Sunday, January 22, 2006

The sanctity of life

I'm going to critique President Bush's National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2006 speech, but with some help from The New York Review of Books review of Jimmy Carter's new book Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis. The reason why I'm using the review is that Carter, although a devout Christian like President Bush, has drawn from his spirituality some dramatically different views on how to protect the sanctity of life, and the review contains several passages that contrast specifically with points in the President's speech. For the sake of clarity, when I quote from the President's speech I'll use blue; when from Carter's book review, green.

Our Nation was founded on the belief that every human being has rights, dignity, and value. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, we underscore our commitment to building a culture of life where all individuals are welcomed in life and protected in law.
Unless they don't have health insurance, are poor, or are on death row. Incidentally, all three correlate. The review notes, "Carter argues that a 'pro-life' dogmatism defeats human life and values at many turns." This will become apparent in a moment.

America is making great strides in our efforts to protect human life. One of my first actions as President was to sign an order banning the use of taxpayer money on programs that promote abortion overseas.
What he actually did was cut funding completely for any organizations that "promote abortion" i.e. sexually educate people. First, this is an abuse of Presidential power - President Bush is using his position to promote his religious views by cutting funding for a procedure (or education about a procedure) that is legal in this country. Secondly, by cutting funding to these places he is taking away access to medicine, contraceptives, and sexual/medical education, making the likelihood of death and disease higher rather than lower.

Over the past 5 years, I also have been proud to sign into law the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, and a ban on partial-birth abortion. In addition, my Administration continues to fund abstinence and adoption programs and numerous faith-based and community initiatives that support these efforts.
Two acts which seem, to me, to be designed to help make the legal case for arguing abortion is murder; one act which flirts with banning a procedure that is used in the vast majority of cases to protect the health of an expecting mother. The adoption programs are commendable as far as I know, but the other programs are programs that don't work. Programs that at best are ineffective, at worst increase the risk a child will contract a sexually transmitted disease. The Carter book review answers

Carter is opposed to abortion, as what he calls a tragedy "brought about by a combination of human errors." But the "pro-life" forces compound rather than reduce the errors. The most common abortions, and the most common reasons cited for undergoing them, are caused by economic pressure compounded by ignorance.

Yet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives, tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the "pro-life" movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination, these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance. Carter writes:

Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.... It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs.

The result of a rigid fundamentalism combined with poverty and ignorance can be seen where the law forbids abortion:

In some predominantly Roman Catholic countries where all abortions are illegal and few social services are available, such as Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia, the abortion rate is fifty per thousand. According to the World Health Organization, this is the highest ratio of unsafe abortions [in the world].

A New York Times article that came out after Carter's book appeared further confirms what he is saying: "Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions." This takes place in countries where churches and schools teach abstinence as the only form of contraception—demonstrating conclusively the ineffectiveness of that kind of program.

By contrast, in the United States, where abortion is legal and sex education is broader, the abortion rate reached a twenty-four-year low during the 1990s.

Back to Bush

When we seek to advance science and improve our lives, we must always preserve human dignity and remember that human life is a gift from our Creator. We must not sanction the creation of life only to destroy it. America must pursue the tremendous possibilities of medicine and research and at the same time remain an ethical and compassionate society.

No stem cell research, is what he's saying. The embryos that would be used are already going to be destroyed, discarded, or stored indefinitely; this puts the "human dignity" of a clump of cells that has not differentiated enough to be distinguishable from that of a mouse (or any other vertebrate) embryo at higher value than the well-being of fully developed humans who suffer from disease and illness.

National Sanctity of Human Life Day is an opportunity to strengthen our resolve in creating a society where every life has meaning and our most vulnerable members are protected and defended including unborn children, the sick and dying, and persons with disabilities and birth defects. This is an ideal that appeals to the noblest and most generous instincts within us, and this is the America we will achieve by working together.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Sunday, January 22, 2006, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to reaffirm our commitment to respecting and defending the life and dignity of every human being.
I think an appropriate way to honor the day would be to protest the policies of this administration. I find it odd to hear a man who signed off on the execution of 152 of 153 death row inmates he was presented with while Governor of Texas say that he wishes for a society where every life has meaning. I'll let Carter and his reviewer, Gary Willis, conclude

Carter finds the same rigid and self-righteous—and self-defeating—policies at work across the current political spectrum. The pro-life forces have no problem with a gun industry and capital punishment legislation that are, in fact, provably pro-death. Carter, a lifelong hunter, does not want to outlaw guns and he knows that Americans would never do that. But timorous politicians, cowering before the NRA, defeat even the most sensible limitations on weapons useful neither for hunting nor for personal self-defense (AK-47s, AR-15s, Uzis), even though, as Carter shows, more than 1,100 police chiefs and sheriffs told Congress that these weapons are obstacles to law enforcement. The NRA opposed background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists and illegals, and then insisted that background checks, if they were imposed, had to be destroyed within twenty-four hours. The result of such pro-death measures, Carter writes, is grimly evident: "American children are sixteen times more likely than children in other industrialized nations to be murdered with a gun, eleven times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die from firearms accidents." Where are the friends of the fetus when children are dying in such numbers?

Carter observes that "the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research reports that the rate of firearms homicide in the United States is nineteen times higher than that of 35 other high-income countries combined" (emphasis added). In the most recent year for which figures are available, these are the numbers for firearms homicides:

Ireland 54
Japan 83
Sweden 183
Great Britain 197
Australia 334
Canada 1,034
United States 30,419
[emphasis added]

Once again, Carter finds no support for the policies that make such a result possible in the US, in terms of either a loving religion or a just society.

Capital punishment is also a pro-death program. It does not protect life. It aligns us with authoritarian regimes: "Ninety percent of all known executions are carried out in just four countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia—and the United States" (emphasis added). Execution does not deter, as many studies have proved. In states that abolished it, Carter writes, capital crimes did not increase:

The homicide rate is at least five times greater in the United States than in any European country, none of which authorizes the death penalty. The Southern states carry out over 80 percent of the executions but have a higher murder rate than any other region. Texas has by far the most executions, but its homicide rate is twice that of Wisconsin, the first state to abolish the death penalty. It is not a matter of geography or ethnicity, as is indicated by similar and adjacent states: the number of capital crimes is higher, respectively, in South Dakota, Connecticut, and Virginia (all with the death sentence) than in the adjacent states of North Dakota, Massachusetts, and West Virginia (without the death penalty).


John Lombard said...

"America is making great strides in our efforts to protect human life. One of my first actions as President was to sign an order banning the use of taxpayer money on programs that promote abortion overseas."

Holy shit. I never thought I'd hear Bush brag about that -- I thought it was just a private act of cynicism to please pro-lifers.

gawker said...

Can this guy leave religion out of anything?

"When we seek to advance science and improve our lives, we must always preserve human dignity and remember that human life is a gift from our Creator"

What if I don't subscribe to that view Mr President? How about not foisting your 15th century worldview on everyone else?