The “On Faith” column at the Washington Post offers a preposterous question for discussion this week:
The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, along with a variety of health care services for women. The Virginia General Assembly last week approved legislation that requires abortion clinics to be regulated as hospitals, and providers say the stricter regulations will force many of them out of business. Both measures were pushed by anti-abortion activists. Should personal and religious views be allowed to prevent women from having access to a legal medical procedure?
The way this is asked, it is essentially asking whether those who oppose the availability of abortion without any restrictions (even those the Supreme Court says are constitutional) and or/funding of Planned Parenthood should have any right to pursue their public policy preferences legislatively. In other words, the panelists are asked, “do you think that some Americans should be disenfranchised and abortion made the only absolute right?” And even at that, they get agreement from some of the usual suspects. First up, Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State:
I hailed the ruling in Roe v. Wade when it was handed down in 1973 and still support it today. But in hindsight, there was one element missing from that landmark decision: A frank declaration that attempts to deny women reproductive freedom are grounded in religious dogma and that this raises serious concerns in a nation that separates church and state.
Consider what this would mean: for Rev. Lynn, Martin Luther King’s struggles against segregation and Jim Crow was invalid, because there were religious motives and concepts behind them. The abolitionist movement was invalid for the same reason. This is secularist totalitarianism, pure and simple: you don’t get to take part in public life if you don’t have approved secular motivations and reasons for taking the positions you do.
The ink on the Roe decision wasn’t even dry before it came under sustained political attack by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and fundamentalist Protestant clergy. We were told that legal abortion violated papal dictates or some right-wing minister’s interpretation of the Bible. That may be true for the respective believers, but it should never become the grounds for denying access to a medical procedure in America.
Not only is Rev. Lynn a totalitarian, but he’s either an ignorant one or a dishonest one. He acts as though “papal dictates” or biblical texts are the basis for the opposition to abortion. In fact, opponents Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and secular have consistently for decades made arguments based on reason, evidence, and ethics based in natural law and thus accessible to all people. If Lynn is really so uninformed that he has never encountered any of these, he clearly needs to read something besides Doonesbury and Democratic Underground.
Next up, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite of the Center for American Progress and former UCC seminary president:
When Jesus tells us to take care of the “least of these” (Matthew 25), he includes taking care of those who are sick. Eliminating federal funding for Planned Parenthood is a direct attack on the basic health care of women who can least afford it, and thus a rejection of one of Jesus’ core teachings. Instead, it is a direct attack on the most vulnerable in our society.
Sick? Pregnancy is an illness, now? The fact is that except in very rare cases, the core business of Planned Parenthood (abortion and birth control) has nothing to do with illness, regardless of whether the person is poor or not.
Planned Parenthood provides many crucial health services to women and girls. As Jessica Arons and Alex Walden of the Center for American Progress argue, “Planned Parenthood is a safety net provider to millions of people who do not have health insurance, many of whom are people of color and immigrants. Government funding allows Planned Parenthood to provide marginalized communities with family planning services, screening for sexually transmitted infections and reproductive cancers, prenatal care, and basic well-woman care. These services account for 97 percent of the care they provide.”
I believe Col. Potter referred to this as “horse hockey.” The people who don’t have health insurance and are going to Planned Parenthood are mostly on Medicaid, college students who can go to their school’s clinics, or people who can afford to go to other providers. There is nothing that Planned Parenthood does that is not done by many other providers who don’t have the taint of PP’s criminality. I also find that 97% figure highly questionable–it makes it sound as though abortion is somehow peripheral to PP’s work, whereas it provides a revenue stream in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
I doubt that the majority of Americans of faith wake up in the morning and say to themselves, ‘today I will try to prevent poor women and girls from getting the basic health care they need.’ No, these attacks on the most vulnerable among us are presented to people as ending abortion and packaged as “pro-life.” But after years of physical attacks, including murder, of those who provide abortion services, the “pro-life” movement has lost the right to use that terminology.
What does one say to this kind of intellectual dishonesty? Imagine, for instance, Thistlethwaite being confronted with the violent incidents that take place each year at the behest of some union boss or another (a number of them have happened on film in the last couple of weeks at union rallies). Would she say that that discredits the entire union movement? Of course not, and it doesn’t. It’s only in the relentless pursuit of the vilification of her political opponents that a former seminary professor would say anything so grotesque.
Over the years, therefore, I have come to believe that the real end game of the political and religious right is not to prevent abortion, but to control women’s capacity to reproduce. These most recent decisions bring us ever closer to losing access to contraception, the only thing that has ever actually helped prevent abortion.
What, no Handmaid’s Tale reference? I believe the accepted terminology for this kind of thing is “paranoid fantasy.”
You say, ‘abstinence prevents abortion,’ but women and girls are routinely subject to forced sexual activity through rape. That’s reality. Contraceptive pills and implanted devices work even when girls and women are subject to rape. Pills and devices do not, of course, prevent HIV infection or other STD’s; women and girls are still at risk in body, as well as mind and spirit, from rape, but forced pregnancy is prevented.
Please. Does she really think that the answer to “abstinence prevents abortion” is to cite rape? Only about 1% of abortions each year are the result of rape or incest, and about 5% are due to genuine threats to the mother’s life or physical health. That means 94% of abortions are the result of someone failing to practice the one certain form of birth control, abstinence, at a time when a pregnancy was not desired (many of whom are teenagers who are encouraged by Planned Parenthood to take every opportunity to “explore their sexuality”). And again, contraception is available elsewhere than just Planned Parenthood.
Tom Flynn of the Council for Secular Humanism (or in this case, anti-humanism) sounds a lot like a certain United Church of Christ minister:
In a secular society that observes the separation of church and state, neither personal metaphysical views about, say, fetal ensoulment nor religious doctrine should have any role in obstructing women’s access to a legal medical procedure. That said, I also recognize that some of us haven’t lived in that United States for the last 30 years or so — and that way too many House Republicans are drawn from that group.
True. Some of us have been living in a country where there is no religious test for participation in the political system. Some of us have been living in a country where those motivated by religious ideas are not banished to the outer darkness. Some of us have been living in America, while others have been trying to resurrect the Soviet Union in the Western Hemisphere.
Will their views prevail? Sadly, I think they just might. For too many years abortion-rights advocates felt invulnerable beneath the sheltering mantle of Roe v. Wade. For strategic reasons they retreated from the hard work of educating America as to why abortion is morally licit, preferring to focus on what they viewed as a slam-dunk rhetoric of “choice.”
There’s a problem with this approach, and it’s bearing bitter fruit today. That problem is that when abortion-rights advocates restrict themselves to talking about choice, abortion opponents have the arena of moral discourse all to themselves as they make their arguments that abortion is hideous, sinful, selfish and so on. Too few voices rebut them to argue that (to use atheist Ann Gaylor’s wonderfully ironic trope) “abortion is a blessing.” Too few voices argue that since the capacity for personhood does not exist until the infant brain begins some internal wiring well after birth, the only justifications for imagining that abortion is murder flow solely from personal metaphysics or religious doctrine. Too few voices argue that in a secular society, personal metaphysics and religious doctrine are properly off-limits as drivers of public policy. [Emphasis added.]
Thank you, Mr. Flynn. You’ve just made a case for infanticide, and equated it with abortion. Given the nearly total revulsion, based on sound moral reasoning, toward the former, you’ve nicely made the case against the latter as well. See, Mr. Flynn, we don’t grant human beings the status of “persons” because they’ve met some arbitrary physical standard (which is why we have no hesitation saying that multiple amputees or people with Alzheimer’s or Down’s Syndrome are still persons rather than things); they have that status inherently by virtue of being of the same species as the physically sound and mature. But you just go on making that “moral” argument–do so long enough, and abortion may yet be banned.
I’m sure there will be more responses to the Post‘s absurd question. I’ll have those when they appear.