Ireland’s Big Abortion Mistake

by Peter Smith:

Ireland’s knee-jerk reaction to a terrible case of clinical negligence is misguided and wrong. Savita Halappanavar’s death did not equal a nationwide need for lax abortion laws.

Britain is basking in weeks of glorious sunshine and the popular mood is high. The Tour de France has just been won by a Briton for the second year in a row, the Lions thrashed the Aussies Down Under and England are 2-0 up in the Ashes. Media attention of all these sports combined has, however, been eclipsed by the media event of the year. At a hospital in central London, a beautiful woman, two years’ married, has just given birth. She is Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, the wife of Prince William, known around the world as Kate.

Safer Without AbortionWhy the attention? The political significance of the birth is pretty obvious. Her son is now third in line to the British throne after his father and Prince Charles, and will probably become the head of state of Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and 12 other countries, head of the Commonwealth and (less likely) Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Yet that is not the essence of the royal baby fever gripping the media: it is an intensely personal and human story too. The baby is a tiny infant, as we all once were, needing constant care and attention from his parents. His life will be a constant welter of emotion to family, friends – and himself. Because of the role he has inherited, this prince will live out his existence under the unforgiving public eye. This little child is born into an incredibly privileged family, with copious wealth and support, and may he grow up bringing out all he is capable of and drawing the best out of all who know him.

The hope and optimism attached to this life, this new person, is a symbol of what Pope John Paul II called the culture of life. Yet media and public sentiment contrasts starkly to the attitudes of parliamentarians the other side of the Irish Sea.

The death of Savita Halappanavar last October stirred up an impassioned but muddle-headed debate on abortion in Eire. Savita, who was 17-weeks pregnant, died in hospital because of a blood infection that remained undiagnosed for three days after her admission. An inquest into her death concluded overwhelmingly that had Savita had a termination of her child when she asked, it was still extremely unlikely that she would have survived.

Interest groups have long sought the liberalisation of Ireland’s abortion laws, which are amongst the most life-affirming in the world. As the British Catholic Voices blog noted in April, pro-abortion journalists and politicians were quick to jump on the bandwagon of Savita’s tragedy, prejudging wrongly the reasons for her death and calling for the lowering of the threshold circumstances in which a termination could occur:

If is indeed true that a termination could have saved Savita’s life, could it have taken place under Irish law? The answer is yes — if it were clear that the pregnancy osed a risk to the life of the mother. But in such cases it is not usually clear (until too late) that a pregnancy poses such a threat, and what determines a clinical decision at that point is not the law but best-interest judgements. You’d think, from what [some prochoice writers] claim, that mothers would often be dying in Ireland when abortions could have saved them. But the opposite is true. A higher percentage of women die in the UK from complications in childbirth than in Ireland. Savita’s death from septicaemia, a week after being admitted to hospital in her 17th week of pregnancy and apparently miscarrying, has elements of scandal — what has come to light is a series of oversights, miscommunications, and errors — but Irish abortion law is not one of them.

Instead, what grew out of Savita’s death was a proposal by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government to amend the laws controlling termination. After several months’ wrangling, the mis-named Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill was passed on 11 July. The Bill purports to authorise a termination if doctors deem that a woman is at risk of taking her life. What it actually does is create a law so feebly drafted that – like the supposed ‘safeguards’ in the UK’s Act in 1967 – it will, in practice, give greater freedom to unscrupulous and unthinking clinicians to sanction the ending of an unlived life.

The Protection of Life during Pregnancy Bill gives preference to the mother’s life which, at the end of the day, is correct. It is better one than none live in the case of ectopic pregnancies, for instance, where the mother will surely die if gestation continues and no surgical intervention currently exists to save the life of the child also. But the Bill should have made that clear on its face and, in any event, such protections exist already in Irish law.

As Catholic Voices pointed out, there was neither the need nor the appetite (outside the media-political elite in Dublin) for the Bill:

The proposed legislation is unnecessary, is probably unconstitutional, brings into discredit the entire Irish democratic process, and can hardly be justified on any grounds other than political reality, as Ireland’s Labour party, the junior partner in Ireland’s coalition government, is desperate to implement those aspects of its 2011 manifesto that won’t cost any money. But that doesn’t stop advocates of a change in the law advancing a number of tendentious arguments.

The change in the law is particularly unwanted among the Irish people. The numbers of Irish women who have travelled to the UK for termination have declined in real terms by 40% since 2001 and polls have consistently shown a majority in favour of the status quo ante or even tighter controls. Far, far more people turned up to demonstrate against the Bill than for it.

As the rest of the CV post explains, line-after-line, this is the product of the dreary thinking of the coalition government. Incredibly, Fine Gael, which had become the single largest party in the 2011 national elections for the Dail (the lower but principal chamber of the Irish parliament), had reassured voters it was opposed to the legalisation of abortion. Its coalition partners in the Labour Party demanded that a three-line whip should force TDs through the lobbies in support of the Bill, despite the convention that abortion is a conscience issues open to a free vote. Hats off to Lucinda Creighton, Fine Gael’s Europe Minister, who described parliamentarians as “coerced and cajoled into voting for legislation they clearly considered to be faulty and against their better judgment”.

Creighton voted with 30 others against the Bill, which was passed with 127 votes. She subsequently resigned her position and was later expelled from her party for voting against specific sections of the legislation.

The Bill has moved from the assembly to the Senate but it is unlikely to be defeated there. Thus, as the world waits expectantly for a prince to appear and be named in London, in Dublin the heavy pall of death hangs low in the air.


Peter Smith is a lawyer in London. He has previously worked for a Conservative Member of Parliament, and has written for and The Commentator.

Tweets are Speech, Too

Why Teen’s Arrest for “Terror Tweet” was Unconstitutional

by Evan Bernick:

Apparently, police are not so busy with violent crimes that they don’t have the time and resources to arrest teenagers for staying stupid things on the internet.

Arrested for Tweeting

They might want to consider using their spare time to brush up on First Amendment law.  Maybe they wouldn’t have arrested a 15-year old Twitter user for exercising his constitutional rights.

To be sure, the high school old sophomore (call him “Mark”) did say something stupid. Prior to the release of the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, Mark tweeted, “If Zimmmerman free imma shoot everybody in Zion causing a mass homicide, and ill get away wit it just like Zimmerman.”  Shortly afterwards, he deleted the tweet and backed off from his comments in the face of harsh criticism from other Twitter users.  Mark’s efforts to defend himself reflect surprise about the intensity of the response. At one point, he asked, “Why you takin it serious?” in response to users who continued to attack him.

Although Mark did not take his tweet seriously, others did.  Screenshots were taken, and one user, considering Mark’s comments to be a “serious terror tweet,” informed Mark that he would report it to the authorities: “The punishment that awaits you will be a serious lesson.” Eventually, officers from the Zion Police Department appeared at his home and took him to the station.  He was let go after being cited for disorderly conduct.

Given the divisive nature of the Zimmerman case and the very real threat of violence in the wake of the verdict, the police were right to investigate the tweet. However, once they determined that the threat had no credibility and that he had neither weapons nor access to weapons, the police should have let the no-doubt terrified kid go with a firm warning.  Instead, they let him go with a citation for disorderly conduct, which will remain on his record.

Simply put, Mark’s comments were constitutionally protected speech, and should have been treated as such.  Under Brandenburg v. Ohio, speech must be directed to inciting and likely to incite imminent lawless action before the government can suppress it.  There is no conceivable way that Mark’s tweet can be made to fit that description.  To charge Mark with “disorderly conduct” is thus to punish him for exercising his First Amendment rights.

Mark’s arrest is part of a disturbing trend of heavy-handed police intervention in response to comments made on social media.  Recently, a Texas teen was charged with making a “terroristic threat” while playing an online video game—even though he followed his statements up with “LOL” and “j/k.”  Over the course of the three months he’s spent awaiting trial, he’s been viciously beaten while locked up with people who are actually dangerous and violent, and is on suicide watch.

Exactly what lesson he’ll learn from this is unclear.  Certainly he won’t be educated about the scope of the First Amendment, which the Brandenburg Court found to be broad enough to protect Ku Klux Klan members who videotaped themselves loading guns and threatening to march on Washington.

If they’re going to arrest and charge teenagers with crimes whenever they say stupid things, police may not have time to do much else.  They’ll also be trampling upon the constitutional rights of individuals to express themselves in ways that –the opinion of Twitter twerps notwithstanding– can’t reasonably be considered “serious.”


Evan Bernick is a Legal Associate at a DC think tank and a Legal Fellow with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. He blogs daily on his own website, The Benevolent Objectivist. The views expressed in this article are entirely his own.

Come Bearing Gifts: Principled Prudence for Conservative Christians in American Politics

by Matthew P. Cavedon:

Less than a month after a military coup saw Egypt’s government arrested for the crime of being too religious, it was interesting to read Tim Reuter and Josh Carlson’s ongoing debate over the future of conservative Christians in American politics. Tim is right that conservative Christians need a serious dose of perspective, and Josh correctly sees that Christians ought to remain somehow involved in politics. But both focus almost exclusively on the welfare of Christians. Because they fail to consider society’s needs, too, their arguments ring hollow. Christian insight into the nature and destiny of the human person is an important contribution to the political pursuit of justice.

Joseph in EgyptTim fears for the loss of Christian cultural influence due to political grandstanding, and Josh wants to make sure Christians maintain some power so they are not crushed under it. So much for what’s good for Christians, but what about society? Christians cannot think only of themselves when deciding how to approach politics. They need to think about the gifts that they can bring to the societies they live in, including the political ones.

The state is a moral agent in society, despite Tim’s insistence to the contrary. It is capable of making it easier for people to be good, as the federal government did by enacting laws against racial discrimination. And it is capable of encouraging or committing evil, as the federal government does when it wages unjust wars or allows the taking of innocent life. Tim is right to think that politics grow out of culture, but surely political decisions help shape culture, too. Society benefits when the state uses its power responsibly, and it suffers when the state does not.

Society needs politically-active Christians because they hold moral insights that can help the state use power responsibly. Christians believe in human dignity, holding that every person is made in God’s image and is headed for a rendezvous with him at life’s end. This belief has consequences for society, as Christians have demonstrated in helping to lead many of the West’s great social reform efforts: separating powers, tolerating religious difference, abolishing slavery, enfranchising women, protesting wartime injustice, integrating people of different races, protecting human life from conception to natural death, ending human trafficking. The Christian mission may aim beyond the political realm, and perhaps the highest political priority for the believer is securing basic religious liberty. But Josh is right—Christian morality, with its beliefs about human beings, is concerned with all of what affects human dignity. Politics included.

As Tim and Josh both acknowledged without fully considering it, Christians can help be society’s conscience, given their religious commitments to dignity, liberty, peace, and justice. Insights into these matters are what inspire citizens to be politically active, and what society needs driving its politics. Christians have to be politically active alongside other citizens, for the sake of the common good.

That does not mean “the Christian Right” has it, well, right. Christian morality does extend to politics, but not all of politics extends to Christian morality. When Christians say God will provide a miracle to end Obamacare (not the contraception mandate, mind you, but the whole thing), or as Tim points out, paint support for Israeli defense policies as “God’s foreign policy,” they wrongly try to turn prudential calculations into doctrinal absolutes. Nor does all of Christian morality qualify for political enactment. If conservative Christians grant that the state cannot make citizens fulfill their first duty to God by believing in him, then why do so many try to outlaw every sexual sin?

But how can Christians contribute to political justice without making it the end-all be-all? Perspective. Christians need to know when they have special insight from their beliefs about the human person, when they don’t, and what issues are beyond the competence of politics. For some issues, “ultimate anthropology” won’t make much of a difference. Marginal tax rates and transportation subsidies, among other exercises in the mundane, come to mind: every Christian citizen has the right debate these questions, of course, but the faith is not usually going to have anything particular to say about them, because they operate at a level very far from human dignity.

For other questions, like the death penalty and the right to basic welfare support, beliefs about human dignity are going to inform any citizen’s thinking. Why should Christians isolate themselves, shuffling off to the catacombs instead of bearing their gifts? These are issues where Christians hopefully (if not predictably) have moral fervor and certain love that will help them be part of society’s conscience. These are the sort of issues where Christian conviction has sometimes meant the difference between freedom and tyranny, peace and strife, and even life and death. Christians will have to choose wisely between wearing their faith on their sleeves and leavening the debate in more subtle ways, but they ought to find ways to contribute.

Finally, there are the issues beyond the state’s reach. These concern the choices made by conscience, the acts committed privately and consensually by adults, and the beliefs held in the heart, professed with the lips. As far as spreading right teaching about these is concerned, politics is a dull yet remarkably offensive instrument, unworthy of the message.

The ideal solution can be found back in Egypt, where this post began. When God called Joseph to go and be its prime minister ages ago, Joseph made the reasonable grain storage provisions that any prudent statesman would have, thereby preventing starvation. He discerned from his faith that freely sharing the grain with all—even his brothers, who had sold him into slavery—would honor human dignity, and one imagines Egypt grateful. And he never sought to use his political position to impose Judaism or its comprehensive law on his subjects, beyond whatever fear of God his virtues might inspire.

This is something more than what Tim has in mind for Christian Americans. It is not the kind of total transformation that the Christian Right envisions. But it is the principled, prudent path of contributing responsibly to the common good to which Christians ought to keep.


Matthew Cavedon is a graduate of Harvard University. He is currently pursuing a dual degree in both law and theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

A Poisoned Chalice: Christianity and Political Power

by Tim Reuter:

On December 9, 1931 a democratic government of republicans and socialists passed a liberal constitution to modernize their country. Religion, seen as causing stagnation, was a primary target. The document proclaimed a total separation of church and state, legalized divorce, banned clergy from teaching children, and governed church property.

Christians Marching

Source: Kathleen Hunker

The further purging of religion from schools and hospitals enraged political opponents and their traditionalist supporters. But, these men did not resort to protests and voting. They chose years of insurrection before turning to open war on July 17, 1936. The war cost 600,000 lives and suppressed republicanism for thirty-six years. The conflict was, of course, the Spanish Civil War, and the victors were Francisco Franco and the fascists.

Mr. Carlson makes his stand for the involvement of Christian conservatives in government in two ways. First, he invokes the fear of malevolent elites. Leaving politics “could mean surrendering power to elites who do not care for these [Christian] morals in the first place.” He cites several Supreme Court cases to demonstrate the de-Christianization of the public square came in possible defiance of public opinion.

Mr. Carlson’s second, and deeper, charge is suggesting the government will harass peaceable practitioners of their beliefs, or coerce obedience. “How can the Christian Right regain their moral legitimacy when they are being legally sanctioned from doing so?” He cites the misbehavior of the IRS and government pressure on Christian owned businesses to cover morning after pills, per Obamacare, as proof of willful infringement on individuals’ right of conscience.

But, implicit in Mr. Carlson’s argument is a problematic premise. He assumes antagonism between the elite controlled state and the masses bolstered church. When mixed with religious dogmatism this view leads to a dangerous conclusion. Politics is viewed as the best way to preserve or restore Christianity in America.

Is his seminal essay “Politics as a Vocation”, German sociologist Max Weber defined politics as the art of compromise and deal making predicated on weighing social benefits against costs. The politician must unite “ultimate ends” with “an ethic of responsibility” to make necessary deals in order to shape policy. This need for flexibility, or ends justify the means, should rule out ideologues beholden to one conviction via self-selection.

By Weber’s definition, evangelicals are ill suited to direct the state. Within any religion believers ascribe to certain dogma. But in Christianity, doctrine is definitional. Fierce theological debates do not usually move the already committed. For example, evangelicals do not sacrifice or moderate Sola Scriptura to improve relations with Catholics. Such fierce intellectual combat is important for clarifying who stands where and why on matters of eternal life and death, but is not a recipe for good government.

Those seeking proof should consider evangelicals who meld Biblical inerrancy with public policy. In reaction to presumed hostile elites, advocacy for right of conscience has gone beyond defense. It now demands remaking society by restoring America to its founding as a Christian nation based upon Biblical precepts. And given present society’s depravity, Biblical inerrancy has extended beyond entering Heaven to encompass everything on Earth. The results are embarrassing.

Evangelical politicians look foolish when they declare science a matter of opinion, such as proclaiming a woman’s body can shutdown an unwanted pregnancy if raped. They reek of hypocrisy by enthusiastically supporting a war waged by a co-religionist, see Iraq in 2003-2004. They appear fascistic when party dissenters are called treasonous and purged for not toeing the party line: just witness a Republican primary. Yet, those disturbing standards of ideological purity in politics mirror the doctrinal orthodoxy that is required of a devout believer.

But even if one grants the validity of Mr. Carlson’s claim that elites seek national de-Christianization, electing Christian conservatives to government will change little. Flexibility and deal making are the original sins of governance. Dogmatism has its uses for intellectual demarcation and group cohesion. But regarding policy, one must “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

Evangelicals seek to “reclaim America for Christ” out of fear. They look at how far Europe has fallen and see America’s future unless they act. While honorable, this belief is mistaken. Eighty years ago, Hilaire Belloc saw into the heart of Europe’s self-destruction. The crisis of the 20th Century stemmed not from materialism, nationalism, or any other ism. These were by-products of a loss of faith among individuals.

“Western Europe has progressively lost its religion, and especially that united religious doctrine permeating the whole community, which unity gives spiritual strength to that community…As nations we worship ourselves, we worship the nation; or we worship (some few of us) a particular economic arrangement…”

The church failed. Lost amidst the whirlwind of modernity, it no longer gave men reason to believe and they sought other gods. Most tragically, Christendom was not rebuilt after its ruin in the world wars. Centuries of culture, community, and continuity yielded to artificial constructs of transnationalism, multiculturalism, and aimless secularism. These idols promised peace, and delivered Europe to spiritual death.

Indeed, it is not evil elites who will bring Europe’s secular fate to American shores. It is the Religious Right. So long as Christian conservatives desire political power to recapture a lost golden age, they are of the world. The Religious Right imagines it is calling men to repent. It should begin within, and turn from the corruptions of power.

The state is not, and must never become, a moral agent. Those experiments end in horror. But if one grants Mr. Carlson’s point about attacks on Christianity, then Hilaire Belloc is again worth quoting. “If I be asked what sign we may look for to show that the advance of the Faith is at hand, I would answer by a word the modern world has forgotten: Persecution. When that shall once more be at work it will be morning.”


Tim Reuter is a researcher at a Washington DC think thank.

The Myriad Decision: Affirming Human Dignity in Patents, with a Word of Caution

by Josh Carlson:

The Myriad decision, a.k.a. the DNA Patent Case, is a victory for human dignity. It reaffirms self-ownership and discourages incentives to experiment with embryonic stem cell research.

June has been a bit of a rough month for conservatives in light of some of the Supreme Court’s decision(s).  However, as dark as things seem, there are some reasons to not be totally discouraged.

DNA Strand For example, in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., the Supreme Court dealt with the (perhaps not-so-difficult) question of whether natural DNA was patentable subject matter.  In holding that natural DNA could not be patented, the Supreme Court again affirmed the basic premise of § 101 the U.S. Patent code, which is that “[l]aws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable.”

By holding this, the Supreme Court, knowingly or not, ended up affirming human dignity in at least two ways.  The first way is that this (theoretically) makes screening for this particular gene less costly and thus much more accessible to the general public.  The second way is that a person’s DNA cannot be turned into a commodity for the marketplace, something which also relates to the hot topic issue of embryonic stem cell research

The first reason can easily be seen.  For example, recently, Angelina Jolie had a double mastectomy because she found out she had the gene—the very gene in debate in Myriad—that made it far more likely that she would get breast cancer.  While I am not saying that one should necessarily go that route, nonetheless, it does empower people by letting them plan ahead instead having to adjust on a moment’s notice.  More simply, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

The second reason is a bit more subtle, but it is a logical one.  If one is able to patent a person’s DNA purely by being able to isolate it, then a person’s DNA can be owned by someone else.  This leads to the very uncomfortable implication that a person can be, to some extent, owned by another.

Obviously, it is arguable that the 13th Amendment would prevent this danger from occurring in the first place.  Even so, the principle that mere discovery of things of nature not being patentable helps reinforce the purpose of the 13th Amendment.  As one U.S. Representative pointed out, the ruling “confirms that people — not private companies — own their genes.”

Furthermore, while I am no expert in the field of genetics or of science in general, the Myriad decision may affect the hot topic of embryonic stem cell research.  One reason for the continued support of embryonic stem cell research, despite its many failures, is money, or more accurately, the worship of money.  According to my research, embryonic stem cells, if successful in providing cures, could be patentable subject matter.  In contrast, adult stem cells, which have a good track record of providing cures, including growing a new windpipe, cannot be patented.  Thus, there is a monetary incentive to try and develop cures through embryonic stem cells and not adult stem cells.

However, the Myriad case has made it clear that merely isolating DNA cannot be patented because DNA is a product of nature.  Likewise, it makes sense that isolating an embryo cannot be patented either by the same rationale.  Even if one were to accept the idea that the embryo was not a distinct human being from the mother, but merely part of the woman’s body, there is less incentive to pursue embryonic stem cell research simply because that also is a product of nature.

I must, however, address one major caveat; this does not necessarily affect all areas of embryonic stem cell research.  Specifically, Myriad also held that synthetic DNA, (i.e. cDNA) is patentable.  There are many ways to get an embryonic stem cell, including simply harvesting embryonic stem cells from donors and cloning.  While donated embryonic stem cells may be affected by Myriad, cloned embryonic stem cells might still be patentable because there is an argument that cloned cells are created by people, not products of nature (I’m not saying this is correct, only that the argument is there).  Thus, there still is an incentive to pursue this (highly unethical and still unsuccessful) avenue of research.

Despite this caveat, the Myriad decision affirms human dignity and conservative values.  That is something to be glad about, even when things are down for conservatives.


Josh Carlson is a 2013 law school graduate from the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, MN.  He graduated from Bethel University in 2010 with a B.A. in Business and Political Science.  He is currently studying for the Minnesota Bar.