Matthew Lu

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Abortifacients, emergency contraception, and terminating pregnancy

Matthew Lu
By Matthew Lu

April 14, 2014 (Public Discourse) - One of the more controversial issues in the Supreme Court case concerning Hobby Lobby is the company's claim that some of the “emergency contraceptives” demanded by Obamacare and the HHS mandate are actually “abortifacients.” The mainstream denial of this claim, supposedly backed by science, has largely revolved around a tendentious use of terms and a confusion about the real moral issues involved.

The defenders of emergency contraception, such as Guttmacher’s Sneha Barot, like to claim that

major medical organizations . . . as well as U.S. government policy, consider a pregnancy to have begun only when the entire process of conception is complete, which is to say after the fertilized egg has implanted in the lining of the uterus.

So, according to this putatively scientific definition, conception is distinct from fertilization and pregnancy occurs only with the actual implanting of the embryo in the uterine lining. According to this definition of conception, anything that interferes with any part of this process, whether a physical barrier, hormonal regulation of ovulation (or sperm production), the destruction of the embryo prior to implantation, or prevention of successful implantation, can intelligibly be called contraceptive.

Similarly, if pregnancy only occurs once conception is complete with implantation, then it is intelligible to claim that abortion is best understood as the termination of a pregnancy—not the destruction of an embryo. This also explains the medical practice of calling early miscarriage “spontaneous abortion.” Along these same lines, a method could only properly be called abortifacient insofar as it can cause (from the Latin facio) an abortion, which, in turn, is only possible after implantation.

These definitions allow emergency contraception advocates such as the Office of Population Research at Princeton University to make blanket assertions such as: “There is no point in a woman's cycle when the emergency contraceptive pills available in the United States would end a pregnancy once it has started” (emphasis added). Using the definitions of contraception and pregnancy given above, that statement could very well be true, even if the “contraceptive pills” in question directly kill a living embryo or prevent its implantation.

The rhetoric sounds good. Emergency contraception does not prevent “pregnancy,” therefore no “abortion” is involved, and no “abortifacient” methods are used.

However, this tendentious exercise in lexicography leads these advocates to confuse the real issue. Consider Sneha Barot’s claim that

if pregnancy were synonymous with the act of fertilization, all of the most effective reversible contraceptive methods—including oral contraceptive pills, injectables and IUDs—could be considered, at least theoretically, to be possible abortifacients.

Barot apparently takes it as obvious that these methods are not abortifacients, and therefore that pregnancy is not synonymous with fertilization. But, of course, whether some of these methods are abortifacients is exactly what’s in question. It doesn’t matter whether pregnancy is defined as synonymous with fertilization, but whether the methods in question directly kill an embryo or prevent its implantation.

The Principle of Double Effect

Ultimately, the moral question of abortion has little to do with the proper understanding of pregnancy at all. We can see this by reflecting on the fact that terminating a pregnancy is not evil per se. Any time a child is delivered by caesarian section, the pregnancy is terminated, but obviously there is no direct moral evil in that procedure. In fact, some pro-life moralists have even argued that some terminations of pregnancy are morally legitimate even if they result in the death of the child.

This line of argument makes use of the Principle of Double Effect (PDE), which broadly holds that an act is morally permissible insofar as it meets four conditions (this formulation is derived from David Oderberg): (1) the intended effect of the act must not be intrinsically evil (e.g., aiming at the death of an innocent); (2) any evil side effects of the act must be unintended (though they may be foreseen); (3) the good intended effect must be at least as causally direct as any unintended side effect (i.e., one cannot do evil so that good may come of it); finally, (4) the intended good must be proportionate to any unintended evils (i.e., the good must “outweigh” the evil).

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This method of moral reasoning has allowed some of these pro-life moralists to argue that in certain extreme circumstances it is morally permissible to terminate a pregnancy in a way that results in the death of the innocent child, so long as that death is not directly intended. Rarely, an embryo will implant within its mother’s body outside the uterus (an ectopic pregnancy). While there have recently been extremely rare cases of ectopic pregnancy that were safely brought to birth (through caesarian section), it had traditionally been considered a death sentence for both the mother and child. For these reasons, some adherents of PDE have argued that it is permissible to remove the child surgically from the mother (intact) even though this foreseeably results in the death of the child. Simultaneously, these same moralists argue that the use of a chemical abortifacient to destroy the embryo is impermissible.

They reason that the surgical removal of the intact child is a medical treatment directly intended to save the mother’s life. Killing the child is no part of that treatment (even as a means); were the technology available to save the child’s life that would certainly be done. So the child’s death is a foreseeable but unintended side effect of the surgery to treat the mother, and that foreseeable death is proportionate when weighed against the life of the mother. On the other hand, a chemical abortifacient would violate the PDE because, in treating the mother, the death of the child would be directly pursued. In other words, in the abortifacient case, the mother is being treated by means of killing the child. The child’s death is not merely foreseen, it is actively pursued. That is also why the surgeon must remove the child intact; otherwise, the child’s death would be directly pursued as a means.

Whether or not this particular analysis of ectopic pregnancy is ultimately correct, and we must be careful not to misuse the PDE as has sometimes been done, these examples clearly show that the moral defect of abortion lies not with the termination of the pregnancy, but with the direct killing of the child. In fact, one leading pro-life philosopher has argued that the ultimate solution to the abortion problem might lie in the technological development of artificial wombs. This would, at least in theory, allow the intact removal of “unwanted” embryos without necessarily resulting in their deaths.

If we return to the emergency contraception case, then it is apparent that the real issue is the mechanism by which they work, not what counts as pregnancy. While there are good reasons to think that contraception (understood merely as the prevention of fertilization) is itself morally defective, it is clearly a lesser evil than the destruction of an innocent human being. So I will mostly set the contraception question aside and focus on the destruction question.

The Unintended Evil: Killing an Innocent Human Being

On the one hand, the advocates of emergency contraception are quick to claim that “emergency contraceptive pills prevent pregnancy primarily, or perhaps exclusively, by delaying or inhibiting ovulation.” Obviously, if no ovum is released, then fertilization is impossible. In that case, the moral concern is solely with contraception, not homicide. However, as Donna Harrison previously argued at Public Discourse, there are good empirical reasons to believe that some of the methods in question in the Hobby Lobby case “can and do cause embryos to die after fertilization.”

It seems fair to say that the emergency contraception advocates’ hedge that emergency contraception works “primarily, or perhaps exclusively, by delaying or inhibiting ovulation” (emphasis added) reflects lingering doubt about exactly how the methods work, even among those committed to promoting their use. This is a telling hesitation, a kind of residual honesty in admitting the possibility that, in at least some of the cases, these methods directly result in the death of embryos. (Hedging phraseology of this sort occurs on numerous online discussions, including both of those previously linked and the Mayo Clinic. The New York Times approvingly notes a recent movement to remove these hedges.) I suspect this hedging represents a kind of bad faith, and this in turn explains their repeated appeals to authority and attempts to take refuge in medical definitions of pregnancy and abortion that are morally irrelevant.

In the end, of course, none of the linguistic hairsplitting matters. What really matters in the morality of abortion is not whether a pregnancy has been terminated, but whether an innocent human being has been murdered. Understanding the mechanism of how these methods work is an empirical, scientific question about which there seems to be controversy within the medical community itself. However, I think it is significant that even the advocates of emergency contraception admit uncertainty about how the methods work and whether they kill embryos or prevent implantation.

From a moral perspective, if there is any plausible reason to believe that one of the consequences of the drugs is—even occasionally—the death of embryo, then they are morally equivalent to abortifacients that work after implantation. The fact that the intended purpose of the drugs is to prevent ovulation is ultimately immaterial if their actual consequence is to kill living embryos or prevent implantation.

Ultimately, even if one thinks that the prevention of fertilization is morally indifferent, surely it is not worth pursuing at the cost of innocent human life. That is, it would not meet the proportionality requirement (4) of PDE. Furthermore, if contraception is itself an evil, then there is absolutely no good to set against even the possibility of killing an innocent human being, so proportionality would not even enter into it.

Reprinted with permission from Public Discourse

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The first pro-abortion Republican enters the 2016 presidential race

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By Ben Johnson

EXETER, NH, May 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The large and expanding field of would-be Republican presidential candidates grew by one today, as George Pataki became the first GOP presidential hopeful this election season to openly support abortion-on-demand.

The 69-year-old long-shot candidate also has a history of supporting homosexual legislative causes.

In the weeks leading up to his formal announcement, George Pataki took out TV ads asking Republicans to refrain from talking about abortion and gay “marriage,” branding them “distractions.”

“In 12 years [as governor], I don’t think I talked about that issue twice,” he once said of abortion.

On same-sex “marriage,” he says, “I think, leave it to the states. I don’t think it’s a role in Washington.”

However, Pataki has a long history of enacting the homosexual political agenda as governor of New York from 1994-2006. He signed a “hate crimes” law that added the words “gay” and “lesbian” to New York state law for the first time.

He signed the Sexual Orientation Nondiscrimination Act (SONDA), which prohibits business owners from “discriminating” against homosexuals in housing or hiring, with an exemption only for religious institutions.

He also added sexual orientation to state civil rights laws, alongside such immutable characteristics as race and sex, in an apparent quid pro quo for a gay activist group's endorsement in his last run for governor. The New York Times reported that, under pressure from Pataki, the then-Senate Majority Leader “shifted his position on the bill as part of what is tacitly acknowledged, even by Senator [Joseph] Bruno's senior aides, to have been a deal to win an endorsement for Governor Pataki from the state's largest gay rights group, the Empire State Pride Agenda.”

After the LGBT activist group endorsed Pataki in 2002, citing a long list of his service to the homosexual political cause, Pataki personally lobbied senators for the bill's passage, then signed it into law that December.

Coupled with his stance on gun control, environmentalism, and other issues, he stands well to the left of the Republican mainstream.

The three-term governor of New York, who belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, took his own advice by largely avoiding social issues today. The closest he came was his vow, “I'd repeal oppressive laws like ObamaCare and end Common Core.”

He added that he would “fire every current IRS employee abusing government power to discriminate on the basis of politics or religion. That is not America!”

Otherwise, Pataki's announcement speech hewed to stand pat Republican issues like reducing taxes, shrinking the number of federal employees, increasing military spending, and supporting entrepreneurship.

He began by thanking his supporters, in English and Spanish.

Smiling, his head pivoting between twin teleprompters, he said, “Let me tell you some of the things I'd do right away to get oppressive government off the backs of Americans.”

He would institute a lifetime ban on congressmen acting as lobbyists after they leave office. “If you ever served one day in Congress, you will never be a lobbyist,” he said. He favors forcing Congress to live under the laws it passes, so there will be “no special rules for the powerful.”

He cited his history of cutting taxes, reducing welfare rolls, and leaving his state with billions of dollars in surplus. “That's what our policies can do,” he said. “I know we can do the same thing for the United States.”

In recent weeks, he has called for a more interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East. Today, he reminded his audience that he was governor of New York in 9/11. “I will not fear the lesson of September 11,” he said. “To protect us, first we must protect the border,” he said – an unexpected phrase, as Pataki supports amnesty for the at least 11 million illegal immigrants already in the United States.

“We will stand with our ally, Israel, a democracy on the front lines of terror and barbarism,” he said.

Like former Sen. Rick Santorum, who announced he is running for president yesterday, Pataki agreed that “if necessary, American forces will be used to actually defeat and destroy ISIS on the ground” – although he promised not to become “the world's policeman.”

Some of his campaign promises drew skepticism, such as seeking to develop self-driving cars and to cure Alzheimer's disease and cancer within the next decade.

The speech's venue was chosen deliberately by Pataki, who considered entering the presidential race in 2000, 2008, and 2012. The town of Exeter, New Hampshire, claims to be the founding place of the Republican Party. (Ripon, Wisconsin, makes a similar claim.)

More importantly, the first-in-the-nation primary skews more libertarian on social issues than evangelical-dominated Iowa and South Carolina, so Pataki has essentially staked his candidacy on doing well in New Hampshire. Fellow pro-abortion Republican Rudy Giuliani made a similar bet in 2008, banking on a good showing among transplanted New Yorkers in the Florida primary. He left the race after finishing a distant third.

Short of a stunning upset in the Granite State, Pataki has little chance of breaking through the pack this year. A Fox News poll ranks him dead last among 16 announced and potential candidates. Holly Bailey of Yahoo! News said, “George Pataki would never say this, but you do have to wonder if he's sort of, maybe, gaming for vice president.”

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Pataki is not the first “pro-choice” Republican to run for president.  Giuliani (who supported partial birth abortion) and Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (another potential 2016 candidate, who supports abortion during the first trimester) ran in 2008. Twelve years earlier, both California Gov. Pete Wilson and Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter supported abortion-on-demand. Arlen Specter later left the party and became a Democrat.

In 1988, General Alexander Haig opposed a human life amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So did Texas Gov. John Connally in 1980.

George H.W. Bush supported abortion and voted for Planned Parenthood funding early in his career but changed his position by the time he ran for president the second time, in 1988.

President Gerald Ford was the last Republican nominee to proclaim himself “pro-choice.” 

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Ireland ‘defied God’ by voting for gay ‘marriage’: Cardinal Burke

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By Pete Baklinski

OXFORD, May 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- Cardinal Raymond Burke lamented how formerly Catholic Ireland has gone further than the pagans in the pre-Christian days of old and “defied God” by calling homosexual behavior “marriage” in the referendum last week.

“I mean, this is a defiance of God. It’s just incredible. Pagans may have tolerated homosexual behaviours, they never dared to say this was marriage,” he told the Newman Society, Oxford University’s Catholic organization, in an address Wednesday about the intellectual heritage of Pope Benedict XVI. The Tablet, Britain’s liberal Catholic newspaper, reported his remarks.

On Friday, 1.2 million Irish people voted to amend the country’s constitution to say: “Marriage may be contracted in accordance with law by two persons without distinction as to their sex.” A little over 734,000 people voted against the proposal. 

Burke said that he could not understand “any nation redefining marriage.”

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The cardinal also emphasized the important role that parents play in protecting their children in a culture increasingly hostile to God’s laws. “The culture is thoroughly corrupted, if I may say so, and the children are being exposed to this, especially through the internet,” he said. One practical piece of advice that he offered families was to put computers in public areas to prevent children from “imbib[ing] this poison that’s out there.”

During the same Oxford visit, but during a homily at a Mass the day before, Burke called marriage between a man and woman a “fundamental truth” that has been “ignored, defied, and violated.”

Burke warned during the homily of the dangers of “various ideological currents” and of “human deception and trickery which strives to lead us into error.”

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Why young Christians can’t grasp our arguments against gay ‘marriage’

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By John Stonestreet

May 28, 2015 (BreakPoint.org) -- For five years, Dr. Abigail Rine has been teaching a course on gender theory at George Fox University, an evangelical school in the Quaker tradition.

At the beginning of the semester, she tells her students that “they are guaranteed to read something they will find disagreeable, probably even offensive.”

Writing at FirstThings.com recently, she related how five years ago it was easy to find readings that challenged and even offended the evangelical college students “considering the secular bent of contemporary gender studies.”

But today, things are different. “Students now,” she says, “arrive in my class thoroughly versed in the language and categories of identity politics; they are reticent to disagree with anything for fear of seeming intolerant—except, of course, what they perceive to be intolerant.”

And what do they find “intolerant”? Well, in her class, an essay entitled “What is Marriage?” by Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan Anderson, which was the beginning of the book “What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense.”

In their article, Girgis, George, and Anderson defend what they call the conjugal view of marriage. “Marriage,” they write, “is the union of a man and a woman who make a permanent and exclusive commitment to each other … that is naturally fulfilled by bearing and rearing children together.” They defend this view against what they call the “revisionist view” of marriage, which redefines marriage to include, among other things, same-sex couples.

“My students hate it,” Dr. Rine wrote. They “lambast the article.” “They also,” she adds, “seem unable to fully understand the argument.” And again, these are evangelical students at an evangelical school.

The only argument for conjugal marriage they’ve ever encountered has been the wooden proof-texting from the Bible. And besides, wrote Rine, “What the article names as a ‘revisionist’ idea of marriage—marriage as an emotional, romantic, sexual bond between two people—does not seem ‘new’ to my students at all, because this is the view of marriage they were raised with, albeit with a scriptural, heterosexual gloss.”

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As Rine points out “the redefinition of marriage began decades ago” when “the link between sexuality and procreation was severed in our cultural imagination.”

And if marriage “has only an arbitrary relationship to reproduction,” then it seems mean-spirited to Rine’s students to argue that marriage by its very nature excludes same-sex couples.

And where do students get the idea that marriage “has only an arbitrary relationship to reproduction”? Well, everywhere—television, church, school, their homes, in youth groups.

Rine writes, “As I consider my own upbringing and the various ‘sex talks’ I encountered in evangelical church settings over the past twenty years, I realize that the view of marital sex presented there was primarily revisionist.”

In other words, once you say, “I do,” you get “the gift” of sex which is presented as “a ‘gift’ largely due to its [erotic], unitive properties, rather than its intrinsic capacity to create life.” Even in the Church, children have become an optional add-on to married life rather than its primary purpose.

What can we do to win back our children, our churches, and the culture? In our recent book “Same Sex Marriage,” Sean McDowell and I lay out a game plan. We offer strategies for the short-term and the long-term, with the ultimate goal: re-shaping the cultural imagination towards what God intended marriage to be, starting with the church. Come to BreakPoint.org to pick up your copy.

As Chuck Colson once said in a BreakPoint commentary about marriage, “We Christians are very good at saying ‘No.’ But we’ve got to get better at saying ‘Yes’: showing how God’s plan for humanity is a blessing. That His ways, including faithful, life-giving marriage between one man and one woman, lead to human flourishing physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Reprinted with permission from Break Point.

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