East German Women And Infanticide

The rate of infanticide in Germany varies widely between the regions of the former West Germany and East Germany. Der Spiegel reports that the issue has become a political hot potato, and that the suggestion by the governor of the formerly communist-run state Saxony-Anhalt that communism could be the cause has people demanding his resignation:

Wolfgang Böhmer, governor of the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, faces opposition calls to resign after he said women in the east had “a more casual approach to new life” than in the west.
Böhmer, who trained as a gynaecologist, was responding to research showing that the risk of a baby being killed by its mother is three to four times higher in the east than it is in the west of Germany.
Barely a month goes by in Germany without media reports of infanticide. One of the most shocking cases (more…) was that of Sabine Hilschinz, 42, from the eastern city of Frankfurt an der Oder, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2006 for killing eight of her babies. She is seeking to have the ruling overturned in an appeal that started this month.
“Statistics don’t necessarily imply a causal link,” Böhmer told the German newsmagazine Focus in an interview published on Monday. “But the accumulation cannot be denied. I think it can mainly be explained with a more casual approach to new life in eastern Germany.” In the German Democratic Republic abortion right up to the 12th week was allowed in 1972. The women took the decision on their own. Today, to obtain an abortion at that late stage, women are required to receive a professional consultation.

Bohmer blamed the “widespread fixation on the state” for cheapening human lives. It could also have been the actual application of communism by Soviet and East German leaders that contributed to that as well. Joseph Stalin killed millions through deliberate starvation, bloody purges, and internal fights; East Germany’s leaders had just as few scruples if lower body counts.
Communism as a system devalues the individual. It reduces their worth to simple calculations of productivity. By eliminated the foundations of liberty as an innate part of humanity as a vestige of the divine within us, Communism made the state divine instead, and the people within it merely producers. In that kind of oppressive system, the dispirited will see babies as little more that exo-fetuses.
The reaction to Bohmer shows that Germany still has unification issues almost two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The forty-five year split of the country created very different cultures across the divide, and it left the Germans in the East poor, defensive, and wary. If Bohmer faces this much grief over pointing out the obvious cultural effects of Communism even with this evidence in support, then the country may need another generation to fully heal.

Abortions Down 25% Since 1990

Fewer women choose abortions, and those that do increasingly use morning-after medication to accomplish it, according to a new study from a pro-abortion group. The rate of all abortions continues to drop, and has now reached its lowest level since 1990:

A comprehensive study of abortion in America underscores a striking change in the landscape, with ever-fewer pregnant women choosing abortion and those who do increasingly opting to avoid surgical clinics.
The number of abortions has plunged to 1.2 million a year, down 25% since peaking in 1990, according to a report released today — days before the 35th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.
In the early 1980s, nearly 1 in 3 pregnant women chose abortion. The most recent data show that proportion is closer to 1 in 5.
“That’s a significant drop, and it’s encouraging,” said Randall K. O’Bannon, director of education and research for the antiabortion group National Right to Life.

The study indicates that the drop does not come from any increase in restrictions on access to abortion, but from a change in “socio-cultural mores” that disfavor abortion as an option. As an example, two states that have traditionally provided fairly easy access and plenty of cultural support for abortion had the largest declines in the procedure. Abortion rates in California and Oregon dropped 13% and 25% respectively, the latter being the biggest drop in the nation.
At one point, the abortion rate in the US had one in three pregnancies terminated. Now we’re at one in five. That’s progress, and it’s the kind of progress that a new focus on education as opposed to litigation has achieved. Rather than focus on legal barriers to abortion, which have failed on the Roe foundation, pro-life groups have put more focus on counseling and outreach, and it seems to have had an effect.
We still have a long way to go, even to meet the standard professed by pro-abortion politicians that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”. It’s not rare when 1.2 million babies are aborted every year. For a longer explanation of my position on abortion, see this post.

The End Of hEsc?

A new breakthrough in stem-cell research has allowed two independent teams of researchers to generate pluripotent stem cells from normal human skin. Both teams tested their slightly different processes and grew many varieties of human tissue from their stem cell colonies, a success that may transform the stem-cell debate — or end it permanently:

Researchers in Wisconsin and Japan have turned ordinary human skin cells into what are effectively human embryonic stem cells without using embryos or women’s eggs — the two hitherto essential ingredients that have embroiled the medically promising field in a long political and ethical debate.
The unencumbered ability to turn adult cells into embryonic ones capable of morphing into virtually every kind of cell or tissue, described in two scientific journal articles to be released today, has been the ultimate goal of researchers for years. In theory, it would allow people to grow personalized replacement parts for their bodies from a few of their own skin cells, while giving researchers a uniquely powerful means of understanding and treating diseases.
Until now only human egg cells and embryos, both difficult to obtain and laden with legal and ethical issues, had the mysterious power to turn ordinary cells into stem cells. And until this summer, the challenge of mimicking that process in the lab seemed almost insurmountable, leading many to wonder if stem cell research would ever wrest free of its political baggage.
As news of the success by two different research teams spread by e-mail, scientists seemed almost giddy at the likelihood that their field, which for its entire life has been at the center of so much debate, may suddenly become like other areas of biomedical science: appreciated, eligible for federal funding and wide open for new waves of discovery.

If this works — and the independent testing almost assures that it will — it will put an end to calls for federal funding of human embryonic stem cells (hEsc). Although no therapies have ever been derived from hEsc research, while adult stem cells have proven much more usable, funding for hEsc remained a constant battle on the federal level. Advocates warned of needless deaths from a lack of research based on the pluripotency of hEsc, while opponents found the notion of using up embryos for destructive research repellent.
Now both sides will have what they want. Researchers can grow all of the pluripotent cells they need without destroying embryos. Unlike hEsc tissues, these will have the identical genetic fingerprints of the patients who will benefit from them — eliminating the need for costly and debilitating immune suppression medication.
The work of Thomson and Yamanaka will not just advance the cause of science, it will remind people that science and human ethics do not have to oppose each other. We do not need to destroy some lives to save others in science, and any science that proposes such a trade should receive the highest degree of skepticism. The likelihood of discovering new science that renders those propositions moot is always high, and as Yamanaka and Thomson discovered, all it takes is patience and a little hard work.

Democrats Getting Into Life?

Democrats have long tried to eat into the Republican grip on voters of faith, and now that they have control of Congress, they may have hit on a formula that works. Instead of their normal absolutist position on abortion rights, the Democrats have offered two bills that work to support women who choose to have their babies. Some Republicans are calling foul, however:

Sensing an opportunity to impress religious voters — and tip elections — Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail have begun to adopt some of the language and policy goals of the antiabortion movement.
For years, the liberal response to abortion has been to promote more accessible and affordable birth control as well as detailed sex education in public schools.
That’s still the foundation of Democratic policies. But in a striking shift, Democrats in the House last week promoted a grab bag of programs designed not only to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also to encourage women who do conceive to carry to term.
The new approach embraces some measures long sought by antiabortion activists. It’s designed to appeal to the broad centrist bloc of voters who don’t want to criminalize every abortion — yet are troubled by a culture that accepts 1.3 million terminations a year.

The Democrats may have discovered a middle ground on abortion, one that has been rumored to exist but few have seen. They have taken a few steps towards the middle with the Reducing the Need for Abortions Initiative, attempting to recast government services away from incentivizing abortions. It uses the same big government approach that once funded abortions, but now counsels women on the adoption option, home nurses for pregnant women choosing to have their babies, and even federal day care for those who keep the children themselves.
Republicans such as Mike Pence sense clouds in all this silver lining, however. Noting that Planned Parenthood would garner substantial new funding from these programs, Pence says that sending federal monies to the nation’s largest provider of abortions in the name of reducing abortions makes no sense at all. Traditional pro-choicers see issues in the new approach as well; New York’s Rep. Louise Slaughter argues, women don’t have abortions because they can’t afford day care.
This new, moderate approach will not win over the entire pro-life caucus, and for good reason — it doesn’t do anything to impede abortions. Democrats still refuse to mandate a review of ultrasounds before an abortion, which pro-lifers insist will reduce the number of abortions. It also seems more than a little like a stalking-horse for government-run medical care.
However, it will provide some hope of saving some children from the abortionist’s vacuum pump, and that means that some in the pro-life movement may find themselves swayed by these efforts. Primarily, that will be the pro-lifers who have less investment in the rest of the Republican platform. While that number may be small, it won’t take much to boost Democrats in these days of razor-thin margins in state and federal elections.
It’s a smart move by Democrats, and as they turn away from their knee-jerk endorsement of abortion, we should applaud the change. However, it really shows how much Republicans have resonated on this issue, and how bad being associated with over 40 million abortions has become for the Democrats.

Frankenfood Bad, Frankenstein Good

The scientific demands for embryonic stem-cell research just took a disturbing turn in Britain. The UK has given its approval to license researchers to create “cybrids”, a mix of human genetics into animal egg cells in order to study stem cell development. Over at Heading Right, I look into the dichotomy of a Europe that has hysterically blocked genetic manipulations in grain production, but apparently has no such qualms about human embryos.
At some point, a line must be drawn on the manipulation of human beings for scientific progress that never seems to arrive. Those who advocate expanded hEsc research still have no progress to show for it, while adult and umbilical stem cells have generated many therapies. If hEsc has to go so low as to start blending humans into cybrids to pursue success, we should ensure that no government funds ever go towards that research in the US.

A Cynical Attempt To Harvest Votes?

EJ Dionne reflects on the meaning of Rudy Giuliani’s decision to speak plainly about his support for abortion rights and what it means for the Republican Party. Instead of acknowledging that his front-runner status despite his well-known pro-choice views demonstrates a larger tent than the media usually credits the GOP for having, Dionne argues that it reveals a cynical reliance on pro-life emotions to harvest votes:

Giuliani will also test the seriousness of those who claim that abortion is the decisive issue in the political choices they make.
Will conservative Catholic bishops and intellectuals, along with evangelical preachers and political entrepreneurs, be as tough on Giuliani as they were on John Kerry in the 2004 presidential campaign? If they are not, how will they defend themselves against charges of partisan or ideological hypocrisy?
Republicans in power have done remarkably little to live up to their promises to antiabortion voters. Yes, President Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, and the two justices Bush appointed to the Supreme Court joined the 5 to 4 majority to uphold it. But all third-trimester abortions combined account for less than 1 percent of abortions.
Republicans are steadfast against using public money to pay for abortions. That leaves abortions available to better-off women who can afford them and who often vote Republican. It limits access only for low-income women, who rarely vote Republican.
What Republicans have stopped pushing, or even talking much about, is a constitutional amendment to repeal Roe v. Wade, the landmark case legalizing abortion. They prefer gauzy language that sends soothing messages to pro-lifers without upsetting voters who favor abortion rights.

It’s probably best to take these arguments one at a time. First, Giuliani has not tried to use his Catholicism as a campaign point. Kerry made quite a show of attending Mass as part of his presidential campaigning in 2004, and he was not alone in that, either; other pro-choicers like Nancy Pelosi did the same. The Church reacted to that by reminding them that support for abortion violated the basic tenets of Church teaching and put Kerry, Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, and others in danger of excommunication — a stand that Pope Benedict reiterated in Mexico earlier this month.
Kerry made his Catholicism an issue, and critics pointed out the hypocrisy. I doubt Giuliani will make that mistake, and up to now, he hasn’t.
It’s true that third-trimester abortions account for less than 1% of all abortions. It’s also true that the US has aborted over 44 million children in the past four decades, which means that we have aborted almost a half-million viable infants in the third trimester. That’s nothing to shrug off. Note also that the partial-birth abortion kills the child by delivering all but the head and then deliberately murdering it by sucking out its brain. Even its supporters couldn’t come up with a single objective reason to perform that procedure.
Republicans oppose public financing for abortions because we don’t believe that the federal government should be in the business of aborting babies. If it’s a choice, as abortion supporters keep reminding us, then let it remain a choice. It’s not a question of keeping abortion an option only for the rich, and that formulation is very disingenuous. And if Dionne believes that women of means who choose abortions routinely vote Republican, then I’d like to have a little of what he’s drinking today.
Republicans have stopped talking about a constitutional amendment because Republicans can count. Not only will it not happen, it won’t even come close. Further, Republicans have decided that what ails the Constitution isn’t a lack of amendments but judges who like to legislate from the bench. Eventually, Roe will get overturned not because a Supreme Court wants to make abortion illegal but because a Court will eventually have the intellectual honesty to admit that the decision amounts to an egregious and dangerous overreach by the judiciary. When that happens, abortion will still be legal — but the issue will return to the state legislatures, where it belonged in the first place.
Nothing Rudy has said or done in his public career conflicts with anything Dionne has mentioned in this column. It’s true that Rudy will face some strong opposition from single-issue voters — but the real story is that those have proven far fewer thus far than the media has credited.

A Reminder Of Depravity

Continuing rumors of ancient atrocities led German authorities to excavate a site that some thought contained the bodies of Nazi victims from World War II. This gossip proved all too accurate; they discovered a mass grave that the Nazis used to bury its youngest and most helpless victims:

Authorities in western Germany have found a mass grave containing 35 bodies, many of them of young children, and are checking whether they may have been victims of Hitler’s program of forced “euthanasia” that killed tens of thousands of people with physical and mental disabilities.
The search of the site in a cemetery in the town of Menden near Dortmund began last week after rumors and eyewitness testimony that the cemetery contained the bodies of Nazi victims.
Among the bodies found so far are 20 skeletons of children believed to have been aged between one and seven. Most of them were buried without coffins. Two of the children’s skulls show signs of possible physical disabilities. Some of the bodies were found in a war cemetery adjoining Menden’s Catholic cemetery.
“There’s a vague preliminary suspicion that they may be euthanasia cases,” said prosecutor Heiko Oltmanns of the Dortmund public prosecutors’ office.

The euthanasia program still haunts Germany, as this excavation proves, and for good reason. Over 70,000 children and handicapped adults met their deaths in the first two years of this gruesome government program that intended on producing a generation without defect. Tens of thousands more died during the war as the Nazis killed off the “undesirable” as resources grew more scarce. They didn’t even have the decency to bury their victims properly. The mass grave had bodies less than 70 cm below the surface.
Der Spiegel reports that Germany will conduct DNA testing to see if the nearby hospital and its doctors had any role in the euthanizing of these victims. If so, they promise criminal prosecution. It seems an empty threat more than 60 years after the murders. Even the candy-stripers or the German equivalent would be in their eighties now, and they would hardly have criminal responsibility for the atrocities unearthed in Menden.
Instead, it should serve as another stark reminder about the inevitable corruption that occurs when we give governments the power to decide which lives are worth living and which should end, regardless of whether any offense has occurred. That urge does not limit itself to tyrants, either.

Assisted Suicide: It’s Not Just For The Ill Anymore

Over the last decade, Americans have debated whether to legalize certain forms of assisted suicide. Proponents focus on the terminally ill, those people whose prognoses hold no hope whatsoever for recovery, pain-free living, and dignity in their last days. Opponents have warned of slippery slopes and speculated that social acceptance of the act would lead to expanded use.
The Times of London reports that Switzerland has proven the slippery-slope argument. Dignitas, a Swiss right-to-die organization, has announced that it will press legislators to allow the chronically depressed to choose assisted suicide as a permanent cure:

BRITONS suffering from depression could soon be legally helped to die in Switzerland if a test case in the country’s Supreme Court is successful next month.
Ludwig Minelli, the founder of Dignitas, the Zurich-based organisation that has helped 54 Britons to die, revealed yesterday that his group was seeking to overturn the Swiss law that allows them to assist only people with a terminal illness.
In his first visit to the country since setting up Dignitas, the lawyer blamed religion for stigmatising suicide, attacking this “stupid ecclesiastical superstition” and said that he believed assisted suicide should be open to everyone.
“We should see in principle suicide as a marvellous possibility given to human beings because they have a conscience . . . If you accept the idea of personal autonomy, you can’t make conditions that only terminally ill people should have this right,” he told a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton.
“We should accept generally the right of a human being to say, ‘Right, I would like to end my life’, without any pre-condition, as long as this person has capacity of discernment.”

Those of us who opposed assisted suicide for precisely this reason will soon get the opportunity to say “we told you so”. This organization wants to turn suicide into an industry, apparently akin to abortion. Just as with the gateway arguments about life-and-death decisions for killing a fetus led to laws and court decisions creating a right to abortion on demand for any reason, assisted suicide is now being cast as a “choice” that only “stupid ecclesiastical superstition” would oppose.
Human society developed limits on actions over millenia for reasons tied to the survival of the society. In the case of suicide, most civiliations understand this as a blow to the community, not just the family, and those “superstitions” existed to ensure that human life could sustain itself. At the heart of the issue, it springs from the value of human life and its sacred nature. When societies stopped believing in those concepts, life became just another commodity measured on its convenience to those around it.
The effort by Dignitas seems especially cruel. The chronically depressed need treatment, not an easy way to deliver what they often attempt without assistance. Freeing them from societal constraints against taking their own lives will certainly put a lot of money into the pockets of clinic owners. It will also allow men and women to end treatment that could eventually make them whole and healthy — or avoid trying treatment at all.
It would devalue humanity and human life to that of a throwaway consumer product.
We have been down this road before. Those of us who believe in the spiritual value of human life have predicted this development for some time. Eventually the limits our ancestors applied in their wisdom will disappear, and assisted suicides will start claiming hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands each year as we are scolded to respect a person’s “right to choose”. And then what happens? When the government keeps increasing health-care benefits to its citizens, when does it start to take the decision for “suicide” out of the hands of the chronically depressed and impose it upon them, using the excuse of non compus mentis?

South Dakota Bans Abortions

South Dakota’s Senate passed an abortion ban handily yesterday, 23-12, and sent both chambers into conference to hammer out a final version for Governor Mike Rounds to sign:

South Dakota moved closer to imposing some of the strictest limits on abortion in the nation, as the state Senate approved legislation that would ban it except when a woman’s life is in danger.
The bill, designed to wage a national legal fight about the legality of abortion, passed 23-12 Wednesday. It next returns to the state House, which has passed a different version.
The measure would make South Dakota the first state to ban abortion in nearly all circumstances. Doctors would face up to five years in prison for performing abortions unless a woman needed one to save her life.

The primary aim of this bill isn’t to outlaw abortions — it’s to challenge the Supreme Court on Roe v Wade by presenting them with such a law so clearly at odds with the original decision that the court will have to explicitly review the ruling. Other states have passed restrictions based on age and consent that have allowed the court over the past several years to nibble at the edges of Roe without having to face it honestly.
And in all honesty, Roe was bad jurisprudence, no matter what one thinks of the outcome. The reasoning behind Roe allows any Supreme Court at any time to declare anything unconstitutional, as long as five jurists can find an emanation from a penumbra of a out-of-context piece of text that may or may not have anything to do with the issue at hand. It certified a procedure that should have a fancy name in Latin, but it would nonetheless mean “making it up as we go along”. Without a doubt, the South Dakota legislature would not have attempted to do this ten years ago with the composition of the Supreme Court at that time, but now they feel they have as receptive a panel as they are likely to ever have.
They may find themselves disappointed. John Roberts and Samuel Alito may indeed vote to strike down Roe, but it’s no sure thing. Both men, especially Roberts, gave strong respect to stare decisis, and the courts have provided plenty of reaffirmation of Roe afterwards. In passing a ban that doesn’t take into account rape and incest, the bill itself may give the court sufficient cover to reject it without delving too deeply into Roe. Perhaps the legislators thought those exceptions would prove too difficult to administer, but their exclusion gives another reason for the bill’s defeat.
What I find so interesting is how unpopular abortion has become in South Dakota. This is a state, after all, that elected Tom Daschle to a string of Senate terms until his obstructionism cost him the job. It also narrowly elected Democrat Tim Johnson to the other Senate seat in 2002. Yet the state Senate voted for the most restrictive abortion ban in decades by an almost 2-1 vote. It appears that the popularity of this procedure is waning, and that portends many such challenges in the future, even if this particular effort fails.

A Prosecutor’s Rebuttal

My posts on the Stanley Williams execution and my opposition to the death penalty has generated a number of comments and e-mails. One e-mail comes from a prosecutor who wrote such a good argument that it deserves a wider exposure, even though he disagrees with my position. I suspect it speaks for a number of CQ readers.
I’m a big fan of yours, and I read your blog daily. As a prosecutor in Los Angeles, I appreciated your comments today regarding the disgusting glorification cum martyrdom of Tookie Williams, particularly as you are personally opposed to the death penalty.
I’m not a good enough theologian to even try to convince you of the moral propriety of the death penalty, but I would like to take a stab at the LWOP argument. It seems to me that it isn’t enough to say that the people of California could have simply chosen to keep a killer like Tookie locked up forever. Getting rid of the death penalty means that we have to also consider the foreseeable consequences of guaranteeing criminals that they can kill as many innocent people as they want, for whatever reason at all, without even facing the theoretical possibility of placing their own lives at risk.
A few examples to make my point: Suppose we have a career criminal with a long record of violent felonies, what we in California would call a “three-striker”, who knows that he will be sent to prison for the rest of his life if he is ever caught committing a new offense. When he goes to rob the local convenience store, he doesn’t want to hurt anyone – he just wants the money. But he also knows that, as there is no death penalty, he will face the exact same punishment (life imprisonment) whether or not he kills the clerk, the only witness to his crime. He would be a fool not to do so. If he happens to bump into a police officer on the way out, he may as well kill him too – there is no extra charge, so to speak.
If we somehow manage to catch the “three-striker” and place him on trial, it will be in his best interest to sabatoge his own trial by killling witnesses, jurors, prosecutors or judges. After all, if we can’t convict him, he goes free. (Remember that scene from the movie Traffic, where the druglord walks?) And even if we manage to successfully prosecute him for one of these new murders, he will still only face the same life sentence that he was sure to get in the first place.
If we do manage to put a murderer like Tookie away for life, he can then kill anyone he wants to – inside or out of prison – with complete impunity. What are we going to do to him – give him two life terms? In California, we presently have something like 30,000 inmates serving life terms (29,999 as of 12:01 AM!) Most of them have little or no prospect of ever being paroled. I would not like to be there on the day that they are told that they have been given a license to kill.
In short, we can be unreasonably tolerant in granting appeals and delays which put off the actual day of reckoning for decades or more (in California, were looking at about a 25-year process), but I cannot see how we can get rid of capital punishment altogether without creating powerful incentives for criminals to commit murders that they would otherwise not do. I would not want to be the legislator who had to explain to a prison guard’s widow that we knew that we had created a system of justice that refused to set any punishment for the lifer inmate who killed her husband. I take these situations, where potential killers are facing or already serving life sentences, to be the “rare or practically non-existent” cases for which the Catholic Catechism permits the use of the death penalty.
CQ reader Jeff Norris also sends this link by e-mail from The Atlantic Monthly, which covers a Brookings Institute study that surprisingly finds that each execution deters eighteen potential murders:

Support for capital punishment is, of course, usually associated with the political right. But the lead author of a new paper making what might be termed the “big government” case for the death penalty is the noted liberal scholar Cass Sunstein. The paper draws in part on a study conducted at Emory University, which found a direct association between the reauthorization of the death penalty, in 1977, and reduced homicide rates. The Emory researchers’ “conservative estimate” was that on average, every execution deters eighteen murders. Sunstein and his co-author argue that this calculus makes the death penalty not just morally licit but morally required. A government that fails to make use of it, they write, is effectively condemning large numbers of its citizens to death—a sin of omission like failing to protect the environment or to provide adequate health care. “If each execution is saving many lives,” they conclude, “the harms of capital punishment would have to be very great to justify its abolition, far greater than most critics have heretofore alleged.”