“…it’s hard to imagine our ever getting to a culture of life without underscoring the sheer miracle wrapped up in a baby.”— William McGurn
As we prepared to mark January 22, 2016, the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we decided to ask pro-life leaders and thinkers to share with us their thoughts on “How the Pro-Life Movement Fared in 2015.” Their answers, collected here, both unite and diverge. All might agree that the top story was the release of the undercover Planned Parenthood videos. Eric Metaxas sees that, in an “epochal” year for the pro-life movement, “David Daleiden’s undercover citizen-video journalism broke open the ghastly subject of abortion in a way never done before.” Kristan Hawkins writes that the year “will go down in history as a game-changer,” and that the videos prompted her Students for Life to launch the powerful #WomenBetrayed movement. Tim Goeglein and Doug Napier are encouraged that in the year in which “one video changed everything” one of the best results was a “new surge in cooperation among pro-life organizations.” Hadley Arkes reflects on a “new moment” given to those who would restore the penalties stripped from the 2002 Born Alive Infants Protection Act: in September, led by Trent Franks (R-Arizona), the House passed The Born-Alive Survivors of Abortion Protection Act. Clarke Forsythe notes that 2015 was the “fifth year since 2011” in which the movement “made significant progress in state legislative sessions” and says that the Roe decision is “clearly unsettled due to persistent political and legislative opposition.” William Murchison declares it was “a fine year for the unborn”—the proof? New York Times editors declared 2015 “A Bad Year for Reproductive Rights.” On the more sobering side, Mary Meehan regrets that the “second biggest story” was how some pro-life politicians “mishandled the story”—exhibiting boorish behavior during congressional hearings with Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. And 2015 was decidedly not a good year for the fight to stem euthanasia and assisted suicide: Rita Marker describes what lead up to Governor Jerry Brown signing assisted suicide into law in California, and Wesley Smith reports that the “already radical euthanasia regimes of Belgium, the Netherlands and suicide clinics in Switzerland grew even more brazen” in 2015. For his part, William McGurn thinks the answer to our question depends on what we mean by “fare”; he finds himself most interested in the underlying issue of how, as a culture, we welcome new life. Babies used to be “regarded as a blessing, he writes, “it’s hard to imagine our ever getting to a culture of life without underscoring the sheer miracle wrapped up in a baby. And finally, Helen Alvare, who has remarked that our Human Life Review is the place where the movement for human life does its thinking, writes about how we fared in 2015: “At first glance, it could seem surprising that a journal devoted primarily to the subject matter of abortion would persist for decades.” Yet, she continues, the other side of the story is that a journal which takes on abortion must “take on all of it”–a myriad of subjects–because “You don’t decide that killing human beings is okay without signing off on several dozen other conclusions, deep and shallow, great and small, explicitly or sub rosa.”
We thank Professor Alvaré for her encouragement, and all our participants for their great defense of human life.
The year 2015 was an epochal one for the pro-life movement. David Daleiden’s undercover citizen-video journalism broke open the ghastly subject of abortion in a way never before done. The horror of Planned Parenthood in particular was revealed to the public with unprecedented force, helping people to see what hitherto they were so easily able to avoid and ignore due to the pro-abortion bias of the mainstream media and Democratic Party. These videos, coupled with advances in science and ultra-sound-imaging technology, have made it impossible for them to continue to believe the raft of pro-abortion lies about the unborn child being a “blob” or a “mass of cells.” For the first time, Americans are becoming aware of what their lawmakers have wrought; the macabre story of Kermit Gosnell, too, has helped many see what they never dreamt was happening in their country—often funded by their own tax dollars.
As someone familiar with William Wilberforce’s hard-fought campaign to end the slave trade, I see the stark similarities in these battles. In Great Britain, the slave trade had been able to keep out of sight of the average British citizen. The ships sailed from English harbors to West Africa to pick up their human cargo, transporting them under the most horrific conditions across the Atlantic to the West Indies, where all of the sugar plantations were located. When the ships returned to England, it was with rum and molasses and raw sugar onboard, so that the extraordinary evil of the trade was entirely hidden from English eyes. But Wilberforce changed all that. He knew that if he could only tell the stories and put the images and facts in the minds of average people, most of them would recognize the slave trade for the moral horror it was and vote against it, despite the fact that it supported their economy. And he was correct. Though the battle was long, he knew that revealing the facts—though itself difficult—would be worth the trouble. In the end, the people of Britain turned against the slave trade and history was forever changed.
The parallels with the abortion battle are striking. Via Daleiden’s videos—and Carly Fiorina’s heroic reference to them in one of the earlier GOP debates—the subject was brought to the fore of American life; millions have become acquainted with the facts and the truth behind the curtain put up by Planned Parenthood and NARAL and others who know that these revelations will end their cultural sway. We must keep pushing the facts and stories out there, trusting that the average American, and even many vocally “pro-choice” Americans, will see that they have bought a lie, and will in the end stand against what anyone open to the truth must see—that abortion is something we must stand against. We must push without being pushy and must speak the truth boldly, but in love, trusting that if we do so, the facts and the truth will speak for themselves to those who are open to hearing the truth. We must do what Wilberforce did: We must not be moralists and grandstanders, but must humbly own our own part in this awful story, and must offer forgiveness and grace along with the hard truth. This is God’s battle, not ours, and it is our honor and privilege to play a small part in it, to His glory.
Eric Metaxas, the New York Times bestselling author of Bonhoeffer and Amazing Grace, hosts The Eric Metaxas Show, a syndicated radio program heard in over 120 cities in the U.S.
We got word that something big was going to happen in mid-July but we didn’t know how big, and, frankly, I was skeptical. At times, as pro-lifers, we think that some event or rally or protest or court case is going to be huge and groundbreaking and something that the nation has to pay attention to; but it ends up being a blip on the radar, if that. This time, I was wrong to be skeptical.
When the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) released its first video, in which abortionist Dr. Deborah Nucatola blithely talks about selling the body parts of aborted babies, our entire organization at Students for Life of America was upended—in a good way—and we knew that this was the year the nation would be forced to look at what goes on behind closed doors at America’s largest abortion chain, Planned Parenthood.
When Planned Parenthood’s president Cecile Richards issued a video response just days after the first CMP release—apologizing for the “tone” of the abortionist caught on tape—without a doubt we knew that 2015 was the year that would go down in history as a game-changer and we were prepared to be on the forefront of the fight.
Students for Life is a small organization but we have a large reach throughout the pro-life community because we work with over 930 pro-life groups on college and high-school campuses, who in turn work with their local pro-life community leaders and pregnancy resource centers. We foster relationships both on the local and national level; we knew we had to leverage the CMP videos immediately and try to reach as many people as possible with a message about them.
But what message and who did we want to reach?
Pro-lifers have been claiming for years that the abortion industry sells fetal tissue. Nearly a decade ago, there was a news show about it; some pro-lifers even produced business forms that showed how much certain baby body parts were worth. But it remained a fruitless endeavor and pro-lifers never got any traction. Then, 26-year-old David Daleiden created a company that purported to buy fetal tissue and infiltrated the abortion industry for nearly three years, obtaining hundreds of hours of undercover footage of abortionists callously negotiating the price of baby body parts. He was even able to film inside the “products of conception” lab where abortionists held the tiny, distinguishable parts of babies they had just aborted.
Again, pro-lifers had known this was happening but they couldn’t prove it till now. This time it was different: It wasn’t pro-lifers talking about selling baby body parts—it was Planned Parenthood’s own executives. It wasn’t pro-lifers holding grisly photos of aborted babies—it was Planned Parenthood’s own abortionists holding tiny legs and hands of those babies.
So it wasn’t pro-lifers we needed to reach. We needed to reach Planned Parenthood’s clientele, the women considering abortion, the men pushing them into the facilities, the families of women facing unplanned pregnancies. They all needed to know that Planned Parenthood would put a price tag on women as soon as they walked through a clinic door. They needed to know that Planned Parenthood was, in some cases, illegally altering abortion procedures, putting the mother at greater risk of complications, just so they could obtain “intact” baby body parts to sell. They needed to know that Planned Parenthood couldn’t care less about their safety, their health, or their rights—all the organization cared about was its bottom line and it would do whatever it took to bolster it.
Ultimately, Planned Parenthood’s clientele needed to know that the nation’s largest abortion provider was betraying women and their families; it was breaking the trust that patients placed in it every day.
And so was born the #WomenBetrayed movement. Students for Life of America worked with every contact we had to coordinate a national rally day to take place just 10 days after the first CMP video was released. We were hoping for maybe 10 or 15 events but ended up having rallies in close to 80 cities, and in nearly every major media market, including Washington, DC, where we had presidential candidates take to the podium and pledge to defund Planned Parenthood if elected. Just that one day amounted to nearly $10 million in earned media coverage—the most the pro-life movement has ever had on one day.
We hope Cecile Richards was watching the coverage. We hope that she and her expensive PR firm were up at night trying to figure out how to counter our message. They had nothing to fall back on. Their only line of defense was that the CMP videos were “highly edited,” which their own analysis suggested was not probable and another, independent, forensic analysis deemed incorrect—the videos are 100 percent authentic.
Then, in the fall, Cecile Richards was called in front of Congress to testify about her organization. She admitted that 86 percent of Planned Parenthood’s non-government revenue came from abortion. She also admitted that the organization does not do mammograms—a deception that she and her allies, including President Obama, have been perpetrating for years.
Three House committees are now investigating Planned Parenthood; a select panel has been formed solely to investigate the organization. Dozens of states are also investigating, and governors have since pulled funding from the organization. Planned Parenthood, which is engaged in costly litigation, has also announced plans to spend $20 million in 2016 to elect a president it can trust (aka Hillary Clinton).
In late fall, the U.S. Senate actually passed a bill that cut nearly 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding through a process called reconciliation. It was the first time that the Senate had ever voted to defund Planned Parenthood. While President Obama is all but guaranteed to veto the bill, Planned Parenthood should be shaking in its boots, because the key to unlocking its federal funding has been found. If this nation elects a pro-life president, pro-life leaders in Congress will use the reconciliation process again to pass a bill that defunds the country’s abortion giant and redirects that money to federally funded healthcare centers that do everything Planned Parenthood does—except abortion.
The presidential election of 2016 cannot be more crucial. Voting pro-life first is going to be key to maintaining the momentum of the pro-life movement as we continue to show the country that Planned Parenthood is a disreputable organization that betrays the very women it claims to empower and support.
The secret is out, and as a pro-lifer, I can’t wait to see what happens in 2016.
Kristan Hawkins is president of Students for Life of America.
2015 saw the House take up our move to restore penalties that had been stripped from the original Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act in order to avert a veto from Bill Clinton (though by the time the bill was introduced Clinton was no longer president). We thought it would take all of Jerry Nadler’s arts to keep the Democrats from voting against the bill this time—just as it had taken all of his arts to persuade them not embarrass the party by voting against it back in 2002. But Obama ran true to form: He announced that he would veto the bill—as he had acted, as a state senator in Illinois, to kill a bill that would extend the protection of the law to children who survived late-term abortions. He had been willing to take that radical stand even as Democrats in Congress backed away, in prudence, from voting against the federal version of the same bill. The federal bill passed by voice vote in 2002, with no dissenting Democratic vote. Now, in 2015, Congress was faced with the latest iteration of that bill: a move to add serious penalties for engaging in that killing. And therein lies a story.
Readers of the Human Life Review probably know that the Born-Alive Infants’ Protection Act was my bill; that it sprang from a draft I wrote for the first George Bush in 1988. It was the “most modest first step” in legislating on abortion, to protect the child who survived abortion, and plant premises in the law: Even the child marked for abortion had a claim to the protection of the law. And from that point we would ask what was different about that same child five minutes earlier, and then five days, five months before birth.
The bill was finally introduced in 2001 and enacted in 2002. But it was a pure teaching bill; the penalties had never been restored, and without those penalties, it became virtually impossible to enforce.
In the meantime, we came to learn that this kind of killing occurred far more often, in far larger numbers than even we had known at the time. Jill Stanek, a brave nurse in Illinois, had blown the whistle on the “live-birth abortion”—delivering the child alive and then putting it in a Refuse Room, uncovered, to die. As she went on the radio for interviews, we heard from nurses in other parts of the country that those “procedures” had been practiced in their hospitals for years.
Then came the killings in Kermit Gosnell’s abattoir in Philadelphia. The country was alerted now, as never before, to the fact that children were killed in brutal ways when they survived abortions.
That gave us the new moment. And so a year ago, in September, I invited a group of accomplished friends in Washington to form a Working Group to restore the penalties that had been stripped from the Act. The group included my former student, Paula Stannard, who had been deputy general counsel of Health and Human Services under George W. Bush, Ed Whelan of the Ethics & Public Policy Center, Mary Harned and Bill Saunders from Americans United for Life, pro-life veterans Bill Wichterman and Chuck Donovan, and the activist Star Parker.
Trent Franks (R-Arizona), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Constitution in the House, invited us to provide the draft for the new legislation. The Democrats had voted earlier to forbid these killings, and so we would ask: What do you think is the appropriate punishment for killing a child who survived an abortion? Our own draft contained stiff civil penalties, hefty fines for the doctors and their aides who performed these surgeries, and the hospitals and clinics that permitted them. But as convictions kindled on this issue, our friends on the Judiciary Committee were moved to add criminal penalties, with time in jail.
Suddenly with the whirl on Capitol Hill, the Judiciary Committee saw the chance to enact our bill now, as a pro-life measure likely to pass. Chairman Franks reached out for our bill, and with a few changes he introduced it on the floor, with an eloquent appeal. The bill was renamed (with a string of nouns as adjectives) “The Born-Alive Survivors of Abortion Protection Act.”
The announcement came from the White House on September 16 that Obama would veto the bill. I guess we should not have been surprised, given his audacity in opposing the same measure in Illinois. Still, he had sought in 2008 to cast up fog to suggest that there was something different about that bill in Illinois. Even he didn’t want to declare so emphatically at the time his willingness to accept the killing of children born alive if that were necessary to fend off even the most modest attempts to scale back that “right to abortion.” It struck me that there were grounds of hope that, when he was faced starkly with the issue by Congress, he would back away and sign the bill, as though it made no momentous difference. But he was freer now to act out his character, even with the risk of damage to his party. And yet such was the state of the Democratic Party now that the Democrats in Congress suffered no qualms in following their leader. With only a handful of pro-life Democrats still remaining in the cause, the Democrats acted in mass as though they were now emancipated for the first time to be their true selves. No more need to dissemble. And so, on September 18, 177 Democrats voted against the move to provide real penalties, civil and criminal, to surgeons who kill children born alive. And, of course, not a single Republican voted against it.
We will have pro-lifers grumbling about the Republicans—as I do about the two George Bushes—and yet can one really refuse to recognize the deep, plain, striking division between our parties on this issue? One would seek to restrain and reduce abortions, and even seek the overturning of that doctrine that there is a “right” to take innocent life for the sake of one’s own self-interest. And the other looks upon abortion, not merely as a legitimate private choice, but as a deep public good, which deserves to be promoted and enlarged at every turn, with public funds and with the levers of the law.
Hadley Arkes is Edward N. Ney Professor in American Institutions, Emeritus, at Amherst College and Founding Director of the James Wilson Institute in Washington D.C.
How did the pro-life movement fare in 2015? The short answer is, I have no clue. The longer answer is, it depends on what you mean by “fare.”
If what we mean by “fare” is, how well did the pro-life cause do politically, I would yield to the judgment of folks such as Clarke Forsythe of Americans United for Life, who follow pro-life issues across all 50 states.
But the measurement that I am most interested in is more social and cultural than it is political and legal. Back when I was writing speeches for President George W. Bush, he liked to express his goal on abortion this way: An America where every child was welcomed in life and protected in law. It strikes me as the perfect summary of what we are working for.
Most of the time, we are working on the law side. And there’s nothing wrong with that. From chipping away at the outrage that is Roe v. Wade (and its ugly progeny, Planned Parenthood v. Casey) to imposing restrictions on late-term abortions and now working to defund Planned Parenthood, we’ve had a number of solid victories. There will be more to come, and they all have important human consequences.
But as my hair whitens and I look at college-age daughters who will someday be mothers themselves, I find myself more drawn to the “welcomed in life” part of the credo. In the family I grew up in, and in the family my wife grew up in, babies were regarded as a blessing. It wasn’t even taught: It was lived. It is a wondrous thing to have. The welcome was real and from the heart.
In addition, all three of my daughters are adopted from China—a place where it was thought in the nation’s interest that families be limited to only one welcome. This is a very sad thing. And when I look into my girls’ faces, I try to remember three women somewhere in China who made a decision for life that leaves me with a debt I simply cannot pay in this world.
For my daughters, and for millions just like them, it’s a different challenge. For the promise of abortion is as old as the ages: sex without consequences. Today, because of technology, there is a further allure: No one ever need know. If you make a mistake and find yourself with an unwanted life growing in your womb, you can get rid of it, and nobody—except you and God—will be the wiser.
It doesn’t help that when women find themselves in this position, they have often been abandoned by the father and are either too afraid to tell their families or have no family to lean on. That is about as alone as someone can get.
Recently on Facebook an acquaintance of mine posted a story about a young female attorney who wrote about finding herself pregnant at perhaps the most inopportune moment of her career. Her point was that often pro-lifers think of women with unplanned pregnancies as uneducated teenagers, but, life being what it is, plenty of upwardly mobile professional women will inevitably find themselves in the same fix she did. Without sugarcoating, she ended by relating her decision to keep her son, the joy he brings to her life—and the kind of support that means a great deal to a mom raising her child on her own.
It’s a familiar story. Less familiar to me were the many hostile comments her story evoked from other women who made clear they regarded an unplanned pregnancy as an “alien” come to occupy its mother’s body. Others spoke of what they would do if they discovered the life inside them suffered, say, a “chromosomal abnormality.” So much for respecting the choices women make. It was cold and brutal—but it is how real people in the real world speak.
Against these comments, other women, mostly moms, had pointed to the joy and miracle of life. But it must be said: Their words did not persuade.
And that, my friends, seems to me the state of the pro-life movement, not only for today but for all time. Certainly we need to underscore the sheer beauty of the welcome. It is well to address the hard realities of single parenthood, or any kind of parenthood for that matter, but it’s hard to imagine our ever getting to a culture of life without underscoring the sheer miracle wrapped up in a baby.
We will not always persuade those who regard a fetus as expendable. But as I read those Facebook posts from mothers trying so hard to counter what one called “the sad view of a miraculous event,” it struck me that this is what it’s all about: making the case when the circumstances are least opportune, when the opponent appears implacable, and when we are frustrated by what we perceive as the galactic inadequacy of our own words.
Because I don’t believe the rejections we receive are the final word. I have read enough articles by women who regret their abortions who said “if even one person had spoken up,” to know that it matters, and matters most when we least expect. So long as we have people willing to make the case even if they know they are on the losing side— perhaps especially when they are on the losing side—I’d say we’re faring better than we know.
William McGurn is a Vice President of News Corp and the Main Street columnist for the Wall Street Journal.
2015 was the fifth year since 2011 in which the pro-life movement made considerable progress in state legislative sessions. This was the result of three principal factors: (1) the state-based legislative strategy the movement has pursued since Americans United for Life’s 1984 Conference on “Reversing Roe v. Wade Through the Courts,” (2) the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which gave greater deference to the states to enact legislation to protect unborn children and women, and (3) the 2010 midterm elections, which brought in 600 state legislators who tend to vote pro-life, and the 2014 midterm elections, which brought in 200 more.
One fruitful point of comparison for the movement is 1992, when the Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe v. Wade in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and voters elected Bill Clinton. In an op-ed in the Washington Post on December 4 of that year, Charles Krauthammer pronounced “the great abortion debate is over.” Pro-lifers had lost, and the movement, he wrote, was relegated to “changing hearts and minds.”
Twenty-three years later, the abortion “issue” is not the abortion “issue” of the 1970s or the 1980s, both decades having been marked by a hostile Supreme Court, a more uncertain public opinion, and constraints on legislative action that have since been partially lifted. Leadership, perseverance, a well-formed strategy, and focused action have resulted in significant progress. With the gains made by the movement in recent years, abortion advocates—and conservative commentators like Charles Krauthammer—have admitted that the pro-life movement is winning.
Consider one example of persistent legislative effort, year by year since the 1980s: fetal homicide laws. In 1973 they were enforced in only 5 or 6 states; today, they are enforced in 39 states. (There are also prenatal injury laws in 50 states and wrongful death laws that protect the unborn child in 38 states.)
In July 2015, after years of efforts to defund Planned Parenthood (PP), undercover videos by David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress exposing the abortion giant’s disreputable practices burst on the scene. The videos and their rollout have been brilliant. But they gained traction in 2015 that they wouldn’t have had, say, in 1979, because media opportunities have improved and political leadership in the states and in the U.S. House and Senate have given them much attention.
The videos have been important for two major reasons. They have communicated to more Americans that Planned Parenthood is an abortion provider—something that many simply didn’t know before. And they have educated them about the fetal-tissue business made possible by abortion—severed hearts, arms, and legs, which are being harvested and sold. Indeed, in July 2015, for perhaps the first time, the Wall Street Journal recognized in a lead editorial that Planned Parenthood is “the largest abortion provider in the U.S.” The videos have brought Congress closer to defunding Planned Parenthood than at any time since 1970, when the National Family Planning Act (NFPA) was enacted. And the disturbing issue of fetal-tissue harvesting, newly spotlighted by the videos, will be addressed in state legislatures in 2016 with new laws (like AUL’s Unborn Infants Dignity Act).
Were the videos successful? By January 6, 2016, both the Senate and the House had voted to defund Planned Parenthood. A Select Committee on Infant Lives continues to investigate the organization’s fetal-tissue harvesting and sale. The videos have spurred efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in the states and have laid the foundation for defunding after we get a new president in January 2017. Success will also be measured in additional limits on abortion, bans on fetal-tissue harvesting, and other protections for unborn life that we may see enacted in coming years.
The success of Daleiden’s Planned Parenthood videos should not be measured in terms of whether or not they resulted in a “federal government shutdown.” That’s a distraction because (1) a “federal government shutdown” is not possible with President Obama in office; (2) a shutdown is not a measure of pro-life success; and (3) it is an objective that few understand, because it is subject to broad exceptions by law. Also, the President can arbitrarily exploit a “shutdown” by politically-selective funding cuts. Neither should the success of these videos be determined by whether or not their airing resulted in immediate defunding: President Obama holds the veto pen and he is as resolutely committed to Planned Parenthood’s ideology and funding as he is to any other aspect of his “legacy.”
On the broader front, the 23 years since the Casey decision have produced mounting evidence that Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton are collapsing—both from inherent defects in the Court’s abortion doctrine and from its ill-advised, self-appointed role as the country’s National Abortion Control Board. Roe is clearly unsettled due to persistent political and legislative opposition. Its original rationale has been abandoned by judges and scholars, which is strong evidence that it was wrongly decided. The Justices have been ineffective as a Control Board, leaving a trail of substandard providers and substandard conditions in clinics from coast to coast. The Justices’ assumptions in 1973—based on no reliable data or evidence in the case record—were wildly wrong and have been consistently and increasingly contradicted. The medical profession—rank-and-file physicians—has largely abandoned the abortion industry. The number of providers has declined, and the annual number of abortions, according to the CDC, has declined seven straight years since 2008.
Political and judicial obstacles will continue to influence the rate of future progress. By the time of the next presidential inauguration, on January 20, 2017, four Supreme Court justices will be 80 or on the verge of 80. Hence the president elected in 2016 will, for better or worse, likely influence the Court for the next quarter century. Four more pro-abortion justices like Ruth Ginsburg would not be able to overturn pro-life legislative gains in the states completely, but they might effectively impose a political and legislative stalemate for decades.
So we end 2015 with a paradox: No one could have predicted, at the time of President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009, the strength of the pro-life movement after seven years of his presidency. And yet that progress may be significantly blunted, if not reversed, by the prospect of a “President” Hillary Clinton appointing several pro-abortion justices to the Supreme Court. With the Court now hanging on a 4-1-4 balance, all political frustration on the part of every pro-life American should be focused on the November 2016 elections.
Clarke D. Forsythe is Senior Counsel at Americans United for Life and the author of numerous publications, including Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade (Encounter Books 2013).
Oregon legalized doctor-prescribed suicide in 1994.1 Since then, state after state has rejected similar assisted-suicide measures, some multiple times. In fact, since January 1994, there have been more than 175 such proposals in over 35 states.2
Up until 2015, only two additional states—Washington and Vermont3—had joined Oregon as jurisdictions that permitted doctor-prescribed suicide.4
But as 2015 began, proponents of assisted suicide were riding a wave of publicity over the death of a young woman who took a deadly overdose of barbiturates prescribed under Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act.” Twenty-nine-year-old Brittany Maynard, a brain-cancer patient who had moved from California to Oregon for the specific purpose of qualifying for death under Oregon’s law, had been the subject of a sympathetic cover story in People magazine. Following her assisted-suicide death, her husband, now a paid staff member of Compassion and Choices (formerly called the Hemlock Society), became spokesperson-in-chief, advocating passage of Oregon-style laws with a special emphasis on California.
During 2015, laws to give a doctor the right to prescribe drugs for the specific purpose of causing a patient’s death were proposed in 25 states and the District of Columbia.5 Advocates of assisted suicide were banking on the Brittany Maynard story to catapult them to success.
In state after state the measures failed or were postponed. However, on September 11, 2015, California lawmakers passed the “End of Life Option Act,” after remarkable gyrations to bring it to a vote in a special session.
The bill had originally died in the Assembly Health Committee in July. According to legislative rules, the two-year bill could be heard again, but not until January 2016—or so most people thought. But its sponsors had another plan.
Because the state’s Medi-Cal (Medicaid) program was facing a billion-dollar shortfall, Governor Jerry Brown called a special session specifically to pass legislation to fund the Medi-Cal program. The assisted-suicide bill’s sponsors jumped on the opportunity to introduce it again, even though it was not on the subject for which the special session was called. This provided a perfect opportunity for the sponsors to circumvent many of the regular session requirements. Even more important was the fact that the special session Assembly Health Committee would be smaller and hand-picked, allowing the removal of legislators who had opposed the measure weeks earlier during the regular session. With the stumbling block of the earlier configured Assembly Health Committee out of the way, the bill passed the new committee and went to the full Assembly, where it passed. It then went to the Senate, whose leadership, which included the bill’s sponsors, waived any committee hearings and sent the bill straight to the floor—it passed in a final vote on September 11.
On October 5, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law.
For almost 20 years, beginning in 1995, bill after bill had been introduced in California and failed. In 2015, however, the crime of assisted suicide was transformed into a “medical treatment,” largely due to Compassion and Choices’ hefty war chest and its promotional use of Brittany Maynard and her family.
That new law will take effect 90 days after the end of the special session, which could occur as late as November 2016.
So what can be expected going forward? And what should be done in the months ahead?
As with the Brittany Maynard story in 2014, passage of the California law in 2015 has put wind in the sails of the doctor-prescribed suicide movement.
In the months ahead, individuals and groups that recognize the very real danger posed to vulnerable patients must be willing to work with at least the same degree of commitment as those promoting death. And such commitment must be ongoing.
Understanding what this means includes recognizing the reality of such laws—all of which are patterned on Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act”—and then sharing that information with friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, etc.
For example, few people in states where such a measure is pending ever hear about it. Or if they do, they often read that such a proposed law contains “safeguards,” and that Oregon’s experience has shown that there are no problems or abuses.
Yet the so-called safeguards are not worth the paper on which they are written. One such safeguard is the requirement that before writing the deadly prescription the doctor must inform the patient of all “feasible alternatives.” But telling someone about treatment alternatives does not mean that the patient has the resources to access those alternatives.
Although more people than in the past have medical insurance, many still do not. And, even for those who do, the stark reality is that authorization for payment for such alternatives may depend on cost-effectiveness. The price of drugs for assisted suicide is miniscule compared to the cost of providing treatment to make a patient more comfortable and to extend life.
What could be more cost-effective than a prescription for a deadly overdose of drugs?
And then there’s the claim that Oregon’s experience has proven how safe such laws are because the state’s official annual reports do not indicate any problems or abuses.
There are big problems with that claim.
All information in official reports is provided by those who carry out assisted suicide. And, on top of that, there are no penalties for non-reporting or for inaccurate or incomplete reporting to state authorities. Do we really believe that any doctor prescribing a lethal overdose of barbiturates to a patient would report that he or she didn’t follow the law or that the patient was being pressured by others to request the drugs?
As we look ahead to what will happen in 2016, it is helpful to recognize that each and every person has a responsibility to protect vulnerable patients. And it is also important to recognize that, if we don’t make stopping doctor-prescribed suicide a priority, we could face the following scenario: While standing in line at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for antibiotics, you overhear the pharmacist explaining to the person ahead of you, “She should take all of this with a light snack and alcohol to cause death.” And when that person turns around to leave, you see that she is a friend who has a sick mother. She is picking up the drugs for her mother’s death.
1. Oregon’s “Death with Dignity Act” passed by voter initiative in 1994 but, due to court challenges, did not go into effect until October 1997. For more information on the Oregon law, see: http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/oregon.
2. For a complete list of states and proposals since 1994, see, “Attempts to Legalize” at: http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/failed-attempts-usa.
3. Washington passed a voter initiative permitting doctor-prescribed suicide in 2008. The law went into effect in March 2009. For more information on the Washington law, see: http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/washington. Vermont legislators approved the state’s “Patient Choice at End of Life Bill” in 2013. It was signed by the Governor on May 20, 2013, and went into effect immediately. For more information on the Vermont law, see: http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/vermont/
4. Many news articles refer to Montana as a state that has legalized assisted suicide. However, the situation in that state amounts to only de facto legalization, resulting from a December 31, 2009 Montana Supreme Court decision. The court did not officially legalize assisted suicide but said that, if charged with assisting a suicide, a doctor could use the patient’s request as a defense. For more information about doctor-prescribed suicide in Montana, see: http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/montana.
5. In 2015, laws to permit doctor-prescribed suicide were under consideration in AK, CA, CO, CT, DE, DC, HI, IA, KS, ME, MD, MA, MN, MO, MT, NV, NY, NC, OK, PA, RI, TN, UT, WI, and WY.
Rita L. Marker is an attorney and executive director of the Patients Rights Council.
This was the year one video changed everything.
Released in mid-July by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), the eight-minute clip showed a glib Planned Parenthood executive sipping her wine and casually breaking down the most cost-efficient ways to dismember a living baby. Over the next few weeks, millions of viewers finally saw for themselves what pro-life activists have been trying to expose for decades . . . the cold, calculating heart beneath one of the most benevolent corporate images in America.
Eleven more videos followed—each one feeding the fires of outrage that, overnight, engulfed Planned Parenthood and seriously threatened its most precious possession: its multi-million-dollar bottom line. The company struck back with every high-priced lawyer, high-profile Hollywood ally, and high-toned Presidential endorsement at its disposal—frantically trying to unpaint the new portrait of evil the videos revealed. Accusations of distortion and deliberate mis-editing by CMP were quickly exposed as the desperate ploys they so obviously were.
People knew now. The seeds of doubt were planted, and Planned Parenthood’s maneuverings only served to irrigate them. Before the year was over, the U.S. Senate had done what only months earlier seemed unthinkable—voted to defund the once-impregnable giant of the abortion industry. At this writing, the U.S. House of Representatives seems poised to do the same.
That leaves the President, with his veto . . . a veto he will undoubtedly use. But in doing so, he cannot help but align himself with that icy-souled creature now emblazoned on the cultural memory, sipping her wine and discussing how to remove a living baby’s brain as coolly as one might pith a frog.
The political ramifications of this new debate over Planned Parenthood extend out into this year’s campaigns: In an extraordinary solidarity, every one of the dozen-plus 2016 Republican presidential candidates went on record as favoring the defunding of the nation’s number-one abortion provider. And with the appointment of a House Select Committee to investigate Planned Parenthood activities (effectively synchronizing the investigations of several other Congressional committees), the probing of that now-shaky public image is likely to continue apace in the year ahead.
That probing builds in part on detailed reports on Planned Parenthood practices released each of the past several years by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a legal non-profit currently pressing multiple lawsuits against Planned Parenthood in several states. Those lawsuits expose the company’s extensive fraud against taxpayers. Under “whistle-blower” laws, former Planned Parenthood employees are testifying to the myriad ways the company’s practices endanger the very women it purports to serve . . . while charging taxpayers nearly 10 times their actual cost and overcharging the amounts allowed by federal and state law.
The 2015 ADF report to Congress also details the failure of Planned Parenthood employees nationwide to report suspected sexual abuse of teenage girls seeking abortions at their facilities. ADF has provided these same reports to state governments and pro-life groups across the U.S., many of which are energetically pursuing their own efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.
The nation’s courts, too, are moving with new speed to defend life—or at least the right of others to defend it. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent unanimous ruling in McCullen v. Coakley—striking down the “buffer zones” Massachusetts officials were using to keep sidewalk abortion counselors away from those entering Boston abortion clinics—continues to have a domino effect on other states. Counselors, free of the zones, are reaching hundreds of women every year with their compassion.
In 2016, the High Court is scheduled to hear seven cases from Christian non-profit organizations asking for religious liberty protections like those the Court granted for-profit companies in its 2014 Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell decision. These include the right to both opt out of this administration’s HHS abortion pill mandate and not be complicit in any so-called “accommodations.” (The mandate currently requires all non-profits—even some with documented, religion-based opposition to abortion—to provide insurance coverage directly or indirectly for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception or face heavy financial penalties from the IRS.)
The Supreme Court has also agreed to rule on the constitutionality of a Texas law that would require abortion clinics to provide the same basic protections required of other health-care facilities, including requiring doctors who perform abortions to have privileges at a local hospital where the patient can be treated in case of complications—something that occurs too often in the abortion industry. Those pressing the abortion agenda often claim to want to make abortions “safe, legal, and rare.” In truth, this case shows, they count “safe” and “rare” expendable, so long as they can keep abortion legal. The Court’s decision will determine whether abortion politics trump the safety of women in Texas—and perhaps in every other state, too.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of the flurry of pro-life activity born of the CMP videos has been a new surge in cooperation among pro-life organizations. National and state groups have come together in new and imaginative ways—combining staff, funds, and resources to develop strategies that have capitalized on the public’s revulsion at what the videos revealed about the abortion industry. Meanwhile, Family Policy Councils coast to coast have asked for and received these groups’ help and cooperation in reaching out forcefully to persuade their state leaders to defund Planned Parenthood—an effort that will extend into the 2016 legislative season.
Working together, these groups have offered tangible proof of what Planned Parenthood only promises: genuine, safe, compassionate care for women and their babies. An ADF-created website, GetYourCare.org, for instance, includes maps that allow any woman, anywhere in the country, to plug in her zip code and locate the nearest of more than 13,000 Federal Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs)—each a more-than-viable alternative to any of Planned Parenthood’s 665 facilities nationwide.
When the public is informed about the realities of abortion, they respond in powerful ways. In 2015, a significant portion of the American people learned more about Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry than ever before. This year will see even more of that information disseminated—and in all likelihood, an even stronger response from a nation increasingly reminded of its responsibility for and commitment to preserving life.
Tim Goeglein is vice president of External Relations for Focus on the Family. Doug Napier is senior counsel, executive vice president, and Chief Alliance Officer with Alliance Defending Freedom.
I knew it, I knew it! “A Bad Year for Reproductive Rights,” was the headline on the New York Times editorial of last Dec. 20: so sallow and care-worn, more than a little bit haggard.
I understood instantly, before reading further, that it had been a fine year for unborn life.
The Times’ official funk made that possibly disputed point as plain as day. “Political opponents,” the editorial declared in summary, “have shown how quickly they can regroup and find ways to restrict or obliterate programs and services women need.” To wit, through enacting at the state legislative level 288 laws assailing “the right of women to control what happens with their own bodies without the interference of politicians.”
A trend initiated in 2011 “accelerated in 2015,” the Times continued dolefully, its chin dragging the floor, “as state legislators passed 57 new constraints on a woman’s right to choose.” Meaning chiefly, it would seem, laws like the one passed by Texas in 2013, “requiring abortion clinics to meet the same building, equipment, and staffing standards as ambulatory surgical centers, a costly and medically unnecessary standard. The law also required doctors who perform abortions to have”—just in case—”admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. . . . In many states, including Texas, these laws have resulted in the shuttering of all but a few clinics that perform abortions, forcing women to travel hundreds of miles for the procedure.”
Yes? Yes? And the problem to which all of this points is . . . ? The problem, from the Times’ standpoint, is that, improbably, modern American culture still hasn’t choked down the 43-year-old revelation that the extinction of unborn life is a constitutional entitlement.
You might have supposed otherwise. The Supreme Court certainly did when, in Roe v. Wade, it wove this previously unsuspected right into the constitutional fabric. In time, people get used to things, don’t they? Innovation comes to look like habit. In 1973 many of us strove to look like Sonny and Cher; Oprah and Steve Jobs were yet to attract notice; John Wayne was still making Westerns; Dick Nixon had just crushed George McGovern at the polls. Gone—that whole era. What lives? The affirmation that unborn life requires protection. That’s what lives—to the amazement (whether “disgust” might be the better word I decline to speculate) of the New York Times’ editorial staff, with its self-assumed responsibility for dragging the riff-raff toward nobler understandings of the human process.
Far away from the supervision of the intelligentsia, state legislatures have been enacting measures whose effect is not so much the retarding of the “right to choose” as it is the signifying of respect for a moral law no 7-2 judicial decision can cancel.
Speaking of which: The Texas Legislature’s alleged imposition of “barriers” to choice reaches the Supreme Court amid the tumult and shouting of a presidential election. Will the High Court take the opportunity to reverse or unwind Roe v. Wade? I think one may say with utter confidence: No way, Jose. No court majority of which I can conceive is ready for so revolutionary—better said, so counterrevolutionary—a step.
The moral—as contrasted with the legal/political—side of the debate is the side that will tell in the end. That is where factors such as the Planned Parenthood debacle come into play—to the discomfort of many disposed to say blithely, “Aw, it’s not a people issue, it’s a rights issue.” Really? The slicing and dicing of recognizably human forms is all about who gets to do what in this old world? “Who gets to do what” on what terms? The mastery of a stronger party over an as-yet voiceless one: one no longer enjoying as of 1973 the presumption of innocence, the benefit of the growing, nagging doubt?
The legal dominance of the pro-choice side in American life stems from that side’s grim if politically salable conviction that Woman is entitled to veto-proof decision-making in restitution for centuries of oppression. Well, what if other, non-allied convictions should come to the fore in just the way that pro-convictions did: working their way up the cultural ladder to the very top; based on radically new (albeit, at bottom, very old) understandings of what it means to be created in the image of that God for whom modern society has such paltry concern?
I do not say it will happen (because how would I, or anyone else, really know?). I say that episodes such as the Planned Parenthood debacle feed the assumption that, golly, something isn’t just the way it ought to be. They feed likewise the assumption that something should be done about it. To the recovery—inevitably partial in our fallen world—of our depleted moral sense. And to the utter consternation of the New York Times’ editorial writers, bless their uncomprehending hearts.
William Murchison is a syndicated columnist and senior editor of the Human Life Review. His latest book is The Cost of Liberty (ISI, 2013), a biography of John Dickinson.
The sting videos on Planned Parenthood provided the top story for the pro-life movement in 2015. A strong second, though, was how many pro-life politicians mishandled the story. Their failures demand major attention because, if they are not corrected, they are likely to be repeated.
When David Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress released the first “baby body parts” videos last summer, there was much public shock and dismay. At long last, the major media showed the reality of abortion, at least for a short time. Planned Parenthood was in such trouble that it actually seemed in danger of losing its more than $500 million in government funding.
Right after Daleiden released the first video last July, though, PP President Cecile Richards put her media people into high gear. She and her staff apparently called in lots of favors from politicians whom the PP political operation had supported and funded for years. From Democratic presidential candidates down to junior members of Congress, the Democrats stood up for Planned Parenthood.
Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives produced several different hearings on Planned Parenthood—none of which showed the videos. (A federal judge in California had issued an injunction that interfered with committee subpoenas for the videos.) This made the hearings resemble criminal trials in which prosecutors fail to produce the main evidence. Columnist Mona Charen wrote an open letter to “Dear Republican Members of Congress” and told them bluntly: “You guys do not understand how to hold a decent hearing. . . . If, due to legal wrangling, the videos cannot be shown now, then why not hold off the hearings until they can be shown? The videos are the story.” She said some Republicans at one congressional hearing “behaved like talk radio hosts—interrupting the witness, shouting, and demanding yes or no answers. This is not good government. It isn’t even good theater. You look like bullies.”
National Review editor Rich Lowry, in a piece for politico.com, was also quite critical of the congressional pro-lifers. And David Harsanyi, writing in the federalist.com, was scorching. “If for some reason you needed additional evidence that the Republican Party was deeply incompetent, unprepared, uncoordinated, inexcusably lazy,” he wrote, “then try watching Cecile Richards’ appearance in front of Congress yesterday.”
They were all referring to a hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last September 29. The only witness was PP president Cecile Richards, who is beautiful, poised, and articulate. She also has remarkable self-control; she never lost her temper, although some of the questioners did look and sound like bullies. Not all of them, though. Reps. John Duncan (Tenn.), John Mika (Fla.), Gary Palmer (Ala.), Timothy Walberg (Mich.), and Mark Walker (N.C.) were polite, but also effective. Colleagues who take part in future hearings might want to study their style.
Congressional Republicans will continue examining PP’s provision of fetal body parts for research. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) heads a new House select committee that will investigate this and related issues in depth over a one-year period. Here are some suggestions for Rep. Blackburn and her pro-life colleagues:
1) Resist all temptations to bully witnesses. It produces sympathy for Planned Parenthood leaders instead of for unborn children, and it interferes with fact-finding. What’s needed, instead, is courteous but steady questioning that reveals facts and patterns.
2) Have one or two witnesses who can speak about the heavy influence of eugenics on Planned Parenthood—especially its influence on Margaret Sanger and Alan Guttmacher. Both PP leaders were members of the American Eugenics Society, and Guttmacher also served as a board member and vice president of that group. Sanger and Guttmacher set a direction, which Planned Parenthood still follows today, of targeting poor people and minorities for major population-control efforts.
3) It’s important to emphasize, though, that Sanger opposed abortion in most cases. Although she thought it was justified in some hard cases, she made strong statements against abortion in general. In her 1938 autobiography, she recalled that the handout for her first birth-control clinic had urged women: “DO NOT KILL, DO NOT TAKE LIFE, BUT PREVENT. . . .” She said she and her colleagues told women “that abortion was the wrong way—no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way—it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worthwhile in the long run, because life had not yet begun.” At a 1952 conference in India, she declared: “Abortions break down the health of the mother without preventing renewed pregnancy at an early date. Abortions are the very worst way to prevent increase in the population.” Guttmacher, on the other hand, supported abortion for population control. He was a key leader in the campaign to legalize abortion in the U.S. in the 1960s and early 1970s.
4) It would be useful to ask why so many extremely wealthy people—including Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and George Soros—have used their foundations to funnel a great amount of money to Planned Parenthood and other population-control groups. This tradition goes back a century, to oil baron John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Early donors often supported PP for eugenics reasons. Today’s wealthy are more likely to mention environmental concerns, although some may also have eugenic and/or economic motives for suppressing the number of poor people.
5) Holly O’Donnell, a young woman who worked briefly for a company that retrieved fetal body parts from a Planned Parenthood clinic, was very credible and impressive in her interview for the Daleiden videos. If she is willing to appear before the new committee, she could make many people rethink both the body-parts industry and abortion itself. And the Pro-Life Action League, based in Chicago, has taped many talks by people who used to be involved in abortion, but turned against it. Some of those people could also be effective committee witnesses. They could provide a bridge on which conflicted abortion-clinic workers might cross over to the pro-life side. Members of the general public—and possibly even a few Democrats in Congress—could use the same bridge.
Mary Meehan is a freelance journalist and senior editor of the Human Life Review.
The year 2015 will go down in history either as euthanasia’s high water mark before the ebb, or the time when the culture of death reached a tipping point and began an implacable march across Western Civilization.
In October, the worst news came out of Canada, where that country’s Supreme Court trampled democratic deliberation by unanimously conjuring a charter right to “termination of life” for anyone who has an “irremediable medical condition” and wants to die.1 Note the scope of the judicial fiat is not limited to the terminally ill: The ruling grants competent adults a right to die if they have an “illness, disease, or disability that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual,” including “psychological” pain.
Even these broad words inadequately describe the truly radical social policy Canada’s Supreme Court unleashed. For example, a treatable condition can qualify as “irremediable” if the patient chooses not to pursue available remedies. So an “irremediable” condition that permits life-termination may actually be wholly remediable, except that the patient would rather die than receive care.
The Court graciously allowed (he wrote sarcastically) Parliament a year to pass laws consistent with its fiat—to maintain the pretense of respect for democratic deliberation. Meanwhile, the Canadian medical leadership seems to have capitulated completely to the culture of death, with the consensus among provincial medical colleges and associations being that all doctors will have to be complicit in killing legally qualified patients—either by doing the deed or procuring a death-doctor who will. This presents the sickening scenario of doctors being professionally disciplined for refusing to violate the Hippocratic Oath.
We won’t know all the gory details about how Canada’s radical euthanasia regimen will be regulated until 2016. But Quebec has already begun legalized euthanasia based on a provincial law passed separately from the action of the Canadian Supreme Court. Showing which way the wind is blowing, when a palliative care center declared it would not participate in killing patients, Quebec’s Minister of Health ominously said, in effect, “Oh, yes you will!” And soon, the palliative center backed down and agreed to offer euthanasia as part of its services.2
Meanwhile, the media—led by People and CNN3— made brain-cancer patient Brittany Maynard into an international cause célèbre for advocating legalization of, and in late 2014, committing, assisted suicide. The emotionalism and hype around her case—who hasn’t seen the photo of her smiling broadly holding a puppy?—proved irresistible to the leftwing California Legislature. In a special session that was called to deal with Medicaid financing issues, it shoved through a legalization bill, applying to the terminally ill.
Governor Jerry Brown—who once worked with Mother Teresa—betrayed everything she stood for by quickly signing the bill into law. It was all about him. “In the end,” Brown wrote, “I had to reflect on what I would want in the face of my own death.” Brown explained that he would find “comfort” in knowing that the option of assisted suicide was available to him to prevent a painful death.4 That others will be hurt by this radical change in law and medical ethics didn’t matter a whit.
In 2015, the already radical euthanasia regimes of Belgium and the Netherlands, and the suicide clinics in Switzerland, grew even more brazen. In Belgium, a depressed, physically healthy woman was approved for euthanasia,5 but she is still alive because she changed her mind before the deed could be done. In the Netherlands, psychiatrists stepped up their participation in euthanasia, killing about 40 mentally ill people a year (as of 2013). Meanwhile, a poll of Dutch general practitioners found 34 percent would “consider” euthanizing the mentally ill, while a whopping 86 percent would “consider” administering lethal injections, and that six out of ten have put their belief in euthanasia into action by actually killing patients.6 In Switzerland, a suicide clinic helped dispatch a healthy British 75-year-old woman, who killed herself rather than grow old and become a burden on the National Health Service.7
Which brings us to a bit of good news on the euthanasia front. The United Kingdom Parliament, which has been subjected to intense pressure to legalize assisted suicide, forcefully refused to do so in an overwhelming vote.8 Ditto the more than 20 U.S. states that had legalization bills pending, all of which were—California a huge exception to the contrary—rejected.
With the good news eclipsed by the bad, euthanasia and assisted suicide spreading like a stain raises the chilling prospect of social martyrdom. What do I mean? Many stories of assisted suicides and euthanasia deaths these days chirpily report that family and friends gathered for the planned death. With all of Canada now succumbing to the culture of death, along with more than 10 percent of the United States population living in California, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont, you too may one day be asked to lend your support by attending and witnessing a loved one’s assisted suicide.
Such an invitation would create a terrible conundrum for those who think medicalized killing is morally and medically wrong. If you attend, you are validating your loved one’s suicide and sending the unintentional message that “Yes, you are a burden. Your life is undignified and not worth living. Your family is better off with you dead.”
But refusing—at least in circumstances involving terminal illness or profound disability—could result in the loss of valued friendships, family estrangement, and accusations of cold-hearted moralistic judgmentalism (not to mention the guilt of being absent when a loved one dies).9
If you ever receive such an invitation, I hope you will send your unequivocal refusal and (just as importantly) offer to help the sufferer find a better way forward. That kind of compassionate engagement and noncooperation with the culture of death will come at some risk. But saying no will protect you from moral complicity in a death—and it could be the act that dissuades your loved one from taking a terrible and irrevocable course.
1 Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5. https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/14637/index.do
2 Regina Leader Post, “Quebec Palliative Care Centre to Offer Doctor-Assisted Suicide,” November 2, 2015. http://www.leaderpost.com/health/quebec+palliative+care+centre+offer+doctorassisted+suicide/11489961/story.html
3 Brandon Griggs, “11 Extraordinary People of 2014,” CNN, December 5, 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/05/living/extraordinary-people/
4 Jerry Brown, Letter to the California Assembly, October 5, 2015. https://www.gov.ca.gov/docs/ABX2_15_Signing_Message.pdf
5 Simone Maas, “Laura is 25 Years Old and Physically Healthy: She Gets Euthanasia this Summer,” De Morgan, June 19, 2015 (Google Translation). http://www.demorgen.be/nieuws/laura-is-24-jaar-en-fysiek-gezond-ze-krijgt-deze-zomer-euthanasie-b3d9c64f/1NGENU/
6 Jane Collingwood, “1 in 3 of Dutch MDs Willing to Aid in Assisted Suicide for Mentally Ill,” Psych Central, April 15, 2015. http://psychcentral.com/news/2015/04/15/1-in-3-dutch-mds-willing-to-aid-in-assisted-suicide-for-mentally-ill/83541.html
7 Mikey Smith, “Health Nurse Chooses to Die Aged 75 at Swiss Suicide Clinic Rather Than Grow Old,” The Mirror, August 2, 2015. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/healthy-nurse-chooses-die-aged-6179969
8 John Bingham, “MPs Reject Assisted Dying Law,” The Telegraph, September 11, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/assisted-dying/11857940/Assisted-dying-vote-in-House-of-Commons.html
9 For more on this topic, see Wesley J. Smith, “RSVP ‘No’ to Suicide Party,” First Things (blog), September 18, 2015. http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/09/rsvp-no-to-suicide-party
Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant to the Patients Rights Council. His updated and revised Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine will be published by Encounter Books in 2016.
At first glance, it could seem surprising that a journal devoted primarily to the subject matter of abortion would persist for decades. A lost Supreme Court case, now 43 long years old. Thousands of abortions daily, coast to coast. Nearly lockstep agreement among fêted universities and scholars.
Yet even a little experience in the “world” of abortion and abortion discourse tells the other side of the story. Presidential sang-froid in the face of the Planned Parenthood videos notwithstanding . . . people are still generally horrified at abortion procedures and “outcomes” (mangled human bodies). To paraphrase the words of William Buckley, Jr.: The problem with “abortion rights” is and was and always will be, abortion! Abortion immediately challenges the ordinary and respectable life around it, whatever its incarnation. The clinic in the neighborhood. The body in the incinerator. The body parts in the cooler. The survivor who lives to tell the tale. In the same way that contemporary societies never leave off marveling at how a seemingly civilized nation could have enslaved a race, or murdered a religion—we will never leave off turning over and over in our heads the fact of an abortion clinic near a supermarket near an apartment building near a hospital where they save prematurely born babies.
And then there’s abortion discourse. If I had a nickel for every time someone accused me of being “single issue”. . . (you know where this is going). But in fact abortion is by its nature “legion.” Everyone who has ever engaged an acquaintance on the topic knows that a person’s abortion opinion signals his or her views on numerous other issues. In order to engage about abortion therefore, it’s necessary to address other presumptions or preferences or commitments swirling about the orbit of the abortion question. This should come as no surprise. You don’t decide that killing human beings is okay without signing off on several dozen other conclusions, deep and shallow, great and small, explicitly or sub rosa.
So a journal that takes on abortion has to take on all of it. The meaning of the body. Dualism. The nature of human rights. Subjectivism. The significance of the link between sex and procreation. Feminism. The claims of the vulnerable. Philosophy, theology, genetics, psychology, neurobiology, sociology. I could go on.
In other words, in order to do justice to the abortion issue, nothing less than the Human Life Review was warranted, intellectually and culturally. It will be remembered with deep gratitude whenever the essential history of the U.S. abortion debate is recounted.
Helen Alvaré is a Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law.