Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) - Congress needs to pass it, Obama needs to sign it

The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) has been languishing in committee, just like Bill the bill, for many years now. Under Bush and his cronies there was no chance it would pass, so shelved it has remained. Until now.

President Obama, as a senator from Illinois, co-sponsored the 2007 version of this bill, so he should be happy to sign it in 2009. Congress should re-introduce it. As soon as Franken is sworn in and all the other electoral disputes are resolved, Congress needs to pass it so Obama can sign it and end the abortion fight once and for all.

FOCA declares...
(a) Statement of Policy- It is the policy of the United States that every woman has the fundamental right to choose to bear a child, to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability, or to terminate a pregnancy after fetal viability when necessary to protect the life or health of the woman. (b) Prohibition of Interference- A government may not--

(1) deny or interfere with a woman's right to choose--

(A) to bear a child;

(B) to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability; or

(C) to terminate a pregnancy after viability where termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman; or

(2) discriminate against the exercise of the rights set forth in paragraph (1) in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.

(c) Civil Action- An individual aggrieved by a violation of this section may obtain appropriate relief (including relief against a government) in a civil action.
The point of a debate, after all, is to argue until a problem is solved. The point of a debate is not to keep arguing forever. The freedom of a human being to control their own body is as rock-solid fundamental to the concept of personal freedom as it is possible to be. If the government can tell you precisely how you may or may not use your internal organs, there is really not enough freedom left to bother using the word. This extends to the brain, by the way, and the ways an individual wishes to alter their consciousness... but that is another argument.

The general debate of abortion centers around the conflicting ideas of the fetus being 1) a human being or 2) not. By genetic identity every fetus is indeed a potential human being, but remains unformed until the processes of embryonic development guided by the placenta diminish enough relative to those guided internally by the fetus itself, and the creature can continue its development on its own (assuming food, water and care are sufficient and ongoing). Prior to that organizational point the fetus is an extension of the mother's body, not unlike a wart. But a wart can never think. At some point - and from that point on - a fetus thinks.

My position on abortion is more or less that of Carl Sagan, which he outlined in Demon-Haunted World. Basically you become human when your brain begins to create human-like patterns of sentient thought. Now, though it appears true that a continuum of cognitive ability separates the human mind from those of other animals, including our near genetic neighbors, the chimps, there remains a fairly abrupt transition in cognitive power when one moves from chimps to human beings. We are capable of self-referential thought that can model the causes and effects of events along an arbitrarily long timescale, while even our closest kin can only barely handle the concepts of "right now", "not right now" and "soon". We can count to arbitrarily high numbers, while chimps run into trouble not far past "one" and "many".

It should be possible to at least qualitatively define a suite of brain activity patterns uniquely characteristic of our species relative to our closest but only marginally sentient kin-species. That is the point where we become human, when the construction project of our developing brains reaches a sufficiently advanced level of completion that our awareness-processing abilities start to come online. Prior to that point we are not capable of sentient thought, past that point we are. Once we figure out when that normally happens to human feta (shouldn't that be the plural of fetus, instead of fetuses?), we're on solid scientific ground. We can establish that as the cutoff point, beyond which abortion is constrained. Sagan made the point that this cutoff works out to about the beginning of the third trimester, give or take.... which is already where most viability laws pick up.

Of course, to someone less interested in honest questions about what makes us who we are, and more interested in spreading the fatuous dogma that tiny immortal genies live inside fertilized cells, such arguments are wasted effort. The debate over abortion policy should ignore such delusional, lazy thinkers. Perhaps their own cognitive proximity to the lower limit of minimal sentience makes them nervous. No doubt that's it. In any case we cannot build public policy based on delusions. We have to build it based on rational thought and intellectual honesty.

In the meantime, we have to make sure that women aren't victimized by narrow-minded bigots, morons and fundamentalist zealots running some of our less ethically-evolved states and counties. FOCA needs to be passed now, so we can move on to deal with real threats to our free society... like domestic terrorists who murder doctors and bomb clinics.

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Comment by Planetologist on January 25, 2009 at 10:21am
I'm hoping exactly that will happen. Not necessarily the explosion of Rick Warren's tiny, tiny brain... but that would be an unexpected and applause-worthy outcome. I'm hoping that by passing FOCA the precedent will be finally established that reproductive rights are protected, and changing the law past that point would require taking away existing rights. As in the gay marriage debate in California, once a group pushes so far as to actually attempt the seizure and nullification of human rights, they trigger a disgusted backlash of epic proportions.

As a result of Prop 8 the Californian Attorney General and Supreme Court have basically realized that the entire ballot question was illegal to begin with, and Prop 8 will likely be nullified very soon. Barring a future 2/3 statewide vote to amend their constitution it will never again be possible to pass anything like Prop 8 in California. Gay marriage will stand there, forever.

I hope FOCA becomes a deciding and permanent resolution to the abortion debate in much the same way for the whole US. Then, the GOP really will be forced to argue, bald-faced in front of everybody and with nowhere to hide, that the party of Lincoln wants to take away human rights.

And yes, McCain made a complete ass of himself with that one comment... but abortion is an issue where he has a long, sorry history of siding with insanity.
Comment by Father Nature on January 25, 2009 at 9:40am
Good post Planetologist. I wasn't aware of FOCA but will look into it now. There may be a narrow window of opportunity to pass the Act now before the GOP regroups. Having such a law on the books should prevent the Supreme Court from overturning Roe v Wade and, as a side benefit, I'm pretty sure Rick Warren's head would explode. It would also push the GOP toward the Huckabee/Palin fundie camp which would be a losing move for them in the long run.

One of the most repulsive moments of the recent election was when John McCain made his irritating & overused air-quotes gesture while sneering about exceptions for the "health of the mother" during one of the debates.
Comment by Rebecca (Beckie) Large-Swope on January 25, 2009 at 9:19am
Thank you Planetologist. That is very will written. I love the "immortal genies". It never ceases to amaze me how these people can be so adamant about stopping abortion but they do nothing for the child.

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