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Abortion, Contraception, and Stem Cells

Of all the moral areas this is perhaps the most complicated and most difficult. It is probably safe to say that this area is the last thing keeping many Republicans from voting Democrat. Many people agree with the Democrats in every other moral area on this website but have held themselves back from voting Democrat because they perceive Democrats to be on the wrong side on this one issue. Therefore, those of us who care about being moral Americans and yet vote Democrat would like to concede a point before beginning a discussion of abortion. It is that Democrats do indeed attract those who support the abortion and its industry (yes it is a multi-billion dollar industry).

That being said, lets now be honest with each other and deal with some other ugly truths. Republicans attract unseemly groups too. They attract the KKK and all racists. They attract those who chain themselves to and bomb abortion clinics. They attract warmongers and those who support the war industry (and it also is an industry much larger than the abortion industry). It attracts those who want to abuse animals and the environment in the name of profit. It attracts those who love money more than morality. Indeed the Republican party, as it claims, is a "big tent."

Now, a better question to ask is why the Democrats attract the pro-abortionists? The answer is simple. Because Democrats are perceived to believe in freedom of thought, freedom of belief, and freedom of speech. Democrats and known to champion civil rights and the rights to live your life the way you want to live it. Republicans have a reputation for being restrictive regarding these rights and using the government as a means to force people into behaving in line with one narrow moral view of the world. If people begin to feel that a particular religious perspective (not their own) is dominating legislative decisions, then they tend to move to the Democratic side.

If you think the issue is clearly cut down party lines, it may turn your head to look at a few websites. The first is "Republicans for Choice" which you can find at http://www.republicansforchoice.com/ and the other is "Democrats for Life" at http://www.democratsforlife.org/. Yes, there are people in both parties on both sides of the issue.

Now, to the actual issue of abortion. Most Americans are not completely on one side or the other regarding this issue. Most Americans do not believe in abortion on demand in all cases during all nine months of pregnancy. Most Americans, on the other hand, do not believe that there should be no exceptions in anti-abortion legislation. Indeed, it is interesting to note that many Americans who believe exactly the same things call themselves different things. In other words, many that call themselves "pro-life" and others that call themselves "pro-choice" believe exactly the same thing! Why? Because those that call themselves "pro-life" focus on what they are not allowing and do not want to be perceived as allowing choice in all circumstances. And those who call themselves "pro-choice" focus on the exceptions and do not want to be perceived as unfeeling towards women or children who are victims of rape or incest. The truth is, most Americans believe these exceptions should exist in legislation. If you believe in any exceptions then you are "pro-choice" in that area. If you believe in any restrictions then you are "pro-life" in that area. The fact that the media has tried to force Americans to call themselves one or the other actually fuels the problem. It might be a surprise to some, because it was under-reported by the media, that many Democrats voted against the "partial-birth" abortion allowances in Congress. For example, Democratic Senators Joseph Biden and Daniel Patrick Moynahan both stated publicly that "partial-birth" abortion was nothing more than "infanticide." Strong language coming from a Democrat against abortion on demand.

What is more disturbing to Democrats is that there seems to be little concern by Republicans for victims of rape and incest or even the life or health of the mother. Those who believe in morality do not deny that the unborn child is alive. However, from time to time, people may be faced with the decision to choose between two lives. Unfortunately, Republicans often show little concern for women and girls, as if the unborn child suddenly precludes the value of the mothers life and health.

For example, in the recent legislation passed in South Dakota, there were no exceptions for rape or incest. Representative Hunt (representing the mostly Republican legislature) was blunt about why he and others took a hard line, "Providing protections in special circumstances, such as cases where children are raped, would have diluted the bill...." When John Ashcroft was a Senator, he pushed for a constitutional amendment that did not include any exceptions for the mother. His fanaticism lost him the next election as the state of Missouri elected Mel Carnahan, a man who died two weeks before the election and won anyway! But, the Bush administration decided to save Ashcroft by appointing him as U. S. Attorney General.

In spite of this, most churches in America including Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Mormons, United Church of Christ and many others (except for a narrow group of fundamentalists), have official statements allowing for abortion exceptions under certain circumstances. Some are more restrictive than others, but most of them are further to the left than the positions of the National Right to Life organization which is supported by the Republican Party.

If a point is to be made here, it is the point that fanaticism on either side of this issue doesn't serve American morality. It is the stand of this website that abortion under all circumstances or on demand is immoral. It is also the stand of this website that not creating legal exceptions for abortion in certain types of cases is also immoral. The question is, which party is more likely to care about all life, including that of the mother? We believe it is Democrat. But more importantly, is this the only important moral issue faced by Americans?

The question as to when life begins seems so important to some that they are ready to abandon all of their other morals to answer it. If you are a black and white thinker, you may believe that when that sperm and egg come together that suddenly the resulting zygote is entitled to all the rights of a living-breathing tax-paying American. The argument in favor of this line of thinking is that if you start differentiating between different degrees of "meaningful" life, that you will create a slippery slope that will lead to differentiating between old and young, blacks and whites, or sick and healthy. The fear is that we will begin to see some life as less meaningful as other types. Some have gone as far as to say that once that happens we justify the Nazis in saying Jews were less meaningful than Aryans and that they therefore had less of a "right to life" than others. This slippery slope argument just gets almost out of hand. We differentiate between different kinds of life all the time and it doesn't lead to genocide. Some people have admittedly fallen into the same trap in seeing the slippery slope going in the opposite direction, believing that if there is any time that one cannot choose to have an abortion that all reasons for abortion will eventually be thrown out.

Most Americans, however, see a moral middle ground and are actually tired of the slippery slope bickering. Admittedly this issue can be difficult and complex and religious feelings run high. But this should not be the only issue that holds you back from voting Democrat. American Catholics had a very tough time during the last election. The Vatican has been consistently pro-life all "life issues." They have been against the death penalty and also came out against the war in Iraq while remaining against abortion. If abortion was the thing holding many of them back in the previous elections, does that mean that electing warmongers that would lead the world into nuclear holocaust would be a better choice? Does it mean that feeding the hungry, healing the sick, helping the poor, protecting the environment, and all of the other moral issues on this website are simply not as important? Again, there is more than one moral issue.

In fact, regarding a woman's body, there are more. Contraception is one example. Many of the same people that are trying to ban abortion in all circumstances are the same people trying to legally preclude people from access to contraception. You may personally believe that the only purpose of sexual relations is to create children. But many believe that it is more than that. Democrats believe that in America, people have a right to believe and practice what they want about things like this. We have more churches than any other nation. Why? Because America gives you the right to believe what you want and have equal protection to do so. We do not believe in a state church. Republican house Majority Leader Tom Delay, stated that "women who take birth control pills" were one of the reasons why we had the Columbine shootings. Does that sound rational? This is another reason many pro-lifers vote Democrat.

Republicans throughout the U.S. are passing anti-contraception legislation because somehow, in their minds, allowing birth control promotes extra-marital sexual relations. But the truth is, it keeps these so-called promiscuous women from having to mother unwanted children. Are these the women that Republicans want to be mothers? Even when dealing with issues of Government sponsored health facilities, should only women who have money be able to have access to birth control? Or do we want to add to the generations of children born into poverty in the United States? You may personally believe that birth control is morally wrong, but it is also morally wrong to compel someone by force of law to practice your religion.

The question Democrats routinely ask is, why do so-called pro-life Republicans oppose abortion, but then also oppose all forms of family planning, contraception, adoption programs, child care programs, and other welfare programs? They seem to care about the life of the child before it is born, but then, suddenly, after birth, the child has suddenly lost its value.

Stem Cell Research

Another argument also comes into play regarding fertilized zygotes is stem-cell research. Republicans have also been fighting this method of potentially curing many diseases in the name of protecting us from the evils of genetics. They don't want us to play God, but could it be possible that God gave us this knowledge for a reason? It is not evil to understand the body or its functions.

Here is an overview of the problem created by the pro-life movement (thanks to religioustolerence.org):

A stem cell is a primitive type of cell that can be coaxed into developing into most of the 220 types of cells found in the human body (e.g. blood cells, heart cells, brain cells, etc). Some researchers regard them as offering the greatest potential for the alleviation of human suffering since the development of antibiotics. Over 100 million Americans and two billion other humans worldwide suffer from diseases that may eventually be treated more effectively with stem cells or even cured. These include heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

Stem cells can be extracted from very young human embryos -- typically from surplus frozen embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures at fertility clinics. A couple undergoing IVF is faced with four alternatives for their 16 or so surplus embryos:

1. Have them discarded.
2. Donate the embryos to another infertile couple in what is sometimes called "embryo adoption."
3. Donate the embryos for research.
4. Have the embryos preserved at very low temperatures.

There are very few parents willing to give their embryos to another couple for a variety of emotional reasons. There are very few couples willing to receive them for emotional reasons and because thawed embryos have such a low chance of starting a pregnancy. Preservation can be expensive. So most ask that they be discarded.

There are currently hundreds of thousands of surplus embryos in storage. One source estimated that there were 400,000 stored embryos by mid-2003. However, a minority of pro-lifers (please see the study at the following link for numbers by religion in support of stem cell research: http://www.religioustolerance.org/res_stem5.htm#camr) and a majority of pro-life organizations object to the use of embryos in research. They feel that a few-days-old embryo is a human person. Extracting its stem cells kills the embryo -- an act that they consider to be murder. Stem cells can now be grown in the laboratory, so (in a pinch) some research can be done using existing stem cells. No further harvesting needs to be made from embryos. However, existing stem cell lines are gradually degrading and will soon be useless for research.

Stem cells can also be extracted from adult tissue, without harm to the subject. Unfortunately, they are difficult to remove and are severely limited in quantity. There has been a consensus among researchers that adult stem cells are limited in usefulness -- that they can be used to produce only a few of the 220 types of cells in the human body. However, some evidence is emerging that indicates that adult cells may be more flexible than has previously been believed.

Research using embryo stem cells had been authorized in Britain, but was initially halted in the U.S. by President George W. Bush. He decided on 2001-AUG-9 to allow research to resume in government labs, but restricted researchers to use only 72 existing lines of stem cells. By 2003-MAY, most of these lines had become useless; some of the lines are genetically identical to others; only 11 remained available for research. By mid-2005, all were shown to be useless for research.

Research continues in U.S. private labs and in both government and private labs in the UK, Japan, France, Australia, and other countries.

Following former president Ronald Reagan's death due to Alzheimer's in 2004-JUN -- a slow, lingering disease that took a decade to kill him -- Nancy Reagan and all of her family, except for Michael Reagan, mounted a campaign to encourage President Bush to relax restrictions on embryo stem cell research. Fifty-eight senators, almost all Democrats, sent a letter to President Bush, urging the same action.

A federal bill passed the House on 2005-MAY-24 to allow government funded research on embryonic stem cells extracted from surplus embryos in fertility clinics. After numerous stalls and filibusters, the Senate may pick it up in 2006. Regardless, President Bush has promised to veto it.

Final Words

The "aliveness" or the "meaning" of the life of human cells has been a hot button of debate between political parties for some time. Certainly there are fanatics in both parties regarding this issue. However, it is the belief of this website that voting Democrat will not sacrifice any moral objection you may continue to have regarding this issue. We believe there actually is consensus between most moral Americans who may call themselves pro-life or pro-choice. At the very least, you may be voting to support more kinds of life than you would voting Republican. You will support impoverished children, women, victims of rape and incest, and all of the other life supported by the other areas of morality on this website.

You might be surprised to know that Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic Leader in the U.S. Senate is pro-life. To understand how Democrats are the ones reaching out for common ground on this issue, we will end our discussion by presenting here a transcript of the introduction of a bill that Senator Reid introduced in the Senate in April of 2004:
Mr. REID: Mr. President, I introduce a bill on behalf of myself, Mr. Chafee, Mrs. Boxer, Mrs. Murray, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Corzine, and Mr. Lautenberg.

We are very fortunate to live in a democratic nation where we can express our opinions freely. That is what America is all about. We can attempt to influence the policies of our Government and even criticize them without fear of retaliation. We can debate important issues without fear of retaliation by anyone.

One of the most heated debates in the last two decades has been the issue of abortion. People on both sides of the issue feel extremely strong. They have argued, demonstrated, and protested with much emotion and passion. The issue is not going to go away soon. I doubt that one side will be able to suddenly convince the other to drop its deeply held beliefs.

However, there is a need and even an opportunity to find common ground. We can move toward a goal we all share, reducing the number of unintended pregnancies in America. It is possible. And it is necessary to come together and enact effective legislation to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the number of abortions performed in this country, and address the unmet health care needs of American women.

We can only find common ground by being honest with each other. We can find not only common ground but also common sense solutions in this legislation which I am introducing entitled ``Putting Prevention First.'' I am pleased that Senators Chafee, Boxer, Murray, Corzine and Lautenberg are joining me as cosponsors of this legislation.

The Putting Prevention First Act will help reduce the staggering rates of unintended pregnancies in America. It will reduce the rate of infection with sexually transmitted diseases, reduce the number of abortions, and improve access to health care for women.

Specifically, the Putting Prevention First Act will: No. 1, end insurance discrimination against women; No. 2, improve awareness and understanding of emergency contraception; No. 3, ensure that rape victims have information about emergency contraception and access to emergency contraception; No. 4, increase funding for the National Family Planning Program; No. 5, provide funding to allow States to implement a comprehensive approach to sexuality education that includes information about both abstinence and contraception; No. 6, expands teen pregnancy prevention programs; and, No. 7 allows States to expand Medicaid family planning services to low-income women without having to apply for a waiver from the Federal Government.

Nationwide, about one-half of all pregnancies are unintended and half of those end in abortion. This is not just a health problem; it is a public health tragedy. But it does not have to be this way. Most of the unintended pregnancies and resulting abortions can be prevented. We must work together to make that happen, we can find a common ground. One of the most important steps we can take to prevent unintended pregnancies is ensuring that American women have access to affordable, effective contraception.

I have been on national radio call-in shows and talked about legislation I have worked on with Senator Snowe for so many years to provide for contraceptive equity. One time, a woman called and said: I don't believe in contraception. Well, my simple answer to her was: Then don't use them. But don't prevent others who have different beliefs from having the ability to use these contraceptives.

Today, numerous forms of safe and highly effective contraception are available by prescription. If used correctly, they could greatly reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies. _One of the greatest obstacles to the use of prescription contraceptives by American women is their cost. Women are educated. They know that they work. They simply do not have the money.

Again, on a radio program, a woman called in and said: I have diabetes. I am pregnant. I didn't want to become pregnant. It is not good for me. She said: But my husband's insurance doesn't cover the pill.

It is amazing, but many insurance policies do not cover prescription contraceptives for women. But they do automatically cover tubal ligations, vasectomies, abortions, and other such things that are much more expensive than prescription contraception.

Now, we have made progress. Federal Employees have access to prescription contraception through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. But we shouldn't limit this benefit to just federal employees.

We know that women on average earn less than men, and yet they must pay far more than men for health-related expenses. According to the Women's Research and Education Institute, women of reproductive age pay 68 percent more in out-of-pocket costs for medical expenses than men, and, of course, that is largely due to their reproductive health care needs.

Because many women cannot afford the prescription contraceptives they would like to use, many go without. Far too often, this results in unintended pregnancies.

The high cost of prescription contraceptives is not just a problem for the millions of women without health insurance, but also for millions of American women who do have health insurance because many insurance plans that cover prescription drugs do not cover contraceptives. So women are forced to either do without contraceptives or pay for them out of pocket and, as I have given an example or two, many families simply cannot afford it. This is unfair to women and their families and it is a bad policy because it causes additional unintended pregnancies and adversely affects the health of women.__Since 1997, Senator Olympia Snowe and I have worked to remedy this problem. Today, as part of the Putting Prevention First Act, I am again proposing common-sense legislation that has received bipartisan support.

The Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act EPICC, as we call it requires insurance plans that cover prescription drugs to provide the same coverage for prescription contraceptives. We are not asking for special treatment, only equitable treatment within the context of an existing prescription drug benefit. This legislation is simply the fair thing to do for women.

And making contraception more affordable and more available will enable more women to use safe and effective means to prevent unintended pregnancies. As I said, it is a goal we all share.

Contraceptive coverage is much cheaper than other services, including, as I have said, abortions, sterilizations, and tubal ligations that insurance companies routinely cover. The Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, which has provided contraceptive coverage for several years because of an amendment offered on this floor, has proved that adding such coverage does not increase the cost of a plan.

This commonsense, cost-effective legislation is long overdue. Promoting equity in health insurance coverage for American women, while working to prevent unintended pregnancies and improve the health of women, is by any means the right thing to do.

We should also take additional steps that would improve access to women's health care for poor and low-income women. Public health programs such as Medicaid and title X provide high-quality family planning services and other preventive health care to underinsured or uninsured individuals. Yet these programs are struggling to meet the growing demand for subsidized family planning services without corresponding increases in funding.

The Putting Prevention First legislation would increase the authorization for title X, and it would allow States to expand Medicaid family planning services to women with incomes of up to 200 percent of the Federal poverty level without having to apply to the Federal Government for a waiver.

This commonsense approach has long been championed by Senator Lincoln Chafee. My friend and cosponsor of this legislation knows that contraceptive use saves scarce public health dollars. Every $1 spent on providing family planning services saves an estimated $3 in expenditures for pregnancy-related and newborn care for Medicaid alone. The Putting Prevention First Act would increase the awareness and availability of emergency contraception, an important yet poorly understood form of contraception. Approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, emergency contraception pills work to prevent pregnancy, and they cannot disrupt or interrupt an established pregnancy. The emergency contraception pills work to prevent pregnancy, not to interrupt and disrupt a pregnancy. The availability of emergency contraception is very important for women who survive a sexual assault.

I can remember a young woman who worked for me, a teenager. She came to me and said: Could I see you in your office?

I said: Sure. What is the matter?

She said: I was jumped.

She was driving through a part of town alone. Some people pulled her car over and they raped her. I sent her to another friend of mine who is an OB/GYN.

It is difficult to imagine the physical, psychological, and emotional pain endured by a woman who is raped. In addition to the violent attack, she must also worry about the possibility she could become pregnant.

The availability of emergency contraception is important for women who survive a sexual assault. A woman could use emergency contraception in an emergency, such as if she has been raped and doesn't want to become pregnant.

Compassion is a word we have heard a lot from political leaders in recent years. Actions speak louder than words. Surely it would be compassionate to make emergency contraception available to a woman who is raped so she doesn't become impregnated by the thug who brutalized and traumatized her.

The Putting Prevention First Act includes a provision that has been advocated by Senators Corzine and Murray. This provision would require hospitals receiving Federal health dollars to provide information about emergency contraception and make it available to sexual assault survivors who are treated in the emergency room. Simply put, emergency contraception should be made available in an emergency room.

Emergency contraception and emergency rooms go hand in hand. Women who are the victims of rape should be informed of all their options, including emergency contraception.

If they choose that option, it should be available to them right then.

Emergency contraception has been studied extensively and is regarded as a safe and effective method to prevent unintended pregnancies. Its use has been recommended by leading medical authorities, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. An FDA advisory panel has recommended emergency contraception be made available without a prescription. This could prevent 1.7 million unintended pregnancies and 800,000 abortions in America each year.

Unfortunately, however, emergency contraception remains for the most part a well-kept secret. Most of the women who would use this to prevent an unintended pregnancy are unaware of its existence, and they don't know it is available, if it is available. Even many health care providers do not understand what emergency contraception is, how it works, and who can use it.

To reduce unintended pregnancies by raising awareness about emergency contraception, the Putting Prevention First Act includes a provision championed by Senator Murray that will provide funding to develop and distribute information about emergency contraception to public health organizations, health care providers, and the public. I commend Senator Murray and appreciate her allowing me to include this in my legislation.

These are some of the simple but necessary steps we can and should take to prevent unintended pregnancies. We should embrace these measures to protect the health of American women, prevent unintended pregnancies, and reduce abortion. It is time to put prevention first.


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Links and Further Reading


Rethinking Abortion ( http://www.pupress.princeton.edu/titles/5842.html)

"In this extremely interesting and well-written book, Mark Graber maintains that the abortion debate has bogged down. He wants to try a new approach, one that is both pragmatic and, he hopes, likely to appeal to those Americans who, like him, believe that abortion is morally wrong, but should be legal."--Bonnie Steinbock, Ethics





Appendix

Note that "zygotic personhood" (the idea that a fertilized egg is a person) is a recent concept. For example, before 1869, the Catholic church believed that the embryo was not a person until it was 40 days old. (Aristotle agreed with this 40-day threshold.) Thus, the church did not believe a human had a soul until day 40. Pope Innocent III in 1211 determined that the time of ensoulment was anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks. This means that the Catholic church, for centuries, did not equate abortion with murder.