Visiting the Senate

Catherine Glenn Foster testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this morning on S. 160, Sen. Lindsey Graham’s “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.” It was a beautiful day for important testimony, some of which I’m sharing here:

Human life in the womb is recognized and protected in federal law and by the laws of most states against crimes of violence. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act makes it a federal crime to kill or cause bodily injury to an unborn human in utero. 18 U.S.C. § 1841(a)(1). Thirty-eight states currently treat the killing of an preborn human as homicide, with at least twenty-eight of those states criminalizing the act from conception. Nearly all fifty states, as well as the District of Columbia, have wrongful death statues, allowing recovery for the death of an unborn human or the subsequent death of an infant born alive who was injured while in utero. Outside of the context of elective abortion, the medical profession recognizes that a physician treating a pregnant mother has two patients, the maternal patient and the fetal patient, and owes duties of care to each.

The regulation of abortion after twenty weeks simply recognizes that there is substantial medical evidence that the preborn child feels pain by that point. However, the question of when a fetus can experience pain has been the subject of some debate over the last two decades. There is research to show that the sensory connections for feeling pain are present by 20 weeks gestation. In fact, there is a steadily increasing body of medical evidence and literature supporting the conclusion that a fetus may feel pain from around 11 to 13 weeks, or even as early as 5.5 weeks. Indeed, there is some evidence that fetal suffering may actually be more intense due to the uneven maturation of fetal neurophysiology. A British survey of neuroscientists showed that 80% of the neuroscientists participating in the survey felt that pain relief should be given to a fetus for abortions after 11 weeks gestation.

Moreover, medical information on fetal neurological development and a child’s consequent ability to feel pain in the womb is a concern of women considering abortion, and therefore providing this information is relevant for a woman to make a fully-informed choice on whether or not to obtain an abortion. In light of this, six states have laws requiring abortion facilities to give women information on fetal pain. Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Oklahoma require physicians to inform women of the possibility of fetal pain at 20 weeks gestation. Additionally, Georgia requires abortion facilities to inform women orally prior to an abortion that fetal pain information is available on a state-sponsored website.

Insofar as the existence of pain in the preborn infant at or before 20 weeks is firmly established in the congressional findings of S. 160, and reflects a reasonable reliance by Congress on current medical science, protecting infants in the womb from intense pain felt during an abortion is an appropriate and constitutional state interest in restricting abortion beyond this time frame. Gonzales, 550 U.S. at 163 (“The Court has given state and federal legislatures wide discretion to pass legislation in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty.”).

Cherry blossoms

It’s Cherry blossom season in Washington and elsewhere. I’m sharing two scenes from this past week. The first is a view from the corner of M and Wisconsin in Georgetown one morning on my way to work. The second is a glimpse of the cherry blossoms.

I was able to drive past the Tidal Basin in Washington earlier this week, and even the view from the car as we snaked along the edge of the water was great. Here’s some history of American cherry blossoms:

Japan gave 3,020 cherry blossom trees as a gift to the United States in 1912 to celebrate the nations’ then-growing friendship, replacing an earlier gift of 2,000 trees which had to be destroyed due to disease in 1910. These trees were planted in Sakura Park in Manhattan and line the shore of the Tidal Basin and the roadway in East Potomac Park in Washington, D.C. The first two original trees were planted by first lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Chinda on the bank of the Tidal Basin. The gift was renewed with another 3,800 trees in 1965. In Washington, D.C. the cherry blossom trees continue to be a popular tourist attraction (and the subject of the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival) when they reach full bloom in early spring. …

Philadelphia is also home to over 2,000 flowering Japanese cherry trees, half of which were a gift from the Japanese government in 1926 in honor of the 150th anniversary of American independence, with the other half planted by the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia between 1998 and 2007. …

Other US cities have an annual cherry blossom festival (or sakura matsuri), including the International Cherry Blossom Festival in Macon, Georgia, which features over 300,000 cherry trees. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden in New York City also has a large, well-attended festival.

Catholic University’s Maloney Hall

Andrew V. Abela, provost of The Catholic University of America, writes on the opening of the Busch School of Business’s renovated Maloney Hall:

Originally constructed in 1917, it is a beautiful stone building that has long been a mainstay in the university’s life and work in Washington, D.C. Now, it will serve as the hub for several hundred students a year, as they learn to be entrepreneurs and business leaders inspired by the Catholic faith.

This building is centered around a brand-new chapel, and, in a very real sense, so is the entire business school. We don’t believe that business presents a choice between capitalism and socialism, or between right and left. Instead, we enable our students to ground their business decisions in Catholic Social Doctrine, which transcends partisan distinctions and holds the potential to transform our economy in extraordinary ways. …

The principles of Catholic Social Doctrine, developed carefully over more than a century, define the education that our students receive. For instance: They invite students to uphold both the principle of “solidarity,” which is our responsibility to care for others, and “subsidiarity,” the idea that decisions should be made by those closest to the point of impact.

Our students also wrestle with the principle of private property and the universal destination of goods. The first teaches that human beings have the right to manage their own property. The second says to use that property for the good of others.

And students discover the interrelationship between markets and virtue. Often framed as contradictory, markets and virtue are complementary – and in fact, they each need the other. The market economy provides the economic freedom where virtuous citizens can prosper and lift each other out of poverty. Similarly, virtues like trustworthiness, hard work, honesty, and courage, all of which are first cultivated in non-market institutions like the family, churches, and educational institutions — are essential for the existence of the market economy. …

We need courageous people who reject lying, cheating, stealing, and coercion. Above all else, we need well-formed women and men who understand the purpose of business – who seek success only by helping others succeed.

“Laws without morals are in vain.”

What is the Burkean way?

Carl T. Bogus writes on Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk to underscore that to be a conservative is to always be more concerned with a whole community of persons than with individual concerns:

What is the Burkean way? Those who have read only Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France—his brilliant jeremiad against the convulsive overthrow of the French monarchy—often think of Burke as an implacable defender of institutions and tradition. But that can be misleading. Burke was, in fact, a reformer, though of a particular kind. He believed that society was a complex organism that evolved to its present condition for reasons that were not always evident. Burke believed that changes are often desirable—and a constant process of improvement essential—but those changes should be made carefully, with respect for tradition and a concern for unintended consequences. “We must all obey the great law of change,” he wrote. “It is the most powerful law of nature, and the means perhaps of its conservation.” …

“Conservatism,” Russell Kirk wrote, “never is more admirable than when it accepts change that it disapproves, with good grace, for the sake of the general condition; and the impetuous Burke, of all men, did most to establish that principle.”

At the most fundamental level, Burke was a communitarian. It is institutions—governmental, professional, religious, educational, and otherwise—that compose the fabric of society. Each of these institutions has classes of people who devote their careers to preserving and improving them: jurists serve the law, scholars their disciplines and universities, clerics their church, and so on. All citizens, in fact, are engaged in a sacred intergenerational compact. “Society,” Burke said, “becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” …

Kirk wrote: “True conservatism … rises at the antipodes from individualism. Individualism is social atomism; conservatism is community of spirit.”

‘Glimpses that would make me less forlorn’

A scene near Christ Church, Georgetown Episcopal and a bit of Wordsworth:

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn,
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea,
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn

Closed Beltway, open air walk

Earlier this week coming back from Arlington, traffic had ground to a near absolute halt. I was in an Uber that was making no progress, so I got out and walked the two miles or so home. It was a beautiful evening for it, on foot. Here are some scenes nearing the Francis Scott Key Bridge, and of the Georgetown canal path just over the other side of the bridge.

It turned out that a tanker had turned over on the Beltway:

Commuters, take heed. Anyone intending to take the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway today needs to contend with a tanker truck that overturned near the American Legion Bridge around 2 p.m.

While the driver of the truck was not injured in the crash, there was a minor injury from one of the cars, according to Fairfax Fire and Rescue.

Further complicating the response is that the overturned tanker was holding 8,500 gallons of fueland was actively leaking. A total of 100-200 gallons leaked, but Fairfax Fire and Rescue says that the fuel has been “has been contained and does not appear to have made it into the Potomac River.” …

The lanes on the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway reopened just before 3 a.m. on Friday morning.

National Review Institute Ideas Summit

National Review Institute’s Ideas Summit took place over the past two days in Washington, DC at the Mandarin Oriental. It occurs biennially, and this year’s theme was “The Case for the American Experiment.”

Michael Brenden Dougherty’s conversation with Tucker Carlson on populism was worthwhile, particularly Carlson’s focus on the necessity of dealing seriously with the problem of suicide and the challenge of ensuring Americans can still achieve a good family and community life. Jim Geraghty, Jonah Goldberg, and Rich Lowry spoke together on “how conservatives should think about nationalism.” And many others spoke too.

James L. Buckley delivered the closing talk on federalism and the revivification of the 10th Amendment, focusing on federal funding to states being necessarily coercive, ranked as probably my favorite of the conference—partly because it struck me as a hopeful, practical response to the growth in the federal administrative state, and partly because Buckley is now 96 years old and continues to bear witness to what public service looks like in a democratic republic.

At a later evening reception, Reihan Salam spoke on what sort of immigration policy Americans might be able to support.

‘We’re the subjects of history, not its objects’

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput delivered a talk recently at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus:

I have two points I want to make here.  First, much of the anger in the Church today is righteous and healthy. As Pope Francis said just last month, “[I]n people’s justified anger, the Church sees the reflection of the wrath of God, betrayed and insulted” by deceitful clergy and religious. I don’t want to diminish that anger because we need it.

What we do with that anger, though, determines whether it becomes a medicine or a poison. The Church has seen corruption, incompetence and cowardice in her leaders, including in her bishops and popes, many times in the past; many more times than most Catholics realize. The fact that Americans are notoriously bad at history and ignorant of its lessons only compounds the problem.

And yet here we are.  Twenty centuries after the resurrection of Jesus, the Church continues her mission. She survives and continues through the grace of God.  But that grace works through people like you and me.

All of the great Catholic reformers in history had three essential qualities: personal humility; a passion for purifying the Church starting with themselves, and a fidelity to her teaching, all motivated by unselfish, self-sacrificing love.  God calls all of us, but especially his priests, not just to renew the face of the earth with his Spirit, but to renew the heart of the Church with our lives; to make her young and beautiful, again and again, so that she shines with his love for the world.  That’s our task. That’s our calling.  That’s what a vocation is – a calling from God with our name on it.​

To borrow from St. Augustine, God made us to make the times, not the times to make us.  We’re the subjects of history, not its objects.  And unless we make the times better with the light of Jesus Christ, then the times will make us worse with their darkness.

And that leads me to my second point, which is simply this:  Scripture tells us again and again to fear not.  The first words of St. John Paul as pope – this, from a man who lived through a catastrophic world war and two brutally anti-human regimes — were “Be not afraid.”  The temptations to fear, anxiety, depression, and fatigue are experiences we all share, especially in hard moments for the Church like today.  Fear, like anger, is a good and healthy thing when it’s in its proper place – and toxic when it’s not.

So do we really believe in Jesus Christ or not?  That’s the central question in our lives.  Everything turns on the answer.  Because if our Christian faith really grounds and organizes our lives, then we have no reason to fear, and we have every reason to hope.  Hope depends on faith.  It can’t survive without a foundation of passionate belief in something or Someone higher and greater than ourselves.  Without faith, “hope” is just another word for the cheap and cheesy optimism the modern world uses to paper over its own – and our own – brokenness.

The great French Catholic writer Georges Bernanos described the real nature of hope as “despair, overcome.”  That’s always struck me as the truest kind of realism and clarity.  We can hope because we’re loved as sons and daughters by a good God who’s really present with us and deeply engaged in our lives.  Without him, the world is just a sandbox for the wicked and the powerful, and there’s never any shortage of either. …

We should never underestimate the power of truth. The human mind and heart hunger for it.  For all of the modern world’s vanity and preening, the intellectual poverty of our time is stunning.  Among the Church’s great treasures is a long tradition of rich philosophical reflection. I urge you to study deeply in that tradition.

The Bible too retains all of its historic power today. In a culture of competition, consumption, and the mad scramble for success, the Beatitudes sound like a revolutionary manifesto.

The Bible’s power is especially clear in the accounts of Jesus’s Passion. During Holy Week we hear the story of the passion a number of times. The words from Scripture lack Shakespearean beauty. They don’t rival Homer or any other epic poet. On the contrary, the language is plain and almost austere. In a real sense, the passion narratives realize in Scripture the truth of the Incarnation, drawing us down into the gritty realities of life: blind hatred and bitter mobs; bureaucratic indifference and petty betrayals; dust-filled streets, tears, sweat, and blood. The words ring out loudly today, as they always have. They awaken in those who listen an unmistakable disquiet. The face of God approaches us here, now, in this world. This inspires hope – and also fear. Most people don’t want to be challenged spiritually…

The Christian life seems impossible to many, because “selflessness” is an allergic word in a culture built on consumption.  The same is true when Christians open their homes in hospitality or give generously out of their earnings. The world cannot imagine the radicalism made possible by a supernatural love, the freedom that allows ordinary women and men to live against the grain of what it sees as “normal” and “necessary.”

Many years ago, I came across some words attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I’ve never forgotten.  He said that gratitude is the beginning of joy.  I want you to remember those words in the years ahead.

Chaput is speaking to young men embarking on the priesthood, but his words are just as apropos for any person of good will seeking clarity in uncertain times.