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Yes yes, a little late…

Letters to a Liberal

This is an ongoing series addressed to a liberal reader named “timmy.” In these letters I try to show my respect and admiration for those of the liberal philosophy, while clearly (and hopefully persuasively) explain why I place myself on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum.

Dear Tim,

We got a little impatient with each other in that last exchange, methinks. That is to be expected with an issue like the War in Iraq. It is also something to be expected when talking about the topic of this letter: abortion and the sanctity of life.

For me, life issues are not about philosophy. I’m not saying I avoid the philosophical, ethical and moral issues involved in life issues. I know them all quite well. It’s just that philosophy and morals are “arguable.” Instead, I take an engineers’ view of the whole thing. Engineers assume their inventions will have failures. But engineers have control over how their machines fail. The Ford Pinto was a horrible machine since it failed by having an explosive gas tank since it was exposed in the rear of the vehicle. Gas tanks are now located in vehicles where they aren’t exposed in rear-end collisions. Since mistakes happen, engineers try to make sure those mistakes cause the least amount of damage or injury as possible.

I choose to err on the side of life. I’m boring, I play it safe. Somewhere between conception and age 5 (The earliest I can remember) I became “alive” and “a life” and “human” and a “person.” We could argue about what those terms mean, when they happen, and even about individual differences, and we’d never come to a conclusion.

Erring on the side of life applies to more than just abortion. During the Terry Schiavo case I sided with those who didn’t want to pull her feeding tube. Was I certain she wasn’t “gone?” No, her EEG was about 5% of the normal reading, signaling that most higher cognitive functions had ceased. But I figured if she even had a small bit of consciousness left, it’d be wrong to let her die. If she was truly “gone” then it wasn’t hurting to keep her alive. I err on the side of life on the death penalty issue as well, since it’s a punishment that can’t be undone.

Back to abortion. I’m not asking you to come to a conclusion. I’m asking you to err on the side of life. Sure, it’s difficult to think of a zygote as a human being. It’s equally difficult to imagine an infant becoming a mathematician. I spent a lot of time in college learning about how the brain develops, which included learning about what goes on from conception until birth. It’s fascinating stuff, how a single cell turns into a human being. The whole process is quite hurried, including the brain. Fourteen days after conception the cells in the zygote begin to differentiate. At thirty days there are noticeable brain cells, at ten weeks there are measurable brain waves signaling synaptical connections. It’s complex and it’s self directed. The mother’s body is not sending signals to the fetus on how to develop, it happens on its own; it just needs resources to turn into a viable human being.

To me, abortion not about rights of privacy or body, it’s about the question of when life begins. I am not going to make value judgments about one life to another. I recently found out a friend of mine survived an abortion procedure. Her mother attempted a late term abortion, and she came out alive. I didn’t even know it was possible to survive an abortion. Since then she has grown up, gone to college and gotten married. It all could have ended at that clinic over two decades ago, when her entire life was no concern at all. Is she a mistake? Is her life worth less than the rest of us? Was she a choice? In fact, was my life a choice?

I understand the liberal side of this question. We should have domain over our bodies, except where another life is concerned. I have the right to swing away with my fists, until someone else gets in the way of those fists. I think the same rules can apply to those not yet born.

It’s also not a contradiction of liberal values to be against abortion. Liberalism has given us the sexual revolution. Now people use contraceptives, condoms and are promiscuous with relatively little shame. Agree or disagree, that is the modern culture. It’s one a lot of young conservatives have embraced as well. So, given this level of understanding, it’s no longer shameful to be pregnant out of wedlock. It is no longer an embarrassment to put a child up for adoption. People are very tolerant now, and we should be. This is a good thing, if the societal and economic factors for getting an abortion disappear, the demand for abortion should be reduced dramatically.

I don’t care what it takes; I want to reduce by a great amount the number of abortions in this country and in the world. If this means some compromises in my fiscal and social conservatism, fine. The life of my friend, and many potential friends, is worth the costs.

6 Responses

  1. I will quickly answer this one before I take my temporary leave.

    I believe that abortion is a moral issue. I won’t argue the points about privacy, though I understand them and see how they are valid. I also understand the rights of the unborn to some degree. I understand and empathize with your erring on the side of life when it comes to my personal choices.

    I am personally pro-life, but I cannot belive in completely forcing such a delicate moral position onto another. It is a stance I deeply respected from Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 election and I moved from tolerating Michael Moore to strongly disliking him when I heard him say that he could not vote for Kucinich because Dennis said he was pro-life but believes that the government should be pro-choice. Kucinich thought that it was up to the people directly involved to make the decision for themselves and their families.

    I have been having sex for a while now and I view it as only right that I take responsibility for any “mistakes” that occur due to my negligence or bizzare circumstance. As of right now, I have no children, nor has my Wife had an abortion. We have had “scares” and when this happened the first time, we both agreed that we would go ahead with the baby if that is what developed. Because we would be able to get by, albeit with difficulty. I, like you, would err on the side of life. But it is from my own personal views of “what happens is often what is meant to happen.” Not very scientific or logical, but it is how I feel about the world.

    But I was also a vegetarian for many years. I believed that life is what was important, regardless of the source. The animals that we choose to eat each day have brains, hearts, footprints, teeth, lips, personalities…

    but we kill these animals every day. We kill them and we eat them.

    I see the billboards that talk about when the baby has fingerprints or a beating heart and think about monkeys and their fingerprints. Where is the distinction drawn? Is that where it should also be drawn with human life inside a womb? Why or why not?

    And we go to war. We decide that this persons life is more important than that one because of the nation in which they live. We dropped atomic bombs on two cities wiping out over 100,000 lives as a result.

    And we execute people. And we let them live in poverty throughout the world. And we let them die of disease. And we have trouble finding homes for orphans. And I know personal stories about foster care and the rape and abuse that go on there.

    And I wonder about aborting an organism that knows not even of self, nor of any sensory experience. With no knowledge that its parents are unable or unwilling to care for it. Should that child be in this world? What would it say if given the choice?

    No one will ever know the answer to that question. There are many many suicides each day.

    So how do you legislate such an issue?

    I don’t know. I would suggest that someone looks at how animals brain funtions work and see how the brain functions of an unborn child work and then readdress the issue. That would be the logical route if that is how we legislate.

    If we want to go the moral route and cease abortions, than we should also cease wars, fight harder against AIDS, poverty, disease, pestilence.

    Either way, consistency is a key aspect.

    But this rambling doesn’t really explain nor support my view on the issue.

    My opinion is this:
    I think abotrion should be legal up to a certain point which should err on the side of science. As to what time in the whole gestation period… I don’t know the science, but the option should be there and I think there is a point at which it is too late and it becomes cruel and inhumane.

  2. You hit on so many things in your response that I’m going to have to respond to everything “in the text.” Your paragraphs are in italics followed by my response.

    I believe that abortion is a moral issue. I won’t argue the points about privacy, though I understand them and see how they are valid. I also understand the rights of the unborn to some degree. I understand and empathize with your erring on the side of life when it comes to my personal choices.

    The key here is I believe the LAW should err on the side of life. All laws are based on some system of ethics and morals, a cauldron of religion, philosophy, practicality and estimation. Theft is one example, in Marxism there is no theft since no one owns anything, everything belongs to the people. So laws against theft are based on morals.

    I am personally pro-life, but I cannot belive in completely forcing such a delicate moral position onto another. It is a stance I deeply respected from Dennis Kucinich in the 2004 election and I moved from tolerating Michael Moore to strongly disliking him when I heard him say that he could not vote for Kucinich because Dennis said he was pro-life but believes that the government should be pro-choice. Kucinich thought that it was up to the people directly involved to make the decision for themselves and their families.

    It’s not such a “delicate moral position,” either it is the destruction of a human life or not. If it is, than we’re agreed it’s a bad thing and it should be illegal, if it’s not than we need to find out when it is the destruction of a life. It’s not “forced” on others to any greater degree than theft if “forced” on Marxist and Anarchists, or drug laws are “forced” on potheads.

    I have been having sex for a while now and I view it as only right that I take responsibility for any “mistakes” that occur due to my negligence or bizzare circumstance. As of right now, I have no children, nor has my Wife had an abortion. We have had “scares” and when this happened the first time, we both agreed that we would go ahead with the baby if that is what developed. Because we would be able to get by, albeit with difficulty. I, like you, would err on the side of life. But it is from my own personal views of “what happens is often what is meant to happen.” Not very scientific or logical, but it is how I feel about the world.

    I commend you for your honesty here (maybe a happy byproduct of your anonymity). I do think you are missing part of the picture here, you say you would go through with the pregnancy because you’d be able to “get by” financially. That’s great, but those who can’t support a baby financially still have the option of adoption.

    But I was also a vegetarian for many years. I believed that life is what was important, regardless of the source. The animals that we choose to eat each day have brains, hearts, footprints, teeth, lips, personalities…

    but we kill these animals every day. We kill them and we eat them.

    I see the billboards that talk about when the baby has fingerprints or a beating heart and think about monkeys and their fingerprints. Where is the distinction drawn? Is that where it should also be drawn with human life inside a womb? Why or why not?

    I have respect for vegetarians. I just wish vegetarians were always as concerned with their fellow man as they are with animals. A cow will never grow up to be a teacher or scientist, they’ll never build a hospital or invent. There is a limit as to how intelligent an animal is going to get. So to try to base a “when life begins” argument on other species is untenable philosophically.

    And we go to war. We decide that this persons life is more important than that one because of the nation in which they live. We dropped atomic bombs on two cities wiping out over 100,000 lives as a result.

    War is depressing and bad, I agree. It’s heinous that such things happen. But they do. But you said that war is sometimes necessary, and I agreed.

    And we execute people. And we let them live in poverty throughout the world. And we let them die of disease. And we have trouble finding homes for orphans. And I know personal stories about foster care and the rape and abuse that go on there.

    And I know stories about rape and incest, these are parts of the human condition. But would I trade all the good that has happened in my life to be aborted instead to avoid the bad (and there’s been bad in my life, as all of us have had bad)? I wouldn’t, but then again, I make my own decisions about my life, you’re trying to make a decision about someone else’s life before they’re capable of making that decision. Three year olds can’t make those decisions either, is it okay to kill them?

    And I wonder about aborting an organism that knows not even of self, nor of any sensory experience. With no knowledge that its parents are unable or unwilling to care for it. Should that child be in this world? What would it say if given the choice?

    Again, you’re ignoring the adoption option, and you’re putting words into the mouths of people who won’t ever get the chance to speak for themselves. I don’t care what people think or won’t think or what they might or might not think. When I was five years old I didn’t think about war or foreign policy, I didn’t know as much as I did then, so killing me when I was five would be less of a murder than killing me now?
    The only way to find out is to give it life and ask it. Most people seem to be happy they’re alive, based on the lack of suicide in the world (percentage-wise, there is a lot of suicides, and even if we decide that suicides are a given indicator as to how many people would have preferred to have been aborted, then there should be a lot fewer abortions since 90+% of the population never commits or attempts suicide.

    No one will ever know the answer to that question. There are many many suicides each day.

    So how do you legislate such an issue?
    It has already been legislation. In most states before 1973 abortion was illegal, and thus anyone over the age of 33 had their prenatal days legally protected.

    I don’t know. I would suggest that someone looks at how animals brain funtions work and see how the brain functions of an unborn child work and then readdress the issue. That would be the logical route if that is how we legislate.

    There is a problem with this, if we decide that it is okay to kill a one year old baby because it has the same prefrontal cortex contents that a pig has, you’re inviting making the situation worse.

    If we want to go the moral route and cease abortions, than we should also cease wars, fight harder against AIDS, poverty, disease, pestilence.

    I don’t want to twist your words again, but it sounds like what you are saying is that it is okay to be pro-war, pro-poverty, pro-AIDs as long as you’re pro-abortion as well? Or that being pro-abortion will excuse those who don’t give to charity, who don’t care for the poor, and those who support amoral wars. It also sounds like you are equating the battle over abortion with the battle for peace and the continuing work against disease and poverty. How can I argue with that?
    Either way, consistency is a key aspect.

    But this rambling doesn’t really explain nor support my view on the issue.

    My opinion is this:
    I think abotrion should be legal up to a certain point which should err on the side of science. As to what time in the whole gestation period… I don’t know the science, but the option should be there and I think there is a point at which it is too late and it becomes cruel and inhumane.

    You have yet to defend your position, by your own words you’re equating war and AIDs as equal evils as abortion. I want to know when you have in mind for declaring a life a life, or at least where you would prefer to err. I don’t want to sound snippy, but in your own response you threw in stuff about atomic bombs, disease and suicide. I’m trying to understand how it all fits together into a worldview. I didn’t see how it is that you became pro-choice, other than the fact that you think life on this planet is not worth living.

  3. Damn. I was trying to stay away for a while, but I will address this as concisely as I am able (not very able).

    Admittedly, my last post was a bit of a rambler. Yes, I could have been more concise, but often a tale is better in the telling. What follows is what I intended to say (with some new thoughts):

    There is a lot of death in this world and from many sources — AIDS, violence, poverty, and, frankly, the food chain. Though it is, or should be, always taken seriously, even down to giving thanks for (some say to) the animals we consume.

    It is always difficult to legislate morality, especially that which is contentious within a society. The issue of abortion is one of those things. It is truly an issue of life versus death, but never is it that simple.

    If it was that simple, then we would not discuss the issue of in-the-case-of-rape-or-incest because “a life is a life”, right? In that case, would you force the woman (or worse yet, little girl) to have the child saying, “It is OK. Go through the forty weeks of pregnancy and all of the emotional and physical damage. You can give it up for adoption. You have to err on the side of life.”

    If you legislate that in those cases you can make an exception, then the whole life-at-conception/”err on the side of life” argument is out the door. You are determining, that based on your moral judgement, that the child’s life is not worth it.

    So the point is that difficult decisions are to be made in life. For some, a line can be drawn saying “a life is a life is a life and I will not hurt any living thing.” Good luck to them and their ideology, but it is a near impossibly lofty moral ground to hold. Go become a Jainist.

    Then there is the person who has frequent abortions anytime they get pregnant because they are lazy when it comes to contraception. I have never heard of any woman who has taken this route. I imagine that abortions are horribly painful, expensive, and emotionally destructive.

    So in-between we have the grey area in which all of reality lives. Life and death are part of the world as it exists. We try to prevent death where we can, and support life where we can. But sometimes circumstances arise and life altering choices must be made. No one should make that choices easily, but sometimes they do.

    So I agree that abortion rates need to go down. Abortions are a bad choice. I don’t think many would argue that. But abstinance is not a realistic choice and contraception is never 100%. Since I don’t know what the process is, I cannot comment on whether it should be more restrictive, but I would be up for that discussion. Regardless, I think the emphasis on counseling and the communication of other options should be a part of the process, but forcing someone into childbirth shouldn’t be the only answer either.

    AIDS, unfortunately happens, but we cannot save every human life. Poverty remains, but we are not willing to push our world into enough action to slow it. Disease kills, but we don’t do all we can to find cures. War, though horrible and often unnecessary, should remain a last option. And the loss of a potential human life is a horrible choice for someone to have to make, but a choice it should remain.

    But to make one final point that should be addressed:

    Why are many conservatives (mostly Christian conservatives) so concerned with the human life before they are born, but couldn’t give two shits about kids needing welfare, good education, or proper healthcare once they are out of the womb?

  4. Tim,

    Why is it that the Democrats never offer to produce legislation to reduce abortions, such as some of the welfare programs you talk about, and couple it with legislation to help restrict late term and “convenience” abortions? Britain and Germany, in fact most of the nations of Europe, have some form of restrictions on abortion. In England you can’t get an abortion after 24 weeks, in other nations it’s 18 weeks. Those types of restrictions are constitutional under Roe v. Wade.

    I could as easily say that Democrats are not interested in reducing abortions, despite what they claim, because they fair to do the above. Reality check, Republicans care about people. We have families, we have friends, we felt mourning after 9-11, and we feel empathy for those homeless both seen and unseen. We’re human. I’d be happy to support some child support programs, if it was coupled with restrictions on late term abortions. It’s never offered, probably because if it were, the argument “Republicans don’t give two shits about kids after their out of the wombs” would be moot.

    I’d also like to point out that 50% of abortions in the United States are repeat abortions, so your assumption about people getting more than one abortion is untrue.

    As for your earlier point about rape and incest abortions, I have a couple of things to say. First, a life is a life no matter what brought about that life. At the University of Minnesota I was an officer in the Pro-Life Coalition (I was the only male officer in the group at the time), we brought it speakers to educate people about life issues. One of the best speakers we had was a young woman who had been the product of a rape. Her life was no less important than anyone else’s.

    However, you also have to look at this in a pragmatic way as well. Even if you deny my choice for when life begins, what you are doing by bringing up the difficulties of rape and incest is a logical fallacy. All abortions are not justified by the circumstances of 2% of abortions. (Incest, rape, and life threatening circumstances amount to a total of 2% of all abortions). The difference is choice, in 98% of abortions a woman has chosen (because she was not raped) to put herself in the situation where she might get pregnant, and the pregnancy is a consequence of her action.

    Look at it this way, say there are 100 circumstances where different people entered into a kitchen and killed a cat. In 2 of those circumstances the person was attacked by a wild bobcat that had entered their homes and they were able to kill the creature with a kitchen knife. In the other 98 circumstances a sociopath entered the room and butchered the family cat. What you’re saying is that because 2 of the circumstances are justified, all 100 circumstances are justified. This simply isn’t the case; it’s philosophically untenable to base your belief in the justification of all abortions based on the varying circumstances of just 2 percent of abortions.

    Of course, that’s assuming your dealing with how many moderate pro-lifers look at the subject, which is with the value of “choice.” Since victims of rape had no choice in becoming pregnant, they are justified in ending their forced pregnancy. It’s a small debate in the pro-life movement, one that is really not important here. I err on the side of life, and because a person in the product of a rape does not make them any less of a person, therefore their prenatal life should be just as protected as anyone else’s.

    So the ball is truly in your court again. A compromise between conservatives and liberals is possible if presented. You still haven’t told me what your basis for allowing abortion is, other than the fact 2% of abortions are justified in your reasoning, thus in your extended reasoning all abortions are justified, which is a logical fallacy. You have a dim view of life on this planet, all the evils natural and man-made, which is fine, but even you equated those evils with abortions. You have yet to clarify this. You object to the killing of animals but not abortion. I’m looking for answers here, you said the destruction of a “potential life” is horrible but should remain a choice, why? When does a life go from potential to actual? You’d like to reduce the need for abortions, how? The trillions of dollars spent on welfare programs have not reduced abortions but increased them.

    This issue is the most important issue to me; it was my focus in my college activism days. I want to understand your position. When should a life be protected? When does a life begin? When is it no longer a potential? Why do liberals not offer a trade off between childcare programs and late term abortion restrictions? Why does the U.S. have 100% legalized abortion on demand throughout the entire pregnancy when the rest of the civilized world has restrictions? Why is abortion both horrible but necessary in your mind?

  5. Again, we must separate the individual from the mass and the argument for from the argument against.

    The problem with ones point and arguing against anothers point at the same time is that they seem to meld together.

    My point is *NOT* that because incest and rape happen that all abortions should be legal in order to accouunt for them. My counter-point regarding rape/incest *IS* that if the argument is made that a life starts at conception, than how is the position valid which says that exceptions should be made in these cases. It is inconsistent.

    And I was surprised that the percentage of abortions related to rape and incest was as much as it is. 2% is really a pretty big number. 1 out of every 50 abortions is rape or incest related. Crazy.

    Regardless, I understand now (or think I do) that your opinion is different than many conservatives. Bush has said that he accepts abortion in the case of rape or incest as justified. Would you err on the side of life, even in these circumstances, even if the girl is, say, a twelve year old pregnant by her uncle? Granted, this is very unlikely, but a law is a law. If not, why is the justification different?

    But that is not my argument, just a clarification regarding yours and the conservative position overall.

    Now for my position (again separate from the overall liberal position):

    Life is important to me and loss of life is never taken lightly with me. But that life includes the living as well as those who are not yet alive. Who should make choices relating to those lives?

    The government? Or the person whose life it affects?

    I think that the goal should be prevention and that, yes, there should be stricter measures against any-time abortions. I think a few months is plenty of time to decide whether or not you are able to care for a child. So I think that science should try to come to a concensus of when it would not be considered cruel based on many factors (primarily the nevous system) and limits should be based on that.

    I give emphasis on helping those who are currently alive and can’t survive themselves, much less going through pregnancy and childbirth, even less rearing a child that is biologically theirs.

    Those single-income single mothers who cannot afford the sick time off work because they work part time as a waitress for tips.

    The high-school girl who got pregnant because a guy who was more experienced didn’t like the way condoms felt. But he says it “…isn’t his, damn it!” and her father will kick her out of the house if he finds out she got knocked up, becasue whores don’t live under his roof.

    Or a couple who figured out how to scrape by enough money to buy a house, so now they have a mortgage payment and have given up all of their “excesses in order to start developing their family in the future… and she gets pregnant now. But the house market has gotten bad and they can’t sell the house. They can’t afford to go through the pregnancy because she will miss too much work, then comes the cost of the diapers and food. But they won’t do the adoption route because they can’t bear to put another parentless kid into the adoption system. But they will be able to have a kid in a couple of years once they both have better jobs.

    These stories aren’t really that far out there. And if 50% of abortions are repeats, than 50% are not. Half of them are likely situations similar to those mentioned above.

    So again, my position is this:

    Yes. Fetuses are (if they are not miscarried) going to be living breathing people who could become the next Beethoven (I think I heard he was going to be aborted, but it didn’t happen), Einstein, George W. Bush…
    or Hitler, or Saddam Hussein or Pol Pot. But what they become is due to the environment in which they were raised, I believe, and the experiences they get through life. If they have loving parents who are able to deal with the potentially heavy burden of child-rearing, they are much more likely to have a quality development and become better people.

    You have suggested that I have a dark opinion of life and the world. I don’t think so. We both think that much more life is taken in this world than should happen. In that we are very similar. It is just that I focus on those that are struggling, and you are focusing on those that are not yet in the position to have to struggle.

    But to finish I will address the overall reluctance of politicians to come to concensus about this issue:

    I am not them, but I am guessing it will come down to everyone’s favorite argument: “The slippery slope.” From abortion, to gun control, to same sex marriage, the slippery slope is likely the most overused, nonsensical argument to disallow rights… anyway, I digress.

    If I were in power, I would push for concensus, like you had mentioned.

    And to show that it is how I feel, maybe we should write letters to our congresspeople. You and I together, creating one letter expressing our solutions based on concensus. If we can come to one.

    We will both sign and send the exact same letter to all state and federal representatives as well as the president himself (or maybe herself depending on how long it takes to come to an agreement :) )

    I believe that you would be willing to allow some abortions if some limitations were in place, though maybe you were speaking for the overall conservative movement.

    I personally am fine with that alone, but I think that politically it would be more likely to go somewhere if conservatives were to support some stronger measures regarding free health care for kids under 12? What do you think? But to show that it isn’t about politics with me, I will sign the letter without such provisions within.

  6. You’re right, 2% is high and a bit saddening.

    I think we cleared a few things up, I’m glad you don’t have as dark an opinion towards life than your previous posts suggested.

    I am 100 percent pro-life, as is clear from my letters, but I understand in a democracy compromises are necessary. I’d rather help end some abortions by compromising than be a purist and do nothing. Since I believe this so strongly, I am completely willing to draft such a letter and sign it with you.

    Here are some ideas. People are considered dead when their brainwaves are no longer measurable, so why wouldn’t it make sense to declare someone “alive” when their brainwaves are measurable? For human fetuses it is 10-12 weeks (this is a huge compromise position for me, but it’s a logical one). This would give two months to make a decision, and leaves medication options open. If that doesn’t fit your fancy, the fetus (consensus, but some say it’s earlier) can feel pain at 20 weeks. This would put us in line with European standards. While I don’t “like” it, this would succeed in ending 50% (10 week mark) to 25% (20 week mark) of abortions.

    A program to assist unwed mothers during their pregnancy who choose to put their kids up for adoption would be acceptable. (It wouldn’t even need to be limited, any mother intending on putting their child up for adoption would be able to enroll in the program, and it can include post natal counseling and preganancy related healthcare issues). I don’t think there’s a need for universal child healthcare. But a targeted program paying for the healthcare of lower income mothers and their is acceptable.

    There is a program similiar to one being presented by Colin Peterson (my rep out in the sticks). Peterson is a Pro-life democrat, I wish I had a link available right away to his program, but I don’t. I’ll have it up on the frontpage of the blog when I find it.

    I suppose our next subject should be a discussion of welfare, since these two subjects are a little related. I also try to put a rough draft of the “letter” up on this post.

    No, I don’t know when. Soon.

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