Roe and abortion in American life

Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, appeared at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia tonight.

I left Washington mid-afternoon and caught a train from Union Station to Philadelphia to be there for the hour-long conversation—ostensibly about Roe v. Wade, but in fact about whether abortion represents a public good, and whether the Supreme Court should be made to preserve abortion as America’s most controversial public policy.

It’s worth watching as an introduction to two diametrically opposed factions in American life: one faction that ignores the scientific and embryological facts concerning what abortion itself is and does and is concerned with its utility as an alleged means of empowerment, and the second faction which views abortion as fundamentally incompatible with the constitutional human right to life as much as it is incompatible with justice and equality.

I was disappointed by how much politics and elections drove the conversation among the former faction, and was encouraged that Catherine Glenn Foster was able to move the conversation toward the more important teleological questions behind abortion-as-public-policy.

Tough-minded optimism

James Clear shared a great speech recently, delivered by John W. Gardner to McKinsey in 1990. John Gardner was the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson and a recipient of the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom:

“Optimism is unfashionable today, particularly among intellectuals. Everyone makes fun of it. Someone said, “Pessimists got that way by financing optimists.” But I am not pessimistic and I advise you not to be.

“…a tough-minded optimism is best. The future is not shaped by people who don’t really believe in the future. Men and women of vitality have always been prepared to bet their futures, even their lives, on ventures of unknown outcome. If they had all looked before they leaped, we would still be crouched in caves sketching animal pictures on the wall.

“But I did say tough-minded optimism. High hopes that are dashed by the first failure are precisely what we don’t need. We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn’t suppose that the path will be easy, it’s tough. Life is painful, and rain falls on the just, and Mr. Churchill was not being a pessimist when he said “I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” He had a great deal more to offer, but as a good leader he was saying it wasn’t going to be easy, and he was also saying something that all great leaders say constantly — that failure is simply a reason to strengthen resolve.”

Limits on federal spending

Michael J. New offers common sense on federal spending:

The recent budget deal that was agreed to by President Trump and Congressional leaders has fiscal conservatives livid. This deal raises discretionary spending caps by over $300 billion over two years and effectively repeals the budget caps that were established as part of the Budget Control Act in 2011. The frustration of budget hawks is certainly understandable. While the rest of the budget has grown in recent years, non-defense discretionary spending has actually fallen in constant dollars since 2011. However, seasoned observers of fiscal policy knew it was unlikely to last. After all, there is plenty of evidence that legislatures, including Congress, have been unable to place effective long term limits on the growth of spending.

Indeed, after triple digit budget deficits became commonplace in the 1980s, Congress adopted the Gramm Rudman Hollings Act in 1985. This piece of legislation established declining deficit targets every year and triggered automatic spending cuts if those targets were not met. Half the cuts were to come from defense spending, and half the cuts were to come from domestic programs. While Gramm Rudman Hollings did result in some short term spending cuts, its main outcome was creative accounting. Congress often pushed spending into future fiscal years to create phantom spending cuts to stay within the deficit targets. When the economy slowed down, the deficit targets became too difficult to reach, and the legislation was scrapped in 1990. …

Fiscal conservatives should revisit pursuing a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Regardless of the results of elections, Congress has shown no ability to place effective long term limits on spending. A balanced budget amendment or another constitutional fiscal limit might be the only effective long-term strategy to limit the growth of government. America’s long term fiscal outlook looks especially bleak due to rapidly growing entitlement programs. Indeed, a balanced budget amendment might as well be the only strategy to get Congress to seriously discuss reforming rapidly expanding programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and shore up America’s fiscal future.

We are acting as if there will be no consequence for our bipartisan monetary policies. Kicking the can down the road…

On Leana Wen’s ouster

Dr. Leana Wen was forced out as Planned Parenthood leader this week, as a result of their board determining that Dr. Wen’s vision of Planned Parenthood as a comprehensive healthcare provider risked compromising their commitment to abortion. Catherine Glenn Foster, President & CEO of Americans United for Life, issued this statement:

“Planned Parenthood has long claimed that healthcare encompasses the intentional killing of unwanted human persons, and Dr. Leana Wen—despite her brief eight-month tenure—has consistently traded on her training as a physician to perpetuate Planned Parenthood’s falsehood that ‘abortion is healthcare’. The pro-life movement is continuing to rack up legal victories at the state and federal levels, and we have every intention of building on those victories until we reach a post-Roe v. Wade era, and we will do that no matter who is leading America’s deadliest non-profit.”

And I offered the following thoughts on Dr. Wen’s departure, which still strikes me as a strange strategic decision in advance of an election year:

“What Planned Parenthood’s board leadership has done,” stated Tom Shakely, Chief Engagement Officer at Americans United for Life, “is simply to confirm that Planned Parenthood is solely and ideologically committed to abortion—not comprehensive care, not patient outcomes, and certainly not authentic medicine. Planned Parenthood is a single-issue organization whose most desired outcome is the ending of the lives of their most vulnerable patients—developing members of the human family.”

“We earnestly hope that Leana Wen herself is led to a conversion of heart on the fundamental human right to life. She would be a powerful witness for the capacity of all persons to recognize the truth of a difficult issue, and serve as advocates and protectors of vulnerable human persons.”

 

Constitutional persons

Calvin Freiburger writes on Joshua Craddock’s 2017 piece in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, “Protecting Prenatal Persons: Does the Fourteenth Amendment Prohibit Abortion?”:

Pro-lifers and honest pro-abortion legal scholars agree that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. But just how wrong is it? Is it bad law solely because it declares a right to something the Constitution is silent about, or does its judicial malpractice run deeper? …

The first key point of Craddock’s work, critiquing the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia from the right, is an audacious undertaking, but here it’s warranted. You see, while Scalia was a committed originalist and clear opponent of Roe, he was also of the opinion that the Constitution is neutral toward abortion – that its use of the word “persons” “clearly means walking-around persons,” and therefore, states should be left free to set whatever abortion laws they want. Craddock notes several other pro-life judicial originalists who hold (or held) this view, though Scalia is the most recent and most revered modernly.

Craddock concedes that there is some basis for this thinking because “natural rights were not exhaustively enshrined in the federal Constitution” and “states have traditionally decided the question of personhood.” However, he rightfully maintains that a truly originalist answer to the question has to consider what the word “persons” was understood to mean when the Fourteenth Amendment was written and ratified.

He proceeds to explain that layman’s dictionaries treated the concepts of humanity and personhood interchangeably, and so did legal terminology – more explicitly so, in fact. As we’ve discussed in the past, Craddock notes that Blackstone expressly recognized that personhood and the right to life existed before birth with a simple and clear legal standard: “where life can be shown to exist, legal personhood exists”…

‘It’s probably not replicable’

I remember heading to the polls in Philadelphia on Election Day in November 2016 and being surprised by the fact that there was simply no line at the Center City polling station. I had been there in 2012 when Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney, and there was a line out of the door. If there wasn’t high turnout for Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia, I thought, she might not have a certain victory in Pennsylvania.

What I witnessed that Election Day was a case of a depressed and unmotivated Democratic voter base handing the vote to its opponent in a critical state. And that happened in every state it needed to happen in for Donald Trump to win the presidency. And so it’s always been doubtful that he could be keep office, in the fact of a highly energized opposition:

A university election model that predicted the blue wave in the House in 2018 almost to the seat is predicting a big loss by President Trump next year due to an explosion of bitter partisanship and Trump hate.

An election forecast model designed by Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, predicted that Trump will lose the Electoral College 297-197, with 270 of 538 needed to win.

Three key states that helped push Trump over Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016, despite her winning the popular vote, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, will turn back to the Democrats, she said.

“Trump’s 2016 path to the White House was the political equivalent of getting dealt a Royal Flush in poker,” said Bitecofer. “It’s probably not replicable in 2020 with an agitated Democratic electorate.”

That partisanship, added to the spark in anti-Trump protests by liberals and even left-leaning independents, is likely to overwhelm the increase in GOP voters, she said.

“The country’s hyperpartisan and polarized environment has largely set the conditions of the 2020 election in stone,” Bitecofer said in a release. “The complacent electorate of 2016, who were convinced Trump would never be president, has been replaced with the terrified electorate of 2020. Under my model, that distinction is not only important, it is everything,” she added.

Her model in 2018 predicted a 42 seat House Democratic pickup, and the Democrats won 40. Most models did not predict such a big victory.

Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing, what remains true is that your own life, your own family, and your own community all matter a thousand times more. It’s worth staying focused on what matters most over the 18 months to come, and as much as possible mentally bracketing the noise of the campaigns.

Hospitals as places for charity

April Munday writes on Medieval hospitals:

Hospitals might not be something that you associate with the fourteenth century, but most towns had one, if not two. Many were founded in the twelfth century and were the result of both the First Crusade and what might be considered a spiritual revival at that time.

Hospitals were religious institutions. Monasteries and convents had always had infirmaries where sick and elderly members of the community were cared for. From the twelfth century that care was extended formally to the community beyond the walls of the abbeys. Hospitals were usually staffed by monks and nuns, but sometimes a physician was employed as well.

Medieval hospitals took many forms. They could be hostels for pilgrims, hospices for the dying, almshouses for the aged poor, or a hospital for the sick poor. They were founded as acts of charity. …

Hospitals were mainly for providing hospitality, which is where the name comes from. They were often called a Maison Dieu or Domus Dei. In English they were called God’s House. The hospital was a house because it was always part of a religious community, a household with God at the head. There are the remains of one near where I live dating back to the twelfth century. A God’s House was essentially a large hall where people could lie along the walls in beds. It had a chapel for prayers and mass.

In a hospital there would probably be a fire. Patients might have to share a bed, so the chances were good that you would catch something worse than the reason you were there in the first place. On the plus side, the floor and the sheets would be washed often, and mutton was prescribed, regardless of the illness. The inmates would probably be bathed as well as having their hair washed and their beards trimmed regularly.

I read someplace recently that it was only something like 70 years ago that it became more likely that a patient entering a hospital would leave the hospital restored to health—and that a major reason why so many are still so wary of receiving medical care likely has to do with a lingering cultural memory of hospitals as places not of life, but of death.

Whatever the case, the role of hospitals as places for charity is something lost in the present debates over the costs of healthcare delivery and one’s ability or right to medical treatments.

Two patients, or one?

Dr. Darrell Cass recently led a successful pre-birth surgery on a child at 23 weeks:

Cleveland Clinic has successfully performed its first in utero fetal surgery to repair a spina bifida birth defect in a nearly 23-week-old fetus.

A multispecialty team of clinicians performed the surgery in February, and the baby, a girl, was later delivered by caesarean section near full term June 3, making it northern Ohio’s first surgery of its kind. Mother and daughter are doing well. …

Spina bifida is a birth defect that is most often discovered during the routine anatomy scan typically performed when a fetus is around 18 weeks old. The condition affects the lowest part of the spine and occurs when the neural tube does not fully close, causing the backbone that protects the spinal cord not to form as it should. This often results in damage to the spinal cord and nerves and can even lead to brain damage.

Spina bifida can affect a child’s lower leg strength and their ability to walk and run, as well as their ability to go to the bathroom and urinate adequately. According to the CDC, approximately 1,645 babies are born with spina bifida each year in the United States.

During the fetal repair surgery, a caesarean section-like incision is made and the mother’s uterus is exposed. An ultrasound is then used to locate the placenta and fetus. The uterus is opened 4.5 cm and the back of the fetus is exposed, showing the spina bifida lesion. The surgeons then carefully suture several individual layers of tissue (myofascia, dura and skin) in order to cover the defect. After the uterus is closed back up, the fetus remains in the womb for the remainder of the pregnancy and is ultimately born by caesarean section.

“By successfully repairing the defect before birth, we’re allowing this child to have the best possible outcome and significantly improve her quality of life,” said Dr. Cass.

When a member of the human family, like this child, is wanted by her mother, we call this child a patient—and our physicians care for the child as a patient whose worth is equal to mother and father. But when a member of the human family is unwelcome, we call that child a fetus—and sometimes even a parasite—and our physicians do not care for the child as a patient, but instead intentionally kill in order to enforce the demands of the comparatively powerful over the comparatively weak. This describes not a humane or compassionate society, but rather one wherein violence has come to be seen as acceptance and even ethical.

If we only have worth because we are wanted, then none of us possess any inherent value. And if this is true, there is no coherent basis for such a thing as human rights.

There are always two patients in the case of a mother pregnant with her child. What varies is not the reality or unreality of the second patient; what varies is our interest in acting as if human rights were either real, on the one hand, or merely a sometimes convenient fiction, on the other.

Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund

Knights of Columbus has announced the launch of the Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund, which is modeled on community foundations like The Cleveland Foundation or Silicon Valley Community Foundation. Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund will serve as a way for Catholics to create charitable funds and direct charitable giving on an individual, family, or community level. There’s nothing quite like this, and I expect it will become a major part of the culture of Knights of Columbus:

Knights of Columbus, one of the largest Catholic philanthropic organizations in the world, today announced a new affiliated vehicle for donors called “Knights of Columbus Charitable Fund” (KCCF). KCCF allows donors to open donor-driven accounts, recommend charities to which donations can be sent through a safe, secure and confidential portal.

Carl Anderson, CEO of Knights of Columbus, said, “Catholics today are looking for opportunities to demonstrate their faith and to support organizations that reflect their values. They want to direct their charity to organizations easily and efficiently.”

The addition of a donor-advised fund option satisfies a unique customer and market niche that is a powerful tool for maximizing philanthropic impact on organizations that align with Catholic values and teachings. Donor-advised funds have become the fastest-growing segment of charitable-giving vehicles due to their flexibility and simplicity. Assets in the donor-advised fund are invested tax-free with no distribution requirements, excise taxes, or other reporting requirements for the individual donor. Donors can make a current charitable contribution, receive an immediate potential tax benefit, and then recommend grants from the fund over time. And tax-free investing over time can result in larger ultimate gifts for charities.

Noa Pothoven’s suicide

Ross Douthat writes on the suicide of 17 year-old Noa Pothoven:

In the Netherlands, a depressed teenager … committed suicide at home, starving herself while parents and doctors offered palliative care. …

It remains shocking that a young woman’s parents and doctors would give up on treating her at seventeen and let her kill herself. And it remains shocking that Western nations are normalizing euthanasia for mental illness among otherwise healthy adults. …

When such a system emerges as a seemingly organic feature of the liberal order, what then should be your attitude toward liberalism itself? …

Liberalism has never done as well as it thinks at resolving its own crises. America’s gravest moral evil, chattel slavery, was defeated by an authoritarian president in a religious civil war, not by proceduralism or constitutional debate. The crisis of the 1930s ended happily for liberalism because a reactionary imperialist withstood Adolf Hitler and a revolutionary Bolshevik crushed him. The liberal peace that followed may depend on fear of the atomic bomb.

All of which hints that a genuinely post-liberal politics might, indeed, someday be required — to save liberal civilization from dystopia or disaster. The post-liberalisms presently on offer are not as serious as either their advocates hope or their critics fear. But if you cannot imagine ever being a post-liberal, left or right, you are not being serious either.

It couldn’t be clearer to me that the logic behind pro-suicide laws in the United States, which claim to be interested only in permitting suicide for those near death and with a terminal illness, will in time result in lawful suicide for practically anyone, in any condition. When a teenager’s suicide is affirmed and facilitated by both her family and the state, that’s a good indicator that the society has lost its ability to distinguish justice from injustice.