Our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness
can only be secured by a state strictly separated from religion

31 October 2008

Gay Marriage Should Be Recognized by Law

By Diana Hsieh

The Ayn Rand Institute just published a good press release on California's Proposition 8, arguing that it should be opposed on the ground of the separation of church and state:

Church and State: A Marriage Not Made in Heaven
October 31, 2008

Washington, D.C.--Californians will soon have the chance to vote on Proposition 8, which would define marriage in the state constitution as being only between a man and a woman, denying marriage to same-sex couples. The proposition is heavily supported by the religious community. Said one religious leader who supports the measure, "We believe it is a religious issue as well as a political issue. That's where we feel the Church must have a word."

According to Yaron Brook, executive director of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights, "Regardless of how one thinks 'marriage' should be defined, there's a much graver issue at stake: this is a flagrant attempt to inject religion into politics.

"As our Founders understood, religion is properly a private matter--not a legitimate basis for government action. The government's only role is to protect our rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. Under our secular political system, individuals are free to hold any religious views they wish, but they cannot impose their views on the rest of us. That is the meaning of freedom of religion.

"Once we accept the view that the 'Church must have a word' in the political sphere, we are accepting a principle completely opposed to freedom. If gay marriage can be barred because, as one supporter of Prop. 8 put it, 'I don't think God has ordained it,' then why, for instance, can't speech that similarly offends religionists also be banned? Indeed, this is the very principle that motivates the religious right's crusade against broadcast 'indecency'--and the brutal principle that recently led the Afghani government to sentence a journalism student to 20 years in prison for blasphemy.

"The separation of church and state is a cornerstone of liberty. It protects our right to live by our own judgment, free from the dictates of ministers and mullahs. To protect that right, we should oppose any attempt to bring religion into politics."
I wholeheartedly support gay marriage. Why? As I explained in this NoodleFood post:
The essence of marriage is the total integration of two lives: sexually, legally, socially, financially, geographically, sexually, morally, etc. The fact that most marriages involve two people with contrasting genitalia is not of any grand significance.
My husband's and my relationship is likely to be far more similar to that of a loving gay couple also living by the philosophy of Objectivism than to many common types of straight marriages. My marriage does not much resemble that of a couple voluntarily celibate to better worship God, that of a couple together only due to fear of being alone, that of a couple prone to violent arguments, or that of a couple prone to cheating, for example. Such people can marry -- and they ought to be able to do so. And if such a diversity of relationships counts as marriage, then surely a loving, stable gay couple should be able to marry too.

In short, I see no rational basis whatsoever to limit marriage to just straight couples. In fact, I'm quite certain that gay marriages would be recognized in every state in the union were it not for the faith-driven (and often frighteningly hateful) hostility of fundamentalist Christians to homosexuality.

Read more...

Abortion Is a Woman's Right

By Diana Hsieh

On October 23rd, the Pagosa Daily Post published my most recent op-ed on
abortion
:

OPINION: Abortion Is a Woman's Right
Diana Hsieh, 10/23/08

Colorado voters face a stark moral choice in this election: vote yea or nay on Amendment 48. That ballot measure would grant fertilized eggs the legal standing of persons--including "inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law"--in the state constitution.

If fully implemented, almost all abortions would be outlawed in Colorado, including in cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity. Any woman who terminated a pregnancy would be guilty of murder, subject to life in prison or the death penalty. To take the birth control pill, which might sometimes prevent the implantation of an embryo in the womb, would be a criminal act. Miscarriages might be investigated by zealous prosecutors.

Roe v. Wade would not necessarily protect women against these ominous legal controls. Rather, Amendment 48 might be used to challenge that landmark case -- or to inspire a nationwide movement for a similar federal constitutional amendment.

Despite its draconian effects, this proposed amendment has gathered solid support from Colorado voters. A recent poll shows that 39% favor it, 50% oppose it, and 11% are undecided.

Why such strong support? Over the past two decades, the religious right has effectively waged a holy war on abortion. Abortion is the murder of an innocent human life, they say. It violates the God-given right to life of a "preborn child." It is part of a "culture of death." So most Americans regard abortion as morally wrong except when a pregnancy threatens the woman's mental or physical health.

Yet the religious right's attacks on abortion are completely and utterly wrong. They evade the true meaning of the biological facts of pregnancy.

Opponents of abortion claim that embryos and fetuses have the same right to life as babies because they are distinct, living human beings. Undoubtedly, an embryo or fetus is alive, not inert matter. It's also human--not canine or hippopotamus. Yet every distinct, living skin cell a person washes off in the shower also contains human DNA. A tumor is human tissue distinct from its host. The embryo or fetus is different: it might develop into a born baby. Yet the differences between an embryo or fetus and that born baby are vast.

In the early stages of pregnancy, the embryo has nothing in common with an infant except its DNA. Its form is similar to the embryos of other mammals; it cannot survive outside the womb; it lacks any kind of awareness. To call that clump of cells a "person" is sheer nonsense.

Even when more developed, the fetus is not a biologically separate entity capable of independent action, like a baby. It exists as part of the woman carrying it, wholly contained within and dependent on her. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as she lives, as an extension of her body. It is not yet an individual human life; it is not yet a person.

That situation changes radically at birth. A baby lives a life of its own. Although still very needy, he maintains his own biological functions. He breathes his own air, digests his own food, and moves on his own. He interacts with other people as a creature in his own right, not merely as a part of a pregnant woman. His life must be protected as a matter of right.

So a woman has every right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy--for any reason. If an abortion will protect and further her own life and happiness, then she ought to pursue that option with a clear conscience.

Amendment 48 would obliterate the moral right of every pregnant woman to control her own body. It is based on sectarian religious dogma, not objective facts. Please vote "No" on 48.
The Pagosa Daily Post published a lengthy reply on October 27th. (I won't reproduce it here; it's too long and too wrong.) On the 29th, they published an excellent letter in reply by Gideon Reich:
Van Horn Opinion Misses the Point
Gideon Reich

Steve Van Horn's rebuttal in the Post to Diana Hsieh's excellent article on abortion shows a complete lack of understanding of the one crucial concept in the abortion debate: Individual Rights. Far from being mythical supernatural endowments implanted at conception, or social conventions subject to popular vote, rights derive from a human being's nature as a rational being. His existence requires the free exercise of his rational faculty to sustain his own life.

A "right," as Ayn Rand pointed out, "is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context." Thus, the freedom of action that ought to be guaranteed to an individual is the freedom to think and act without interference from others in society for the achievement of his goals, as long as he respects the right of others do the same.

The very first requirement for such a freedom to apply is that the "individual" in question actually be a separate individual in a social context — not a mere potential that is part of another actual individual. As Ms. Hsieh has eloquently shown, the unborn fetus, to say nothing of the embryo or zygote, has not met that requirement.

The pregnant woman, on the other hand, clearly has — and has every moral right to act accordingly.

Read more...

30 October 2008

Does God Want Higher Taxes?

By Ari

Reposted:) The Denver Post reports:

Rabbi Joel Schwartzman of Congregation B'nai Chaim in Morrison gathered with faith leaders from across the state in support of Amendment 59.

Called "Embracing the Common Good," the campaign has mobilized more than 2,500 Colorado congregations, including Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Jews, to vote in favor of the amendment, which focuses on the creation of a savings account for public schools.

"If you're Jewish, you vote for this," Schwartzman said.
Oh, really? I suspect I could come up with a list of quite a few Jewish people who intend to vote against it, and who would take Schwartzman's condescending attitude with offense. His comment is rather like telling all blacks, whites, Hispanics, Catholics, Muslims, etc. that they will "vote for this," whatever "this" is.

While there is a Judeo-Christian impetus toward altruism, which often manifests as support for the welfare state, quite a few religious people don't approve of higher taxes and don't think God demands them. I wonder why Sally Ho, author of the report, didn't talk to some of those people.

But the broader point is that the alleged will of God, however that's interpreted by various groups, should have nothing to do with politics.

At least House Speaker Andrew Romanoff offered a nonsectarian argument for the net tax hike: "We believe budgets are moral documents which must embody the common good and reflect our shared responsibility to each other." Romanoff's view is not tied to any religion (though it is indirectly inspired by Judeo-Christian altruism); it is a bald assertion of leftist collectivism. I do agree that we have a "responsibility to each other:" we have a responsibility to respect each other's rights. Romanoff believes that the majority has the "responsibility" to seize by force the wealth of the minority and redistribute it to others. But legalized theft hardly makes society as a whole better off.

As for me and my house, we advocate individual rights.

Read more...

29 October 2008

Beauprez Reminds Voters of Schaffer's Faith-Based Politics

By Ari

Reposted: Bob Beauprez, former congressman and failed candidate for governor, has reminded voters that U.S. Senate Candidate Bob Schaffer opposes abortion and embryonic stem-cell research. Yet Beauprez's own faith-based politics cost him big in 2006, when he earned only 40 percent of the votes. While Beauprez made a number of campaign mistakes, his own commitment to faith-based politics, as well as an even more pronounced commitment by his running mate, alienated many moderate Republicans and independents. Will Beauprez bring the same magic touch to Schaffer's race?

Mike Riley reviews Beauprez's efforts for the Denver Post:

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez is blanketing the state with recorded calls that take aim at Democratic Senate candidate Mark Udall... The calls are targeted at Catholic voters...

Voters who receive the robo-calls hear Beauprez's voice talking about the "five non-negotiables" of Catholic doctrine — opposition to abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning.

He tells listeners that Udall is on the wrong side of each, and he lauds Udall's opponent, Republican Bob Schaffer.
It's not clear that the calls will help Schaffer even among Catholics. One recent poll found that 51 percent of Catholics believe "Abortion should be legal and solely up to the woman to decide." More broadly, Beauprez reminds voters that the Republican Party in Colorado is all about imposing sectarian dogma by law.

What's repulsive is that Beauprez calls his faith-based policies "values issues." What is valuable is a government that respects individual rights. One that violates individual rights by enforcing religious law destroys values.

Read more...

28 October 2008

New Poll on Amendment 48

By Diana Hsieh

If accurate, this new poll on Amendment 48 is the best news I've seen in a while:

Amendment 48 is getting clobbered by more than a 2-to-1 margin, making it unlikely that Colorado will become the first state in the nation to grant constitutional rights to a fertilized egg.

The Rocky Mountain News/CBS4 News poll showed the Personhood Amendment trailing 68 percent to 27 percent.

The bad news for the proponents of the measure can be found inside the numbers. Of the 68 percent polled who said they'd vote against the ballot measure, 61 percent fell under a "definite no" category.

With such rigidity among those saying "definite no," pollster Lori Weigel said it's pretty much a slam dunk that it will fail on Election Day.
Those results are hugely different from the late September poll by Rasmussen Reports. That poll said that 39% of likely voters were for Amendment 48, 50% were against, and 11% were unsure. (I commented on those numbers in this press release. I wonder about the cause of the difference in those numbers: Has public opinion shifted dramatically? Or did one poll use a less reliable method than the other?

Ultimately, of course, the only important polling results are the official election results of November 4th.

Read more...

27 October 2008

Kristi Burton's Gospel of Jesus Christ

By Ari

Reposted: Kristi Burton sometimes tries to pretend that Amendment 48, defining a fertilized egg as a person, is about science. But such arguments are laughable. Elsewhere she reveals her real agenda: to impose her religious dogma by force of law.

Westword reveals a bit more about Burton's background:

At seventeen, Burton began taking classes through Oak Brook College of Law and Government, an online law school whose mission is "to train individuals who desire to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ through service as advocates of truth, counselors of reconciliation, and ministers of justice in the fields of law and government policy." (Oak Brook students are also encouraged to "rely upon the indwelling Holy Spirit to give them the power to develop within them Christ-like character qualities.")
Assuming Burton takes Oak Brook's advice to heart, she believes she is inhabited by a ghost that tells her to ban abortion. These "ministers of justice" threaten to unleash profoundly unjust laws.

Read more...

24 October 2008

More Religious than the Religious Right: The Chalcedon Foundation

By Gina Liggett

Americans United for Separation of Church and State conducted a recent study contradicting media reports about the decline of the Religious Right's influence. According to this study, not only do many of these organizations have multi-million dollar (and in some cases growing) budgets, but also plenty of political influence. And these organizations mean it when they say: "Are we losing America unless we take action now? The answer is yes!"

I will be doing a series of profiles of some of the major Religious Right organizations in America. My goal is to inform readers about who these various players are and how they plan to change America according to their religious beliefs. The question for rational people who want to preserve the Constitutional principle of the separation of church and state is: "Are we losing America if we allow the Religious Right to succeed? The answer is yes!"

My first profile is the Chalcedon Foundation (pronounced, Kal-SEE-don). Calling itself an "educational institution," it was founded in 1965 by Rousas John Rushdoony, considered by many to be the father of the "Christian Reconstructionist" movement. This sector of the Religious Right is most analogous to Islamic fundamentalism in its promotion of an American (and eventually world-wide) Christian theocracy. But the difference is that the Chalcedon Foundation hopes to achieve their heaven-on-earth by promoting Christianity through scholarship and education so that people "embrace" biblical ideas rather than having them "imposed" by government.

The Chalcedon Foundation explicitly and unabashedly declares:

We believe that the whole Word of God must be applied to all of life. It is not only our duty as individuals, families and churches to be Christian, but it is also the duty of the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere to be under Christ the King. Nothing is exempt from His dominion. We must live by His Word, not our own.
Created as a response to the "prevalent evils of the modern world," particularly secular humanism, Christian Reconstructionists believe that it is necessary to "return to Biblical Law, ... exercising dominion and reclaiming lost spheres of authority for Christ the King." So, they say, "the role of every earthly government including family government, church government, school government, vocational government, and civil government is to submit to Biblical law."

There are several areas the Chalcedon Foundation emphasizes in order to elucidate how they will "work for godly cultural change across the entire spectrum of life." My assessment of each point follows in italics.

1. They believe that "sinners are saved solely on the ground of Christ's substitutionary, atoning death and law-keeping life, the passive and active obedience of Christ... [N]o law-keeping or works of any kind that man can perform could in any way secure or contribute to his justification or acceptance before God."

Biblical law and faith in God is absolute, and human-derived morality is "cursed." Therefore, a reality-based, reason-based philosophy of life is out of the question.

2. While the Christian Reconstructionists believe that "the Christian state should enforce Biblical civil law... and that the responsibility of Christians is to exercise dominion in the earth for God's glory," they explicitly renounce a desire to achieve this by political means. They claim that it is God -- not political-social change -- that will make men virtuous and thereby create a Christian society.

Although they actually go as far as to say that the purpose of the state is to protect "life, liberty and property" (no mention of the pursuit of happiness), what can only result is a dictatorship of the majority of converts. In their own words, "there can be no Christian society of any significance or longevity unless a large number of its members are Christians."

3. Christian Reconstructionists disavow the power of human "efforts, ingenuity, and strength...to bring in the kingdom of God on the earth," claiming that such would constitute a form of "humanism."

They are, in effect, saying that human action for human benefit is impotent, advocating instead passive reliance on faith in God's mandates.

4. They deny advocating state persecution for religious beliefs: "Biblical civil legislation is for a covenanted nation, not for modern, secular Western democracies at war with God. Our first objective is to work to Christianize them."

In other words, once the majority convert to the proper Christianity, then they will simply do what the Bible says should be done with non-believers.

5. Children of Christian parents are considered "saved," but they still must be taught the gospel: "We nourish and bathe them in the gospel and the Faith and train them up as Christians (Eph. 6:1-4), as God's property (Ezek. 16:8, 20-21)".

Children are to be obedient to Christian teaching; their lives are not their own; and forget any dreams of pursuing happiness as an end in itself.

6. The Chalcedon Foundation's promotion of Christian "scholarship" means: "The Bible forbids and condemns godless, faithless scholarship, not godly faithful scholarship (1 Cor. 1:18-31; 1 Tim. 4:13)."

This total rejection of the human mind and reality-based knowledge is the epitome of the "faith" versus "reason" divide that has condemned humanity to a life of misery for centuries in the past.

7. Here's the final clincher: "A guiding principle of Chalcedon, in fact, is its devotion to maximum individual freedom under God's law."

This is the ultimate contradiction-in-terms. To paraphrase Ayn Rand, freedom exists when a society upholds the individual's right to his own life and the pursuit of his happiness according to his independent judgment, uncoerced by others or the state. But in the Christian Reconstructionist's world, man is defined as a sinner whose life belongs to God, who accepts only faith in God's word as knowledge, who dutifully condones a society governed strictly by God's biblical laws, and who obeys the moral commandments of the Bible. Such a man can have no individual freedom. Chalcedon's Christian nation would be a Christian dictatorship.

The Chalcedon Foundation had a booth at this year's Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., where the most elite and well-connected of the Religious Right pow-wowed. A writer for Americans United observed that the Christian Reconstructionists's presence at the Summit was unprecedented, an indication that the Religious Right cares less about appearing "mainstream" to Americans and more about changing the culture.

The Chalcedon Foundation's attempt to appeal to Americans by saying they're for freedom and against imposing their views politically is not to be believed. Everything they stand for, everything they hope for, can only lead to one thing: Christian dictatorship. Their ideas must be trounced at every opportunity.

Read more...

23 October 2008

Abortion Warning from South Dakota

By Ari

Reposted: I have been warning about the problem of capitulating to the Amendment 48 crowd. The Washington Post reveals what can happen when defenders of abortion rights refuse to fight for their principles.

The paper reports:

For the second time since 2006, South Dakota voters are being asked to outlaw almost all abortions. A ballot initiative called Initiated Measure 11 would ban the procedure except in cases of rape, incest and a narrow interpretation of the health and life of the woman.

Voters rejected a more restrictive measure in 2006, but polls suggested that South Dakotans would have voted yes if it had included exceptions.
Because, some opponents argue, Amendment 48 "simply goes to far," I fear Colorado will soon face a similar measure that is still horrific in its implications but that doesn't go quite as far.

The Post discusses one reason why the South Dakota measure is bad:
Marvin Buehner, a pro-choice Rapid City doctor who specializes in high-risk pregnancies, said the law "would amount to a total ban."

"If there's a risk of a Class 4 felony if I don't meet the ambiguous standard of 'serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily organ or system,' there's no way I would consider doing an abortion for health reasons," Buehner said. "This represents incredible government interference in the practice of medicine."
Notably, some advocates of the measure explicitly say that God is behind the measure. Such faith-based politics has no place in a free country.

Read more...

22 October 2008

Rocky Recycles Burton's Evasions on Amendment 48

By Ari

Reposted: On September 19, the Pagosa Daily Post published an op-ed by Kristi Burton that was filled with distortions and evasions. I replied. Then, on September 25, The Denver Post published the same op-ed. That didn't surprise me, because nobody can actually sustain an argument in favor of Amendment 48. But it did surprise me that the Rocky Mountain News published virtually the same op-ed yesterday; usually the papers try not to publish the same pieces.

My previous reply answers Burton's main points. However, given the widespread distribution of her piece, I thought I'd extend my reply here.

Burton writes: "Let me make it clear: Amendment 48 is about empowering you, the voter."

Note that that's her leading argument. And it's completely meaningless. Every ballot measure "is about empowering you, the voter," to decide the measure. But in a deeper sense, it is not about "empowering" the voter, for there is no such thing. Rather, it is about empowering those with the faith-based view that a fertilized egg is a person to impose their police state on the rest of us.

To reiterate, Amendment 48 would ban all abortions except perhaps to save the woman's life. It would force women to carry their pregnancies to term even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and health risks (and obviously in cases in which the woman decides she is unprepared to bear a child). It would necessitate criminal penalties -- perhaps including the death penalty if current statutes remain in force -- for abortion. It would ban practically all fertility treatments. It would ban the birth-control pill, IUD, and other forms of birth control. For details, see "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life" by Diana Hsieh and me.

Burton writes, "It's about allowing the democratic process to make decisions that have been made by special-interest groups for the last 40 years while using your taxes for their own gain."

This is ridiculous. These "decisions" have been made individually by millions of women and their partners, the Supreme Court, and various politicians and activists. True, some tax dollars have gone to Planned Parenthood, which I oppose (because I oppose the transfer of tax dollars for any health-related expense). But obviously that issue is separable from the matter of abortion. (This should serve as a warning to the left, however: if you keep begging for tax funds, you keep giving the religious right more opportunities to control the funded organizations.)

Burton claims she wants to ensure "our laws are built on honest premises." That's a laugh; she lies in the same op-ed by claiming the "Personhood Amendment doesn't change the constitution in any way." That line remains inexcusable (and I'm frankly amazed that the state's major newspapers have let her get away with the obvious distortion). Amendment 48 is a constitutional amendment.

Burton writes:

The words we choose matter. Mendez continually referred to newly formed persons as "fertilized eggs." This is a familiar strategy. In the same way, there's a reason why abortion proponents use the term "pro-choice." It shifts the debate away from the ugly reality of abortion. The repeated use of the term "fertilized egg" robs the developing human of personhood, just as the word "fetus" dehumanizes a developing baby.
There's a reason why opponents of Amendment 48 use the term "fertilized egg." The reason is that Amendment 48 itself uses that language. Amendment 48 would add the following new section to the state's constitution: "As used in Sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms 'person' or 'persons' shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization."

At least Burton grants that she wants to outlaw "abortion" of a fertilized egg even before it implants in the uterus, the usual marker of pregnancy.

Burton commits the same fallacy of which she accuses her opponents. She calls a fertilized egg a "person," as if that arbitrary definition alone can carry the debate. The difference is that she has never offered a single, coherent argument as to why a fertilized egg is a person.

By contrast, Diana Hsieh and I offer a detailed argument as to why it's not. So it's correct to refer to a "fertilized egg" as a "fertilized egg," but it is wrong to refer to it as a "person," as Burton does.

But Burton doesn't have any actual arguments to back up her position, she just has faith. She can't even be bothered to discuss most of the measure's implications.

Some weeks ago, I suggested to a friend a set of questions that I wish Burton would answer. Perhaps in a future op-ed, she'll address these points. I'll not hold my breath. Here are the questions:

1. Do you believe that the birth-control pill or IUD may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus?

2. Do you believe that the birth-control pill, IUD, or any other form of birth control should be banned?

3. At what risk to the woman's life, if any, do you believe an abortion should be legal, and who should be the final authority in deciding such matters? (Note: Burton has granted that she would allow abortion if otherwise the mother certainly would die, but she still needs to address the real issue of what to do about weighing uncertain risks and health problems that are not immediately life-threatening.)

4. Do you believe that in vitro fertilization that may result in destroyed or frozen embryos should be banned?

5. What criminal penalty do you believe is appropriate for women who get abortions? What about their doctors?

6. Do you believe that women should be forced to carry to term fetuses known to suffer Down Syndrome or other serious health problems?

7. Do you believe that abortion should be completely banned in cases of rape and incest?

8. Do you believe that all stem-cell medical research should be banned?

9. Why do you believe that a fertilized egg is a person (as opposed to "life" or something that contains human DNA)?

Read more...

21 October 2008

Amendment 48: Ritter's Faith-Based Strategy Backfires

By Ari

Reposted: Bill Ritter came out against Amendment 48 on October 7. But the way he did it actually helps the advocates of the measure.

As Tim Hoover reports for The Denver Post, Ritter said at a rally at the capitol, "I believe the amendment goes too far." In this line Ritter follows the slogan of the main campaign against the measure, a position that implies some restrictions on abortion, birth control, and fertility treatments would be fine. That line makes those opponents of Amendment 48 look like cowardly hypocrites. That's why Diana Hsieh and I don't repeat that line and criticize its use in our paper.

But Ritter's main problem is that he tried to oppose a faith-based measure while appealing to faith. As Hoover reports, Ritter said, "In spite of the fact that I'm pro-life, I can look at this and really find reasons I think it is just such an extreme position to take... My understanding is that there are things about calling a fertilized egg a person that do not square with church doctrine."

With this statement, Ritter granted that church doctrine should guide the law. What Ritter should have said is that as governor he has a responsibility to protect the separation of church and state, and Amendment 48 clearly seeks to impose religious dogma by force of law.

Predictably, Hoover's follow-up article for today carries the headline, "Bishops chide Ritter on view of personhood." Hoover reports:

The archbishop of Denver on Wednesday publicly scolded Gov. Bill Ritter... for comments he made about whether a fertilized egg is a person.

In a statement given to news outlets, Archbishop Charles Chaput, along with Auxiliary Bishop James Conley, said Ritter's comments on Amendment 48 "seriously confused" the issue. ...

Ritter's comments about the church's stance on a fertilized egg are false, the bishops said.

"Catholic teaching holds that human life is sacred from the moment of fertilization, commonly called 'conception,' to the moment of natural death," the bishops wrote in the statement. "Separating a 'fertilized egg' from the dignity of human personhood is bad theology and bad public policy.

"And Catholic public officials should know better."
Catholic bishops should know better than to push around Colorado's elected officials, who are charged with enacting and executing nonsectarian laws, not imposing Catholic doctrine on the state. But Ritter invited the rebuke by resting the matter on religious faith.

At least Bishops Chaput and Conley have reinforced what was already obvious: Amendment 48 is about religious faith, nothing else. The Catholic church regards a fertilized egg as "sacred," and that is the end of the argument.

Meanwhile, Kristi Burton, sponsor of the measure, continues her inane defense of it. Hoover reports in his first article:
"The governor's position directly contradicts the overwhelming modern scientific evidence that now recognizes what we all know in our hearts," said Kristi Burton, who sponsored Amendment 48, "from the moment of conception, a new unique individual has been created."
Notice that Burton often throws around claims about "modern scientific evidence," on the pretense that the measure somehow reaches beyond religious faith. Yet there is no substance whatsoever to her claims about "science," as Diana and I explain (see pages 11-13 of the paper). To briefly summarize, a "unique individual" fertilized egg is still not a person, as (besides the fact that it is only a microscopic clump of cells) it is wholly contained within and dependent upon the woman's body.

At least Burton distinguishes between her cart and her horse. Science, allegedly, merely "recognizes what we all know in our hearts" -- that is, what her religious faith has already asserted.

As if we needed any more lessons regarding the dangers of pandering to faith-based politics, two letters in the Rocky Mountain News also point to the problem. On September 22, I wrote, "Then Mayo McNeil quotes Genesis and Exodus to 'refute' the view that a fertilized egg is a person. Put this in the hefty folder titled, 'With Friends Like These...'"

Sure enough, on October 8 Mary Lou Fenton replied:
Read further in your Bible and you will find Psalms 139:13-16:
"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. . . .

"All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

This is a very clear pronouncement of a divine creator who gives us life and knows us intimately. An incredible truth that invests each life with meaning, value and purpose.
There can be no doubt: Amendment 48 is a prime example of faith-based politics, the attempt to impose religious dogma by force of law and to criminally prosecute those who violate that dogma.

McNeil made essentially the same mistake that Ritter made. Rather than try to undermine Amendment 48 with his own assertions of religious faith, the governor of Colorado should boldly declare his support for the separation of church and state.

Read more...

20 October 2008

The Individual and Rights

By Diana Hsieh

In a discussion of abortion on my personal blog NoodleFood, William Stoddard offered a particularly clear explanation of why a human must be a biologically separate individual in order to be a person in a comment. In responding to someone who claimed that self-awareness was critical for rights, William wrote:

Aside from the question of self-awareness, the other critical point is that the fetus does not meet a necessary condition for having individual rights: It is not an individual.

Individualism works, ethically, because we can draw a line of separation between individuals. It's possible to benefit one individual without doing so at the expense of another; individual rights provide a legal structure that makes such results not merely possible but reliable. We are not forced to trade off benefits to one individual against injuries to another. And what makes collectivism evil is that it does force such tradeoffs on us.

But if ever there was a case of collectivism in human existence, it's in the relationship between a pregnant woman and her unborn child. The fetus cannot be neutral with respect to the woman carrying it; its very existence alters her hormones, her entire physiology, and her emotional state. Even if the woman wants to be pregnant, it's all too possible, despite the achievements of medicine, for situations to arise where a benefit to the fetus entails harm to the mother, or vice versa, and where it's necessary to decide which benefit is more important. Trying to sort this out by applying the concept of individual rights just doesn't work.

And there's only one decision maker there: the pregnant woman. The fetus lacks sufficient rationality, purposefulness, and self-awareness to make choices. The pregnant woman has to decide where her priorities are. Some pregnant women will choose to take terrifying risks for the chance to have a child, and that's their right; they can say "Price no object" if they want. Others will abort, for whatever reason. Either way, they pay the price of their choices. Having someone else, who doesn't have to pay that price, make the decision for them, or tell them what they can and can't do, cannot be expected to produce better decisions.
William has further comments here.

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18 October 2008

CSG in the New York Times

By Diana Hsieh

I'm pleased to report that I make a small appearance in the just-published New York Times column "On Religion," written by Samuel Freedman: For Atheists, Politics Proves to Be a Lonely Endeavor.

The column focuses on Colorado's Amendment 48, particularly on the difficulty of mobilizing secular voters in opposition to this faith-based measure. I appear toward the end, as part of a gentle criticism:

With their trust in the power of reason, atheists might also be ill-equipped for the gritty work of retail politics -- the phone banks, the door-knocking, the car pools to the polls. If nothing else, they are coming late to the craft.

As founder and leader of a Colorado-based coalition for secular government, Diana Hsieh has written a detailed position paper attacking Amendment 48. Other atheist activists have written letters to the editor and participated in online forums about the ballot measure. Relatively few, however, have thrown themselves into the get-out-the-vote operations that conservative Christians, for instance, have excelled at.

"We need to get more of our people out," said Ms. Hsieh, 33, a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Colorado. "It's just not the strategy I've taken. I'm a policy-wonk type. Going to talk to people outside the grocery store is just not going to be my strong suit."
It's true: my battle is philosophical. Support for Amendment 48 is rooted in the deeply-held but false belief that "life begins at conception." (By that, people mean that a new person, with the right to life, is created at conception.) Recent polls show that, of likely Colorado voters, 41% believe that "life begins at conception" and 39% support Amendment 48. The overlap is not coincidental. So as I said in a recent press release for the Coalition for Secular Government:
To effectively combat measures like Amendment 48, the whole 'pro-life' ideology must be challenged at its root... Reproductive rights must be defended on principle, based on the objective facts of human nature. With regard to abortion, the fact is that a fetus or embryo is only a potential person so long as encased within and dependent on the woman. Once born, the infant is a new individual person with the right to life. That view ought to be the basis for the laws of a free society. Any alternative -- any attempt to grant rights to the embryo or fetus -- would violate the rights of pregnant women.
While I don't dispute with the importance of "retail politics" for winning elections, the defeat of the religious right in Colorado will require sustained philosophic arguments about the nature, source, and scope of rights. I'm pleased with what I've been able to do on that score so far. And once I finish my Ph.D at Boulder this spring, I'll be able to do far more than I can now. Nonetheless, I hope to never stand outside a grocery store arguing abortion with random passersby!

Finally, I must mention that it was a pleasure to discuss these issues with Samuel Freedman. He was sharp, fair, and interested in my views. His column reflects that -- and I am very appreciative. (Plus, a hefty thank you to Mike Smith, who helped us connect!)

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17 October 2008

Vote No on Amendment 48, Colorado!

By Diana Hsieh

I've just overhauled the Coalition for Secular Government's web site on Amendment 48: Vote NO on Amendment 48. Please feel free to forward the announcement below to anyone you think might be interested in it.

Announcing the Coalition for Secular Government's new web site on Colorado's Amendment 48:

http://ColoradoVoteNo48.com

Amendment 48 is the ballot measure that would define a fertilized egg as a person with full legal rights in the Colorado constitution. (Read the full text.) If passed and implemented, it would pose a grave threat to the life, liberty, health, and happiness of the women and men of Colorado.

  • Amendment 48 would make abortion first-degree murder, except perhaps to save the woman's life. First-degree murder is defined in Colorado law as deliberately causing the death of a "person," a crime punished by life in prison or the death penalty. So women and their doctors would be punished with the severest possible penalty under law for terminating a pregnancy -- even in cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity.

  • Amendment 48 would ban any form of birth control that might sometimes prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus -- including the birth control pill, morning-after pill, and IUD. The result would be many more unintended pregnancies and unwanted children in Colorado.

  • Amendment 48 would ban in vitro fertilization because the process usually creates more fertilized eggs than can be safely implanted in the womb. So every year, hundreds of Colorado couples would be denied the joy of a child of their own.
Amendment 48 would have severe legal consequences for Colorado. Men and women would be legally bound to sacrifice themselves for the sake of a zygote -- even before it implants in the womb, even before it develops any recognizable human form, even before it has any capacity for awareness. The people of Colorado would be forced to sacrifice themselves based on the faith-based fiction that zygote is the equal of a born baby.

The common claim that "life begins at conception" cannot justify Amendment 48. The fact that something is human and alive does not make it a person. Every cell in our body is both human and alive, yet we don't worry about giving blood for testing or scraping off a few skin cells in a fall. A fertilized egg is distinctive because, in addition to being alive and human, it might develop into a born baby given the right conditions. What supporters of Amendment 48 cannot show, however, is that a potential baby has the moral status of an actual baby. The difference between them is enormous.

An embryo or fetus is wholly dependent on the woman for its basic life-functions. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as an extension of her body, contained within and dependent on her for its survival. It is only a potential person, not an actual person. That situation changes radically at birth. The newborn baby exists as a distinct organism, separate from his mother. Although still very needy, he lives his own life. He is a person -- and individual. His life must be protected as a matter of right.

Consequently, when a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy she does not violate the rights of any person. Instead, she is exercising her own rights over her own body -- likely in pursuit of her own health, well-being, and happiness. Amendment 48 would destroy those rights in Colorado.

For a detailed analysis of Amendment 48, download and read the Coalition for Secular Government's issue paper by Ari Armstrong and Diana Hsieh: "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person."

Amendment 48 is based on sectarian religious dogma, not objective science or philosophy. It is a blatant attempt to impose theocracy in Colorado. Please vote NO on 48!

For more information, visit Vote NO on Amendment 48.

The Coalition for Secular Government advocates government solely based on secular principles of individual rights. The protection of a person's basic rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness -- including freedom of religion and conscience -- requires a strict separation of church and state.

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16 October 2008

Faith-Based Politics Costs Colorado Republicans

By Ari

The following article was released by the Coalition for Secular Government as a non-exclusive op-ed. It follows my article on a similar theme regarding Sarah Palin. Here I've included additional links for reference.

Faith-based politics costs Colorado Republicans
by Ari Armstrong

Colorado is known for its Western values of independence and economic liberty. So why do Republicans, the supposed champions of those values, keep getting trounced?

Republicans can blame wealthy Democratic donors, but in large part Republicans have beaten themselves by pushing a faith-based agenda of banning abortion and stem-cell research, discriminating against homosexuals, and directing welfare dollars to religious groups. They have subverted the law to religious doctrine and weakened the wall between church and state.

Republicans also have alienated freedom-minded independents and Republicans. Polls released by Pew show most Americans, and half of conservatives, now oppose church involvement in politics. As Ryan Sager shows in his review of 2005 Pew data, the Interior West holds a "live and let live" philosophy, with 53 percent of residents saying homosexuality "should be accepted by society" and 59 percent saying "the government is getting too involved in the issue of morality." [See the appendix of Sager's The Elephant In the Room.]

Yet the GOP panders to its evangelical base at the expense of political victory.

This year, Republicans passed a resolution at their state convention calling for the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Eighteen Republican candidates signed the Colorado Right to Life survey, saying they want to ban abortion as the will of God and outlaw stem-cell medical research.

The same candidates also endorsed Amendment 48, which would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado's constitution. This would lay the ground to ban all abortion except perhaps to save the mother's life, ban the birth control pill and other forms of contraception that may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, and ban most fertility treatments. Women would be forced to bring a pregnancy to term, even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and health risks.

True, some of these candidates, such as Congressman Doug Lamborn and congressional candidate Mike Coffman, live in safe districts for Republicans. But Libby Szabo, a candidate for state senate in District 19, does not. Her opponents have hammered her over her answers to the survey, making sure to link her views to the GOP.

Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave, the incumbent in a Republican district, has managed to fall behind challenger Betsy Markey in some polls [one and two]. Musgrave wants to outlaw abortion, and she is most well known for sponsoring a constitutional gay marriage ban.

Republican Bob Schaffer is trailing Mark Udall in the polls in the U.S. Senate race in part because of Schaffer's faith-based politics. Udall has written, "I fully support the continued separation of church and state in this country." He opposes bans on abortion and stem-cell research. Schaffer, evoking God's will, said abortion is "always wrong."

Republicans should have learned their lesson when they lost the governership to the Democrats in 2006, when Bob Beauprez touted his faith-based politics and selected a running mate of the same cloth, Janet Rowland. Like Beauprez, Rowland wanted to outlaw abortion and maintain faith-based welfare.

Yet the GOP continues to actively push its anti-abortion agenda. A recent flyer "Paid for by Colorado Republican Committee" urged recipients to vote for a presidential candidate who opposes abortion and who will appoint Supreme Court justices to outlaw it.

But some who are pro-choice across the board are fighting back. Diana Hsieh founded the Coalition for Secular Government, which issued a paper that she and I wrote titled, "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life." Diana's husband Paul wrote to Dick Wadhams, head of the state GOP, "Although I'm pro-free market, pro-strong national defense, and pro- gun, the position that the CO GOP has taken against abortion is a clear breach of the principle of separation of church and state." Doug Krening wrote to Republican officials, "I have been a Republican for my entire voting life, but cannot endorse the GOP currently because of it's explicit endorsement of religion in government."

On September 11, Amanda Mountjoy, chair of the Colorado Republican Majority for Choice, hosted a banquet with 240 participants to oppose Amendment 48. Former Senator Hank Brown told the crowd, "At the point that we give up supporting and defending individual freedom and choice, we give up the very core of this great party."

Colorado Republicans have two options. They can respect the separation of church and state and defend individual freedom and choice, or they can continue to lose and deserve to do so.


Ari Armstrong is a writer for the Coalition for Secular Government and the editor of FreeColorado.com.

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15 October 2008

State Senator Greg Brophy Endorses Amendment 48

By Ari

Reposted: In a recent e-mail, State Senator Greg Brophy writes:

Amendment 48 Yes – Ignore all the hype over this one, it is really a straightforward question. Should all abortions except those where the life of the mother is threatened be banned in Colorado? That is what A48 really does and it is purposefully written to challenge Roe v. Wade. It doesn’t ban contraception, it does ban RU 486, and it would raise a due process question in those rare pregnancies where the life of the mother is at stake. In those cases, the unborn baby would be represented in a court action as well as the mother.
At least Brophy is forthright about some of the implications regarding the measure. As Diana Hsieh and I write in "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life," the measure is indeed intended to overturn Roe v. Wade and outlaw abortion in Colorado -- even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and health risks. Brophy also admits that the life of the egg/embryo/fetus would be weighed against the life of the mother. Legal action could prevent or delay an abortion from proceeding in cases of health risks -- causing the deaths of some women. Doctors who performed an abortion over health concerns also could face "court action" -- i.e., criminal prosecution -- preventing treatment in some cases and causing the deaths of some women.

While Brophy doesn't come right out and say it, he believes some women should die in order to legally protect fertilized eggs as "persons."

Laughably, on his web page Brophy claims to endorse "Limited government" and "Personal responsibility." Exactly how is subjecting women and their doctors to "court action" for health-related (or any) abortions -- thereby using government force to kill some women -- an instance of "limited government?" Brophy, along with many other Colorado Republicans, have proven that they are mortal enemies of individual rights.

I sent Brophy the following question via e-mail:
In a recent e-mail, you state that Amendment 48 "doesn’t ban contraception." However, a popular birth-control pill says right in its prescription literature that it can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Do you believe that the pill or IUD can do that? If so, do you advocate a ban on those forms of birth control? (Yes, I intend to publicize your answer.)
I referred him to pages 3-5 of the paper.

When Brophy encourages voters to "Ignore all the hype," he is asking them to ignore some of the real legal implications of Amendment 48 and impose religious dogma through force of law.

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14 October 2008

Amendment 48 Smoke Screen

By Diana Hsieh

On September 19, the Pagosa Daily Post published an op-ed by Kristi Burton in support of her Amendment 48, which would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado's Constitution. The paper published Ari Armstrong's excellent and lengthy letter in reply on September 23. It reads:

Amendment 48 Smoke Screen
Ari Armstrong

Kristi Burton tries to hide Amendment 48 behind a cloud of smoke in her September 19 Post opinion article. The measure would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado's constitution.

Burton's claim that Amendment 48 "doesn't change the constitution in any way" is dishonest. It would add a new section to the state constitution:

"As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms 'person' or 'persons' shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization."

The related provisions pertain to the rights to life, liberty, equality of justice, and due process of law.

The constitution guides interpretation of statutes. For example, existing statutes define first-degree murder as deliberately causing the death of a "person," resulting in life in prison or the death penalty. Burton has never indicated what criminal penalties she wants for abortion.

At least Burton acknowledges she wants to outlaw "abortion on demand." However, she does not admit the full legal ramifications of Amendment 48 if implemented. Women would be forced to carry to term pregnancies even in cases of rape, incest, and fetal deformity. Women suspected of purposely inducing a miscarriage might be subject to criminal investigation.

Burton claims, "Mothers also possess personhood and the amendment in no way endangers their well-being." However, if a fertilized egg is a person, then the life of a fertilized egg must be balanced against the life of the woman, with details to be decided by the courts.

Nor does Burton discuss the impact of Amendment 48 on birth control, fertility treatments, and medical research. The popular birth control pill and other types may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Fertility treatments help hundreds of Colorado women become pregnant every year, but those treatments regularly involve the destruction or freezing of fertilized eggs. Amendment 48 would ban those forms of birth control and fertility treatments.

The facts are these: a fertilized egg, as it develops into an embryo and fetus, is wholly contained within the woman's body and completely dependent on the woman's body for sustenance. This is radically different from a born child, which, while still very needy, can eat and breathe using its own organs and leave its mother to be cared for by somebody else. Thus, personhood begins at birth. A pregnant woman has the right to liberty, including the right to get an abortion.

The same facts show Burton is also wrong in tying abortion to "taking away the lives and dignity of the elderly, sick and disabled." While a fertilized egg is not a person, the elderly, sick, and disabled are people.

Burton rightly criticizes the view that "each person decides" when personhood begins. That is why Burton is wrong to arbitrarily declare that a fertilized egg is a person, when the biological facts show otherwise.

For a more detailed description of the harms of the measure, see "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life" at the Secular Government website.

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13 October 2008

Boulder Weekly Versus Amendment 48

By Diana Hsieh

In its survey of the slew of measures on the ballot in Colorado, the Boulder Weekly published a strong statement against Amendment 48:

Amendment 48
Definition of a "person"

No

Amendment 48 would change the Colorado Constitution to define the term "person" as being "any human being from the moment of fertilization" and would apply this new definition to all parts of the Constitution that protect the natural and essential rights of persons, ensuring access to courts and ensuring that no person has his or her life, liberty or property taken away without due process of law.

Those in favor of Amendment 48 are hoping voters will give them a legal foundation to make all abortions and some forms of contraception illegal in Colorado. They also hope that Amendment 48 can serve as a catalyst for overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that gave women the right to have an abortion. At this time, the state constitution does not include a definition of the word "person."

Those opposed say that Amendment 48 is a direct challenge to a woman's right to have an abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. They point out that Amendment 48 would also make common forms of birth control illegal, including birth control pills, emergency contraception (the "morning-after" pill), and intrauterine devices (IUDs) because they can interfere with the a fertilized egg's ability to implant in a woman's uterus. A broad coalition of doctors and other health-care providers have warned that Amendment 48 could have a negative impact on women's health care, making it harder for doctors to treat women with fertility problems, cancer and other serious diseases.

Do you want a state in which the government can decide what kinds of contraception a woman can use? Do you want a state where rape and incest victims are forced by law to carry and give birth to their attacker's babies? Do you want a state where many common treatments for infertility are banned? Do you want a state where women carrying deformed, non-viable fetuses are forced to bring those pregnancies to term, knowing that they will go through 40 weeks of pregnancy and hours of painful labor to deliver a baby that cannot live beyond birth? Do you want a state in which miscarriages lead to mandatory forensic exams?

We at Boulder Weekly do not. Though Amendment 48 is written to sound simple, it would have a devastating impact on women's lives and liberty. The state should not be able to force any woman to use her body for any cause not of her own choosing. To force rape and incest victims to gestate and give birth to their assailant's babies is to rape them again, this time with the approval of the state. The decisions a woman makes about contraception, pregnancy and life-saving medical care are hers alone and are not the business of the government -- or nosy neighbors.

Those who oppose this measure include not only women's rights activists, but our anti-abortion governor, Bill Ritter, and the pro-life Colorado Catholic Conference. Other opponents include the Colorado Bar Association, which predicts a legal nightmare concerning property and probate issues, and the Colorado Medical Association, which sees a decline in women's health care if the amendment is passed.

The people who promoted this amendment -- including several national fundamentalist Catholic organizations intent on banning birth control outright and out-of-state anti-abortion organizations -- want to enforce their religious point of view by eliminating certain forms of widely used contraception and by making abortion illegal in all circumstances. They don't care about the consequences to women or to our courts, but we as voters must care.

The consequences of Amendment 48 reach far beyond overturning Roe v. Wade and would place Colorado on the same level as El Salvador and Nicaragua, where miscarriages lead to involuntary exams and criminal investigations. That's not how to treat women.

Vote NO on Amendment 48.
Bravo to the Boulder Weekly! Then again, I'm not surprised, as the very best article on Amendment 48 so far was authored by Boulder Weekly editor Pamela White. If you haven't yet read it, you can (and should) do so here: Extreme Measures.

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10 October 2008

Abortion and Abolition

By Diana Hsieh

The Boulder Weekly published the following op-ed on Colorado's Amendment 48 by Ari Armstrong and myself yesterday:

Abortion and Abolition
by Diana Hsieh and Ari Armstrong

Colorado is ground zero in a national battle over the morality of abortion, and the defenders of abortion rights are ceding ground.

The opponents of abortion declare that every human life is endowed by God with an inalienable right to life. To terminate a pregnancy, whatever the circumstances, is murder.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade, then "end abortion at the state level." His running mate Sarah Palin says she's as "pro-life as any candidate can be." She thinks "abortion [should] only be allowed if the life of the mother is endangered."

Colorado's Amendment 48 inaugurates a new strategy for ending abortion. Instead of restricting abortion via piecemeal government controls, the measure would usher in a near-total ban on abortion by defining a fertilized egg as a person with full legal rights in the state constitution.

The opponents of abortion claim the sanction of divine morality, based on the premise that "life begins at conception." Many anti-abortionists now openly seek to ban not only abortion and most fertility treatments, but also the birth control pill, morning after pill, and IUD because they may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Amendment 48 would help them do that.

Given this all-out assault on reproductive rights, traditional defenders of abortion might be expected to launch a vigorous counter-attack. Instead, they've dodged tough questions and conceded basic principles, leaving reproductive rights with a flimsy defense.

When Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was asked when a baby gets "human rights," he famously declared the question to be "above [his] pay grade." Yet he will be called on to judge such matters if elected. His running mate Joe Biden accepts the teachings of his Catholic Church: the fertilized egg is a human person. Yet he regards abortion as "a personal and private issue" -- as if the state should allow every person to decide for himself whether or not to recognize the rights of others, so long as any killings happen behind closed doors. That's clearly wrong: if an embryo or fetus is a person, then abortion is murder. If not, then it's a woman's right.

In response to the threat posed by Amendment 48, the traditional defenders of abortion rights -- such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL -- organized a broad coalition to fight the measure. They persuasively argue that Amendment 48 would have disastrous legal consequences for abortion, birth control and in-vitro fertilization.

Yet their oft-repeated slogan of "it simply goes too far" is a whopping concession to their opponents. It implies that abortion, birth control and in-vitro fertilization could be and perhaps ought to be restricted -- just not as severely as Amendment 48 would do. Instead of upholding reproductive rights, the slogan implicitly welcomes further incremental controls on abortion.

Just imagine if the abolitionists of the 19th century had attempted to defend the inalienable rights of slaves based on the slogan, "slavery: it simply goes too far." Imagine Lincoln declaring the morality of slavery to be "above [his] pay grade." The monstrous evil of slavery would still exist today. The recognition and protection of the rights of slaves required an uncompromising defense of those rights based on the facts of human nature.

Similarly, the recognition and protection of abortion rights requires an uncompromising defense of those rights based on the all-important differences between a fetus and a baby.

Neither an embryo nor a fetus is a human person with a right to life. While still in the womb, it exists as part of the woman, wholly contained within and dependent on her. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as she lives, as an extension of her body. A fetus is only a potential person without a right to life.

That situation changes radically at birth. A baby lives his own life, outside his mother. Although very needy, he maintains his own biological functions. He breathes his own air, digests his own food and moves on his own. He can leave his mother to be cared for by someone else. He has a life of his own that must be protected as a matter of right, just the same as every other person.

During a pregnancy, the only person with rights is the pregnant woman. She has a right to liberty, including a right to use her body as she pleases. So she has every right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy -- for any reason. If an abortion will further her own life and happiness, then she ought to pursue that option with a clear conscience.

The growing faith-based opposition to abortion cannot be countered by vague appeals to choice and privacy. Roe v. Wade will be overturned and Amendment 48 (or its like) will be passed without a clear, consistent and positive defense of abortion rights. We must be as principled in our defense of a woman's right to her own body as were the abolitionists in defending the rights of slaves. Liberty cannot be won by any other means.

Diana Hsieh is the founder of the Coalition for Secular Government. Ari Armstrong is the editor of FreeColorado.com. They co-authored "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life," available through SecularGovernment.us.

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09 October 2008

Burton Continues to Dodge Amendment 48 Implications

By Ari

Reposted: Kristi Burton has been tight-lipped about the legal implications of Amendment 48. She's admitted she wants to ban "abortion on demand," but she hasn't discussed related issues, such as criminal penalties, birth control, and fertilization treatments.

At least she has offered one more minor detail about her take on the measure:

"Doctors should be able to decide which life they can save," she said. "If she were to die, the baby would die, too. It should be up to the mother and family and the doctor to save the life that can be saved instead of letting both die."
But that statement is hardly revealing. Burton again dodges the real questions.

Obviously, if the pregnant woman and the egg/embryo/fetus certainly would die without treatment, saving one "person" is better than losing two. But medical choices rarely involve such clear-cut risks.

Notably, Burton outright admits that it might be possible to save the fetus and kill the woman. Is that not the meaning of the statement, "Doctors should be able to decide which life they can save"? If a fertilized egg is arbitrarily declared a person, legally its life must be weighed against the life of the pregnant woman.

According to some opponents of abortion, not even an ectopic pregnancy necessarily threatens the very life of the mother. See page 10 of the paper by Diana Hsieh and me. In other cases, such as cancer treatment, the mother wouldn't necessarily die prior to child birth, so her ability to get treatment would depend also on its impact on the egg/embryo/fetus.

The upshot is that doctors would be legally bound -- subject to criminal prosecution -- to weigh the life of the fertilized egg against the life of the woman, in all cases in which death of the woman were not a certainty. Because such decisions would be second-guessed by prosecutors and the courts, doctors often would err on the side of inaction. The inevitable result would be more deaths of women. As Diana and I summarize, "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life."

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08 October 2008

Media Release: Nearly 40% of Colorado Voters Seek to Destroy Reproductive Rights

By Diana Hsieh

MEDIA RELEASE: COALITION FOR SECULAR GOVERNMENT

Nearly 40% of Colorado Voters Seek to Destroy Reproductive Rights

Sedalia, Colorado / October 7, 2008

Contact: Diana Hsieh, co-author of "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life" and founder of the Coalition for Secular Government, Diana@SecularGovernment.us or 303.304.0689

A poll of likely voters shows strong support for Amendment 48, the ballot measure that would grant the full legal rights of persons to fertilized eggs. The survey, conducted on September 28th by Rasmussen Reports with 500 likely voters, shows that 39% plan to vote for the measure, 50% to vote against it, while 11% are unsure. (See .)

Such strong support for Amendment 48 should surprise anyone familiar with the barrage of criticism published in Colorado media in recent weeks. Critics of the measure have warned voters of its destructive effects on Colorado's laws if passed and enforced. They have shown that it would usher in a near-total ban on abortion, outlaw the birth control pill and in vitro fertilization, and subject pregnant women to police controls. Yet these latest poll results are basically unchanged from a June poll, also by Rasmussen. (See .)

Diana Hsieh, founder of the Coalition for Secular Government and co-author of "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life," argues that the broad support for Amendment 48 is driven by a deeply-held faith pretending to be "pro-life."

The most recent Rasmussen poll showed that 41% of Colorado voters believe that "life begins at conception." That number explains the strong support for Amendment 48, despite the media barrage against it. "People who endorse that slogan regard a fertilized egg as a new, whole person with a right to life," Hsieh said. "They regard the enormous sacrifices forced on real men and women by the measure as insignificant -- or even ennobling. Their vote is based on faith, without regard to the real-world requirements of human life and happiness. It's not 'pro-life' at all."

"To effectively combat measures like Amendment 48, the whole 'pro-life' ideology must be challenged at its root," Hsieh said. "A mushy slogan like 'it simply goes too far' is unconvincing, even misleading. It doesn't speak to the fundamental dispute. Worse, it suggests that some compromise -- like banning most abortions -- would be acceptable."

"Instead, reproductive rights must be defended on principle, based on the objective facts of human nature. With regard to abortion, the fact is that a fetus or embryo is only a potential person so long as encased within and dependent on the woman. Once born, the infant is a new individual person with the right to life. That view ought to be the basis for the laws of a free society. Any alternative -- any attempt to grant rights to the embryo or fetus -- would violate the rights of pregnant women."

For a principled defense of reproductive rights, see the Coalition for Secular Government's issue paper, "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person," available at http://www.seculargovernment.us/docs/a48.pdf, particularly the section "Personhood and the Right to Abortion," pages 10-13.

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07 October 2008

What Will Happen If Roe Is Overturned?

By Diana Hsieh

In the Washington Post, Linda Hirshmann argues "If Roe Goes, Our State Will Be Worse Than You Think":

In the 1980s, when abortion was severely limited in then-West Germany, border guards sometimes required German women returning from foreign trips to undergo vaginal examinations to make sure that they hadn't illegally terminated a pregnancy while they were abroad. According to news stories and other accounts, the guards would stop young women and ask them about drugs, then look for evidence of abortion, such as sanitary pads or nightgowns, in their cars, and eventually force them to undergo a medical examination -- as West German law empowered them to do.

Sounds like a nightmare of a police state, doesn't it? Like something that could never happen in this day and age -- and certainly not in the United States? But depending upon the outcome of this presidential election, it could happen here. This is how.
While I regard the analysis as stretched at points, it's worth reading in full.

Here's my view of the danger: Overturning Roe would create a kind of state-by-state patchwork of laws on abortion. The laws on the books in 23 states would immediately ban abortion; some states would repeal those bans in time, while other states would pass new bans.

So what would happen to access to abortion?

Women with means could terminate an unwanted pregnancy, if determined to do so. They could easily travel to another state. Even if abortion were banned completely in America, they could probably still obtain one in Canada. However, police controls on women seeking abortion would be more likely in that case, as they could be fairly easily integrated into the US's intrusive regime of border searches.

However, women in more desperate circumstances due to poverty, youth, poor education, and inexperience would have few options. Many such women would be unable to procure an abortion in time. They would find themselves saddled with children beyond their physical, emotional, and financial capacity to support well. Due to the burdens of caring for a child, many would be unable to create the better life for themselves of which they'd dreamed. They would be stuck in poverty, overwhelmed by the demands of daily life. That would be tragic -- and the people who seek to create that nightmare do not deserve the title of "pro-life."

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06 October 2008

A Story of Personal Loss Would Be a Devastation Under 48

By Gina Liggett

I came across this compelling story as a Letter to the Editor in a local Colorado newspaper, Ft. Collins: Now. This personal story of a couple's sorrowful situation of an unsuccessful pregnancy would become a courtroom nightmare and a medical crisis for the woman under a law granting personhood to fertilized eggs.

Proposed amendment would limit options for parents

by Lynne Hull

I am writing out of concern about the proposed "life begins" proposal, Amendment 48. It looks simple and straightforward. It is in fact an enormous step back to the puritan past.

Recently a young friend of mine, in her mid 30s, married, building a career, new owner of a townhouse in a good neighborhood, looking forward to starting a family, discovered she was pregnant. At first very excited, but increasingly ill, she went to her doctor, who discovered the fetus was not growing, not thriving, possibly damaged and unlikely to come to full term. My friend was having "an incomplete miscarriage." There was really no chance for the fetus survive, it had stopped developing and had started to miscarry but the process was going very, very slowly.

After a few more weeks of growing illness for my friend and no change in the fetus, her doctor suggested three options: to simply continue to watch and wait (while she continued a slow and inevitable miscarriage for who knew how long), to use a drug which would cause a fairly quick and uncomfortable miscarriage at home (essentially causing contractions), or come in to the hospital for the immediate surgical removal of the fetus. It seemed to both her and her husband that far and away the kindest thing for all of them was the surgery, even though it had been a wanted pregnancy that they were hoping for. They chose to do the minor procedure to free my friend up for an attempt at a healthier pregnancy more likely to result in a healthy baby. Only a few months later, this has happened and my friend and her young husband are looking joyfully forward to a baby next year. She mentioned that it seems to be fairly common among "older" young mothers who have used birth control for several years to lose the first pregnancy.

If Amendment 48 is passed, her experience would have been much different. Not only could she not have been freed of an unhealthy situation, her health could have deteriorated badly, and the fetus could have taken months to die or could have been born badly deformed. Isn't one of the purposes of modern medicine to improve our life and health, not degrade it? Also, if Amendment 48 is passed, she might not have had the time to build her career, afford a house, and mature into a wonderful future mother. Several of the birth control methods she used for that time could become illegal. Young women who find themselves raped, drugged or unexpectedly unprepared will be deprived of the morning after pill, which currently offers them protection.

Why would we want to take our medical and health professions backward in time with this medieval attitude, and endanger the health of our young women?

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03 October 2008

Freedom of Speech, Only for Pastors

By Diana Hsieh

The mission statement of the Coalition for Secular Government reads, in part:

We oppose any special exemptions or privileges based on religion by government, such as exemptions for churches from the tax law applicable to other non-profits.
What does that mean? It means that religious non-profits should be subject to the same laws as secular non-profits. They should not be granted any special exemptions just because they advocate faith in and obedience to a supernatural being. Some of those laws might be unjust -- like the campaign finance laws that restrict freedom of speech. Yet so long as such laws exist, they should apply to every non-profit, without regard to their particular ideas and activities. Secular groups should not be forced to suffer under them, while religious groups are exempted from them. That would be unjust discrimination.

Unfortunately, churches in America are seeking special exemptions for themselves rather than justice for all -- as explained in this NY Times article:
Defying a federal tax law they consider unjust, 33 ministers across the country will take to their pulpits this Sunday and publicly endorse a candidate for president.

They plan to then send copies of their sermons to the Internal Revenue Service, hoping to provoke a challenge to a law that bars religious organizations and other nonprofits that accept tax-deductible contributions from involvement in partisan political campaigns.

The protest, called Pulpit Freedom Sunday, was organized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a consortium of Christian lawyers that fights for conservative religious and social causes. When the fund first announced the protest this year, it said it planned to have 50 ministers taking part. As of Thursday it said it had hundreds of volunteers, but had selected only 33 who were fully aware of the risks and benefits.
...
The protest is challenging an amendment to the tax code passed by Congress in 1954 saying that charitable organizations known as 501(c)(3)'s, which accept tax-deductible contributions, cannot intervene in political campaigns. The legislation was intended to prevent nonprofit organizations from funneling money and resources to political candidates.
Here's what these churches -- and the Alliance Defense Fund -- ought to do: they ought to fight for the total repeal of these unjust campaign finance laws. They ought to join with secular groups in that cause. They ought to refuse to accept freedom of speech for religious non-profits while secular non-profits are bound and gagged. That's a cause that the Coalition for Secular Government would wholeheartedly support.

Instead, the Alliance Defense Fund seeks only to "protect the First Amendment rights of pastors in the pulpit." They aim to give religious groups a decided advantage in the public square -- via forcible government constraints on their opponents. That's wrong -- morally wrong. It should be opposed.

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02 October 2008

Fabricating Rights for Fertilized Eggs

By Diana Hsieh

My letter to the editor in response to this column on Amendment 48 was published in the Grand Junction Sentinel on September 30th:

Amendment 48 would fabricate rights for fertilized eggs

Henrietta Hay is right about the dangers of Amendment 48. By granting the legal rights of persons to fertilized eggs, the measure would not just usher in a ban on abortion but create unimaginable legal chaos. ("On a packed election ballot, Amendment 48 is most dangerous," Sept 25)

However, the basis of abortion rights is not Joe Biden's appeal to disagreements between religious faiths that she cites. Laws ought not be based on religious faith at all. They ought to be based on the objective requirements of human survival and flourishing in society -- namely each person's right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

So is an embryo or fetus a person with those rights? Absolutely not. An embryo or fetus is wholly dependent on the woman for its basic life-functions. It goes where she goes, eats what she eats, and breathes what she breathes. It lives as an extension of her body, contained within and dependent on her for its survival. It is only a potential person, not an actual person.

That situation changes radically at birth. The newborn baby exists as a distinct organism, separate from his mother. Although still very needy, he lives his own life. He is a person, and his life must be protected as a matter of right.

So when a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy she does not violate the rights of any person. Instead, she is properly exercising her own rights over her own body in pursuit of her own happiness.

By fabricating rights for fertilized eggs, Amendment 48 would grossly violate the rights of the women of Colorado. Please vote "No."

DIANA HSIEH
Sedalia

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01 October 2008

Each Woman Should Decide

By Diana Hsieh

Tom Hall of Louisville published an excellent letter to the editor in the Rocky Mountain News against Colorado's Amendment 48.

Fate of her unborn up to each woman
Tom Hall, Louisville
September 29, 2008

The question of whether the life and future of an unborn child is of more importance than the convenience or privacy of the woman who's carrying it is strictly her private business. She's the one providing it with 24/7 life support; she's the one who will be responsible for the child should it come to be.

As letter writer Rachel Morgan pointed out ("Don't the unborn deserve protection?" Sept. 8), our society has already done great damage to our individual rights by extending pseudo- rights to animals and "the environment."

The only way these pseudo-rights can be implemented is by violating the actual rights of individuals. Extending pseudo-rights to the unborn only extends this tyranny to pregnant women.

The callousness with which some people seek to violate the rights of their fellow citizens is disturbing to me. What's more disturbing is when these people seek to engage the unlimited force of government in their crusades - and the government capitulates.

I encourage everyone who cares about individual rights to join the efforts of the Coalition for Secular Government and soundly defeat Amendment 48 at the polls this election.
Wow, I love that last line!

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