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NCSE's Joshua Rosenau on Abortion and Murder

Joshua Rosenau -- the National Center for Science Education's Program and Policy Director-- and I have had a spirited discussion abort human rights and abortion. On abortion Rosenau hews to the materialist/Darwinist code of ethics: human rights belong to the autonomous and to the strong. Not to children in the womb.

But even Rosenau is skittish about the manifest venality of the pro-abortion argument:

"First, nothing I've written should be taken to suggest that fetuses (especially in the third trimester) don't have moral status as people."

Huh? Rosenau asserts that it is moral for the mother to kill her unborn child... if she doesn't want him. Could there be a more explicit denial of moral status to a person -- that it is moral to kill you merely because you're unwanted?

Here are Rosenau's opinions (here, here):

1) Unborn children are difficult to distinguish from cancer. (first link)

2) Unborn children are analogous to kernels of corn on a cob. (second link)

3) The dependence of the unborn child on the mother renders the child's right to life moot. (first link)

4) The rights of the mother are sometimes enhanced by killing her unborn child. (both links)

5) "...pain [is] not processed in a fully human manner until several months after birth." (second link)

6) Abortion at any gestational age is a morally defensible choice. (both links)

But it seems that there's been a silly little misunderstanding. Rosenau didn't really believe anything he said. I made him do it. Rosenau again:

"My previous posts in this vein have been dedicated to showing that Egnor's criteria for making that judgment from the moment of conception are flawed and lead to pernicious and absurd results. I think I've succeeded there."

My only "criteria" for asserting that children in the womb have a right to life is that they are human.


"Second, in discussing abortion, I don't think the really the important issue is when human life (or personhood) starts".

I think that the beginning of human life is very important. In a society in which people hold Rosenau's views on abortion, it's a mater of life and death.

Rosenau next asserts that an important pro-abortion issue is... the well-being of the fetus (?):

"The important issue is that the wellbeing of the fetus is dependent upon the wellbeing of the pregnant woman. If that pregnancy threatens the life and health of the woman, the moral status of the fetus cannot be considered in a vacuum. The woman has moral status, too, and any analysis that only considers the fetus's moral status is misogynist and immoral."

"...the moral status of the fetus cannot be considered in a vacuum" (!)

Note to Rosenau: be careful of metaphors.

Rosenau, spinning, continues:

"Third, I want to point people to this documentary on the murder of Dr. George Tiller".

Ahhh. I wonder why Rosenau, in the midst of defending killing, would invoke... killing. Rosenau views Dr. George Tiller's killing quite differently than he views the killing of children in the womb. Rosenau is fond of Tiller. He points out Dr. Tiller's indispensibility:

"Rachel Maddow does a great job showing the vital importance of doctors who provide third trimester abortions..."

If Rachel Maddow said it, you'll get no argument from me. Doctors who provide third trimester abortions are vitally important -- for third trimester abortions. They're indispensible in fact. Doing your own third trimester abortion is no simple task.

Having established the indispensibility of third trimester abortionists to third trimester abortions, Joshua Rosenau exposes the moral bankruptcy of the anti-abortion movement:

"...[Tiller's murder] exposes the moral bankruptcy of the anti-abortion movement. No movement purporting to defend life and to value and defend the moral status of fetuses can consistently support or defend the murder of doctors. And way too many folks stood up for Scott Roeder, the confessed and even proud murderer of Dr. Tiller."

Rosenau is right. The murder of Tiller was a grave crime. It was a cold-blooded intrinsically evil act for which there is no justification. Pro life means pro-life. No exceptions. It's pro-abortionists who make exceptions (e.g. if your mother doesn't want you). The pro-life view is this: all human beings have a right to life.

The pro-life movement widely and strongly condemned Tiller's murder. There were a few in the movement who condoned it. They were utterly wrong to do so.

Note: I detest Tiller's acts as an abortionist. He killed tens of thousands of innocent children -- many of whom were near-full term babies -- and he became rich doing so. Abortion is very very good business. Cash up front. He did at least 60,000 abortions. At $1,000 per abortion (a very conservative estimate), Tiller made a nice profit. Do you want a glimpse into George Tiller's soul? Just do the math.

Tiller should have been stopped legally and/or non-violently. But murdering him is just as much murder as what he did for a living. Killing is never a morally acceptable means to an end. Tiller was a cold-blooded killer. Roeder is a cold-blooded killer. Neither killing justifies the other. The few pro-life activists who justified Roeder's act are utterly wrong to have done so. To the extent that they condone Tiller's murder, they are not pro-life. They supported Roeder's decision to kill. 'Pro-choice' would be a more accurate term for them.

The argument advanced by a few 'pro-life' advocates -- that killing Tiller saved many babies' lives -- is true, but that does not justify killing Tiller. The traditional Christian principle that applies is the principle of double effect (PDE). The PDE is the basis for much of the traditional moral reasoning in the West, and is the basis for most of our legal statutes on justifiable homicide. The PDE asserts that an act with good and bad consequences is moral if and only if all of the following conditions are together met:

1) The act must be good in itself.
2) The agent must intend the good effect and not intend the evil effect.
3) The first effect must be good or at least the good and evil must be commensurate. The good effect must not be the result of the evil one.
4) There must be proportionately grave reason to justify the act.

Tiller's murder was a clear violation of at least the first condition (murder is not good in itself) and the third condition (the good effect -- saving babies -- is the result of the evil effect -- killing Tiller) of the PDE. By PDE killing Tiller was gravely immoral, regardless of babies saved.

In killing Tiller, Roeder violated the second condition of PDE as well. The evil effect --killing Tiller -- was obviously Roeder's intent. The fact that Roeder intended good to come of it is irrelevant to moral wrongness of killing. In fact one could argue that Roeder's intent to do good by killing made the act more evil than if it had been a crime of sudden irrational passion. Roeder made a calculated decision to kill, and that is an intrinsically evil act.

Now let's apply PDE to abortion:

1) The act must be good in itself. (killing a child in the womb is not good in itself)
2) The agent must intend the good effect and not intend the evil effect.(the evil effect --killing the baby -- is intended, although perhaps with regret. Yet killing is not incidental to abortion; it is abortion.)
3) The first effect must be good or at least the good and evil must be commensurate. The good effect must not be the result of the evil one. (The good -- financial solvency, educational advancement, etc., is the result of killing the baby, not incidental to an unavoidable killing.)
4) There must be proportionately grave reason to justify the act. (none of the reasons are grave enough to justify killing)

Abortion volates all of the conditions of the PDE.

Now lets look at killing in self-defense -- an attacker aims a gun at you, and you shoot in self-defense. Apply PDE:

1) The act must be good in itself. (Self-defense is good in itself. Your intention is to save life -- your own.)
2) The agent must intend the good effect and not intend the evil effect. (You have an obligation to only intend self-defense; you must avoid killing the attacker if possible. If you can flee, you must do so. If you can incapacitate the attacker by wounding him, you must do so. If you can talk the attacker out of hurting you, you must do so. If the attacker is killed, it must not have been your intention to kill -- e.g. because you hate the attacker. You must intend only to stop the attack. You must use the minimum force necessary to stop the attack. Lethal force is moral only if it is the only option for self-defense. This is the basis for the 'duty to retreat' in the legal theory of justifiable homicide.)
3) The first effect must be good or at least the good and evil must be commensurate. The good effect must not be the result of the evil one. (The good effect -- self defense -- is the result of stopping the attacker. Killing is unintended and unavoidable.)
4) There must be proportionately grave reason to justify the act. (The immediate threat to your life is a grave reason.)

The principle of double effect demonstrates the morality of self-defence in which killing the attacker is unintended and unavoidable. PDE also demonstrates the grave immorality of murdering Tiller and the grave immorality of abortion. They are immoral for many of the same reasons. Intended killing is always immoral, because killing is never good in itself, and an act of 'justifiable homicide' is never moral if the good outcome (e.g. saving babies or finishing college) is the result of the killing.

Note the difference between morality based on the principle of double effect (rooted in Christianity) and utilitarian morality, which is the moral framework advocated by many atheists and materialists. In PDE, certain acts (e.g. intentional killing) are always immoral. The end, however good, does not justify the means. In utilitarian ethics, no act is intrinsically evil. All acts are weighed by consideration of "the most good for the most people." In utilitarianism (i.e. Roeder's moral view), the morality of killing is determined by a calculus. Thousands of babies' lives vs. one abortionist's life. Roeder made a fine utilitarian decision. If you believe that utilitarian morality is preferable to Christian morality (PDE), consider the number of transplantable organs you have, and the number of lives that could be saved by your death. Utilitarian morality is congenial only if you're on the winning side.

Rosenau, who rightly condemnes Tiller's murder, goes on to justify other killings:

"Watch especially the third part of the documentary, in which three patients explain the heartbreak entailed in their decision to have a late-term abortion. None of them rejected the personhood of their fetuses, their babies. The doctors and nurses interviewed all describe the fetuses as babies, and do not seem to have any reason to doubt that they were morally human. They obtained and provided late term abortions because to do otherwise would cause and perpetuate human suffering, would not prevent the deaths of those fetuses, but would protect the mothers. Because of those abortions, those women could attempt another pregnancy, care for their previous and future children, their husbands and extended family, and could live their lives. If those abortions had not been done, these women could well have died. On top of their own lost lives, the lives of many other people would have been torn apart by those women's deaths. And those babies would almost surely have died, too."

We all die, after three-score and ten, hopefully. Natural death is tragic, but it's not a moral issue, and it does not justify killing. ("Gee, your honor, I know I killed him, but a lot of people die naturally too...")

What Rosenau asserts, of course, is that children killed in late term abortions all had untreatable conditions that would have taken their lives in infancy. Rosenau presents no data to support that assertion.

My profession (I'm a pediatric neurosurgeon) is to provide medical care for the children who Tiller would and did abort (e.g. kids with spina bifida, hydranencephaly, holoprosencephaly, etc.). In fact, some of the families who I have counseled pre-natally were referred to Tiller by other doctors. I have cared for several thousand of these kids and their families. Very few of these babies die in infancy. With proper medical care and ordinary love and care by their families, these children lead good lives. The kids with profound brain maldevelopment (hydranencephaly, holoprosencephaly) can live for a number of years with love and good care. They don't suffer if they get good care, and if caring for them is too much of a burden for a family, there are many families willing to adopt handicapped babies. I work with these families daily.

The spina bifida kids go to school, often to college, get married, have families. One of my neurosurgical colleagues (she is a leading academician and clinician) has spina bifida, and she trained in neurosurgery under the neurosurgeon who operated on her when she was born. Many of my own patients lead full and happy lives (I've attended a couple of my spina bifida patients' sweet sixteen parties). One of my patients is studying to be a medical administrator; another just got her driver's license. Two of my patients got married (to each other) recently. As I'm typing this, I'm waiting to operate on one of my spina bifida patients for her hydrocephalus. I've cared for her since she was in elementary school. Her husband is in the waiting room.

The assertion that these people are better off dead is a damnable lie.

Intentional killing before birth is just homicide, and the fact that it's done to handicapped babies makes it more, not less, vicious.

"Abortion is not done lightly."

Abortion is probably the most commonly performed surgical procedure on women in the U.S. There are 1,200,000 abortions annually, which is twice the number of tonsillectomies (600,000). Given that only half of Americans having tonsillectomies are women/girls, the ratio of abortions:tonsillectomies for American women is 4:1.

When it is necessary, though, it is absolutely necessary...

The reasons for obtaining abortions:

On average, women give at least 3 reasons for choosing abortion: 3/4 say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities; about 3/4 say they cannot afford a child; and 1/2 say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner (AGI).


"...and it is wrong to second-guess the complex moral and medical choices hashed out between a woman, her family, and her doctor."

Rosenau is a highly selective in his respect for autonomy; he makes his living second-guessing your educational choices. What about respect for the complex scientific and educational choices hashed out between a child, her family, and her teacher? If you kill your unborn child, Rosenau is all for non-interference. Live and let live or... whatever. But if you don't want your post-natal child indoctrinated in atheism's creation myth in science class, Rosenau -- Program and Policy Director of the NCSE -- will unleash a bevy of lawyers, drag you into federal court, obtain a federal court order to silence you, and wreck you financially if you resist. If you want to honestly discuss Darwin's theory in your high school class and you want the NCSE to leave you alone, just tell Rosenau that your class is having abortions.

"For saving the lives of thousands of women over the years, George Tiller was shot..."

Rosenau's assertion that Tiller saved the lives of "thousands of women" is an outright lie. The reality is that only an infinitesimal number of abortions (much less than 1%) are performed because the mother's life is in genuine danger, and those abortions were not performed by George Tiller. Care for critically ill pregnant women is provided by high-risk obstetricians in major medical centers, not abortionists in abortion mills.

Tiller didn't treat any women in grave danger from pregnancy-related medical problems; his training was in dermatology. He had no training or skill in the management of difficult pregnancies, and he had no facilities to care for women whose lives were genuinely in danger.

"Roeder did not act alone..."

No, he didn't act alone. Roeder committed murder in a nation that lends a legal imprimatur to 'justifiable' homicide of unborn children. Roeder committed murder in a culture in which killing is deemed essential for the full enjoyment of human rights. In this culture of death, Roeder most certainly did not act alone.

"To Roeder, and the other members of his "pro-life" community, Tiller was less than human."

Exactly. Roeder dehumanized Tiller. Tiller dehumanized unborn children. Rosenau compares unborn children to cancer. Dehumanizing victims is a common prerequisite for killing.

Because he provided a legal and necessary service to women..

Tiller's services were legal, but they were not necessary.

"Tiller's life didn't count. That troubles me, and it ought to trouble Michael Egnor, too."

It troubles me deeply. I oppose Tiller's murder. I oppose excuses for Tiller's murder. I oppose abortion. I oppose excuses for abortion. I oppose homicide.

The pro-life position is this: all willful homicide is immoral. We need a culture of life.

The pro-abortion position is this: abortion is justifiable. Some homicide is even necessary to secure human rights.

Yet abortion supporters don't understand that our culture of death cannot be contained. It bleeds over, beyond the womb. Scott Roeder acted on the pro-abortion principle: homicide is necessary for the protection of rights. This endorsement of justifiable homicide pervades our culture. It's ironic that abortion advocates like Rosenau are shocked by Tiller's murder. Why would abortion advocates presume that they are safe from their own blood-dimmed tide?

When killing for convenience is a constitutional right, why are we shocked by killing for principle?