Banning Abortion: The First Step Toward Theocracy

Amanda Marcotte

Banning abortion should engender the same reaction as forcing women to wear the hijab, forcing kids to say the rosary in school, or banning non-kosher food from restaurants -- an outrageous violation of religious beliefs.

On this week’s podcast, I cover the internet flare-up over the blogger Angie the Anti-Theist blogging, tweeting, and creating YouTube videos about her RU-486-induced abortion. I included a lot of clips from her sharp, often funny videos chronicling her experience and the online response from anti-choicers, but didn’t really have time to talk about one issue brought up in this video but rarely — and shockingly — discussed in most of the coverage of this event. And that is the giant religious gulf between Angie and her attackers. See, Angie’s an atheist, and her attackers were mostly and probably all either fundamentalist Christians or hardcore Catholics, and most didn’t know or didn’t care that Angie didn’t buy into their religious dogma. And this gap demonstrated a little-discussed but fundamental part of the debate over reproductive rights. Yes, they are about women’s rights and sexual liberation, but they are fundamentally about freedom of religion, and the attack on abortion rights is part of larger assault on freedom of religion from the Christian right.

Not that many anti-choicers will admit this, of course. They’re generally smart enough to realize that making laws based on their beliefs about ensoulment of zygotes would be a direct violation of the standard interpretation of the First Amendment. (Though behind the scenes, many in the religious right argue that the First Amendment doesn’t actually create a separation between church and state.) So, instead they try to graft cockamamie pseudo-scientific arguments on to their religious beliefs, arguing that a fetus’s unique DNA makes it a separate person. It sounds science-y! Good enough, right? Except, if you actually buy that argument, then you have to buy that identical twins are the same person — they have the same DNA, after all.

But this is far from the most comical aspect of anti-choice attempts to graft “science” on to their arguments. My current favorite involves an argument I had with a prominent anti-choice activist, who was insisting that I, the science-loving atheist, was ignoring the scientific “proof” that embryos are people. Curious, I asked her what she — the newly minted expert in biology — thought about the theory of evolution. She weaved and dodged and claimed that there were many competing theories about the origins of life, a blatantly false claim if you’re using the word “theory” to mean “scientific theory.” There is only one accepted scientific theory, which is biological modification. All other “theories” are actually religious dogma disguised as science — much like anti-choice “scientific” arguments!

Clearly the argument about when a fetus becomes a person is complicated and individualistic — you say conception, I say sentience, some say not until it’s born. Ideally, the government would stay out of it until the fetus enters the social contract by, you know, being born and actually becoming a separate person from its mother.

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Why does this matter? For a couple of reasons. One is that avoiding the topic of religion in the reproductive rights debate has allowed anti-choicers to position themselves in a more sympathetic light than they deserve with the larger public. How often do you hear them described as people with deeply felt moral convictions? What if they were instead described as people of deeply felt religious convictions? If so, then those convictions would still be respected by the public at large, but they would be respected as an individual choice, and not respected if you tried to force someone else to live under your dogma.

Banning abortion should have the same social esteem as forcing women to wear the hijab, forcing kids to say the rosary in school, or banning non-kosher food from restaurants — and outrageous violation of the right to choose your own religious beliefs. We need to stop ignoring all the praying and the Jesus at anti-choice demonstrations and take their religiosity for what it is.

Throwing women’s rights to the wolves in order to appease people with a theocratic bent will not stop them, either. The encroachments on women’s rights have instead emboldened the religious right to act in a more overtly theocratic manner. If you doubt this, you should read this alarming story from the Texas Observer about a group called Repent Amarillo that has started a harassment campaign against the city’s swinger community in order to bully them out of their private sexual choices. And they’ve made it clear they won’t stop there — they’ve also targeted pro-gay theater groups, gay clubs, porn shops, strip clubs, and even a coffeehouse deemed a bit too intellectual and a nature center that’s Earth-hugging aesthetic offends them. Repent Amarillo’s tactics — protesting the club, taking pictures of people going in, going to swingers’ homes and harassing them, getting swingers fired from their jobs, and constantly issuing pointless complaints about often-imaginary building code violations — should seem immediately familiar. That’s because they’re ripping their strategies right out of the anti-choice handbook.

They’re getting away with laying waste to the public peace and ruining the lives of people who haven’t done anything to hurt anyone else, too. Why? Because the groundwork laid by anti-choicers has made this kind of harassment campaign from theocrats easy to pull off.  If it wasn’t for anti-choicers working their butts off to make religious harassment and terrorism socially acceptable, Repent Amarillo probably would have faced a crackdown by now. But we live in a society where candidates for major political offices won’t call murderous anti-choicers “terrorists”, and where people who stalk and harass you get to do so legally as long as the don’t technically trespass on private property and they’re screaming about Jesus. Even the few public officials in Amarillo brave enough to protect their citizens against this Christian Taliban find their hands are tied by years of precedent giving wide berth to religious fanatics, precedent established by the anti-choice movement.

Sadly, people who shrugged off the threat posed by the anti-choice movement to the right to live by your own religious convictions may find out that the intended targets of the theocrats aren’t just those other people — those doctors you don’t know and those anonymous women getting abortions — but you and everyone else you know who doesn’t live life by the rules the religious right has written for you.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.