Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Times change--so do the heroes

Back in the mists of time--the latter half of the 1960s--the U.S. of A. was involved in a rather unpopular war (the Afghanistan of its time). The war in Vietnam led not only to many war dead, a major slump in the popularity of the Democratic president (Lyndon Baines Johnson), and the arrival in Canada of many draft dodgers (including one brother-in-law in my case), but also the breakout of protests on university campuses all over the U.S., Canada, and around the world. A popular chant of the students was "Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?"

Many members of society despised what these students stood for. "My Country Right or Wrong" signs appeared as a counter protest. But unless things got really out of hand (e.g., somebody started burning down buildings or shooting guns), the protests were permitted.

I thought of these bygone days as I read about those Carleton University students having the police sicced on them by the university, and then charged with trespassing on their own campus. Their crime?--exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression in a well-traveled part of the campus instead of in a room where mushrooms grew on the walls.

I'll admit that I don't support the approach these pro-life students are taking, putting up graphic images of aborted fetuses. Abortion isn't wrong because it's ugly, and by now only the willfully ignorant (or certifiably idiotic) deny that unborn babies are human beings (personhood is the issue). I know that similar graphic images of bludgeoned blacks were used to fight for civil rights. But different times call for different measures.

But all of that is beside the point. Aside from the constitutional issues, these students were simply doing what we did back in the sixties--only we were heroes then, and the establishment was the enemy. Now we have the opposite. Bob Dylan will definitely have to re-write "The Times They are A'Changin'."

What has happened to our universities? They used to protect academic and personal freedom. Now they protect every special interest that might be offended. Are we the better for it?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

I've looked at life from both sides now.....

Doubtless Canadian songwriter/singer Joni Mitchell (yes, my American reader, Canadian) was not thinking of the abortion issue when she wrote and recorded her sad but lovely little song Both Sides Now.

I've looked at life from both sides now,
From win and lose and still somehow,
It's life's illusions I recall.
I really don't know life, at all.

But it kept running through my mind as I read articles from the past few weeks regarding that poor, vulnerable little human we call the embryo or unborn baby.

First, the not so lofty as it once was but still significant Nobel Prize:

Father of in-vitro fertilization wins Nobel Prize
By Thomas H. Maugh II
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — British biologist Robert G. Edwards, whose contributions to the technology of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) have made more than 4 million couples parents, has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Working with Dr. Patrick Steptoe, Edwards, now 85, developed techniques for removing mature eggs from a woman's ovaries, fertilizing them in test tubes and inducing them to begin dividing before implanting them back in the mother.

Their efforts yielded the July 25, 1978, birth of Louise Brown, the first "test-tube baby," demonstrating both the success and the safety of the technique and bringing hope to infertile people around the world. An estimated 10 percent of couples are unable to conceive naturally.

The Vatican's top bioethics official said Monday that Edwards opened "a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction" but also is responsible for the destruction of embryos and the creation of a "market" in donor eggs.

Monsignor Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, the newly appointed head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, said Edwards' research didn't treat the underlying problem of infertility but skirted it.

"Without Edwards, there wouldn't be freezers full of embryos waiting to be transferred in utero or, more likely, be used for research or to die, abandoned and forgotten by all," said Carrasco, saying that was his opinion, not a Vatican statement.

Second, the tussle between a surrogate mother and her employing couple over the child being carried (or not) to term:

Couple urged surrogate mother to abort fetus because of defect

National Post Staff October 6, 2010
By Tom Blackwell

When a B.C. couple discovered that the fetus their surrogate mother was carrying was likely to be born with Down syndrome, they wanted an abortion. The surrogate, however, was determined to take the pregnancy to term, sparking a disagreement that has raised thorny questions about the increasingly common arrangements.

Under the agreement the trio signed, the surrogate’s choice would mean absolving the couple of any responsibility for raising the child, the treating doctor told a recent fertility-medicine conference.

Dr. Ken Seethram, revealing the unusual situation for the first time, said it raises questions about whether government oversight of contracts between mothers and “commissioning” parents is needed.

A bioethicist who has studied the issue extensively argues that contract law should not apply to the transaction, unless human life is to be treated like widgets in a factory.

“Should the rules of commerce apply to the creation of children? No, because children get hurt,” said Juliet Guichon of the University of Calgary. “It’s kind of like stopping the production line: ‘Oh, oh, there’s a flaw.’ It makes sense in a production scenario, but in reproduction it’s a lot more problematic.”

Dr. Seethram’s presentation to the Canadian Society of Fertility and Andrology conference suggested the accord signed by the three in B.C. may have undermined the surrogate’s right to make decisions in a “non-coercive” environment.

The surrogate, a mother of two children of her own, eventually chose to have the abortion, partly because of her own family obligations.

Third, I want to note stories associated with a private member's bill presently before the Canadian House of Commons. Bill C-510 was introduced by MP Rod Bruinooge of Winnipeg as a result of the murder of a pregnant Winnipeg woman after she refused to have an abortion. Mr. Bruinooge became aware of cases in which women were pressured into having abortions, and decided that something should be done about it.

Bill C-510 would make it a crime to coerce a woman to have an abortion by assaulting her or someone else, by committing or threatening to commit an offence against a federal or provincial statute, by denying or threatening to deny her financial support, or "by pressure or intimidation including argumentative and rancorous badgering or importunity."

Consider the response of Mr. Bruinooge's boss, the Prime Minister of Canada:

Harper to 'recommend' defeat of Tory MP’s abortion bill
David Akin, Canwest News Service
Jana Chytilova, Canwest News Service

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will vote against a private member's bill promoted by one of his own MPs that would add new Criminal Code penalties for those who coerce women to have an abortion.

A senior government official also says that while the prime minister will not "whip" or demand Conservative MPs vote as he votes, it will be "very strongly recommended" that Conservatives vote to defeat the bill.

Next we have the response of a writer in Catholic Insight:

Why, as a Catholic, I cannot support Bill C-510
By Geoffrey F. Cauchi, LL.B.
Issue: October 2010

“[A] well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals. The Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine.”

Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, DOCTRINAL NOTE on some questions regarding The Participation of Catholics in Political Life (2002), II, 4. (the “Doctrinal Note 2002”)

On April 14, 2010, Member of Paliament Rod Bruinooge (MP-Winnipeg-South) introduced in the Canadian federal House of Commons a bill that would make it a criminal offence for anyone to coerce a woman to abort her unborn child.

Bill C-510, also known as 'Roxanne's Law,' is named in memory of a pregnant Winnipeg woman who was murdered by her boyfriend after she refused to have an abortion. Working as the chair of the multi-party Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus (the “PPLC”), Bruinooge said he became aware of several cases where young pregnant women had been coerced into having abortions, and hoped making it a crime would curb such instances.

There is no question that the goal of the Bill is laudable. However, the Catholic Church has always taught that “a good intention (for example, that of helping one’s neighbour) does not make behaviour that is intrinsically disordered, such as lying and calumny, good or just.” “It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object....One may not do evil so that good may result from it.” (Catechism, #1753 - #1756).

According to Catholic teaching, if a proposed Bill is an intrinsically unjust law, it cannot, in good conscience, be publicly supported by Catholics who are faithful to the Magisterium.

It is arguable that the text of the Bill satisfies ALL of the Church’s criteria for an “intrinsically unjust” law, but there can be no doubt that its qualifications and exemptions:

(a) “contradict the fundamental contents of faith and morals;”
(b) admit in principle the liceity of a person’s formal cooperation in the performance of an abortion, and therefore the liceity of abortion itself;
(c) purport to assign to an unborn child’s mother the right to decide whether or not to terminate the life of her child; and
(d) deny to a category of unborn children (the unborn children of women who have not been coerced into an abortion, but rather merely “persuaded” to have an abortion) the protections of the civil law extended to other human beings.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have bloggers such as Sister Sage's Musings saying this:

Does anyone remember this Supreme Court case from 1989: Tremblay v Daigle? This was a landmark decision that basically says that a fetus is not legally a person in either Canadian Common law or Quebec Civil laws. I also believe that if Bill 510 were to pass, the decision of Tremblay v Daigle could end up being moot in the long run and certainly a prelude to a dangerous precedent.

Or this from the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada:

Pro-Choice Group Calls for Law Banning Coerced Childbirth

NATIONAL – A bill recently introduced by a Conservative MP to criminalize “coercing” a woman into abortion should be scuttled in favour of a bill prohibiting the much more common practice of coercing a woman into childbirth, says the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), a national pro-choice group.

“It’s wrong to pressure women into an abortion, but this does not occur on the grand scale often claimed by anti-choice propagandists. It mostly stems from situations of domestic abuse,” said Joyce Arthur, Coordinator of ARCC. Arthur pointed to a recent U.S. study that examined reproductive control of women by abusive male partners.

“Some were pressured to have an abortion, but women also reported that their partners prevented them from obtaining or using birth control, threatened them with pregnancy, or forced unprotected sex on them. If they became pregnant and wanted an abortion, some partners threatened or pressured them to carry to term.”

OK, what to make of all this? In the first case, involving in-vitro fertilization, we have the Vatican in high dudgeon over the awarding of the Nobel prize because while the process honours the desire of couples to have babies (a typical pro-life perspective) it does so at the cost of unused embryos being discarded.

This same issue of embryo as commodity comes up in the surrogate mother case. But here the concern for the misuse of embryos is coming not from the Vatican but rather from a bioethicist, a person one might expect to be lodged in the pro-choice camp.

[In a live discussion regarding surrogate mothers, abortion, etc., the ethicist in question, Dr. Juliet Guichon said, "A carrying woman is like any other woman. She can decide what happens to her body", the legal reality in our pro-choice country.]

Talk about strange bedfellows! But it gets more complex. In the Bruinooge controversy, we have Catholics divided on whether his bill should be supported, with one spokesperson saying that it should not be because the bill does not go far enough (whereas Priests for Life supports it).

But this Catholic pro-life purist finds support for his opposition, as it were, from some of the Canada's foremost pro-choice advocates such as Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition. She and other pro-abortionists see the Prime Minister's invisible hand in this, while that self-same first minister is urging his Conservative colleagues to vote against the bill.

But Dr. Seethram, a person I'm guessing would be in the pro-choice camp (I've never heard him say that he is, I hasten to add), does believe that the abortion decision should be made in a non-coercive environment.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Monday, 4 October 2010

In case anyone had doubt about the significance of personhood

Remember when we used to debate when life began. That debate is over. All the "it's only a bunch of cells" silliness to the contrary, virtually everyone agrees that life--heck, even human life--begins at conception. The issue is not life, not humanity, but personhood.

If there was any doubt, consider the article that follows, written by a philosophy professor at formerly Roman Catholic St. Mary's University in Halifax, and published in the Ottawa Citizen. Emphasized portions are not those of the author, but simply my way of drawing your attention to major points of Prof. Mercer's argument.

"The overall point is that abortion is not in any degree a morally fraught option. A woman considering whether to have an abortion or, instead, to raise a child is making a practical decision, not a moral one. This is what we who are pro-choice have to make more widely known....from an ethical perspective, there is nothing at all to say against ending an unwanted pregnancy."
A fetus is not a person
By Mark Mercer, Citizen Special
May 3, 2010

Those of us concerned that abortion should be legal, safe, and easy to obtain, both in Canada and around the world, need to set aside talk of a woman's right to choose, at least for a moment. Women's reproductive freedom is today under threat, and that's partially because talk of choice seems irrelevant in face of the fact abortion involves killing human fetuses.

Opponents of abortion insist that an individual's right to do with her body what she wants doesn't include or imply a right to do to other people's bodies what she wants. And they are right, it doesn't.

For that reason, if we are going to show that abortion should remain a private matter, of no interest to the law, we have to address directly the question of killing human fetuses. The point we must make is that killing a human fetus is not killing a person. The reasons a woman might have for seeking an abortion cannot be outweighed by the fetus's right to life, for, not being a person, the fetus has no such right.

Debates about abortion are often misconceived as debates about when human life begins or whether the fetus is human. Let's remove these misconceptions right away.

The question when human life begins gains no purchase because nowhere in the process of reproduction does anything non-living come to life. The egg is alive, the sperm is alive, and, should the sperm fertilize the egg, the zygote is alive. At conception comes a new human being.

Abortion, then, involves the killing of a human being. But that abortion involves the deliberate killing of a human being is no reason for abortion to be illegal. Nor should one be morally troubled by it.

To kill a reader of this newspaper would be to kill a creature richly aware of its environment and full of beliefs and desires, including the desire to continue living. To kill him or her would be to kill a self-conscious creature. Thus, to kill a reader of this paper would be to destroy a self-aware locus of experience, one, moreover, that prefers not to die.

That is why only extremely strong, ethically sound reasons could justify killing a reader of this paper. Absent such reasons, we're enjoined to let her live.

A human fetus, on the other hand, though human, has only a rudimentary awareness of its environment and lacks self consciousness entirely. It has no interest in living, for it can have no interests at all.

Because a fetus is not a person, killing a fetus is not killing a person.
That established, now comes the time to speak of a woman's right to choose. A pregnant woman is a person, and because easy access to abortion helps her to live her life as she wishes, we as a society should make sure abortion is easily available to women generally.

Now it is true that each human fetus is potentially a person, in that, most likely, in the fullness of time, any particular fetus will become a person. But this is an argument against abortion only if it is better to have that particular future person walking around than it is to respect a here-and-now person's autonomy.

The overall point is that abortion is not in any degree a morally fraught option. A woman considering whether to have an abortion or, instead, to raise a child is making a practical decision, not a moral one. This is what we who are pro-choice have to make more widely known.

Certainly, people who don't want to raise a child should practice contraception, but that's because abortion is a surgical procedure and surgical procedures are risky and consume time, money, and emotion. But from an ethical perspective, there is nothing at all to say against ending an unwanted pregnancy.

Mark Mercer is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Saint Mary's University.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Middle ground or sinking sand

Some months back a gentleman named Jonathan Merritt wrote a column in The Huffington Post entitled "Common Ground on Abortion, Finally." I had not heard of Merritt, but in looking up his background found him to be a fairly impressive spokesperson in the Excited States to the south of us here in the Great White North.

Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer and author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. He has published over 100 articles in respected national outlets such as USA Today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Newsweek’s “On Faith” and Relevant magazine. As a respected voice for people of faith, he has been interviewed by ABC World News, NPR, PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, UK Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post. He's also a graduate of a Baptist seminary, in case you were wondering.

A brief selection of excerpts should give you the gist of his article:

1. Perhaps no social or political issue produces more anger, more animosity and more anguish [than abortion]. Just utter the word "abortion" in mixed company and see if it doesn't ignite fiery arguments without warning. Today, about 42 percent of Americans call themselves "pro-choice" and 51 percent call themselves "pro-life." It is an ideological stalemate.

2. Surprisingly, there are many commonalities on abortion among Americans. According to a 2009 Gallup poll, even though most Americans soundly reject the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade, a whopping 71 percent of Americans support some form of limits on abortion. And according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 66 percent of Americans support finding "a middle ground on abortion laws."

3. [P]ro-life Christians and pro-choice political progressives have struck a partnership. Their goal is to reduce the need for and occurrences of abortions in America, and their strategy includes providing additional aid for expectant mothers, increased access to contraception for low-income women and greater incentives for adoption.

4. Some all-or-nothing advocates from both the right and left have responded with disdain. The founder of the Pro-Life Action League called abortion reduction a "sell out" and Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee called it the "burial ground" for the pro-life movement. Progressive writer Frank Clarkston claimed that the movement is rooted in "anti-abortion tactics" while Sarah Posner wrote in The American Prospect that it's "incrementalism masquerading as progressivism."

5. [M]ost Americans support an abortion reduction agenda. According to a recent poll by Public Religion Research, 83 percent of all voters agreed that "elected leaders on both sides of the abortion debate should work together to find ways to reduce the number of abortions by enacting policies that help prevent unintended pregnancies, expand adoption and increase economic support for women who wish to carry their pregnancies to term." The poll found similar percentages among "pro-life" voters, white evangelicals and Catholics.

Merritt is not alone in such thinking. A group I tremendously admire, the Feminists for Life, take a similar stance. Consider this excerpt from The American Feminist, Summer/Fall 2004, p. 32:

For too long we have screamed at one another. “What about the
women?” “What about the baby?” That gets us nowhere. We need
progressive solutions that challenge the status quo. We need to listen
to the needs of women. Where are the family housing, the childcare,
and the maternity coverage? Why can’t a woman telecommute
to school or work? Why can’t she job share? Why doesn’t she make a
living wage?

The Alan Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s own research
arm, has given us our task list—the long list of reasons that women
have abortions. These can be divided into two basic categories: lack
of financial resources and lack of emotional support. We can redirect
the abortion debate and work together addressing the root causes of
abortion with women-centered solutions.

Since 1996, Feminists for Life has been focused on serving pregnant
and parenting collegians.

Pro-lifers and pro-choicers come together and work to address the
unmet needs of women through Pregnancy Resource Forums.

Many people I know in the pro-life movement here in Canada would decry this view. They would see the need to condemn the decision to abort at all on moral grounds and view any other thrust, such as abortion reduction, as irrelevant at best and a complete abandonment of the cause at worst.

I'll be frank with these brothers and sisters of mine--your moralizing approach is allowing more unborn babies to die than you save. The majority of women who consider abortions--and I get this from all sides--do it for someone else or out of a sense that there is no option. Work on this and the abortion rate will plunge like an anchor.

Am I oblivious to the moral issue? Of course not. I believe in the sacredness and dignity of life from conception. That is why I am committed to social justice. But even the sage who wrote the book of Proverbs recognized that morality came much easier when temptation was removed:

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God (Proverbs 30:8-9).

Perhaps that is why even our Lord prayed, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."