Unreasonable foreign assistance

Lauretta Brown of National Catholic Register reports on the increasing push amongst Democrats to make it a priority for American tax dollars to fund optional, non-medically indicated abortions for foreign nations. I’m quoted in the piece:

As the 2020 Democratic presidential race heats up, many of the candidates have called for the repeal of a long-standing ban on the use of U.S. taxpayer funds for abortion overseas.

Seven of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates recently confirmed their opposition to the Helms Amendment, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Cory Booker of New Jersey, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, author Marianne Williamson and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Permitting taxpayer dollars to fund abortions overseas also was included recently on the wish list of a coalition of abortion groups and was added to the Democratic Party platform in 2016.

The Helms Amendment, named for its author, the late Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., says that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” It was enacted as a permanent amendment to the Foreign Assistance Act of 1973 shortly after abortion was legalized in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. …

Tom Shakely, the chief engagement officer at Americans United for Life, agreed, telling the Register that the 2020 Democrats were making an extreme break against long-established bipartisan bans on taxpayer-funded abortion.

“When Roe was imposed on America in 1973 by seven men on the U.S. Supreme Court, elected officials responded by making clear that no American taxpayer would be expected to fund abortion overseas and that no taxpayer dollars could be used to either coerce or motivate anyone to perform abortions overseas,” he emphasized. “That’s what the simple, commonsense Helms Amendment makes clear.”

“It has been the American consensus for nearly a half-century, and it’s a sign of the needless extremism of our time that some politicians believe that trashing the Helms Amendment and spending precious American tax dollars to promote abortion internationally makes any fiscal or ethical sense,” he said.

Reasonable foreign assistance can take many forms, but never abortion or other forms of violence or encouraged self-harm.

World Suicide Prevention Day

Leonardo Blair of Christian Post reports on the issues of suicide and suicide prevention, in light of World Suicide Prevention Day. I’m quoted in the piece, pointing out that America is taking an incoherent position on the issue of suicide prevention—discouraging some forms of suicide, while legalizing and promoting other forms of suicide:

According to the World Health Organization, nearly to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. That’s one person taking their life every 40 seconds. Studies also show that for every adult who died by suicide there might have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.

In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 47,000 people. Among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, it was ranked as the second leading cause of death and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54. There were also twice as many suicides as there were homicides that year.

As the world marked Suicide Prevention Day on Tuesday, suicide prevention advocates like Tom Shakely, chief engagement officer of Americans United for Life, called attention to the rise in physician-assisted suicide laws that allow terminally ill people to end their lives with a prescription from their doctor.

On Sept. 15, Maine is expected to become the ninth state to allow physician-assisted suicide, joining New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, California, Colorado and Hawaii, as well as the District of Columbia.

“When we lose a loved one to suicide, we lose someone who belonged in our world and in our lives. We live with the unresolvable grief and trauma of the loss, even as we encourage those wrestling with thoughts of hopelessness that where there is life, there is hope,” Shakely of Americans United for Life, a pro-life nonprofit, public-interest law and policy organization, said in a statement to CP.

“At this critical time in our nation, we have to do better for all our vulnerable brothers and sisters, and recognize that if we continue to make certain forms of suicide lawful, particularly suicide by physician, we send a terrible message to some members of the human family that they are owed some measure less of suicide prevention than others. We must do better,” he added.

Cain was spared by the God of justice

In light of the U.S. Department of Justice’s decision to reinstitute the death penalty for those on federal death row, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput is circulating past remarks of his on capital punishment, calling us to do better:

The evidence against capital punishment demonstrates that innocent people are sometimes convicted and executed; that our legal system discriminates against minorities and the poor; and that defendants in many states get disastrous legal counsel unless they can afford otherwise. All these things seem to be true — but let’s ignore them.

Instead, let’s assume that a defendant is genuinely guilty of a brutal and premeditated murder; that he or she gets excellent legal counsel with correct due process; and that a fair jury convicts our defendant after careful and intelligent deliberation.

Killing the guilty is still the wrong choice for a civilized nation. Why?  Because it accomplishes nothing.  It does not bring back or even honor the dead. It does not ennoble the living. And while it may satisfy society’s anger for awhile, it cannot even release the murder victim’s loved ones from their sorrow, because only forgiveness can do that.

What the death penalty does achieve is closure through bloodletting, and violence against violence — which is not really closure at all, because murder will continue as long as humans sin, and capital punishment can never, by its nature, strike at murder’s root. Only love can do that.

Executions in Texas averaged nearly two a month in 2004.  Ponder that through the eyes of a young person reading the newspaper.  Is this how we define ourselves as a God-fearing people? Is this really a fitting monument to murder victims?  In “sending a signal” to would-be murderers, do we realize that we are also teaching a message of state-endorsed violence to our own children?

The reality of any homicide is heart-breaking beyond words. We cannot presume to understand the deep and bitter personal wounds suffered by those who lose their loved ones through murder. As a people, we must never allow ourselves the luxury of forgetting the injustice done to victims of murder who cannot speak for themselves—or our obligation to bring the guilty to full accounting.

But as Jesus showed again and again by his words and in his actions, the only true road to justice passes through mercy. Justice cannot be served by more violence. In the world of 2005, capital punishment has become just another narcotic we Americans use to ease other, much deeper anxieties about the direction of our culture. Executions may take away some of the symptoms for a time (living, human “symptoms” who have names and their own stories before God), but the underlying illness — today’s contempt for human life — remains and grows worse.

In Genesis 4:10-16, humanity’s first murderer — Cain, the man who brought bloodletting into the world — was spared by the God of justice.  We should remember that.  God’s ways are not our ways; they are wiser and better.  God’s heart, unlike ours, is driven by love, not anger.  A culture ultimately defines its moral character by the value it places on each human life, particularly those lives that seem most burdensome, inconsequential or unworthy. Violent criminals present an especially harsh moral challenge for us, because their own cruelty has forced them to the margins of society. Recognizing a criminal’s humanity is bitterly difficult when our hearts are clouded by pain.

But the same needle that poisons the killer in every [execution] also poisons us as a culture.  Repaying cruelty with cruelty does not equate to justice.

“The Department of Justice is simply enforcing the law, our law, passed by our elected representatives,” Chaput concludes. “Which means that all of us, as citizens, are implicated in the coming executions. We can do better as a nation. For the sake of our own moral integrity, we need to do better.  We need to abolish the death penalty now.

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”…

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.

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.

In the calculus of power

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput offers his perspective on Joe Biden’s unfortunate embrace of public funding of optional, non-medically necessary abortion:

Speaking at the University of Notre Dame in October 2016, just a few weeks before a national election that seemed sure to put a second Clinton in the White House, I noted that:

[Q]uite a few of us American Catholics have worked our way into a leadership class that the rest of the country both envies and resents.  And the price of our entry has been the transfer of our real loyalties and convictions from the old Church of our baptism to the new “Church” of our ambitions and appetites.  People like Nancy Pelosi, Anthony Kennedy, Joe Biden and Tim Kaine are not anomalies.  They’re part of a very large crowd that cuts across all professions and both major political parties.

During his years as bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI had the talent of being very frank about naming sin and calling people back to fidelity.  Yet at the same time he modeled that fidelity with a kind of personal warmth that revealed its beauty and disarmed the people who heard him.  He spoke several times about the “silent apostasy” of so many Catholic laypeople today and even many priests; and his words have stayed with me over the years because he said them in a spirit of compassion and love, not rebuke. 

Apostasy is an interesting word.  It comes from the Greek verb apostanai – which means to revolt or desert; literally “to stand away from.”  For Benedict, laypeople and priests don’t need to publicly renounce their baptism to be apostates.  They simply need to be silent when their Catholic faith demands that they speak out; to be cowards when Jesus asks them to have courage; to “stand away” from the truth when they need to work for it and fight for it. 

It’s a word to keep in mind in examining our own hearts and the hearts of our people.  And while we do that, we might reflect on what assimilating has actually gained for us when Vice President Biden conducts a gay marriage, and Senator Kaine lectures us all on how the Church needs to change and what kind of new creature she needs to become.

Those words displeased some who see Mr. Biden as a veteran public servant and a well-intentioned, decent man trying honestly to balance his religious faith with the demands of a complicated political terrain.  On the complicated nature of today’s politics, there can be no dispute.  But complexity is never an all-purpose excuse, especially on matters of principle, and most especially when the innocent and voiceless stand to pay the price for a bad choice.

In defending Mr. Biden, his advocates have typically pointed to his long-standing support for the Hyde Amendment banning federal funds for abortion; his support for Catholic teaching on various other social issues; and his resistance to late term abortion, all admirable positions.  In today’s Democratic Party, these things marked him as a “centrist” and set him apart from the pack of other Democratic presidential hopefuls — nearly all of them hard to his left.

That was before last week.

On June 6, the Wall Street Journal reported (“Biden’s Abortion Views Irk the Left”) that Biden faced growing criticism from abortion activists and his party’s leadership for his Hyde Amendment track record.  Exactly 24 hours later, on June 7, the same paper noted that Biden had sharply changed his thinking (“Biden, in Reversal, Backs Abortion Funding”).  Translation:  The unborn child means exactly zero in the calculus of power for Democratic Party leaders, and the right to an abortion,  once described as a tragic necessity, is now a perverse kind of “sacrament most holy.”  It will have a candidate’s allegiance and full-throated reverence . . . or else.

There’s a remark by Thomas More in the film A Man for All Seasons that’s worth remembering in the months ahead: “When statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their own public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.”

I’m particularly disappointed with Joe Biden because he had a chance to stand for a somewhat older, less extremist sort of American politics in what I expect will be another corrosive national election. Joe Biden’s forfeiting his moderate reputation is both strategically and tactically incomprehensible to me—he signals that in his ambition he is willing to jettison principle, and he will likely obtain a smaller share of the vote as a result.

Ambition and politics

I don’t plan to write much about the next presidential election, and as an example of why I’ll try to avoid writing about it I’ll use Joe Biden’s unfortunate endorsement of public funding for non-medically necessary abortion as an example.

On June 5th, Joe Biden voiced support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal taxpayer funding of optional abortions. Joe Biden has supported this policy for nearly fifty years. Here’s what I said on June 5th, as Biden’s opponents were criticizing him for his willingness to strive for being a centrist:

“It should not be a controversial stance to oppose public funding of optional procedures, and in fact it should be a common American value that, because abortion is always the deliberate, intentional, and forcible ending of a human life, it should be unthinkable,” Tom Shakely, a spokesperson for Americans United for Life, said in a statement.

“However, in today’s partisan and polarized climate, we’re grateful for Mr. Biden’s continuing support of the Hyde Amendment, even as we express skepticism of his ability to maintain this position in the face his radical and extremist fellow contenders in the Democratic presidential race,” Shakely said.

One day later, Joe Biden reversed himself and abandoned his principled and moderate position, embracing the same support for public/taxpayer funding of abortion. I offered this in response:

“Joe Biden, like so many of his Democratic peers, supported the Hyde Amendment for decades, because he recognized that compelling American taxpayers to fund optional, non-medically necessary abortion procedures would be both morally outrageous and fiscally irresponsible. Joe Biden’s embrace of today’s extremism in the Democratic Party will only serve to depress millions of Democratic voters across the country who support more life-affirming law.”

David Harsanyi put Joe Biden’s reversal after nearly fifty years in context:

In 1976, Biden voted for the Hyde Amendment, a law banning federal funds to pay for abortion. In 1981, the “Biden amendment” to the Foreign Assistance Act banned any American aid from being used in research related to abortions. In 1984, Biden supported the “Mexico City policy,” which bans federal funding for private organizations that provide abortion, advocate to decriminalize abortion, or expand abortion services. 1993: Biden votes to save the Hyde Amendment. In 1995 and 1997, Biden voted for partial-birth abortion bans that would be vetoed by Bill Clinton. June 5th, 2019, Joe Biden continues his 40+ year support for the Hyde Amendment. June 6th, night, Joe Biden caves and drops a 40+-year position to appease progs. Now supports taxpayer-funded abortion, from conception to crowning. But no, the Dem party isn’t moving hard left, not at all. And Biden is a real rock-ribbed leader. If you take a position 46 years, you change your mind one afternoon, you should probably have a pretty good explanation for why. Biden will make the argument that his experience matters. But if he was wrong about everything, and admits it, then what does that experience mean?

Ambition and politics are corrosive things.

‘Incompatible with life’

Pope Francis recently witnessed to the importance of a humane attitude toward human life:

No human being can ever be incompatible with life, not due to his age, his health conditions, or the quality of his existence. Every child that enters a woman’s womb is a gift, which changes the story of a family: of a father and a mother, of grandparents and siblings. And this baby is in need of being received, loved and taken care of….

Yet, there is something that medicine knows well: children, who from the maternal womb show pathological conditions, are little patientswho not rarely can be cured with pharmacologic, surgical and extraordinary care interventions, now capable of reducing that terrible gap between diagnostic and therapeutic possibilities, which for years constituted one of the causes of voluntary abortion and abandonment of care at birth of so many children with serious pathologies. Fetal therapies on one hand and perinatal hospices on the other obtain surprising results in terms of clinical-assistance and provide essential support to families that accept the birth of a sick child….

Therefore, it’s indispensable that doctors have very clear not only the objective of the cure but the sacred value of human life, whose protection, in the end, rests on medical practice….

At the social level, the fear and hostility in meeting disabilities often induce to the choice of abortion, configuring it as a practice of “prevention.” However, the teaching of the Church on this point is clear: human life is sacred and inviolable and the use of prenatal diagnosis for selective ends is energetically discouraged, as an expression of an inhuman eugenic mentality, which removes from the family the possibility to receive, embrace and love their weakest children. Sometimes we hear it said: “You, Catholics, don’t accept abortion, it’s the problem of your faith.” No, it’s a pre-religious problem. Let us not charge faith with something that has not been its responsibility since the beginning.  It’s a human problem….

Abortion is never the answer that women and families seek. Rather, it’s fear of the sickness and loneliness that makes parents hesitate. The difficulties of a practical order, both human and spiritual are undeniable, but precisely because of this the most incisive pastoral actions are urgent and necessary to support those that accept their sick children.

“No human being can ever be incompatible with life, not due to his age, his health conditions, or the quality of his existence.”