National Press Club press conference in support of Louisiana law

We held a press conference this afternoon at the National Press Club in advance of tomorrow’s “Protect Women Protect Life Rally” at the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Louisiana’s health and safety law:

National Pro-life Coalition Holds Press Conference Ahead of Oral Arguments in Landmark Abortion Case

U.S. Senators, Representatives to join Louisiana State Lawmakers and Pro-life Activists to discuss June Medical Services v. Russo

Washington, D.C.—The U.S. Supreme Court will take up June Medical Services v. Russo, potentially the most important abortion-related case in more than three decades. Ahead of the oral arguments, a coalition of preeminent national pro-life organizations and leaders will hold a press conference at the National Press Club on March 3rd at 2 PM to discuss the merits and implications of the landmark case.

The Court will consider the constitutionality of a Louisiana law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform an abortion as well as whether or not abortion businesses have standing to file lawsuits against pro-life laws, as opposed to lawsuits being brought by individuals seeking access to abortion.

I had the chance to interview Sen. Katrina Jackson this morning. She’s the pro-life Democrat who sponsored the Louisiana law at the center of this U.S. Supreme Court case. That interview will be out next week on our “Life, Liberty, and Law” podcast.

Human rights and the human heart

I’ve got my first piece for Humanize from the Discovery Institute’s Center for Human Exceptionalism out today, where I write that human rights require knowledge of the human heart:

I believe that when it comes to issues of human life we’re generally engaging conflicts that are neither unresolvable nor destined for stalemate. We’re debating issues that matter. We can lose sight of this due to the tendency to throw our hands into the air over the seemingly complex nature of many human life issues, content to “agree to disagree” because “it’s complicated.” For those determined to advance human dignity, liberty, and equality, settling for this false peace is, in fact, a surrender to (at best) a materialist philosophy that prizes autonomy over solidarity, or (at worst) a nihilist relativism that proposes that ultimate reality and truth are unknowable and therefore worthless.

We already see the poisoned fruits of accepting that false peace in the degradation of human rights. Human rights were once a shield for the protection of those most at risk to the whims of those with greater power, but as we lose our sense of human beings as possessors of inherent dignity and worth, we also lose a firm basis for universal human rights. As if experiencing a collective dementia, we look upon the face of the human person without recognizing the priceless good we see. And in our forgetfulness we lose our ethical bearings, too often falling for utopian promises for a future that never arrives.

When we survey the field, we observe this annihilation across the spectrum of human life: at the earliest and most physically vulnerable period when we most require hospitality and love, in the form of abortion; at the latest and most culturally vulnerable period when we most require solidarity and companionship, in the form of euthanasia and suicide; throughout adult life when we require encounter and friendship, through a “throwaway” culture of indifference; and across the spectrum of bioethical issues from eugenics to human trafficking, from attacks on patient and physician conscience rights to misanthropic environmentalism, from ethically indifferent forms of genetic engineering to stem cell research to cloning, and on it goes.

What are we to make of the claims of human rights, amidst all the raw human willfulness and power imbalances that so greatly warp our ability to recognize one another as equals?

Humanize

I joined the Discovery Institute last month as a Research Fellow with their Center on Human Exceptionalism, which exists to affirm and uphold the intrinsic nature of human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley J. Smith, Chair and Senior Fellow of the Center, has just launched Humanize, a blog for news, analysis, and opinion. Wesley writes:

America is living with the ghosts of the 1960s, the ambition of that time as much as its hubris. In equal measure, those qualities shape our ethically and morally haphazard approach to human dignity and human rights, and particularly bioethical issues that have the potential to harm or damage our liberty and equality with one another as human beings.

Humanize will offer news, opinion, and analysis to spark and participate in conversations about all of these issues and more, in the spirit of a time when we believed that we could achieve success in every field with ambition tempered by honor—in short, in a way that both advances science and society and promotes human dignity, liberty, and equality.

As long as we remain fractured across philosophical and intellectual fault lines, issues of human life generally and bioethical issues specifically can only grow more vexing. We’re establishing Humanize with the hope that we can be a home for spirited and robust conversations that address the many ethical or moral issues that currently denigrate human life, as we promote a human-centered wholeness that is the only true hope for a better future.

Humanize is as much about recognizing new frontiers in science, medicine, and biotechnology, as it is about recognizing that there are perennial frontiers in the human heart that must always be addressed in our conscience as much as our law and policy. …

The work we thought we were finishing with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has turned out simply to be a starting point for new frontiers in a timeless conversation on the exceptional importance of being human.

I’ll be contributing to Humanize as often as I’m able.

‘A national appeal to build a culture of life’

President Trump delivers the State of the Union address tonight:

Ahead of President Donald Trump’s annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, Feb. 4, pro-life activists and Christian leaders say they hope the president will use his address to advocate for the right to life and to protect religious minorities.

“I hope President Trump takes the opportunity to call Americans to unity on the human right to life. We need to move beyond partisanship and rally around a shared vision for Americans who especially need solidarity, love, and care,” said Tom Shakely, chief engagement officer at Americans United for Life.

Trump could offer, “a national appeal to build a culture of life, a real spectrum of life-affirming choices that rejects violence and self-harm, in every state, city, and town,” said Shakely. This potential message “would be a powerful and important moment in our history.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the White House revealed that two of the guests at the State of the Union would be Ellie and Robin Schneider, from Kansas City, Missouri. Ellie, who is two years old, was born to her mother Robin at just 21 weeks and six days gestation.

“With the help of an incredible medical team–and the prayers of her parents and their community–Ellie kept beating the odds, exceeding milestones, and fighting for life,” said a press release announcing guests attending the address.

Across the country, there were 36 state laws passed in 2019 that sought to preserve a legal right to abortion. This number is an increase from just five in 2018. Many states passed laws that legalizes abortion in the third trimester.

In this election year, I hope that at least parts of this address can be received in a spirit of unity by Americans who are hostile to this president.

Clock of life

Fulton Sheen gave a talk called “The Approach of Midnight” in the 1970s, imagining the “clock of life”:

“I want you to picture a great and gigantic clock of life. Here is dawn; here is noon; here is dusk; here is midnight. The clock of life at the very beginning of the day is beginning to extinguish life: feticide, the killing of human persons in the womb. That’s the first stroke of the clock.

Then we come to noon: lives in middle age. We’ve already had this strike: six million Jews burned by Hitler. Life at the beginning, life at noon.

Life in the evening. Now euthanasia is recommended: gerocide, the killing of the old. In fact, three American professors in large universities have recommended the killing off of Bangladesh and India, that the rest of us may survive.

Now, what’s going to happen to a world that takes life at dawn, life at noon, life at dusk? We’re eventually going to come to midnight. The United States and Russia have enough nuclear armaments to drop [the equivalent of] ten tons of TNT on every man, woman, and child in the world. That’s the midnight of necrophilism…

It’s not just life at dawn we’re protecting. It’s life at noon; it’s life at dusk; it’s life at midnight…

Go into the world and tell everyone that you meet: there is a life in the womb!”

A consistent life ethic…

March for Life 2020

Americans of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs are in Washington, DC this weekend and they came to be a part of today’s March for Life, marking 47 years since the U.S. Supreme Court’s imposed Roe doctrine of lawful indifference to human life.

It’s a powerful and hopeful week of events, organizing, rallying, prayer, and companionship when we take stock of the victories of the past year and the work to come. There are incredible reasons for hope, even as threats to the human right to life have expanded across the spectrum, particularly concerning patients’ rights and suicide. There’s always work to be done.

President Trump’s remarks were perfect, and an encouraging sign that political leadership at the highest levels will increasingly participate in the March for Life.

President Trump to speak at the March for Life

Kimberly Leonard reports that President Trump will speak to the March for Life tomorrow, becoming the first president to address the rally in person in its 47 year history:

President Trump will deliver an in-person speech on Friday at the March for Life, an annual rally held in Washington protesting the legalization of abortion.

Trump will be the first president in history to appear at the march, one of the highest-profile events of the anti-abortion movement. March for Life is in its 47th year, having taken place every year since the passage of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Last year, Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise appearance at the march before roughly 100,000 attendees. The president also gave a message of support for the cause to attendees through a live video.

Jeanne Mancini, president of the organizing group, celebrated the announcement in a statement, saying Trump had been loyal to the anti-abortion movement.

“From the appointment of pro-life judges and federal workers, to cutting taxpayer funding for abortions here and abroad, to calling for an end to late-term abortions, President Trump and his administration have been consistent champions for life and their support for the March for Life has been unwavering,” she said. “We are grateful for all these pro-life accomplishments and look forward to gaining more victories for life in the future.”

It’s a fact that President Trump’s appearance will ensure that every future Republican president will be expected to rally at the March for Life in person, and that’s long overdue. Terrisa Bukovinac, my friend from Pro-Life San Francisco, offers her thoughts as a Democrat:

The liberal leader expressed her support of the President’s appearance, despite their differences.

“Although Trump and I don’t agree on much, we do agree that the horror of abortion is the most pressing human rights issue in America today,” stated Bukovinac via e-mail.

“Trump’s willingness to draw the media to this historic event is an important move, regardless of our profound disagreement.”

“It would be fantastic to juxtapose Trump with a prominent national pro-life Democrat,” said liberal pro-life leader Bukovinac. “But until the 72 percent of Democrats who want abortion restricted stop voting for pro-choice extremists, we will continue to have to rely on right-wing leadership to draw attention to the March for Life.”

‘We aren’t the singular-autonomous individuals we think of ourselves as being’

Charlie Camosy interviews Kristin Marguerite Collier, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, on the relationship between a mother and a child prior to the child’s birth. Kristin Collier writes:

As many of your readers may know, the placenta is the organ through which the mother and prenatal child interface. The placenta is an organ that is attached to the inside of the uterus and connects to the prenatal child through the child’s umbilical cord.

What is not as well known about this organ is that the placenta is the only organ in human biology that is made by two persons, together, in cooperation. The placenta is ‘built’ from tissue that is part from mom, and part from the growing baby. Because of this, the placenta is referred to as a ‘feto-maternal’ organ. It is the only organ made by two people, in cooperation with providence. It is the first time mom and her baby come together, albeit at the cellular level, to do something in cooperation.

Whenever I think of this, I picture the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, where Michelangelo depicts God and Man reaching out for one another, hands about to touch and perhaps entwine. In the creation of the placenta, cells from the trophoblast, which are from the embryo, ‘reach down’ towards the mother’s uterine wall while at the same time, the spiral arteries from the mother’s uterus are ‘reaching’ up towards the embryo. This process leads to the creation of the placenta.

The placenta is the only purposely transient organ in humans and unlike the rest of our organs, acts as many organs in one. The placenta functions to eliminate waste, like the kidneys would do, facilitates transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide, like the lungs would do, and provides nutrients, like a GI tract would do. It even has endocrine and immune function. What used to be discarded as just the ‘afterbirth’ is now regarded as a magnificently complex shared organ that supports the formation of the prenatal child.

The placenta is such an important organ that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has established, under its “Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development” arm, the “Human Placenta Project” (HPP). The website says “The placenta is arguably one of the most important organs in the body. It influences not just the health of a woman and her fetus during pregnancy, but also the lifelong health of both mother and child.” The aim of the HPP is to better understand, through research, the amazing placenta with the ultimate goal of improving the health of children and mothers. The research done by the HPP continues to demonstrate that a child’s prenatal and postnatal health is inextricably linked to the health of the placenta.

In addition to the placenta, mother and prenatal child interact at a cellular level in something known as ‘fetomaternal microchimerism’. In Greek Mythology, the chimera is a fire breathing monster comprised of three species in one – a lion’s head, a goat’s body and a serpent’s tail. In science, “microchimerism” is the presence of a small population of genetically distinct and separately derived cells within an individual. During pregnancy, small numbers of cells traffic across the placenta. Some of the prenatal child’s cells cross into the mother, and some cells from the mother cross into the prenatal child. The cells from the prenatal child are pluripotent and integrate into tissues in her mother’s body and start functioning like the cells around them. This integration is known as ‘feto-maternal microchimerism’.

The presence of these cells is amazing for several reasons. One is that these cells have been found in various maternal organs and tissues such as the brain, the breast, the thyroid and the skin. These are all organs which in some way are important for the health of both the baby and her mother in relationship. The post-partum phase is when there is need, for example, for lactation. The fetomaternal microchimeric cells have been shown to be important in signaling lactation. These cells have been found in the skin, for example, in Cesarean section incisions where they are helping to produce collagen. Baby is helping mom heal after delivery by the presence of her cells! It would be one thing for these cells to come into the mother and be inert, but is a whole other thing entirely that these cells are active and aid mom for example in helping to produce milk for her baby and helping her heal. These cells may even affect how soon the mother can get pregnant again and therefore can affect spacing of future siblings.

Usually, foreign or ‘other’ cells are detected by the host immune system and are destroyed. The fact that these fetal cells ‘survive’ and then are allowed to integrate into maternal tissue speaks to a ‘cooperation’ between the mother and her child at the level of the cell that parallels that seen in the development of the placenta, suggesting that the physical connection between mom and baby is even deeper and more beautiful than previously thought. Research in fetomaternal microchimerism suggests that the presence of these cells may favorably affect the future risk of malignancy. The presence of these cells in the maternal breast may help protect mom from breast cancer years after the baby’s birth.

To think that a physical presence of the baby in her mother is helping protect her from cancer at the level of the cell, speaks to a radical mutuality at the cellular level that we are just beginning to understand. Some of the effects of fetomaternal microchimerism, however, may be detrimental in some cases. This research is still underway. The big takeaway is that the science of microchimerism supports the fact that some human beings carry remnants of other humans in their bodies. Thus, we aren’t the singular-autonomous individuals we think of ourselves as being.

And Michael Pakaluk writes along the same lines, reflecting on the theological implications of our contemporary understanding of pregnancy:

“Mothers around the world say they feel like their children are still a part of them long after they’ve given birth,” said a recent Smithsonian Magazine article, “As it turns out, that is literally true. During pregnancy, cells from the fetus cross the placenta and enter the mother’s body, where they can become part of her tissues.”

It works the other way, too.  Cells from the mother also cross the barrier.  But these cells are not “pluripotent”; their life spans and possible influences are short-lived.

Evolutionary biologists are fascinated by the exchange, because they view it as a symbiosis that contributes to the “fitness” of both mother and child.  Preliminary evidence suggests that fetal cells may stimulate milk production, help wounds to heal, and strengthen the mother’s immune system. …

But let’s think of Mary’s pregnancy in this way.  Jesus was “perfect God and perfect man,” like us in all ways except sin. Therefore, let us suppose that cells from the unborn Jesus migrated into Mary’s blood and lodged in various organs, where they took on the functions of those organs, and remained until Mary was assumed into Heaven. They were not Mary’s cells, but the cells of the Lord, alive within Mary’s body and playing the same function as Mary’s cells. …

Human rights and human violence

Today the District of Columbia moved closer to embracing the fiction the human rights can ever include a right to end human life. David Grosso, DC Council At-Large, described the Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019, which he co-sponsored, this way:

To amend the Human Rights Act of 1977 to recognize the right to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization and to decide whether to carry a pregnancy to term to term, to give birth, or to have an abortion, to prohibit the District government from interfering with reproductive health decisions and from imposing a punishment or penalty on an individual for a self-managed abortion, miscarriage, or adverse pregnancy outcomes, and to prohibit employment discrimination against health care professionals based on the professional’s participation in or the fact that the health care professional is willing to participate in, abortion or sterilization procedures.

But this description obscures what the legislation would do. Katie Glenn, Government Affairs Counsel at Americans United for Life, testified against the Act and highlighted some of its key deficits:

  • Although council members may say that their intent to cover a limited range of employers with this Act, it extends broadly across the spectrum of health care without exception for faith-based providers. This includes school nurses, care for the elderly, and pregnancy care centers.
  • The Act would violate the 1st Amendment rights of many service providers because they’d be forced to choose between violating their conscience or violating the law.
  • DC already has some of the most extreme abortion laws in the country, yet this Act would make it even more difficult to regulate health and safety in the abortion context in any meaningful way.
  • DC is one of just three jurisdictions with an affirmative right to abortion for minor girls, and this Act would double down on that bad public policy.
  • Clearing the way for abortionists to perform abortions on minor girls without regulation or oversight is not “women’s health.” It is dangerous and wrong.

I offered my own testimony as a District resident, particularly on the issues of conscience and protection of the vulnerable. Because public witnesses are only provided three minutes, I had to deliver an abbreviated version of the remarks submitted in writing below:

Testimony on DC B23-434, the “Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act of 2019.”

Committee on Government Operations
The Council of the District of Columbia

December 19, 2019

Dear Chairperson Todd and Members of the Committee:

My Name is Tom Shakely. I am a resident and voter in Ward 2. I moved to Washington a little more than a year ago from Philadelphia, and have grown to love this place. While I have not been very involved in local politics so far, when I heard about the issue being considered today, I felt a need to speak up from a place of love.

What are we doing here today? We’re not here to discuss sustained delays on the Red Line, or stifling congestion, or rising crime. We are here because some wish to wipe out whatever abortion oversight remains in the District of Columbia, a place which already has the most pro-abortion regulatory regime in the entire country, as far as I know.

We’re hearing some this morning advocate for Planned Parenthood and abortionists in basically religious terms. And we’re hearing about abortion as if it were the highest sacrament of this religious ideology that seeks to reshape American law.

Who is this bill meant to satisfy? What constituency is this measure designed to serve? One of the core parts of this bill, the “Strengthening Reproductive Health Protections Amendment Act” would allow abortionists to sell their products to underage women. And whether we view abortion as a human right, a public good, an economic choice or even a religious right, let’s be clear: abortionists are paid to provide only one product—dead human beings. There is no way around this scientific and medical reality. No abortion is safe, because no abortion permits both patients to thrive.

Who has decided that it is politically important for underage girls—for children—to be targeted and marketed by abortion practitioners? (And whatever DC law says, we can know by common sense that a 14 year old pregnant girl is a child and is not an adult.) We define certain persons as “under age” precisely because we used to recognize that these persons are particularly vulnerable, and deserve a unique protection, from those who would exploit them.

Is it not our responsibility to stand up for, and to do everything we can to protect, those who need it most? And if we can’t recognize that underage girls—that our little sisters, that our nieces, that our daughters—don’t deserve protection, we should have enough humility to remain silent today.

Empowering mothers and fathers to play a role in the decision over whether their child should abort their grandchild cuts to the heart of pro-patient, pro-family, pro-child law and policy. How can the District hope to have strong families, strong households, and strong neighborhoods if it severs the bonds of relationship between related persons?

But let’s step back. Why would a minor attempt to obtain an abortion, or why an abortion would be sought on her behalf? The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children underscores that the average age of sex trafficking victims is 15 years old. We’re talking about a 15 year old—or younger—child. We’re talking about a victim of human trafficking. We’re talking about a type of slavery.

We’re confronted by this girl. She may as well be here standing beside us. She’s 15 years old. She’s being trafficked as a sex worker. She becomes pregnant as a consequence of her abuse. And now, today, if the District enacts this legislation, her abuser will be empowered to bring her to an abortion center precisely in order to erase any evidence of his crimes.

I cannot believe the District would rather empower human traffickers than patients themselves, alongside their mothers and fathers, in exercising authentic conscience rights.

Today’s legislation would strength neither reproductive health nor patient protections. It would strength the interests of an abortion lobby whose own amoral interest in expanding its customer base would ultimately serve to further human exploitation and grave harm to vulnerable persons.

If we’re truly concerned about fostering a hopeful future for women and children who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and who feel there are no obvious solutions, we can do far better.

Democratic Gov. Robert Casey said “it’s less a question of when life begins than when love begins. We can do better than this loveless culture.

Advising abortion based upon a guess

Gina Christian reports on the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia’s 38th Annual Stand Up for Life Dinner, which took place last month in Philadelphia:

When Rachel Guy was just 22 weeks old, several doctors urged her mother to have an abortion.

They explained that a “chromosomal abnormality” would very likely leave Rachel blind and deaf.

Guy’s parents advised that abortion violated their deeply held religious beliefs, and sought out a new team of physicians who supported their decision to bring their baby to term. Arriving via Caesarean section, and with a birth weight of just over one pound, Guy spent five and a half months in neonatal intensive care.

Now a young adult with full faculties of sight and hearing, Guy recently shared her life story at a major gathering of the area’s pro-life organizations.

Guy was the keynote speaker of the 38th annual “Stand Up for Life Dinner” held Nov. 24 at the Philadelphia 201 Hotel in Center City.

Sponsored by the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, the event drew more than 1,250 attendees, including dozens of high school and college students who were honored during a “roll call” of represented Catholic schools by Father Christopher Walsh, chairman of the Pro-Life Union’s board and master of ceremonies for the dinner.

Father Walsh, the pastor of St. Raymond of Penafort Parish in Philadelphia, welcomed guests by showing images of babies that had been assisted by the Pro-Life Union’s member agencies during the past year. Among them, Philadelphia-based Guiding Star Ministries, which now partners with archdiocesan Catholic Social Services, has cared for about 240 single pregnant women since its opening in 1992, said Father Walsh.

He added that more than 400 calls and texts had been exchanged last year through the Pro-Life Union’s pregnancy hotline (484-451-8104), and he urged attendees to keep the number handy.

“God might be using you to save a life,” he said.

I had been familiar with the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia through my family, and it was Fr. Chris Walsh who first invited me to join the board of the Pro-Life Union. One of the people I’ve met along the way has been Dr. Monique Ruberu, whose witness to human life is incredible:

Dr. Monique Ruberu, a Montgomery County-based obstetrician and gynecologist, echoed Guy’s observation by sharing a painful example from her own medical training.

While still in her residency, Ruberu was asked by a professor and mentor to assist with an abortion. After reminding him that her beliefs would not permit her to perform the procedure, she allowed the professor to convince her the abortion was necessary due to a “fetal anomaly,” and she would not directly participate but only provide confirmation that the procedure had been completed.

Speaking through tears, Ruberu said she was tasked with “putting together the pieces of this child” to ensure it had been fully removed from the mother’s womb.

“I stood there and put the small arms and legs and body back together,” said Ruberu. “And with tears pouring down my face, I knew then I would never again put anyone in front of God or these sweet, innocent children.”

Now a board member of the Pro-Life Union, Ruberu speaks extensively in support of the pro-life movement, and in 2018 co-founded Sidewalk Servants, whose members volunteer one or more hours per month to pray and to offer pro-life resources to women visiting abortion centers.