Friday, February 29, 2008

S.C. Law Review Symposium on Equality and the Roberts Court

I am looking forward to participating today in the South Carolina Law Review Symposium, The Roberts Court and Equal Protection: Gender, Race, and Class.  I will be speaking on the panel on gender along with Deborah Brake (Pittburgh), David Cohen (Drexel), and Teresa Collett (St. Thomas).  The full list of panels and speakers is available here.

February 29, 2008 in Gonzales v. Carhart, Law School, Scholarship and Research, Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

William Saletan Reviews "Embryo," by Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen

From the New York Times Book Review earlier this month: William Saletan reviews "Embryo," by Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen, in Little Children:

Thirty-five years after Roe v. Wade, the pro-life movement faces a new challenge: biotechnology. The first human biotech issue, embryonic stem-cell research, looks like an easy call. Stem cells could save millions of lives. And the entity we currently sacrifice to get them — a sacrifice that may soon be unnecessary — is a tiny, undeveloped ball of cells. The question, like the embryo, seems a no-brainer.

For pro-lifers, that’s precisely the problem. Biotechnology is arguably more insidious than abortion. Abortions take place one at a time and generally as a response to an accident, lapse or nasty surprise. Their gruesomeness actually limits their prevalence by arousing revulsion and political opposition. Conventional stem-cell harvesting is quieter but bolder. It’s deliberate and industrial, not accidental and personal. In combination with cloning, it entails the mass production, exploitation and destruction of human embryos. Yet its victims don’t look human. You can’t protest outside a fertility clinic waving a picture of a blastocyst. You have to explain what it is and why people should care about it.

This is the task Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen undertake in “Embryo.” To reach a secular and skeptical public, they avoid religion and stake their case on science.

I particularly like this passage from Saletan's review:

George and Tollefsen reason that the embryo is fully human and its life therefore inviolable, because its program is self-contained. “Nothing extrinsic to the developing organism itself acts on it to produce a new character or new direction of growth,” they write. The embryo has all the “structures necessary for providing the new individual with a suitable environment and adequate nutrition.” It can “get itself to the uterus,” “burrow” into the uterine wall and begin “taking in nourishment” from “a congenial environment.”

Nobody with a womb would describe pregnancy this way. The “congenial environment” is a woman. The embryo doesn’t “get itself” around her like some Horatio Alger hero. Her body sustains it, guides it and affects its direction of growth. Mother and child are a system.

I haven't read the book, but based on the review and the authors' response, this attempt to "stake their case on science" looks to me like nothing more than a repackaging of timeworn arguments for fetal and embryonic personhood.  The authors issued a reply to Saletan in the National Review:

In attempting to resist our conclusion that human embryos ought not to be exploited and killed, while at the same time acknowledging their moral standing and the special respect they are owed, Saletan gets himself into a jam.  To meet our argument that a human embryo is, as a matter of scientific fact, a developing human being—i.e., a living member of the species Homo sapiens in the earliest stages of development—and thus, as a matter of basic justice, a possessor of inherent dignity and a right to life, Saletan is driven to deny that human embryos are whole entities, as opposed to mere parts (such as gametes, tissues, or organs).

I have blogged about this question-begging language issue before.  To say that an embryo is a "developing human being" does not mean that it is a person entitled to a right to life.  Many abortion-rights opponents employ indeterminate language like "life" and "human being" because these terms are evocative of personhood yet allow people to read into them what they wish.  Ultimately, although many (perhaps most) people would agree that a human embryo is a "living member of the species Homo sapiens in the earliest stages of development," most also would not treat embryos as full legal persons in all respects and do not think, for example, that one commits mass murder in discarding frozen embryos.  So, in my view, the authors gain very little ground in identifying the "jam" Saletan has gotten himself into by (they claim) refusing to acknowledge that embryos are "whole entities."

The authors also employ the familiar, flawed logic that, because every person developed from an embryo, an embryo must have the same moral status as a person.  So enamored are they of this tired argument that they emphasize the point with italics:

The argument against our view being advanced by the adult Will Saletan is confounded by the fact that Will Saletan, like the rest of us, really was once an embryo.... The true story is that the organism that is Will Saletan is the same organism that, at an earlier stage of Will’s development, was that embryo. 

Many have refuted this argument by pointing out that an acorn is not an oak tree, and does not merit the same respect as an oak tree, just because the oak tree really was once an acorn.

February 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Census Analysis Shows Changes in Pregnancy and Employment

NY Times: Shifts in Pregnancy and Work, by Sam Roberts:

As women have children later than ever and more work outside the home, they are also working longer into pregnancy and returning to work faster than they did four decades ago, the Census Bureau said Monday.

The trend reflects a number of developments since the early 1960s, including more opportunities for pregnancy leave, paid and unpaid, and increased protections for pregnant women against job discrimination.

February 28, 2008 in Pregnancy & Childbirth, Women, General | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

David Garrow Reviews Dr. Susan Wicklund's "This Common Secret"

David Garrow  reviews Susan Wicklund's book, "This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor," in today's Christian Science Monitor:

Abortion is the subject of many books, but it's highly unusual when a volume that looks like yet another partisan salvo actually contradicts the expected "party line" in important and revealing ways.

Such is the case in Susan Wicklund's  This Common Secret. Wicklund enlisted as a front-line soldier in America's abortion wars in 1989, when the conflict was most intense. Extreme right-to-life groups like Operation Rescue physically besieged abortion clinics, and many abortion providers feared for their personal safety.

See also these reviews: Wash. Post, Head vs. Heart in the Abortion Debate , by Emily Bazelon; NY Times, Telling the Stories Behind the Abortions, by Cornelia Dean.

February 26, 2008 in Abortion, Culture | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Stem Cells and the 2008 Presidential Election Stem cells: A sure bet in the '08 race, by Aaron Smith:

NEW YORK ( -- Whoever wins the White House, stem cell biotechs stand to reap the benefit from an incoming leader who is friendlier to stem cell researchers than President Bush, and that could lift stocks for the entire sector, experts say.

"Any candidate is going to have a better policy on stem cells than our current president," said Ren Benjamin, biotech analyst for Rodman & Renshaw. "If that's the case, then it will be good news not only for the companies working in the space, but for the space in general."

The three leading presidential candidates - Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, and Democratic Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barak Obama of Illinois - have all come out in support of expanded federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research.

February 26, 2008 in 2008 Presidential Campaign, Stem Cell Research | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sweden: Man Sentenced for Spiking Girlfriend's Yogurt with Abortion Pills

AP: Man gets 18 months in jail for putting abortion pills in girlfriend's food:

A Swedish court of appeal on Tuesday sentenced a 27-year-old man to 18 months in prison for trying to make his girlfriend miscarry by mixing abortion pills in her food.

The man, who was not named for legal reasons, had his jail term increased from a previous one-year sentence set by a district court in June.

In its ruling, the Court of Appeal for Western Sweden found the man guilty of aggravated assault for attempting to make his girlfriend of eight years miscarry by giving her a yoghurt containing three ground-up pills. The sentence also included a more minor count of assault.

For more on this frightening trend of men surreptitiously inducing abortions by putting abortion medications in their partners' food or drink, see this post.

February 26, 2008 in Abortion | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UK: Conservative MP Calls for Reduction in Gestational Limit for Abortions

Reuters (UK): Cameron calls for lower abortion time limit

Conservative leader David Cameron has supported a cut in the legal time limit on abortions ahead of a possible vote on the issue in coming weeks.    

But Gordon Brown's spokesman said on Monday the prime minister, on the basis of medical advice, did not support a change in the abortion law.

MPs may table amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill calling for a reduction in the 24-week limit when the bill returns to the House of Commons.

That would give MPs the first chance to vote on abortion since 1990.

February 26, 2008 in Abortion, International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

NY: Catholic Church Opposes Gov. Spitzer's Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act

NY Sun: Abortion Battle Brews Between Spitzer, Church, by Jacob Gershman:

Tensions are running high between the Spitzer administration and the Catholic Church, which is mounting an unusually aggressive campaign to stop the state from enacting a law that would declare abortion a fundamental right for women.

 Governor Spitzer, whose administration drafted the legislation and is pressing lawmakers to pass it this year, is coming under fire from church officials who say the bill would leave Catholic hospitals and social service agencies vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits brought by women seeking abortions or referrals and could ultimately lead to state sanctions against the institutions.

 Administration officials say the church is exaggerating the impact of the bill on Catholic facilities and, for the time being, have ruled out adjusting the language.

 Mr. Spitzer unveiled the bill, which is called the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act, in April. This year, his administration has signaled that the measure is a top priority, causing alarm among church leaders.

The NY Times reported on the legislation last April.  The text of the proposed bill is available here.

NARAL Pro-Choice America has a factsheet on the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act. NARAL is hosting a panel discussion on the proposed law on Mar. 13, 2008.

Spitzer's State of the State Address addressed why he supports the legislation.


February 24, 2008 in Politics, Religion and Reproductive Rights, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Student-Led Sex Education Divides Parents

Philadelphia Inquirer: Sex ed led by teens is dividing parents, by John Sullivan:

A tussle that began with a condom and a banana has morphed into all-out war at a New Jersey high school, with some parents trying to end a peer-to-peer sexual-education course taught in about 45 other public schools statewide.

Parents opposed to the classes at Clearview Regional High School, in Mullica Hill, say that kids shouldn't be instructing kids about sex and that the elective course doesn't go far enough in stressing abstinence....

School district administrators say misinformation has fueled the firestorm, which began last month and is expected to continue at a Feb. 28 school board meeting. They say New Jersey law requires them to teach a comprehensive class that addresses abstinence, safe sex, dating violence, HIV-AIDS, and how alcohol and drugs affect sexual decision-making - a fact confirmed by the state health department.

February 24, 2008 in Sexuality Education, State and Local News, Teenagers and Children | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Federal Judge Refuses to Lift Injunction Allowing Wash. Pharmacists To Refuse To Sell Plan B

AP/ Seattle Post Intelligencer: Judge again rules druggists can deny morning-after pill, by Curt Woodward:

Pharmacists and drug store owners in Washington can still refuse to sell the "morning-after pill" if they have religious objections to the emergency contraceptives, a federal judge ruled Friday.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton's decision, a defeat for Gov. Chris Gregoire, is the latest twist in long-running legal and political battles over the morning-after pill, which is sold as Plan B.

February 24, 2008 in Contraception, In the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Giveaway of emergency contraception angers anti-abortion group

Via the Associated Press:

MISHAWAKA, Ind. - A free giveaway of emergency contraception doses at Planned Parenthood health centers in Indiana cities with large college populations has angered an anti-abortion group, whose leader calls it "irresponsible."

The giveaways are timed to remind young adults of the importance of responsible sexual behavior as spring break nears for many colleges and universities, said Steve Carr, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

He stressed that emergency contraception should not be relied on as a main source of birth control, just for emergency situations to prevent an unintended pregnancy.

February 20, 2008 in Anti-Choice Movement, Contraception | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Anti-Abortion Groups Rally Around McCain

Funny how McCain seems to attract the admiration of both pro-choice and anti-choice groups.  Let's just hope that in the general election his true (anti-choice) record is made crystal clear. 

Washington Times: Pro-Life Groups Choose McCain, by Stephen Dinan:

Pro-lifers are the first part of the conservative base to rally around Sen. John McCain, overcoming past fights to embrace him as strong on their core issue and a clear choice over the two Democrats he could face.

"He is pro-life in his heart of hearts, in my opinion," said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and a pro-life movement leader, who said Mr. McCain's commitment stretches back across decades of votes in the House and Senate.

Though the Arizona senator and all-but-certain Republican presidential nominee doesn't detail his voting record on the campaign trail, an examination reveals a striking opposition to abortion in most of the major fights such as partial-birth abortion down to the smallest of skirmishes, even when he was in a distinct minority.

Those votes include joining just 20 other senators in voting to delete family-planning grants from a spending bill in 1988 and joining 18 others in voting against spending Medicaid funds on abortions in cases of rape and incest. In the 1990s, he voted against the bill creating federal penalties for blocking access to abortion clinics and voted against allowing federal-government health insurance plans to cover abortions.

See also: McCain on Abortion (regarding Republicans for Choice's apparent support for McCain); NPR on McCain's Abortion Stance.

February 20, 2008 in 2008 Presidential Campaign, Abortion, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Developments in Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Scientific American: Human Embryonic Stem Cells Fix Stroke-Afflicted Rats, by J.R. Minkel:

In a new study, rats were spared the limb-weakening effects of a stroke if they were treated with brain tissue cultivated from human embryonic stem cells. But unlike similar experiments, the transplanted cells gave no sign of causing tumors, according to a report this week in the online journal PLoS One.

Researchers say that if they can build a string of such successes in a range of animal models, they can make a stronger case for testing the cells in people. "This is really exciting, just to overcome this obstacle of tumorigenicity," says Stanford University stem cell biologist Marcel Daadi, a co-author of the study.

Investigators have had success of late creating stem cells, or cells very similar to them, from new sources such as adult human tissue. But the ongoing scientific challenge is to harness those cells' ability to morph into the different adult cell types and thereby develop new treatments for debilitating diseases such as stroke, which strikes about 700,000 Americans every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Reuters: Company's stem cells treat diabetes in mice, by  Maggie Fox:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Human stem cells transformed into nearly normal insulin-producing cells when implanted into mice, possibly offering a way to treat diabetes long-term, researchers at a U.S. company reported on Wednesday.

The researchers used human embryonic stem cells -- the most powerful but the most controversial source of stem cells.

Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, the team at San Diego, California-based Novocell Inc said their work showed that human embryonic stem cells might fulfill the promise of treating or perhaps even curing diabetes.


February 20, 2008 in Medical News, Stem Cell Research | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (2)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Kan. AG Resists Grand Jury Subpoena for Patient Records of Dr. Tiller

AP: Kan. AG Resists Grand Jury Subpoena, by John Hanna:

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Attorney General Stephen Six wants the state's highest court to block a grand jury's subpoena for patient records and other evidence in the investigation of a prominent abortion provider.

Six asked the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday to quash the subpoena or at least temporarily block its enforcement. The grand jury demanded the records of 60 patients from Dr. George Tiller's clinic in Wichita, which the attorney general's office had obtained as part of an earlier investigation.

Attorneys for Tiller, one of the few U.S. physicians who performs late-term abortions, already have asked the Supreme Court to block three other subpoenas that the doctor received from the grand jury. One of them seeks the records of about 2,000 patients from Tiller's clinic.

The Supreme Court ruled last week that the subpoenas to Tiller couldn't be enforced until the justices decide whether to quash them. The court said Tiller's legal challenge raised "significant issues" about the grand jury's authority and patients' privacy.

February 19, 2008 in Abortion, In the Courts, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Hundreds of anti-abortion protesters hold gathering in Madrid

Via the Associated Press:

MADRID, Spain: Hundreds of anti-abortion demonstrators gathered in Madrid Saturday to protest against government plans to strengthen legislation protecting the confidentiality of women who consult abortion clinics.

People carrying Spanish flags and waving images of aborted fetuses filled the capital's central Sol square to listen to speakers and chant anti-government slogans.

Spain's Socialist government said earlier this month it would rush through legislation to enhance confidentiality for women who have had abortions and pledged to further improve abortion laws if re-elected next month.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's government took the decision after police arrested at least 13 people in November raids on four clinics suspected of carrying out illegal abortions in Barcelona.

Later around 25 women were visited by police at their homes and called in for questioning by judges.

February 19, 2008 in Abortion, Anti-Choice Movement, International, Politics, Reproductive Health & Safety | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (2)

Legal Momentum Publishes Report on Abstinence-Only Education

Legal Momentum has published Sex, Lies and Stereotypes: How Abstinence Only Harms Girls, a report based upon recommendations arising from an expert roundtable led by Julie Kay at Harvard Law School in September 2006. Download the pdf file (note: file size is 2.5mb).

February 19, 2008 in Sexuality Education | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Italy: Protestors Rally to Defend Abortion Rights

AP: Italians Rally to Defend Abortion Law:

ROME (AP) — Hundreds of women rallied in Rome and Naples on Thursday to protest police interrogation of a woman after she underwent an abortion and to oppose a campaign push by some conservatives to change Italy's abortion law....

Health Minister Livia Turco emerged from her office earlier in a show of solidarity with demonstrators, who held placards proclaiming that "Women do the choosing" and other slogans.

Turco has denounced an incident earlier in the week when police rushed into a Naples hospital to interrogate a woman who had aborted a 21-week-old fetus minutes before. The 39-year-old woman says she had the abortion after learning the fetus had a grave genetic defect. News reports said the aborted fetus was seized as evidence.

February 19, 2008 in Abortion, International, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Court Again Upholds Texas Fetal Protection Law

Meanwhile, here in the U.S., Texas punishes causing the death of a fetus as capital murder.  AP: Court upholds Texas fetal protection law, by Jim Vertuno:

Texas' highest criminal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a state law that allows prosecution for causing the death of an unborn child, affirming a conviction in the case of a 16-year-old whose belly was stomped so she would miscarry twins.    

It was the second time in the past four months that the Court of Criminal Appeal has upheld the fetal protection law, which covers deaths aside from legal abortions.

The case in Lufkin was notable because of the girl's testimony that she was a willing accomplice who beat herself in the stomach and asked to be stomped to induce the miscarriage.   

Gerardo Flores, 19 at the time of the 2004 miscarriage, was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison. The 16-year-old, Erica Basoria, was not charged. Prosecutors believed she was an abuse victim and didn't really consent to being beaten.

For more on this case, see Texas Court Affirms Life Sentence for Feticide.

February 14, 2008 in Fetal Rights, In the Courts, State and Local News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Canadian "Unborn Victims of Crime Act" To Be Voted on in March

Canadian Press: Tory MP's bill to recognize unborn crime victims raises abortion rights alarm:

OTTAWA - A Conservative MP brought the families of murdered women to Parliament Hill on Thursday to back legislation that would treat unborn babies as separate victims when their mothers are killed or attacked.

Ken Epp said his private member's bill is needed to legally recognize the unborn when they are slain or harmed by crimes against their mothers.

The Unborn Victims of Crime Act is narrowly focused to allow charges only where a fetus is hurt during a criminal act, he told a news conference.

But the bill, to be voted on March 5, has been assailed by critics who say it's a sneaky bid to slip fetal rights into Canadian law.

For more on the problems with fetal rights laws, and for alternative ways of drafting "unborn victims of crime" laws that avoid these issues, see this post.

February 14, 2008 in Fetal Rights, International | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Archbishop Objects to Clinton Rally at St. Mary's University

AP: Archbishop Objects to Clinton Rally, by Michelle Roberts:

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Archbishop Jose Gomez complained Wednesday about plans for a rally by Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, an abortion rights supporter, at a Catholic university.

The archbishop released a statement noting that Clinton and some other presidential candidates' support for abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research were not in line with Catholic values. The Rev. Pat Rodgers, an archdiocese spokesman, said Gomez was responding to telephone calls and e-mails from concerned Catholics.

Clinton has scheduled a rally at St. Mary's University, the oldest Catholic college in the city, on Wednesday evening.

February 13, 2008 in 2008 Presidential Campaign, Politics, Religion and Reproductive Rights | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)