After a hiatus in 2012, I’m sorry to report that “Personhood for Zygotes” is on the ballot again in Colorado in 2014. However, I’m pleased to announce that Ari Armstrong and I will update 2010 policy paper in defense of abortion rights in light of the very much changed political landscape. Once again, we need your support to make that happen!


Colorado’s New “Personhood for Zygotes” Amendment

Despite the defeats of “personhood” measures in 2008 and 2010, the crusaders against abortion rights have returned with yet another attempt to grant the full legal rights of personhood to fertilized eggs.

The ballot question reads:

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution protecting pregnant women and unborn children by defining “person” and “child” in the Colorado criminal code and the Colorado wrongful death act to include unborn human beings? (Full Text)

If successful, this measure would outlaw therapeutic and elective abortions, common fertility treatments, and popular forms of birth control. It would subject women and their doctors to intrusive police controls and unjust criminal prosecutions. It would force Coloradoans to abide by the deeply religious and sectarian view that the fertilized egg is imbued with rights from God.

Due to its misleading wording — particularly its talk of “protecting pregnant women” — 2014′s Amendment 67 will likely fare significantly better in the polls than the “personhood” amendments proposed in 2008 and 2010. It’s unlikely to pass, but that doesn’t mean that abortion rights are secure. The dangerous ideology of “personhood” has spread like wildfire in the past four years among religious conservatives. In the 2012 presidential election, every Republican candidate except Mitt Romney endorsed “personhood for zygotes.”

The ideology of “personhood for zygotes” must be steadfastly opposed — based on a firm understanding of rights in pregnancy — not merely because “it goes too far.”


Support a 2014 Paper in Defense of Abortion Rights

To combat the dangerous ideology of “personhood” and defend abortion rights on principle, Ari Armstrong and I will publish a new version of their policy paper on the “personhood” movement. The updates to the paper will focus on the new language in 2014′s Amendment 67, the widespread embrace of “personhood” by the Republican Party in the 2012 election, the synergy between “incremental” and “personhood” approaches to abortion bans, the defeat of a “personhood” amendment in Mississippi, and more.

However, that work depends on your support! The update to the paper will only go forward if at least $1500 is pledged by August 20th. That will help pay for the many hours of work this update will require. If sufficient funds are pledged, the 2014 paper will be published by September 17th.

So, if you want to help defend abortion rights in this 2014 election, please pledge! Any amount is welcome, and your pledge is not due until the paper is published.

Note: Due to efforts of the Center for Competitive Politics on CSG’s behalf, Diana hopes that she will not have to report on funds collected for this project, as she’s been obliged to do in prior elections. Time — or rather the judge — will tell. In any case, pledges for this paper are helping us have a viable case with which to challenge Colorado’s onerous campaign finance laws.

If you have any questions about the project or pledging, please email me.

 

I found that photo on Facebook a while back, with the following caption:

This photo was posted on STFU, Conservatives Tumblr page last night [here]. The reason why I’m sharing it is not because of the photo itself (which is epic in it’s [sic] own right), but for the comments it generated.

One person wrote, “but then again, its kind like putting a meat suit on and telling a shark not to eat you”.

STFU responded (with bolded text):

We (men) are not fucking sharks!

We are not rabid animals living off of pure instinct

We are capable of rational thinking and understanding.

Just because someone is cooking food doesn’t mean you’re entitled to eat it.

Just because a banker is counting money doesn’t mean you’re being given free money.

Just because a person is naked doesn’t mean you’re entitled to fuck them.

You are not entitled to someone else’s body just because it’s exposed.

What is so fucking difficult about this concept?

Bravo.

Indeed. Also, Laura Jedeed has some really excellent comments on rape and this image too.

Happily, the rights of women in western countries are more widely recognized and better protected today than at any other time in human history. That’s a huge achievement, and part of why I’m grateful to live in modern America.

However, more progress awaits us. One example was in the news last year:

A recent court case just exposed a barbarity in California law, namely that it’s not rape to trick an unmarried woman into sleeping with you by pretending to be her boyfriend.

Julio Morales was convicted and sentenced to three years in state prison for entering an 18-year-old woman’s bedroom and instigating sex with her while she was asleep after a night of drinking at a house party in 2009. According to prosecutors, it wasn’t until “light coming through a crack in the bedroom door illuminated the face of the person having sex with her” that she realized Morales wasn’t her boyfriend. Holy shit.

But a panel of judges overturned the conviction this week because of a law from 1872 that doesn’t give women the same protections as married women because, as we all know, single women are always down for nonconsensual sex, even when they’re asleep and/or purposefully tricked into the act.

The court admitted that “If the woman had been married and the man had impersonated her husband” it would be rape. But since there was no ring on her finger, it’s not!

Eugene Volokh had some comments here. I agree that rape by fraud shouldn’t be a punishable offense, except in cases of impersonation of a lover or spouse. (I’m not sure of the case of mere friends.) As Eugene says of such impersonation:

It is, thankfully, apparently a rare sort of lie; it is very far outside the normal level of dishonesty that people expect might happen in their relationships; it is one for which there is no plausible justification or mitigation; and criminalizing it is unlikely to sweep in the garden variety lies that, unfortunately, often appear in people’s sexual and romantic lives.

California law obviously needs to be updated.

Here’s another example. The 2012 election was replete with politicians making ridiculous and offensive comments about rape in order to rationalize their across-the-board opposition to abortion. Most notable was Todd Akin’s justification for denying abortions to women pregnant due to rape:

… from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not attacking the child.

Conservatives need to recognize that forced pregnancy — not just pregnancy due to rape but any unwanted pregnancy — is a morally abhorrent violation of rights, not a gift from God.

Alas, the third example hits closer to home for me. In a February 2012 podcast, Leonard Peikoff said that a man is entitled to force himself on a woman if she has a few drinks with him and then goes up to his hotel room. Thankfully, he corrected that a few weeks later, but only in part. By a rather strange analysis, Peikoff concluded that a woman cannot withdraw consent after penetration. In reality, that means that the man can do whatever he pleases to the woman after penetration, even as she kicks and screams and yells and cries in protest. That’s seriously, seriously wrong — and dangerous too.

On a more positive note, you’ll find my own views on the nature and limits of consent in sex in this podcast. (It’s a pretty lengthy discussion… about over 40 minutes.)

Ultimately, my point here is that the rights of women matter — and they’re not yet fully protected. The image at the top of this post reminds us of that. The fact that she’s half-naked doesn’t make her any less of a person with the absolute right to forbid another person access to her body.

That’s a lesson that some people still need to learn, unfortunately.

Jan 092014
 

Lately, I’ve gotten a slew of hits to this video from Philosophy in Action: Should a man unwilling to be a father have to pay child support? It’s now gotten nearly 5,000 views. Nice!

That’s awesome. Alas, awesome often comes paired with crazy, such as this comment:

Let’s think about this bit — “If a woman steals a mans seed without his consent, does she have a right to live?” — for a moment.

First, I’m pretty sure that a man voluntarily gives his “seed” to a woman in having sex with her. That’s rather the point, in fact.

Second, are we talking death penalty?!? Um, wow.

Finally, here’s a pro-tip: Don’t ever suggest up-front that your audience might think you a sociopath after reading your opinion. It might just prejudice them against you… just a bit.

 

On Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio, I’ll discuss Judith Thomson’s classic “violinist” argument in favor of abortion rights. It’s an engaging and accessible article which has been widely read and reprinted. If you’ve never read it — or you’ve not read it in a while — you might want to read or re-read it before Sunday’s broadcast. You can do so here: Judith Jarvis Thomson: A Defense of Abortion.

Here’s the introduction to whet your appetite.

Most opposition to abortion relies on the premise that the fetus is a human being, a person, from the moment of conception. The premise is argued for, but, as I think, not well. Take, for example, the most common argument. We are asked to notice that the development of a human being from conception through birth into childhood is continuous; then it is said that to draw a line, to choose a point in this development and say “before this point the thing is not a person, after this point it is a person” is to make an arbitrary choice, a choice for which in the nature of things no good reason can be given. It is concluded that the fetus is. or anyway that we had better say it is, a person from the moment of conception. But this conclusion does not follow. Similar things might be said about the development of an acorn into an oak trees, and it does not follow that acorns are oak trees, or that we had better say they are. Arguments of this form are sometimes called “slippery slope arguments”–the phrase is perhaps self-explanatory–and it is dismaying that opponents of abortion rely on them so heavily and uncritically.

I am inclined to agree, however, that the prospects for “drawing a line” in the development of the fetus look dim. I am inclined to think also that we shall probably have to agree that the fetus has already become a human person well before birth. Indeed, it comes as a surprise when one first learns how early in its life it begins to acquire human characteristics. By the tenth week, for example, it already has a face, arms and less, fingers and toes; it has internal organs, and brain activity is detectable. On the other hand, I think that the premise is false, that the fetus is not a person from the moment of conception. A newly fertilized ovum, a newly implanted clump of cells, is no more a person than an acorn is an oak tree. But I shall not discuss any of this. For it seems to me to be of great interest to ask what happens if, for the sake of argument, we allow the premise. How, precisely, are we supposed to get from there to the conclusion that abortion is morally impermissible? Opponents of abortion commonly spend most of their time establishing that the fetus is a person, and hardly anytime explaining the step from there to the impermissibility of abortion. Perhaps they think the step too simple and obvious to require much comment. Or perhaps instead they are simply being economical in argument. Many of those who defend abortion rely on the premise that the fetus is not a person, but only a bit of tissue that will become a person at birth; and why pay out more arguments than you have to? Whatever the explanation, I suggest that the step they take is neither easy nor obvious, that it calls for closer examination than it is commonly given, and that when we do give it this closer examination we shall feel inclined to reject it.

I propose, then, that we grant that the fetus is a person from the moment of conception. How does the argument go from here? Something like this, I take it. Every person has a right to life. So the fetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person’s right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother’s right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it. So the fetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed.

It sounds plausible. But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you–we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. “Tough luck. I agree. but now you’ve got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.” I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.

In this case, of course, you were kidnapped, you didn’t volunteer for the operation that plugged the violinist into your kidneys. Can those who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned make an exception for a pregnancy due to rape? Certainly. They can say that persons have a right to life only if they didn’t come into existence because of rape; or they can say that all persons have a right to life, but that some have less of a right to life than others, in particular, that those who came into existence because of rape have less. But these statements have a rather unpleasant sound. Surely the question of whether you have a right to life at all, or how much of it you have, shouldn’t turn on the question of whether or not you are a product of a rape. And in fact the people who oppose abortion on the ground I mentioned do not make this distinction, and hence do not make an exception in case of rape.

Nor do they make an exception for a case in which the mother has to spend the nine months of her pregnancy in bed. They would agree that would be a great pity, and hard on the mother; but all the same, all persons have a right to life, the fetus is a person, and so on. I suspect, in fact, that they would not make an exception for a case in which, miraculously enough, the pregnancy went on for nine years, or even the rest of the mother’s life.

Some won’t even make an exception for a case in which continuation of the pregnancy is likely to shorten the mother’s life, they regard abortion as impermissible even to save the mother’s life. Such cases are nowadays very rare, and many opponents of abortion do not accept this extreme view. All the same, it is a good place to begin: a number of points of interest come out in respect to it.

Again, you can read the whole article here: A Defense of Abortion by Judith Thomson. Then… please join us on Sunday morning for the live broadcast of Philosophy in Action Radio — or listen to the podcast later.

Mar 202013
 

Here’s a fascinating and horrifying story: “A surrogate’s unimaginable dilemma.” I wish that I could share a relevant tidbit, but alas, it’s the kind of story that you just have to read from beginning to end… and it’s very well-told.

(The story raises all kinds of thorny questions about abortion rights in the context of surrogacy, and I hope that someone submits a question on the topic to Philosophy in Action’s queue. Update: WOOT! Emily submitted the question! You can read and vote for it here.)

As a matter of morality, I think that to inflict a life of pain, suffering, and incapacity on a helpless infant is very wrong. The pregnancy could have been terminated when the abnormalities were discovered, and doing so would not have harmed any person or violated the rights of any person. That’s because the fetus is not an independent person with rights or interests until born, as Ari Armstrong and I argued in our policy paper, The “Personhood” Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception.

I value human life, deeply. I’m nothing but delighted by and supportive of people who value their future children while still in the womb. When a culture denies the value of human life — as Nazi Germany did — the results are horrifying.

Yet I cannot relate to people seek to “value life” by prolonging any form of existence by any means possible. Such people seem to value life in some kind of abstract or formalistic way, without regard for the kind of life lived, including the suffering inflicted by the attempts to sustain that life. That’s not the way that a rational and responsible adult values life, in my view. It’s emotional self-indulgence… or religious dogmatism… or duty ethics. Mostly, I’d say, it’s nothing good.

Feb 222013
 

Here’s some very bad news from North Dakota, particularly for couples suffering from infertility:

North Dakota’s Senate approved two anti-abortion bills on Monday that would ban the destruction of human embryos and outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the disputed premise that at that point a fetus can feel pain.

Senators voted 30-17 to ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The measure is a challenge to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

The embryo measure narrowly passed 24-23, with the full Senate present. The measure’s aim is to prohibit the intentional destruction of embryos and to regulate in-vitro fertilization, in which a woman’s egg is fertilized outside her body. The bill defines a human being as “an individual member of the species homo sapiens at every stage of development.”

For more on what’s wrong with such “personhood” laws, read The “Personhood” Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception by Ari Armstrong and myself.

Also, worse might be coming from North Dakota:

The North Dakota House this month also passed a bill that would ban doctors from performing an abortion if a fetal heartbeat were detected. The House also has passed a bill would prevent women from having abortions based on gender selection or a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome.

Every restriction on abortion means forcing the burdens of pregnancy — and likely motherhood — on unprepared, incapable, and unwilling women. That’s a violation of their right to life, and it’s a serious moral evil.

Tacit Consent to Pregnancy? No!

 Posted by on 28 January 2013 at 10:00 am  Abortion, Activism, Personhood, Rights
Jan 282013
 

This short commentary raises an excellent question about the “if you have sex, you’re consenting to pregnancy” argument against abortion rights.

According to many pro-lifers, when women consent to sex, they thereby consent to (and commit themselves to) bearing any resulting children. And so, in deciding to having sex, these women have in effect voluntarily waived their right to get an abortion.

Now, I find this pro-life claim utterly baffling: consent to sex is clearly different from consenting to anything further, many women deliberately use birth control to avoid pregnancy, many women plan on getting an abortion if they should end up pregnant, etc. According to this pro-life claim, it seems, we are supposed to interpret the act of consensual sex itself as involving some sort of mysterious tacit consent and occult commitments that are not only morally significant, but so overwhelmingly morally important as to completely override the actual preferences of the woman. I don’t think actions carry occult commitments, and this all seems like superstition to me.

But here’s my question. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that actions do carry occult commitments. Even granting this, we still need a way of telling what those commitments are. Without a method of interpretation, we’re utterly in the dark. For example, a typical pro-lifer might say that the act of consensual sex carries the commitment to bear the child, waiving one’s right to an abortion. But a more radical pro-lifer might say that the act of consensual sex carries the commitment to bear and raise the child, waiving one’s right to an abortion as well as one’s right to put the child up for adoption. My question is: how are we supposed to tell which interpretation is correct, and which occult commitments are (and are not) carried by the act of consensual sex?

Ultimately, all arguments against abortion rights — including the argument from tacit consent — depend on the claim that the fetus has a right to life. Ari Armstrong and I refuted that argument in our 2010 policy paper, The “Personhood” Movement Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters that Rights Begin at Birth, Not Conception. If you’ve not yet read it, be sure to check out the section on “Individual Rights and Abortion.”

That being said… over the past few months, I’ve been thinking off and on about how to defend abortion rights in a way that’s more persuasive than the standard pro-choice arguments, including the better arguments of Objectivists. I want to find a way to make my own view resonate better with reasonable people of the “but it’s a baby!” mindset. So if you have any thoughts on more effective rhetoric on this issue, I’d be interested to hear that in the comments. I’d be particularly interested to hear from people who switched from “pro-life” to pro-choice views: What convinced you?

Nov 192012
 

Hospital Death in Ireland Renews Fight Over Abortion:

The woman, Savita Halappanavar, 31, a dentist who lived near Galway, was 17 weeks pregnant when she sought treatment at University Hospital Galway on Oct. 21, complaining of severe back pain.

Dr. Halappanavar was informed by senior hospital physicians that she was having a miscarriage and that her fetus had no chance of survival. However, despite repeated pleas for an abortion, she was told that it would be illegal while the fetus’s heart was still beating, her husband, Praveen Halappanavar, said.

It was not until Oct. 24 that the heartbeat ceased and the remains of the fetus were surgically removed. But Dr. Halappanavar contracted a bacterial blood disease, septicemia. She was admitted to intensive care but never recovered, dying on Oct. 28.

Mr. Halappanavar, in an interview with The Irish Times from his home in India, said his wife was told after one request, “This is a Catholic country.”

On Facebook, I’ve seen some advocates of abortion bans claim that her death cannot be definitively proved to have been caused by the failure of the doctors to abort her dying fetus. That’s true, but utterly beside the point.

Very little in medicine is cut and dried. The human body is immensely complex, and doctors mostly deal in probabilities, not certainties. That’s part of why it’s so important for each person — guided by the advice of her doctors — to make her own decisions about her medical care.

People differ in their values, and hence, in the risks they’re willing to accept or not. For a person to be free to live her own life requires that she be free to decide what risks to take with her own body and health — without interference from the government.

For the government to dictate or outlaw certain kinds of medical treatments means subjecting people to risks contrary to their own best judgment of their own interests. That’s a violation of their rights, plain and simple. That’s true for all medical care, including abortion.

That’s why laws banning abortion violate rights, even when they allow for exceptions to save the life of the mother. All pregnancy is risky: the maternal death rate in the United States is 16 out of 100,000. Many women are unwilling to undergo that risk, not to mention all the other complications and risks of pregnancy — and rightly so. Because the embryo/fetus is not a person with the right to life, a woman has the right to decide, based purely on her judgment of her own best interests, that she’s not willing to bear the risks of pregnancy, and hence, to terminate her pregnancy.

In contrast, under laws that permit abortion only to save the life of the mother, doctors would be constantly subject to second-guessing by police, prosecutors, and courts — and perhaps, subject to very serious criminal charges for murder or manslaughter. That’s why women die under abortion bans, regardless of provisions that permit doctors to act to save the woman’s life. The doctor cannot afford to be blind to the risk to his own life and liberty of performing an abortion, even to save a woman’s life.

The advocates of abortion bans seek to evade the consequences of their own policies when confronted by these kinds of cases by claiming that the woman might have died anyway, even if she’d been able to terminate the pregnancy. That might be true, but that should have been her decision to make. Instead, she was preventing from acting based on her own best judgment in service of her life. That’s a major violation of her fundamental rights.

Ultimately, as Savita Halappanavar’s husband said, “It was all in their hands, and they just let her go. How can you let a young woman go to save a baby who will die anyway?”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: opposition to abortion rights is not “pro-life.”

 

According to Colorado’s Secretary of State, the proposed “personhood” amendment won’t make the 2012 ballot due to lack of signatures — and that decision is final. The Denver Post reports:

The Colorado secretary of state’s office said Tuesday the proposed anti-abortion “personhood” amendment will not be on the 2012 ballot — no matter the outcome of proponents’ planned legal action to prove they collected enough voter signatures.

The ballot certification deadline was Monday. Even if a judge rules personhood sponsors’ petition was sufficient, the measure would have to wait for the 2014 general election, secretary of state spokesman Andrew Cole told The Post Tuesday.

However, that’s not the end of the story. Personhood USA takes a different view:

Personhood USA founder Keith Mason said Tuesday supporters have a 30-day window to take legal action challenging Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s Aug. 29 determination that the Personhood Amendment failed to make the ballot — falling short by 3,859 signatures.

Petitioners collected 82,246 valid signatures of the 86,105 required, according to state officials. “We have until Sept. 28 to file our lawsuit. And the more we look, line by line, the more confident we are we have enough signatures,” Mason said. “We have recovered thousands of signatures.”

Personhood USA seems serious in their desire to make a legal challenge, as seen in this September 14th email to supporters:

We need your help! Last month we told you that volunteers worked tirelessly to collect over 112,000 signatures to get the Personhood Amendment on the ballot in Colorado. But the Secretary of State in Colorado has denied our request by claiming that we are 3,700 signatures short of qualifying for the ballot. This a purely political act, as many of the signatures discarded were actually valid signatures!

We must file a court challenge within 30 days, and we fully intend to do so. But we need your financial help! In order to continue our fight for the unborn and protect all innocent life we need to raise over $50,000 to combat the political machine in Colorado. …

They might win that legal challenge — or they might lose it. Basically, right now nobody knows whether “personhood” will be on the ballot in 2012 or not.

That’s hugely frustrating for me. All plans to update Ari Armstrong’s and my 2010 policy paper The “Personhood” Movement Is Anti-Life are up in the air until this matter is resolved. Right now, I’m not sure what kind of revisions we’ll want to make, because we may want to talk about the new language of the 2012 ballot measure or not.

Also, I don’t know whether I’ll want to raise money for those revisions or not, as I did in 2010. I’m not willing to slog through the burdens and risks of reporting again, as would be required if “personhood” makes the ballot, unless, that is, the court rules in our favor next week. In that case, I won’t have to report, even if “personhood” is on the ballot. That would be awesome.

Gah! The uncertainty is just killing me. These matters will be resolved soon, I know, but time is running short!

Aug 302012
 

Colorado Personhood Measure Falls Short Of Ballot:

Backers of a controversial fetal personhood measure in Colorado have failed to gather enough signatures to get the proposal on the November ballot, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced on Wednesday.

The measure, which would define a fertilized egg as a person, fell nearly 4,000 short of the 86,105 signatures it needed to qualify for the ballot. The proposal has appeared on statewide ballots in Colorado twice before, in 2008 and 2010, and was soundly rejected by the voters both times.

A spokeswoman for Personhood USA, the anti-abortion group behind the nationwide push for fetal personhood laws, contended that the Secretary of State’s office had made a mistake in counting the ballots. “We have more than enough valid signatures that were discounted by the Secretary of State’s office,” Jennifer Mason told The Huffington Post.

It sounds like Personhood USA will appeal Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s ruling, so for now, we just have to wait and see.

Colorado’s Republicans must be (secretly) cheering and hoping, because personhood did them a lot of harm in the 2008 and 2010 elections.

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