The Briefing 09-07-16

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Collapse of human dignity: Zika crisis leads to arguments for abortion, euthanasia, infanticide.

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Why is Ian McEwan's new book sparking cultural conversation? The protagonist is an unborn baby.

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Phyllis Schlafly, a defining leader in the modern conservative movement, dies at age 92

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Transcript

The Briefing

September 7, 2016

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Wednesday, September 7, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Collapse of human dignity: Zika crisis leads to arguments for abortion, euthanasia, infanticide.

By any estimation, the Zika virus poses a major threat to human health, in particular to the health of pregnant women and to their unborn children. For this very reason, the question of abortion has always lurked very closely under the surface of public conversation about the Zika virus. And in more recent days it has broken the surface of that conversation. In the first place, The Economist of London ran a news story a matter of days ago in which it raised the question as to whether,

“Zika could spark a new abortion debate.”

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That debate, said the London-based magazine, has to do with the threat to unborn babies in terms of birth defects. The abortion debate that the magazine not only announced might be coming, but apparently thinks should come has to do with whether or not restrictive abortion laws, any restrictive abortion laws, any laws that would restrict abortion in any way, should simply be done away with in light of the threat of the Zika virus. This is a form of moral and political opportunism; it comes again and again. Here we see there are those that have been pushing for abortion rights and for a reversal of any law that would restrict abortion in any way who are now making their case with the Zika virus as the presenting issue. But even as The Economist raised the question, and as the issues being debated in Central America and South America and now in the United States, this week something occurred that was simply unimaginable, even a matter of days ago in terms of this kind of public debate and in this case published in what has been a major American newsmagazine. That magazine is Newsweek.

In the current issue, Sherry F. Colb, who is a professor of law and Charles Evans Hughes scholar at the Cornell Law School, has written an essay entitled,

“Is Terminating a Late-term Zika Fetus Euthanasia?”

This is one of those articles that is the stuff of moral nightmares. She begins by saying,

“The Zika virus has now infected over 7,000 people in the United States (if we include the U.S. territories) and, accordingly, has affected increasing numbers of pregnant women among them.

 

“Because Zika can cause catastrophic birth defects in those infected with the virus, the spread of the infection in the United States and elsewhere has led some to ask soul-searching questions about abortion.”

Well here’s the debate, but it’s coming in a different form than we might have imagined. Make no mistake, this law professor is avowedly pro-abortion, apparently without any restrictions. She writes,

“I generally consider the reasons for a woman’s choice to terminate her pregnancy to be irrelevant to the question of whether she should be legally permitted to do so.”

That’s an astounding statement in and of itself. She says, regardless of the reason, a woman has a basic legal right to an abortion, whether she has a good reason or presumably what might be a bad reason or no reason at all. She makes that clear when she writes,

“Like a woman who chooses not to have sex with a man for a bad reason, she is still entitled to be free of the bodily intrusion that is pregnancy, even if her reason for wanting to assert her bodily integrity is an offensive one. The most salient part of the equation is the fact that her bodily integrity is at issue.”

Now we’ve seen the transformation of the abortion debate in America. This question of personal autonomy has always been in the foreground going back even before the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. But the claim that what’s defined here as a woman’s bodily integrity is the only salient issue, well, that’s something that has only emerged in recent years. The law professor goes on to say,

“Nonetheless, when large numbers of women may be terminating their pregnancies because of a particular set of birth defects, caused by the Zika virus, it is worth considering the moral question, even if our answer will not affect the legal conclusion that the woman should be free to terminate.”

Now, just honestly, that sounds like the kind of legal language that would have been right at home in the Third Reich. Here we have a statement that morality and law are fundamentally separable, especially when it comes in this case, even to the question of human life. Later in this article this law professor, Sherry Colb, actually acknowledges that when we’re talking about late-term pregnancies, we’re talking about what is rightly described as a child or something very much like a child. Yet she goes on to say that a woman’s bodily integrity is all that is at issue. It’s the only salient fact. But interestingly enough, Professor Colb does seem to acknowledge that there could be a moral question to abortion. Now if you’re shocked that that’s shocking, just consider the fact that an enormous percentage of law professors and others really don’t want to accept that there is any moral question here at all. After all, if they really believe or really say they believe that an unborn child is of no moral significance, there is no basic moral question here. The professor goes on to ask the question,

“Is it right to terminate a pregnancy because the resulting child will suffer from birth defects?”

Well, the professor goes on to say,

“The decision to terminate the life of a Zika-infected fetus is arguably in the best interests of the fetus itself. Stated differently, it may be that an abortion will spare not only the parents but their child a life that is, in some sense, not worth living.”

Now we are right in the heart of Nazi Germany and in the Weimar Republic and its medical establishment that preceded it. There we come across the German medical expression “lebensunwertes Leben,” life unworthy of life. Then listen to the argument made this week in Newsweek magazine where this woman describes the life of the child as “in some sense, not worth living,” and you hear not only the echo of Nazi Germany, you hear almost the precise language that was employed by the Nazi doctors.

But this professor goes on to say that even if this is the case in terms of an unborn child, a fetus as she describes it in general, there is an additional set of considerations that come when this is a late-term abortion or a late-term pregnancy. At this point, the professor turns to make a very chilling argument. She argues that actually when it comes to a late-term abortion and abortion after the point of the viability of the unborn child, we shouldn’t actually think of this morally as abortion at all, but rather as euthanasia. She makes a complex argument that basically she comes down to argue that the bodily integrity of a woman when she is addressed by a late-term pregnancy could be resolved by induced labor giving birth to the child rather than aborting it.

“Aborting at this stage,” says the professor, “is basically euthanasia.”

Now here we need to stop for just a moment because this is an amazing acknowledgment. The professor writes,

“the later in pregnancy we are referencing, the more likely that people will have the moral intuition that we are no longer talking about a ‘potential’ child but are instead talking about either an existing child or at least someone worthy of nearly as much moral consideration as a newborn baby.”

That’s shocking language for the admission that is embedded there. Here you have a major law professor, an undeniable supporter of abortion, who is stating the fact that she comes to understand there is a moral intuition, common to human beings, that when you’re talking about a late-term pregnancy, you’re no longer using the language at least comfortably that so many pro-abortionists use throughout the pregnancy of merely a potential child. To use her language, we’re instead talking about either an existing child or, and this is the most interesting language,

“At least someone worthy of nearly as much moral consideration as a newborn baby.”

There’s so much embedded in that, including the word someone. A someone is a one, and that someone is not merely a what. Very clearly, the moral intuition is right, it is a who. Once again, the absolutely amazing and frightening part of this article is that Professor Colb identifies a late-term abortion as, morally speaking, not really an abortion at all, but rather a form of euthanasia with the Zika virus in the background.

But hold on just a minute, you take the Zika virus out of the background, and her moral argument still pertains. If a late-term abortion after the point of the viability of the unborn child is actually euthanasia in the form of a child that might be exposed to the Zika virus, you take the Zika virus away and it is still euthanasia and not abortion, regardless of the reason that a woman might give, again, or no reason at all. And this is where Professor Colb goes on to argue that if it is euthanasia, it may well be morally justified, even if it is not actually legal. Hear her words directly,

“As a moral matter, some might want to argue that the lives of infants may be so compromised by defects, as would be the case for many of these babies, that killing them painlessly at birth would be a kindness rather than a harm.

“At this point in time, though, laws in the U.S. do not recognize euthanasia as a legitimate approach to an infant (or an adult) whose life might not be considered worthwhile, due to impairments or pain or some other index of value.”

Now note very carefully. She has made clear that when we’re talking about a late-term pregnancy and abortion at that stage, we are talking about euthanasia rather than merely about abortion. Then she takes the additional step of saying that that euthanasia could be morally justified.

“A kindness rather than a harm,” she writes.

But then she has to ask another question. She is intelligent enough and reflective enough to understand that she has just opened what amounts to a Pandora ’s Box, and it’s not at all clear she intends to close it. Because then she moves to the additional question, if it could be morally justified to induce euthanasia in the case of an unborn child, what about in the case of a child that has been born? In one of the most candid but chilling paragraphs I’ve read in a very long time, Professor Colb writes,

“If one nonetheless concludes that because of the potentially catastrophic nature of the birth defects, children with Zika are better off not existing than living the severely compromised lives that they would otherwise live, the fact that they live inside a pregnant woman may give people a legal—if not a moral—loophole through which they can achieve their desired end, though it is really euthanasia.”

The desired end is the death of the child. But then she follows with a paragraph that is at least equally if not more chilling. Her concluding paragraph in the essay,

“The issue of euthanasia nonetheless lurks and beckons to us to answer the question: might some lives be better off ended than permitted to continue, given what is in store for them? The woman who terminates at 32 weeks for Zika-caused birth defects may thus have indirectly made a case for euthanasia, while allowing us to pretend that what she has had was just another abortion.”

In just one essay of just several hundred words published in Newsweek magazine this week, this law professor at Cornell Law School simultaneously makes the admission that when we’re talking about late-term abortion under any circumstances, it’s really talking about euthanasia—that we’re talking about not only what might be described as potential life, but a child or something like a child. But then she goes on, having described it as euthanasia, to justify euthanasia in an argument that not only could not be limited to an unborn child, or for that matter to a child just born, but to any human being that might face the reality of harm. But then we face the fact that this is not really just about abortion or really about just euthanasia. It’s about infanticide.

Here we have right up front an argument for infanticide, for killing an infant simply because we made the determination that that infant’s life is not going to be worth living. At this point we don’t have to warn about a slippery slope because it’s too late. We are reaching the bottom of the slope already. This justification of making the decision as to whether we decide that life is worth living or not when it comes to children and especially to the unborn is something that goes back to the science of eugenics, a diabolical science that was found on both sides of the Atlantic. It was not only enshrined in the law of Nazi Germany, it also had considerable traction in the United States. It was a major factor in the life of Margaret Sanger who became the founder of Planned Parenthood.

But I’m indebted to Wesley Smith at National Review for reminding us that the roots go back even before Nazi Germany or the Weimar Republic. Here in the United States, in the magazine known as the New Republic in the year 1915, none other than Helen Keller, one of the most famous names in American history, argued for the moral legitimacy not only of eugenics, but also of abortion and infanticide and euthanasia by any means—everything that Sherry Colb is calling for, and she used absolutely chilling language. In her article she was suggesting that the decision of who should live and who should die, which baby should be understood to be worthy of life and which is not worthy of life, should not be entrusted to an individual, rather Helen Keller, herself famously both deaf and blind, argued that the decision should be made by a jury of medical professionals. But she used a metaphor that we simply must not miss. Moral courage requires that we see it just for what it is and hear it in her words. She wrote,

“There is one objection, however, to this weeding of the human garden that shows a sincere love of true life. It is the fear that we cannot trust any mortal with so responsible and delicate a task.”

She goes on to say,

“We shouldn’t trust a mortal, but rather a jury of mortals.”

And yet the most heartbreaking aspect of all of this is where Helen Keller described this entire process as “this weeding of the human garden.”

Keep this in mind when you remember that Adolf Hitler and other Nazis pointed back to statements like this made by prominent Americans and justifying their own efforts infamously to weed the human garden. The moment you begin talking about weeding the human garden, you have entered into the diabolical worldview of deciding who shall live and who shall die.

It’s hard to imagine a greater antithesis than the divide between that worldview and the worldview of biblical Christianity, between the worldview that sees the potential value of some life to be judged by others, and the biblical worldview that grounds human life and human dignity and the worth of every single human life in the fact that every single human life is a gift from God and every single human being is an individual made in God’s own image.

The public conversation about the Zika virus has brought these issues back in the headlines, but as we said, this week in an absolutely shocking but inevitable way. In reality, this new argument, though shocking, is actually an old argument in a new form and it’s another effort yet to justify weeding the human garden. The conversation about the Zika virus is simply updating a very deadly argument.

Why is Ian McEwan's new book sparking cultural conversation? The protagonist is an unborn baby.

Another reminder of what is at stake in terms of the sanctity of human life came in an unexpected source in a book review and interview in Friday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. The conversation was between Michael Miller of the newspaper and the novelist Ian McEwan. The British novelist is out with a new novel entitled “Nutshell.” According to the interview, the idea for the novel,

“Came to him while he was chatting with his pregnant daughter-in-law. ‘We were talking about the baby, and I was very much aware of the baby as a presence in the room,’ he recalls. He jotted down a few notes, and soon afterward, daydreaming in a long meeting, the first sentence of the novel popped into his head: ‘So here I am, upside down in a woman.’”

The character in the novel, who is announced as hanging upside down in a woman, the first-person narrator of the novel, is an unborn child. Explaining this device, McEwan said,

“A little homunculus, with full cognition, about to be born, has some advantages. He can get into the most intimate spaces, overhears everything, sees nothing, has to infer a great deal and can abandon himself to speculation about the world he or she is about to join. And part of the pleasure of writing was to deal with this point of view: hearing things, learning things, knowing things, guessing things, speculating about things.”

It seems to be a brilliant literary device, and this is a brilliant novelist. But here he points out the fact that the baby, his unborn grandchild was, he said, a person whose presence was very much in the room even when he was in his mother’s womb. And now he’s decided to release this novel, having written it in the first-person of the unborn child. Now there’s something that has to emerge from this, and the Wall Street Journal asked the question.

“Given the charged debate over abortion, a preternaturally sentient unborn child could strike some readers as a pro-life argument. Is that your intention?”

McEwan than responds,

“I only get this question from America. I’m not going to enter into the charged debate about this. I’m from a generation that largely took for granted a woman’s right to make a decision on this, provided that this is done early enough.

“But in the whole of writing this book, the issue of pro-choice or pro-life didn’t even cross my mind. I don’t think it crossed the mind of any European who came near the book either.”

At that point I detect a bit of intellectual dishonesty, because the United States actually has more liberal abortion laws than most European nations, and even in this statement McEwan acknowledges that he comes from a generation that he describes as taking a woman’s right to abortion for granted “provided that this is done early enough.”

Well, he has just described the unborn child who is the central character and narrator of his novel as being just about to be born. So it’s hard to imagine that he didn’t understand the life implications of the very decision he made in his novel. But even if we grant for a moment that Ian McEwan really didn’t reflect at all on the abortion question as he wrote the book, it’s fair to say that no reader is going to be able to avoid the issue and avoid the question. After all, this narrator who begins by describing himself as hanging upside down in a woman is a full human being able to narrate the story. He is just waiting to be born. What makes Ian McEwan’s novelistic device work is precisely the moral intuition, the moral knowledge that the unborn child is indeed a child. Furthermore, if you deny that, there’s no point to the novel and there’s no way even for the first line of the novel to emerge.

Phyllis Schlafly, a defining leader in the modern conservative movement, dies at age 92

Finally, late on Labor Day it was announced that Phyllis Schlafly, one of the most formative figures in America’s modern conservative movement, had died at age 92. Sources said she had long battled a form of cancer. Phyllis Schlafly, who would eventually become a married mother of six, burst onto the political scene in the late 1950s, but it was especially in 1964 in the context of the Barry Goldwater candidacy that she wrote a book entitled A Choice Not an Echo that was eventually to sell something like 3.5 million copies. That became a manifesto for the modern conservative movement and many political scientists and historians will draw a line from Phyllis Schlafly and the Goldwater campaign and the conservative movement that emerged in its aftermath to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Furthermore, you really can’t explain modern America without the role of Phyllis Schlafly.

In 1972, she became the ardent opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment. By the time she became involved in the issue and mobilized millions against it, the Equal Rights Amendment had been adopted by both houses of Congress by votes of over 90% and 35 states had voted to ratify it. That was just three short of the 38 necessary for it to become an amendment to the United States Constitution, but mobilized she did. And Phyllis Schlafly not only mobilized millions to oppose the amendment, she also crossed the nation making her argument, and it was an argument with great traction. Not only did she stop the ERA in its tracks, or mobilize a movement that did so, but several of the states that had ratified the amendment actually then withdrew the ratification.

Phyllis Schlafly was often described as a polarizing figure. That wouldn’t have bothered her because she understood that we were living in polarized times and that they were represented by polarizing arguments. She did intend to be a voice and not merely an echo, and she was. Her obituary in the New York Times cited political scientist Alan Wolfe, who said,

“If political influence consists in transforming this huge and cantankerous country in one’s preferred direction,” he went on to say, “Schlafly has to be regarded as one of the two or three most important Americans of the last half of the 20th century.”

The Times added,

“Although he hastened to add that ‘every idea she ever had was scatterbrained, dangerous and hateful.’”

Phyllis Schlafly would no doubt have smiled if she had had the opportunity to read that in her own obituary. She also had a wry sense of humor. She sometimes introduced herself speaking by saying,

“I want to thank my husband Fred for letting me come here.”

She later explained,

“I like to say that because I know it irritates women’s libbers more than anything else.”

Prominent feminist icon and social revolutionary, Betty Friedan, once debated Schlafly and said,

“I’d like to burn you at the stake.”

Schlafly then stated that she was glad that Betty Friedan had made the statement in the open because it revealed the worldview behind her ideology. Phyllis Schlafly was an industry unto herself in terms of her writing and speaking, and she commented on so many different issues that not a person on the planet could have agreed with her on everything. She understood that, I’m sure. But she also had a way of making an argument with utter simplicity often based in what we might call the natural law, the natural order of things by God’s design, a natural order that often refutes all the ideologies of the social revolutionaries. In one of my favorite of her statements she wrote,

“Feminism has changed the way women think, and it has changed the way men think, but the trouble is, it hasn’t changed the attitudes of babies at all. The baby, looking for mother and father, looked right through the ideologies and sees reality.”

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing