Intellectual Thugs

 Posted by on 24 September 2008 at 11:01 pm  Abortion, Activism, Culture
Sep 242008

Over the past week, I have been absolutely horrified by the venomous hatred expressed by those supposed lovers of life, peace, and mercy: the fundamentalist Christians committed to strangling America with the law of God.

Undoubtedly, the ugliest examples are the myriad death threats e-mailed to Nick Provenzo for his defense of the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome. The various responses of right-wing bloggers (and their commenters) was little better. They grossly misread Nick’s remarks, then refused to consider any correction.

One might hope for better from the intellectual leaders of this movement. After all, they earn their bread and butter by argument: they seek to persuade others that their views are correct. So even if hopelessly wrong, they must maintain some semblance of rationality, right?


Catholic talk show host Barbara Simpson said on the air that “there was a day when someone would take somebody like this Provenzo guy out in an alley and beat him beyond whatever. He deserves it.” Nice.

Yet even worse was Laura Ingraham’s interview of Nick: she failed to conduct anything remotely resembling a fair debate, yet her methods were more subtle than Simpson’s explicit appeal to thuggery.

To understand the problem, let me explain how to respectfully argue with someone who disagrees with you.

You allow someone to explain their views. You ask them tough questions about the reasons for and implications of those views. The whole time, you allow them to speak for themselves. You represent their views fairly. And then you crush them with your own devastating criticisms, always politely given. You allow them to reply, and then you crush them again. That’s what any decent radio talk show host — and any respectable intellectual — does in debate.

That’s not what Laura Ingraham did. She made no effort to understand Nick’s position. Despite his protests, she refused to focus on the actual intellectual disagreement between them. She refused to consider his reasons for his views. Worst of all, she attributed a variety of morally repugnant ideas to Nick, purely of her own invention. Then she refused to allow him to reply, choosing instead to pontificate to her listeners.

Her method of debate was that of a gang leader seeking to impress her minions by intimidation, not that of a respectable intellectual concerned with airing out ideas in pursuit of knowledge. Given that, Nick deserves a good bit of credit for conducting himself as well as he did.

As Objectivism makes ever-greater inroads into the culture, some people will behave like civilized adults in debate. And others will use whatever dirty tricks they can muster to misrepresent our views. We’ve just seen a taste of the latter. I must admit, I’ve grown accustomed to civilized discourse between reasonable adults — or at least the appearance thereof. So this week has been a bit of a wake-up call for me. I expect that I’m not alone in that feeling.

Nick Provenzo on Laura Ingraham Show

 Posted by on 22 September 2008 at 3:28 am  Abortion, Activism
Sep 222008

Nick Provenzo writes:

I am slated to be a guest on the nationally syndicated Laura Ingraham Show at 10:30 AM Monday morning to defend a woman’s moral right to have an abortion. Ingraham’s show is tied as the fifth highest-rated radio talk show in America. I have been told that my segment will be run approximately 10 to 12 minutes. Ingraham is a staunch opponent of abortion and I expect my appearance to be a hard-fought battle of ideas.

To find a station carrying the broadcast in your area, visit here.

To call the show, dial 1-800-876-4123.

Fight the good fight, Nick!

Update #1: Nick hasn’t been on yet, but he is upcoming, as Ingram has mentioned him. You can listen to the live stream here.

Update #2: Nick did as well as he could have, but Laura Ingraham was not even remotely fair in her interview. I’ll say more in a post later today or tomorrow.

Abortion and Down’s Syndrome

 Posted by on 18 September 2008 at 2:47 pm  Abortion, Religion
Sep 182008

Nick Provenzo’s recent post on Palin’s Down syndrome child and the right to abortion has been inundated with comments from anti-abortion zealots, thanks to various hysterical distortions from LifeNews,, NewsBusters, and more.

However, I thought this comment said more than all the insane ravings of his critics:

I would like to thank you, Nicholas, for your stand here. As the mother of a child with Down syndrome born prior to Roe v. Wade and before the advent of pre-screening tests, I did not have the choice when it came to giving birth to my daughter. While I loved my daughter deeply (who is now deceased), had I known what I would have faced and had I had the freedom to choose to accept this responsibility or not, I very well might have been with the 90% of women who choose to terminate their pregnancy because of Down syndrome.

Those who think that it is vicious to not want to have a child with severe retardation should try raising with one before they pass judgment. It is no easy task; in fact, it is a cruelty made real when you realize that your beloved child can never think like a healthy person, never be independent, or find the love that a person can find when they are in full possession of all their faculties.

I spit on all of you here who would morally condemn a woman for rejecting such a fate. I spit on all of you here who would condemn such a choice as murder. You simply have no idea what you are talking about, and it offends me that you prance around as if you do. Walk a mile in my life before you presume to tell me that abortion is wrong.

Also, Nick has posted an excellent defense of abortion rights. I don’t expect that bit of reasoned argument to slow the rate of death threats against him, however.

Sep 172008

Ari Armstrong’s and my CSG issue paper on Colorado’s Amendment 48 — Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person — got a very favorable mention in a report on the measure in Salon: Did you just call me a zygote?.

The mention is in the last paragraph: “The bottom line — which is laid out thoughtfully and convincingly in this article (PDF) — is that Amendment 48 is creepy as hell. I hope that Colorado’s citizens have the sense not to pass it.”

Slowly but surely, we are making some headway!

The Worship of Retardation

 Posted by on 14 September 2008 at 11:05 pm  Abortion, Culture, Election
Sep 142008

I wish Sarah Palin’s youngest son Trig — afflicted with Down’s Syndrome — the best life possible to him. Yet based on my experience working with a man with Down’s Syndrome in a high school job at a movie theater, I regard his life as inherently tragic and likely quite miserable. I also wholeheartedly support the vast majority of women who choose to abort a Down’s Syndrome fetus rather than saddle themselves with a perpetually dependent child.

Most of all, however, I’m disgusted by the the worship of retardation exhibited by Christians in response to Trig’s rise to national prominence, as in this National Review article by Michael Franc:

“Children with special needs,” Gov. Sarah Palin said during her acceptance speech at the Republican convention, “inspire a special love.” As someone who grew up alongside a brother with Down Syndrome, I can attest to that observation.

But these special children, and the special adults they grow up to be, inspire something else of equal importance. When these little, unexpected ambassadors of God enter our lives, they offer us the opportunity to rise to that greatest of all challenges — to treat others as we would want to be treated. Their presence, in short, elevates all of us.

That’s a good expression of the mind-set of so many of today’s devout Christians. They are not content to limit reason to make room for faith. They go further: they laud retardation as a virtue. In the process, they must — and do — disparage normal human intelligence as a vice.

Such people are not motivated by a soft heart. If they were, they would adamantly defend abortion as a moral means of freeing parents from the prospect of endless sacrifice to a retarded child. They would regard abortion as a moral way to prevent the infliction of a miserable, degraded life on the person that will emerge from the womb. Instead, they want to create more mentally defective and perpetually dependent children by outlawing abortion.

The people who worship retardation reject human reason as a value. They’re as anti-man as the deep ecologists who regard mankind as a cancer on the earth.

Frankly, one wonders why such people don’t lobotomize themselves, if retardation is such a boon to their fellow man.

(Via Thomas.)


William Saletan of Slate has recently posted a couple of informative updates on the Bush administration’s attempt (or lack thereof) to define abortion.

The context is the proposed new law that would grant special protections for religious health care workers who chose not to provide abortion care or information to patients out of reasons of “conscience”. In effect, the new law would forbid employers from firing such workers and enforce this by threatening the employer with loss of federal funding.

Leaving apart the fact that such issues should be settled by private contract (as nicely argued by Thomas Bowden of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights in their recent press release, “Let Doctors Protect Conscience by Contract”), this proposed law has spawned a controversy over what exactly constitutes an “abortion” in the eyes of the federal government.

As Saletan documents in his first piece from 8/28/2008, “Contraceptive Fudge”, the initial definition was:

…[A]ny of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation

However, this was dropped after protest from physicians and reproductive rights advocates who correctly noted that this would include some forms of birth control that are not generally regarded as “abortion” — including IUDs and sometimes birth control pills.

Saletan also points out that a number of religious advocacy groups have already argued that “hormonal contraception is abortion”, including Pharmacists for Life International, Christian Legal Society, and Concerned Women for America, and that the current definition still leaves the door open for this interpretation.

When others have asked Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt to clarify this point, he has been cagey. In Saleton’s second piece from 8/29/2008, “Contraceptive Fudge: Addendum”, he notes the following statement by Leavitt:

But when pressed about whether the regulation would protect health-care workers who consider birth control pills, Plan B and other forms of contraception to be equivalent to abortion, Leavitt said: “This regulation does not seek to resolve any ambiguity in that area. It focuses on abortion and focuses on physicians’ conscience in relation to that.”

Secretary Leavitt is trying to have it both ways. While claiming this would not “change a patient’s right to a legal procedure”, his deliberate characterization of this issue as one of “ambiguity” is leaving the door open for the conflation of popular forms of birth control with abortion, and thus preparing the way for future restrictions of birth control in the name of restricting abortion.

Saletan also explicitly supports the private contract approach to the “conscience” issue, and I applaud his principled stance:

As a pharmacist, you have every right to refuse to fill contraceptive prescriptions. But your customers have every right to boycott your store, and your employer has every right to fire you. If you don’t like your employer’s policy, open your own pharmacy.

He also notes that federal government is soliciting citizens’ opinions on this issue. You can e-mail them at:

Here’s a slightly edited version of the comment I sent them:

The US government needs to be completely clear and unambiguous as to whether it regards standard forms of contraception such as birth control pills and IUDs as forms of “abortion”, if they result in the expulsion of an egg that has already been fertilized but not yet undergone implantation.

Rather than fudging this issue and calling it an “ambiguity”, it must let practicing physicians such as myself know whether restrictions on abortion will also entail restrictions on these other forms of contraception.

If the Bush administration wants to call those “abortions”, then please be up front about it and say so. If the administration does not consider those to be “abortions”, then say so and clear the air. To straddle the fence does a grave disservice to millions of men and women, and also leads to the concern that there is a hidden agenda amongst some in the government to also include restrictions on these forms of birth control when they propose future restrictions on abortions.

Paul Hsieh, MD

You too can let the Feds know what you think!

Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life

 Posted by on 2 September 2008 at 7:54 am  Abortion, Politics, Religion
Sep 022008

I’m delighted to report that Capitalism Magazine is publishing Ari Armstrong’s and my recent issue paper for Coalition for Secular Government — “Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person” — as a six-part series.

Part One was posted yesterday.

Part Two was posted today.

Ultimately, you’ll be able to find all six parts on our author page.

Here’s what the paper is about:

Colorado’s proposed Amendment 48 — the ballot measure that would grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs — would usher in disastrous government controls on abortion, birth control, medical research, and in vitro fertilization. It would violate the rights of real men and women — based on the faith-based fiction that a fertilized egg is a person with the same moral standing as a born infant. Yet the biological facts of pregnancy show that the embryo/fetus becomes a human person with rights only when born.

Our paper offers some philosophic analysis of the politics and ethics of abortion not seen elsewhere, I think. So go check it out on CapMag — or you can download and read the full pdf version.

(By the way, I’m in a massive dissertation writing crunch right now. I wrote for eight hours on Sunday, eleven hours yesterday, and I have a huge day ahead of me to finish this &@*#! chapter on moral judgment. So I’m not answering any e-mails or whatnot — except to put out fires. I’ll be back in the game by the end of the week.)

Aug 192008

I’m delighted to announce that the Coalition for Secular Government has just published its first issue paper:

Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters
That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person

by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh

Colorado’s Amendment 48 — the proposed constitutional amendment that would grant full legal rights to fertilized eggs — would usher in disastrous government controls on abortion, birth control, and in vitro fertilization. It would do so by grossly violating individual rights — in the name of the faith-based fiction that a fertilized egg is equal to a born infant.

Here’s the press release:


New Paper: “Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life,” an issue paper by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh, published by the Coalition for Secular Government is available on the web at:


Diana Hsieh, co-author of “Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life” and Founder of the Coalition for Secular Government,

Ari Armstrong, co-author of “Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life” and editor of


“Amendment 48, the ballot measure that would define a fertilized egg as a person with full legal rights in the Colorado constitution, is profoundly anti-life,” said Diana Hsieh, founder of the Coalition for Secular Government.

“It would obliterate basic reproductive rights in Colorado based solely on the faith-based fiction that a fertilized egg is the moral equal of a born infant. The biological facts show just the opposite: that only the pregnant woman, and then the born infant, are persons with rights,” Hsieh said.

“Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life,” written by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh and published by the Coalition for Secular Government, shows that the ballot measure is hostile to human life in myriad ways:

* Given existing criminal statues, Amendment 48 would subject women and their doctors to life in prison or the death penalty for abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity.

* It would prevent doctors from properly treating non-viable ectopic pregnancy until the woman’s life and health was in serious danger, thereby causing needless deaths.

* It would force thousands of women each year to bear unwanted children, whatever the cost to their own lives and happiness.

* The measure would ban popular and effective forms of birth control, including the birth-control pill, thereby increasing unwanted pregnancies.

* It would outlaw the fertility treatments responsible for the birth of hundreds of Colorado babies to eager parents each year.

“The voters of Colorado must protect their reproductive rights against this dangerous assault. They must vote ‘NO’ on Amendment 48,” Hsieh said.

South Dakota’s De Facto Abortion Ban

 Posted by on 25 July 2008 at 10:24 am  Abortion, Politics
Jul 252008

My Politics without God post on South Dakota’s new restrictions on abortion might be of interest to NoodleFood readers.

(I’m feeling a bit rusty in making arguments about abortion, as I haven’t worked on the issue in over two years. Still, I’m reasonably happy with how that post turned out.)

Biblical Law Versus Freedom of Religion

 Posted by on 24 June 2008 at 11:39 am  Abortion, Politics, Religion
Jun 242008

Hooray! Last Thursday, the Vail Daily published my letter to the editor opposing the proposed personhood amendment to the Colorado constitution.

Re: “Protect reproductive rights”

Thank you for your editorial opposing the proposed “personhood amendment” to the Colorado constitution.

Unfortunately, some people in Colorado are eager to impose their religious dogmas on others — by whatever means necessary. They demand that everyone submit to their values, including people who disagree with their dubious interpretations of scripture, deny the morality of blind obedience to divine commands, and reject faith in God as irrational superstition — as I do.

By any rational standard, that demand for submission is morally wrong.

These theocrats reject the very principle protecting their own freedom to worship: the separation of church and state. Under that principle, each person practices whatever faith he chooses, including none at all — as a matter of right. He may live as he sees fit, according to his own values, without forcible interference from others. So if opposed to abortion, he can refuse any involvement with the procedure.

The proposed “personhood amendment” embodies the opposite principle: government entanglement with religion, particularly the enforcement of Biblical law. Adopting that principle would subject matters of private conscience to government meddling. Everyone who wishes to live in a free country should vigorously oppose it.

Diana Hsieh, Sedalia

It’s time for me to start writing op-eds on this topic, I think!

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