knowingly harming the child is wrong, killing her (through abortion) is even worse. Bodily autonomy is important, but there are obvious limits to that autonomy when someone else's body is also involved.

The Right to Refuse argument

The second, more sophisticated version, which Horn calls the "Right to Refuse" argument, was first introduced by moral philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson in 1971. It contends that a woman has a right to refuse to let the unborn child use her body to survive. Just as a person is not obligated to donate an organ to save the life of someone else, the pregnant woman is not obligated to provide her uterus (and the sustenance and protection it affords) to her child.

This argument has enormous problems. Abortion, in the vast majority of cases, is not merely the withholding or withdrawing of "life support" from the unborn child—it is the intentional and active killing of that child, often by dismemberment. This killing violates the child's right to life (the right not to be intentionally killed) and right to bodily integrity. Indeed, "if people have a right to bodily integrity and so do not have a duty to donate a kidney," writes philosopher Christopher Kaczor, "then people in utero have a right not to have their bodily integrity fatally violated through abortion."

Moreover, even if abortion were not intentional killing (i.e., if it were simply a refusal to aid the child by removing her from the womb), abortion would still be wrong because a pregnant woman does have an obligation to allow her baby to live and grow in the womb. Here's why.

First, the father and mother, except in cases of rape, willingly engaged in an activity that caused (and is biologically ordered to) the creation of a new, dependent human being. So they bear responsibility for the resulting child.

Second, parents have special obligations to their dependent offspring that they do not have to others. Fathers, for example, must pay child support even if they did not intend or desire to become fathers. Parents may not abandon their children or refuse to provide for their needs (though they may relinquish those obligations through adoption).

Indeed, more generally, "we are by nature members of communities," explains ethicist Patrick Lee. "[O]ur flourishing involves being in communion with others. And communion with others of itself—even if we find ourselves united with others because of a physical or social relationship which precedes our consent—entails duties or responsibilities."

Parental obligation may not require extraordinary acts (like donating a kidney), but it does require basic, ordinary care, such as the nourishment and shelter provided during pregnancy. If unborn children are valuable members of the human family, like born children, then the same parental duties that apply after birth are present beforehand as well.

Third, the purpose of the uterus is to gestate the unborn child—it is where that child belongs. All human beings, during their prenatal stages of development, rely on it for care and protection. "The uterus exists for the unborn child rather than for the mother," notes Stephanie Gray. It is reasonable to think that a child has a right to live in her natural environment.

Finally, even apart from the other reasons, a moral obligation seems to arise when we alone are in a position to provide ordinary care (food and shelter) to someone who needs it to survive. "Suppose you live in a cabin far out in the wilderness, cut off from civilization by extreme distance and weather for much of the year, say, nine months," writes Mathew Lu, a philosophy professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. "One day you return to the cabin to discover that an infant has been left at the door without explanation. … Do you have an obligation to care for the infant, who will surely die if you do not take it in?"

Most people would say yes. "[W]e have a general obligation to protect the vulnerable, and a special obligation towards those we contingently encounter," Lu concludes.

Bodily rights do not justify abortion

The right to control one's body does not justify the intentional killing of others. Nor does it nullify our obligations to the youngest and most vulnerable members of the human family.

Indeed, the autonomy argument turns common sense and justice upside down. The unique nature of pregnancy—the bodily dynamic between an unborn child and her mother—is not, as the argument supposes, a reason to think that killing or neglect is permissible. It is, instead, a reminder that human beings are connected to and dependent on each other.

"The so-called right to abortion has … sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships," observed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. "It has portrayed the greatest of gifts—a child—as a competitor, an intrusion, and an inconvenience. It has nominally accorded mothers unfettered dominion over the independent lives of their physically dependent sons and daughters."

This "unconscionable power," Mother Teresa said, must be rejected. Both mother and child deserve respect, protection, and care.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Taxpayer funding of abortion may cost 1,000 Minnesota lives each year

December 15 is the 21st anniversary of the Minnesota Supreme Court's Doe v. Gomez ruling. That decision requires the government to pay for abortions for women who receive state assistance.

Through the end of 2014, according to the Department of Human Services, Minnesota taxpayers reimbursed abortion practitioners $22,507,205 for a total of 73,171 abortions. Taxpayers' 2014 portion was $953,187 for 3,957 abortions. Preliminary figures for 2015 add 4,267 state-funded abortions to the total.

Many of these abortions would have never taken place without Doe v. Gomez. Indeed, research has established that public funding of abortion significantly increases the incidence of abortion (relative to what it would otherwise be). A literature review by the Guttmacher Institute—which supports unlimited abortion—concluded, based on 22 different studies, that "approximately one-fourth of women who would have Medicaid-funded abortions instead give birth when this funding is unavailable."

In a recent analysis of the impact of public funding restrictions, Dr. Michael New estimates that 22,938 Minnesota abortions were prevented during the (pre-Doe) years in which there was no state or federal Medicaid funding of elective abortion. That amounts to approximately 1,500 fewer abortions per year. This was, however, during an era in which the abortion rate was higher than it is today.

To estimate the impact of taxpayer funding since Doe v. Gomez, let's apply Guttmacher's 25 percent figure to the Minnesota numbers. Here's what we get:

  • In 2014, about 989 Minnesota abortions would not have taken place without the availability of public funding.
  • Through 2014, a total of 18,293 abortions occurred because of public funding.
  • In 2015 (using the Department of Health's numbers), about 1,067 abortions took place because of public funding.

It's reasonable to think, then, that about 1,000 fewer Minnesota women would have abortions each year if the state did not pay for abortions through Medicaid. There would have been nearly 20,000 fewer abortions (thus far) without Doe v. Gomez.

Taxpayer funding of abortion has cost Minnesota thousands and thousands of human lives.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Restoring our lost common sense about the killing of human beings

During the 19th century, scientists and physicians came to understand that the life of a human being (an individual member of the species Homo sapiens) begins at conception. The old idea that "quickening" was relevant to the nature of unborn children had been shown to be biologically mistaken. "The true scientific position,” explained an essay published in 1866 in the United States Medical and Surgical Journal, "is this: from the moment of conception, when the spermatozoa coalesces with the cell-wall of the ovule, the ovum is a distinct human being."

For Americans of this era, the humanity of unborn children settled the question of the morality of killing them. "Because the medical and legal establishment presupposed the moral axiom against killing innocent human beings," writes Justin Buckley Dyer in his historical treatment of the subject, "the physicians involved with the anti-abortion movement in the nineteenth century thought a demonstration that life begins at conception was sufficient to establish the wrongness of abortion at any point during pregnancy."

Unborn children are, as a matter of empirical fact, human beings. Intentionally killing innocent human beings is wrong. So abortion is wrong. Case closed. Unborn children deserve protection just like all other members of the human family. Consequently, in the mid- to late-19th century, states replaced the common law or earlier anti-abortion statutes with statutes banning all elective abortions, both before and after quickening.

But the commonsense view that killing innocent human beings is wrong isn't as common now as it was back then.

A 1970 editorial in the California Medical Association's journal called for abandoning the "traditional western ethic" that upholds "the intrinsic worth and equal value of every human life regardless of its stage or condition." Instead, "it will become necessary and acceptable to place relative rather than absolute values on such things as human lives," the editorial explained.

Of course, "since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced," the authors noted, "it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra- or extra-uterine until death."

In the subsequent years, that scientific fact became much, much harder to avoid, especially with the development of ultrasound technology. Acceptance of abortion, then, required that "the idea of killing" become less socially abhorrent. And, to a certain degree, it has.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court erased all of the 19th century laws protecting unborn children, effectively legalizing abortion for any reason nationwide. Most Americans didn't (and still don't) agree with the radical extent and consequences of that decision. Nevertheless, many in our society have indeed rejected the view—taken for granted by doctors in the 19th century—that killing innocent human beings is simply wrong.

They don't support killing in general, of course. But they think it's permissible to kill human beings in utero who, according to this view, lack the value or rights or "personhood" that older members of our species enjoy. "Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life," write two philosophers (who defend both abortion and infanticide) in the Journal of Medical Ethics. "So what if abortion ends life?" asks one writer for Salon. "All life is not equal."

This current debate is similar, in one important respect, to the disagreements over other issues among the same 19th century Americans who prohibited abortion. Those Americans rejected discrimination against human beings on the basis of age, size, dependency, or location (in the womb or out). But many of them, horrifically, still defended discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sex.

Today the reverse is true. Our society discriminates against the young and small while cherishing diversity of race, ethnicity, and gender. But the core principle that is at stake—the principle of human equality—is the same with regard to all of these issues. It's the same principle Americans grappled with 150 years ago.

It's also the principle laid down in the beginning of our nation's founding document. We must work harder to live up to it.