Patrick Craine

Plan B, rape, and abortion: Err on the side of life

Patrick Craine
Patrick Craine

February 3, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Elise Hilton took a strong stand rooted in her pro-life convictions last week when she refused the drug Plan B after her mentally disabled daughter was brutally and repeatedly raped.

After we reported her story yesterday, words of sympathy came flooding in, but many also questioned Hilton’s concern that the drug could cause an abortion. Others outright attacked her and accused her of trumpeting an “anti-choice” myth at the expense of her daughter.

The use of Plan B for rape victims has become the standard practice in health facilities throughout North America – to the point where state legislatures have even forced it on Catholic hospitals. But it’s a hot-button topic within the pro-life movement, and is more complex than it may seem.

There are essentially two key issues: First, is Plan B in fact an abortifacient? And second, if it is an abortifacient, is it possible to administer the drug without the risk of deliberately causing an abortion?

Is Plan B an abortifacient?

The drug’s purported aim is to prevent pregnancy within the first few days after intercourse.  It acts firstly by preventing the fertilization of the women’s ovum by either (1) delaying or suppressing ovulation, or (2) inhibiting the transport of the sperm or the ova.

But studies have found that if fertilization has already occurred, the drug can also act by thinning the uterine lining to prevent the newly conceived zygote from implanting, and thus cause an early abortion.

The Food and Drug Administration and even Plan B’s manufacturer, Barr Pharmaceuticals, both recognize the possibility of this “anti-implantation” or “post-fertilization” effect. One 1994 study found that this effect could account for most cases where the drug “prevents” pregnancy.

Recent studies have called this abortifacient function into question, however, leading some pro-life organizations like the Catholic Health Association to dismiss it.

But even the CHA, which supports the use of Plan B for rape victims at Catholic hospitals, still admits the possibility of the abortifacient function. Dr. Ronald P. Hamel, the CHA’s Senior Director of Ethics, wrote in 2002 that “the destruction of a conceptus cannot be absolutely ruled out.” In 2010, when CHA was attempting to justify their stance in favor of the use of Plan B, Hamel still could not rule out an abortifacient effect. He wrote that “virtually all of the evidence in the scientific literature indicates Plan B has little or no post-fertilization effect.”

Furthermore, some studies continue to find evidence suggesting an anti-implantation effect, so the more recent studies are not unanimous.

Of course the wider scientific and bioethical community reject the whole debate about the drug causing an abortion, because they long ago redefined pregnancy to begin at implantation. But obviously that won’t fly for pro-lifers who believe, as the embryologists do, that life begins at conception.

The overwhelming view among those who have not bought into this redefinition is that Plan B carries at least a minimal risk of causing a chemical abortion.  Some, including the Pontifical Academy for Life, believe the risk to be far more than minimal.

Can Plan B be taken without the risk of deliberately causing an abortion?

Acknowledging this risk, some Catholic moral theologians have argued that you can avoid the abortifacient effect by simply ensuring the woman is not pregnant when she takes it. They oppose its use in general as a contraceptive, but support the drug in cases of rape, arguing that it’s morally just for the woman to repel the attacker’s semen.

So Catholic doctors have proposed two approaches to testing the victim for pregnancy.

The first involves a simple pregnancy test. But even advocates of this approach admit that all this will do is establish a pregnancy existing prior to the rape. The test only actually shows up positive a week or so after intercourse, so it wouldn’t detect a baby conceived from the rape.

The second approach seeks to determine whether the woman has ovulated or not based on an assessment of her menstrual history, or in the case of the more rigorous Peoria Protocol, also based on a urine test and blood test. If she has not ovulated then she is clearly not pregnant, the theory goes. But even with all of these tests, advocates of this approach admit the possibility of “break-through ovulation” even if the results are negative, meaning the victim could still become pregnant.

The fact that these tests can still fail to circumvent the abortifacient function would be enough for many to rule the drug out. It goes back to the classic hunter in the woods scenario. If a hunter sees something moving behind a bush he can’t shoot until he knows for sure it’s not another person.

But some Catholic theologians argue that the improbability that the drug would cause an abortion raises enough doubt to offer “moral certainty” that an abortion will not occur. They argue that the child’s death would be an unintended consequence outweighed by the broader concern for the rape victim’s psychological state.

But this argument reduces moral certainty to a weighing of probabilities. If we acknowledge even the remote possibility that the drug will “prevent pregnancy” by destroying a human life, then we are directly responsible if it does. We cannot say that we are morally certain a child will not die as a result of Plan B when we admit there is a chance one could die, no matter how improbable we believe that chance to be.

The hunter in the woods can’t settle for probabilities. If we accept that Plan B carries a risk of abortion, there is a reasonable fear that an abortion could take place, and we cannot be morally certain that one will not.  Any risk of directly committing an abortion is unacceptable, however remote.

As bioethics expert Bishop Elio Sgreccia, then-president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, told LifeSiteNews in 2008, Plan B “is not able to prevent the rape. But it is able to eliminate the embryo.  It is thus the second negative intervention on the woman (the first being the rape itself).”

We must always err on the side of life

I know that this is a heart-wrenching and deeply personal issue, especially of course for women who have suffered rape and taken Plan B on doctors’ advice. I want to emphasize that I am no way intending to make accusations. This is a complex issue, and I am in no position (and have no desire) to judge a decision made in such horribly difficult circumstances.

I’ve made my case against Plan B from the perspective of those suggesting the abortifacient risk is minimal. But many researchers, theologians, and pro-life advocates are gravely concerned that it’s more than a remote possibility, and it’s not my intention to suggest otherwise. My point is that even if we accept the premise that it is simply a remote possibility, that’s still enough to rule it out on moral grounds.

Commenters accused Elise Hilton of jumping into a serious life-or-death decision based on faulty science. But the science is far from settled, and where there is doubt we must always err on the side of life.

I stand with her.

Patrick Craine is Canadian Bureau Chief for LifeSiteNews.com and the president of Campaign Life Coalition NS.  He lives with his wife and two children in a rural town in Nova Scotia.

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Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

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Science magazine retracts pro-gay study over phony data

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

LOS ANGELES, June 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A discredited paper that alleges LGBT activists can change the minds of traditional marriage supporters in one conversation has been formally retracted -- against the wishes of one of its authors.

On Thursday, the magazine Science said on its website that "with the concurrence of author Donald P. Green,” it is retracting the report “When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality,” which was published last December 12.

According to Science, "survey incentives were misrepresented." In the study, LaCour and Green said they had paid participants "to enroll, to refer family and friends, and to complete multiple surveys." However, Science said it "confirmed" with Green's co-author, Michael LaCour -- who has continued to defend the study -- that "no such payments were made."
Additionally, the paper misrepresented its financial sponsors. "In the report, LaCour acknowledged funding from the Williams Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund. Per correspondence from LaCour’s attorney, this statement was not true," said Science.

On Friday, Lacour released a lengthy statement in which he took "full responsibility for errors in the design, implementation, and data collection regarding the field experiments and panel survey reported" and apologized "for misrepresenting survey incentives and funding, though he also defended some of the survey's results.

"In fact, I received a grant offer from the Williams Institute, but never accepted the funds, the LA GLBT received funding from the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund., and the Ford Foundation grant did not exist," said LaCour. Additionally, the grad student said that he "raffled Apple computers, tablets, and iPods to survey respondents as incentives. I located some of the receipts....Some of the raffle prizes were purchased for a previous experiment I conducted."

Science's final reason for retraction included the fact that "independent researchers have noted certain statistical irregularities in the responses. LaCour has not produced the original survey data from which someone else could independently confirm the validity of the reported findings."

According to LaCour, he destroyed data "in the interest of institutional requirements" at UCLA -- in other words, because that was the university's standard.

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The retraction follows more than a week of criticism that began when LaCour's co-author, Columbia University political science professor Donald Green, expressed concern about LaCour's work. Green said that the UCLA grad student's work comprised "an incredible mountain of fabrications with the most baroque and ornate ornamentation."

LaCour has maintained that the study, which was published in December 2014, should not be retracted, and his 23-page response to critics indicated that he has not changed his position.

In the meantime, LaCour has been accused of faking another study on media bias that BuzzFeed reports "was unpublished but frequently cited at scientific conferences." That study was privately critiqued by Emory University political science professor Gregory Martin a year ago. Martin decided to publicly report that criticism after the Science controversy arose. 

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James Matthew Wilson

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The joyful death of Catholic Ireland

James Matthew Wilson
By James Wilson

June 1, 2015 (CrisisMagazine.com) -- Do you remember the joke about the Irish brewery worker who drowned in a vat of suds? “Poor Sean,” the new widow said upon learning her husband’s fate, “He didn’t stand a chance.” “Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Mrs. Reilly,” replies the foreman. “He did crawl out three times to use the bathroom.”

The Republic of Ireland has just voted, by a commanding and unprecedented popular vote, to establish “gay marriage” in its territory. The world, and the Irish themselves, who generally look at themselves from the viewpoint of the foreigner in a sad kind of “double consciousness,” will not fail to read the message: “Catholic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with De Valera in the grave.”

The coverage of the vote holds it up as an occasion of joy, of national pride, of a new era in an old country. I am sure there are some who use these expressions sincerely. Modern westerners usually think of life in this world in therapeutic terms. Matters of what is sometimes called “private” morality are decided entirely in terms of the question, “How will this make me feel?” while matters of “public” morality are submitted to a utilitarian calculus the numbers of which are usually undefined or unsatisfactory, boiling down to something like, “How will such-and-such a measure affect public health?” These are the only questions one can ask, if one inhabits an impoverished world where goodness and truth, happiness and justice, are taken for mere “subjective” projections onto the wandering atoms of the universe. But this diagnosis is not my interest today, because it cannot wholly explain the queer elation in Dublin.

What I want to consider is the specific conditions in Ireland that led up to this moment. My account will be somewhat hobbled; though for a number of years I resided in Dublin regularly, I have not visited the country since 2007, and so learned of some of the more recent and traumatic events in Irish life only from the newspapers.

My days in Ireland began just after the peak of the so-called Celtic Tiger. The economy was expanding, the “ribbon effect,” or suburban sprawl was spreading out around Dublin and Galway, and the restaurants, bars, and hotels were staffed by immigrant workers, most of them from Eastern Europe.

My interest in Irish culture was incidental to begin with. I had fallen in love with the modern Irish poets, from Yeats to Mahon, for their formal dexterity. But I also loved God above all things, and viewed the love of country as little less sacred than the love of one’s father and mother. The Irish narrative of faith and fatherland, fought and died for, resonated with me and, I thought, provided an occasion to deepen my understanding of those loves. To study Irish literature, it seemed to me then, was to study the work of authors who lived and died for the sacred.

What I found in the Ireland of 2001 provided little occasion for dwelling on any of that “rubbish.” In the previous decade, the hierarchy of the Irish Church had been wracked with scandal. Its prestige had come to be viewed as hypocrisy and arrogance, its power as conceit and corruption. Regular Mass attendance had dropped from nearly 90 percent a few years prior to around 60 percent, and it continued to plunge in the years of my visits. If practice of the faith was plunging then, it has plummeted since. The churches were full on Sunday, then, now they sit empty, as if Dublin were Paris or New York.

I saw few signs of genuine piety, and the demeanors of the pious seemed passive and weary. The Irish saw well that prosperity had at last come to their land; it seemed to entail a giving up of both Irish folkways and the ancestral religion, and that was a bargain they were willing to make.

The political elite in Ireland had long since come to have more in common with their counterparts in other western European nations than with the supposedly backward sensibilities of the people they ruled. They clearly saw the embarrassment of the Church as something to be capitalized on to advance the secularization of the country—its normalization, you might say, within the post-Christian mainstream. A prime minister brought his concubine to dinner with the Archbishop; it created a sensation rather than a scandal. Where Nelson’s Pillar had once stood—blown up in a symbolic act of nationalism by the IRA in 1966—the Irish government had erected a “millennium spike.” It is just as bad and stupid as it sounds. I wrote about it thus in my first book of poems, one inspired by the Belfast poet Louis MacNeice:

Where Nelson’s Pisgah pillar pruned, then plumed,
They’ve propped a sterile spike up like an altar
To pious E.U. secularity.

Irish society never fully recovered from the Civil War that humiliated it in 1922-23. The internecine conflict was, as Thomas MacGreevy once wrote, a last humiliation by the British Empire, disillusioning Irish nationalism just at the moment when it had achieved something like victory—a modest independence called “home rule.” In the subsequent decades, Irish politics was marked by a persistence of nationalist ambition to make Ireland in actuality what it has long been regarded as being: a distinctively Catholic republic that would stand outside the main tendencies of western Europe toward secularization, economic liberalization, and, later, the welfare state.

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In this ambition, they succeeded. The Church enjoyed a central place in Irish public life; its charitable institutions served as a non-state agent to educate, heal, and care for the Irish people in lieu of public schools, hospitals, and other social services. The long-reigning Eamonn De Valera attempted a third-way economy—one founded on agriculture and autarchy, especially in regards to its powerful neighbor. This last was not a great achievement, though it was more successful than it would have been had the ranks of Ireland’s lower classes not already been emigrating in a continuous flow for most of the previous century.

The persistence of these nationalist ambitions should not surprise us, given the tremendous symbolic power generated in the decades before independence. Nonetheless, it was a waning influence from the beginning. In the 1950s, the Irish economy was liberalized and increasingly opened to the European market. That was sufficient to make most Irish conclude that their country was nothing special; it should rightly assume its place as a marginal junior player in the global economy. Economic liberalization led to secularization, or might have, were it not for a string of public controversies, including votes on abortion and divorce, that reminded many Irish of their distinctive self-image as a Catholic nation—much to the anguish of liberals, including the literati, who sought to show that the only thing distinctive about Ireland was that it was much worse than other countries.

It was the expansion of the Irish economy and the sex scandals in the Church in the 1990s that brought this long developing contempt for Irish exceptionalism to a head. It seemed to vindicate every accusation of Ireland as a backward backwater of hypocrisy. But this contempt for the past was softened by the unprecedented prosperity of the Celtic Tiger. The young were too busy earning money and spending it to have children much less to attend to the dissolution of Ireland’s Catholic culture.

When the global economy collapsed in 2008, Ireland was among the handful of worst-hit small countries.  Emigration increased to highs not seen for decades.  The time had come for reprisals. Their hopes for prosperity dashed, the Irish had few political options, and a future of bailouts and austerity imposed from abroad.  Enda Kenny was elected Prime Minister on a European liberal economic platform, but it soon became clear that his power could only be enhanced by taking Irish society in a leftward direction.  Every confrontation he staged with the Church, he won.  He was called brave for taking on such a venerable but hidebound institution in the name of truth and progress; but, indeed, how much bravery could it require to fight a battle he could not lose?  The disappointments of Irish society were increasingly expressed as contempt for the Church.

Year by year, government inquiries into sexual abuse within Church-run institutions, the physical abuses of those in the care of nuns and priests, and finally the supposed unearthing of mass graves of children on the properties of homes for unwed mothers. The stories themselves were increasingly distorted in the press, but nobody cared; the outrage and contempt only increased. To present oneself as a faithful Catholic in contemporary Ireland would require far more bravery than, say, to present oneself as a practitioner of sodomy.

For more than a century, the Irish had been told, had told themselves, that they were something distinctive in the history of Christendom. A Catholic nation that had persisted in the faith despite domination by a Protestant foreign power, the service of country and of God seemed almost as one. But, for just under a century, a nagging doubt had haunted such convictions. Ireland was insignificant: its dream of itself consequently stood in the way of its simply getting on as one more country on a continent that had long since lost its faith but had embraced the mundane contentment afforded by a liberalized economy, the welfare state, and a far more immanent horizon of beliefs.

Some scholars tell us that the gothic genre of story-telling grew up as a response to the Catholic Irish. A society that saw itself as enlightened, rational, secular, and modern suddenly found itself haunted by some frightful other, a ghoul, a return of the repressed: an avatar of superstitious, atavistic, arcane Catholicism. The Irish and Catholic response to such tales of Whiggery was easy: Catholicism “returns” not as the ravenous claw of the past reaching up from the grave to strangle the present, but as the truth, which never goes anywhere. Truth always asserts its inescapable claim on every person.

But what is one to do when that claw represents not simply the past, but also the future, the Catholic nation that Ireland was meant to become, but never quite did? What is one to do when the gothic monster is not something intruding from the depths beneath one’s society, but is, if anything, the institution that seemed to represent the most distinctive virtues of that society? Kill it, of course. Kill it, and take joy in the sport.

The joy with which the “gay marriage” referendum is being greeted not only in the streets of urban Dublin but across the whole country must surely be a complex emotion. Insofar as the Irish are just like most of us westerners, they are celebrating a new freedom of the will to assert itself without any moral prohibition. But the therapeutic triumphed long ago, and didn’t need Ireland to cement its victory.

The reason the Irish—as Irish—are celebrating is that they have with this referendum delivered a decisive and final blow to their venerable image as a Catholic nation. They have taken their vengeance on the Church. They must relish the unshackling; they must love the taste of blood. But, finally, they take joy in becoming what, it seems, they were always meant to become. An unexceptional country floating somewhere in the waters off a continent that has long since entered into cultural decline, demographic winter, and the petty and perpetual discontents that come free of charge to every people that lives for nothing much in particular.

James Matthew Wilson is Associate Professor of Religion and Literature in the Department of Humanities and Augustinian Traditions at Villanova University. He is the author of a chapbook of poems, Four Verse Letters (Steubenville, 2010) and of Timothy Steele: A Critical Introduction (Story Line, 2012), and a new collection of poems entitled The Violent and the Fallen (Finishing Line Press). A scholar of philosophical theology and literature, Wilson has lectured widely on topics ranging from modern American poetry to ancient Greek philosophy. Readers can learn more about his writing at jamesmatthewwilson.com.

Reprinted with permission from Crisis Magazine.

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Katie Yoder

Taxpayer-funded PBS pushes teaching sex ed to 4-year-olds

Katie Yoder
By Katie Yoder

June 1, 2015 (NewsBusters.org) -- Watching PBS? Might want to ask the kindergartners to leave the room.

In a May 27 piece for tax-funded PBS, NewsHour producer Saskia de Melker argued “The case for starting sex education in kindergarten.” In her piece, she held up the Netherlands as an example for the United States in “sexuality education” – for those as young as 4-years-old to learn “honest conversations about love and relationships.”

To begin her piece, de Melker pointed to “Spring Fever” week in Dutch primary schools, or “the week of focused sex ed classes … for 4-year olds.”

“Of course, it’s not just for 4-year-olds,” she reassured about the Netherlands’ “comprehensive sex education.” “Eight-year-olds learn about self-image and gender stereotypes. Eleven-year-olds discuss sexual orientation and contraceptive options.”

She assured prudish Americans that, “You’ll never hear an explicit reference to sex in a kindergarten class,” she wrote. “In fact, the term for what’s being taught here is sexuality education rather than sex education.” (Funny, that’s not how her headline read.)

Citing Ineke van der Vlugt, who works on youth sexual development for Rutgers WPF, “the Dutch sexuality research institute behind the curriculum,” de Melker urged the program is “about having open, honest conversations about love and relationships.”

De Melker highlighted how Netherlands law requires all primary schools to teach “sexuality education” that must include “certain core principles” like “sexual diversity and sexual assertiveness.”

“The underlying principle is straightforward,” she wrote, “Sexual development is a normal process that all young people experience, and they have the right to frank, trustworthy information on the subject.”

And, according to de Melker, the approach works as the Netherlands “boasts some of the best outcomes when it comes to teen sexual health” with statistics on birth control, contraceptives, and sexual experiences.

“There are multiple factors that likely contribute to these numbers,” she hyped. “Easy access to contraception is one. Condoms, for example, are available in vending machines, and the birth control pill is free for anyone under age 21.”

De Melker provided more solid examples of just what kindergarteners learn.

“[S]tudents draw boys’ and girls’ bodies, tell stories about friends taking a bath together, and discuss who likes doing that and who doesn’t,” she wrote. “By the end of kindergarten, students are expected to be able to properly name body parts including genitals. They also learn about different types of families, what it means to be a good friend, and that a baby grows in a mother’s womb.”

11-year-olds, on the other hand learn to discuss “hypothetical situations” like:

  •  “You’re kissing someone and they start using their tongue which you don’t want.”

  •  “A girl starts dancing close to a guy at a party causing him to get an erection.”

  • “Your friend is showing off pornographic photos that make you feel uncomfortable.”

If a student thinks she’s a lesbian, some teachers, like Sabine Hasselaar, explain to the class, “It’s not strange for some girls to like other girls more than boys. It’s a feeling that you can’t change, just like being in love. The only difference is that it’s with someone that is the same sex as you.”

If you’re wondering where Dutch parents are in all this, it isn’t as though they’ve totally abdicated their responsibility to the state. Well, OK, it is. In fact, the schools teach them too.

“Parents nights are held to give parents tools to talk to their kids about sex,” and “Public health experts recommend that parents take cues from their kids.”

In other words, “if you walk in on your child masturbating, don’t react shocked; don’t punish or scold them,” she detailed. “Have a talk about where it is appropriate for such behavior to occur.”

While the U.S. is still far behind, de Melker encouraged that, in some places, “the tide is shifting toward an approach closer to that of the Dutch.”

Reprinted with permission from NewsBusters.

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