Category ►►► Abortion Distortion

March 4, 2012

The Case for Discriminating Between Pre- and Post-Birth "Abortions"

Abortion Distortion
Hatched by Dafydd

Some days ago, my Favorite Blogger posted The Case for Infanticide, as enunciated by a group of Oxfordian medical "ethicists." No, really:

Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are “morally irrelevant” and ending their lives is no different to abortion, a group of medical ethicists linked to Oxford University has argued.

The article, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, says newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life”. The academics also argue that parents should be able to have their baby killed if it turns out to be disabled when it is born.

Perhaps that's the reason many on the Left attacked Sarah Palin for giving birth to her son Trig: Progressivist "ethicists" must have wondered why she didn't just procure an "after-birth abortion."

The idea that we should allow post-natal killing of babies is, of course, both monstrous and insane; it's so bizarre that only a card-carrying "ethicist" could hawk it. John Hinderaker naturally rejects such an atavistic, I would say satanic ethic, which flies in the face of thousands of years of Western thought. He's not one to accept a lunatic assertion just because it's asserted by a guy who publishes in the Journal of Medical Ethics!

Alas, he then immediately accepts the lunatic assertion next door -- because it's asserted by a guy who publishes in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

Hinderaker buys the same ethicists' corrolary proposition:

They preferred to use the phrase "after-birth abortion" rather than "infanticide" to "emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus." [Emphasis added -- DaH]

Logically, then, Hinderaker (and nearly all right-to-lifers) would have to agree with the following syllogism:

  1. Since said ethicists admit that the moral status of a foetus is the same as that of a newborn;
  2. And since all decent and moral Westerners believe that the moral status of a newborn is the same as that of an adult (i.e., that killing a newborn is morally the same as killing an adult);
  3. Thus the moral status of a foetus is the same as that of an adult;
  4. And therefore, medical ethicists have "proven" that abortion is murder. Quod Erat Demonstrandum!

And thereby hangs the tail.

In the pro-lifers' effort to prove that abortion is akin to actual murder, as well as in the ethicists' effort to prove that murder is akin to mere abortion, both sides begin from the very same premise: That there is no moral distinction between a zygote, an embryo, a foetus, and a newborn baby. That is, they accept Premise 1 in the syllogism above.

Contrariwise, I demonstrate the philosophical vacuity of that claim by noting that it goes to prove both that killing a newborn is murder, and also that killing a newborn is not murder.

In general, a premise the leads to a logical contradiction suggests that the premise itself is faulty; that's the generic structure of what's called Reductio ad Absurdum: To prove proposition X, you assume its opposite (which can be written ~X) then demonstrate that ~X leads to a contradiction, that is, both conclusions A and ~A at the same time.

This isn't exactly that situation; for one, there is more than one flaw in both syllogisms. Also, it's certainly possible that one side is right and the other simply wrong, which eliminates the contradiction. Still, it's a good bet that Premise (1) is just wrong. As further evidence, most pro-lifers reject it viscerally, even while championing it rhetorically. "Do as we say, not as we do!"

For instance, if (1) above were true, then pro-lifers would treat every early-term miscarriage as a death, and they would hold a funeral for the fertilized egg and mourn for months. Which obviously the vast majority do not. There is certainly sadness; but it's more the sadness of lost opportunity, what might have been, than the kind of long-term grief that accompanies the utterly tragic death of a newborn baby. To be utterly blunt and Spockian about it, I cannot imagine even Sen. Santorum showing his kids a heavy menstrual flow containing a miscarried fertilized egg. It's just not the same thing.

And on the flip side, many, many pro-choicers who support abortion nevertheless utterly reject infanticide; and they don't think of it as "after-birth abortion." I would guess that more than 99% of Americans -- and probably more than 95% of pro-life conservatives -- do not de facto treat a miscarriage as they would the death of a newborn; even more telling, the same ultramajorities would not even treat abortion the same as they treat infanticide.

If a mother who engages a physician to murder her newborn, nearly everyone in America would demand that not only the doctor but the mother herself be sentenced to life in prison or even the death penalty. But how many demand life (or death) for women who obtain an abortion?

There is no way to spin it: Even right-to-lifers by and large treat early-term abortions very differently than they would treat infanticide or late-term abortions. Except for a tiny, easily dismissed subgroup, we all discriminate between those two very different acts. Even those who condemn abortion do not call for the same punishment as they rightly demand for infanticides.

Right-to-lifers often argue, against their own actions, that there is no logical place for humanness to begin other than conception (and, as a hidden assumption, they generally equate humanness with moral personhood). But of course, there are many other points that folks can and historically have believed constitute the beginning of moral personhood, e.g.:

  1. At conception (week two -- remember that you begin counting from the last menstruation, typically two weeks before pregnancy).
  2. When the fertilized egg implants itself to the uterine wall, indicating that it's now a pregnancy (fourth week).
  3. When it first begins to divide, indicating that it's growing (shortly after implantation).
  4. At the "Gummy Bear" stage, when it takes on the basic mammalian (quadruped) shape, as seen via ultrasound (sixth week).
  5. When the foetus first begins to move, still only detectable via medical equipment (eighth week).
  6. When a doctor can first detect a heartbeat (week 10 to 12).
  7. At "quickening," when the mother can first feel the foetus move (about halfway through gestation, week 20-21).
  8. When the cerebral cortex becomes "human," in the sense of developing the brain structures that will allow the eventual baby to use language and think in a human way, as opposed to merely a mammalian or even primate way (eighth month, roughly half-way through the third trimester).
  9. At birth.

And on beyond zebra...

  1. When the baby draws its first breath (traditional Jewish teaching is that the soul enters the body at that point).
  2. At the severing of the umbilical cord, indicating complete autonomy from the mother's body.
  3. After some months or years following the birth, when the liberal "ethicist" finally decides he likes the baby enough not to kill and eat it.

Any one of these points can logically be chosen as the beginning of moral personhood -- the point at which the developing foetus or baby should be considered a person and be afforded the moral rights of all other persons. Most of them have, at one time or other in history, been chosen by some society, primitive or sophisticated; for an extreme example, a number of societies have considered children expendable until they reached a certain age.

In fact, I would say that societies are largely defined by who they consider to be "persons." The more savage a society, the more it tends to restrict personhood to a smaller and smaller subset of the population; they exclude members of non-allied tribes, children under some set age, often women in general, those of insufficient status (especially slaves), those who violate the law, those with mental or physical deformities, those with afflictions or conditions, those thought to be witches or sorcerers, and so forth.

We Americans must choose at what stage of development personhood obtains, as must every society. But we must choose on the basis of a real consensus -- based upon how folks act in real life, not some theoretical construct divorced from day to day life. And since real people in the real world do not treat, and never in our history have treated miscarriage the same as the death of a newborn, I think it prudent to find a consensus somewhere north of conception but south of birth.

This doesn't require that everyone believe that the consensus point marks the place that Nature and Nature's God give us our souls... the consensus point marks only the point at which our society confers legal personhood, pledging to protect, thenceforth, the rights and liberties of the new legal person.

Therefore, pace, John Hinderaker, but... a right-to-lifer can no more call it "proven" that abortion is as morally bad as infanticide -- than can a heartless secularist call it "proven" that infanticide is no morally worse than abortion. Many rational and logical points in foetal development other than either conception or birth can demarcate potential persons, which as yet have no moral rights, from actual persons who certainly do.

I said "north of conception but south of birth": When any pre-natal point other than conception is chosen, then necessarily, during some of the earliest weeks of gestation, the entity is not a legal person, and abortion is legally allowable. On the other hand, during the later weeks of gestation, the foetus becomes a child and is legally a person; after that point, not only would abortion only be allowed if required to save the mother's life (not merely her "health"), but every effort must be made to save the child; removing a baby from the womb without attempting to save its life would constitute negligent homicide at the least.

As you can see, logically, we cannot even begin to proceed deciding what to do about abortion until we first establish a national consensus on where we shall define legal personhood to begin. This national consensus cannot be too close to either extreme (conception or birth), because a forced "consensus" is not a concensus at all but a diktat... and experience teaches that a law that is utterly rejected by a large portion of ordinary members of society is a prescription for disaster, perhaps even leading to national suicide. (Cf. same-sex marriage/polygamy in America.)

Alas, we have never grappled, as a society and in a meaningful way, with the definition of personhood; in particular, when it's conferred and whether there are entities that are biologically human but will never be accorded personhood -- an anencephalic baby, for example, or a human being so severely retarded that he or she has none of the most basic attributes we associate with persons.

Of course, nothing stops a society from choosing to confer "created rights" upon non-persons, pre-persons, former persons, or even animals, protecting both those who are expected to develop human-like consciousness, those who never had human-like consciousness, and those who had it at one time, but through disease or misadventure, no longer retain it; note laws protecting those in an irreversible coma, laws prohibiting cruelty to animals, and laws against desecrating the dead. But such laws are actually to preserve the sacred dignity of the persons who love such non-persons.

A state should thus be allowed to choose to protect the rights and liberty of pre-natal life even if it's not yet legally a person. But all states should be mandated to protect the rights and liberties (including the right to life) of anyone already a person via the national consensus.

My personal choice for the national personhood consensus is Point 8, the humanization of the cerebellum; I believe in a soul, but I believe it can only live in a human, not animal brain; until the brain develops human-like functions, I cannot see that a soul would find a place to fit. But this is likely too far along in the pregnancy to be generally accepted.

Among those who don't believe in ensoulment, I'm sure you would still find much disagreement about when the entity becomes a person, from conception to deciding the kid is cute enough to live (assuming that doesn't disrupt the Progressivists' lifestyle). But we seem to have settled upon a de-facto consensus as somewhere within the second trimester.

For a number of reasons, therefore, I nominate quickening (Point 7) as the logical national consensus for when our society confers legal personhood:

  • It's about halfway through the second trimester, hence halfway through the pregnancy; it's a nice, round number, and we all tend to like round numbers.
  • It's easily detectable by routine doctor's examination; hence, such an examination would be determinative for legal purposes.
  • It marks the first time the expectant mother can actually feel that the thing inside her is a living being, moving of its own volition; she cannot deny that she has another life growing inside her.
  • In Western history, It's one of the points during gestation that has been frequently chosen by societies for the moment of ensoulment.

(Notice none of these reasons depends upon the specious Roe v. Wade criterion of "viability," which of course varies depending on the current state of medical technology.)

But whichever point we as a society finally choose, we need to get started on that conversation. Without it, the only principled action we can take regarding abortion, contraception, and reproductive rights is the Monkey Moot: screech hysterically and fling poo at each other.

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 4, 2012, at the time of 4:48 PM | Comments (3)

January 7, 2012

Does Social Santorum Trump Fiscal Santorum?

Abortion Distortion , Confusticated Conservatives , Fed Spending: to Infinity and Beyond! , Iran Matters , ¡ Rabanos Radiactivos!
Hatched by Dafydd

It's not an easy question for a non-conservative anti-liberal like myself to answer. First, I enthusiastically support some of Rick Santorum's social positions -- he promotes a more robust civil society; supports restricting legal marriage to traditional, one man-one woman; and he has offered bills to expand funding of adult stem-cell research and application.

But I recoil in horror from others, notably his demand that schools teach the "scientific alternative" to evolutionary biology (by which he means the thoroughly un-scientific and misnamed "intelligent design"); and he is completely opposed to embryonic stem-cell research funding, without consideration that such research can probably be done without destroying the embryos. (I'm using Wikipedia's list of some of his positions, though I did backtrack as much as possible to the primary-source interviews and Santorum's own site.)

But considering the second part of the question -- whether his positions on social issues are so extreme as to drive me away, despite his fairly good fiscal and foreign policies (which are at least somewhat better than Romney's) -- I'm on firmer ground. Santorum supports House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-WI, 96%) spending-cut plan and pushes for moderate reforms to Medicare and Social Security, but nothing spectacular like privatization (too bad). On the foreign-policy front, he supports the War Against Radical Islamism (WARI) and wants to bomb Iran's nuclear sites (good if he can pull it off, bad if he tries and fails).

So which side wins? Although I am appalled by what a friend of mine refers to as Santorum's "Flat-Earth Catholicism," I just don't think it would ever come up in a Rick Santorum presidency, not substantively. I doubt any state is going to attempt to outlaw "sodomy," adultery, or contraception; and even if it tried, surely the opinion of the POTUS would matter little if any in the ensuing court fight.

Where the social stances might really matter, however, is in the election itself. I'm not worried that President Santorum would install a "Nehemiah Scudder" style prophetic theocracy (though 2012 is the very year the Rev. Scudder takes over, according to Robert Heinlein's "future history" timeline!); but a great many voters might fear just that. Irrational, yes; but elections rarely turn on rational and logical cogitation alone. Would Santorum's goofier social stances so frighten away voters not on the religious right?

Yes, probably some. But how many? Fortunately, most of Santorum's apostasies from the norms of modern thought are fairly technical in nature, such as the distinction between science and so-called "intelligent design," which looms very large indeed within the real scientific community but likely induces nothing from the mass of voters but a puzzled "Eh?" Most of the social positions will just zoom along below the electoral radar.

I believe the biggest danger would be Santorum's suggestion that, contrary to the Supreme Court's decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, Americans have no fundamental right to privacy. Such a stance may make sense in a technical, legal sense, at least as the Court clumsily expressed the thought in the case in question; but the vast majority of Americans passionately believe that there exists a fundamental core of individual liberty, inside of which government may not legislate.

The Court shouldn't have called it "privacy;" and it certainly shouldn't have concluded (in Roe v. Wade) that the right of "privacy" includes the right to abort zygotes, foetuses, and even babies within minutes of being fully born. (Actually, I believe that last position is an abomination even under Roe; my, what progress we have made!) Ne'theless, nearly everybody agrees that there is an irreducible shell of personal liberty surrounding every man and woman that protects him from a totalitarian government run amok.

I can prove my case with a single example: Does anybody believe that it would be constitutional for a state to enact a law proscribing how many times per week a husband and wife are allowed to make love in their own home?

If you answer No, then you necessarily believe that (a) such a law breaches that fundamental core of individual liberty, the irreducible shell; and (b) there are inviolable limits to federal and state government beyond those explicitly written into the Constitiution.

To the extent that voters believe Rick Santorum's dismissal of a "right to privacy" means he rejects the irreducible shell of personal liberty described above, said voters will be very likely to vote for Barack H. Obama over the "theocratic" Rick Santorum.

Santorum's vital task, then, is to reassure Americans that his thinking on what most people envision when they hear the word "privacy" is still aligned within the mainstream of modern thought; that he does not advocate government control over aspects of life that the huge majority believe belong to the conscience of the individual, not the diktats of a Council of Experts.

If Santorum can assure voters -- including the arrogant author of this post -- that he is not a "Flat-Earther" on any social issue that really counts, then we might be persuaded to support him more than Mitt Romney. That is, until and unless Santorum's campaign collapses like all the other not-romneys before him.

Cross-posted on Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, January 7, 2012, at the time of 3:10 AM | Comments (3)

October 28, 2010

Pro-Choice Lizard Applauds "Personhood" Vote

Abortion Distortion , Elections
Hatched by Dafydd

The good rednecks in Mississississississippippippi (I never know where to stop!) have an astonishing, utterly original idea that nobody seems ever to have thought of before: Rather than debate the extent of a woman's "right" to abort a zygote/embryo/foetus, they first want to settle whether that entity is a legal person:

A traditional-values group is jubilant at the renewed likelihood that Mississippi voters -- among the most pro-life in the nation -- will have a "personhood" measure on their 2011 ballots....

Measure 26 would amend the Mississippi Constitution to say that "the term 'person' or 'persons' shall include every human being from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof."

I think the theory is that, at whatever point the entity becomes a legal person (fertilization or later, as the state initiative specifies), aborting it is killing a person and can only be justified on grounds that would justify killing someone who had already been born (perhaps only to save the life of the mother). One presumes a determination that the entity was a person would also turn an assault that led to miscarriage into a homicide.

The flip side, of course, is that before reaching the personhood-point, the entity is not a legal person; it does not have a "right" to life; and it can be legally aborted for much lesser cause, perhaps even for convenience.

Of course, Misisipi (is that too few?) notwithstanding, a "personhood" initiative need not specify fertilization as the point at which personhood obtains. A state initiative could specify some other point of gestation instead; some other, not quite so anti-abortion group could put a measure on the ballot to declare that personhood began at the beginning of the third trimester, or when it reached some particular developmental stage. (My personal preference is that the foetus becomes a person when the cerebral cortex activates, which should be detectable in each individual case, if absolutely necessary, via a PET scan.)

In Colorado, for example, abortion prohibitionists tried a similar initiative two years ago, Colorado Amendment 48; it was crushed at the polls by 46 points, 73 Nay to 27 Yea. But an initiative that set personhood to begin at some defined later point in the pregnancy might have a much better chance of passing in a less-conservative state like Colorado or California, Florida or Washington, New York or New Mexico. I suspect most folks are more comfortable defining personhood as occuring later than conception -- but long before the eighth or ninth month, possibly even before the third trimester.

My point for decades -- ever since Roe v. Wade, actually -- has been that both sides are fighting the abortion wars bass-ackwards; instead of pushing for laws banning abortion or court cases declaring abortion a sacrament, we should begin with first principles:

  1. You first must decide at what point of gestation, between conception to birth, the growing entity becomes a legal person.
  2. The personhood decision can only be made via a vote by the peoples' representatives in the legislature or by the people directly by referendum.
  3. The personhood point must be written into the state constitution, not merely the state code, to prevent state judges from simply throwing it out at whim.
  4. It must pass muster with the U.S. Supreme Court, so that local federal district and circus courts cannot throw it out, either.
  5. After which, abortion and every other related question will simply fall out without tears from the personhood determination.

But wait... If each state can pass its own personhood amendment setting a unique point where the entity becomes a legal person, and if some states can decline to pass any personhood initiative or bill at all, then won't a disparity exist from state to state on the legality of abortion? You might have a case where a girl could get a abortion in one state but not in another.

Why yes, Poindexter, it will; but that's a feature, not a bug: It's the essence of federalism. If somebody doesn't like the personhood declaration in his state and the abortion and assault laws it yields, then he can move. Just as he can move if he doesn't like the taxes in his state, or the way the state and local law-enforcement authorities handle drug cases, or the policy of his state on health insurance, energy, water, welfare, banking, business licences, or having to use a "jug handle" to make a bleeping left turn (hello, Garden Staters!)

There are no internal passports required; if you don't like your local laws, move to a different locality. And if you are a sexually active female under the age of consent, and you live in a state like Mxyzptlki that declares a zygote to be a legal person, thus banning abortion -- then perhaps you should rethink your social relationships, at least until you're old enough to move to Colorado, or somesuch.

So even though I would personally vote against Mrs. Hippie's Measure 26, since I don't believe one fertilized cell constitutes a legal person, I applaud the fact that the state is trying to define personhood first, before embarking on a campaign to end abortion. On one of the great moral arguments of our society, the rest of the United States should look to Mississippi. (There, see? We may veer back and forth; but we always comes our right in the end.)

Everything is back to norbal.

Cross-posted to Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, October 28, 2010, at the time of 6:20 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 24, 2010

Sounds Good; But Can We Believe It?

Abortion Distortion , Health Insurance Insurrections
Hatched by Dafydd

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA, 92%) makes the firm claim that Democrats "[don't] have the votes" to pass the Senate version of ObamaCare, which is the necessary first step down Reconciliation Road:

“The buzz around Washington right now is the inevitability that this healthcare bill is going to pass, that we are somehow going to go to this healthcare summit and there will be a decision on the part of Speaker Pelosi and Harry Reid to go ahead and jam this bill through,” Cantor said.

“Speaker Pelosi doesn’t have the votes in the House. That’s just where we are, and it’s indicative of the fact that the American people don’t like this healthcare bill.”

In a memo to the Republican caucus Wednesday morning, Cantor wrote that House Democrats are farther away from securing the votes to pass a government healthcare bill today than they have ever been, and that they will never be able to muster the votes needed to pass a Senate reconciliation bill in the House.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI, 90%), he of the Stupak Amendment against federal funding of abortion, agrees that Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Haight-Ashbury, 100%) is woefully short of the votes she needs. In a radio clip of an interview he gave, Stupak said that "15 to 20 Democrats" have already told him that they will not vote for the Senate version because it funds abortions and insurance companies that pay for abortions, and there is no correction in the President's follow-on "fix-it" bill.

These representatives would be among those who actually voted for the previous version of ObamaCare, precisely because they first passed the Stupak Amendment. That means that if they make good their threat, that's a whopping huge hole in Pelosi's previous bare-majority victory.

It all sounds great. I hope it doesn't turn out to be "sound and fury, signifying nothing," with all these Democrats under siege bowing their heads and accepting Party discipline for the sake of the Vision.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 24, 2010, at the time of 4:34 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 12, 2009

Pro-Life Protester Shot and Killed by Angry Gunman

Abortion Distortion
Hatched by Dafydd

James Pouillon was shot to death in front of a high school full of kids, as he was protesting against abortion. The man arrested for killing him, Harlan James Drake, also allegedly killed the owner of a local gravel company.

Perhaps some may consider me as rude and impudent as Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC, 92%), but I'm really curious: Will the pro-choice crowd react to this slaying with the same horror and hysteria as they evinced for the equally terroristic slaying of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller?

Because so far, I haven't seen it.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 12, 2009, at the time of 7:36 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 16, 2009

Who's an Embryo? Plan B...

Abortion Distortion , Future of Medicine
Hatched by Dafydd

Caroming off our previous post on the appointment of Dr. Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., as the director of the National Institutes of Health -- in which we argued that extreme pro-lifers were wrong to try to derail the appointment because of a miniscule doctrinal difference that actually made no difference in the real world -- conservative columnist Cal Thomas (who also supports Collins) now weighs in: He reports that extreme pro-choicers are also unhappy with Collins... because they're worried he might introduce a note of conscience into medicine. Can't have that!

(Alas, Thomas' argument is diminished, as he slips in an instance of Godwin's Law that may overshadow the main point.)

The recent New York Times story announcing the president's selection of Dr. Collins ("who led the government's successful effort to sequence the human genome") reflects what would be considered bigotry or sexism if applied to someone because of his or her race or gender. Reporter Gardiner Harris writes that one of the objections to Dr. Collins (he names no objectors, which is the pattern of a smear) "is his very public embrace of religion. He wrote a book called 'The Language of God' and he has given many talks and interviews in which he described his conversion to Christianity as a 27-year-old medical student."

I don't know exactly what story he references, so I can't read it and see if Thomas' charge is fair; nor am I going to spend any time looking it up: I have other irons to fry.

But I have certainly seen that same ad-hominem attack on Collins coming from ultra-secular materialist liberals, Socialists, and self-described atheists I personally know, when I recommended his book, the Language of God... so I have no difficulty believing that the attack is once again raised in response to the Collins appointment: He can't be a real scientist, because belief in God is fundamentally irrational and demonstrates a disordered mind.

Normally I despise the facile "argument" that if so-and-so draws fire from both the extreme Right and extreme Left, he must, as in the Goldilocks story, be ju-u-u-ust right; it's juvenile and generally a cross between a crocodile and an abalone... that is, a crocabalone. But in this very particular case, I think two ends attacking the middle does tell us something good and fine about Collins (and again, a rare rave to President Barack H. Obama for making the appointment).

Collins draws fire precisely because he sees no conflict between faith and science, and in particular, between evangelical Christianity and modern evolutionary theory; his own success in the scientific field is a living refutation of the warped pronunciamentos of those secularists (e.g., Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, Philip Pullman) who say that studying evolution necessarily makes one an atheist... as well as the religious who refuse, for reasons of faith, to accept evolution -- including Ben Stein, Michael Medved, Ann Coulter, and indeed everyone at the Discovery Institute, from Michael Behe up and down the line.

Coulter gets a pass because (a) she's a hot babe, (b) she is more intellectually rigorous on other subjects, and (c) did I mention she's a hot babe? Medved, Stein, and Behe get no such special dispensation.

In this case, the fact that both extremes of the debate turn their rhetorical guns on Collins -- generally without troubling to read what he writes or listen to what he says -- does indeed show that he represents the Kirkian mean between the Spockian and Bonesian poles, to which scientists and the religious should all aspire.

I find it interesting that the very same atheists I personally know -- literally, the exact same individuals -- also dismiss any story from the Washington Times because it's "a Moonie newspaper!" -- as if the paper itself being owned by the Unification Church "proves" that Wesley Pruden, John F. Solomon, John McCaslin, Greg Pierce, Cal Thomas, Mark Steyn, Jeffrey Birnbaum, Bill Gertz, Frank Gaffney, David Brooks, Bill Sammon, Tony Blankley, Tony Snow, and every other writer or editor who has ever worked for the newspaper must himself be -- a Moonie! -- and therefore incapable of reporting without inserting Unification Church propaganda and evangelism into every story, column, or editorial decision.

This type of rhetorical attack -- Argument by Religious Repulsion -- appears to be a habit, possibly an addiction, with some.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, July 16, 2009, at the time of 3:53 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 13, 2009

Who's an Embryo? St. Francis of Genomia at the NIH

Abortion Distortion , Confusticated Conservatives , Future of Medicine , Presidential Peculiarities and Pomposities
Hatched by Dafydd

Those who follow Big Lizards religiously (have you all put on your phylacteries before reading?) know that we're big on Dr. Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., the evangelical Christian who headed up the Human Genome Project -- and especially on his book the Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. In fact, we've spoken in favor of his ideas (and highly recommended his book) in the following Lizardian posts, from the oldest (August 28th, 2006) to today:

But who is Francis Collins? This post is going to be long, so I'll tuck the rest away behind the Slither on...


Collins' main thrust in his first book (he is secretive about the subject of his second, but he had to resign from his government position at the National Institutes of Health -- NIH -- to write it) is that there is no essential conflict between Christian faith and evolution by natural selection (hence, "evolutionary biology"). Collins uses the term "BioLogos" for the particular branch of theistic evolution he supports, the "wind up the universe and let it run" thesis: God created the universe and all its physical laws and constants, set the initial conditions, and then allowed it to evolve naturally.

Being omniscient and omnipotent, God deliberately set everything up so that moral human beings (and perhaps other sentient, moral creatures elsewhere) would eventually evolve; so in that sense, you could call it a version of creationism. But it's quite distinct from the Biblical creationism that ruled the creationist roost until a series of legal setbacks in the 1980s, and also from "Intelligent Design," the current method of back-dooring creationism into the public schools by not using certain words -- e.g., "God," "Lord," "Creator" -- and using code words instead ("Designer"): BioLogos requires no direct intervention or manipulation, no "fine tuning," to run its course; in Collins' view, God got it right at the first time and doesn't need mid-course corrections.

So it likely comes as no surprise that we soundly applaud, and even jump up and cheer a bit (in a dignified way, you understand), President Barack H. Obama's announcement last Wednesday appointing Collins to head up the NIH, subject to Senate confirmation. This will put Collins in control (along with the Advisory Committee to the Director) of all federal funding for medical, biomedical, and health-care research, both direct -- "intramural research" at the NIH's main campus in Bethesda, MD -- and indirect, by funding "extramural research" conducted by private universities, hospitals, and other medical research facilities outside government.


I myself am also unsurprised that some more absolutist members of the evangelical community are upset by the appointment; they fret that he will not be as -- all right, I'll say it -- not as doctrinaire as they themselves would be, particularly regarding stem-cell research:

President Obama's nomination of Francis Collins to be director of the National Institutes of Health has resulted in pro-life advocates expressing concerns about the views regarding unborn life held by the world-renowned scientist and evangelical Christian....

In announcing his intention to nominate Collins, the president described him as "one of the top scientists in the world," adding "his groundbreaking work has changed the very ways we consider our health and examine disease...."

Since Obama announced Collins' nomination July 8, some evangelical and pro-life spokesmen have taken issue with the nominee's comments about embryonic stem cell research and cloning.

A Southern Baptist philosophy professor at Union University said Collins needs to make his views clear before he takes over as director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which oversees federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Extraction of stem cells from an embryo requires the destruction of a tiny human being less than a week old.

Whoa, stop right there; that is not, strictly speaking, true, as we have discussed here. There is already a procedure for extracting stem cells from human embryos non-destructively, utilizing the same procedure used in preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to extract cells from living embryos to test for various genetic diseases... extractions that leave the embryo intact and still growing normally.

Besides non-destructive ESCR, there are also other types of stem cells, of course; they can be found in somatic (bodily) cells of various types: uterine cells, placental cells, amneotic fluid cells, testicular cells, dental cells, mammary cells, and so forth. Many of these latter have already been used extensively in medical therapies; embryonic stem cells have barely been used so far, but they still show tremendous promise.

President George W. Bush had issued an executive order (EO 13435) on June 20, 2007 that specifically funded:

[R]esearch on the isolation, derivation, production, and testing of stem cells that are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types of the developing body and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, but are derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding, or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus.

We posted on that, too... in a post noting that one of Obama's earliest EOs (March 9th) after assuming office was to revoke EO 12435, killing the requirement to fund non-destructive stem-cell research, even as he lifted the federal-funding ban on destructive ESCR. (Anything you need to know, you can learn from Big Lizards.) The natural conclusion most drew was that Obama supported destructive ESCR and was uninterested in or even hostile to non-destructive stem-cell research, either embryonic or somatic... both of which positions comport with his ultra-liberal base.

Federal stem-cell research funding policy is still governed by President Obama's EO 13505, according to the NIH website; I doubt that NIH's "final regulations," issued last Monday, July 6th, 2009, differ from this, since federal agencies are bound by relevant executive orders.

But it's important to note that Obama did not order a ban on future funding of non-destructive stem-cell research; he just revoked Bush's EO that ordered NIH to actively seek out opportunities to fund such research. Bush asked NIH to conduct research in non-destructive stem-cell therapies; but it seems Obama would not particularly care if all that research withered on the vine.

(There is also a federal law, the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, preventing NIH or any other federal agency from directly funding the killing of embryos to create new lines. But once such lines are created privately, under Obama's EO 13505, they are fair game for federal funding.)

Still and all, the technique for non-destructive ESCR, somatic cell nucleus transfer, exists; it simply is not necessarily federally funded, now that the Obamacle presides. So the statement in the article above is at a mimum misleading, and might even be called fraudulent -- unless it "stems" from simple ignorance, which itself is not very reassuring. But we continue with the attack on Collins:

Collins was mistaken or misleading in comments about Obama's position on federally funded embryonic stem cell research, said Justin Barnard, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Intellectual Discipleship at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

At Obama's direction, NIH issued final regulations July 6 governing federal funding of stem cell research. In a May interview Collins said Obama's position "is not very radical" because Obama basically said "what Bush said in August of 2001" when the former president announced his policy. But that is not the case, Barnard says. The new NIH guidelines allow research not only on lines that were in existence when Obama made his announcement but new stem cell lines, Barnard wrote in a July 13 commentary for Public Discourse. Obama's position in fact is a "dramatic shift" from Bush's, Barnard said.

In these and other comments, Collins "is less than clear" regarding "the metaphysics and moral value of human life," Barnard wrote.

Perry Mason for the defense...

"Less than clear" is a term that can be equally applied to Barnard's attack: Is he saying that Collins supports the creation of new stem-cell lines from existing human embryos, or from other kinds of stem cells? And even if the former, does he mean embryos created for the purpose of research -- or embryos that were already created for reproductive purposes (in vitrio fertilization), remain unused, and are already slated to be destroyed? Barnard's deliberately vague wording leaves his accusation a complete muddle.

He does make one charge very explicitly in his Public Discourse article. First, a little background from Collins himself, quoted by Barnard:

Basically, what the president’s executive order said and what the NIH in its draft guidelines has now made more clear is that federal funds will be allowable, assuming these draft guidelines get finalized, for stem cell lines that were developed from leftover embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics. And in a way, this is not very radical because that’s what Bush said in August of 2001 when he became the first president to authorize federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. Remember, it wasn’t allowed at all before his statement. But he said only lines that were developed before 9 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2001, could be used, which obviously seems like a bit of an arbitrary deadline.

Now Obama is saying, what about the 700 lines that have been developed since then, which are actually scientifically more useful? The early lines had problems. These new lines will now be allowed as well. Remember, though, that just means the funds will be allowed for the study of those lines, not for creating new ones. That is prevented by the Dickey-Wicker amendment, which people expect will probably remain there unless Congress decides to take it away. My bet is that they probably won’t, and I’m not sure that it’s necessary for them to do so in terms of supporting research. The use of private funds to develop new lines might be sufficient.

Barnard then pounces, flattening a very difficult, complex question into an easy soundbite of utter moral certitude, an "eternal verity":

Collins’s comments here are remarkable on several different levels. To begin, it is unclear whether Collins has any moral qualms about the wanton destruction of innocent human life given his apparent optimism about the sufficiency of private funds for the doing the federal government’s dirty work. [There's that weasel-word "unclear" again! -- the Mgt.] But even if one supposes that he’s not happy about it, his analysis of the difference between the Bush administration policy and the new Obama guidelines is mistaken at best, misleading at worst. For the August 9, 2001 deadline under the Bush administration was imposed precisely to take away the incentive for private entities to engage in more embryo destruction. Of course, as Collins’s remarks make clear, this did not prevent private entities from doing so. And apparently, they did so at least 700 times. (Of course, who knows how many embryos it actually took to get the 700 lines to which Collins refers!) And if the Obama guidelines were written so as to allow funding for these 700 lines and only these 700 lines, they would, in that respect, be similar to the Bush guidelines. But the new Obama guidelines do not limit the use of NIH funds exclusively to these existing, additional 700 lines.

Knowing this, Collins chose his words carefully when he said, “Remember, though, that just means the funds will be allowed for the study of those lines, not for creating new ones.” By the letter of the law, what Collins here claims is true. The new NIH guidelines do not permit the use of federal funds for creating new human embryonic stem cell lines. This is because, as Collins points out, such activity is prohibited by the Dickey amendment. Moreover, the guidelines do allow for the study of those 700 lines that have been produced since August 9, 2001. What Collins does not say, however, is that the new NIH guidelines also allow for federal funds to be used in studying new human embryonic stem cell lines that are created (by private entities, of course) beyond the 700 currently in existence. This represents a dramatic shift in policy from the previous Bush administration regulations. And Collins is doing nothing more than engaging in rhetorical subterfuge to suggest otherwise.

Collins in the dock...

This really boils down to one philosophical question: Do we admit the reality that:

  1. In vitrio fertilization will continue
  2. Excess embryos (beyond those that are implanted in a womb) will continue to be created, and
  3. Those excess embryos will either be destroyed outright or frozen in suspended animation for eternity (or until someone pulls the plug)?

If so, then neither Obama's EO or the new NIH policy provides an "incentive" to create embryos for purposes of research; the incentive already exists (via fertility therapy) to create far more embryos than could ever safely be implanted, and far more than could ever be used in research anyway -- a point that Barnard himself glosses over. (Just as he imputes pejorative motives and moral beliefs to Collins that Barnard could not possibly know unless he's a telepath.) The embryos are there and will continue to be there, with or without federal funding.

If we accept that such lines will be created willy nilly, entirely privately -- as Barnard himself admits -- then the only question is whether we allow federal funding to research those new lines... or only to research the old, degraded lines created the exact same way, but prior to 9 PM, August 8th, 2001.

This is certainly not the black-and-white issue that Barnard pretends; it's both more nuanced and more profound. But Barnard demands utter conformity to the most restrictive possible moral interpretation, or he launches a crusade against the heretic.

He has chosen his target well. Barnard knows that such high-level, future funding decisions are generally made by the Director of the NIH in conjunction with his Advisory Council; and he knows that director is going to be Francis Collins; there is no serious senatorial opposition to the appointment.

So what are Collins' thoughts on ESCR -- destructive and non-destructive -- and other kinds of stem-cell research? Fortunately, we have the answer to that question in his own words, from a series of interviews he gave, excerpts of which have been collated by a Christian blog.

First, on the precise moral question above, from an interview in Salon (the interviewer's questions are in blue):

Geneticists are sometimes accused of "playing God," especially when it comes to genetic engineering. And there are various thorny bioethical issues. What's your position on stem cell research?

Stem cells have been discussed for 10 years, and yet I fear that much of that discussion has been more heat than light. First of all, I believe that the product of a sperm and an egg, which is the first cell that goes on to develop a human being, deserves considerable moral consequences. This is an entity that ultimately becomes a human. So I would be opposed to the idea of creating embryos by mixing sperm and eggs together and then experimenting on the outcome of that, purely to understand research questions. On the other hand, there are hundreds of thousands of such embryos in freezers at in vitro fertilization clinics. In the process of in vitro fertilization, you almost invariably end up with more embryos than you can reimplant safely. The plausibility of those ever being reimplanted in the future -- more than a few of them -- is extremely low. Is it more ethical to leave them in those freezers forever or throw them away? Or is it more ethical to come up with some sort of use for those embryos that could help people? I think that's not been widely discussed.

So your position is that they should be used for research if they already exist and they're never going to be used to create a human life?

I think that's the more ethical stance. And I say this as a private citizen and not as a representative of the U.S. government, even though I'm employed by the federal government at the National Institutes of Health. Now let me say, there's another aspect of this topic that I think is even more confusing -- a different approach which is more promising medically. It's this thing called somatic cell nuclear transfer, which is where you take a cell from a living person -- a skin cell, for instance. You take out its nucleus, which is where the DNA is, and you insert that nucleus into the environment of an egg cell, which has lost its nucleus. Now think about this. We have a skin cell, and we have an egg cell with no nucleus. Neither of those would be things that anybody would argue has moral status. Then you give a zap of electricity and you wait a couple of days. And that environment convinces that skin cell that it can go back in time and it can become anything it wants to be. That is an enormously powerful opportunity because the cell would then be received by that same person who happened to need, say, neurons for their Parkinson's disease or pancreas cells for their diabetes without a transplant rejection.

Isn't this the process that is otherwise known as cloning?

Yeah, it's called cloning, which is a very unfortunate term because it conjures up the idea that you're trying to create a copy of that human being. And at this point, you're doing nothing of the sort. You're trying to create a cell line that could be used to substitute for something that a person desperately needs. It would only become a cloned person if you then intentionally decided to take those cells and reimplant them in the uterus of a recipient woman. And that, obviously, is something that we should not and must not and probably should legislate against. But until you get to that point, it's not clear to me that you're dealing with something that deserves to be called an embryo or deserves to be given moral status.

Let an urgent point not be forgot...

This is a much more sophisticated response than Barnard's; Barnard wants to anwers this... but the only way he can do so is to deny there is any moral distinction between the union of a human egg and human sperm -- and the union of a denucleated human egg and a human skin-cell nucleus.

His thesis appears to be that anything that could conceivably grow into a human being -- even if that would require future intervention by doctors, and even if it has never been demonstrated in the lab yet -- is a human being. But of course, once egg and skin-cell nucleus are combined but before electricity is added, I can still say it "could conceivably grow into a human being"... assuming "future intervention by doctors," including the spark. Does that mean such a union is already a human being?

In fact, I can still say the same after two cells have been extracted but before they are combined. This oddball definition not only entirely removes the necessity of sperm, its structure disturbingly reminds me of Roe v. Wade's test of whether a foetus can survive outside the womb: In both cases, the test of human personhood depends upon the state of medical technology du jour:

Nobody ever has cloned a human being; we don't even know if it would ever be possible to grow such a "cloned" embryo into a human.

  • So if we're not actually able to clone human beings in 2009, then a cell created by somatic cell nucleus transfer is not a human person by Barnard's thesis.
  • But if ten years later, we are able to clone humans, then those same, exact cells from 2009 magically transmaugrify into human beings by 2019 -- even though they are utterly identical in every respect to what they were ten years ago, having been kept on ice all that time.

(If an old growth spotted owl leaves its old-growth tree, flies a few feet away, and nests in a young tree, it becomes a member of a whole new species!)

I'm with Collins on this: I consider such a definition preposterous and unscientific. We must have a definition of "human person" that doesn't change with every advance in medical science, one that seeks a deeper element of humanity than superficial morphological characteristics -- what I refer to as a "movable verity," rather than an "eternal verity," because it's robust enough to remain consistent even as technology changes around it.

When, for example, does the soul enter a human body?

  • If you believe that occurs sometime after conception, then is the developing embryo still a human being even before being ensouled?
  • And even if you believe that occurs "precisely" at conception, then when "precisely" do you define conception itself to have taken place? (a) When the soon-to-be successful sperm starts to penetrate the egg's cellular wall? (b) When it works its way fully inside the egg? (c) When it contacts the egg nucleus? (d) When it combines chemically? Or (e) when it first divides into a blastocyst? Conception is a continuum, like everything else in biology -- conception, gestation, birth, and even death.
  • Finally, no matter how one defines conception in the normal circumstance -- does the soul also enter into a cloned cell at the moment of transfering the nucelus of a non-sperm cell into the egg, even though no combining of DNA occurs?
  • Does it occur after the electrical charge is applied?
  • Or does it not occur at all, since there is no bisexual reproduction taking place in any event?

Is a human body a person, absent a soul?

These are not easy questions; but without answering them, we cannot decide "who's an embryo" -- and what isn't.

Shouldn't we then, just for safety's sake, accept the Barnard thesis that anything that could conceivably grow into a human is therefore automatically a human person from the moment of its creation, no matter how? Shouldn't that be the default presumption?

Not necessarily... because such a presumption is not cost-free in the realm of human life. Making that presumption will inevitably kill people -- people already living, breathing, thinking, and feeling.

Collins understands, as Barnard gives no evidence of understanding, that ESCR comprises more than just the rights of human embryos; it also includes the rights of those already born and suffering, even dying, from potentially curable diseases. As often happens in law, the two rights must be weighed against each other in individual cases and a just decision reached. From part 2 of an interview of Collins for a PBS television show titled Think Tank:

So I think one thing we ought to do is, sort of, tone down the rhetoric and try to get our scientific facts straight. So stem cells-- there's lots of different kinds of stem cells. The kind that I think many people are most concerned about are the ones that are derived from a human embryo which is produced by a sperm and an egg coming together. The way you and I got here.

There are hundreds of thousands of those embryos currently frozen away in in vitro fertilization clinics. And it is absolutely unrealistic to imagine that anything will happen to those other than they're eventually getting discarded. So as much as I think human embryos deserve moral status, it is hard to see why it's more ethical to throw them away than to take some that are destined for discarding and do something that might help somebody.

Reality and the limits of dogma...

Morality is never a lightswitch; it's never either all-the-way on or all-the-way off. Morality always exists on a continuum, because human life and the human condition exist on a continuum (recall my example of conception above). That's why each case must be judged individually -- under general guidelines.

(It's a terrible and dangerous error to try to write too much specificity into a guideline; that's how you end up with "zero tolerance" drug laws that expel a girl from high school for taking Mydol for her menstrual cramps.)

Even if one believes that a human zygote (fertilized egg) is a human being, not even the most ardent pro-lifer argues that a zygote can feel the pain of its own destruction; that capacity clearly comes much later in ontogeny. But a person suffering from Cystic Fibrosis certainly does feel the pain as that disease destroys him by inches until he finally dies an agonizing, suffocating death. Is it black-and-white that each zygote is morally equal, on a one-to-one basis, to every already-born person?

I see a whopping huge moral distinction between killing a zygote to save a teenager -- and killing a newborn baby to save that same teenager. Perhaps it's just sentimentality; but sentiment is as much a part of humanity as rigorous logic. Sentimentally, I attach far more value to a newborn, or even to a seven month old foetus, than to a human zygote... let alone to a cell produced by somatic cell nucleus transfer, a.k.a. "therapeutic cloning."

Professor Justin Barnard sees no moral distinction whatsoever. Early in his Public Discourse article, he refers to the destruction of human embryos as "the wanton destruction of innocent human life;" then towards the end, he adds the following tendentious codicil:

[T]he embryo produced by cloning enjoys the same moral status, whatever one judges that to be, as the embryo produced the old-fashioned way.

Since we know what Barnard "judges that to be," he must see no moral distinction at all between a skin-cell nucleus stuck into a denucleated egg cell and given a spark of electricity -- and a teenager dying of CF.

I consider that position vile and thuggish if he holds it merely for political purposes, and monstrous if he holds it honestly. (A lack of hypocrisy doesn't necessarily ameliorate a grotesque idea; I'm sure that many advocates of eugenics were quite sincere in wanting to eliminate inferior humans.)

But why can't we just use the stem-cell lines for which even George W. Bush approved federal funding, those generated before 9 PM, August 9th, 2001? Simple: Because they are old, degraded, and no longer work very well. In the interview linked above, Ben Wattenberg asks whether Collins agrees with the Bush decision to restrict federal funding for ESCR to those lines that already existed. Collins responds:

But as a scientist -- I would say we are currently not making as much progress as we could if we had access to more of these stem cell lines. The ones that are currently available for federal funding is a very limited set and they clearly have flaws that make them hard to use. But you know what? I think that kind of stem cell research is actually not the part that's going to be most interesting.

The part that's really showing the most promise is to take a skin cell from you or me and convince that cell, which has the complete genome, to go back in time and become capable of making a liver cell or a brain cell or a blood -- cell if you need it to. That reprogramming. That's called somatic cell nuclear transfer in the current mode. And yet people still refer to those products as an embryo. Well, there's no sperm and egg involved here.

And that's where I think we've really gotten muddled. That the distinction between these various types of biology has been all murkified. And people are beginning to argue in very irrational ways based on a lack of understanding what the science says. If we could back off from all of the, sort of, hard edged rhetoric and really say, okay, what is science teaching us, I suspect that the moral dilemmas are not nearly as rough as people think they are.

Finally, I think this response in a third interview for Christianity Today sums up and clarifies Collins' beliefs (which Barnard claims are "less than clear"), not only as to ESCR but human cloning as well (see p. 5):

[E]ven if the safety issues were solved, would human reproductive cloning be an acceptable practice? It wouldn't be for me. I believe that human beings have come into this world by having a mother and a father. To undertake a different pathway of creating a human being is a profound departure from the normal state of things. I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why we need to do that.

It is a classic example of a collision between two very important principles. One is the sanctity of human life and the other is our strong mandate as human beings to alleviate suffering and to treat terrible diseases like diabetes, Parkinson's, and spinal-cord injury. The very promising embryonic stem-cell research might potentially provide remarkable cures for those disorders. We don't know that, but it might. And at the same time, many people feel, I think justifiably, this type of research is taking liberties with the notion of the sanctity of human life, by manipulating cells derived from a human embryo.

It's rare that we get a presidential nominee to an important scientific (or legal) position who has thought as deeply and consistently about the great moral dilemmas as Francis Collins has. It's even rarer that after such thought, he remains so close to what I would call the best conservative principles of individualism, respect for human life and dignity, and ethical scientific inquiry. (And it's especially dumbfounding that a president who would call himself "the One We Have Been Waiting For" would make such an appointment. One would think that the One would be more apt to attempt to use somatic cell nucleus transfer to appoint an exact clone of himself to head up NIH.)

But for heaven's sake, let's grab this one while we can. Let's not make a big stink just because Francis Collins' evangelical Christian position on stem cells is an angstrom apart from that of the most dogmatic true believer, such as Professor Barnard. For God's sake, Obama could have named Peter Singer!

Collins is an amazingly good choice for NIH Director. He will be sensitive to human-life issues, a strong advocate for scientific inquiry, and not only not hostile to, but actually embracing of issues of faith, religion, and morals in federal funding of biomedical and health-care research.

Cross-posted in Hot Air's rogues' gallery...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, July 13, 2009, at the time of 10:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 13, 2009

A "Choice" Cut of Steele

Abortion Distortion
Hatched by Sachi

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is in hot water again. Asked about abortion in an interview with GQ magazine, he answered that abortion was an "individual choice." This did not go over well with so-called social conservatives. Some people who should know better are now demanding Steele's head on a steel pike:

  • Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition, believes that Steele "is at odds with the pro-life platform" of the Republican Party.
  • Lou Engle calls Steele's position "extremely disappointing.... The law is supposed to protect human life, not permit the taking of it. And it can never be a 'choice' for an individual to take a life."
  • Gov. Mike Huckabee claimed that "the party stands to lose many of its members and a great deal of its support in the trenches of grassroots politics."

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council summed up the reaction of many conservatives:

I read the article last night so I am familiar not only with his comments about the life issue but also about the efforts to redefine marriage and 'mucking' up the Constitution. I expressed my concerns to the chairman earlier this week about previous statements that were very similar in nature. He assured me as chairman his views did not matter and that he would be upholding and promoting the Party platform, which is very clear on these issues. It is very difficult to reconcile the GQ interview with the chairman's pledge.

But did Steele really say he is pro-choice or offer a pro-choice perspective? Here is an excerpt from the above linked GQ article. The emphasis is mine.

GQ: How much of your pro-life stance, for you, is informed not just by your Catholic faith but by the fact that you were adopted?

Steele: Oh, a lot. Absolutely. I see the power of life in that -- I mean, and the power of choice! The thing to keep in mind about it… Uh, you know, I think as a country we get off on these misguided conversations that throw around terms that really misrepresent truth.

GQ: Explain that.

Steele: The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.

GQ: Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?

Steele: Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.

GQ: You do?

Steele: Yeah. Absolutely.

GQ: Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?

Steele: I think Roe v. Wade -- as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter. [Overturning Roe and returning the abortion issue to the states used to be the great goal of pro-lifers; when did it become "at odds with the pro-life platform?"]

GQ: Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?

Steele: The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.

GQ: Do pro-choicers have a place in the Republican Party?

Steele: Absolutely!

GQ: How so?

Steele: You know, Lee Atwater said it best: We are a big-tent party. We recognize that there are views that may be divergent on some issues, but our goal is to correspond, or try to respond, to some core values and principles that we can agree on.

Ever since pro-abortion side started to use the word "choice" instead of "abortion," the word changed its meaning. Choice used to mean "a decision between multiple options." But the Left redefined "pro-choice" to mean "pro-abortion;" they don't consider it a "choice" to choose life. They never respect a woman making the difficult choice to give birth to her child (just look at how they attacked Bristol Palin -- or her mother -- for their "choices").

This is one of the Left's favorite tactics, which Dafydd calls "argument by tendentious redefinition": They secretly change the definition of a word, but still rely upon the impact of the original meaning to confuse listeners. Sadly, it seems to work (nearly) every time.

A "choice" should simply mean choosing one way or another. It can be a good choice or a bad choice. Since God gave us all free will, we always have a spiritual right to choose... even to make the wrong choice. If we didn't, we wouldn't have free will after all. A woman even has the right (the legal right) and the power to choose to abort her baby. It's a simple statement of fact, and it's not going to change nationwide anytime soon. (If we overturned Roe v. Wade, individual states could remove the legal right to abort a baby.)

It seems clear to me that Steele is saying that he's glad his birth mother made the right choice when she chose adoption over abortion. How can this statement be interpreted as support for abortion?

Social conservatives need to step back and take a deep breath. Why do they take someone's words out of context in order to attack their own party leader? Distorting your enemies' beliefs is a low blow, but distorting your friends' beliefs to make them out to be your enemies is a stupid and self-destructive blow. It's a circular firing squad.

Liberals rarely turn on each other like this, although a few are now turning on Obama's porkapalooza; but when they do, it hurts their party just as it hurts us when we do it. Don't Republicans realize that their bickering over a "choice" of words is muddying the party's message far more than Steele's less-than-inspiring interview performances?

If conservatives and Republicans think Steele's message is not clear, why not help him clarify it? Why not go on talk shows to defend Steele from liberal attack and explain what he really meant? That's what Ronald Reagan would do; he wouldn't start yelling "off with his head" just six weeks into Steele's tenure (Reagan's famous "eleventh commandment"). Reagan would never do the Democrats' wetwork for them.

When Steele talks of "choice," on the government level, he's arguing for abolishing federal control of abortion policy in favor of a "states' rights" approach, where each state has a "choice" to decided whether abortion is legal or illegal... which right now they do not have. Striking down Roe v. Wade would do just that, and it would bring a breath of liberty to the top-down, national pro-abortion tyranny we have right now.

When Steele talks of "choice," on the personal level, he hopes women will make a the right choice of saving a life, just like Bristol, Sarah, and Steele's birth mother did.

But Republicans and conservatives seem determined to take his words in the worst possible light, lining up behind liberal Democrats in the march towards a permanent Democratic majority. With fiends like these, who needs enemies?

Hatched by Sachi on this day, March 13, 2009, at the time of 5:03 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 9, 2009

Obama Kills Stem-Cell Research - Unless It Kills Embryos, Of Course

Abortion Distortion , Science - Bogus
Hatched by Dafydd

(This entire post is hat-tipped to Patterico's Pontifications guest-blogger Karl.)

As has been power-blasted across the newsosphere today, President Barack H. Obama today issued an executive order (EO) revoking President George W. Bush's EO that banned federal funding of destructive embryonic stem-cell research (ESC).

But what few realize -- I had no idea until I saw the second update to Karl's post -- is that the same Obama EO that allowed for a return of federal funding of ESC, which I personally support, by the way, also covertly ended Bush's federal-funding program for other forms of stem-cell research... stem-cell research that does not kill a human embryo.

I emphatically oppose ending funding for alternative sources of stem cells; I want to see all stem-cell research funded, especially in areas that have already yielded medical treatments (that is, the non-ESC research). I believe ESC has great potential, but other kinds of stem cells also have potential -- along with actual results.

Naturally, the Obama administration does not have the courage to announce this part of their scheme; here is all they say at the very end of the EO (it didn't come up in the press coverage at all):

Sec. 5. Revocations. (a) The Presidential statement of August 9, 2001, limiting Federal funding for research involving human embryonic stem cells, shall have no further effect as a statement of governmental policy.

(b) Executive Order 13435 of June 20, 2007, which supplements [!] the August 9, 2001, statement on human embryonic stem cell research, is revoked.

Googling "Executive Order 13435" reveals that EO 13435 provides, as the National Institutes of Health quotes it, that:

The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall conduct and support research on the isolation, derivation, production, and testing of stem cells that are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types of the developing body and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for diseases and other adverse health conditions, but are derived without creating a human embryo for research purposes or destroying, discarding, or subjecting to harm a human embryo or fetus.

Note that this EO is not the one that prevents federal funding of destructive ESC; it only says that this particular EO directs funding only to non-destructive ESC and other stem-cell sources. In fact, the last non-boilerplate bullet point makes clear that EO 13435 does not forbid funding of ESC:

(c) Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect any policy, guideline, or regulation regarding embryonic stem cell research, human cloning by somatic cell nuclear transfer, or any other research not specifically authorized by this order, or to forbid the use of existing stem cell lines deemed eligible for other federally funded research in accordance with the presidential policy decision of August 9, 2001, for research specifically authorized by this order.

That is as clear as clear can be: There's no point to revoking EO 13435 other than terminating funding of alternative stem-cell research. (The complete text of Bush's EO 13435 can be found here.)

President Bush's last Secretary of Health and Human Services, Michael Okerlund Leavitt, tasked the National Institutes of Health with funding this research into alternative sources of stem cells; NIH created a paper that implemented the order, relying primarily on a previous (2005) "white paper," Alternative Sources of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells from the President’s Council on Bioethics. This white paper identified several promising sources of stem cells that did not require the destruction of a human embryo (including one that we discussed on this very blog).

The NIH program is now dead as a clam. Obama's executive order kills it, without fanfare -- heck, without even notice beyond the bare sentence quoted above, which tells one absolutely nothing and even implies the falsehood that the second order revoked also prevented federal funding of ESC.

It's possible that the Obama administration intends to re-fund such alternative stem-cell research later; but if so, the easiest way for Obama to do so would be to leave Bush's EO in place, but simply direct the incoming Secretary of Health and Human Services (possibly Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, unless she turns out not to have any tax problems) to monkey with the funding to suit Obama's own preferences. There is no reason to kill the entire funding EO; well, no legitimate reason, anyway; there are several possible motivations beyond this defunding, but none of them is charitable (I end with the one I find most convincing):

  1. Political, philosophical, or emotional opposition to any program initiated by George W. Bush.
  2. Visceral opposition to any program "catering" to the religious Right or pro-life crowd.
  3. Vindictive retribution against those who pushed the former president into issuing an EO banning federal funding of destructive ESC. ("Fine! Then I'll erase some of your equations, Filstrup!")
  4. A bizarre pleasure in killing human embryos for no particular reason.
  5. And my personal conclusion, that Barack Obama -- and the liberal and socialist interests he fronts -- fear that medical breakthroughs resulting from research in stem-cells that come from sources other than human embryos might reduce public support for ESC research; so they only want to fund stem-cell research that requires the killing of human embryos.

To me, that fits well with the radical pro-abortion views of, e.g., NOW and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL); those organizations appear to want every woman to have at least one abortion, believing (probably wrongly) that that would produce a permanent constituency for "abortion on demand." I suspect that liberals want ESC precisely because it creates a public good arising from abortion (medical miracles), thus leading to more support for abortion.

Now as I've said many times, I have no objection even to destructive embryonic stem-cell research; I don't consider embryos to be human persons. But I certainly don't demand that we kill embryos even when unnecessary! It seems a waste of a resource for creating more people in civilized, Western democracies -- and we're not exactly overstocked with people in the West. Even this country is barely meeting replacement fertility rate.

Besides destructive ESC, about which decent people may honestly differ, we shoudl fully fund at the federal level all other promising stem-cell research, including:

  • Adult stem cells.
  • Stem cells derived from "somatic cell de-differentiation." These are cells (not embryos) that have already differentiated and ceased being pluripotent (able to become any other type of cell); they can be reprogrammed to restore their "pluipotent" status.
  • Placental stem cells.
  • Uterine-fluid stem cells.
  • Embryonic stem cells obtained non-destructively (see the Big Lizards post linked above).
  • Stem cells from "organismically dead embryos." That is, cells taken (with parental consent) from human embryos that are already deceased for other reasons, typically the "irreversible cessation of cell division in the embryo observed in vitro." This would not include death by abortion, only the natural "organismic death" of the developing embryo (usually at the 4-cell or 8-cell stage), which often simply stops dividing by itself, without external intervention.
  • Stem cells derived from "biological artifacts." These are cells produced by "altered nuclear transfer" (ANT) so that they will function as stem cells, but could never develop into a complete human being, even if allowed to grow. It's similar in technique to cloning, but no human being is or could be produced.

    An example given in the white paper is a non-embryonic nucleus that is first modified to lack the genes for "cell to cell signalling" (which is vital to all living organisms), then transported into a non-embryonic cell whose own nucleus has been removed. Neither cell came from an embryo; and neither cell, nor the hybrid produced by ANT, could possibly grow into a human being.

Each of these techniques is as promising as, or more promising than destructive embryonic stem-cell research; but none involves killing a human embryo. Horrifyingly, I can think of no reason to believe that Obama is terminating funding to such research despite the fact that no embryos die; all roads seem to lead to him terminating such funding because of the fact that no embryos die.

One of many reasons I hope Barack H. Obama fails... to enact his various socialist schemes.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, March 9, 2009, at the time of 7:39 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

November 19, 2008

Riddle Me This...

Abortion Distortion
Hatched by Dafydd

The Bush administration has provoked a "furor" by promulgating a new rule designed to protect health-care professionals from being forced to perform or assist in abortions, sterilizations, or other medical procedures that might shock their consciences:

The proposed rule would prohibit recipients of federal money from discriminating against doctors, nurses and other health care workers who refuse to perform or to assist in the performance of abortions or sterilization procedures because of their "religious beliefs or moral convictions."

It would also prevent hospitals, clinics, doctors' offices and drugstores from requiring employees with religious or moral objections to "assist in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity" financed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Opponents of the new rule offer two main objections:

  1. First, that it's unnecessary and duplicative, as federal law already protects such employees. "Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 already prohibits employment discrimination based on religion, [Reed] Russell said, and the courts have defined 'religion' broadly to include 'moral or ethical beliefs as to what is right and wrong, which are sincerely held with the strength of traditional religious views.'" [Russell is legal counsel to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.]
  2. And second, that it would deny women access to abortions. "[President-elect Barack] Obama has said the proposal will raise new hurdles to women seeking reproductive health services, like abortion and some contraceptives."

Perhaps I'm just being unusually dense today, but -- don't those two arguments completely contradict one another?

If federal law already protects health workers' right to refuse to participate in abortions, some contraceptive procedures, and human research if they have "religious or moral objections;" if that is already the law, and this rule adds nothing; then how can the rule possibly "raise new hurdles?"

I have the distinct impression that in fact, argument number 2 is correct, while argument 1 is simply made up on the spot to try to make the rule appear redundant. The article itself says as much, though not so clearly:

Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, said that in recent years, "we have seen a variety of efforts to force Catholic and other health care providers to perform or refer for abortions and sterilizations."

But the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, 28 senators, more than 110 representatives and the attorneys general of 13 states have urged the Bush administration to withdraw the proposed rule.

Pharmacies said the rule would allow their employees to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives and could "lead to Medicaid patients being turned away." State officials said the rule could void state laws that require insurance plans to cover contraceptives and require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims.

The Ohio Health Department said the rule "could force family planning providers to hire employees who may refuse to do their jobs" - a concern echoed by Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

In other words, no matter what federal law says, in practice, the right of medical workers to refuse to perform tasks that violate their religious or moral precepts is not really universal; it only applies in a very narrow set of circumstances that usually leaves the religious health-care provider unable to refuse to perform the "procedure." Once again, I believe the pro-abortion Left is being disingenuous to the point of mendacity.

As it happens, I support abortion rights -- up until a particular point of foetal development which usually occurs near the beginning of the third trimester; prior to that development, I don't consider the nascent human being to be a "person" who has any rights. My objection to fraudulent rhetoric is not a back-door scheme to outlaw all abortions; I want to see abortion unfettered until that developmental point. Any conservative worth his Saltines would call me "pro-abortion," and I wouldn't object.

But I despise argument by hysteria, argument by "noble falsehood," and argument by tendentious befuddlement... each of which I see being used by the pro-abortion side in this donnybrook.

Here is the real argument opponents of the new regulation have, and I wish they would just straightforwardly make it, instead of resorting to subterfuge:

The [Connecticut] state attorney general, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, said the proposed regulation "would blow apart solutions and compromises that have been reached by people of good will in Connecticut and elsewhere."

This is a very reasonable argument, and honest and well-informed people can stake out either side of it. One can argue that abortion is such a contentious issue, with disputants disagreeing on when personhood or even human life begins, that it should only be resolved by compromise at the state level. Or one could argue that if, in fact, a foetus is morally equivalent to a born baby, then there can be no compromise about abortion... which in this formulation is tantamount to infanticide. The beauty of federalism is that different states can come down on different sides.

But sooner or later -- and it's been 35 years since Roe v. Wade first "blew apart solutions and compromises" that people of good will had hammered out -- our society is going to have to grab the bull by the tail and look the facts in the face: We must eventually decide the epistemological question of how we are to decide, in a case by case, state by state basis, whether a particular pregnancy is a person with the right to life... or a living but dependent entity that has not yet attained personhood, and therefore has no rights.

Until we hold that national dialog (in individual states), we will continue to straddle the barbed-wire fence... which is a very painful, not to mention awkward and perilous, social posture to maintain. And that means the courts must get the hell out of the way and allow the democratic branches of government to do their jobs.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 19, 2008, at the time of 4:53 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

August 18, 2008

Obama's "No Child Left Alive" Policy

Abortion Distortion , Liberal Lunacy , Presidential Campaign Camp and Porkinstance
Hatched by Dafydd

I rarely do this, as you know -- publish a post that simply repeats the reasoning of somebody else's article. But David Freddoso on National Review Online has an article that is so powerful and urgent that I'm inclined to emphasize it here, following the lead of Scott Johnson at Power Line.

According to Freddoso's research (along with that of the Springfield, Illinois chapter of the National Right to Life Committee), Obama voted against a bill that came before his committee in the Illinois state senate in 2003 that would simply have declared that any baby who survived an abortion attempt, and was accidentally born alive instead, shall be considered a human person with all the rights of any other baby born alive. The bill was in response to Chicago hospitals that were taking second shots at such improperly born children, making sure the "procedure" was successful, no matter how many times it took -- and no matter whether the abortion was finished before or after live birth.

But now he has realized that this vote may come back to haunt him in his quest for the presidency... so he's brazenly lying, claiming the bill was instead an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade.

What makes this even more flagrant (and vile) is that the bill included language -- which Obama and every state senator on the committee, unanimously inserted -- explicitly avowing that it only affected the rights of babies that had actually been born alive and would have no impact whatsoever on foetuses still in the womb.

It would not even have forbidden partial-birth abortion, since the body of the bill explicitly defined a live birth as "the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of that member [of the species homo sapiens];" as partial-birth abortion means an incomplete extraction (as the name implies), its legality would not have been affected by this bill.

(What it would have affected is a botched partial-birth abortion, where the doctor accidentally delivers the entire baby, rather than everything but the head. It would have prevented hospitals from picking up the fully born baby and continuing with the "procedure" -- prying open the infant's skull and sucking out her brains with a vacuum.)

I really want John S. McCain and the GOP to jump on this: It's so obviously mendacious a denial, about an issue that is so fundamentally repulsive to real Americans -- letting living, born babies die of exposure in order to punish them for surviving an abortion attempt -- that I cannot see how he can weasel his way out of it.

And please bear in mind... I am pro-choice on abortion up to about two-thirds of the way through pregnancy. Nevertheless, I am not pro-choice on infanticide, which is what this bill was designed to prevent. And there is no way anybody living in a civilized culture (anybody but a lunatic liberal) can justify killing a post-born infant by deliberate neglect (starvation, dehydration, cold)... just because the mother originally wanted it removed from her womb.

All right; it's out. Why must they slay it as well?

Obama's policy itself is murderous, and his vain attempt to lie his way out of it deeply offends my intelligence and shocks my conscience.

(I have put the full text of the law in the "slither on," along with the modifying amendment unanimously adopted by the committee.)

Here is the complete text of SB1082, introduced on February 19th, 2003, into the Illinois state senate; the unanimous "neutrality language" amendment is shown in blue at the end, replacing the crossed-out section immediately above it.

AN ACT concerning infants who are born alive.

Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly:

Section 5. The Statute on Statutes is amended by adding Section 1.36 as follows:

(5 ILCS 70/1.36 new)

Sec. 1.36. Born-alive infant.

(a) In determining the meaning of any statute or of any rule, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative agencies of this State, the words "person", "human being", "child", and "individual" include every infant member of the species homo sapiens who is born alive at any stage of development.

(b) As used in this Section, the term "born alive", with respect to a member of the species homo sapiens, means the complete expulsion or extraction from its mother of that member, at any stage of development, who after that expulsion or extraction breathes or has a beating heart, pulsation of the umbilical cord, or definite movement of voluntary muscles, regardless of whether the umbilical cord has been cut and regardless of whether the expulsion or extraction occurs as a result of natural or induced labor, cesarean section, or induced abortion.

(c) A live child born as a result of an abortion shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law.

(c) Nothing in this Section shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo sapiens at any point prior to being born alive as defined in this Section.

Section 99. Effective date. This Act takes effect upon becoming law.

Here is the history of the bill. "Session Sine Die" at the end means that Illinois state senate term expired without any further action on the bill (meaning it was killed in committee).

And here is a list of the members of the senate Health and Human Services committee in the 93rd General Assembly; note that Barack Obama is the "chairperson."

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 18, 2008, at the time of 3:12 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

April 18, 2007

Striking a Blow for Civilization

Abortion Distortion , Constitutional Maunderings , Court Decisions , Cultures and Contortions
Hatched by Dafydd

As many of you know -- though for others, it will be a killer shock that will send you reeling away, screaming dark imprecations at me, never to return to Big Lizards, halving out readership, and destroying the entire franchise... huh, maybe I shouldn't tell you!

Oh heck. Full disclosure, blah.

As many of you know, both lizards are somewhat pro-abortion-rights, albeit Sachi much more reluctantly than Dafydd. So I thought you might appreciate the thoughts of admittedly pro-abortion-rights commentators on today's excellent Supreme Court decision upholding the federal ban on the most gruesome and barbaric "medical" procedure allowed (until today) in contemporary America.

The cases decided in one decision today are Gonzales v. Carhart, 05-380, and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood, 05-1382.

Shades of grey

First, let me clarify where my abortion tolerance begins and where it ends. It is impossible to hold any position at all on abortion without first holding a position on when, not human life, but human personhood begins. Some folks may not even recognize that they have such a position, but they do; they're just remarkably unself-aware.

  1. Some believe human personhood begins at the moment of conception. Thus, any clump of cells that will develop into a human being, if left to prevailing natural processes, is necessarily a human person at all points of that process... right from the very beginning.
  2. Others believe that, while a human zygote (a fertilized human egg) is unquestionably the first stage of a human being, it does not become a human person -- with attendant rights, duties, and protections -- until later in the process. They point to the immense structural differences between a zygote, an embryo, a foetus, and a late-term foetus and argue that personhood depends upon some element of that pre-natal development.

What follows is just my personal belief and isn't part of the mainline argument of this post; I'll indent it, and you can skip ahead without losing the thread.

I fall into group 2. I cannot look at a zygote and see it as morally equivalent to a living baby.

For me, the particular critical area of development is the cerebral cortex -- that which most separates human beings from the other creatures on the planet, in terms of biology.

(The only exceptions are the cetaceans, which have well developed cerebral cortices, but which clearly do not have human levels of intelligence, alas. As a science fiction fan, I would love the idea that we had a couple of "alien species" on the planet that we could talk to; but this has been studied for decades... and every scrap of evidence points to the conclusion that they're just clever animals.)

So I would allow abortion only up until such time as the cerebral cortex is fully formed and functional -- though not fully developed, of course, since that happens only at adulthood. I believe there is a fairly clear point where the cortex activates, and it's usually somewhere around the 26th week (around the end of the second trimester). I would allow abortion for any reason before cortical activity rises to a certain point, and afterwards, disallow it for any reason except to save the life -- not the "health" -- of the mother... and even then, every effort should be made to save the baby, even if that puts the mother at some increased risk.

I do not believe that a human person is nothing but a lump of protoplasm. I believe humans have non-destructable souls. But I also believe that human souls do not inhabit non-human bodies, else we would see them in animals. Until cortical activity rises to a certain level, the developing body is not yet human: I literally believe that the soul cannot "fit" into that body until the body is ready to receive it, and ensoulment occurs sometime after that period of cortical activation. Since I obviously cannot know when after that point ensoulment occurs -- traditional Jewish teaching is that it occurs when the baby takes its first breath after being born -- I would outlaw abortion after cortical activation (that is, when cortical activity rises above a certain point).

All right, back to today's Court decision upholding the ban on partial-birth abortions.

Lovecraftian horror

I refuse to use the deliberately obscurantist medical circumlocuation, "intact dilation and extraction," the very purpose of which is to conceal what is actually done. A person would have no idea from this title that after dilating the cervix and extracting the body of the baby, the real work begins. I'll let Wikipedia describe what happens next, in their (generally supportive) article on the subject:

An incision is made at the base of the skull and a suction catheter is inserted into the cut. The brain tissue is removed, which causes the skull to collapse and allows the fetus to pass more easily through the birth canal. The placenta is removed and the uterine wall is vacuum aspirated using a suction curette.

All this while everything except for the head is dangling outside of the mother's birth canal. So I think "partial-birth abortion" is the most vivid and accurate name for the horrific procedure.


Obviously, since I completely oppose late-term abortions (after cortical activation), I cannot help but applaud a Court decision that bans one form of late-term abortion, albeit a rare one. But many partial-birth abortions are performed earlier in the pregnancy, at a time when I do not categorially oppose abortion. So why do I oppose partial-birth abortions, even in the second trimester?

For me, this is the tipping point: Suppose the doctor slipped up and allowed the head to emerge as well -- but then continued with the "abortion" anyway: He just went ahead with the incision and the suction catheter and removing the brain tissue of a "foetus" that was actually lying in the mother's lap. What would happen then?

I believe he would be arrested and tried for murder... with special circumstances. The doctor would have delivered a live baby -- and calmly killed it in full view of its mother. At an absolute minimum, it should be considered "depraved indifference to human life;" but I think murder charges would be filed. The DA would call it infanticide, and nearly everybody in the country would agree.

The distinction between infanticide and legal abortion cannot be four inches movement down a tube.

For me (see above), the second trimester is a grey area: the foetus has some distinctly "baby-like" features, while other features (mostly in the higher brain) are not well developed. It's not yet a person, but it's getting somewhat close. Similarly, at the very end of life, a person can lose so much of what makes him a person that decisions about life and death similarly become murky: I support withdrawing life support under some circumstances; but I totally opposed starving Terry Schiavo to death -- and I still believe it was immoral, despite clear post-mortem evidence that Schiavo was not aware enough to notice.

A lot can tip the scales when in the grey zone. And one very strong distinction to me is between a baby that is born and a foetus that is still in the womb.

By the very act of inducing labor and allowing it to proceed virtually to the point of birth, the doctor has tipped the scales from allowable abortion to criminal infanticide. The foetus has become an independent baby... at least as far as this one abortion-rights supporter believes.

As bad as the more common form of second-trimester abortion is, it does not even begin to approach the Nazi-like, nausea-inducing horror of partial-birth abortion. (In dilation and evacuation, the foetus is killed and dismembered inside the womb, then the individual pieces are extracted.) D & E is itself pretty gruesome to contemplate; but there is no point at which the dependent foetus becomes, for all intents and purposes, an independent, delivered baby.

The road not taken

Finally, there is the question of precedent. Both Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-Carpetbag, 95%) and Barack Obama (D-IL, 95%) make a big to-do about the "departure" from Supreme Court precedent of this ruling:


This decision marks a dramatic departure from four decades of Supreme Court rulings that upheld a woman's right to choose and recognized the importance of women's health.


I strongly disagree with today's Supreme Court ruling, which dramatically departs from previous precedents safeguarding the health of pregnant women.

To which I reply -- so what? Even if it's true that Gonzales v. Carhart/Planned Parenthood "departs" from precedent -- which claim itself is questionable -- why should we care? The Court is not bound by any previous court rulings... not even its own.

It has the power to overturn itself, as it has many times in the past; for example, when Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), upholding "separate but equal" racial segregation in the public schools, was overturned 58 years later in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Does any respectable lawyer, Democrat or Republican, complain that Brown didn't follow the racist precedent of Plessy?

For that matter, did Hillary Clinton object when the Court decided Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) -- thus overturning 170 years of Supreme Court precedent? Since the beginning of the very idea that the Court could overturn federal laws (Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 in 1803), no United States Supreme Court had ever found a constitutional right to an abortion.

It doesn't even follow the precedent of Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 1965, as the Roe decision claimed; since the "right of privacy" doesn't have any obvious connection that I can see to the right to kill a foetus.

In 1973, the year of Roe v. Wade, Hillary Rodham was a newly minted attorney -- though I'm not sure she was yet an attorney at law. So she must have been fascinated by that Court decision. Yet I will eat a bug if anyone can find a Hillary Clinton quotation complaining that Roe v. Wade "marks a dramatic departure" from Supreme Court precedent.

(In 1973, Barack Obama was 12 years old, so I don't hold him to the same standard. But surely he studied Roe v. Wade at Harvard Law in the late 80s. If he ever objected to Roe because it "dramatically departs from previous precedents," it certainly hasn't come to my attention.)

Thus, the entire argument against today's decision, that it violates precedent, is nothing but a shibboleth: It's an infallible guide to those who vehemently oppose Gonzales vs. Carhart/Planned Parenthood. It is an ersatz argument that needn't be further addressed.


So yes, I absolutely and enthusiastically applaud this Court decision, in which we managed to hold onto Justice Anthony Kennedy (who wrote the decision) and the four conservative members -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito. It's the best news to come out of the Court since they prevented Al Gore from suing his way into the White House.

I rarely say this, but... three cheers for Anthony Kennedy!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, April 18, 2007, at the time of 4:35 PM | Comments (34) | TrackBack

July 26, 2006

Demonstration of Sanity

Abortion Distortion , The Rumsfeld Awards
Hatched by Dafydd

The Republican caucus of the United States Senate, and about a third of the Democratic caucus, having demonstrated unusual clarity and sanity by enacting the Child Custody Protection Act -- making it a crime for non-parental, non-guardian adults to transport a minor girl across state lines to procure her an abortion in violation of state parental-notification laws -- collectively deserve a Rumsfeld Award for actually making sane people feel good about government, for a change. (See last post.)

Here are the exceptions, both the bad (the four Republicans who voted against it) and the good (the fourteen Democrats who voted for it):

Republican weirdos who voted against S. 403:

  • Lincoln Chafee, RI, 12%;
  • Olympia Snowe, ME, 32%;
  • Susan Collins, ME, 32%;
  • Arlen Specter, PA, 63%.

Democrats who had at least one moment of sanity in their careers by voting for this act:

  • Evan Bayh, IN, 95%;
  • Robert Byrd, WV, 95%;
  • Thomas Carper, DE, 90%;
  • Kent Conrad, ND, 85%;
  • Byron Dorgan, ND, 100%;
  • Daniel Inouye, HI, 90%;
  • Tim Johnson, SD, 95%;
  • Herb Kohl, WI, 100%;
  • Mary Landrieu, LA, 95%;
  • Bill Nelson, FL, 80%;
  • E. Benjamin "Ben" Nelson, NE, 55%;
  • Mark Pryor, AR, 90%;
  • Harry Reid, NV, 100%;
  • Ken Salazar, CO, 100%.

Just so readers can see how astonishingly rational, non-hysterical, and yes, sensitive the Senate was to the principals involved in such cases, both parents and the girl herself, I think we need to read the law itself (click the second link, the one that reads "[S.403.ES].") Trust me, it's surprisingly short for a product of the United States Congress!

Here is the operative part:

Sec. 2431. Transportation of minors in circumvention of certain laws relating to abortion

`(a) Offense-

`(1) GENERALLY- Except as provided in subsection (b), whoever knowingly transports a minor across a State line, with the intent that such minor obtain an abortion, and thereby in fact abridges the right of a parent under a law requiring parental involvement in a minor's abortion decision, in force in the State where the minor resides, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

`(2) DEFINITION- For the purposes of this subsection, an abridgement of the right of a parent occurs if an abortion is performed on the minor, in a State other than the State where the minor resides, without the parental consent or notification, or the judicial authorization, that would have been required by that law had the abortion been performed in the State where the minor resides.

`(b) Exceptions-

`(1) The prohibition of subsection (a) does not apply if the abortion was necessary to save the life of the minor because her life was endangered by a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy itself.

`(2) A minor transported in violation of this section, and any parent of that minor, may not be prosecuted or sued for a violation of this section, a conspiracy to violate this section, or an offense under section 2 or 3 based on a violation of this section.

`(c) Affirmative Defense- It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution for an offense, or to a civil action, based on a violation of this section that the defendant reasonably believed, based on information the defendant obtained directly from a parent of the minor or other compelling facts, that before the minor obtained the abortion, the parental consent or notification, or judicial authorization took place that would have been required by the law requiring parental involvement in a minor's abortion decision, had the abortion been performed in the State where the minor resides.

`(d) Civil Action- Any parent who suffers harm from a violation of subsection (a) may obtain appropriate relief in a civil action, unless the parent has committed an act of incest with the minor subject to subsection (a).

I hope this lays to rest the lion's share of absurdist attacks on this law by the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), by foaming-at-the-mouth Democrats, and by abortion absolutists on various blogs (including the comments section of this blog). It does nothing more than make it a federal crime to deliberately bypass state laws by procuring an abortion for a minor without parental knowledge. This prevents perpetrators from quashing prosecution by challenging state jurisdiction.

If that's "an irresponsible action that will do nothing to protect young women's safety or improve family communication," as Nancy Keenan, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, characterized it, then words no longer have any meaning at all.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, July 26, 2006, at the time of 2:51 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

July 25, 2006

What Is Wrong (Stop Me If You've Heard This Before) With This Picture?

Abortion Distortion , Congressional Calamities
Hatched by Dafydd

All right, here is the opening sentence of the Washington Post story:

The Senate voted tonight to make it a crime to take a pregnant girl across state lines to obtain an abortion without her parents' knowledge, handing a long-sought victory to the Bush administration and abortion opponents.

As always, imagine the "Final Jeopardy" theme music as you ponder what is so odd and peculiar about that sentence. I'll wait. (Of course, since I'm writing this before any of you out there has even read it yet, I'm not really waiting. It's relativity, man!)

All right, here it is:

  • Is there any sane person in the country who would oppose such a law, preventing random, strange adults from taking some pregnant kid across state lines to get an abortion without her parent's knowledge, let alone permission?
  • In which case... why was the bill a "long sought" victory? Why on earth did it take so long?

The reality, of course, is that abortion has become so polarized that it took years and years and years for the bill to get this far. And even today, two-thirds of Democratic senators voted against it!

For years, advocates on both sides of the abortion issue have battled at the state level over narrower questions, including parental notification and consent for minors. Fifty-one Republicans and 14 Democratic senators voted for the bill, while four Republicans, 29 Democrats and one independent voted against it. Sens. George Allen (R-Va.) and John Warner (R-Va.) voted for the bill; Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) and Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) voted against it.

The abortion debate has become so toxic -- as a direct result of the post-modern Roe v. Wade decision -- that abortion supporters today refuse even to yield on the most obvious, reasonable restrictions (partial-birth abortion, parental consent or at least notification, waiting periods), fearing a "slippery slope" that will somehow lead to California and New York banning all abortions. So they fight hammer and sickle against even such a wimpy, no-brainer law like this.

Oh, by the way, fair disclosure: I support the right of abortion right up until the cerebral cortex forms and activates, usually about the 26th week.

The arguments against this bill are so moronic, I doubt even NARAL spokeswomen really believe what they're saying:

Opponents said the Senate bill will threaten the safety of pregnant girls whose parents might beat them if they learn of their daughters' plans for an abortion. The proponents' approach "is not to deal with the reality of young people" in troubled families, said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). He cited accounts of an Idaho man who raped and impregnated his 13-year-old daughter, and then killed her when he learned she had scheduled an abortion....

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called the Senate vote "an irresponsible action that will do nothing to protect young women's safety or improve family communication."

No, I suppose the responsible thing is to allow any old adult to knock up a fourteen year old, then hotfoot her across the border to clean up his mistake. Without the parents having any idea that their barely post-pubscent daughter is in an ongoing sexual relationship with a forty-three year old monster.

It's fanatics like Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL, 100%) and Nancy Keenan that so often make me feel like apologizing for supporting abortion rights. Fortunately, I know better than to base my positions on the maundering of mental mice. I hold what I hold because of my analysis -- not theirs.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, July 25, 2006, at the time of 6:14 PM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

February 21, 2006

One Last Chance

Abortion Distortion
Hatched by Dafydd

Let me start off right away by noting that I am not at all unbiased on the issue of partial-birth abortion. Of course, I'm biased on every issue we deal with here on Big Lizards... we're commentators, not news anchors. But I'm even more than usually biased on this one.

So I am in very high spirits that the Supreme Court has agreed to reconsider striking down the federal ban on partial-birth abortion (intact dialation and extraction), which they overturned in 2000 -- with Sandra Day O'Connor casting one of the five votes to overturn the ban. Ironically, on the very first day that her replacement, Samuel Alito, took the bench, the Court voted to hear another appeal of a different judge striking down the same law for the same reason: Gonzales v. Carhart, No. 05-380.

If everyone votes the way he did before, and if Alito votes to allow the law -- none of which is a given, of course -- then partial-birth abortion, which I consider to be infanticide, will be banned across the country. So I am keeping my fingers crossed that Alito will be more rational about this than was O'Connor.

There is not much more to say; we all know the stakes, and we all know that we won't know any more until the arguments... and we really won't know what is going to happen until the Court makes it happen, one way or the other.

So we leave it with the hopeful note that four justices, at least, believe they decided wrongly in 2000.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 21, 2006, at the time of 4:53 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 14, 2006

Choice vs. Life

Abortion Distortion
Hatched by Dafydd

Patterico is running an interesting symposium on [I'll bet you can't guess the subject!] over on his site. The first two posts are here and here.

It's an interesting discussion; and although everyone is being relatively civil (so far as I've read), I doubt that any good will come of this. Not that we can't discuss abortion; that's doable. Patterico and I could have a very profitable discussion of abortion. But Patterico and his fifty closest friends create only cacophany. I counted about a dozen different positions in the first ten comments!

This is the sort of discussion that should be carried out by a couple of special masters, so to speak. The problem with a "discussion" between so many is that you're forced by sheer weight of response to cherry-pick points to respond to; and even if Patterico were consciously picking out what he considered to be the best arguments on the other side to answer, they wouldn't necessarily be what his opponents consider the best.

In a one on one debate, however, one side must answer the best arguments the other side can find, even if they seem "silly" to the first. Neither party gets to pick which arguments to answer.

In addition, the discussion as presently constructed quickly becomes exclusive to those who started early: at the moment I write this, there are 142 combined comments to the two posts -- which is such a daunting task to read that I suppose any new people will just boot the earlier discussions, post their own opinions blind, and reinvent the whale.

What would make more sense is if two people who took opposite positions on abortion -- or let's say not opposite but distinct -- were to post alternating posts on the same blog. Comments could be open for people to discuss the discussion or toss in their own 2¢ worth on the original questions; but the mainline discussion would be conducted in the blogposts.

This is similar to the format of the K-Lo run blog Opinion Duel. So far she's only done "domestic eavesdropping" and "Danish cartoons;" perhaps she could be induced to run one for abortion, then bring in a couple of people who can argue the case well... though who one would pick I couldn't say.

(Somebody should pick me; I have a perfectly consistent position that is considered pro-abortion by pro-lifers and anti-abortion by pro-choicers. That might make for an interesting "duel," though it would take several posts before my opponent got the range on just what my position reall was! Patterico already knows what my position is, so we could skip the zeroing-in phase, if it were we two.)

Patterico's symposium is definitely worth reading (I'm not so sure about the scores and scores of comments), but I'd much rather see him debate Robert Reich (or even me) one on one.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, February 14, 2006, at the time of 11:29 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

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