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

28 November 2008

Ted Haggard in the Pulpit Again


Ted Haggard -- the disgraced figure of the religious right from Colorado Springs -- has returned to the pulpit:

Earlier this month, a guest took the pulpit at Open Bible Fellowship in Morrison, Ill., a 350-member church surrounded by cornfields. The speaker was an insurance salesman from Colorado named Ted Haggard.

The former superstar pastor, disgraced two years ago in a sex-and-drugs scandal, had returned — this time as a Christian businessman preaching a message that was equal parts contrition and defiance. Haggard linked his fall to being molested in second grade and apologized again.

His two sermons were posted, fleetingly, on Haggard's Web site under one word: "Alive!"

While his exact plans remain unclear, Haggard is unmistakably making himself a public figure again, nine months after his former church said he walked away from an oversight process meant to restore him.
Christian ethics are impossible to practice. Jesus explicitly demands that a person renounce all the values that make life on earth possible: reason, wealth, planning, pleasure, justice, and more. As a result, the worst kind of power-lusting fakers -- like Ted Haggard -- are sure to rise to the heights of power. Only they can maintain the necessary fraud. And like his disgraced predecessors, Ted Haggard can't seem to let go of his once-great power to bend people to his dishonest will.


26 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Thanksgiving!

Although I'm deeply concerned for the future of America -- particularly for the lack of respect for individual rights in all corners of the culture -- I'm deeply grateful to live in a country with a tradition of respect for a person's choice in basic beliefs, including those concerning religion. So tomorrow, I will openly celebrate Thanksgiving as a purely secular holiday, in the company of my other openly secular friends, without a prayer to God heard at any time. In many other times and places past, that would not have been possible.

For that liberty, I thank the wisdom of the Founding Fathers, particularly for the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."


24 November 2008

Religious Right Is Set Back

By Gina Liggett

The Religious Right has been trying to breach the wall of separation of church and state for 30 years, and has enjoyed especially close access to the White House during the two Bush Administrations. They have achieved significant successes: Bush's faith-based initiatives, the partial-birth abortion ban, the passage of parental-notification laws, the Bush appointments of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, and the constitutional amendments against gay marriage just passed in Florida, Arizona and California. There are doubtlessly many other successes I've left out, especially at the state and local level.

But this election, there have been some defeats; and I think it is important to highlight them in the battle between those who want to create a Christian theocracy and those who value not only religious liberty, but freedom from religious-based morality.

The first is the significant rejection by Colorado voters of Amendment 48. The passage of that amendment would have granted full legal rights to a fertilized egg, resulting in a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and the opening of a Pandora's box of legal wrangling over everything from birth control to fertility treatments to inheritance rights.

Washington state passed the nation's second assisted suicide law in the country. Now individuals who are suffering and who rationally decide to end their life with dignity have more opportunity to do so humanely. This is a "right-to-life" issue: the right to choose to control your life, and that includes ending interminable suffering. Evangelicals who want to prevent people from taking their own life into their own hands are deeply "anti-life."

Another attempt to severely ban abortion in South Dakota failed. Proponents tried to make a previous draconian abortion bill more palatable by allowing rape and incest victims or women in danger for their health to have an abortion if necessary. For anti-abortion Christians to decide on behalf of a woman what reason is good enough to justify an abortion is a negation of her right to life. An fetus has no rights to a woman's body without her consent under any circumstances.

Finally, candidates favored by the Religious Right suffered some losses at the polls. In five of eight Senate races, the Religious Right's favorite candidate lost (Colorado, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina and South Dakota); and two races are in a run-off (Georgia and Minnesota). In eleven races for the the House, six incumbent Representatives favored by the Religious Right were ousted (Colorado, Florida, Idaho, North Carolina, Michigan and Virginia). And three incumbents held off religious challengers (Indiana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania). This means that it will be more difficult for evangelicals to forcibly decide for all of us that we should abide by a biblical morality.

While we must be ever-vigilant in upholding this most sacred of principles--the Separation of Church and State--these defeats of the Religious Right show that it can be done.


21 November 2008

Paul Hsieh LTE on Compassionate Conservatism in WSJ

By Paul Hsieh

The November 14, 2008 Wall Street Journal printed my LTE supporting the November 7, 2008 OpEd that former House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey wrote on the future of the Republican Party.

His piece was: "'Compassionate' Conservatism Was a Mistake"

My LTE (no longer available online) read as follows:

Compassionate Conservatism Is Dead. What's Next?

Dick Armey is right. Americans still want small government. Voters in Colorado rejected three tax measures to provide more social programs "for the children." But they also resoundingly rejected the antiabortion Amendment 48 (which would declare a fertilized egg a legal "person") and defeated pro-life conservative Republicans Marilyn Musgrave and Bob Schaffer.

This indicates that the Republicans would do well by turning away from the divisive "social conservative" agenda favored by the religious right and instead reaffirm limited government, fiscal responsibility and individual rights.

Otherwise, the Republicans will continue to alienate many young and independent voters and continue to lose elections.

Paul Hsieh
Sedalia, Colo.


19 November 2008

How The GOP Lost My Vote

By Paul Hsieh

The November 13, 2008 Denver Post has published my OpEd on the Republican Party.

"How the GOP lost my vote"
Paul Hsieh

After a resounding electoral defeat, in which voters in this once-red state rejected Republicans McCain, Schaffer, and Musgrave, the Colorado Republican Party will undoubtedly be asking themselves, "Why did we lose?"

I want to let them know that they lost the vote of many former supporters (including myself) because they have chosen to embrace the Religious Right.

I voted Republican in 1996, 2000, and 2004. I believe in limited government, individual rights, free market capitalism, a strong national defense, and the right to keep and bear arms - positions that one normally associates with Republicans.

But I didn't vote for a single Republican in 2008. I've become increasingly alienated by the Republicans" embrace of the religious "social conservative" agenda, including attempts to ban abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and gay marriage.

The Founding Fathers correctly recognized that the proper function of government is to protect individual rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But freedom of religion also implies freedom *from* religion. As Thomas Jefferson famously put it, there should be a "wall of separation" between church and state. Public policy should not be based on religious doctrines.

Instead, the government's role is to protect each person's right to practice his or her religion as a private matter and to forbid them from forcibly imposing their particular views on others. And this is precisely why I find the Republican Party's embrace of the Religious Right so dangerous.

If a woman chooses not to have an abortion for reasons of personal faith, then I completely respect her right to do so. But she cannot impose her particular religious views on others. Other women must have the same right to decide that deeply personal issue for themselves.

The Religious Right's goal of outlawing abortions would violate that important right, and sacrifice the lives of actual women for clumps of cells that are only potential (but not yet actual) human beings, based on religious dogma. As a physician, I find that position abhorrent and deeply anti-life.

In his October 24, 2008 radio broadcast, Rush Limbaugh told pro-choice secular supporters of limited government such as myself that we should leave the Republican Party. Many of us have already taken his advice and changed our affiliation to "independent."

The Republican Party stands at an important crossroads. The Republican Party could choose to follow the principles of the American Founding Fathers and promote a limited government that protected individual rights but otherwise left people alone to live their lives.

This includes affirming the principle of the separation of church and state. If they did so, I would happily support it.

Or the Republican Party could instead choose to become the party of the Religious Right and seek to forcibly impose the religious values of one particular constituency over others (thus violating everyone else's rights).

In that case, it will continue to alienate many voters and lose elections -- and deservedly so.

Even though I no longer regard myself as a Republican, I definitely regard myself as a loyal American.

My parents immigrated legally from Taiwan to America over 40 years ago. They had very little money, but they worked hard, sent two children to college and medical school, and are now enjoying a well-earned and comfortable retirement.

Their life has been a real-life embodiment of the American dream. America is a beacon of hope to millions of people around the world precisely because our system of government allows honest, hard-working people to prosper and thrive.

Our system is a testament to the genius of the Founding Fathers, who recognized that the proper function of government is to protect individual rights, such as our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Hence, I believe the Republican Party should choose the first path - the path of limited government, separation of church and state, and protection of individual rights.

This is the America that brought my parents from a ocean away in hopes of a better life for themselves and their children. This is the America I want to live in. And this is the America I want the Republican Party to stand for.

Paul Hsieh is a practicing physician in the south Denver metro area and co-founder of Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine (FIRM). He lives in Sedalia.


17 November 2008

LTE: The Republican Party Has Gone Bankrupt

By Gina Liggett

My following letter to the editor was published in the Denver Post Editorial page of November 15 in response to David Harsanyi's column, "Getting out of the Republican coma."

I would like to add to David Harsanyi's comments about Republicans needing renewed idealism and intellectualism. To put it bluntly, the Republican Party is bankrupt. Their "statism-lite" support of the massive growth in government is a pathetic imitation of the the sacred policies of the left. And their hijacking by the religious right has turned them into "theocrat-lite." There is nothing of the idealism of limited government and individual liberty -- policies they give only lip service to. They deserve the whooping they got; and as an advocate of reason, individual liberty and laissez-faire capitalism, I'm hoping that out of the ashes will emerge a leader who won't let America go down in flames.

Gina Liggett, Denver


14 November 2008

Southern Baptist Convention: For the Separation of Church and State, But...

By Gina Liggett

The next in my series of profiles of the Religious Right is the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The Southern Baptist Convention, with a yearly revenue over $200 million dollars, represents over 42,000 Baptist churches in the U.S., holds an annual convention, and sponsors missionary campaigns all over the world to spread their gospel and build more Baptist churches. The Southern Baptists explicitly lay out their basic beliefs, such as the Bible being written by divinely-inspired men, that those who accept Christ as their savior will go to Heaven and those who don't will go to Hell, and that a "wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband," etc, etc.

The Southern Baptist stance on "Religious Liberty" is this: "Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal."

Even Richard Land, the head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, speaks like a strong advocate of church-state separation -- but not because he's a man of reason, but because it would ultimately threaten religious belief: "I do not want state-sponsored religion, because state-sponsored religion destroys religion. And it interferes with what I call, and Pope John Paul II called, the 'sacred sanctuary of the soul.' No government has a right to interfere with a person’s relationship with God."

That ideal would be compatible with what the Founding Fathers wrote in the freedom-of-religion clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution. But actions speak louder than words. And Richard Land and his Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission have been on the front lines of the religious invasion of Republican Party politics for years.

Joining other Religious Right activists' frustration with getting the Republicans to advance their public policy agenda, Richard Land said in 1998: "The go-along, get-along strategy is dead. No more engagement. We want a wedding ring, we want a ceremony, we want a consummation of the marriage."

It was time for the Religious Right to consolidate their forces and push the Republican party to impose Christian morals on society by outlawing abortion, censoring pornography, prohibiting marriage between homosexual adults, reintroducing prayer in the schools, obtaining tax deferrals for tuition at religious and private schools, and eliminating financial support for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Looking to the 2000 election, Land said, "It's time for candidates who will not only work with us, but for candidates who are us." Well, they got their man, George W. Bush, and Richard Land couldn't be happier with the results: "There's no question this is the most receptive White House to our concerns and to our perspective of any White House that I've dealt with, and I've dealt with every White House from Reagan on." The Bush administration has been right in step with what the Southern Baptists claim the bible says about their most significant social issues of "abortion,.. homosexuality,.. [and] anti-obscenity enforcement."

Much to their dismay, the Bush administration is over. The fact remains that the Southern Baptists are blatant hypocrites when comes to their dogma about religious freedom. Despite their self-interested credo supporting the separation of church and state, they nonetheless have deeply entrenched themselves within the Republican political machinery to impose a religious morality on all Americans. Consider Land's own words about the Religious Right's fight against gay marriage:

We believe that marriage is a divinely ordained institution... In a representative democracy like the United States, if we believe that certain lifestyles should be affirmed and other lifestyles should be merely tolerated, we have a right to have that made into law. And that's not called a theocracy... We want a federal marriage amendment to keep the judiciary from forcing a secularist agenda on this country that this country does not want in the area of marriage. The only way to protect ourselves from that, given the current power of the judiciary, is to trump the judiciary by passing an amendment to the Constitution, which is aimed like a rifle -- not a shotgun, but a rifle -- at same-sex union.
What could better exemplify not only this hypocrisy but what Ayn Rand calls the corollaries of faith and force? The Southern Baptists have lost their poster-boy, but they haven't lost the will to fight. And neither should we.


12 November 2008

Paul Hsieh's Letter to the Editor on the Republican Party

By Paul Hsieh

In the wake of their massive 2008 electoral defeat, the Republican Party is going through a process of self-examination.

Some Republicans, such as former House Majority leader Dick Armey (now chairman of FreedomWorks) are arguing that the Republicans should turn away from the agenda of the Religious Right, and instead stand for small government and fiscal responsibility.

Mr. Armey states his case in this November 7, 2008 OpEd in the Wall Street Journal, "'Compassionate' Conservatism Was a Mistake".

Other Republicans, such as former Congressman J.C. Watts (at one time the number 4 ranking Republican in the House), argue that the Republican Party needs to cater more to the Religious Right.

Mr. Watts states his case in this November 9, 2008 OpEd in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Winning football and winning politics".

I believe that Dick Armey is on the right track and J.C. Watts is on the wrong track. Hence, I was pleased when the November 11, 2008 Las Vegas Review-Journal printed my LTE on this topic (fourth one down the page):

GOP recipe

J.C. Watts is prescribing the exact wrong formula for the Republican Party's problems (Review-Journal, Nov. 9).

I'm an independent voter who supports strong national defense, fiscal responsibility and individual rights (including Second Amendment rights). But I did not vote Republican in 2008 precisely because of their alliance with the Religious Right.

Americans still want small government. In my home "swing" state of Colorado, voters rejected three tax increases to provide more social programs "for the children." But they also resoundingly rejected the anti-abortion Amendment 48 (which would declare a fertilized egg a legal "person") and defeated pro-life conservative Republicans Marilyn Musgrave and Bob Schaffer.

If Republicans reaffirmed the principles of limited government and separation of church and state, then I'd be happy to support them again. But if they stay in bed with the Religious Right, they will continue to alienate many independent voters and lose elections. And deservedly so.



10 November 2008

Time to Speak


GOP aims to rebuild, refocus:

Colorado Republicans, sifting through the ashes of three disastrous election cycles, are in the midst of a vigorous debate over how to win again in a state where their future looks bleak.

That struggle is likely to play out over the next few months, key players say, starting with a fight over the party's leadership.

Insiders say big defeats Tuesday at the presidential, Senate and House levels could play out two ways: an invigorating period of rebuilding and new ideas or a divisive fight over the party's direction that could debilitate it for years.
The Democrats might be the big winners in 2008, but advocates of individual rights should take advantage of the Republican defeat by clearly and forcefully arguing for a separation of the GOP from Jesus. You can tell your state and local Republican Party officials that they will continue to lose elections unless they reject the theocratic ambitions of the religious right.

To win, the GOP must become the party that champions fiscal responsibility and individual rights. More particularly, as Ari Armstrong has argued, the Republican Party can form a winning coalition based on (1) religious freedom, (2) freedom of speech, (3) free trade and economic freedom, (4) immigration sanity, and (5) a foreign policy for America. If the GOP does that, it might just recover from the evangelical legacy of "W."


06 November 2008

Election Results


Ari Armstrong has a great review of Colorado's election results vis-à-vis the religious right. In essence, "by hitching their party to the religious right, Republicans have driven themselves to overwhelming losses." I couldn't be happier about that!

In particular, Amendment 48 -- the measure that would have granted full legal rights to fertilized eggs -- was beaten by a stunning margin: 72% against and 27% in favor (91% of precincts reporting). That means that such "zygotes are people too" measures likely won't be tried again in the near future. Or, if they are, they likely won't gather much support.

I'm quite pleased with the small part that the Coalition for Secular Government played in the defeat of Amendment 48. Unlike the "No on 48" campaign, we focused on the fundamental philosophic issue, namely whether a zygote (or fetus) is a person. You can find the full list of our op-eds, letters, to the editor, and press releases at the bottom of this page. Our issue paper -- Amendment 48 is Anti-Life -- was downloaded over 3700 times.

Go read Ari's blog post for the full details, plus more good news for secular government in Colorado. Also, in another blog post, he argues that the Republican Party can create a new winning coalition -- if it embraces the right principles. I hope they're listening.


04 November 2008

Election Day


Today, voters will have their say on Colorado's Amendment 48. Whatever the outcome, I'm pleased with the Coalition for Secular Government's work against the measure, particularly given our limited resources. To see our full list of published writings, visit ColoradoVoteNo48.com. A few were published just recently, most notably a Rocky Mountain News op-ed yesterday.

I offer my hearty thanks to everyone who spoke out against Amendment 48. I particularly appreciate the tireless efforts of Ari Armstrong. His writings on faith and politics are at AriArmstrong.com.

Whatever the results on Amendment 48 -- and I very much hope that it is thoroughly defeated -- our work fighting for a secular government based on the principles of individual rights is far from over. The entrenched religious right and the emerging religious left will continue to push for faith-based violations of rights. The Coalition for Secular Government will oppose any and all such measures in its fight for a free society.


Op-Ed Against Amendment 48


My op-ed on abortion rights was published in the Rocky Mountain News yesterday. Here it is:

There's Nothing Wrong with Abortion, But 48 Is Wrong
By Diana Hsieh
November 3, 2008

On November 4th, voters in Colorado will face a stark moral choice: vote yea or nay on Amendment 48 to alter the "Definition of a Person" in our state Constitution. This amendment would grant fertilized eggs the legal standing of persons, including "inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law."

If fully implemented, all abortions would be outlawed in Colorado, including in cases of rape, incest, and risk to the woman's health. Any woman who terminated a pregnancy would be guilty of murder, subject to life in prison or the death penalty. Colorado would also ban forms of birth control preventing the implantation in the womb, including the birth control pill.

Roe v. Wade would not necessarily protect women against these ominous legal restrictions. Rather, supporters of the amendment hope to use it as grounds for challenging that landmark case in the Supreme Court -- or perhaps as fuel for a nationwide movement for a similar federal constitutional amendment.

Despite its draconian implications for reproductive freedom, this proposed amendment has gathered solid support from Colorado voters. Polls show that 35 percent favor it, 52 percent oppose it, and 14 percent 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 an unborn child's right to life.

It is part of a "culture of death." Consequently, most Americans regard abortion as morally suspect except in those rare cases 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 basic biological facts of pregnancy.

The opponents of abortion claim that embryos and fetuses have the same right to life as babies because they are distinct, living human beings. Certainly, a 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 because it's a potential human person. That human person will become actual at birth. Then, and only then, does this new person have a right to life.

The fetus is only a potential human person, even when well-developed, so long as in the womb. In the womb, it 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. A fetus cannot act independently to sustain its life, not even on the basic biological level possible to a day-old infant.

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. He has a life of his own that must be protected as a matter of right.

The fundamental biological differences between a fetus and a baby show that 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.

That's why, to protect a woman's moral right to her own life and happiness, the people of Colorado must answer a resounding "NAY" to Amendment 48 tomorrow.

Diana Hsieh is founder of the Coalition for Secular Government.


03 November 2008

Burton Backtracks on Amendment 48

By Ari

Reposted:) As I've pointed out, Kristi Burton likes to pretend that Amendment 48 wouldn't have the nasty legal implications that her opponents claim.

But on October 14, Burton even backed away from her opposition to abortion, telling a crowd, "We're not saying outlaw abortion, do this, do that. It's simply a definition."

Apparently, Burton believes that Amendment 48 has a shot only if she lies about her intentions. The advocates of the measure most certainly are "saying outlaw abortion." Burton herself has said elsewhere that she sees Amendment 48 as an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.

What should we make of Burton's claim that Amendment 48 is "simply a definition?" As I wrote in an e-mail in reply to that question, "Amendment 48 would amend the Colorado constitution. Constitutional provisions are laws; they are laws of higher order than legislative statutes. If a statute contradicts a constitutional provision, courts will look to the constitution as the higher law. Many laws contain definitions, and the definitions are critical for how the law is interpreted and applied. So it's a mistake to think of Amendment 48 as merely a definition; it would add a definition to the state's constitution, thereby becoming part of the fundamental law that guides the passage and application of legislative statutes."

Of course, as Diana Hsieh and I point out in our paper, whether and to what extent Amendment 48 is implemented depends on federal as well as state court rulings. As Ed Quillen points out, neither the legislature nor the courts always follow existing constitutional language. However, in our paper Diana and I explain why that's hardly comforting:

The legislature and courts in Colorado might be strongly tempted to pretend that Amendment 48 doesn't mean what it plainly says in order to avoid its absurd implications. Such a course of legislative and judicial winking might save Colorado from the worst effects of the measure, but it would do so by undermining the basic principle of rule of law so essential to a free society.

Alternately, the Colorado legislature could try to rewrite the myriad statutes mentioning "person" or "persons" to exclude fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. However, anti-abortion lawyers could effectively challenge such legislative changes based on the constitutional language of Amendment 48. The measure would be subject to interpretation by Colorado courts, but those courts would be legally bound by the constitution, including Amendment 48.

If Amendment 48 passes, its exact effects would depend greatly on the decisions of future legislators and judges. However, we can be sure that the advocates of Amendment 48 will work doggedly to force the Colorado government to fully implement and enforce the measure.

As Burton demonstrates, "half the truth is a great lie." True, Amendment 48 would not automatically be enforced. However, the advocates of Amendment 48 have put it forward precisely because they want to outlaw abortion and in every other way legally protect a fertilized egg. For Burton to pretend otherwise proves only that she knows she cannot win an honest debate.


Amendment 48: Burton's Equivocation

By Ari

Reposted:) At least Kristi Burton and I agree on something: the tag line of "it simply goes to far" is a terrible critique of Amendment 48, which would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado's constitution. Beyond that, Burton simply refuses to honestly discuss the implications of Amendment 48 or to answer her serious critics.

Burton writes for the October 18 Vail Daily:

It has been interesting to watch the strategy of the "no on 48" campaign. They know if they attempt to contend human life doesn’t begin at conception they’re arguing with virtually every geneticist and embryology textbook available. So instead, they take issue with the dictionary. They concede that human life begins at conception, but claim "personhood" doesn’t begin until some later, yet to be determined, date. They never come out and say it, but they assume it's OK to "terminate" a developing human until he or she reaches that undefined point of "personhood." If they simply pick up any dictionary and look up "person," they will find the definition: "A human being." That’s what it's meant for the last several centuries. "Person" and "human being" have always been the same thing, but the no on 48 folks plan to change all that. And, they do it as though no one should even question their totally illogical and false premise. They simply assume it's true and expect you to do the same.

But Diana Hsieh and I have directly addressed Burton's arguments. Burton cannot have failed to become aware of our paper, as Diana and I have promoted it widely in newspaper columns, letters, online comments to news articles, and the internet. For Burton to completely ignore our arguments reveals her intellectual dishonesty.

Notice Burton's progression: she claims that a fertilized egg is "human life," then she jumps to "person," which she equates with "human being." Burton's argument is incredibly rationalistic, so silly on its face that it obviously disguises her real motive for supporting the measure: she believes the Bible forbids abortion and that God has declared a fertilized egg to be a person, with all the same legal rights as you and me.

Obviously a fertilized egg is "human life." It is alive, and it contains human DNA. Every cell in our bodies is "human life" for the same reason. Burton is quite wrong in claiming that "human life" begins at conception; both the sperm cell and unfertilized egg are also human and alive. What Burton steadfastly refuses to consider are the very real biological differences between a fertilized egg and a born baby. Diana and I discuss these differences at length, and in the process we clearly define the beginning of personhood.

For the answer to Burton's claims, see pages 10-13 of our paper. First Diana and I point out Burton's equivocation:

[T]he advocates of Amendment 48 depend on an equivocation on "human being" to make their case. A fertilized egg is human, in the sense that it contains human DNA. It is also a "being," in the sense that it is an entity. That's also true of a gallbladder: it is human and it is an entity. Yet that doesn't make your gallbladder a human person with the right to life. Similarly, the fact that an embryo is biologically a human entity is not grounds for claiming that it's a human person with a right to life. Calling a fertilized egg a "human being" is word-play intended to obscure the vast biological differences between a fertilized egg traveling down a woman's fallopian tube and a born infant sleeping in a crib. It is intended to obscure the fact that anti-abortion crusaders base their views on scripture and authority, not science.

Here is the most relevant passage on personhood (sans citations):

[S]o long as the fetus remains within the woman, it is wholly dependent on her for its basic life-functions. 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 wholly contained within and dependent on her for its survival. So if the woman dies, the fetus will die too unless delivered quickly. The same is true if the fetus's life-line to her body is disrupted, such as when the umbilical cord forms a tight knot. A fetus cannot act independently to sustain its life, not even on the basic biological level possible to a day-old infant. It is thoroughly dependent on the woman in which it lives.

That situation changes radically at birth. A baby lives his own life, outside his mother. 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 whole and distinct creature in his own right, not merely as a part of a pregnant woman. He can leave his mother, either temporarily or permanently, 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. That's why the killing of a just-born infant is immoral -- and properly forbidden by law. However, while just a fetus within the woman, the only person with rights is the woman.

Recently Diana posted some comments by William Stoddard along the same lines:

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.

Burton wishes us to forget the actual language of Amendment 48. It does not merely say, "We think a fertilized egg is human life" or even a person. Rather, it grants a fertilized egg the same rights to life, liberty, property, and due process of law that born babies have. Thus, it would have radical implications for the law. Burton pretends that the measure does not mean what it says. In her Vail Daily piece, she writes:

The rest of the arguments of the no on 48 campaign are designed to convince you the amendment will interfere with women's health care and cause women who have miscarriages to be carted off to jail. These scare tactics aren't true. Dottie Lamm and Linda Campbell go on at length about the possible affects of the amendment. They keep using the term, "it could" do this or that in their attempt to frighten voters.

The amendment merely extends protection to both mother and baby. It recognizes that women also are persons. I’m a woman and will probably marry and have children someday. Would I help create a law intended to unduly endanger myself?

Here we move on from Burton's Equivocation to Burton's Bifurcation. As I've pointed out at length, Burton simultaneously wants to claim that Amendment 48 would lay the basis for banning abortion, but that it would not lead to other nasty implications. Yet, if a fertilized egg is a person, with all the same legal rights as a born infant, and if such a definition is legally enforced, then the logical implications are these: all abortion must be banned, even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and health risks that are not immediately life-threatening to the woman; all forms of birth control that may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus must be banned; all fertility treatments that may result in the destruction of fertilized eggs must be banned; and all abortions and intentional miscarriages must be criminally prosecuted. Burton keeps repeating that these implications are "scare tactics" that "aren't true." Yet they are logical implications of Amendment 48, and Burton has never offered a single argument otherwise.

Burton does let slip a concession, however: notice that Amendment 48 would not "unduly endanger" her life. What does that mean? It means that, if doctors believe that failure to abort necessarily would kill the woman, and they don't fear criminal prosecution if they abort, then Amendment 48 likely would permit the abortion. However, as I've pointed out, rarely are risks so clear cut. Amendment 48 would endanger the health and lives of some women; whether that endangerment is "undue" would depend on how the legislature and courts decided the criminality of abortion. There can be no doubt that, in some cases, Amendment 48 would result in the deaths of women.

While Amendment 48 certainly is no laughing matter, I did get a chuckle over Burton's projection:

Resorting to repetitive use of a meaningless phrase is a propaganda tactic commonly employed when there is no substance to an argument. Opponents of 48 are hoping for what psychologists call a "conditioned response." You step into the voting booth and when you see Amendment 48 that little phrase automatically jumps into your head and you vote no.

Changing "opponents" to "advocates" and "no" to "yes," that pretty much summarizes Burton's case for Amendment 48.


01 November 2008

Amendment 48 Sponsor Hedges on Implications

By Ari

Reposted:) A recent debate about Amendment 48, which would define a fertilized egg as a person in Colorado's constitution, pit the obfuscater against the appeaser, as a story by David Montero of the Rocky Mountain News makes clear. We begin with Kristi Burton, the measure's sponsor:

She criticized those who argue that her amendment would create a legal morass because the word "person" appears in more than 20,000 state statutes.

"A definition doesn't have that power," she said. "A definition lays down the foundation . . . but it doesn't guarantee any particular result."

Yet Burton has made clear that her intention with Amendment 48 is to ban abortion except to save the life of the woman. So clearly she does think that a mere definition -- in reality a fundamental change in the state constitution -- can "have that power," contingent on federal changes.

If Amendment 48 can ban abortion based on the legal fiction that a fertilized egg is a person, then it can also do all the other things that Diana Hsieh and I outline in our paper, Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life." It can ban the birth control pill and other forms of birth control that can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. It can ban fertility treatments that often involve the destruction or freezing of fertilized eggs. It can ban medical research involving fertilized eggs. And it can subject women and their doctors to criminal prosecution for obtaining an abortion or intentionally causing a miscarriage. These are not merely hypothetical scare stories; they are logical implications. True, the amendment may not be consistently interpreted or enforced, and its implementation depends on federal changes, as Diana and I write in the paper, but if the measure is implemented those other consequences naturally follow.

Against Burton, Pat Steadman said, "I think it's hard to imagine there not being unintended consequences." That response is pathetic. First, the consequence that even Burton openly advocates -- a near-complete ban on abortion -- is horrific. It would massively violate the rights of women of reproductive age, along with their partners and doctors, and it would lead to police-state controls. It would force women to bring to term pregnancies even in cases of rape, incest, fetal deformity, and health risks -- that is, when the health risks did not cause the woman to die first.

Second, the other consequences that Diana and I outline are fully intended and openly stated by the honest advocates of Amendment 48. Various members of the religious right openly call for bans on the pill, bans on select medical research, and severe criminal penalties -- including the death penalty -- for women who get abortions. It is true that Amendment 48 would have many other consequences that are unintended, but it is evil precisely because of what its backers intend.

Burton also continued her unsubstantiated assertions that a fertilized egg is a person. Montero begins, "Science now knows that life begins at the moment of conception, the initiator of the Personhood Amendment told an audience of 30 at the University of Denver Thursday night." Yet life does not begin at conception; it precedes conception.

Burton claimed "that medical science tells us that when an egg is fertilized at conception, a human being has been created." Yet as Diana and I write in the paper, Burton relies on an equivocation on the term "human being" to fudge her case. A fertilized egg is human, in the sense that it contains human DNA, and it is a potential person, but it is not an actual person. But Burton is not interested in promoting honest debate or answering her critics. Hers is an agenda of religious faith, and the facts be damned.


Amendment 48: Reply to the Gazette

By Ari

An October 29 editorial by the Colorado Springs Gazette urges voters to "get real," yet in endorsing Amendment 48 the editorial ignores all the realities about the measure and its flaws. Here I reply to the editorial point by point (all indented text is from the editorial).

The moment the egg is fertilized... it becomes a microscopic person with a unique genetic code. Similarly, the acorn becomes an oak tree, in seedling stage, when it germinates. Basic science tells us a sprouted acorn is not a lifeless mass; nor is a zygote.
A fertilized egg has a unique genetic code, true, and it is not a "lifeless mass," for it is definitely alive (as are the unfertilized egg and the sperm cell). But where does the Gazette get the notion that a fertilized egg is a "person," with all the same rights as a newborn? The editorial offers no answer.

Let us review what Amendment 48 would do. It would add a new section to Colorado's constitution stating, "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." Those other articles explicitly bestow the rights to life, liberty, property, equality of justice, and due process of law.

Amendment 48 does not say that a fertilized egg is alive, nor that it has human DNA, nor that it is a potential person. It says that a fertilized egg is a person, with all the legal rights of a born infant. And that is a key point that the Gazette steadfastly ignores.

The comparison to an oak tree is interesting though peripheral. I've never heard a single person call a sprouted acorn an "oak tree," and the two have obvious differences. Regardless, the comparison goes only so far, because a germinated acorn is not contained within and completely dependent upon the body of an oak tree, as a zygote is relative to a woman. That fact matters when it comes to individual rights, yet it is another crucial point the Gazette ignores.
Amendment 48... would establish a rational, scientific, reasonable and legal definition of when human life begins.
This is wrong on two counts. First, Amendment 48 does not attempt to define when life begins; it attempts to define when personhood begins. Second, life does not begin at conception; it precedes conception.
Voting "yes" on Amendment 48 is a vote for honesty, not a decision to outlaw contraception, abortion, cloning or fetal stem cell research. ... The highest court in the land told all 50 states they must protect the rights of mothers to kill fetuses that haven't progressed into the third trimester of pregnancy.
However, the stated goal of the advocates of Amendment 48 is to use the measure in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. If Amendment 48 were enforced -- which would depend on rolling back federal provisions -- then it would outlaw any act harmful to a fertilized egg, except perhaps abortion to save the woman's life.
But few Americans would support the needless torture of a fetus. Few would support the killing of a preborn child by a drunken driver or an attacker, against the mother's will. Some of America's most pro-choice citizens would object to gratuitous experimentation, abuse or killing of fetuses. A definition of unborn humans as "persons" would aid society in protecting some rights of the unborn, should society choose to do so.
The pregnant woman has rights, and thus anyone who harms her fetus is subject to criminal prosecution. It is simply not possible to harm a fetus without harming the woman in the process, and the woman as the carrier of the fetus has the right to protect it. Amendment 48 is not about banning gratuitous injury to a fetus; it is about granting a fetus full legal rights. (Anyway preventing gratuitous injury does not rest on the definition of personhood; for example, rightly or wrongly the law prevents gratuitous injury to dogs.)
Opponents of the measure have raised alarming concerns. They claim that any woman who takes the morning-after pill, which can abort a fertilized egg, could be convicted of first-degree murder should Amendment 48 pass. They say the law would outlaw abortion, even resulting in criminal investigations each time a woman suffers a natural miscarriage. They don't happen to mention that Colorado is forbidden by federal law to outlaw abortion.
Diana Hsieh and I certainly do discuss the interplay between federal and state law in our paper; see pages 2-3. We also point out that Kristi Burton, sponsor of Amendment 48, wants to use the measure to overturn Roe v. Wade.

I have heard nobody claim that "natural miscarriages" would "each" be subject to criminal investigation. Rather, Hsieh and I have correctly claimed that any miscarriage suspected of being intentional could be subject to criminal prosecution, if Amendment 48 were enforced.
[Opponents] say state law forbids the killing of a "person," so under 48 abortion is doomed. Yet Colorado has the death penalty, and there's no question that death row inmates are "persons."
Nobody argues that any fetus is guilty of felony murder, so the comparison is bizarre.
Abortion is legal in Colorado because state law says it's legal. ...
Yet Amendment 48 is a constitutional provision, and as such it would trump any statute.
Perhaps there was a time of primitive science when intelligent adults didn't know when life begins.
Again, this point is irrelevant, and the claim that life begins at conception is obviously false.
The debate regarding legal rights of a fetus should no longer center on the myth that our science is fuzzy. That's a dishonest discussion. Instead, it should focus on what fetal rights a society shall or shall not defend, with full acknowledgement that a fetus is human from the moment of conception.
The fact that a fetus is human does not establish that it is a person. My kidney is human, for example. As Hsieh and I point out, advocates of Amendment 48 routinely rely on an equivocation on the term "human," jumping from the meaning of having human DNA to personhood without argument or evidence.
If abortion laws depend on a misconception that a fetus isn't human, they will not last. If they're based in a societal decision that unborn humans have limited rights, then abortion laws are safe.
Perhaps the Gazette could offer a single example of somebody who claims that a fetus is something other than human, in the sense of having human DNA.
Amendment 48 would merely bring the legal definition of "person" in line with the fact that a fertilized egg is a person in the earliest stage of life.
You notice what argument the Gazette uses to establish this point: none. Yet the Gazette manages to leave between the lines the only "reason" yet offered for thinking that a fertilized egg is a person: religious faith.


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