Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Short Story [Scott]

Joe found the young girl unconscious in her upstairs closet. By the time he got there, the structure was a raging inferno. No one else dared go inside. Scooping up the girl, he took his only exit, straight out the second story window and into the bushes below. The girl lived. For his part, Joe sustained three cuts and two sprained ankles—and an avalanche of questions. The media wanted to know how he planned to pay for the girl’s food, clothing, and health care now that he’d rescued her. The evangelical pastor asked if the time spent saving the girl from temporal flames might be better spent saving people from eternal ones. The social justice coordinator of the Catholic parish insisted that if Joe truly cared about saving lives, he’d care about all life and spend equal time rescuing poor workers from corrupt corporations. The local Congressman asked if he supported tax hikes aimed at reducing fire risk. Joe just kept looking at the girl.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advanced Pro-Life Apologetics Course--Watch for Free! [Scott]

The complete lecture notes for my sessions are here and the links to the videos are below. (Dr. Scott Rae taught the other half of the course. His sessions, dealing with reproductive technologies and end of life issues, are found here.)

Content Overview: Successful pro-life apologists pursue four essential tasks. First, they clarify the debate by focusing public attention on one key question: What is the unborn? Second, they establish a foundation for the debate, demonstrating to critics that metaphysical neutrality is impossible. Third, they answer objections persuasively. Fourth, they teach and equip.


Session #1: What is the Issue--The Nature of Moral Reasoning (52 Min.)

Session #2: What is the Unborn? (1:08)

Session #3: What Makes Humans Valuable? Part 1: The Substance View of Human Persons (52 min.)

Session #4: What Makes Humans Valuable? Part 2: The Religion Objection (15 Min.)

Session #5: Who Makes the Rules? Abortion: Law, Metaphysics, and Alleged Moral Neutrality (38 Min.)

Session #6: What is my Duty? The Bodily Autonomy Arguments of Thomson, Boonin, and McDonaugh (54 Min.)

Session #7: Catholic Social Justice Teaching and Other Objections (46 Min.)

Session #8: Equipping Yourself to Engage at Your Church (46 Min.)


1. Gilbert Meilaender, Bioethics: A Primmer for Christians (Eerdmans, 2005)

2. Agnetta Sutton, Christian Bioethics: A Guide for the Perplexed (T&T Clark, 2008)

3. Scott Rae, Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics (Zondervan, 2009)

Monday, December 3, 2012

A Quick Thought on Arguing the Supremacy of Science [Jay Watts]

I started working on a post that felt oddly familiar.  Then I realized I wrote something similar back in October 2011 on my personal blog.  Two things struck me: (1) That old post is better than the one I was currently writing and (2) no one ever reads that blog.  So rather than reinvent the wheel I brushed off the old post, changed a word or two, and reposted it here.  

I am currently reading a philosopher who will remain nameless because I haven't finished her book yet so any criticism is premature. She at once impresses with her intellect and frustrates with the gaps in her reasoning as it pertains to the supremacy of scientific knowledge over what she terms “more meaningful” but less verifiable intellectual pursuits. 

So here is question often asked in rebuttal: What type of arguments will we be forced to make in order to defend the proposition that testable scientific knowledge is superior to philosophical knowledge?

It is one thing to state an obvious fact; testable experimentally verifiable knowledge enjoys the luxury of being demonstrated again and again so as to earn our confidence. Reasonable people must accept the fact that water freezes at 32 degrees F/0 degrees C (at 1 atmosphere of pressure). If presented with a case where water failed to freeze at 32 degrees F, it makes sense to question the facts in order to determine what mistake was made. We are left with a few probabilities: it is not water(H2O), the thermometer is incorrect, the water was supercooled so that it dipped below the freezing point before actually freezing. It must be one of these things because all reasonable people acknowledge that water normally freezes at 32 degrees F. This is the strength of this type of knowledge. Inquiry leads to trustable answers. 

Mathematics are also an extension of this. 2 + 2 = 4 is demonstrably true and reasonable people acknowledge it. (Except , of course, defenders of Fictionalism or a type of Nominalism that denies the reality of numbers and so denies that the equation is literally true, but you don't run into too many of these people at the soccer fields and in the normal work place) Combine the rational power of math and experimental sciences and we have the basis for some of the greatest accomplishments in human history.

But when you argue that experimentally verifiable scientific truth is superior to philosophical truth you aren't arguing the more limited claim just discussed. Arguing that it is superior is arguing that the information in question has qualities that make it better by nature than other types of information. Uh oh. Qualities? Nature? This sounds suspiciously like philosophy to me. 

Objectors tell me that they are merely stating that scientific exploration works in a way that philosophical consideration cannot. Science discovered everything that makes our life better than our more primitive ancestors. “But what do you mean by better?” I ask. 

And why did we advance science? What drove the men and women to pursue vaccines, clean drinking water, stronger protective dwellings, and advanced medical treatment? Was it the idea that we ought to take care of our fellow man and limit suffering? Do our perceived obligations and duties to others often inspire the endeavors we are talking about? Certainly those motivations for exploration are not scientific by nature.

Another consideration, we can all agree that science produces useful information, but how do we assess the application of that knowledge? Zyklon B was a cyanide based pesticide. It was used to keep citrus groves, food stores, and shipping vehicles free of insects and rodents to protect food supplies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was also used by the Nazis to kill millions of innocent Jews in death camps. How do we evaluate the different applications of the same scientific principle? One – the killing of insects and rodents - is a possible good and the other – the killing of innocent human beings – is a monstrous evil. Are these judgments scientific? Nope. And IF the scientific fact that Zykon B kills living things is the preeminent truth THEN how we use it is of secondary importance. The moral judgements of the different uses of Zyklon B are less clear  in comparison to the certainty of how it works. After all, we have scientific certainty that Zyklon B kills animals while the moral judgements upon those actions belong to the realm of knowledge that we are told cannot be trusted. 

But how is that possible? How can the moral applications of scientific advancement be of secondary importance to the mere fact of discovery itself? 

That is the crux of the problem. In order to be superior someone must explain why the truth discovered through experimentation - though more verifiable by its nature - is of greater importance to the beings those discoveries serve than philosophical truths concerning morality, duties, justice, the existence of God, or the presence of greater purpose to life. This requires contemplation on what kind of beings we are, what is best for us in life, what's our destiny, and what information will best serve us. These questions cannot be melted, burned, vaporized, frozen, or weighed. They cannot be the subject of scientific inquiry in any traditional way that empirical study is understood. In fact, they are exactly the kind of questions that the champion of the supremacy of science is trying to undermine. The arguments justifying the supremacy of science are undercut by the attackers own criticisms of philosophy.

Or in the words of Friedrich Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols:

“The true world — we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we have also abolished the apparent one.”

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Nehring's Loving a Child on the Fringe: Part 1 (Jay Watts)

This article by Christina Nehring on raising a child with Down syndrome is marvelous. (Loving a Child on the Fringe)  I want to limit my comments to very specific elements both out of respect to how well written the piece is as well as my hope that you will also read her full article about her daughter Eurydice.  This is my first of two posts on this.

In addressing the conclusions of author Andrew Solomon in his book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity about the challenges of raising children including those with special needs as well as Peter Singer's utilitarian evaluations of life she writes the following:

Am I “cheerily generalizing” as Solomon says of other Down syndrome parents, “from a few accomplishments” of my child? Perhaps I am. But one thing I’ve learned these last four years that possibly Solomon has not: All of our accomplishments are few. All of our accomplishments are minor: my scribblings, his book, the best lines of the best living poets. We embroider away at our tiny tatters of insight as though the world hung on them, when it is chiefly we ourselves who hang on them. Often a dog or cat with none of our advanced skills can offer more comfort to our neighbor than we can. (Think: Would you rather live with Shakespeare or a cute puppy?) Each of us has the ability to give only a little bit of joy to those around us. I would wager Eurydice gives as much as any person alive.

I am so jealous of that paragraph and to paraphrase the singer/writer Jimmy Buffet talking about the song Southern Cross, dang I wish I wrote that. It echoes the wisdom of The Book of Ecclesiastes and gets to the heart of a real fear that drives abortion. My life as I planned it and see it will not reach its important ends should an unwanted child or a child that is not all I wish it to be in its capacities be introduced to my narrative. My future as I plan it is better than any other possible story for me and better for us all. Hogwash. Neither I nor my plans are so important that adjusting my understanding of either one of them threatens the greater good. A generous dose of Ecclesiastes articulated humility and perhaps an occasional listening to Dust in the Wind by Kansas may treat the vanity that plagues us.

My friend and minister Pat MacPherson tells me that, despite my emphasis on the identification of the unborn as human and determining what makes human life valuable, what bothers him most about abortion is the lack of faith represented in the decision to abort. We simply refuse to believe that our lives can be different from what we planned and still be something we love.

Everyone that I talk to that has a relative living with Downs syndrome repeats Ms. Nehring's view that the relationship changed more than her professional and personal circumstances, it changed her. The fear that our vision for our future will be abandoned loses sight of the possibility that the future us wouldn't have wanted that life anyway. If you asked 21 year-old, hard partying, atheistic, and pro-choice Jay if he would be happy as a 41 year-old Christian with a wife, three kids, and working in pro-life ministry he would have very colorfully and rudely retorted absolutely not. Yet here I am and deliriously happy. Nehring admits that had she known Eurydice had Downs she probably would have aborted her, and yet there she is writing this article about her unexpected fulfillment.  We simply don't have the omniscience to judge such things either way. We certainly lack sufficient knowledge to justify ending an innocent human life to secure a possible future we believe at this moment will make future us happy.

Not all frustrations are bad.  I am reminded of C.S. Lewis' A Grief Observed. While chronicling his experience dealing with the loss of his beloved wife, he articulates his fear that she will become something in memory that she was not in life. He lost the part of Joy that was continuously not what he expected. He writes:

All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved, even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality.

When she conformed to what he wanted her to be in his memory, Joy ceased to be Joy. The real Joy was messy and argumentative and independent. In fact, those were the very qualities he loved and most mourned losing. His point that all reality confronts us, frustrates us, and demands that we adjust is well taken. As is the recognition that we should cherish that aspect. Our dreams are as perfect as we can imagine them to be and a great motivator for our actions, but our waking hours are lived in an imperfect reality that opposes us. That opposition is not necessarily bad and is sometimes the best thing for us. It cultivates in us strength, character, and perspective that under easier circumstances would forever be lacking.

Our disturbing habit of pronouncing whole groups of human life as being excess or unneeded because of our fear that they would interfere with our plans reminds me again of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (I wrote more about that here in Scrooge and the Pro-Choice Christians). The line from the Ghost of Christmas Present bears repeating. After throwing Scrooge's callous remark about surplus population back in his face, the spirit says the following:

Man... if man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, and what men shall die? It may be, that in the sight of heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child.

We need to hear stories about love and happiness found through relationships with people identified more often with struggle and suffering. We need to be reminded that unexpected joy runs rich and deep. Life is not beholden to us to play out as we script it in our dreams, and we are all the better for it.

The next post will address her recognition that her daughter is not her baton bearer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Day #10 Pro-Life Apologetics Article: Does Bodily Autonomy Justify Abortion? [SK]

Rich Poupard says no.


The bodily autonomy argument and their defenses of it fail for at least four reasons. First, the argument fails to account for situations in which a mother harms but does not kill her child; given its logic, it would affirm a mother’s decision to intentionally take a medication that will cause birth defects in her child, for example. Second, the argument assumes that prenatal parental responsibilities are largely voluntary. Third, the analogies used to support the argument fail to take into account the difference between diseased and healthy physiological states. Fourth, the argument results in absurdities if taken to its logical conclusion. Taken as a whole, then, the bodily autonomy argument does not give us justification to jettison our deepest moral intuitions that mothers should not intentionally kill their offspring, whom proponents of this argument concede are rights-bearing individuals. Intentionally killing human fetuses in the act of elective abortion thus remains a great moral wrong.

Rich has follow up posts here and here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Day 9 Pro-Life Apologetics Article: Bob Perry on Margaret Sanger [SK]

No Gods no Masters
Christian Research Journal, Vol. 33, #4, 2010


When pro-life Christians attempt to defend their viewpoint with arguments such as,
“Abortion may have killed the person who would find the cure for cancer,” they have just stepped
directly into the mire of Sanger’s consequentialism.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rethinking Post-Abortion Testimonies [SK]

From an earlier discussion today:

I think pro-lifers need to modify their emphasis on post-abortion testimonies. First, "I regret my abortion" is the easiest pro-life pitch to refute. That is, all the other side has to do is put up a woman who says, "I don't regret mine."

Second, a heavy emphasis on post-abortion testimonies often works against the Christian tradition. Christianity entails confessing your sins, then forgetting them in light of the grace given us. Was it not St. Paul who admonished us to "forget those things that are past" and "press-on" to know Christ? What's wrong with telling a post-abortion woman (or man) who trusts Christ,  "you've confessed your sin and God has forgiven you--not in part, but in whole. Your abortion no longer defines you. Your adoption into the family of God does. You are free to move on."

Third, there's a plausible danger that subjective testimonies will dictate pro-life policy. For example, I've seen some (by no means, all) post-abortion pro-lifers object to graphic depictions of abortion on grounds that the images are mean-spirited. Never mind that pictures work; all that matters is that we not make people feel bad. As Gregg Cunningham points out, our movement is toast "when we care more about the feelings of the born than we do the lives of the unborn."

Finally, how do the husbands feel? In most cases, post-abortion testimonies involve a previous relationship, not a current spouse. If the wife's ministry centers on retelling what she did with her ex, how does that help the current marriage relationship move forward and flourish?

The Christian gospel is the fantastic news that God the Father declares guilty sinners righteous in virtue of another--the sinless Lamb of God. Isn't it time we focused more on that blessed declaration and less on our own canceled sins?

For more, see here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

More than Words: A Simple Exercise [Megan]

Reading a Frank Beckwith article ("The Explanatory Power of the Substance View of Persons" Christian Bioethics 10.1 (2004):  33-54. ), I came across a following helpful, clear, four-part definition that Beckwith cited:

"W. Norris Clarke offers a four-part definition of what constitutes a human substance: 

(1) it has the aptitude to exist in itself and not as a part of any other being; (2) it is the unifying center of all the various attributes and properties that belong to it at any one moment; (3) if the being persists as the same indivi- dual throughout a process of change, it is the substance which is the abiding, unifying center of the being across time; (4) it has an intrinsic dynamic orientation toward self-expressive action, toward self-communication with others, as the crown of its perfection, as its very raison d’être . . . (1991, p. 105)"

In your free time today, perhaps during a commute or while you're eating lunch or enjoying a cup of coffee (also known at my house as "a cup of deliverance"), try a simple thinking exercise. Read the definition in full. Then, think of either yourself or someone close to you (it is easy for me to think of one of my children). Read each part of the definition, and reword it so as to describe the person on your mind.

For example:  I read, "It has the aptitude to exist in itself and not as a part of any other being." Then I thought of my 6-year-old daughter, Neely, and said to myself, "Neely exists in and of herself. She is not a part of me or anybody or anything else." I did the same for each part of the definition.

Next time you're in a public place, look around and find a stranger, and recall your rewording of the definition. Apply it to someone else.

Doing this, though it may seem simplistic and elementary, will help you formulate ways to communicate these truths in the future. It will also transform your thinking about the matter from academic wording that's "out there," to someone near and dear, and to each and every person around you. Including the unborn ones.

Day #8 Pro-Life Apologetics Article [SK]

Patrick Lee & Robert P. George, The Wrong of Abortion


Human beings have the special kind of value that makes us subjects of rights in virtue of what we are, not in virtue of some attribute that we acquire some time after we have come to be.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Day #7 Pro-Life Apologetics Article [SK]

Maureen Condic, Life: Defining the Beginning by the End


From conception forward, human embryos clearly function as whole living organisms. They are not mere collections of cells like those on a corpse, but are "living creatures with all the properties that define any organism as distinct from a group of cells; embryos are capable of growing, maturing, maintaining a physiologic balance between various organ systems, adapting to changing circumstances, and repairing injury. Mere groups of human cells do nothing like this under any circumstances."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Brief Advice to a First-Time Debate Participant [SK]

What follows is a re-post of comments I left on a friend's Facebook page. She bravely defended the pro-life view at a regional atheists conference. My hat is off to her.  Like those attending the conference, she's an atheist--but a pro-life one. She was concerned about the nasty comments left on the Youtube clip of her debate. 

Three thoughts: First, atheist trolls on the internet will not allow one of their own to wander off the reservation. You did that by taking a pro-life position. Thus, you are hated. Second, you need to get past reading what trolls say. They are not scholars, but bullies who try to win through ridicule and intimidation. Let them go. Third, analyze your debate objectively not subjectively. Comments on Youtube or Facebook, pro or con, are usually nothing more than an internet pep-rally for one side or the other. Instead, ask yourself these questions:

1. Did I present a solid case for the pro-life view that’s clear, concise, and memorable?
2. Did I do it in a winsome manner?
3. Did I restore meaning to the word “abortion” by carefully using images that depict it?
4. Did I frame the debate around one question, “What is the unborn?”
5. Did I handle objections persuasively, yet graciously?

My educated guess, without having seen the tape (I will look at it soon), is that you easily hit within the 70% range on all of those questions.

After running your own presentation through those five questions, run your opponent’s presentation through them. That, alone, should bring clarity. Assume the crowd liked him better than you. Assume further that the majority of those present think he won. Was that because he had better arguments or because he rhetorically capitalized on having sympathetic listeners?

Sure, there is room to improve—there always is—but that’s not the same as saying you lost. I’m certain you had better arguments. You just need to work on swifter responses to his. Welcome to the debate world! We’re all working on that on-going challenge!

Finally—and I say this gently and with affection—this fight for human equality is not about you. It’s certainly not about me. It’s about the unborn humans we’re trying to defend. I’m not surprised in the least that you are taking heat. Pro-life work entails suffering! However, just because our ideas are unpopular does not mean they are not right. True, as a theist, I have more resources at my disposal to make sense of suffering. I’m convinced that God did not put me here for comfort but for his glory. It’s His story, not mine. I should expect trouble and heartbreak and I've seen my share of both. And there's more to come. Indeed, with two sons in the military, I’m just one doorbell ring away from devastating news. But I press on knowing my work has purpose in a larger cosmological story.

With kind affection, SK

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Day 6 Pro-Life Apologetics Article [SK]

Matthew Lu, Part 2: Potentiality Rightly Understood


From the beginning of its existence a human being is always already a person because personhood belongs to it essentially as an instance of that natural kind. The second of a two-part series.

Day #5 Pro-Life Apologetics Article [SK]

Matthew Lu on Potential Misunderstandings (Part 1)


Abortion-choice advocates confuse active potential with passive potential, and thus misconstrue the nature of the human fetus. For example, a piece of lumber has the passive potential to become a table--provided it's acted upon from the outside. The unborn, however, have the active potential to develop themselves into a more mature stage of the kind of being they already are. No outside builder is necessary.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Daily Pro-Life Apologetics Article, Day 4 [SK]

O. Carter Snead, Protect the Weak and Vulnerable: the Primacy of the Life Issue


Public officials—especially the President—are obligated to protect the intrinsic equal dignity of all human beings, regardless not only of sex and race, but also without regard to age, size, condition of dependency, vulnerability, or the esteem of others. Abortion and embryo-destructive research are profound and lethal violations of this principle of equality to which the law (and the President) must respond.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Future of the Pro-Life Movement [SK]

Surrender is not an option. My Issues, Etc. interview (11 min.)

Daily Pro-Life Apologetics Articles [SK]

Over at my Facebook page, LTI is posting a daily link to a pro-life apologetics article. I thought we'd catch you up here:

 Here is the latest: Robert P. George: Embryo Ethics

Synopsis: We should resolve our national debate over embryo-destructive research on the basis of the best scientific evidence as to when the life of a new human being begins, and the most careful philosophical reasoning as to what is owed to a human being at any stage of development.

If you missed the first two days, here are the links:

 Day 1: S. Klusendorf, Dead Silence: Must the Bible Say Abortion is Wrong Before We can Know that it's Wrong?

Synopsis: The case for elective abortion based on the alleged silence of Scripture is weak. First, the Bible’s silence on abortion does not mean that its authors condoned the practice, but that prohibitions against it were largely unnecessary. The Hebrews of the Old Testament and Christians of the New were not likely to kill their offspring before birth. Second, we don’t need Scripture to expressly say elective abortion is wrong before we can know that it’s wrong. The Bible affirms that all humans have value because they bear God’s image. The facts of science make clear that from the earliest stages of development, the unborn are unquestionably human. Hence, Biblical commands against the unjust taking of human life apply to the unborn as they do other human beings. Third, abortion advocates cannot account for basic human equality. If humans have value only because of some acquired property like self-awareness, it follows that since this acquired property comes in varying degrees, basic human rights come in varying degrees. Theologically, it’s far more reasonable to argue that although humans differ immensely in their respective degrees of development, they are nonetheless equal because they share a common human nature made in the image of God.

Day 2 :Francis Beckwith, The Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade, and Abortion Law

Synopsis: The Court in Roe said that the right to abort was contingent on the status of the fetus--that is, whether or not it was a living human being. Given the Court said that it did not know when life begins, doesn't it follow the court also doesn't know when, if ever, a right to abortion exists?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bodily Rights and Adoption [Serge]

I'm now going to address some of the objections to my obligatory parental provision argument detailed in this post.  One line of argument is to deny that obligatory parental provisions exist.  Due to the fact that a mother has the right to give her child up for adoption, all parental provisions are in some ways voluntary.  Since a mother after a child is born can voluntarily refuse to provide for her child by exercising her right for adoption, a pregnant mother should be able to do the same prior to birth.  Unfortunately, since the only way the mother can exercise this right is to procure an abortion, this should be allowed.

How do we respond to this?  I believe the answer lies in the nature of the adoptive process itself.  In other words, why does the process of adoption exist in the first place?  Does adoption protect the right of mothers to not provide obligatory care for their children, or is there another reason why adoption is tolerated if not promoted?

The answer is clear: adoption exists because our culture recognizes that although it is ideal for a child to be raised by their biological parents, situations do exist whereby that does not occur.  For that reason, and for the mercy and beneficial care of children, we allow parents to gift their child for adoption.  When a mother allows her child to be adopted, she is not exercising any "right" that she has to not provide for her children.  Such a right does not exist.  Instead, our society has developed a system (although imperfect) to provide for children whose parents are unable or unwilling to care for them for the benefit of the child.

We cannot use a system that has been developed for the benefit of children that may not be desired in order to justify the intentional killing of a child that may not be desired.  In fact, the opposite is the case.  The process of adoption shows that our society can make a system to provide and care for children when their parents are unwilling or unable.  Does this support a mother's right to kill her offspring?  Absolutely not.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Logical Conversation about Activist Voting [Jay Watts]

I'm going to take a run at a conversation about pro-life voting or activist voting in general without addressing specific candidates.  I am also going to open unmoderated comments on this one post to allow people to criticize or correct any mistakes or just to dialogue on the issue.  Be respectful or your posts will disappear. ;-) [Because I am now onto other things, the comments are now back under moderation.  Will check as often as I can]

Does this make sense?

1) I hate X.

2) Candidate N sees X as a good that ought to be provided at lower costs and more accessible than it already is.

3) I decided to support Candidate N because I believe his policies will most limit or reduce X.

On its face the preceding seems to lack any logic at all. If the Candidate pursues policies that are opposite of my goals as it pertains to X then his policy goals cannot be the reason I vote for him. Let's see if we can tweak it a little and make more sense of it.

1) I hate X

2) Candidate N sees X as a good that ought to be provided at lower costs and more accessible than it already is.

3) Candidate N is part of a Political Party Y that opposes X as a matter of their party platform, therefore the presence of Candidate N increases the political power of Party Y.

4) Party Z is the opponent of Party Y and sees X as a good that ought to be provided at lower costs and more accessible than it already is. That is a part of their party platform.

5) The presence of Candidate N's opponent strengthens the political power of Party Z.

6) Parties Y and Z potentially have far more collective power than any individual representative of their party.

7) I decided to support Candidate N to limit the power of Party Z.

This has some logic behind it. It seems a good explanation as to why in some cases it may make more sense strategically for a pro-life voter to endorse a pro-choice republican. I would say the rationale as it is constructed there would be less valid if Candidate N were running for President of the United Sates because the candidate can directly impact the platform in a way others can't.

It also seems clear that the point of contention is whether or not point (6) is true. Every other point is merely a matter of my beliefs, determining a biographical fact about Candidate N, or a matter of documented facts about the parties in question.

One could add that they are under no moral obligation to vote for one of the two parties or to vote at all. If that is the case, then it is possible that Party Z benefits from the inaction of others. To what degree are we responsible for the consequences of our inaction? If you knew that 100,000 conservative Ohio voters intended to not vote or vote for a third party candidate would you see them as contributing to the reelection of the President? If you knew that the same number of progressives intended to sit out the election would you see that decision as contributing to the defeat of the President? Don't pro-lifers make all sorts of arguments that inaction is morally condemnable? What makes that inaction morally problematic and voter inaction morally preferable?  I know one friend that has very strong opinions on the moral nature of casting a vote, and I am willing to be convinced on this issue by any side with a good argument.

Based on the expanded rationale, if Candidate N is actually a member of Party Z then there is absolutely zero logic in voting for Candidate N in hopes that it will reduce X. The idea that the best way to reduce X is to endorse and aid in empowering a collective group that embraces X as a good is nothing less than deluded wishful thinking.

The argument that restrictive laws in and of themselves increase abortion rates is demonstrably false on its face. Unless you think that contrary to everything we know there were more abortions in the United States prior to enacting the most permissive abortion laws possible in 1973. For more info on that, check this old post out.

I will post later on the idea of reducing abortions and the various things that can mean.  See What the Contraceptive Choice Study Really Shows for Serge's recent post on contraceptives reducing abortion.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Condic on the Difference Between Embryonic Humans and Hydatidiform Moles [Jay Watts]

One of the more advanced questions that we encounter on campuses and in discussions with more sophisticated abortion rights advocates goes as follows:

The biological products of sexual reproduction are not always human beings. Hydatidiform moles (HM) are the products of sexual reproduction, but in this case an enucleated egg is fertilized and only the genetic material of the father is present. In the early stages of growth HM will look like a developing human life. It will cleave and grow and if you were looking at it you would see something seemingly indistinguishable from a human being. Therefore – the arguer says – not all embryos are human beings and it is wrong to say that the product of human sexual reproduction is a human being from fertilization.

Maureen Condic addresses this and similar arguments in her contribution to the incredible resource Persons, Moral Worth, and Embryos: A Critical Analysis of Pro-Choice Arguments. Her article entitled A Biological Definition of the Human Embryo offers an analogy to help clear up what is wrong with this argument that I will tweak just a little from CD's to ipods. She talks about the similarities between the songs “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”, “The Alphabet Song”, and “BaBa Black Sheep”. All three begin with the exact same first measure. Hum the first few notes of each song and you will see that if someone were playing the music from any of those songs it would be impossible distinguish which song was being played in the first measure simply by hearing it. Does that mean that the song playing on my daughter's ipod shuffle is potentially any one of them? Is it potentially “The Alphabet Song” and only literally becomes “The Alphabet Song” when you get to the fourth measure and you can now be certain that it was neither “BaBa Black Sheep” which diverges in the second measure nor “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” which diverges in the fourth measure? Of course not. The song playing on her shuffle was always one or the other you just couldn't know for certain by listening till it reached a certain point in the development of the song. At any point that I plugged the shuffle into the Macbook it would identify the actual song on the playlist and would not say “Can't Know Just Yet”.

In the same way Condic says:

There are several reasons why it is both misleading and inaccurate to define what is and what is not an embryo based on later developmental events (implantation, formation of the primitive streak, brain function, etc.). First, development results in the maturation of an existing organism; it does not transform an entity from one kind of thing into another kind of thing. Just as a CD playing “The alphabet song” is not transformed from a “pre-alphabet song” state at the fourth measure, but rather plays this song from the beginning, embryos are not transformed into human beings once some developmental event occurs.

Elsewhere she also offers the following:

Despite an initial (superficial) similarity to embryos, hydatidiform moles do not start out as embryos and later transform into tumors, they are intrinsically tumors from their initiation. Moreover, they are not frustrated embryos that are “trying” (yet unable) to develop normally. Just as a CD recording of “Twinkle, twinkle little star” is not somehow thwarted in its attempt to play the “Alphabet song” by a deficiency of notes in the fourth measure ..., hydatidiform moles are not “blocked” from proceeding along an embryonic path of development by a lack of maternally-imprinted DNA. Rather, hydatidiform moles are manifesting their own inherent properties—the properties of a tumor. Even in the optimal environment for embryonic development (the uterus), hydatidiform moles produce disordered growths, indicating they are not limited by environment, but rather by their own intrinsic nature; a nature that does not rise to the level of an organism... If the necessary structures (molecules, genes etc.) required for development (i.e., an organismal level of organization) do not exist in an entity from the beginning, the entity is intrinsically incapable of being an organism and is therefore not a human being. Such entities are undergoing a cellular process that is fundamentally different from human development and are not human embryos. [emphasis hers]

For all of you that are not musically inclined I offer this final analogy. My wife and I used to travel out to the western states every year prior to having children to hike. I apparently possess a natural ability to spot wildlife that was impressive enough that a job was offered on the spot by a group that leads tourists on hiking and wildlife spotting tours through the Jackson Hole area. (Not a day goes by that I don't fantasize about what my life would have been like had I taken that job, but that is a different story)

The key to my success was having a good teacher the first time I went out on a wildlife spotting expedition in the Tetons. He told me that you don't look for a moose, bighorn, or elk with spotting scopes or binoculars. You look for big rocks with your naked eye. Then if you patiently wait and watch the rocks sooner or later one of the rocks will start to move. They all look like rocks at first but eventually the living things distinguish themselves from the non-living things around them. Then you use your spotting scope to figure out specifically what animal you are seeing.

In the same way, embryonic humans and hydatidiform moles look alike in early growth stages. If we watch them for a little while they will distinguish themselves for us. What we learn is not that the embryo failed to develop and turned into an HM, but that what looked like a human embryo was always something else. The human being existed from the beginning of its organized development and the fact that other things mirror the early developmental events of that human life does not effect the identity of that nascent human life. It just means that from certain vantage points we only truly understand the nature of a life as we observe its developmental arc. The HM is destined to break down into an aggressive growth while the human being will progress to the blastocyst stage and continue on through the dynamic self directed organized process of human development.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

More Thoughts on the Bodily Rights Argument for Abortion [Serge]

A few years ago I wrote this article in the Christian Research Journal regarding the the bodily rights argument for abortion rights.  After discussing this issue with a friend, who is seeing this argument being used more frequently on campus, I wanted to give some more thoughts about the issue.

In short, the bodily rights argument states that even if a human fetus is a full fledged member of the human family, a mother has the right to kill her offspring due to the fact that she has control over her own body.  Please see the article for a more detailed explanation, but one of the more popular ways to illustrate this argument is by mentioning that the state does have the right to make a mother donate an organ or donate blood to her children even if not doing so would result in their death.  It would be considered a moral good if she choose to do these things, but the state cannot compel her by force of law to use her body in this way even if her child dies as a result.  Likewise, a mother cannot be compelled to continue a pregnancy, which also uses her body, even if discontinuing a pregnancy results in the death of her child.  Thus abortion should remain legal.

Before I get into answering this argument, one thing needs to be emphasized.  The strength of this argument from the pro abortion rights side is that is would allow abortion to remain legal regardless of the moral status of the human fetus.  For that reason, before we continue, the abortion rights advocate needs to acknowledge at least for the sake of argument that the fetus in question is a human individual with human rights.  So-called "personhood" arguments cannot be brought in at any point if they are arguing from bodily rights.

Now we've established that fetus has full moral status,and is in fact a child of the mother in question, let's move on to the issue of parental provisions, or things that parents provide for their children.  Many, if not most parental provisions are good, but not legally required.  For example, yesterday I drove my kids to soccer and violin lessons.  Few would argue that these provisions that I provided for my children were not a moral good, but are certainly not a legal obligation.  I can cease to give consent to these provisions at any time (and if there are a few more 40 degree rainy soccer games that might actually occur).  I would argue that most of the provisions that my wife and I provide for our children fall into this category.

There is another category of provisions that the state requires us to provide. These are admittedly more rare, but are quite important.  I am legally required to feed my child.  I am legally required to provide my children a safe environment.  If the authorities come to my house to find that my children have died because I did not feed them, or died because I did not them back into my house after they were playing I would not merely be considered a moral failure - I would be criminally prosecuted.  This seems very clear.

We could make a list of parental provisions that are optional and ones that are legally obligatory.  We would also include on the list of optional parental provisions the notion of providing an organ or a blood transfusion to a sick child.  This would be a parental good but we do not legally compel mothers to provide this to their children, even if the child dies as a result. 

Two question need to be answered here.  First why, why are blood transfusions and organ donation optional?  Second, and the big question is whether pregnancy is more consistent with the set of obligatory provisions or with the optional ones. 

I do agree that the state has no right to demand blood transfusions or organ donation from parents.  The reason, however, is very important.  The state should not obligate these parental provisions because the child is in a state of illness, and no one has the right to demand the use of another person's body to cure their disease state.   That, unfortunately, is the nature of disease.  If a young child dies of leukemia even though his mother could have donated her bone marrow to treat him, he doesn't die because of a lack of maternal bone marrow.  He dies because of his leukemia.  Although as a culture we do everything we can do mitigate the effects of disease, we still acknowledge that no one has the "right" to their health.  Thus the mother is not legally obligated to provide her organs or blood.

Compare this to the set of legally obligatory provisions.  In the case of feeding and providing safety for their child, we do legally compel parents to provide what is needed for the continued good health of their child.  If the child is otherwise healthy, the parents have an obligation to do a minimum to not cause a child to become sick or die.  Thus they are required to provide food and a safe environment for their child.

So what about pregnancy?  Is it closer to the set of obligations that are good but optional or closer to the obligatory provisions of providing food and safety for a child?  Another way to ask the question is to ask is the state of pregnancy one of health or one of disease?  If a pregnancy is considered a state of health for the child and mother, it seems the provision of pregnancy would be obligatory.  "Continuing a pregnancy" would be amenable to continuing to provide what is otherwise necessary (nutrients, oxygen, a safe environment) to support the child's good health.  If pregnancy is a disease state for mother and/or child, then the child has no right to demand the continued use of the mother's body, and withdrawing such support through abortion would be legally permissible and consistent with other optional parental provisions.

Clearly, the status of the vast majority of pregnancies is one of complete health for mother and child.  In fact, the consequences of considering pregnancy a pathological state would be widespread and disastrous.  For example, I have two pregnant women working for me at this very time.  Should I be allowed to send them home because they are "sick", and return only when they are "better"?  For this reason, the bodily autonomy argument fails to convince us that the parental provision of providing what a pregnant mother provides to her child is merely optional.  Just like a parent has a moral and legal obligation to feed their child, a pregnant mother has a legal and moral obligation to support the good health of her child during pregnancy.

There are a few objections to this line of reasoning that I plan on addressing in future posts.  These include:

1. Since pregnancies are not without risk, and some argue that continuing a pregnancy is safer than abortion, then a mothers provision is not legally obligatory because of the risk.

2.  The fact that the child is dependent and connected to the mother is more important than the obligatory provision that the mother provides food and nutrition during pregnancy.

3.  A mother can choose not to provide the obligatory provisions if she doesn't wish to by ways of adoption.  Since she cannot place a fetus up for adoption, by means of the child's dependency, she should be allowed to discontinue the pregnancy via abortion.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

We All Have Tough Questions [Jay Watts]

At every campus or group I have ever spoken to I offer the opportunity to ask questions after – or sometimes even during – my presentation. Without fail among the first questions asked is the question of how can pro-lifers defend restricting abortion in the case of rape. (Some people include incest, but incest is almost always understood as rape by a relative) This particular post is not about defending that pro-life position. Here are links to some posts that address that issue in various ways:

The point of this post is that I think we ought to be asked the tough questions, and LTI speakers welcome the opportunity to engage audiences on these issues. I admit I prefer face to face conversation to wrestling with anonymous trolls on-line who often argue dishonestly, but that is because however emotionally charged the issue is there is a cordiality and respect that can be cultivated in a genuine dialogue that is too easily lost on-line. That is not a condemnation of others as much as a recognition that we all seem to be testier and more defensive on-line and there is less productive discussion.

As such, I would love for abortion advocates to regularly face their own tough questions as has been recently pointed out by Trevin Wax here and at Patheos by mollie here.

If you support the current abortion on demand laws in the United States which recognize no limitations on the freedom of women to procure abortions that are grounded in the value of the unborn life (as opposed to PBA ban that outlaws a specific procedure but not the practice of late term abortions) do you also support the rights of women to abort their unborn children because the child happens to be female?

Stipulating that sexual orientation is genetic, if we developed a screening that could demonstrate with some degree of accuracy the sexual orientation of an unborn child would you support the rights of women to abort a child based on that sexual orientation either way? Should straight parents be allowed to abort their homosexual children if we can determine that it is genetic and verify that presence of that marker prior to birth?

Do you think that it should continue to be legal to abort unborn children with Down syndrome? Even at the estimated 80 – 90% rate currently seen? Even though we have the capability to minimize many of the physical problems that used to be associated with DS through various therapeutic measures and people living with DS can enjoy happy productive lives? Should a condition that does not diminish their quality of life make them legitimate targets for eugenic abortions because it is presumed they frustrate the plans of others?

If yes to all, are there any restrictions that you would place on abortions based on the preferences of the parents as to what type of child they would like to have? Should parents be allowed to abort children that have merely a genetic possibility but not certainty of illness? If so, should they be allowed to choose to abort based on the lack of desired traits?

A woman once came into the pregnancy center where I worked that wanted an abortion to end her morning sickness. Is this a justifiable reason to abort your child? Under our current law it is. Do you support laws that are so liberal as to allow abortion to relieve morning sickness?

Considering that most people are unaware of the permissive nature of our abortion laws in the United States, it would be instructive to all if all of us had to answer tough questions about our positions. I understand why women that have suffered the evil and devastating trauma of rape would want to hear an explanation from pro-life advocates as to why we think the law should compel them to carry their children conceived in rape to term. They deserve an answer. Similarly, the rest of us deserve an answer as to whether there are any reasonable limits to abortion rights. Does the abortion rights advocate protect the sexist destruction of unborn girls, the eugenic elimination of those with Down syndrome, and the ever growing practice of parents looking to dictate to the next generation whether they are allowed to live based on their ability to satisfy the ends and desires of the parents? Does championing a right to bodily autonomy of women mean that the abortion rights advocate believes we have no right as a society to protect innocent life from even the most superficial or callous justifications for abortion?

We all have our tough questions to answer. It is about time people started asking both sides.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Agnosticism About Life and Value [Jay Watts]

I have spent a lot of time recently studying and talking about agnosticism. Agnosticism in this post is simply the position that the proper response to a state of affairs or a body of evidence is to say that you cannot know the truth with any certainty. There are other things that people mean when they say “We can't know X” from objecting to the idea that we can know anything with certainty at all (except our certainty of that particular statement of knowledge) to objecting to the idea there are any objective truths to know at all (except the objectively true fact that there are no objective truths).

This particular form of agnosticism is a response to multiple opinions on a subject of some importance. I suppose we can be agnostic about unimportant things as well, but that form of agnosticism is more disinterest. For example, when a disturbing number of women and girls were consumed as to whether the heroine of the fictional Twilight series of books should choose her vampire boyfriend or her werewolf boyfriend I honestly had no opinion on the matter. Sure I didn't know, but more importantly I didn't care to learn enough to form an opinion. The agnosticism we are talking about is not just disinterested laziness. Intelligent and reasonable people see a large number of people with varying positions on a certain point and determine that given all that disagreement or given the large number of possibilities then the only answer that escapes arrogance or does not overreach is to humbly say, “I don't know given the evidence at hand.”

We see this when people argue that we simply can't know when life begins or when humans become valuable. They aren't saying that embryonic or fetal human life isn't intrinsically valuable like Peter Singer argues. They also are not saying human life absolutely does not begin at fertilization. They are arguing that there are too many variables to be able to know which position is true. In the face of such a state of affairs the only reasonable position is to say, “I don't know.” Then comes the next part of their reasoning, they conclude from this that we ought support liberal abortion laws given this inability to know. Wait... what?

Let's sort through a few problems here:

  1. As Alvin Plantinga points out in Warranted Christian Belief, any attempt to skirt the charge of arrogance by pleading agnosticism fails. Saying that given the evidence there is only one correct position is still claiming the superiority of a position. You are still saying that you are right and that holding any other conclusion is a mistake. If the people that argue that value begins at fertiliaztion with the presence of a new life or that say - like David Boonin - that value begins at organized cortical brain activity can be considered arrogant for arguing specific positions than so can the agnostic for arguing the specific position of intellectual agnosticism.

  2. We don't stop trying to determine the truth simply because a truth is difficult to determine. Plantinga says philosophy is just thinking really hard about something. Richard Feynman says the essence of science is patience in that if you looked, and you watched, and you paid attention, you got a great reward. If these two brilliant men are right then we know that science and philosophy – the two disciplines we use to argue the pro-life position - begin with subjects that require patience and hard thinking. As Hadley Arkes says, the absence of a consensus does not indicate the absence of truth. It may be that we need to be patient in our reasoning and invest some energy into our careful considerations to eliminate insufficient options and hone in on the best answer. That is usually the answer that best fits what we already know.

  3. As Frank Beckwith points out in Defending Life, when someone like Boonin argues that it is unclear at what point in the fertilization process it is accurate to say we have a new life and as a result the argument that life begins at fertilization is undermined they commit the fallacy of the beard. He writes, “just because I cannot tell you when stubble ends and a beard begins does not mean that I cannot distinguish bearded faces from clean-shaven ones.” He goes on to point out that any developmental marker that abortion rights advocates choose to bestow value is equally as fuzzy in its attainment whether it is something like determining when a child has self awareness or organized cortical brain activity. Yet they don't argue that because their own criteria arrive in an undetermined moment of development that it undermines their own position. At the end of fertilization we have a member of the human family and we argue that the members of that family are valuable by virtue of what they are not what they can do.

  4. Similarly, when some people claim that all life is one big indistinguishable process and so it is hard to say what a new life is they make the same mistake. We certainly do not seem to struggle between determining the mother from the unborn child in the process of aborting the child. When was the last time we heard an abortionist claim that due to the complexity of life and the indistinguishable nature of the whole life process in totality he accidentally killed the mother? It was just so hard to grasp what individual life was during the abortion procedure.

    My wife used to watch a show called Everwood. On one episode that dealt with abortion the pro-choice surgeon that the show centered on refused to perform an abortion. He had recently lost his wife and after the trauma of that loss the character began to understand something that I thought was profoundly stated in the midst of a deeply morally flawed episode. He said, “I may not know when life begins, but I sure know when it ends.” You hear the same sentiments in the writings of pro-life surgeons that were fighting abortion in post Civil War United States. They had seen so much death on the battlefield that they could no longer stomach the idea of people using medical knowledge to end innocent human life.

    Medical science has equipped doctors to identify embryonic human life and fetal human life with enough precision to successfully terminate that life to benefit either research or to end pregnancy. Therefore, we must accept that however fuzzy some biological processes seem we know what an individual zygote, embryo, and fetus are scientifically. They are whole, distinct, human life. We demonstrate our intimate knowledge of their individuality every time we target them for destruction.

  5. Finally, the idea that we can't know the identity or value of nascent human life cannot possibly lead to the conclusion that it is morally permissible to destroy that life without justification. I understand that the basis for this is the reasoning that if we don't know what the unborn are - whether in value or in biological identity - then we cannot impose on women that they must continue undesired pregnancies or limit the ability of science to pursue therapeutic cures for serious and debilitating illnesses. But even if we stipulate the case for agnosticism for sake of argument, the comparative costs paid by the different lives in question is such that it would seem the proper response is restraint not permissiveness.

    As Ronald Reagan once argued, if you are a hunter in the woods and you suddenly see and hear a rustling in the bushes it would be irresponsible and dangerous to start firing into the bushes. You have a duty to determine what it is in the bushes before you kill it. Greg Koukl's “Can I kill this?” analogy points that out as well. The central question comes back to “What is the unborn?” As many others have said including Beckwith and Arkes, only the most cynical understanding of neutrality imaginable would say the current abortion on demand laws in the United States – laws that permit abortion through all nine months for any reason when the ridiculously broad Doe v Bolton health exception is applied – do not favor one side over another. If the argument is that it is impossible to know which view is correct, then the neutral legal response can't be to say that we will then craft all the laws to reflect the views that they are not humans and do not matter. This is not agnosticism but radical abortion advocacy masquerading as something more reasonable.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

LTI Q & A: How Do We Punish Illegal Abortions? [Jay Watts]

LTI recently received the following question via e-mail.  I decided to share my quick response to the question on the blog:

Question: I appreciate the work that you all are doing in raising awareness about Pro-Life Issues.  As someone who is anti-abortion, I am not in favor of people taking the lives of their unborn children because they're inconvenient.  My problem is on the legal side- I am not comfortable with the idea of sending young girls to prison for abortions either.  America is one of the leaders in prison population already, there's excessive prison overcrowding, and I can't say that filling jail cells with teenagers or unwed women is the best solution either.  What do you all propose should be done legally if people broke a law banning abortion?

Answer: In the interest of time I won't dwell on some of your phrasings that I am a little uncomfortable with in how you describe the pro-life position and will directly address the question.

We must separate the two ideas.  In presenting an argument that the unborn are full members of the human family we are making a moral argument about their nature.  What are the unborn?  Moral arguments instruct us as to what is permissible in our interactions and what natural/pre-legal obligations we have to one another (if any).  Arguing the science, philosophy, and basic ethical questions does not require any defender of the pro-life position to have a legislative plan in waiting to apply whatever ethical conclusions are reached.

Should people become convinced of the truth of the pro-life position then it is fair to begin asking the question, "What next?"  If Roe/Doe/Casey are repealed it is not likely that you will immediately see an Amendment to ban abortion.  You would return to the pre-Roe/Doe environment where laws varied from state to state.  Questions posed to pro-life defenders about the nature of draconian laws that we would see put into place or that wonder how we would punish the crime of illegal abortion can be answered by a survey of the various abortion laws of the past.  It is not an ancient past to which we are disconnected.  There is ample legal precedent and discussion to guide our next step.

One thing that is traditionally consistent in abortion laws is that they tend to be lenient on women in regards to punishment.  There are multiple reasons for this.  The first is that in order to determine that an unjustified killing has taken place for the purposes of prosecuting at the level of murder you must legally demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) the unborn human was alive, (2) that the mother deliberately participated in an action intended to end that life, and (3) that the life ended by virtue of that action.  You can imagine how difficult that would be to accomplish. Given that difficulty it was virtually unheard of to prosecute abortion in the same manner that murder was prosecuted.

Second, the emotional condition of the women was often taken into consideration.  As much as this seems to annoy some feminists, it is not unusual for emotional considerations to enter into the sentencing deliberations in criminal law.  Third, a jury of their peers is not likely to relish the opportunity of sending women to prison for reasons associated with both the first and second issues along with others.  Fourth, the prosecution was much more interested in punishing the doctors performing illegal abortions than the women, so they fostered a legal relationship that encouraged women to trust them (the prosecutors) rather than fear them. 

Considerations like these contributed to less severe punishments routinely being sought by prosecutors against women in pre-Roe/Doe America.  It is not hard to imagine that any legislators attempting to craft new restrictive laws would proceed by examining these types of reasonings.  

Finally, if the moral argument for the full humanity of the unborn is true then we already have a great injustice taking place.  There is no doubt that proceeding to apply this understanding of nascent human life to our legal system will be challenging.  I don't think that we should decide not to punish people for violation of important moral obligations because our prisons are full, though.  Even accepting that premise without argument for the sake of our discussion, it would be colossally bad reasoning to say, "We believe that action X is the unjustified killing of human life(abortion, mercy killing, vehicular homicide, etc.), but we are already prosecuting too many other things so we need to allow it without punishment."  That can't be what follows.  

If it is true, then we need to address that moral question on its own merits and not in conjunction with other moral issues.  Prison reform needs to be addressed directly (and is by organizations like Prison Fellowship Ministries) and any decisions about how to deal with that reform must be rooted in moral reasoning specific to the problem.  We can't simply say that women can't be punished for abortion because prisons need reform.  That approach does justice to neither question.

That is all the time I have.  If you want to read in depth discussions of abortion laws I would recommend both Joseph Dellepenna's Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History and Marvin Olaskey's Abortion Rites.  Thank you for your question.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What the Contraceptive Choice Study Really Shows [Serge]

Update: Lydia McGrew has a more extensive and detailed analysis of this paper over at What's Wrong with the World.

News reports for the last couple weeks have been glowing about a new study that purports to lower abortion rates by offering contraception for free.  "Free contraception cuts abortion rates dramatically" is an example from NBC news.  This sounds promising, but as usual a closer look at this study tells a very different story.

The study itself is part of the Contraceptive Choice Project in St. Louis.  The preliminary results of the study can be found here, and a pdf presentation from the study's main author can be found here.  The claim is that this study has shown that increasing access to contraceptives by making them free shows a general decrease in the unplanned pregnancy and the abortion rates.   There are a number of reasons to indicate that the study does very little to support that claim.

First, it is important to look at the goals of the study.  According to the author the goal were "(1) To increase the acceptance and use of long-term reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods among women of childbearing age  and (2) To measure acceptability, satisfaction, side-effects, and rates of continuation across a variety of contraceptive methods, including long-term reversible methods."  It was not an attempt to study whether increased access to traditional contraceptives would increase their use and effectiveness, but an attempt to convince women to change the type of contraception that was used.  This is very important, and almost never mentioned in the news reports.

Second, the study group itself is very interesting.  Dr. Michael New has mentioned that there was no control group to compare the study group to.  However, even more important is the characteristics of the group itself.  Women who volunteered for the project were recruited mainly from Washington University and various abortion and family planning clinics.  In order to be involved in the program, the women had to be desiring contraception and be willing to change the type of contraception that they were presently using (if any).  66% of the women in the program had previously experienced an unintended pregnancy, and 40% of them had a previous abortion.  39% of the women had a history of an STD, and 6% presently had an STD.

Is it possible that this group, who were already seeking contraception and most have experienced an unintended pregnancy, may be more willing and motivated to change their contraceptive method for this study?  Data extrapolated from this group of women cannot be accurately applied to the public at large, yet that is exactly what the news media would have us believe.

Lastly, the goal of the study was to convince women to forgo traditional methods of contraception (mainly OCs) in favor of more effective, long-term methods.  These LARC methods were IUDs or implantable hormonal contraceptives.  Over 75% of the women in the study were convinced to change from traditional methods to longer acting methods, and this accounts for the majority of the success in preventing unplanned pregnancies.   The challenge that the researchers had, and one that they were highly successful in this group, was to convince women to change from a non-invasive method of contraception to an invasive one.  There is no reason to believe that women in the general public, and especially teens, would be willing to choose these more invasive methods over regular OCs.  Convincing a 15 year old that is looking for a pill to have a 4cm implant placed in her or have this contraption placed in her young uterus will not be easy.

Anyone who doesn't think this won't be a significant barrier hasn't been paying attention to the other side.  For years, family planning clinics have been looking to stop requiring pelvic exams for women who are seeking contraception.

Indeed, according to a consortium of health-care providers and researchers, called Oral Contraceptives Over-the-Counter Working Group (OC-OTC), the annual pelvic exam is still a major barrier to access to contraception for many American women.
So lets get this straight.  Having a doctor perform a pelvic examination (for the benefit of the woman) is a major barrier to contraception.  Yet this study would have us believe that upwards of 75% of women would allow not only examine her "ladyparts" (with apologies to the Obama campaign), but allow the placement of a hormonally saturated contraption in her uterus, knowing that it would also have to be removed by a doctor at a future date when a pregnancy is wanted.  Good luck with that.
Bottom line: in a carefully chosen group of women, who may be highly motivated to change their contraceptive methods and avoid another pregnancy, LARCs may help them avoid pregnancy.  However, extrapolating that data to apply to the public at large, and especially including tradition types of contraception is not supported.  This study reveals nothing to believe otherwise.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

LTI Podcast #30 - Free Plan B in New York HIgh Schools [Serge]

We're back again!  Jay, Rich and Megan discuss the new policy in New York public schools that enables children as young as 14 to obtain emergency contraception as well as long term contraception in school without parental consent or notification.  Is this the best we can do to train and protect our children?

Direct link is

or you can subscribe via ITunes right here.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What is meant by "Middle Ground?" [Megan]

“Abortion is a complex, painful issue that touches upon faith, gender, and class.”

This quote was pulled from an opinion piece on the emphasis given the abortion issue at the Democratic National Convention. The piece is worth reading, but I want to address some ideas with regard to this particular statement.

This summarizes the collective thought about abortion from many who claim to stand on “middle ground.”

I recently attended an informal debate, the topic of which was:  “Is There Middle Ground On the Abortion Issue?” The outcome that day seemed to be a resounding “yes,” the reason being that both sides of the debate cared about the same things — families, women, caring for those in need, providing support and resources for women who face unwanted pregnancies, etc.

Both the statement above and the debate I attended address the psychological complexity surrounding the abortion issue, the complex and painful issues that bring women to the decision of whether or not to abort a pregnancy. I use “surrounding” because the issues they address are parallel to abortion. But unless “abortion” is defined broadly so as to include poverty, access to healthcare, lack of emotional support, church-and-state legislation, the overwhelming need for revolutionized sexual ethics, and other — albeit [very] important — issues, neither the statement nor the debate really focused on the issue at hand.

For the sake of clear thinking and decision making, we need to carefully consider the rhetoric and make some important distinctions. What is meant by the term “abortion”? What are the issues that touch the abortion issue? Are there limits out of which we must not step? What is the most human response?

Philosopher Christopher Kaczor defines abortion this way:  “Properly speaking, abortion is the intentional killing of a human fetus.”

His terms are carefully chosen and scientifically accurate. Working with this definition, either abortion is morally permissible, or it is not.

I suppose middle ground means the instances in which intentionally killing a human being might be up for consideration. Let’s look at some suggested instances from the “middle,” keeping in mind that I am addressing each one in an intellectual manner. My feelings are another matter, but I must check them by what I know to be true.

• Poverty — Though poverty is a travesty, and a result of a broken world, and though we should all have strong convictions about the need to bring an end to it, one cannot justify taking the life of an innocent human being to lessen the burden. I think that communities should work together to help those in need — including unborn children before and after birth; but just as I think a family cannot kill their 3-year-old to lessen the financial burden on the other family members, financial hardship does not justify abortion.

• Emotional support — Facing an unwanted pregnancy is, in many cases, terrifying. In some cases, it may be the most difficult thing a woman ever has, or ever will, face. Once a pregnancy begins, the “getting pregnant” cannot be undone. Where does a woman go from there? I agree that emotional support is much needed, and I think that communities should rally around women and families facing crisis pregnancies. I understand that so often, in our predominantly self-centered culture, this does not happen. But if a troubled woman cannot take the life of her toddler because she lacks emotional support, neither ought she be able to kill her unborn child.
• Church-and-state — Many claim that the pro-life view is grounded in “religion,” and so it has no place in discussions on matters of the State. If by religion, one is loosely referring to a metaphysical realm of unseen ideas, it may be true that the pro-life view is grounded there. But the pro-lifer’s claim that the unborn are deserving of a right to life is no more religious than claiming the unborn do not deserve such a right. Also, the claim that the unborn are human beings is not religious, but scientific. Science, not religion, tells us that from the very beginning, the unborn are living, distinct and whole human beings. Lastly, it is important to point out that the pro-life view is shared by individuals among a broad spectrum of “religious” views, and that all laws deal in morality, in setting parameters on what ought or ought not be allowed, which inevitably brings us back to metaphysics.

• Gender — The reality is that abortion is perceived as a “women’s rights issue.” Because I must operate according to what is, I keep this in mind when thinking, writing, and speaking. But even as I work in this reality, I work diligently toward replacing the wrong thinking with true ideas. The unborn are unquestionably human, which makes abortion a “human rights issue.” To perceive it as a women’s rights issue is to beg the question, “What is the unborn?” by assuming at the outset that the unborn — including unborn women — are not human beings deserving of rights.

• The need for a better sex ethic — I agree. Resoundingly. Just as I think that this issue, in particular, is one that undergirds the overwhelming number of elective abortions in our country and in others. But even as we work toward achieving this, there are new lives coming into existence all the time. Should we kill innocent human beings on the grounds that young people are lacking in sex education, access to or understanding about birth control, or in understanding sexual ethics? To improve upon those problems is a worthy endeavor, but to allow abortion-on-demand just because those problems exist is impermissible.

When human life hangs in the balance, distinctions must be made. While I agree with the seriousness of the issues that make contact with the abortion issue, and while I think fruitful discussion can be had on how to improve the state of things with regard to those, none serve as justification for taking innocent lives.

On that issue — abortion as “the intentional killing of a human fetus” — there is no middle ground. Either it is morally permissible to unjustly take innocent human lives, or it isn't.

And while any progress that lessens the number of lives lost is good and deserving of support, it should be supported with the goal — to bring the killing to an end — in mind and in sight.

To protect the most fragile among us, even in the face of extreme difficulty and turmoil, is the most human response.

As we discuss weighty matters with one another may we do so winsomely and wisely; and with sharp awareness of exactly what it is we're discussing.