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.

The Criminalization of Bad Mothers

 Posted by on 12 June 2012 at 8:00 am  Abortion, Law, Personhood, Politics
Jun 122012
 

The NY Times recently published an lengthy article entitled The Criminalization of Bad Mothers. It examines the criminal prosecutions of women for endangering or harming their fetus due to drug use under “chemical endangerment” laws:

There have been approximately 60 chemical-endangerment prosecutions of new mothers in Alabama since 2006, the year the statute was enacted. Originally created to protect children from potentially explosive meth labs, Alabama’s chemical-endangerment law prohibits a “responsible person” from “exposing a child to an environment in which he or she . . . knowingly, recklessly or intentionally causes or permits a child to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance, chemical substance or drug paraphernalia.”

The law is being applied to pregnant women due to the efforts of “personhood” advocates, who seek to grant full legal rights to zygotes from the moment of fertilization.

The result is not that fetuses are magically protected from harm. Instead, pregnant women are concealing their addictions to avoid prosecution, driving across state lines to give birth, and forcibly separated from the born children who depend on them. The stories are heartbreaking — and frustratingly complicated.

That’s appalling, but it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has read Ari Armstrong’s and my policy paper, The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life.

The Daily Show on Personhood

 Posted by on 31 May 2012 at 11:00 am  Abortion, Funny, Personhood
May 312012
 

The Daily Show mocks the “personhood” movement:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Bro-Choice
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

“Can I be tried for past crimes? Because, I have to tell you, I’m like Sperm Hitler.”

Save the Welfare State!

 Posted by on 3 April 2012 at 7:00 am  Abortion, Immigration, Politics
Apr 032012
 

Kelly and Santiago Valenzuela offer a good reductio ad absurdem of the argument that immigration must be limited due to the burdens that illegal immigrants impose on us via the welfare state on Mother of Exiles:

A common argument I hear against immigration is that we don’t need a further drain on the American welfare state (i.e., health care, social security, school system, etc.) As we’ve pointed out before, the problem with the welfare state is the existence of the welfare state, but many like to claim that stopping the flow of immigration into this country will somehow help or solve the problem.

Under that logic, we should make having kids illegal. After all, every child born becomes a burden to the system, another mouth to feed, another brain to educate, another job to eventually fill. Of course this is preposterous, especially coming from a pregnant woman, but hear me out.

There are arguably 10-20 million undocumented immigrants in the country, which have accumulated over the past couple decades. By contrast, 4 million children are born each year in the US. If you want to worry about the welfare state from the standpoint of adding people to the welfare rolls, the second number is way more worrying than the first.

The next time that I hear some conservative trot out that argument, I’m going to propose — with tongue firmly planted in cheek — that a better option would be to force abortion on any pregnant women living below the poverty level. Why not?!? After all, conservatives claim that the government is entitled to massively violate the rights of peaceful, hard-working people seeking a better life for themselves, plus the rights of Americans who wish to employ or trade with them, in order to save the welfare state, which massively violates rights in and of itself. To compel poor women to have abortions would simple be a more effective way to keep those welfare payments manageable. Sure, doing so would violate rights, but clearly, that’s not something of concern to anti-immigration conservatives.

Of course, conservatives would be horrified by that argument — and that’s precisely the point. It’s never okay to violate rights, and it’s particularly vile to systematically violate rights in one way in order to be able to persist in systematically violating rights in another way. (Notably, most conservatives regard abortion as a violation of rights, which is completely wrong. Abortion is a woman’s right, and forcing her to abort is just as much a violation of rights as preventing her from doing so.)

The fact is that the argument about welfare is just a rationalization for conservative opposition to immigration. Perhaps a good reductio is just what they need to break through it.

Mar 222012
 

The latest issue of The Objective Standard was recently posted online. In it, Ari Armstrong and I replied to a letter from Walter Hudson on our essay in defense of abortion rights. Hudson is a writer for PJ Media and the chair of Minnesota’s North Star Tea Party Patriots.

For the full story, first read Ari’s and my essay: The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties. Then read Hudson’s letter and our reply: An Objective Case Against Abortion?

Hudson’s letter begins:

The thing I most admire about Objectivism is its uncompromising affirmation of life. No other philosophy I have encountered consistently holds thriving human existence as its chief value. I was therefore disappointed to read Diana Hsieh and Ari Armstrong’s argument for an alleged right to terminate the life of the unborn (“The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties,” TOS, Winter 2011-2012).

In the interest of full disclosure, I confess that I am a Christian, and thus not an Objectivist. I nonetheless consider myself an advocate of Objectivism’s prescriptions for civil society, and I am cognizant of the necessity for objective rational argument in the craft of public policy.

Our reply begins:

Walter Hudson’s letter regarding our article neglects our central argument and relies on a faulty theory of rights.

Hudson rightly recognizes that the philosophy we subscribe to, Objectivism, entails an “uncompromising affirmation of life”; however, this must be understood in its proper context. Each individual properly acts to sustain and advance his own life, neither sacrificing himself to others nor others to himself. As concerns pregnancy, the key question is whether an embryo or fetus is a person with the same moral and legal rights as a born infant (in which case abortion is murder) or not (in which case abortion is a woman’s right).

Now… go read the whole exchange: An Objective Case Against Abortion?

Jan 312012
 

Rick Santorum says that pregnant rape victims should “accept the gift of human life” and “make the best out of a bad situation.” And yes, that’s what every advocate of “personhood for zygotes” must say.

As Ari and I said in The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties:

In [a] 2004 survey, around 1.5 percent of women who got an abortion cited rape or incest as the cause of the pregnancy. Forcing a woman to carry an unwanted fetus to term when the pregnancy was caused by a sexual assault victimizes her yet again. Even if she gives up the child for adoption, she must live with the ever-present physical reminder of her assault for the duration of her pregnancy. Moreover, the woman might feel a torturous conflict over the born child: she might desperately want to raise her own child, but abhor the thought of raising the child of her rapist.

That last point, I think, is particularly important.

Jan 172012
 

In a recent discussion among fellow opponents of “personhood,” someone raised the question of how to effectively counter the claim made by “personhood” advocates that “science establishes that life begins at conception [i.e. fertilization].” Here’s how I answered… and yes, I did write more than I intended!

Here’s my take on these issues:

The discussion of “when human life begins” just isn’t relevant to the question of rights in pregnancy or “personhood” for zygotes. Biologically speaking, a zygote is a new human life… but that doesn’t imply that the zygote has any rights. The crucial question is philosophical: When does the embryo/fetus become an individual, meaning a person in its own right, such that rights apply to it?

Those questions can (and should) be answered based on a fact-based theory about rights. So to say “God imbues the zygote with the light to life” — as “personhood” advocates do — will not suffice. People are entitled to hold that view as a matter of personal faith and practice it in their own lives. Yet for them to attempt to impose it on others by force of law is a violation of our rights, as well as a violation of the proper separation of church and state.

To answer questions about rights in pregnancy, we must first understand the nature and purpose of rights. Rights are not part of our DNA; they’re not some kind of organ that develops at some point in fetal gestation. Instead, rights are moral principles that establish boundaries for our social interactions: they permit people to interact only by mutual consent, so that no one is robbed, enslaved, theatened, murdered, and otherwise brutalized by others. Right are — or should be — the basic moral principles governing society: by demanding that every person respect the life and autonomy of others, they enable people to live peacefully and happily together.

On that understanding, rights only apply to autonomous beings in society — meaning to biologically separate individuals. That’s why Ari Armstrong and I argue that rights begin at birth — because only then do you have autonomous individual. The infant is a person, entitled to the full protection of rights. The embryo or fetus is not: it’s wholly encased in and hence a part of the pregnant woman. The pregant woman has rights, and her rights protect the embryo or fetus from assault and other harms if she wishes to bring the pregnancy to term — or permit her to abort, if she doesn’t. Any attempt to grant rights to the fetus (even at the point of viability) denies rights to the pregnant woman, including the right to make her own decisions about medical care, giving birth, etc.

Whether you agree with that analysis or not, I’d recommend explicitly rejecting the debate about “when human life begins.” That’s not the relevant question, and the “personhood” advocates will gain the upper hand by framing the debate in those terms.

Instead, remind them that they’re not proposing to write biological textbooks, but to fundamentally change our laws by granting rights to embryos. Insist that they defend that. If they attempt to say — as they usually do — that every human life has rights, then you’ll have to ask them whether kidneys or lungs have rights. Why not? Because they’re not individuals, but just parts of a person. That gets you to the question of what qualifies as a person — and that’s the critical question. Or, you might remind them that all rights are individual rights — and demand that they explain how the zygote can be an individual when wholly encased in and depending on the pregnant woman.

More generally, remember that our opponents have the burden of proof here. It’s clear that infants and onward are persons. We might debate whether viable fetuses are persons. Advocates of “personhood” are making the extraordinary claim that embryos are persons — before any awareness, before any movement, before the development of functional organs, and even before pregnancy begins at implantation. Such an extraordinary claim requires an extraordinary proof — meaning a compelling and detailed argument about the nature and source of rights — not glib assertions about “the tiniest boys and girls.” If they fail to provide that proof, then you’re entitled to reject their view, even if you’re not quite certain of your own.

Moreover, you’re entitled to reject “personhood” on the grounds that granting legal rights to embryos would violate the known rights of known persons, such as the right to birth control and in vitro fertilization. (Rights can’t conflict — if they do, then you’re not talking about rights but something else like interests or desires.) Hence, to establish that granting rights to embryos would violate the rights of women is to proof enough that “personhood” is wrong.

Whew! I wrote more than expected… but I hope that’s helpful!

For further exploration of these issues, I recommend Ari Armstrong’s and my recent paper for The Objective Standard: The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties, as well as our much longer 2010 policy paper, The ‘Personhood’ Movement Is Anti-Life.

 

Earlier this week, Ari Armstrong’s and my new paper on abortion rights — The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties — was published in the The Objective Standard. Happily, our article is available for free to everyone.

Here’s the opening paragraph:

In recent years, antiabortion activists have stepped up their attacks on a woman’s right to abortion and have achieved a series of victories in their efforts to outlaw the procedure. This increasing assault poses a major threat not only to women’s right to abortion, but, more broadly, to individual rights as such. Rights form a logical unity, and to the extent that any are threatened, all are threatened. The antiabortionists’ war on a woman’s right to her body is ultimately a war on all our rights, including our rights to property, free trade, and freedom of speech. To demonstrate this, we will briefly survey the goals, methods, successes, and rationale of today’s antiabortion movement; we will then turn to the reasons women seek abortions, to the nature of rights and the positive case for a woman’s right to abortion, and finally to the reasons why any restriction on abortion rights necessarily clears the way for violations of other rights.

If you like the article, please share it with friends and fellow activists. Given that conservatives tend to be hostile to abortion rights — or at least squishy about them — we think that our article is one that desperately needs to be circulated in free-market and tea-party circles.

Again, you can read the whole article here: The Assault on Abortion Rights Undermines All Our Liberties.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha