The Rev. Carlton Veazey, head of the execrable Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights (RCRC) takes to the online pages of Religion Dispatches to argue that no one has the right to define personhood so as to infringe on the sacred and holy ritual of abortion. To do so is to seek to establish–you guessed it–a “theocracy.” He writes:
Mississippi Initiative 26, the “personhood” amendment on the November 8th ballot, is not only dangerous for women’s health and lives—it is dangerous for our democracy. While not recognized as such, it is an openly theocratic endeavor. We should be talking about theocracy because this amendment is not just being fielded in Mississippi—it has been introduced in at least six other states, with more to come.
I suppose that means that if it were being introduced in all fifty states it would be an attempt to immediately establish the Kingdom of God, or something like that. In any case, Veazey is about as concerned with democracy as he is with geocentrism. He prefers to have his preferred public policy imposed by courts, after all. Anyway, he continues:
We know the harm that Initiative 26 would do by effectively ending access to reproductive health care in Mississippi—including banning all abortions, with no exceptions for rape or incest or the life of the woman; some forms of contraception; and in vitro fertilization. Not to mention the frightening possibility that doctors would not be able to provide life-saving medical treatment to a pregnant woman, for example, in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. We should also be aware that this amendment would enact in law a specific religious view about “personhood” that is in conflict with views held by most religious denominations and many people of faith—a clear intrusion by government into decisions of conscience.
Whether Initiative 26 would have all the consequences he lists is debatable. I especially find the idea that it would prohibit doctors from treating women with ectopic pregnancies laughable, given the fact that, regardless of the personhood of the conceptus, there is no possibility for a live birth to come from the pregnancy. What it especially rich is the notion that the referendum would “enact in law a specific religious view of ‘personhood’ that is in conflict with views held by most religious denominations and many people of faith.”
It is essentially impossible for the law to not do that. Under the current legal regime, the personhood of the unborn child is specifically denied, despite the fact that that view ” is in conflict with views held by” many more religious denominations and many people of faith” than Veazey is willing to recognize (probably, in fact, by the majority of “people of faith” in the United States). By permitting the destruction of over a million human beings a year, the unfettered abortion license requires that people with consciences that tell them abortion is in most or all circumstances wrong to stand by and watch as a grave evil is committed on a daily basis.
I call this campaign “theocratic” as a Baptist minister who holds all human life to be sacred.
I had to laugh when I read that. Is Veazey really so ignorant of science that he thinks the life within a mother is anything other than human? The matter of personhood is a moral, philosophical, and even theological issue that is subject to debate. The humanity of the conceptus–possessing, as it does, all of the genetic characteristics of a human being–is not. This is the same kind of sloppy thinking so prevalent in the pro-abortion movement that asks the question, “does life begin at conception?”, as if a growing entity with its own genetic uniqueness and the characteristics of life–organization, metabolism, growth, reproduction, etc.–can be anything other than alive.
But issues around human life are not as simple as the “personhood” proponents believe. In my view, we have a solemn responsibility to find balance in the complex area of moral decision-making around reproductive choices. Regarding abortion, I respect the value of potential human life while remaining firmly committed to women’s right to act according to their conscience in a decision about a pregnancy. This is a view held by many religious denominations and millions of people of faith.
Of course the issues surrounding human life are complex. That’s why this country has enshrined the ideas of democratic debate and decision-making, rather than arrogating resolution of the complexities to so-called “experts.” As for “balance,” Veazey is a long-time proponent of a position that exhibits absolutely no balance whatsoever: that abortion should be legal and governmentally subsidized, no matter what the reasons for seeking the procedure, the stage of the pregnancy, or the method used to kill the child. For Veazey and the RCRC, an abortion undertaken by a 25-year-old woman just after she goes into labor with a full-term baby girl whose crime is that she isn’t a boy is just as valid as an first trimester abortion performed on a 13-year-old carrying an anencephalic child who was raped by her father. You can debate the latter, but the vast majority of Americans–including many of those denominations that support abortion, such as the United Methodist Church–would reject the former. That’s not where Veazey and his colleagues are coming from, so any call for “balance” from him has to be taken with the contents of a Louisiana salt cave.
UPDATE: Not actually an update–I just lost my Internet connection and had to wait to get it back to put up the rest of this. So Veazey goes on:
I respect their right to argue their case and pursue peaceful, legal means to reach their goal; even though it will be shown ultimately to be unconstitutional. But I ask that they acknowledge and respect that there is a wide variety of teachings and beliefs about personhood among religious groups, and that there is no consensus on the question of “when life begins”—often even within a particular faith tradition. Most religions hold that the decision about contraception and abortion must be a woman’s.
I guess if you’re going to demonstrate that you’re a sloppy thinker, you might as well go the whole hog.
As I said above, the question of whether the conceptus is a person is a matter of debate, but Veazey isn’t interested having that debate, because he is deathly afraid he might lose. Hence his call, essentially, for those who believe that personhood begins at conception to shut up–or at least to not do anything that might cause such a view to be enshrined in law. In that regard, he sounds a lot like the slaveholders who argued the non-humanity of African slaves in the 19th century, and who claimed that any attempt to give legal status to those slaves was an infringement on their consciences, their religious beliefs, and their livelihoods (that last would be Planned Parenthood).