Tag Archives: Abortion

Difficult Questions on Unused Embryos

A really fascinating article in the New York Times this morning about the perhaps one million embryos currently in storage in medical facilities across the United States. Most of these embryos have been created through IVF treatments, on which increasing numbers of Americans rely. IVF allows many couples to bring new life into the world and experience the great gift of children. Given the current state of the technology, though, parents who use IVF must typically create several extra embryos in order to increase the odds of conception. This means that many unused embryos remain. The Times  reports that perhaps a million such embryos now exist. What will become of them?

Of course, for many Americans, this question raises important religious issues. The Catholic Church teaches that IVF is immoral in principle, even for married couples, because it violates human dignity and degrades the marital act–though of course children created through IVF are to honored and cherished, just like any others. Evangelical Christians, however, in principle accept the practice for married couples, as do Orthodox Christians. The fate of any unused embryos raises very difficult questions, however. To destroy them seems tantamount to abortion, which both Evangelical and Orthodox Christianity condemn. And all Christians, I think, would have moral concerns about the commodification of embryos that seems the logical outcome of our market society. The Times reports that one California company is already in the business of creating embryos from third parties for would-be parents to purchase, for $12,500, plus a money-back guarantee.

But back to married couples. What should a couple with religious scruples do about extra embryos created by IVF? Some Evangelicals have come up with a good solution. They donate the embryos to other infertile couples. It’s analogous to adoption:

For example, the National Embryo Donation Center in Tennessee, which is endorsed by the Christian Medical Association, places embryos only with heterosexual couples married at least three years — and only after a home study exploring their readiness to be parents, as is required for families adopting a living child.

“We think the embryos deserve the same level of protections as children who are being adopted,” said Stephanie Wood-Moyers, marketing director of the center, where the Watts embryos were stored.

Where does the civil law stand in all this? Unlike many countries, the US does not regulate assisted reproduction technologies, including IVF. And so, as with respect to so many aspects of American life, it becomes a matter of contract law. In my first-year contracts class, in fact, our casebook has two relatively recent cases, one from Massachusetts and one from New York, on the enforceability of parties’ agreements with respect to the disposal of unwanted embryos after IVF. In the Massachusetts case, the court declined to enforce the agreement, in large part because the agreement was ambiguous.

The New York court, by contrast, ruled in favor of enforcement. “Explicit agreements avoid costly litigation in business transactions,” Chief Judge Kaye wrote. She continued:

They are all the more necessary and desirable in personal matters of reproductive choice, where the intangible costs of any litigation are simply incalculable. Advance directives … both minimize misunderstandings and maximize procreative liberty by reserving to the progenitors the authority to make what is in the first instances a quintessentially personal, private decision. Written agreements also provide the certainty needed for effective operation of IVF programs.

Now, you might wonder whether questions as complicated and wrenching for people as these should be handled by contract law, as if they were equivalent to particularly difficult business transactions. (“How do we divide up the inventory if the partnership dissolves?”). Surely there is a more humane way to address these issues. But that seems to be the way our culture is heading. If there’s one thing we still believe in, apparently, it’s liberty of contract–at least when it comes to bearing children.

“Catholic Midwives Must Supervise Abortions, Supreme Court Decides”

That’s the title of this report, though I would welcome more information from readers who may have it. The Supreme Court is that of the United Kingdom, and the case involves the issue of accommodation for objection to performing abortions on the basis of religious conscience. The statute interpreted by the Court is the Abortion Act of 1967, which provides that “no person shall be under any duty … to participate in any treatment authorised by this Act to which he has a conscientious objection.” The issue before the Court was the scope of the statute: it is clear that the objecting midwives would be under no obligation to participate in abortions themselves, but it was not clear whether they could be compelled to supervise other staff who did participate in abortions. “Participate,” ruled the Court, demands a “hands on” role in the abortion, and any supervisory role was insufficiently “direct” to come within the statutory definition.

The midwives claimed that it would have been very easy to accommodate them, because the number of abortions on their ward was only a very small fraction of the work, supervision of which could readily have been assigned to others with no risk that anyone desiring an abortion would go without care. But that sort of compromise was unavailing to Ann Furedi, chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service: “[E]xtending this protection to tasks not directly related to the abortion would be to the detriment of women needing to end a pregnancy and the health care staff committed to providing that care. There are enough barriers in the way of women who need an abortion without further obstacles being thrown in their way.”

UPDATE: More information on the case may be found at Religion Clause Blog.

FURTHER UPDATE: A thorough statement of the case and arguments at Frank Cranmer’s blog.

Cherry, “Faith, Family, and Filipino American Community Life”

Last month, Rutgers University published Faith, Family, and Filipino ProductImageHandlerAmerican Community Life, by Stephen M. Cherry (University of Houston-Clear Lake). The publisher’s description follows.

Stephen M. Cherry draws upon a rich set of ethnographic and survey data, collected over a six-year period, to explore the roles that Catholicism and family play in shaping Filipino American community life. From the planning and construction of community centers, to volunteering at health fairs or protesting against abortion, this book illustrates the powerful ways these forces structure and animate not only how first-generation Filipino Americans think and feel about their community, but how they are compelled to engage it over issues deemed important to the sanctity of the family.

Revealing more than intimate accounts of Filipino American lives, Cherry offers a glimpse of the often hidden but vital relationship between religion and community in the lives of new immigrants, and allows speculation on the broader impact of Filipino immigration on the nation. The Filipino American community is the second-largest immigrant community in the United States, and the Philippines is the second-largest source of Catholic immigration to this country. This ground-breaking study outlines how first-generation Filipino Americans have the potential to reshape American Catholicism and are already having an impact on American civic life through the engagement of their faith.

Liviatan on Abortion and Islam in Cultural Debates

Ofrit Liviatan (Harvard) has published an article, “From Abortion to Islam: The Changing Function of Law in Europe’s Cultural Debates,” in the current volume of the Fordham International Law Journal. Here’s the abstract:

The Article rethinks the law’s role in present-day European debates over Islam in light of its calming effects on the once fiercely-fought abortion reforms across Western Europe. Using examples from Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland the article demonstrates that the role of the legal process in each of these culture-based debates diverged along its two social functions. Reflecting growing public anxieties, legal actions concerning Muslims typically focused on generating social and cultural change, foreclosing the likelihood of political compromises. In contrast, at the time of abortion reform legal measures acted as mechanisms of social and cultural order, contributing to the pacification of the fierce public controversies even as moral disagreements over abortion endured. Drawing on this comparison, the article suggests that Europe’s constitutional review processes present a compromise-building path to deliberate contemporary conflicts over Islam.

The Article proceeds in three parts. Part II and III analyze the legal developments in the context of Islam and abortion across Western Europe, revealing a contrasting dynamics in the roles of the legal process in each of these debates. Part IV assesses the effects of the legal process in each of the debates and rules out alternative explanations for this divergence. It argues that the factor of time or European secularization cannot account for the current intensity-difference in each of these debates. The article concludes by proposing a path to launch the currently absent constitutional conversation over Islamic-based tensions in Western Europe. Modeled on abortion reform, constitutional courts should reach beyond proportional balancing and dictate policy frameworks addressing both the roots of Muslim disadvantages and the anxieties of the European public.

Wilson, “The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America’s Culture Wars”

This August, Stanford University Press will publish The Street Politics of Abortion: Speech, Violence, and America’s Culture Wars, written by Joshua C. the street politics of abortionWilson (University of Denver).  The publisher’s description follows.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade stands as a historic victory for abortion-rights activists. But rather than serving as the coda to what had been a comparatively low-profile social conflict, the decision mobilized a wave of anti-abortion protests and ignited a heated struggle that continues to this day.  Picking up the story in the contentious decades that followed Roe, The Street Politics of Abortion is the first book to consider the rise and fall of clinic-front protests through the 1980s and 1990s, the most visible and contentious period in U.S. reproductive politics. Joshua Wilson considers how street level protests lead to three seminal Court decisions—Planned Parenthood v. Williams, Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western N.Y., and Hill v. Colorado. The eventual demise of street protests via these cases taught anti-abortion activists the value of incremental institutional strategies that could produce concrete policy gains without drawing the public’s attention. Activists on both sides ultimately moved—often literally—from the streets to fight in state legislative halls and courtrooms.

At its core, the story of clinic-front protests is the story of the Christian Right’s mercurial assent as a force in American politics. As the conflict moved from the street, to the courts, and eventually to legislative halls, the competing sides came to rely on a network of lawyers and professionals to champion their causes. New Christian Right institutions—including Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice and the Regent University Law School, and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University School of Law—trained elite activists for their “front line” battles in government. Wilson demonstrates how the abortion-rights movement, despite its initial success with Roe, has since faced continuous challenges and difficulties, while the anti-abortion movement continues to gain strength in spite of its losses.

Supreme Court to Hear Abortion Protest Restriction Case

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in McCullen v. Coakley, a case out of Massachusetts involving a free speech challenge to a law that makes it a crime for speakers other than clinic “employees or agents…acting within the scope of their employment” “to enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk” within thirty-five feet of an entrance, exit, or driveway of a “reproductive health care facility.” The Court’s decision in Hill v. Colorado (2000) is also arguably in play. In Hill, the Court (6-3) upheld a Colorado statute making it unlawful for a person within 100 feet of an abortion clinic entrance to “knowingly approach” within 8 feet of another person, without that person’s consent, in order to pass leaflets, display signs, or engage in oral protests, education, or counseling of that person.

See this post and the linked amicus brief authored by our friend and CLR Forum former guest Kevin Walsh for argument about how the Court could strike down the Massachusetts law in McCullen without overturning (or even disturbing the core holding of) Hill.

Liviatan on the Changing Function of Law in Europe’s Cultural Debates

Ofrit Liviatan (Harvard U.) has posted From Abortion to Islam: The Changing Function of Law in Europe’s Cultural Debates. The abstract follows.

The Article rethinks the law’s role in present-day European debates over Islam in light of its calming effects on the once fiercely-fought abortion reforms across Western Europe. Using examples from Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland the article demonstrates that the role of the legal process in each of these culture-based debates diverged along its two social functions. Reflecting growing public anxieties, legal actions concerning Muslims typically focused on generating social and cultural change, foreclosing the likelihood of political compromises. In contrast, at the time of abortion reform legal measures acted as mechanisms of social and cultural order, contributing to the pacification of the fierce public controversies even as moral disagreements over abortion endured. Drawing on this comparison, the article suggests that Europe’s constitutional review processes present a compromise-building path to deliberate contemporary conflicts over Islam.

The Article proceeds in three parts. Part II and III analyze the legal developments in the context of Islam and abortion across Western Europe, revealing a contrasting dynamics in the roles of the legal process in each of these debates. Part IV assesses the effects of the legal process in each of the debates and rules out alternative explanations for this divergence. It argues that the factor of time or European secularization cannot account for the current intensity-difference in each of these debates. The article concludes by proposing a path to launch the currently absent constitutional conversation over Islamic-based tensions in Western Europe. Modeled on abortion reform, constitutional courts should reach beyond proportional balancing and dictate policy frameworks addressing both the roots of Muslim disadvantages and the anxieties of the European public.

Dilley & Palpant (Eds.), “Human Dignity in Bioethics”

9780415659314Last December, Routledge published Human Dignity in Bioethics: From Worldviews to the Public Square (2012) edited by Stephen Dilley (St. Edward’s U.), and Nathan J. Palpant (U. of Washington). The publisher’s description follows.

Human Dignity in Bioethics brings together a collection of essays that rigorously examine the concept of human dignity from its metaphysical foundations to its polemical deployment in bioethical controversies. The volume falls into three parts, beginning with meta-level perspectives and moving to concrete applications.

Part 1 analyzes human dignity through a worldview lens, exploring the source and meaning of human dignity from naturalist, postmodernist, Protestant, and Catholic vantages, respectively, letting each side explain and defend its own conception. Part 2 moves from metaphysical moorings to key areas of macro-level influence: international politics, American law, and biological science. These chapters examine the legitimacy of the concept of dignity in documents by international political bodies, the role of dignity in American jurisprudence, and the implications—and challenges—for dignity posed by Darwinism. Part 3 shifts from macro-level topics to concrete applications by examining the rhetoric of human dignity in specific controversies: embryonic stem cell research, abortion, human-animal chimeras, euthanasia and palliative care, psychotropic drugs, and assisted reproductive technologies. Each chapter analyzes the rhetorical use of ‘human dignity’ by opposing camps, assessing the utility of the concept and whether a different concept or approach can be a more productive means of framing or guiding the debate.

Izunwa & Ifemeje on Right to Life, Abortion and the Principle of Double-Effect

Maurice Okechukwu Izunwa and Sylvia Ifemeje (both from Nnamdi Azikiwe U., Awka) has posted Right to Life and Abortion Debate in Nigeria: A Case for the Legislation of the Principle of Double-Effect. The abstract follows.

The controversy as to whether abortion on demand will be legalized in Nigeria has been long and protracted. This is not unconnected with the fact that the issues that border on life are always sensitive for society and all the more for the legislature and the Courts. Notwithstanding the comparatively conservative status of law on abortion in Nigeria, arguments from differential fields of knowledge relating to the amendment of the law as it is, are far reaching. A great many insist that all forms of willful abortion should be criminalized. In this school of thought, we find the Catholic Church at the baseline. Nevertheless, the leftist pro-choice school defends the opinion that it is only fair and just that a woman should be left to decide in such a grave matter about her life and health. This essay makes an ethical detour in differential arguments as a necessary prerequisite for the much needed legal mediation of the rival camps. It proposes the legislation of the “principle of double effect” as the legal middle course.