Archive for the ‘Abortion’ Category

Are U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Strong-Arm Tactics About to Backfire Bigtime?

June 3, 2012

Adele M. Stan, writing for AlterNet, explains why American Catholic nuns and laity will not be brought to heel by the magisterium.

… a good part of the problem the Vatican and the bishops are having with their American nuns and parishioners is, in fact, their very Americanness. For the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Rome, its American flock, as it assimilated into the greater American culture, became increasingly troublesome. American Catholics, often enthusiastic in their patriotism, are, in reality, subject to two different and contradictory faiths: the American civic religion of liberty, individualism and participatory democracy, and the Roman tradition of collective submission to ecclesiastical authority. As time has passed, the American religion in many ways came to surpass the faith tradition of their ancestors in terms of forming a primary set of values. Roman Catholicism, for many, is more a subcultural identity than a daily practice of the rules and rituals mandated by the magisterium.

Read the entire article here.

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What the Right Gets Right About Abortion and the Left Doesn’t Get

June 3, 2012

Valerie Tarico, PhD

Valerie Tarico of Away Point writes that pro-choicers have been out-maneuvered in the debate over abortion rights and must now reframe the issue. Excerpt:

We have powerful, even sacred, obligations to other persons, and we all know it. We humans are social animals, and in order to flourish we have to be able to live in cooperative communities with each other. This simple fact explains why virtues such as compassion, generosity and honesty—together with some form of the Golden Rule—lie at the heart of virtually every wisdom tradition, whether secular or religious. Our ability to care about each other, to treat the wellbeing of others as if it actually mattered and even to feel it at a gut level, is what has allowed us to build families, communities, cities and civilizations. (Tangentially, this is also why corporations have demanded the rights of personhood for economic entities and religious authorities have demanded the protections of personhood for ideologies– but that is another story.) If a fertilized egg is truly a person, then all else follows.

Conservatives get this deeply. It’s no accident that they always refer to a blastocyst, embryo or fetus as a baby. Some conservative churches feed guilt and trauma in women who have had abortions and then offer them recovery groups. In such groups, women may hold and speak to dolls with the size and look of infants rather than the peanut sized, lizard-like entity they most likely aborted. Fetus-as-baby indoctrination starts early. I once took my niece to the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, an ostensibly secular museum of science and history. The museum had a display on fetal development that clearly had been funded or designed by someone with an anti-abortion agenda.  After a beautiful image of an egg being fertilized, the developmental sequence skipped ahead to the earliest stage at which a fetus looks both human and appealing and then proceeded from there.

Read the entire article here.

Publicly Funded Family Planning Services in U.S. Prevent 810,000 Abortions per Year, Says Guttmacher Institute

May 24, 2012

by Cory Richards, Executive VP of the Guttmacher Institute, Washington D.C.

Guttmacher Institute research shows that the two-thirds of U.S. women at risk of unintended pregnancy who use contraception consistently and correctly throughout the course of any given year account for only 5 percent of all unintended pregnancies. The 19 percent of women at risk who use contraception but do so inconsistently account for 44 percent of all unintended pregnancies, while the 16 percent of women who do not use contraception at all for a month or more during the year account for 52 percent of all unintended pregnancies.

That’s why publicly funded family planning services to help lower-income women obtain contraceptives and use them correctly are so crucial. These services prevent almost 2 million unintended pregnancies each year, which would otherwise result in 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions. Without these services, the number of abortions in the nation would be nearly two-thirds higher.

In short: Contraception works – and consistent, correct use of contraceptives comes close to eliminating the risk of unintended pregnancy. Making contraceptive methods easier for lower-income women to obtain and use is eminently sound public policy.

Why David Goldman is Wrong About “Imminent Population Collapse”

April 24, 2012

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum is touting a new book by David Goldman, “How Civilizations Die.” Goldman claims the world is in a steep demographic decline whose consequences will be catastrophic.

The world faces a danger more terrible than the worst Green imaginings. The European environmentalist who wants to shrink the world’s population to reduce carbon emissions will spend her declining years in misery, for there will not be enough Europeans alive a generation from now to pay for her pension and medical care. For the first time in history, the birth rate of the whole developed world is well below replacement, and a significant part of it has passed the demographic point of no return.

Notice that Goldman’s victim in this scenario is the European environmentalist, forced to lie upon the bed she has so foolishly made. He continues:

Imminent population collapse makes radical Islam more dangerous, not less so. For in their despair, radical Muslims who can already taste the ruin of their culture believe that they have nothing to lose. … Population decline, the decisive issue of the twenty-first century, will cause violent upheavals in the world order. Countries facing fertility dearth, such as Iran, are responding with aggression. Nations confronting their own mortality may choose to go down in a blaze of glory.

Wait just a doggone minute. Hold them hosses. Is Goldman really saying that the world’s population, which has grown 300% since 1944, is in precipitous decline? Is it possible that today’s European adults will spend their declining years in abject misery for lack of enough young people to pay for their pensions and medical care? Is population collapse really “imminent” and even irreversible in places? And do populations with “elder bulges” really become more belligerent?

Gil Bailie could not be happier with Goldman’s thesis, for it appears to validate the Catholic Church’s longstanding position on contraception. Bailie has this to say:

The Church was right, and those who scoffed were wrong.

For decades, things repugnant to every prior age—contraception and abortion—have not only been considered licit, but beyond reproach. To the social, moral, and cultural damage resulting from the severance of sexuality from procreation and emotional commitment can now be added the demographic tsunami by which we already being engulfed.

And today our government is more determined than ever to favor and fund the anti-natal policies that are leading to this catastrophe. What many have said about the debt crisis is true as well of the very much related demographic one: Never before have we faced crises that were this severe and this predictable. And we are doubling down on the policies that created them.

The Church was right after all. All the evidence suggests so.

Was it? And does it? Are we really experiencing a “demographic tsunami?”

First, Bailie could have been more precise in his choice of a metaphor. A tsunami is a sudden excess of water pushed into coastal areas. That said, let’s weigh the evidence for Goldman’s “imminent population collapse.” My sources for population statistics are the CIA World Factbook and various United Nations publications, all freely available on the Internet.

Global population growth, 1300-2000 AD

Again, the world’s  population has grown 300% since I was born (1944), and it’s still growing very rapidly.

The population growth rate (not to be confused with the amount of growth) has dropped almost exactly 50% in the past 50 years (from 2.2% to 1.1% per annum, and that decrease is mostly attributable to lower fertility rates worldwide, though HIV-related deaths in Southern Africa and deaths from starvation and genocide in Sub-Saharan Africa must certainly be factored in. The growth rate is expected to reach 0.6% per annum by 2050, but that’s still growth, not contraction.

Global population growth rates. Source: World Bank

Yes, worldwide fertility rates have dropped, but only to 2.47 children per woman, well above the replacement rate of 2.1 cpw. It’s a good thing. We were headed toward nine billion before the end of this century.

None of these stats on growth and fertility points to “imminent population collapse” on a global scale. On the contrary, overpopulation is already straining the earth’s resources to an alarming degree.

Global fertility rates. Source: World Bank

But what about population collapse at the national level? Is any population really “collapsing?” Certainly, one might expect population numbers to fluctuate as environmental conditions vary over time. But is Goldman justified in reading “collapse” into every ebbing of a national population? Is any society nearing the “point of no return?” Are developed countries in a “death spiral?”

Clearly, Goldman’s hyperbolic rhetoric appears intended to evoke fear. It also appears to be driven by his own fears. But fears of what? The answer is beyond the scope of this post, but Goldman’s Spengler page on PJ Media will offer some clues. Suffice it to say that Gil Bailie and David Goldman share a visceral distaste for liberalism, modernism, secularism, Islam, and the sexual revolution; and that both are opposed to contraception.

Population Dynamics

The scientific literature on population dynamics shows basically four “stages” of population growth, with bulges moving up from bottom to top. As you might expect, there are problems with stage #1, which has a youth bulge, and stage #4, which has a “elder bulge.”

When too many young people come on-stream in a society that is ill-equipped to deal with them, as in stage #1, the results are likely to be increased social unrest, war, terrorism, and even genocide. Second and third sons can’t find employment and often turn to religious or political ideologies to make their mark in the world. Nevertheless, the “youth bulge” is never the only factor explaining these pathologies. Resources are key to whether predicting whether a society can effectively handle a youth bulge. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has done well, while Egypt has done very poorly.

Global Median Age

Where there’s an “elder bulge,” as we are seeing in Japan and Europe, social services are strained at the other end (i.e., social welfare for seniors), and the fewer resources that are available, the more acute the problems become. An educated and informed democratic society can always tweak policy to address the challenges. While draconian measures like criminalization of contraception are never necessary, they are often advocated by religious institutions locked into pre-modern and pre-scientific conceptions of social engineering. And make no mistake about it: Policies that criminalize or deny access to contraception are a form of social engineering.

The fourth model, with its “elder bulge,” is never an inverted pyramid. People don’t completely stop having children, even in modern China. And, contrary to what David Golden claims, elder bulges don’t provoke violent social upheavals.  As Samuel Huntington wrote in Clash of Civilizations, “Generally speaking, the people who go out and kill other people are males between the ages of 16 and 30.”

It’s always a complicated equation—never as simple as David Goldman’s model—and one must never factor out resources and other environmental factors. Overpopulation occurs when an area’s population exceeds its carrying capacity, and underpopulation occurs when there are not enough people to maintain an economic system. Depopulation occurs when people leave an area or are killed off. Somalia is overpopulated because it lacks resources to sustain its people, and the continent of Antarctica is underpopulated because conditions of life there are so harsh.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s population has quadrupled since 1945, causing a precipitous decline in resources, especially water, fuel, and soil nutrients. In Somalia, 12 million people are facing famine. The linkage between overpopulation and famine is undisputed.

What is the solution to Somalia’s problems? Certainly an infusion of food and water supplies would alleviate suffering there. But until that happens, would anyone dare suggest that Somalis should have more babies? Would anyone in his right mind suggest withholding contraceptives? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you probably need to read up on Catholic teachings.

There isn’t a single country or society where either underpopulation or depopulation, as defined above, is currently a social problem on the scale of the overpopulation problem in Africa. This is not to claim that populations cannot implode. Indigenous populations were decimated throughout the Americas from disease and conquest following the arrival of Europeans. The Vikings left Greenland because of climate change, and some Polynesian islands were abandoned between 800 and 1000 AD for environmental reasons that are still in dispute. In none of these cases was “birth dearth” the cause of depopulation. Again, environmental factors were decisive.

So, if there is, in Gil Bailie’s words, a demographic “tsunami,” then surely we are witnessing it in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is indeed a “death spiral,” but one that results from overpopulation, not depopulation.

David Goldman’s concerns about declining fertility rates in developed countries are driven less by fears of underpopulation than by fears about cultural dilutions resulting from immigration. There is certainly no dearth of people in the world, and, as said earlier, the total fertility rate is still well above the replacement rate of 2.1 bpw. The key to understanding Goldman’s misplaced concerns is to understand what he, as a stakeholder, fears about cultural dilution.

If developed countries need to beef up their populations, they can prioritize financial incentives for families to have more than 2.1 children, as Japan and some northern European countries are currently doing. Or they can leverage immigration, or encourage workers to delay retirement. Students can be given low-interest-rate loans so that starting a family after college does not become an impossible financial burden for them. There are costs involved in any of these measures, but the resources are not lacking.

The reality is that resources in developed nations are not yet at a point where population attrition is inevitable. These societies are now being asked to decide whether unlimited accrual of personal wealth is conducive to cultural or national survival. At some point, the perceived common good may require adjusting priorities. Women who have political choice will not opt for more children when resources are scarce, and they may justly demand a reallocation of resources.

Strained resources in India

If less-developed nations face overpopulation, then why not support family planning as a way of bringing those populations under control? We know that family planning works, but we have not yet seen that resource replacement does so.

To take contraception off the table is to deprive ourselves of a highly effective tool for managing populations and for ensuring the well-being of those who do populate our planet. It isn’t just numbers that we want, or more life. Humans are not warrior ants, driven only to reproduce and make war. We are made for something better.

Randall Jennings comments:

Seems the modern world is very good at creating problems and then creating new ones with their “fixes” on ever grander scales. I could foresee tens of millions Chinese men, for instance, having their own ideas of reducing global population as they realize they will very well never have a bride and a normal family life after the ‘success’ of the state’s one child policy.

George Dunn responds to Randall Jennings:

Randall, the widening disproportion of men to women is a concern of the Chinese government, which is one reason they are relaxing the one child policy. What you foresee is also foreseeable by policymakers, who are in a position to adjust the policy accordingly. But I hope you’re not suggesting (as Gil undoubtedly would) that the solution is to criminalize the use of contraceptives. That would be to consign hundreds of millions of Chinese to grinding poverty and possibly starvation. Say what you will about the current Chinese regime (and, as an expat in China, I am certainly not an unqualified fan), but they have succeeded where their predecessors have all failed in meeting the greatest challenge that a developing country must face—they are keeping every single one of their 1.3 billion citizens fed. Not only that, but they have lifted an unprecedented 600 million people out of poverty. I shudder to think what China would be like today if contraception had been criminalized for the last fifty years.

Ian Mac Laue writes:

I don’t dispute that some of the data might be overblown or used to support xenophobic ends that aren’t by any means admirable, but as it concerns strictly european nations there does seem to be a problem of replacement level growth. Shouldn’t a country be concerned when its tax base is incapable of supporting its older members? Or are you suggesting that any such problem could be allieviated by an influx of immigration?

My response to Ian Mac Laue:

Countries with birthrates below replacement levels have legitimate concerns about the burdens placed on working-age populations to support their elderly. People throughout the developed world are living longer, and women are having fewer babies.

I don’t believe there is any single solution to this problem, but I do believe certain proposed solutions should be taken off the table. Criminalizing or withholding access to contraception is a non-starter. Turning back the rights revolution and the sexual revolution is another non-starter. Once women got the right to vote, the game was up for patriarchal structures of power, and the path ahead is clear. Women will continue to demand equality and the right to control their own reproductive lives, and they will increasingly achieve their goals. We must just accept that as a given.

Populations that are still growing are generally those where women are still substantially oppressed. Oppression is not an option for constitutional democracies.

Solutions to birth dearth include immigration, government-sponsored incentives, and later retirement. None of these solutions is without problems of its own, but at least none of them requires any curtailment of individual liberties.

Dean Hansen responds to Gil Bailie:

I wasn’t aware that contraception and abortion have been repugnant to every age. When we refuse to examine our own “repugnance” regarding reproduction issues, nature steps in and does it for us with bubonic plague, cholera epidemics, wars, droughts, floods, and fires.  Nature doesn’t give a damn about our moral scrupulosity. I’m so glad Gil took this time out of his busy schedule to remind us how happy we could be if we surrendered our autonomy to the authority of a group of demented celibate old men in Rome. Of course, Gil has been taking time out of his busy schedule to say the same stuff over and over, day after day, quoting anyone who will agree with him, and then covering his ears every time someone objects.

What I do believe is that people who live their lives in fear and superstition can make life a living hell for those who don’t, but women have always resorted to whatever means were available to them, regardless of the darkness of the age they resided in, or the potential danger to themselves, to wrest control of their own lives from “well meaning” male authorities who claimed to speak for God. Much of that so-called repugnance was nothing more than a continuation of a shaming mechanism aimed at reducing human reproduction and human sexuality into a miserable farce whose whole aim to is to denigrate any kind of sexual act that doesn’t take place in the sacred baby-making factory of family bedroom.

Yes, those declining years will be spent in misery, unless we make up our minds to burden an already over-stressed world with a new and continuous supply of human beings—who can starve along with the ones who are already here, many of them unwanted or unplanned—and to put additional demands on resources that are irreplaceable and on energy systems that are still dominated by an oil industry determined to keep their profits rolling in no matter what the cost to the planet. The real misery for subsequent generations will be fished-out seas and coal-fired plants belching more carbon into an already overloaded atmosphere. And when the electricity goes off, so does the running water, the toilet, the shower, the microwave oven, the refrigerator, the TV, the air conditioning … well, just about anything that distinguishes our relatively civilized culture from the others that will be dying off at an even faster rate.  Now that’s population collapse, brother, and it won’t be caused by our inability to remember how to fuck and make babies.

It amazes me that Gil holds up Paul Ehrlich as an example of bad science, when much of what he said was prescient and has come true.  The dates were off but the trends are sound.  We are at three times the population world-wide that existed at the time of Mr. Bailie’s birth. We are running out of potable water, sustainable crops, and non-polluting energy, and still he dumbs-down the rhetoric by quoting anyone who parrots the idiocy about “fertility dearth.”  The only real and measurable dearth is in the neuronal dendrites that can no longer be called into service in Bailie’s apparently concrete-filled head as they march into the waste basket of his own personal historical delusions.

And what’s the final cherry atop the tasty Catholic cobbler in this intellectual feast or famine? “The Church was right after all.”  Right about what??

I would modify that numbing bit of falderal by suggesting the people who have left the church in order to maintain their sanity and live lives of honesty were right, and that that will ultimately make the only real difference.

Revolt in the Catholic Pews Over the HHS Mandate

April 3, 2012

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia talks to National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about the Catholic Church’s position on the HHS Mandate requiring Catholic institutions (other than churches) to include contraception in health insurance plans offered to employees:

LOPEZ: “What about the fact that so many Catholics — however many — use contraception and are advocates of legal abortion in their political lives?”

CHAPUT: “That’s the wrong question. Plenty of self-described Catholics also commit adultery and cheat on their taxes. That doesn’t make them right, and it doesn’t make their behaviors ‘Catholic.’ The central issue in the HHS-mandate debate isn’t contraception. Casting the struggle as a birth-control fight is just a shrewd form of dishonesty. The central issue in the HHS debate is religious liberty. The government doesn’t have the right to force religious believers and institutions to violate their religious convictions. But that’s exactly what the White House is doing.”

Catholics who advocate contraception and legal abortion shouldn’t be compared to Catholics who commit adultery and dodge taxes. The former affirm a moral position held by many fellow Catholics and the latter violate a moral position held by virtually all Catholics. Pro-choice Catholics are not doing anything unethical, but the adulterers and tax-dodgers are. Catholics who advocate family planning will vote their consciences and try to persuade other Catholics to join them. They are a force to be reckoned with, while the adulterers and tax-dodgers will never unite to advocate cheating, and so they are powerless.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan

These are critical differences. What the U.S. Catholic bishops are facing is a revolt from the pews, and they know it. Timothy Cardinal Dolan admitted as much in an interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly last month:

It’s a tough battle because of [the fact that most Catholics reject the Church’s teachings against contraception] and our opponents are very shrewd because they’ve chosen an issue that they know we don’t — we’re not very popular on.” “[E]ven our — even — even very faithful Catholics, Bill, don’t like their bishops or priests telling them how to vote, a person or even on a particular issue.

Furthermore, Archbishop Chaput is mistaken in thinking the government “doesn’t have the right to religious believers and institutions to violate their religious convictions.” It does so all the time, and the legal precedents for doing so go back to the mid-nineteenth century and are very robust. Even Antonin Scalia has supported this principle.

Has the Sexual Revolution Been Good for Women? Mary Eberstadt Says No.

March 31, 2012

Mary Eberstadt, author of  “Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution,” managed to get a plug for her book in the Wall Street Journal. Her article’s title is, “Has the Sexual Revolution Been Good for Women? No.”

The “No” puts Eberstadt’s conclusion right up front, as if to head off any plans the reader might have to ponder the question. But how has she arrived at such a conclusion? She read a paper entitled “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” written by two Wharton School economists, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers. Their paper is an analysis of data from a 40-year longitudinal study done by the General Social Survey. Their findings were that female happiness had in fact declined somewhat since 1970.

Stevenson and Wolfers did not propose an explanation for this decline. Instead, they discussed several possible causes. (For more details, see my earlier article about Eberstadt and her book.)

Eberstadt’s agenda is obvious. Her reading of Stevenson’s and Wolfers’ paper is a “mining operation” whose aim is to find support for her a priori conclusion that sex, severed from procreation, makes women less happy. Such an approach is highly unscientific because (1) we form our conclusions after analyzing the data, not before, and (2) there is no data to support her conclusion. What is more, the authors of “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” would be unlikely to endorse her conclusion, if their own caveats are to be believed. Their only conclusion was that female happiness had declined, and they provided no data to support any conclusion whatsoever about the causes of the decline.

Eberstadt acknowledges that Stevenson and Wolfers “were careful not to draw conclusions (about causes) from their data.” But, as the “No” in her title demonstrates, she is not quite so scrupulous as they, and she is willing to negotiate if necessary: “Is it not reasonable,” she writes, “to think that at least some of that discontent comes from the feeling that the grass is greener elsewhere—a feeling made plausible by the sexual revolution?”

Before recommending a roll-back of the sexual revolution, Mary Eberstadt should conduct some peer-reviewed research to support her thesis. Until then, the cure she advances for feminine malaise is quintessential agenda-driven speculation.

For an informed and non-agenda-driven discussion of the many possible causes of unhappiness, see the  “World Happiness Report” edited by John Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey Sachs.

Is Abortion a Form of Human Sacrifice? (Ctd.)

March 30, 2012

Leo Walker responds to my previous post:

Thirteen is quite a lot of kids! No wonder your grandma was worn out. Yet these are choices that she made along with your grandpa. Even back in deepest darkest 19th century the connection between conjugal relations and children was understood. They made choices and, so far as your narrative illustrates, they accepted responsibility for those choices. Poverty is not the worst evil in the world, nor is it an impediment to joy, love, or any other virtue, though it makes some harder. You imply that your grandparents suffered unremitting misery and despair. Was there no love, joy, peace, sense of accomplishment, surprise, curiosity or triumph in their lives? I doubt that this would be true of them, or their children. If poverty is difficult to bear, should we then grant them sweet release by some form of murder under another name? I notice that the poor; I have known and lived among the poor who aspire to what passes for poverty in the USA; don’ t seem to be hungering for death. On the contrary, they often live more fearlessly and fully than so many who have more to defend. The Catholic position on the issue balances openness to receive the gift of children from God and a prudent stewardship of the procreative act. Planned parenthood, as it now constituted, is a repudiation of both of these principles. The hungry millions are the result of the sinful mis-allocation of resources. Justice consists not in murdering, sterilizing or otherwise outraging their lives, but in working to make God’s bounty available to them. Life is a greater good than material well being. Condemning to death those whose standard of living is suspected of not meeting some arbitrary standard set by the road-to-Hell-pavers is no mercy. Oh, and I might mention that arguing from a particular to a universal, which you do above, is a logical fallacy and any conclusion drawn from it is ipso facto false.

@Leo Walker: Referring to my great-grandmother’s 13 children, you write, “…these are choices that she made along with your [great]-grandpa.”

You make her sound like a modern woman who has voting rights and a real range of choices for her life. She was not and did not. She was poor and uneducated, powerless and voiceless. She lived in an intensely patriarchal culture where her life plans were laid out for her by men. Women’s educational and employment opportunities were restricted or non-existent, and they were cruelly shamed for making any effort to better their lives. These are just facts, not generalizations off a particular case history.

I recognize that many women of that era were happy with their lot, but my point is that those who were not did not have any choice. Choice became so important to American women that they were finally willing to fight for it. Their crowning achievement was passage of the 19th Amendment, giving them the right to vote. From there to here (via Roe v. Wade) is an unfolding story of liberation and greater choice. As long as women have the same choices as men do, they will continue to want control over their bodies and their reproductive cycles.

A severely malnourished child lies down after being admitted to Banadir Hospital in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on July 26, 2011. AFP PHOTO/ Mustafa ABDI

To your point about poverty, I would just reiterate that overpopulation leads to social and ecological collapse. Those affected by extreme poverty may not want to die, but often they will kill others over scarce resources. Again, this is just an empirical fact. The earth’s resources are not inexhaustible, and the goal of equitable and efficient distribution may be a chimera. Water, for example, is plentiful but extremely hard to transport in the quantities needed to sustain populations in areas affected by drought. “Prudent stewardship of the procreative act” (your words) must be coupled with—or even guided by—prudent stewardship of resources. Stewardship does not mean “maximizing births.” It may require limiting them, for its goal must always be to bring supply and demand into balance.

Abdifatah Hassan who is eleven months old and suffers from severe malnutrition lies on a cot at a hospital run by Medecins Sans Frontiers in the biggest refugee camp in the world in Dadaab on July 4, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Roberto SCHMIDT

You write, “The hungry millions are the result of the sinful mis-allocation of resources.” If that is true, then let’s get the supply chains in good working order before encouraging people to have more and more children in areas susceptible to drought and famine. In 2011, 12 million people living in the horn of Africa were in urgent need of food and water. The U.N. estimates that six million children die of malnutrition every year, worldwide.

Finally, I’d like to call out your straw man. I am not advocating abortion, the murder of poor people, or forced sterilization. I am advocating family planning and education around reproductive issues so that women can, together with their husbands, make informed choices. These choices should include contraception, of course, because contraception decreases the likelihood that a woman will seek an abortion, licit or illicit. Abortions are not a desirable outcome, but when they occur (as they will), they should be performed under optimal medical conditions to protect the health of the mother.

Is Abortion a Form of Human Sacrifice?

March 30, 2012

Gil Bailie responds to the final paragraph of my previous post:

The efficacy of a sacrificial regime – understood in terms of the anthropological analysis of René Girard – does not require that the sacrificial community hate or revile the sacrificial victim. All that is required is the conviction that the elimination of the victim is necessary to the preservation of the community as presently constituted, and that the present constitution of the community is worth the sacrificial costs required to preserve it.

Understood in this way, the existence of abortion on demand qualifies as the greatest single sacrificial system of all time. The killing of the unborn is – explicitly or implicitly – considered to be indispensable to the continuance of the regime of the sexual revolution, and the sheer number of those sacrificed to its continuance exceeds that of any regime in history. Moreover, the unborn undeniably constitute the most powerless and voiceless category of victims imaginable.

In the late 19th century, my great grandmother, living in Texas, was virtually a baby factory. She bore thirteen infants (no twins). She was poor, and her husband offered very little help in raising these children. She did all the care-taking herself—the washing, cleaning, cooking, and shopping—all during an era when there were no electric appliances or motorized transport to make the work easier. She even made and patched the children’s clothes, grew vegetables, and looked after chickens.

She died not many years after giving birth to her thirteenth child. She was, as my mother says, “worn out.” Her husband lived to a ripe old age.

The sacrificial system Gil Bailie has described was fully in place and operational, but instead of sacrificing the fetus, the community (as constituted at that time) sacrificed the mother. Let’s not forget that women of that era were about as “powerless and voiceless” as the fetuses that Bailie would like to protect. (The 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was not passed until 1920). The siblings also suffered because their quality of life was so diminished by having to share scant resources. They were poor, overworked, and undereducated, and they never forgot the hardships they endured during those years.

My great grandparents probably did not use any form of birth control and would not have considered an early-term abortion. I personally think it would have been better if they had, even though I might never have born as a result.

More life is not necessarily better than less life. The world’s population has more than doubled in the last fifty years, to 6.8 billion, and is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 at latest. Approximately one-seventh of the world’s population suffers from chronic hunger, which causes not just craving but exhaustion and disease. I am much more disturbed by the sight of an emaciated child than by the thought of a fetus that was aborted before it could even experience pain.

I am more concerned about eliminating human misery and improving the quality of life than about bringing new life into this world at any cost. This is why I support the efforts of organizations like Planned Parenthood. Family planning promotes maternal well-being while reducing unwanted pregnancies and the need for abortions.

My own parents, who were poor at the time of my birth, had decided to limit their family size, and I must say it worked out extremely well. I have only one sibling, but we had the benefits of good nutrition, the attention of  two healthy parents, and a college education. Best of all, my mother did not wear herself out as her grandmother had done. She is now 93 and in excellent health, living in her home of the last forty years and about to buy a new car. She obviously plans to be around for awhile. By not bringing those extra lives into the world, she and my dad improved the quality of all our lives. I do not mourn the children that weren’t born, and I certainly don’t regard my mother or father as “murderers” for having used birth control. Nor would I reproach them if I were to learn they had decided to abort an early term fetus. I hope I would recognize that it was a difficult and painful decision for them.

In short, I don’t think the “sacrifice” that my parents made (or might have made in more extreme circumstances) rises to the level of victimage as described by René Girard. My parents simply “tended their garden” in a mature and responsible manner. On the other hand, Bailie’s calumnies of gays and lesbians and his endorsement of organizations like the National Organization for Marriage and the Ruth Institute clearly do cross the line. The suggestion that same-sex marriage will bring about an unravelling of natural law, a birth dearth, and, ultimately, civilizational collapse is not only unwarranted by empirical reality but also obviously intended to stoke deep-seated fears and animosities. No good can come of it.

Has the Sexual Revolution Undermined Women’s Happiness?

March 18, 2012

Has the sexual revolution wrought serious personal and social damage? Are women now less happy than they were forty years ago?

Mary Eberstadt, author of Adam and Eve After the Pill (Ignatius), believes that the answer to both questions is “yes.” In a recent interview with The Catholic World Report, she had this to say:

The revolution is like a big party that a lot of people initially looked forward to, but that’s now gotten out of control. So the people who had high hopes for the party, who have defended it against those who said it would go wrong sooner or later, are now in a difficult spot. Nobody wants to be the first to leave, and nobody wants to tattle on anyone else–but everybody know that what’s happening isn’t good. The word we commonly use for that kind of resistance is denial.

To support her contention that post-revolutionary women are less happy, Eberstadt points us to a recent sociological study on “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” Its authors, Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, have indeed done a thorough job of analyzing data collected by the General Social Survey in a 40-year longitudinal study of American women (1970-2010). There has in fact been a slight decline in women’s happiness, both in absolute terms and in relation to men’s happiness.

While Mary Eberstadt readily attributes this decline to the availability of contraception, the study’s authors discuss a range of possible causes for the decline. One is that more and more women are now employed (outside the home) and are feeling the brunt of a new set of pressures. On page 28 of their paper, they state,

The increased opportunity to succeed in many dimensions may have led to an increased likelihood of believing that one’s life is not measuring up. Similarly, women may now compare their lives to a broader group, including men, and find their lives more likely to come up short in this assessment. Or women may simply  find the complexity and increased pressure in their modern lives to have come at the cost of happiness.

Economic trends of the past forty years must also be factored in. Median family income has been stagnant while costs have been steadily rising. Minimum-wage jobs no longer cover basic living expenses, and the cost of raising a child has become prohibitive for more and more families.

There’s little doubt that Eberstadt—and Pitirim Sorokin, whom she quotes—are correct in recognizing the unparalleled importance of the sexual revolution. But it’s hardly like a big party that’s gotten out of control. Eberstadt may have mistaken increased volatility for worsening overall conditions. Shocks are usually followed by aftershocks, and then the tectonic plates settle down for a while. We may still just be at the beginning of a trend toward greater integration of freedom and responsibility. Enlightened public policy can be a driver for that trend.

If Eberstadt’s interview responses are indicative, she has succumbed to the  post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy, where we judge x to have been caused by y only because y preceded x. The absence of a clear causal link between the sexual revolution and the malaise of 21st-century women doesn’t seem to bother her, however. She has a tonic to offer anyway: a re-reading of Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae, which reaffirms the Church’s traditional teachings about marriage and condemns the use of artificial birth control. 

Perhaps the most jarring part of Eberstadt’s interview is her claim that the Church holds men and women in high esteem and assigns them dignity and choice.

Well, which would anybody rather be—elevated and cared-for and cherished, someone whose choices actually matter in the world, or the opposite?

It’s so hard to see the Church constantly take the rap for being “bad on women,” when the moral and empirical truth is completely the reverse. It’s also hard because the Church has so much wisdom, developed over many centuries, about relations between the sexes.

These remarks seem curiously dissonant when we consider the Church’s relegation of women to second-class status, its pre-emption of their choices, its denial of a full range of reproductive care to them, its shameful treatment of homosexuals, and its egregious mishandling of the decades-long child sexual abuse scandals.  “Elevated and cared-for and cherished” does not describe these realities.

Republicans Have Awoken a Sleeping Giant and She is Furious

February 26, 2012

RMuse at PoliticusUSA writes,

“In an age where most families require two incomes to survive, it assaults decent men’s senses to think a few members of clergy and Republicans are intent on forcing all woman back into the kitchen giving birth every  ten months. There are conservative women who support the idea that their sole purpose in life is birthing and serving men, but their stupidity is not epidemic in the entire population. Republicans have awoken a sleeping giant and she is furious, driven, educated and certain to put the evangelical male supremacists where they belong; out of power and out of their misery. They are not alone because for every woman who opposes the GOP’s religious war on women, there are sons, husbands, brothers, and fathers eager to exact revenge.”

Read the full article here.